Friday, February 29, 2008

Immortal, by Traci L. Slatton

[Note: this review contains a semi-spoiler, so procede with caution!]

While Anne Rice fans breathlessly await that last Lestat book, they would be well advised to check out Traci L. Slatton’s debut novel Immortal.

Immortal is the story of Luca Bastardo, a homeless child living in 14th century Florence. Luca has no memory of his life before age nine, but he’s a quick-witted, exceptionally beautiful boy, with a double-edged gift: he ages at an impossibly slow rate. Luca’s centuries-long life allows him to witness both the cruelty and the beauty of the Renaissance—he survives the Black Death, imprisonment in a brothel, the Inquisition, and the stake-happy religious fervor of his fellow Florentines; he befriends everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to the Medici family; and he finds—and loses—a great love.

Slatton’s novel is not the type of book we generally recommend. For every page dedicated to happiness, intellectual curiosity, and beauty, there’s two more devoted to suffering and brutality*. Still, Immortal is impressive, particularly coming from a first-time author—Slatton’s style is elegant and briskly paced, and her ageless hero is likable and intelligent, with none of the self-indulgent whininess of Rice’s vampires. We can’t say we’ll be re-reading Immortal any time soon (we seldom re-visit books that open with the hero’s impending execution, no matter how well-written they are), but we’ll be keeping an interested eye out for Slatton’s next book.

*Not a Wordcandy-approved ratio.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Five questions with Charles Burns

Thanks to the fine people at Pantheon Books, Wordcandy was recently given the opportunity to ask Charles Burns (author of Black Hole, one of our recent Featured Book titles) a few questions.

1. Your eye-catching, idiosyncratic artwork remains remarkably consistent throughout Black Hole. (I recently walked past a book cover you’d illustrated—an image of a startled pair of eyes—and recognized it as your work at a glance.) You’ve achieved some impressive commercial success with your signature style, including a memorable series of Altoids advertisements. Are you ever tempted to produce something completely different?

CB: I’ve been tempted to work in a radically different style from time to time but my occasional attempts to “loosen up” have been miserable failures. My “style” is something I’ve arrived at naturally over the course of my lifetime; there’s a line quality found in illustrations and comics from the 40’s and 50’s that I’ve always been attracted to and have tried to emulate... it’s something that has slowly evolved into the “look” you recognized in the Chipp Kidd book cover I did recently.

2. Condoms and other forms of sexual protection are conspicuously absent from Black Hole, but they were definitely available in Seattle in the seventies. Why doesn’t anybody in the book make an effort to protect themselves? Why don’t any of the characters consider methods to avoid the bug, or at least prevent an unwanted pregnancy? (I don’t know about the rest of the world, but if sex had the potential to turn people into shambling zombies, protection would have been the number-one hot topic at my high school.)

CB: If Black Hole featured safe sex I guess there wouldn’t be a story would there? I realize condoms were available in the seventies but my characters don’t use them… “It… it just doesn’t feel right… it’s not ‘natural’… now pass that fucking joint over here.”

3. Black Hole is the second Seattle-based horror story I’ve reviewed recently. (Life here in Washington is pretty creepy, apparently.) Did you choose to set the book there simply because it was part of your teenage experience, or was there something unique about North Seattle in the seventies that inspired you?

CB: I chose to set the book in Seattle because that’s where I grew up and it was a place and time I could write about accurately. The story isn’t really about Seattle or the seventies or sexually transmitted diseases; it’s about a series of characters suffering though adolescence.

4. I didn’t read Black Hole as it was being released serially, but I’ve spoken with a few passionate fans of the book who invested a decade’s worth of interest in it. When the story was released as a graphic novel in 2005, did the critical reaction to it change? Did seeing your story in the new format make you wish you’d done anything differently?

CB: The collected version of Black Hole was the way I had always envisioned the story being published. Because I work so slowly, having it come out periodically as a comic book was a good solution. I’m not sure I understand your question about the critical reaction to the book but I think you’re referring to the fact that the book found a larger audience than the comic book, right? It’s just a simple fact: more people go to bookstores that comic book stores. Maybe it’s the format…and maybe it’s just a shift in reading habits… As far as wishing I could do it all differently, I’d have to say no, I’m happy with the final version of the book.

5. I hear there’s a movie adaptation of Black Hole in the works. Unlike most comic book movie adaptations, this idea doesn’t fill my heart with dread—after all, nobody can expect material like Black Hole to turn into a PG-13 special effects extravaganza, so it seems like there’s no chance anybody will try to turn your work into X-Men: The Last Stand. What’s the status of this project, and how involved are you?

CB: A while back I signed an option with Paramount Pictures for Black Hole. It was just announced a couple of days ago that David Fincher has been “attached” to the project as the director. I have no idea of how things work in Hollywood, so I can’t predict what the final outcome will be. At this point I’m not involved with the project in any way other than keeping track of the latest developments.

We sincerely appreciate Mr. Burns getting back to us so promptly, and wish him the best of luck with his future projects!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When the licensing gods fail us…

Sometimes it's hard to be an anime/drama geek. Distribution is limited, only a fraction of the interesting projects get translated, and the stuff you'd actually pay for doesn't get licensed at all. I hate to say this, but sometimes your only option is to settle for watching stuff online.

That said, it's not always easy to know where and what to download. You can usually find the buzz-worthy stuff on YouTube, if you're willing to download episodes in 8 minute increments, but there are actually some far superior options for downloading manga and dramas. We suggest these two sites: is a huge anime/movie/drama archive. You have to register (although the registration process is painless), the videos aren't particularly high-quality, and once in a while there's a pop-up window that is immediately eaten by my virus protection software, but you can't beat this site for sheer volume. They've got everything from the anime versions of Nodame Cantabile and Gakuen Alice to the live-action version of Lovely Complex. Plus, they're really good about removing projects once they've been licensed, so you don't need to worry about stealing food from your favorite writers' mouths. focuses on dramas and movies. They only offer a fraction of CrunchyRoll's titles, and they're not quite as careful about licensed titles (I'm pretty sure that both Full House and My Girl are licensed, and they've got 'em both up there), but their videos are higher quality, their archive is easier to navigate, and they limit themselves to fairly big-name titles. Check this site out to stream everything from the Taiwanese version of MARS to Japan's Hana Kimi.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Gnomeo and Juliet

(Sometimes I double-check the dates when I read these things, just to be totally certain they weren't posted on April Fools' Day.)

It turns out that there WILL be an animated version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Gnomeo and Juliet—an adaptation of Shakespeare's famous play featuring two clans of warring garden gnomes—has been "in production" (read: kicking around various movie studios without actually going anywhere) for years, but things may actually get rolling pretty soon. It's unclear whether or not Ewan MacGregor and Judi Dench are still attached to this project, but I understand that Kate Winslet will definitely voice Juliet.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Wait—she's been writing religious books?

Huh. I guess that just goes to show you how much attention I pay to Anne Rice's career.

I had a friend in high school who was a fan of the Interview With The Vampire series, so I slogged through the first three books, but that was all I could take. Last I heard, Rice had written several more Lestat books and seemed all set to keep on writing vampire stories forever, but apparently I'm way behind the times—Rice swore off vampire novels in 2004 in favor of writing books about the life of Jesus Christ. In an interview with Christianity Today, she is quoted as saying: "I would never go back, not even if they say you will be financially ruined. I would be a fool for all eternity to turn my back on God like that."

Unfortunately for Rice, her no-vamp rule doesn't seem to be sticking. According to Time, Rice now says that she'll be writing one more Lestat novel—but she doesn't consider it to be a violation of her earlier statement, because this novel will have a definite "Christian framework and a focus on the theme of redemption".


Friday, February 22, 2008

How Not To Be Popular

Jennifer Ziegler’s How Not to be Popular is not, as some of you might think, an unauthorized sequel to Meg Cabot’s How To Be Popular. Sure, there’s the nearly identical titles, and the fact that both books have warm-toned, faux-retro covers, and both open each chapter with a note about popularity, and both feature teenage heroines finding love in unexpected places... but, happily, the biggest thing Cabot and Ziegler’s books have in common is that they’re both totally fun.

Maggie Dempsey is sick of her life. Her hippie parents are constantly moving, and while Maggie enjoyed her family’s nomadic lifestyle as a child, she hates it as a teen. Every move means leaving behind her school, her friends, and (as of her sophomore year in Portland, Oregon) a boyfriend. When her parents drag her to Austin, Maggie comes up with a plan: this time, she’s not going to get hurt when they leave because she’s not going to make any friends, and she’s definitely not going to fall in love. Determined to make herself as off-putting as possible, Maggie dresses like a lunatic, snubs the popular crowd, and generally flaunts her eccentricity as much as possible. Unfortunately for Maggie, her aggressively crazy style catches on, and it isn’t long before she’s facing a wave of popularity as unwelcome as it is unexpected.

Ziegler’s book plays with one of my pet theories about high school: it doesn’t matter what you act like or how you’re dressed, high school students will respect anyone who seems like they know what they’re doing*. The obvious deliberation of Maggie’s actions—no matter how weird—is more than enough to win her classmates’ admiration. While the humor and romance in How Not to Be Popular will undoubtedly charm her teenage fans, Ziegler’s sweet, smart, sharply funny exploration of the sheep-like nature of high school popularity guarantees that her book has a lot to offer older readers, too.

*I developed this theory after observing the successful transformation of one of my middle school classmates. After years of being a stereotypical D&D-playing geek, he grew a two-foot-wide afro, insisted that people call him “Ziggy”, and constantly acted like he was stoned out of his mind. (To the best of my knowledge, he wasn’t.) And you know what? He seemed so pleased with himself that everybody accepted him, even the jocks. It was a fascinating thing to behold.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

New and improved

We've been talking recently about coming up with an updated version of our Wordcandy Guide to the Best Shojo Manga. We think our original list is still pretty solid (although Pheromomania Syndrome, sadly, hasn't been seen or heard from in ages, and I take back the rec for Parfait Tic—I know it still has a lot of fans, but I just can't take that stupid heroine anymore), but it doesn't include any of the great stuff that's come out recently. What about my current favorite series, Uwasa no Midori-Kun—a delightfully frothy, funny, R-rated series about a girl who's seduced and abandoned by her soccer-star childhood friend, and swears to get her revenge by disguising herself as a boy and trouncing him on the field? (Seriously, dear readers: learn to use IRC. It's worth it for Uwasa alone.) And there's tons of other awesome titles, none of which we've had time to properly celebrate on the site: Skip Beat, Cynical Orange, Angel Diary, Gakuen Alice, Gokusen, Nodame Cantabile...

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Spiderwick Chronicles on a budget

Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi are awesome, but their Spiderwick Chronicles books are way overpriced. The novels cost a hefty $10.99 apiece--not bad for a conventional hardcover, but these books are under 200 pages and the first one took me slightly less than a half hour to read. Happily, there's currently a more budget-friendly option for book two:
"This month, look for Special Edition Spiderwick Chronicles books inside specially marked boxes of General Mills' cereals, including Lucky Charms, Reese's Puffs, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cookie Crisp and Cocoa Puffs. Three separate, 62-page Special Edition books make up "The Seeing Stone," Book 2 of the acclaimed Spiderwick Chronicles series. Available only in General Mills cereals, each Special Edition book contains exclusive, never-before released "lost chapters" your kids will want to read!

Look through the "window" in each box to see which of the three Special Edition books is inside, and collect all three to complete the tale of "The Seeing Stone." On the side of each box you’ll also find a collectible cut-out bookmark featuring different characters from the movie." [Source]
My local Target is currently selling three boxes of General Mills cereal for seven bucks, which means that I'll get the book for less money than I'd pay retail, plus three whole boxes of deliciously sugary cereal!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Just in case.....

I thought I would post the latest trailer for Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (the movie adaptation of the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia series), just in case you missed it during the Super Bowl:

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Suzanne Collins's new book

I was bitterly disappointed by the final book in Suzanne Collins's Underland Chronicles (I mean, it's one thing to have an ambiguous ending, but Gregor and the Code of Claw didn't even make sense. It's a $35 bus ride from Virginia to New York--why was everybody convinced they'd never see one another again?), but that doesn't mean I'm not excited about her future books. Here's the publisher's description of her upcoming novel Hunger Games:

"Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place."
I'd be even happier if she wrote a sixth Underland book, but I suppose this is better than nothing. Hunger Games is due out in October.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Confessions of a Serial Kisser

The cover art and official description for Wendelin Van Draanen's Confessions of a Serial Kisser are up:

"Evangeline Logan wants a kiss. A spectacular, heart-stopping, life changing kiss. Somehow The Crimson Kiss (a romance novel she's become obsessed with) and Four Steps to Living Your Fantasy (a self-help book she's reading) have fused in Evangeline's mind and sent her on a quest for a kiss. But the path to perfection is paved with many bad kisses-the smash mouth, the ear licker, the "misser". The phrase "I don't kiss and tell" means nothing to the boys in her school. And worse: someone starts writing her name and number on bathroom walls. And worst of all: the boy she's just kissed turns out to be her best friend's new crush. Kissing turns out to be way more complicated than the romance novels would have you believe..."

I think Van Draanen's Flipped is one of the sweetest YA novels ever written--unfortunately, it raised my expectations for her books to such heights that it will be almost impossible to live up to 'em.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Well, it's cheaper than diamonds.

Happy Valentine's Day, dear readers. If you're in the market for an expensive but very, very awesome Valentine gift, the last volume of the world's most offbeat-yet-sublimely romantic manga is on bookshelves now:

If you have deep pockets and your bookstore has a well-stocked manga section, you could buy your Valentine the whole series! It's totally worth it, I promise.

P.S. And for mood music, may I suggest "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You", by the Black Kids? They're awesome, too--imagine an electronic garage band fronted by Robert Smith...

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I Wish

I can't be even remotely impartial about this series, as the scanlation group I work for has been working on it for years, but I'm so happy to see that TOKYOPOP has released the first volume of Hyun-Joo Seo's wonderful manhwa I Wish. Here is a review from another site, and I strongly encourage all of our manga/manhwa fans to check the book out for themselves. The storyline, the artwork, the characters--all totally awesome.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Highly unlikely

A link on BuzzSugar took me to this article:

"Harry Potter fans are set to get a double treat in the film of the final story – and movie makers are set to double their money.

Crew working on the sixth Potter film, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, have been told J.K. Rowling's seventh novel, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, will be released in two halves.

For film-makers Warner Bros, whose first five Potter films have made £2.5billion in box office receipts – more than any other movie series – it could mean a £500million bonus in ticket sales.

But sources insist the reason behind the two-movie plan is artistic rather than financial.

The books got progressively longer – the first, the Philosopher's Stone, had 223 pages while Deathly Hallows has 776 – and fans have complained chunks of later novels have been left out of films.

A film source said: "There's so much to fit that the view is the last movie should be in two halves. There is a huge battle when Harry, played by Daniel Radcliffe, takes on Voldemort that needs to be done really well."

And Ms Rowling points out on her website: "It is simply impossible to incorporate every storyline into a film under four hours long."

At Warner Bros, who are rumoured to be thinking of Oscars and a big-name director such as Steven Spielberg for the final film, a spokesman said:

"People are discussing all possibilities.""

I highly doubt this will happen--and please, if they can turn a Tolkien novel into a reasonable film, they can handle Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

How could anybody turn down Crockett Johnson?

I was browsing in Olympia's Fireside Bookstore over the weekend, and I came across this:

Isn't it lovely? Crockett Johnson (author of Harold and the Purple Crayon, one of the awesomest kids' books on the planet) loosely based this simple, dreamy story on the legend of the Fisher King. Two children are playing on a beach, and discover that when they write a word in the sand ("JAM"), the tide magically produces it. Their original wishes are mostly for food, but eventually they produce a king, a castle, an enchanted forest...

Johnson wrote Magic Beach in the early sixties, but it was turned down by his publisher. It was eventually published in 1965 as Castles in the Sand, although Johnson's idiosyncratic pencil sketches were replaced with illustrations by Betty Frazer. Johnson's original version was discovered a few years ago, and was published for the first time in 2005, with an introduction by Maurice Sendak and an afterword by Philip Nel.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

A Girl of the Limberlost

I am very disappointed. I recently went on a quest to find an attractive, non-battered copy of Gene Stratton-Porter's deliciously over-the-top novel A Girl of the Limberlost, and this—this!—was my best option:

Adding insult to injury, the publisher describes Stratton-Porter's book in exactly one line: "The story of Elnora, who collects moths to pay for her education, and lives the Golden Rule." While there's nothing out-and-out wrong with that sentence, neither it nor the insipid cover art give the slightest hint of this book's soap-opera-worthy charms.

A Girl of the Limberlost was published in 1909, and is set in rural Indiana. Impossibly noble teenager Elnora Comstock lives on the edge of the Limberlost Swamp with her widowed mother, Katharine. Elnora's mother alternately neglects and abuses her, blaming her only child for the death of her husband—see, Katharine was unable to save her husband from drowning before her eyes, as she was busy giving birth to Elnora at the time. Determined to attend high school (and equally determined not to ask her mother for help), Elnora discovers that she can pay her way through school by collecting and selling moths. Elnora does eventually win her mother's love (after a neighbor helpfully informs Katherine that her husband was cheating on her before his death), but this is only the beginning of her troubles....

Come ON, publishers! This is a book about passion, crazed resentment, unbridled sentimentality! It doesn't need prim, squeaky-clean cover art, it needs something almost pre-Raphaelite. Something more like this:

Only, y'know, with swamps and stuff. And no dead girls.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Perfume: the true Hollywood story

My local NPR station had a great interview up this morning with Charles Burr, the New York Times perfume critic and author of The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York. I couldn't bear listen to all of it—frankly, the high-flown adjectives used in perfume descriptions remind me of nothing more than the faux-Lawrencian paragraphs in Cold Comfort Farm—but the sizable chunks I did listen to were entertaining and informative, and I'm thinking of requesting a review copy of the book. Check the interview out for yourself here.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I didn't realize she was still writing these...

From Anime News Network:

"Celebrated artist Rumiko Takahashi (Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha) will publish the latest chapter in her annual Rumic Theater series in this year's fifth issue (on sale on February 20) of Shogakukan's Big Comic Original magazine. The announcement was made in the magazine's current fourth issue (released on February 5). The "Shiawase List" (Happiness List) short story will center on a housewife who catches a momentary glimpse of her tranquil neighborhood's true form. As usual for new Takahashi works, the one-shot manga will have a color opening page. Viz Media has published two volumes of the Rumic Theater (Takahashi Rumiko Gekijō) short stories in North America."
I can't believe I missed out on all of this Rumiko Takahashi awesomeness. Fire Tripper was the first anime I ever saw, so I've always had a soft spot for the Rumic World stories (even the crazy ones).

Note: I'm especially sorry I haven't had a chance to read "Shake Your Buddha", which Wikipedia informs me is about a debate between "the future Buddha and an idiot yam fanatic during a food shortage over whose methods can lead to Japan's survival".

Hey, who doesn't love an idiot yam fanatic?

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ballet Shoes, the movie

I've been periodically checking up on the progress of the BBC adaptation of Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes, but I still managed to totally miss the boat: this made-for-TV movie aired on December 26th in the UK, and is now out on DVD. I'm not totally broken up about missing it, however—Streatfeild's 1936 classic is incredibly entertaining, but I'm not sure how well it will adapt to TV, and I'm even less enthusiastic about the casting of Emma "Hermione Granger" Watson as Pauline.

American fans of the novel can watch this adaptation by purchasing the DVD (if you happen to have a region-free DVD player) or watching it on YouTube (if you're willing to watch the whole 85-minute-long production in 10-minute increments).

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Comic news round-up

Publishers Weekly recently published an interview with indie comic god Jeff Smith. Click here to read more about Smith's upcoming title RASL, a quarterly series PW describes as "a blend of science fiction and noir, following an art thief who jumps dimensions to steal famed paintings". has an interview up with Brian K. Vaughn. Click here to read about the movie version of his award-winning comic Y: The Last Man, his feelings about the end of the series, and his work on the TV show Lost.

And speaking of Vaughn, I recently learned that his series Runaways is about to be handed over to writer Terry Moore (creator of Strangers in Paradise, possibly the world's whiniest comic series) and artist Humberto Ramos. Click here to check out Ramos's sketch of the Runaways characters. I, sadly, was forced to give up on Runaways when SPOILER! they killed off Gert, but I am willing to recommit to the series if they resuscitate her (even if it is being written by ol' Who-Doesn't-Love-a-90-Issue-Long-Love-Triangle? Moore).

You hear that, Runaways? Bring back Gert, and all is forgiven!

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Why, movie gods? WHYYYY?!?

Variety is reporting that Hollywood is making ANOTHER film adaptation of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Now, as longtime Wordcandy readers know, I am not a fan of Wuthering Heights (classic love story or not, it is totally whiny, ridiculous, and stupid), and I don't understand why--if they MUST make over-the-top movie versions of classic gothic love stories--nobody seems to be willing to adapt Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting for the big screen. C'mon, Hollywood, what is wrong with you? The French countryside may not have the same gloom-factor as the English moors, but Nice Coaches Waiting is smart, sexy, and gloriously creepy! It even has a hero named Raoul! What more could a producer ask for?

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