If I had to have a Five Favourite Things in the Book List:
1. Charon and his love of easy listening music. 2. The way Ares' weapons camouflage themselves for public consumption. 3. The way Percy's Mom (view spoiler)[murders her husband with Medusa's head and (hide spoiler)] fits right in with the spirit of the Gods. 4. The meeting with the Nereid and her gifts to Percy. 5. Camp Half-Blood
If I had to have a Five Crappy Things in the Book List:
1. The time wasting at the Lotus Casino. 2. Smelly Gabe 3. Percy's love of blue candy. Seriously? Is that character development? 4. The idea that the Ares' daughters must be brutish and ugly. 5. The use of the term Half-Blood
If I had to watch the movie version of this (which I will, undoubtedly): "Why did they ...?! But there was no need to ...! They cast him as ...?! How old are the supposed ...? This is torture, Los, do I have to ...?"
If I have to read the sequel: "Yes please." (less)
I discovered Eric Wight when I stumbled upon his Frankie Pickle books and bought them for my son. I fell in love with his art and humour straight away...moreI discovered Eric Wight when I stumbled upon his Frankie Pickle books and bought them for my son. I fell in love with his art and humour straight away and started looking for his other work, which led me to My Dead Girlfriend.
There is only one way to describe this book: cute.
I like cute. In this case cute contains funny and smart and cool and true.
Mostly it's humour comes from the smarty-pants of Phineas Bleak, a little boy whose family -- apart from his triplet sisters named April, May and June -- are ghosts. All dead. But his dead Mom and Dad are still good parents, and they care for Finny, making sure he is still attending Mephisto Prep, where he gets to apply his poisonous wit on the bullies of the Deadbeat clique or while fending off the "potion pushing" of Salamander Mugwart and her coven of Glindas.
The smart and cool are all wrapped up with the funny stuff, and together they make up three quarters of the cute.
And then there is the true stuff. The last and most important part of teh cute. Wight actually recognizes, straight away, that little boys AND GIRLS think about sex and love. So the story revolves around Fin's lost love, a beautiful girl -- who's almost as witty as Fin -- named Jenny Wraith.
They met at the carnival, had one shining day together, fell in love and made a date to meet the next day. Jenny never showed up and Fin pined away for months before he found out that she died on her way to see him. But she finally reveals herself as his guardian ghost the day he makes a move to get over her and asks Dahlia out on a date. What?! She's a manipulative little ghost, that Jenny. But then who wouldn't be if their boy was about to get over them?
And this isn't just platonic puppy love we're talking about here. Wight actually recognizes that more goes on in the thoughts of teenagers and more is bound to go on in the life of teenagers. There is a killer ethereal smooch and some serious heavy petting. This is sexuality that is true to the teenage spirit, at least the spirit I remember, and yet it all manages to remain cute and sweet.
Put all together in its cute package, My Dead Girlfriend is an excellent little comic book (they call it Manga on the cover, and maybe it is. I don't know Manga. But it felt like a comic to me). My kids will love it. (less)
I dug Blighted Seattle and the Outskirts, but I wanted more detail in the former and more...moreI dug Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, but I wanted so much more.
I dug Blighted Seattle and the Outskirts, but I wanted more detail in the former and more time in the latter.
I dug the Rotters, but I wanted more rot, more zombie madness, and more exploration of their potential ability to communicate and problem solve.
I dug the pseudo-history and Hale Quarter, the fictional biographer, but I wanted more installments of his history.
I dug the back story of Leviticus Blue, but I wanted to be convinced that he was evil rather than merely devastatingly irresponsible because while I can see devastatingly irresponsible as being negative for all, I don’t think it can really be called evil.
I dug Dr. Minnerecht, but I wanted more time in his lair, more time with his nasty deeds, and way less of his silly petulance.
I dug Zeke, but I wanted him to do more, to be more active.
I dug how Briar took responsibility for the killing of Levi Blue, but I didn’t like that she did it nor the way that she did it, and I find the general cheering on of her actions a bit disconcerting.
I liked the supporting cast, but I wanted more of what brought them to where they were, what motivated them, what they cared about, who they were pre- & post-Blight.
I dug the technological steampunk elements, and was more than willing to suspend my disbelief, but I wanted more of the steampunk social criticism to go along with the toys.
I dug the hints of a larger world beyond Seattle, but I wish there’d been more of it here so I wouldn’t have to wait for Clementine.
I dug that there were three interesting women, but I didn’t like their disdain for men nor that they felt like three versions of the same woman.
I dug the dirigibles, and for once there was enough time with the Skypirates to fulfill my desire.
WARNING: This review contains some vulgarity. Please don't read this if you are have a delicate sensibility. Thanks.
8 Things I liked + 1 I didn't + 1...moreWARNING: This review contains some vulgarity. Please don't read this if you are have a delicate sensibility. Thanks.
8 Things I liked + 1 I didn't + 1 I hated
8. It's cinematic. -- I don't know if I'd have appreciated this if I hadn't read The Hunger Games in anticipation of the film's release, but the March 23rd premiere precipitated my read, and I could see the action of this book on my "head screen." It's going to work as a movie, and Collins' successfully tranferred the action she saw moving in her mind to the page. She made me see it too, and I am now officially stoked to see the film of her tale.
7. First person. -- I was not impressed with the first person perspective in the first chapter, but by the time Katniss was moving through the arena I understood how right that perspective was. It ramped up the suspence, and it's going to make for an easier transition to the big screen.
6. The Capitol and Districts. -- Plenty of real world, contemporary issues to be found in the structure of Panem. Plenty of room for criticism. Plenty of bile directed at the haves and honouring of the have-nots (now haves?). It may be worth adding this to a first year reading list, but I worry that things fall apart as the series progresses. Which reminds me of the question I had throughout ... "does this really need to be a series?" It feels like one book should be enough.
5. Nostalgia. -- I remember an old Sci-Fi paperback from my Junior High library with one of those pulpy covers. There was some hilltop with a a black sky gate opening above, and for some reason I remember a bunch of kids doing combat on some planet. I wish I could remember something more about the book, but every page of The Hunger Games took me back to the halls of Don Bosco and that book cover keeps flashing in front of my eyes. I love it when shit like that happens.
4. Dystopia. -- I love dystopian books, and as dystopias go this is one of the most normal -- which ramps up the creepiness for me. I pretty much live in District 11 at the moment, and I can see us heading down the road to our own Hunger Games a generation or two from now. There's some compelling immediacy here for me.
3. Mockingjays and Tracker Jackers -- These were some of the best future tech innovations I've ever read. Their backstories made sense, they were well integrated into the tale, they were used subtly, and they added just the right amount of verisimilitude. They were well struck notes, and I will remember them both forever (unless the film fucks them up).
2. Katniss Everdeen. -- I believed in her as a character. She rang true, sure and true (sorry, I'm listening to Albert Hammond), and I can overlook all kinds of crap when I love a character as much as I love Katniss. Her choices made sense to the woman she is; her skills were within reason; I believed her loves and hates; and her conflicts worked. She's the only reason I'd be compelled to read on (well, I would read on also if the movie was good enough to drive me to the sequel).
1. It's compelling. -- I stayed up until the wee hours to read this. I don't do that on purpose anymore. I may keep reading when my insomnia kicks in to keep myself sane, but to actually risk messing up my sleep schedule to finish a book is a rarity. But I needed to finish. And it was mostly worth it.
1. It's sheaf, Suzanne. -- It's not a "sheath" of arrows. It's a sheaf. I thought it was a typo the first time, then it was repeated throughout. Piss poor editing, and an annoying mistake that really could have been avoided.
1. Wolfie Muttations. -- I see no defensible purpose for this bizarre twist. I saw it coming, was begging Collins not to do it, and was left deflated by its happening. Mercifully it ended quickly and we were back on track, but this was a cheap piece of manipulation that really took away from the story for me. I didn't need any more reason to think that Panem and its Capitol were fucked. This was Collins' one bad choice. Overdetermine much?(less)
When I was reading Joshua Mowll's Operation Red Jericho to my son, I kept hearing the foley effects, the radio crackle, and the commercials for the Ar...moreWhen I was reading Joshua Mowll's Operation Red Jericho to my son, I kept hearing the foley effects, the radio crackle, and the commercials for the Army that accompanied the great radio tales of Lamont Cranston.
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"
"The Honourable Guild of Specialists knows. Mwaaaahhaaaahhhaaa!"
It may seem strange that a book published in 2005 would conjure such aural memories in a man born well after the Golden Age age of radio, particularly considering so many of the pleasures of Operation Red Jericho are visual, but Mowll's tale contains an innocent simplicity, a nostalgic, war era siss-boom-bah that has intrigued me since I was a boy. I sought out the great radio shows and eventually went on to write a radio drama. So I am a huge fan of the stories Mowll was paying homage to, and it was refreshing to see someone today going to the roots of the serial adventure rather than simply paying homage to Indiana Jones, itself an homage, and thereby serving up a bland copy of what was once at the core of so many boys' imaginations.
Operation Red Jericho gives us something more. Sure it isn't great literature. It's not a mind-blowing experience that shouldn't be missed. It's not even widely accessible to today's boys. But it is a heck of a yarn told with love and care, and for those few boys with imaginations that go beyond the television set, Operation Red Jericho can be a gateway into comic books, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, and anything else that turns boys into lifetime readers.
It's not particularly original (though it doesn't need to be since it is an homage) and the characters are mere archetypes (as it should be for the same reason) but Mowll takes all the classic pieces of pulpy adventures -- exotic locales, sadistic madmen, champagne sociopaths, scrappy women, tigers, torture devices and cliffhangers -- and offers them up in a pretty package full of diagrams, maps, photos, and sketches -- enough verisimilitude to convince any 5-10 year old boy that the adventures of Douglas and Becca MacKenzie are, indeed, possible and that, at least for one brother and sister duo, they were very real.
Now I have to go out and find us a few episodes of the Shadow, so Miloš can hear what I hear when we're reading Operation Red Jericho.(less)
The strangest thing about Phillip Pullman's The Subtle Knife is that it doesn't feel like the second book in a series, making me wonder whether Pullma...moreThe strangest thing about Phillip Pullman's The Subtle Knife is that it doesn't feel like the second book in a series, making me wonder whether Pullman first wrote this in conjunction with The Amber Spyglass, then wrote The Golden Compass as a prequel, which then became the first book in the series once they were published.
Not that it matters.
What matters is that The Subtle Knife is too fast, too plot driven, and too much "a set-up" book to be an effective second book in the trilogy. Second books are generally strong because they give the reader a chance to breathe and get to know the characters. Not so in The Subtle Knife. Instead, Pullman introduces new characters, and not just peripheral characters, but Will, a character who seems to be the primary protagonist of His Dark Materials, and Mary, who will create the amber spyglass of the third book.
Meanwhile, characters who seemed important in The Golden Compass, Azriel, Iorek and even Lyra are either supporting cast or merely spoken of.
Perhaps this would work if the series was longer, if Pullman took more time with his stories, gave us greater detail, but he doesn't. Everything is fast, too fast, and the characters suffer, making it difficult to care about what is happening.
The Subtle Knife is definitely a let down after Pullman's quite good The Golden Compass, and I have little hope for The Amber Spyglass, but I will know soon enough since I feel compelled to finish the series.
One sidebar: for those who insist on calling this series "atheist," you should understand what atheism is. This series is anti-god, but that means the book MUST NOT be atheist. To be anti-god a story must posit a god, and by assuming the presence of a god (or god-like force) a story cannot be atheist. So there you go. (less)
Finished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and...moreFinished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and the intervening years have not been kind to our relationship. I've reread The Lord of the Rings in that time, and been both dazzled and repulsed by Peter Jackson's screen interpretation of them. I revised my intellectual response to Tolkien, if not my feelings, because of the racism inherent in the Trilogy, then I revised it again because of the sexism.
But the Hobbit comes out in the theatres this year, and my kids are HUGE fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman -- Sherlock and Watson on the BBC's Holmes update -- and since they just happen to be playing Smaug and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, I thought it was about time I revisited Middle Earth with my kids, setting aside my Tolkien grievances to awake some non-Potter magic in their hearts.
It was the single best reading aloud experience I've ever had, and I've read many, many books with Të and Loš in their seven years. They loved it like nothing else I've read. Miloš actually wept when Thorin died (which took me completely by surprise). Brontë adored Fili & Kili, and has drawn some spectacular pictures of Smaug. Even Scoutie toddled her way into the readings once in a while, wanting to be part of the energy and excitement.
Reading the Hobbit aloud was nothing like what I had expected. I expected the read to be a slog. I was thinking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prose, that heavily descriptive, pseudo-archaic language that delivers so much weight to the War of the Rings, and I thought it would be impossible to keep my kids interested (though I had to try). Boy, was I wrong.
I remembered that Bilbo was the slightly-veiled narrator, but I assumed he would sound like Tolkien. I always remembered it that way, but it wasn't and he didn't. The narrative and the narration didn't just sound like Bilbo Baggins, it was Bilbo Baggins, with Bilbo often intruding quite literally on the telling (hiding his identity, of course, as any good ring bearer would). It was a conversation between Bilbo and my kids, and I was able to become Bilbo and tell the tale as our little Hobbit rather than as a dad reading to his kids in the winter of their seventh year.
Something marvellous occurred to me during my reading, something I'd missed each time I'd read the book in the past -- and it's the true genius of Tolkien's writing. I have always marvelled at his world building, his linguistic gymnastics, his deep, believable, overwhelming mythologies (even when other issues have frustrated me). I have been blown away by the fierce creativity of Tolkien's mind. But I suddenly realized what a subtle writer he truly was. The Hobbit, you see, is a lie. It is a white lie, perhaps -- an hyperbolous exaggeration by a bit player turning himself into the star -- but it is a lie from beginning to end, and Tolkien wants us to find the lie (and to do that we must be well versed in the Lord of the Rings -- so J.R.R. was busy forcing some deep intertexuality, amongst other brilliant things) and love Mr. Baggins all the more for the lie.
In Lord of the Rings we see an extended and objective vision of four hobbits, each heroic in their own way, each impressive, each foolish and/or weak, each capable of making decisions and driving events, but they are merely part of a much larger whole. They are members of a party of beings who can and do the same things as they. Aragorn is a king in the making; Gandalf the White, née Grey, is the catalyst of action; Boromir is noble and tortured and tragically heroic; Legolas and Gimli and Eomer and Eowyn and Treebeard and Gollum and Faramir and others all have roles to play, all are capable, all are important. But in the Hobbit -- with the exception of Gandalf once in a while -- Bilbo Baggins, or so he tells us, is the only one capable of anything great, and everyone else's great moments, if they have them, depend on him.
He is like no other Hobbit who ever lived. He's also completely full of shit, which makes me love him even more. There's probably a sliver of truth in everything our furry footed unreliable narrator tells us, but whatever that sliver is really doesn't matter because The Hobbit isn't about the truth, it's about the weaving of a tale, and this is the one time that J.R.R. Tolkien achieves that weaving perfectly. The Hobbit is mesmerizing for those who read it and those who have it read to them.
I wonder what the movie will do with Bilbo's attercoppy web of deceit. Will Jackson play it straight, and retell the tale in the same way he told Lord of the Rings (I can't imagine a bigger mistake)? Will it be dour and serious, and will Bilbo's lies be taken as truth? Will the movie be the book, lies and all? Will Jackson somehow tip us off to Bilbo's bullshit? Or will he dig deep into the tale and tell us the Hobbit that really was but never made it onto the page? Will all the events be there, but will the Dwarves be more capable? Will Thorin be more impressive? Will Bard and Beorn and Gandalf be more than deus ex machinas? Will Smaug be more frightening, and will his demise be more his own responsibility and less Bilbo's? Whatever the case, I think Jackson will have a much harder time delivering a satisfying Hobbit, though I bet it will be more loved than his first three.
It doesn't matter what the movie(s) do(es), though. What matters is that for those who take the time to read this with their loved ones, who read to their children or
for those who really embrace the telling, The Hobbit will always remain one of the most rewarding literary experiences you can have.
I love this book more now that I ever have before. I hope, with fingers crossed, that a year or two from now, Miloš or Brontë or Scoutie will bring me our tattered old copy of the Hobbit and ask me to read it again. Or, maybe someday, when I am old and dying, one of them will come by the home I am wasting away in and read it to me. That is about the most beautiful way to die I can imagine. And it will be comfortable and cozy in a way that Bilbo would approve.
*stolen with love and respect from Ceridwen's fantastic review. Go see it for yourself.(less)
Goblet of Fire's sprawling messiness is fascinating to me. It seems to mark the moment when J.K. Rowling gained full power over her creation. She wasn...moreGoblet of Fire's sprawling messiness is fascinating to me. It seems to mark the moment when J.K. Rowling gained full power over her creation. She wasn't a struggling, driven, single mom anymore -- she was J.K. ROWLING! She was a literary superstar, and suddenly she could do anything she wanted without hindrance.
The result is a giant mess. She's got a Quidditch World Cup happening; she's got the crazy Triwizard Tournament, and all its machinations; she's got Harry's hormones starting to rage; she's got a jumble of adult politics and the old and new wars against Voldemort competing with Harry for time; she's got the endless Rita Skeeter vs. Hermione subplot; then she's got the Hermione - Dobby - Winky - SPEW debate; she's got the first appearance of the Pensieve, and its onslaught of explication; she's got not-Mad Eye Moody to introduce, the first serious appearance of Voldemort, another ghostly visitation, Padfoot hanging around in caves, Fred & George scheming their brains out, and Dumbledore being his usual forthcoming self; she's got Tournament challenges and school to deliver; she's got humiliating dances for us to attend; she's got the death of Cedric Diggory; and she's got all her usual suspects -- Snape, McGonagall, Neville, Hagrid, the Malfoys, etc., etc.. It's a lot of ground to cover. I think it is too much, and I am sure that if she hadn't been an institution, she'd have been forced to cut and trim.
But I am damn glad she wasn't forced to cut and trim. Sure Goblet of Fire could have been tighter. Sure it could have been a slicker story, more compelling, faster in the telling. But fuck all that. Life is messy. Shit is always going on around you. Just look around tomorrow and you'll see it happening. And all of those diversions, all of that messiness, is a reflection of the way life is.
More importantly, though, I just love the fact that an author -- ANY AUTHOR -- reached that stage with her writing, reached the point where it was so beloved she could tell the story her way without any interference. Most authors only get to do that if they stay in the ghettoes of self-publishing, but Rowling moved into the gated suburbs and painted her house all the colours of the rainbow, and she was so fucking rich and powerful that the community council just let her do her thing. That is authorial victory, and that makes Goblet of Fire a personal fave.
Besides, it's kinda fun despite its flaws. And it is the first time I really fell for Hermione. She's one of the great supporting characters in all of literature. Seriously. She's up there with Dr. Watson (but better).(less)