Sunday, October 31, 2010

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman

Frank Portman's first book, King Dork, was awesome. I had very high expectations for Andromeda Klein. It took me a little while to get used to the writing, and I kind of never caught on with the tarot stuff, but I really ended up liking the book. The best part of the book was Andromeda herself. She's a weedgie (Basically Wicca) outcast with poor hearing. The poor hearing led to the lexicon, words and phrases misheard, things like "mushroom" for bathroom and "don't die" for goodbye. Her mother is incredibly overbearing and her father is very anti-government and sees conspiracy theories in everything. She also hears a voice in her head, a running commentary she thinks of as AAK, or altiverse Andromeda Klein. AAK turns out to be an HGA, or holy guardian angel, or as it prefers, Huggy. Which amused me a lot, both the voice and the name Huggy.

The major plot centers around Andromeda's best friend Daisy. They had done their weedgie ceremonies together, then Daisy died of leukemia. Since then, Andromeda has felt Daisy's presence around. Her tarot predictions start coming true. If that weren't enough, add in the boy trouble. St. Steve was an older guy she took up with for a while. He broke up with her via "Hi there" text message, but suddenly starts texting again. Then her friends make an effort to set her up with Byron, an emogeekian with a cthulu rock obsession. If all that wasn't enough, the International House of Bookcakes (LOVE that name), AKA the library she works at, is weeding out books, especially the old magic books she needs for her weedgie practices and research.

So, there's a lot going on in the book, as you can tell. It all fits together well, and I enjoyed the ending. I think it wouldn't hurt to reread the book at some point in the future, to see if retrospect reveals anything I missed this time around. There's a lot to be said for the magic of the book. Was it all coincidence, or was there something more mysterious going on?

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament by S.G. Browne

Cuddly zombies are just what the world needs, zombies that emote and think and feel. Also, they don't eat people. These zombies are persecuted by the living, "Breathers" as they call them. (Hello, thinly veiled reference to gay community, re: "Breeders.") The undead are not allowed to work, use the internet, and the rules continue on and on. Zombie-hating is the new racism, homophobia, sexism, pretty much any discrimination is happening to the undead.

Andy Warner died in a car accident that also killed his wife. She never came back. Now, Andy lives with his parents. His father is openly hostile and threatens to sell him off to a body farm or zombie zoo. His mother is terrified of him, but tries to put up a good front. He cannot talk because of the accident, his body is mangled, and there are scars all over his face. All Andy does is watch TV, drink wine, and attend his Undead Anonymous (UA) meetings.

Every member of the UA wants nothing more than to return to the lives they had before they died and came back. Society won't allow this to happen. Seriously, people are horrible. They call the zombies names, throw food, dismember them, steal arms. The zombies are legally unable to fight back, and nobody will prosecute anyone who attacks a zombie. Andy starts a petition to return equal rights and protection of the law to the undead, but nothing happens.

Andy and his friends from the UA, Jerry and Rita, meet another zombie named Ray. Ray gives them his special venison jerky. The jerky is the best-tasting thing any of them has ever had, it even makes other food taste better. There's a whole skirting around of the issue, but I knew from the first time they mentioned the jerky that Ray's venison jerky is people. The more jerky that Andy eats, the more restless he gets. He starts protesting and acting out. He starts a romance with Rita. His wounds also start to heal and he can talk again. Eating Breathers is making them better zombies, so they introduce the rest of the UA to the revolutionary cure-all. After that, things start to spiral out of control.

Breathers made me feel a lot of conflicting emotions, first and foremost the desire to become a vegetarian. I really don't need recipes for how to cook humans, thanks. Or descriptions of how you cooked your mother's ribs. There is a line, people.

At first, I was incredibly sympathetic to the zombies. People were so mean. There but for the grace of God go the rest of them, yet there was absolutely no sympathy for their plight. While I like to imagine that I wouldn't be throwing smoothies at zombies, I would hope that any zombie hugs wouldn't end with me becoming a pot of Breather stew. Breather-eating zombies were much harder to sympathize with, especially after the blood-bath that occurs near the end. I ended up feeling foolish for falling for this pro-zombie rhetoric. Zombie hugs are a good way to get yourself eaten.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spooky Little Girl by Laurie Notaro

Lucy's life has gone from bad to worse to worst. She returns home from an indulgent vacation to Hawaii to find all her belongings on the lawn. She even has to fight a homeless woman for her wedding dress. Her (now former) fiance, Martin, refuses to speak to her in order to clarify the situation. At work, events conspire involving a neglected deposit and a positive drug test. Long story short, Lucy gets fired. Without a job, home, or fiance, Lucy decides to start fresh and move in with her sister Alice. On the first day of her new life, Lucy is on the way to the unemployment office when she steps in front of a bus...and Lucy dies.

She ends up in a class with other Sudden Deaths, learning the finer points of haunting. The point of the classes is to teach them to navigate as a ghost so that they can fulfill their mission and move on to the next level. Lucy is assigned to the house she used to share with Martin. He now lives with Nola, a horrible woman with whom Lucy used to work. Nola has taken over Lucy's life and is afraid that Lucy will return one day and take everything away. Everyone, Martin, Nola, and her best friends Marianne and Jilly all think she is going to return because they don't actually know she's dead.

Lucy decides that her mission must be to scare Nola away. Along the way, she has to deal with her feisty grandmother, mysterious lumps on her poor aging dog, and a seance and possible trip to the dreaded white light. The book hooked me from the beginning, as I wanted to know why Martin kicked Lucy out. As it went along, I was as sad as Lucy that nobody came to her funeral, and was waiting for what seemed like forever for any of her friends to find out that she was dead.

I was a little nervous about reading this book because things related to dying give me panic attacks (See my nearly unwatched box set of "Dead Like Me" for evidence). Spooky Little Girl actually made me a little less afraid of dying. That's a pretty good thing in my book.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Seriously, what is so difficult about talking, communicating, expressing your feelings? There would be so much less trouble if people would just take the time to say how they feel.

Take Enthusiasm for instance. Julie is tall and shy. She is best friends with Ashleigh, the Enthusiast. Ashleigh has sudden bouts of enthusiasm that lead her to take up new hobbies and interests such as candymaking and bug collecting. After reading Julie's copy of Pride and Prejudice, Ashleigh's new interest is acting and speaking like Jane Austen, culminating in finding true love by sneaking into a dance at Forefield Academy, the local all-boys prep school.

The plan does not go off without a hitch, but the girls are rescued by Grandison Parr and Ned. Parr ends up being the Mysterious Stranger, the boy that Julie has been seeing around town, the only boy Julie would consider for a relationship. Both girls dance with both boys, and by the end of the night both girls are smitten. Julie is into Parr and Ned and Ashleigh are perfect for each other. Unfortunately, Ashleigh decides that her Mr. Darcy is Parr. Julie is torn because Ashleigh is her best friend, she is generous and always puts Julie before herself...but she is head over heels for Parr! Julie decides she must give Parr up for good, just for Ashleigh's sake.

That's really the annoying part. I understand that these girls are in high school and don't know everything about the world, but Julie could have told Ashleigh that she had a thing for Parr. Would there be some hair-pulling and nail-scratching? Maybe, but at least the truth would be out.

Moving on, Forefield Academy is staging a musical and needs some girls from the public school. Ashleigh decides this is the perfect way to get closer to their respective fellas. Julie reluctantly goes along with the Enthusiast's schemes, but it just gets harder and harder for her to be around Parr while still staying loyal to her friend. Sidenote, I didn't get Julie's "incredible love" for Parr when she really just saw him around a couple times, danced and talked with him a little, and that's about all. It's actually a little overly-intense and vaguely stalkery. Just like high school was!

Enthusiasm was cute and fluffy, but not exactly mind-blowing literature. There's traces of Jane Austen in the relationships portion. I always feel as though I know who will end up with whom in an Austen novel, but the fun is getting to that point. Secondly, I didn't expect to like Ashleigh much, but she seemed fun and sweet, really incredibly conscientious towards Julie. I relate more to Julie, the one who is quietly passionate. It's difficult to have loud, enthusiastic people around because it's so much harder for others to understand that you like something as well. You almost have to give up the thing you love or risk being seen as an imitator or copycat of the enthusiastic person. Not that I would know anything about that personally or anything.

Anyways, everything is resolved in the end. And just like in Jane Austen, happy endings abound.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is awesome.


The End.

I wish I could just say that, but I really wouldn't dream of giving up that easily. Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of short stories and poems. My favorite part of the book, like with his Fragile Things, is the introduction. Gaiman actually gives a little background information behind his writing process and inspiration. Here, he includes an entire story in the intro. It's a story he planned to give to a friend as a wedding present, a story about a couple who receives a story for their wedding. Gaiman never actually gifted the story because of how depressing it turned out. Though if it had been me, I would be happy getting any present from Neil Gaiman.

Out of the stories, my favorites were "The Price, "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale," and "Snow, Glass, Apples." "The Price" is about a family who takes in any number of stray cats. One particular black cat shows up with mysterious injuries, the results of some mysterious nightly battle. "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale" tells the story of a man who decides to hire a hit man by looking under Pest Control in the phone book. It's also about the human inability to resist a good bargain. I was looking forward to reading "Snow, Glass, Apples" the most. It's Snow White from the Queen's perspective with Snow White as a blood-drinking little hussy. Snow White is terrifying, and there's all sorts of fun stuff like hearts getting cut out, incest, and a creepy pedo-prince (Just like the original fairy tale!).

Apparently, I am something of a Neil Gaiman fan girl. Though I've probably mentioned this already, I've even been to see Gaiman speak at a library event. I ran out and bought my tickets as soon as I heard of the event, though there probably wasn't ever any danger that it would sell out. I even have one of the autographed book plates they were giving out, accidentally obtained while trying to make my way through the crowd. Given all that, keep in mind that I'm not particularly subjective. Yet Smoke and Mirrors does offer a good mix of solid fiction, so even if you don't trust me, give it a chance. There may be something you like in there.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi Alpers is effed up. She is failing her senior year at St. Anselm's. It appears as though she purposely exerts herself pushing people away. Andi constantly thinks of killing herself, even expresses the desire to die. Normally now would be the time for some, "Cheer up, emo bear, high school ends sooner than you'd think," but Andi is actually suffering from some real pain. Two years ago, her brother Truman was hit by a car. He was killed right in front of her. That will mess anyone up.

Now, Andi takes Qwellify. If she doesn't take enough, she can't get out of bed. Too much and she starts to hallucinate. At home, Andi's mom spends her days painting Truman over and over. Her dad has been absent for a long time. Once he gets the letter from St. Anselm's, he takes action. Mom goes away to a mental hospital and Andi accompanies her father to Paris for winter vacation, which is the best punishment ever, meaning I am jealous and want to go to France. While there, she is required to write an outline for her senior thesis, tracing the roots of modern music back to 18th century composer Amade Mahlerbeau. Who is fictional, which I know because I thought I might actually be able to hear his music, but alas I cannot.

While in Paris, Andi finds an old diary written by a girl named Alexandrine Paradis. Alex lived in 18th century France, back when merde got real. Andi reads about how Alex got close to the royal family by serving as a companion for Louis-Charles, the dauphin. After the King is overthrown, Louis-Charles is locked away in a tower and treated poorly. Though she had planned to use the child as a stepping stone for her aspirations as an actress, Alex comes to genuinely care for him. She lights firecrackers to show the child that she is still there, she has not abandoned him. The narrative goes back and forth from Andi to Alex's diary entries. In present day, Andi's father is actually trying to verify if a human heart belonged to the same Louis-Charles from Alex's diary. Andi can't stop herself from hoping that the heart isn't the dauphin's. She wants a happy ending for the young prince, the happy ending her brother didn't get.

Another person giving Andi hope is a charming cab driver named Virgil. They bond over music, often singing each other to sleep. Virgil is actually someone who won't be put off, despite Andi's best efforts. He realizes that something horrible happened to her, but she is just too afraid to tell him about Truman and all the messy parts of her life. The hope scares her, getting close to Virgil scares her.

Oh, also, Andi ends up going back in time. To the French Revolution, where she meets Mahlerbeau and acts the part of Alex.

It's been a while since I've thought about the French Revolution. What can I say, I'm more preoccupied with the Battle of Hastings these days. Seriously, Alex's diary entries provide a great first-hand encounter to all the mess from a character that was actually right in the action. The people overthrow the King, but things aren't automatically fixed. Robespierre comes into power and keeps chopping heads. Bad gets replaced by worse gets replaced by worse still.

But the blade still rises and falls. Still heads roll into baskets. Still an innocent suffers, locked away in a tower. Do you know why, sparrow? No? Then I shall tell you.
Because after all the shattered hopes, after all the blood and death, we woke as if from a nightmare only to find that the ugly still are not beautiful and the dull still do not sparkle. That this one sings better than that one. And he got the position I wanted. And her cow gives more milk. And they have a bigger house. And he married the girl I loved. And no writ, no bill, no law, nor declaration will ever change it.

In the end, it all seems so senseless, both the deaths by the guillotine and Truman's death. There are parallels between Andi and Alex, Truman and Louis-Charles. Sometimes I feel ashamed about reading so many Teen books. Revolution is actually one of those books that could be read by adults as well. It's good to have some options that aren't all about vampires and werewolves, just a leetle time travel.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kraken by China Mieville

"The streets of London are stone synapses hardwired for worship. Walk the right or wrong way down Tooting Bec you're invoking something or other. You may not be interested in the gods of London, but they're interested in you..."

Billy Harrow was just giving yet another tour at London's Natural History Museum. The main show at the Museum was the giant squid, Architeuthis. Impossibly, the grand finale arrives and the giant squid has vanished. That's when things start to get weird. It turns out that the squid is God, at least God for the Krakenists. Now, because the kraken was stolen, the world is ending. Of the multitudes of religions and gods in London, they all agree that the end is nigh.

Billy has encounters with a strange police force consisting of a young surly officer with powers and a supernatural psychologist. He is supposed to be under their protection and recruited to join their group because of his squid expertise. Then he receives the package, out of which unfolds a father and son. Goss and Subby are the scariest effing characters in the world. Goss speaks these nonsense phrases and kills people, Subby is an undead child. Goss promptly eats Billy's best friend and takes him to see the Tattoo. The Tattoo is a talking tattoo on some poor guy's back. It controls a gang of people, people with really low self esteem who want to be boiled down into characteristics and get fun fist-heads. It's weird.

Long story short, Billy gets rescued from the Tattoo by Dane, former security guard at the museum, actually a Krakenist. Dane takes Billy to his church, then accompanies him on a mission to recover the squid, even though he will be excommunicated from the church. Along the way, they learn of the rivalry between the Tattoo and Grisamentum, who is dead...or is he? Well, then, there's a haunted Trekkie who owns an actual Tribble (Which sounded really cute, even though it was described as a pile of hair and flesh), a pro-Labor deity that hops into any available statue or action figure, and someone gets folded TO DEATH. Because people can be origami.

It's still not over, but I'm not saying anything else. It feels like I'm giving away too much as it is. There's a mystery behind who stole the squid and why, and there are seriously several reveals made before the actual explanation is even broached.

I have been meaning to read China Mieville for a while. Honestly, there were times when things went over my head, but I got the general gist of everything. (I'm especially proud of the time when I couldn't place a name, then I suddenly remembered- oh yeah, the dead guy in the bottle!) There were elements that reminded me of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, a lot of intricate storytelling and multiple plots separating and weaving together. Kraken had incredibly memorable scenes, scenes that totally blew my mind. Now to try Perdido Street Station.