The Testament of Mary is a historical novella starring Mary (of New Testament fame). Author Colm Tóibín grapples with an interesting question: what mu...moreThe Testament of Mary is a historical novella starring Mary (of New Testament fame). Author Colm Tóibín grapples with an interesting question: what must the life of Jesus have looked like from his mother’s perspective, and what must her life have been like after his death? Years after the crucifixion, Mary struggles with her memories, her loss, and the budding religion centered around her late son. Instead of the calm, tranquil figure that has been portrayed in art countless times over the centuries, this Mary is devastated, embittered, and very human.
This could easily have been a recipe for a certain kind of book: a sort of literary stick to poke Christian readers with. But while Tóibín’s Mary is at odds with the traditional portrayal, enough so that it will probably offend some readers (particularly her refusal to accept her son as the son of God), this book manages to avoid sinking to that level. Tóibín’s presentation of Mary is different but not disrespectful, and his retelling of the familiar Gospel narratives is ambiguous enough to allow for multiple interpretations. It helps that the writing is very strong (this book was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize), featuring some fine understated prose that fits its subject matter well.
There are a number of memorable scenes: some retellings of Gospel tales (including a fairly stomach-turning description of the Passion), others the product of Tóibín’s invention. I found Mary’s connection with the Roman goddess Artemis to be particularly striking, along with a disturbing anecdote about a pet bird present at the crucifixion. A quick, thought provoking read that I would definitely recommend. 4 stars.(less)
I like the concept behind this book – a team of weirdos and misfits band together to deal with the more supernatural problems plaguing the DC Universe...moreI like the concept behind this book – a team of weirdos and misfits band together to deal with the more supernatural problems plaguing the DC Universe. In this story arc, the team assembles for the first time when a witch known as the Enchantress starts raising hell. Interestingly, Peter Milligan doesn’t really dive into who the different characters are until the third issue. This has the benefit of dropping readers right into the action, but if you’re not familiar with the various principals (like me), the first third of this volume is going to be a little confusing. Once Milligan establishes who is who and what each member brings to the team, things pick up a bit and a fun, if not mind-blowing, story plays out.
Two things about this collection stood out for me. The first is John Constantine: the foul-mouthed, cigarette smoking, British anti-hero that was my favorite character in the book. Constantine was the only member of the group that I had ever heard of going in, and he is consistently entertaining. The second is the artwork, which I thought was very strong. Mikel Janin and Ryan Sook manage a nice blend of psychedelic and creepy that fits the story well and really stands out at times.
Overall this was a fun if slightly forgettable read. Solid story, very nice artwork, and a great character in John Constantine. 3 stars(less)
Like many readers, I was blown away by Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which won both the Hugo and the World Fantasy...moreLike many readers, I was blown away by Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which won both the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award upon its publication in 2005. I was a bit late to the party, not getting to Jonathan Strange until 2013, but within 24 hours of finishing it I was on my way to the library to pick up this short story collection, Clarke’s only other published work. The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of eight stories set in the same universe as Jonathan Strange, and all eight have something to offer:
The Ladies of Grace Adieu: Clarke's first published story (1996), this tale is set in the early 19th century and describes how three young women use magic to “flip the script” and exert some much-needed power in a patriarchal society. I don’t know how much editing (if any) Clarke did when she included the story in this 2006 collection, but I thought this was a pretty incredible debut and a very memorable short story.
On Lickerish Hill: Clarke does Rumplestiltskin. The 17th century Suffolk prose takes a bit of getting used to, but I thought it was a nice touch. A familiar story, but well told.
Mrs Mabb: Maybe my favorite story of the entire collection, featuring a 19th century woman trying to win her fiance back from a mysterious lover. Very strong.
The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse: Another excellent short, this one starring the Duke of Wellington who wanders into the realm of Faerie by mistake. Readers familiar with Jonathan Strange (which featured the Duke as a supporting character) will get a kick out of this one.
Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower: Mr. Simonelli must choose a wife while battling a strange Faerie aristocrat. Some very cool details surrounding Faerie magic, but this was not my favorite story of the bunch.
Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby: Clarke is praised so often for her razor-sharp prose, her inspired characterization, and her other merits that it’s easy to forget how funny she can be. That dry, understated humor is on full display in this short story, featuring a Jewish doctor and his flighty Faerie friend. I really enjoyed this one.
Antickes and Frets: A reimagined version of the detention of Mary, Queen of Scots. Some cool magical elements, but one of the less memorable stories in the collection for me.
John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner: Another story that will please Jonathan Strange fans. This short piece of pseudo-folklore tells the legend of how the great Raven King was outwitted by a humble charcoal burner. Another example of Clarke’s gift for humor and a very fun read.
Conclusion Clarke is one of the finest talents in fantasy today, and this collection shows why. Clarke modifies her writing style from story to story, depending on the voice she is trying to craft, but all eight are superbly written (especially if you have a taste for 19th century prose, which many of these stories mimic). If you’ve read and enjoyed Jonathan Strange, you should get your hands on this collection. 4.5 stars, highly recommended!(less)
The first entry in this series took Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass and converted it to the graphic novel format. That was a huge success, and The Lon...moreThe first entry in this series took Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass and converted it to the graphic novel format. That was a huge success, and The Long Road Home takes the next step by carrying the Dark Tower story into unknown territory. Writer Robin Furth fills in the white space following Roland’s adventures in Mejis, inventing a new story about Roland and his Ka-Tet as they fight their way back home to Gilead. The gunslingers deal with external dangers, while Roland battles the internal demons haunting him after the tragedy he experienced at Mejis.
The artwork in the first graphic novel was truly inspired, and the sequel is just as strong (especially the book’s depiction of the Crimson King). The Dark Tower universe is an illustrator’s dream, and Peter David really went all out and delivered some of the finest work I’ve seen in the medium. As for the story, Robin Furth had a lot to live up to in following Wizard and Glass, which is one of the best Stephen King tales I’ve read. I didn’t think the plot of The Long Road Home was quite as powerful as King’s Mejis arc. But I did think it was true to the source material – it definitely felt like a Dark Tower story – which is critical. And Furth’s plot had plenty of cool moments that kept me turning the page, particularly the sections focused on the Crimson King and his hellish realm.
Overall I really enjoyed this collection. The artwork is fantastic, and if the story feels like it’s setting up bigger and better things to come at times, that only whets my appetite for future installments. Dark Tower fans should definitely check out this graphic novel series, which through the first two story arcs feels like something special. 4 stars, recommended!(less)
Jim Gaffigan is the father of not one, not two, but five kids. Living with this many small children (along with Mrs. Gaffigan), in what sounds like a...moreJim Gaffigan is the father of not one, not two, but five kids. Living with this many small children (along with Mrs. Gaffigan), in what sounds like a pretty small New York City apartment, is the sort of experience that can either make you laugh or cry. As a comedian, Gaffigan naturally chose the former, and the result is this funny set of memoirs and musings on the perils of fatherhood. Gaffigan has had a number of minor roles on TV shows and movies, but he’s most famous for his stand-up career, especially his long (and hysterical) rants against that most suspect of all foods, the hoooooooot pocket.
I am a big fan of Mr. Gaffigan’s comedy, so when I saw he was the author of a new book I had to get my hands on it right away. Dad is Fat is not as straight-up comic as you might expect; it’s more a mixture of sweet and silly as Gaffigan balances the jokes with sincere discussions of how much he loves his kids. It’s designed to be an extremely easy read, as it’s split up into 62 short chapters. This is the kind of book you can easily digest in little bite-sized chunks if you want to, although if you enjoy Gaffigan’s comedy you will probably whip through it in just a couple of sittings. Some of the sections are lifted more or less wholesale from Gaffigan’s stand-up routine – for example, his rationale for declaring that his family’s Catholic whenever he says how many kids he has (he worries that otherwise the other person will assume his wife is a whore). Others are brand new, or at least new to me. There are a lot of really funny bits: from comparing negotiating with children to negotiating with terrorists, to arguing how “family friendly” really just means shitty, to the difficult decision surrounding circumcision.
As you might expect, the book is very kid specific, and if like me you aren’t a parent you may not relate to all of the material. But Gaffigan fans will really enjoy this one. For audiobook listeners, I would highly recommend getting your hands on the audio version of this book, which is read by the author. Gaffigan’s performance in reading the book really added to my enjoyment and was easily worth a half-star on its own. 4 stars, recommended!(less)