Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Review: House of Leaves

I think everyone has a small number of great finds in books or movies - titles that are not only great themselves but were a unique find for the reader or viewer in question. I love these titles, sometimes I'll come across a great horror film I wasn't expecting to be that good (Frailty for example - and yes, it will get its own post some day), and sometimes I'll find a book that grabs onto me with its premise and never lets go - like today's book, House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski.

The story itself is strangely compelling and drew me in in unexpected ways. First of all it's layered, we start reading a story about a tattoo artist called Johnny, who himself is learning of another man who made a career out of following a specific incident involving another man and his family. The book gets pretty creepy pretty fast and I found myself being drawn into it way before it started to get really freaky.

Of course the most engrossing part of the novel is when it stops behaving like a novel and starts getting stranger and stranger in its format and style. I loved the fact that even though certain passages were no longer making sense on their own, they all added up to a cohesive whole.

The author, Mark Z. Danielewski (pictured right) has written four books to date, and although I've only read House of Leaves, his other books are definitely in my list of books to be read. The book will wrinkle your brain a little, and it might not be the best thing to read late at night - but I can honestly say it is one of my favourite finds of the last ten years.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Putting awy an unfinished book can be hard

On Tuesday I returned the novel "The Hallowed Hunt" by Lois McMaster Bujold to my local library. I was about a hundred and fifty pages in, but not really enjoying it. This was the third in a series of books that had won Locus and Hugo awards, and although it took me a while to get into the first two books in the series, I finished both quite happily.

When it comes to books I'm reading recreationally - they have about a hundred pages to grab me. If I'm not invested after a hundred pages I start having an inner battle with myself that goes someting like this:

Bookmonkey: This book just isn't working out for me, I should move onto something else.

Inner-Bookmonkey: Yes, but first you must put on the hat of failure (pictured right)- as you can't even manage to read a 378 page Fantasy novel.

Bookmonkey: HEY! I'm just saying that although I love a lot of this authors other stuff (I've even devoted a blog post to one of her characters) this book just isn't doing it for me.

Inner-Bookmonkey: Sure thing "Genre-Loving guy," Hey remember back in Junior High and High School when you could knock out a couple of Dragonlance books a week? I guess that's when were at the top of your game - I guess your glory days are long behind you now.

And so on and so forth.

Like most people, I enjoy finishing things I've started, but I think its important to remember that unless there is a big reason for reading the title (something school-related or maybe it's your book club book of the month, or it's the last book between you and having read all of the Hugos (Vernor Vinge is waiting for you Mike)), It is okay to give a title a rest and move on to something else.

Will I get back to The Hallowed Hunt? Probably - but not for a good couple of years. Should I let my inner-Bookmonkey beat myself up about it? No. Will he - a little, he's a bit of a jerk.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Genre Character of the Week has gone to the dogs

Last weekend I finally got around to watching the Pixar film Up. Like many people I pretty much fell in love with the character Dug immediately. I think it was when he said:

"I hid under your porch because I love you." that I started thinking about the kind of dog I wish I could have.

As a kid who was extremely allergic to dogs growing up, I could never have one (the one time we tried worked out very badly), I've always wished that I could own one. As a grown-up blogger who focuses on genre fiction, film and television, my dream dog would have to be one of the following.

Bookmonkey's top five genre dogs he wishes he could have:

5. Frank the pug, from Men in Black 1 and 2
Although a criminal informant, and technically an alien (called a Remoolian) I have to admit that I just love pugs. They are cute, tiny and if I could have one with Frank's fashion sense (pictured left) and ability to speak English I would be pretty happy.

4. Nanook, from The Lost Boys
Dude, this dog killed a vampire. 'nuff said.

3. Dug, from Up (pictured right)
He's really brave, extremely loyal, and again, can speak English. As someone who gets nervous around animals, this is a big selling feature to me.

2. Gaspode, from the Discworld novels
Featuring in at least half a dozen Discworld novels, Gaspode originally appeared in the book Moving Pictures as a sort of wisecracking street smart character. Like Frank and Dug he can speak, but his speech is due to magic. He is very clever, a mutt and I smile every time he shows up in whichever Discworld book I'm reading.

1. Digby, from Pushing Daisies
One of the only two dogs on this list who doesn't speak English, Digby (pictured left) has one huge selling feature - he's effectively immortal. The facts were these, living well past the life-expectancy of a dog and still in good health, Digby owes his current state to having died and been brought back to life by a young pie-maker to be.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My top picks for hooking your kids on genre fiction

With the overwhelming amount of Fantasy, Horror, and SF out there for children and Young Adults, it can be tricky to know where to start with your own kids. My daughters are currently 17 and 12 and both are HUGE readers of genre fiction right now - their tastes may change as they grow, but I think it's important to give kids a good foundation in genre.

These five books don't represent all of the great Genre books aimed for kids out there (I could dedicate myself to only reading good kids genre books and probably wouldn't run out of them before I die), but they are personal favourite of mine.

Bookmonkeys Top Five books for hooking your kids on Genre Fiction:

The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber
I can't really think of a better place to start seriously looking into the Fantasy Genre than The 13 Clocks. The premise is quite simple, in a castle lived a Duke and his niece, the princess Saralinda, and thirteen clocks which wouldn't go, for the duke had killed time. If you haven't read it, check it out, if you have, check it out again. A real gem.

The Girl who owned a City, by O. T. Nelson
With my huge love of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre it is probably no surprise I've slipped this cool little story in here. The premise is not unlike the television series Jeremiah, wherein all people over the age of puberty are struck by a super-virus and killed. Unlike Jeremiah, which takes place 15 years later - The Girl who owned a city focuses on the events immediately following the pandemic and the actions of one girl in particular.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
This wonderful little book, basically Neil Gaiman's take on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle book, but for a new ghost-enthused fan base was a little paint-by-numbers, but a lot of fun. I read in one go and although there weren't really any major plot twists (I love a good twist), it was a satisfying book beginning to end, as well as an interesting way to introduce young readers to the concept of death.

The Thief of Always, by Clive Barker
The thing about this book, which was one of my first Clive Barker books, is that it took the idea of the haunted house and went entirely in its own direction. Imagine a house where every morning is Christmas, every afternoon is summer and every night is Halloween, imagine how much fun that would be, then imagine you couldn't escape.

Wait Till Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn
A surprisingly insightful story about blended families, the premise is that Molly (our twelve-year-old narrator) and her brother Michael have just moved into an old church with their mother, new step-father and step-sister. Unfortunately for the them, the house is haunted and the ghost has taken a big interest in the step-sister, five-year-old Heather. Creepy stuff, but very fun.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Friends can be an awesome resource

Last year I did a review of the Guillermo Del Toro book The Strain, and in that review I mentioned how I came across the book in a grocery store, and had in fact never even knew it existed before that.

Earlier this week my wife suggested to me that I might like to check out a show on the Discovery Channel called, The Colony (Pictured above). Here's the basic premise - 10 people are put through one of the ultimate "What if?" scenarios. What if a massive virus had swept the world and using only your own skills, you had to survive?

Wow. They might as well have called it "Hey Bookmonkey! Look over here! Awesome Post-Apocalyptic concept going on!" Anyway, I'll give a review of the series after I've watched it all.

Today I want to take a moment and thank my friends and family for the books and shows I now love that I probably wouldn't have checked out if it wasn't for them. Whether it was a book I would have dismissed as too girly (The Girl Who Owned a City), or a remake of a TV show I wasn't a big fan of in the first place (Battlestar Galactica), my friends have helped me find all sorts of great stuff over the years and I just wanted to acknowledge their help.

Thanks guys!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

RIP Robert B. Parker

I am a huge fan of genre fiction. Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction fill my bookshelves at home and I am always on the lookout for new genre fiction at the libraries and in the stores. So keeping that in mind, a non-genre author has to be really REALLY good to keep my attention. One of the best was Robert B. Parker (pictured left) who died on Monday at age 77.

A couple years back I got into reading author biographies and blogs and started to notice that all sorts of my favourite authors (Stephen King and Peter David for example), talked about how they were always looking forward to the new Robert B. Parker book.

Doing some quick research I found that his books were detective novels, not normally my thing, but hey, I was up for something new. So back in 2004 I picked up his first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, and I was hooked. His books are fast-paced, action-packed and in many places laugh-out-loud funny.

My personal favourite is Early Autumn (pictured right), where Spenser becomes a sort of father figure to a boy called Paul, simply suggesting that every problem can be worked at, and every situation can be made better.

At the rate of one book a month I had just caught up with his current book last month. There are still a couple works to be published, but it's a shame to know that soon I'll have read the last of the books written by this incredible writer.

If you haven't tried his books yet, I envy you, reading them is a real treat.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

Today, after a great used-book store shopping trip (4 used-book stores, 1 magazine store and two restaurants) I checked out the new film The Book of Eli.

First impressions - the film was very fun, it had all the stuff I like in post-apocalyptic films (blasted landscapes, intriguing characters, and an epic tone), the fight scenes were violent but not too violent, and most importantly, it had a sense of hope. Far too often I find that post-apocalyptic films are entirely devoid of anything positive (The Day After is my personal least favourite of these kind of films - yes, we get it - Nuclear was is bad and radiation is too, now how about some story?), so the hopeful aspects of this film made me smile.

I don't want to get into too many spoilers here, but I can say that I'd like to watch it again and I enjoyed all of the main characters - Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman gave me exactly what I've come to expect from them, and I was pleasantly surprised by Mila Kunis (pictured with Washing above and who I've only seen in comedy before). I also loved seeing Rome's Ray Stevenson and The L Word's Jennifer Beals in strong supporting roles.

In the end, a good post apocalyptic film, an original screenplay (which is becoming increasing rare these days) and I loved the visuals. I recommend it without hesitation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My pre-teen genre crushes

As a young lad, I did a lot of things for girls, in grade three I scratched the crap out of the backs of my hands in ridiculous sissy-tests (and yes at 33 you can still kind of see the scars), in grade five I performed in lip-syncing concerts to girl bands from the sixties (Leader of the Pack, by the Shangri-Las was my favourite), but it is interesting to note that I owe a lot of my current love of genre fiction and film to my pre-teen crushes as well.

So here they are, my big screen pre-teen crushes that helped lead me to my genre loving self today:

5. Rebecca "Newt" Jorden, from Aliens
Here's the thing about Newt - you just wanted to protect her from the horrible monster infesting the colony. I remember seeing her as more of a sister than a crush, but having a girl my age in the movie definitely upped my interest in the film specifically and genre films overall.

4. Mae, from Near Dark
Part of a clan of horrible vampires, Mae simply seemed very realistic to me - a girl who looked like she was in trouble from a distance, but then got more complicated the closer you get. Sorry Star (The love interest from The Lost Boys), but for my ten-year-old self it was Mae all the way.

3. Emahassure, from Mannequin
Yes, I will admit this fantasy film was pretty silly, but the idea of loving a girl from afar (I would have been eleven when this came out, so afar was about as close as I was willing to get to girls) and eventually meeting the girl who would then magically love you seemed like the ideal for me.

2. Kristen Parker, from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
The thing about Kirsten is that she was in the situation every kid fears, she knows something horrible is happening and no one will listen to her. In the beginning of the film she does her best to fight Freddy and even though she survives, her parents mistake what happened as a suicide attempt and have her committed. It is only later through the help of friends and a new doctor (The main character from the first film), that she is able to fight back.

1. Sarah Williams, from Labyrinth
Sarah Williams was the first girl character in a Jim Henson movie I could crush on a little (sorry Ms. Piggy, it was never meant to be), She was five years older than me - so entirely unatainable, but seemed a lot like friends of mine in how much she dug all of her toys (my toys at that age were Star Wars and G.I. Joe action figures, plus she got to hang out with muppets (so cool!)

I'm sure there are others I've missed, perhaps like my BFF Mike, you were into Lynn Tanner (or as I've always susptected of him - V.I.C.I. Lawson). These however, were the genre girls who caught my pre-teen eye.

In the end, although I may have found my way to genre films and movies without them, these characters (and the actresses who portrayed them), definitely played a big part in finding the genres I love today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Sheriff Bill Pardy

Like most people, I'm a huge fan of the character who is in over his head. Whether it's a cop out of his element like in Die Hard or even a security guard out of his element in Paul Blart: Mall Cop (who will get his own post here one day), these kind of characters resonate with the audience due to one simple fact - we are able to ask ourselves, What would I do in this situation? Of course when the character is in a genre film, the stakes are immediately raised, which is why this week's character is Sheriff Bill Pardy (pictured below), from the Horror/Comedy film Slither.
Bill (played by Nathan Fillion), is the Sheriff of a small town in South Carolina, and he is still in love with his Junior High crush Starla, who is now married to the richest man in town. The problem begins when alien slugs begin showing up and taking over the bodies of the towns folk.

Now before anyone comments on it, yes, this film bears a lot of similarities to Night of the Creeps, and Bill is kind of a mixture of the two main leads from that film, but I think that as Slither borrows concepts from so many '80s horror films, this is forgivable.

In the end, I love that Bill does exactly what we all wish we would do in this horrible, not to mention disgusting scenario. He does his best to take care of the citizens of his town, and although he isn't the main character of the film (that would be Starla, played very well by Elizabeth Banks), I really admire his courage.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bookmonkey's top 5 Genre Films to see before Summer 2010

Knowing that I'll be seeing a lot of films this summer (starting with Iron Man 2 in May), I decided that I should try to cut back on the number of genre films I'll see between now and April. The problem is, there are a lot of films I'd like to see in the next couple of months.

Luckily, as a parent, I'll likely end up taking my kids to see Alice in Wonderland as well as Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, so those two can kind of be considered family outings.

This one is pretty simple: a) I loved the book, and b) Peter Jackson is directing. The visuals for this movie look pretty amazing and the novel really got to me, so yeah, I'll be seeing this one.

As anyone who reads my blog is aware, I'm a big lover of post-apocalyptic films. Add to that the fact that it is an original screenplay, and its brought to us by the guys who directed From Hell, and I am definitely on board.

All right, I'll admit it. A big part of why I want to see this is the funky trailer which appears to have used a modified version of the song The Bird and the Worm, by the Used as background music. I loved the original version of this film, and am basically looking forward to a fun Saturday afternoon popcorn movie.

A comedic Science Fiction film wherein four guys travel back to the '80s in a Hot Tub time machine. This will either be extremely awesome, or extremely stupid. The presence of John Cusack definitely raises the bar for me, and the fact that it's being made by the director of Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity also deserves notice.

About five years ago my youngest daughter went through a classic monster movie phase, and one of the stand out titles for me was The Wolf Man. A man who is in effect both the good guy and the bad guy in the film seemed very cool to me at the time. In an age where virtually every film is being remade, I can say that I am actually really looking forward to this one.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Weeding your Genre Collections can be fun

I'm off to do the used-book store rounds over the weekend, and that means that right now it's time for me to begin weeding my collection of genre books, movies and games.

I know that the idea of weeding your genre collection can be frustrating (pictured right), but as with weeding a garden, weeding your collection simply means getting rid of the materials that are stopping your collection from attaining its true level of awesomeness. Basically it's a pretty simple procedure that will make your collection stand out to your friends and be of more use to you.

Bookmonkey's guide to weeding your genre collections

1. Look at your collection - in a perfect world, take it off the shelf or out of the boxes where it lives and actually go through each item, figure out what you've got. Last time I did this I found multiple copies of the same book, something I definitely did not need.

2. Figure out which stuff you are most proud of (often it is not the stuff that all of your friends also own). This could be titles by the same author, titles about the same subject or that share some other characteristic. I have found that with the exception of my author collections (Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker), my collections of genre books tend to be of the rare or hard-to-find variety.

3. Get rid of titles that you are embarrassed to still own, titles that everyone owns and titles that you can get from the local library - this will open up tonnes of space on your shelves for new things.

3a. Realize that every item you freaked out about getting rid of in step three probably means something to you - keep them. I'm not saying get rid of stuff just for the sake of getting rid of them, I'm saying get rid of stuff that is clogging up your lifestyle.

4. Understand that your collection is a living thing, it grows, shrinks, and changes by nature, so don't feel bad about doing a little pruning now and then - it's likely to give you a healthier collection overall.

5. Remember, a collection with a high level of awesomeness makes for happy monkeys (pictured left).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Joel Barish

One of my favourite things about genre films and books is that sometimes you can find an emotional story as powerful as any drama, but also able to show you the "what if?" quality that genre works thrive in. Case in point, the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, focuses on the concept of targeted amnesia - wherein a company can remove your memories of a specific event or person, basically allowing you to erase your mistakes. The concept is very SF, but the emotional heart of the story comes from its main character, Joel Barish.

The thing about Joel is that he, like most of us at one time or another, has just found out that his ex-girlfriend has moved on (She has underwent the procedure to erase all of her memories of him), and in an impulsive moment, he decides to undergo the same procedure himself. The problem is, however, once the procedure begins, Joel begins to realize that he doesn't want his ex-girlfriend removed completely, that his relationship with her is a part of his life, and now he is losing it.

The majority of the story follows Joel in his own mind as he attempts to take his memories of his girlfriend and hide them within other memories so that he won't lose all of them. The story is at turns heartbreaking and funny, and a lot of that comes down to the character of Joel (as portrayed by Jim Carrey), with his earnest desire to save this part of himself that he is just now realizing is so very important.

I think the thing I admire most about Joel (pictured right), is how easy it is to relate to him. He is emotionally shut down after a recent break-up and it is only during the procedure (which happens in his apartment, while he is sleeping) that he realizes how important every experience of his life is - a valuable lesson for anyone.

If you haven't seen the film yet (it came out in 2004) I definitely recommend it, as it is one of those few SF films that can be recommended to people who hate the genre.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Book Review: Horror the 100 best books

Ah January, the time of year when I like to get started on an ambitious list. The weather here (Canada) is a bit chill this time of year (pictured right), so I've got a lot of time to kill in my house. I'm working my way through the New Super Mario Bros Wii game (World 3 and counting!), and am looking for a new selection of books to read.

I found today's book about two years ago and I can't say enough good things about it - so lets start.

Horror: the 100 Best Books, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, got me reading well beyond my comfort zone in horror novels. Like most people I've done the classics (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.) and worked my way through Stephen King, so I wanted to exapnd my horizons a little.

The 100 books in question were selected by 100 different authors in the horror field and each book gets a couple of pages describing why that selection is worth looking at. Selections range from traditional horror to plays and even SF and Westerns. I think a lot of the titles are great starting points for a newcomer to horror if they want to get beyond the mainstream.

If you're looking for a great place to start exploring the genre, I can't think of a better book to point you at.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Years 2010!

Hi everyone,

As this is my first New Years as a blogger, I thought I would take a moment to thank the people who read my blog for all the great support and comments.

You've helped make this a really great year for me.

Thanks Guys,
Kirk "Bookmonkey" MacLeod