Reviews by current & former staffers, listed alphabetically by author.
~ Mystery ~
“It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit.”
~ Antoine Rivarol
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
This is a great mystery – set in 1950 England, just after World War II. Quick-witted Flavia de Luce is eleven and her penchant for chemistry developed when she discovered an abandoned laboratory on the top floor of Buckshaw, the estate that “has belonged to the de Luce’s since the War of the Roses”. Flavia’s widowed father is a well-meaning but somewhat distant stamp collector who is suspicious of devices like the telephone. Her sisters, Ophelia & Daphne are, respectively, gazing into mirrors or books. The preoccupations of her family allow Flavia plenty of time to range about the village of Bishop’s Lacey on her trusty bicycle, Gladys. When Flavia discovers a body in the cucumber patch near her bedroom window, she turns her attentions to sleuthing. I sped through this book, first in a series of Flavia de Luce mysteries, and headed straight through the second book, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag . I loved both and await the third in the series with happy anticipation!
Cinnamon ‘s Review
Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Cain is one of the greats when it comes to the hard-boiled novel – and many of you are familiar with his other works like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity . Mildred Pierce brings in some of Cain’s signature elements – tough-but-flawed characters and dysfunctional relationships. Mildred is a great character and I loved reading about her rise from marital strife and poverty to business success as the owner of several restaurants. She’s smart and persistent – but she has two huge blind spots that eventually drag her down. One is her relationship with her conniving daughter, Veda, whom Mildred loves to her own detriment. The other is her taste in men, especially Monty Beragon. Monty & Veda are both arrogant snobs who turn out to have a lot in common. This book, published in 1941, is set in Depression-era California. It has a distinct feel of the time – highballs served by the fireplace in the den – and it captures the slippage of social classes after the crash and the subsequent desperation to keep up appearances. Mildred is a poignant combination of tenacity and innocence. As you watch her making mistakes, you want to simultaneously protect her, slap her and forgive her. Cain’s taut style brings out the complexity of her character – and stirs up a complex combination of responses in the reader. Kind of like Scotch. It burns a little – but it’s really good.
Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark
I had never considered myself a fan of the mystery genre until I read Mary Higgins Clark’s first novel Where Are the Children? It is the story of a woman named Nancy who is convicted of murdering her two young children, Peter and Lisa. After being released from prison on a technicality she relocates to Cape Cod, Massachusetts where she changes her name and her appearance and starts to rebuild her life. Things seem to be going well; Nancy has remarried, has two more small children, Michael and Missy, and has finally started to heal from her previous ordeal. Then one day the local paper prints her picture and the story of her first two children’s murder. When Nancy rushes outside to find Michael and Missy she discovers that they are missing and the nightmare seems to be starting all over again. Now Nancy must rush to find Michael and Missy before they too end up dead. Not an easy feat when the police (along with everyone else in town) think you are a murderer. The story twists and turns from there, and the ending will leave you gasping. I recommend this book to all mystery lovers, and especially first-time mystery readers. It will definitely get you into the genre!
Demolition Angel by Robert Crais
I’m not hugely interested in reading about bombs in fiction, perhaps because I read about them every day in the newspaper. Regardless, I became thoroughly engrossed in Demolition Angel by Robert Crais, a mystery about a former bomb squad technician who got a little too close to her work one day and is dealing with the aftermath. I’m infatuated with characters whose strengths and flaws are both strongly developed and Robert Crais has a flair for this. Folks familiar with Crais’ “Elvis Cole” series will find the same character depth in this stand-alone novel. For those unfamiliar with Elvis Cole, go visit him in Crais’ other mysteries. He is a private eye with humor and a heart too big for his own good.
A Maiden’s Grave, by Jeffrey Deaver
I was stuck in an airport without a book, believe it or not. So I picked up a Jeffrey Deaver novel. I like the Deaver books that feature Lincoln Rhyme, a forensic investigator that became quadriplegic during an accident while working on a case. This book features Arthur Potter, a hostage negotiator. A group of young Deaf women are the hostages — the title comes from a misunderstanding of “Amazing Grace”. It’s a great quick read that will teach you a lot about the Deaf communities and the art of hostage negotiation. I’m glad to see an author write characters with disabilities in a way that focuses on their strengths. It works to educate the public and challenge our assumptions in a subtle way that is most effective.
One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich
Stephanie Plum is a kick in the pants. Having been laid off from her job as a lingerie buyer, she’s so broke that she’s considering pawning her refrigerator. She asks her cousin Vinnie for a job as a bond hunter–and we’re off! Plum is full of Jersey sass and manages to be vulgar and vulnerable at the same time. Joe Morelli is a cop with plenty of “bad boy” appeal and Stephanie’s had a few tangles with him in the past.
First in a series that’s funny, sexy, good-natured and suspenseful, One For the Money is a great mood enhancer. Next time your friend is in the hospital, recovering well but on drugs that make it hard to concentrate, skip the flowers and bring this book. (You might find out first if laughing hard is bad for her health.)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I needed a good page-turner – and this book, a taut psychological thriller, fit the bill. Nick & Amy are writers who lived in New York City until financial crisis pulls them to Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri. The strain on the marriage is compounded by the culture shock – especially for Amy, who finds it hard to relate to the local ladies & their seemingly endless casseroles. Nick, in turn, struggles with his feelings of failure and not measuring up to Amy’s standards. When Amy goes missing, Nick is the prime suspect – and all the small town eyes are on him.
If identifying with, and liking, characters is important to you, I’d steer you away from this one. Nick and Amy have both made questionable choices that may be hard for some people to look past. However, they are fascinating characters – and the twists and turns in the plot kept me guessing. I gave this book as a Christmas gift to a Mystery fan and she liked it, too. (You have to know your audience when giving books. Who on your list sees murder & mayhem as fine holiday fun? Ha!)
Gillian Flynn ventures into the darker regions of the human psyche in this book and she goes even farther in her novel Sharp Objects. Sweetness and light, she is not. But if you’re looking for suspenseful grit, she’ll give you what you need.
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
I was intrigued by this when I first shelved it into our Mystery section. I enjoy forensic mysteries – and reading about the Medieval period. The reviews were good. The cover was attractive. Then, I shelved a few others in this series – also bearing good reviews and attractive covers – and I kept hearing good things from customers. It was a new year and I was in the mood for a new read. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
The protagonist, Adelia, has traveled from Salerno to Cambridge. Her talents in the science of deduction and the art of death prove useful to uncovering the secrets surrounding the mutilation and death of four local children. Although the deaths are violent, the reader is not put through the experience of the killings. We follow Adelia on her path of examining the remains. Very squeamish readers will want to stay away – but if you can handle an average episode of “Bones”, you’ll be just fine.
What I enjoyed most was the setting – and how Adelia, as a woman doctor, dealt with prejudices that impeded her work. Serious historians will note that Franklin made some minor changes to place names for the readers’ ease – but this does not diminish the pleasure and intrigue of reading about medieval medicine, crusaders and cloistered nuns, which Franklin renders accurately. This book struck me as a mash-up between The Name of the Rose and Cutting for Stone – with a dash of Patricia Cornwell and Merchant of Venice thrown in. All in all, you’ll enjoy this medieval page-turner!
Cinnamon ‘s Review
Faithful Place by Tana French
I really like Tana French. I discovered In the Woods as I was headed to Ireland – and the Dublin mystery was perfect vacation reading. Her books are all satisfying who-dunnits tied to Dublin’s Murder Squad. Although characters are shared between books, they aren’t written as a series and don’t have to be read in any particular order. They are distinctly Irish and are steeped in contemporary Irish culture, which is fun. Faithful Place features Frank Mackey, head of the Murder Squad, and delves into unresolved events in Frank’s teen years, growing up in the neighborhood, Faithful Place. For decades, he has lived with the pain that the love of his life, Rosie Daly, stood him up on the night they were to run away together. And then a body is discovered in the old neighborhood. Frank is motivated to unravel what really happened that night and his personal interest conflicts with his professional life as a detective. What really happened that night amid beers in the kitchen, cigarettes on the porch, angry shouts at wives & children, kids partying in abandoned houses and Rosie Daly’s smile? Faithful Place has great characters and a sense of place that makes it all fit together. It reminds me of how Dennis Lehane creates a Boston neighborhood in his mystery Mystic River. Fans of that book are sure to like this one from Tana French!
Cinnamon ‘s Review
In the Woods by Tana French
I picked this up for my plane ride to Ireland. I wanted something captivating and set in modern Ireland, and this Edgar-award winning mystery set in and around Dublin was perfect. Rob Ryan & Cassie Maddox are detectives who land their first major case when 12 year-old Katy Devlin is found ritualistically murdered just outside Dublin. Only Maddox knows that Ryan was involved in a child-abduction mystery 20 years ago in the same wooded area – and this provides a good sub-plot. The book is more psychological thriller than police procedural but it’s smart and isn’t gruesome…and it was compelling enough for me to keep reading in the Dublin Hotel lobby while my dad went off to explore St. Stephens Green! The ending is ambiguous, which is a problem for some readers – but I’m okay with ambiguity. I also enjoyed Tana French’s second book, The Likeness, and am looking forward to her third, Faithful Place!
Cinnamon ‘s Review
Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris
Okay, I’m the first to admit that my reading habits can be compulsive. I’ll get hooked on a subject like sharks, epic survival, the evolution of the common garden gnome – and I’ll read anything I can find on the subject. Then the inevitable burnout occurs and I’m off to the races on another tangent. So perhaps it’s normal after all to read seven of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series in a row – within one week. I love this series. The characters are well-developed and charming (even the vampires), the style is breezy and witty, and many of the situations Sookie finds herself in are hysterical. Sookie never asked to be psychic and attractive to vampires, but certainly that doesn’t mean she can’t be polite and show good old-fashioned Southern hospitality. Go visit Sookie: she’ll treat you very well.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King
The first in King’s Mary Russell series, this is the best addition to the Holmesian Mythos that I’ve read in years. Seriously, the Russell books are now tied with Fred Saberhagen’s The Holmes/Dracula File and Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution for my Very Favorite Sherlock Spinoff Award. Holmes fits quite comfortably in King’s world, Mary has spunk to spare, the plot carries itself remarkably well, and the dialogue is fantastic. I might even describe this one as “charming”, and we all know how hard it is to charm a Kirsten! Man, if this had been around when I was a ten-year-old girl, I would have been even more in love with Sherlock Holmes than I was back then. Back then? Who am I kidding! Mmmmm…Sherlock.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay
Jeff Lindsay’s “Dexter” series is extremely dark and screamingly funny. Dexter works in the police crime lab, investigating blood evidence, and helping his detective sister solve homicides. He’s also a serial killer who gets annoyed when good people die and bad people go free. Pretending to have a conscience is a once-in-a-while hobby with him, though he prides himself on dispensing justice in his own inimitable way.
Dexter’s sense of humor is predictably dark and deeply sarcastic. While laughing hysterically at his puns and dry wit, I found myself feeling slightly guilty, but not too guilty. If morgue humor is not your thing, skip Jeff Lindsay. But if you occasionally think of some people among us as walking train wrecks and you can’t help giggling, you’ll find this an almost cathartic experience.
Bone by Bone by Carol O’Connell
Many of you are familiar with the way I have enthusiastically drooled over Carol O’Connell’s mysteries. I just finished her latest book, Bone by Bone, and I am more a fan than ever. O’Connell is a writer of tragedies, and her archetypes feel familiar, like old friends. In Bone by Bone we find the prodigal son returning home, the father visited by the past, the love set aside by indifference (or ignorance), the ghost of one who can’t stay dead. Ah, Hamlet. Alas, I knew him. As usual, O’Connell describes rich characters and a depth of theme that blows other mystery writers out of the water. She defies the narrow definitions of genre fiction.
Mallory’s Oracle by Carol O’Connell
For superb character development, as well as accelerating suspense, check out Carol O’Connell. The title character in her debut novel is a deeply flawed and perhaps slightly unorthodox police sergeant out to find the person responsible for a series of murders: murders her adoptive father was investigating when he died. Mallory is an incredible character, ruthlessly drawn and relentlessly driven. I have not yet been able to put down an O’Connell novel. You’ll ignore friends, skip meals, go to bed obscenely late in order to finish one more chapter. Ask Cinnamon. I took one of O’Connell’s novels on a book-buying trip and I barely spoke to her. Go ahead. Ask. (In case you were wondering, it was The Judas Child.)
Murder in a Nice Neighborhood , by Lora Roberts
This mystery novel starts a series of cozies featuring semi-homeless freelance writer Liz Sullivan, who has been living out of her VW van and struggling to keep herself fed. Sullivan is fiercely independent, driven to survive on her own terms in a life that hasn’t exactly been kind to her. With her personal space issues and her demand for privacy, I fell in love with her in a few pages. With her self-honesty and intolerance for fools, she reminds me of my inner curmudgeon. Liz Sullivan gets into a surprising amount of trouble for someone who just wants to be left alone, but at least she’s never bored…
The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson
When I was 13, I’d do pretty much anything that the Dead Milkmen told me to do. Seriously – they helped me realize that I truly was born to love volcanoes and wanted nothing more than to become a punk rock girl. I spent Halloween of 1993 dressed as The Thing That Only Eats Hippies. Smoking banana peels, on the other hand, turned out to be not a very good idea. Anyhoo, it was (again at 13) about the coolest thing in the world to understand the more “mature” allusions scattered throughout their lyrics, like this one: “Let’s call the sheriff a ****-******/See if he’s read The Killer Inside Me“. Finally, some semblance of relevance! And you can see now what I mean about the overwhelming maturity.
At that point, I’d never delved deeper into the world of crime noir than Dashiell Hammett, and had never heard of Jim Thompson until I looked this one up by title at the library. I only read it once before returning it, because it freaked me out a little bit. But I’ve gone back to it a few times over the years, and it gave me a taste for some of the better-known authors in the genre. Fortunately for all of us, Black Lizard was still reprinting all of Thompson’s books at my last check, even though they’ve replaced Goodis and Gifford with Chandler and Cain.
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
Before John Grisham there was Scott Turow, whose 1987 debut novel, Presumed Innocent, established him as a formidable courtroom drama writer. Turow knows the intricacies and politics of the legal system, and his prose is detailed and engaging. This book is a fascinating character study of a district attorney accused of the murder of one of his deputies, a woman with whom he had had a passionate affair. Did he kill her, even as he still loved her? Scott Turow paints courtroom strategems with a skillful brush. In addition, he creates vivid players with complexity and investigates how the smallest deeds can cause repercussions of unimagined intensity. As in reality, no one in this story is truly demon or angel, villian or hero. For an account of Scott Turow’s journey in law school, check out his first book, One-L.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
I doubt this book will change your life. The characters are charming but not all that complex – with very few, if any, flaws. For me, however, it was the perfect airplane read. I love books set between the World Wars. I love stories about the ‘grand manor’ – and all the upstairs/downstairs goings on. I love reading about people with few prospects who, by grace, luck and their own ability, rise above their station. This book hits all those notes – and that makes it easy for me to enjoy it.
We meet Maisie Dobbs in 1929, as she is setting up shop as a kind of private investigator. As she pursues her cases, we are drawn back in time to her origins as the daughter of a vegetable-seller. A young Maisie gains a position as a maid to Lady Rowan, who comes to realize Maisie has great potential and takes her under wing. Then, Cambridge University. Then, service as a nurse in World War I. The impact of the war on England still resonates in 1929, and Maisie finds herself involved in the intrigues surrounding a home for terribly scarred veterans. In pursuit of this mystery, she confronts her own past. Maisie Dobbs is the first in a series that will entertain adults but this is also a good ‘cross-over’ book – perfectly appropriate for inquisitive teenage readers.
Cinnamon ‘s Review
~ Science Fiction & Fantasy ~
“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
If you haven’t read this yet, you owe it to yourself to do so as soon as possible. Seriously, what’s the hold up? It’s only 120-some pages and it’s the funniest book you’ll ever read. While there are five books in the series and some of the later ones I prefer to this one (but only just a little bit!), like all series volume one is an excellent place to start. Arthur Dent, a noodly, somewhat boring and tragically average English commoner and his best friend Ford Prefect (who is in fact a marooned journalist from Betelgeuse) get whisked away on to a Vogon space ship just moments after the Earth is destroyed to make way for an Intergalactic Superhighway. From there the Hitchhiker’s Guide provides detailed entries on extraterrestrial culture and other things of significance while Ford and Arthur get sucked into a journey to find the mythic world of Magrathea, joined by the two-headed, three armed president of the Galaxy, a chronically depressed android and worst of all, Arthur’s old crush back on Earth.
Geist by Philippa Ballantine
“Geist”, meaning spirit or ghost, is a German word which tends to evoke feelings of both foreignness and familiarity, since most people have heard the word in one place or another. I feel that this is the same kind of reaction I had to Ballantine’s world. The central established conflict in Geist is between mortals and the spiritual entities that inhabit the Otherside. Once separate, the two worlds now touch at moments, causing breaches which these spirits escape from. The Order of the Eye and Fist is a group of monk-like warriors and scholars who fight in pairs against these beings. What makes this order more interesting to me is that although their titles are familiar to us as those of religion, these people are firmly atheist.
Geist’s plot is full of mystery and intrigue, claimant to the throne with a grotesque curse, love, and betrayal. Now, these elements can be difficult to manage all at once without making things melodramatic or predictable, and while I may have seen certain things coming, I think Ballantine did a great job of keeping the flow nice and smooth. Things could be surprising without seeming like a deus ex machina. I enjoyed the action of this novel immensely. If you like the concept of mystic warriors fighting the Otherside, or a heroine who kicks butt and takes names, I totally recommend this one.
Brothers By Ben Bova
Ben Bova has written some great works of science fiction; this one is no different. Taking a step away from some truly ‘hard’ Sci Fi elements, Bova weaves a story that is thoroughly character driven. I am not a big first-person POV fan; this is one of the rare books I enjoyed as it even switches the point-of-view between two brothers as they are questioned regarding their remarkable breakthrough: they have created the ability to regrow limbs, organs, etc. and through this discovery edge toward immortality. This is a fun and thoughtful novel to get into; part brain-candy, part serious science fiction. While unlike some of the other works I have read by Ben Bova, this one is a great and quick read, perfect for an airplane or sitting in a park.
The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer-Bradley
I am generally not a fantasy reader, but I love this book. To this day it is the only version of the Arthurian legend that I will accept as plausible truth. In Mists, Bradley retells this legend from the point of view of the women involved; the Lady of the Lake, Morgan La Fey (Morgaine), and Gwynafar, just to name a few. Set in the midst of turmoil between the new church and the old pagan religion, England needs a leader who can unite both groups to successfully rid the island once and for all of the Saxons. Mists tells how the Goddess-worshiping priestesses of Avalon placed Arthur on the throne and were largely responsible for the best bits of this legend. I refuse to believe that Morgan La Fey was pure evil. The end.
The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
I came across The Lost Gate by accident, but it was one that I actually put aside the book I had been reading for. The Lost Gate features magic as a power brought from another world by a powerful mage who could make Gates, or portals. This process gave them great power and they were treated as gods, many of whom we are familiar with through mythology. However, the link was broken and the remaining families were cut off from power and home and now live in divided societies. I liked the concept very much, and it was helped by the main character having the power to create Gates himself. Now I don’t know why, but I’ve always enjoyed the idea of portals. A shortcut between home and work, or a way to take a cheap trip to Paris. I liked the interesting ways the character found to use portals, which you’ll have to find out for yourself when you read the book. Magic takes a new and interesting spin in The Lost Gate, requiring no spell books but instead innate talent and practice. Card does not disappoint in the first novel of this new series of magic in the modern world! Allan’s Review
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
If The Left Hand of Darkness is in the Top 10 of the “Most Important SF Books Ever” list, I’d put Childhood’s End here in at least the Top 5. You know that fading dream of the world being a utopic, fantastic, all-around-really-awesome place that I talked about? Arthur C. Clarke exemplified Utopian science fiction. 2001 and Rama touched upon Clarkes ideas that “mankind can rise up from it’s pettiness” but Childhood’s End does it in the most elegant and powerful way. An intergalactic species invades Earth, withstands our resistance, and swiftly claims dominion over the world without harming a soul. These “Overlords” then proceed to greatly advance our technologic progression in a matter of decades, as well as solve most of our world’s social/economic problems. All’s fine and dandy right? It wouldn’t be a story if there wasn’t some kind of tension, and naturally Clarke raises the questions if this Utopia is desired, as mankind grows lethargic and inert. The story’s finale is where the real kick is, and with Childhood’s End Clarke shows us his vision of the future of humanity and the far larger, more important role we may eventually play in the universe.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Dubbed as “Harry Potter for adults,” Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is so much more than that. Clarke fashions up a deeply realized alternate history of England where magic was once prevalent in society. Providing legitimacy to her alternate history are dozens of footnotes and imagined texts that are tapped to explain historical occurrences or terminology and so on. England has been without magic for years and, while magicians are still around, they simply research and study magic without being able to perform it until a Mr. Norrell demonstrates that he can.
What begins is a sprawling quest through England and Faerie Land in search of the legendary and evil Raven King. More similar to the downplayed fantasy of John Crowley’s Little, Big than the magical roller coaster of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the magic is subtle and not the absolute focus of the story. Clarke also has flavors of Austen, Peake and Dickens in her writing. Fans of those authors will find the book among the best around but someone looking for a more fast-paced and hyper-realized novel may be disappointed.
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games, the first book in Suzanne Collins’ young adult trilogy, took the reading world by storm. Readers young and old eagerly waited for the next two installments of the series and the first book is now being made into a film. The reason is not so much the excellence of the prose, but the compelling and descriptive story Collins tells.
Katniss Everdeen lives in a post-apocalyptic world where actions are circumscribed, work is difficult and dangerous, and hunger is rampant. It’s a world with little hope for the future and indeed, a fear of the future. Enter “The Hunger Games,” a gruesome reality television program sponsored by the rulers in which all the districts have a stake. Two young contestants from each district are chosen by lottery to compete for food for their district and lifelong comfort for their families. The catch is that the competition is a battle to the death.
In The Hunger Games, the first whispers of rebellion begin, continuing through Catching Fire and Mockingjay with Katniss at the center. How she deals with her sometimes unwitting and certainly unenviable role forms most of the rest of the story. Collins treats with themes of torn loyalties and betrayal, choices made without choice, the greater and lesser of evils, and the many struggles that embody change.
Suzanne Collins has created a powerful trilogy that holds appeal for any age, especially reluctant readers. As she writes an action-packed story, she doesn’t hesitate to tackle larger concepts that echo many of the realities and fears of today’s society. There isn’t a “happy” ending as in a fairy tale, but it’s one to live with, as we all do.
Kat ‘s Review
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Reminiscent of The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Stand by Stephen King, The Passage by Justin Cronin is an apocalyptic epic charting the destruction of the world as it is known. The novel moves back and forth through time, slowly revealing the secrets of Homeland Security in trying to develop a super-soldier with a virus, and how the experiment roars desperately out of control. Because this virus doesn’t kill – it changes people into contagious monsters.
One of the most compelling themes in post-apocalyptic literature is how people recreate a society from the ashes of the old one. What kind of hierarchy is developed and how much does it borrow from aspects of history? How are resources allocated? And how do people explain what happened to them, and why? The Passage explores all of these questions during the ongoing war against the monsters those infected have become. This book was an addicting read with a cast of thousands, and I’ve moved on to the second book in the trilogy. Stay tuned!
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
I first picked up this book in high school, and it’s one of those books that I like to re-read from time to time. Each and every time I do I am amazed at just how good it is and how after over fifty years (it was published in 1959) it is still relevant today. That’s because unlike some ‘sci-fi’ or ‘apocalypse’ books its main appeal is not in the technology or the disaster itself, but in the human relationships. The characters in this book deal with matters of love, loss, family and friends, race, and the economy – matters which we are still dealing with today. The people in the small town of Fort Repose, Florida survive ‘the end of the world’ by repeated simple acts of kindness, charity, and community. There is a scene in the book of no great plot importance, but one of my favorites, where two men are at a sort of trading fair. One man has honey, the other liquor. The honey dealer tells the man with liquor that while he does not drink alcohol, he will give the man some honey without payment so that his children might have something sweet to eat. This to me sums up the moral of the book. In a disaster of any kind the way we will survive is if each of us is able to give without thought of our own benefit. Even if you don’t
care for ‘sci-fi’ or ‘apocalypse’ books, give this one a try. Its message of hope is certain to inspire all.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
This book is everything I love about fiction. Gaiman masterfully crafts a novel in which gods from various mythologies are real and trying to survive as immigrants in a modern America. While the novel does deal with some fantastic notions, it isn’t thick with bizarre lands or races like a typical fantasy novel. Rather, the supernatural goes unnoticed by most people in this world, which makes the struggles of the characters all the more interesting. Never before have I read a book in which reality and fantasy were so neatly at odds with each other without really knowing
it. This book is a treasure and a must-read!
Allan ‘s Review
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
Those that keep up with my staff reads may think, “Another Gaiman book?” The only real answer is of course. Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and some poems, all written by Gaiman. The best way I can describe this book is like a box of chocolates. Quick, sweet, fun. None are coconut filled, thankfully. I really enjoyed the stories. At first, my thought was that I might not like short stories as much as Gaiman’s longer works, seeing as how I love nothing more than to be engrossed in his worlds. But Fragile Things is really a perfect title for this collection. The stories and snippets contained within are dreamlike, hints of wonder among the normal world. They’re short glances into wonderful thoughts and ideas, not unlike short examinations of preserved insects or treasures. This is a fantastic book for anyone looking for a sort of inspiration. You can read just one of the many stories from the book, and you can let it steep, or percolate, or whatever it is you like to let ideas do, and before long it’s made you think of something new and exciting. I hazard to say ‘best’ when they’re all great, but best of all for me was the return of a character from what is probably my favorite novel ever. It’s at the end of the book (if you feel like cheating) and came as a happy surprise to me.
Now, I like to notice interesting patterns or styles when reading, and many of the stories in this collection have a cyclical motion about them, either because they begin at the end and end at the beginning, or something in the story is reborn, or a character winds up where they started. Even I, in reading the book straight through, wound up feeling the same way I did after I finished the original novel featuring the character in the final story. Read the stories, see what you make of the cycles. Is it accident or coincidence, or is it simply only that question that matters?
Allan ‘s Review
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I had held off on reading this book for a time because I knew it was geared toward young adults. It’s a silly prejudice -one, in fact, that I was sorely sorry for allowing to cloud my judgment in this case. The Graveyard Book is a fantastic work of fiction that readers of any age can enjoy. Now, when I tell someone who wants to know the premise of the book that it’s sort of an adaptation of The Jungle Book, I’m a little bit right, but I’m also doing the book a large disservice. The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody Owens, a boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts, but it also has just the right amount of secrecy, revenge, love, and magic to really shine as a work of its own. The community of ghosts in the graveyard is as much of a work of art as the book itself. Despite being dead, each of these characters feels very alive. One of my favorite touches Gaiman gave the story are the epitaphs on the graves of the ghosts, given to the reader upon meeting the phantasmal character. It struck me as such an ingenious, fresh way to give flavor to a character (perhaps in part to the exact nature of an epitaph, being rarely found on those living), at the same time reinforcing the world that the author has created. The Graveyard Book is a treat, truly, and like many treats, can be enjoyed quickly – but I suggest slowly savoring each morsel.
Allan ‘s Review
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
I am not usually a Fantasy reader, but this book got me hooked forever on Neil Gaiman. It is his first solo novel, and still my favorite. It is a tumble through a parallel world of the London Underground. The protagonist is an unlikely hero, paired with a popadum munching elfin girl. Their journey is truly incredible, and remarkably told. After reading Neverwhere, you will think twice the next time you travel on the Tube, and you may be tempted to give pigeons just a little respect. I have heard that the BBC television series is pretty shabby, so if you have seen that don’t let it dissuade you, the book is phenomenal.
Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan
Perhaps you are a Lord of the Rings fan. Or perhaps not. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series very much exists as a modern day telling of the Lord of the Rings. The settings of both stories are more or less identical (foot travel is the main mode of transportation in a mythical world) and both involve the protagonists on the run from the monsters and ghouls that are trying to get them. The first book, The Eye of the World starts with three country bumpkins (much like Tolkein’s hobbits) who are sought by evil wizards because they are unknowingly ta’veren which means they more or less create fate for themselves and everyone around them. Throw in a good guy female wizard and her bodyguard and you have a grand adventure right off the bat!
While I dig both Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time , I can’t help but feel that the latter is oh so slightly better than the former. For one thing, The Eye of the World was written in 1990, so the writing is a little more modern and easier to understand as opposed to when my eyes would just glaze over when reading The Two Towers whenever I didn’t understand what was happening (which if memory serves was quite often). This series is also ongoing. At last count it was up to book eleven…and these are some meaty books, so rest assured, there’s a lot of continued reading to be had until the end…whenever that may be.
Kevin ‘s Review
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K LeGuin
If someone were to draw up a list of “The Most Important Science Fiction Books Ever”, The Left Hand of Darkness would undoubtedly make the list, possibly even in the top 10. LeGuin’s finest work of SF hails from the Golden Age of the genre, where the pulp adventures of the early years were beginning to fade out and writers still had some optimism about the future (though this would eventually be crushed during the cyberpunk/dystopic SF of the 70s/80s). At the same time, LeGuin’s work heralded in a new era of thoughtfulness in the genre, tackling ideas such as feminism and sexuality with the androgyny Gethenian that populate the story. Excellent world building and intellectually stimulating, this is one of the SF greats.
The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
I recently reread the novella The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin and was reminded of how much I love her work. The best word to describe her writing style is “graceful.” Her language flows elegantly across the printed page like water and she cradles her reader as she journeys to alien worlds that are oddly familiar. Le Guin is the daughter of anthropologists and this informs much of her work, most especially this novella. The Word for World is Forest examines the clash between a colonizing power and and an indigenous people on a distant planet, and both sides’ perspectives are fully explored. Le Guin’s tales are illuminating and cautionary, but she doesn’t lecture. She describes and allows her readers to draw their own conclusions. In true anthropologic spirit, she invites us to look through the lens of another culture in order to understand our own better. Yum! I would recommend almost anything Ursula K. Le Guin has written, but start with this novella!
Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley
Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley is magical, really. I have wanted to write this review for a very long time but was having trouble with all of the fairy dust that puffed out when I closed it. McKinley retells the story of Sleeping Beauty in a surprising and reinvigorated way. The novel is enchanting. It would be fantastic to read aloud to any younger readers, but is better suited for readers who read Harry Potter novels, as it is almost 400 pages. The fairies, the enchanted animals, the magical plants, the human characters, and, yes, the bothersome fairy dust, all contribute to well-told alternative fairytale. Oh, and another reason I like this book is that it really is G-rated (some scary scenes with mean fairies and enchanted vines, but quite mild). Refreshing!
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
Altered Carbon was a happy accident for me. The book that happened through our shop had a nice shiny cover – book sellers know full well how much you can judge from a book by its cover. I started this book at the Thai Garden after work and did not set it down until the following dawn. It is a fast-paced, action-packed science fiction work with touches of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Tim O’Brien. This is also Richard Morgan’s first novel – and his first dealing with Takeshi Kovacs, who appears in two sequels (both are excellent). What I appreciate about this author in particular is his ability to get into the really ugly/violent side(s) of his protagonist; the violence never used for shock value, but to enhance the dimensions of his characters. Thoughtful, smart, and balanced writing; not always for the light-hearted, but always good storytelling.
Fractions by Ken MacLeod
This novel contains Ken’s first book The Star Fraction and its sequel The Stone Canal. The writing is gritty, blunt, and sets a rough tone for a dim European future. What has kept me involved in this book (and in this author) is his ability to create a really bleak tone. However, he’s careful not hit you over the head with it. This book starts off his Fall Revolution series but instead of attempting (or devolving) into a grandiose and cliche space opera – it tightly follows the actions and the effects this broken, future world has upon his characters. Mr. MacLeod is quickly becoming one of my favorite science fiction authors.
Mort by Terry Pratchett
I’ve been told since high school (hint: a long time ago) that I should read Terry Pratchett. For some reason, I have only recently begun. I read Good Omens – also great, by the way – and loved it, and I decided I wanted to read some of the Discworld books. Mort is about Death taking an apprentice, which causes Death to become interested in activity outside of work while allowing the apprentice to accidentally cause a rip in reality.
This book is full of hilarious quirks, one-liners, and situations. One of these involves a man being quite upset and cursing, which is written as “——-” a fairly common practice for expletives. His friend responds to him, repeating the word, and is described as effortlessly repeating a series of dashes. This sort of dry humor is Pratchett’s forte, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Expect almost every page to get a chuckle out of you, if not a full laugh. There were plenty of sections I had to save so that I could read them to friends, and I only resist here so that you can do it for yourself.
Mort is a great read if you’re looking for something light; it has fairly quick pacing, making you want to read on to see what misadventure comes next. What’s great about it, I think, is that this book is part of a series of sorts, but it doesn’t require any of the other books to be read. Everything is sufficiently explained for the reader to grasp the world the characters interact with. Of course, if you happen to enjoy it as much as I did, there are other books that feature Death, as well as many others featuring other characters. Expect great reads and many laughs!
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
The first novel in a Hugo, Nebula, and BSFA award winning trilogy spans a rich landscape of an unknown planet; focused on the desires and fears of its first colonists. Robinson explores characters of depth, a plot of realistic complexity, and a foreign terrain centering it all. What has continued to amaze me as I continue through this series is the fullness in Mr. Robinson’s writing style. He leaves nothing out and yet everything advances a very complete plotline. Slowly becoming a personal favorite – don’t be surprised if you see me recommending other Kim Stanley Robinson books in the future.
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
The author of the absolutely incredible (and hilarious) Snow Crash really outdid himself for his follow-up The Diamond Age. Set more or less in the same future universe, The Diamond Age extrapolates the next evolution in technology after the advent and initial luster of cybernetics and complete virtual reality. Stephenson goes head first towards the idea of nanotechnology, coming up with ideas I would have never thought to imagine. As the least talked about novel in Stephenson’s recent works, I find it hard to believe it’s under so many readers’ radars- it’s my personal favorite of his novels- take one part hard science fiction, one part social fiction via Victorian ideals, and the trademark Stephenson humor and you’ve got The Diamond Age.
Zodiac: An Eco-Thriller by Neal Stephenson
First published in 1988, this Sci-Fi thriller reads as current as today’s news. It’s a well-paced book that even this non-sci-fi reader enjoyed. Sangamon Taylor, a former chemist who now works for an environmental protection group, spends time zooming around Boston on an over-clocked Zodiac, looking for illegal pipelines and the toxic sludge that they dump, then going after the corporate baddies. He’s smart and an egoist, with an interesting network of friends and allies. He also has some pretty big muscle after him, including a group of satanic, heavy metal dustheads. The book is full of chemistry and tech, but doesn’t get hung up on it, and it’s a great description of traveling around Boston by water. The main character almost seems like a James Bond / Sam Spade-type eco-warrior. The action never stops in this book. You’ll definitely know more about PCBs and organic chlorine after reading this, but might never swim in any suburban waters again!
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams
Epic high fantasy with a capital E-P-I-C! Truly, these books are huge. The Dragonbone Chair pushes 700 pages. Its successor, Stone of Farewell backs off a bit with barely 600. But the last volume in the trilogy, To Green Angel Tower, was so massive that the paperback printing had to be split into two volumes. Poor Mr. Williams lovingly refers to it as “The Book That Ate My Life.” It was well worth it, though. You’ve got your swords, your dragons, your wandering princes, your elf-type-things, your evil priests, your strong-willed princesses, your age-old prophecies… really, it more than fills all of the requirements for a seriously rockin’ fantasy series.
Better than that, it manages to turn a lot of the reader’s expectations completely upside down. The ending is so spectacularly good and stupendously surprising that even folks who’ve had a hard time getting into the beginning of the series have become die-hard Tad Williams fans. Trust me, I’ve talked to them! So if you find yourself wishing that Robert Jordan would just wrap it up already, or that Dennis L. McKiernan would use language that comes a bit more naturally to him, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is exactly what you need.
The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Edited by Terry Windling and Ellen Datlow
I love reading short story anthologies because they give me a glimpse into an author’s work; I can choose who to pursue in the future. At swimming pools, I dip my toes into the water before I go in. Lack of commitment? On the contrary: I inevitably dive, but I like to know what I’m getting myself into.
For those who enjoy magical realism, fantasy, and horror fiction, there is no better guide than the yearly anthology of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Originally edited by Terry Windling and Ellen Datlow, this collection is entering its 22nd year. Aside from the amazing short stories these volumes contain, the editors include lists of “must-reads” from the year of publishing, provide updates on writers’ histories and activities, and give information on related sub-genres (music, graphic novels, movies, manga and anime, etc.) Anyone interested in the fantastic will appreciate these volumes (any of them!) for the wealth of information and the depth of the writing. You will find authors whose works you wish to further explore, as I have. Dip those toes!
~ Horror ~
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse ed. by John Joseph Adams
Need an anthology of short stories about dystopian/post apocalyptic/dark apocalyptic futures written by an all-star cast of award winning authors? This is your book. Sometimes anthologies can get a bit tired toward the end (or unfortunately way before the end), however the subjects dealt with are so varied and the styles so different, it is easy to burn through a tome like this effortlessly. The list of authors presented is a veritable who’s who of genre fiction: Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Bear, Jack McDevitt – and that is just a few names topping the page in this 22 story volume. You will definitely find yourself going back to this collection for a reread.
Imajica, by Clive Barke r
Imajica is big. Really big. It’s so big that it takes 5 parallel universes (and about 900 pages) to fill it. Luckily though, Clive Barker filled those 900 pages and 5 universes with something interesting, and the result is one of the strangest, coolest, mind-blowingest novels I’ve read in a long while. Imajica is a 4-tiered dominion that Barker has imagined, with Earth existing as the fifth “unreconciled” dominion.
Separated by an abyss of magic, every 200 years it’s possible to reunite Earth with the 4 others with magic — however, the last time it was attempted went horribly awry, resulting in magic and magical artifacts being wiped from existence and the history books on Earth. Now, 200 years have passed and it’s pretty much the last chance to try again for fear that Earth would destroy itself through nuclear war or some other means. A huge cast of characters, interweaving storylines and plenty of horrific and fantastic imagery fill the entire novel, leaving the reader entranced.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
This is one of those books that I’d been recommended a thousand times over, both directly and indirectly. I have a friend who eats the Dresden Files books up like potato chips. And of course, there are the many good folks who frequent the bookstore that ask for them all the time. By a stroke of luck, I finally got my hands on it and read it. Now, characters are one of my favorite elements of story, and at first, Harry Dresden himself rubbed me the wrong way. He’s an incredibly stubborn professional wizard. But as I read on, I found that he grew on me. Despite some of the things that make you groan when he does them, there are also a good number of things you can’t help but laugh at. For me, a highly interesting use of a cleaning spell was the thing that made me realize I had to have more.
Storm Front is the first of the Dresden Files books, and it does a great job of easing the reader into this modern-day world of magic. Information is given as needed, instead of all at once in a giant, difficult-to-swallow hunk. At the same time, we get to know the central characters, especially Harry Dresden, quite well, though there are thankfully still mysteries left in solved enough to encourage reading the next volume, which I, for one, am going to do very soon!
Allan ‘s Review
The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
So you’re not a fan of Stephen King? It’s okay, I wasn’t either. However, this series is truly epic in scope. Some of you may have even started this series and stopped (usually around book 4 is what I hear most often). Do yourself a favor, push yourself through. When I had completed this series the first time, I was disappointed – but glad I did it. Now, having reread it, I think it is amazing. The scale, the size, the depth of the world of Roland is great. If you are looking for a good (and LONG series) to sink your teeth into, this is definitely thousands of pages of brain candy to feast upon!
The Green Mile, by Stephen King
When I was on the One Book, One Lincoln selection committee, I rolled my eyes when I saw this on the list of nominations. In the end, I found myself championing it into the top five. I’m ashamed of having judged it before reading it. I enjoyed this book for its compelling narrative, its strong characters and the way it explores the issues of capital punishment and the divine. We read to be entertained. We read to have cause to ponder how we would behave if placed in the characters’ shoes. I enjoyed this book. (Put it under someone else’s name and slap it into a gorgeous trade paperback with a matte cover…people would not judge it so harshly.)
Street Magic by Caitlin Kittredge
I picked up this book wanting to try out the supernatural noir genre. Jim Butcher endorses Kittredge on the front of the book, and while I haven’t personally read Butcher, I know from plenty of friends that he’s a great writer of this type of fiction. Street Magic takes place in modern London, where a string of mysterious child kidnappings has female detective Pete Caldecott haunted by images of her past. Kittredge does a great job in keeping suspense in character development. I’m a big fan of character dynamics, and I was happy to see the skill with which Kittredge keeps things between the main characters tense and interesting. The language Kittredge uses in the novel is refreshing and imaginative. For example, Pete meets a character that is actually fey, and she begins to feel as though she can hear ancient battle cries; her blood starts to pump hotter and faster. I found moments like these in the novel to be wonderfully descriptive, so much better than simply stating that Pete found something odd about the man. There is an aspect of magic in the book as well, and I was glad to find that its introduction was paced well to the reader – things were kept surprising, but not so much as to be unbelievable. This facet helped the reader identify with Pete’s unwilling belief in the unknown side of London. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, somewhat dark book, touched with magic and excellent writing technique.
Allan ‘s Review
The Haunted by Bentley Little
I grabbed this one from here at the shop because I thought it looked interesting. Now I may just have to find more by the same author! The Haunted is about a family that moves into a haunted house. Of course, I knew that it wasn’t exactly the most original premise, but as I read, I found that Little had managed to put a unique twist on the “haunted house” genre. There’s more going on than just the ministrations of an angry ghost, and I was happily surprised by this.
Little delivers on the creepy narrative, too; I found myself having to turn the television on just to have some background noise! The scenes in the book aren’t just gross and gory like so many horror films today. Instead, they’re bizarre, twisted things that happen, and watching those events unfold is more frightening than the explosive type of horror I see too often these days. Another thing I enjoyed was the background exposition of the haunting. One of the characters does some research and finds that weird, horrible things had happened there numerous times, spanning years and years. The depictions of some of these events are chilling, to say the least. The Haunted provides a new and unusual scene of horror, one that’d I’d recommend to anyone looking for a good scare.
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
Despite its origins as an early twentieth century story, this novella held a greater power of gripping horror over me than many modern novels or films. Lovecraft wrote many short stories involving supernatural and psychological horror, a good deal of them belonging to what is known as the “Cthulhu Mythos”, a set of stories involving horrors from beyond the stars. In this short novel, Lovecraft deals with these themes in the vast, frozen Antarctic. The story is told as a reflection of events, a warning to others, and it is through this technique, wherein the narrator purposefully hints at horrors to come, that I found myself unable to put the book down. The story is not simply frightful because of the supernatural creatures found within, but also because of the psychological themes it deals with: madness and humanity. The mystery with which the story is told excites both suspense and the ultimate horror as the narrator delves into an eons-old city, compelled forward as curiosity overpowers sanity. Lovecraft is touted as being the key player in 20th century horror, and this book is a shining example of his skill.
Allan ‘s Review
Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
I saw this as a movie about a year ago with a friend, and decided that since I didn’t have any other books burning a hole in my shelf, I’d try it out as a book. Of course, the movie didn’t do the book justice. Lukyanenko paints a thrilling world set in Moscow, Russia, in 1998. Thankfully, the novel is not overfull with references to Russian things an American couldn’t understand. Instead, we are presented with a dark cityscape in which supernatural beings wage an eons-long war: Light vs. Darkness. With a treaty in place that stops an all-out war, each side takes its choices very seriously.
The standard Good vs. Evil is seen here, but Lukyanenko provides a struggle that is not as black and white, odd as that may seem in a world where “Others” must choose whether to be on the side of Light or Darkness. While presenting this unique philosophical treatise, the novel is also a breathtaking thriller where magic can only go so far in helping the characters know just what will happen next, and which side can prevail.
Allan ‘s Review
Interview with the Vampire By Anne Rice
I was looking over my old staff recommendations the other day and was shocked to discover that I have yet to review an Anne Rice novel. She is one of my all time favorite authors. I first discovered her as a young adult and I’ve been hooked ever since. Her writing is intelligent, lush, and meticulously crafted. One of my favorite things about her is that her novels contain many different time periods in history, and each era is thoroughly researched and well fleshed out. My only problem in choosing her to recommend was deciding which of her novels to feature. I chose Interview with the Vampire because it is the first book in the Vampire Chronicles series and is a great introduction to her work. (Side note to those of you who have only seen the movie based on the book: the book is SO much better. But isn’t it always?) Anyway, Interview with the Vampire is at its heart just that: the story of a young man interviewing a vampire. But in the course of the vampire telling his story the reader is drawn into a world full of intrigue, beauty, and eroticism. The vampire’s story starts out in Louisiana of the late 18 th century, travels throughout Europe, and finally ends in late 20 th century America. (This 200 year time span is actually quite short compared to some of Rice’s other books, which can cover time periods of thousands of years.) Along the way issues of life, death, and the nature of good versus evil are all investigated. If you are a fan of some of the newer vampire novels that have come out you will be amazed at the quality, depth, and scope of Rice’s writing. And if you have never considered reading a vampire book, I think you will find this novel to be the perfect introduction to the genre.
Headhunter by Michael Slade
Usually when I recommend a book it’s because I think absolutely everyone should read it. Not so with this one. First, this is a book strictly for adults. Second, this book should not be read by anyone who is squeamish about… well, anything at all. Filled with not only gore and violence (the title refers to a serial killer’s trademark – enough said there) but also with a large dose of sexual psychosis and perversion. So why recommend it at all? Because the writing is superbly intelligent, the plot suspenseful, and the ending will leave you gasping and frantically flipping back looking for clues you may have missed on the first reading. Think the pure psychological terror of Stephen King combined with the detail and creepiness of Thomas Harris. Written by three lawyers (Slade is a pen name) as a work of experimental fiction, the story gives one the feeling of an actual investigation into a serial killer’s murders. At its heart a whodunit murder mystery, the novel is full of flashbacks and subplots and parallel story lines that will keep you guessing till the very end. If you’re brave and have a strong constitution, pick this one up. I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.
~ Graphic Novels ~
“Graphic novels are not traditional literature, but that does not mean they are second-rate. Images are a way of writing. When you have the talent to be able to write and to draw, it seems a shame to choose one.”
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
There are graphic novels, and there are memoirs. A growing trend in book publishing is the graphic novel memoir, as illustrated (no pun intended) by Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. I highly recommend Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as a superlative example of this genre. Bechdel explores her relationship with her father, a volatile and closeted gay man, through memories, photographs, and newspaper articles; she discovers herself by translating her father. Bechdel’s artwork is evocative and her writing is excellent, with references to Homer and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve already read it twice and have plans to read it again!
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
A friend of mine, knowing how much I like graphic novels, introduced me to this debut novel about superheroes: their origins, their strengths, their careers. Who knew what dirty little secrets these folks have kept hidden away all these years, what secret pains and doubts they have suffered?
Soon I Will Be Invincible shifts between two super-human perspectives. The first is that of Doctor Impossible, the craftiest villain the world (and galaxy) has ever seen. Juxtaposed with the bad Doctor is Fatale, a woman transformed into a cyborg after a horrific accident and subsequently farmed out to various intelligence agencies and crimefighting organizations. Doctor Impossible wonders why he always gets caught as he’s about to take over the world; Fatale wonders how the hell she got here in the first place. Their existential crises are exacerbated by their cohorts with their failed marriages, drunken tendencies, delusions of grandeur, aging bodies, and juvenile attitudes.
Austin Grossman brings the realm of the super-human back down to just plain human in a really comical way. They’re just like us, after all, except they might be more…invincible.
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
I picked this graphic novel up at the bookstore recently – it was new in the store and headed to the shelf, but something about it grabbed me and I decided to buy it on the spot. I Kill Giants is about a young girl, Barbara, who lives with her brother and older sister. Barbara is an outcast: she has big glasses, always has her nose in a book, has poor social skills, and is a self-proclaimed giant hunter.
This graphic novel employs a unique and interesting storytelling style. Our viewpoint follows Barbara primarily, and so we are privy to her insights and secrets. However, we are also kept unaware of the vital problems she faces but chooses to block out. Some words are deliberately scribbled out as Barbara’s psyche refuses to process them. I Kill Giants is a coming-of-age story that has elements of comedy, drama, fantasy, and perhaps even romance. I particularly enjoyed that the fantasy element of the story, while certainly part of the plot, isn’t completely what drives it. Barbara is an unreliable narrator, and so we must decide for ourselves how much of what she tells us is true. This is a quick, delightful read; pick it up as soon as you can!
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
I was drawn to this graphic novel after we had several people request copies, and realizing that my best friend had owned a copy for years and raved about it. What sets “Watchmen” apart from other superhero-type stories is that the characters aren’t these perfect savior-types. They are wonderfully flawed and sometimes all too human. It is wonderfully written, with layer upon layer, so that you can read it repeatedly and get some new insight each time. With the movie adaptation coming out on 03/06/09, I highly suggest you read the graphic novel first–there’s a lot going on, and you won’t be disappointed!
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis chronicles the experience of a young girl in Iran in the wake of the Islamic Revolution. In this autobiography that takes the form of a graphic novel (storyboarded like a comic strip), we see how Marjane’s world of relative freedom shrinks under the restrictions of the new regime that requires women and girls to wear the veil. It’s a fantastic book, reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s Maus (graphic novel about the holocaust) but wholly its own in terms of how it portrays the frustrations of a teenager forbidden by law to express teenage angst in the usual ways. Marjane offers tragedy but also humor – as well as a historical view of Iran from someone who lived it. If you liked Reading Lolita in Tehran, you’ll devour this book in a single night. (Also appropriate for mid-late teens.)
Fables by Bill Willingham et al
When I was a little girl, I loved mythology and fairy tales. As an adult (or so they tell me), I enjoy them all the more. Folklore has deep roots in history and culture, and we come closer to understanding and appreciating ourselves and others when we listen carefully to the stories we tell, the wind in the treetops. Reworkings of traditional tales hold a special allure for me, especially when they’re told tongue in cheek. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy the Fables series of graphic novels so much.
In Fables, the familiar (and some not so familiar) characters of fable and folklore have been driven out of their homelands by The Adversary, and are now living among us ‘mundanes’. Their Fabletown society is secret, their goal is survival, and their hope is to defeat The Adversary and return home. Snow White, Little Boy Blue, the Big Bad Wolf, Old King Cole, Beauty and the Beast – they’re all here, along with Baba Yaga, Robin Hood, and Tam Lin.
This series is cheeky, with the characters true to form but displaying their less than heroic natures at times. Hey, anyone living in exile and under siege can be forgiven for occasional lapses in manners, right?
Katherine ‘s Review