Thursday, July 30, 2009

Burma Chronicles

The latest of Delisle's graphic novel travelogues. Graphic novels have proven to be a great medium for this type of thing. Delisle has an eye for odd visuals, like the fact that Burma, a former British colony, intentionally switched to driving on the right side of the road. Meanwhile, because of trade restrictions, people there can only get cars with the wheel on the right side, which makes passing trucks an adventure.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Graveyard Book (Newbery Award Winner)

by Neil Gaiman

A little baby toddles off to the graveyard one night, narrowly escaping a murderous villain named Jack, who dispatches the baby's entire family. In order to protect the child, the ghosts of the graveyard adopt the boy, keeping him safe from harm, naming him Nobody Owens - "Bod" for short. As he grows, Bod is able to live the life of ghosts. Taught by ghosts and his guardian Silas, he learns fading, dream walking, passing through doors and walls, and even haunting. But as time goes on, Bod wants to venture out of the graveyard and find out what happened to his family and to be among the living - even though the man Jack is still hunting him. The book is full of colorful characters each with a unique voice - hounds of hell, murderers, ghosts, witches, ghouls, a slayer, and more. Gaiman is extremely clever the way he crafts the tale, with surprises around every turn of the page. For such a dark setting, it has some humorous parts as well. My favorite character is the poet, Nehemiah Trot! The audio version is fantastic, read by the author.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Last Human: A Guide to 22 Species of Extinct Humans

This is a look back at the many-branched tree of the human evolutionary tree. The many versions of human (all but one, Homo Sapien - us - being extinct). This collection is a thought-provoking. Most of the critters featured survived longer than we've so far been around. It's entirely conceivable that we could wind up one of the least successful man-apes dreamt up by nature. Also interesting is the notion that we shared space with closely related Neanderthal for some time. Strange how we've come to see ourselves as so unique, the evolutionary equivalent of an only child.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Simple Plan

I decided to read A Simple Plan by Scott Smith on the recommendation of my friend John, who had heard about it from Stephen King. John is a huge King fan and will read pretty much anything he recommends. And I like King too--although I was kind of annoyed about what he said about the Twilight books. Still, I loved Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, which King also recommended, so I decided to go for it. This is one of the few books I actually did not get from the library (I borrowed it from my friend). It's not owned by TPL, but you can reserve it, and we do own the movie adaptation. Hank Mitchell is an unassuming guy in a suburb of Toledo who stumbles across an abandoned plane in the woods as he's out with his brother and his friend Lou. They find $4 million in the plane and decide they will split it up in six months' time. What starts as a simple plan degenerates into blackmail and murder. The book is chilling because Hank is an everyman, and as a lifelong Northern Ohio resident, I could almost see the story happening. I know I will be scared by Smith's second book, The Ruins, but I can't resist reading it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Nobody, by Jeff Lemire

A graphic novel about a strange arrival in a small town. Pretty decent. It has kind of a Daniel Clowes feel to it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Certain Slant of Light

by Laura Whitcomb (audiobook)

An enrapturing tale of two ghosts, Helen and James, who inhabit human bodies, vacant of souls, in order to share their love in physical form while unraveling the mystery behind each of their deaths. Their former hosts experienced trauma or tragedy in their lives that enabled them to vacate their bodies. James and Helen uncover the mystery of their own deaths as well as the circumstances of their hosts departure from their bodies in order to transcend.

Creative. Suspenseful. Dramatic. Moving. At the end, I was moved to tears. Beautifully written.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mighty Skullboy Army

Humorous shorts in comic form, starring Skullboy, a supervillain whose trials in elementary school threaten to derail his career aspirations.

Toto: The Wonderful Adventure

The first volume in this manga series shows great potential. It's a romp through a fictional universe featuring airships, pirates, martial arts and more. Good fun, and an (extremely loose, in that typical manga fashion) interpretation of the Wizard of Oz stories.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Cutting by James Hayman

The Cutting is a mystery set in Portland, Maine. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I used to live there 20 some years ago and I like to read books set there. Anyway, Hayman is recently transplanted there from NYC and writing novels is a second career for him. The book is a bit salacious but a decent first mystery. I find that most mystery writers take a couple of books to get really good but he is worth reading and I think he'll get better. Also, the writer Michael Chabon said that mystery detectives act as a travel guide to their city and Hayman definitely does that. I felt homesick for Portland.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Author Seth Grahame-Smith has mostly just used the original Jane Austen classic. His minor changes include making the Bennet clan a formidable band of Shaolin-trained killers, and the inclusion of zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.
Thematically, it holds up rather well. I read the Cliff's notes to the original alongside, and the modifications actually seemed surprisingly superficial. And honestly, given Austen's fondness for describing the subtleties of dinner conversation in exasperating detail I really don't think I would have got through it without our undead friends.

The Beats: A Graphic History

Scripted by Harvey Pekar, this is a pretty straightforward bio of the more prominent Beats. The accompanying artwork leaves a great deal to be desired, and there's not much depth of information. Still, given the graphic format and accessible information, it could help to introduce a new generation to this important literary movement.

Finding Fish by Antwone Fisher

Sometimes, either because I am facilitating a book group or just to enjoy a favorite book, I will listen to the audio version of a book I've already read. So, I found myself listening to the audio of Finding Fish to freshen up for a book group. I liked the book but I LOVED the audio. I don't particularly like books where people write about surviving bad childhoods because I find it just too difficult to hear about children being neglected or abused or both. However, Fisher is such a wonderful writer and such an eloquent observer of human nature that I couldn't wait until I got in my car to listen to this book. It is narrated by Tony Penny but then Fisher gets on and narrates the part where he is with his wife and daughter. Then the last CD is an interview with Fisher. I loved listening to him talk about his life. He has a great voice and a great understanding of his survival and why some people don't.

The Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Molly is an educated, well-traveled young woman who currently lives in Seattle, Washington. She is also a foodie who writes the blog "Orangette." For me, I like blogs where the author is passionate about something (cooking, decorating, gardening, writing, art) and then a gifted writer as well. Molly Wizenberg fits that description. She is someone who writes about her life through her writing about food. She describes meals with loving detail that she has with friends, family members and her boyfriend. When her father dies, she equates his lust for life with his lust for food. Her writing is witty, poignant and humourous. The book and her blog include recipes.