Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Books Reviews (3 of 'em!)

Since I've been so lazy lately. Also, I'll be posting my review of the new POTC soon.

The Grey King by Susan Cooper

The Grey King (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))

It's like this. Will has become strangely, terribly ill, and is sent off to visit some relatives in Wales to recover. (Why people think sending someone off elsewhere to recover from illness best recovered from in bed is beyond me. But it gets the ball rolling.) Due to his illness he can remember little about his goal about defeating TEH EVULZ. Once he gets in Wales and takes a walk up a strangely ominous mountain, he remembers-mainly thanks to an odd white dog and his equally odd albino owner Bran, a boy who was informed of Will's arrival by-you guessed it-Merriman. Working together, they must find a golden harp to awaken the sleepers. Unfortunately, that mountain they're on? That's where the Grey King, one of the lords of darkness, resides. YAY.

Once again a good book, and this time delving further into the myths of Britain. (And if, in the finding the harp scene, you can't guess who that middle lord is, or why he's so delighted to see Bran, then you clearly have
read nothing).

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

Silver on the Tree (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))

The book opens up with the Drew children arriving in Wales, where they quickly meet up with Bran and Will. Things are coming to a head soon, and while the Drew children work with Merriman, Will and Bran must find the last Thing of Power (this is my criticism...who calls it a "Thing" of power? Then again I can think of no better word.) They journey into an enchanted land caught in time, and then it's a race to a mystical tree to take the blossoms at midsummer before the Dark can.

A nice, bittersweet ending to the series.

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (The Starcatchers)

Did I ever review "Peter and the Shadow Thieves"? I can't remember. So here's the next one in the series. It starts out with...an issue. Lord Ombra is Not Quite Dead, and is ordered by his superior...shadow...things to go find Peter, because they need him for some task they refuse to disclose to the reader. Meanwhile, Lord Aster is on his way to Paris for a Starcatcher meeting, and Molly Aster and George Darling go digging to find out who it was that warned the Starcatchers of the falling of the starstuff, and why they didn't do it this time.

Turns out the person who warned them was a guy named Mr. Pan...

While the Asters and George chase Ombra (complete with Peter and lost boys) to Rundoon, a warlike tribe from another island attacks Mollusk island, and the chief's daughter teams up with the few uncaptured pirates to stop them.

And it goes very very fast because it's difficult to put the book down.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: Greenwitch

Greenwitch (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))
She is green. And witchlike.

Okay, yeah I read this in a day. It's a rather short book, but it feels almost like a midway point, a meeting place, and I feel like it's going to pick back up again. The main strength of this book lies in Cooper's ability to seamlessly weave the old and varying folklore of England into the story.

After the theft of the grail, Merriman Lyon invites the Drew children back to Trewissick in Cornwall, England, to a house he has rented for their spring break. He has also invited some old acquaintances...a man named Bill Stanton, his wife, and his nephew...Will, who is becoming increasingly Old One-like (is that a term? It is now.)

They all come together for the making of the Greenwitch, a tradition in Trewissick. While the boys try to find a way to keep the "intruder" from meddling with Merry's plans for them (not knowing Will is there to protect them as well), Jane Drew is invited to see the making of the Greenwitch. Before they throw it into the sea, people are allowed to make a wish, and Jane finds herself wishing the melancholy looking witch could be happy.

Meanwhile, a strange man who is Obviously Evil lures Barney and Simon to his gypsy caravan to use Barney's apparent clairvoyance (using the aforementioned grail) and they must find out how exactly to get both the grail and the lost manuscript before Mr. Obviously Evil. It doesn't take long, luckily, as they have only a week, and the book goes quickly. But it ends with the good guys having a distinct advantage, which will probably be promptly overthrown in the next book, otherwise there wouldn't be two more books following.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising

The first two in "The Dark is Rising" sequence by Susan Cooper. And oh what a beginning for a book series!

"Over Sea, Under Stone"

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark Is Rising Sequence)
Above: A grail-shaped beacon.

While on vacation (or holiday, if you want to be British about the thing) in Cornwall, the three Drew children find a very old map that contains clues to a hidden treasure-a grail (said, of course, in that mangy Scots accent). Spurred on by their great-uncle Merriman Lyon they begin following the clues, while villains dog their every step (a dog does this as well, but with little motivation beyond “food” and “walkies”).

I’m not sure why I didn’t read this when I was a kid. But I wish I had. Something in Susan Cooper’s writing seems half-dream, half-reality, even when describing normal, everyday events. The story sucks you right in and doesn’t let you go till the very end. She builds up the plot slowly until the tension breaks like a rubber band. There’s no need to conceal the villains. Their very closeness, but no one able to do anything about them, is what causes the tension. (see TV Trope: Did You Just Have Tea With Cthulu?)

Forget that it’s shelved in the kids’ section. This is an excellent book, and a quick read.

"The Dark is Rising"

The Dark Is Rising (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))
Picture above: the dark actually rising.

The second in this series, it begins with Will starting to notice very odd things happening around him...only to wake up the next day to find he isn't...exactly normal. (Or mortal, for that matter). He is one of the Old Ones, integral to defeating the rising darkness (because the dark is rising-did we mention that?) and must find the six signs that will stop aforementioned evil. Luckily he has the help of...you guessed it! Merriman Lyon, who shows him how to wander through time and use his abilities. (Presumably Lyon and Dr. Who have tea together while discussing future books by J.K. Rowling. But I digress.) It's all very epic, but hard to describe. Needless to say, it is awesome, and very very difficult to put down.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review: Manga Shakespeare

Graphic novels and manga. Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em. And some people are just terrified by ‘em. (Try explaining the plot of Inuyasha to a Baptist. It…doesn’t go over so well.)
I’ve heard varying opinions of graphic novels. Some people think it’s nothing more than a comic book, while others believe it will induce kids to read the classics, especially if those classics are translated into graphic novel form.

I’m not a fan of graphic novels in general. Once upon a time I collected Inuyasha manga books like they were crack, but I got over the addiction and plan on selling them on eBay. Interest faded, and I moved on to other addictions. *coughJaneAustencough*

But recently, a couple graphic novels that came through circulation at work caught my eye. Manga Shakespeare, is what they are called. The library acquired Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream. The art was what really drew my attention, partly because I never imagined Benedick to have a small ponytail, but then again, usually Kenneth Branagh comes to my mind when I imagine Benedick. (And then I imagine Benedick fighting pixies…oh dear…)

Manga Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing
See? Ponytail.

So I grabbed up the both of them, checked them out, and took them home, and was much the happier for it. Obviously the dialogue was shortened for graphic novel form, which means much of Shakespeare’s rhythm and rhyme (image number 3: Shakespeare in a rap battle) is lost; but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the manga stayed true to the dialogue they kept. No fear of driving off the teens with those crazy “thees” and “thous” made the adapters translate to modern English. Instead, they used their art to convey the meaning of the words, and it works quite well, such as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Egeus is depicted as rudely interrupting Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s amorous moment. (Theseus is rather annoyed).

Onto the individual reviews, then. Much Ado About Nothing was all right. It caught the give and take between Beatrice and Benedick quite well, and the added manga bells and whistles made it all the more humorous. And of course, to add to the silliness, all the men that aren’t fathers have smooth faces and shiny hair (Don Pedro sports Legolas hair, which is just kind of funny). I think the reason I didn’t enjoy this as much was because of Don John, but that’s the reason I didn’t enjoy the play that much. It’s Don John. He sulks in a corner, and if he’s played by Keanu Reeves he talks in a monotonic American accent. He has no motivation beyond “For The Evulz”. He’s just…there. And it makes everything else seem pointless. (Or maybe that’s the point-Much Ado About Nothing, subtitle “Thanks to Don John’s Chaos Addiction”) A Midsummer Night’s Dream was much more satisfying (and, I felt, better executed overall).

I found the setting of this one interesting. It is Athens, of course, but they drew a curious mixture of the futuristic and the ancient Greek (which works, seeing as how it’s set in ancient Greece but Shakespeare mentions Queen Elizabeth in the course of the play: time travel, maybe?). The city looks modern, and Theseus has one of those clever little monitors that people can call you on. The characters wear traditional Greek clothes, but with the modern thrown in. Demetrius, for example, is depicted as a consummate business lackey. His toga covers a dress shirt and tie, and it is very bizarre, and also used to contrast to Lysander, who wears a T-shirt (and a toga-it’s all about the togas, you know).

However, the funniest parts are reserved for Puck and Oberon (who has a strange set of ram horns on his head). When Puck cries “I go, see how I go, swift as an arrow from the Tartar’s bow”, Oberon has physically picked him up and given him a supernatural toss. And when the four lovers are all quarrelling together, the pair are seated in a movie theater, Puck eating popcorn and Oberon facepalming over the ridiculousness of the situation.

And let’s not get started about poor Bottom.

The art in this one, too, was better, but it flowed with the feeling of the story.

So…will graphic novels teach kids to enjoy reading? Will they destroy books? Will the twenty-something nerds that come in the cafĂ© stop talking obsessively about Pokemon?

The world may never know.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: Wicked Plants

Let me tell you all about this charming little book I found while making my rounds at the library. It comes in an attractive green color and elegantly decorated in black and gold designs.

It’s called Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, a title worthy of Lemony Snicket.

This was a fascinating, if slightly terrifying read. The plants listed in this book make The Happening look like a Pixar movie. You have the usual suspects, such as Nightshade, Hemlock, and Strychnine. But mixed in are more unusual choices, such as the Habanero pepper, Kudzu (but it does make such lovely shapes), and blue-green algae. The author, Amy Stewart, takes a gleeful tone as she discusses these plants, describing effects that are positively cringe-worthy.

She also seems to take glee in pointing out the every day vegetables we eat that are related to these poisonous plants, and can be poisonous themselves if eaten at the wrong times (i.e. potatoes, those lovely delicious nightshades we all know and love).

My only criticism is the subtle change of tone the author takes when she reaches the tobacco plant. She verges on preaching, and this part reads more like a PSA about the dangers of tobacco rather than a faintly amused listing of a terrible plant’s properties. It was jarring.

The book overall is a useful sort of encyclopedia for anyone who wants to have plants and doesn’t want to get rashes, seizures, or dead pets in the mix, for someone writing a murder mystery, or for Stephen King.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I am back!

I'll start posting more regularly. I finished the first draft of the book, so now I have all that out of my head for the time being, I can actually focus on other things.

Although, honestly, I'm not sure what to write. I'm mainly doing this because my mother bothered me about updating my blog this morning.


I guess the most interesting thing I have to say is the interview on the classic rock station this morning, 97X. They had a guy from Lake Erie talking about those darned mysterious lights that appear over the lake at times. He was surprised and pleased to discover he was not the only one to see these lights. I refer him to the 001.'s in the library nonfiction section, if he is still in doubt as to whether or not other people have seen UFO's. (Although he may find some fun stuff about interdimensional UFO's, in which case I refer him to Cubs Guy here, who is convinced he is on a cloned Earth in another dimension and held here by aliens who are watching, always watching, and there's a demon who used sorcery to blind him and he can't eat the food because it's made from sorcery and...)

By the way, the hosts picked up on the fact this guy was stoned. And they were gleefully acting skeptical and the poor guy didn't even notice. Alas, alas.

Supposedly 97X put up a link to this guy's YouTube channel, where we'll either have vaguely fuzzy videos of a Random Thing (much like that vague video of the Headless HuntIMEAN the Pale Horse of the Apocalypse) or last year's news clips about The Lights of Doom.

Let's see...Ah, people in Detroit burned a Confederate flag. Something about Kid Rock flying one, or something. But this is Yankeeland after all, so we're not all that surprised.

Now that I'm done with this, I'm going to go play on TVtropes.org for a while.