Ducklings

ducklings A duckling finds itself away from the flock and needs to get back to his family.  Will the frog help him or will he be subjected to the harsh realities of growing up in this modern world?

*****

I don’t want to give anything away but let’s just say that this entire book is filled with assholes and I found myself explaining some things to Jack that he shouldn’t have to know at such a young age.  Personally, I think that the characters in this book are childish and the overall plot was weak.  Although it did come with a bonus story about a pansy ducking afraid to swim (nice logic there, huh?) so at least you’re likely to get your money’s worth.

I suppose I’d read it again, but I wouldn’t have such high hopes for major developments this time around.

Ducklings, a three minute tale, by Paragon, 18 pages

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Published in: on February 28, 2009 at 7:04 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Fourth Bear

fourth-bearDetective Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are back in action!  This time, they have to find the psychopathic Gingerbread-man and keep him from ripping anyone else in half as well as try to discover just what happened to Goldilocks.  Amongst the burning questions are “is the Gingerbread-man a cookie or a cake?”, “How can porridge be too hot, too cold and just right if they were all poured at the same time?” and “Was there a fourth bear?”

Once again it’s up to the Nursery Crime division to get to the bottom of it all while trying to preserve their own threads of sanity and, in some cases, reality.

*****

I really enjoy Fforde’s work.  His irreverent style and crazy imagination just tweaks my funny bone in all the right ways.  I love his characters and I think that the idea that nursery rhyme inhabitants live and work among us us borderline brilliant.

This series started with The Big Over Easy (scroll a couple pages, it was first this year) and Fforde doesn’t disappoint with this second book.  He brings back the characters that we know and love and puts them in the same ridiculous situations we expect.  It doesn’t seem strange to see Jack break up a porridge ring, for instance.  After all, everyone knows that bears can’t control themselves and it’s a highly regulated substance.  Also, you forgive him puns (like the cringe worthy arguments over the ‘right to arm bears’) because it’s just so damn believable and seems to work.  Right to arm bears.  Eek.

So, once again, I have to recommend this guy.  I just think his work and characters are charming and I am looking forward to the next one on this series.

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde, 378 pages

Watchmen

watchmen Does being insane mean that you can’t read the signs and see where the world is headed?  Do your demons get in the way of seeing the truth?  Does your ambition blur your vision?  What happens to citizen crime-fighters when they’re no longer welcome and can be used as pawns in a larger game?  And in the end, who’s watching the Watchmen?

*****

This story has so many layers, it’s pretty hard to put it into a synopsis, so I hardly bothered.  I know that’s obvious.  Overall, Watchmen is the story of “put to pasture” crime-fighters (in the Batman style, not Superman) and a plot to discredit them.  It covers 2 generations and takes place (mostly) during the Cold War.  But that seems like pigeonholing this into much less than it was.

The book that I bought (and have linked to) is the entire collection of Watchmen comics – I should say graphic novel – and is a really awesome visual collection.  Dave Gibbons inked some incredible images which are so critical to the story itself.  As always Alan Moore created characters with real backgrounds and feeling and enough complexity to rival any classical fictional work.  Interwoven amongst the main tale is also the tale of a shipwreck survivor and “historical” documentation such as interviews and newspaper clippings of our protagonists.  It’s a really excellent way to give the whole novel a depth and breadth that would be hard to do within the dialog without weighing everything down.

You’ve probably seen the trailers for the movie and after reading this I’m more excited than ever.  This is more than a comic book, more than a superhero story and more than what you’d expect when you open the covers and dive in.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 416 pages

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 11:04 am  Comments (4)  
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The Graveyard Book

graveyardbook The night was dark, the house was silent and the Everyman Jack was walking through with a knife, searching for the last member of the family he’d come to “dispose” of.  Little did he know that Nobody (or ‘Bod’ as he’s affectionately known) has managed to escape to the graveyard up the hill where the inhabitants are glad to take him in and teach them what they know.

And dead people know a lot.  They know how to fade into the shadows and see in the dark and they know of the creepies and crawlies that living people should stay away from.  But they don’t know how to protect him from the outside world and eventually even baby boys grow up.  And it seems like Everyman Jack’s have a long memory…

*****

Yay for kids stories!  Well, yay for Neil Gaiman kids stories!  Because only Gaiman would have a kids story contain more dead people and things than live ones.  I enjoy Gaiman’s work, and while I’m not sure I’d read this to a 3 year old, I’d probably give it to a 6 year old – which may be an indication that I’d be a pretty lousy parent.  I mean, after all, the story starts out with the entire family dying.  On the other hand, I remember having nightmares when I was a kid where my whole family had been captured and we were all on conveyor belts and our heads were bring chopped off.  Isn’t it strange how you always wake up when the blade is coming down on your own head?  But I digress (and it’s okay, I haven’t had that dream in YEARS!) and all I was trying to point out was that it’s pretty obvious that kids have some twisted imaginations.  Or maybe it was just me.

Gaiman has a way of making things that should be creepy, like ghosts and graveyards, into people and places that you’d like to meet and visit.  This book made me wish I could talk to dead people who could tell me tales about their lives.  I guess that’s what historical books are for, huh?  With the exception of the beginning and the ending, each of the chapters in this book feels like it’s own little self-contained story – which is kind of nice since it means that there’s a natural stopping point when you’re reading.  To your kids.  Who I’m sure won’t have nightmares from this one.  Now, the last Harry Potter – that’s an entirely different story.

This one’s a good Gaiman read – wait until the paperback comes out though because there’s no reason to own it hardback.  But make sure whatever copy you get (or borrow, natch) has the Dave McKean illustrations because they are really great.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, 307 pages

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 10:12 am  Comments (2)  
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The Stars My Destination

the-stars-my-destination Tiger!  Tiger!  burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

~William Blake

Gully Folye is unremarkable.  His Merchant Marine card tells that world that he has “Education:  none.  Skills:  none.  Merits:  none.  Recommendations:  none.” and Gully has no real desire to change that.  But then something miraculous happens:  Gully manages to survive in the dead of space for 170 days and escape back to Terra with a grudge the size of Jupiter.  And while he doesn’t know it, he also processes a secret that could change the world.

Suddenly, Gully Foyle has some very interesting motivations for action and some very important people should be on their guard…

*****

It’s always fun to read a sci-fi book that was written a long time ago:  Alfred Bester wrote this one in 1956 and it holds up pretty well.  His futuristic ideas aren’t the typical “flying cars and talking computers” variety (although we’re already at the talking computer part… where’s my flying car?!) and are more along the lines of mankind beginning to understand more about the mind and human abilities.  But, if you’re looking for hard science, you’ll be disappointed in this one.

This is more the story of drive and revenge and what it makes a person rather than “ooh, look at the shiny gadgets I made up” tale.  Bester does a great job of pulling us along for a pretty hectic ride… Gully doesn’t have much down time and either do we.  This is a character that you get to watch change pretty dramatically over the course of the novel and I honestly spent part of the book hating him.  But then you start to think about his motivation and you begin to put yourself in his shoes and realize that his slight psychosis is probably justified.  Probably.

The version that I picked up has an introduction by Neil Gaiman which is pretty good – but read it last because it’s got spoilers.  And I really hate that… I think that they should make these afterwards or warn you.  On the other hand, I should know better.  In all actuality, I think I only picked up one small one before I realized what I was doing and moved on to the real story.

One last note on the Blake poem:  the original name of this book was “Tiger! Tiger!” and if you read the book you’ll better understand the reference.  I’m leaving it at that because I think this is worth picking up or borrowing if you’re interested in a quick moving story of survival and retribution (with a possible side of salvation?) set amongst a future where low tech protects the high powered and the world has been changed by the power of the human mind.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, 258 pages

Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments (3)  
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The Road

the-road There is the road.  And a father and a son.  And a barren wasteland and danger all around them.  But there is no food.  No civilization.  And most of all, no hope.

But there is a journey to somewhere.  And there is the man and the boy and their love for each other and maybe that’s enough.

*****

First, the cover of my book isn’t nearly as cool as this one.  This one is much better actually giving you a feel for the story.  It’s dark and grim and horribly popular with people.  The book, not the cover.  Second, it looks like this was once an Oprah book club selection which surprised me and if I’d known it I probably would have stayed away on general principle.  Of course, now I want to see the episode where she pimps it to see if she gave away dirty clothes or maybe human skulls to her audience in celebration.

On the surface, this is a book of survival in a horribly caustic world.  I’ve never read any other McCarthy novels (he also wrote No Country For Old Men) and haven’t ever seen a movie based on any of his works so I’m not overly familiar with his style but I found it almost distracting.  He’s very minimalist and doesn’t use quotes for conversation or even name his characters.  Strangely enough, once I got used to it, it might have kind of worked for this novel.

This book takes place after a major unnamed catastrophe and, in a way, the writing style supports the barrenness and desolation that results.  You can almost project yourself into the story, although you sure as hell don’t want to.

I have mixed feelings on this one.  On one hand, it’s a good overall book with a pretty powerful story.  On the other hand, I don’t think it’s the ‘end all be all’ story that some people make it out to be.  Maybe I needed to know more about these people to feel like their survival was important, I dunno.  So, I think you should read it, but maybe not run right out and grab it?

I suppose I vote “meh”.  Or maybe I just don’t know good literature when I read it.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, 287 pages

Published in: on February 9, 2009 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All I Want For Christmas Is A Vampire

all-i-want1 Toni only wants a few things out of life:  to be successful, to make a difference, to be worthy of love and to save her roommate by proving that she was attacked by vampires.  When Toni is also attacked and offered a job protecting the vampires who save her, it seems like the perfect way to get the proof she needs to move on.

Ian only wants one thing out of life:  a woman to love.  The problem is that Ian is a vampire and it’s “bloodsucker seeking same” in his world.  But now he’s met Toni, who is most definitely not a vampire but is so strangely alluring…

*****

Okay.  I did it.  I read not only a romance novel… it’s a VAMPIRE/HUMAN romance novel.  I feel pretty dirty.  Okay, I feel a lot dirty.  This isn’t even a GOOD romance novel.  Then I found out this was #5 or something in a series… really??  Wow.

Every character is completely transparent, the story is utterly predictable and the writing is uninspired.  What happened to all the HORROR stories about vampires?!  Argh.

I guess there’s a market for everything.  Don’t read this book.  Seriously.  I added an “awful” tag just for it.  I’m only listing it because I want to be honest.  Bleh.

All I Want For Christmas Is A Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks, 384 pages

Published in: on February 6, 2009 at 4:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

yiddish After the shocking collapse of Israel in 1948, the Federal District of Sitka has been the home of displaced and refugee Jews.  In the last 40 years, they have created their own world where their religious beliefs and their heritage can flourish amongst the cold Alaska climate.  But now it’s all about to come crashing down.  The District is about to revert to Alaska control and nobody knows what their future holds.

Homicide Detective Meyer Landsman has more to worry about than the Reversion, though.  He’s got a failed marriage under his belt, is working on drinking himself to death, and now has to deal with a murdered chess player.  To make matters worse, as he’s investigating the tragedy, orders come down from on high that he’s to drop the case.  What follows is a tale of politics, religion, faith and, possibly, even redemption at the end.

*****

I’ve tried to read this book about a half dozen times.  It floated around my apartment… taunting me.  So, when an online book club that I half ass follow said that this was their month’s pick, I picked it back up and was determined to make it farther than I had before.  And I’m glad that I did.

Chabon’s written a good love story/classic noir novel with a couple of great twists.  The main one is the setting – both culturally and physically this is an alien place.  The characters commonly mix in Yiddish words and phrases which makes it tough to really get lost in the story but does give a great sense of the feel of Sitka.  A word for the wise, there’s a glossary in the back of the book – something I really wish I’d known about 6 months ago.  The characters are well built with distinct personalities even if they do seem cliche at times.  I guess that’s the side effect of writing a detective novel.  Chabon also does a good job of describing Jewish traditions and integrating them into the story.

My one criticism is the writing style itself.  This book is written in first person present time and Chabon switches the tenses based on story need.  For example, a flashback will be in past tense – which is logical – but Chabon doesn’t always give a clear lead in to a time shift.  There was  more than once when I didn’t understand how what I was reading fit into the story only to finally catch that it was a flashback.  Part of that was my inability to truly “bond” with this book and I found myself easily distracted.  I don’t quite understand why that happened with this one… I like Chabon as a writer and was really looking forward to reading this one.

My struggles aside, I would still recommend this one for those who like detective stories.  Hopefully you won’t fight with it like I did – it didn’t ruin my enjoyment but certainly distracted me a bit.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, 434 pages

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 8:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Outliers

outliers Outlier:  (n) 1) something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body   2)  a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample

It’s an age old question – what makes successful people successful?  I mean, REALLY successful.  Top of the game successful.  Bill Gates successful.  Is it hard work and smarts?  Or is there something more than that?  What factors go into making someone an outlier?

*****

Again, another short introduction to the book for a couple of reasons. First, if I just tell you what Malcolm Gladwell says, then you won’t have any reason to read the book and second, it’s a short book on one subject and that’s all there really is to say.

For the record, I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile.  I read Blink back when it came out and thought that it was pretty impressive for pointing out things that we probably already know.  So I guess I wanted to see what I should have already known about success.  Gladwell is great at pointing out things that make complete sense.  I mean, nobody really thinks that “self made men” really did it all on their own, and in this book he shows us some of the underlying reasons that people may be successful.

This isn’t a blueprint to success… not unless you have a time machine or something.  But I do think that those of you with kids should read it, especially if they are young.  And I think there is a lesson for us old people to take from it as well.  Which I won’t tell you.  Because I didn’t write the book, Gladwell did.

At times the book seems a bit repetitive.  He writes very conversationally and sometimes it sort of feels like you’ve heard the story before.  It’s a good point to make, though, that you haven’t – it’s just that once he pulls back the curtain you’ve lost that sense of “OH!”.   Still, you sort of get the feeling that the book could have been a bit shorter, or he could have done something more with the subject.

While I liked Blink more, this was a good one.  I hear The Tipping Point is also good, maybe I’ll see if I can find it used somewhere.  Oh, and Roz, you can borrow this one first.  🙂

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, 299 pages (and yes, I actually did read all the notes  :P)

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 9:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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