Monday, May 21, 2018

Dusting The Bookshelf

This blog isn't dead... it's just been resting for four years or so.

Time to dust it all off, turn on the lights, and find a new damned name.

It all starts here...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cannonball Read VI: The Undiscovered Country - Entry 1, "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

"...realized in beautifully damning prose, with an ending that made me so uneasy and upset, I realized hadn't felt that about a character in a while."

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions of the human psyche. It crashes our systems, lowers our defenses, and makes us act irrationally - all in the hopes that everything will turn back to normal, and the puzzle that is our fear will be solved into security. If someone can tap into this basest of emotions within us, we either praise them (when they do so for entertainment) or damn them (when they do so for our own suffering). I've experienced both, and now I've found a book that intersects both realms by taking a very real fear, and fictionalizing it. 

Nick and Amy Dunne are about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, and things aren't exactly perfect. Within their years of marriage they've both been laid off, resigned to move from New York to Missouri (in order to take care of Nick's parents), and they might be starting to drift apart as a couple. As if this wasn't bad enough, Nick's about to be thrust into the limelight of a missing person's investigation, as this is also the day that his wife disappears without a trace. Front door open, living room slightly disheveled, and an anniversary present as the last remaining artifact - Nick and the police are going to have their work cut out for them. As the days pass, and the pieces start to fall into place, our protagonist will find his task growing in difficulty. And all throughout the events that come to pass, just one question bears repeating, as if the Universe were suggesting it become Mr. Dunne's new mantra... "Where's Amy, Nick?"

The reason I wrote a prologue describing the effects of fear is because Gillian Flynn's hit novel Gone Girl touches on one of my greatest fears. It does so in such an effective manner that by time I was finished with it, I sat deadly still in my chair. The finale was a culmination of my greatest nightmare, realized in beautifully damning prose with an ending that made me so uneasy and so upset, I realized hadn't felt that way about a character in a good long while. Never had I wanted a character to make it out unscathed so bad, and never had I wanted a character to die so much. 

This book drew me in, and made me question how it was going to sustain its length, only to drop twists that made its plot not only able to continue, but made it a requirement that it did so. Ms. Flynn's writing style made me feel like I was watching a perfectly paced TV show; complete with season arcs, episodic cliffhangers, and well fleshed out characters. (Being a former TV critic for Entertainment Weekly kinda helps with that sort of thing.) What I thought was going to be a tale with the surface level of suspense took a hard left turn early on, and kept making itself into a more claustrophobic house of mirrors. It is a modern Noir thriller that takes the momentum of the fun house finale in Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai, and sustains it for the latter two acts of the text.

With the movie on the way this fall (and pretty much a shoo-in for awards contention, should it live up to the promise of the prose), now is the best time to read Gone Girl. Not only is everyone going to want to read it before the film comes out, but they'll want to read it before it's possibly nominated for an Academy Award. If this film is half as good as the book is (keep in mind, David Fincher is directing, with Ben Affleck starring as Nick), then this is going to have a great day at next year's Oscars.

So do yourself a favor: read it before the movie comes out. Read it before it's hard to find a copy on shelves near you. Read it before everyone spoils it for you. Read it before the trailer possibly spoils it for you. Read it...before you know who finds you. 

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.

Like what you saw here? Follow my Facebook or Twitter feeds, and be sure to check back on What Culture and Cocktails And Movies regularly, for more of my work.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

CBR IV: Live Free or Cannonball Hard, Entry 5: "The Average American Marriage" By Chad Kultgen

Full Disclosure: Once again, I have the wonderful Heidi Metcalfe over at Harper Perennial to thank for allowing me to return to the debaucherous world of Mr. Kultgen's writing.

Also, Spoiler Alert for The Average American Male.

"Love and's an institute you can't disparage.  Dad was told by Mother, you can't have one without the other." 

- Frank Sinatra
Times have changed since Sinatra sang those immortal words.  Hell, times have changed since they were used to ironically proclaim the entrance of The Bundy Family to each and every American household during the run of Married with Children.  Furthermore, it's been a while since The Bundys were the prototypical "American family": Al, the broken and beaten Football start and Peg, the fizzled out, horny shrew of a housewife were the new normal when it came to the depiction of American marriage in the 1990's.  Could it have been because it was so far from the stereotypical image we were fed through traditional media, or was this actually the shift the country was taking?  Either way, it was taken in by the societal consciousness and for a while The Bundys, and even The Simpsons, were the primary depiction of the battle of the sexes; both of which were heavily injected with comedy.  Upon completing The Average American Marriage by Chad Kultgen, these are (at least in this author's opinion) the two most prevalent themes within the text: the current state of marriage, as well as the increasingly commonplace phenomenon of cultural mores and traditions evolving at a faster clip.  A clip so fast that five years (if not less) is all it takes to feel left behind.
Our (still) unnamed protagonist starts the latest chapter in his life just as he had in the previous installment: enduring "The same old bullshit", only this time it's with his wife, Alyna (whom we all remember as the woman who sunk her claws into our narrator by the final frames of Average American Male) and kids.  Five years on they have two kids, a house, and a close to sexless marriage.  The Narrator still finds time to masturbate, play video games, and stare at any woman that catches his visual fancy; suggesting he hasn't changed much since the last time we saw him.  And yet, as the book goes on, and we see him unavoidably exposed to temptation, we learn that he has more of an instilled sense of morality.  It's not a perfect moral code, but fatherhood has him preoccupied with thoughts of his children and his parenting technique and this clashes against his urges to fulfill his sexual needs outside of their marriage.  (That, and we initially learn that his policy on cheating is firmer than we last remembered.)

Though the more things change, the more they stay the same.  This is evident as we explore the plot line of our main character and his new intern, Holly.  A 21 year old firecracker with a tight body and a youthful vigor that's not completely lost on our protagonist, she provides a roadblock on the journey of our character's trek into Middle Age.  We also learn that Holly is very much a product of her time.  She's a Facebook addict, she's with the latest music, and she does things in bed that only a generation growing up with the Internet supplanting parental advice/friendly gossip would count as a technical baseline.  In this story, Kultgen still titillates, but also seizes the opportunity explore something he toyed with in his last book, "Men, Women, and Children": the correlation of technological advance and information aggregation to sexuality, specifically in the areas of technique and desire.  If Holly were a 21 year old then The Narrator was 21, she wouldn't be as forward as his generation was more familiar with Analog solutions.  It's her Digital approach to sex, as well as the refreshing change of scenery from his increasingly distasteful wife, that tempts our Narrator to swim in that moral grey area that Kultgen has found his sweet spot.

In the end, The Average American Marriage signals another step in the literary evolution of Chad Kultgen.  I wished for, and got, his first follow up; and it was everything a sequel should be.  It advances the story, builds upon the foundations of our characters, and ultimately pushes things along to a point where there's enough different to claim a gain of knowledge, but enough remaining characteristics to connect the two works.  Now that Mr. Kultgen has now broken his duck with sequels, perhaps he'll decide in the future that he'll return to the world of his previous, equally sequel friendly, book: Men, Women, and Children. Or maybe we'll receive one final volume in the Average American Series, so as to explore the Narrator's growing children and the realization of fears presented in this text. Fortunately, until the next time we meet with the author and his next creation, we have another socially incendiary work to add to his literary bedpost.  Fellas, this isn't just the book your girlfriend won't want you to read; it's also the book you must read for the good of your relationship.  Ladies, this book is as intellectually interesting as it is scandalous, so you're not left out here.  Ultimately, Kultgen's intelligence and penchant for well constructed debauchery that make this a book well worth reading.
Next Time: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (I SWEAR!)