BookBin2015: The Art of War


One final entry for the 2015 Book Bin. I knew, even as I was writing the reviews I posted on the last day of last year, that I was forgetting a book. It frustrated me to no end that I could not recall even that it was a graphic novel. Thankfully, during a trip this weekend to the library, I ended up seeing the book I knew was missing from my 2015 reading list, happily tucked back on the graphic novel shelf where I first found it.

The Art of War is, of course, based on the same-titled ancient military philosophies of Chinese General Sun Tzu. This novel, however, takes Sun Tzu’s teachings and filters them through a two-color rendering of the philosophies as they apply to this futuristic (but still stunningly violent) thriller.

To be honest, the power of this graphic novel doesn’t reside in writer Kelly Roman’s rendering of Sun Tzu’s philosophies. Instead, the strength rests squarely in the hands of artist Michael DeWeese. Stark, stunning, bloody, visceral, and all with a little red thrown in for good measure to a purely monochromatic palette. DeWeese made me continue to turn the page, even when I had long lost interest in Roman’s tepid tale.

Final Verdict: I wish I had remembered this novel before now. I would have much rather ended 2015’s BookBin reviews with the one-two Harper Lee review I posted than this dud of a read. I also wish I had read more than 29 books last year. My track record has continued to drop with each year I do this. Competitive streak aside, reading has always been incredibly important to me. Watching my record for reading plummet with each passing year means that I’m slipping in time put aside to enjoy something that has brought me endless hours of joy my entire life. That’s just not acceptable. I need to fix that this year.

BookBin2015 Final Tally: 29

BookBin2015: The Mockingbird Next Door / Go Set a Watchman


I’ve been putting off this double review for a while now, although I’m not quite sure why. I’ve been mentally mulling over what I would like to say here for a few months, but whenever I sit down to write something at the lair, it always ends up being about something other than this review. It’s not for lack of love for either book. In fact, I already own one and have added the other to my wish list as necessary to the Harper Lee portion of my library.

The reason that I wanted to review both of these books together is quite simple: If you fall into the camp of those who continue to doubt as to whether or not Harper Lee was, indeed, the author of Go Set a Watchman, then you need only read Marja Mills’s The Mockingbird Next Door as its instinctual companion piece.

I say this as a matter of logic. There are so many parallels between Mills’s recounting of stories and truths told to her by Harper Lee and her sister Alice Finch Lee, and what Lee wrote in the original manuscript that she ultimately would transform into To Kill a Mockingbird that I can only deduce that Go Set a Watchman either is clearly Lee’s work or Mills has helped to perpetuate one of the greatest literary hoaxes in modern history. And while I am quite jaded on the surface, it’s just protection for the fragile, squishy goo of trust inside me.


I deeply enjoyed Mills’s book on what it was like living next door to the Lee sisters and befriending both of them. It’s no secret that Harper Lee has lived a reclusive, mercurial life. She has little tolerance for sycophantic adoration or simple-mindedness. Mills portrays her as equal parts roughly hewn and Southern genteel. Some might find her to be abrasive, but Mills proves repeatedly that Harper Lee simply wants back from others what she feels is her obligation to give: honesty and forthrightness. And brilliance. Both Lee sisters were incredibly well-read, well-bred, and brimming with eloquence and intelligence.

Yes, there was controversy with this book when Lee pronounced it positively untrue and unapproved (and once more earning her standing as one of literature’s more mercurial players). However, sister Alice refuted those accusations, opening up speculation that the mercurial was perhaps becoming tinged with a bit of dementia. True enough, not long after the release of this book both Lee sisters ended up in separate nursing homes, no longer able to live on their own. Alice sadly passed away late last year. Harper continues to show signs of intellectual ferocity and engagement, but with increasing bouts of mental decline.

As for the “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird, I see so much of Harper Lee in the character of an adult Jean Louise “Scout” Finch as revealed by Mills’s book. There is no doubt in my mind that she wrote this book and that it slowly morphed into the seminal book we cherish so much still. To those who claim that this book has somehow ruined or tainted that first novel or the character of Atticus Finch, I say it’s okay. I view this as two sides, not of Atticus, but of Scout herself: the young girl from TKAM who sees only the hero her father is to her, versus the adult from GSAW who sees him finally and fully as what he has always been: human. A decent, complex, struggling, earnest, human. I think these are beautiful bookends to a character that goes from revered to flawed, but still essentially admirable. Atticus still is Atticus, and nothing can ever take away the heart and soul of this character.

Final Verdict: Again, I own Lee’s “latest” novel already, and I would love to own a copy of Mills’s work on the Lee sisters. Both are compelling in their own rights and worthy of revisiting.

BookBin2015: Ghost World


I don’t really know how it happened that I never read Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World before now. I’ve also never seen the movie based on the novel. I’ve had it on my radar for years, and I’m pretty sure it’s one of the first movies I ever added to my Netflix queue. I’ve just never taken the plunge and moved it to the top.

[Loba Tangent: I just watched the trailer and read the plot of the movie. First, I love how early this was in Scarlett Johansson’s career. Also, what the hell ever happened to Thora Birch? Second, that plot sounds jilted. I suppose that answers my question of how they made a mainstream movie out of this comic, which doesn’t really have a central point other than the exploration of the post-graduation dystopia and ensuing tumble into adulthood, as set in the culture-defining era of early 90s grunge and disenchantment. They didn’t make that movie. They made another movie. And it sounds…questionable. Maybe that’s why I haven’t rented it yet.]

So, the graphic novel is…uh, I think I just pretty much explained most of it in my tangent. The two main characters are Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, both highly cynical, highly sarcastic, highly amusing. They’re best friends at the time of their high school graduation, both into the same things, the same people, the same warped and weary view of the capitalistic, consumer-driven wasteland of unnamed America in which they live. Enid is slightly more of all these things and slightly less popular with the boys than Rebecca, which I think gives her the sharper edge and ekes her out as the star of the novel. She seems to be the one intent on making things happen, whereas Rebecca is more content with being a follower and the recipient of male affection.

Clowes does a fantastic job of showing the everyday fluctuations of relationships and the stilted stumbling journey that we all take as we move away from the cloistered safety of our adolescence and into the stark reality of adulthood and figuring things out on our own. Also, the natural evolution of Enid and Rebecca’s friendship from beginning to end was believable, relatable, and not the least bit melancholy. And make note that it was no small thing that Clowes chose two female characters as his protagonists, or that the novel was so well received by fans and critics regardless of the fact that it wasn’t a male-driven coming of age story for the comics fandom, which continues to be a holdout of male domination.

Final Verdict: I very much enjoyed this novel and foresee it becoming a part of my graphic novel collection. I kind of have a feeling that I might not have the same reaction to the movie…but I’m willing to give a go.

BookBin2015: The Cape


So what do you think my reaction is going to be, based on all that you’ve read here at the lair of my love for Joe Hill, when I stumble upon a graphic novel based on one of his short stories? Um. Let me think.

I’m going to grab it from the shelf like I’m a wild dingo and it’s the first food I’ve seen in a week, and I’m going devour it in one sitting, that’s what’s going to happen.

So it was with The Cape. Although, for full disclosure, this graphic novel is based on a short story by Hill as translated for a comic by Jason Ciaramella, with art by Zach Howard and Nelson Daniel. This being said, I don’t know exactly what comes from Hill’s story and what might be uniquely Ciaramella. All I have to say is, whoever thought of dropping a grizzly into a convertible as retribution against the driver? That’s just mighty twisted brilliance right there.

Other than that, this graphic novel is a “what-if” tale about a young man who had a horrible accident when he was a kid, falling from a tree while playing with his brother, and never really recovered. Instead, he kind of just slides through life without drive or ambition or any will to do anything. That is, until his girlfriend breaks up with him and he finds himself living in his mother’s basement. It’s here that he discovers his mother didn’t throw away the cape he wore as a kid (and was wearing the day he fell from the tree). It’s also here that he discovers that the cape from his childhood can make him fly. Forreals.

Does he take this newfound ability as a sign that he should change his life and begin to do good? Come on, now. This is a Joe Hill story, people. Of course he doesn’t! He uses it to exact revenge on everyone he believes has wronged him. Which, by the by, leads to the grizzly bear dropped into a convertible.


To be sure, the bleakness runs thick through this tale. We begin our journey feeling sympathy for our primary character, Eric, when we learn that his father was killed in battle and Eric wears one of his dad’s Marine Corps patches on his cherished cape…and then he falls from the tree and suffers severe trauma that continues to plague him through his adolescence…but then? Then, when he returns home and discovers his cape and its powers? Not so much with the sympathy anymore. Hill’s characterization of a megalomaniacal turd blossom is overwhelmingly successful. Ciaramella breaks it all down satisfactorily for comic consumption, while Howard and Daniel provide solid, straightforward line work and coloring for the visuals.

Final Verdict: I liked this novel well enough and thought the artwork was enjoyable, but I don’t really see any reason to add this to my graphic novel collection at this time.

BookBin2015: An Idiot Girl’s Christmas: True Tales from the Top of the Naughty List


I’m running out of days in 2015 to post all the books. ALL THE BOOKS!

Sorry. I’m excitable today for some reason.

Not because of this book though. Spoilers.

I actually really like Laurie Notaro. I own several of her books. I was even banned from reading them right before bed, because I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. She can be very funny. Unfortunately, I did not find myself laughing all that much with An Idiot Girl’s Christmas: True Tales from the Top of the Naughty List.

Admittedly, some of the pieces were funny, but those were the ones that I had already read in her other collections. The rest inspired a chuckle or two, or maybe a happy smile, but it wasn’t the same as those other books. Maybe it was because this was a forced compilation of ALL CHRISTMAS ALL THE TIME. Or maybe I’ve outgrown Notaro’s shtick. I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll give her a try again. I see from her Amazon page that she actually has a few books out that I haven’t seen before. I will keep that in mind. I’ll just be sure to avoid any future holiday-themed collections.

Final Verdict: The library is welcome to have their copy back.

[Loba Addendum: Just for the hell of it, I searched my blog for Laurie Notaro’s name and came upon a BookBin entry from 2011 in which I mention that the last Notaro book I read prior to the one I was reviewing…was this damned collection. I seriously did not remember reading this. However, I did keep having flashes of looking at the cover while sitting on a plane. Apparently, I like to take Notaro with me on trips. And I don’t retain memories of her books. Winner.]

BookBin2015: Wes Craven: The Man and His Nightmares


I swear this will be a brief review. After all, what else is there to say about John Wooley’s biography Wes Craven: The Man and His Nightmares other than it’s a biography about Wes Craven. If you like Craven, then you’ll probably like this book. It includes information on Craven’s fundamentalist upbringing, his cinematic oeuvre, as well as interviews with Craven, either from other sources or from Wooley’s own discussions with the director.

There’s not really much else to write about this. Admittedly, I thought it could have been a better researched and compiled biography. Then again, I always had hoped that Craven would have written his own autobiography. Sadly, that never came to pass. However, thanks to this book, I did learn that Craven wrote a book! It’s called Fountain Society and Craven tried a couple of times to focus on turning it into a movie, which clearly never happened. Maybe one day. Of course, I’ve added this book to my wish list. Is this a surprise to anyone?

Final Verdict: I bought the book. I plan on keeping it. Enough said.

BookBin2015: Lost Souls


Last year, I read Seth Patrick’s brilliant novel Reviver and loved it. The only thing that I apparently had any problem with was the fact that Patrick had left the ending wide-open for a sequel, which was already in the works. The sequel was titled at the time Acolyte.

Turns out that title didn’t stick. At some point along the way, it changed to Lost Souls, and became the second of what is now dubbed the Reviver Trilogy. I actually liked the first novel enough that when I learned this one was coming to our library, I put myself on the wait list to read it. The moment I got my hands on it, I jumped right in and began chasing the action.

I have to admit, the bloom is off the rose on this one. Whereas I was so enamored of the first story and its originality and well-paced revelations, this time around, I found the story somewhat plodding and rather dull. It starts out well enough, but then slowly dwindles down into one primary focus that we then have to hear about for the bulk of the book. It lacked all the intrigue and discovery and excitement of the first book. Sure, it had its moments, but it was nothing like that first novel.

This time around, I was content to set the book aside and let it be (not too long, though, since I couldn’t renew this as a new release). I’m kind of disappointed that I bothered to read the sequel. I didn’t find it terrible, but I also didn’t find it worth my time. However, now I feel invested. I mean, it’s only a trilogy. I’ve read two-thirds of it already! Needless to say, I’m a little bit irritated by this. Do I leave it be and never know how the Reviver Trilogy ends? Or do I join up for the duration and plow through what might be a fantastic finale…or also might be a plodding, dull dud of a finish?

Okay, that was harsh. I’m just disappointed that the second wasn’t as strong as the first. But, history has shown that oftentimes the middle link is the weakest when it comes to trilogies. I’ve gotten through the middle link. Now I just have to wait for the home stretch to appear.

Final Verdict: If this were merely a one-two punch, then I would say no way to this and just add Reviver to my library. However, knowing that the third book might offer the same level of excitement and intrigue as the first one makes me reticent to just dismiss this one. If I do read the third one and it does end up wowing me, then I would probably want the whole trilogy. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

BookBin2015: My Dirty Dumb Eyes


This might possibly be one of the most randomly fortuitous grabs I’ve ever made at a library. I saw the chaos-in-neon cover of Lisa Hanawalt’s My Dirty Dumb Eyes and decided on a whim that it looked like something that I could at least give a go. It ended up being a funny, surreal visual romp that gives nary a fuck as to whether it’s poignant or pithy or cerebral. It just wants to be. Period.

Hanawalt’s humor is uniquely her own, coming through in the loveliest of visual and linguistic ways. She’s a sublime storyteller, slightly puerile when it comes to bodily functions, slightly precocious when it comes to all else, and overwhelmingly endearing when it comes to simply being herself.

There’s not much else to say about this weird, wonderful collection of one-offs, movie reviews, personal stories, and visual sundries. You kind of have to see it to believe it.

Final Verdict: I have added this to my wish list. It’s not an imperative purchase, but it is one that I envision making a lovely addition to my library.

BookBin2015: If You Were Here


It would seem that BookBin2015 is the Year of Alafair Burke here at the lair. I wrote back in June all about discovering Burke’s Detective Ellie Hatcher series and how I had finally found a detective/mystery series that I enjoyed (other than J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith efforts).

Therefore, it was with great joy and gratitude that I discovered If You Were Here, a new-to-me Burke novel, at the B&B we recently stayed at out in California, and was told by one of the staff that I could take the book with me if I liked it enough to want to finish it. Generous B&B is generous.

So in this novel, we meet a new character from Burke’s growing pantheon of strong, inquisitive women: McKenna Jordan, a former NYC ADA who is now a features reporter as a result of making a poorly considered choice early in her legal career that blacklisted her from that profession. In this new role, she comes across an incident in which a woman saved a young man who fell onto the subway tracks right before he was struck by an incoming train, and then bolted from the scene before anyone could identify her. Turns out, the woman was chasing the young man because he had just stolen her phone. It also turns out that McKenna thinks she knows who the woman is: a friend who disappeared nearly a decade ago and had been presumed by police to be dead.

Not one to be put off her gut instinct, McKenna latches on to trying to discover the mystery woman’s identity, which takes McKenna back through the tumultuous events that led to her leaving the ADA’s office and that McKenna realizes might somehow relate to her friend’s disappearance.

It all becomes tightly woven into an intricate pattern that only drops a stitch every now and again. It was a compelling enough story, even if a few times I grimaced at the perfect way certain things aligned. This is ultimately what always pulls me out of a mystery novel: I like coincidence to a point. For certain mysteries to pan out successfully, they require a level of coincidence that I often simply cannot buy into. Those instances in this story were enough to allow me to slip out of the zone of suspended disbelief enough to lose me from its grip.

Final Verdict: While I enjoyed reading the book and greatly appreciate the generosity of the B&B that allowed me to take it with me to finish it, I do believe that I shall be returning this on our next visit. I don’t see the need to keep it, but I think it could make a nice diversion for a future guest.

BookBin2015: Love and Other Wounds


Fast review of a fast read. I’ve been trying to give short story collections a better go. I have always loved short stories, but sometimes they get lost behind the larger-scale worlds of their full-length siblings and I end up neglecting them. I decided to rectify that during one of my recent library trips by picking up a couple of short story collections. First on my list to read was the shorter of the two, Jordan Harper’s Love and Other Wounds.

According to his dust jacket bio, Mr. Harper is a producer and writer for the Gotham television show. I haven’t seen the series, so I don’t know whether this is good or bad. I do know that his short story collection is a little bit of both. All of the stories are dark, which I typically like. Some of them are exceptional for their imagery or their inventive plot deviations. Others are kind of okay, while some left me feeling distinctly apathetic.

I suppose that’s not a terrible review. Truth is, if you’re looking for something to keep you company on a flight or a cold winter evening when you’d rather just stay in, then this cavalcade of characters could provide you with what you seek. Just be sure that you enjoy dark topics.

Final Verdict: Not a terrible way to pass time, but not really a book that demands revisiting.