Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hero by Perry Moore

Thom Creed's father is a disgraced superhero. There's a lot Thom can't talk to his father about--like how he's developing superpowers, that the superhero League wants him to join them, and especially not that he's gay.

I read the whole book today. 428 pages, only breaking for food and the water closet. It was just that good. It's *sob* *pause* *gasp* over and over the whole way.

Thom is a totally relatable character that I loved to cheer on, especially speaking as a teenager. He makes mistakes, and he doesn't always have a very realistic image of himself, but he never gives up. He goes after what he wants, and he doesn't mind working for it. The other characters mostly made me want to tackle them and hug them to death, but even the characters I didn't like were fascinating. Most of the established heroes are thinly veiled versions of DC heroes--Uberman, Warrior Woman-- but they became archetypes to work from and ideas to explore, rather than the parodies I was worried about.

The plot was intricate, 428 pages is long for a YA novel, but it was easy to follow, one event flowing naturally into the next. Perry Moore slammed right to the heart of what superheroes mean, both the fantastic and the terrible but mostly the amazing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. YA, otherwise, superhero fan, otherwise, GLBT, otherwise, whatever. I hear there's a TV series in the works and I can't wait... I'm sure I'll be mentioning this book in other reviews, but as yet I don't have anything I can recommend that wouldn't fall flat after reading this. Maybe go read the classic graphic novels.

Buy Hero

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Weird Henry Berg by Sarah Sargent

It seems that this book is little-known enough to not have a picture. Amazon confirms that it's out of print... Snap it up while you can! It was originally published in 1980, but mine is a 1993 edition.

Henry Berg is a boy whose father was a dope fiend and is no longer around. He spends most of his time imagining himself as an animal, trying to get away from his mother's hounding about his schoolwork. His best friend is a lizard named Vincent, and he's determined to keep him despite his mother's objections and a little old lady's claims that Vincent is a dragon.

I was hoping it would suck, so I could get rid of it and make a little shelf space for another book, but instead it sucked me in from page one. Having been brought to tears by the amazing Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, I thought this very similar story would just be a cheap imitation or something. Instead, I was brought to more tears.

It's basically a more realistic Jeremy Thatcher, a secret pet story with a dragon, but I didn't find myself comparing them while I was reading. Weird Henry Berg is hilarious, especially where the dragon Aelf is concerned, but it's also not afraid of hard themes. It's a story where things aren't always black and white, where more than one person is in the right, and things can be confusing. I found a fascinating theme of duality in the book, between the ancient and modern, light and dark, age and youth. It's a fantastic, exciting kids' story, with an underlayer of deep, thought-provoking material. I was very impressed.

This, Jeremy Thatcher, and The Monster Garden are three of a kind. I heartily recommend all three.

Buy Weird Henry Berg

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Push starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning

Push is a sci-fi thriller that came out on DVD last week, starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning, 111 minutes, and rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of violence and action, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking." It's a superhero movie that's not based on a comic book, and it's awesome!

I kind of envision Push as what a DC version of X-Men might be. Similar powers and stuff, but less political and more action-oriented. It follows the recent (awesome) trend of being a grittier, more realistic superhero movie. It's not as stylized and predictable as people usually envision superheroes. The heroes have some of the classic powers, like telekinesis, but there are also some new powers I'd never seen before.

While it isn't "stylized," it is very stylish. It doesn't take place in New York! It happens in Hong Kong, and to me it looks like the costuming and cinematography are influenced by that as well. Not enough to be confusing, just enough to be new and interesting. The plot has a lot of classic tropes thrown in, done very stylishly of course, and combined with the new powers and story it creates a great balance of expectations fulfilled and expectations turned around.

The characters are great. They're just so themselves, they might be "types" like the precocious kid or the evil government agent, but they're so like real people that it doesn't matter. I especially loved how all the "I wish that character had more scenes" throwaway characters came back for more scenes! I was especially impressed with Dakota Fanning's acting. I knew she was going to do "pottymouthed kid who's older than Fanning's stereotype," but I didn't think she was going to do it well or believably.

The only thing I will mention as a warning was that some story elements weren't clear, like who was working for who in some cases. Just make sure you're paying attention and it won't be a big deal.

There's not much else I can say without giving spoilers, so just go watch the movie. I recommend it especially to fans of X-Men or Jumper.

Buy Push

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Interview with Kimberly Pauley, author of Sucks to Be Me

Hello blogosphere, today The Fickle Hand of Fate welcomes Kimberly Pauley, who runs YA Books Central and is the author of the fabulous YA vampire novel Sucks to Be Me! I reviewed the book at the end of May, and you can read that review here, but suffice it to say that I adored it! The sequel, Still Sucks to Be Me, will be available in 2010. Kimberly was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. So without further ado, on to the interview!

FF: Welcome to The Fickle Hand of Fate! Thanks so much for this visit.

KP: Thanks! And thanks for having me too :-)

FF: What was your goal in writing StBM? Just entertainment, or do you have some nefarious plot to influence the world?

KP: Well, primarily entertainment. There are plenty of novels out there that have really deep messages (and many of them are great!). But I did also tried to include some "heavier" stuff as well...I just tried to make sure it wouldn't make a reader feel like I was hitting them over the head with it. I want readers to come away from the book having had fun reading it. If they learn something too, that's great, but I'm happy if it just makes them smile.

FF: What is one thing you wish you had known when you started writing?

KP: That the whole vampire thing was going to just explode the way it did. I wrote STBM in 2005 before Twilight (and a bunch of other vampire books) came out and it actually made it a hard sell because most of the agents and editors I sent it to (in 2006) felt that the market was saturated. So I probably would have written a non-vampire book first.

FF: What’s the best part about having a published novel? How about the worst?

KP: The fan letters. That sounds cheesey, but really, they make my day. Especially when someone actually writes me a real physical letter. Heck, I hardly get those from my family! The worst? Um, probably the people that ask me either a) are you going to be the next J. K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer or b) have I made a million dollars yet? (the answer to both of those would be NO...not that I would mind being the next J. K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, exactly, but mostly I'd just like to be me.)

FF: Do you feel like YA writers/vampire writers are in competition with each other, or is it more like a mutual admiration society?

KP: I think most writers are very generous and we all help each other out a lot. I'm sure there are some out there that view it as a competition, but I've never met any. After all, the more people read, the better the world is! All the writers that I know are generally happy to recommend each other's books. I know I am! There are so many great YA books out there.

FF: You mention on your website that you don’t read vampire books anymore in order to keep from accidentally recycling ideas. What do you read instead?

KP: I read a little bit of everything, though my reading is way down lately because of our baby (Max) and with writing. I prefer fantasy, though. And also I (of course) read a lot for YA Books Central.

FF: Were any characters from StBM based on real people?

KP: Um, not really. There are pieces of people in the characters, but nobody in particular was really the inspiration for any of the characters.

FF: Do you have a StBM playlist, or music you use to inspire you?

KP: If I listen to music while writing, it's usually pretty mellow, otherwise I get distracted. So mostly stuff like Portishead and Morcheeba or Amy Winehouse.

FF: What actors would you choose to star in a StBM movie?

KP: That's really tough. Someone had asked me this before and I'd picked out a couple, but every time I pick someone I see someone else that would work even better. I'd actually love some suggestions! I'm not as up on my teen actors as I once was. :-)

FF: Would you even accept a StBM movie deal, or would you rather the book stayed unsullied?

KP: Oh, I would. :-) But you definitely have to know ahead of time that you're giving up some ownership. Authors generally have no control at all over what a movie turns out like (unless they're really big time like J. K. Rowling). I'd actually love to see what someone would do with it. Though I actually think a TV show would be even more fun.

FF: Thanks again for giving us your time! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

KP: Just that I'm happy to report that I've turned in the sequel to my editor. It won't be out until next year, but I'm still happy to have this round done! And I'm doubly happy to report that I've heard back from her with the revision notes and while some of it is a little extensive (cutting 4 chapters up front, for instance), I think it's all great stuff and I think the book is going to be so much better when I'm done with it (my editor rocks!). I'll be all finished by the end of August.

Again, the sequel comes out next year. You can find out more on Kimberly's website, complete with an excerpt from book 2!

Buy Sucks to Be Me

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

Fanboy is a comic book geek with all his hopes and dreams set on getting Brian Michael Bendis to like the graphic novel he's writing. His comic books are the only bright spot in his life of constant bullying, until he makes a new friend: Kyra, the Goth Girl.

I was all set to call this book the best YA book I've read in months, maybe even the best literary/realistic YA book I've EVER read. It's gritty and dark, but still funny and totally believable. Fanboy is a likeable hero and easy to identify with, and his graphic novel idea is amazing, I wish somebody would actually write it. The writing was in first person present tense, which is usually annoying but in this case made everything seem very immediate and intene. The thrills were that special kind of dread and hope mixed together, "Is what I think is going to happen really going to happen?" Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't.

But then I got to the end of the book, or the lack of one. The big finish was about 20 pages before it should've been, just before the big breath out that leaves the reader feeling satisfied and ties up the events of the novel. There was no "ending," it just ended. Things that were heavily foreshadowed, like Goth Girl's violent desires, the bullet, and the third thing that Fanboy wants (essential to his character), are all totally abandoned. We have no climax, and no explanation. Goth Girl was left a total mystery, we have no idea why she did anything or even HOW she did the things we saw. We don't know her, and personally, I didn't really care. I wanted to identify with her, but I just wished she'd get over whatever her issues were (we don't even know that) so we could go do something else. There's no resolution between her and Fanboy, just a sappy "I think it'll all be okay eventually" from him, with no indication that this is the case.

Obviously, I'm annoyed. The build up was so amazing, and then this pointless drivel of an ending. If anyone has any theories I'd love to hear them. There is a sequel coming out this fall, Goth Girl Rising... Hopefully she'll be more sympathetic and the book will anwer enough questions to offset this book. I don't know if I recommend this or not, really... Maybe somebody else would be more satisfied. I definitely was not.

Some similar books that I'll be reading soon are Adventures of the Blue Avenger and Suck It Up, but I haven't read either one yet.

Buy The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

Monday, July 6, 2009

Public Enemies starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale

I went to see this movie for Christian Bale, (I'm a huge fan,) but I came away impressed by the whole thing. It's rated R and is 142 minutes long.

This movie tells the story of John Dillinger, wanted gangster played by Johnny Depp, and Melvin Purvis, the lawman assigned to bring him in, played by Christian Bale. (Sort of like a 1934 gangsters version of 3:10 to Yuma. But not.) I won't go into much of the plot beyond that, both because it was pretty straightforward and because I wouldn't want to give anything away.

Obviously a lot of money and time was spent on this. The costumes and scenery are striking and memorable. (And while I'm no expert on the 30s, they looked authentic to me and evoked the perfect atmosphere.)

However, neither the plot nor the props were the most impressive thing about the movie. I was absolutely blown away by the acting.

Depp gets the most screen time, and while I've never been a huge fan before, I now think he's a genius. Dillinger is a complex, sympathetic, sexy, scary criminal. Everything about him rang true, every scene got us deeper into his head. He's sort of noble criminal, apparently with lot of fans amongst the public, but at the same time he's unpredictable and frightening.

Bale is just as much of a genius, but without the screen time to display it so obviously. (Maybe he's even more of a genius, because he can make such a memorable character without all that many scenes or even all that many lines.) You have to really dig into Purvis to see what makes him tick, and you probably won't know by the end of the movie if your theory is correct, but you feel for him all the same. He wants badly to do a good job, is driven to bring Dillinger in, but doesn't know how far he can go before it's too far. His men trust him, but does he trust himself?

The conflict between these two characters is a confluence of forces rather than a boxing match, and that's what drives the movie. We see what each one is doing, but we have no idea what's going to happen when the two forces collide. It's intense, and it delivers on its promise.

Definitely one to go see and pay attention to.

Buy Public Enemies

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Dracula's Brood, compiled by Richard Dalby

Mmm, vampires.

This is a collection of 24 vampire stories published shortly before or after the publication of the infamous Dracula in 1897. Some of them influenced Dracula; others were influenced by it.

I was amazed by how much I enjoyed this anthology. There were no stories I disliked, and only a few that didn't impress me. I tend to think of that time period as a little bit one-note with all the stories being the same, but there's an astonishing variety here. The disembodied finger gave me doubts and the man-eating trees destroyed my conception altogether.

I will emphasize that this variety is all about ideas. The stories in this anthology could've all been written by the same person stylistically, and I found that I liked that... There's no getting caught up in verbal acrobatics and a writer frantically trying to "find their own unique voice." It makes it a lot easier to get lost in the story for the story itself.

Fingers and trees aside, there's a lot of classic vampire stuff here. Back then "vampire" still meant "horror story," and these stories are actually scary, while still containing that essential vampireness that we still love today. A special effort has been made to include stories that aren't reprinted often, so there's new material here even for the most hardcore fan. (Some of these haven't been reprinted since they were first published, over a hundred years ago!) There's even a tasty poem translated from the original Romanian.

I recommend this anthology first to any short story writers and horror writers in particular, because there's a lot they could pick up about pacing, technique, etc. that is still just as useful today as it was back then.

For vampire fans (and I mean fans of vampires altogether, not just any book with vampires in it. You know who you are,) you should definitely read Dracula, then move on to The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories or The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories, both of which have plenty of the classic short stories like The Vampyre and Carmilla and Dracula's Guest, and then settle down to savor Dracula's Brood, one story at a time. It doesn't look like it's in print anymore, so get it while it's here and cheap.

Buy Dracula's Brood