Saturday, October 20, 2012

Shelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating Bookstores edited by Greg Ketter

Prime Books
Published October 3, 2012
288 pages
Buy here.

If you are a bibliophile who can't get enough of bookstores, this is the book for you.  It's a collection of short stories by various authors that use bookstores as their primary setting (and sometimes as secondary characters!).  As the title indicates, all the stories are on varying points of the fantastic scale, and every story utilizes a bit of magic to tell its respective tale.  Since the target audience for this collection seems to be those who see even an ordinary bookstore as a place of magic, this only seems appropriate.  While the stories are all connected by their use of fantastic elements, the stories also employ quite a bit of contemporary realism (though there is at least one futuristic story, as well as a couple that are given historical contexts).  Yes, the bookstores are magical, but this magical quality is enhanced by their placement in modern society.  The stories are not set in an entire world of make-believe, and the bookstores in the stories serve for the characters a reprieve from, cause for, or solution to their problems.

A few stories stuck out to me on a first read as particularly enjoyable.  "A Book, by Its Cover" by P.D. Cacek, sees a bookstore owner in Nazi German using his shop as a means for others to escape, though not in any way that may be expected.  "The Hemingway Kittens" by A. R. Morlan explores the possibilities of scientific advancement in the form of two bookstore cats.  "Pixel Pixies" by Charles de Lint is a tale about a bookstore owner who is troubled by pixies that escape from her computer and a hob who tries to help her.  "Escapes" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a rather disturbing story about a woman who begins working in a bookstore after she moves to escape her sadistic ex-boyfriend, while "'I Am Looking for a Book...'" by Patrick Weekes is a hilarious jab at large-chain bookstores, relaying the frustrating experiences of Gorhok, a demon trying to find a book he needs to bring on the end of days that very night.

While the stories above are my particular favorites at this time, I definitely enjoyed all of the stories to varying degrees; I can't say there are any in this collection that I dislike.  If you are as enchanted as I by just the everyday regular bookstore, you will certainly find something to love in this collection.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Little, Brown
Published September 27, 2012
512 pages
Buy here.

Four words: This. Book. Is. Awesome.  It's dark, it's a bit gritty, it is everything I wasn't necessarily expecting from J.K. Rowling, and that is mostly why I enjoy it so much.

The official synopsis about the book that was released a few months ago focuses on the main plot thread: a man on a small-town council dies, and the rest of the book deals with what happens when heads bash in the election to re-fill his seat.  A fine synopsis, to be sure, but since this book is only 20% about this plotline and 80% about the characters, such a synopsis fails to do the book any real justice.

This is because in terms of a cohesive plot, that really is the gist of this 500-page novel.  Barry Fairbrother, who holds a seat on the Pagford town council, is in the midst of dying when the story begins.  What happens throughout the rest of the book revolves around a number of other families in town as the stage is set to choose Barry's replacement, but it is the details about and interactions between these families that really make this book what it is.  Relationships between husbands and wives, parents and their (adult and teenaged) children, students and their teachers, and council members and fellow council members take center-stage in this sprawling tapestry of a tale.

It's a point-of-view novel, so the character focus is constantly shifting as the full extent of characters' relationships to one another are slowly revealed throughout the book.  In this, Rowling succeeds in creating both incredibly fleshed-out characters and a level of mystery, and both of these created more than enough enticement for me to continue reading.  The characters themselves are largely unlikable and petty people, but in realistic ways that allow the reader to sympathize with (almost) all of them despite the dislike.  Pretty much everyone in this story is fairly miserable to some degree, but that misery is very human and lends to a degree of universality.  This in particular is what makes the book such a successful venture.

Rowling's writing in her new book is superb, her descriptions are vivid (I was particularly moved by Kay's first visit to the Weedons' home), and the dialogue flows wonderfully.  Given the tone, themes, and topics brought up in the story, it is absolutely, positively geared toward adults, and I would recommend leaving any and all Potter-based expectations at the door when reading this book.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, September 24, 2012

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifeh

Oni Press
Published April 11, 2012
144 pages
Buy here.

Originally published in 2003, this special hardcover reprint of the first volume of the Courtney Crumrin series is just eerie and bizarre enough to make me want to read more.  Teenaged Courtney is dragged by her parents to live with great-uncle Aloysius, who creeps her out at first but then earns her trust by revealing his magical secrets to her (and getting her out of a few jams when she takes it upon herself to uncover some secrets on her own).  The nearby forest is full of goblins, faeries, and other strange manner of creatures, which Courtney gets mixed up in very much against her will.  She also has to deal with bullies, being an outcast in a new school, and dangers in babysitting.  Full of magic and teen angst, this introduction to Courtney Crumrin has whetted my appetite for the slew of additional titles bearing her name.

Rating: 3.5/5

Long time no read

My end-of-summer was a bit crazy with worrying over finances and preparing three classes for the fall semester.  Now that I'm back into the swing of things at work, I will able to devote more time to reading again, which means much more updates here on the blog!  Fall officially began over the weekend, and with October fast approaching, my literary adventures will aim for ghoulish delights for a while.  Stay tuned if you're on the hunt for good things to read for Halloween!  I just finished an appropriately witchy graphic novel, so I should have a new post up either tonight or tomorrow!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Read-Aloud Poems: Edited by Glorya Hale

Black Dog & Leventhal
Published September 11, 2012
288 pages
Buy here.

This is a lovely collection of 120 poems by some of the classic big names, including Stevenson, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Blake, Carroll, Whitman, Lear, Rossetti, Browning, and Angelou, plus many others.  The poems are thematically arranged by topics such as nature, family, and humor, and include some nice illustrations.

I didn't read a single one of these poems silently, so I will attest to the delight in reading them aloud.  The themes and content of all the poems are adult- and child-friendly, so this book would be a great addition to any parent's read-aloud repertoire (or even serve as a good starting point).  As a teacher, I could definitely see myself using this collection in an ESL class so students could practice pronunciation, rhythm, and sound-spelling relationships.

Rating: 5/5