Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: Inamorata by Joseph Gangemi

Does this book really exist? I can't find it through the publisher, fewer than 100 people have it listed on LibraryThing, the website for the author listed inside the book is nonexistent, you can only get it through Amazon from their authorized sellers and then only in paperback and for a penny, and googling is fruitless. It was only published in 2005! And all that's a pain, because I want someone to discuss it with! What's the deal?

Warning: very minor spoilers may follow.

Inamorata is a Gothic horror/mystery/romance/something, but set in the 1920s during the height of the Spiritualism fad. The viewpoint character is one Martin Finch, a college student who becomes part of a study financed by the Scientific American which offers a prize of $5,000 dollars to anyone who can prove "psychic phenomena" to the satisfaction of the board of judges. Martin's job is to help prove the candidates to be tricksters and does so with great ingenuity, until they discover Mina Crawley, a medium with unexplainable talents. Martin quickly becomes fascinated with her.

The investigation, and "Margery" as she was called in the papers, were both real. Gangemi goes deeper into the story, exploring the possibilities and the people involved to great dramatic effect. A word of warning: it's got some upsetting and graphic content, including a graphic surgical operation, implied abuse, drug use, and "Lets see how outraged we can get Fate's feminist sensibilities" content.

It was very upsetting. Most of the characters were too realistic for me to like, except the lawyer near the end of the book. (You'll know him when you see him.) I considered setting it down several times, but I HAD to know how it was going to end! I HAD to know what was going on!

I never found out. It's the MOTHER of all ambiguous endings. It seems like the answer is just beyond my fingertips... there were so many hints, so many clues, but I can't put them together.

If you like the Gothic feel, historical fiction/romance, ghosts, you'd probably like this one as long as you don't mind the upsetting parts and the ambiguity. If it sounds interesting, please read it and then come tell me your theory!

The one thing I really wanted to read when I finished this... besides a full explanation of what happened... was a real history of spiritualism or study of it in that time period. Here are a few, and here's a list of related books.
Buy Inamorata

Friday, March 20, 2009

Review: Need by Carrie Jones

Need is the latest big YA push, written by Carrie Jones (author of Girl, Hero; Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape); and Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend.) It's billed as a Twilight read-alike, and that's mostly what it is.

The main difference is that there aren't any vampires. There are pixies instead! Also, the protagonist, "Zara," yes there's a reason for the funky name, is a rabid liberal, and for that I can see no reason. It's just annoying. I don't have anything against liberals, I just wish they wouldn't be all up in my face, and it'd be better for their cause if they didn't act like dumb, whiny, totally genre-blind teenage girls the whole book. Also, the writing is in first person, present tense, which is sort of jarring.

Those things aside, it was a very engaging read and I enjoyed it. While it sounds EXACTLY like Twilight in the first few chapters, you quickly realize that there's more going on here. The characters are more confusing and believable, and the mystery/horror factors get center stage. There's a lot of good imagery and some fascinating red herrings and surprises. I loved almost all of the characters besides Zara, they're very down-to-Earth and funny.

The writing wasn't as good as it could've been, and the ending was a little weak. I ended up rooting for the bad guy, but even aside from that it wasn't quite as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be. There's definitely room for a sequel and I really hope she writes one, because there are a lot of things I'd like to see addressed more in-depth and I think she could work out the kinks in this one and end up with something really great. The basics are excellent, just the execution is shaky.

Need isn't the Best Book Ever, but it's definitely worth reading if you like the genre (YA, fantasy/horror/romance.) It's also recommended for Wicked Lovely fans, and definitely check it out if you liked Twilight or the idea of Twilight but not the way it was handled. (Another book even better for that purpose would be Evernight, which I liked way more than any of these others. Full review here.)

Buy Need

Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale

Three reviews in one this week! I felt like I needed to read all three of the books in this series before I could judge any one as a whole. A fourth book is coming out next September, which I will presumably review at that time. You may recognize the name Shannon Hale from the popular new graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge (which I didn't particularly like but don't have anything against); this series is older but ongoing.

The Goose Girl is the first book in the series, and is a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale by the same name. You can read the original story here at Shannon's website. I'd recommend reading it first... it gives away the plot, but I think I got more out of the book from knowing the original. I won't recap the plot here, except that the main character, Isi, learns magic and goes through a lot of hardships before the end, and even having read the fairy tale doesn't prepare you for the "reality."

The story follows the fairy tale in most particulars of plot, but fully fills in all the magical and personal details. A whole world is created within those parameters and it doesn't seem forced at all. The book dragged terribly over the first half for me, where everything is being set up for the main action, but it is VERY worth it to read on to the end because overall the book is fantastic! I especially love the unique magic that Shannon's come up with and how it fits into the story.

The main character starts out annoying, but that's the way she's supposed to be and she gets her act together around the same time the plot gets good. What really made the book for me was the cast of supporting characters who are detailed, funny, and endearing.
* * *

While Enna Burning is a sequel to The Goose Girl, it doesn't follow the same character or a fairy tale. It has a very different attitude than the first book, and the fact that it isn't recycling the same ideas is part of what makes it good. It's about one of the goose girl's friends, Enna, who discovers fire magic during a war with Tira, the kingdom to the south.

I was furious for most of this book. How could it HAPPEN this way?! This is wrong, she's not writing the book right! I hate it!

That was when I realized that Enna Burning isn't the same kind of story as The Goose Girl. Enna Burning isn't a fairy tale. It's a story about redemption. Reading it is like living the story itself, not being a character or living in the world, but living the actual emotion of the whole story, and it was worth it to go through all that with Enna.

Despite what I'm saying about it being different, if you liked The Goose Girl you'll like this one. The same characters are present and I liked seeing the update on them, especially Isi and Razo.

* * *

The third book, River Secrets, is about the abovementioned Razo, one of Isi's friends who is featured more prominently in Enna Burning. He is selected as one of the guards of a peace mission to Tira.

Again, this book has a much different atmosphere than the other two. This is a mystery, a political intrigue, a coming-of-age story. Instead of discovering magical talents, Razo discovers that he's pretty awesome all by himself. And where the mystery is concerned, it's a great one. Some parts I guessed and others were totally opaque, keeping the pages turning.

This one is hilarious due to Razo's less-than-serious influence. I was laughing so hard my sister came over from the next room to see what was so funny. My answer was "Here, read this whole book," which is exactly what I'm telling you!

The other thing that struck me was the effort Shannon's put into her worldbuilding. The separate countries aren't just identical places with different names, they actually have very different customs, languages, and geographies. Altogether, this book was exemplary.

* * *

The fourth book is called Forest Born, but as yet I don't know who it's about or what the plot might be. I do know that I'll be snatching it up as soon as it's available.

These books are really something exceptional, and each one has something to say. There's something in here for everyone, whether you like romance, fairy tales, fantasy and magic, mysteries, or just stories about people getting better rather than getting worse. The way the characters are portrayed is very organic and easy to relate to, and the plots will grab you and make you listen. Enjoy!

Buy the Books of Bayern

Friday, March 6, 2009

Review: Kingdom Come by Mark Waid (+ Watchmen Yay!)

I saw Watchmen last night. It was excellent. Basically the graphic novel brought to life, almost to the point that there's no reason to watch the movie because it's just a shorter, bloodier version of the graphic novel. But I enjoyed it, and I applaud the makers for their self-discipline in not screwing around with the material.

Yes, that does have something to do with this review! Kingdom Come is like Watchmen, only with real DC superheroes. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and all the rest. It was published in 1997, is less than half the size of Watchmen, and is absolutely fantastic.

The story takes place some time after the classic "metahumans" have retired, and the world is now being overrun by a new breed of superhero. The kind that America asked for, the kind that doesn't have any rules about not killing its enemies. Unfortunately, they also don't care about human collateral damage. The old superheroes come out of retirement to try to set things to right. The story is told in the form of a Christmas Carol-esque journey taken by a pastor and a cloaked spirit who demands that he judge the superheroes and say who will be punished in the end.

As far as I can tell, the characterization is very good. (I'm not sure because I'm not very familiar with the "classic" superheroes.) My favorite character is Batman, which comes as no surprise to me. The art is very good, not drawing attention to itself while being colorful and descriptive. There are a lot of large panels that I really loved looking at.

The plot is amazing, really grabs you by the throat and makes you listen to what it's saying. It asks questions like "Why do we fight?" "Why should we?" "Who is a part of the human race, and what does that mean?"I was on the edge of my seat the entire book, desperate to know how it ended, and it certainly delivered on its promise of a grand finale.

Try to get a hold of this editionit has a bonus scene in the back. My review of Watchmen is here, and can be summarized with the words "READ WATCHMEN." Another graphic novel in this vein that I'd recommend is Astro City, which is less intense but works with the same themes.

this edition

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Review: The Quintessential Gentleman by Henry Russell

Bonus review this week, since Mini Book Expo and Ulysses Press were kind enough to send it to me and I'm not sure if the review is overdue or not. I hope not, obviously, and I don't think it is.

Anyway, I read a lot of books about style and etiquette. I take none of the advice and follow none of the rules, but I find it very interesting and great research for the writing of certain stylish and mannerly characters. The Quintessential Gentleman is honestly one of the better ones I've read, because it's both funny and useful. If you can't read the type on the picture, it says "The Quintessential Gentleman: An Ironic, Sometimes Irreverent Guide to 21st-Century Manners by Henry Russell, Elegant Englishman."

This book was published in 2006, and it's suitably modern. It doesn't stress rules, since most people expect you to be flexible anyway, but instead shows appropriate attitudes to have and/or things to say in a huge variety of situations. The One Great Rule of stylebooks is, in my experience, that being a gentleman consists of being considerate to the needs of others and that little else is necessary.

Henry Russell is very funny in his candid, realistic approach. He doesn't focus on the usual round of what cut of suit to wear and which fork to use, but instead presents a few paragraphs on each topic and sub-topic, including but not limited to what to say at a bar mitzvah, what to write in a thank-you note, and how to get rid of boring people who want to talk to you. It's not so much a plan of action as a guide to strategy.

This book is slightly smaller than a dvd case and just under 200 pages, a very quick read that gets the job done. Some others I recommend are Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly, and anything by John Bridges.
Buy The Quintessential Gentleman