Tell Me Lies and Crazy For You, by Jennifer Crusie
Even on her warmest, fuzziest day, Jennifer Crusie doesn't go for the hearts-and-flowers approach to romance writing. Her books are funny and sharp-tongued and sexy, and even her sweetest titles—which the recently re-released Tell Me Lies and Crazy For You are not—generally focus as much on self-respect as they do on falling in love.
Tell Me Lies was originally released in 1998, and gave readers their first glimpse of Crusie's now-signature blend of romance, mystery, and screwball humor. Her heroine is Maddie Faraday, a teacher, mother, wife, and lifelong resident of Frog Point, Ohio, a tiny town where everybody knows everybody else... or thinks they do. Maddie can't imagine living anywhere else, but when she finds a stranger's underwear in her husband's car and the guy she lost her virginity to twenty years ago turns up on her doorstep, kicking her old life to the curb starts sounding pretty good.
1999's Crazy For You is the story of Quinn McKenzie, an easy-going art teacher stuck in a boring-as-dirt relationship with the local high school's baseball coach. Quinn has spent her whole life trying to make other people happy, but when she decides to adopt a stray dog despite her boyfriend's objections, her formerly quiet existence is hit with a whirlwind of dog-napping, stalking, and some seriously hot vibes coming from a unexpected source.
We're never thrilled when paperback re-releases cost $14.99, but at least readers are getting their money's worth with these titles. Crazy For You and Tell Me Lies are suspenseful, steamy, and laugh-out-loud funny, and their punchy new covers are a great match for Crusie's style. These books are a hair closer to Crusie's earlier, less polished series romances than her recent batch of standalone novels (a run that began with 2000's Welcome to Temptation and includes Fast Women, Faking It, and the jaw-droppingly awesome Bet Me), but her early work was nothing to sneer at*. Crazy For You and Tell Me Lies are beach reads with good hearts and sharp teeth—pick 'em up the next time you're in a mood for romance with some bite to it.
*With the possible exception of her long-out-of-print novel Sizzle, which Crusie has repeatedly assured fans is terrible. I, sadly, have never read it, and I see Crusie has removed it from her webpage, which I suspect means dark things for its reprinting prospects.
The fine people at BellaSugar inform me that Diesel is planning to launch a limited-edition, Ironman-inspired version of its "Only the Brave" fragrance. The scent will remain the same--a blend of "lemon blossom, coriander leaves, mandarin, black rose, lavender, labdanum, tolu wood, amber, and ebony wood"--but the packaging has been reworked into a nod to the famous comic book character. Behold:
I suspect anyone who actually wore an Ironman suit would emerge reeking of sweat, but who knows for sure? Maybe Tony Stark lubes the suit's joints with nothing but the sweetest-scented essential oils....
I have mixed feelings about the recent omnibus edition of Yotsuba&!'s Kiyohiko Azuma's Azumanga Daioh. I'm all for anything that exposes this wonderful series to a wider audience, but Yen Press's "improvements" to ADV's original translation failed to warm my cold, judgmental heart.
Azumanga Daioh is one of my favorite manga titles. Over the course of four volumes, Azuma chronicles the everyday life of a group of Japanese high school girls. The series is told through four-panel strips, although many of the "punchlines" only make sense in the context of the ongoing storyline. In addition to being ridiculously funny, Azumanga Daioh knocks the Bechdel Rule out of the park. Boys come up in conversation occasionally, but Azuma's heroines spend most of their time chatting about homework, culture festivals, and vacation plans—with frequent breaks to discuss vital issues like Santa's treatment of his reindeer (is taking advantage of Rudolph's red nose comparable to using the shine on a bald man's head?) and the mystery of what "I.T." actually stands for.
The now-defunct publishing house ADV published their translation of Azumanga Daioh in 2003 and 2004, selling the volumes for $9.99 apiece. Yen Press picked up the license last year, and priced their omnibus edition at a mere $24.99. Normally, I'd be nominating them for publishing sainthood, but several things about Yen's translation rubbed me the wrong way. Some of their extremely literal translations worked, but others will be distractingly unfamiliar to Western readers—and I'm never going to forgive replacing one character's Kansai dialect with a wince-inducing Southern accent. (Think "Ah ain't" and "Ah reckon".)
ADV's translation frequently erred in the other direction, making too many adjustments for English-speaking readers*. On the other hand, I understood all of their jokes, and nobody talked like Elly May Clampett—two significant virtues, in my opinion. Both versions have their faults, and I sincerely appreciate Yen Press's efforts to keep this series in print... but I'm sorry to say that if I could only save one version from a burning building, ADV's translation would still get my vote.
*Plus, their books were chock-full of spelling errors and typos. There were a few screw-ups in the Yen translation, too, but nowhere near as many.
I ran across an interesting article about the difference between American and Canadian book prices. Canadians pay approximately 30% more per book, despite the fact that the Canadian and American dollar have been hovering at basically the same level since 2007. Some of that cost is due to a Canadian import law that allows American publishers to slap a 10% markup on books sold in Canada (to offset import costs and shipping and handling fees), but the remaining 20% is apparently pure tough luck.
Whoa, there, Guardian.co.uk. Now, before I get all judge-y, is your "Ten of the Best" list of heroes in children's literature meant to be a guide to ten awesome characters, or is it meant to be a top ten list? Because if it's the first--two thumbs up! But if it's the second, we seriously need to talk. No Max from Where the Wild Things Are? No Princess Mia from The Princess Diaries? No Artemis Fowl, no Yotsuba, no Harriet the Spy? Are y'all nuts?
I tried reading the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, but couldn't get into 'em--they seemed so impressed by their own quirky hipness that I was totally turned off. I thought at the time it was like reading a Michael Cera movie, and now I see that Michael Cera is, in fact, playing Scott Pilgrim. (Watch the trailer here.) It's nice to see my fantasy casting choices be spot-on for something... even if it's a movie I'm never going to watch.
Tired of those "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters but still want to adorn your walls with something quintessentially British? How about one of these subway-poster-inspired nods to Pride and Prejudice? ($15, available here.) Sure, only your fellow book nerds will catch the reference, but everybody can at least admire how cool they look, right?
As I went through the Wordcandy mail a few weeks ago, I was pleased to run across a package from Scholastic containing not only the final book in Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series, but also the first. We're always happy to receive new series... but not having to hunt down every previous installment makes us even happier.
The Keys to the Kingdom kicked off in 2003, when Nix's Mister Monday introduced Arthur Penhaligon, the seventh-grade boy destined to save the world. Arthur—the youngest and only adopted child of a large family—is severely asthmatic, and an attack that should have killed him brings him to the notice of Mister Monday, one of the seven supernatural beings who have usurped control of the House at the center of the universe. Arthur finds himself in possession of half of Monday's key, and discovers that he'll have to steal the other half if he wants to undo the damage that Monday's visit has caused.
Nix makes it clear from the get-go that Mister Monday is straight-up fantasy, not a fun, winking take on the genre à la Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series or Michael Buckley's Sisters Grimm books. The novel borrows heavily from the Bible and classic mythology, with bits of Arthurian legend and poetry thrown in. I usually prefer my fantasy leavened with some humor, but there's something admirable about Nix's approach—if nothing else, he obviously believes young readers are capable of appreciating a story even if it hasn't been gussied up with vampire love triangles or toilet humor or whatever. Not all YA authors can say the same.
I'll report back when I get around to the final book in this series—the just-released Lord Sunday—with a more comprehensive review. (Books two through six are on hold at my local library.) Mister Monday wasn't my usual cup of tea, but reading a book trying to sell itself on substance rather than style made for an pleasant change of pace.
I'm a little confused--apparently, some Finnish film studio has already made one Moomin movie (based on the fantastic series by Finnish novelist and artist Tove Jansson) and is working on a second, due out this fall. However, this article suggests that the "new" films are actually remastered and re-voiced versions of the vintage Polish-Austrian TV series, while this one seems to think the upcoming film an entirely (or at least mostly?) original product.
Either way: music by Bjork! Stellan and Alexander Skarsgard doing the voice acting! None of those people are Finnish, but we'll take 'em anyhow.
Smooth Talking Stranger is the third book in Lisa Kleypas's best-selling series about the wealthy, powerful, Houston-based Travis family. Kleypas's current heroine is Ella Varner, author of the popular "Miss Independent" advice column. Ella has spent years struggling to bury the ghosts of her unhappy childhood, so when she becomes the unwilling guardian of her flighty sister's newborn baby, she decides to hunt down the child's father—rumored to be real estate mogul Jack Travis—and demand that he step up to the plate.
The course of true love never runs smoothly in romance novels, but Jack and Ella have an easier time of it than most. There are several obstacles in the path of their inevitable happily-ever-after (including Ella's troubled past, Jack's seductive ex-girlfriend, and a grab-bag of emotional hang-ups), but these are still two intelligent, unattached, relatively stable individuals who totally dig each other. Their sweet, family-oriented love affair moves briskly forward, and the obstacles are booted off the page with a minimum of fuss. It's not that there is no drama in this book... but readers who prefer the “festival of pain” approach to romance writing would be well advised to look elsewhere.
This reminds me of all those [classic novel] v. the monster books, only way more fun. Because unlike Jane Austen Beats Down the Werewolves (or whatever they're publishing next), Twilight would actually be improved by adding a hungry dinosaur.
Tim Burton has apparently made plans to direct a 3-D stop-motion film based on the original Addams Family cartoons by Charles Addams. I'd probably feel better about this if I hadn't been so underwhelmed by Alice in Wonderland, or if I thought that anybody, anywhere could ever top Christina Ricci's performance as Wednesday Addams.
15-year-old Veronica Walsh, star of Erica S. Perl's debut novel Vintage Veronica, has big plans for her summer. She's going to work in the consignment section of Clothing Bonanza, drink mocha smoothies from Mookie's Donut Shop, and (if she's lucky) avoid talking to anyone until September. Veronica is much happier hanging out with clothes than people—unlike her classmates, vintage cardigans and antique bakelite combs never judge her because of her weight. Her plan works perfectly, until two older, charismatic co-workers "adopt" her, providing her with a degree of acceptance and friendship... but one that comes at a price.
There's a lot to love about Vintage Veronica: the colorful background characters, the heroine's salty inner monologue, and the glorious Clothing Bonanza, a multi-level store containing everything from a high-end consignment shop to The Pile, a dollar-a-pound clothing rummage heap. (We so want to shop there. Or live there.) But while we loved the setting, and liked Perl's don't-do-anything-to-belong message, her heroine was less charming. Veronica is simultaneously arrogant and desperate to belong, yet she attributes 100% of her social ostracism to her weight. It was refreshing to encounter a fat heroine who wasn't trying to slim down, but Veronica's habit of blaming everything wrong in her life on her body got old fast. (To hear her tell it, fat girls are treated like Carrie from elementary school onwards.) This trait was neither appealing nor—in an era of widespread childhood obesity—all that plausible, so here's hoping that Perl's next novel is built around a less irritating premise.
Oh, man, you guys... anyone not reading Rumiko Takahashi's Rin-neonline is seriously missing out. Not only is it funny and weird and totally free, I'm pretty sure the the demon introduced in the latest chapter is an evil, possessed version of the Japanese lunchbox delicacy known as the "octopus wiener"-->
When I saw the cover art for the upcoming 50th anniversary edition of Peg Bracken's classic I Hate to Cook Book, my only thought was How adorable. But now I've seen the original version, featuring cover art drawn by Hilary Knight (the dude who drew the Eloise books) and I think updating it was actually a mistake. Here's the new cover:
Cute, huh? But how could anyone improve upon this?
That frown, the glassy, grumpy stare, the flushed-with-rage cheeks... I want one! That's totally how I look in the kitchen!
The most recent Horn Book newsletter has a great interview up with Joanna Cole, one of the co-creators (with illustrator Bruce Degen) of the Magic School Bus series. Cole and Degen's most recent MSB book tackles a more politically-charged topic than usual: The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge. Cole gives a very clear, firm statement to the magazine about the "false controversy" over climate change, so props to her for her bravery.
Now all we need to do is sit back and wonder how long it will be before somebody tries to have her book banned....
The website Popcandy (no relation) is currently featuring a sneak peek of the upcoming graphic novel adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, due out May 4th. It all looks very "Barbie vs. the Monsters" to me, but what do I know?
Wild Ride is the most successful of the Jennifer Crusie/Bob Mayer collaborations to date: fast, fun, and deliciously weird. Admittedly, we still prefer Crusie's solo work, but how could anyone hate on a book that features a murderous troop of demon-infested It's A Small World-style mannequins?
As with their previous collaborations, Wild Ride is told from two perspectives—one from each author. Crusie's heroine is Mary Alice ("Mab") Brannigan, an antisocial, workaholic painter who specializes in restoring carnival art. Mayer's contribution is Ethan Wayne, a former Green Beret with a too-dangerous-to-remove bullet inching ever closer to his heart. Mab just wants to do her work in peace, and Ethan just wants to drink himself into a stupor, but when they discover the faded Ohio amusement park they're both working on is actually a holding tank for five powerful demons, their personal problems have to take a back seat to the monsters roaming the park.
Wild Ride is closer to Crusie's style than Mayer's, although it has fewer romantic elements than straight comedy ones. (In an unusual move, Mab and Ethan are not romantic partners, and hardly interact in the first half of the novel.) Mab's storyline—which includes, but is not limited to, possessed clown statues, half-demon babies, several crazy mothers, and considerable personal growth—is so gleefully over-the-top that Ethan's pales in comparison. His early sections dragged, and his love interest was a total snooze (at least until she acquired a possessed stuffed animal), but by the second half of the novel I was almost as invested in his storyline as I was in Mab's... but not quite.
However, both storylines are really just window dressing for the true joy of this novel: its setting. We have no idea why there aren't more novels set in amusement parks, but there definitely should be. Mayer and Crusie invoke all of the color, noise, and inherent creepiness of these classic pieces of Americana, and it makes their already-enjoyable romantic comedy infinitely more memorable.
And when you add in those creepy Small World dolls? That's pure gold, people. Pure gold.
I have a new movie to look forward to: an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest directed by Across the Universe's Julie Taymor and starring Helen Mirren.
Mirren will be playing "Prospera" (rather than Shakespeare's Prospero), so I'm assuming this will be a fairly unconventional interpretation of the play. The always-excellent Djimon Hounsou will be Caliban, Felicity Jones (Catherine in the recent ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey) will be Miranda, Ben Whitshaw (Bright Star's John Keats) will be Ariel, and Russell Brand will be... well, he'll probably still just act like Russell Brand, but technically he's playing Trinculo.
Two of Yen Press's titles are coming to an end this spring, so those of you who only buy manga once the entire series has been published should add these titles to your to-be-investigated list, safe in the knowledge that the publisher won't be pulling any shenanigans.
"When klutzy, simple-minded You’re So Cool heroine Nan Woo confesses her love to her classmate Seung Ha, she has no hope of being accepted—after all, Seung Ha is the best-looking and most popular boy in her class. But unfortunately for Nan Woo, Seung Ha has a darker side to him, and he's not above using Nan Woo's dim-witted affection to cover it up."
The final volume of Lee's You're So Cool offers more of the same: more bizarre artwork, more PG-rated yaoi, and more utterly warped "romance" between the series' dimwitted heroine and her emotionally abusive suitor. We were turned off by You're So Cool's exaggerated character design and creepy romantic plotline, but readers who enjoy the "self-consciously wacky" school of romance manhwa might enjoy themselves.
"[The Antique Gift Shop] is a series of fable-and-fairytale-inspired episodes loosely connected by an overarching storyline about a young woman named Bun-Nyuh, whose grandmother forces her to take over her family's antique shop. When Bun-Nyuh realizes that most of the antiques for sale possess strange powers, she becomes even more determined to leave the shop... but something far more powerful than her grandmother is determined to keep her there."
We were much more enthusiastic about the conclusion of The Antique Gift Shop, which tied up several loose ends, answered a dozen questions, and managed to blend mystery, horror, and suspense with a hefty amount of humor. True, we would have been even happier if the final book had featured a more clearly-defined romantic resolution (and fewer shots of the crying heroine's streaming nose), but we were still totally satisfied.
Less fun than a barrel of monkeys, but not bad at all.
Mindful of that March 9th deadline for catching the recent television adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma online, I finally sat down and watched it*. And while I spent most of the time bemoaning the fact that beautiful Blake Ritson chose to play shudder-inducing Mr. Elton (WHY, BLAKE RITSON, WHY?), this lively miniseries was more fun than I'd expected.
Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller made an appealing Emma and Mr. Knightley, and their slow-brewing shift from a sibling-type relationship to a romantic one was cute. The supporting cast was hit-or-miss: Jodhi May as Miss Taylor and Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith were charming, but Laura Pyper's Jane Fairfax seemed more nervous than reserved, and Rupert Evans conveyed all of Frank Churchill's smarminess but none of his charm. Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse and Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates were both rather one-note, but appeared to be having tremendous fun with their roles.
I should note, however, that Emma ties with Sense and Sensibility for the title of Julia's Least Favorite Austen Novel, which might explain my indifference to this adaptation's historical inaccuracies, character (mis)interpretations, and missing lines/scenes/etc. There were plenty of 'em; I just didn't care. This miniseries was well-cast, well-funded, and a whopping four hours long, which allowed the writers and actors sufficient time to do Austen's story justice. The end result might not have been perfect, but its heart was in the right place.
*With all of eight minutes to spare, too. I'm organized like that.
And in other news, Disney has decided to go for a more dude-friendly take on the ol' fairytale genre: from here on out (says the Los Angeles Times), they don't want to be "put in a box" by making movies just for girls. Because there are already so many movies out there aimed at females, and Lord knows we'd want to be fair.
Well, dear readers, I saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland over the weekend, and the best thing I can say about it is that it's probably best that the horrors of the Percy Jackson movie are still so fresh in my mind. It's not that the Alice movie was good, but everything looks better in comparison.
Burton's film had its strengths. The casting was solid, and I thought the actress playing Alice was great. (I've heard complaints that she was too detached, but found them groundless. She's supposed to be English, after all. That's not detachment, it's phlegm.) I approved of the fact that they were making a continuation rather than a straight adaptation, as the original text has never translated well to film, and I enjoyed the movie's early scenes depicting Alice's life in the real world.
Unfortunately, things went way downhill once Alice stepped into Wonderland. The movie turned into just another poorly-written fantasy adventure, complete with a climactic battle scene between a sword-waving hero and a slavering monster. (And what was up with giving the Jabberwocky a generic dragon vibe? Was Tenniel's eel-on-steroids version not scary enough?) The conflict between the too-cute-to-be-truly evil Red Queen and prancing White Queen was meaningless, and I have never found CGI battle scenes even remotely compelling.
But as I said: I'm currently grading all movies on a curve that features Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, which means that I'd have to give Alice in Wonderland a solid B-. It wasn't anything close to what I'd hoped for, but—thanks to Chris Columbus and the dread Dr. Titley—I now know that it could have been so much worse.
Dramabeans.com is reporting that Jang Geun-seok (the adorable lead actor from last year's You're Beautiful) has signed on to play Takeshi Gouda, the main male character in the upcoming movie adaptation of my Favorite Manga Ever, Tramps Like Us.
The fine people at Dramabeans are unclear as to how set-in-stone this news is, but I'm praying it's set like fully cured, rebar-laced concrete. They originally thought that Kim Hyun-joong would playing the role, which... well, I'm sorry, but that dude is like a incredibly pretty, guitar-playing block of wood. This is going to be a tricky role to play, and one that probably would have been better served by a drama format than a movie one. So I'm not sure that Jang Geun-seok will nail it, either, but overall? My hopes for this movie just shot up about 600%.
Mary Stewart is one of those authors whose best work (the truly awesome 1958 novel Nine Coaches Waiting) was so good that everything else she produced pales in comparison. (See also: Herbert, Frank.) But that doesn't mean that her other books weren't enjoyable—many of them were tremendous fun, in a divorced-from-reality-and-not-particularly-politically-correct kind of way.
Originally published in 1956, Wildfire at Midnight is a perfect example of Stewart's B-grade work. Her heroine is Gianetta Drury, a self-possessed, melancholy young woman visiting a remote hotel on Scotland's Isle of Skye. Gianetta is appalled to discover that the hotel's guest list includes her ex-husband—a "dark, damn-your-eyes" writer named Nicholas Drury—and the glamorous actress who seems to be his latest paramour, but her heartache fades into the background when she discovers that the surrounding mountains have recently become the setting for a series of bizarre, ritualistic murders.
Stewart clearly hoped Wildfire at Midnight would be a triple threat: equal parts romance, mystery and suspense. Sadly, the romantic storyline didn't work for us (we don't find smug, self-satisfied writers who can't keep their pants zipped attractive, no matter how elegantly broody they are), but the suspense and mystery bits were far more successful. The dramatis personæ is packed with likely-looking suspects, and the action builds steadily towards a climactic chase scene across a mist-shrouded mountainside. Wildfire at Midnight isn't even half as good as Nine Coaches Waiting, but if you're looking for a well-written thriller with a vintage vibe, it stands up just fine against the lesser works—and even some of the middling works—of authors like Agatha Christie or Margery Allingham.
Speaking of The Wallflower, Friday's post reminded me that I hadn't seen Tomoko Hayakawa's latest volume on bookstore shelves yet, so I did a little research into its whereabouts. As it turns out, the series' American publisher (Del Rey) has decided to release the next three volumes in an omnibus edition, which won't be out until next October.
See, this is why I hesitate before recommending manga to people. Del Rey isn't a bad publisher, but even they make some rage-inducing calls. They've released twenty-one volumes of The Wallflower since 2004, which means that readers (including me) have spent six years and hundreds of dollars on this title. We are not thrilled to learn that the remaining volumes are going to A) look different and B) come out only once a year.
I suppose this option is better than not having the series at all... but it's still, like, super irritating.
I finally watched the first episode of the J-drama Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge, which is based on one of my all-time favorite manga series, Tomoko Hayakawa's The Wallflower. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it's about a horror-obsessed Japanese schoolgirl named Sunako and her housemates, four incredibly handsome boys constantly trying (and constantly failing) to transform Sunako into a "Yamato Nadeshiko"--the ladylike ideal of Japanese womanhood--in exchange for free rent.
Judging by the first hour, my hopes are not high. The plot was all over the place and the lead actress played Sunako as a sobbing, squeaky mess (a far cry from her portrayal in the book). Still, I laughed out loud at least three times, the actors were all very pretty, and things seemed to be looking up towards the end, so I think I'll give it another shot.
The Dead-Tossed Waves is the sequel to Carrie Ryan's 2009 novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth and it's just as cheery as its predecessor—which is to say, not even remotely. Ryan's second book features many of the same plot elements as her first: a tortured and slightly implausible love triangle, a perilous quest, and zombies.
Lots of zombies.
While The Forest of Hands and Teeth focused on Mary, a teenage girl from an isolated village dominated by a religious order and surrounded by zombies, its sequel features Mary's daughter, sixteen-year-old Gabrielle. Gabrielle has been raised in the well-protected oceanside town of Vista, living with Mary in the local lighthouse. But when a night of teenage rebellion leaves most of her friends either dead or imprisoned, Gabry is forced to leave the safety of the town behind and venture into the same zombie-infested forest that nearly killed her mother.
Ordinarily, we would be critical of a second series installment that so closely mirrored the first, but the familiarity of Ryan's plotline is offset by several fun new additions to her post-apocalyptic world, including a ruthless militia organization, a handful of people that seem immune to the zombies' bite, and—our personal favorite—a group of zombie-worshiping cultists who march around pulling de-jawed zombies on leashes. (That's an image that's really going to stick, you know?) And while the ending of The Dead-Tossed Waves is a smidge more optimistic than then ending of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, it left us just as eager for a sequel. Sooner or later—we hope, anyway—Ryan is bound to give at least one of her characters an uncomplicated happily-ever-after*, and we want to be there to see it.
*It doesn't even have to be a central character. We're not picky.
AustenBlog recently posted a handy reminder that PBS is still hosting all three episodes of their recent adaptation of Emma on its Masterpiece website--but only until March 9th, so if you'd like to watch it you'd best get cracking.
Weird pairing news: Warner Bros. has apparently hired R.J. Cutler (the dude who directed the well-respected documentary The September Issue) to helm their adaptation of Melissa de la Cruz's (deeply classy, as you can see from the cover) YA novel The Au Pairs.
Rich Wallace's novel Perpetual Check is set at a regional chess tournament. Two brothers—sports star Zeke and chubby, retiring Randy—are competing, and the idea of playing against each other has placed additional stress on their already-strained relationship. The boys are being pressured to win by their "stage dad" father, whose heavy-handed tactics bring out the worst in them both: Randy's passivity and Zeke's desire to pass the buck. The book moves swiftly through the 24-hour-long tournament, bringing the boys ever closer to the possibility of a brother-versus-brother final match.
Clocking in at $15.99 and a mere 112 pages, Perpetual Check is both short and expensive—two big minuses in our book. That said, it is also highly entertaining, and Wallace's portrayal of Randy and Zeke's grudging affection for one another is note-perfect. The boys' father is less plausible (although he does make for a satisfyingly unpleasant antagonist, being racist, sexist, and an all-purpose jerk), but the minor characters in the book were extremely well-developed, particularly in light of the small amount of screen time they were given. We would have loved to have seen what Mr. Wallace would have done with a hundred more pages and, well, an actual plot, but Perpetual Motion still manages to offer a remarkably nuanced portrait of a fraternal bond.
The BBC's Radio 4 is recording a new version (one "more faithful to Fleming’s original 1959 novel than the film version was") of Ian Fleming's classic James Bond novel Goldfinger, with the always-awesome Ian McKellen in the title role. (And, okay, Toby Stevens will play Bond and Rosamund Pike will be Pussy Galore, but who cares about them?) The play will broadcast on April 3, so set your... whatever it is you use to record international radio stuff now!
When it comes to reading girls' manga and manhwa, sometimes it's best to turn off the critical part of our brains. This allows us to enjoy series that might otherwise seem disturbing—stories featuring foul-tempered "heroes", dim-witted heroines, and deeply screwed-up romances. We just remind ourselves that these series aren't meant to reflect reality, and dive on in.
This approach was particularly useful when it came to reading SangEun Lee's manhwa 13th Boy, which features all of the troubling plot elements mentioned above: the hero is a manipulative jerk with a dark secret, the heroine is pig-headed and clueless, and their relationship involves a shared past, a love quadrangle, and a walking, talking cactus named Beatrice... who periodically turns into a boy.
So you can see why we needed to make some allowances, right?
The heroine of 13th Boy is Hee-So, an impossibly determined girl who is convinced that classmate Won-Jun is the "fated 13th boy" destined to become her true love. Unfortunately, Won-Jun is her twelfth boyfriend, dumped her after a month, and appears to be totally devoted to a different girl. Meanwhile, Hee-So keeps encountering Won-Jun's classmate Whie-Young, who always seems to catch her right at the most embarrassing moment. Whie-Young drops several hints about their shared childhood, but Hee-So's not interested—she is absolutely certain that her heart belongs to Won-Jun, and nobody (not even Beatrice, her closest confidant, a tiny talking cactus who transforms into a boy during the full moon) is going to tell her otherwise.
Although the two series have very different plots, 13th Boy frequently reminded us of Hwang Mi-Ri's Cutie Boy, another bizarre romantic comedy about a mismatched couple (the hero and heroine knew each other as children, but while he misread every situation as proof that they were a devoted pair, she remembers him as a crazed bully who dragged her along on a series of hair-raising adventures). Both Cutie Boy and 13th Boy require considerable suspension of disbelief, but they're also insanely funny and surprisingly sweet. However, Cutie Boy has the advantage of being a mere eight volumes long, while 13th Boy is currently twelve volumes and counting. We've totally enjoyed ourselves thus far (critical thought—who needs it?), but we're really hoping that the joke doesn't get stretched too thin.
* Admittedly, this is mostly because I hear San Diego has a restaurant that sells pancakes with candy in 'em. I have to eat there, and what better opportunity for that kind of self-indulgence than Comic-Con?