Friday, May 28, 2010

End of an era

Heh. Apparently, Oxford's All Souls College has decided to scrap their infamous one-word exam, which frequently consisted of a question like this:
'Water' (Expound)
Admittedly, this will probably spare whoever grades these suckers from wasting years of their lives wading through impossibly pretentious crap, but I'm sure someone is feeling a slight pang.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

So unfair. So very, very unfair.


As y'all know, I HATED the recent five-issue Marvel comic adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. So when I saw their next Austen-inspired project (an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which ties with Emma for the title of My Least Favorite Austen Novel), my hopes were not high... until I opened the book, and saw that the artwork was done by Sonny Liew, the Eisner-nominated comic artist who did the art My Faith in Frankie. WHAT? Why did Pride and Prejudice get artwork that looked like a hybrid of Marvel's most generic superheroines and Barbie, and Sense and Sensibility get Liew? WHO MAKES THESE CALLS?!?

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Lord Sunday, by Garth Nix

Lord Sunday is the final book in Garth Nix's ambitious fantasy/adventure series “The Keys to the Kingdom”. Over the course of the six previous novels Nix's protagonist—an asthmatic 12-year-old named Arthur Penhaligon—has learned that he is destined to inherit the House, a space at the center of the universe created by a godlike being known as the Architect. In defiance of the Architect's wishes, the House was separated into seven parts, each controlled by a different Trustee: Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday, and Lord Sunday. Arthur has defeated the first six Trustees and assumed control of their realms, but he still has to defeat Lord Sunday—the trickiest and least vulnerable Trustee of all.

Reading this series was like looking at a technically impressive painting that I failed to connect with—the books were truly epic in scope, but lacked sufficient humanity to make a lasting impression. The constant literary shout-outs, Biblical references, and nods to Arthurian legend were fun, but Nix failed to develop his characters into three-dimensional beings. (Imagine the exact opposite of Rick Riordan's “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. That coasted by on jokes and character development; this sacrifices humor and personality in favor of ever-more-intricate plotting.) Still, one has to admire Nix's undeniable effort and skill—both of which are constantly on display—and fans of puzzles and literary allusions should find these books to be rich sources of entertainment.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A little something extra

Okay, this isn't really a book post, but I have a head cold, and when I don't feel well reading about food soothes me (even when I totally can't taste anything). But even if I wasn't sick, this coffin-wood-pizza-oven story is too disgusting not to share.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Angelina Jolie to play the Wicked Witch of the West in a Wizard of Oz remake?

...I could see that, actually. I think she'd rock the green paint, but they might want to go for a more form-fitting outfit.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Swedish smackdown

If you're a fan of Steig Larsson's hugely successful Millenium Trilogy, be sure to check out the Times article "The Afterlife of Stieg Larsson". It's a little wordy (eight pages), but offers a great breakdown of the many, many scandals, squabbles, and conspiracy theories surrounding Mr. Larsson's untimely death in 2004. I've never read one of his books, but now I'm mildly tempted--sure, there's always a risk it will turn out to be the adult mystery/suspense equivalent of Twilight, but literary frenzies always make me curious.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Not the cake I would have chosen, but...

Huh. Apparently, May 10th through the 16th was Children's Book Week, and the always-entertaining site Cake Wrecks decided to celebrate with a selection of literature-inspired cakes. I don't know about you guys, but I'd like to see the party that accompanied that Neverending Story cake. I bet it was awesome.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

What DOES Disney have against eyeshadow, anyway?

Clearly, some people see the Disney 'verse in a sexier light than I do--check out J. Scott Campbell's illustrations of pneumatic Disney princesses (I can't believe the Little Mermaid's seashells can rein those suckers in!), and news of MAC Cosmetics' "Venomous Villains" beauty line. Would that really sell? Because I can't imagine wanting to wear eyeshadow like this. Or this. Or this...


Poking fun at the Scottish Play

Everyone loves Kate Beaton's Jane Austen comics, but her other stuff is pretty great (and literary), too. Check out this Macbeth collection... while bearing in mind that some of the language isn't totally SFW.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A far, far better thing

I was hanging out in the Vienna airport a few years ago, and was thrilled to discover that they sold packets of gummy bears in the ladies' restrooms. (I don't actually eat gummy worms, being vegetarian, but it was still very exciting.) However, I would have been even MORE stoked to find one of these cigarette machines that have been transformed into book dispensers. How awesome is that?


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Seriously, who does that?

In a particularly depressing bit of book-related news, someone stole 1,348 picture books valuing nearly $23,000 from a Washington State public library in Port Orchard. The missing titles represent nearly 20 percent of the library’s collection of children’s picture books, and include titles by Margaret Wise Brown, Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and Shaun Tan. Several local bookstores are holding book donation drives or donating books directly, and that's nice and all... but this is still such a bummer.


Any movie with a Judy Blume reference...

When I heard they were updating The Scarlet Letter as a high school rom-com I was dubious, but now that I've seen the trailer for Easy A I'm upgrading my opinion to "cautiously optimistic". I'm not sure this will be as much fun as the trailer makes it look (and the connection to the original novel seems pretty slight), but I'll probably see it.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

King Solomon's Mines goes a little T2.

This, on the other hand, I'm mildly interested in: The Hollywood Reporter is saying that the suddenly (and inexplicably) ubiquitous Sam Worthington is planning to star in Quatermain, a sci-fi take on H. Rider Haggard's Victorian adventure novel King’s Solomon’s Mines. This updated version is set in the future, during a "time in which humans have left Earth and sees Quatermain return to the planet from a sojourn in space, embarking on another King Solomon’s Mines-style adventure but on a planetwide scale".

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Not appealing. Not at all.

Wow. This was one of those "Is it April Fool's Day?" moments: according to FabSugar, perfumers Ah & Oh Studio have released a line of perfumes--oh, sorry, "scent stories"--inspired by the tales of George Orwell, the Marquis de Sade, Edgar Allan Poe, and Pierre Laclos (the Dangerous Liaisons dude).

I don't know about the rest of you, but I have almost never wanted to smell like a farm animal.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: The 11½ Anniversary Edition, by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins

Penny Arcade is a great comic strip. I've laughed at the punchlines, I give series creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins major props for their charitable endeavors, and I'm told their PAX shindig is a lot of fun...

...but I'm still not sold on the notion that publishing a 163-page-long love letter to themselves—and make no mistake, that is exactly what The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade is—was the best idea ever.

Written by Holkins and illustrated by Krahulik, Penny Arcade is one of the most successful and longest-running webcomics. The series has been offering a cheerfully twisted take on video gaming and nerd culture since 1998, and it's wonderful—always funny, frequently profane, and occasionally sweet. More recently, Holkins and Krahulik have expanded their efforts to include Child's Play, a massive charitable toy drive to benefit hospitalized children, and the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), a popular gaming festival.

So far, so good, right? But look, dudes: a little self-congratulation goes a long way. Your title, for example, made me snicker. The worshipful creator profiles featured in the tongue-in-cheek (I hope, anyway) “Penny Arcade: A History” section ran long, but were mildly amusing. The Q & A session—nineteen pages, fifty-five questions—should have been edited down to, like, two pages and less than fifteen questions. I'm sorry, but no one cares about your shared love of Falling Down.

But at the end of the day, did you really need to charge your fans twenty-four dollars to read a smug testament to your own awesomeness? Let the charm of your work speak for itself—unlike this book, it actually has something worth hearing.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.

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The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia, by Phil Jimenez and John Wells

Normally, I wince at a sight of a $30 paperback, no matter how well-written or attractively packaged, but such was not the case for The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia. If you are part of the target audience for this book (and it is a very specialized audience indeed), thirty bucks is not too much to pay for it—it's a steal.

Written by veteran Wonder Woman artist and writer Phil Jimenez and comics historian John Wells, The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia is an expansion of a 1976 book by Michael Fleischer called The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Volume Two: Wonder Woman. This updated version features 400-plus pages of densely-packed font, countless black-and-white images from the character's nearly 70-year-long history, and two sixteen-page full-color artwork inserts. There are more than 1,100 entries, ranging from tiny blurbs on characters like Dotsie Trevor (who, FYI, is Steve Trevor's little niece and once kidnapped by the evil gorilla Giganta) to multi-page descriptions of characters like Queen Hippolyta.

Lukewarm comic book readers will enjoy skimming the text, and pop culture geeks will love flipping through the pictures, but The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia is designed for serious Wonder Woman fans. Other people might shake their heads over that hefty price tag, but this incredibly thorough reference book is sure to fill the hearts of hardcore superhero devotees with joy.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yen Press Extravaganza (Part VIII)

Aaaand we're done! (At least for a while.)

Cirque Du Freak: Trials of Death: Vol. 5, story by Darren Shan and art by Takahiro Arai

When a spider-obsessed boy named Darren Shan sneaks out with his best friend Steve to see the infamous Cirque Du Freak, things get even scarier than they'd bargained for. The inhabitants of the freak show aren't just strange, they're downright otherworldly, and when Darren attempts to steal one of the exhibits and overhears Steve making a disturbing offer to one of the freaks, he discovers their adventure may have graver consequences than he ever imagined.

I am not familiar with Darren Shan's Cirque Du Freak books, but this manga adaptation didn't inspire much desire to read them. While the earlier volumes of this series might be great (I've read several good reviews, anyway), this one consisted of several underwhelming action sequences—none of which created any notable sense of suspense. I've never understood why Darren Shan named his main character after himself, but I hadn't previously considered the idea that he might just be a really, really unoriginal writer. Now I'm wondering...

Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning: Vol. 11, story by Kyo Shiodaira and art by Eita Mizuno

When 10-grader Ayumu Narumi's brother—a world-class detective—disappeared, he left Ayumu a cryptic message: “I’m going to uncover the mystery of the ‘Blade Children'.” With the help of a feisty classmate and his police detective sister-in-law, Ayumu is determined to find his brother... but the mysterious Blade Children have different plans.

Ambitious and complex, Spiral blends elements of mystery, horror, and science fiction. (Seriously: there are police cover-ups and evil clone armies and mad scientists!) The eleventh volume—out of fifteen—wasn't the best point for me to start reading such an elaborately constructed series, but fans of horror/sci-fi stories might find hunting down the previous installments worthwhile.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: Vol. 5, story by Nagaru Tanigawa and art by Gaku Tsugano

The titular heroine of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a high school girl with the (unconscious) power to change reality. Haruhi is the president of her school club, the SOS Brigade, an organization devoted to investigating the paranormal. When she forces her classmate Kyon to join the club, he is shocked to discover that the club is actually made up of a collection of otherworldly beings whose mission on Earth is to hold Haruhi's reality-warping powers in check—unbeknownst to Haruhi.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a very big deal in Japan. In addition to the story's original form (a series of light novels), it has been adapted into four separate manga series, five video games, and an anime. Unfortunately, volume five didn't do a very good job of explaining this series' popularity—Haruhi seemed selfish and unlikable, and the reality-bending premise reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode... just not a very good one.

Reviews based on publisher-provided copies.

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Yen Press Extravaganza (Part VII)

Nightschool: The Weirn Books: Vol. 3, by Svetlana Chmakova

The Nightschool is a magical place that allows vampires, werewolves, and weirns (a special type of witch) to learn everything from scrying to calculus. Alex is a young weirn who has always been home-schooled by her big sister... but when her sister disappears, Alex may need the Nightschool's resources—along with the help of its superpowered students—to find her.

I really liked the artwork in Nightschool (v. elegant and dramatic, with clearly-defined characters), but was even more impressed by its convoluted plot. “Monster school” stories are a dime a dozen, but this was one of the few titles I've encountered where the storytelling actually mattered more than dressing up the characters in cool goth outfits. It's always fun when a story takes its own mythology seriously (think the first Underworld movie, or the Russian "Nightwatch" series), and Nightschool seems to have that down pat.

Pig Bride: Vol. 4, by KookHwa Huh and SuJin Kim

Handsome and rich, Si-Joon's fate was forever altered by a strange experience he had as a child: lost in the woods, he wandered into a strange house. Desperate for food, he agreed to become engaged to the daughter of the household, a girl cursed to constantly wear a pig mask. He has only the haziest memory of his promise... until his sixteenth birthday, when a girl with a pig mask appears and demands that they consummate their marriage—immediately.

People have said some nasty stuff about Pig Bride. The Manga Critic chose it as one of her five 2009 Hall of Shame inductees, writing about both the “awful” art and the author's contempt for her female characters. I am unfamiliar with the earlier volumes of this series, but by volume five it doesn't strike me as any worse (or, admittedly, much better) from similar manhwa—the artwork is clean and easy to follow, a few of the jokes made me laugh, and while the selfish hero and self-abasing heroine are a little tough to take, I've definitely read worse.

Angel Diary: Vol. 11, by Kara and Lee YunHee

From our first review of Angel Diary:
"We *love* Angel Diary. If you can get past its slightly cracked-out premise—the heroine is a cross-dressing Princess of Heaven who hides out in a Korean high school in order to escape an arranged marriage with the King of Hell (who, by the way, is hiding out there too, secretly knows who she is, and hits on her like it's his job)—it is absolutely adorable."
Angel Diary has two more volumes yet to go, but this volume clearly started the winding-up process. This series has always had its strengths: the main couple is delightful, the supporting cast is memorable, and the artwork is cute (although they seriously skimped on the backgrounds). I don't think there was quite enough plot to justify a thirteen-volume run, but there's no denying it's been a pleasant ride. This is one of the few series I've snagged for my personal collection, and I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion.

Bamboo Blade: Vol. 4, story by Masahiro Totsuka and art by Aguri Igarashi

Bamboo Blade is the story of Toraji Ishida, a perpetually-broke high school kendo instructor, who is challenged by a fellow kendo instructor to a competition between their students. (The prize? A year's supply of sushi.) Desperate to win, Toraji scrounges up a team of five girls, one of whom is an incredibly gifted fighter who has trained in her family's kendo dojo since birth. Unfortunately for her teacher, this means she views kendo just like any other chore, but Toraji is determined to do whatever it takes fire up her enthusiasm.

I put off reading Bamboo Blade because of its cover (schoolgirls posing provocatively with kendo swords do nothing for me), but it turns out I was doing this series a major disservice. Bamboo Blade is weird and wonderful—an over-the-top hybrid of Skip Beat, Gokusen, and Fox's Glee, but with a kendo theme. Not only will I be keeping this volume, I'm even planning to buy the back issues (for me, the ultimate sacrifice).

Reviews based on publisher-provided copies.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Yen Press Extravaganza (Part VI)

Hero Tales: Vol. 2, story by Jin Zhou Huang and Hiromu Arakawa

Hero Tales is the story of Taitou, a powerful young warrior with a legendary sword and a hot temper. When his sword is stolen and he discovers he is one of the seven heroes prophesied to save the world, Taitou sets out with his little sister Laila and his friend Ryuukou on a quest to hone his powers—with the ultimate goal of defeating the evil general who controls the nation's child emperor.

Fans of Hiromu Arakawa's previous work (which includes the enormously popular Fullmetal Alchemist) will enjoy Hero Tales. It's classic shonen manga: short on character development and coherency, but long on fight scenes and jokes. I wouldn't suggest thinking about it too hard, but if you're in the market for some Saturday-morning-cartoon-style action you've come to the right place.

Nabari No Ou: Vol. 3, by Yuhki Kamatani

The main character of Nabari No Ou is Miharu Rokujou, a deadpan 14-year-old Japanese schoolboy with zero interest in the people around him. When he discovers his body is the unwitting carrier of a powerful ninja secret, Miharu's dearest wish—to be left alone—is pushed aside in favor of his new reality: the life of a ninja leader-in-training.

If Hero Tales is the quintessential boys' manga, Nabari No Ou is designed for the same audience when they're five years older. It has just as many fight scenes, but the plot, relationships, and artwork are more complex, and the book's ninja politics add a touch of sophistication to what would otherwise be a straight fighting manga. I wish the main character was more appealing (Miharu's snide one-liners can be mildly funny, but mostly he just seems like a total snot), but I suppose some readers might take that chilly sarcasm for effortless cool.

Sumomomo Momomo: The Strongest Bride on Earth: Vol. 3, by Shinobu Ohtaka

The heroine of Sumomomo Momomo: The Strongest Bride on Earth is Momoko Kuzuryuu, a cheery, childlike girl with powerful martial arts skills. Momoko is the only child of the Kuzuryuu Clan, one of Japan's twelve “Zodiac Families”. Despite her remarkable strength, her father believes a woman will never be strong enough to master their family's secret techniques, which is why he's arranged a marriage with the son of a powerful rival clan—Koushi Inuzuka, a mild-mannered boy with hopes of becoming a prosecutor, no interest in fighting, and even less desire to become the husband of the world's strongest bride.

During my many years as a manga reader, I've seen a lot of implausible fighting costumes, but the magical bikini featured in this volume of Sumomomo Momomo takes the cake. It's leather. And tiny. And it only covers the top half (maybe only the top third) of the girl's chest. And then it gets even smaller—halfway through the fight she unzips it, and it transforms into a pair of carefully-positioned leather straps.

I mention this because I want to remind readers that this is a seinen (older teen male) manga, not a shoujo. It might sound like it has a lot in common with the hugely popular Fruits Basket series (the Zodiac stuff, the impossibly sunny heroine, the unlikely couple, etc.), but readers should take both the seinen designation and Yen's “Older Teen” warning seriously.

Bunny Drop Vol. 1, by Yumi Unita

Bunny Drop is the story of a cobbled-together family. When his grandfather dies, 30-year-old bachelor Daisuke is appalled to discover that the old man left an orphaned and illegitimate 6-year-old child—but he's even more appalled when none of his family members offer to take in the silent little girl. Daisuke impulsively offers to let the kid live with him... but he soon discovers there's more to child-rearing than he'd previously thought.

This was definitely my favorite title of the eight I reviewed today. Bunny Drop has a lot in common with Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&!, although it has a quieter, more serious vibe. I loved the way so much of the plot was devoted to the ordinary concerns of single parenthood—balancing work and family, finding a suitable daycare, dealing with childhood anxieties. It's a subject that doesn't get sufficient print, despite its rich potential for both drama and humor, so I'll be eagerly awaiting the next volume.

Reviews based on publisher-provided copies.

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Yen Press Extravaganza (Part V)

Yes, dear readers, it's time for another run-down of Yen Press's recent releases!

Spice and Wolf: Vol. 1, story by Isuna Hasekura and art by Keito Koume

Spice and Wolf is a manga adaptation of Isuna Hasekura's novel series of the same name. When young merchant Kraft Lawrence finds a naked girl with wolf ears and a tail napping in the back of his cart, he remains calm (more or less). The girl introduces herself as Holo the Wisewolf, an ancient harvest goddess. Hoping to travel back to the northern lands of her youth, Holo joins Lawrence on his journey along the trade routes, generously giving him the benefit of her wisdom... whether he wants it or not.

For a book with a relatively dry plot (Lawrence and Holo spend most of the second half of the story mulling over a questionable deal involving the weight of silver coins), Spice and Wolf features an awful lot of gratuitous nudity. And while nudity has its place, the sheer randomness of these scenes is more confusing than sexy—watching the topless heroine toss her hair like a porn star while discussing the wheat and fur markets is just plain weird. This is the first volume, so it's still too early to tell (maybe they'll make sense later?), but currently I'm of the opinion the fanservice shots were a mistake. To borrow a phrase from Rocky—you're better than that, Spice and Wolf.

Raiders: Vol. 2, by JinJun Park

If you took a dash of Indiana Jones, added a pinch of Dan Brown, and mixed 'em both with a healthy shot of every crappy zombie movie ever made, you'd probably end up with something closely resembling JinJun Park's Raiders. When professor's assistant Irel Clark is attacked by monsters after finding the Holy Grail, Irel is forced to drink the blood of Christ in order to survive. Unfortunately, immortality isn't all it's cracked up to be—when the world is full of flesh-eating zombies, Irel's immortal, constantly-regenerating body becomes quite the prize...

The artwork and action sequences in this series are competent but unremarkable, and the religious stuff tries way too hard to be shocking. (SPOILER: Vol. 2's final image—a zombie take on Leonardo DaVinci's The Last Supper—was obviously meant to have enormous impact, but just made me snicker.) Still, there's obviously a market for secret religious cult books and zombie stories, so hopefully Raiders will find its niche.

Very! Very! Sweet: Vol. 6, by JiSang Shin and Geo

From our first review of Very! Very! Sweet:
"Very! Very! Sweet is the story of a rich and spoiled 15-year-old boy named Tsuyoshi, whose domineering grandfather ships him off to Korea to connect with his family's Korean heritage—or die trying. Naturally, Tsuyoshi moves in next door to an exuberant Korean girl named Be-Ri, whose strict family life and far more modest circumstances result in an over-the-top culture clash."
This series continues to deal strictly in tried-and-true romantic conventions, but its cross-cultural twist is used to particularly good effect in this volume. It's not high-brow humor, but I couldn't help but laugh when Be-Ri mistakes Tsuyoshi's “Daisuke!” (Japanese for “I love you!”) as the Korean phrase “Ya! Ee Saekki!” (“Hey! You bastard!”). The weight Be-Ri places on Tsuyoshi's differences forces one to wonder about the homogeneity of Korean culture, but her over-the-top reactions make for a fun, sweet read.
Time and Again: Vol. 2, by JiUn Yun

Time and Again is a collection of loosely-connected horror stories. Exorcists-for-hire Baek-On and Ho-Yeon travel throughout the countryside, searching for ghosts (and occasionally creating them—but totally by accident). This volume features three stories, including a particularly disturbing one ("Love") about a married servant woman who attracts the unwanted attentions of her master.

Most of the artwork in Time and Again is attractively spare, although it features flashes of unadulterated cuteness that help lighten the atmosphere. It's not quite as good as my beloved Banhonsa: The Spirit Returner (the gold standard for this type of myth- and legend-inspired series), but it's still very well done, and has a similar creepy-fairytale vibe.

Reviews based on publisher-provided copies.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: the Graphic Novel, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

To misquote Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an unexpectedly successful book will force its creators to keep milking it like a cash cow until it falls over dead. That's why Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith's best-selling parody of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, has spawned a prequel, an upcoming movie version, countless imitators, and now a graphic novel adaptation.

For those of you who've managed to avoid this pop culture phenomenon, here's a quick rundown: In Grahame-Smith's take on Austen's classic romance, early 19th century England is overrun with brain-eating undead, and the upper classes have devoted themselves to exterminating the zombie scourge. While the five Bennet sisters are all expert warriors, quick-witted and sharp-tongued Elizabeth is the best fighter in the family... but even her dedication to the deadly arts is shaken when two wealthy, single, and extremely well-trained young men arrive in the area.

There were, admittedly, a few clever moments in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and even though most of the artwork looked strangely unfinished, it was still miles better than Marvel's recent Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Unfortunately, every flicker of wit was offset by a heavy-handed joke about zombies, ninjas, or Elizabeth holding Mr. Darcy's (musket) balls. While the end result would have been much improved by a ruthless editing job, I have to give this adaptation props for being slightly more fun than I expected. Admittedly, that's not saying much, but if you're a really devoted fan of both Pride and Prejudice and campy horror, you could probably do something worse with your hard-earned $14.99.

(No promises, though.)

Review based on publisher-provided copy.

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The Stuff of Legend, by Brian Smith and Mike Raicht

The Stuff of Legend—Book I: The Dark is written Mike Raicht and Brian Smith (both former editors at Marvel) and illustrated by Charles Paul Wilson III. Their story is set in World War II-era Brooklyn, where a young boy is pulled into his closet by the Boogeyman. The child's toys band together to rescue him, venturing into the darkness beyond his closet door—a nightmarish place that holds an army of the boy's angry and bitter forgotten playthings.

If Neil Gaiman had written Toy Story, the final project might have borne a close resemblance to The Stuff of Legend. Wilson's sepia-toned artwork is lovely, and the storytelling is reminiscent of Gaiman's signature combination of creepy weirdness and smug literary styling. Unfortunately, Raicht and Smith's writing is low on the whimsical touches that (usually) save Gaiman's work from becoming unbearably self-important. We'll still be following this title... but it would have been nice if the authors had leavened all that artistically-contrived gloom with just a wee touch of humor*.

*And no, that's not just because of our innate fear of vengeful dolls.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bat country

According to Cinematical, Hollywood is eyeing a movie adaptation of one of the real incidents in journalist Hunter S. Thompson's life. Shortly before his death in 2005, Thompson set out to help a young woman who had been wrongly imprisoned. His 2004 article "Prisoner of Denver" tells the story of Lisl Auman, who was arrested in 1997 for a break-in. She was handcuffed in a police car when her accomplice was involved in a fatal shoot-out with police that killed an officer, but she was still found guilty of a felony murder and sentenced to life without parole. She wrote to Thompson from prison and he became a champion for her cause.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A Kiss in the Dark, by Lauren Henderson

Lauren Henderson's Kiss in the Dark is the third book in her series about Scarlett Wakefield, a wealthy, orphaned teen attending Wakefield Hall, her iron-willed grandmother's exclusive English boarding school. Scarlett is hoping her new relationships at Wakefield will allow her to move beyond her troubled past, but when her former nemesis (queen bee Plum Saybourne) is transferred to the school, all of Scarlett's carefully guarded secrets may be exposed.

We thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series (Kiss Me Kill Me and Kisses and Lies), but were less impressed by this latest installment. Kiss in the Dark is just as well written and nicely characterized as its predecessors, but the plot felt scattered and the mystery was forgettable. Reading it was a bit like watching a good-but-not-great episode of an ongoing TV show—you can't skip it altogether (because it adds a bunch of stuff to the overarching storyline), but it doesn't work as a self-contained mystery.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.

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Like we didn't already have enough of those

I staring out the window yesterday, wondering what Meg Cabot has been up to. (Apart from finishing up her body-swapping Airhead series, which we're way behind on reviewing, even though her publisher very kindly sent us copies of both the second and third books. Sorry, Meg! We'll get to it sooner or later!) Anyway, a little internet research gave me an answer: she's jumping on the vampire bandwagon. Behold the cover art for her upcoming adult novel Insatiable, due out in early June:

Cabot has a good track record with supernatural stuff (both her 1-800-Where-R-U books and her Mediator books are great), so here's hoping this will be just as fun.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Cinderella Cleaners: Change of a Dress and Prep Cool, by Maya Gold

Maya Gold's Cinderella Cleaners series has the bright, cheery appeal of a Disney Channel made-for-TV movie, cut with some Nora Roberts-style respect for service-type jobs. I was dubious, but found the combination worked remarkably well.

The first book in the series—Change of a Dress—introduces Diana Donato, a teenage girl with a bossy stepmother (of course), two obnoxious stepsisters, and downtrodden dad. When her stepmom decides it's time for Diana to start pulling her own weight, she gets roped into helping out at the family's dry-cleaning business, Weehawken, New Jersey's Cinderella Cleaners. The work is surprisingly entertaining—particularly when Diana discovers an invitation to a fabulous New York City gala in the pocket of a client's coat. When she learns that the owner is out of town, Diana decides to use the invitation herself, leading to a memorable (in all senses of the word!) evening.

Change of a Dress was released simultaneously with its sequel, Prep Cool. When Diana's best friend's phone is stolen by a snooty rich girl at the nearby Foreman Academy, Diana is determined to steal it back. Luckily for her, a Foreman Academy uniform has just arrived at Cinderella Cleaners, and—even more luckily—all of her dry-cleaning friends are once again willing to help her transform herself into something she's not.

Gold's restrained writing style keeps these stories pleasantly low-key, despite their fairytale origins and super-perky packaging. The Cinderella shout-outs were present but didn't overpower the story, and Diana's innate dignity kept her from making too big a fool of herself, no matter how wild her adventures. (Plus, all the dry-cleaning behind-the-scenes stuff was fascinating. Who knew?) Neither book has the makings of a crossover hit, à la the Sammy Keyes series or the Sisters Grimm books, but readers in Gold's target audience—girls in grades four to seven—are likely to enjoy themselves.

Review based on publisher-provided copies.

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Teachers/parents/etc. take note...

I'm not sure if this contest will be of personal interest to our normal demographic, but it sounded too good to ignore: Random House Books and the Kids Crooked House Company have put together an essay contest inspired by Mary Pope Osborne's massively successful Magic Tree House series. Kids interested in entering must submit a response to this question: Write about an adventure you would like to have in the Magic Tree House. Where would you go and what would you do? The grand-prize winner will be awarded their own "Magic Tree House" (a custom-designed playhouse by Kids Crooked House) and 10 runner-ups will receive an autographed copy of one of Osborne's books.

Mary Pope Osborne will review the submissions and choose the winner. Entry forms can be downloaded from and will be accepted until October 31st, 2010. The winners will be announced in mid-December. Good luck!

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Austen goes Bollywood... again

AustenBlog informs me that Aisha, a Bollywood film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma starring Sonam Kapoor (left), will be coming out this August. I'm a big fan of Kandukondain Kandukondain, the 2000 Tamil musical inspired by Sense and Sensibility*, so I'm hoping this will be just as fun.

*Aishwarya Rai's performance was almost enough to overcome my dislike of the Marianne character. Not quite, of course, but she came closer than anyone else has ever been able to.

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