Just Giblets

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 9 & 10

7th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 9 & 10

All of the books on this list are great, but it’s a sure sign of a bumper crop year when a new Alice Munro is down at #9!

#10 – All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani

Christopher Castellani’s third novel is a beautifully evocative examination of a family greatly affected by a past tragedy and their ethnic culture. Antonio and Maddalena Grasso came to America from Santa Cecila, Italy fifty years ago. Together they had three children, but lost one tragically years ago. Now their remaining children and grandchildren have each formed a family construct based on their individual experiences, while Antonio and Maddalena each deal with their personal grief in solitary ways.

The novel examines the complicated ways people love, as stated in the book, from the heart, from the head and from the soul. With Maddalena, who was in love with another boy before Antonio and Maddalena’s father arranged their marriage, love is compartmentalized, coupled with a need to cut herself off completely from her heritage, ignoring letters and calls to her family back in Italy. When her daughter Prima tries to arrange a trip for the entire family to travel back to Santa Cecila, all are taken aback by the ferocity of Maddalena’s refusal. Youngest son Frankie has moved from the family’s Delaware roots to write his thesis at Boston College. He is a lost soul, eschewing maturity for a dysfunctional sexual relationship with his adviser, and a relationship with his mother that can’t move past childhood.

Couple all of these mini family dramas with Maddalena’s health challenges and you’d think All This Talk of Love would echo the soap opera that Frankie and Maddalena discuss every day. But Castellani’s exploration lifts the story above melodramatics and creates flawed and real characters struggling with long ago grief and the complicated love of family.

#9 – Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

Alice Munro, the master of the modern short story, continues to show her prodigious talent in her latest collection entitled Dear Life. Each story illuminates a life at a pivotal moment and who this moment affects its subject. Dear Life also includes a series of four memories from the author life; structured as short stories, they are mini-memoirs, colored by memory and creativity, yet illuminating the way each of her stories are.

Many of the stories in Dear Life are set in the post WWII era of Canada, and the memory of the way and the Depression infuse them. One story in particular, “Leaving Maverley,” highlights the power of Munro’s storytelling, where with a simple sentence; a reflection of what has gone on before, Munro is able to bring the reader to tears.

 

6th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 12 & 11

It really hit me as I prepared to write this blog entry, the high quality of writing and creativity in the books I read this year, because the fact that these two books didn’t crack my top 10 astounds me.  This is a pair of outstanding reads, beautifully written, imaginative, emotionally moving, and powerful.  What is perhaps even more remarkable is that both of these exquisite novels are debuts.  Congratulations to both talented authors.

#12 – The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

M.L. Stedman’s debut novel tells an emotional tale of loss, love, and lies, set on the isolated western coast of Australia in the early 1900’s. Tom Sherbourne is a decorated war hero trying to reconcile his role during the war, and his own difficult childhood. He takes an isolating job as a lighthouse keeper on the remote island of Janus Rock, but that doesn’t prevent him from meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Isabel. The two share a powerful bond and set up life on Janus Rock, but after three miscarriages and the doubtful prospect of having a child of their own, Isabel is consumed with grief. When a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a newborn baby, Isabel sees this as a sign from God that she should raise this little girl as her own, despite the fact that there is no sign of a mother. The choices Isabel and Tom make a difficult and will have consequences in their future that will shatter several lives. Stedman’s writing is adept in describing the isolation and beauty of Janus Rock, the power of the ocean, the grace and beauty of the lighthouse, and the complex ethical and emotional issues that emerge from the Sherbourne’s actions. The Light Between Oceans reminded me of my favorite film from 2011 called A SEPARATION (from Iran). The similarities lie in the fact that good people are forced to make decisions for which there is no good result, and we understand and even empathize with each decision made, knowing that the end result will be painful and devastating for all involved. This is a powerful read.

#11 – The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Profoundly, beautiful coming-of-age story set to a slow, apocalyptic end-of-the world tale. When the residents of a southern Californian suburb first hear that the earth’s rotation is slowing, there is a brief panic, but human beings being the adaptable lot they are, soon things fall into step again, with some minor tweaks. But as the earth’s rotation continues to slow, and more, serious consequences begin to emerge, 12-year-old Julia, and others, begin to understand that nothing will be the same again. Yet even as the human race begins its presumed road to extinction, Julia must cope with the realities of being a young teen, including buying her first bra, negotiating the whimsical nature of friendship, and falling in love for the first time. Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel is heart-rending in its tragic inevitability, yet hopeful in the way Julia move though adolescence into adulthood.

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Movies, Reviews, Year-end lists | at 11:20 am | 0 Comments
4th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 16 & 15

As I mentioned previously, it was a good year for books.  I read a lot of really good books last year, and I couldn’t quite stop at a top 15… I had to squeeze one more on there.  So here we go, #’s 16 & 15 of my favorite books read in 2012!  And what do they have in common?  They’re both geared toward teen readers.  #16 is a newcomer to this list, and #15 made the list last year at #10.

#16 – Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I read two teen novels with gay characters/themes in them, and while I enjoyed them both, both had flaws as well.  Will Grayson Will Grayson‘s conceit about two characters named Will Grayson, one straight, and one gay, written by two authors handling alternating chapters is both a strength and a weakness.  The two writers have noticeably different writing styles, which I found distracting.  There is also an element of over-simplification that can often mars feel-good novels.  However the book is hilarious, unabashedly moving, and a nice look at the variety of personalities embodying high school life today.

 

 

#15 – Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Cory’s latest book tackles a subject he is passionate about: copyright and the internet. In Pirate Cinema, a boy runs away to London after his cinema mash-ups cause his family to lose internet access for a month. While living on the streets, he hooks up with a Dickensian band of pals who show him how to live on his own and educate him about the draconian nature of the laws created by big entertainment industry that struggle to hang on to the establishment, but stifle the artistic creativity of a new generation. (He also finds a pretty amazing girlfriend.)  While the novelty of this book for me was seeing my husband’s name appear throughout in a very pivotal role (Scot won naming rights at an auction) about halfway through  Cory had hooked me with a compelling read, strong characters, and a message that is so relevant to the world we live in today.  Cory’s last novel, the epic For the Win was my #10 favorite book read in 2011.

1st January 2013
by Michael

Michael’s Top Books of 2012 – the Also Rans

The First Time I Heard Kate Bush2012 was a good year for books.  My New Year resolution last year was to read more, and I successfully accomplished that.  Last year I read 33 books, up from twenty-something last year.  Of those 33 books, I have a top 16 that I will post about in the coming days.  For this first post in the series, I’m going to talk about some of the books that I really enjoyed that I just couldn’t squeeze onto my top books of the year list.

There were two books in particular that deserve a special mention.  The first is part of a terrific new series available in ebook only edited by Scott Heim called, The First Time I Heard…  I read the first in the series featuring the Cocteau Twins, which was a delight, but anyone who knows me knows that a later book in the series, The First Time I Heard Kate Bush, was tailor made for me.  Kate has long been my favorite musical artist, and it was really special reading the essays that Scott pulled together from various musicians, artists, authors and the like, all talking about the first time they heard Ms. Bush.  From those who were there from the beginning, fortunate enough to live in England during the late 70’s and the release of her first single, “Wuthering Heights,” to younger folk who first heard of Kate when she finally broke the Top 40 here in the U.S. with “Running Up That Hill.”  The First Time I Heard Kate Bush was ever so fun to read, and perhaps when I’m finished with this series about my top books of 2012, I will include a post about the first time I heard Kate Bush.

Kicking & Screaming

Also in the musical vein, another book that deserves special notice and gave me great pleasure to read this past year was  Kicking & Screaming: A Story of Heart Soul and Rock and Roll by Ann & Nancy Wilson.  Again, those of you who know me, know that aside from Kate Bush, Ann Wilson and Heart have had an incredibly profound impact on my life in music.  Ann and Nancy, with their co-writer Charles Cross, chronicle their lives from childhood, through the ups and downs and musical challenges face by that seminal and classic rock band, Heart.  Even though much of the story was known to me, after decades of following their careers (even a lengthy stint in their fan club – I was in Kate’s as well) there was plenty I didn’t, and their candor and insights proved to be terrific reading.  One of my greatest wishes is to one day meet Ann Wilson and thank her for the incredible music she has given us, and now, after reading their story, I feel I know her that little bit more.

Other books I really enjoyed but just didn’t make the list include:

The First Warm Evening of the Year by Jamie Saul
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Eviston
Live By Night by Dennis Lehane
Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne RayBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Canada by Richard Ford
Fantastic Four: Season One by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa
The Collective by Don Lee
Falling Backwards: A Memoir by Jann Arden

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Kate Bush, Music, Year-end lists | at 11:16 pm | 0 Comments
2nd August 2009
by Michael

Why I love Batwoman

Kate Kane is Batwoman

Kate Kane is Batwoman

As I begin working on this post’s companion piece, My favorite DC heroines, I started thinking about Batwoman, a newish DC character that has gotten a lot of attention, including a bunch of articles in the mainstream press, but not a whole lot of actual comic book time. What is it that has captured the medias attention, and more curious, what is it that has captured mine? The former is pretty easy: Batwoman was announced to be a lesbian even before she ever appeared in a comic book. The mainstream press jumped all over that; after all, we are talking about the Batman franchise, possibly the most successful franchise that DC owns. But is that all it took to pique my interest?

Well, to be honest, that was certainly a start. As a gay man who has long read comics and historically mourned the lack of gay or lesbian characters found in the medium, I was thrilled that such a prominent character would also be a lesbian. But was it just a media stunt, and would she be a stock character, lacking in depth? She appeared briefly in DC’s 2007 weekly series, 52, as a dark vigilante, socialite Kate Kane by day, masked adventurer by night, ex-girlfriend of Renee Montoya, soon to be the new Question. She was intriguing, but really didn’t get a whole lot to do. Certainly not enough to make me pine for more.

JH Williams III is THE artist for Batwoman

JH Williams III is THE artist for Batwoman

The she had a couple of appearances the following year in a Final Crisis mini-series that was actually about The Question and The Spectre. It was written by Greg Rucka, whose work I really quite like, but more importantly, it was drawn by JH Williams III. The name didn’t really ring a bell, and it wasn’t until I was reminded that this was the author of Alan Moore‘s Promethea title that I realized that I new the man’s work. More importantly, his work on Final Crisis: Revelations, and particularly on the character of Batwoman, that really caught my attention. The new Batwoman was dark, sexy, and not a little scary. Again, she was a supporting character, and didn’t actually have a whole lot of panel time, but I was hooked. When it was announced that she would star in the feature story of Detective Comics, DC flagship Batman title, I was there. Now we’re two issues in and it’s one of my favorite reads each month. Rucka and Williams III have their hooks in me and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

So how did this ‘not-a-Batman’ fan get hooked on Batwoman after a handful of appearances? Visually she is stunning. First of all, when it comes to superheroines, I’ve got a weakness for redheads (Medusa? Jean Gray?) Batwoman’s fiery read hair, and dramatic black and red costume are eye-catching and appealing. Her blood-red lips and heavy, practical boots, along with the tight leather outfit are just sexy as hell. And when she turns that scary, barely restrained rage on cowering criminals, it’s even more convincing than her more masculine counterpart. In the first two issues featuring Batwoman in Detective comics, Rucka teases us with a little bit of information, but wisely keeps us in the dark about a lot of Kate’s life. And yes, she is a lesbian, and it’s a part of her that is included in the story, but is not the focus. Just like Bruce Wayne was a playboy, Kate has relationships with women.

Now Batwoman is not eh first woman in the Bat Family that I’ve fallen for. Huntress and Oracle (Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl) are both favorites, but I’m not sure I’ve ever fallen so quickly for a new character in the way Rucka and Williams have got me hooked by Batwoman. And it appears that she has taken fandom by storm as well. Here’s hoping for a long, successful run featuring Batwoman, preferrably written by Greg Rucka and JH Williams III.

Don't mess with Batwoman

Don't mess with Batwoman

posted in Art, Authors, Comics | at 10:22 pm | 1 Comment
7th May 2009
by Scot

Visit from the Golden Pony

Last night, the golden pony came to Springfield, MA and pooped out a lovely evening for Michael and  I  me. (Thanks, Max.) We’re here for the Massachusetts Library Association annual conference and Michael, being Michael, lined up a truly stupendous array of guests to speak. So, last night we spent the late night hours closing down the hotel bar with:

I am so lucky that my husband is so fearless and is such a big dreamer. He gave me the wonderful gift of the opportunity to chat with Lynda and Thrity about menopause and to smoke with Talia and Michael Cunningham in the rain. Does that rock or what?

27th January 2009
by Michael

Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book Wins the Newbury Medal!

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book

I just got back from Denver where I attended the American Library Association’s Mid-Winter Conference.  Lots of things happen at Mid-Winter… mostly committee meetings… but among these meetings, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) chose the winner of the Newbury Medal, instituted in 1921 and awarded to the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year.  This year’s recipient was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Neil’s in good company, with past winners including Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia to name just a couple.

Me and Neil

Me and Neil

Readers of this blog know that The Graveyard Book was #3 book of 2008, certainly my #1 children’s book of the year.  Who knew my tastes would dovetail with the Newbury committee?  The Graveyard Book tells the tale of Nobody Owens,  a young boy whose family is murdered, and ends up being raised in a graveyard by the dead, much like Mowgli was raised by the animals of the jungle in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  It’s a wonderful story, an exciting fantasy adventure, and a powerful coming-of-age tale that is completely deserving of this honor.

Some of you may remember that I got my literary thrill last June at BookExpo America when i got to meet Mr. Gaiman, a thoroughly accomdating and generous chap who put up with my gushing and even posed for a picture with me.  You can read’s Neil’s amusing report on finding out about his Newbury win at his blog.  Oh yeah, and don’t miss CORALINE, the 3-D film adaptation of Gaiman’s outstanding young adult novel that opens in theaters near you on February 6.  Check out the first trailer for the film that Neil liked below.

posted in Authors, Books, Crush, Libraries, Year-end lists | at 9:16 am | 0 Comments
3rd January 2009
by Michael

Michael’s Top Books of 2008

Here are my top 20 books that I read in 2008.

bell

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip – Not much happens in the sleepy, seaside town of Sealey Head, but inside the baffling Ainslinn House there are mysteries aplenty.  The master of literary fantasy does it again with a complex tale of a spellbound household and the handful of people able to set them free.  Every McKillip novel is a special event for me, and this was no exception.

home

Home by Marilynne Robinson – For me, this companion to her Pulitzer- Prize-winning Gilead was in fact a more satisfying read.  Home looks at the complicated relationship between a brother and sister, two supporting characters in Gilead.  Robinson’s deft storytelling and lyrical language harkens back to her first novel Housekeeping in this powerful tale.

graveyard

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Gaiman puts his spin on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book when a toddler is raised to adulthood by the residents of a local graveyard after his family is murdered.  Deft imagination weaves with wry humor in a book that appeals to all ages.

condition

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh – Turner’s Syndrome is the central condition referred to in the story’s title, but 33-year-old Gwen, who hasn’t developed physically since she was thirteen, is not the only member of the McKotches family dealing with some sort of condition.  Haigh’s exploration of this dysfunctional New England family is compelling, original and real.

sweet

The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks – It was about time that I read Banks’ novel, which is the basis for my favorite film.  Banks delves more deeply into the damaged Upstate New York town whose residents are reeling from the effects of a bus accident that robbed them of most of their children.  He masterfully explores the themes of guilt, responsibility and truth in this marvelous novel.

fortune

The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey – A young woman’s life is explored through four different points-of-view:  her own, her best friend’s, her best friend’s husband, and her father’s.  Livesey weaves a sad but illuminating story about life and luck.

run

Run by Ann Patchett – Former Boston mayor Bernard Doyle hasn’t stopped mourning the loss of his wife, but he has raised his two adopted sons to be intelligent, well-loved young men.  Patchett pushes the boundaries of family and social class when a tragic accident in the snow leaves their lives forever changed.

andorra

Andorra by Peter Cameron – Cameron explores the tiny European country of Andorra with a languid style that imitates the novel’s hot summer afternoons, all the while weaving an intriguing mystery that seems like background human interest until pushing its way to the forefront of the story.

book1

The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer – A secret organization is searching for the long-missing murder weapon that Cain used to murder his brother… and somehow that murder weapon is tied to the gun that killed the father of the boy who eventually grew up to invent Superman.  Deftly weaving the dual tales of Cain and Able and Superman into the fabric of this modern-day thriller, Meltzer creates a surprisingly touching story about fathers and sons.

lion

A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire – Maguire used Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West to explore the misunderstood concept of evil in the magnificent Wicked.  Now, in A Lion Among Men, he uses Brrr, the Cowardly Lion, to examine the often misinterpreted concept of cowardice.

we

We Disappear by Scott Heim – Heim delves deeply into the troubled past of a woman battling cancer and an obssession with kdnapped children.  Scott returns home to rural Iowa to help his mother, but he’s got problems of his own.  Struggling with a drug addiction, he is unprepared to face the secrets he finds his mother has kept from him since childhood.

goldengrove

Goldengrove by Francine Prose – Prose explores the ramifications of grief on a young woman whose older sister dies suddenly on a lazy summer afternoon.  Part coming-of-age story, part family drama, Goldengrove tells a powerful tale with rich, complex emotion.

mothers

Of Men and Their Mothers by Mameve Medwed – With her trademark humor, Medwed explores the challenging relationships between mothers and the men in their lives.  Maisie Grey must deal not only with her ex-husband’s monster of a mother, she must avoid following in that woman’s footsteps when her son shows up with a new girlfriend she’s not sure she approves of.  Sweet and biting at the same time, Medwed delivers a real crowd-pleaser.

lie

Lie Down with the Devil by Linda Barnes – In the 12th installment of the Carlotta Carlyle series, Barnes does something amazing.  She brought this first-time reader up to speed while telling a compelling story involving mystery, romance, family drama and danger at a rapid pace.  This is one talented writer who makes me want to go back and read Carlotta’s 11 previous adventures.

passage

Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold – In this third installment of The Sharing Knife series, newly married couple Fawn and Dag must face the prejudices of both their people as they travel downriver on a single-minded mission to reeducate an entire civilization.  Bujold has created a complex romance in a fantasy setting that isn’t afriad to tackle difficult subjects.

Rounding out the Top 20 are:

The End of the Alphabet
by CS Richardson
The Thief Queen’s Daughter by Elizabeth Haydon
The Theory of Clouds by Stéphane Audeguy
The Murder Notebook by Jonathan Santlofer
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

posted in Authors, Books, Year-end lists | at 1:35 pm | 3 Comments
28th June 2008
by Michael

Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is a winner!

Cover Art for Neil Gaiman\'s The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman’s latest work for children coming out in September. Now I don’t remember what it was like to be 10 or 11, but his man in his forties loved this novel. No one writes books with appeal to all ages as well as Neil Gaiman. Borrowing a concept from Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which tells the story of an orphan raised in the jungle, The Graveyard Book features a toddler who wanders out of the house and into the graveyard after his family is brutally murdered, and is raised by the spirits and others beings who live there.

Young Bod (short for Nobody) is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a kindly couple who died childless, and watched over by Silas, a mysterious and powerful being who is neither alive nor dead. Bod learns the secrets of the graveyard, and things no living beings know. As he grows up, he begins to encounter the living from time to time, and a curiosity is sparked. All the while, Jack, the man who murdered his family, is hoping to correct his failure by finding and finishing of Bod as well.

Gaiman populates The Graveyard Book with all the sorts of mystical and fantastic creatures he is known for. Silas’ wonderful, Eastern European substitute guardian Miss Luprescu is surely my favorite, but from ghouls to witches and other denizens of the dead, there is something to astound and capture everyone’s imagination. Watch for this one when it’s published in September.

Me and Neil Gaiman at a HarperCollins PartyOf course, friends of mine will know I’ve got a long-standing admiration for Mr. Gaiman, and about a month ago, while attending BookExpo America in Los Angeles, I was able to meet and hang out with Mr. Gaiman not once, but twice!  The second time I even was so bold as to ask to have my picture taken with him.  It was a geeky thing to do, and I’m smiling way too hard in the photo, but at least I hvae it.  I’ve been reading Neil’s work since the 80’s when he broke into comics at DC with the Black Orchid miniseries.  Shortly after that Neil began what has become arguably his most popular work, The Sandman.  His work as a novelist began with the riotously fun Good Omens, co-written by Terry Pratchett.  He has since hit the NYT bestsellers’ list on his own with the titles American Gods and The Anansi Boys.   He has done screenplay work for such films as PRINCESS MONONOKE, MIRRORMASK, and BEOWULF.  His young adult novel Coraline has been adapted for the screen and is due out later this year.

posted in Authors, Books, Comics, Fantasy, Favorites, Reviews | at 8:49 am | 1 Comment
31st May 2008
by Michael

My BookExpo Moment

The adorable and talented Neil GaimanAs you may or may not know, I am in Los Angeles at the BookExpo America conference.  It’s my favorite professional conference that I attend, as it’s all about the publishing industry and books.  You get to meet and listen to tons of authors (if you so choose) and pick up tons of free books (if you so choose.)  I was really excited because I was finally (after 20 + years of admiration) going to see Neil Gaiman speak as part of a Children’s author breakfast along with Eoin Colfer, Sherman Alexie and Judy Blume.  The panel was terrific and Neil was a wonderful speaker.

So several hours later, I was in the HarperCollins booth with two colleagues for a meeting with our Library Marketing reps, the wonderful Virginia Stanley and Bobby Brinson.  We were chatting about various things (like the delicious cupcakes that HarperCollins were passing out) and hadn’t started the meeting yet, when I glanced over my shoulder and who should I see but… you guessed it, Neil Gaiman.  Well, I think I gasped when I turned back to the others and blurted out, “Oh my God, Neil Gaiman is here.”  Well, without even blinking, Virginia grabbed my arm and said, “Let me introduce you to him.”  And sure enough, a few minutes later, we were chatting.  It’s weird, I’m not usually “star-struck” when meeting authors, actors, filmmakers, etc.  I’ve gotten quite used to it through Chlotrudis and all that, but this was very different.  My heart was racing a little and I think I babbled (although Viriginia said I cam across very intelligent and composed if a little excited).  We chatted about him coming to Boston, about Black Orchid, his first work in comics, and then he offered to sign my book on the spot.  It was a lovely meeting; many, many thanks to Virginia.  He was just darling.

posted in Authors, Books, Comics, Crush, Work | at 10:45 am | 0 Comments
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