Thursday, June 30, 2011
This excellent collection of stories really shows Leonard's range. It also features the story of Raylan Givens and his old friend Boyd Crowder. They used to dig coal together, but now Crowder is leading a skinhead group, Crowder's Commandos, and Givens is a United States Marshall. This story was the basis for the TV show Justified, and even though some changes were made for TV, the show and the story match up well together. The rest of the stories in this collection are very good also, particularly the title tale and one called "Tenkiller".
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The Burning Lake by Brent Ghelfi, 283 pages, thriller.
The fourth of Ghelfi's novels featuring ex-Spetsnaz Colonel, and current gangster, Alekei "Volk" Volkovoy is a disappointment. Volk, who is also a full-time secret officer serving under the shadowy General, seems to have lost his way. There is a dead journalist, a big-time nuclear waste scandal about to blow, and crazed assassins, but the story never really gels.
Interesting moments, but not up to the other three Volk novels.
Volk's Game, The Venona Cable or Shadow of the Wolf are all much better books.
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The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, 328 pages, Western
One of my favorite books this year. This is a well written tale about two assassins in the old west, Eli and Charlie Sisters. They work for a man named the Commodore, killing those he wants dead, seldom asking why. Eli narrates the story, and he is beginning to have second thoughts about their chosen profession. As the brothers head west for California, they argue, revisit old feuds, and try to decide whether or not they will keep killing.
Eli's is a unique voice and this was a joy to read.
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Keef is an alt-comics artist (and rapper); this huge collection starts in the early 90s and runs up into the Bush administration. The later strips become somewhat more political, but I always enjoy his take on things. I especially enjoy the tales from his second job working in a youth hostel. And I cannot express how much I love the little woolly sheep that turns up in the background of so many strips.
Plus I find that cartoons from the relatively recent past--editorial, or in this case more sociological--are a great way to pick up on culture change. Often I think "I remember that! Wait, how old is this? Wow, I didn't things had changed (not changed) that much."
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Spiral by Paul McEuen, thriller, 312 pages.
Paul McEuen, a professor of physics at Cornell, has written and entertaining and intelligent thriller, one where the science helps speed the book along. Liam Connor has long kept a secret concerning a biological agent developed as a doomsday weapon by the Japanese in the waning days of WWII. Now, sixty some years later, that secret is out and someone wants whole lot of people are going to start dying. Connor, or his granddaughter and great-grandson must figure out who is behind this and how to stop them.
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Ever wonder what Annie and I are talking about when we discuss steampunk? You can find the answer here. I came to steampunk from the fiction side of things, so I appreciated the primer on art, making, fashion and music. On the other hand, if you're only familiar with "steampunk" as an adjective describing jewelry with gears or neo-Victorian dress, this book will give you a grounding in the literary end of things, including the influences of Verne and Wells. Plus there are some really cool pictures. I think this elephant is my favorite.
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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education - by Diane Ravitch
In addition to Anton's family and business, he is to be married to a woman who has canceled the wedding twice already. What a twisted life this man leads. The book has enough intrigue to keep the pages turning and is set in some beautiful places. Really worth reading.
This is a short novel and serves as a prequel to What the Night Knows. Good stuff!
My second attempt at this series, which as far as I can tell ends with this volume, even if that was not the author's intent. The focus of this volume is Temperence Bane and her friend Amelia: Temper is famous as a mentalist (one who can "read" the dead), and makes her living doing magic shows in the parlors of the wealthy. Most of her act is just that--an act orchestrated between Temper and Amelia, with no magic involved. But Temper really can read the minds of the dead, and when she is asked to read a murder victim, she and Amy find themselves running from a dangerous killer of supernatural origins.
This second volume ofHernandez' series show improvement over the first in both art and storytelling. However, I felt like this story was trying to cram too much into too small a space. Yes, brevity might be considered part of the genre, but Hernandez has a LOT of different elements going on here, and while they are all addressed, they felt rushed in many places--so much so that the romance that should have been central to the story felt perfunctory. This is disappointing, because I felt like this could have been a really great graphic novel, but instead was only so-so. I'm also disappointed that the third volume mentioned in the author's afterward doesn't seem to have ever been published. I would have enjoyed watching her improve on her technique.
After a month and a half of labor, I am finally done reading this brick of a book. And I've got to say, I'm kind of glad I read it. King's tale of a rural Maine town literally cut off from the rest of the world by a transparent dome is pretty good, despite the time it took me to read it. The characters (of which there are hundreds) are all incredibly well-written, particularly town selectman Jim Rennie, a villain who makes Harry Potter's Delores Umbridge look downright cuddly. Rennie, I think, is the reason it took me so long to finish the book. As a crooked politician who believes God is on his side (no matter how many truly horrible things he does), Rennie seemed a little too real for comfort and I kept cringing at the idea of what he might do next. King didn't use paranormal or even too much of supernatural beings in this book, yet he had me so freaked out that I dreaded turning the page. That, my friends, is horror at its finest.
As a side note, in King's author's note at the end of the book, he writes that he started work on this book in 1976, got 75 pages in and gave up. Too afraid to continue, until he tried again in 2007. Reading that after slogging through the preceding story made me feel a bit better about my own experience with Under the Dome. If the author got freaked out by the enormity of the story, then I suppose it's alright that I did too. Although I must say that for my next book, I'll be turning to something considerably lighter (weight-wise, that is).
Annie Fuller Credibility Rating (post-volume 4): 1 (it REALLY is that good...this is no joke)
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
A fascinating look at a period of history that was never covered in my high school history classes: the great migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow South to the North. Wilkerson grounds her book with in-depth discussion of the lives of three specific people, which illuminates the more general discussions. Well worth reading.
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Book two of the trilogy. I was somewhat disappointed in the development of Deryn and Alek's relationship in this one, but the setting is amazing. Looking forward to the final book in the trilogy this fall.
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I'm still immensely enjoying this series. This book picks up about 7 years after Crocodile on the Sandbank, with our main characters happily married, and parents to young son who may be an evil genius. Amelia and her husband are called away from their family home, however, to finish a dig that's been cut short by a series of tragedies. The string of events (everything from sickness to injury to death) has lead most to believe there's an ancient curse at work, but Amelia believes there's a more mundane cause, and she's out to catch the culprit.
I LOVED the relationship between Amelia and Emerson as it was portrayed in this book. Amelia is too practical to get choked up on emotions, but it's clear that she and Emerson are crazy about each other, even in their arguments. I'm looking forward to picking up the next book in this series, The Mummy Case.
Like her celebrated Bel Canto, this new novel is set in South America, in this case, somewhere in the Amazonian jungles of Brazil. It opens in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where Dr. Marina Singh learns, through a distressingly curt and incomplete note from Dr. Anneck Swenson, that her office mate and fellow researcher, Anders Eckman, has died and been hastily buried at the outpost in the Amazon where the secretive Swenson is investigating a promising new fertility drug. He had been sent out by the pharmacology lab’s head, Mr. Fox, to find out what exactly is going on, since Dr. Swenson refuses answer questions by phone or computer – and is, in fact, not revealing exactly where she is doing her work. When he fails to return, Marina, who is in a romantic relationship with Mr. Fox, is sent to complete his mission and bring back anything belonging to him to his wife and three young sons. She also has an earlier connection to Dr. Swenson, who was her teacher in medical school and is, in part, responsible for Marina fleeing medical practice to the safer field of pharmacology after she committed a traumatizing surgical error. With many echoes of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of darkness, the story follows Marina as she pushes deeper and deeper into both the jungle and the secrets it holds. Although the writing is evocative and the characters well-drawn, there was something about the novel that I found somewhat off-putting and I finished it feeling vaguely disappointed. Perhaps the Heart of darkness theme is a bit forced, and the symbolic names (Eden Prairie, a real place, is clearly Eden to Marina, who loves its flat, wide-open spaces, so unlike the smothering embrace of the jungle) got to be a bit much. 368 pp.
A very good novel peopled with eccentric, vivid characters, not the least of which is the rabbit named “god.” Elly begins life in just as her mother’s parents’ lives end in an accident. With her mother grief-stricken during Elly’s early years, she bonds instead most closely with her older brother, Joe, who at eight is “already hooked on the verse of Noel Coward and the songs of Kander and Ebb.” It is this relationship, along with that to her mysterious childhood friend, Jenny Penny, who lives with her mum and a series of “uncles,” that form the emotional core of the book. However, there are so many other wonderful characters, such as her father’s theatrical sister, Nancy, who introduced him to his wife, mostly to keep her near; and the aging fop, Arthur, who arrives as a guest to her parent’s B&B in Cornwall and stays the remainder of his life. Ranging from London, to Cornwall, to post-9/11 New York, the book explores love and loss – with a great deal of humor and a little bit of magic. 296 pp.
This is an unusual, artistic, and creative take on the life and work of Marie Curie, her husband Pierre, her lover Paul, Langevin, and her daughter and son-in-law, Irene and Frederic Joliot-Curie. Using drawings, transparencies, cyanotype prints, photos, articles, maps, and more, Redniss presents the story of the Curies plus related information related to radioactivity, nuclear weapons, Chernobyl, and more. It's always intriguing although frequently the text is hard to read on the colored pages. While I was familiar with the lives and work of the Curies and their offspring, there was much in the side articles I didn't know. Added notes and appended information, including an explanation of cyanotype printing, adds to the experience.
This is a fascinating book both for the subject matter and especially the wonderful way it is presented.
In this installment, Rick Deckard administers the empathy test to bounty hunter Phil Resch so they can both find out if he is an android. Isidore, the "chickenhead" continues his infatuation with the newcomer to his derelict building, Pris. He brings her food and while at her apartment two of her friends arrive. They have a discussion of how the bounty hunters have killed the rest of their group of android escapees from Mars. They make plans to protect themselves. Deckard takes the bounties he received for his last kills and uses it for a down payment on a real live goat.
This volume also contains articles by three other authors about how Dick's writing influenced them.
The setting of this book is what made me pick this up. Set in a remote part of west Texas in the late 19th century, this is the story of Glory and Sumner, two brilliant mechanics who can communicate with the great machine known as Cathedral. The goal of the Cathedral project is to create a sentient machine, but Cathedral has never quite lived up to that goal--until Glory starts to speak with it.
This story had a lot of promise, but didn't quite live up to it. Or maybe it did, and I just didn't get it--because I found this book almost impossible to follow at some points. It's not just the art (which is good, but doesn't handle action scenes particularly well), but the page layout and the way Cathedral's "speech" is handled: the disembodied "voice" of the machine would probably be really cool on film, but is hard to distinguish from narration and thought bubbles in the text, and confusing as to how I should interpret it (is this music, with a translation included? An actual voice? R2-D2 noises???). I'll still pick up Hernandez's next book in this series, in the hopes that she's improved her storytelling a little.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
At our first W&P meeting, my small group seemed to generally feel that Tolstoy was disparaging toward women. I disagree. He was certainly a 19th century aristocratic male, but he also spent an awful lot of time observing women very closely. And, if the extent that a writer moves away from the virgin/whore dichotomy in female characters measures his progressiveness, then Tolstoy does pretty well. Sure, Helene is a consummate whore and viper, but Natasha can't be neatly slotted into a category, and she's the important one. At least I think so, at the moment. What do you think?
I only picked this up because I enjoyed the other graphic biographies in this series. This one was almost as good as the ones by Rick Geary. It is a pretty accurate accounting of Reagan and his politics, his rabid anti-communism, using 'sound bites' to his advantage, his manipulation of facts, and his foibles. I was confused by the depictions of Reagan's first wife, Jane Wyman, as a blonde but on investigation I discovered that she frequently had blonde hair in her younger days. This book shows how Reagan was a much better actor while in office than he ever was in the movies.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Annie Fuller Credibility (pre-volume 3): 0
Annie Fuller Credibility (post- volume 3): -1
Annie Fuller credibility rating (pre-volume 2): -1
Annie Fuller credibility rating (post-volume 2): 0
Annie Fuller credibility rating (post-volume 3): tune in next time, folks...
Okay, I've officially started this series. This is the first time Black Canary and Oracle have teamed up, but it also introduces the Huntress, and features cameos from Catwoman, Lady Shiva, and other villains of the DC universe.
I'm still not thirlled with Dixon's writing in this series, and to be honest, I got bored with parts of this collection. I'm close to starting the Gail Simone era soon, so I hope the series will improve with new authorship.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, biography, 904 pages, 14 hrs 20 mins on audio.
Chernow's excellent account of the life and career of George Washington is uniformly well-written and fascinating. Chernow tells of Washington's early days with his father, his mother, and his many siblings and half-siblings (George was the eldest child of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary). When Washington's father died in 1743, George's hopes for a first-rate education died with him. Washington always regretted not having had the best education, but apparently he was able to lead a full life without it. A great read.
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Friday, June 24, 2011
This summer, I'm going to forgo my annual Batman read-a-thon in favor of visiting another corner of the DC Universe: Birds of Prey. I know, this isn't technically a Birds of Prey title, but it came up on every list of important collections I checked, so I'm reading it. Even though I've read Dixon's work on this series before, and couldn't stand it. I'm just that dedicated.
So this story arc finds a young Dick Grayson setting up shop as his own vigilante in Bludhaven, the next town over from Gotham. He's just graduated from the police academy, but isn't corrupt enough to make it into the Bludhaven PD, so right now his crime fighting is confined to his alter ego. Meanwhile, one of the crime bosses of Bludhaved has decided he's fed up with Oracle raiding his offshore accounts whenever she feels like it, and sics a team of hackers on her to track her location. The most notable thing that happens in this book was the first face-to-face meeting for Oracle and Black Canary. The story ends on a cliffhanger, with Black Canary captured and the bad guys thinking she's Oracle. Unfortunately, I think this is one of those cases where the concluding issues have not been collected. So I'm just going to assume that Dinah escapes and everything's cool. Because she is, after all, in the rest of the series.
I wasn't too impressed by this book, and there were two things that kept me from getting into the story: the art, while good, simply isn't to my taste, and I found myself getting confused by the exaggerated porportions; also, the book was littered with typos (the most annoying was characters repeatedly referring to Oracle as a "she" when they've just given a long speech about how they don't know if Oracle is a man, woman, group, or computer program). This is what editors are for, guys. Especially in reprinted collections.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
This mammoth collection contains 5 years of Zot! comics plus commentary by the author. I was entirely unfamiliar with this comic since in those years I was busy caring for my then small children, not reading comics. The beginning editions were so-so. Girl (Jenny) meets superhero (Zot) from an alternate Earth in another dimension. Superhero fights bad guys on his Earth and takes girl and her friends on escapades on the alternate Earth. In later editions McCloud explores the lives of Jenny's Earth friends. Zot has been trapped in our dimension and attempts to fight the crime that is found everywhere with disastrous results. On his world the crime is confined to acts by specific evil individuals he can fight one on one. In our dimension he learns about poverty, racism, drug abuse, and street crime. These editions also cover other weightier topics like divorce, alcoholic parents, gay-bashing, coming out, and teen sex. The section titled "Earth Stories" is by far the best part of the book. McCloud's commentary covers the evolution of the comic.
Side note: I kept seeing the name of the editor, cat yronwode, in this book and it took quite awhile for me to figure out why I knew that name. Eventually it dawned on me that while I'm not sure I've actually met her, she does attend a con in California that I have attended and owns a little shop there.
A plane full of beauty queens crash lands on a deserted island. That's Bray's book in a nutshell, but like her previous, Going Bovine, there's so much more to it than that. The girls find themselves in a Lord of the Flies meets Lost scenario, with strange people showing up on the island (including literature-loving pirates!), crazy monsters attacking, and their own insecurities manifesting in the isolation. Ultimately, this is a very empowering book without ever getting preachy. Also, if you're unfamiliar with Bray, her writing is hilarious, and I often found myself wishing there was someone to whom I could read these brilliant lines (I settled for my dog, who mostly puts up with it). The characters are also wonderful--with such a large and diverse cast, it would have been really easy for Bray to slip into stereotypes or caricatures, but she fleshes out each character fully (well, except for the Sarah Palin knock-off, but that's okay). This is easily going on my best of the year list.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
At the end of the previous volume, bounty hunter Rick Deckard was being held at laser gunpoint by the android opera singer Luba Luft. She calls the police who take Deckard into custody. Instead of being taken to the building that houses the department he works for, Deckard is taken to an alternate Police Dept. building that is populated by androids. There he is investigated by another bounty hunter, named Phil Resch, who Deckard has never met. Eventually they both come to the realization that Resch is an android also. After partnering to hunt down and kill Luba Luft, Resch is left to decide what to do about himself. This volume also includes writings by Jonahtan Lethem, an author and long time fan of Dick.
The title of this slim graphic novel is almost as long as the book. However, there is a lot packed into it's few pages. A group of friends with the addition of the not-particularly pleasant and argumentative Miss Finch spend an evening attending a bizarre and somewhat creepy circus in an old building. Miss Finch only agrees to join them after being told there are no animal acts. The audience is directed from room to room to observe a variety of circus "acts" by a ringmaster dressed as Alice Cooper from his "Welcome to My Nightmare" days. Miss Finch is then drawn away to be an audience participant in the show. In the end, she is gone...but where did she go?
Monday, June 20, 2011
I started reading this series because I so much enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, and had heard from many, many people that the main characters of those books are essentially reworkings of Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson from Peters’ mysteries (that’s very true, by the way: I can totally see Amelia and Alexia sitting down to tea in some alternate Victorian London and snarking about men, society, and parasols. But I digress.) I had also been told by many other sources that this series was worth checking out--so here I am.
This story opens with Amelia in Italy, en route to Cairo. Her father’s death has left her a wealthy, well-educated (and very opinionated) spinster of 32, and she’s decided to do what she always wanted: see Egypt. Along the way, she befriends an honorable-but-disgraced noblewoman and the prickly gentleman archaeologist, Radcliffe Emerson (though maybe “befriends” is the wrong word to use here—Amelia and Emerson are both so stubborn that all they do is fight). While visiting Emerson’s dig, the group finds themselves haunted by a mysterious figure that appears to be a walking mummy, bent on destroying the dig. Amelia sets out to uncover the culprit behind the apparition, while studying the rudiments of archaeology along the way.
I loved this book for so many reasons: The Egyptology is accurate (as it should be: Peters is the pen name of a successful Egyptologist), which is important to me in a book like this. Having an introduction to Eyptology helped, but Peters explains things well enough that even a person with no previous knowledge of the field should be able to pick it up. And yet Peters never goes in for the info-dump; the story sails along smoothly, and Amelia and Emerson’s constant bickering/flirting adds just enough romance to keep it interesting, without turning into an all-out romance. And Amelia and Emerson throw some one-liners into the story that had me laughing out loud. To make it even better, the book was set at Amarna, one of my favorite places in Egyptian history.
I should mention, though, that there were some elements of the book I enjoyed less: Amelia-as-narrator tends to take a very Imperialist view of the Egyptian people that often made me uncomfortable, despite the fact that such opinions fit her time period and character. I think I could have gotten around it, but I really liked Amelia otherwise, and every time she made some condescending comment about the non-British characters, I questioned whether I should like her. I reminded myself that this book was written almost 40 years ago, so maybe later entries in this series will be more enlightened. I definitely going to keep going with the series to see how it progresses.