Monday, January 31, 2011
Written by Tom Sniegoski and illustrated by Bone creator Jeff Smith, with color by Steve Hamaker, this book is sure to please fans of adventure stories. It has all the elements which make a journey great: friends, foes, unlikely allies, transportation contraptions, food, good intentions, and sheer determination. Really, all that's missing is a mix tape. When surrounded by all types of beings and personalities, our protagonist, Tom, remains unshaken, making him a wise choice to lead this crazy band of travelers. Mal from Firefly would be proud of this young man.
On more than one occasion, author Tom Sniegoski has reduced me to tears - because he makes me laugh so hard that I cry. The man puts me in stitches when we're talking face-to-face. Now it's your turn, gentle readers. Between Roderick's blunt declarations to the bumbling Rat Creatures (who, in my mind, sound an awful lot like Lurky from Rainbow Brite), this may be Sniegoski's funniest book to date. It blends comedy and action effortlessly. It also has great pacing. The different characters' plotlines are balanced, then become interwoven, bringing to mind Neil Gaiman's Stardust.
The Bone graphic novels have a large following, and those dedicated readers will love the new stories. Thanks to Smith, Hamaker, and Sniegoski, the first installment of Quest for the Spark wholly captures the spirit of the Bone series in both picture and text. This trilogy will surely spark the interest of new readers as well.
While you are waiting for the second volume in the trilogy, you ought to pick up the original Bone graphic novels as well as Bone: Tall Tales, also by Sniegoski & Smith. (Sniegoski & Smith... Hmm... Kind of sounds like a famous pair of spies or secret agents, doesn't it? Watch out, Scarecrow & Mrs. King!)
On a personal note: I cried when I read the book's inscription. Sniegoski dedicated this book to his faithful dog, Mulder. We miss you, buddy.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
I just wanted to let you know that I've become a big fan of your letters from authors to their teenage selves, and to thank you for all of the novels you've got me adding to my to-read pile as a result.
Seriously. Does a letter that begins like this --
Dear Teenage Me:
The precise day in time I’m picking to send this to you is that week when the guy at work was trying to kill you.
-- make me want to read Adam Selzer's books? Yes. Yes it does.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Some years ago I was watching Roger Ebert’s television show, “At the Movies,” where he and Gene Siskel reviewed movies. It was a special show on Woody Allen. Ebert said something to the effect of, some filmmakers are born, and others are made, Woody Allen made himself into a filmmaker. I feel the same way about being a runner. I was most certainly not a born runner; I had to make myself into a runner.
Haruki Murakami, the world famous Japanese novelist, is a runner. He is 62 years old and runs an average of six miles a day, six days a week. He does miss a few days here and there, but sets as his goal to run 156 miles a month. He runs one marathon a year, does triathlons, and completed one staggering “ultramarathon” of 62 miles, which took him nearly 12 hours. This slim and wonderful book is his memoir of running.
I am not a runner like Murakami. First, I have always had a love-hate relationship with running. And second, throughout my fifteen years of running, I have had periods of ebb and flow, trying to run about three times per week, anywhere from three to ten miles per run. This year, when I turned fifty, I ran my tenth half marathon, knowing it would be my last. It was time to listen to my body – just like Murakami writes about his own body – and accept my limitations. My body was telling me (and in particular my knees) that those longer runs would have to stop. This book came along at just the right time. I turned fifty and I needed to rethink my running, and Murakami has given me much to think about.
But not just about running. The book, written with much humility, takes many detours from his running. In fact, the book, whose title comes from one of Murakami’s favorite Raymond Carver short stories, is about so much more than running or exercising. Running for Murakami is a metaphor for his life. It gives him discipline and a sense of order and purpose in his life. It literally gives him the stamina he needs to be a writer. Murakami writes, “Basically I agree with the view that writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. When we set off to write a novel, when we use writing to create a story, like it or not a kind of toxin that lies deep down all humanity rises to the surface.” The central way Murakami deals with his toxins is by running. He writes, “You have to find the energy somewhere, and where else to find it but in our own basic physical being?”
Perhaps I connected to this book because I run and because I write. I’m not a famous novelist, but I do a lot of education writing. And just like running, I have (like many writers) a love-hate relationship with confronting that blank page. Writing does require a special kind of stamina, both physical and psychological. I just never saw my running – and perhaps more specifically the discipline of regularly running -- as a way to fuel my writing, as well as other aspects of my life, such as how I spend my time.
So, here is, I think, a main point of this little book: we all must have something in our lives that we are passionate about, that gives us a sense of accomplishment and discipline and continued growth. Ideally, this would be something other than what we do for a living, because even if we love our work, we know we are primarily doing that to earn money. It’s like when someone turns their hobby into a job; it’s just not as enjoyable anymore. So this thing – whatever it is – can be a metaphor for our lives, feeding our entire being, extending outward to other parts of our lives, like ripples in a pond, giving us purpose and pleasure and strength.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
That cover. I know, I know - it looks like a book about an ancient guy, telling some old person's story. It looks boring. Okay, it has that "Newbery Medal" gold sticker on it, which means it was selected as THE BEST children's book of 1994. But that cover says "this is for old people," right? No! It's actually dystopian fantasy about a kid turning twelve! It's far in the future, and society seems "perfect." No rudeness. No poverty, or unemployment. No injustice or inequality. No conflict. When Jonas (and all the other Elevens) turn twelve he'll graduate from being a child to being an adult, and at the Ceremony he'll get his Life Assignment. He has the first "stirrings" (an erotic dream) and is given a little pill every day that every adult takes - and those urges stop. And at the Ceremony, his friends all get assignments that make sense (Caretaker of the Old, Assistant Director of Recreation) but Jonas has been chosen for something different. Something he never even knew existed. He's assigned to be the next Receiver, and he doesn't even know what that means - he's only told that it's the most unimaginably painful and difficult Life Assignment there is. There's only one Receiver every few generations... and it's a huge honor. And what Jonas discovers during his 12th year, working with the old man who is the current Receiver (who he will eventually replace) is that their society is far from the utopia it seems. The man's name - and what Jonas will become? "The Giver."
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
Shayne was actually sixteen, at the police station to confess to killing someone. Detective George Rawls usually handled cases involving teenagers, so five minutes before his shift ended, he was handed Shayne's case.
While Shayne tells his story to Rawls, Mikey Martin tells us his version of the same events. Mikey is the shortest junior at Wellstone High, and the first student to meet Shayne. He was with Shayne when Jon Brande gave Mikey a paper bag and told him to hold onto it for a little while. Mikey didn't want it—he knew Jon dealt drugs—and when he heard rumors of locker searches and drug sniffing dogs, he got rid of the bag. Only Jon demanded it back, and if Mikey couldn't return it, then he wanted monetary compensation. Mikey can't afford to pay Jon, and Shayne quickly became involved in their dispute. But what exactly happened after that and what is Shayne confessing?
Friday, January 21, 2011
Charles Todd* has been writing mysteries for over a decade now, the majority of which have starred Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard detective and, maybe even more significantly, a veteran of the first World War. The years following WWI were tough on England, and all its people, veterans or not, suffered scars both physical and mental. Literally haunted by what he saw and did during the war, Rutledge struggles to hold himself together, clinging to the mysteries he’s assigned by the Yard as one of the only means he has to avoid drowning in the terrors of war he carries around with him every day.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The zombie entered the American consciousness through non-fiction rather than fiction. In 1929, explorer W. B. Seabrook wrote a sensationalist account of Haiti, Voodoo, and zombies called The Magic Island. (This was only one of Seabrook's adventures. Other included traveling with Bedouins through modern-day Iraq and eating, supposedly, human flesh in Africa.)
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Many moons back, in a review of the Clint Eastwood film “In the Line of Fire,” the L.A. Weekly noted that only in America, could you have a political thriller bereft of politics.
I paraphrase (nor can I remember the specific reviewer) since, shockingly, it’s nearly been two decades since that film came out, but the observation has always stuck with me. In that movie -- for anyone unfamiliar -- John Malkovich is an assassin out to get the President, and Eastwood is the repentant JFK-era Secret Service agent who gets a second chance to keep history from derailing. But the Malkovich character doesn’t have any particular agenda in the movie -- he just wants to kill the President because he’s, well, bad.
I was reminded of that particular review more than once when reading Mike Lupica’s new mid-grade/early YA thriller, Hero. Now, I’m a Lupica fan, when it comes to his oeuvre, having enjoyed, in particular, some good nights reading his baseball saga Heat aloud to my own in-house Little Leaguer.
This superhero-themed tale starts out promisingly enough, with a “first person” narrative, as Tom Harriman, the father of our eventual titular hero, Zach, is in Eastern Europe, nabbing a Radovan Karadzic/ Slobodan Milosevic war criminal for trial -- one guesses -- in the West.
In this prologue -- think a James Bond pre-title sequence -- we learn that Tom has certain “powers.” He’s not quite Superman, but he seems to be a tad more than Batman, based on his ability to leap multi-story distances and to somehow transport himself across rooms, as needed, in close combat situations; a kind of localized teleportation.
Like Batman, he’s still mortal though -- and the plane he pilots back with War Prisoner on board is scarcely indestructible: he never makes it home to his family’s Manhattan co-op. And then we switch to third person, and we meet Zach, understandably grieving for the loss of his father.
Monday, January 17, 2011
You think I'm fixable, don't you?
You want to fix the bad guy.
You don't know the half of it.
Tod Munn is in trouble. Most of his teachers think he should be in juvie. Even Tod is unsure why he is in a daily detention writing in a notebook (NOT a journal) for Mrs. Woodrow. That notebook is Scrawl, the new novel by Mark Shulman.
Tod is a good writer and an even better speller but his troublemaking droogs, uninterested family and especially his anger could be his undoing. As the details of Tod’s exploits are revealed, Shulman’s readers find out that all is not as it seems. Tod is a blunt, yet entertaining narrator and Mrs. M is a smart, caring adult.
I was afraid the novel would turn into many stereotypes, but this measured story never wanders from a realistic depiction of a teen dealing with his anger and self troubles. At times while reading, I wished for there to be more to the story, but this is a solid effort.
I would recommend this to fans of Sherman Alexi’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian and Happyface by Stephen Emond.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Why do we learn? Is our time in school merely a practicality, time to learn the tricks to pass the tests to get into the schools to get the jobs to be “successful”? Or does education have a duty to form us as humans and speak to deeper questions of life? In an age of standardized testing and disappearing arts budgets, these are the questions brought to the fore by our education policy; in his 2006 Tony award-winning play, The History Boys, Alan Bennett explores them through a class of nineteen eighties English schoolboys preparing for their university entrance exams and the two teachers trying to shape them along the way.
I love this idea.
I love this idea because it is true. Normal people fall in love. Their stories deserve to be told every bit as much as the stories of sparkly vampire hotties. The awesome miracle of love is in no way enhanced by characters' sparkly-ness. Love is awesome no matter what. I promise that when you read The Big Crunch, you will be convinced that normal, non-sparkly love, is wonderful, and not in a cheesy way.
(Just in case you can't tell, I'm kind of in love with this book).
Thursday, January 13, 2011
So Shelly by Ty Roth
"Until now, high school junior, John Keats, has only tiptoed near the edges of the vortex that is schoolmate and literary prodigy, Gordon Byron. That is, until their mutual friend, Shelly, drowns in a sailing accident.
After stealing Shelly's ashes from her wake at Trinity Catholic High School, the boys set a course for the small Lake Erie island where Shelly's body had washed ashore and to where she wished to be returned. It would be one last "so Shelly" romantic quest. At least that's what they think. As they navigate around the obstacles and resist temptations during their odyssey, Keats and Gordon glue together the shattered pieces of Shelly's and their own pasts while attempting to make sense of her tragic and premature end."- summary from Amazon
I'm not sure what to say about this book. The concept as well as the narrative itself is interesting, but at the same time, I feel like it just didn't work for me. The narrator doesn't do much of anything and is mainly just relaying stories about the past featuring the other characters Shelly and Gordon. Even in the scenes set in the now with Gordon and Keats fulfilling Shelly's final wish, Keats takes a backseat to whatever Gordon does and goes along for the ride, so it can be a bit boring for the reader.
Taking three historical figures and transplanting them and their real stories (with some liberties taken, of course) in our society was a wonderful idea. It's very fun, but educational in a way at the same time. So the concept was very cool, but I'm not sure the execution worked for me. I did like the atmosphere that was set up- it felt very Romantic (period-wise, not love-wise) so that was nice to see. The afterward that Roth wrote is very informative and it was cool to see how he wrote the book as well as what stuff actually happened because there are tons of scandalous things in this book, which I of course love. :) But this is definitely a dark, deep book, and that could be why I wasn't as into it since I may not have been in the mood for that kind of read.
Overall, while I liked the idea, the execution fell flat for me and I almost put the book down several times because I just didn't really feel anything for the characters, but at the same time, I wanted to see how it would all end and why Shelly died. That's why I kept going. This is a confusing book for me to review because I'm not sure about my recommendation; I guess it just falls in the middle- it's not horrible, but it's not amazing.
So Shelly will be released in hardcover on February 8, 2011 from Random House.
"Like a flashback memory, he's there in my mind: skimming up the stairs at school, his sloppy old T-shirt big as a sail, red tie-dyed dragon T-shirt, who wears stuff like that? No one. Jinsen. Head turned and laughing at something someone had said, to him? at him? I don't know. Once McManus called him a human lint ball, and he laughed about it all day."
"Do you know the concept of karma? It's kind of like a circle, or cause-and-effect, like a slow tolling bell you rang maybe a year ago, five years ago... Karma means that what you do today, and why you do it, makes you who you are forever: as if you were clay, and every thought and action left a mark in that clay, bent it, shaped it, even ruined it... but with karma there are no excuses, no explanations, no I-didn't-really-mean-it-so-can-I-have-some-more-clay. Karma takes everything you do very, very seriously."
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Now, imagine you're in a high school, you're one of seven kids and one teacher who didn't get out while the roads were clear. The blizzard has made it so you have no connection with the outside world, and despite the fact that you are missing, no one has any reason to believe you're still at the school and need to be rescued. What happens then?
This it the premise of Michael Northrop's Trapped, a taut, first-hand tale of survival among Scotty Weems and his six schoolmates who, for a variety of reasons, are trapped inside their high school at the beginning of the Blizzard to End All Blizzards. As Scotty narrates the story from the vantage point of surviving it, he keeps the reader at arms-length from knowing exactly how it will all turn out but he isn't coy about admitting up front that not everyone makes it out alive.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
1. The trim size of the book itself is smaller than your usual tome. It measures 6" x 5" x 1/2".
2. There may be 185 poems in this book, but each one is a mere 3 lines (totalling 17 syllables) so . . . it's not a lot of words, I guess, is what I'm getting at.
When I think of books of this sort, I immediately think of the (sometimes disgusting but always entertaining) work of Ryan Mecum, whose collections Zombie Haiku, Vampire Haiku and Werewolf Haiku have been featured here. This book is truly different. For one thing, it's not about monsters, unless, of course, you consider pirates to be monsters - and certainly they do monstrous things sometimes, but it's not quite the same. Second, Pirate Haiku lacks the same degree of unified narrative as the Mecum books, although it does manage to put one together, telling the tale of One-Leg Sterling, a pirate who works his way up from crewman to captain the old-fashioned way: by mutiny! Quite a number of the haiku in the collection are the equivalent of one-liners. Like, say, this one:
Pirates like the diceOr this one:
Except when they are loaded.
Er, the dice, that is.
Pirates are simple.
We like rum, guns, wenches. And
Women like bad boys.
He spends some time marooned on one of Japan's islands where he learns martial arts, which leads to some really interesting shipboard battles as the book progresses. :
I learn FACE-KICKING,And hey, along the way, the book manages to answer the question: Pirates or Ninjas?
Which will come in handy when
I go back to sea.
Marines and merchants
Don't expect to get faces
Kicked when they are robbed.
You can check out the book and its author quite a bit more at the Pirate Haiku website, which contains amusing things like a video and excerpts from the book.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Mercy Lynch is a nurse in a war without end, and upon receiving devastating news, finds herself unwilling to deal with death any longer. Her decision to seek out her father takes her on a steampunk version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but with an airship, a boat, and a steam-driven train that is being pursed by the deadliest train the war has to offer. There are also a lot of questions ranging from “what dread disease is killing veterans” to “what happened to the missing Mexican soldiers” to “what is hidden under heavy guard on this blasted train.” None of these questions have good answers, though, and as much as Mercy would like to ignore them, she is not the “sit back and do nothing type,” and thus finds herself in the middle of the action with guns blazing and a determined glint in her eye. Mercy will get to Seattle come hell or high water, and Priest very nicely keeps her and her fellow passengers battling along the entire trip.
There is everything to like about Dreadnought from Mercy herself to Priest’s fresh yet familiar perspective on the war. The battle violence reads as right out of the history books, while the fictional techno flourishes keep things fun. This is an author at the top of her game and consistent in her dedication to making steampunk as much a part of the American landscape as its traditional Victorian London roots. Appealing on every level, the Clockwork Century titles are tailormade for teen readers and heartily recommended for light reading fans.
Crossposted from Bookslut.
Friday, January 7, 2011
After reading the news about the upcoming television adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis' Alias comic, I wanted to re-read the books. So I headed up to the attic to look for my copies.
I never found them, though, because I got distracted by Tommy Monaghan.
He's a superpowered hitman. He uses telepathy and x-ray vision and his unbeatable aim (not superpowered, though those he comes up against may wonder) to take out superpowered targets. He's got a moral code, though, and only goes after the bad guys.
He doesn't even use his superpowers to cheat at cards, though he's been known to use telepathy to get in good with the ladies. He's not out to save the world -- he just wants enough money for beer and cigarettes. And, someday, to retire to somewhere that isn't Gotham City.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
I like Rick Grimes. Really, I do. He's done some horrible...ok, downright deplorable... things - and on top of that he hears voices (his dead wife) and he apparently never sleeps - but there is still a core heroism about the man that drives the narrative of Robert Kirkman's ongoing comic The Walking Dead.
If you haven't heard of the The Walking Dead, you probably haven't turned on a television in a while, as Kirkman's serial has now been successfully adapted into a television series by writer/director Frank Darabont (of Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile fame) on the AMC network. The comic has been published for over five years, though, so there's a wealth of story to catch up on...and, anyway, the TV series is a distinctly separate entity. Some of the plot points intersect between the two, but it's clear they will also part ways fairly often. I suggest reading the comic first, then watching the subtle changes unfold in the AMC series.
With the proliferation of vampire and zombie novels and comics out there, it's easy to dismiss The Walking Dead as just another zombie cash-in. This could not be further from the truth. Sure, there are zombies a-plenty throughout the series (the beginning of which will remind you of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later), but it's the human characters who are the heart and soul of this comic. Following them, watching their lives devolve, watching them try to hang on to the last shred of human morality, is riveting stuff. This is no mere horror comic. It is a full-fledged serious (perhaps even domestic) drama played out within the confines of the zombie apocalypse. These are real, fully-developed characters and Kirkman has a no-holds-barred approach to their fates. Indeed, it's his willingness to allow characters a life (and death) of their own that continues to raise tension among readers. The longer a character survives, the more a chance he/she has of dying. There's no way to predict where this story is going to go.
Which brings me back to Rick Grimes, who, for all intents and purposes, is the protagonist of the series, even if the term "hero" seems far-fetched at this point, given his behavior and, often, his actions. Roger Ebert once wrote that the reason Schwarzenegger was an effective, appealing action movie star was because he didn't seem to be enjoying the violent acts he visited upon people. He was a man pushed into circumstances beyond his control and forced to do the unthinkable, but always with the jaw-jutting motivation of a man trying to do right in a world gone wrong. So it is with Rick Grimes.
Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of the HUGE Walking Dead Compendium. It won't get you completely caught up, but it will take you a long way there - and you may just find that you read this massive tome in one sitting. It's that damned good.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Decisions, decisions. You make dozens a day. What girl should I ask to the prom? Should I eat McDonald's or Burger King for lunch? What socks go best with these pants? Do I work as a lifeguard or a waiter this summer? Which broken down used car should I buy? Should I go to college? Which one?
You might be inclined to think that the best decisions are made when you have the most information and the most time to think. That seems commonsensical. But it turns out that's not always true. Studies of how humans make decisions and how successful those decisions are have shown that sometimes the gut reaction, the "feeling" that a decision is right is more accurate than the well-considered, well-researched choice.
Monday, January 3, 2011
If Touponce read C.J. Skuse's Pretty Bad Things, he'd have some idea of how important the concept of fairness is to teenagers. The twin heroes, Paisley and Beau, have been massively unfaired-on, and they're not gonna take it anymore.