Friday, November 30, 2012

274. BOOK TOUR: Arn? Narn. by Bruce Meisterman

Arn? Narn. by Bruce Meisterman  (US) only

Pages: 165
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 15, 2012
First Published: Oct. 1, 2012
Publisher: John Gosslee Books
Genre: photo-documentary, coffee table book, fishing industry, Newfoundland
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "When you're twenty years ahead of the curve, it really doesn't matter that you're right."

Publisher's Summary:  "Arn? Narn. is photographer Bruce Meisterman s first book. Arn? Narn. chronicles Canada s Newfoundland Island fishing culture on the road to its unfortunate demise. The black and white photography and interviews conducted by Meisterman showcase a community earmarked by minimalist living and deep community bonds, but broken by the cod's disappearance."

Bruce Meisterman is a photographer and the beauty of this book is in the photography.  The text is sparse.  Each chapter starts with a minimal yet informative narrative on topic and then the often full page photographs tell the rest of the story.  Meisterman tells the story of the end of cod fishing in Newfoundland, the moratorium put on the industry in 1996 and the effect that has had on the fishing industry and the people.  He explains that fishing is not just an industry to Newfoundlanders but a way of life born into these island people, a cultural heritage that defines their history, art, music, dance and craft.  He paints a grim picture that is mostly blamed on over-fishing, government mismanagement, and greed.  But as anyone knows who has visited Newfoundland (I haven't) or knows a "Newfie" (I've known several) they can tell you that Newfoundlanders are not a downhearted people.  They are down-to-earth people with no pretensions, full of the joy of life with a sense of humour and love of the folk arts born into them.  Meisterman also tries to convey this in his book and succeeds to a point.

The choice of black and white photography both aids and hinders the author's objectives.   The desolate, stark countryside is powerfully represented in this medium, especially the winter scenes with the snow and ice along with the sandy shores of the lonely beaches and yet the beauty of the land is missing when we cannot see the green of the foliage and colours of wildflowers growing close to the ground on the rock.  The death of the fishing industry is brought home with the b/w photos of clapboard homes, churches and graveyards and yet the life essence of the people is missing when we cannot see the bright colours used to paint houses, lighthouses, murals and folk art signs.  Also the revelry of a kitchen party is missing when shown in black and white and yet the contrast between the joy of the people and the poverty of the economy is marked in this medium.  An enchanting book with a sad tale told with optimism, but one that does not end on a sad note.

"Even now, Newfoundland is moving into its new reality...The Newfoundland spirit is anything if not indomitable.  A people who came to live at terms with the sea will find their way here as well."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

DVD Break: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol - 1962 - DVD - Animated - Made for TV - Watched at friend's house

This is the second movie we watched last night.  Something lighthearted after the dramatic heaven movie.  I remember watching this on TV as a kid; my Dad loved Mr. Magoo and of course, to me, it was Mr. Howell doing the voice.  I didn't really remember much of this version going in, it must be ages since I've seen it now.  It is a pretty straightforward retelling of the Dickens' story, only it is set as a play within the movie.  Mr. Magoo is an actor and plays the part of Scrooge in the musical play.  The whole story is there except they left off the bits about Scrooge's nephew and for some reason Christmas Present visits first, then Past and To-Be.  The songs are delightful, very Broadway-ish and the song that is repeated "The Lord's Bright Blessing" is a wonderful Christmas Carol.  A wonderful, feel-good, true meaning of Christmas movie.  Recommended!

DVD Break: The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven (2010)

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven - 2010 - DVD - TV Documentary - Watched at friend's house
Absolutely inspiring!  A small group of us watched this and cried and rejoiced.  The boy was almost decapitated and survived at 6 years old, is paralyzed from the neck down now but his life is amazing.  He went to heaven while he was in a coma and describes that experience so beautifully.  His family accept the miracle in their lives and of Alex's journey but they don't make it the focus of Alex's life.  They have other children and try to lead as normal a life as possible.  It is an amazing story of the community's outreach to the family in their time of need, the response of of other Christians in the emergency/police/medical field during this horrific time and the grace of God at work in a family's life making a tragedy become the positive turning point in all their lives.  Twelve year old Alex was so impressive, he is so genuine and the face of Jesus just shines through him.  An amazing story and must watch.  It really gives you a perspective on your own life. 

304. The Bat by Jo Nesbo

The Bat by Jo Nesbo  (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
Harry Hole, 1

Pages: 374
Ages: 18+
Finished: Nov. 9, 2012
First Published: Oct. 9, 2012 (1997, Norway)
Publisher: Random House Canada
Genre: mystery, thriller, serial killer
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "Something was wrong."

Publisher's Summary:  "Before Harry took on the neo-Nazi gangs of Oslo, before he met Rakel, before The Snowman tried to take everything he held dear, he went to Australia. Harry Hole is sent to Sydney to investigate the murder of Inger Holter, a young Norwegian girl, who was working in a bar. Initially sidelined as an outsider, Harry becomes central to the Australian police investigation when they start to notice a number of unsolved rape and murder cases around the country. The victims were usually young blondes. Inger had a number of admirers, each with his own share of secrets, but there is no obvious suspect, and the pattern of the other crimes seems impossible to crack. Then a circus performer is brutally murdered followed by yet another young woman. Harry is in a race against time to stop highly intelligent killer, who is bent on total destruction."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading:  I've been waiting ages for them to finally publish the first book in this series in English!

Harry Hole's time in Australia is continually referred to throughout the series and it has been frustrating as an English reader to not have the first book in this series available to read.  Now that it is finally here and I've read it, I really wish it had been there to start with as it really does fill in some blanks and add insight to Hole's character that have been missing to the reader who has not experienced this first glimpse of Harry.  I'll admit it was a little weird going back to this new, fresh Harry.  At first I was in wonderment as I kept thinking, "wow, this is not the Harry of the later books at all."  The guy was actually happy and eager for the first part of the book!  There was a secret in him though and it was eventually revealed and we finally find out the story of what really happens to him in Australia that adds to his burden of grief and guilt that he carries with him for the rest of his life.

The mystery itself was superb.  I was thrilled to not have figured out the killer in this one and we are given plenty of suspects.  The murders are slightly gruesome with a couple of doozies added in for the chilling effect.  At a certain point the story takes a turn to the dark and Harry Hole readers will eventually find themselves in familiar territory.  As with all Nesbo books, once I started it was hard to put the book down and I can understand how this one won an award and set Nesbo's career as a writer on full speed.  The story does take place 100% in Australia so it doesn't have the Scandinavian allure that the others have and Harry is like a fish out of water in this setting for readers who know the character well but it's something a little different for us also and fantastic to see this character's beginnings.  New readers of Nesbo should certainly start here for full enjoyment of the character development.  Book 2 will be published soon and then finally, English readers will be able to read the series in order.  Great first book!

Short Story: Love in the Meadow by Helen Jean Burn

"Love in the Meadow" by Helen Jean Burn; Illustrated by Bascove
a short story


from REDBOOK magazine, August 1981, pg 33

First Sentence:  "That morning, the one Hetty Roop kept trying to put out of her mind, she had awakened to the pierce of silence."

Last Sentence: ""What we got to do now," she said, "is get another rooster and some more cement.""

Author: The author blurb only tells us that Burn lives in Maryland and is currently at work on a novel tentatively called "The Briar Patch".  Never having heard of her, some research tells that she did write a novel entitled "Savannah" and a couple of non-fiction books but otherwise has spent most of her life involved in Maryland Public Television, specializing in historical documentaries.  She did write many short stories published in various magazines.

This is a beautiful, simple story of life and death.  In it a 70 year old woman contemplates these as she tends to a situation and remembers her past.  It all starts with a fox invading her hen house and taking off with the rooster leaving only some feathers and a claw behind.  She remembers past incidents of being told what a menace foxes are to farmers and sets about fixing the damage to the hen house and starting off to town.  Now through her memories we learn she is on her own, her husband has died and in a round about way we learn that Sonny, obviously her son, was killed in the war (Vietnam?).  She and her husband had a burning passion for each other which took hold of them anywhere during their early years together and in the later years was infrequent but not gone by any chance.  Her husband is alive in her memory.  She goes to town and we learn her mission is to buy a trap.  Must kill the fox before it takes out her whole livelihood.  The viciousness of the steel jaw trap seems out of place for the woman we have got to know up to this point that it is remarkable that she goes through with the enterprise and finds a fox in the morning who has been gnawing on his own foot.  The woman contemplates life and death again, examining what her reasons are for killing this fox; the bitter taking of a life for a life.  It does not set well with her in the end and she shows the compassion that is the real natural part of her character in the end.  A lovely story.

I must also note, the first thing I noticed when I turned to this story was the illustrations, 4 in total, by Bascove.  She is one of my favourite contemporary Canadian artists and I'm thrilled to have these pictures.  I am trying to collect all the Robertson Davies covers she illustrated.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Short Story: "Alexander's Overcoat" by Marjorie Franco

"Alexander's Overcoat" by Marjorie Franco
a short story


from REDBOOK magazine, Aug. 14, 1981, pg 25

First Sentence:  "Early in October, Mr. and Mrs. Trampbush invited us to their house for dinner."

Last Sentence:  "Finally, when he was satisfied, he turned to me for my approval, and finding it, he declared himself ready for winter."

Author: The little author blurb at the end of the story tells us that Marjorie Franco has been contributing a yearly August short story to this magazine featuring "Alexander and Genevieve" since 1976 and that she is currently writing a novel about them.  Not much information can be found online about her but it appears she did write the novel "Alexander and Genevieve" which while not popular on the internet can be found for a reasonable price.  She also appears to have written two YA novels, again not popular with collectors/readers but can be found.

This was an adorable story and I would pick up other copies of this magazine from the time period just to read more stories of this couple.  A feisty pair, this married duo are quaint and yet can get into a battle of the wits reminding me of a Tracy/Hepburn couple.  This whole episode is of stubbornness, the love they have for each other and the coat as a symbol of their problem.  Alexander is up for a promotion, which he hasn't told Genevieve about because it would involve moving from their Midwestern climate to Arizona.  G. ends up having a heated discussion with A.'s boss at dinner one night about how much she loves winter to his utter astonishment and A. feels that G. has compromised his career from being so adamant on the topic.  It isn't until well into the story that he confesses the whole story to her, but in the meantime he becomes moody and refuses to buy a winter coat as it symbolizes to him that he will not get the job offer meaning he has accepted defeat.  A's opinion is that his boss may not offer him the job now that he knows how G. feels about the climate or that he will be offered the job and will decline because of his love for G. and respect for her happiness.  This causes a rift in their marriage, some confusion until the reason is let out of the bag, guilt once G. knows the truth and some funny scenes and witty repartee as A. continuously ventures out into the quickly dropping temperatures without a winter coat.  The final outcome is heart-warming, showing how all persons involved have respect for the others.  Alexander and Genevieve are a couple whom witty repartee comes naturally, but whose love is evident and I highly enjoyed reading this simple story about them.

303. Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies by Marc Aronson

Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies by Marc Aronson - (US)- (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 197 + Notes, Index, Bibliography, etc.
Ages: 14+
Finished:  Nov. 6, 2012
First Published: Apr. 10, 2012
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: non-fiction, history, USA, 1930s-1960s, FBI,Communism
Rating: 3.5/5

First Sentence: "Today, Americans face intense terrorist threats and thus hard choices: Which rights and freedoms can we, must we, curtail in order t be safer in our streets and homes?"

Publisher's Summary:  "King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. . . . You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

Dr. Martin Luther King received this demand in an anonymous letter in 1964. He believed that the letter was telling him to commit suicide. Who wrote this anonymous letter? The FBI. And the man behind it all was J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s first director. In this unsparing exploration of one of the most powerful Americans of the twentieth century, accomplished historian Marc Aronson unmasks the man behind the Bureau
-- his tangled family history and personal relationships; his own need for secrecy, deceit, and control; and the broad trends in American society that shaped his world. Hoover may have given America the security it wanted, but the secrets he knew gave him -- and the Bureau -- all the power he wanted. Using photographs, cartoons, movie posters, and FBI transcripts, Master of Deceit gives readers the necessary evidence to make their own conclusions. Here is a book about the twentieth century that blazes with questions and insights about our choices in the twenty-first."

Acquired:  Received a review copy from the publisher, Candlewick Press.

Reason for Reading:  I know all about this history but I love the time period and was interested in how it would be rendered in a young adult book and whether it would show any bias, either way.

This is a book about very bad people. First, communists, a political group of mass murderers who have killed more of their own people than any single tyrant has killed in wars or holocausts in the entire history of the world.  Second, a fanatic, a man who was an absolute fanatic and was given power, so much of it he became the most powerful man in America, in some decades even more so than the president.  J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI was the fanatic and the Russian government were the Communists.

Aronson must be congratulated on presenting both sides of this coin as fairly as has ever been done in my reading.  What writer can prove each side to be right without showing his own bias?  Aronson almost gets away with it.  He explains why the anti-communist, fanatical, black & white Hoover thought and did the things he did and said and you'll make you get mad.  He explains the communist position on anti-capitalism and why it was attractive to working Americans and who could blame them and he'll make you get mad.  Both opinions are expressed with such clarity on issue after issue throughout the entire book, but each time it is counteracted with the opposing view and Aronson leads a small trail of truth through the swampy history of lies. Aronson almost gets away with not being biased but he very early on lets the cat out of the bag that he, himself is coming from the "Left".  In the opening paragraph he states "Communism and anti-Communism are just terms that appear on tests, like the Whig, Greenback, or Know-Nothing parties."  Excuse me????  Has the author heard of China??? Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam??  The poor souls of these countries are fighting communism every day of their lives and being arrested, tortured and killed for anti-communist activities.

Further on Aronson makes a blooper when he states "For years after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Fox News ran alert levels on its TV crawlers, reminding everyone to be scared, to be afraid."  I turned to the "Notes" section for clarification on this but nothing was mentioned.  I sure don't ever remember Fox News crawlers with the words "Be Scared.  Be Afraid."  Somebody doesn't like Fox News methinks.

Anyway onto the book, which the author has stated in his notes at the end he has written for highschoolers.  Great insight into this time period of our history.  Into the terrible evils of Communism and what it does to people, their freedoms and abilities to simply lead basic normal lives.  It also brings out the life of J. Edgar Hoover, the fanatic.  A man who had a sense of right and wrong but for whatever reasons he became fanatical about them.  While some of the things he believed in were good and decent such as democracy, capitalism, taking care in one's appearance he took them to such heights he became a dictator in his own little world.  He also became a tyrant and his sense of right and wrong became skewed and turned into racism and discrimination.  Unfortunately, he had power, he had "the goods" (illegally obtained) on the right people and that kept him where he was and there he stayed until he died peacefully in his sleep after 40 years on the job.  Aronson is able to bring this side of Hoover to light while at the same time dispelling all the ludicrous myths that have perpetuated about him especially to the modern day, where most people believe them to be true.  Hoover was not gay, he did not dress in women's clothing, he did not have a life long male partner as a "lover".  The man probably never had sex in his life and this puts him in all sorts of situations that can be crassly misinterpreted to make him seem to be the one thing he was not.  Aronson does explore the other rumour that Hoover may have had African-American blood in his family heritage and while not provable unless direct desendents step up to settle the issue once and for all, the author does make a case for it's possibility.

I enjoyed the book very much, read it over two sittings and found myself immersed in this frightening period of history.  Communism was something to fear and it still is today.  Freedom to live our lives as we see fit is one of our unalienable rights.  However we should never fear anything so much that we allow one person to fantatically control how the issue is handled.  Every group or person in power must be policed by others.  The only thing I didn't like about this book was Aronson's equating communism with civil rights with homosexuality with the women's movement.  Sometimes we just morally know what is right and what is wrong and it has nothing to do with fear.  I think I may have written an opinon piece on the topic instead of a review but at least I guess that means you can tell I enjoyed the book.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book to adults who know nothing of the topic.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Short Story: "Abe, Between Rounds" by Ethan Canin

"Abe, Between Rounds" by Ethan Canin
a short story


from REDBOOK magazine, Aug. 14, 1981, pg 27

First Sentence:  "What's the one thing you should never do?"

Last Sentence:  "And then he forced his mouth up to his father's ear and said, "You win, Pa.""

Author:  The little author blurb tells us that Canin is a university student, and that this is the first of his short stories to appear in a "national magazine.  Further online research shows he became a doctor, continued to publish short stories and eventually became a full-time writer.  He is now the author of several novels and two collections of short stories, in which this story does not seem to appear.  I would look forward to reading the author again.

This is a father/son story and perhaps a Jewish story.  The family is Jewish but is not practicing, though cultural references are made.  The father is the patriarch of the family and teaches his son to live a life of moral and ethic high ground.  The son worships the father but they are not close in an emotional or physical way.  Our story begins with the son, Myron, telling us the story of when he told his father he was quitting med school and then reminiscing about his childhood and the eventual resolution of his wanting to quit.  Brilliantly crafted with writing that is a pleasure to read, I was wrapped up in this story and felt for both Myron and his father Abe.  The boy adores his father and yet through all Abe's blustering and machismo, Myron sees through it and realises that his dad is just a man, a human being after all.  This realisation came to him first the summer his father decided out of the blue that Myron would spend his summer holiday at Jewish camp; it's already been planned and paid for.  For a non-practicing family this seemed odd to Myron beside the point he didn't want to waste his summer on learning religion.  His father says: so you're a man now let's solve this like men.  A race!  If I win you go, if you win you stay.  Myron is reluctant but during the race hearing his father's determination, his struggling breath, he makes his significant realization and ends up going to camp.

Later on at med school, the elderly patients bother him.  He sees them as having one foot in the grave so to speak.  They have a certain smell, a certain look, their skin a certain colour and he equates them with his father.  His father is an old man and must be like these patients, waiting for death, waiting for the end.  In a rather fervid climax it takes a bit of violence for Myron to experience his father's heartbeat and realize the man is alive.  He may be old but he is alive!  This changes Myron's outlook on life and death.  Therefore, continuing his medical studies.  An engaging story!

278. Last Days of an Immortal by Fabien Vehlmann

Last Days of an Immortal by Fabien Vehlmann. Illustrated by Gwen de Bonnevval. Translted by Edward Gauvin  (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 152
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 17, 2012
First Published: Nov. 27, 2012
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
Genre: Graphic novel, science fiction, dystopia, immortality
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "I don't really know"

Publisher's Summary:  "In the distant future, Elijah is a member of the “Philosophical Police,” who must solve conflicts that arise out of ignorance of the Other. Two species are fighting a war with roots in a crime committed centuries ago, and Elijah must solve the crime and bring peace between their species, while also confronting his own immortality in a world where science provides access to eternal life. In a world where death no longer exists, why do so many want to give up on life? Serious, heavy duty science fiction, with shades of author J.G. Ballard and the films Gattaca, Solaris, and George Lucas’ THX 1138."

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher, through NetGalley

Reason for Reading: "The premise sounded intriguing, I like crime/detective fiction, science fiction and this also sounded like it would have a dystopian vibe.  All things that interested me.

I was pleasantly surprised when I opened up and started reading with how much I loved the art.  It was astonishingly stark and understated and yet fully drew one into the story.  This is a prime example of less is more.  In this future world which is our Earth, people no longer die as we know it.  By accepting certain memory loss one can transfer ones brain data into an "echo" of oneself and live indefinitely.  Here characters were aged well into their 400's. People can use technology to change one's appearance, experience physical pleasure and clothing is a personal style and even optional.  Many alien nations have joined the "community" and Elijah's job is to keep the peace between species though psychology and philosophy.  This is his story, of the several cases he is working on at once and how a few personal problems affect his own psyche and the eventual choices he makes.  The dystopian reality of this society is presented simply in the life and legal rules of this society.  The author never brings any judgement upon them, yet due to choices made by certain characters and the readers reasoning in evaluating such a state of being, one can see all the possible fears in this current generation come true within this age where many issues of life must be dealt with if immortality is to be the order of the day,  A compelling and page-turning read.  Of note, this book is very much rated "M" for ages 18+; there is language, frontal nudity of both s*xes, and while artistically rendered, still graphic, s*x scenes.  The language bothered me but the rest was not gratuitous.  Recommended for those looking for a thought-provoking graphic story.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Short Story: Good Drying Weather by Anita Shreve

Good Drying Weather by Anita Shreve
a short story

Illustrated by Katherine Osborn


from REDBOOK magazine, August 1981, pg 29

First Sentence:  "All along the road to Marguaree, the women have there wash out."

Last Sentence: "Good drying weather, she says aloud"

Author:  Anita Shreve is a very popular author today.  Though I've only read one of her books, I did enjoy it immensely.  The little author blurb after this story tells us she won the O. Henry Award for a short story in 1976.  A little research shows that her first novel wasn't published until 1989, meaning this story here was published while she was still relatively unknown.

This is a short short story, being two magazine pages in length.  Beautifully writtten and a joy read, it is not a happy story, nor really sad but more what I would call melancholy.  A Nova Scotia woman is sitting on her step in September watching her laundry dry on the line, thinking of her husband.  He's a fisherman but out of work since he lost his boat in a storm some months back.  Now he trips down to the waterfront every morning in a fresh shirt looking for work on a boat.  If he doesn't come home Libby knows he'll be home that evening with crabs for dinner and a smile on his face.  But more often he comes home shortly after, takes off the shirt, hangs it back up and goes back to bed.

She has three of his shirts on the line this week, meaning he had some work.  There is one shirt though at the end of the line she will not look at, it's his "best" shirt and she knows what that means.  He wore it one night, talked of seeing the guys, could be a job in it, would be home at such o'clock.  Libby new better though.  She knows what the other husbands do when they wear those shirts and go to the bar and talk to the women there.  Sure enough he comes home past midnight, apologetic.  Does she smell perfume mixed with his sweat on his shirt?  The next morning the shirt is put in the bottom of the laundry bin.  On washing day she doesn't just put it in the wash, she scrubs it with bleach first.  Sitting here on the step she thinks about how she's going to tell her husband about the new-spring baby.  She'll wait for the next day when he goes to town and doesn't come home till later, carrying dinner crabs with him, he'll be smiling then.  Taking the laundry off the line she gets up the nerve and grabs his white shirt and inhales, no perfume, just pungeant bleach and salty sea air emminate from it now.  She smiles and takes her silk nightgown into the house.  One's left to not really know how to feel for Libby, she is happy in her own self and yet she's surrounded by melancholy.  Beautifully written, though.

300. Tharg's Creepy Chronicles by Mark Millar

Tharg's Creepy Chronicles by Mark Millar, et al. Art by Dave D'Antiquis, et al. (US) - (Canada)
Tharg the Mighty

Pages: 144
Ages: 18+
Finished:  Nov. 2, 2012
First Published: Oct. 9, 2012
Publisher: 2000 AD
Genre: graphic novel, paranormal, horror, short stories
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "My name is Tharg the Mighty, editor of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic, 2000 AD. "

Publisher's Summary: "From the deepest, darkest recesses of the Nerve Centre vaults, the eerie alien editor of 2000 AD known as the Mighty Tharg presents some of the creepiest, kookiest tales to terrify this Halloween.

From the deepest, darkest recesses of the Nerve Centre vaults, the eerie alien editor of 2000 AD known as the Mighty Tharg presents some of the creepiest, kookiest tales to terrify this Halloween. Featuring stories from reknowned comic talent: writers – Mark Millar, Gordon Rennie, Chris Weston, Arthur Wyatt and artists – Dave D'Antiquis, Frazer Irving, Lee Garbett, Chris Weston, Edmund Bagwell, Greg Staples"

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading:  I just love 2000 AD!  I also love these "Tales of the Crypt" type of horror comics.

I will pretty much read anything published by 2000 AD, taking my interests into account.  Even when I take a chance I've never been disappointed.  However, this collection did not live up to my expectations.  The art was great and having read much from this publisher I am familiar with many of the authors collected here.  The stories just didn't thrill me though; they were ok.  Some were good, some were ok and a couple were whatever for me.  I guess I just wanted freakier, cooler, "fun-er" stories.  None of these wowed me.  Don't get me wrong, though, they were ok.  There was one set in the Judge Dredd universe and that was fun.  If you are a fan of the shorts in the comic then perhaps this will be great for you.  But I haven't read the comic in ages and just stick to the trade GNs.  This was my very first 2000 AD book that was less than stellar.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

302. Dei Verbum by Pope Paul VI

Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation DEI VERBUM solemnly promulgated
by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1965

Reason for Reading: This dogmatic constitution is one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.  I am reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church this year and this document is cited for quotations extensively in the first section so I decided to read it in it's entirety.  It is not long, 8 printed computer pages of text plus 4 of bibliographic notes.  However, this is not easy reading and is slow going yet is satisfying reading in the end.  Dei Verbum is Latin for "The Word of God" and thus this document is about God's Word: the Bible.

The document can be found here.

The document is divided into the following chapters:

Preface (1)
  1. Revelation Itself (2–6)
  2. Handing On Divine Revelation (7–10)
  3. Sacred Scripture, Its Inspiration and Divine Interpretation (11–13)
  4. The Old Testament (14–16)
  5. The New Testament (17–20)
  6. Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church (21–26)

Brief summary notes in my own words or "quotes" from the chapters, basically for my own reference but shared here as a record of my reading:

Preface - The present council wishes to show the "authentic doctrine on divine revelation" that the whole world may hear and believe it.

Chapter 1 - God revealed Himself to us.  In the Old Testament God prepared the way for the promise of the Saviour and the Gospel.  Jesus is the eternal Word, "the Word made flesh".  Jesus fulfilled revelation through his works, deeds, death and resurrection.  No further public revelation will come before the second coming. Man commits himself to God freely and God's divine revelation communicates the decisions regarding eternal salvation.  God can be known through the light of human reason.

Chapter 2 - Jesus orally commissioned the Apostles to preach the Gospel to all men.  This commission was fulfilled and through the Holy Spirit the message was committed to writing. The Apostles handed over their authority to bishops as their successors. The apostolic tradition is preserved by an "unending succession". Through study and contemplation the Church moves forward in divine truth.  Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are divinely connected.  Tradition is the word of God entrusted to Jesus and the Holy Spirit passed on to the Apostles; Scripture is the word of God consigned to writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore it is not from scripture alone that the Church has knowledge of everything that has been revealed.  The interpretation of the word of God has been given exclusively to the Church who was given the authority by Jesus Christ.  Therefore sacred tradition, sacred scripture and the teaching authority of the Church are linked together as one and cannot stand without each other; they are all under the action of the Holy Spirit working towards the salvation of souls.

Chapter 3 - All scripture, Old and New, was inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus has God as the author.  Therefore all scripture must be without error and is divinely inspired and the writings are for the sake of salvation.  However, since the word of God was transcribed through humans, in order to see it clearly one must take into account what meaning the sacred writers intended and what God wanted manifested by their words.  Also literary forms must be taken into consideration.  All texts are written in different literary forms such as historical, prophetic, poetry, etc and one must take into account the customs and characteristics of the social era in which the sacred writers lived.  Since this is all taken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit all of scripture must be taken as  a whole and it is the duty of the Church to carry on "the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God." 

Chapter 4 - In God's plan of salvation he chose for Himself a people whom he could trust.  He entered a covenant with Abraham, then through Moses , with the people of Israel.  God spoke to them through words, deeds and the mouths of prophets.  The Old Testament, divinely inspired "remain(s) permanently valuable ."  The main purpose of the Old Testament is to prepare the way for the coming of the Christ, messiah and redeemer.  Even though some parts of the OT have been proven by Jesus to be incomplete or temporary and thus shows the mystery of our salvation.  The OT should be read "with reverence".

Chapter 5 - The word was made flesh.  "Christ established the Kingdom of God on Earth". The New Testament is a witness of this history.  The Gospels have a special importance amongst the scriptures. The four Gospels are of apostolic origin. The four Gospels pass on what Jesus actually taught and did for men to acquire eternal salvation.  Each Gospel picks some things from the many but always proclaiming the whole truth.

Chapter 6 - "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures" and like the Christian religion itself all the preaching of the Church must be nurtured by the Scriptures. The Scriptures should always be easily accessible to all.  The Church guided by the Holy Spirit always wants to move ahead to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and therefore encourages study of the Fathers of the Church. Theology of the written word together with sacred tradition, in the light of faith constantly strengthens and rejuvenates our understanding of the Word. The clergy, including deacons and teachers of the catechism, must diligently read the Scriptures and continue careful study.  Translations of the Scriptures should include necessary and appropriate explanations and footnotes so that the Children of the Church can become conversant with the Scripture and distribute the word to others.  These footnotes should also be accessible to the non-Christian.  Thus through reading and study of the Scripture the word of God may be spread among the nations.

301. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan V.11 by Hiroshi Shiibashi

Torii Labyrinth by Hiroshi Shiibashi (US) - (Canada)
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, V.11

Pages: 192
Ages: 13+
Finished: Nov. 3, 2012
First Published: Oct. 2, 2012
Publisher: viz media
Genre: manga, fantasy, shounen, YA
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "Second heir... I thought... I was faithfully... following your words..."

Publisher's Summary:  "The Nura clan and their allies encounter a forest of torii gates on their way to find Hidemoto's lost seals. There, Rikuo and the others find themselves at the mercy of a yokai capable of using the thousand torii gates to form a massive, deadly labyrinth. Awashima falls prey to the labyrinth and is transported to another dimension, diminishing their numbers. Awashima will have to battle a mysterious and powerful yokai before attempting to escape."

Acquired:  Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

The Nura clan finally reaches Kyoto and encounters many adversaries.  This volume is full of battle scenes and doesn't advance the plot all that much except to get them oriented in the right direction for their next plan of action.  Finding the lost seals seems to be the important goal to defeating Hagoromo-Gitsune.  The addition of Hidemoto, an heir from 400 years ago in the past is an exciting development.  I read the volume quickly as it was a lot of battles, which are not my favourite part of shounen.  I like the action, but they go on for way too many pages and I find them hard to follow.  So not the best volume, but the ending is intense and sets the scene for the next volume.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

299. Blue Bay Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Blue Bay Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Illustrated by Dirk Gringhuis (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
The Alden Family Mysteries (aka The Boxcar Children), #6

Pages: 157
Ages: 7+
Finished: Nov. 2, 2012
First Published: 1961
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: children, MG, mystery, early chapter book
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "One winter day Jessie Alden met her brother Henry in the hall."

Publisher's Summary:  "The Aldens find a castaway on a South Sea island. How did he get there and who is he?"

Acquired:  Can't remember but was from a thrift store or garage sale.
Reason for Reading:  I am working my way through the original 19 books.  This is also from the Random Bookshelf I am reading from.

Returning to the typical theme of these books, the mystery involves finding out the identity of a mystery person.  This time it is a little different though as the children can't find the person but know he is there.  Grandfather takes the children plus Ben's friend Mike, again, to the South Seas to a desert island for a vacation.  Lars is their guide and completes the group.  While having fun living on a deserted island the group find clues that there is someone else on the island and eventually meet a castaway boy.  The tale he has to tell them is adventurous and exciting.

This is a fun book in the series.  It holds true to form and gives what is expected from the series by now.  Grandfather's inclusion stunts the children's style a bit but they do get some time to go off on their own.  Children will enjoy the excitement of the castaway boy and his experiences, but I think the story would have been better served if he had been introduced earlier as we don't get enough time with him.  Overall, a good entry in the series.

298. The Strand Magazine June-Sept. 2012

The Strand Magazine June-Sept. 2012 (Website)

Pages: 80
Ages: 16+
Finished: Nov. 2, 2012
First Published: Jun, 2012
Publisher: The Strand Magazine
Genre: magazine, mystery, thriller
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "On the bar, in the space between the fat man's Tom Collins and the sailor's beer, a girl was dancing."

Publisher's Summary: "Mommy's a Barfly... An unpublished gem by the noir master, James M. Cain...the title says it all.

The Voiceless... Faye Kellerman pens a futuristic tale which will make you pause the next time you choose sending a text over having a face to face chat.

Wink at the Devil...The Charles Todd team pens another mysterious tale that takes us to the trenches of World War I.

The Adventure of The Memento More...Holmes and Watson chase some unlikely clues which makes for a very sharp twist at the end of this pastiche.

Blackjack Road...A game of cat and mouse involving a wheelchair bound man and a prison escapee.

Jonathan Kellerman and Jeff Lindsay chat about books, reading, and writing."

Acquired: Purchased from a retail store.

Reason for Reading: I've always wanted to read this magazine and have been thinking of getting a subscription, so thought I'd try the current issue.

1. Mommy's a Barfly by James M. Cain. Illustration by Jeffrey B. McKeever. - This is a found story of the late Cain's which the editor (in his editorial) explains that as far as he can tell has never been published.  I wish an estimated date of its authorship was given but will have to just guess from the story itself.  I'm going to put it at just post WWII.  It involves a sailor but there doesn't seem to be a war going on, though the language is rough, 1940s-ish.  We have a woman entertaining her sailor husband in a bar.  He's on day leave and she's not taken him home.  Everyone in the bar knows she's cheating on him with some "weasel".  They have their little girl with them, she's about five and dances to the piano player's songs.  The bartender/owner and the piano player are talking about the woman's awful behaviour towards her husband, both of their neglect to the child, why is she up so late/in a bar?  Events escalate for the woman and end in tragedy.  The two men start to realize that perhaps she has reasons but then no matter, the child comes first.  Superbly written.  I've never read the author before and have put "The Postman Always Rings Twice" on my tbr. 5/5

2. The Voiceless by Faye Kellerman. Illustration by Michael Carroll. - Well, I didn't expect to find science fiction here!  I have never read this popular author.  Set in a future where everyone uses electronic devices to communicate with each other, emailing and texts.  The voice box had actually devolved into a useless organ like the appendix.  One day a little girl complains of an eye ailment and quickly afterwards goes blind.  Then her mother and father follow suit.  Next it is the neighbours, the whole floor she lives on, the apartment building and so on, until the virus has spread globally and blindness affects the entire population.  A blind population that is dependant on the written word for communication is quickly disabled and generations of blind scientists stumbled about slowly inventing robotic voice apps, until something surprising happens.  A fun cautionary tale.  4/5

3. Wink at the Devil by Charles Todd. Illustration by Colin Nitta - Charles Todd has been on my tbr list for some time now and I was excited in reading this Rutledge story.  Only it's not a mystery!  Hmm, so far two out of three stories in this mag are not mysteries.  And actually, the first is noire, but its not exactly a mystery either.  Anyway a wonderfully written story that tells the tale of warfare in the trenches of WWII. Rutledge ends up in a bunker with his injured buddy, two fellow privates and a German officer.  A will of wits between Rutledge and the German determines who and how many make it out alive.  Gripping.  5/5

4. The Adventure of the Memento Mori by Lyndsay Faye - A Sherlock Holmes pastiche!  Very well done!  This takes place right after the original story "The Empty House" and takes Holmes & Watson back to Croydon where they once had a grisly adventure.  I particularly enjoyed this because it involved one of my favourite Victorian topics.  Can't say more ... 5/5

5. Blackjack Road by John M. Floyd. Illustration by Jeffrey B. McKeever. - The longest story here and my favourite one.  I've never heard of this author before.  Again this is not a mystery at all, perhaps it would be called suspense but I'd more likely call it drama.  In the opening paragraphs we meet an elderly man in a wheelchair on his porch, comfortably viewing his property with a gun in his lap getting ready to kill himself as soon as the time is "right".  We are told the death of his wife a couple of years ago nearly did him in but now Christopher, age 24, is gone he has no reason for life.  We don't know who Christopher is, we know the man is "crippled" but not exactly in what way.  His life seems glum, yet we don't fully understand his musings.  Then as he sits there a dangerous stranger appears in front of him and the story begins to unfold.  I really enjoyed this, very well written, with good characterization of the old man. 5/5

The magazine continues with an interview of Jonathan Kellerman whom I've never read and haven't had any inclination to read and then one with Jeff Lindsay.  I read the first Dexter book and hated it, have never seen the TV show.  Then there is a section introducing all "The Strand Critics Award" Nominees and the magazine ends with book reviews.  I absolutely loved the reviews and all the book advertisements throughout the mag. I added a bunch of titles/authors to my tbr, reminded myself of ones I've been meaning to read and remembering what I have on the shelves.  The ads are as fun as the stories!  Loved the magazine and will pick up the next issue next time I'm at Chapters.  My rating is based on the stories alone.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Short Story: "Surviving the Peace" by Margaret Ellingson

"Surviving the Peace" by Margaret Ellingson
a short story


from REDBOOK magazine, Aug. 1981, pg 23

First Sentence:  The moon is rising in redwood country on a warm September night.

Last Sentence:  "Her mind drifts back toward dreams, and just before giving in to the darkness she sees soft browns and greens, plashes of pink, purple, red, and is filled with an overwhelming sense of peace as she imagines the doe, safe again up on the starlit ridge, asleep under the trees, her belly full of flowers.

Author:  The tiny author blurb tells us that the author is an English teacher and that this is her first published short story.  I can find no other works by this author online, which is a shame as I really enjoyed this one.

The picture and the brief accompanying summary blurb lead the read to believe this will be a piece of romantic (possible college-age) fluff.  It is far from that.  This is the story of a relationship between a man and woman who eventually become married.  What makes them different from the rest is that the man has just finished a Tour of Duty in Vietnam and come home early as he was nearly killed, but saved by his buddy.  The woman led the stressful life of the one left behind and then the devoted girlfriend nursing him back to health.  Michael heals and they marry, but he can't talk about the war, ever, at all.  His emotional wounds are there, he's dealing with it fairly well but his wife is not the one he wants to share it with.  Other than this their new life together is happy.  Then Michael's war buddy, the one who saved his life, shows up about a year later.  Alex hasn't handled the move back to civilization well.  He's obviously suffering from we would now call PTSD.

Alex stays with the couple for a few weeks while he gets himself settled and the three of them have fun and get to know each other but Mike and Alex start talking about the war in a way Susan cannot join in.  She leaves them to it, realizing it is cathartic for them.  Three months go by, Alex is still living with them.  He has turned into a slob who never picks up after himself, sits around and watches TV all day and goes out with Mike to veteran anti-war meetings/demonstrations.  They are often late for dinner, Susan hardly sees her husband any more.  Alex and her never speak to each other.  Things are very tense until Susan cannot take it and is packing to leave one evening when they are once again late for dinner.  They arrive in the middle of this scene.  It is only then Mike and Susan finally have a heart to heart that could really only have been spoken in this moment of dire consequences.  There love stands the test.  They stay together and Alex moves along with his life.

A year goes by with Mike visiting his friend out in the boonies in a cabin he has built for himself.  Susan never comes.  Alex is only slowly getting himself back together but it takes this time away from it all for both Susan and Alex to realize the importance the other has in the life of Mike and how with give and take on each one's side the three can all be close friends to each other and live their own lives at the same time.  A really wonderful story.  My only problem with it was I found the dialogue a little stilted and unnatural but for a first publication, that can be taken into account.

297. Batula by Steven T. Seagle

Batula by Steven T. Seagle. Illustrated by Marco Cinello.  (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 48
Ages: 5+
Finished: Oct. 30, 2012
First Published: Aug, 7, 2012
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: picture book, bats, vampires
Rating: 2.5/5

First sentence: "This is The Orchard."

Publisher's Summary:  "MAN OF ACTION STUDIOS - creators of the international hit BEN 10 - return with an all-new big book for little readers! 

Livingston is a peaceful fruit bat whose life changes when he is bitten by a vampire and transformed into a vampire bat! As Batula - an avenging creature of the night - Livingston develops a taste for adventure and a need to prove that no matter what he looks like on the outside, he's still the same bat on the inside. 

A full-color story book by FRANKIE STEIN creators SEAGLE & CINELLO!"

Acquired:  Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley

Reason for Reading: I love Ben 10 and this looked cute and fun.  The description I read failed to mention it was a "story book" so I was under the impression it would be a comic book.

I wouldn't have read this going in if I'd know it was a picture book, as I'd mistakenly thought it was going to be a comic.  Don't get me wrong, I like picture books but this just wouldn't have turned my crank.  Anyway, the artwork is obviously wonderful.  If you've seen Ben 10 then you know what to expect and that is what you get here.  Great visuals!  The story on the other hand, meh.  Livingston is a boring bat, nobody pays him any attention, until he comes back after being bit by a vampire bat.  Then he's all dark and mysterious and the girl he likes takes a shine to him, but he leaves when he starts thirsting for blood and meets a werewolf spider who convinces him to go superhero.  So guess who he goes after?  Yeah, the vampire who bit him and just in time because he's attacking Livingstone's bat village.  He saves the day, gets the girl, the end.  Really cliched, not very original.  Very young ones might stay tuned for the pictures but most will find it dull.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Short Story: "A Wedding has been arranged..." by Eleanor Harvey

"A Wedding has been arranged..." by Eleanor Harvey
a short story


from WOMAN'S REALM magazine, Apr. 13, 1958, pg 25

First Sentence:  "The train came to a standstill between stations."

Last Sentence:  "It's so lovely having the family around me."

Author: I can find absolutely no information on this author at all.  She does not bring any results on or LibraryThing.  I get an Eleanor Jones Harvey but she specializes in American art so I highly doubt it is the same person.  Perhaps she only ever published a few short stories, mayhap only this one?

I must say I went into this story expecting an old-fashioned woman's romance and not thinking I'd like it much.  I was wrong.  While the story is about an engaged couple it is not a romance, per se.  Lucy is an orphan and grew up without any family in London.  When she left the orphanage she took classes, moved into her own flat and got a job, living an independant life and taking care of herself.  She is presented as a nice sweet woman who can take care of herself.  Not what one usually finds in literature from the 1950s!

Anyway she is engaged to David, a Welshman, from a large family and the two of them are off to Wales for her to meet the family for the first time.  She is very excited at the prospect of finally having family; she has her own impressions of what this means and what it will be like.  They welcome her with wide open arms and treat her as one of them right from the start.  At first Lucy is warmed and joyful at the experience but as David romps around visiting old friends leaving her with his sisters and mother she becomes stifled and angry at the presumptions these people are making.  As they all sit around in the evenings it feels to her as if David's family is planning her wedding and her life for her and she is being left out; but the more involved the family becomes the colder she becomes.

On the ride home Lucy lets her feelings be known to David and he is quite shocked, letting her know this is just how families are, that she will get used to it.  She wants to have privacy and be just David and her and since they had planned to move there after the wedding she can't imagine what it will be like having these people underfoot all the time.  David and Lucy don't understand each other.  David agrees that yes family can impose, walk into your room without knocking, borrow something without asking, but as soon as you need help they are the first to sacrifice their own needs to help you out.  Lucy just can't tolerate the invasion of privacy and she doesn't need help; she's been self sufficient her whole life.

Things take a turn when Lucy comes down with pneumonia shortly after they arrive back home.  She is out of it for a few days and when she comes to she finds David's mother hovering over her.  She has been there administering to her the whole time.  His younger sisters have come, as well as his father; been wanting a trip to London for ages anyway.  Lucy sees this other side of family and realizes that it isn;t a matter of *needing* help but being a part of a group of people who really care about you for no other reason than that you are family.  The story was very charming and well-written.  The characterization was well done for Lucy the most and I could imagine reading a book about her and David's life after they settle into home life in Wales.

296. Becoming Holmes by Shane Peacock

Becoming Holmes by Shane Peacock (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His Final Case

Pages: 245
Ages: 14
Finished: Oct. 30, 2012
First Published: Oct. 9, 2012
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: YA, historical fiction, Victorian, 1870s, mystery, Sherlock Holmes
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "London might as well be draped in black on this thirteenth morning of June in 1870.

Publisher's Summary: "The surprising and shocking conclusion to the unique BOY SHERLOCK HOLMES series.

Becoming Sherlock is the final book in Shane Peacock's award-winning Boy Sherlock Holmes series, combining brilliant storytelling with fascinating historical detail, and a mystery worthy of one of the greatest sleuths in English literature."

Acquired:  Received a review copy from Random House Canada.
Reason for Reading:  Last book of the series!

It was a rather bittersweet feeling to picking up the last book in this series as I knew some finality would come so that Sherlock could go on to become the man he would be in the Doyle books.  Sherlock's future has already been written.  How would this gap between youth and manhood be handled?

The story concentrates on a passionately, deadly final head-to-head between Sherlock and his mortal enemy Malefactor, and his two henchmen: Grimsby and Crew.  While not working actively on cases at the time he stumbles upon information that Malefactor is up to something tremendously criminal that could infiltrate the government for years to come.  So he starts poking around and a murder is committed.  Knowing everything is connected to Malefactor and his henchmen Sherlock sets about to see them all caught and hanged for their murderous ways and treason.  Unfortunately, there really is no mystery here.  It is wits against wits, the various powerful characters against each other and the creepings and goings on late at night, but no real mystery for the reader.  We know what is going on.  At the end we are hit with a twist ending that while I didn't see it coming, I can't say it surprised me and I wonder at it's authenticity to the Sherlock Holmes cannon.  Would young Holmes do that?  Did he need to, to become the man Holmes?

On another level, his relationships are all wrapped up in this book.  He and Lestrade agree on how they will handle themselves from here on in.  He puts to rest his relations with Beatrice and Irene and they agree they are also of the past.  Sigerson Bell, his mentor, is ill but he finished his job properly before his time comes and he leaves Sherlock well looked after to continue his studies.  While Doyle himself never hints at this kind of a childhood, he is very vague.  I think Peacock has done a brilliant job of growing a boy into a man who turns out to be the character, both good (brilliant, sharp, imaginative) and not-so-good (addictive, rude, unsociable), that Sherlock Holmes is known to be to wider known adult readers.  Not my favourite book of the series, as the actual mystery was weak, but very good closure for the series.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

295. Hill of Fire by Thomas P. Lewis

Hill of Fire by Thomas P. Lewis. Pictures by Joan Sandin. (Canada) - (US)
An I Can Read Book, Level 3

Pages: 64
Ages: 7+
Finished: Oct. 29, 2012
First Published: 1983
Publisher: HarperTrophy
Genre: easy reader, history, geography, volcanoes
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "Once there was a farmer who lived in Mexico."

Publisher's Summary:  ""El Monstruo!"

Every day is the same for Pablo's father. Then one afternoon the ground growls, hisses smoke, and swallows up his plow. A volcano is erupting in the middle of his cornfield!"

Acquired: Purchased a new copy from a homeschool retailer.

Reason for Reading: Ds read aloud to me for his reader.

This book never fails to stun kids, the first time they read/hear it.  How can a volcano just grow like that?  It seems utterly amazing.  But this is based on a true story and the volcano really did appear in a farmer's cornfield and bury the village with lava and ash.Written in a simple, easy to understand narrative, from the point of view of the farmer's son Pablo.  This is a truly unique story that is sure to please any child, even those who don't usually like non-fiction.  The illustrations are ok.  We weren't too pleased with the depiction of the erupting volcano as it wasn't realistic enough and my son kept asking what's that?, what's happening there? and it was just that the illustrations didn't show the *how* of it very well.  A diagram at this point would have been appreciated.  Fortunately, I was able to explain and illustrate with my hands to his satisfaction.  Otherwise, a very entertaining book.  The Volcano is called Paricutin and it, along with the abandoned village, may be visited today.

Paricutin Volcano, Church Buried by Lava Flow

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

294. Upside Down: A Vampire Tale by Jess Smart Smiley

Upside Down: A Vampire Tale by Jess Smart Smiley. (Canada) - (US) - (Kindle)

Pages: 144
Ages: 10+
Finished: Oct. 28, 2012
First Published: Oct. 15, 2012 Kindle (Dec. 4, 2012 Print Copy)
Publisher: Top Shelf
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy, vampires, bats, MG
Rating: 2/5

First sentence: "AUUGH! Sigh... It still doesn't work..."

Publisher's Summary:  "Harold is a friendly young vampire who lives in a piano and LOVES candy. Pretty normal, huh? ...until he sets out for a dentist appointment that turns into the biggest adventure of his life! Now he'll face bats, witches, magic spells, vampire frogs, mad scientists, and so much more! It's a wild magical romp for all ages, just in time for Halloween."

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher via NetGalley

Reason for Reading:  It looked cute.

I'll start with the illustrations as I was first attracted to the cover.  The illustrations use a three-colour palette of green, white and black which is very appropriate for the theme.  They are very simple and could have children trying to copy the drawings with a reasonable amount of success.  Overall they are cute and even the "bad" character of the witch isn't that ugly to look at.  The pictures will appeal to children.  As for the story, I have to say I was not all that impressed.  I just didn't find it funny.  Harold has a bad experience at the dentist, he eats candy so much it has wrecked his teeth.  He runs away from home rather than face his parents and takes up with strangers pulling pranks on people.  Not exactly role-modeling behaviour and the antics aren't even humorous.  I think the author went a bit too far with the paranormal content for this age too with the resurrecting of the dead and with the violence in the annihilation of the witch and her kind.  They may be bad but did they have to be destroyed?  Not what I thought it would be.  I can't recommend it to people looking for books with family values for their children.

Monday, November 19, 2012

291. Criminal Macabre: The Complete Cal McDonald Stories by Steve Niles

Criminal Macabre: The Complete Cal McDonald Stories by Steve Niles  (US) - (Canada) In print in Canada
Criminal Macabre, Novels 1-3

Pages:  419
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 27, 2012
First Published: (2002-2003, 2005) 2007
Publisher: Dark Horse
Genre: novellas, short stories, horror, crime noire, paranormal
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:  "It was the night after Halloween."

Publisher's Summary:  "The world has two faces. The natural and the supernatural. The face we see every day, people filing past us in an almost zombie-like stupor, numb to the horrors of everyday life or driven to madness by the pain and agony of modern-day existence. And those are the people who aren't zombies or monsters!

Cal McDonald is a detective with one foot in the real world, and one in the world of magic. For Cal, the horrors we all dream about in the fevered darkness of the night are all-too real, kept at bay through an almost constant influx of drugs to numb the pain, but never erase it. Cut from the same mold as Sam Spade, Jake Gittes, and the famous detectives of Chandler, Hammett and Spillane, Cal McDonald, whether he likes it or not, is all that stands between us and the nightmare world just outside our vision.

* Collected for the first time in one book are the long-out-of-print prose adventures of the most unconventional detective of all time."

Acquired:  Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan

Reason for Reading:  I read the latest graphic novel in the Cal Mcdonald series which was my first introduction to Steve Niles.  I was so impressed I just had to read more and see what this series was about so I decided to start with the text stories.  I am certifiably hooked and won't stop until I've read them all now.  Going to order the two omnibus collections of his earlier graphic novels next.  Those, I want to own!  Cal is a no holds barred gritty noire detective, even talks as if he's right from the pages of the 30s/40s classics in that genre.  But Cal does differ greatly, he sees the paranormal elements of life and his detective goals are to fight these otherworldly evils; Cal also has a very foul mouth, is addicted to every drug known to man (except the heavy street stuff), smokes and is an alcoholic.  He says he needs this to survive what he has to deal with every day.  And survive Cal does, though every now and then just within an inch of his life.  Somehow Cal's lack of societal niceties, his abrupt (call it rude) speech patterns and mostly not endearing personality actually appealed to me as  a character right from the start.  He's nothing if not genuine; you have to take him as you find him, warts and all, but on the inside he s fighting for the good side and will not let evil prevail no matter what. Recommend for the short story fan of noire, loneliness, crime and the paranormal.  I think this will sit well with fans of the TV Show "Angel".

1. Savage Membrane - originally published as an individual novel, this is in fact more accurately described as a novella.  The first Cal McDonald story is an intriguing, fast paced read and reminds me of the show "Angel' more than anything else.  Cal is human but he has the ability to see paranormal creatures; some of these, such as ghouls, are noticeable to the average human but except from seeming a bit creepy their true nature is not evident.  However Cal has lived with these creatures in his life ever since a young boy and cannot escape from their true reality.  Written in the old crime noire style, Cal is an ex-cop now working as a private investigator dealing in "unusual" cases.  He has a buddy left on the force: Blout, a muscular, got-it-together black man and non-believer in the supernatural but when he comes across a case that is inexplicable he will throw it Cal's way and that is what happens here.  Homeless men, dumpsters full of them, have turned up dead (some six months so) with their brains completely missing from their skulls with no evidence as to how they could have been removed.  This brings back an old case of Cal's, but that perpetrator is dead; Cal killed him with his own hands, or did he?  Cal, Blount, and Cal's sidekick, the ghoul Mo'Lock take the case and enter the sewers of DC to face zombies, FrankenTeens and the monstrous creature who feeds on brains.  A creepy story, well written but with a sense of humour and a good likeness of the dark old detective genre of Chandler and Spillane.  I'm hooked!  5/5

2. Guns, Drugs, and Monsters - This second novella was also published separately as a book, but it has no pretensions of being a novel.  There are no chapter breaks and it is slightly shorter than the first story at 125 pages.  Another excellent story of urban fantasy mixed with crime noire.  The scenario changes here but does keep some familiar aspects.  At first Cal. meets up with an escaped convict he put away in jail the first time who has come to exact revenge upon him.  We were told of this past case in "Savage Membrane".  Missing from the entire story is Cal's police friend, Blount, though he is referred to, who I enjoyed very much; but Cal's sidekick Mo'Lock is ever present even though his role is less than in the previous story.  I can't give too many details as a lot happens in this story since a rift in the dimensions has caused a great increase in the supernatural and Cal finds himself both involved in that and several concurrent cases at the same time.  I loved this just as much as the first story; maybe even a bit more since it was quite out there, this time dealing with traditional monsters such as vampires, werewolves and demons.  Making it more "realistic" LOL.  Cal has moved to California which creates its own nuances, meets up with an older detective in the same field and a reporter for a newspaper dealing with the supernatural. This story did seem to have much more vulgar language than the previous story, which I could have done without, but otherwise a well-written, humorous, entertaining paranormal story with the crime noir narrative twist. 4/5

3. The Dead Don't Die - With this story we start the third (and final) separately published book.  This is the first story from a collection of short stories entitled "Dial M for Monster."  We can presume the continuity follows with this story as Cal is settled into California permanently.  Cal gets "the call" and is told about a small rural town in California which has been infested with Zombies.  He's taken out for a aerial view, then dropped off.  Molock and his invited crew of ghouls have already arrived, and secured the perimetre.  The town is basically a hick town, in the middle of nowhere, in the shape of a circle and very much self-contained.  This is good as it means the infestation is localized.  Call gets to work in zombie killing, finds the source and ends up having an interesting discussion with a government man.  He finds out what their
opinion (and use) of him really is and they leave with an understanding.  Not that Cal benefits in anyway from it, except perhaps he'll waste less time being arrested.  3/5

4. Doll Face - This story is prefaced with a note that the events take place before the first published graphic novel.  This is a little enticing as it suggests something from this story might return in that GN.  This is a very creepy story  of a "freak" (Cal's general term for all unnatural creatures) who walks into a police station.  He looks like your stereotypical accountant only he's covered head to toe in blood, as if he'd been swimming in it.  He sits quietly in a cell for several hours and then starts talking at an incredibly fast speed, in a language no one can understand, except at one point the name Cal McDonald comes out.  Cal is called in to have a look and figures a few things out right away.  Off he and Mo'Lock go to the man's house where he finds one of the most disturbing sights he's ever seen and in his haste walks straight into a trap.  This story brings back mention of Cal's girlfriend from #2, though she doesn't show up as a character.  It is also quick-paced and an unsettling horror story.  A good read!  5/5

5. Soul Sucker - Another good story!  Two scientists come to hire Cal to watch over their experiment.  They supposedly have devised a way to remove the soul from the human body.  They've managed to obtain a comatose patient who was slated for being "unplugged" to be their first guinea pig.  Cal and Mo'Lock arrive, witness the experiment and leave in disgust.  Later that night they are alerted that not all has transpired well for the scientists and they return to deal with the situation.  This is rather a sad story as we see man interfering where he should not tread and the inevitable results are not pretty.  Mo'Lock's character is further developed and character continuity is kept in line with an explanation of why Cal is still living in his friend's house from story #2 and where said friend has been since then.  4/5

6. Stitch - This story takes place immediately after #5, with Cal in the hospital getting stitches removed from his injuries suffered in that encounter which he briefly describes in the opening paragraphs.  His recently acquired police contact calls him to come down to the morgue for a look. Cal sees five female bodies horribly disfigured which bring to mind the horrific work of Dr. Polynice, twice put behind bars in this collection already, but something is different.  Searching for who has killed these young women and sewn them back together with various body parts leads Cal into a case so disturbing he, for once,, is not that eager to even talk about.  The police will have enough evidence for a "regular" crime to have been committed... 5/5

7. Eater - Starts off with telling us that Cal is still in a relationship with Sabrina, not mentioned since story #4, though again she still doesn't show up as a character.  This was a fun story and a bit different than the others.  This time Mo'Lock brings to Cal a mysterious baby something.  Cal's immediate response to what to do with it is to kill it but Mo'Lock is having none of that.  After finding out that it eats meat, they have a real problem on their hands.  It starts to grow before their very eyes and its owner comes looking for it.  Unexpected ending, though by this point nothing is unexpected in Cal McDonald's world!  5/5

8. Big Fat Hairy Deal - So Sabrina is back as a character.  She tricks Cal into going camping with her and instead of bears they meet up with some other great big huge hairy humanoids.  I'll you guess what they are.  Mostly just a fun story, one that tries to show that Cal has a bit of human social awareness.  That he and Sabrina may not be your average couple but they care for each other and that Cal does have some sensitivities... sort of.  Fun story, but not as good as others.  3/5

9.  A Proper Monster - This is the last story in the collection of short stories entitled "Dial M for Monster." Cal receives a short note from a man introducing himself as a werewolf and telling Cal they must meet concerning a "grave matter that concerns the lives of many thousands."  The next night a very dapper man right out of the '40s arrives via limo at Cal's house and proceeds to tell him a chilling tale of Nazi torture, experiments and a plot to take over America.  Usually Cal kills werewolves on the spot but Paul Grimshaw is different and Cal is intrigued enough by the story to investigate.  I'm not a fan of werewolves but this is a unique take on the creature and I enjoyed this story. 4/5

10.  All My Bloody Things - The last story in this collection was previously published in an anthology.  This is the grossest story in the book and does not involve a paranormal monster but a human monster.  So this time the story is really pure crime.  Cal gets a phone call from someone he's helped and the guy is going on thanking him for saving his life when he happens to mention a friend is concerned that her brother, wife and son didn't arrive two nights ago.  The police did nothing and she's quite sure foul play is involved.  Cal takes the details.  He doesn't get involved in missing persons but he has a gut feeling (intuition) about cases and this one smells bad right from the beginning.  Whole families don't just disappear in the Californian desert.  What we get here is a bit of a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" story but with no chainsaw.  Very freaky and gross with the apt ending line, "Some of the worst monsters out there are human." One of my favourites in the collection and a great note on which to end the book.  5/5

Sunday, November 18, 2012

293. Christened with Crosses by Eduard Kochergin

Christened with Crosses: Notes Taken on My Knees by Eduard Kochergin. Translated from the Russian by Simon Patterson & Nina Chordas (Canada) - (US) - (Kindle)

Pages: 226
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 28, 2012
First Published: Jul. 25, 2012
Publisher: Glagoslav Publications
Genre: memoir, survival, communism, Russia, Soviet Union, orphans
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "The first conscious memory in my life is linked with the ceiling, Maybe I was ill frequently, or there was some other reason ..."

Publisher's Summary: "While the mothers in Siberia wait for their soldier sons to return from the war in the west in 1945, the eight year old Eduard secretly jumps on board the trains heading in the opposite direction, heading west, towards Leningrad. Placed in a Siberian orphanage as a child because his parents were arrested as public enemies, there is only one thing he wants: to go back home to Leningrad and to find his mother again. It is not only his desperate courage and his youthful agility that ensure his survival, it is also his artistic talent. With his agile fingers the boy is able to bend wire in the shape of profiles of Lenin and Stalin, as if in silhouette. He uses them to cheer up the invalid war veterans on the train stations returning from the front, who then give him a piece of bread, a bowl of soup and who, in a spirit of comradeship, warn him of the railway police and the secret service henchmen wanting to send the runaway back to the orphanage.

Eduard spends more than six years on the run, experiencing close encounters with post-war Russia where life and fate have become synonyms. He encounters other stowaways, professional beggars, soldiers returning from the war and wartime profiteers, the mothers of soldiers and war invalids, Chinese from the Ural, Cossacks dealing in hashish, Bashkir Estonians, Russian penal colony escapees and, time and again, orphanage directors. In order to survive the winter he often registered himself voluntarily in the next orphanage, each one always a little closer to the West, running away again before the servants of the Stalinist state are able to send him back to Siberia.

The memoirs of an old man who, as a boy, learnt to find his way between extortionate state control and marauding banditry, the two poles that characterize Russia to this day. A story about the awakening of artistic talent under highly unusual Russian circumstances."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Good Reads First Reads program.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy this time period in history and am very interested in people who survived or escaped the evils of Communism.

This is the author's story of his childhood from when he was about 6 to 12.  He starts in an orphanage in Siberia, escapes and spends the intervening years making his way across the country to his hometown of St. Petersburg (Leningrad) where he hopes to find his mother who was imprisoned during the war as a public enemy.  At first I had thought this was going to be a Christian book because of the title but it is in no form that way inclined.  The author explains in a brief foreword about his title ending with "The expression is capacious and ambiguous."  The author is Polish Roman Catholic but that has little to do with the tale except for some cultural differences between him and the Orthodox Russians.  I was a little disappointed at first, since I'd been expecting a Christian tale, but it had no affects on my enjoyment of the story.

Of course the author had a rough and tough childhood with the worst of it being in the orphanages he stayed.  The one in Siberia being the worst of the worst; where the children were treated inhumanely.  A good portion of the beginning is dedicated to this time of his life and here we find the reminiscences of an old man remembering when he was six to be vague.  Rather than telling a story, the book starts off with vignettes and assorted remembrances that may or may not be in chronological order.  I found this part of the book slow and thus hard to get into.  However once he escapes and grows a bit the story starts to take on more coherence and reads more like a book, rather than snippets.  He spends the summers traveling the rails, meeting up with all kinds of people, some good, some bad and he learns survival skills from some while learning trades from others.  Already good at drawing he became a skilled artist, drawing decks of cards, shaping the two leaders out of wire, learnt to paint from a Chinese man and learnt the Japanese method of tattooing.  These skills would forever keep him just beyond starvation over the years.  He meets fellow orphan (or half) travellers like himself along the way making good friends.  Some of them have happy endings to their stories, others do not.  But overshadowing the whole journey is the fear and terror of the communist soldiers, guards, inspectors, government officials; who if they found him illegally riding the trains could easily send him back to Siberia and make his journey for nought.  In the winters he would find a city orphanage to report too, tell them the truth about the last orphanage he was at and where he was headed and he would be put up.  He'd be warm and half-way fed, possibly beat, but sometimes educated and then come spring he'd hit the rails again.

An interesting story of a life that so many must have lived at that time.  So many families were torn apart by communism and the struggle of the littlest ones trying to find their way back home to someone who loves them is a heart-rending read.