Monday, July 30, 2007

Doctor Who: The Inside Story

As a fan of the old BBC series Doctor Who, I was a little worried when it was announced a couple years ago the show was being revived. It’s hard to follow up on a classic. As it turns out, though, the new series is fantastic. At turns it’s light and humorous, emotionally engaging, and infused with the classic science fiction idealism and themes that made shows like the original Doctor Who, X Files, and The Twilight Zone resonate with their audiences.

This book offers a behind-the-scenes look at the new series, from a look at the writer, Russel Davies, who has driven the series, to the casting that has worked out so well and the sets in Wales. It’s a book that fans of the show will likely find useful.

Journey into Mohawk Country

Artist George O’Connor has a keen interest in history, he writes in the introduction to this graphic novel. For this work, he took a manuscript written in 1634 by Dutch trader H.M. Van den Bogaert and set it to images.

It’s not a masterpiece or either art or literature. But it is an interesting snapshot of what life was like on the frontier a century and a half before the Revolution that history buffs will likely find engaging.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Across the Nightingale Floor

by Lian Hearn

Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori, Book 1)

If you enjoyed "Memoirs of a Geisha" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", you must read this book. The story is set in a feudal Japan, where the Tohan warriors are burning the villages of the Hidden, a group of Christian-like people who believe in peace and equality. In the mist of the turmoil, a young boy named Takeo, a member of the Hidden, is rescued from the Tohan by Lord Otori Shigeru of the Otori clan.

As Lord Otori's ward, Takeo discovers he is a member by birth of the shadowy "Tribe," a mysterious group of assassins with supernatural abilities. With his new found abilities, Takeo means to assassinate Lord Arai, the leader of the Tohan, to avenge the death of Lord Otori's brother. Along the way, Takeo meets the beautiful but deadly Lady Shirakawa, who is a pawn in the Otori/Tohan alliance and with who he falls in love. The story is fraught with star-crossed lovers, evil lords, brave warriors, and stealthy assassins.

Part period piece, part fantasy, Hearn creates a story that is impossible to put down. I am looking forward to reading the sequel "Grass for His Pillow".

Side note:Some of the names may be difficult to pronounce, and I recommend listening to the audio version.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fables: Sons of Empire

If you haven't taken a look at Bill Willingham's Fables series yet, it's one of the smartest comics out there. The premise is that a group of characters from fable worlds have been driven into our own world (known to them as the Mundy -- mundane world) by The Adversary, a mysterious figure with an itch to conquer lands. It places well-known characters like Prince Charming, Rose Red, and so on, in our own times, trying to fit in in New York. This latest collected volume of the series contains a wrap-up from a daring military action against The Adversary a couple issues back.
There's also a charming collection of vignettes penciled by guest artists that offer a kind of "where are they now" from characters in past volumes.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Maybe you heard that the last Harry Potter book was just released; I think it was on a news program somewhere.
Anyway, I had to hurry and read it, since librarians are in a high-risk environment for ending-spoilers. After all the hype, worry over characters' fates, and general eager anticipation, I have to say it was all well worth it. The book ties everything together in a series that has been intimately planned from the opening sentences of volume one. I had feared that the end would, after all the success of the series, feel manufactured and tacked on. Instead, the book leaves with the sense things couldn't have gone any other way.
Personally, I'd be surprised if, in 30 years, people didn't speak of the Harry Potter series in the same context as the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's an immediate classic.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jump the Shark

There comes a point in just about anything entertainment-related when it becomes painfully apparent that thing we love will never be quite the same. Whether it's a TV show, celebrity, or band, they all too often overstay their welcome on the pop-culture stage. Author Jon Hein has a term for that moment: jumping the shark. The name comes from the episode of Happy Days when the Cunninghams go on vacation and a water ski-wearing Fonze jumps over a shark. It was the moment when everyone knew the show was doomed.
This title is available as an MP3 download and offers a fun catalog of the innumerable shows, people and bands that have jumped a shark of their own over the years. It's light, entertaining listening.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On Chesil Beach

This novella (I'm tempted to call it a novelette) is the newest offering from Ian McEwan. McEwan subtitles the piece "a novel," lest anyone suspect it is a minor work. The center of the story is the wedding night of two virgins. There is much to praise in the insightful, gentle treatment of the characters and their ambivalence/ineptness/fear of sexuality. We jump backward and forward to see how past history has brought these "lovers" to a moment of truth, and are anxious to see if they rise to the occasion or botch it entirely. Then, after the moment has passed, McEwan fast-forwards us through the future with such velocity that we wonder why he's in such a hurry to finish things up. My assessment: a sensually told tale, an unsatisfying end.

Friday, July 13, 2007

What No One Tells the Bride

by Marg Stark

Being a newlywed, married this past June, I was looking for a book that might divulge and dissect the massive amount of new experiences, questions, and feelings I had as a bride. What No One Tells the Bride was recommended by a coworker and four-year marriage 'veteran'. It discusses everything from surviving the wedding, second thoughts, fears on becoming your mother, money troubles, troubles with the in-laws, maintaining your identity, and how to stay blissfully happy, despite it all.

I did not read this book until after the wedding, but I was glad that I found it. It helped me recognize some of my fears and worries, as well as the impulse to start a family and become a super-wife. I recommend this book for any bride or newlywed. Marg Stark offers great advice and insight for those brides who find that marriage brings a large amount of new and sometimes difficult changes in a woman's life.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Year of Fog

by Michelle Richmond

Year of Fog is the story of Abbey Mason's search for her fiance's six year old daughter, Emma. Abbey was walking on the beach in San Francisco with Emma. She was distracted by a dead seal pup on the beach. When she looked up, Emma was gone.

The most powerful theme in this story, to me, is the complexity of the human heart, the other being the complexity of human relationships. Abbey was not Emma's mother, yet she felt a stronger bond to her than Emma's biological parent. Jake, Emma's father, loved his daughter more than life and it is this bond that determines the fate of his life with Abbey. Abbey feels she her future with Jake is doomed because she lost the one thing that was most precious to him.

As I read this story, I became increasingly frustrated with the slow delivery, which I am sure is what the author intended. Richmond wants you to feel the agony and impatience that the characters feel in the wake of a missing child. It just meant that I had to finish it and find out what happens. In the depths of my heart, I knew what had to happen in the end and it was very real. Yet somehow, Richmond doesn't leave the reader feeling despair, but the tiniest bit elated and hopeful.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Fighter's Heart

Author Sam Sheridan has taken an unusual path through life. After high school he joined the merchant marine. Then he hit Harvard. He took that Ivy League education to Thailand to train on the muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) circuit.
Sheridan's journalistic work has appeared in Newsweek, Men's Health and elsewhere, but various martial arts have been the true focus of his life. In this book we get to tag along as he tries his hands at boxing, muay Thai, mixed martial arts (like the Ultimate Fighting Championship on TV), jiu jitsu and more.
It would be easy for a book like this to quickly fall into a macho rut. Sheridan stays out of the one-upsmanship territory, though, by focusing largely on the psychological aspects; what makes people do these things. The book shares some thematic ground with Joyce Carol Oates' classic "On Boxing," but is a much easier and engaging read.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Harmony Silk Factory

Malyasian-British author Tash Aw's first novel won the Whitbread Award in 2005. Written in three parts, each part by a different narrator, it tells the story of Johnny Lim, a controversial figure in 1940's Malaysia. The interesting thing is that depending on who is telling the story, you get a different impression of him from each speaker. By the end of the book and the third narrator, in fact, I found myself going back to the beginning to read what the first speaker said about the same incidents.
I now ask myself why I waited so long to read this book. I loved it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

If you've never read David Sedaris, he's a hilarious essayist. His wit may not be for everyone -- he's a bit biting and a touch dark -- but the writing is crisp and poignant. I've read this book before, but downloaded the MP3 version because it's read by the author. Sedaris is also a talented reader, giving his essays even more life.

The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Work

This is one of those tongue-in-cheek guides that cover situations you'll hopefully never find yourself in. But if you do ever find yourself, say, interviewing for a job you're woefully unqualified for, there's a host of practical information on what to say, what to wear, and what you should bring with you (hint: don't bring medical charts to an interview for a chief surgical position).
It's a fun way to look at a setting we all spend far too much time in.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is the story of Jacob Jankowski. The story begins with Jacob living in a nursing home at the ripe old age of "ninety or ninety-three". When he was young, Jacob dropped out of veterinary school after the tragic death of his parents. With nowhere to go, he hops onto a moving train car desperate to escape his current life. What he doesn't realize is that it is a circus train. Soon he finds himself working for Uncle Al, the money grubbing ring master, cleaning cages and being the vet to the many circus animals, including the horses of the beautiful Marlena. He befriends Marlena's schizophrenic husband, August, and finds himself in a terrible position - in love with another man's wife.

Sara Gruen transports you into a mysterious world, one where you feel you are peeking into a circus tent, and to scenes which would have otherwise been forbidden. The story is mesmerizing and unforgettable. Will Marlena escape from her abusive and insane husband and run away with Jacob? Will the circus crumble under the weight of the depression? What will happen to the stubborn, Polish elephant Rosie? You must read it to find out. Its a fast read, and I definitely recommend it!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Crashing Through

This is the latest by Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers, and it's a good one. It tells the story of Mike May, an intrepid adventurer and entrepreneur who was blinded by a chemical accident at age 3. Supported by a fearless mother and a devoted and beautiful wife, Mike was more active as a blind man than are most sighted people. He refused to allow blindness to restrict his life. Told that medical advances would allow him to see again, he was not sure his life could be better. Eventually his curiousity won out and he had the surgery. The minute his bandages were removed, all the visual stimuli he had missed came flooding in, but his mind did not know how to deal with it. The mysteries of sight and the determination of May combine for a fascinating story.