Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Last week I read something I had never expected to come across in Young Adult (YA) fiction - a really great zombie apocalypse novel. Although I'm sure there are many others out there, I have personally never come across a book aimed at teens that shows so effectively the relentless terror of a world overwhelmed by zombies and the people who have somehow managed to survive.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is really, really good. If you've never read a zombie novel before I can't think of another that would be a better introduction to the sub-genre. The novel focuses on a young girl, Mary, who lives in a small forest village surrounded by walls that are in turn surrounded by the undead (BTW - I love the fact that my computer's dictionary still doesn't acknowledge the word undead as being legit; somehow the fact that it appears on my screen underlined in red makes me feel like my genre tastes are still edgy and not necessarily accepted as the norm).

Without going into a synopsis, I can only say that Mary comes across as a fully realized three-dimensional character; her wants and dreams are easy to relate to and her wish to see the ocean (something she has only ever head about, as a sort of legend), is heartbreaking in its innocents.

The book has a sequel and I will definitely be checking it out. This is one of those few books that I knew I would need to own within the first hundred pages. Seriously, it's that good.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Keeping your blog clean can be tough

On Tuesday I was speaking to my BFF Mike for our regular coffee break chat when he let me know that he could no longer access my blog from his place of work. When he tried to go to my site he was met with the message



So of course I immediately went through my last weeks worth of tags to see what I could have done to trigger such a response from his IT department. Here's what I found

* Book Reviews, Haunted Houses, Dollhouse Murders

* Things I've Noticed, Young Adult Fiction

* Amy Carter, Ann Reed, Curse of the Cat People, The Sixth Sense, Val Lewton

* E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Favourite Kisses, The Princess Bride, Valentine's Day

* Colin Farrell, Planning, Ryan Reynolds, The Fly, Valentine's Day

So assuming that it wasn't any of these, it must be the title of my blog (maybe Wisdom, Books or Monkeys represent hate for some people?)

Anyway, now that I have this new bad-boy blogging reputation I've got to figure out what I should do next... should I make my posts really dark and whatnot (no... my mom read this), or attempt to clean up my tarnished image? Maybe I'll just try to find a new font for my blog title.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Detective Dan Atwater

One of the things that have always interested me in stories involving telepaths is the question of how they interact with other people. In some cases, like Sookie Stackhouse, the telepath effectively becomes a hermit (and the town crazy), while in cases like that proposed in the novel The Demolished Man, they become a terrifying police force.

Last week I read the book Through Violet Eyes by Stephen Woodworth, and the book deals with a very similar question. In the world of the novel, a small group of people (163 in the USA), are born with violet eyes and the ability to become possessed by the spirits of the dead. These peoples (called Violets) are used in solving murder investigations, communing with the spirits of the departed and even helping artistic geniuses continue their work from beyond the grave.

The main character of the novel, Detective Dan Atwater is a Los Angeles cop who has worked with Violets in the past but does not enjoy their company, the reason being that Violets commune with the dead by using touchstones, items which hold an intense emotional connection to the spirit, and as Dan was responsible for the accidental death of a man a few years ago, he doesn’t want to confront his victim again.

What I like about Dan is pretty simple, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, even when that includes working very closely with a Violet who has issues of her own. Dan’s approach to his work is straight-forward and unending, he simply works the clues until something comes loose – not unlike Robert B. Parker’s Spenser.

I hadn’t actually heard of this series before last week, but after the great time I had with the first book, I will definitely be looking for the rest of the series.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: The Dollhouse Murders

This is a sad place, she thought, as she had before. The sadness was not just upstairs in the dollhouse; it was all around her.

I am a huge sucker for Haunted House stories, from the Haunting at Hill House, to The Shining, and my personal Favourites Hell House and Burnt Offerings, there is just something about a creepy old house that really gets to me.

The story follows a twelve year old girl named Amy Treloar, who after having a fight with her mother moves in to her aunt’s old house for a week to help with the clearing and cleaning so the house can be sold. The house is big, filled with old furniture (no one has lived there for years) and in the attic Amy finds a dollhouse, one that matches the actual house down to every detail.

As with any haunted house story, the old place has a dark history, one involving murder, and very slowly the dollhouse seems to be re-enacting what happened...

Considering that this is a young adult novel written in 1983 for Scholastic books (you know, the ones that you could order from your class room in Elementary school), I was pretty darn impressed with the books atmosphere and its building tension throughout. Although it was a pretty fast read (I read it on my communte and during my lunch hour on Friday), I found it to be a pretty cool horror story for younger girls.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Things I’ve Noticed: It is not a good idea to ignore YA Genre Fiction

Next week I’m planning on checking out a Young Adult (YA) mystery novel suggested to me by my friend Trish. It’s called The Dollhouse Murders and she recommended it as it has a lot of horror elements she thought I might like to check out.

As I placed her copy of the book on my “To Be Read” Shelf, I wondered about which other young adult books I’d been meaning to read, so I checked out my 13-year-old daughter Kaia’s room.


Last October, in a desperate bid to keep up with what my kids were reading I decided to spend a month reading the Twilight Saga, and afterwards I figured it might be a good idea to continue checking out some of the books my daughters are raving about.

Here’s the problem, between The Hunger Games, The Gone Series, The Redwall Series, The Mortal Instruments Series, and many, many one shots I’ve been meaning to get around to (after The Dollhouse Murders, I’m moving on to a book called The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which my wife says is right up my alley), I’m wondering how much time I’ll have for my regular fiction.

Also there is the question of reading order – where do I start with all of these books? I’m not even getting into the comic book series Kaia owns or the significantly larger YA collection my 18-year-old daughter Lorisia has downstairs.

It’s kind of funny, but right now the scariest books in my house are the steadily growing collection of books meant for kids.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Amy Reed

A few weeks back my friend Ron loaned me a DVD box set called The Val Lewton Horror Collection, which contained nine films produced by the man in the 1940's which were all low on budget, but high on atmosphere and story. After watching the first film, The Cat People, I was really excited to see its sequel, The Curse of the Cat People, as the first one did a great job of creeping me out. Although the sequel was not anything like I expected, (for example, there are no cat people), it did contain my genre character of the week Amy Reed (pictured left).

Here's the thing, the sequel keeps two of the leads from the first film, and basically transports them from a horror film into a psychological drama focusing on their young daughter. To call this film a sequel is really stretching the meaning of the term, but they are reprising their roles from the first film, so I guess I cant' complain too much.

Now happily married, the couple have a young imaginative daughter named Amy who is often lost in her own daydreams. Amy is just this enchanting little girl who seems entirely off in her own world. After a disastrous birthday party (she forgot to invite her friends), Amy makes up an imaginary friend and her parents freak out.

Here's what I like about Amy - she's honest. She wants to have friends, she's a sweet kid. Played incredibly by Ann Carter (I haven't been this impressed with a little kid actor in a horror since I first saw Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense), you can't help but fall in love with her character and hope she will get the friends she truly deserves.

In the end this film was nothing like I expected, but it ended up being so much better than I could have imagined. Seriously, give this film a try if you have the opportunity.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Favourite Genre Kisses

Happy Valentine's Day from Bookmonkey!

Today's post will actually be pretty brief, as I've got Valentine's preparations to work on for my lovely wife, but I thought I'd share my favourite two kisses in genre films from my childhood - the two that had even me at the time (a little boy with a lot of sisters who therefore was way too cool for disgusting things like kisses) really happy.

The first is, without a doubt, Gertie kissing E.T. good-bye (pictured above) - I say this the year it came out in theatres so I would have been six at this point and I've got to say, this may be the sweetest kiss I can remember from any film I saw as a little kid.

The second was the kiss between Princess Buttercup and the Dread Pirate Roberts (pictured above) in the film The Princess Bride, which I would have seen at about the age of ten, and very much like the little boy in the film, I started out hating the idea of romantic kissing in movies and ended up being swept away by it.

Happy Valentine's from Bookmonkey

Friday, February 11, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Finding the right genre movie for Valentine's Day can be tricky

So here's how we do Valentine's Day 2011, Bookmonkey style.

Step 1) Take Valentine's day off, so that I can spend the day with my wife, and get a long weekend.

Step 2) Celebrate the fact that our younger daughter Kaia will have returned from her amazing school trip to Quebec City.

Step 3) Go out for breakfast - my favourite kind of meal to have at a restaurant.

Step 4) Pick the right movie. Every year I try my best to find a film that will fit into both my love of genre and fit with the day as well.

4a) Genre video games are not a substitute (Tip - no matter how awesome you think playing a video game wherein the lead "romantically" attempts to rescue a princess while making your lady love watch - this will not work out for you).

4b) Your wife's pick for most romantic genre film (David Cronenberg's The Fly) may work great for her, but may give you the heebie jeebies.

4c) Compromise is always a good way to go - for instance we could pick either a fantasy film or an SF film for me, as long as they star either Colin Farrell or Ryan Reynolds for her.

5) If the day doesn't go as well as planned - show your wife that you have been planning the event for days now, using this post as proof.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Thomas Abbey

Based on a suggestion by my friend Ron, I spent the last two days reading Jonathan Carroll's first novel The Land of Laughs. The upshot? It was a pretty great Dark Fantasy novel, focusing on issues of creativity and obsession, also it featured our Genre Character of the Week, Thomas Abbey.

Thomas is introduced to the reader as both a teacher at a prep school in Connecticut, and as a man overshadowed by his father (a famed Hollywood actor). What first grabbed me about the character is his fascination with the a series of children's books written by a man named Marshall France. Early in the book he comes across a rare book by the author and although it has been pre-purchased by someone else, he sits in the store reading and rereading it until she shows up.

The meat of the story follows Thomas and the books purchaser (a puppeteer named Saxony) as they go to the hometown of the author and attempt to write a biography of the man. Anna Frances - the author's daughter, has turned down all attempts in the past but for some reason is very happy to have Thomas give the book a try. As Thomas and Saxony begin the research and work on the book (as well as a relationship with each other) things start to get more than a little strange.

What I really liked about Thomas comes down to his described outlook on life - as the book's narrator, we see the world through his eyes, and even though he is quite fallible, is more than a little insecure, and has a lot of father issues, he just comes across as very real, and I liked that, a lot.

If you've never tried the book I say give it a shot - after reading the dense prose of Lovecraft last week, it was a refreshingly easy read.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review: The Call of Cthulhu and other Weird Stories

Over the last couple weeks I've been re-reading a favourite from my teen years, The Call of Cthulhu and other Werid Stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft, for those who don't know was a prolific horror/pulp writer in the early part of the 20th century, most famous for having creating the story The Call of Cthulhu which introduced to readers the concept of the Old Ones; ancient gods who once ruled the world and one day would do so again.

From the ages of 15 to 18 I read through all of Lovecraft's stories (and a number of his letters) and loved them. The pacing and dialogue were both sometimes lacking and his stories have more than a little racism throughout, but the concepts really resonated with me at the time. As someone moving out of the safe environment of childhood into the frightening and seemingly uncaring world of adults, I found a lot that I could relate to in his works.

Re-Reading the book now was kind of like visiting an old friend after many years - his apartment seems a little smaller, but you keep coming across things that set off jolts of memory from your younger days. The stories themselves are pretty standard Lovecraft fare - our narrator has a friend who has discovered something that does not want to be discovered and pays the price. From my point of view the best short stories of the collection were; The Call of Cthulhu, The Color out of Space, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

If you've never given them a try, keep in mind that the stories can sometimes be difficult to get into, but there is quite a lot of good stuff there for those willing to explore.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things I've noticed: Maybe Bookmonkey isn't the most accurate name

Looking back through my older posts, I’ve noticed that I have a lot of work on film, television, and videogames. Unfortunately, I can’t create three additional parallel blogs called Wisdom of Filmmonkey, Televisionmonkey, and Videogamemonkey, so everything has come under my bookmonkey blog. (Actually I’m sure I could, but as I like seeing my friends and family, I’m just going to stick to this one.)

Considering how many articles I do have regarding books however, it is important that I send out a quick thanks to my lovely wife for regularly reminding me that a blog with the word “Book” in the title should have more than a small amount of book-related postings.

It’s kind of strange overall when I look back at my earlier posts, for a while I had a great numbering system and three specific types of posts (Things I’ve noticed being the only survivor of these categories), and with one embarrassing post aside (yes I’ve activated a link to it – I still think epic fantasy series are far too numerous for any well-rounded reader to follow, but perhaps I could have said it a little nicer), I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done.

Anyway, for those of you out there who agree with my wife and wonder how long it will be until I put some more focus on genre books in this blog, don’t worry, I try to rotate between all the stuff I’m interested in and books are a huge part of that.

Your Pal,

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Cleveland Heep

This week’s genre character comes from the 2006 film Lady in the Water. All right, I admit it, I know the film was panned by critics, but you know what, I totally bought it. Yes the film was pretty much a paint-by-numbers story and yes the fact that a film made the unfortunate decision to kill the film critic character within didn’t help, but you know what, for me the film came down to one thing – our genre character of the week, Cleveland Heep (pictured left).

When you first meet Cleveland (played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti) he is just a quiet handyman working for an apartment complex and living a pretty simple life. He also carries a sadness within him that I rarely see in male genre characters. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the no-nonsense action hero who basically has two emotions, rage and awesomeness, but I also think that other emotions can be incredibly moving in characters.

The plot of the film involves Cleveland finding a girl in the apartment complex swimming pool, and doing his best to help her find her way to a chosen one, and then home. What I love about the character is pretty simple, even though things have definitely not gone his way in life (massive understatement), he still has the heart to try, and in the end, that is the reason I own the film and the reason I've forced friends and family to watch it over the years.