Book Review: The Action Bible (Cariello, Mauss)

November 21, 2010

*ARC Alert*

The Action Bible by Doug Mauss and Sergio Cariello was released on September 1st, 2010 by David Cook Press. (Hardcover, full-color, $24.99, 752 pages).

 

Disappointment.  I’ll lay that out right there for you so that you’re aware of my position on this book from the start. I was disappointed, even angry, with this book. That is not a judgment on the Bible in general; that’s an issue I won’t touch in this blog post. But this specific edition hasn’t won my approval.

First and most immediately annoying to me is the fact that this revolutionary new edition is hardly so.  The idea of the Bible as a graphic novel was, I thought, a brilliant one– until I discovered that there’s nothing particularly new about it.  Doug Mauss, the editor, is evidently no scholar of the holy text.  The stories herein might as well be presented word-for-word as I heard them in Sunday school.  They stick to the familiar plot points and concepts.  They do not present an understanding of moral grey areas. I left the faith when I was ten, and did not learn any new stories in reading this book.  The Apocrypha, which would have been interesting, are inevitably left out.  And the “Bible figures as action heroes” premise falls flat because no one has powers, or any sort of singular trait at all.  All of the good guys do their good by the grace and for the glory of God. The male bad guys are presented as weak-willed, greedy and stupid; the female ones are conniving temptresses.  And most of the Old Testament seems to be that every thirty years or so, the Israelites (they’re not called Jews here, because Jews aren’t Christians) forget the true God and are warned by prophets, then duly punished. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But let’s talk about something I can give good news about. The art!  It’s quite impressive– 744 pages of full-color illustration. Beautifully expressive figures and facial expressions, good pacing that matches the dialogue.  But oh, oh no, what’s this? Something seems off.

It bugged me for about a fifty pages before I realized what it was. Mr. Cariello, I don’t mean to call into question your interpretation of your own holy text, but there are a few things. Actually a lot of things, actually a lot of people. Adam, Eve, Abel (not Cain), Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, David (not Goliath)… Mr. Cariello, all of these people, these heroes, are white.  Living in Egypt, Persia, Babylon, they are white. And their enemies are not.

I admit that most of the people listed above are given facial features that imply Jewish heritage.  But they’re also paler, and tend to have lighter hair, than any one of the unbelievers (or, as luck would have it, any of the women).  All of the angels are not only white, but tall, blonde and blue-eyed. Jesus, conceived in Nazareth, then a part of Egypt, is white as well.

Now, Bible figures are traditionally depicted, at least in our culture, as white. But one would think that with 744 pages to think about it, 744 pages otherwise filled with Middle Eastern-ish people, that it would occur to Sergio Cariello that the Bible’s heroes were ordinary men elevated by God, and as such would have been born ordinary. From the same gene pool as all of those around them. In the one case where that doesn’t hold true… well, Jesus was the son of God. I guess God is so absolutely white that it cancels out Mary’s half of the equation.

I’ll say it again–disappointment.  The Action Bible carries many faults, even considering that I tended to forgive the ones transmitted directly from its source material.  It’s useful as an introduction to the major stories of the Bible, but impressionable minds– like say the children this book is aimed at– will pick up a number of unsavory ideas in the reading of it.

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Book Review: Mockingjay

August 26, 2010

In 2008, Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novel The Hunger Games reached popular and critical acclaim for its compelling portrayal of the intricacies of love and loyalty when set against the human desire to survive. Its sequel, Catching Fire, moved seamlessly into the lengths to which an oppressive ruling power will stretch to maintain their fragile control, and what it takes to forge a revolution. In Mockingjay, the third and final chronicle of the Hunger Games, Collins takes us on a spare-no-glance tour of the cost of war on a nation and on the human soul, and of how far we are willing to go in defense of a fragile conception of moral right.

Katniss Everdeen, the Girl Who was on Fire, has survived two of the infamous death matches known as the Hunger Games and has unintentionally made herself into the symbol of the resistance against the Capitol’s tyrannical rule. Peeta, the one person who has been through as much as she has and understands, has been captured by the Capitol. District 12, her home, is a firebombed ruin. All around her war rages– the districts are revolting, and at last President Snow’s regime will be toppled or will crush them all.

Katniss is safe in the hands of the surviving District 13, protected as the face of a revolution must be. Inside, she is terrified by the loss of Peeta, enraged by the abuses of the Capitol, and discomfited by the “allies” who seek to use her standing for their own ends. The only stable thing in her life seems to be Gale, her oldest remaining friend, and even he seems to be someone she doesn’t quite recognize any more. Amidst all of this, Katniss must put aside her misgivings and come to terms with the fact that she is the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope for a nation, who is responsible for countless lives.

Anyone who has read one or both of the previous Hunger Games books knows that Suzanne Collins pulls no punches with her vivid prose, but even knowing this I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of Mockingjay. This is a book about love, trust, family, and heroism, true, but above all else it is a story of war and what war does to us. You will not necessarily like this book; you may come out of it hating Collins, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, or any other of the numerous characters. But it will resonate with you, and that, combined with your hatred, will be how you know Collins succeeded in what she set out to do– her characters are human. They have human lusts, fears, weaknesses, and strengths. Their every defeat is diluted by hope, and their every victory is tainted by regret. At the end, you will be hard pressed to say who won, exactly, because each side– every individual, in fact–left so indelible a mark on the outcome that the idea of “winning” seems nothing more than a nostalgic fantasy from before everything was set in motion.


Abbreviated Review: Poison (Poole)

August 4, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Poison by Sara Poole was released on August 3rd, 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press (Paperback, $14.99, 416 pages; also available in Kindle format).

Francesca Giordano knows a little something about working in the world of men– she is a poisoner in the employ of the Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, one of the most powerful men in Rome. It is her task not only to arrange deaths for Borgia’s enemies, but to protect the family she serves from the poisoners of others. She does all of this with a single-minded drive which cannot be dispelled even by questions about sin and her stained soul, something quite impressive for a denizen of the Catholic Church’s city. Her ultimate goal? Revenge for the murder of her father, who was Borgia’s poisoner before her. This private goal leads Francesca into a tangled web of very public lies, intrigue, and looming slaughter, a web which she must help to untangle if she has any hope for peace with who and what she is. Five stars.


Abbreviated Review: Permanent Obscurity (Perez)

August 4, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Permanent Obscurity: Or, a Cautionary Tale of Two Girls and Their Misadventures with Drugs, Pornography, and Death by Richard Perez was released on April 1st, 2010 by Ludlow Press (Trade Paperback, $15.95, 464 pages; also available in Kindle format).

Dolores and Serena are two best friends living a life of drugs and art in New York City, dealing with boyfriends and trying to make ends meet. This gets harder and harder as the girls discover that they’re heavily in debt to a lot of people, some of them threatening. Then Serena hits on the perfect plan: they plan to take back control of their lives– and their wallets– by making a femdom/fetish film. This is not an erotica, despite what the cover and the premise might say. There is sex, BDSM, some homosexual activity, all sorts of stuff, but none of that is the point of the book. Just so everyone is forewarned.

I enjoyed the premise of this book, and the dynamic between Dolores and Serena, but felt that it took too long to hit its stride. The first 350 pages were basically rising action which could have been halved in length and would have then served the plot better. After that point Perez picked up speed and ratcheted the tension up quickly. From there it almost went too quickly, so a shift of length might have been in order there, to make it more balanced. Other than that, no complaints. Three stars.

This book contains explicit sexual content.


Book Review: Infinite Days (Maizel)

July 22, 2010

*ARC alert*

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel will be released on August 3rd, 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin (Trade Paperback, $9.99, 320 pages). It is the first in the Vampire Queen series and Maizel’s debut novel.

Like the “dog books” from my previous post, “dark” teen dramaromances have a certain formula– an awesomely hot and probably well-off teen girl, attending high school and possibly haunted by her dark past, falls for the hottest, most elite guy at school. He reciprocates. At least one of them is a vampire/faery/something hot and supernatural. The by now well-established minigenre includes books which I actually enjoyed, like Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely, and a lot that I didn’t, e.g. the Twilight series and Alyson Noel’s Evermore. Infinite Days, admittedly, falls under that category and shares some of its flaws.

On the other hand, its premise is completely original and quite interesting– after 500-odd years of terrorizing the general populace, Lenah Beaudonte decides that vampirism holds only illusive charms and seeks a way to regain her humanity. After a hundred years of hibernation and a ritual that involved the self-sacrifice of her best friend and lover, she wakes up in the year 2010 and finds herself needing to learn how to be human again in a new and confusing century.

Lenah herself makes for a strong and often funny voice that I was able to connect with emotionally. Though she seemed at times to be a bit too capable, I surprised myself by liking her– she didn’t take the angsty, desperate tone of so many dramaromance “heroines,” and I’m willing to believe that a 592-year old can handle a lot. Her story, too, was well-though out and engaging, though it dragged the tiniest bit toward the end of part one. Overall, I loved her discovery of day-to-day existence and the backdrop of flashbacks to vampire life and lore that she contrasted it with.

I did suffer from some Pretty in Pink syndrome with this, though. You know, where by the end of the movie everyone in the room is going “No, Andie! You have to choose Ducky!” I found myself biased against Lenah’s love interest, Justin, perhaps because he was the Edward of this story (in role only, thank the gods). Personally I liked Lenah’s friend Tony a lot more, but I can’t complain too much since Maizel did give sufficient support for the romance and lack of it, respectively, and didn’t try to run with it too badly.

And as my final point, I want to say that this read like the first novel it is. I don’t mean that in a bad way; Maizel is obviously worthy of having been published and will no doubt have several more books ahead of her. What I mean to say is that you can tell just by reading it that this is her breakout book; the ideas are fresh and vibrant, but the prose is somewhat rough, even choppy in places. I have every faith that she will improve with practice.

So. Go ahead and pick this one up for its original take on the vampire mythos and likable main character, but be ready to accept that it’s a long read for its 320 pages, and that it does contain elements of established stereotype in the romance aspect of the plot. I would nevertheless recommend it to fans of the genre and perhaps those looking for a good book to introduce them to dark teen dramaromance hibbijabba (a genre that really needs a better name than I am providing).


Book Review: Proust’s Overcoat (Foschini)

July 11, 2010

*ARC alert*

Proust’s Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini will be released on August 3, 2010 by Ecco, a division of HarperCollins (Hardcover, $19.99, 144 pages with black-and-white photographs throughout).

This is a toughie for me, because I’ve never read anything by Proust or taken a particular interest in him. Thus, I can’t honestly say that Proust’s Overcoat: The True Story of One Man’s Passion for All Things Proust held much for me. So just as a heads-up, my lukewarm response in this case is not necessarily because the book is bad; we’re just incompatible. I’ll try to be fair.

Proust’s Overcoat is just as the subtitle suggests– a true story detailing Jacques Guerin’s quest to collect and preserve the worldly possessions of his favorite writer years after the man’s death. Among these is Marcel Proust’s famed overcoat, which he used as a blanket while he wrote in bed. Somewhat surprisingly, Guerin’s quest is necessitated and made more difficult by Proust’s own family, who seem ashamed of their deceased son and brother and actively seek to destroy his mementos, especially his handwritten notes, letters, and creative works. Guerin is introduced into the family and the story by Robert Proust, Marcel’s brother, by sheer coincidence– R. Proust, a doctor, is called to Guerin’s bedside and operates to save him from appendicitis. From there Guerin is on a steep learning curve when it comes to Proust and his surviving relations. Apparently the fact that Proust was gay, a shared trait which made him all the more interesting to Guerin, was a large part of his bourgeoisie family’s determination to limit his legacy. Another possible factor is that he was an eccentric writer in a family of doctors. Regardless, Guerin pursues Proust’s memory in spite of the family disapproval, the culmination of his collecting efforts being the overcoat.

From the spare, factual prose to the littering of relevant photographs throughout the book, Foschini shows her beginnings as a journalist (relatively unknown here in America, living in Italy as she does). She nevertheless shows a passion for her literary investigation and for Guerin’s story, and the obvious respect with which she handled a somewhat fanatic man’s life work is touching. Though Proust’s Overcoat is short, it is a work which brings to light a good deal of little-known information about Proust himself and the man responsible for the survival of his physical memory. I wouldn’t recommend it to those who aren’t fans of Proust, but if you do like his work this could be an interesting trip into his life and his impact.


Book Review: Shadow Bound (Kellison)

June 2, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Shadow Bound will be released June 29, 2010 by Dorchester Publishers (Mass Market Paperback, $7.99 on Amazon). It is Erin Kellison’s debut novel.

Twenty-six years ago, the spirit called Shadowman fell in love with an ailing woman who lived only long enough to bring his daughter into the world. Six years ago, Adam Thorne’s brother used monstrously inhuman abilities to murder his parents. The events seemed unrelated from the outside. But when Adam, now head of the Segue Institute founded for the study of wraiths like his brother, goes looking for Talia O’Brien, expert on near-death experiences, he finds that the young anthropology PhD is something wholly outside of human or monster. She, too, has been affected by the growing menace of the wraiths, but this can’t account for her ability to wrap darkness around herself like a cloak and sense the thoughts of others through touch. Adam had wanted her for her expertise, but she might just be the weapon that he needs.

I picked this book out to read because I love the idea of Talia’s heritage and the powers she inherited from it, and for the first half of the book or so I immersed myself happily in Kellison’s rich descriptive pose and driven characters. Talia and Adam were both decently-developed, and carried most of the story without too much help from side characters. I liked them each well enough alone, until they started getting to know each other.

Almost as soon as they were in a room together and conscious, the two had the hots for each other. Well, okay, they’re both attractive adults– they’re allowed. What bugged me was the fact that this instant desire didn’t abate at all for the entire book and kept cropping up at inappropriate moments. Talia is complaining about having to save Adam’s ass? I don’t need to hear that it is a very fine ass indeed right that second. It also seemed somewhat improbable that Talia would be a powerful supernatural being, incredibly hot, and a doctor– this wasn’t a huge issue, but maybe Kellison should have picked two out of the three. I wouldn’t have minded if Talia was only decently attractive, since that would have made more sense in regards to the fact that she seems completely unaware of her own magnetism.

For all that they found each other so attractive that they couldn’t concentrate on much else without mentioning it from time to time, the pair had a lot of issues to iron out. It seemed like every time they bonded over something, they would instantly find a reason to shut each other out and feel bad about it, and themselves. For the most part these were reasonable things to have problems with, but they were repeated ad nauseam in a way that made me feel as if the entire relationship was a step forward and a step back over and over. This pretty much sums up my problem with Shadow Bound— it’s a great premise with suitably scary villains and a good high-stakes quest, but little flaws in and between the characters become progressively more irritating as time goes on and make it harder and harder to enjoy the book. By the end, I wanted to take Talia, Adam, and their ill-timed sexual urges and dump them all in a lake.

My last, smallest complaint– and this much I admit is me being a literary snob –is the fact that the author on several occasions drew connections between Talia and “Sleeping Beauty”. This was barely connected to the plot at all, and was more of a side note for interest, and the earliest version of “Sleeping Beauty” that I know of is called “Sun, Moon, and Talia.” However, the casual way in which Kellison mentioned this makes me think she’s never read “Talia,” as the story itself is one of the most morally perverted pieces of folklore I’ve ever read. If you want to see what I’m talking about and don’t mind a little gouge-your-eyes-out fairy-tale fun, you can read it here.

My final word on Shadow Bound: pick it up for an interesting mix of dark fantasy and modern fairy-tale, but only if you don’t mind a few character flaws that really should have been ironed out.

This book contains explicit sexual content.