Friday, January 30, 2009

School Book: Valley of the Dolls

I'm not going to lie; everything that I have read since Batman Hush (heck, you can include Hush) has been read in an effort to avoid having to read Valley of the Dolls. If it hadn't been on the reading list for my popular fiction class, I would not have read it. It's not that there was anything inherently wrong with the book (it is a best seller, and amazingly still in print even though Jacqueline Susann passed away over thirty years ago). No, I just wasn't interested in the genre (Valley of the Dolls reminded me of Sex in the City in book form . . . well, I guess it would really be the other way around as Valley is far older).
Valley of the Dolls is the story of three women, Anne, Neely and Jennifer, as they meet in New York, become famous, and inevitably fall from grace (or in Neely's case, rise and fall repeatedly). The novel opens with Anne, the innocent and naive girl from Lawrenceville. She moved to New York seeking adventure, trying to escape the prescribed life of Lawrenceville. She meets Neely right away, as they live in the same apartment building. Neely is a young performer who is trying to make it on Broadway. With Anne's help, she inevitably becomes a star.
Jennifer is also in New York at this time. She has been in the papers everywhere, famous for marrying a prince and then demanding an annulment just four days later. Jennifer is gorgeous, but deemed to have no talent what so ever. She meets up with Anne several times, but only after helping her out do they become friends and eventually roommates. It is around this point (about 100 pages into the book) that I finally started to enjoy it.
Valley of the Dolls is filled with terrible people. Only Anne seemed to be a good person, believing that all people are good, and inevitably being taken advantage of by some of those who mean the most to her. Neely became a tyrant whenever she was a star. And Jennifer, although usually alright, seemed a bit two-faced from time to time. Overall, once you get into it, Valley of the Dolls has a good story, one that will sucker you in much like a soap opera, leaving you wanting to know what happens next to everyone. If you like gossipy intrigue, then this book is very much for you. But even if you don't, give Valley of the Dolls a chance. I think it is a book worth reading at least once.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Interlude: Heart of Hush

I was telling a friend how much I enjoyed Batman: Hush, so today he lent me the five part comic series Heart of Hush (Batman Detective Comics #846-850). Heart of Hush is the return of Hush, with another plan to destroy Batman. This time, he has enlisted the help of the Scarecrow to distract Batman's attention while Hush strikes from the shadows.
And what a strike! While Batman is off dealing with the Scarecrow, Hush attacks Catwoman. He kidnaps after catching her completely off guard, and steals her heart - literally! With the help of Mr. Freeze, Hush removes her heart from her chest, delivering her to Gotham General while he has her heart in his hospital! (The scene directly after this had Batman beating up the Scarecrow in Arkham, demanding to know where Hush is; the Joker is sitting nearby, enjoy the show. He remarks at one point that watching Batman work is like Christmas! I thought it was hilarious!)
This story reveals Hush's reasoning for going after Batman. His reasoning is quite flawed, not really making sense, but I guess that's the point: Hush is kind of insane (what Batman villian isn't?) I really liked how Batman managed to get a few steps ahead of Hush, such as when he stormed Hush's hideout, or at the end. And Catwoman's revenge at the end was a nice little "so there." All in all, this was a great story, and I'm really glad my friend lent it to me. Definitely worth the read (after the two part Hush graphic novels, of course!)
Oh, and as a fyi, the picture I chose is of Batman Detective Comics #450 (the final part). I felt it best captured the story as a whole (and I really liked the picture!)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Serenity: Better Days

Last Monday, I wandered into Chapters with a friend. Looking around the graphic novel section, there was still only Serenity: Those Left Behind. And then I wandered back to Chapters on Sunday, and suddenly there was a new Serenity graphic novel on the shelf! I was really excited and bought it right away.
I have had Volume 1, Those Left Behind for quite awhile. I bought it when I first saw it in Chapters. It bridges the tv show and the movie, but it wasn't really spectacular.
Better Days was, overall, a better read than Those Left Behind. In Better Days, the Serenity crew finds themselves very rich. So a lot of the story revolves around the crew discussing what each individual member would do with their share of the money (River's was fantastic! I laughed so hard when I saw it!)
However, Better Days was not without problems. The end was a bit confusing. I read it twice, and I sort of get what Inara means now. But in my opinion, I really shouldn't have had to reread the ending at all! The other thing that I would have liked to know is where this story takes place in the whole scheme of things. Does it take place after the movie? Or before it?
Like I did say earlier though, Better Days was a better story than Those Left Behind. Overall, it is easier to follow, and has a lot more action in it. Better Days is a great new story featuring everyone's favourite spaceship and crew.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Library Book: Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle

As a rule, I don't typically read manga. I've taken a few out from the library, but I get confused when they are laid out backwards from a traditional book. However, when I saw Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle, I knew I would be making an exception for this one! I mean, look at him! Santa looks so hard core!

I finally got around to reading it earlier this evening. I'm thinking it was what I was expecting: an utterly rediculous romp in the North Pole. One of Santa's Elves, in a misguided attempt to get the rest of the North Pole to appreciate him, enchants a ninja nutcracker to go and destroy all the toys. His rationale was that he'd be appreciated when he dispelled the nutcracker. Of course things got out of hand when a legion of teddy bears ends up enchanted. The ninja teddy bears wreak all kinds of havoc on the North Pole, and it is up to Santa to save the day, the North Pole, and Christmas, with the help of his two blades.

Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle was exactly what it looks like: a fun romp through the North Pole with one awesome St. Nick. For that alone, it is worth checking out! The Blade of Kringle is very short (it only took me about 20 minutes to read through it), so it is great when you need a quick little distraction from reality.

And remember: Honor. Loyalty. Tinsel.

Batman: Hush Volume 2

And like I knew it would happen when I finished Volume 1, I wasn't able to go to sleep until I had finished Batman: Hush Volume 2. Volume 2 was even more intriguing than Volume 1. At the end of Volume 1, you are presented with a hidden menace to Batman; a man who has a bandaged face, who is studying Batman's life. Volume 2 opens with Batman knowing there is someone out there, but not sure who. And so he continues to battle through the villians, playing the game of Hush.
In the meantime, Batman and Catwoman's relationship continues to evolve. Batman decides to trust her with his identity and with the location of the Batcave. But as more and more villians are revealed to be part of the game, Batman is left wondering whether he can trust her, or whether she is another piece in the game?
The revelation of who Hush is, as well as the stunning conclusion, make these two graphic novels an unforgettable experience for every Batman fan!

Batman: Hush Volume 1

I bought this graphic novel at HMV of all places, along with volume two. I was originally going to buy them both before Christmas, but I ended up waiting until afterwards to buy them.
I've been meaning to read it before today, but with school being a bit heavier this term, today was my first chance. And after having read Batman: Hush Volume 1, I can only say that I should have read it sooner!
Hush Volume 1 opens with Batman trying to save a little boy from Killer Croc. But it quickly becomes obvious that the kidnapping was not planned by Croc; it isn't his style. When Catwoman appears on scene to steal the ransom money from Croc, Batman knows something major is up; Catwoman had left Gotham sometime before to try her hand on the right side of the law. It turns out that Poison Ivy is behind the whole thing, as no man or woman can resist her.
Ivy gets away, and Catwoman comes looking for Batman. While telling him that she wants to get her hands on Ivy, Batman and Catwoman kiss. And in that kiss comes many possibilities; as Catwoman says on page 78: "Easy boy. You play your cards right and . . .there will be plenty more where that came from." And so the rest of the graphic novel is coloured by the possibility that a romance finally will build between Batman and Catwoman.
This was a fantastic read. I read it in about a half hour. It is very intriguing, and now I can't wait to read Volume 2!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

School Book: The Meeting Point

I've just finished reading Austin Clarke's The Meeting Point for Canadian Prose, and my initial judgement of the book stands: it is not the best book that I have ever read, but it is also not the worst book.
The Meeting Point is a book about an immigrant from the Barbados, Bernice Leach, who has come to Canada around 1960. Bernice works in a rich Toronto Jewish household as their housekeeper, alternating between hating and loving both the master and mistress of the house Mr. and Mrs. Burrmann. Along the way, we meet Bernice's friend Dots, Dots' husband Boysie, Bernice's visiting sister Estelle, and a whole host of other very interesting characters.
The Meeting Point reminded me a bit of Sheila Watson's The Double Hook. The plots seemed rather similar in many ways (they are both novels about specific places, the way pregnancy comes up, etc), but The Meeting Point had a lot more description; the characters of Clarke's book were very unique individuals while those in Watson's book seemed to blend together. My major problem with The Meeting Point was that it was rather slow-paced. In a way, The Meeting Point reminded me of a movie I saw recently called Bangkok Dangerous; Bangkok Dangerous was one of the slowest-paced action movies that I have ever seen. Some normally exciting scenes, like a boat chase, were incredibly boring. That's how The Meeting Point felt; things that should have been interesting just weren't, and the book seemed to drag.
So as I said earlier, this wasn't the worst book I've ever read. Watson's The Double Hook and Wright's The Weekend Man from the summer were much worse than The Meeting Point. But neither was it the best book I've ever read. Rather, The Meeting Point was simply mediocre. It has some very interesting characters and a good ending, but it tends to drag a bit. Overall, I'd say that it is worth reading, but don't expect spectacular things from it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

School Book: The Da Vinci Code

I first started reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code earlier in the week. I got about 30 pages into it at the time, and ended up stopping. Part of the reason that I stopped reading for a night was that I got my new iPod, and ended up playing with it. But the other reason was that the first part of the book is extremely choppy. It cuts back and forth between characters very quickly in odd places (you read about Robert Langdon for four pages, then go on to the albino monk Silas for a few, then back again).
So on Thursday night, I went back to The Da Vinci Code after I got home from school. And as I kept reading, I really got into the book, managing to get through 200 pages that night (it's a 500 page book). The book became less choppy, and started to get very intriguing.
Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor, is accused by the Paris police department of murdering the curator of the Louvre, Jacques Sauniere. Langdon ends up on the run with the help of the curator's granddaughter, Sophie, as they try to solve the clues left by Sauniere that lead to the most sought after treasure in history: the Holy Grail. Trying to stop them are the Paris police department, as well as the mysterious Teacher who has a murdering monk on their trail. The Da Vinci Code is a fast-paced adventure that will keep you on your toes, while challenging your mind to solve the puzzles along with Langon and Sophie. It is a well-thought out book that is definitely worth a read.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

School Book: The Double Hook

Shelia Watson's The Double Hook is the first book on the reading list for Canadian Prose. We're going to be looking at it over the next week and a half, so I wanted to get it done as soon as possible. Luckily The Double Hook is a small book, so I knew I'd be able to finish it quickly and move onto better things (like The DaVinci Code!)
The Double Hook is a strange book. When I first started reading it, it reminded me of A Million Little Pieces; Watson does not use quotation marks for dialogue. But The Double Hook is written better than A Million Little Pieces. The lack of quotation marks is not distracting at all; you can easily keep up with the story.
But the story itself wasn't that spectacular. The Double Hook is about a small community of only about 20 people. A woman has died and people keep seeing her fishing. There's this one guy named Kip whom everyone seems to hate for no reason. Yes, the book might have been well written. But the story was hard to follow, and things seemed to happen for no reason at all. If it weren't for my Canadian Prose class, I would never have picked up The Double Hook. And I don't think my life would have suffered at all for the lack of reading this book.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

School Book: Cocksure

I went shopping for a few school books before Christmas. My professor sent me the list of books that we would be looking at, and I wanted to get a bit ahead. For Canadian Prose, I chose to read Cocksure by Mordecai Richler first, which ended up to be a bit of a mistake; as it turns out, Cocksure is the last book we will be covering.
But other than that, Cocksure was a rather excellent read. It kept me entertained all the way through. There was no point in this book that I didn't want to know what happened next (although there were a few points where things seemed to randomly come up and were a little confusing).
Cocksure follows Mortimer Griffin, a Canadian publisher living in England. His publishing house is taken over by Hollywood tycoon the Star Maker, and Mortimer is accussed of being an anti-Semite Jew. There are many wacky characters, from Mortimer's elementary school teacher Miss Ryerson to Mortimer's germaphobe wife Joyce. Cocksure is a wacky satire that you will never forget!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

List Update

And with the conclusion of The Timewaster Letters, the List is now down to 103 books! I know, my last update said I was down to 102 books, and I was hoping to get below 100 during the holidays. But of course, Christmas was included during those holidays, and I got a few new books and a few Chapters giftcards. So inevitably the List was doomed to rise. And with school starting again today, I will have even less time to read List books. I will try to read a few during the year (most likely I'll be able to get the graphic novels out of the way), but most likely the List will stay around 100 books until school is finished in the spring.

The Timewaster Letters

I picked this book up randomly several months ago. The back of the book sounded very funny; it seems that Robin Cooper has been sending letters to stores and different special interest groups for years. The Timewaster Letters collects all of the letters he wrote together with whatever replies (if any) he received.
The first part of the book is utterly hilarious. There was one series of letters where he was trying to sell some scarecrows made of beef. Another series of letters was about a children's book he was going to write.
But after the first several series of letters, the book seemed to grow rather stale. It was just more of the same: Robin Cooper would send an outrageous letter to a random store/special interest group, and if he received a reply his subsequent letters would get more and more outrageous. Yes, some of them are still hilarious. But by about the middle of the book you knew exactly what would happen next: Cooper would push the envelope until the second party would no longer reply.
All in all, I found this book to be exactly what I thought it would be: a timewaster. It wasn't spectacular by any means. But it is worth having in your books to pick up every now and then when you need a break from daily life.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Fragile Things

I'm really not sure why it took me so long to read this book. I've had it for quite some time, probably about a year now. I didn't read it because I wanted to save it. For what, I'm really not sure. So just before Christmas, I decided I was saving it for now.
Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors. I find his work fantastic, be it novels, short stories, poems or comics. Fragile Things was no exception. Most of the stories and poems were fantastc reads (that may have partially accounted for why it took me so long to read this book; I would finish reading a story, and then want to savour it).
I was talking to a friend about Fragile Things, and he said he didn't like it as much as Gaiman's last short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors. I don't exactly agree with that sentiment. They are different books with different feels to them, but they were both great. Both had some wonderful tales in them that are worth savouring. And both had poetry that I absolutely loved (The Day the Saucers Came was a particularly fun read. I'll have to try reading it out loud one day to see Gaiman is right and the poem becomes much funnier).
I also really liked reading both the introduction and the bonus interview with Gaiman that was included at the end of the book. The introduction is neat, as it explains why he wrote what he did, what inspired him, and random other facts that he thought were important (apparently the word yeti means that thing over there. I'l have to look this up later to see if it is true). Gaiman also spontaneously breaks into another story in the middle of his introductions (this was true in Smoke and Mirrors and it is true here as well). The conversation with Gaiman at the end of the book was just an enjoyable read in which Gaiman shared some facts about himself.
Fragile Things is a great read when you want something light, or something that you want a story in its entirety in just a few pages, rather than reading a novel. I thought it was a fantastic read, and I'm glad it didn't take me forever the way my last anthology escapade did.