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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís

The February selection for my graphic novel reading group.

Title: The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
Author: Peter Sís
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 56
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 1-29-08

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain is Peter Sís' autobiographical story of growing up is Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Told primarily through pictures with side notes of a running timeline of the events during his childhood, you are given a simple but powerful account of what is was like to be a child and growing up in Czechoslovakia during this time.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

8. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie


Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Copyright: 1932
Pages: 322
Format: Paperback
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 1-24-08

This is only the second book by Agatha Christie that I have read, but it cemented her as one of my favorite authors. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express. As it is only the second of her books that I have read, I can't be sure, but I can see a pattern to Christie's writing; she seems to definitely draw from a certain formula in her writing. Even with what appears to be a predisposed pattern to her writing, these are still enjoyable reads.

Murder on the Orient Express is a Hercule Poirot mystery, one of her more colorful recurring characters. Like The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot finds himself in an unexpected situation; traveling to Paris on the Orient Express, there is a murder, and Poirot is pressed into service to try to solve the mystery before the killer can escape!

There isn't much thinking involved on the reader's part; most of the clues are clearly presented, but Poirot doesn't make the connections until the end, but he clearly illustrates how the crime was committed and who did it and how he came to the conclusion.

Agatha Christie obviously enjoyed writing her books, as that enjoyment is passed directly onto the reader. 5 stars!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Title: The Color of Magic
Series: Discworld, Book 1
Author: Terry Pratchett
Copyright: 1983
Pages: 221
ISBN: 9780061020711
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Author Website:
Twitter: @HarperPerennial, @terryandrob
Format: Paperback
Available: February 2, 2000
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Color of Magic is Terry Pratchett's introduction to the concepts, characters and ideas that he will build on to make his Discworld series. It suffers a little from what I call "first-book-in-a-series syndrome;" the book isn't bad, but the author is clearly learning his own characters and ideas, and it's all still in a formative state. I enjoyed it enough to want to move on and try the next book.

Part fantasy, part satire, part comedy, The Color of Magic is a fun, quick read that doesn't take itself too seriously at all.

To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Translator by John Crowley

The Translator was one of my SantaThing gifts this past year, and while this would probably not have been something that I would have picked up myself, I am thankful that my SecretSanta chose this book to send me. What a great book! I took it with me on vacation this past week, and read it on the plane.

Title: The Translator
Author: John Crowley
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 295
ISBN: 9780380815371
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Twitter: @HarperPerennial
Format: Paperback
Available: March 4, 2003
Rating: 5/5 stars

Told during the 1960s with the Cuban Missile Crisis as a backdrop, John Crowley has created a smart love story in The Translator. The story follows Christa, a college student who develops a relationship with one of her instructors, Falin, a Russian poet who has been exiled from his country under mysterious circumstances. Much like the translations that Christa is making for Falin of his poems, their relationship is complicated and intricate. John Crowley's prose is beautifully written and the story is well paced. An overall enjoyable book.

To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fables, Vol 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham, illustrated by Lan Medina

Title: >Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
Series: Fables
Authors: Bill Willingham, illustrated by Lan Medina
Copyright: 2002
Pages: 128
ISBN: 9781563899423
Publisher: Vertigo
Author Website:
Twitter: @vertigo_comics, @BillWillingham
Format: Paperback
Available: December 1, 2001
Rating: 4/5 stars

Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham and Lan Medina collects the first 5 issues of the Fables series published by the DC Comics imprint, Vertigo. It follows the adventures of the surviving occupants of the fairy tales who have been exiled into the mundane real world after their kingdoms have been overtaken by the Adversary.

The story arc, "Legends in Exile," is basically a set up to the rest of the series. It lays the groundwork of the back story of the Adversary and introduces the characters and the concept of Fabletown. This is definitely not the fairy tale characters of our childhood; these characters are grown-up, NYC-hardened versions of the fairy tales of old. I'm interested to see where this story goes.

To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mad Man's Drum: A Novel in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward

Title: Mad Man's Drum: A Novel in Woodcuts
Author: Lynd Ward
Copyright: 2005
Pages: 144
ISBN: 9780486445007
Publisher: Dover Publications
Twitter: @doverpubs
Format: Paperback
Available: September 8, 2005
Rating: 3/5 stars

Lynd Ward's Mad Man's Drum is a graphic novel in the truest sense of the word; told through the use of 128 woodcut prints, and using no written text, Ward tells a story of obsession and the tragedy that can be a result of succumbing to that obsession.

Given that there is no text, the reader must rely on the imagery and symbolism that is presented in each woodcut; therefore, I believe that each reader may take something different from the story. Perhaps I am not the person for this story, but it took me several "readings" to feel that I was beginning to come to an understanding of what was happening, and I still don't believe that I have a true grasp on all of the nuances of the story. This is why that I feel a true review of the story would almost be impossible for me to write.

Mad Man's Drum was Lynd Ward's second graphic novel, and is an amazing piece of art; however, given that the drawings are all in black and white and limited with the amount of detail woodcut prints can offer, I found it difficult to follow the characters and what was happening in each frame. While the basic principle is easy to understand, I felt the subtle nuances of the story are lost somewhere in the telling. I give it three stars for the complexity of the project alone. Perhaps someone with a better understanding of the psychological symbolism and imagery would be better suited to this book.

To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Peter by Kate Walker

Title: Peter
Author: Kate Walker
Copyright: 2001
Pages: 240
ISBN: 9780618111305
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Author Website:
Twitter: @HMHCo
Format: Paperback
Available: April 30, 2001
Rating: 4/5 stars

Kate Walker's Peter is a coming-of-age story told from the first person perspective of 15 year old Peter Dawson, who starts to question his sexuality after meeting his older brother's gay friend, David. David is tall, good-looking, perfectly dressed; everything that Peter is not. Peter hides his sensitive side and his love of photography from the local boys by joining them in their dirt bike races, and is increasingly concerned by his disinterest in girls; something the other boys only ever talk about. After meeting David, Peter begins to understand that you can't be the person that other people think you should be, that you can only be the person you yourself are meant to be.

I was surprised by Kate Walker's portrayal of the confusion and sometimes self-hatred that can come with discovering your sexuality may not be the "norm." Having gone through many of these same emotions myself, I could relate to Peter and sympathize with his character. I think this would be an excellent book for any young person who is questioning their sexuality to read.

To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

InterWorld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves

Two books in one day. Why can't everyday be like this?!

Title: InterWorld
Authors: Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 239
ISBN: 9780061238963
Publisher: HarperCollins
Author Website:
Twitter: @HarperCollins, @neilhimself
Format: Hardcover
Available: June 26, 2007
Rating: 5/5 stars

A fun jaunt through multiple dimensions, InterWorld tells the story of young Joe Harker, who has the ability to Walk between dimensions, and the adventures that ensue when he discovers this ability after getting himself lost downtown. It's not so much a story about good vs. evil as it is about science vs. magic, and trying to keep the balance between the two.

Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves had originally conceived the concept as a television show, but when studios didn't seem interested, they changed the telling into a novel.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Straight forward storytelling and some imaginative plots made for an enjoyable experience. It's a quick read, but worth it if you are looking for something fun. I find myself hoping that they continue the story.

To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

A Contract with God by Will Eisner

First book of the year! This was our January selection for the Graphic Novel discussion group at one of my local bookstores.

Title: A Contract with God
Author: Will Eisner
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9780393328042
Publisher: W. W. Norton &Company
Format: Paperback
Available: December 17, 2006
Rating: 4/5 stars

Considered by some as the "first" graphic novel, Will Eisner's A Contract With God is an unapologetic look at tenement living in NYC in the 30s. Taken from his own recollections from his childhood, Eisner creates 4 stories that combine to create a novel that is both unique in its vision as well as brutal in its honesty. Told as much in pictures as in words, Eisner used this book as a stepping stone to creating a body of work using the then blossoming, now growing medium of the graphic novel.

To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories by Elizabeth Strout

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

This is my review for the last Early Reviewer's Book that I received from LibraryThing. I finished this last month, but I wanted to post this on my blog and just hadn't gotten around to it yet. The book will be published on March 25, 2008.

Title: Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 270
Format: ARC Paperback through LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program
Rating: 5/5 stars

Ah... Small Town, USA. There’s nothing quite like it. Starting out reading Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories, Elizabeth Strout’s most recent work, I felt that the book was more about Small Town, USA, than about Olive Kitteridge herself. In the end, how wrong I was. The book is as much about Olive Kitteridge as it is the small town of Crosby, ME, and initially the 13 vignettes that compose the story reflected more to me what living in a small town is like, and the connections that form with each inhabitant of the town. In the case of Olive, the reader is presented with a singular individual who either directly or incidentally connects to almost everyone in town. However, as the book progressed, I discovered that really, the book is about Olive Kitteridge; you are sent on a journey as Olive discovers who she is and where her place in the world will ultimately lead her.

Olive, a retired math teacher, is a force of nature unto herself. A strong woman of even stronger convictions, she looks at life as it really is, not how it should be perceived. She describes herself as "...not the least bit sophisticated. I'm essentially a peasant. And I have the strong passions and prejudices of a peasant." Forcing her way through a life that has not always gone the way she dreamt it would, Olive can surprise you with moments of such clarity and caring that they appear to catch her off-guard just as much as they do the reader. Her husband Henry, a pharmacist that is forced into early retirement after his pharmacy is sold to a larger outfit, balances Olive. Overly-optimistic at times and deeply understanding of his wife and her personal ideals, he is the one constant in her life that helps her through everything.

At first, I don’t know that I can say that I cared much for Olive as a character. Her problems and disappointments in life seemed of her own making and I found that I didn’t have much compassion for her. She was old, curmudgeonly, set in her ways and didn’t seem much interested in anyone but herself and her family. The further I read and as I reached the end of the book, I felt a stronger understanding of her life and where she finds herself in it, and I found that I had come to care for Olive and worried for her, her problems and her passions.

To be honest, I have not read either of Elizabeth Strout’s two previously published novels, so am not familiar with her writing style. I feel that possibly her strong point is in the full novel and not so much the short story. In several cases, I felt that I had been dropped into the middle of a story where I should already have known the characters, their surroundings and what was happening to them; it wouldn’t be until the end of the vignette that I had a clear understanding of the whole picture. In some cases this worked well, and in others it seemed that I felt lost in the reading. However, these few instances aside, the writing was beautiful. I was entranced by her prose in many instances ("A Little Burst" and "Basket of Trips" especially), and even the stories that were not amongst the strongest (such as "The Piano Player" and "Ship in a Bottle"), I still felt that Strout was presenting a clear understanding of what she wanted the reader to see. The stories are not all directly related to Olive; however, her presence is felt in each story. I enjoyed seeing how strong Olive's character was; that one woman could have such an impact on so many people, whether they knew it or not. Through Olive, the reader gains a strong understanding of life in a small town and how its inhabitants connect to each other; you also get to see how Olive sees herself and how she deals with life and aging throughout her journey.

In Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories, Elizabeth Strout presents life, not as it should be but as it really is, seen through the eyes of one woman in one small town. You may not care much for Olive at the beginning, but through the journey, you will grow with her and gain a greater understanding of what life should be, and not what it really is. I felt a little lost at the beginning of the book, much like Olive and her life. But throughout, I found myself more and more entranced, and much like Olive,  "[I] did not want to leave it yet."

To purchase any of the books in this post, and help my local Indie bookstore, and help me buy more books, click the links above!