Just Giblets

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

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
10th July 2009
by Scot

Forever Plaid, Not So Bad. (Not so hot, either.)

Forever PlaidThanks to Chris Caggiano and some lady at NCM Fathom (a division of National CineMedia), Michael and I were able to see the one-time-only 20th Anniversary Special “cinecast” of Forever Plaid. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it. It’s a four person musical that opened Off-Broadway in 1990 and ran for many years. (The 20th anniversary, presumably, celebrates one of its pre-New York limited runs in smaller theaters.)

The premise of the show is that a quartet of clean-cut young men, on their way to pick up snazzy plaid tuxedos to top off their burgeoning swing/jazz vocal career, are killed when their Mercury crashes into a busload of Catholic schoolgirls who were headed to watch the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. We are able to watch them perform the show they always meant to do because they have one tiny reprieve from the afterlife. That’s about it for the plot and it always has been. It’s basically a cute excuse to perform a lot of nice 50′s and 60′s tight harmony numbers well, with a wink and a nudge.

The show is now pretty much a staple of regional dinner theatres, and truth be told, that’s probably where it should stay. It’s a cute show and with the right voices, makes for a satisfying dessert. My 86-year-old (I think that’s right) father-in-law would love it. My grandma would have loved it too, if I’d taken her twenty years ago. But alas, she passed several years ago. I was really hoping to love it too because I really dig the sounds of The Hi-Lo’s, who I consider the masters of this kind of tight harmony vocal acrobatics. But in the end, the film and associated live-broadcast performance left me feeling like I’d watched a fun HBO theatre special from 1980, like Annette O’Toole in Vanities or Margot Kidder in Bus Stop — an amusing two hours, but kinda like “donuts for dinner.”

So here I sit, wanting something a little meteor meatier. Why? The voices were just fine. The guys were mostly coming across very sincere, so the jokes played just fine. Some jokes were pretty lame, and the constant bumbling was a bit much to stomach outside of a dinner theatre setting, but I’m not one to quibble about that.

But first of all, the evening was presented as if it were going to be a live broadcast of the stage show. At least, that’s what I thought from the trailer we saw Tuesday at the Harvard Square Lowes. Instead, what we got was a live introduction from Fred Willard at some unknown theater in Los Angeles rambling on about how awesome it was that this was being broadcast in 500 cinemas in the U.S. and Canada. Then they showed a movie. A movie staged and shot months before. Then, the live broadcast returned to Fred Willard’s theater and — to their credit — the cast members performed some live numbers.

Second, the voices were lovely, but they did not have the energy or punch of The Hi-Lo’s. That’s just me, I know, raising my expectations based on a really high bar. The Hi-Lo’s were named that for a reason: a really, really wide range of pitch, including a first tenor that sounded like a freaking coronet. (If you haven’t heard them, lemme play you a few tracks.) Besides a few bass-heavy numbers, the Plaids were more like The Four Freshmen or … I dunno, the Ink Spots. More suited for recordings or concerts than dynamic theatre. In fact, it wasn’t until the after-film live numbers that I could even hear the high tenor wail and then I think it wore on him cause he started to crack or go flat after the first couple numbers.

Third, the direction of the film was just awful. Sorry, but you know how I said it was like an 80′s HBO theatre special? Let me amend that by saying it was like an 80′s HBO theatre special run through Adobe After Effects. Someone didn’t trust the actors to keep our attention and insisted on inserting all kinds of graphics and animation over the performers. Particularly distracting was the sheet music frame around the Scottish number and the floating business cards around their event-related medley. Ick. But what do you expect? The director was Stuart Ross, the man who conceived, wrote, and directed the stage show. All he’s credited with directing on IMDB are this film, one episode of Frasier, and one episode of Veronica’s Closet. It looks like Dad ran Baby’s first birthday through some cheesy iMovie effects.

And finally, the film boasts that it has original cast members from the stage show. Well, David Engel, who plays the bass vocalist Smudge is pretty cool. He’s my favorite performer, all told, in the film. He’s adorably goofy, but not too annoying, and gets an awesome “stud moment” late in the show. But Stan Chandler, who plays the first tenor Jinx is looking… well, like he should be 20 years younger. Oddly, so does Larry Raben, who plays Sparky, the “cut up” of the group. I’m not sure why he was cast, since he was not in the original cast and he’s playing the role created by one of my favorites — Jason Graae. Not sure what Jason’s been up to lately. He must be lying low. The fourth member, Frankie was played by Daniel Reichard of Jersey Boys fame. He was pretty good, but I can’t say I have the same attraction to him that Chris does. He’s a little too pretty.

The evening was not bad by any means, however. There is a singalong component to Forever Plaid, which I love under most contexts. I was singing my lungs out to “Matilda” along with a few others in the audience. And the after-film performance had a bit of that too. It was kind of difficult, since there were only 17 people in our audience at the Fenway 13 cinema (including the four of us who got in on Chris’s press comps), and the live performance tried to divide us into four-part harmony. But WTF. I took the high road and sang the first tenor in falsetto because there were so few people there to be embarrassed in front of.

But there were two really special parts of the evening. In the post-film performance, the Plaids trot out — OMG — Carol Effing Channing!!! She sings “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” admonishing the audience for applauding after the first verse because “I’m not DZHUN yeyat!” And then the Plaids try to get her to teach “us” how to sing “Sh-boom, Sh-boom. Ya-da-da-da-da, Ya-da-da-da.” But she’s unsure if she’s singing the right number of “Ya-da-da’s.” Priceless. And God knows, this may be the closest I get to seeing her live before she leaves us!

The other special part was getting to meet Chris and his friend Victor, who he knows from the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. Such charismatic men, both! At one point, I turned to Michael to explain that Forever Plaid was a bit like Nunsense, but since it had very little plot, it was more like Oil City Symphony. Chris grabbed my hand and said, “You just said Oil City Symphony. We are going to get on just fine.” Or something like that. My heart melted in a totally non-adulturous way.

Here’s to the power of digital media. It can stream Fred Willard live to 17 people in Boston. Or it can make really awesome friends.

posted in 1980s, Friends, Movies, Musicals, Reviews, Theatre, Web | at 1:35 am | 3 Comments
8th November 2008
by Scot

Pups Who Love Too Much

Quite by accident, I found myself watching a Canadian, computer-generated children’s cartoon called Turbo Dogs this afternoon. I’m a little concerned about the behavior of these professional race car-driving pooches.

In the segment I watched, one pup, appropriately named Stinkbert, is disturbed to realize that he may have put the damper on a fellow cur’s birthday celebration because of his foul smell. See, Stinkbert’s got a rather significant problem, not only with hygeine, but with behavior. His offensive odor is not caused by, you know, anything internal, but rather because of his compulsive need to roll in refuse. Yes. Stinkbert is a garbage addict.

Once he realizes the apparent effect his problem has on his dear friends, Stinbert — to his credit — decides to get clean. Literally. He learns to bathe, disinfect his home, and with much difficulty, even withstand violent compulsive urges to roll around in the trash. However, since no one helps him with behavior modification, he’s left with nothing to do but sit bored, contemplating the satisfaction he’s denying himself every second.

Eventually, Stinkbert overhears his friends’ plans to meet at the municipal dump. Unable to restrain himself any longer, he speeds off in his convertible, intent on a full hedonistic waste binge. Though one canine races alongside him pleading with him to come to his senses and reconsider, he blasts off in a dangerous burst of speed and reaches the junk pile where his remaining friends are urging him not to enter.

Obviously distraught by his conflicting desires, he implores them to stand aside, claiming “I am sorry. I tried to get clean for you, but I’ve just gotta be me!” His comrades eventually relent because they say that they never wanted him to change. In fact, they have been at the dump setting up a “stink party” for Stinkbert to celebrate his valiant attempts to get clean. Stinkbert immediately commences rolling in discarded fish parts vowing to get clean once again, but not for his or his friends’ well being. Rather, he wants to repeat the torturous exercise again because it makes the high of getting smelly all the more potent.

The vignette ends with the enabling pooches placing clothespins on their snouts so they may continue to ignore their loved one’s serious problem.

Sad. That’s all I can say. I wish Stinkbert well and hope that some day he finds within himself the courage and strength to overcome his addiction. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

9th September 2008
by Michael

Books I’ve Read Recently

Okay, it’s not funny videos or swollen uvulae, but it’s time for me to report in on some books I’ve read lately.

A Lion Among Men

A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire – Brrr, the Cowardly Lion. is the protagonist in A Lion Among Men, Gregory Maguire’s third installment of “The Wicked Years.” After offering up an alternate, heroic take on Elphaba, the erstwhile Wicked With of the West in Wicked, then exploring the identity of Liir, Elphaba’s rumoured son in Son of a Witch, Gregory returns to a well-known popular figure, who is his hands shares more with Elphaba than you might expect. Like his one-time green nemesis, Brrr is an extremely complex character, not one you might think would make a very good hero to a story upon first reflection. In many ways you would be right: while Elphaba’s story was surprising in its heroism, Brrr’s story tends to move in the other direction. Obstensibly on a mission for the powers-that-be in the Emerald City, Brrr is seeking out any who had connections with Elphaba, and more importantly, the Grimmerie, Elphaba’s magical spellbook. He finds Mother Yackle, and ancient crone who seems to defy death, but who has lived on the fringes of Elphaba’s life. Before Yackle will share any of her knowledge with Brrr however, she demands that he share with her his life story. Grudgingly, and not always intentionally, he reveals a life spent searching, fleeing, and often being held responsible for circumstances he has had the bad luck to peripherally involved with. His sobriquet, “The Cowardly Lion” follows him and gives shape to his reputation. As more of his person is revealed, we are alternately moved by his plight and disappointed with his choices, but perhaps the whole point of this novel is to find Brrr redemption? One review I read thought A Lion Among Men was book that felt like one long set-up for the next installment. I certainly did not feel that. Brrr’s story is worth telling in its own right, but the final segment does weave itself into the Wicked mythos that Gregory is building so wonderfully, that a follow-up novel, should there be one, would certainly be high on my reading list.

Excerpts from reviews of books I have read recently. Full reviews available at the Reader’s Circle.

Lie Down with the Devil

Lie Down with the Devil by Linda Barnes – In Lie Down with the Devil Carlotta takes a simple case where a distraught young woman needs her fiancee followed to prove his fidelity. The case goes horribly awry, and the client ends up dead… and not who she said she was. Not only that, but the case seems tied into Carlotta’s personal life, as her fiancee, tied to the mafia, and hiding out abroad ends up connected to the murdered young woman. Barnes does a terrific job weaving the drama of Carlotta’s personal life with the particulars of the case giving us a solid, traditional detective novel mixed with a nice bit of personal drama. I look forward to reading more from Linda Barnes.

Passage

Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold – Bujold continues to deepen the characters of Dag and Faun, particularly with the latter, whose role in this tale is beginning to grow more complex. By serving as both a beacon and an anchor for Dag, Faun illustrates how important such a seemingly passive role truly is. The supporting characters in Passage are lots of fun as well, with Whit gaining a little maturity as he sees his younger sister out in the real world. Berry, their flatboat’s Captain, shows Faun a bold, aggressive strength that she had rarely seen in farmer women. Remo and Barr, a young pair of Lakewalkers who slowly become converts to Dag’s mission, and the rest of their ragtag crew provide variety and story fodder making Passage an entertaining and satisfying read.

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh – Jennifer Haigh’s The Condition draws a portrait of an emotionally reserved family that has spent years holding each other apart. It begins in 1976 during the annual summer vacation on Cape Cod, when the McKotch patriarch Frank notices that his 13-year-old daughter Gwen still hasn’t reached puberty while her younger cousin has. The resulting medical exploration and discovery that Gwen suffers from Turner’s Syndrome, a condition that will keep her in the body of a little girl, tears Frank and his wife Paulette apart and sets a course for their three children away from them. Oldest brother Billy is successful and emotionally distant. The details of his private life are a mystery to all but Gwen. Gwen’s life is even more shrouded in the unknown as she refuses to discuss her personal life with anyone. Youngest brother Scott wastes his teen education on pot-smoking and finds himself in a soul-killing job and a bad marriage…  …If you read one book on family dysfunction this year, make sure it’s Jennifer Haigh’s The Condition.

The Film Club by David Gilmour – Over the course of three-plus years, the father and son share conversations on a wide range of subjects, and gradually, Jesse develops an entire language around discussing film that many adult film lovers never attain. Could there be a future for Jesse in film criticism? Perhaps, but by the end of the book, it seems that Jesse is striving for a career as part of a rap/hip hop duo. There is a curious lack of consequence in Gilmour’s recounting of these years, and a rather heavy importance placed on young Jesse’s incipient romantic life. Gilmour’s memoir is highly readable and well written. The observations he makes about life as related to movies are interesting and sometimes nicely wrought. Still, there’s a discomforting sense of privilege steeped in this tale, and a nearly alamring telescoing of viewpoint. Besides an occasional mention of his wife, and a slightly more frequent mention of his ex-wife (and Jesse’s mother) the book lacks any other perspectives. In fact, I was quite surprised to read in the author’s note that Gilmour had a grown daughter! While many might enjoy this readable memoir, there are a few things that turned me off so I can’t really recommend it.

The Book of Lies

The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer – It’s an ambitious synopsis: The Book of Lies explores the world’s first murder, that of Abel by his brother Cain, and draws a connection with Justin Siegel, the creator of Superman, whose father was gunned down when Justin was a little boy. If only Justin’s father was invulnerable to bullets, think of how his life would have turned out differently? The central character in this novel is Cal, a fallen FBI agent who now spends days with his partner Roosevelt, helping out the homeless in Florida. When they come across an apparent vagrant that turns out to be Cal’s long-estranged father, his life turns upside-down and he ends up on a wild race staying just second ahead of a relentless pursuit from both sides of the law. On the one side is a ruthless killer, marked with the brand of Cain, wearing the uniform of a policeman, who will stop at nothing to obtain that which Cal is hunting for. On the other side is Naomi, an FBI agent who mistakenly thinks Cal killed her partner. All Cal has going for him is his father, whom he doesn’t trust, and Serena, a new age yoga instructor who may or may not be sleeping with his father. That and his own wits and training, and a healthy does of curiosity.

As the tension winds up and the chase gets hotter, Meltzer taut plot keeps thing humming, but in the end, it is the surprising emotional denouement that really touched me. In the end, The Book of Lies is about family, and the way we tell stories. It all unfolds like magic in the hands of a master craftsman. You were right, Brad, I’m a convert.

Volk’s Game by Brent Ghelfi – Brent Ghelfi writes thrillers set in modern-day Russia. They are hyper-violent, in-your-face, complicated tales set against a massive political power that is still finding its legs after the fall of communism. And Brent knows what he’s talking about…  …In the opening pages of Volk’s Game, Volk is asked what he knows about art, and the answer is not much. By the end of the novel, Volk knows a great deal more, and he’s lost a lot because of it. It’s a powerful story, and even though I was getting impatient with all of the reversals and intrigues about three-quarters of the way through, I can tell a good thriller when I read one.

Goldengrove by Francine Prose – Francine Prose’s forthcoming novel Goldengrove, coming out in September, is a poignant coming-of-age tale about a thirteen-year-old girl whose family endures a terrible tragedy, and the summer they spend they almost unravel. Nico’s family lives in Upstate New York on the shores of an idyllic lake. Her older sister Margaret is the star of the family, with a lovely voice and a possible career as a singer in her future. She is poised and beautiful, with the adoration of everyone, including her younger sister Nico. The two watch old movies, imitating the actors, and sharing secrets. Aaron, Margaret’s artist boyfriend, is not accepted by her parents, so Nico covers for her older sister so the two can be together.

As tragedy strikes at the beginning of the summer, Nico finds herself drowning in misery, unable to pull herself out of it, and she is not alone. Prose skillfully shows how the entire family copes with grief all the while keeping the focus sharply on Nico. With a few neat nods to old movies, particularly one Hitchcock film, Goldengrove is a wonderful read that is both literary and readable.

posted in Books, Reviews | at 8:17 pm | 0 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
15th June 2008
by Michael

A Round-Up of Recent Reads

Of Men and Their Mothers Of Men and Their Mothers by Mameve Medwed – “Medwed writes with clarity and humor, and even as Maisie’s life seems to falling apart around her, we never worry too much, because things always seem to work out for the best in a Medwed novel. But what makes her work so satisfying is that those happy endings are never cheap or unearned. Maisie works hard for her happy life, and we can do naught but cheer her on when she makes it.”

DustDust by Elizabeth Bear – “Bear is adept at writing big, complex sci fi sagas such as this. She also ignores convention with regard to sexuality and relationships, having her characters love come in varied forms. Bear is clearly talented, but some of she may be mixing in a few too many elements, cluttering her story to the point of distraction.”

The Perfect WaiterThe Perfect Waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer – “There is a lot of restraint on display, and plenty of control just waiting to snap. Sulzer and his translator John Brownjohn do a great job with language to convey the conflicting desires simmering just under the surface of these characters.”

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – “Garth writes the family relationships and the emotional scenes nicely, which is why so many people respond to the novel and why people are calling it a tear-jerker. While Enzo and Denny are bonded, my favorite part of the book was the way Enzo’s relationship with Eve develops. It’s tentative at first, yet grows into some of the most powerful moments in the novel.”

The House on Fortune StreetThe House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey – “Livesey has a strong sense of place (the book takes place in London, Edinburgh, and across the British countryside) and character, and weaves a powerfully emotional story as well. For adult drama, Livesey is master.”

AndorraAndorra by Peter Cameron – “Cameron has created a marvelous batch of eccentric characters around whom sadness seems to hover like a vapor. There are moments of brilliant honesty even as secrets are kept close to the heart, and moments of sublime revelation. Andorra makes an already sparkling body of work including The Weekend, The City of My Final Destination and Someday This Pain will be Useful to You shine even brighter.”

The SomnambulistThe Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes – “Ultimately striving for a Neil Gaimanesque dark fantasy, The Somnambulist misses more than it hits, but judging from the first third of this tale, there’s some real talent there.”

The Thief Queen\'s DaughterThe Thief Queen’s Daughter by Elizabeth Haydon – “Fantasy series have to work really hard to keep me engaged nowadays, and I’m pleased to say that Haydon’s The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme has me hook, line and sinker.”

posted in Books, Reviews | at 1:02 pm | 0 Comments
22nd September 2007
by Michael

Peter Cameron Scores with a Coming of Age Novel for Teens

Someday this pain will be useful to youPeter Cameron is not an overly prolific author, but I do savor each of his works when they are published. His latest novel, Someday this pain will be useful to you, is an elegant coming-of-age tale about 18-year-old James. Living in Manhattan, disdainful of people his age, enamored of the idea of buying a big house in the midwest, James Sveck has a wry, if immature sense of humor and an annoying propensity to focus on correct grammar when engaged in conversation.

James parents aren’t completely equipped to help James navigate this tricky transition from high school to college. His mother has just returned from Vegas after her third marriage… without her husband. His father is concerned that when James orders something pasta instead of steak in the executive cafeteria he comes across as faggy. When James runs away from a school trip to DC, he ends up seeing a psychiatrist, who he challenges at every turn, but in a refreshing turn, is unable to outwit. James has also got a crush on the man who works with him at his mother’s gallery, but when a case of poor judgment alienates him, he is left with only his aging grandmother, who he adores, to turn to for solace.

Cameron has created a unique, teen voice in Someday this pain will be useful to you, one that rings true, and is able to balance the many portraits of suburban and rural voices of youth in literature. His prose is economical and graceful, and his resolution satisfying without answering all of life’s questions.

posted in Books, Reviews | at 11:23 am | 0 Comments
22nd July 2007
by Michael

That’s a Wrap for Gail Simone

Birds of PreyOkay, I’m going to get a little geeky fanboy on y’all with this post, but this week’s batch of comic books was so kick-ass I just felt the need to write about it a little. Specifically, a comic called “Birds of Prey.” “Birds of Prey” follows the story of Barbara Gordon (ex-Batgirl) and her field operatives, generally female superheroes who work with her to stop crime. If you’re wondering why the former Batgirl just doesn’t go out into the field and stop crime herself, you need a little bit of background.

Back when Barbara was still running around in tights as Batgirl, she ran afoul of the Joker, who shot her, damaging her spine and paralyzing her legs. Not one to give up, Barbara used her past experience as a librarian (and is that not the coollest thing?) she became Oracle, a master of the information highway, hacking into ultra-protected, secure, government sites, linking the world’s superheroes and providing them information, and monitoring newsfeeds from around the world among many other things. Since the wheelchair did cut somewhat into her mobility, she relied on trusted field agents to help her with her mission.

“Birds of Prey” tells Barbara’s continuing story, along with that of her operatives, among whom are Black Canary, Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Catwoman, Manhunter, Big Barda, and many, many more. For the past several years, “Birds of Prey” has been under the authorial guidance of Gail Simone, who took a book that already had a small, devoted following, and turning it into one of the mainstays of superhero comics today. A rare comic that thrived with a largely female cast. Under Gail’s assured hand, “Birds of Prey” was guaranteed to be a fun, well-constructed read.

Birds of Prey #108This latest issue, #108, was Gail’s farewell to the book. Gail is moving onto bigger things (one of DC Comics’ flagship titles, and one in need of her assured touch — “Wonder Woman”) but her affection for Babs and her friends is all-too evident. In wrapping up a multi-issue storyline, Gail puts the control of the Birds of Prey team into question, as Oracle’s long-time rival, Spy Smasher attempts to take over the operation. Oracle stands up to Spy Smasher, putting aside her insecurities in a rough-and-tumble fight where she calls upon her training as Batgirl, and the rigorous upper-body workouts she has continued to put the beat-down on her rival. Then, to insure that Spy Smasher doesn’t get any ideas for revenge, Oracle’s many friends (and the two double-page spreads Gail’s terrific artist, Nicola Scott renders for this moment are a fanboy’s dream) make a lovely appearance of support. After only being gone for handful of issues, the appearance of Black Canary, Barbara’s staunchest ally and one of her closest friends is both nostalgic and a testament to the legacy Gail leaves with the title. The book ends with an emotional moment whereby Barbara reconnects with her humanity, and her need to help others and reaches out to a troubled teenager code-named Misfit.

So, the fans of “Birds of Prey” bid you a sad farewell, Gail. You’ve provided us with year’s of entertainment for which we appreciate. You’ve taken some mainly ignored, sometimes mistreated characters and let them truly come into their own and shine, allowing them some much-needed time in the spotlight to build them to new levels. While it’s sad to see you leave the Birds, I am beside myself with the thought of your “Wonder Woman.” Onward and upward as they say. As for the Birds, after a short run by Tony Bedard, a writer I am not overly familiar with, Sean McKeever takes over. I’ve enjoyed Sean’s work on “The Inhumans” mini-series, and the X-Men title, “Mystique.” I’m looking forward to his take on Barbara and her pals. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

posted in Comics, Reviews | at 11:03 am | 2 Comments
14th July 2007
by Michael

Ambitious New Novel by Sheri S. Tepper

The MargaretsSherri Tepper is a prolific writer of both science fiction and fantasy. Her latest novel is an ambitious work the is for-the-most-part a success. The Margarets takes place far in the future. Margaret is a twelve-year old girl living on Mars’ moon Phobos with her parents. Terrans have for the most part destroyed the Earth through overpopulation and much of the population has abandoned the planet for colonies on other worlds. However interstellar races who advanced earlier than Earthians have been keeping an eye on them. There is some indecision as to whether or not the human race should be allowed to continue to exist.

Some of the races who sit in judgment of humanity are benevolent, while others are vile, living only for torture, pain and cruelty. The former have set in motion a plan to prove that Earthians are worthy, and in the process, give them a gift to help them mature as a race. Central to this plan in young Margaret. As a child, Margaret invented six different aspects of herself, imaginary playmates, to keep loneliness at bay as the only child on the colony. There was Wilvia, the Queen; Naumi, the warrior; a spy, a healer and more. When Margaret and her parents are sent back to earth, and then several years later, when Margaret is forced to leave the planet forever, her other selves are lost to her. Yet in reality, and unveknownst to Margaret, each of her six other selves follow a different path and flourish on different colonies, some finding great hardship and pain, while others have families and find love.

In the end, Margaret must bring all her selves together to help save the human race, with the help of some pretty remarkable beings created out of Tepper’s incredibly fertile imagination. The dozens of races and beings Tepper creates in The Margarets is impressive, and there is very little that seems tired or familiar. My main complaint comes with such a large cast and massive landscape that some areas seem glossed over or too quickly resolved. Already clocking in at just over 500 pages, The Margarets could have used a couple hundred more to truly explore Tepper’s ideas.

posted in Books, Reviews | at 3:52 pm | 0 Comments
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