Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Review: The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

I'm not really sure why, but it's taken me years to finally read a book by Neil Gaiman. Yes, I've heard lots of things about him, and they've all been good things. He sounds like he would be right up my alley: dark, brooding stories about mysterious people in interesting and (sometimes) made-up lands.

Part of the problem is that Neil Gaiman has a huge bibliography and I didn't know anyone who could point me in the right direction. This is the same problem I have with Terry Pratchett. I would love to read Pratchett, but I don't know where to begin. If anyone would like to recommend me a Pratchett book to start reading, I would be thrilled.

Anyway, back to Gaiman. I have finally broken through the bibliography and started where I probably should have years ago: The Sandman, Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

Preludes and Nocturnes introduces us to the Sandman, the king of the Dreamworld. When we first meet him, he is captured by an ambitious magician, stripped of his clothing, his helmet, his magic sandbag and his red jewel. Naked and powerless, he is imprisoned in the basement of the magician's estate for decades inside a magical sphere. Years go by and the magician dies of old age, feeble and no closer to the Sandman's power than before he had captured the demi-god.

The magician's son, frightened by the Sandman's power, is too afraid to set the king of dreams free after so many years of imprisonment. Finally, when the son is nearing his own death, the Sandman is able to break through his prison and wrecks revenge on the cowardly magician's son.

Meanwhile, the Dreamworld is in a shambles. While the Sandman is imprisoned, chaos reigns through the dreams. Some people simply stop sleeping, while others fall asleep and never wake up again—until the Sandman escapes.

While he finally has his freedom, the Sandman must now find his stolen possessions, no easy feat now that they have been scattered. The Sandman travels through hell to challenge a demon for his helmet, finds his sand in the possession of a former lover of John Constantine, and his red jewel in the hands of a crazed man who has turned it into a weapon powerful enough to bring down society.

To say that this introduction to the Sandman is fast-paced and rivetting is not giving the book justice. I can see why people rave about the series. Gaiman is a masterful storyteller. Part comic book hero, part fairy tale, it's unlike any comic book I've read in awhile.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

I'll be honest, I had a hard time writing this review. Not because the book is bad. On the contrary, I found this book so wonderful, I passed it onto my mother. The reason I'm finding it hard to write a review is because it's so hard to for me to explain it. There's so much that I want to tell you about The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King!

To begin with, it's a mystery. Not just any mystery, though. It's a Sherlock Holmes mystery. On the other hand, it's not a Sherlock Holmes mystery because a) it's not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and b) it's not about Sherlock Holmes.

The book is about Mary Russell, a brilliant young woman who one day stumbles upon the great detective while out on a stroll across the Sussex Downs. From that moment, her life changes completely.

Already graced with her own keen intellect, she is taken under Holmes's wing the summer before her first semester at Oxford. Under his tutelage, she learns the art of detection and disguise.

Yet there's more. Holmes and Russell are not just tutor and pupil. They're kindred spirits. A brilliant mind is hard to find, if you believe the serendipity in Laurie R. King's book, and their's is a partnership that seems to have been divined by the stars. Russell is hungry for knowledge and Holmes is more than happy to provide her with the foundations of a sound detective's mind, yet he recognizes her as an equal, not just an untouched block of clay.

The story begins with Russell's tutelage under Holmes in his Sussex cottage and quickly shifts to the first mystery of the novel. Holmes and Russell travel to Wales to find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator. Disguised as wandering gypsies, they rescue the girl from an unnamed villain by working together. This sets the stage for the main conflict of the story—someone is after Holmes and his close friends, including Russell.

I can't get over how well-written this book is. King is a master at writing well-crafted dialogue that sounds natural. And the narration provided by Mary Russell herself stirred me to read some passages aloud for the simple pleasure of having the words come out of my mouth. With such weighty characters as Holmes and Dr. Watson to work with, there's a danger in losing the true voice of the character, but King doesn't. Each character, both her own and any that she has borrowed, sounds genuine. Holmes in particular is a masterpiece. Compassionate, witty and brilliant, he is a Holmes that you can believe in.

When it comes down to it, though, I have to say that Russell is by far my favourite character, but I believe we're meant to root for her anyway. She holds her own against Holmes' scathing wit and has her fair share of well-crafted passages.

I'm excited for the next book in the series, and then the next, and then the next. I think Ms. King is a fantastic author and I plan on reading the entire Mary Russell series.

I was inspired to read The Beekeeper's Apprentice because of A Striped Armchair. Not only did A Striped Armchair write a great review on the book, but then the wonderful Laurie R. King came along and wrote a guest-post for her!

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What the Hell is Dick Lit?

In my last review, I mentioned the genre dick lit, but I didn't really give it a definition. Upon googling the phrase, I found that I don't actually have to. It's already been done for me!

Dick lit, lad lit, guy lit…whatever, is typically written by men, about men, who are young, selfish, insensitive and afraid of commitment. Just picture Chuck Bass and you've pretty much got your quintessential dick lit character. If I had to put the blame on anyone, I'd start with Holden Caulfield. Which makes me realize that that I now understand Catcher in the Rye. Because I didn't before. I just thought he was a huge asshole.

While most men don't read chick lit, the same cannot be said for the other way around. Despite the fact that dick lit protagonists are essentially&133;dicks, women love dick lit.

Dustin Rowles explains:
"The penis ejaculates yarns rich with metaphor and, because young men aren't big readers, dick lit also has to appeal to women to be successful. In a way, then, dick lit is written by the music-loving, sensitive men so worshipped in the chick lit genre."
Hands up, who doesn't picture John Cusack when she's reading her dog-eared copy of High Fidelity?

And the Book Ninja has more to add (through the help of The Chronicle, but their own article has been taken down):
Each work is written in the first person, by a destabilized, unreliable narrator; these books are like one long run-on sentence of self-justification and rationalization. "I don't want your wholesome values, your reasonably good judgment," says Jeb Braun, protagonist in Erik Barmack's The Virgin. "My goal isn't to please you. So if you're expecting the whole handshake and nod routine, you can stop reading right now." (Several authors refer to "the book you hold in your hand," as if to distance themselves even further from their own sad story.)
Despite this holier-than-thou attitude, we want to keep reading. It's like you know your boyfriend's an asshole and he never goes down on you, but you still keep him around cause he makes you feel smarter just by being there. Eventually, though, you realize he's a dick and you dump him. But a part of you will always miss that boost of intelligence he gave you by his mere selfish, insensitive presence.

My personal dick lit hero is Tyler Durden. I'd follow that crazy mofo to the ends of the earth. How about you?

Image source: Save Ophelia

Book Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

I picked up this book from the library because I recognized the title, and an old boyfriend of mine raves about Philip K. Dick, so I thought I would give it a shot.

The plot is convoluted, but I'll do my best to explain it. In the near distant future, the United States is no closer to winning the 'War on Drugs' than it is today. In fact, it's even worse. Large pockets of communities have devolved into drug havens and little can be done to break people from their addictions. A new drug called Substance D is particularly addictive and popular. Those who are hooked eventually come to a point where they either must check into rehab and get clean, or they go crazy. Rehab is an unpleasant option though because it's difficult to kick the addiction and the system is cold, unfriendly and doesn't always work. Essentially it's a last resort before the habit kills the user.

Bob Arctor is an undercover cop who lives deep inside one of these drug pockets in L.A. He's trying to crack the supply chain and has been assigned to spy on the addicts who he has befriended. The only problem is, Arctor is heavily addicted to Substance D himself. Because of his addiction, his brain begins to separate—the left side stops communicating with the right side—and Arctor can no longer recognize himself. This is when he is assigned to spy on himself because his unit believes he is responsible for supplying his friends with large quantities of the drug.

A Scanner Darkly is the best known of Dick's work given that it was released as a film in 2006, starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder and directed by Richard Linklater. The film is fantastic, and (from what the old boyfriend says) pretty true to the book. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish the book. I read a good two-thirds of the book before I decided I wasn't interested in reading any more descriptions of car mechanics, or how the brain works.

Dick loves his science, and he fills this book with people who love to talk about science. Given that my brain can neither picture mechanical functions nor does it really care, this was a bit of a snoozefest. The story is interesting though, and if you're willing to read through the parts that might bore you like they did me (who knows, maybe they won't bore you...I'm just not mechanically inclined!) you'll enjoy the book.

I like to call this book Dick Lit, because I think men would be more inclined to read Dick than a woman would. Other writers I would classify as Dick Lit would be Chuck Palahniuk and Chuck Klosterman.

I would say rent the movie and watch Robert Downey Jr. play one of the most interesting characters I've ever seen on screen. Hell, they all do a fantastic job in the movie, even Keanu Reeves. I'd say skip the book entirely and watch the movie if you're really interested, but I'm glad I gave Dick a shot. It was worth it, even if I didn't finish the book.

Rating: 2.5/5 (Unfinished)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Monthly Wrap-Up: April 2009

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone. :)

Books Read:

  1. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

  2. The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

  3. The Reader by Bernard Schlink

  4. Berlin Book Two: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes

  5. The Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw

  6. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

  7. Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi

  8. Aya of Yop City by Abouet and Oubreri

Books Currently Reading:

  1. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

  2. Yoga For People Who Can't Be Botherd by Geoff Dyer

  3. Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories by Jaime Hernandez

Challenge Updates:

  1. To-Be-Read Challenge: 2/12

  2. Graphic Novel Challenge: 6/12

Hmm, I think I need to start writing more reviews, wouldn't you say? Especially the ones that were included in the challenges! And I really need to get on that TBR Challenge. 2/12? That's pitiful!