Books »Savage Beauty

by Andrew Bolton (2011)

The book accompanying the Met’s extraordinary Alexander McQueen exhibit, Savage Beauty is exquisite.

If you weren’t able to make it to the show, (I am truly sorry) This book should be on the top of your wish list.

While I’ve mentioned it before (and posted images) on my review of the exhibit, it’s worth mentioning again because it’s on crazy sale on Amazon and makes a great present for fashion lovers of all kinds.

I recently gave it to a nine year old cousin who was simply beside herself, jumping up and down at the photos.

The images are bold and many and the hologram cover is pretty awesome. A fantastic retrospective of an incredibly creative career cut far to short sniff .

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Posted on December 14, 2011

Books »The Fifth Child

by Doris Lessing (1988)

Devilish children, whether possessed or born evil has been the subject of many a horror book and film (for a couple good ones see The Bad Seed, A Good and Happy Child, and of course, The Exorcist).

Doris Lessing‘s The Fifth Child does something slightly different with the genre. The horror is subtler, the child isn’t even recognized as being anything but spirited and unloved by doctors, and the unease taps more into the guilt and paranoia that comes with parenting rather than fear of a murderous tot a la Damien in The Omen.

It’s far more realistic than many like minded stories and in that way all the more terrifying. Even Lessing found writing it very “upsetting”.

It reminded me of an article I read many years ago about parents with overly aggressive sons whom they feared yet had to take care of. There was nothing they could do about it, and the futility and complete control the situation had over their lives, it stayed with me and scared me.

After all, in our real lives, isn’t it losing our happiness: happy marriages, happy family dynamics, happy sense of peace that is most frightening?

In the novel, that’s exactly whats threatened by Ben, the titular fifth child when he arrives in a bustling, loving family.

With his dead eyes, hobbit like appearance, incredible strength and tendency to kill animals he slowly destroys a happy family.

Lessing’s writing is sharp, like a great wit that never quite has anything nice to say about anybody. I breezed through the book in one day. While it frankly probably would have been a dissappointnent to a young me looking for more outward appearing horrors, it is a page turner for adults, especially parents that hold their small pleasures dear and know what they have to lose.

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Posted on October 25, 2011

Books »A Rage in Harlem

by Chester Himes (1957)

It’s a shame that the name Chester Himes  is not as well know as Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard. His colorful mix of humor, poetic despair, violence, and action put him on par with the best noir writers. A Rage in Harlem is my first Himes read but definitely won’t be my last.

It concerns a gullible square named Jackson who’s been had by some no good swindlers and a dame. In a half brained frenzy to put things right, he only spirals into deeper and deeper trouble leading him to seek help from his doped up street smart brother Goldy who makes his way by impersonating a nun and selling tickets to heaven.

The book is packed with wild, intriguing characters like Goldy ( including two hard ass cops named Grave Digger and Coffin Ed) but Harlem itself plays the biggest role.

Vivid and taut, this book is both gruesome and absurdly funny. While reading, I kept thinking what a great movie it would make and was surprised to learn there already is one from the early 90’s starring Forrest Whittaker. It’s said to be pretty good so I look forward to watching it.

PS – the book as also released under the name For Love of Imabelle and I’d love to get my hands on those photo cover Panther editions!

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Posted on October 13, 2011

Books »Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

by Wells Tower (2010)

All Wells Tower’s characters: a bullied kid with a crappy stepfather, an old men left with nothing to do, a newly divorced man stranded in Florida and even a Viking who’s lost his thirst for pillaging are all living unsatisfied lives.

It could make Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned a depressing read. Yet! Tower’s writing possesses humor (without being quaint), pathos (without being hokey) and crystal vivid description (without getting in its own way).

This, his debut book of short stories has made him a bit of a hyped darling -but just because he’s praised doesn’t mean he’s not worthy.

I can’t wait to read more from him and pass this along to my avid reader friends.

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Posted on October 6, 2011

Books »The Forever War

by Joe Halderman (1974)

Soon The Forever War is going to be the book you see everyone reading on the subway. Why? Because Ridley Scott is working on a big screen adaptation that has the potential to be the next masterpiece science fiction cinema. That is, if he manages to capture the brilliance of the novel.

After reading Song of Fire and Ice, John Haldeman’s economy of language is a refreshing surprise. The wry tone, smirking through heart break, violence and depression calls to mind Catch-22 and the inventive vision of the future makes one think of Starship Troopers and A Clockwork Orange. All good things, but Halderman’s work is truly unique and it’s influence incalculable.

Forever War is a seminal piece in Science fiction literature but sadly not one that has crossed over to mainstream readers. I had heard the name but didn’t pick it up until a Facebook mention reminded me of it and I was on a quest for a new book to read. Most everyone I’ve talked to has never heard of it, but like I said, that’s sure to change soon.

I don’t want to give too much plot away but it concerns a war that carries on with a species humans know nothing about for thousands of years. Much of the plot revolves around understanding theoretical technical aspects, a sci-fi trope that can turn me off, but here he somehow makes it very understandable ( just don’t read it when super tired).

It’s not a flaw exactly but could be a hurdle for some ( including filmmakers, so curious to see how its all handled) Even so, the action, the imagination, and the humanity of the broken soldier Mandella we witness the war through will entrance any reader.

Truly a masterpiece. Lovers of sci-fi, got on this! Or make fun of me for not knowing about it til now, your pick.

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Posted on September 26, 2011

Books »A Song of Ice and Fire

by George R R Martin (1996-????)

There’s so much to say about the epic Song of Ice and Fire series but so little you want to give away to those still buried within its thousands of pages.

Like so many others I picked the books up after loving the HBO adaptation… and what a fun time to be reading it. It’s the kind of book you want to discuss with people incessantly and there’s no shortage of fellow readers. Jim even texted me after especially incendiary chapters in disbelief.

With that kind of fervor and enthusiasm that the books evoke, George R.R. Martin has created something truly unique and it’s little wonder that the world is entranced.

I was as well as heartbroken, shocked (repeatedly and effectively), obsessed, angered, relieved, frustrated, awed and now after just finishing Dance with Dragons filled with a venomous ache for justice, some conclusions and frankly for some plot lines to get on with it already… ( I felt like Martin Sheen thinking “Mereen, shit I’m still only in Mereen”)

Yes it’s not without its flaws one cringe worthy sex scene where cock and cunt cant be told apart proves that but what’s harder for this reader is the scattered scope after the whirlwind of awesomeness in book three. The plot splits between two books and beloved characters aren’t seen for hundreds upon hundreds of pages. I can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for readers that had to wait years for the next book as I am about to do for book six.

But despite the flaws and the fact that it might never be completed, this is one extraordinary reading experience. Now I get to see how book two is interpreted on the show… too excited.

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Posted on September 21, 2011

Books »Indestructibles Book Series

by Jonas Sickler and Kaaren Pixton

I am one happy mama. Taking after his parents, Van loves books!

He gets adorably excited pretending to read and just can’t seem to get enough of them.

Among our favorites are these “Indestructibles” paperbacks; named so because they can’t be ripped, and are meant to be grabbed, chewed and bent. And I can attest that their claims are true – Van has put these through the ringer and they are merely wrinkled.

Dear friend Grace sent us our first (and still Van’s most beloved) a quirky take on Hey Diddle Diddle. The retro but modern illustrations by Jonas Sickler are absolutely charming. We loved them so much we ordered nearly the whole series.

Kaaren Pixton is the other illustrator who leads artistic, fun paintings to the animal books.

A great gift for little ones.

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Posted on August 17, 2011

Books »DC Comics Ultimate Character Guide

by Brandon T Snider (2011)

I have always, always loved bright, stat and photo filled reference books. As a kid I poured over this huge Your Fifty States Book and an old Hollywood guide of actors and actresses with glee.

So I was thrilled when friend and author  of The DC Comics The Ultimate Character Guide, Brandon Snider brought a signed copy of this bold, fun, informative book for little Van – because I will enjoy it as much as he will.

Now, super hero comics have never been my brand of nerd, but I love reading through the character’s vital stats, background, nicknames and super powers.

From Adam Strange (who defends the universe, but would rather hang out with his hot wife and baby daughter) to Zatanna a magician babe who not only fights forces of evil, but puts on elaborate magic shows in her spare time (in fishnets!), from the disgusting janitor turned purple toxic donut eating Parasite, to the comely Sebastian Ballesteros who for a brief, totally hunky moment became the studly male version of Cheetah, from Brainiac, who travels the universe in an insane Iron Maiden-esque skull ship to Harley Quinn who left her life as a respected psychiatrist to commit crimes with the Joker – there’s a super hero or villain here for everybody.

I can’t wait til Van is big enough to totally geek out with this.

Thanks Brandon!! (pictured below in one of his more sophisticated looks).

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Posted on July 31, 2011

Books »Samaritan

by Richard Price (2004)

Man, Richard Price can write. Not only can he deliver the most believable dialogue and let us visualize his settings, but at times, you can feel what it’s like to actually be his characters… even if you’d rather not.

In Samaritan, our protagonist Ray Mitchell seems like some self-critical self portrait: a man who grew up in the projects, became a writer on a hit series, all while messing himself up with cocaine. Now he’s clean, he’s back living near his old neighborhood and he’s out to make good with the world.

Making good with the world, however, lands him in the hospital – the victim of a severe beating. A childhood friend, Nerese, now a barely respected police officer, makes it her final duty to solve the crime before retiring to Florida.

Only problem is, Ray won’t cooperate, and so the well crafted mystery that defines any great Price novel begins.

In lesser hands this tale of race, memories, mismatched love, and martyrdom could be preaching and false. With Price, it’s genius, only slowing when we spend a shade too much time with Ray’s pontifications.

Since reading Lush Life, I seem to do about one Price novel a year (Clockers is the best so far) and I hope to continue that as long as he has books for me to relish.

 

 

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Posted on July 18, 2011

Books »The Face That Must Die

by Ramsey Campbell (1979)

Ramsey Campbell’s John Horridge is one of the most believable psychopaths I’ve read. His extreme homophobia and irrational paranoia make it a disconcerting, but interesting read, as most of The Face That Must Die takes us into his inner thoughts and ravings.

It’s little wonder that Campbell based the character on someone with schizophrenia that he knew well, his own mother. The perspective is eerie and realistic.

The other characters: drug abusing boyfriends, artists, and struggling young women and the settings, like a depressing housing estate, are equally vivid in the hands of Campbell, who is highly regarded in the horror genre (this is the first I’ve read by him).

The strange photo real montage illustrations by JK Potter, however, do not really reflect the mood and descriptions in the book, which takes place in the 1970’s in Liverpool. They will however raise the eyebrows of anyone looking over your shoulder at what you are reading.

I’d be curious to read more from Campbell, as this is a unique, unnerving take on the oft repeated serial killer novel.

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Posted on July 15, 2011

Books »Fane

by David M. Alexander (1981)

There’s not a ton of information about the fun imaginative sci-fi novel, Fane but that David M. Alexander is, like me, a huge fan of Jack Vance would be apparent even if he didn’t state his admiration in his dedication to the author.

The tale begins with a lazy, selfish young man sent by his powerful wizard Uncle on a seemingly simple errand, which he promptly messes up. This leads to quite an adventure on the planet Fane, which is ruled not by known rules of science but bizarre magical powers. Can our unwilling hero harness these powers to not only save his own hide but those of his alien companions and the planet races as a whole?

Man, I better hope that Van grows up with the same love of goofy, fun science fiction, or else I am going to have a whole lot of out of print paper backs to find a home for.

While this particular out of print paperback is a little hard to find, I’ve learned that it’s been re-released under the name The Accidental Magician and now sports some insane cover art that unlike the original, doesn’t really have much to do with the storyline.

PS, this forgotten little book is not to be confused with the Fane werewolf romance series by Susan Krinard.

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Posted on June 24, 2011

Books »Deep Water

by Patricia Highsmith (1957)

Patricia Highsmith‘s Deep Water is a slow simmering thriller. It’s a claustrophobic look inside the very strange and cruel marriage between Vic and Melinda. Living in separate quarters, theirs is a loveless but weirdly co-dependent relationship based on the odd, not quite unspoken arrangement that Melinda can take as many lovers as she pleases.

Teetering between loathing and dedication to his wife, whose affairs are viciously paraded in front of him (often in his own living room), Vic loses himself in his unusual interests, like book printing, poetry, entomology… and eventually murder!

Not since George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has there been a fictional couple so messed up yet willfully entangled in their daily chaos.

Though it’s not written first person, the book is definitely from the point of view of Vic, which makes the reader feel like, if not a cheerleader for him, then at least a confident. It’s not hard to be on the side of Vic, despite his crimes, as his wife is so outwardly awful.

By the end, you feel that uncomfortable queasiness you get when you’ve seen far too much of someones personal life and find it repulsive… but at the same time, you can’t resist hearing more and more details.

I have been meaning to read a book by Patricia Highsmith of Talented Mr. Ripley fame for some time and this certainly won’t be the last.

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Posted on June 16, 2011

Books »The Cricket in Times Square

by George Selden (1960)

I feel like I have to confess something. I began the season, continuing my attempt to do things I’ve always meant to by reading Dune. After getting through more than half, I found I was just not into it. Humorless messiah science fiction has never been up my ally but I do feel like I failed some level of nerdom… alas.

But, in an equally nerdy move, I went on to read another classic I missed the first time round, The Cricket in Times Square.

I love to crack open a young adult novel now and then, but this is for even younger audiences, so I’ll probably be reading to Van in a few years. (Now, how to do the Chinese accents without sounding, er, disrespectful…)

The story of a cricket who makes a splash in the subways below Times Square with his musical talents is thoroughly charming and only takes a couple hours to read. The illustrations by Garth Williams are cute and the characters are endearing.

I was even inspired by it to write a couple children’s books myself.

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Posted on June 10, 2011

Books »Do Everything in the Dark

by Gary Indiana (2003)

Gary Indiana‘s Do Everything in the Dark, divulges the inner turmoil of New York’s avant garde from a bygone era. They face old age and irrelevance; a justifiable fear considering I had no idea what real life figures of the city’s bohemian past most of the characters were based on – with the exception of Susan Sontag (and only that because I read so).

The often hilarious book reminds me of Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz and the awesome Answered Prayers by Truman Capote. Like those authors, Indiana makes the best kind of storyteller – he can give vivid, sharp, witty, and sometimes harsh portraits of the vain, eccentric, insane, self absorbed and nasty artists, wanna be artists and hangers on that are interesting to hear about but not so much to be friends with ourselves.

Not that Indiana is all venom. With exceptions, he genuinely loves his subjects, who are after all, his dearest friends and in turn we love them too – at least some of them. I was most taken with the letter exchanges between Arthur, stuck among society vultures on a Spanish Island and Jesse, whoring it up with busboys in Istanbul.

Other characters I found less intriguing like a couple of young good looking junkies – but if ever you find yourself bored one moment, Indiana ping pongs the story around frequently.

The novel, which was written after 9/11 but clearly and deliberately depicting a pre-9/11 New York is in turns raunchy, touching, and clever. There were so many perfectly worded lines that I wish I’d kept a highlighter on me while reading. I didn’t, but here’s on example:

“I know you’ve blown a junkie or two along the trail; if you’ve blown one you really have blown them all. I’d rather eat ice cream. You can have that engraved on my tombstone if I happen to go first”

I am surprised his work hasn’t found a larger audience among the young and hip trying to live their own Bohemia (though this time in condos).

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Posted on May 18, 2011

Books »A Sight for Sore Eyes

by Ruth Rendell (1998)

So, it’s not exactly like I had A is for Alibi sticking out of my back pocket, but even I know reading mass market paper back women’s mysteries with titles like A Sight for Sore Eyes and the author’s name printed in gold is not “cool”. But! When it’s as compelling and unexpected as this Ruth Randell thriller, it sure is pleasurable.

Beach reading time is upon us and if you’re tired of predictable master mind serial killers and tough but gorgeous women detectives, this odd tale of coincidence and murder will be refreshing.

While the psychology might be a tad simplified, Rendell does take us into the minds of her characters, even the most evil ones and gives us a very vivid picture of them and their surroundings. Even a minor character, like a nasty shop owner or a noisy neighbor feel like real people rather than contrived mystery novel plot elements.

As for the main protagonists, you have a beautiful teen whose youth was shattered by her mother’s murder and whose adolescence is marred by an insanely over protective step mother; you also have a vain former hippie living in a London mansion, and finally a psychopath young man who never knew any form of love as a child who despises humanity as much as he praises and adores beautiful objects.

All three lives intertwine in a way I thought would be rote and predictable but was pleasantly surprised to find it stranger, more unusual and almost grimly humorous.

I don’t know too much about author Rendell but she is highly praised among her peers and I plan to look to her again next time I’m in beach reading mode.

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Posted on May 4, 2011

Books »The Looking Glass War

by John Le Carre (1965)

At this point I really shouldn’t be shocked that I share a common interest: a love of John Le Carre, with those greying men in neckties and with golf habits I always hear about but it still surprises me (Does this mean they’re right about Clive Cussler too?). Le Carre is a magnificent story teller, his world of spies and espionage is uniquely intriguing in that is doesn’t include gadgets, studly men and super villains but rather muddled intelligence, old men with often tired or unforgiving wives, and enemies that are vague at best. In The Looking Glass War, the vagueness couldn’t be more pronounced. Set during the Cold War in a department known only as “The Department”, some sketchy intelligence leads to even an even sketchier mission.

The “heroes” are men who thrived during the War and knew exactly their roles within it but who are now feeling ignored, confused and washed up against the less obvious tactics and rules of a War waged without guns and maneuvering. Out of date on the newest technology, flailing when it comes to covert operations and desperate for the honor and respect their previous positions use to garner, the Department headed by Leclerc is overly zealous to send a man into Germany to investigate some blurry photos with possibly significant implications. The recruited agent, a Polish, well dressed ladies man named Leiser also had his heyday years earlier but is completely unaware that he’s putting his life in the hands of those equally rusty and clumsy. After spending time with the men as they prepare for the mission one can see that tragedy is inevitable.

Le Carre always provides a realistic portrayal of spying, but apparently the frank banality of this one made it less popular than his other novels. I found it compelling and a great study of characters. Even our favorite, George Smiley makes several appearances.

It was adapted into a movie in 1969 starring Anthony Hopkins. In my usual habit, I cast it in my mind with James McAvoy as the young Avery, any actor that looks similar to Marco Pierre White as Leiser, Stephen Frye as Woolcroft, Michael Gambon as Haldane, since Alec Guinness has passed, Sir Ian McKellan as Smiley and for some reason I could only see Magnum PI’s John Hillerman as Leclerc.

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Posted on April 20, 2011

Books »Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe (1958)

Things Fall Apart was a milestone in African Lit. It was one of the first successful novels about Africa and written by an African. It introduced the world to tribal living in Nigeria, specifically the Igbo culture at the time of the 19th century invasion of missionaries and colonists. It’s no less interesting decades later and no less heartbreaking.

Chronicling the life of a fierce warrior named Okonkwo, author Chinua Achebe is economical in his writing which is matter of fact and without dramatic flourishes and lengthy descriptions. Events, as small as women preparing for a feast and as powerful as the murder of a son are described frankly and simply, which makes them all the more affecting. It reflects the traditional stories that are woven into the novel.

The novel is common high school reading, made clear to me in my used book that includes the scrawled inscription “I hate this book!” from some ninth grader past, but this is the first time I’ve read it. I enjoyed it much, much more than the book’s previous owner.

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Posted on March 24, 2011