Saturday, December 29, 2007

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians - Brandon Sanderson

hahahahaha. fun-ny. ok, from the front flap, "a hero with an incredible talent... for breaking things. a life-or-death mission... to rescue a bag of sand. a fearsome threat from the powerful secret network that rules the world... the evil librarians." if that doesn't make you want to read a book i'm sure i don't know what will. of course it could be because i'm a librarian that i find that so funny. anyway, this is absolutely ridiculous fantasy/science fiction writing of the highest calibre for kids. even if you're not a kid anymore it's still a really good read. i learnt all sorts of things, like that dinosaurs aren't really extinct, but they are so useless you rather wish they were, and that stairs are much more advanced technology than elevators. of course, all of this information is being kept from you by evil librarians who wish you to remain ignorant. hahaha.

Zane's Trace - Allan Wolf

a novel in free verse. is this becoming more popular lately (see Crank)? the story is told from zane's pov. zane, a high school senior, suffers from epilepsy, which he describes like a werewolf transformation. he has been living with his grandfather since his schizophrenic mother committed suicide and his father walked out on them when he was still small. after his grandfather's death zane makes the decision that he is going to kill himself on his mother's grave site in zanesville, ohio. so, armed with an antique pistol, a case of mountain dew and a box of sharpies, zane sets off in a stolen '69 barracuda. along the way the story takes a decidedly supernatural twist. to some extent it feels like a play on that old urban legend about the guy who picks up the hitchhiker... ok, i won't say anymore, i don't want to ruin it. i enjoyed this book, and because it's in free verse it's actually a lot shorter than it's page count. if i were to be brutally honest though, i really chose the book because it has an absolutely brilliant cover (speaking of brilliant covers, "king dork" also has a brilliant cover and definitely deserves to be read. written by one of the guys from the mr. t experience. good punk band.).

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Bartimaeus Trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand - Jonathan Stroud

move over harry potter. wow. what a great book. d. had suggested this series to me this summer, saying that although it is a children's book the demon (title character bartimaeus) was in possession of a very dry wit, and a love of footnotes. who doesn't love a good footnote (if you, like me, also happen to enjoy a good footnote, please check out "the impartial recorder" by ian sansom)? this is the story of nathaniel, an 11 year old magician in training. nathaniel is very self-righteous and very sure of his abilities. unfortunately he happens to have a bit of a dullard as a master. when nathaniel's pride is injured by the magician lovelace he vows revenge. revenge is to be had in the form of bartimaeus, a fairly powerful and sly demon, whom nathaniel conjures in order to steal a powerful magical article (the amulet of samarkand) from lovelace. thusly, are nathaniel and bartimaeus (much against his will) drawn into a web of magical intrigue.

the book bounces back and forth between being told from bartimaeus' pov and nathaniel's pov. nathaniel's entries tend to move the plot along, though i enjoyed them rather less than bartimaeus' chapters (which have footnotes. did i mention the footnotes?). i really think this book could give old hp a run for his money, but it unfortunately never found quite the popularity. it also made me laugh when reading this, to think of all of the anti-magic hysteria that harry potter inspired. imagine of the same crowd got a hold of this book, which has demons. this makes harry potter's magic look like sunshine and lollipops.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Last Chance to Eat - Gina Mallet

aside from fantasy books featuring various dark entities, my other favourite genre happens to be food writing. anthony bourdain, jeffrey steingarten, i don't care, if somebody writes a book about food i will probably want to read it. and then eat the things i read about. so i picked up "last chance to eat" from the library. touted as being a more serious foodie's version of "super size me" and "fast food nation". i won't lie to you, it started off very good. the chapters on eggs and cheeses are excellent. and i learnt that pears are only ripe for about 10 minutes. how true. have you ever tried to catch a pear at optimal ripeness? it's no easy task. however, by the time i got to the final chapter, which happened to be about fish, i think mallet had run out of steam, and it just seemed rather rushed. and then (and then!) she finishes up with this absolutely bizarre george orwellian vision of the future of global cuisine. very sci-fi, very weird, and very out of place in what was more of a series of reminiscences. so, a pretty good food book, but not my favourite. if you want something really good check out taras gresco, or the above mentioned jeffrey steingarten, or even (surprise!) ludwig bemelmans' "when you lunch with the emperor".

Vampireville - Ellen Schreiber

i love this series. it is such goth trash. the third book in the vampire kisses series sees the town previously known as 'dullsville' being redubbed as 'vampireville', by our teen goth protagonist, raven. this time she and vampire boyfriend alexander must stop the nefarious twins jagger and luna from turning soccer jock bully trevor into a creature of the night. with just as much superfluous name dropping as schreiber's previous efforts: "i unplugged my nightmare before christmas alarm clock.", "luna pulled out a pinky paranoid clutch purse from behind the basket." unfortunately, most of the goth brands mentioned in the book are completely made up, so they can't help you pull together the ultimate dark look. however, despite that, this is a great fun read if you are in the mood for some fluff with a little bite (oooh, that was a really bad joke).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Palestine - Joe Sacco

last year deborah ellis experienced a lot of furor over a book entitled "three wishes", in which she traveled to israel and spoke with children on both sides of the israeli-palestinian conflict. basically, some organizations, like the uja, took offense at one particular story presented by a young palestinian girl whose sister had been a suicide bomber. it presented the story of the suicide bomber, not from the typical western media viewpoint that we normally see, but helped us to understand what would make someone do something like that. i thought "three wishes" was an amazingly balanced book, that presented both sides of the conflict, which is something we don't normally see.

"palestine" accomplishes a similar feat. joe sacco is an american journalist who travelled to israel back in the 90s. "palestine" is the story of the time he spent in the occupied territories speaking with displaced palestinians. it was his intention to share with people the palestinian side of the story. however, rather than do this in a more traditional format (read: book) sacco published his travel diaries in the form of a graphic novel. this is a powerful and informative book, and a must read for anyone with an interest in the situation in the middle east, or who likes non-fiction graphic novels. if you enjoy this sort of thing i would recommend also checking guy delisle's "pyongyang" and will eisner's "last day in vietnam", and of course the rest of sacco's catalogue.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Dirty Job - Christopher Moore

i've talked a fair bit about my somewhat shameful love of the chick lit genre. but, of course, chick lit is not the only fluff out there i derive enjoyment from. take christopher moore for example: pure fluff. he's also a little hit and miss (not all of his books are absolutely fabulous), but he is a lot of fun. i first read a christopher moore book back in the early days of high school. it was called "practical demonkeeping", and read it solely because one of the main characters was a demon. i had a bit of an obsession with the supernatural back then (still do) and would eagerly scour the library's shelves for anything to do with vampires or demons etc. hence the discovery of christopher moore.

"a dirty job" is the story of charlie, newly a dad, and newly widowed. shortly after the death of his wife (which occurs shortly after this birth of his first and only child), charlie discovers that he is death. not the death, but one of death's helpers, sort of like santa's elves. only with less toys. minty fresh, one of charlie's "coworkers" refers to their position as "death merchants". anyway, it is now charlie's job to retrieve the souls of the dying and to make sure that these souls are passed onto their proper subsequent vessel. he must also raise a small child who seems able to kill things simply by pointing and saying, "kitty", take care of two hell hounds, and run a thrift shop, which employs a ex-cop and a sarcastic gothic teenager. definitely one of moore's better offerings as of late. and who doesn't enjoy something with death as the main character? it's like that show on hbo, "dead like me", or terry pratchett's mort character. so, if like me you enjoy sarcastic demons and your comedy with a bit of the supernatural, check out "a dirty job", cause, well, someone's gotta do it (oh come on, it had to be said. didn't it?).

Fables: Animal Farm - Bill Willingham

i think bill willingham is a funny name. don't you? conversely, the fables series is not funny. but it is fabulous. the fables series is willingham's dark reimagining of our classic fairy tale characters who now exist as a misplaced people as the homeland has been taken over by the evil adversary. the fables (as they are collectively referred to as) must now make their way in the modern world, but have established a separate governing body that oversees their action.

the first book in the series, "legends in exile", was done in a sort of hardboiled detective style, with bigby wolf cast in the role of detective. "animal farm", plays heavily on george orwell's novel, but has the less human fables, who must all live away from the city on a specially protected farm, rise up against their human overseers.

i think this is one of the best modern day takes on fairy tales out there, and there are a lot of books out there for anyone interested (notably pamela dean, terri wilding, and donna jo napoli's work), but these tend to be geared more towards girls. the graphic novel format of the fables series, along with its darker, edgier tone, makes it a more likely read for boys as well.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Little (Grrl) Lost - Charles de Lint

again, one of my favourite authors of all time. charles de lint is one of the masters of the urban fantasy genre (think holly black, francesca lia block and o. r. melling). "little (grrl) lost" is his latest contribution to the genre, and to be honest, i was rather disappointed. not as gritty or as dark as some of his previous work, and the action was a little stilted.

t.j., newly moved to suburbia from the countryside, finds a little in her house. you know littles right? these guys: they're a bit like the borrowers. anyway, seems this particular little is feeling a little stifled (sorry, that was a little joke >_<) and is heading out on her own. t.j. gets involved in elizabeth's escape plan (elizabeth being the little) and chaos ensues. very little of it fairy related. very little of it very dangerous. for the most part both elizabeth and t.j. are fairly safe. it seems they never end up in any sort of situation where they won't be saved by that handy literary tool, the deus ex machina.

meh. anyway, a fun and easy read, but for me as a fan of de lint, and knowing what he's really capable of in this particular genre, i was a little let down by his latest offering.