Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review: Into the Green

The first of de Lint's books taking place entirely in a High Fantasy world since,Wolf Moon, Into the Green takes place in a world where witchcraft is a hereditary trait, and non-witches both fear and hunt those with a connection to a mystical realm called "the Green".

The main character, Angharad (pronounced Ann-ar-ad), is a tinker, a harpist, and after a tragic attack on her people (sorry for the mild, first chapter event spoiler in a 22-year-old book) which ends in the death of her husband, a witch.

The book then works much as a fairy tale in that she must learn about her own abilities and her world in time to save it. The imagery in the book moves from wondrous (a magician's tree house stood out especially for me) to incredibly gruesome, but at less than 250 pages, the book was a quick dip into a fantasy world I won't soon forget.

Fun, magical, and surprising musical, Into the Green is well worth the read.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Walking Dead: Invasion

As it's the fifth tie-in novel to Robert Kirkman's comic book series, Jay Bonansinga's The Walking Dead, Invasion continues to follow the character of Lily Caul as she attempts to (spoiler for fans of tie-in novels) rebuild the pieces of the recently destroyed Woodbury during the events of The Walking Dead: Fall of the Governor and The Walking Dead: Descent.

Unfortunately for me, the book brings forth one of the staples of American Southern Horror novels - the evil priest. Now I'm not against a story in which an authority figure abuses his or her power to the point where they need to get what's coming to them, but this specific trope is so common in Southern horror, that I would love to read a novel about a kind-hearted Southern priest who does the decent thing because that's what would be most surprising to me in a horror novel these days.

Overall the story moves at a nice pace, and moves between four separate story lines allowing for a good narrative buildup throughout, the tension is very high, and, ignoring the overused evil-priest stereotype, it was a pretty solid read.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Book Review: Dreams Underfoot

Since March of 2014, at the rate of one book a month, I've been working my way through the works of Canadian fantasy author Charles de Lint. Beginning with stories clearly set in a high fantasy realm, over the course of his works he has moved his settings to a fictional Canadian city called Newford, which also happens to be the setting of his first short story collection, Dreams Underfoot (1993).

To be fair, the book could have easily been titled, Dreams Underfoot: The Jilly Coppercorn stories, as his artist character Jilly appears as a main or secondary character in about three quarters of the collection. But as Jilly is an open minded woman, trying to see the magic in all things, I was quite happy to have her along for the collection.

The stories move from funny to heartbreaking and back again, some of them include very graphic imagery, but each of them feels very human to me, focusing (as de Lint often does) on how people react when exposed to the otherworldly. A fascinating introduction to his style of Urban fantasy, and a great place for newcomers to his fiction to begin.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We now pause for some Tooth-related issues

Just thought I would take a brief moment to explain why I haven't posted yet this week.

Last week I had the joy of having a tooth extraction, I lost a crown and was informed that there weren't really any other options.

My dentist (a very nice fellow, btw) sent me across to a specialist for the extraction and although it went well, I've spent the last few days in a lot of discomfort, which has finally cleared up, so expect a book review tomorrow...

also, kids, brush your teeth!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Book Review: The Long Utopia

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth has been quite a treat for me since The Long Earth was published back in 2012. Taking place on an Earth where citizens can "step" into parallel Earths, (basically the same as ours, excepting the fact that human's don't appear to naturally exist on any other Earth discovered so far), the series looks at how, over the course of decades, society would deal with the sudden appearance of effectively unlimited resources and land, simply a step away from everyone.

This book, the fourth of a projected five, was a little melancholy for me, as co-author Terry Pratchett passed away earlier this year, it's hard to read the book without realizing that you are coming down to the last few novels from this writer.

The Long Utopia continues the story from the third book in the series The Long Mars, but in this one an interesting twist is added. New creatures begin to appear in a parallel earth, but unlike humans who've got there by either stepping "east" or "west", these creatures have stepped in from somewhere else altogether, kind of like the sphere who tries to explain his three-dimensional world to a square in Edwin Abbott's Flatland.

Following along with the conceit from the previous novels, all of the main characters are now in their later fifties and early sixties, which definitely adds to the one dimension not benefited by the introduction of the Long Earth, time. No matter how much exploration the characters have been able to do across millions of parallel Earths in the series to date, they are all getting older and their stories will be ending soon.

A good read.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Review: Engine Summer

Nearing the end of the 1970s in my reading of David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books Published in English from 1945 to 1985, I've hit my second book by author John Crowley, Engine Summer.

About a decade ago I read his 1981 fantasy book LIttle, Big, which focuses on a house, which is an entrance to the realm of Faerie, and a family tied to that world as well (it's pretty great).

Engine Summer (1979), takes place ages after us on a significantly depopulated Earth, among tribes (called chords) of peoples living as traders, farmers, hunters and gatherers. Among the people of Little Belaire we meet our hero, Rush That Speaks, a young man who's life changes when he falls in love with a girl called Once A Day, who soon leaves his community to join a group of travelers called Dr. Boots List.

Rush spends the novel travelling, attempting to find his way to either Once A Day, or perhaps to his own Sainthood, examining a world that has long since moved on from it's human populace. Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is it doesn't contain much backstory, requiring the reader to attempt to make sense of the story as they go along, keeping you in the moment with Rush throughout the narrative. The book would definitely benefit from multiple readings as plot points given later change much of what you've read before.

The world in Engine Summer is strange, haunting, and just as you begin to understand any specific setting, moves into stranger situations, still. At the same time, there are moments of humanity in the novel that completely caught me off guard, and truths for Rush that change everything.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Review: Sick in the Head

In addition to reading all sorts of Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, I've always had a soft spot for non-fiction, and specifically memoirs.

So when I heard about Judd Apatow's Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy I quickly added it to my must-read list.  The book is a series of interviews between Apatow and comedians dating back from the early eighties (when a high-school-aged Apatow began interviewing comedians) and 2014.  Each interview includes about a page of context for the interview, letting the reading know when the interview was done and under what circumstances.

The book is pretty great - the interviews move from delightful to instructive to heart-wrenching and often hilarious, and about halfway through I started creating a list of the friends I think would really enjoy the book.

My only complaint with the book, which happens to be the same one I had with Apatow's previously book I Found This Funny, is that the collection is organized alphabetically by author/interviewee.  Although a fair enough way to organize the book, I felt that chronological order would have worked a bit better, with just a little wiggle room, using the 1983 and 2014 interviews with Jerry Seinfeld as bookends.  

Regardless of order; the book takes a great look at the business of comedy, how it affects those who make a career at it and also works as a descriptive journey through Apatow's career as stand up comedian, writer, director, producer and most recently stand up comedian again.

An excellent read.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Movie Review: Crimson Peak

So let's start with an admission. I'm a pretty big fan of Hammer Horror films from the 1950s and 60s; honestly, if I chose a favorite director based on number of their movies I like, Terrence Fischer (1904 - 1980) would easily be in my top ten. Classics like Horror of Dracula (1958), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and The Mummy (1959) are still all incredible effective today, and the climax of Brides of Dracula (1960) may be my favourite defeat of a vampire in any movie I've seen to date... and don't even get me started on The Devil Rides Out (1968) - or you know, just read my post about it here.

Something about a lonesome mansion (or manor, or castle) a romance between an unsuspecting innocent and a suspiciously perfect partner with a dark past, and maybe a ghost or two just work perfectly. Also, looking at it, they also describe all the aspects of Gothic Romance fiction, of which I'm also a pretty big fan.

So earlier this year when it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro would be directing Crimson Peak, I knew I would have to check it out.

After seeing the film, the word I could best use to describe it is "lush", meaning "very rich and providing great sensory pleasure." In many ways the film is best looked at as an experience for the eyes and ears. Yes, there are a number of graphic depictions of violence - fans of Pan's Labyrinth will be familiar with the types of shocking violence that can appear in Del Toro's films. Yes, the movie clearly owes a lot to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film adaption as well.

At it's heart, the film is a ghost story, and for the two hours it lasted I simply couldn't look away. An incredibly fun film that hit all the marks I look for in this type of story.

Monday, November 9, 2015

So I've caught up with the Outlander Series!

During my lunch hour today I finally caught up with all those other Diana Gabaldon fans and finished Written In My Own Heart's Blood, the eighth book in her Outlander series. Having read the first novel back in 2010, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I decided to read the series at the rate of one a month back in April, and have done just that.

These books average somewhere around 900 pages each, and use aspects of fantasy, time-travel, historical and romance fiction.

In reading them I've gotten:

1) A greater respect for romance fiction
2) A lot more knowledgeable about parts of the world in the mid-to-late 1700s
3) Reading Glasses (not necessarily related, but a fact nonetheless)
4) better biceps (seriously, these are HUGE books! - try carrying them around in Hardcover for a week at a time and see what happens to you!)

Written in My Own Heart's Blood
moves (sorry for mild-spoilers, don't worry I won't talk about the end) back and forth between Claire in the United States circa 1778 and her daughter Briana in Scotland, circa 1980. Much of the book focuses on how the American Revolutionary War affected the lives of women, and considering there are a number of massive historical battles and events taking place in the novel, I was really impressed to see how these were depicted from Claire's point of view as a doctor (or Conjure Woman, a term often used to describe her), a wife, and a grandmother, and giving the narrative enough time to focus on each of these.

Part of what I've enjoyed about this series overall is how it doesn't seem to be afraid to follow Claire from her twenties into her thirties, forties and fifties, showing just how much her age can change her world view. The last time I recall reading a book that impressed me this much with changing perspectives of a single character was probably Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin.

If you've never given the series a shot, it's definitely worth it, and now, like every other fan, I wait with baited breath for the next one...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Movie Review: The Martian

So for those of you who haven't gotten around to seeing The Martian yet, here are a few simple reasons why you should.

1) Considering it's all fancy graphics and high concept designs, this is a really great example of old school science fiction. In science fiction from the forties and fifties, authors often were scientists themselves and worked incredibly hard to make sure the science they used in their stories was as realistic as possible. In the film, astronaut Mark Watney is injured and left for dead on Mars and has to figure out how to survive in an entirely hostile atmosphe. Basically, think of the story as a man trapped in a shrinking box attempting to find his way out before it kills him.

2) The human side of the story is simply fascinating - seeing how people deal in times of extreme stress has always been great drama - think disaster movies, war movies and indeed, survival stories. Part of why The Martian works so well is to simply see how people work together with the tools at hand to get a job done.

3) The movie is definitely one for the big screen. With visuals set on a colossal scale, this is the kind of movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen, rather than on your television or, God help us, your smartphone.

In the end, The Martian works wonderfully as a survival story, but more importantly, as a human one.