Friday, December 26, 2008

Review: Bucky Katt's Big Book of Fun by Darby Conley

My brother gave this to me for Christmas... Thank you, brother!

Get Fuzzy is a daily comic strip featuring Bucky Katt the Siamese, Satchel Pooch the adorable Shar Pei/Yellow Lab mix, and Rob Wilco the slightly geeky owner of the apartment.

I'm a longtime fan of Get Fuzzy and it's one of the few newspaper comic strips that can actually get a belly laugh out of me. The art is cute and clear, and Darby Conly is great at depicting the animals' expressions and attitudes.

This strip is really accessible to everyone. Bucky's cattiness is hilarious whether you're a cat person or not, as is Satchel's clueless dogginess, because they're both SO cat and dog and everything they do is so recognizable!

This is the second big collection of strips, the first being Groovitude: A Get Fuzzy Treasury. You can also get a free daily fix here, via If you're already a Get Fuzzy fan, try out Pearls Before Swine.

Buy Bucky Katt's Big Book of Fun

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

This makes the fourth graphic novel I've read. (That's Watchmen, Sandman, Angel Season 6, and this. Watchmen and Sandman were reviewed here and here.) I saw the movie ages ago and adored it, but I didn't realize it was a graphic novel until I was looking for more stuff by Alan Moore, writer of my beloved Watchmen. Needless to say, the anticipation ran high.

I was not disappointed. V for Vendetta is much sleeker than Watchmen, more streamlined, and it suits the story very much. The story is as follows: A Guy Fawkes-ian terrorist, code name V, is targeting a post-WWIII totalitarian government. Hijinx ensue.

The art in this book was dark, which suited the mood perfectly, but I had trouble making out the pictures sometimes. Especially in the last third, I couldn't figure out which characters were which or remember what had happened to them. Luckily V's silhouette is very recognizable, and he was the character I was really interested in...

V is definitely insane. But a cold, clean, utterly sane kind of insane. He knows exactly what he's doing and he believes in it, totally and completely. His strikes are surgical, perfect, terrifying. He is the only man who could bring about the kind of changes wrought in the space of the novel... whether or not those changes should be brought about is the main course of the meal for thought. V is steeped in literature and culture, practically everything he says is a quote, and it makes him like a living metaphor, adding new dimensions everywhere you look. My favorite scene is a long conversation he holds with a statue of Lady Justice. Does he really believe the statue is talking to him? Does he just want it to be? Or is he just playing out the metaphor he sees? The scene distills the character of V perfectly for me, showing all of his intent and the different sides to his actions. You'll know it when you see it.

V for Vendetta didn't hit me quite as hard as Watchmen, but the punch definitely connected. I recommend it without hesitation, especially to fans of the movie. While it's been too long since I saw it to comment on any specifics, the atmosphere and gist of the movie and novel seem to be the same, and I certainly enjoyed both. If the Guy Fawkes thing is new to you like it was to me, I recommend your favorite search engine, Wiki, or the book Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot by Antonia Fraser.

Buy V for Vendetta

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Generosity

Do you give books as gifts?

To everyone? Or only to select people?

How do you feel about receiving books as gifts?

1) Most definitely! Mostly because I'm familiar with books more than other things. It's usually easier for me to think of the perfect book than the perfect something else.

2) To most people. If it's someone I don't know so well I may not get a book, because I don't know what they like, already own or have already read. But then again I don't usually give presents to people I don't know so well.

3) FEEEED MEEEEE!!!! I mean, um...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Review: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

I totally adore Skulduggery Pleasant.

The protagonist, Stephanie Edgley, is twelve, but she's a very unique twelve-year-old. The writing is relatively simple, but the ideas are relatively tough. That means it can really appeal to everyone, right? Stephanie discovers after her Uncle Gordon's funeral that he was more than he seemed, and at that same funeral she meets Skulduggery Pleasant, a very thin gentleman... This is one of those rare finds in which I loved ALL of the characters, couldn't predict the twists and turns, and couldn't be distracted from the book for more than ten seconds.

Skulduggery has to be my favorite character. He's mysterious, suave, and otherworldly, while he's also very urbane and utterly hilarious. But Stephanie is a close second. She's practically my Mary Sue, in a really good way... Well, more like she's the character I always want authors to write but never receive. She's smart and brave, but she still struggles. She's twelve, but she still needs help from the adults (weird "but," I know.) She wishes for magic, and she's actually EXCITED when she gets it!

The magic and world are built on old themes, but the usages are fresh and new. It's written for kids and I know they'll love it, there's plenty of action and humor, but the subtleties were enough to blow my mind and give me things to chew over. The plot twists weren't the same old "surprises" I was expecting, but nothing was random or haphazard about the way it was put together.

Altogether this was a real treat for me, and I can't wait to read the sequel, Playing With Fire. My sister, the YA one, has read both books and says the second is just as fantastic as the first.

This is often billed as a Potter alternative, but that just means it's an urban fantasy book for kids... It reminds me a lot more of The Dresden Files for kids, or The Nightmare Before Christmas, with maybe even a hint of Zorgamazoo...

Buy Scepter of the Ancients

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Time is of the Essence

1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read? (I’m guessing #1 is
an easy question for everyone?)

2. If you had (magically) more time to read–what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?

1) Definitely not.

2) All of the above? Is "etc." an option? I would be catching up on Mt. TBR, which contains a little of everything. (There's a myth about a dude perpetually pushing a boulder up a hill... it always reminds me of dear old Mt. TBR.)

Mm, short and sweet this week. Read more responses here!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Review: Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers

I have a small predilection for all things Capotean. (Is that a word? It is now.) I've read all the books about/by him I could find and seen at least three movies about In Cold Blood. I wrote a long paper on him last year. He just fascinates me. So I was understandably excited about reading this novel, a fictional account that focuses on his relationship to Nelle Harper Lee.

I was a little disappointed, honestly. It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't as good as it could have been. The first half seemed like just a list of historical events, without much fiction to keep it interesting, and then the second half seemed mostly fiction without many facts to ground it. Powers warns in his author's note that he has long been preoccupied by the wonders of Capote and Lee, and it's apparent that this book is an ode to his preoccupation.

Truman and Nelle are done very well. They match the images I have of those two authors almost exactly... unfortunately that's not such a good thing. Nothing in the book made me consider them in any new light. The same goes for the storyline and events. The most interesting things are the things that can be found in any biography, and no new food for thought is presented.

This might do well as an introduction to the subject, or a summary or general reminder. The facts are mostly straight and it isn't a chore to read. But I would recommend reading the real novels and biographies. Why go to a secondary or tertiary source when the primaries and secondaries are incredible in their own right?

Buy Capote in Kansas

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: 5 for Favorites

1. Do you have a favorite author?

2. Have you read everything he or she has written?

3. Did you LIKE everything?

4. How about a least favorite author?

5. An author you wanted to like, but didn’t?

They WOULD pick author questions... For some reason it's much easier for me to group books together by subject, setting, tone, whatever, rather than author, so it's hard for me to think in terms of authors. But I'll do my best.

1) I have a lot of favorites. I mentioned some of the early favorites in my Thanksgiving post, but here are some others: Kevin Brockmeier, Derek Landy, Alan Moore, Maria V. Snyder, Jane Yolen, William Sleator, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, quite possibly Robert Paul Weston... and a host of others that just aren't crossing my mind right now. For the purposes of the next few questions I'm going to go with the great C.S. Lewis.

2) Not quite. I haven't been able to get some of his journal stuff or some of the poetry, I haven't had the money for the new Boxen book, and I'm sure I've missed some essays here and there, but I've read the grand majority of his work.

3) Heck yes. Especially Till We Have Faces.

4) Steinbeck.

5) I can't really think of one. So as a bonus: some authors I wanted to DISlike but didn't. J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Jane Austen.

Read more responses here!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Review: Urchin of the Riding Stars by M. I. McAllister

Due to a hectic week, the joys of Thanksgiving, and my laptop being broken, I did not in fact read this book this week. However, I did in fact read it three months ago and it's fantastic. Urchin of the Riding Stars is the first book of The Mistmantle Chronicles. There are three, with a fourth that either just came out or is about to come out, but unfortunately my library doesn't have any of the sequels so I've only read the first one.

I didn't really like the first six or eight chapters, in fact I nearly put the book down and moved on, but I was so glad I held on to the end. It's pretty obviously a Redwall read-alike. The first chapters introduce the setting, an island surrounded by mist, and a host of very expected Redwall stock characters. Urchin, a squirrel, arrived on the island during a meteor shower as a newborn baby who was then adopted into the society of the island with only a few animals knowing about the prophesies, etc., that accompanied him. There are some power-hungry nobles trying to take over the island! WHO can save us? Blah blah blah, blah.

BUT, after all that is out of the way, we really set into the good stuff. This is shorter and written more simply than Redwall, but it deals with different themes. I may be wrong, but I can't remember Redwall ever dealing with organized infanticide or demonic possession. Urchin does, and does it very, very well. Urchin has more focus on a political intrigue kind of plot, more internal intensity. There isn't a definite "The people inside are good and that horde over there is bad," but there IS a definite "these actions are good and these actions are bad."

As the book goes on the characters turn out to be much more developed than the first chapters would indicate. The plot becomes ever more complex, but isn't hard to follow and doesn't get bogged down. There are some religious themes, one of the best characters is a priest and they all pray to the Heart of the Island, but like the other themes I've mentioned it isn't quite pronounced, only there. The story sets up a series well, I hope the growing pains were worked out in this one and the second book can pick up where this one left off.

Overall, this was an excellent book, good for kids who like animal fantasy or people who like basic fantasy in general. It was similar in ways to the Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel and to the Warriors series, maybe even similar to The Wind in the Willows in a way, or The Giver. It's suitable for all ages, but the younger a kid is the more I'd suggest discussion.

Buy Urchin of the Riding Stars

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving here in the U.S.

Now, you may have noticed that the global economy isn’t exactly doing
well. There’s war. Starvation. All sorts of bad, scary things going on.

So–just for today–how about sharing 7 things that you’re thankful

This can be about books, sure–authors you appreciate, books you love,
an ode to your public library–but also, how about other things, too? Because in
times like these, with bills piling up and disaster seemingly lurking around
every corner, it’s more important than ever to stop and take stock of the things
we’re grateful for. Family. Friends. Good health (I hope). Coffee and tea.
Turkey. Sunshine. Wagging tails. Curling up with a good book.

So, how about it? Spread a little positive thinking and tell the world
what there is to be thankful for.

1) Number one is, of course, that I'm thankful for the reason for my faith. I'm a Protestant Christian. I'm not going to say I'm thankful "for my faith," I'm just going to say I'm thankful I have something to have faith in.

2) My friends. I was a loner growing up.

3) My cats. They always know just when to snuggle and just when to be aloof. We don't have to talk to each other to understand each other.

4) The Great American Novel. I'd go crazy if I didn't have people talking in my head all the time! Oh, wait... um. Anyway.

5) Some of my favorite authors from my childhood in no particular order: C.S. Lewis, Bruce Coville, J.R.R. Tolkien, Diane Duane, Lloyd Alexander, and Brian Jacques. Each of them helped shape the way I think now, and not only that but I frickin' loved their books, and still do.

6) Libraries. Not necessarily library patrons, but, uh... anyway. As a person of less-than-huge income, I would be severely limited in the books I could read without the library. As it is, I have a definite imbalance in the number of books I want to/can read, and the number of books I actually have time to read. That's a lovely thing.

7) Last, but certainly not least: I'm really thankful for turkey. Really, really thankful. And cranberry sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This is definitely my favorite holiday.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

News flash, book is the new cool

So apparently, due to laziness, the word "book" has now replaced the word "cool." That's just so... so book! Full story at the Times Online.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Review: A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

This is nonfiction, a sort of history meets personal essay of 372 pages counting the index and notes, 319 pages sans, with plenty of illustrations.

This book was a joy to read, a hymn of praise to the very act of reading. It focuses on that specifically, the act of reading, and it's amazing the amount of information there is to be had. There was some overlap with the history of books, history of writing, etc., but only in passing. It's really all about reading. There was a lot of information that I'd never come across before that seems to have been included just because it was interesting, and that was fine with me!

The book is organized in two main sections, "Acts of Reading" and "Powers of the Reader." There are chapter headings like "Learning to Read," "The Silent Readers," "Ordainers of the Universe," and "The Author as Reader." So instead of a moving through a chronological timeline, Manguel brings us into a much more organic narrative that actually resembles the way we read books. We skip back and forth between similar things, follow tangents that only make sense to us readers. We pause to meditate on single thoughts, and dash along through topics that aren't as mesmerizing.

Manguel draws us into what feels a very intimate group, tracing readers down through history all the way to us. It's a reassuring book; because reading is such a private affair it can seem lonely, but rest assured there are a gazillion other readers who have loved just the same things about their books as we do about ours. A History of Reading was informative, while remaining informal and very enjoyable.

Some other books that sit next to this one on the humongous bookshelf of my mind: The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petrosky, Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, and Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas. All of these were interesting in the same way, though the subject matter varies ever-so-slightly.

Buy A History of Reading

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Honesty?

Suggested by JM:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the
book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel
that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a
positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book,
even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to
put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy
authors who get negative reviews?

No. There's a difference between a review and an advertisement, and if I get a review copy, I'm going to write a REVIEW. That means what I liked and what I didn't like and why. If I say a book is wonderful I'm going to have to give reasons, and if I hated the book and have to make up reasons, then anyone who reads the book on my recommendation is going to be annoyed and not pay attention to my good reviews anymore. So trying to get me to do that really wouldn't do anybody any good. Let this be a warning, authors! I am an honest reviewer!

And here's a tip, authors... The best way to get a good review is to write a good book.

Read more responses to BTT here!

Watchmen trailer 3

Behold, the trailer that debuted before Quantum of Solace (good movie) last week. It looks... slightly less awesome? But still awesome.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

This is the first book in a YA series, which I have heard much about and read on the recommendation of my dear sister, who is a YA several years more Y than I. It follows two 12-year-olds who live in the City of Ember, a place where the sky is always dark. But what's that? They're running out of food, widgets, and lightbulbs to keep the streets lit?

First, and remember this, I liked the book. I had somehow gotten it into my head that it was a YA urban fantasy book, and it's not. It's more of a kids' sci-fi-ish book. But after I figured that out, it was original, interesting, and kept me curious the whole way through, which is an important feature for a kids' book to have.

The two main characters, Lina and Doon, are pretty normal stars for a book like this. Kids who seem to be the only competent people in existence. But I love how they take time to interact with each other, and they actually have reasons for running into each other besides "the plot says so." The addition of Lina's baby sister helped to ground Lina and Doon and keep them from being too autonomous. Several of the secondary characters, like Doon's father, had a refreshing depth I that I didn't expect and proved that not ALL of the adults are useless. And even if they don't ACT like real kids, Lina and Doon have an earnestness about them that's really believable.

Okay. I have issues with the plot. I have no idea why everyone thinks this book is a YA when no one over the age of fourteen is going to believe a word of it. The very first incident in the book is the graduation of the 12-year-old students. As per tradition, jobs are RANDOMLY ASSIGNED to them and they go out to make their way in the world and become useful members of society. I can understand that a city that's running down needs everyone to start helping at an early age, but randomly assigning the jobs? That can't be efficient.

The middle half of the book is the best. It has a Redwall-esque riddle to solve and believable kid angst, mixed in with Tantalizingly Tiny Tidbits of information about Ember. But there's a depressing lack of climax to the story, and the reveals aren't satisfying to me. Just ask my sister, I ranted at her for a good half hour about how retarded some of it was.

Back to the good stuff though. A kid won't notice any of the stuff I didn't like, and there's both a prequel and a sequel to maybe explain some of the things that didn't work. And I liked the book. It has a slightly Lemony Snicket-y feel, but with content more similar to The Giver. (It doesn't have near the upsetting content as The Giver, it just reminds me of it. Also: I love The Giver.) So if you have/are a 12-year-old, snatch City of Ember up and make yourself comfortable, you'll love it.

Note that a movie version of this book came out a short while ago. It didn't play at my local theater, but if anyone's seen it I'd love to hear their opinions.

ETA: Saw the movie, and it was awful. Don't see it.

Buy The City of Ember

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Why Buy?

I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or
get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m
betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your
house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at
least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually
own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why
shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

Well, I'm a librarian. At any given time I have about 50 books checked out, waiting for me to read them. (Some of those are things I've picked up for family members, but still.) I also currently have 514 books that I've bought in my room, exact number courtesy of LibraryThing.

This happens for several reasons:

1) There are some books my library doesn't have. When I see a book that just looks sooo good and calls to me from the shelf at the bookstore and I KNOW I would have seen it if the library had it, I just HAVE to buy it. (Why I'm even in the bookstore when I have so many other books to read is a discussion unto itself.)

2) If I've read a book from the library and loved it, I mean really loved it, when it's the BEST BOOK EVER, I have to buy it and keep it so I can read it whenever I want, and no other people can get their grimy paws on it. Also, I have paralyzing fears that the book might go out of print and I'd never be able to find it again and the world would have lost a thing of beauty. Or the library might sell it and I wouldn't be able to remember the title.

3) Which leads nicely into my last point. I buy a lot of books from the library book sale. Friends, a lot of books. This is partly because they're dirt cheap and I just can't resist, but also I'll see a book and think "Wow, I'd like to check that out," but then I realize that I CAN'T! It's in the book sale! So I buy it to read eventually since it's dirt cheap.

And there you have it. The three best reasons to buy books, in addition to checking them out at the library.

Find more responses to Booking Through Thursday here!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Review- The Sandman Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman

You may remember my glowing review of Watchmen several weeks ago. (Review is here.) You may remember me saying that I don't usually read graphic novels because I don't usually understand them. You may remember how very very much I loved Watchmen.

Well, a good friend of mine got the same earful of happiness after I read Watchmen, and she, being a comic book buff, promptly gave me recommendations! The Sandman was on the top of her list. And friends... it's awesome. I freely admit that I had trouble following it for the first half, falling prey to my usual nemeses: Not being able to remember which characters were which and not being able to tell what was going on in the frame. But something in it really appealed to me, and in the middle of the book, suddenly it started making sense. A lot of sense.

I love anthropomorphic personifications. Maybe that's a weird sentence, but I do. Once I could really grasp that this is a book about personifications, then I had a handle to hold on to while I figured the rest of the book out. And these personifications are like no others. They're actually SCARY. Most of the time when something is made human, it loses a sense of Otherness and we start to oversympathize. But, while these characters could be sympathized with, (boy could they, I think I'm in love with Dream) they never stopped being something larger than life.

The disjointedness of the plot and art were probably what I had to get used to the most, but I really like them now. There are a lot of sudden transitions and flipping back and forth between scenes. There's a lot of thick black and bold, dark colors. That's the mood of the story, and it's wonderful. Even I, a person of no squeamish tendencies, had one or two gross-out moments (warning for those of more delicate sensibilities,) but it reassures me when a story doesn't shy away from the bad stuff. When the bad guys are bad.

I have three favorite scenes. The first: the duel in Hell. This was when I really scooted up to the edge of my seat and started paying attention. I thought "Hey, I better keep an eye on this Dream guy, he knows his stuff." He had me at "I am h--" ...well, I won't spoil.

The second: Toward the end, when Dream was with Doctor Destiny for the last time. This scene was the one that showed me how incredible Dream really is, how powerful but still with a huge grasp of the way things really are.

The last: The final chapter. Because Death was in it, and she was scary!

So. This was the first volume of eleven. I'm discovering that there's a real intensity that can be achieved in the graphic novel form, like a story distilled into only the most important images and dialogue, and I look forward to reading the rest!

Buy The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Gifts

What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present?
Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book
itself? The “gift aura?”

Well, I get a lot of gift cards, so I count the books I buy with them as presents from the gift-card-giver, but that's not quite the same thing... I can't think of anything really special so I'm just going to rattle off a few gifts I've gotten:

I got the first Get Fuzzy collection for my last birthday from my brother; my astronomy teacher last summer gave me this for no apparent reason; my Grandmother's given me a gazillion (appreciated) books on art; my sister gave me The Black Book of Secrets a good long time ago and I'm, er, building up anticipation for it (read: I haven't read it yet but I want to, I do!); and the one that I do actually remember and treasure now that I think about it, my parents gave me set of gorgeous, gilt-edged, leatherbound books containing Anna Karenina, War of the Worlds, A Tale of Two Cities, The Jungle Book, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, A Christmas Carol, Sense and Sensibility, and The Wind in the Willows. Awesome, right? Totally. (I have a serious predilection for leatherbound books. SERIOUS predilection.)

Go here for more responses!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Review: Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston

It's Dr. Seuss for (much?) older kids! And maybe adults!

No, wait, hear me out, it really is!

Zorgamazoo is a novel in rhyming, Dr. Seuss-like poetry, following the adventures of Katrina Katrell, an adventurous young girl, and Mortimer Yorgle, a decidedly unadventures zorgle who has been chosen to find the missing zorgles of Zorgamazoo. Heartwarming and hilarious hijinx ensue!

The poetry is really perfect, using infectious rhythm and unique words to suck you in and keep you from looking at anything else. The form allows some things to be simply TOLD (With a bit of a song, it was Morty's belief, / he could cope a bit better with feelings of grief.) so that we can move on to the story, but at the same time we're allowed to stop and really explore something for a few verses before we move on, all without losing track of the rhythm.

The plot and characters have a really fun blend of expected--the girl who believes in her fantasies and runs away from her evil governess--and unexpected, in the zorgle who's FATHER is adventurous and is bucking the tradition by being cowardly. Each character has a particular freshness, uniqueness, and individual motivation and none of that is forgotten as the story goes on. Also, and I won't spoil, I really really love the ending.

This would make an excellent read-aloud and vocabulary builder for younger kids, a great introduction to some of the possibilities in poetry, or just an exciting adventure to read to yourself. (Personally I read some passages aloud to myself just because I liked the words so much.) If you or your kids liked Seuss, Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, or The Edge Chronicles, this is the book for you.
What follows are some excerpts from the first few chapters of the book, just to get you hooked. Please note that these are taken from the ARC version, and may not be the final text. The final text was released on October 16th and is available to buy. You can visit for more info on the book. And now:
Here is a story that's stranger than strange.
Before we begin you may want to arrange:

a blanket,
a cushion,
a comfortable seat,
and maybe some cocoa and something to eat.

I'll warn you, of course, before we commence,
my story is eerie and full of suspense,
brimming with danger and narrow escapes,
and creatures of many remarkable shapes.
. . .
So if you've no time for the whimsical things,
for pirates and gadgets and creatures and kings,
if you spurn the fantastic to never return,
then put this book down...

for it's not your concern.

Ah, you're still here. Then I'm grateful to you.
This book needs a reader, as all of them do.
. . .

Now Mortimer Yorgle, or "Morty" for short,
was a zorgle, perhaps, of a singular sort.
He was certainly pleasant, and friendly enough,
but his edges, I'd say, were a little bit rough.

For instance: His necktie was always
His trousers were striped with ridiculous dye.
On each of his hands he wore fingerless gloves,
and a rumpled-up raincoat was one of his loves.

Now read the book, for goodness' sake!

Buy Zorgamazoo

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Conditioning

Mariel suggested this week’s question.

Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in
pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers
bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

Ack! No! My books are in pristine condition, and anyone who damages them is a heretic and blasphemer!

Actually, a lot of my books are ex-library or otherwise used, so they aren't in pristine condition and I don't worry about them so much. But the books I buy new I'm very careful with, and I never write in them or highlight or underline. In fact I've been known to spend several hours with a used book going through and erasing pencil marks. I always use a separate journal for any notetaking... My sister also had a good idea, she uses small Post-it notes to write on and sticks them in her books, so she can take them out again at will but the note is still with the passage.

Read other responses here!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Review: Jaws by Peter Benchley

The famous precursor to the even more famous movie of the same name; the book that spurred on the deaths of thousands of innocent sharks; the book that makes people afraid to go swimming in chlorinated pools.

I'd seen the movie, and loved it. I'd read one of Benchley's other books, Beast, and loved it. (It's the squid one.) I love sharks and underwater monsters and the occasional horror movie to spice up my week.

With all that hype, I was kind of hoping the book would be, well, good. Sorry, folks... it wasn't. The pace dragged on for hundreds of pages at a time, layering on character development I didn't want for characters I didn't like, none of which resembled their movie counterparts in more than general ways. I found myself longing for the movie, because it was so much more straightforward and the characters were so much easier to connect with. And how can you be afraid of a shark that you hardly see or hear from for the middle third of the book?
If you're thinking about reading this, watch the movie or read Beast instead, You'll get a lot more satisfaction. All in all, it just didn't measure up.
Please note I reviewed this for the R.I.P. III challenge over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Since it generally failed to get me into the spirit, I'm off to read some Poe instead!

Buy Jaws

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review - Athens: A History by Robin Waterfield

This is a nonfiction book that I read in relation to a paper I'm working on. It's a history of the city of Athens, from its founding to the modern day, published in 2004, 362 pages long including end material, and written by a man who lives in Greece and has translated about 20 texts from the Greek. I'll also mention that I'm learning to read New Testament Greek this year, so Greek history is that much more interesting.

I've read (relatively) widely about Athens and classical Greece; this stands out mostly for its modernity. It addresses issues that are most of interest to modern issues and the modern mind, and perhaps ascribes too much of that mindset to the Athenians themselves. Written for laymen, the prose is usually plain and clear, but with the occasional strange lapse into a conversational tone, and the author sometimes injects too much of his own opinion. He is very judgemental toward the treatment of women in classical Athens, but applauds the open homoeroticism contained in the games and symposia. Personally I'm a lot more interested in what the Athenians might have thought about those things that what the author thinks is politically correct today. (The currently accepted spellings, notation, research, and dates were also used, which was sometimes confusing to me but on the whole was helpful as an update.)

The writing is usually quickly paced, touching on the significant more than the detailed, and looks at the whole of Athenian history, not focusing only on the classical age. Each time period is approached from several angles and from a global perspective, which makes it easier to remember what happened when and tie it into the rest of world history. It's very apparent that Waterfield loves Athens, and his enthusiasm is part of what keeps the book fresh.

Overall this was a very interesting and helpful book, especially where recent discoveries are concerned, but I'd suggest reading it along with other books to get a more rounded picture of Athens. Here's a nice list provided by LibraryThing, if you're looking. Also, a good book of Greek mythology helps immensely -- try this one -- and some primary texts never go amiss.

Buy Athens: A History

Friday, October 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Monica suggested this one:
Got this idea from Literary Feline during her recent contest:

“Name a favorite literary couple and tell me why they are a favorite. If you
cannot choose just one, that is okay too. Name as many as you like–sometimes
narrowing down a list can be extremely difficult and painful. Or maybe that’s
just me.”

Well, that'll have to be Taran and Eilonwy from The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. But I'm also very fond of Yelena and Valek from Poison Study, by Maria V. Snyder. (Both of these are the best serieses ever and you should read them! Prydain is YA/juvenile fantasy and the Study series is adult/ya, fantasy/romance.)

For other responses to Booking Through Thursday, visit here!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Watchmen trailer 2

This was shown at the Spike 2008 Scream Awards the other night. I wasn't there, but now I wish I had been...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Watchmen trailer

I present for your viewing pleasure, the official trailer for the Watchmen movie. Does it look awesome? Oh yes. Will it be awesome? I hope so.

Review: Watchmen by Alan Moore

I don't usually read comic books. Pardon me, graphic novels. It's not that I don't approve of the medium or the genre, it's just my brain won't process the format. I can't keep track of who's who, what's going on, or even who each speech bubble belongs to.

But, I love the comic book movies that have been coming out, and when I saw a trailer for Watchmen I was very interested. I'd never heard of it before, so I went to the Wikipedia article and read just enough about its reception to realize that I HAD to read it and see it in action.
And boy, was I impressed! This is seriously the best stuff I've read in a long, long time, and even though it's one of the most complicated stories I've seen, I didn't have any trouble following it.
For those of you who also have never heard of it, it's an alternate history set in 1985. Superheroes, or masked vigilantes which in this case don't have any superpowers, were once active but were then outlawed. The one notable exception is Doc Manhattan, who does possess superpowers and works for the government, and a possible second exception is Ozymandias, who is supposed to have "peak human" powers. The story begins with the murder of one of the costumed heroes, and proceeds with another hero's investigation. The book explores the idea of what it would really be like if there were superheroes in the world, but its basic theme can't be stated better than "Who watches the watchmen?"

The first things that struck me were the visuals, the cinematic quality of it all. The "camera" zooms, pans, and chooses angles in exactly the way needed to emphasize what's happening, but the fact that it isn't a camera allows for pauses and juxtaposition that can't really be done in film. The art itself was perfect and very detailed, giving everything a kind of uniqueness and realism and made each frame memorable. There are also multiple flashbacks, and at the end of every chapter a fictional primary document is included, which serves to expand the universe in time as well as space and make it seem all the more real. I could mention the frames that were the most striking, that are still burned into my retinas, but that would give away too many spoilers.

The second perfect thing is the characterization. Characterization is one of the things that I usually miss when I'm trying to read a comic, but Watchmen had a perfectly arranged balance of character exploration and plot. Neither overtakes the other, but both contribute to the story's progress. I was pleased to note that the romantic (or less than romantic) relationships between the characters were important and helped to move the story, they weren't just fanservice and they weren't boring. The characters range from Doc Manhattan, the inhuman character who has godlike powers, to Nite Owl, a kind of "average" superhero with a lot of gadgets, to Rorschach, the ultimate antihero.

The one most impressive feature is the sheer weight of all the subtle things going on at any given time. From the slowly counting doomsday clock, to the slow wash of blood through every chapter, to the chapter titles that are quotes by anyone from Bob Dylan to Albert Einstein. Every character is vital to the story. Every frame is vital to the story. Every poster on the wall means something, every incidental character means something, even a crazy dude carrying a sign is going to be important. (I totally pegged that one.) The atmosphere of the story, at first only barely noticeable, develops into an almost suffocating mixture of nostalgia and paranoia that pervades every action. And when the end finally comes... what are we to make of it?

Seriously. Read it. It's incredible.

Buy Watchmen

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review: The Dracula Dossier by James Reese

I confess, when I realized the author of The Dracula Dossier was also the author of The Book of Shadows, I was wary. I never finished The Book of Shadows, because although the story was interesting, I didn’t pick up the book looking for pages and pages on end of nothing but graphic violence included for no apparent reason. I was worried this would be more of the same.

Luckily I was wrong. There was gore in The Dracula Dossier, but only what you would expect from Jack the Ripper. (I may have to revisit The Book of Shadows, maybe there was a point to it.) It seems that things were treated more realistically in The Dracula Dossier, with more of an emphasis on Stoker’s reactions than the murders themselves.

What stands out the most about the book was the extraordinary realism and feel for the time period that comes across in the writing. The details are excellent, and whether the book was based on facts or not, it certainly suspends disbelief. The footnotes usually help with the realistic feeling and provide information that couldn’t be provided convincingly in the epistolary form. They drew a lot of attention to the Dracula references, which was helpful and kept up my interest, but it might have been more exciting if I’d been allowed to draw my own parallels.

The pace does drag some for the first hundred pages, but those Dracula references in the footnotes kept up my interest long enough to get past those pages, to Mr. Stoker’s interview with Mr. Penfold. During that scene the book suddenly transformed into a real thriller, and the rest of the pages flew by. The final fifty pages or so made up an expected but satisfying ending that tied up the loose threads.

I think this book fills a niche, addressing the already much-addressed topics of Jack the Ripper and Dracula from a more historical perspective than I’ve seen before. In the words of Mr. Stoker at the end of the novel, "It is the story of a man who -- though not a hero, per se -- finds himself suffering, nay surviving, heroic circumstances."

Attention: You can go to the publishers' Browse Inside site to see up to 20% of the book's content for free. I actually got an e-mail from the book's publicist! Cool, huh?

Buy The Dracula Dossier

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


While browsing the Interweb today, and the lovely Stainless Steel Droppings, I discovered this challenge. The R.I.P. III challenge of October 2008. I was barely in time, instead of three or four weeks late as I usually am for challenges, so how could I refuse? So, in addition to my usual reading, this month I will be reading one or more of the following:
Jaws by Peter Benchley (Thriller)
Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates (Horror)
The Collector of Hearts by Joyce Carol Oates (Horror)
Cults!: An Anthology of Secret Societies, Sects, and the Supernatural (Horror, Supernatural)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Introductory Post

Welcome to The Fickle Hand of Fate. My name is Fatalis Fortuna, Fate for short, and I will be your blogger for the duration. I am currently a student and a part-time librarian. When I'm not working, I occupy myself with all things fictional, be they in print, on television, or on the silver screen; my two cats, Amontillado (after "The Cask of Amontillado," of course), and Alice (after Alice in Wonderland,); and my novel-in-progress, which is of course the next Great American Novel. To my knowledge it will be the first Great American Novel that is YA urban fantasy, and for this I will become both famous and rich.

This blog will contain my stunning insights into the world of publishing, which I have practically no knowledge of as of yet, and the world of unpublished writers, of which I have intimate knowledge, but mainly reviews of books, movies, music, and anything else I may have a stunning insight about.

I've been published in both regional magazines and national magazines (Teen Ink, anyone?), but have not yet cracked the professional market. We're currently looking at weekly updates over the weekends.