This book doesn’t fly

I have been away for a while.  This summer, I started a M.A. program in literature at UC Irvine.  So, even though I haven’t been blogging, I sure have been doing a lot of reading.  Over the 8 weeks of classes this summer, I was reading close to 6 hours a day.  Poems, short stories, novels, research articles; I was reading all of it and when it ended I was a little burned out on reading.  I took a few weeks off where I didn’t touch a book (despite being tired of reading, it was much harder to not read than I would have thought).  But now I am back and am reading regularly.  With that said, here is my latest review.

A great title.

A great concept.

A poorly executed story.
A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King is a disappointment.

Arcadia City, a typical metropolis, is the beneficiary of a plethora of superheroes.  The ultimate fighter of the group is none other than the metal man Ultimate.  His mechanical body makes him the perfect, indestructible, enemy of all things evil.  His sidekick, Penultimate, is an orphaned boy whose fatal wounds were healed when Ultimate fixed him with his own super-powered wires.

But when an evil force requires the ultimate sacrifice, Penultimate becomes the most powerful man on earth.  The trouble is, he isn’t sure he wants the responsibility.  He really just wants an ordinary life with his wife; he is through with the whole superhero business.

The premise is intriguing.  Strange blasts start destroying the city and the superheroes must join together in one last fight, otherwise evil will destroy everything.

The presentation is just as intriguing.  The story occasionally switches from prose to graphic novel style storyboards.  The art is top-notch, and I loved the idea of combining the two story telling styles.  But this book suffers from a very undeveloped plot.  The characters are flat and the conflict is convoluted and confusing.  The unique story telling can’t carry this book, and though I had great hope for it, I can’t recommend this book.


So many books so little time

I have just recently been sent copies of two books that I think look very interesting.  I will be excited to read them.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get to them for quite some time.  I will be starting my Master’s of Literature at UC Irvine this summer and I will be doing an incredible amount of reading.  So, check these books out and let me know what you think:

A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama







and A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

There are Very Bad Men in this world…

and their stories make for very good books.

Becoming an avid reader has introduced me to so many books I don’t think I would have otherwise taken an interest in.  Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan is one of those.  The cover is of an ace of diamonds dripping with a little blood against a gray background.  It is dark, mysterious, kinda gross, and frankly-a little boring.  Not the kind of book I would normally be drawn to.

Which is why I’m glad I gave this book a try.  It was a highly entertaining crime thriller.  It was fast paced, action packed, and believable.  David Loogan is not a cop.  He is an editor of a small crime magazine called Gray Streets but he finds himself being drawn into serial killer Anthony Lark’s world.

Loogan’s involvement begins when he finds a manuscript outside his office door.  The story is about three murders and begins with “I killed Henry Kormoran.”  The difference between this and many other stories is that this manuscript wasn’t fiction.  And so the manhunt begins.

This book is being sold as a sequel to Harry Dolan’s best-selling Bad Things Happen.  And while I haven’t read that one, and don’t think the plot line is impaired as a result, I will look forward to going back and reading it at some point.

Falling into a fairytale

The motif is simple, tried and true: a child climbs into a dark and mysterious attic, finds an old dusty book, opens the covers and is immersed in magical golden light.  The child is then carted off to untold adventures and thrills.  Is that not the fantasy of all young readers?

Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children created for me just that experience.  I had no expectations going in, but very quickly I felt like I was falling into a fairytale, and I loved it. 

As a child, Jacob was thrilled by his grandfather’s tales of a mysterious island, children will magical, special powers, and adventures fighting monsters.  Jacob especially loved the old photographs his grandfather had of some of these children.  Then, of course, as always happens, little boys with quick imaginations grow into rational, disbelieving 16 year-olds.  Jacob comes to learn that the island was a last-ditch effort during World War II by his great-grandparents to save their son.  And the monsters, well, those obviously were the Nazis Grandpa fought in the war.  As for the photographs, they were just cheap parlor tricks.  Believable enough for a kid, but quite transparently fake  for a teenager.

However, when Jacob’s grandfather is horrifically killed, Jacob is forced to reexamine all he knows, or what he thinks he knows.  His search takes him to a foggy fishing village off the coast of Wales, and right into a fantasy adventure of his own.

This was a very enjoyable, quick read of fictional fairytale styled fantasy.  One bonus to this book is that the story is carried along by antique photographs that play well into the story.  This is a fitting book for high school aged readers, but also for adult fiction lovers.  Beware, there is a mild amount of swearing in this book.

Upped my nerd quotient a whole bunch

Pretty much every Monday, when I am going through the routine “how was your weekend?” stuff with my classes, I remind them what a total and complete nerd I am.  My weekend usually goes, as I relate to them, something like this: time with family, at the park, church on Sunday, and lots of reading.  It is beyond them that I choose to spend my free time with a book.

ImageThat is why choosing to spend my free time reading Just My Type by Simon Garfield would be so far beyond their comprehension that I would probably lose what little respect they might have for me.

To warm you up for this, watch this short video:

I think my interest in fonts began when I noticed in the publication information (yes, I read all that junk) that the font of the book was specifically mentioned.  I am aware of many different fonts thanks to Microsoft Word, but I had never thought about the choice that went in to choosing a font for a book publication.  Anyway, that prompted me to buy this book even to the ridicule of my loving parents.

I was hoping this book would be more of a history of printed type.  I had hoped it would describe the evolution of one font to the next.  I had hopped it would detail the differences between the fonts.  Unfortunately for me, it didn’t really do any of that.  I am not the intended audience for this book.  This is a book for dedicated graphic designers, and not a survey for the layman.

There were certain interesting aspects of this book; it did briefly discuss the designer and inspiration for many popular fonts, it had a few funny chapters such as the world’s worst fonts, it showed some details of obscure fonts.  But mostly, reading this book was a labor of love that by the end turned into just plain labor.

Any graphic designers out there?  Give it a try.  Let me know what you think.  For the rest of you, check out something more captivating, like Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Missing the forest through the trees

Randy Morgenson was an institution of the High Sierras.  He had dedicated his life to the Sierras and new them intimately.  He lived a charmed childhood in Yosemite, hanging out with Yosemite’s elite, including Ansel Adams, whom he accompanied on a few trips around the park as an assistant.  Later in life, he spent his summers, nearly thirty of them, as a seasonal backcountry ranger.  There is a story told of him that when a young kid went missing, he quickly glanced at a map and said the kid would be found in this meadow (he pointed it out) tomorrow morning.  The next morning a helicopter searching for the child flew over the meadow and the kid came running out of the trees.  Randy knew the land so well that he could tell how it would direct a person.  And that is why Randy Morgenson’s sudden disappearance was so strange and so startling.

Eric Blehm’s biography of Randy, The Last Season, traces Randy’s life and work, specifically focusing on Randy’s love of the Sierras and his efforts to preserve and protect them.  The Last Season is a love story to the Sierras, recounting their vastness, magnificence and beauty but never glossing over their powerful danger.  It is also a well written mystery that traces Randy’ disappearance.  Did he commit suicide?  Did he simply wander out of the mountains and into a new life?  Did he meet with a tragic end after a misstep in his playground of sheer cliffs?  Blehm’s words create a gripping story of intrigue, as well as hope, to the very end.

For any fan of the Sierras or Yosemite, this book is one that will thrill.  Yet, I was consistently disappointed with how little Randy Morgenson really understood.  He dedicated his life to the parks, and he worked tirelessly to clean them and preserve them.  He would then, with cynicism and bitterness, journal condemnations of people who entered them.  He became a radical in that he wanted the parks closed to all use.  He believed that the beauty of the mountains would be better off without any human activity and convinced that the beauty and majesty of the mountains should be left to the mountains alone.  Randy missed the greatest mystery of all: there is more to this world than nature, there is something behind it all and above it all.  There is a much grander power with a wonderful plan.

Randy wrote “I am suddenly close to something very great and very large, something containing me and all this around me, something I only dimly perceive and understand not at all.  Perhaps if I am here, aware, and perceptive, long enough I will.”  That something very great and very large that contained him and all of creation is God’s incredible, infinite glory.  And Randy missed it.  Surrounded by God’s creative work, he missed it.  I pray that you will not miss it too.

Drood by Dan Simmons

When Charles Dickens died, he left an unfinished work titled The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Since then, many have given a try at finishing that story.  Dan Simmons took a different route, he tried to reinvent the novel and characters from scratch, and so produced Drood.

In it, Drood is a mysterious Egyptian turned crime boss, ruling London’s slums.  And Charles Dickens is the man picked to write his biography.

This story is told from the perspective of Wilkie Collins, a contemporary writer of Dickens, who was also Dickens’ friend and frequent collaborator.  The narrator’s voice is beautifully constructed; the reader immediately forgets all about Dan Simmons, and instead starts to believe that one is really reading an autobiography of Wilkie.

It is on this strength that this book truly soars.  Much of the book is delightfully meandering, reading more like a Wilkie autobiography, Dickens biography, bibliography and literary criticism of the two writers, with a crime drama thrown in.  An incredible amount of research went into this book and so it comes off with an impressive tone of authority.

On page 425 a major change of action and pace is suggested, a much-anticipated, expected, and hoped for pace when Wilkie’s last line of the chapter is “That moment was the end of my life as I had known it.”  Unfortunately, it does not bring the hoped for renewed energy and the book begins to lag.

So much so, that this book feels more like a labor of love for the author, and not a real attempt at putting to rest the mystery around Dickens’ Mr. Drood.  I can’t imagine this book had any commercial success.  It made me think of an art project: art for the sake of art; not because it is needed or because anyone wants it, but just because it can be done.

Certain elements of this book had me riveted.  I loved the history and the characters.  I grew tired of the main plot about Drood, though.  And since that was seemingly the main point of the book I can’t very well give it a good recommendation.  At best, this is a 3.5 stars out of 5.