Just Giblets

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11th January 2015
by Michael

2014, the Year in Books, #’s 9 & 8

A local author creates a complex, character study masquerading as a thriller, and a inventive fantasy riff on a classic tale come in this year at #’s 9 & 8. These two books couldn’t be more different (except for their dark tone and intense female protagonists… okay, maybe there are more similarities than I first thought) and they appear on this list for different reasons. Elo’s book features strong, complex writing, and a deep exploration into character, while Paige’s book features an adventurous, inventive plot, filled with rich, vividly drawn characters. Just a peak into the variances of what makes a strong read for me.

North of Boston#9 – North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo

Boston-area author Elisabeth Brink has reinvented herself as Elisabeth Elo after an initial debut that focused on the interior life of a quirky heroine named Gillian Cormier-Brandenberg, in order to launch a dramatic series of suspense novels following the life of another woman with a somewhat complex name, Pirio Kasparov. That’s really where the similarities end. North of Boston certainly delivers on the suspense, but it is so much more than that weaving alcoholism, questionable parenting, the fishing industry, perfumery, complicated family relations, the questionable line between hunting and slaughter, and even the exploitation of indigenous cultures. It may seem like an everything but the kitchen sink approach, but in the skillful hands of Elo, it is in fact, a powerful, coherent story that resonates long after the final page is read.

I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but as I mentioned, this intricate story transcends simple characterization. What holds it together most effortlessly, is the character and voice of a bold new heroine. Pirio can be a little impulsive, and experience has taught her to withhold emotion, but she’s smart, tough and likable, and more than capable of carrying a novel, and as time will surely tell, a series.

Dorothy Must Die#8 – Dorothy Must Die by D. M. Paige

First in a series, Dorothy Must Die tells the story of Amy Gumm, another Kansas resident who finds herself dropped in Oz because of a tornado. Sadly, the Oz Amy finds herself in is a horrific reflection of the one we all grew to know through the wonder of the movies. This is Oz is ruled by a despotic hand, one that thinks nothing of torturing and killing anyone who displeases her. It is the hand of Dorothy, and the Order of the Wicked has decreed that she must die and that Amy must be the instrument that does it.

Expanding yet again on the universe of L. Frank Baum, Dorothy Must Die is imaginative, compelling, and yes, horrific. Billed as a young adult novel, I was surprised at the brutality faced by the characters in this book. Still it makes for a really strong read, and fans of fantasy, or the Oz books should give it a try.

posted in 2014, Books, Boston, Fantasy, Year-end lists | at 7:00 am | 0 Comments
10th January 2015
by Michael

2014, the Year in Books: #’s 11 & 10

Here’s a pair of books that really have very little in common other than the fact that their titles both begin with the letter “S” and they’re both excellent books that are among the best books I read in 2014! Neither are my usual fare either. #11 is a non-fiction science ebook, and #10 is Chick-Lit. Of course, the former is a book about bumblebees, one of my favorite animals, and the latter is written by a beloved soap opera, returning to writing, and showing off some top notch improvement.

A Sting in the Tale#11 – A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees by Dave Goulson

Bumblebees are among my favorite creatures, and Dave Goulson’s book is simply delightful. Packed with fascinating scientific and historical facts about bumblebees, Goulson also fills the book with charming anecdotes, and droll humor. As a British scholar, the focus of Goulson’s research is understandably centered around that country, and the once-ubiquitous English gardens that allowed the bumblebee to thrive for so many years. Goulson does follow the research far and wide, from South America to Tasmania. He also peppers the book with related informational tidbits on honeybees, butterflies, badgers, martins, echidnas, wasps. and all sorts of other creatures.

Goulson wraps up his popular scientific narrative by talking about the BBCT, or Bumblebee Conservation Trust, a charity devoted to the Bumblebee, that he started several years ago. He adroitly makes the larger connection of the importance of the bumblebee, and all the pollinators of the world, and our planet’s success.


#10 – Scared Scriptless by Alison Sweeney

Scared Scriptless is Alison Sweeney’s second novel set in Holllywood featuring a female protagonist who is involved in the entertainment business. You could label it chick lit, romance, or beach reading, and you would be correct, but its easy, comfortable and warm style really transcends genres and puts a smile on your face while you’re reading. When I’m reading Sweeney’s novels, I feel like I’m listening to her tell a story. I’m on the set of a busy television show shoot; I’m pitching a reality show to hard-nosed executives, and on a date with an impossibly handsome, incredibly popular television/movie star and dealing with all that entails. The details that Sweeney infuses into her novel, which can only come from her first person experience, translates to beautifully and seamlessly into the story that I really feel like I’m spending time with the author herself.

The plot is engaging enough without the Hollywood touches. Maddy Carson is the script supervisor (have you ever read anything about a script supervisor?) on a hit TV show — but is not comfortable with the Hollywood entertainment business life. She’s a down home gal, with deep roots in her family’s hometown in the mountains. When an opportunity presents itself to help her family and home community by pitching a reality show about her town, she’s tentative, but throws herself into the project, alongside her boss, Craig, who she is secretly dating. Then there’s this gorgeous actor who has just joined the show how is not so subtly pursuing her despite her “no actors” policy. Can the uber-organized Maddy reconcile her discomfort with Hollywood to become a real force to be reckoned with in the business? And will she figure out her love life despite her protestations against grand romantic gestures? And how many movie quotes will I catch as Maddy and her colleagues toss them about throughout the novel?

If you’re not looking for something serious and full of literary allusions, and you’re curious, even a little, about the mechanics of creating a TV show, give Scared Scriptless a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

posted in 2014, Books, Year-end lists | at 10:41 am | 0 Comments
8th January 2015
by Michael

2014, the Year in Books: #’s 13 & 12

The next two books on my top list are both new authors to me, and are the first two of several high-end speculative fiction titles on my list. It was a good year for me with science fiction. It was also a really good year for women authors, with 10 in the top 15 (and 13 in the top 19.)

duplex#13 – Duplex by Kathryn Davis

This is one unusual book. Kathryn Davis merges the tropes of science fiction (robots, sorcerers) with 50’s domestic drama. Mary’s neighborhood is populated by boys who play sports, and girls who trade cards. The robots who live next door are curious, but most of the time they retain their human shape. When the sorcerer drives down the street one day, Mary’s life, and the life of her neighbors, is changed forever. Then there’s that house by the ocean, where all sorts of confounding events occur. And just what happened to her school crush anyway?

I’m not sure I quite understand what Davis was getting at with Duplex, but I loved the tone and the structure of the book. The concepts are grand yet personal. It’s not the type of book where I necessarily needed to know exactly what was going on, but it was fascinating to read, and so entertaining, that I just let that all go. If you’re willing to trust you’ll have an interesting ride, you will want to give Duplex a try.

memory#14 – Memory of Water by Emmi Ita?ranta

A dark future, where potable water is scarce, and seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio struggles to learn the secrets of the past to determine how the world came to be the way it is. While learning to become a tea master and eventually take over for her father, Noria learns of the dangerous secret that puts her at risk with the government. She also discovers old technology that reveals even more secrets that she finally must act upon in the hopes that knowledge will help to change the world.

Emmi Ita?ranta is a talented writer, weaving together sentences that create stunning visuals. Memory of Water weaves and falls like flowing water ultimately seeking it’s destination. This is a somber tale, filled with foreboding, but ultimately there is a hopefulness infused into the resolution. Noria is a wonderful character, both reflective and proactive, and the future Emmi paints is intricate and fascinating.

posted in 2014, Books, Year-end lists | at 6:00 am | 0 Comments
7th January 2015
by Michael

2014, the Year in Books: #’s 14 & 15

snowThe Snow Queen#15 – The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham is a talented writer, and his prose is always a joy to read, but in his latest novel, The Snow Queen, I felt the story wasn’t quite fully realized. There are some intriguing ideas — around life, death, love, siblings, success, songwriting, caring — but it’s unclear what it all amounts to. In fact, re-reading some reviews of The Snow Queen I find it difficult to recall the book being described; it just didn’t stick with me.

Still, despite a slow start, Cunningham’s latest novel builds nicely and the threads do start to come together nicely in the last quarter of the book. Sadly, a Michael Cunningham novel only comes along once every few years, so it’s disappointing when they don’t all reach the heights that his previous work does. Definitely worth a read.

this#14 – This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

This Dark Road to Mercy is a good book. I enjoyed reading it. It moves along nicely and tells a good story about two young girls in North Carolina, Easter and Ruby, whose mother has died years after their father has abandoned them. They end up in a foster home awaiting word from grandparents they have never met living in Alaska, when their father, Wade, a former, promising baseball player, shows up with an idea to get them back. Trouble is, someone is after Wade, and his intentions are not good. Wiley Case does a nice job building some suspense, Easter’s voice is particularly strong. But I am not really sure what he was trying to say about fatherhood, and the parent/child relationship, and the ending left me vaguely unsatisfied. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it was a little shy of being a great read.

posted in 2014, Books, Year-end lists | at 6:00 am | 0 Comments
6th January 2015
by Michael

2014, the Year in Books: A Few Honorable Mentions

There’s nothing arbitrary about the number of books I chose to spotlight for my year-end review. I stop there I feel there is a natural cut-off. This year that break does come in at #15, but even there, of the 38 books I read this year, there were a few more that I felt deserved a mention on the blog. Maybe they didn’t rise to the very top, they were still notable for one reason or another and great reads all the same. Here they are, in alphabetical order by author: the-books-that-didn’t-make-the-top-but-were-still-notable!


The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore – As a big comic big fan, a bigger fan of superheroines, and a long-time fan of WonderWoman, you know I wasn’t about to pass up a book that explores that character’s secret history. Add to that an author with a pedigree in feminism and history, and I was bound to find this a fascinating read. Then, I found myself sitting next to Ms. Lepore at a Random House breakfast at BookExpo America where she introduced this book to a bunch of librarians, and we bonded over my Wonder Woman cellphone cover. All that and I haven’t even mentioned what a great book this was. Lepore talks about how the Wonder Woman comic book came to be, and how it led the feminist charge through most of the previous century, but she also explores Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Martson and the two women in his life, Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne, who served as inspiration and even co-creators of the Amazon Princess.  Marston and his unconventional family make for fascinating subjects, and they were, but call me superheroine-centric, I just wanted a little more Wonder Woman.


We Were Liars by E. Lockwood – This smash, young adult novel follows the lives of four teens as they spend summers on a private island off Martha’s Vineyard a la another famous, political family from real life. Seventeen-year-old Cady is our narrator as she looks back on the previous few summers on the island after a bizarre head injury robbed her of a season’s worth of memories. No one wants to tell her what happened, not her closest friends and cousins, not the little ones, not her mother, or aunts, and not even the boy who she thought was her boyfriend. All she knows is after the accident that robbed her of her memories, she stopped hearing from her fellow ‘liars,’ no matter how many e-mails she sent. We Were Liars is a engrossing read, with a nifty twist toward the end, but there’s only so much privilege I can read about before starting to roll my eyes. Fortunately, Lockwood is aware of this and rolls her authorial eyes in that direction as well.


The Arsonist by Sue Miller – I’d never read Sue Miller, but she was going to be a guest at an author panel I put together, and I always try to read the book of an author I will be hosting. Plus, the premise of The Arsonist appealed to me: a series of fires plague a resort town in New Hampshire, but the houses going up in flames only seem to belong to the summer residents; the year-round residents abodes seem safe. This is the backdrop of a family story where a woman returns from years working in Africa to find her aging parents having some difficulties. What starts as a family drama, a story about aging, and a backdrop of crime, evolves a little too much into a love story for me during the second half, but Miller’s a strong writer and I’m glad I gave this one a shot.



Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff – We lost one of our true talents in 2012, but he left us with a gift; his first novel. One that retained his sharp tongue, his sardonic wit, his discerning eye and his sympathetic heart. And the kicker? It’s entirely in verse! This is truly anoriginal and refreshing series of interconnected stories chronicling life, love and relationships throughout the 20th century. In addition to David’s poignant, acerbic, and witty storytelling skills, he has written the entire novel in verse, and included some beautiful illustrations by Seth. It’s a gorgeous design for a sweetly powerful novel by a talented writer who left us far too early.

posted in 2014, Books, Year-end lists | at 6:00 am | 0 Comments
5th January 2015
by Michael

2014, The Year in Reading: Graphic Novels

SagaIn preparation for my list of the best books I read in 2014, I wanted to call out a particular category that deserves mention, but didn’t feel right to include on the list proper, and that is the graphic novel, or more specifically, the collected editions of monthly comics. I’m a big comic book reader, and most of the reading I do in this genre is of individual issues on a monthly basis. Occasionally there is a title I’ve missed that I later catch up with when they are collected and published in bound editions. If I included these collected editions as part of this list, then Saga, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 would have made the Top 5.

The latest ongoing work by notable comic writer Brian K. Vaughan, with dynamic assistance from illustrator Fiona Staples, is a science fiction space opera cum Romeo & Juliet. A soldier and a rebel from opposite sides of two warring planets, fall in love and flee with their infant daughter with the governments of both factions, and a particularly a couple of wild bounty hunters on their tails. Saga is just that: a prose narrative of achievements and events in the history of a personage, family, etc. Sagas are all about heroism, and while there is something inherently heroic about Alana and Marko’s forbidden love and their refusal to follow the prejudiced and hateful viewpoints of their respective worlds, their heroism is shown on a much smaller scale, and that is they desire to raise their daughter despite the odds against them.

sagav1Vaughan, whose work in such comic titles as Y: The Last ManEx Machina,  Runaways and the stand-alone graphic novel, Pride of Baghdad, is known for this thoughtful explorations into the human condition, while telling a compelling adventure story, whether in the context of a dystopian society, a world of super-heroes, or against the backdrop of war.  His partner and co-owner of Saga is talented illustrator Fiona Staples, whose imaginative designs of alien races and starships lends both a whimsical fantasy and hard science fiction element to her work. Her gorgeous, hand-painted covers, and hand-worked lettering are also widely-praised by critics and fans alike.

If you’re a fan of high adventure, fantasy or science fiction, but not a comic reader, I would recommend you give Saga a try. If you’re a comic fan, but not so hot on the science fiction/fantasy elements, i would also suggest you pick up Saga, Volume 1. This is top notch work, and worthy of a place in my list of Top Reads of 2014. I only gave it a category all its own to make room for more books to spotlight.

posted in 2014, Books, Comics, Year-end lists | at 8:52 am | 0 Comments
11th May 2014
by Michael

Little Seen Film of the Day – Last Life in the Universe

Last Life in the UniverseSurreal and dreamlike, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE features strikingly memorable imagery and strong performances by leads Tadanobu Asano, Sinitta Boonyasak, and Laila Boonyasak.  Asano is our central character, a librarian named Kenji, who is trying to commit suicide but is continuously interrupted until he ends up bonding with Noi, whose twin sister Nid is killed in a horrific car accident.  Kenji’s self-absorbed brother Yukio is yakuza — a Japanese gangster, has slept with his employer’s daughter and now has an assassin on his tail.  All this action also involves Noi and Nid, but when Nid is killed in the accident, Noi and Kenji spend time in Noi’s disastrously unkempt beach house.  Kenji spends his time cleaning the house, which Noi perceives as the house cleaning itself, but the two gradually fall in love until life, in form of the yakuza, intrude in their pseudo-idyllic fantasies.

I had seen Ratanaruang’s previous film, MONRAK TRANSISTOR, which was a wild, surreal musical, but he pulls it all together for LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, which, while difficult to follow the plot, and decipher what is real and what is fantasy, comes together visually and emotionally as a powerful, and satisfying film.  Both Asano and Sinitta Boonyasak were nominated for Chlotrudis Awards for their roles, as was the film and the director, but on the whole, the American public missed this bizarre film completely.  Highly recommended.

posted in Memes, Movies, Nostalgia | at 6:29 am | 0 Comments
10th May 2014
by Michael

Little Seen Film of the Day – Kitchen Party

Kitchen PartyRevolving around two very different yet linked parties, Gary Burns’ sophomore film, KITCHEN PARTY cannily depicts the behaviors of suburban teens, and the more bitter and biting actions of their parents.  Scott decides to throw a party while his parents are out at a party of their own.  The problem is, Scott’s compulsive mother, whose discrete vacuum pattern on the carpeting is deliberate, and would be telling if the party spread any further than the kitchen, hence the film’s title.  The party includes Scott’s friends, hanging out, drinking, and the usual teen antics, and his girlfriend, Tammy, who plays a dangerous adolescent game flirting openly with Scott’s arch-nemesis, his brother Steve, who spends hours in the basement listening to loud rick & roll music.

Across town, several of the kids’ parents get together, get a little drunker than their kids, and things get even messier.  Their party runs a fine balance between the inadvertent, and yet pop-culture symbolism of over-sharing, and the sad fact that these people have very little to say to each other.  Instead, a fight ensues when Scott’ father suggests that another’s parent’s child is gay.  Naturally events at both parties spiral out of control, and it all wraps up with a terrifically absurd finale that seems somehow fitting.

KITCHEN PARTY features a young Scott Speedman in the lead role, who has gone on to enjoy a busy career in indie and Hollywood films, and television as well.  Girlfriend Tammy is played by Laura Harris, who also gained steady work including a lengthy stint on the television show “24.”

posted in Canada, Memes, Movies, Nostalgia | at 6:52 am | 0 Comments
9th May 2014
by Michael

Little Seen Film of the Day – Hollow Reed

Hollow ReedHOLLOW REED is a tough, British, family drama from 1996 about child abuse.  Oliver lives with his mother Hannah, and her boyfriend Frank.  He still spends time with his father, Martyn, a general practitioner, who becomes suspicious of Frank after Oliver suffers a series of mysterious injuries which he cannot adequately explain.  Eventually, Martyn is convinced of Frank’s abuse, despite Oliver’s silence, and Hannah’s refusal to believe such a thing, and he begins legal proceedings to obtain sole custody.  At this point, Hannah’s lawyer brings up Martyn’s gay relationship with Tom to prove that he is an unsuitable father figure.

Director Angela Pope brings up a lot of tough and frustrating issues in this well-constructed film written by Neville Bolt and Paula Milne.  Hal Hartley alum, Martin Donovan, is remarkable, British accent and all, as Martyn, a role quite unlike what he’d played to that point.  The rest of the cast, including Joley Richardson, Ian Hart and Jason Flemyng are all outstanding, especially young Sam Bould as Oliver, whose stoic, silence is powerfully offset by the hurt, fear, and confusion in his eyes.  It’s unfortunate that Pope’s filmmaking career didn’t go much further than this powerful film.

posted in Homo, Memes, Movies, Nostalgia | at 8:11 am | 0 Comments
8th May 2014
by Michael

Little Seen Film of the Day – Suspicious River

Suspicious RiverThis Canadian drama directed by Lynne Stopkewich (who made another great little seen film, KISSED) was based on a novel by Laura Kasischke.  It’s a harrowing tale of sexual dysfunction and violence centered on Leila, the hotel desk clerk of a remote roadside hotel.  Leila offers the hotel customers sex in exchange for money, and through this activity she meets Gary, who gets pretty rough with her during their first encounter.  When he returns to apologize, she accepts, finding that she enjoys being roughed up during sex.  Through a series of events, Leila and Gary grow closer, and her trust in him grows.

Leila’s only confidante is a young girl who plays around the inn.  This girl comes from a difficult family life and Leila is drawn to her.  As the film spirals to its intense climax, hidden secrets are revealed and Leila finds herself in deadly danger.  A revelation from her past shines light on her recent destructive behavior and she must fight for her life.

Stopkewich tackles pretty heave subject matter, and the film’s star, Molly Parker shows in this early film in her career, that she’s not afraid to tackle yet another taboo subject.  She turns in a powerful performance in this surreal and difficult film.

posted in Canada, Memes, Movies, Nostalgia | at 6:49 am | 0 Comments
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