Book Review: The Night Owls (Timony, Timony)

December 17, 2010

*ARC Alert*

The Night Owls by Peter and Bobby Timony was released March 30, 2010 by Zuda Comics (softcover, black and white, $14.99, 192 pages).

A nerdy supernatural detective, a flapper with a mean right hook, and an ever-hungry gargoyle?  Yes, please! The Night Owls combines the tried-and-true aspects of the detective genre with Prohibition-era America, flirty comedy, and light-but-satisfying violence (great taste, less filling!).  Add simple, elegant grayscale art and an original cast of baddies and you end up with a great read for middle-grades and up.  The book ends on a rather sizable cliffhanger, and I’m praying for a second volume.


Abbreviated Review: Zeus: King of the Gods (O’Connor)

October 17, 2010

This first volume of what will be a twelve-book series covers a span of time which begins (literally) at the beginning of everything, brings us through the birth of the Titans and other proto-Olympians, then the Olympian gods, ending with Zeus’ war upon and conquerance of his forebears. A wonderful, thorough, and well-researched collection of Greek mythology that can be understood by any age on some level. O’Connor obviously knows what he’s talking about, and presents the gods as they really were– highly flawed characters who stand somewhat apart from concepts of morality. Wonderful, expressive artwork, as well. Highly recommended for interested kids and adults alike.

 


Book Review: The Lacuna (Kingsolver)

October 17, 2010

Hello, my erudite darlings! I’m sorry for the lack of actual reviews of late– my supply of ARCs has more or less evaporated. I do have one that will be up as soon as I get around to finishing it. Also (possibly) in the works is my honest opinion of Twilight: The Graphic Novel, and reviews of the other Cybils graphic novel nominees. Today, though, I have a review for you of The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, which isn’t new, but did recently blow me away.

This book covers roughly twenty years in the life of Harrison William Shepherd, first his experiences in Mexico as a boy and with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky as employers, then his life in America during World War II and the Second Red Scare. Kingsolver has said that the foremost question she wanted to examine in writing this book was, why is the relationship between art and politics such an uneasy one in the US? A mere two decades sampled from our history can’t explain this question fully, but in looking at the period she did, Kingsolver revealed much, and strengthened her thesis by indirectly comparing America’s artisto-political climate to Mexico’s, where art and politics mold together in an almost celebratory way. The most standout character in the book, besides Shepherd himself, was Frida– by the end, you cannot think of her as a historical figure; she is incontrovertibly a real person.

The overarching story of this book is how little we actually know about people like Frida (and Harrison) from the way history paints them; it is the parts of the record that are missing (called “lacunas” by historians) that, when filled, reveal the truth. This book, then, a collection of Harrison’s journals, letters, and relevant news clippings from the time, is the massive piece which completes the puzzle of a life misrepresented. It explores the politics of fear, the inconstancy of public opinion, and the subjectivity of truth against the backdrop of American anti-communism, in a time when to dissent was to offer oneself up to a political and cultural witch hunt. All of this Kingsolver handles with deftness and sensitivity, telling a story that, while inescapably relevant to our current national climate, could only be told in the setting she told it in: it is a story of art, communism, family, and history. It is the story of a man isolated from the world by his upbringing and sexuality who nonetheless finds that he must live in it, and that he can make his mark upon it. It is the story of a life.

In a time when America is dealing with a surge of anger and fear, when “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” is still a touted view, Kingsolver’s novel is not only set in the past. It is a call for conscience and against censorship and intolerance. It highlights the dangers of fear politics, and poses the question, How many voices have been silenced?


Book Review: Behemoth (Westerfeld)

September 4, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld will be released on October 5th, 2010 by Simon Pulse (Hardcover, illustrated, $18.99, 496 pages).

Let me explain the basic concept to you: World War I.  The Allies have Darwinian genetically-engineered monsters for war engines and the Central Powers have mechas. Do you really need to read the rest of the review?

Oh, yeah, wait. One last thing before you rush off. This is the second book, the first is called Leviathan. Alright, go for it. Spoilers after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.


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: Juliet (Fortier)

May 12, 2010

*ARC alert* Juliet will be released on August 17th by Ballantine Books, an imprint of the Random House publishing group (hardcover, $25.00).

Shakespeare’s pair of star-crossed lovers have been at the center of the world’s most famous romance for centuries. Everyone knows it from English class at the very least– in long-ago, far-away Verona, the young pair Romeo and Juliet fall madly in love despite the feud that sets their families as deadly enemies, and the rest is history. But not really, right, because Romeo and Juliet is a fictional story?

Perhaps. Regardless of whether it began in fact or fancy, the story of Juliet and her Romeo goes back farther than the Bard. As Anne Fortier shows us, it began in Siena, a city in Tuscany, Italy, a city famous for the blood feuds that went on for centuries between the houses of Tolomei and Salimbeni. Sound familiar?

This is the basis from which Fortier unfolds her epic and beautifully delivered story, which follows two young women, each bearing the name Giulietta Tolomei. One lives in 14th-century Siena and dares to love the infamous young playboy Romeo Marescotti, though she has been promised to the head of the Salimbeni house. The other has lived her life up until now in America, as Julie Jacobs. When her aunt and guardian dies suddenly, Julie inherits only a key to a safe-deposit box in Siena, which she is told contains a family treasure that her mother hid shortly before she died, when Julie was two. Instead of the solution to her credit card debt, however, Julie finds a box containing letters that suggest that Juliet was indeed a real person, and that her curse– “A plague on both your houses!”– may still be at work, and that Julie is its next target.

Though this is a work of fiction, it is astonishingly well-researched (for which Fortier thanks her mother) and given to us in  a way that makes it seem utterly plausible. It belongs to the same group as stories such as The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure; a character discovers that they have a connection to a famous event in history and that that event’s legacy is still at work in the world today. Secret societies optional. I’ve never particularly enjoyed this genre, and to a certain extent Juliet did not suit my personal tastes, but there is no denying that it is beautifully written and meticulously thought out. I found myself connecting with the medieval heroine more than the modern one– though Julie can be clever, Giulietta possesses a caustic wit which she doesn’t hesitate to apply to anyone who rouses her ire. Also, her Romeo is more of a knight-in-shining-armor than the bawling man-child Shakespeare made him out to be.

I do not know if the ardent fans of the more famous story will approve of this new twist, but I certainly enjoyed its insights into how things might have really worked out in medieval Italy. My one real criticism is that things got a bit confusing toward the end. I might have to go back and read again to figure out how the pieces of Julie’s mystery all fit together, and how her Romeo was involved. A lovely debut all the same- four stars.

This book contains explicit sexual content.