Saturday, March 30, 2013

75. The Bedlam Detective by Stephen Gallagher

The Bedlam Detective by Stephen Gallagher

Rating: (4/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Feb. 5, 2013, Broadway/Crown, 100 pgs
Age: 18+

"From a basement office in London’s notorious Bethlehem Hospital, former policeman and Pinkerton agent Sebastian Becker is sent to interview Sir Owain Lancaster at his country estate. They wealthy industrialist returned alone from a disastrous scientific adventure in the Amazon, claiming that wild beasts killed his family and colleagues. He tells Becker that the same dark creatures have followed him home and are responsible for the deaths of two local girls and rumors of beasts on the moor. But while madmen may see monsters, some monsters hide in plain sight."

Madness, insane asylums and post-Victorian London; three things that have me salivating to read a book!  The Bedlam Detective was no disappointment.  A crossover between historical fiction and mystery, this book is more on the literary side to please those looking for historical/mystery rather than mystery/thriller.  While I didn't find it a page turning read, I did find it an engrossing read with a clever mystery at its centre.  Essentially a story of madness, as encountered in the post-Victorian era I found the plot fascinating along with the added element of the Victorian explorer I couldn't have been happier to find most of my favourite themes in one book.  Well-written, an excellent period piece that mentions famous names but doesn't include any as main characters.  I found myself doing a bit of research mid-read as I first heard mention of John Langdon Down, who turned out to be the physician Down's Syndrome is named after.  While the serial killer aspect is not the main theme of the book it is kept afloat well and has a very surprising conclusion as all plot elements come to a head at the end of the book.  A most enjoyable tale in one of my favourite genres.  This is my first read by the author who has written many books; I will have to check out his backlist.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Killer Charm: The Double Lives of Psychopaths by Linda Fairstein

Killer Charm: The Double Lives of Psychopaths by Linda Fairstein (3/5)

(Kindle) Only

2009, Jul. 10 2012, Open Road, 11 pgs
Age: 18+

"The 2009 “Craigslist Killer” murder case shocked America, not just because of the heinous nature of the crimes but because their perpetrator—a handsome young law student with an unsuspecting girlfriend—seemed a very unlikely suspect. This killer, like others before him, had learned to leverage his charm and golden-boy looks to lure his victims, a skill many psychopaths learn to master. In Killer Charm, legal expert Linda Fairstein draws on her decades of experience in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to uncover what traits psychopaths often share, and how to spot them. She illustrates these points with the stories of some of America’s most notorious sex criminals, such as Ted Bundy and Marvin Teicher. Originally published in Cosmopolitan, this essay is now available in digital format for the first time and features a new introduction by the author."

I'm not exactly sure of the purpose of publishing this short essay, originally published in a magazine, as a standalone.  It would be better served to publish a book's worth collection of such essays but nevertheless it was an entertaining read on how psychopathic serial killers can seem to be very charming people in their everyday "normal" lives.  The addition of a new introduction to the essay by the author also adds to the reading experience.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

72. The Devil by Leo Tolstoy

The Devil by Leo Tolstoy. Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude. (4/5)
The Art of the Novella series

(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

1889, May 1 2004, Melville House, 100 pgs
Age: 18+

"Leo Tolstoy is known for epic novels that brilliantly dissect society, but the novella The Devil may be the most personally revealing—and startling—fiction he ever wrote. He thought it so scandalous, in fact, that he hid the manuscript in the upholstery of a chair in his office so his wife wouldn’t find it, and he would never allow it to be published in his lifetime. 
Perhaps that’s because the gripping tale of an aristocratic landowner slowly overcome with unrelenting sexual desire for one of the peasants on his estate was strikingly similar to an affair Tolstoy himself had. Regardless, the tale—presented here with the two separate endings Tolstoy couldn’t decide between—is a scintillating study of sexual attraction and human obsession."

 An entertaining, though overdramatic, tale of a man's fight against lust.  The devil referred to in the title is openly described as the woman the man lusts after but it is apparent that the temptation of lust itself is the actual "devil" of the title.  While the story is overdramatic in its telling by modern standard's and the actions of the female characters very stereotypical, it is typical of writing from this period.   I certainly enjoyed the story and it has whetted my appetite for more Tolstoy.  As to the author hiding this from his wife, I don't think it had anything to do with the story's sexual nature but rather that the main character contemplates killing his wife and due to the biographical nature of the story *that* may have been what he didn't want her to see. LOL.  I really appreciated being able to read both endings which end up exactly in the same place but get there differently.  Personally, I prefer the first one.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

71. Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation by Lou Scheimer with Andy Mangels

Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation by Lou Scheimer with Andy Mangels (5/5)

(US) - (Canada)

Nov. 7, 2012, TwoMorrows Publishing, 288 pgs
Age: 18+

"Hailed as one of the fathers of Saturday morning television, Lou Scheimer was the co-founder of Filmation Studios, which for over 25 years provided animated excitement for TV and film. Always at the forefront, Scheimer’s company created the first DC cartoons with Superman, Batman, and Aquaman, ruled the song charts with The Archies, kept Trekkie hope alive with the Emmy-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series, taught morals with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and swung into high adventure with Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro.  Forays into live-action included Shazam! and The Secrets of Isis, plus ground-breaking special effects work on Jason of Star Command and others. And in the 1980s, Filmation single-handedly caused the syndication explosion with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its successors. Now, with best-selling co-author Andy Mangels, Lou Scheimer tells the entire story, including how his father decked Adolf Hitler, memories of the comic books of the Golden Age, schooling with Andy Warhol, and what it meant to lead the last all-American animation company through nearly thirty years of innovation and fun! Profusely illustrated with photos, model sheets, storyboards, presentation art, looks at rare and unproduced series, and more — plus hundreds of tales about Filmation’s past, and rare Filmation-related art by Bruce Timm, Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, Phil Jimenez, Frank Cho, Gene Ha, and Mike McKone — this book shows the Filmation Generation the story behind the stories!"

A thoroughly intoxicating book for my generation which grew up with these children's shows.  Basically I'm in the middle age group here, being too young for the '60s shows, though I did see some of them in reruns.  The seventies were definitely my hey-day of Saturday TV-morning cartoons and when it comes to the 80s shows I'm not quite as familiar with them but had my exposure due to babysitting; especially with one little "He-Man" freak-a-zoid boy.. I learned to play He Man action figures while we watched the videos!

Lots of memories came back reading this book and Lou comes across as a super-nice person.  Someone with traditional moral values, who took his work seriously in an age that wanted children's programming to be meaningful not just entertaining.  Lou is a character, he has some behind the scene tales to tell and asks you to make sure the children leave the room first, he uses * for vowels when he must use swear words when repeating conversations.  He has plenty of nice things to say about those he worked with even when the relationship ended badly.  Of course, he's not an angel and he didn't get along with everybody, used the word "jerk' a few times but otherwise refuses to talk about the negativity of these people.  They existed in such n such a role in his life, he was a jerk, let's move forward.  Lou is an old-time classy guy so you won't find any dirt-dishing here.

But what you will find is a treasure trove of detailed information on how Filmation started and what went on behind the scenes at the studios and on the sets of the live action shows.  Not only is it a history of Filmation , the company, but also a broader history of the Saturday morning cartoon industry itself.I learned so much information about some of my favourite childhood shows but I also learned tremendous amounts of what went into the animation process before the computer took over.  How many shows were developed compared to the ones that got approved and made.  I would have really liked to have seen their version of Buck Rogers come to fruition.  Lou was a family man, married for almost 60 years before widowed, with two children who joined him in the studio and a daughter who literally followed in his shoe steps career-wise.  Amazingly, the book took me a long time to read; it seems deceptively short at only 288 pages, but this is a large coffee table size book and while it has a nice collection of photos and pictures to look at the text is dense, informative, fascinating and I often went back to re-read sections.  Lou has a simple down to earth writing style that is very entertaining to read and he seems just like one of the guys rather than a big wig studio executive.

For those of you who can't place what Filmation created let me list some of my favourites: Star Trek: The Animated Series; He Man, Shazam!, Isis, Flash Gordon and Fantastic Voyage; and not my favourites  but the company's biggies were The Archies and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

66. The Enchanted Wanderer by Nikolai Leskov

The Enchanted Wanderer by Nikolai Leskov. Translated by Ian Dreiblatt (3.5/5)
Art of the Novella series

1873; 2012, Melville House, 210 pgs

(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

"The Enchanted Wanderer is a Russian Candide with a revolutionary edge, a picaresque that features a fast-talking monk named Ivan who is at war, it seems, with every level of society. Working as a carriage man for a Count, Ivan accidentally causes the death of a monk, which leads to his being ostracized by the local peasantry . . . until the dead monk returns as a ghost to guide him through trouble upon trouble."

This month I received two books of Russian literature and decided to start with this one as compared to the other novellas I've been reading it is a veritable tome at 210 pages.  Which I guess is appropriate for a novella of Russian Lit when you think of the average length of a Russian novel. LOL  I haven't read any classic Russian works unless you count Doctor Zhivago and modern 20th century authors, but I have read many short stories such as Tolstoy and Chekhov.  This was an entirely new piece to me.  I found myself likening it to  Don Quixote with the man's outlandish experiences as he wanders across his countryside, perhaps mad, perhaps making it up, perhaps telling the truth.  On the other hand I would liken it in a way to the tale of Job.  A man who must suffer the tribulations given to him by God.  Ivan kills a monk and the monk's spirit comes back and tells him that his life will be full of hardships leading up to near-death experiences but he will not ever die no matter how bad things get and this will continue his whole life until he accepts his destiny to answer the call of God and become a monk himself.  The book follows Ivan's life from young adulthood to old age as he goes from one escapade to another sometimes he merely suffers a beating other times he survives circumstances that should have been the death of anyone else.  As I read the book I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not; it was an on again off again affair with me.  There were parts that I found dragged.  The sheer amount of events that happen in this short book is enormous giving it a very fast pace which leaves one forgetting what happened previously.  But at other times I was caught up in Ivan's story and whether he was exaggerating or telling the truth I didn't really care; the tales had a captivating fairy tale quality to them I truly enjoyed while the writing flowed beautifully.  An enjoyable read that has whetted my appetite for more Russian works and I look forward to the next book this month.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

65. Night's Child by Maureen Jennings

Night's Child by Maureen Jennings (4/5)
Murdoch Mysteries, #5

2005, Feb 26 2013, McClelland & Stewart, 384 pgs
Ages: 18+

(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

"Gorgeous new TV tie-in edition of Maureen Jennings's immensely popular Inspector Murdoch series, basis for the long-running The Murdoch Mysteries, now on CBC. 
After thirteen-year-old Agnes Fisher faints at school, her teacher, the young and idealistic Amy Slade, is shocked to discover photographs in the girl's desk. One is of Agnes in a lewd pose, captioned "What Mr. Newly Wed Really Wants." When Agnes does not show up at school the next day, her teacher takes the two photographs to the police. Then Detective Murdoch, furious at the sexual exploitation of such a young girl, sets out to find the photographer and put him behind bars."

The seven books in this series have been re-issued with matching covers taken from the television series, which is pleasing for fans of the show but not always appropriate for the later books in the series as the characters shown are not all present once the series progresses.  This is actually my first read in this series but I'm no stranger to Murdoch.  I've watched the three movies which are based completely on the first three books in the series and I've watched the occasional episode of the television show which is not based on any particular book but is based on the characters from the books.  So as I read my fist acting Detective Murdoch mystery I was met with a cast of familiar characters and felt right at home.  I really enjoyed the book which set in Victorian Toronto Canada involves a crime centering around a ring of child pornography photographers whose crimes escalate to exploitation and much worse up to and including murder.  This is one of Murdoch's most deplorable cases and has many sidelines as well such as rising feminism, a unique form of labour union and Murdoch's continuous struggles with his love life.  The case wasn't exactly a mystery as we knew who one culprit was fairly early but the other was a surprise at the end and the book ends off with Murdoch's life taking on a whole new set of circumstances.  A great read for those wanting something just a little more than a cozy (but not too much) and for Victorian era fans.  Will most certainly be getting around to reading this whole series one of these days!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

62. Legend of an Iron Tower and Other Fables... by Natalia Dobzhanska

Legend of an Iron Tower and Other Fables... by Natalia Dobzhanska. Translated from the Ukraine by Natalia Dobzhanska and Alan Knight (4/5)

2012, Knight Publishing Company, Kindle Edition, 154 pages
Purchased when offered as a freebie

(Kindle) Only

"A Book of seventeen original stories about dreams and losses, pride and forgiveness, fear and sacrifice, misery and hope…. In most of the stories the heroes undergo personal conflicts... a man has no face of his own, an inventor finds a pair of boots left just for potential suicides, an angel comes to Earth with the secret wish to save humankind, a man feeds a dragon that lives inside him, a mother prays to God to give her daughter a special gift... a knight without fear or doubt ignores an ancient prophesy, a mysterious clown comes to a sad princess to make her merry, a Cloud is perpetually disappointed with the Sun whom she loves… Eight of the stories were first published in the author’s prize-winning 2007 book, «Хроніки пустелі» (“Chronicles of a Desert”), in the original Ukrainian."

This is a pure gem that I am thrilled to have found.  I am fond of reading fairy tales and folktales and last year I started sampling Russian Orthodox tales so this collection of fables coming from a Ukrainian author highly appealed to me.  I was not disappointed in the least.  I only wish the author had included a note to let us know whether these were her own original stories or whether they were based on or retellings of traditional tales.  The tales are very authentic in their storytelling and highly Christian, most likely Catholic, than Orthodox, from what I know of Ukrainian heritage, but that is only my guess.  My only complaint with the writing is the author has a penchant for an extreme overuse of the punctuation mark the ellipsis (...); throwing those three dots at the ends of sentences willy-nilly multiple times throughout every single story.  That annoyed the heck out of the grammarian in me but the stories themselves were a pure pleasure to read.  Most certainly aimed at the adult reader with an emphasis on everlasting life without being theological or didactic.

1. The Carrier - Promising start to this collection.  A heartwarming modern-day tale of a man whose entire life is "grey" and he decides to give it all up.  He has an encounter/dream with the Big Unknown One and agrees to be put to tests to become a carrier of joy.  What follows is a Job-like story of troubles and wretchedness that bring the man down to a state where he can appreciate the clouds and grass. Then things turn around and a well-lived life has been lived by the end.  Touching. (4/5)

2. Legend of a Sea and a Cliff - An original folktale about the battle between the Sea and a Cliff.  They both pray to the Fire Star for a son/daughter who continue their battle for them.  A delightful piece of writing styled after ancient folktales which at it's heart is about suffering, love and the giving of yourself for the sake of the other(s). (5/5)

3. Together - A haunting story of love 'till death do us part'.  But even past death as the families have been united in Christ through the ceremony of Godparents.  Beautiful story of two lovely children who die, but upon their births they had neighbouring trees planted.  These trees symbolize the love and everlasting life of the children, forever and ever, amen. Melancholy, with much symbolism: forbidden fruit, tree of life, etc. but beautiful.  I am enjoying Dobzhanska's literary style of writing.  (5/5)

4. A Wrapper - a delightful fable about a candy wrapper who is haughty and prideful sitting in the candyshop window with the most expensive chocolates in the shop.  It takes a literal fall for her to end up as litter squashed in the mud under someone's heel until she becomes humble, appreciates life's simple pleasures and ends up in a beautiful place.  (4/5)

5. Boots for the Refuse Collector - This one was a bit heavy handed and over-the-top.  A troll hands out shoes to those who would commit suicide. End of the troll.  The main character is an artist who collects bits of garbage to use someday in his big mixed-media paintings.  He's done two so far in his life and no one has shown any interest, including his fellow artists.  He's a gloomy, melancholy man with worn out shoes when he finds and puts on the shiny new black boots.  He eventually dies and is taken round to the hospital, his body anyway.  The rest of him walks around becoming fainter to the world until he's almost invisible.  There is a happy ending but I didn't much enjoy this story. (2.5/5)

6. Lilac - A beautiful fairy tale of a knight and a fair maiden; of war, dark magic, charms and curses. This story was somewhat longer than the others and followed several consecutive mini-plots.  The ultimate theme is the greatest love is that which one is willing to give their life for others.  The Christian symbols are the "Heavenly Mother" and the "Resurrection" tree.  A lovely tale of two selfless people in love.  (5/5)

7. A Hunchback - Lovely little story!  A contented hunchback has a dream which he thinks is prophetic but it leads to a life of misery.  Once he gives up his hate and hard-hearted ways he finds the joy of everlasting life. (4/5)

8. The Gift - A modern story of a couple who has wanted a child for years and later in life are blessed with an only girl.  They think she is wonderful and special and treat her to everything she could possibly ever want.  When kindergarten comes around the mother is dismayed that no one there thinks her daughter is extremely special; they treat her just like a normal child.  After much heartache mom prays and prays to God to make her daughter truly special to the world, she asks for beauty, something no one else has.  So one morning the girl wakes up with real silver hair; she becomes special to the world at large and fame and fortune follow but not happiness.  God's lesson to the mother is to be careful what you pray for, what result are you truly looking for?  Cute story but not on the same par as others.  (3/5)

9. Re-Lig (Angel Incarnate) - My favourite story so far and probably will be of the whole book!  This is a longer story and so, so beautiful.  The story has so many layers I couldn't do it justice to try and explain but it is a decidedly Christian tale.  After Jesus returns to Heaven the angels wonder if they could go to earth as part man and help man out better that way.  After a council with God an angel steps forward and God sends him down as a baby to live the life of a man but he has a silver thread sewn down his soul dividing his angel self from his human self.  His human self knows nothing of the arrangement while the angel has no way of communicating with his other self.  Hard to describe here but it works wonderfully.  On his way down the angel immediately knows that he will not be able to do what Jesus did and accepting that limitation he tries to help his man self help other men but temptation is so strong.  The Temptor has much in store for him but thankfully he has God to love him everyday.  But what happens when the Temptor asks God to follow His word according to the Book of Job is more than the Angel can handle.  Absolutely stunning story!  (5/5)

10. Story of a Little Girl and a Fairy-Tale Castle - A typical fairytale of a modern little girl who has an adventure through the woods arriving at a castle to play with fairies.  She brings home a musical instrument which brings the fairies to her, but alas, she grows up and looses the magic.  A pretty tale about getting down and seeing things from the level of a child.  (3/5)

11. The Man in Whom a Dragon Lived - Another fairy tale which felt as if it could be set in modern times though we are mostly inside this man's dreams.  As a young boy his pet rat escapes the apartment and is mauled by the neighbour's cat. The next day he takes the cat to a lot full of stray mutts and the neighbour is later taken to retrieve her cat's body but no one knows the boy was involved.  At this point a small dragon entered into the heart/soul of the boy.  It grew with him into manhood, needed feeding, it's fire made him angry, rude, ignorant, unhappy and at some point he became aware of the dragon.  Needless to say the man finds a dragonslayer in his dreams but he won't help him.  A redeeming story follows as the man learns that we must deal with our own demons, that by feeding them and constantly giving them our attention helps them to grow.  A bit of a quick ending but an intelligent, entertaining story. (3/5)

12. Legend of a River and Desert Wind - In the same vein as the story about the cliff and the ocean, this is a beautiful fairy tale in which the river and the wind battle fiercely against each other.  This is a long story with both complete stories that serve as a lead-up and follow-through to the middle epiphany when a small voice from a little star tells them that Love is the answer; God is Love; and two are better than one.  A pretty story on the surface but a deep one when the messages are considered.  (4/5)

13. The Man Who Had No Face of His Own - This is a very short story compared to the others. A man always acts like other people and so looks like them, never having a true self until one day after he has led a riches to rags life he is told to aspire to be like God, then he will look like God.  But he dies and meets God, and then it is time to be judged.  Not as good as the other stories. (2.5/5)

14. Ballad of a Sad Princess - Another charming fairytale. This one may actually be based on an old folksong as the text of the song is presented at the end.  This is the story of three people (their tales told sequentially, three very sad people; first a disheartened young man with a fatal disease, then a very sad princess and finally a brutish, angry knight.  Each one learns through the previous one how to love and that life is full of joy (not joy of anything in particular) but simply in the joy of creation and the joy of being.  This leads to the joy of living and realizing the greatest joy of life is "going home" to join God.  Guardian angels become a major theme here as well.  A well told-tale that leaves us with a feeling this may have roots in a traditional folktale.  (5/5)

15. Poem of a Cloud and the Sun - Once again we are brought a tale which personifies the elements; this time the sun and a cloud.  Sun takes on the wise master role while little cloud follows him because she loves him so much but when she eagerly asks him if he loves her in return the sun says yes he loves her, he can love and he shines his love down on all things good and evil.  Cloud can never quite grasp this and every so often gets grumpy fills up with rain/snow, etc and lets it loose until she has disintegrated into the sea, the ground, the snow.  But Sun always comes back with his heat to absorb her up into her former cloud glory again and so it shall be forever and ever with opposites attracting as they are "destined to be together".  Cute and I get the message but not as powerful as other stories (3/5)

16. Legend of an Iron Tower - This is the story from which this book gets its title.  Usually in such collections these titular stories come first but I`m glad this didn't as it didn't really do much for me.  A story of a knight in a land of peace, one who has never known war and the only thing he can find to fight against is a feared tower of iron.  Headless of the prophecy surrounding the tower`s demise and goaded on by an old woman, he sets off on his quest.  A story with a message but not as profound as previous ones.  (3/5)

17. Doors - A splendid fable to end this collection with.  A man is on a deserted island with no memory of his past life, seeming as if he's been there always.  He's content but eventually he wants more, some thing is missing that is eluding his being happy.  Events occur and he is left with many doors to open to find his happiness.  It takes much time and many doors for him to endure sickness, trials, tribulations, discomfort and states just shy of happiness before he runs out of doors and learns what true happiness is.  Splendid!  (5/5)

Monday, March 18, 2013

61. Iscariot by Tosca Lee

Iscariot: A Novel of Judas by Tosca Lee (4/5)

Feb. 5 2013, Howard Books/Simon & Schuster Canada, 352 pgs
Ages: 18+
(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

"Based on extensive research into the life and times of Judas Iscariot, this triumph of fiction storytelling by the author of Havah: The Story of Eve revisits one of biblical history’s most maligned figures and brings the world he inhabited vividly to life.
In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—the promised Messiah and future king of the Jews, destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, he joins the Nazarene’s followers, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life. But soon Judas’s vision of a nation free from Rome is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—who seems, in the end, to even turn against his own people. At last, Judas must confront the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda. 
Iscariot is the story of Judas, from his tumultuous childhood to his emergence as the man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus. But even more, it is a singular and surprising view into the life of Jesus that forces us to reexamine everything we thought we knew about the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history."

One of he last people in the world we would want to feel sympathy for is Judas Iscariot but Tosca Lee has written a beautiful story of biblical times and what Judas' life might have been like prior to meeting Jesus, what his hopes and dreams were of a coming Messiah and how in a moment of weakness he lets his disappointment lead him into betrayal.  This is Judas' story from his own point of view but it is also the story of Jesus from the point of view of a devout Jew who followed the Pharisees before he met Jesus.  It is an entertaining story and had me from the first chapter.  I read the book quickly over a couple of days and was very much taken with the vivid portrayal of ancient life at the time of Jesus and the political turmoil that was going on between the Romans and the Jews themselves when God sent his Son to save us from our sins.  I enjoyed Tosca's writing and was held spellbound throughout my reading.  The author's research is obvious.  Many references from Gospel are accounted but one must remember that this is fiction.  Lee is fitting her story into the Gospel truth that exists which does not in turn make her fictional story true.  On the level of fiction I really enjoyed the story and how she made Judas a sympathetic person who was a victim of his times and confused to what the truth really was.  I enjoyed this presentation but could not completely fall under its spell as knowing my Gospel I know that Jesus cursed Judas for betraying him as He knew what was going to happen in the end anyway.  This is included in the story but it comes early on as coming from Judas`own mind.  As a Catholic, the only problem I had with the book theologically was one scene where Jesus is supposed to have an elder brother (he had no siblings at all let alone an elder) and his mother is in this scene too and portrayed very weakly.  It is disturbing to see Our Lady treated so unworthily in this and one other scene near the end of the book.  But for pure good story and an interesting look into a familiar story from a unique point of view I`d highly recommend the book, only emphasizing one to remember it is fiction even though based on fact.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

58. Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers

Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers by Dav Pilkey (4/5)
Captain Underpants, #10

2013, Scholastic Canada, 288 pgs
Ages: 7+
(US) - (Canada)

"When we last saw our heroes, George and Harold, they had been turned into evil zombie nerds doomed to roam a devastated, post apocalyptic planet for all eternity. But why, you might ask, didn't the amazing Captain Underpants save the boys from this frightening fate? Because Tippy Tinkletrousers and his time-traveling hijinks prevented George and Harold from creating Captain Underpants in the first place! Now, having changed the course of human history forever, they'll have to figure out a way to CHANGE IT BACK. 
Could this be the end for Captain Underpants?!!"

I've read a handful of books by Pilkey but this is actually my first "Captain Underpants".  Now I'll be the first to admit this is not great literature but I'm not a book snob when it comes to funny, entertaining books whose main goal is to get kids reading either and Pilkey has that knack.  I like his sense of humour.  This book continues right where book 9 left off and includes a return of the villain Tippy Tinkletrousers, who is hilarious.  Involving a lot of time travel right back to the ice age and the "Big Bang Theory", including some future time travel and various characters meeting up with themselves in the past and the future this is an action-packed comedy, part text and part comic, though mostly text with lots of illustrations.  Pure silly fun.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

56. Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady

Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady. Frontispiece by Edward Gorey (4/5)
Bloomsbury Group

1964; 2011, Bloomsbury, 288 pgs
Ages: 18+
(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

"When recently orphaned Barnaby Gaunt is sent to stay with his uncle on a beautiful remote island off the coast of Canada, he is all set to have the perfect summer holiday. Except there is one small problem: His uncle is trying to kill him. 
Heir to a ten-million-dollar fortune, Barnaby tries to tell everyone and anyone that his uncle is after his inheritance, but no one will believe him. That is, until he tells the only other child on the island, Chrissie, who concludes that there is only one way for Barnaby to stop his demonic uncle: He will just have to kill him first. With the unexpected help of One-Ear, the aged cougar who has tormented the island for years, Chrissie and Barnaby hatch a foolproof plan.
Playful, dark, and witty, Let's Kill Uncle is a surprising tale of two ordinary children who conspire to execute an extraordinary murder-and get away with it."

A mistake people may make with this book is assuming that with the two main characters being ten years old that the book is going to be *for* children.  Well, it most certainly is not.  Barnaby and Christie are the focal characters and the action surrounds them but it is the secondary adult characters whom the reader is given more insight into their personalities, their backgrounds, what makes them tick.  This is a Gothic story, quite morbid, and everyone has a tragic story, but there is black humour to lighten the load and even though a Hollywood horror movie was filmed of the book, there is a certain tongue in cheek aura to the whole thing.  This book is certainly not going to be for everyone but with my delight in the macabre I found it entirely enchanting.  Evil Uncle is the villain, but all the "good guys" have their foibles or a certain something that makes them unlikable and yet I couldn't help but be charmed by them all.  And I loved the ending; it was a big "Ha!" and I thought it was funny; though some readers may find it annoying.  So not for everyone but I was very much taken with this macabre, quirky tale.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

53/54 DC Super Heroes: The Dark Knight

DC Super Heroes: The Dark Knight
2013, Capstone Press
Pages: 88
Ages: 8+

53. The Joker Virus by Scott Peterson. Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro (5/5)

(US) - (Canada)

This series already has a large selection of Batman books but new this year is the sub series "The Dark Knight".  I was quite impressed with this book.  First, I'll start by saying I hate the Joker, and the childish comical way he is usually portrayed in anything aimed at kids makes me hate him even more as a character.  However, Peterson has written a delightfully dark story here deserving of "The Dark Knight"'s time.  The Joker is mean, nasty, hates kids and even "sadistic".  This is a page turning story featuring Tim Drake as Robin and will be highly enjoyed by kids who are gamers when they find out that gaming plays a major role in the theme.

54. Cat Commander by J.E. Bright. Illustrated by Luciano Vecchio (4/5)

(US) - (Canada)

I do like these new entries replacing the "Batman" sequence.  Much darker stories, though this one is light-hearted as well. In the first chapter though, we have The Dark Knight actually beating up three criminals: kicking one in the knee, tripping another and giving a whack to the head of the last. So, yeah, so bit more intense.  This story has some fun interplay between Bruce and Selina and Batman and Catwoman showing there affection for one another even though they are on opposing sides.  A fun story even though it was a bit strange with Catwoman wanting rights for cats to not be "owned" by people and Batman agreeing with her to a point!  As if we don't have enough unwanted animals in shelters and roaming the streets!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

49. That Boy Red by Rachna Gilmore

That Boy Red by Rachna Gilmore (5/5)

Apr. 4, 2011, Harper Trophy Canada, 208 pgs
Ages: 9+
(US - Kindle Only) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

"It’s the Depression, but Red’s family is managing better than most on their Prince Edward Island farm. Hard working and resourceful, they have enough to eat and to help others, even if at times they are mocked by their neighbours for putting education ahead of farm work. Eleven-year-old Red has plenty of chores around the farm, and the days can be long, but he still gets the odd break to go swimming or fishing, provided his homework is done. Red’s older sister, Ellen, teaches at the local school, and if Red doesn’t shine, she will not only punish him, but also make sure their parents hear about it. 
But then Red’s father’s hand is seriously injured and the family’s situation looks dire. Red steps up to the challenge, finishing the tobacco boxes that his father makes and helping shovel out a train stuck in the snow. Stubborn and even pigheaded, Red does make mistakes along the way (such as pretending to be dead so that his younger sister will stop following him), but his heart is always in the right place."

I was taken with how much I enjoyed this book; I just gobbled it up!  Once started I couldn't put it down.  Each chapter is episodic, there is no major plot running through the book, except that of the life of a family living through the Depression on Prince Edward Island.  The book is held together though by recurring themes in the lives of the characters, such as the love life of the eldest daughter, but the book is very much centred on the main male character and will be of especial appeal to boys.  The stories are similar to those written in the 50s/60s such as Henry Huggins, Homer Price and Soup, but Gilmore has brought more of an edge to these tales of growing up.  This coming of age story is more raw than those earlier others; people really get hurt, there is a life-like childhood meanness in the pranks and hi-jinks along with the real utter guilt and sorrow that follows.  The author's note tells us this book is based on her father-in-law's childhood giving it a certain authenticity along with the nostalgia.  One thing I really thought was brilliant was how the parents paid for the eldest child to go to college, then each sibling paid for the next one to follows' education.

A new edition with a much improved cover will be coming out this summer (2013); perchance it will be released in the US?

This book counts for my PEI book on my Reading Around the World Project and means I have, finally, now read a book in every Canadian Province/Territory.  Guess I'll start collecting titles for a second tour of Canada now.

Friday, March 8, 2013

48. A Question of Identity by Susan Hill

A Question of Identity by Susan Hill (4.5/5)
Simon Serrailler, #7

Jan. 8, 2013, Knopf Canada, 368 pgs
Ages: 18+
(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

"Lafferton is struggling through a bitter winter, with heavy snowfalls paralysing the town, though at least the police can be sure the ram raiders who have been targeting antique and jewellers' shops will be lying low.
The biggest worry the elderly have is how to keep warm, until 82-year-old Doris Upcott is found strangled in her home, followed by the deaths of 2 other residents of the same sheltered housing complex. Each time, the murderer has left a unique signature at the crime scene, which should help DCS Simon Serrailler, desperate to identify him before he kills again.When links are found between these and 3 similar murders elsewhere, Serrailler is obliged to cross unfamiliar territory in his search for answers."

Probably the best book in the Serrailler series I've read!  A brilliant crime novel where we are taken inside the mind of the killer.  The book starts with some brief thoughts from the killer and then we are taken back to 2002 and a court case where a sadistic killer is found not guilty due to some fancy witness questioning on the stand.  Now in the present Simon is faced with a series of murders that fit the same MO but upon discovering the previous case that man is found to have disappeared without a trace.  All throughout the story the narrative switches occasionally to the killer's thoughts sometimes brief paragraphs others a couple of pages long and we are taken inside his mind to see what makes him tick, why he does what he does and what he gets out of it.  A consuming read that I just could not put down!  I would love to have given this full 5 stars but unfortunately I did figure out who the killer was as soon as the character appeared in the book; after his first scene he just didn't appear sincere to me and I didn't doubt for a second he would end up being the killer so I was kind of disappointed as I raced to the final few pages to find out that I had been right all along.  BTW, we do know the killer is a he right from the beginning so no spoiler there.  I'm prone to figuring out "whodunit" though so I've only docked the book 1/2 a star because otherwise I found this a brilliant read.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

46/47. DC Super Heroes: The Man of Steel

DC Super Heroes: The Man of Steel
2013, Capstone Press
Pages: 88
Ages: 8+

46. Demons of Space by Laurie S. Sutton. Illustrated by Luciano Vecchio (3/5)

(US) - (Canada)

The latest offering in Capstone's DC Super Heroes chapter book series is a renaming of Superman to "The Man of Steel".  There are tons of Superman books in the series already and I presume the new name will now be where the new titles will be listed.  Throughout the book "Supe" is alternately called by both names.  The first part of this story was great as Superman was called upon by Orion and Big Barda to help stop Darkseid's newest devastating plot.  Granny Goodness and Kalibak show up briefly trying to stop O. and BB from arriving but they are too late and Darkseid shows up as everyone is postulating anyway.  I loved the showdown between Superman and Darkseid but as their encounter takes them to Jupiter I found the writing devolved into an astronomy lesson about the planet.  Other than that I appreciated the number of heroes/villains present in this title, along with cameos of Lashina and Mad Harriet, a virtual Kirby reunion!

47. The Poisoned Planet by Matthew K. Manning. Illustrated by Luciano Vecchio (4/5)

(US) - (Canada)

One of my favourite villains comes to Metropolis to plague Superman, Poison Ivy.  I've read several of these books with Ivy and she is a great character.  This was a fun back-to-basics story that took place right in the Daily Planet building and included the regular newspaper cast of Lane, Olsen, White and even Kent himself.  Fun environment friendly story that shows how going overboard is as bad as the other extreme.  Poison Ivy is an eco-terrorist who places no value on human life and yet the story leaves us with a friendly lesson on recycled paper.  Not a bad entry in the series,  (4/5)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

43. Fanfarlo by Charles Baudelaire

Fanfarlo by Charles Baudelaire. Translated by Edward K. Kaplan. (2.5/5)
The Art of the Novella

1847; Aug, 2012, Melville House, 64 pgs
Ages: 18+
(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

"Ten years before Baudelaire published his masterpiece, The Flowers of Evil, the great poet penned the only prose fiction of his career: La Fanfarlo. The novella describes the torrid real-life affair the poet had with Jean Duval, a dancer whose beauty and sexuality Baudelaire came to obsess over. The outcome is a work of raw emotional power and a clear distillation of the Parisian’s poetic genius. As Baudelaire himself said, “Always be a poet, even in prose.”"

This was the second selection from Melville House's Novella Book Club this month.  I don't generally get on well with French literature or historical books about France so even though I was game to give this short read my best effort I wasn't too impressed.  Very verbose with flowery and excessive language.  Paragraphs could have been written in a sentence or omitted altogether.  Divided mainly into 3 parts, one on the poet, one on the poet's friend, a spurned wife, and the last on the poet and an actress, Fanfarlo, and their love affair.  I really had not much of a clue what was going on until the end of the spurned wife's story where finally they get to the point and a small plot develops.  Baudelaire was a poet and this is supposed to be his only work of prose, which is good as I have no inclination to read him again.  But at least I feel I've broadened  my horizons a bit with this read and become a tad more [sic] edjificated :-)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Shining Agnes by Sara Banerji

Shining Agnes by Sara Banerji (5/5)
A Bloomsbury Reader

1990; 2012, Bloomsbury, 200 pgs
Ages: 18+
(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

"In a once great, now falling, mansion live an aristocratic family: Alice, huge, sad and longing for love; her paralyzed mother who is subject to wild and eccentric enthusiasms; and the foster child Agnes, whose desire to be an actress sets in motion a train of bizarre and horrifying events. 
Then love comes to Alice in the form of beautiful but furtive Vincent who has moved in next door. But does he want Alice for herself or for the treasures that she digs from the rubble of her tumbled home? And how does he view Alice's obsession with compost, the making of which she compares to the growth of spirituality and the purging away of sin? 
Black comedy lurks beneath the surface of this gloriously imaginative novel from the author of Cobweb Walking, The Wedding of Jayanthi Mandel and The Tea-Planter's Daughter."

Brilliant!  A novel of Catholicism, miracles, apparitions, infidelity, murder and paedophilia   The first chapter had me hooked and I read continuously until I had finished.  A beautiful story of redemption and faith.  A very dark story at times but with an amazing ending that left my heart full of love and happiness for the main character, Alice.  I must read this author again!  A caveat: however much *I* enjoyed this book, I do realize that some people will find it rather morbid and the themes perhaps off-putting.  So not a book for everyone, but certainly my kind of book.  Very much looking forward to my next read by Banerji.