Remainder Bin

Well this is embarrassing. I began this post in mid-June. Let’s just wrap it up and move on, shall we? These were the books that I read at the end of last year. Woots.

falilv

I decided to track down Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas after having my love of Ralph Steadman stoked by the documentary For No Good Reason.

Quick rundown there is that Ralph Steadman is a brilliant satirical cartoonist from the British realm who teamed with Thompson to illustrate many of the gonzo journalist’s pieces during his most (in)famous writing period. Steadman’s art is deliciously idiosyncratic and instantaneously recognizable. For full disclosure, I first fell in love with his artwork not through Thompson but by the fact that Steadman designs all the label art for one of my favorite breweries, Flying Dog.

Somehow, I believe that both Thompson and Steadman would find this alcoholically appropriate.

Anyway, Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in the movie version of this book, did the documentary on Steadman. I watched it, loved it, couldn’t remember why I hated the movie, rented it, remembered why I hated the movie, and then decided to read the book.

I actually found it very difficult to put down the book. I also found it very difficult not to purchase my own copy before I had even finished the copy I borrowed from the library.

Whereas the movie is simply too much of a sensory overload, IMHO, the book was a compelling guidebook to Thompson’s “gonzo” journalistic experiments. His narcissistic desire to not just write about the events transpiring (as a good journalist should do) but to become the main story (as a good narcissist should do) shines in full intoxicated glory with this book. I was equal parts intrigued and horrified as to how his injection into said events would play out…not to mention appalled and slightly in awe of how the man continued to function in any sort of fashion without completely, pardon the slang, losing his shit from all the alcohol and drugs he consumed.

And while I don’t necessarily think that his alteration of reporting to include the reporter ultimately had a positive impact on the field, I must admit that I found his regaling to be almost hypnotic. Needless to say, during my last visit to San Francisco, I picked up a copy of this for my collection from City Lights (best bookstore EVAR). I’ve also added several more of Thompson’s books to my list to find at the library. We’ll see if I ever follow up there.

Final Verdict: I bought the book. Enough said.


tbh

I don’t really have all that much to say about Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour. I didn’t really find it all that compelling a read. Neither did I find the characters all that compelling. There were intriguing ideas—for example, the overarching question of what happens when a professor who specializes in the sociology of violence becomes a victim of what she previously only considered through the lens of academic abstraction? And what happens when not even she can provide the answer of “why” when a student chooses to shoot her, as he also shot and killed himself right after?

I wish the answers had been a bit more interesting, or that I had found the characters more compelling. They ended up being mostly flat and predictable. A couple were compelling enough that I would have probably found the book more satisfying if it had focused on them. But it didn’t.

Final Verdict: Kind of obvious, isn’t it?


horrorstor

Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör: A Novel, however, was a wondrous delight from start to finish. Don’t expect Dostoyevsky. But do expect a grotesque, bizarre, and entertaining new riff on the “haunting” horror trope. Also, expect a silly but clever spoofing of IKEA catalogs with this book’s design, including chapter introductions that feature IKEA-like furniture…and then torture devices based on said IKEA-like furniture, to go along with the story that transpires within the showroom of a furniture store known as ORSK, which is honestly not trying to be like IKEA at all. Honestly.

Final Verdict: I’m definitely adding this one to my library, as I not only can envision revisiting the story but also just flipping through it for the humorous IKEA spoofing.


wtdd

Emily Yoffe, the journalist who contributes to Slate both as herself and as advice columnist “Dear Prudence,” is behind Look What the Dog Did: Tales from a Reluctant Dog Owner.

She’s a reluctant dog owner. She ends up with a dog. Come on, you know where I’m heading with this denizens. Hilarity. It’s coming like winter to Westeros. Or wherever the hell it’s supposed to come. I don’t know. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

What the hell was I saying? Oh, yeah. Dog book. Emily Yoffe. Funny. Dog. Vignettes. Laughing. Ha.

Seriously, though, it’s a cute beach read for anyone who loves dogs or doesn’t love dogs but ended up with their own dog and now they kind of sort of do love dogs now. Even when they do bad things. Which they do. Often. Check the title of this book, FFS.

Final Verdict: Cute but not something I would revisit.


carsick

Anyone who follows me on Google+ (yeah, I meant Google+…what’s it to you?) knows that I recently went on a massive John Waters viewing kick, where I watched every single one of his movies that I could rent through Netflix. One of the major drives behind that decision was reading his latest book Carsick and being reminded how nauseatingly brilliant he is.

For anyone who is curious, I pretty much came to the same conclusion after watching his films, many of which I’d already seen but hadn’t revisited in many years.

For this book, Waters decides to see what it would be like to hitchhike from his home in Baltimore to his home in San Francisco. Yes, John Waters literally hitched rides across the country for a book. And it was divine.

Sorry. I couldn’t resist that.

Anyway, he breaks down the book into three parts: How he envisions the trip as a perfect experiment; how he envisions it as a hellish nightmare; and how it actually happens. Each section holds its own meritorious place in the narrative. My favorite, of course, was Waters’s take on how terribly the experiment could have gone. No one does chaos quite like John.

Final Verdict: I don’t know if I would own this book, but it did make me want to read more of what he’s written. I’d kind of fallen out of connection with our hometown hero for a while and didn’t realize that he had shifted almost completely to the written word. I’ve got some catching up to do, apparently.


funnyonce

And here is the most embarrassing moment of this post, in which I confess that I remember absolutely nothing about this book other than that I checked it out of the library, I read it, I vaguely remember enjoying it…but I cannot tell you one thing about any of the short stories in Antonya Nelson’s Funny Once: Stories.

Sorry. I’m serious. I can’t remember anything about this book. Even after reading the description and some of the reviews on Amazon, I got nothing for you on this one.

Final Verdict: Um. Maybe I should check it out again and try to refresh my memory?

And I’m spent. Totally worth the 3-month wait, though, right? Totally.

See You in the Funnies

Okay, denizens, you can relax. I’ve made my decision. I’m not going to write individual reviews of all the books that I finished last year while I struggled to rebuild my lair (I know, many of you were probably up for many nights,  pondering what my decision would be). I have 15 books from that time frame (not counting the books that I have finished already in 2015). With what I wrote last time about not wanting this to just be a book review blog, I think it makes more sense to condense my reviews rather than posting 25 book reviews (yes, I’ve already finished 10 books so far this year; those I might actually review individually).

This post, therefore, will be for the graphic novels that I finished at the end of 2014. What’s going to make this an even quicker post is the embarrassing truth that I don’t really remember a whole lot about what I wanted to say about some of these novels. Old age, my friends. It’s coming.

Let us begin…

parker1

I admit right away that I knew nothing of Richard Stark or his character Parker when I saw these three graphic novels at the library. All I knew was that they were new to the graphic novel section and there were three of them. For some reason, I’m always more inclined to pick up new graphic novels if they’re a series and more than one is available right away. Weird, right?

After reading all three of these novels, I did a little investigating and stumbled across the Web site The Violent World of Parker, which actually provides quite the appropriate blurb on Parker:

You’ve heard of the hero and the anti-hero…how about the non-hero? That’s how Parker, the main character in a series of novels by Richard Stark (AKA Donald E. Westlake) has been described. Parker is a thief, but he’s no charming cat burglar who playfully eludes the silly authorities. He’s a ruthless thug who does whatever it takes to get what he wants (usually money), and he doesn’t care about a living soul other than himself. Some of the things he does will be repellent (I hope) to readers.

Thug? Yes. Non-hero? Yes. Repellent? Yes. I don’t envision myself reading any more of these graphic novels or ever reading the original books on which they were based. However, I have to say that Darwyn Cooke did a fantastic job of translating Parker and his world into a neo-noir, almost Sin City-esque monochromatic nightmare world in which there aren’t really good guys. Just degradations of bad. Where does Parker fall on this spectrum of gray? Well, I’ve confirmed that he’s a non-heroic thug who does repellent things. You’re smart. You can suss this out.

Final Verdict: Beautiful, succinct artwork does very little to diminish the inherent ugliness of Parker’s world. As crime novels go, I suspect that true fans might adore Parker. I did not, but I give credit where it is due. Cooke has taken existing stories and given them a compelling visual spin.


batman1

This will be an even quicker review. Again, I picked up the first two graphic novels for the New 52 reboot of Batman because they appeared as a pair. A mediocre, rather banal pair. I actually found the storylines tedious. Then again, I haven’t really found Batman to be anything less than that description for quite some time. Over-saturation is never a good thing for me.

I willingly admit that I should not have picked up these novels, even if they did arrive as a pair at the library. I’m not interested in Batman’s world right now. Also, the pressing present need to make everything dark and grave and bleak is no longer appealing to me, even with the Caped Crusader and his filthy Gotham. Plus, Batman keeps spiraling ever-downward into a fugue state of vigilante insanity that I fail to find appealing. I grew up watching Adam West as Batman. This new guy? He really needs to lighten up.

And is it just me, or is Bruce Wayne an overindulged narcissist? This was the image that really hit this truth home to me (not the text; just the image itself):

vaingloriousbruce

“Why, of course I’ll help you, orphan…but only if you’re a young White male who looks exactly like I did when I was orphaned. I can’t be helping riff-raff who won’t look as good in a tux as I do.”

Bruce Wayne is a jerk. Discuss.

Final Verdict: I promise, I won’t check out any further adventures of Narcissisto Whackadoodle and his band of merry clones as long as I’m in my current state of mind regarding superheroes.


ldoai

I actually deeply enjoyed Fabien Vehlmann’s Last Days of an Immortal. Simple, desaturated, slightly impressionistic art masking the futuristic complexities of a sci-fi mystery. What’s not to love about that? The text deals with numerous concepts that many a sci-fi nerd has wrestled with, I’m sure, including the allure of immortality—as well as the inevitable tarnishing of said allure when what is wished for is finally obtained.

Lisle:
Siempre Viva! Live Forever!

Ernest:
Then what?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
Then what happens?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
I don’t want to live forever. I mean, it sounds good, but what am I gonna do? What if I get bored?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
And what if I get lonely? Who am I gonna hang around with, Madeleine and Helen?

Yes, I just quoted Death Becomes Her.  You’re welcome.

Final Verdict: I definitely want to revisit this novel.


edtwof

I thought I would never finish this book. I used to read Alison Bechdel’s strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” when I was in college. I didn’t read it with regularity, but I read enough of it to keep up with the general flow. However, when I discovered this massive beast of a collection at the library, I couldn’t resist revisiting those Essential Dykes.

I think that Bechdel’s efforts with this strip were, pardon the pun, essential at the time she actively drew them. She challenged misconceptions and represented the lesbian community at a time when representation was critical. It wasn’t all positive representation, mind you, but that’s life. The expectation that gays must be flawless beyond reproach—eunuchs of purest, guileless intent—to be tolerated (not accepted…tolerated), is, as my father would be most likely to say, “rubbish” (thank you, BBC America, for confirming his continued standing as an Anglophile).

However, that was where the mindset was evolving at the time when Bechdel’s Sapphic squad was in its prime. People are people, flaws and all. We’re messy, we humans. All of us. The beauty of Bechdel’s strip was that it wasn’t all beautiful. But it was fairly real. Bechdel wasn’t into the Will & Grace approach. She didn’t want her characters to be one-dimensional, static, bland. She made them damaged, well-intentioned, raw, emotional, ravenous, intellectual, sumptuous, eclectic.

She made them people. Imagine that.

Final Verdict: As essential as I agree Bechdel’s strip was, I’m not kidding. I seriously felt as though I would never finish this collection. It was like the friggin’ Energizer Bunny. I suspect that it’s best consumed in bits and bobs, which one might be able to do if one owned this. However, I was under a time limit, thank you, library. OVERLOAD. I suspect I might change my mind later and perhaps want to revisit this book, but not yet. Still, I heartily acknowledge the value and importance of Bechdel’s contribution to gay literature.


revolverI’m not really sure why I picked up Matt Kindt’s Revolver, but I did find elements of it to be quite enticing. The crux is that we are witnessing the main character, Sam, as he revolves between two parallel existences—one in which he is a run-of-the-mill office worker, slinking through a life that leaves him almost completely disengaged and disinterested in everything; and the other in which he finds himself struggling to survive a post-disaster nightmare that finally reaches him and forces him to take control and take and active role in creating his own path. In one, he just survives and in the other he is just barely surviving. One leaves him a husk and the other finally lights a fire within him and makes him want to do whatever it takes to keep going and keep doing what he thinks needs to be done. In one universe, he finds a purpose that he had completely abandoned even considering in the other. Though violent and destroyed and uncertain at best, the post-apocalyptic universe seems to be where it’s at for young Sam. Who knew?

I don’t remember being terribly blown away by the artwork, but I did enjoy the story and I found a couple of things to be quite creative. For instance, the bottom of every page, where the page numbers appear, had a news ticker into which the page numbers were somehow embedded as part of whatever news item was being reported, whether in the bland universe or the catastrophic one. Well-played there, Mr. Kindt.

Final Verdict: Good read but not one I marked as wanting for my own collection.


I grabbed Matt Howarth’s quick graphic novella The Downsized downsizedfrom the shelf as sort of an afterthought. I recognized it as being new and figured that it would take me no more than the better part of an hour to read it. What’s the harm in that?

It was definitely a very quick read. The Amazon review describes it at one point as “Think Big Chill for the new millennium.” I can kind of see that. Just without the music. Or the depth.

Not to say that this isn’t a well-considered story. It’s a slice-of-life contemplation on the status of the lives of several friends (and former lovers) who have gone through a series of tumultuous professional and personal experiences.

It’s called life.

Of course, there are a couple of unexpected twists to the story, which I suppose also fall soundly and correctly within the descriptive boundaries of “life” as well. I don’t really have much else to say about this one. Also, I’d hate for this review to go any further. It might end up being longer than the actual story.

Final Verdict: Nah, I’ll pass.

BookBin2014: The Silkworm

silkworm

It looks like this is the year when I rediscover J.K. Rowling, eh? I’ve already reviewed The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling this year, and obviously enjoyed them enough that I wanted to continue reading Rowling’s more adult fare. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite prepared to jump into her latest offering, The Silkworm, just yet. However, when the library emails to inform you that you’re next in line for a popular book you’ve placed on hold? You make yourself ready.

As with The Cuckoo’s Calling, this is another book Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and another book featuring the private detective Cormoran Strike. Again, I have to say that I love Rowling’s ability to create holistically stimulating worlds for her characters and, subsequently, her readers. I love falling into the pages of these books, walking alongside these characters. I think Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are delightful and I enjoy every moment I’ve gotten to spend with them thus far. I admittedly find some of the secondary characters irritating, but that’s life, innit? The core is compelling, and that’s what matters most.

I also enjoyed the plot of this novel a bit more than the first Cormoran Strike story. Much darker than the first story. Much more gruesome and sinister. This story focuses on the fate of an out-of-favor author who goes missing, only to turn up murdered in a manner similar to the fate of the protagonist in his latest book. With only a select group of people having seen said manuscript, it’s up to Strike and Ellacott to shake away the chaff and find the culprit.

Let’s drag out the dead horse that I usually beat at this point regarding mystery novels. All together now: “Not my cuppa.” Fine. I think they might at least be growing on me…or at least, Rowling’s take on the genre is wearing me down. This story was a lot less anticlimactic in its reveal than I found the reveal to be for The Cuckoo’s Calling. I still felt slightly “meh” regarding this reveal (perhaps because I had started to pick up on where the story was heading and why), but more for my own personal mystery aversion. Objectively, Rowling pulled together a fantastic story. Also, she’s quite the twisted sister. Me gusta. There were a couple of particularly vicious reveals that either made me newly appreciative of her obvious internal darkness or laugh as a result of my own gallows humor. Rowling continues to impress me with her authorial acumen to a point where, even when I don’t necessarily enjoy the genre, I’m still going to willingly go along for the ride because I know the driver is so impressively skilled.

Final Verdict: Even though I wasn’t quite prepared to fall down the mystery novel rabbit hole once again, Rowling made it easy for me to follow her by providing me with another riveting visit to yet another one of her skillfully built worlds. Actually, I think I enjoyed this one enough that I could see it finding its way into my library. Definitely looking forward to the next Cormoran Strike tale!

BookBin2014: Batgirl Volume 3: Death of the Family and Volume 4: Wanted

batgirl2

It seems to be that I’m locked in a ménage à trois with Kate Kane and Barbara Gordon. I spend time with one…I inevitably then spend time with the other. It’s not a bad relationship, to be sure…especially when you’ve got someone like Gail Simone still plotting the course for Batgirl (I can’t really deal with Batwoman’s future right now).

Simone is still at the helm, thankfully, for Batgirl’s third and fourth graphic novel collections, Death of the Family and Wanted. The third volume is part of an umbrella story arc that ran through a few other Gotham-related characters’ comics as well, but was still compartmentalized quite nicely enough that you don’t need to read the others if you’d rather not (which I’d rather not, thank you). There were a couple of elements that I was a bit curious about, but the wonderful thing about teh Interwebz is that you can find the answers to almost any of life’s lesser mysteries with the click of a few mouse buttons or the swipe or two of a finger. It’s fantabulous, is what it is.

I love that one of the holdovers from the “clean slate” reboot that continues to remain a significant part of Batgirl’s storyline–being previously shot and paralyzed by the Joker–returns in this collection, full-throttle. I love that the writer who helped Barbara Gordon deal with the aftermath of that moment in her life is once more leading our heroine through the fray. I also love that Simone is one of those rare gems of a writer in that she’s able to balance between the action and the interpersonal connections of her characters with the dancer’s grace of Batgirl herself. Sometimes, she falters a bit…but she is mostly on-point the entire time.

Same continues into the fourth collection, which deals with the aftermath of how the third collection ended. Cliffhangers are cliffhangers, denizens. They keep you hanging on and hanging around. I would love to give more details regarding the action…but spoilers. I don’t necessarily mind mentioning something like Batgirl’s former paralysis by the Joker because that original action happened many moons ago at the hands of a Joker wielded by the pen of Alan Moore. The expiration date on keeping that secret ran out a long time ago. However, all this action is new and fresh–and quite enjoyable. Again, I feel a bit guilty stating this, but I think Batgirl is having the better run in the Bat Race between her and Batwoman.

Why do I say this? More holistically solid writing. Less misogynistic artwork. Way less. Again, I can’t help but wonder if this is because Simone is at the helm of the writing, but the artwork for Batgirl not only has been consistently beautiful, but it also rarely ever feels exploitative. It’s celebratory of the female form, yes. It’s depicting physiques that are physically impossible, yes. It’s a comic book. That’s allowed. What shouldn’t be allowed is wanton sexism and objectification of women. And that is something that has been blissfully absent from each one of Batgirl’s collections. I wish I could say the same of Batwoman.

The other thing that I will mention in this review, that happened in a beautifully understated and naturalistic way, is this moment:

yeoh

Alysia Yeoh is Barbara Gordon’s roommate. If you’d like to know more about Simone’s rationale for this character, you can read it here.

With what transpired with Batwoman and the fallout of Williams and Blackman leaving before they could even finish their story arc, I’m admittedly skittish about this revelation. I’ve no idea where it will go from here. If it were up to Simone only? I’d have no worries at all. She is brilliant and kind and will give this character the respect she deserves. However, there’s always the shadow of DC itself, hovering over its characters and making rash decisions for no logical reason. I hope nothing bad happens to Alysia. I’ll be watching, DC. Make note.

Final Verdict: Keepers, they both are. I was a little meh about the revelation at the end of the fourth collection, but mainly because it was predictable in that genre fiction way. However, cliffhanger failure notwithstanding, these two were solid entries into the New 52 continuation of Batgirl’s story.

BookBin2014: Batwoman Volume 4: This Blood Is Thick

tbit

I’m quite sad that I am here to give a rather lackluster review to my latest adventure with Kate Kane. Perhaps it’s because the last collection was, by far, the best of the best since Batwoman’s “New 52” relaunch. After all, it’s kind of hard to top Batwoman partnering with Wonder Woman. Also, Williams was back as the artist, which you all know delights me to no end. And both Williams and Blackman were fiercely on-point when it came to that collection’s story arc. Simply put, the third collection was perfection, IMHO.

The fourth volume, This Blood Is Thick, isn’t awful (that’s such backhanded praise, no?). Something about it, however, didn’t set well with me. Perhaps it had more to do with my knowledge of the behind-the-scenes issues. As fans know, this was Williams and Blackman’s last run as Batwoman’s authors. She’s now in another’s hands, with Williams and Blackman not even concluding the cliffhanger on which this collection ends. It’s a good cliffhanger, to be sure…but that just makes it all the worse. Dance with the one who brought you, DC. They brought the Lady Kane to this precipice. They should have been the ones allowed to lead her over the edge.

But I digress.

Perhaps it also was because Batwoman actually doesn’t get all that much air time in this collection. Surprisingly, for being the titular character, she’s almost relegated to supporting cast a lot of the time. That’s not necessarily terrible, since many of the supporting characters in Batwoman’s world are pretty ace…but I still would like my fair share of time with the star of the show. Also, I didn’t really like the injection of Batman villains into Batwoman’s storyline. I get why they’re there, but I have always enjoyed that Batwoman kind of exists in her own…what? Parallel universe to Batman and the rest of the Bat family? They don’t really intersect all that often (although Batgirl got a full-on taste of Batwoman’s mad skills a while back). I like that. But this time, seeing Batwoman going up against Batman foes like Mr. Freeze and Bane? I don’t know anything about these characters…and I don’t care to. They aren’t Batwoman characters. So GTFO.

Says the one who went crazy over Wonder Woman’s appearance in the last collection.

Finally, though, it really is the ending that really pissed me off with this collection. Again, Williams and Blackman were cut off at the knees here. They’d already written Issue 25 (the continuation of where this collection ended) and were beginning to plan out Issue 26, which would have ended the arc of this particular Batwoman run. They knew where all the characters were going to end up, they knew how they were going to conclude the story…and now? Now we’re never going to get their ending. And that sucks. Seriously, I reached the last page and felt oh so frustrated and not the least bit furious. Really? That’s it? That’s how you wanna roll with this, DC Comics? Lame.

Final Verdict: All that being said, I’m keeping this in my collection. I don’t think that it was so terrible that I don’t want to own it anymore. I am, however, very disheartened by the truncated whimper on which Williams and Blackman have gone out with Batwoman. This is the last batch of their comics, and the next collection will mark the arrival of the new Weaver of Tales for the Lady Kane, Marc Andreyko. I’m not sure what to expect with the next collection, but I love the character enough that I’m willing to give it a proper chance to impress me. All I have to say is don’t blow this, Andreyko. I don’t take kindly to people fumbling my fandoms.

BookBin2014: Scream Deconstructed: An Unauthorized Analysis

screamdeconstructed

This is going to be a really short review because: A) this book isn’t going to be for everyone; and B) my feelings for the book are probably already very obvious to those who know me. Lucky you, denizens.

I bought the Kindle version of Scott Kessinger’s Scream Deconstructed: An Unauthorized Analysis completely on a whim (darn easy 1-click Amazon shopping option). Why? Because I love Scream.

You know, in case you haven’t noticed that before in all the myriad posts I’ve dedicated to banging on about this particular movie/franchise.

/ end sarcasm

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that, if I had to choose one horror movie I’ve seen…just one…that would be my default horror movie from now until forever? Scream would be in the elite list of five from which I would struggle to make my final selection. I’ll let you try to figure out what the other four are.

Do I love the rest of the franchise as much? Not by a long shot. That first film comprised some bit of magic that was so precious and rare that it simply could not be recaptured for the sequels. But I find things to appreciate about the other movies. Well, maybe not the fourth one. I do believe I have already made my feelings about Scream 4 very clear.

Although, to be honest, after reading Kessinger’s analyses of the fourth movie, I was intrigued and impressed enough by his thoughts that I rented the movie to give it a fair shake at perhaps showing me what it showed him. I admittedly still didn’t see what he saw (and still saw a depressingly disappointing addition to the trials and tribulations of Woodsboro’s sauciest survivors), but I still appreciate what he sees in this film and value his opinion.

All that being said, I can’t recommend this book to everyone…or to most people, for that matter. If you don’t like the movies, then this is not a book for you. It’s definitely only for the truly obsessed. Like yours truly. However, if you do love, or even just really really like, Scream and its sequels? Then I can’t recommend this book enough.

Final Verdict: Staying on my Kindle. It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s got some great analyses, even if I don’t always agree 100 percent, and I imagine I will be going back to peruse this one every now and again. Whether or not that means I’ll ever give Scream 4 another go is a completely different story…

BookBin2014: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend

rintintin

Before you even ask, no. I have never seen a Rin Tin Tin movie. I have never seen a Rin Tin Tin show. I didn’t even know what the original Rin Tin Tin looked like until I read this book (or how different German Shepherds used to look in comparison to how they look now). However, these facts speak to the illustrious ubiquity of this dog in such a way that I felt compelled to borrow Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend from the library when I saw it. I don’t know about in other countries, but here in the United States, the name Rin Tin Tin is so entrenched in the American pop culture lexicon that I’m absolutely certain that there are myriad others, just like me, who have never once seen any Rin Tin Tin movie or show, and yet know precisely who Rinty is.

For those who might not know, Rin Tin Tin is a German Shepherd (or Alsatian, as I believe the breed is called in some other countries) of epic entertainment proportions. I use “is” rather than the past tense, even though the original Rinty has been dead for many years, because just like other famous dogs—Lassie, Benji, Toto, Snoopy, Scooby—the dog might die but the name lives on (okay, Snoopy and Scooby can’t die). In Rin Tin Tin’s case, however, the name isn’t merely a stage name given to another dog. Lassie was never Lassie. Lassie was Pal. Benji was Higgins. Toto was Terry. But Rin Tin Tin…was Rin Tin Tin.

The life and legend both began during World War I, in a field in Flirey, France, where American soldier Lee Duncan found two German Shepherd pups still alive among the wreckage of a battle-damaged kennel. Duncan, a quiet, shy young man who found solace from an emotionally turbulent childhood in animals, claimed to instantly see something special in little Rinty and fought to bring him home once he was discharged from service. Back home in California, Duncan trained the dog and took him to Hollywood, where they literally walked from studio to studio, looking for someone who would be interested in making movies that would star Rin Tin Tin.

And it worked. (Or so the legend goes…)

Talk about a fairy tale story.

Rin Tin Tin starred in several silent films and appeared in talkies as well as television shows (and radio, too! Radio! For a dog!). Of course, the name has fallen to several different dogs (the original dog lived from 1918 to 1932, which means that the name of Rin Tin Tin has outlived its original designee by 82 years…and has existed for this line of pooches for almost 100 years). In fact, Rin Tin Tin XII still makes appearances at public events, although the ownership of the dog and the name has become quite muddled throughout the years.

And that’s where Orlean’s book becomes quite an interesting tale. Honestly, the entirety of the story is fascinating. Orlean weaves a tapestry not just of the lives of the dog and owner and those they brought into their fairy tale, but also of the times and the events that shaped and were shaped by Rinty throughout the years. History, sociology lesson, Hollywood fabrication, love story, legal dissent, and urban legend, all rolled into this impressive tale of one of the most long-lived and beloved canine legends to emerge from the mists of bygone Hollywood.

Final Verdict: I love dogs, so of course I loved this book. I’m willing to bet that if you actually watched Rin Tin Tin, either his movies or his shows, then you would love this book even more than I did. Even if you know nothing about Rinty, this is a beautifully crafted biography of a dog and a time long passed but still cherished. I’ve already added this one to my wish list.

BookBin2014: Weekends with Daisy

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Speaking of books that suckered me into reading them because of their cover art, that’s precisely what happened when I saw this painfully adorable puppy dog punim staring out at me from the cover of Sharron Kahn Luttrell’s book Weekends with Daisy.

Seriously, if you ever want to sell me anything, tell me anything, convince me of anything, or just get my general attention, put a dog on it (to paraphrase Portlandia).

And so it went with Daisy. I couldn’t resist her cute doggy smile or wanting to know the story behind it. What makes her more special than any other adorable pooch? She’s a service dog. Luttrell’s book is all about Daisy’s training through a program in which inmates do the bulk of the command training, and “outside” volunteers take the dogs for the weekend, to work on acclimating them to the sensory overload of life outside prison walls.

As cute as Daisy is and as laudable as this program is, I have to admit that I considered quitting this book after only a few chapters, simply because I found Luttrell too…judgy. Even before she learned why Keith, the inmate responsible for Daisy’s weekday training and care, was incarcerated, she makes several disparaging comments about him and inmates in general, which all came across as obnoxious and elitist. No, not all who are incarcerated are redeemable. However, not all who are incarcerated are the unintelligent, vulgar cretins Luttrell apparently assumed them to be. We are all fallible, all capable of making mistakes, all capable of stepping too far over that line of scrimmage and into the penal fray.

Just one mistake away, Luttrell. Ask Piper Kerman.

I will allow that Luttrell does seem to change her tone as the book proceeds and she begins to see Keith as more than his incarceration or more than his crime (without forgetting why he is in prison or the harm he caused). Really, this book is more a testament to Keith’s ongoing redemption. I would have been far more interested in reading more about his story rather than the banal Lifetime Move Network life of Luttrell and her family.

Still, it’s an interesting “beach read” kind of story that, indeed, has a happy, feel-good ending.

Final Verdict: Daisy is very cute and I’m thrilled that she is now helping someone as she was trained to do, but I think I’ll pass on adding this to my library.

BookBin2014: Reviver

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I’m going to admit right at the start that I initially picked up Seth Patrick’s novel Reviver because of the cover, with its one-two punch combo of a photo with a gaze that unnervingly followed me as I perused nearby shelves and a tasty letter reversal treatment for the palindromic title. What can I say? I’m sometimes that much of a sucker for some tasty font pr0n.

Of course, then the story description had to reel me in even further by describing Patrick’s novel as “CSI meets The Sixth Sense.” Pretty lofty claim there, but one that I was more than eager to judge for myself. You know what I discovered? It’s a pretty on-point claim for a surprisingly satisfying story.

The premise is that main character Jonah Miller is a “reviver.” He and those like him have the ability to revive someone who has recently died to learn the truth behind their death, be it through natural causes, their own hand, or by someone else. I love this idea and feel as though it would have been a Philip K. Dick book at some point, had he lived longer. In Dick’s absence, however, Patrick provided an incredible (and gory) ride-along with Jonah as he begins to see and suspect that what he and his fellow revivers are doing could have drastic consequences. You see, it’s not just the dead they are awakening.

But I can’t say anything more than that. Because spoilers.

I can say that I found this book engaging from start to finish, with fully realized characters and a delicious sense of pacing that kept tempting me forward, night after night to see what awaited my discovery within the next chapter. I adore when I find a book like this.

I admittedly balked a bit at the ending, which in its own right was not bad at all. It’s a rather open-ended finale, leaving some things not quite so tidily tied up with our characters or their actions. This doesn’t bother me on its own. I’m not one who necessarily needs a perfect ending. However, I have learned that this sort of ending nowadays means one thing: sequel. True enough, the next “Reviver Novel,” Acolyte, seems slated for an April 2015 release. As I mentioned in my review of the first in Ransom Riggs’s peculiar series, I don’t really like being set up for sequels. I kind of like knowing from the start that I might have to wait for a satisfactory conclusion to what I’m currently reading…or even worse, I hate realizing too late that I’ve just invested in a lackluster story that couldn’t even have the decency to end well and now expects me to want to carry forth into more meh storytelling.

I’m a persnickety one sometimes.

That being said, even with Patrick’s somewhat unresolved ending, I still felt he concluded this novel in a satisfying way. If I choose to continue, I have a solid foundation on which to build future stories. If I don’t choose to continue, I have a great story that I can play around with in my own imagination if I ever wish to. Win-win, I say.

Final Verdict: Even if I am a bit wary of the fact that Patrick is working on a sequel to this novel, I still loved this book and definitely would love to have it as part of my library. I’m probably going to give the sequel a go, but even if it’s not as good as this first novel, Reviver will still be able to stand on its own…even with its sequel-ready open ending.

BookBin2014: I Remember You: A Ghost Story

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Some of you might remember that back in May I did a month-long celebration of some of my favorite Ladies of Horror May-hem. One of my selections was Eli from the Swedish vampire tale Let the Right One In. In that post, I mentioned that the movie was based on a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

During my last trip to the library, I tried to find this (or any) book by Lindqvist. Unfortunately, he apparently isn’t a big enough deal to make it onto our library system’s radar. However, instead of finding a Swedish vampire story, I ended up finding an Icelandic ghost story. Sure, why not?

And so I ended up reading Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novel I Remember You: A Ghost Story. True to the subtitle, it most assuredly is a ghost story…actually, it’s two ghost stories that run parallel to each other while each revealing in small doses how they will inevitably join into one conclusion.

This is another fine example of an author with exquisite planning abilities. Like Rowling, Sigurðardóttir has enviable skills when it comes to mapping out the precise route of each one of her characters, living or dead or somewhere in between. With storytelling, as with life, however, there can be too much planning. I believe that this became the case toward the end of this novel.

It wasn’t until the revelation of one of the connections between the two stories that I was suspecting (but hoping wouldn’t be the case) that I began thinking that Sigurðardóttir had overthought things a bit. I don’t necessarily mind stories about seemingly unconnected events that, surprise, suddenly do connect (even though I do feel as though the idea has become somewhat overused in recent years). However, I do balk a bit when the connections feel tenuous and forced. This one particular connection felt incredibly forced to me, and definitely tamped down my enthusiasm for the story. It was such a small thing…so small, in fact, that it was unnecessary. I wish that Sigurðardóttir hadn’t included it at all. Deleting this one connection wouldn’t have changed the story at all, in fact, and would have, IMHO, made the inevitable overlap of the stories into one far more satisfying.

I wish I could tell you more…but spoilers.

Otherwise, Sigurðardóttir spun an elegantly eerie tale that gave me a satisfactory number of creeped-out moments (nothing quite like reading a ghost story late at night with nothing but a book light and shadows to keep you company). I felt sufficiently American each time I tried to figure out how to pronounce Icelandic names and locations (I’m almost 100 percent positive that the only one I came even close to getting correct was Reykjavik), but even my linguistic ineptitude was part of the fun of reading this tale.

Final Verdict: I enjoyed my introduction to Sigurðardóttir enough that I will try to find some of her other books on my next library trip. However, I don’t feel the need to add this book to my own library.