Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: "Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy's Journey To Become A Big Kid", by Simon Pegg

Pages: 368 pgs
Audio Book Details: 4 hrs, 50 mins, Abridged, Read by The Author
Publisher: Gotham
SRP: $18.00
Release date: June 5, 2012

Author's Note: This review is of the Audio Book version.

Simon Pegg is a hypocrite. A celebrity who claims he didn't want to write a memoir went ahead and wrote a memoir. He cashed in! He took the bait! He...actually writes a memoir that's fun and good spirited, while actually keeping track of what a memoir should be. A pillar of Geekdom himself, Mr. Pegg has written not a typical Hollywood memoir of name dropping and self congratulations. He's actually written a memoir about how he got where he is, the people he befriended along the way, and the perils/pitfalls of growing up as a geek in the 1970's.

The book is written on two separate tracks: one details the adventures of Simon Pegg, Batman-esque superhero/master tinkerer/sex god, and his quest against the nefarious Lord Black and the sexy (if not morally ambiguous) Scarlett Panther. The other details Simon Beckingham (later changed to Pegg, after his Step-Father) and his journey through childhood, adolescence, and eventually adulthood. The former is a comic romp through an adventure that mixes all of the nerdy influences that Simon grew up with and still indulges in to this day, while the latter is his straightforward (but equally comic) life story. Both of these components compliment each other to the point where while you're enjoying one aspect playing out over Pegg's rather smooth vocals, you're still excited to switch off to the other track and get back to the thread that he left hanging oh so expertly.

Pegg's writing is a lot like the many projects he's written and acted in: a lot of geek humor and profanity/absurdity, mixed with actual emotional resonance and meaning. You can tell why he's worked so well with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost, besides the fact that he had pre-existing friendships with both before working with them on Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and most recently The World's End. What's even more impressive than his detailing his friendships turning into partnerships, or the pivotal moments in geekdom that forever influenced Mr. Pegg's work, is the accounts he provides when it comes to meeting his childhood idols. In fact this book flies in the face of the old saying, "Never meet your heroes", as Pegg not only did get to meet them, but in some cases has befriended them, worked with them, or even received endorsement from them. Never once is this played as anything more than Pegg being humble and awe struck, and never once is he bragging outside of the role of a geek that got to meet Carrie Fisher at Comic Con. He even awkwardly confesses that he used to kiss a poster of her in her Slave Leia outfit from Return of the Jedi, and the result is sweet if not hysterical.

I can't speak for the print version (though I am curious to visit it sometime in the future), but the Audio Book version is perfect for marathon listening or a long commute home. Pegg's tone of voice in the memoir is even handed, but a tad on the dry side at times, which counterbalances his comic narrative tone as he mixes in a heaping dose of Shaun's inner voice. If anything, I'd love to see Simon branch off into fictional writing after this book and continue the adventures of his debonair rogue of heroism and his faithful robotic sidekick, Canterbury. Even if it was turned into a monthly comic, I would totally buy it. Simply put, Pegg has enough talent telling the truth as he does telling a lie, and he manages to do both in equally fitting measure. If you love his work, or even if you just want a fun tale of geekery, seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time, and hearing Mr. Pegg imitate George A. Romero's vocal styling, then you owe it to yourself to take a good long afternoon with this book. It is nothing short than a pure brick of Fried Gold.

Next Time: "Doctor Who: The Angel's Kiss - A Melody Malone Mystery"

Monday, September 16, 2013

CBR V: Unchained - Entry 3: "The Elements of Harmony", by Brandon T. Snyder

Rating: ***/5
Pages: 255 pgs
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
SRP: $17.00 (US)/$19.00 (Canada)
Release Date: June 4, 2013

Thanks to Lisa Moraleda at Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a review copy of this very book!

Bronies: they're a fast growing fan base, and they're more diverse than you think. With their numbers strengthening on the Internet and at conventions, their participation has elevated My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic from a mere children's show into a multi-demographic pop culture hit. So naturally, when a fandom reaches this level of fervor there's going to be a cash in book that touts itself as an "Official" guide of some sort. ,Sometimes, this sort of thing works; but others tend to be nothing more than glorified filler mixed in with a lot of concept art and photos.

The Elements of Harmony: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic - The Official Handbook is a very mixed bag when taken as an entire package. On the bright side,  it has a fairly comprehensive episode guide that lists not only every episode of the first three seasons, but also contains crew commentary and the Friendship Letter post scripts of every episode. It also has the lyrics to every single song of those first three seasons, as well as the break downs of every area of the kingdom of Equestria. If audiences were coming in for a simple compendium of episode recaps and song lyrics, then this would be a rather successful book that could have easily been rated 4 stars. (The pricing would have been the ultimate factor that omits the fifth star.)

However, the book attempts to give us insight into the production of the show, using interviews and commentary from the writers, the composer, even the show's creator Lauren Faust to enlighten us all about just what makes "Generation 4" of My Little Pony so special from the other ones. This is where the guide's ambition starts to sabotage itself, with an overall tone that's rather uneven. The commentary and actual "guidebook" portions of this book are very thin and flimsy, compared to the meat and potatoes of the book, with is the episode guide and song lyrics.

The Elements of Harmony is a decent episode guide, but a lousy guidebook. The bits of the book that
actually serve to educate readers about the world and the types of ponies that inhabit the world of Equestria are interesting enough that they deserve a true guidebook of their own, replete with production art, pencil sketches, and interviews with the one part of the show they severely neglected: the voice cast that brings the ponies we all know and love to life. What's more, some of the fan favorite ponies are actually labeled by their fan names (Doctor Whooves does not go by his "Time Turner" name given in the show.), while others aren't. (The Derpy controversy rears its ugly head again, as everyone's favorite mail mare is depicted sleeping on a cloud.) Some background ponies get blurbs, others just get pictures, and the logic behind who gets what is sloppy at best.

Most importantly, Ms. Faust's Foreword serves as backhanded compliment to the MLP fandom, specifically its male quotient. While My Little Pony has stereotypically been a "girly" franchise that indulged in magic, sparkles, and innocent imagination; Friendship Is Magic has managed to inject such a limited premise with the mythology and entertainment that manages to entertain the wide berth of audience members that the show has attracted. Yet Ms. Faust's opening (presented after the openings of fellow writers Meghan McCarthy and Jayson Thiessen that praised the diversity of the audience) focuses on the "little girl" inside of us all.

Again, this show has always been stereotypically a girl's playground, and to her credit Ms. Faust does manage to talk about how there's a lack of truly strong female leads on television. (Which, there is indeed.) However, that's not an excuse to go ahead and ignore the prime chance to bridge the gap between the sexes and say that while this started as a show for girls, it's evolved into a show for everyone. Between this and the rather sketchy state of what the book is aiming to be, I cannot recommend spending the money on this book. There should be two books where one now stands: one separate episode/song guide for kids, and one behind the scenes "guidebook" for young adults and adult collectors.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cannonball Read V: CBR Unchained - Entry 2: "World War Z" by Max Brooks

When we think of zombie stories, we think of limited groups of survivors roving through huge, desolate landscapes, fighting moderate pockets of undead resistance for survival. They do so heroically, and with great regard at times for sacrificing themselves for the greater good; particularly when there's a group larger than their party at hand. This is how it's been done, for the most part, since George A. Romero brought Zombies onto our screens in the 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. I can honestly say that after reading Max Brooks' tour de force, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, I will from now on think of that school of thought as charming and quaint.

The book takes place about a decade or so after "The Zombie War", or "World War Z" has been won by
humanity. A long, hard scrabble effort that has many faces of both victory and defeat; World War Z has changed the world irrevocably. Some of the modern conveniences we have now have become distant memories in this new "post Zeke" world. While not completely eradicated, the zombie menace still exists, although in much smaller numbers. The world is more educated on the ways of the zombie, how to stop or prevent it from taking power once more, and it is through the stories of the survivors that we learn how the world ultimately won its survival. Stories that are being compiled by "The Interviewer", a man whose work for the United Nations lead him to compiling a ton of data from worldwide sources that experienced the outbreak first hand.

What's probably the most exciting part of Brooks' masterpiece isn't the hitherto unimaginable scales of undead combat he's painted portraits of in this book, but moreso the homework he did to re-imagine a world that has been brought to its knees and the way it would start to find its way back up. Most zombie stories end when the survivors make it to some sort of safe haven that's always been sitting there, waiting for their arrival. In World War Z, there is no safe haven. There's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and even just holing up and waiting for the end will either get you killed or turn you into someone you never thought you'd become. The answers aren't easy in Mr. Brooks' dystopic future, but they're earned. Better still, the interview format allows for a rewarding narrative structure that puts together all of the pieces to the story through the numerous lenses of persons from all across the world.

But, naturally, what's a zombie book without...zombies! Max Brooks prefers to use the slow, creeping zombies that we're all used to seeing in a traditional zombie movie. In a world of "fast zombies", this might not impress the average entertainment seeker. However, Brooks' zombie terror doesn't come from their movement, but rather through their drive and insurmountable numbers. If this book's universe were a logical, modern universe, the zombie plague would have probably ended as soon as it started. However, Brooks uses plausible characters making plausibly shady judgement calls (and ultimately turning to plausible solutions) to provide us with a believable zombie outbreak. His fiction is so deeply rooted in reality, that the lines are blurred and a person could find themselves believing that this sort of thing could happen if we weren't careful.

Unlike the dim witted film that bears its name, World War Z is a rich reading experience that uses detailed oriented thinking grounded in reality to tell a story that's as fictional as they come. Mr. Brooks' talents as a writer are as proficient as his father's talent for comedy; and make no mistake about it, his father has plenty of reasons to be proud of his work! One final note, if you can get your hands on it, the "Complete Edition"* audiobook that's been released to tie in with the new film's release is a required buy. Even if you choose to read the book in print (which you totally should, simply because the audiobook is abridged), the all star cast brought in to give live to the stories is phenomenal.

* The "Complete Edition" compiles the original release of "World War Z" on audiobook, as well as the subsequent release "World War Z: The Lost Files". The Lost Files are just more of the book's stories adapted for audiobook, so it's best if you just buy them all in one shot.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cannonball Read V: CBR Unchained, Entry 1: "We Live In Water" by Jess Taylor

It's been a while, but rest assured, I haven't forgotten you all here at The Bookish Kind. I've been in kind of a reading lull that I'm just now getting out of, and I have the craft of writing to blame. Between my gigs at What Culture and Cocktails and Movies, I've been swamped with wordsmithing. On top of all of this, I lost my job back in March, and I've been on the job hunt ever since. I'll admit, this hit me harder than I expected, and I have suffered a minor case of ennui and just general meh-ness. Which brings us here: my first book review for this blog in a good, long while. I've been slacking with the Cannonball Read V, but it's ok because I signed on for a half Cannonball. There's still hope to meet the quota, but overall it's about getting back to normalcy more than anything. And now, without further delay, the initial entry in my Cannonball Read V: CBR Unchained!

My first exposure to Jess Taylor was in the local Stop and Shop, picking up groceries with the girlfriend and ambling about the aisles. As always, my gaze turned towards the Book section, and I glanced at all of the titles on display. Some I'd seen before, some I'd never read in a million years, and some were just horrifically named Romance novels that would never even cross my mind under normal circumstances. And then there was Beautiful Ruins. A book about Italy in the 1950's, it had a beautiful cover with slightly flowery writing that promised fun that would have been theatrical fare in the era that the book was portraying. The premise sounded fun, but I didn't pick the book up at the time, simply because I'm backlogged as it is with books I have at home. But I made note of the author's name, and conducted a search at the local library.

It was this that lead to me checking out his most recent short story collection, We Live In Water. This collection is the complete antithesis of what I believe Beautiful Ruins to be. It is stark, serious, and at points downright depressing. It's a portrait of the American Northwest set in various eras, using various locations from Spokane to Vegas, and portraying various relationships in states of disrepair. The recurring themes of this collection are what people will do under duress and economic hardship. In Anything Helps, homeless "Bit" begs for money in order to buy his son a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In the titular story, a son goes on a quest to find his long disappeared father, which is played in parallel to the last night his father was actively in his life. Most interestingly, in the final story, A Statistical Abstract of My Hometown: Spokane, Washington, Walter paints a portrait of the town he grew up in and has been unable to leave.

All of this collection's stories have somewhat depressing components, but this doesn't dull their quality at all. If anything, it seems like a good place for a writer like Walter to exorcise some demons and worries he has in his own living area. Reading the final story calls back certain elements of some of the stories, and you can tell where his inspiration came from for some of the characters and scenarios depicted. It is this type of writing, the semi influenced by personal experience, yet not overly indulgent or complimentary, that makes for some of the best fiction. As with most Short Story compilations, this is a quick read and easy to pick up and put down at random intervals, without missing a beat. I like books like these, because they give me a break from long form narratives when I feel like I need a break from more epic fare. What's more, I'm completely sold on Jess Walter after reading this and his short story in the "How to Be A Man" section of Esquire's June issue. Beautiful Ruins...I will be reading you much sooner than anticipated!

One final note, this is where I'd normally tell you what I'm going to be reviewing next on the blog. There's just one Doctor Who Editor at What Culture, I'll be posting my reviews of Doctor Who books I've read on that site. While I won't be posting them in their entirety over here, due to the fact that I wouldn't want to step on any toes over at the What Culture gig, I'll still link the reviews over here for all of you to see. All other book reviews will be making their way here though, in order to keep this place up and running.

Look for the link to my What Culture review of "Plague of the Cybermen" by Justin Richards, coming soon.  For now, here's my review of "Shroud of Sorrow" by Tommy Donbavand and my review of "The Last Girlfriend On Earth (And Other Love Stories)" by Simon Rich.

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