In many ways Emily Maguire's Taming the Beast feels like a companion novel to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. But instead of getting inside the head of a cIn many ways Emily Maguire's Taming the Beast feels like a companion novel to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. But instead of getting inside the head of a charming liar like Humbert, Maguire examines how an illicit romance between a teacher and student can impact the lives of just about every one involved.
At the age of fourteen, Sarah Chalke is seduced by her English teacher. At first it's their love of words and literature that brings them together, but one afternoon things become heated and the two begin an illicit (and illegal) romance, including lots of after school encounters. Sarah keeps the affair a secret from everyone but her best friend, Jaime, who is secretly in love with Sarah. Things end with Mr. Carr's takes a new job at a different school and decides to try and work things out with his wife, who has become aware of the affair.
The emotional and psychological impact of the affair follows Sarah for her entire life, influencing every relationship and decision she has after that. Despite having an interest and drive to further her education, Sarah is estranged from her conservative family and forced to make it on her own in the world, taking on a string of short-term lovers, none of whom satisfy her needs in quite the same way Mr. Carr did. Sarah even strings Jaime along over the years, including during Jaime's engagement, marriage and becoming a father. In many ways, Jaime sees himself as the only thing keeping Sarah from going off the deep end and maybe he can save her if he simply loves her enough.
Then one day, Mr. Carr wanders back into Sarah's life and things go from bad to worse. Controlling and manipulative, Carr wants to dictate to Sarah all aspects of her life.
Taming the Beast is a book full of fascinating characters, none of them extremely likable. Each character is blinded by self-destructive tendencies and an ability to justify their behavior to themselves as "doing the right thing." In many ways, this is a novel about addictions and self-delusion. It makes for a fascinating read for the first half of the book, but once Mr. Carr shows back up things take a left turn and the novel never quite recovers. It makes a bunch of likably unlikable characters completely unlikeable and I found myself becoming frustrated with the bad choices everyone was making. Maybe that's what Maguire is going for in the novel. I'm not one who feels that every book should have a "happy ending." But it still feels like this one just misses the mark when it comes to sticking the landing. ...more
After sitting on my bookshelf for three years (and multiple attempts to make it past the first twenty or so pages), I finally decided it was time to gAfter sitting on my bookshelf for three years (and multiple attempts to make it past the first twenty or so pages), I finally decided it was time to give J.K. Rowling's first non-Potter book The Casual Vacancy my full attention. I'd read and enjoyed her two mystery novels and hoped that maybe having read those, I wouldn't be looking for bits of magic and fantasy in the novel. I will also admit I was motivated by curiosity about the mini-series and I'm enough of a bibliophile that I don't generally like to watch the adaptation without reading the book first.
And so, I was determined to read The Casual Vacancy. And I did.
And I didn't actually care for it all that much.
Now before all the Rowling fans get up in arms and start heading up the mountain with pitchforks and torches, let me say that I felt the novel had an interesting starting point and the first third of it actually held my attention and had my intrigued to see what would come next. When council member Barry Fairbrother passes away suddenly, he leaves an opening on the council and some gaps in the lives of his family and the people he touched. I'll admit that early on, I was intrigued by the lives of the various people that Barry's life touched and how his death had an impact on them. But somewhere around the middle third of the book, I started to lose track of characters, their relationships to each other and their general story arc. Part of this I blame on an excessive number of characters in the book and part of I blame on Rowling for not really having much for them to do in the middle third of the book but tread water. It all means that by the final third of the novel, I'd lost most of my interest in most of the characters and couldn't help but wonder if Rowling couldn't or shouldn't have wrapped things up sooner. Or perhaps had a better editor. I have a feeling if this one hadn't had the name J.K. Rowling on the manuscript it might have got a tighter editing and been a better book.
As it stands, Rowling's first post-Potter offering is a bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, she's shown off some skills in the mystery genre since this one hit the shelves. ...more
Have you ever heard the saying that if you meet a jerk in the morning, you just ran into a jerk. But if you keep encountering jerks all day, maybe it'Have you ever heard the saying that if you meet a jerk in the morning, you just ran into a jerk. But if you keep encountering jerks all day, maybe it's you who is the jerk.
Thomas Covenant is a jerk. Or at least as far as I can tell he is. Contracting leprosy, Covenant is sent to away for six months to for counselling and treatment. Upon returning home, he finds his wife has left him and taken their son with her. His community wants nothing to do with him, even to the point that complete strangers are paying his bills so he won't have to come into town to conduct his business. None of this sits well with Thomas, who decides that he'll walk into town and pay his phone bill, only to find that he gets hit by a car and sent into a fantasy world.
This fantasy world finds Thomas given the task of delivering a message. It also has Thomas encounter a young woman named Lena who shows him who the dirt of this world can help cure him of his leprosy. He repays this kindness and the kindness of her family's village by proving himself virile again and forcing himself upon Lena. Luckily for Thomas, the village has some kind of kindness pact that doesn't allow her family to seek out vengeance on him, but instead forces his mother to lead him to the people to whom he is supposed to deliver his message.
And so they set out on ye olde fantasy quest. Thankfully, Donelson decides not to describe every leaf on every tree, but there are still some long stretches in the middle third of this book where not much happens but Thomas and his guide go wandering around.
Fantasy novels with a less than noble and unlikeable protagonist aren't exactly a new thing. And yet somehow Thomas Covenant comes across as more unlikeable than the entire case of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire And Ice series. Donaldson seems to have little interest in creating any redeeming qualities in Covenant or at least allowing readers to understand why he's such a jerk to begin with. That makes it difficult to want to spend much time with him -- and all of this is before the infamous rape scene. Reading the book I can see why it's so polarizing among fans of the genre.
While not being the worst book I've ever read, it's certainly up there among the less enjoyable novels I've read in quite a while.
There are more entries in this series, but it's highly unlikely I am going to pick up any of them. ...more
Being a big fan of Peter David and Spider-Man, you'd think I'd have read the entire original run of Spider-Man 2099. And despite glowing recommendatioBeing a big fan of Peter David and Spider-Man, you'd think I'd have read the entire original run of Spider-Man 2099. And despite glowing recommendation from friends that I should pick up the books, I never did.
But that doesn't mean I can't stop in now that David and Marvel are picking up the series mantel once again.
And I'll admit that while I may miss some of the nuances of this story, this collection of the first five issues of the new series never made me feel like I was being left behind. In fact, I'd argue that what David is doing here is every bit as enjoyable -- maybe even more enjoyable -- than what is being done with the flagship title for the Spider-Man universe.
Stuck out of time, our hero is trying to find his way home without messing up the time line too much. Along the way, he's having some interesting adventures that span not only New York City but also the entire globe. David has always been a writer who can find ways to tell unique, fun stories in a corner of a particular universe that stay true to the universe but also explore some interesting areas and do some nice character work. (I'm looking at you New Frontier.
While I wouldn't mistake the hero here for Peter Parker, there is enough of that sense of what makes Spidey so much fun to read (at least the way I remember it) that these issues flew by. The only negative is the final issue included which is forced to do some heavy lifting for what I can only assume will be an all-inclusive Spider-verse storyline that is coming up next. At this point, if I never see Morlun on the pages of a Spider-Man comic again, it will be too soon. Quite possibly the most overused or going back to the well one too many times the Spidey-verse has seen since Venom. ...more
What can you say about a collection of stories that includes everything from the disturbingly sublime to a tie-in story featuring the Matt Smith DoctoWhat can you say about a collection of stories that includes everything from the disturbingly sublime to a tie-in story featuring the Matt Smith Doctor to poetry?
If it's a collection from Neil Gaiman, you just say thank you and enjoy reading it.
In his introduction Gaiman notes that certain books these days comes with warnings about things that may be disturbing to certain readers. However, he notes that once you get beyond a certain age that good writing shouldn't have to come with these "trigger warnings" but instead that readers should expect them. He then offers a wide variety of stories, including ones with a tie to previous novels and other universes and a lot of original material. And while not all of these stories triggered a response with me, there were some that connected with me more than other. Of course, the Doctor Who story to help celebrate the show's fiftieth anniversary was a hit with this fan, if only to (once again) see Gaiman's love of the long running show come through yet again.
Another hit was "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury" in which Gaiman channels his inner Bradbury.
In the introduction, Gaiman admits that were it not for his reputation and name, many wouldn't pick up a collection of short stories all by one author or see it as anything more than a vanity project. It's kind of a shame to admit he may be more right than he knows -- especially when you see just how good at the short story he can be. Like Bradbury, Gaiman works well in long and short form.
And while this may not be his best collection, it's still got enough good and great stories to make it worth your reading time. ...more
Before the Avengers assembled and Batman meet Superman on the silver screen, crossovers were limited to characters we saw on the Superfriends and theBefore the Avengers assembled and Batman meet Superman on the silver screen, crossovers were limited to characters we saw on the Superfriends and the second second Batman installment with the Green Hornet and Kato. Uber-fans Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman clearly recall how monumental that crossover and have channeled that love into this six-issue storyline.
The plotline finds the Dynamic Duo and the Green Hornet and Kato once again believing they're on opposite sides of the law but working together for a common good. The dialogue is spot-on and the art works well. About mid-way through the collection, I dusted off my recently acquired complete series box-set and re-watched the original story that served as the starting point for this episode. While it's not necessary, it did help refresh my memory of who one of the villains was in this collection.
Sure, there's a bit of running around in the middle, but given that this series is intended to be read as single installments and not in one giant feast, I was willing to overlook this.
Moving as often as she does, Avery West doesn't allow herself to connect much with her new environments or classmates. It's a defense mechanism againsMoving as often as she does, Avery West doesn't allow herself to connect much with her new environments or classmates. It's a defense mechanism against the always inevitable move looming just over the next horizon. But just as she's considering violating that rule at her new school, thanks to the cute new guy in several of her classes, her mom announces it's time to move again -- and move quickly.
Fed up with her mom's evasiveness, Avery decides to defy orders and attend the prom anyway with Jack (hot guy from class). This decisions thrusts Avery into a world she barely knew existed and she soon finds herself globe-trotting across the world, tracking down the family of her (presumed) dead father as well as discovering her role in an ancient, far-reaching political agenda that may have ramifications far beyond just attending prom. It seems that Avery is an unwitting part of an on-going battle between two forces and she could, quite possibly, be the missing link in a global prophecy.
Oh and in case you should forget this is a young adult novel, there's also a love triangle to help keep the pages turning. (Or in my case, to keep my eyes rolling since it relies on that young adult trope -- instant attraction!). Avery's torn between Jack and Stellan, two guys who showed up at her prom and nearly came to blows over her. As Avery eludes the various forces coming against her, both guys show up at various times to save her bacon and for her have insta-love crushes on. It probably helps that both guys are the hunkiest hunks to grace the printed page since the last young adult novel.
Listening to The Conspiracy of Us as an audio book while working out, I was at times entirely caught up in Avery's story and at times entirely put off by it. The moments when Avery and her various suitors are piecing together bits of the far-reaching conspiracy and puzzle are fun and fascinating. Alas, these are completely off-set by long passages (at least they feel that way) of Avery reflecting on Jack and Stellan as well as how her life has changed so much since that momentous Friday afternoon just a few days ago. Add in that potentially every person who has shown kindness to Avery since she was a young child is apparently part of this conspiracy and some wild coincidences that had me shaking my head while pounding out my mileage and you've got a book that can be extremely entertaining and extremely frustrating -- often within the same chapter.
A lot of this comes down to Avery, who seems to be a smart-cookie except when the plot calls for her to do silly things. Or there's the fact that she's so willing to accept this new world without much question or to even begin to question her mother's roles and motives in hiding this world from her for sixteen plus years. Based on the cliffhanger ending and the fact that little, if anything, is resolved (another frustration) I can only assume this will be dealt with in future installments. Whether or not I pick them up and continue with this series remains to be seen, however....more
While I'm sure there were either crossover, limited series events before Secret Wars arrived on the scene, Secret Wars was the one published at the heWhile I'm sure there were either crossover, limited series events before Secret Wars arrived on the scene, Secret Wars was the one published at the height of my love of comic books and one that featured one huge development in the life of my favorite super hero. Yes, I'm referring to Spider-Man getting his infamous black suit, an event that set off twenty years of new continuity for my favorite (then and now) super hero.
Interestingly, the whole black suit thing takes up less than five minutes of this audio adaptation of the entire saga, somehow feeling less monumental than I recall it being in the initial wave of comics. Or it could just be that we had to wait EIGHT issues into the storyline to see Spidey get his new duds. Or it could also be that there are twenty years of spin-off storylines from that one single event that it pales in comparison to what was to come -- namely Venom and a whole lot of other symbiotic baddies that would menace our hero.
Secret Wars begins with the kidnapping of various Marvel heroes and villains. Sent to a strange far-off place called BattleWorld, the heroes and villains are promised their fondest wish if they will battle each other until only is left standing. This promise is made by a mysterious creature known only as the Beyonder. Interestingly, the hero team isn't exactly the most unified for much of the storyline with various hero teams not trusting each other -- the Avengers don't have much love for the X-Men because Magneto has, for some reason, been lumped in with the heroic side of things instead of being with the various baddies that include Doctor Doom, Doc Ock and others.
There are a couple of battles along the way and the news that entire city of Denver has been taken to BattleWorld as well. This leads to the creation of two new female villains, one of whom becomes the love interest of the Molecule Man. Interestingly, it's Molecule Man who Dr Dooms sees as the lynch pin to taking over BattleWorld and wresting the Beyonder's power for his own.
It has been a long time since I read the original Secret Wars storyline. Back in the day, I didn't have regular access to a comic book store so I was at the mercy of finding issues on rack at my local store and to my limited funds. So I can say that I've forgotten large chunks of this story or not read them, instead depending on the recaps in the issues I could find and purchase to help me keep up with the story. Or more likely, I was kept in the loop by friends who also liked comic books and had the issues I didn't at the time. I do recall having issue eight of the series because, again, it had a Spider-Man centric cover and it was about his new costume.
I recently picked up a free reprint of issue one on October's Free Comic Book day and found it a nice trip down nostalgia lane. I understand Marvel is looking to re-visit the Secret Wars concept later this year with a crossover event.
So when I saw the Graphic Audio version of the story, I decided to give it a try. And, for the most part, it works fairly well. The adaptation focuses on a hero or a villain in each section, taking us inside their mind and thought process as well as their reaction to BattleWorld. And with this large a cast of characters, the linking narration is essential to recalling who is speaking at various points. The narration is a nice reminder without necessarily being intrusive.
The limitations of the story come when there are huge battles and we're limited to the narration and various grunts and groans by the characters. It comes across as less than compelling and may be one reason a ten issue comic book series can be condensed down to six or so hours in the audio world.
In a way, this reminded me of the Power Records that I listened to and loved in my younger days. Only this time we didn't get the comic book included. Listening to this, I'm curious to visit the original mini-series again in the original comic book format. I figure with this year's big return to the concept that Marvel will make the original version available to readers to see where it all started. ...more
Sure she can leap tall buildings in a single bound and defeat deadly ninjas, but what about things like accidentally shrinking your cape in the wash oSure she can leap tall buildings in a single bound and defeat deadly ninjas, but what about things like accidentally shrinking your cape in the wash or leaving your mask on and accidentally revealing your secret identity by the tanlines it leaves? Or how about trying to find the money for rent or sitting in the shadow of your big brother, Kevin, who also has superpowers?
These are just some of the dilemmas facing Katie aka Superhero Girl.
This collection of comics following her adventures is a pure delight. Faith Erin Hicks strips are clever, skillfully rendered and, best of all, funny. As Superhero Girl struggles with the quest to find love all while trying to defeat space aliens, ninjas and her self-appointed nemesis, Hicks tells an entertaining story but also offers up some sneaky commentary -- both on the nature of comic book superheroes and social commentary.
In the end, it's a funny collection that left me wanting to spend more time in this world. Luckily, I've found that there are more strips featuring Katie and her adventures on-line. ...more
All Barbara wants to do is grow up and be the next Lucille Ball. Fascinated by the world of comedy, she heads to London to pursue fame, fortune and aAll Barbara wants to do is grow up and be the next Lucille Ball. Fascinated by the world of comedy, she heads to London to pursue fame, fortune and a career in comedy. At first, she struggles to find acting work and toils away at her day job. Then one day, she goes to an audition, ends up charming the producers and helps to co-create a hit British sit-com about a couple of complete opposites who attract and get married.
Changing her name to Sophie Straw (ironically, her character on the show is named Barbara), she becomes the next big thing in comedy in the UK.
If you think I'm giving away too much, I can tell you that most of what I've described above happens in the first third of Nick Hornby's latest novel Funny Girl. In the past, Hornby has created worlds with flawed male protagonists who struggle with women and the people who love them. With Funny Girl he goes outside his usual comfort zone and ends up with a fascinating character portrait.
Don't get too worried -- there are still lots of flawed people here who make all kinds of mistakes. But instead of having a male who needs to grow up a bit, Hornby offers a look inside the world of British comedy during a certain era. Funny Girl is easy to get swept up in and there were times I found myself wishing that the fictional show Hornby details actually existed for us to see (though in all likelihood, the BBC would have destroyed the master tapes of it...no, I'm not bitter that we're still missing close to a 100 episodes of Doctor Who from this era...why do you ask?).
A fast, funny novel from Hornby and one that shows a new side and range to this author....more
In the day of social media, it's hard to a book by one of my favorite authors to slip under my radar. So imagine my pleasant surprise when I wanderedIn the day of social media, it's hard to a book by one of my favorite authors to slip under my radar. So imagine my pleasant surprise when I wandered into my local library one day to find that not only had Laura Lippman published a new book but that it was reading and waiting for me on the new books shelf. And not only that but it was a chance to check in again with journalist turned private eye Tess Monaghan.
Years ago, Melisandre Harris Dawes left her daughter unattended in her car on a hot August afternoon. The child died but Melisandre was able to avoid jail time by pleading temporary insanity. After traveling the globe for years to get away from the stigma, Melisandre has returned home to Baltimore to tell her side of the story in a new, self-funded documentary. And she hopes to reconnect with the two daughters she left behind as part of the divorce agreement with her husband.
Tess's uncle Tyner Grey has a past with Melisandre -- they dated before he settled down with Tess's Aunt Kitty. He's also her lawyer and he brings Tess and her new partner in to provide security and investigative services for Melisandre. As Tess juggles her life as a p.i. with motherhood to her three-year-old daughter Carla Scout, the case quickly becomes more than just a nice paycheck for Tess. Melisandre is demanding, manipulative and difficult to work for and it appears she has a different agenda than just restoring her name to the Baltimore community and world.
Lippman deftly balances the questions about what happened that fateful day with a new mystery that slowly emerges in the present, all while giving us glimpses into Tess' life with Carla Scout and Crow. Tess's questions about how motherhood and how she may or may not compare to Melisandre are woven into the threads of the story with Lippman offerings sly commentary on just how far parents will go to protect their children -- and how sometimes children can get caught in the crossfire of adults and their disagreements. As with many of her recent stories, Lippman isn't just interested in solving the crimes that happen in her novel (though she does do that) but also looking at the impact these crimes have on the community and the people involved. One interesting thread is how these crimes have impacted the daughters that Melisandre left behind as well as looking at two new mothers who come into her orbit (Tess and the wife of Melisandre's ex-husband).
It all adds up to yet another satisfying novel by Lippman. As I've said many times before, Lippman is an author whose books may be classified as mysteries but those books have the good habit of transcending genre lines. You don't necessarily have to have read all of Tess's exploits up until now to enjoy this one. If you're looking to see why a lot of people rave about Lippman, you can't go wrong with this one. ...more
Greg Iles triumphant return to the small town of Natchez continues in the middle installment of a new trilogy, The Bone Tree. Thankfully, Tree doesn'tGreg Iles triumphant return to the small town of Natchez continues in the middle installment of a new trilogy, The Bone Tree. Thankfully, Tree doesn't suffer from middle installment syndrome with characters doing a lot of treading water as we slowly set up things for the final race to the finish line.
Iles spends the first third of the book allowing his characters to reflect on the events of Natchez Burning and slowly moving pieces into place for novel's final acts. But once the revelations start coming, Iles piles them on fast and furiously, making the novel's final six hundred or so pages fly by and leaving you curious to see what will happen next.
Mayor Penn Cage continues to juggle multiple crises -- from his father being on the run from the police and wanted in connection with the death of state trooper to his fiancee not filing him fully on what she knows about the cases unfolding to his own agenda to try and exonerate his father all while uncovering the truths that have long been buried (both literally and figuratively) surrounding racial relations in his own small town, our country and just how that could tie into bigger conspiracy theories (including the shooting of JFK, RFK and MLK). The longer page count of the novel allows time for some of these events to sink in and to impact Cage (and a multitude of other characters) decisions. Seeing the forces aligned against Cage and the other various forces working with him is fascinating and while we may not necessarily root for the various opponents stacked up against Cage, Iles at least allows us to understand their motivations.
And while it's not quite as fast paced as the first installment in this trilogy, it's still every bit as page turning and compelling. Once I hit the mid-way point of the novel, it was next to impossible to put down and I was once again left wanting more when the final page was turned.
At this point, I'm not sure how Iles will wrap things up in the next book, but I know that I'll eagerly be waiting for it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program....more
The second collection of Batman '66 stories is just as entertaining, delightful and fun as the first one. Jeff Parker continues to channel the vibe ofThe second collection of Batman '66 stories is just as entertaining, delightful and fun as the first one. Jeff Parker continues to channel the vibe of the original television series but is giving a bigger sandbox to play in. Limited only by the budget of what his artists can do, Parker sees the Dynamic Duo traveling in time, taking on Shame and even having a story or two focus on other characters from the television universe. It all adds up to another enjoyable read and a series that only continues to deliver the goods in terms of entertainment value. ...more
If you were presented with the opportunity to have a do-over in life, would you take it? How about multiple do-overs? And what would the intended andIf you were presented with the opportunity to have a do-over in life, would you take it? How about multiple do-overs? And what would the intended and unintended consequences of such a decision be?
Bryan Lee O'Malley delves into those questions in his latest graphic novel Seconds. On the verge of entering her third decade, Katie is on the brink of great professional success as a chef for her own restaurant. Oh sure, she's got a few regrets like the ex-boyfriend she still has feelings for, the affair she's carrying on with the new chef at her old restaurant and that she unwittingly caused injury to one of the servers at her old restaurant. But then Katie discovers a box with a notepad, a mushroom and a written set of instructions in it. Katie has to write down her regret, eat the mushroom and go to sleep. In the morning, she'll find everything changed.
Katie experiments with undoing the injury to her co-worker. And while the house spirit says it's only wish per person, Katie soon finds where the mushrooms are growing and sets about putting right every wrong decision she's made in her life.
It's not helped by the fact that Katie is a bit selfish and that many of her wishes involve her wanting to have her cake and eat it too. But while the world changes around Katie, she has no memory of the events leading up to the change, which causes some confusion and heart-ache for her and those in her life. Even a simple thing like trying to undo a huge potential bill for her new restaurant ends up having consequences that Katie couldn't or wouldn't foresee.
O'Malley's follow-up to the Scott Pilgrim series is a fascinating, thought-provoking piece that asks a lot of interesting questions and doesn't shy away from not giving us easy answers. O'Malley makes Katie likeable in some moments, but unlikeable in others as she makes wish after wish and doesn't think about the consequences -- or as she tries to avoid consequences for her poorly made decisions. The artwork in the book is rich and colorful and the book foreshadows the eventual resolution well both in the story and the art.
If there's one drawback to the book, it's that Seconds doesn't fully stick the landing. The ending is good, but after the build up of two-hundred or so pages, it still felt a bit rushed or that O'Malley wasn't quite sure exactly if and how Katie's story should end. ...more