Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book of Shadows by Alexandra Sokoloff

I'll admit--I haven't read a mystery in ages--and as I was gazing at my bookshelf Tuesday night desperately trying to find something quick to read--I stumbled across this book that I received as an ARC many moons ago at a public library convention. I read the back cover and thought...Witches? Grimoires? Murder?...that isn't my usual fare, but I wanted to try something different, so I grabbed it off the shelf and took it to the gym with me where I devoured the first 100 pages in an hour on the treadmill. I figure if I have to slave away at burning calories, I might as well enjoy myself. But I digress....
Book of Shadows puts detective Adam Garrett against the forces of evil, conjured up by a novice witch who unknowingly releases a power much greater than himself known as Choronzon. Garrett and his partner, Landauer, are investigating the murder of an upper class college student, Erin Carmody, when they discover satanic carvings and evidence of ritualistic crime associated with Satanism and Witchcraft. Although the two quickly have a suspect in custody, a local witch and psychic who is convinced the police have the wrong character enters the picture. Tanith is mysterious, sexy, and holds a number of answers to the information the detectives are seeking. The plot moves along quickly as another young woman goes missing and the detectives race against the clock (and Chorozon) to save her....or find her remains.
I found this book entertaining and fun to read. It was like biting into a great piece of cake that you want to savour for a long time and enjoy its sweetness. But it is cake--and that's ultimately what I took from it. A fun way to spend an afternoon and a bit of a guilty pleasure.
The sex scenes played out like a steamy (and raunchy) novel and were quite full of cliche's...and the ending was a bit cheesy for my taste as well and somewhat hard to believe. But all in all, I had fun with this one, and that's what it's ultimately about, right???

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dark Horse presents "Blacksad".....

If I read graphic novels, as a rule I tend to go for non-fiction memoirs. I picked up Blacksad after reading an amazing review of it in an old Publishers Weekly~it stated that Blacksad was unique for its toughness, raciness, and violence. Naturally, I felt I immediately had to read it. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I found this book. I will never shun a fiction graphic novel again; and coming from someone who actually shies away from the comic book/graphic novel genre...this is a HUGE statement!
Blacksad is, first off, one of the greatest art books I have ever seen. The illustrations are impeccable and convey the essences of the stories therein perfectly. This book is a compilation of the first three Blacksad issues, all of which concern some type of mystery. Blacksad reads like a noir crime thriller--it is set in the 1950's, and contains historical references (often in guise), throughout the novel. The references to nazi-ism, lynchings, the beat generation, racism, and film noir were some of my personal favrites. The illustrations can be a bit graphic...I would hesitate to put this in the hands of a teenager unless they were mature enough to handle nudity and violence. The novel doesn't go over the top in that respect, but there's enough to warrant discretion.
The stories are well-developed and will draw readers in of all ages and literary taste. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Adults Would Enjoy This One Too....

Shucks! This book definitely kept me on the edge of my seat last night as I was wrapping up the last hundred pages between laundry loads. I've read both great and okay reviews of this book, but at its heart I believe the book seeks to be a great, gripping adventure story, and I think that within those confines alone it does deliver. Yes, there are a few pacing problems. Yes, I felt a mad rush at the end for something *big* to happen, and yes, some of the characters were a bit underdeveloped.
But as far as young adult science fiction dystopia goes (breath), I think it's a good book. The maze itself and the myriad of strange (and bug-like?) antagonists provide this sort of bizarre, other wordly contrast to the modern, common sense personalties of the boys--(reminiscent of another "stranded" tale called "Lord of the Flies"...ever hear of it)? And there's enough trials and conflicts the young men "must figure out" or "defeat" which keeps the plot line intriguing and complex. Boys especially would enjoy this work. (There is one female in the book, but she stays largely on the periphery until the end. Hopefully we'll see more of her in the "Scorch Trials").
I've read other reviews where Tommy is called a bit of a *wino*--I didn't find him "whiny" at all personally, and actually grew to trust his instincts and was able to cheer him on without pity playing a part in it what-so-ever. I liked this book. I thought it was a fun read, and I'll definitely pass it on to those middle and high school aged boys who complain that there's not enough fiction for them out there. Boys, this one....was made for you. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Around the World in 80 Diets....

This visually stunning book takes us around the world in 80 diets. The chapters are arranged by how many calories a certain diet consists of, along with a picture of the eater and a brief biography. Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio couldn't have chosen better subjects for their book--everything from a calorie restrictor to a citrus grower to a trucker are represented. What is ultimately most interesting is seeing the size of the person in comparison to the type of diets they eat. Those "bingers" you assume would be large, are often not, and people on restrictive diets are often more "normal" or even "plump" looking. I really want this book for my coffee table. While the pictures and the life stories keep you enthralled, the exotic foods and their packaging keep you loving the thrill of food and its ability to entice--around the world.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Monster of Florence: George Clooney??

If you haven't read "The Monster of Florence" by Douglas Preston, I highly encourage you run out and do so. If for no other reason that when the movie starring George Clooney hits the big screen, you'll be able to follow the plot line while you stare dreamily into space picturing him in your arms. But seriously, "Monster" was one of the best books I read last year and kept me thoroughly engrossed and on the edge of my seat the entire length of the story. The plot focuses on a serial killer in Florence (roughly thirty-forty years ago), who stalks and murders young lovers--while leaving very little trace of himself. The police are boggled and routinely bungle the murder investigation, and as Preston uncovers, are entirely ill-equipped to handle such a large, sensational murder case. In fact, at one point, the police accuse the author himself of possibly committing the crimes!!

In 2000, Fox acquired film rights to The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi (co-author). According to the Hollywood Reporter, in 2008, "soon after the book's publication that summer, Tom Cruise optioned rights to the project for United Artists, which he was running at the time. Cruise, who would produce and potentially star, set McQuarrie to adapt and produce. When UA stalled amid MGM's restructuring problems, the project went into turnaround. McQuarrie, Jinks and Cohen then took the property to Clooney and Heslov's Smoke House Prods."

Can't wait to sit in the dark and eat popcorn watching this one! Bound to a be a nail biter with great scenery (wink)!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Franco's Film-Lit Quest....

James Franco's fondness for literary adaptations (Howl; Eat Pray Love; 127 Hours) as an actor will take an even more dramatic turn if his plans to direct screen versions of works by William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy are realized.

Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life blog reported that Franco "is moving full steam ahead and he confirms to EW that he hopes to direct film versions of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and McCarthy's Blood Meridian. If everything goes according to plan, the Faulkner would be first, filming this summer, and then the Blood Meridian in 2012."

"I think they go together, though," he said. "I think McCarthy is really influenced by Faulkner."

Franco's work as a director includes short films as well as The Broken Tower (based on the biography of Hart Crane by Paul L. Mariani), which he recently finished shooting.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Karen Armstrong's Advice on Compassion

Book Review: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong (Knopf, $22.95, 9780307595591, December 28, 2010)

January, the month of New Year's resolutions, has arrived. But this year, instead of heading to the gym or Weight Watchers, consider reading a book that may change fundamentally the way you regard the world and act in it. Former nun and distinguished historian of religion Karen Armstrong (A History of God) has written one that blends a sophisticated discussion of the concept of compassion in various faith traditions with elements of a conventional self-help manual.
In 2007, Armstrong was informed she had won a prize that, in addition to cash, granted her a wish for a better world. She opted to ask for assistance in creating a Charter for Compassion that "would restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life." Dating the first formulation of the Golden Rule to Confucius, nearly half a millennium before the birth of Jesus, Armstrong answers, if only obliquely, the charges of critics who see religion as a force for intolerance. To her, "At their best, all religious, philosophical, and ethical traditions are based on principles of compassion."
Although the 12-step approach is well known in the treatment of various addictions, Armstrong doesn't draw explicitly on that formulation. Despite its religious foundation, for example, she is clear that her program doesn't depend upon belief in a "higher power." Instead, she offers a series of intensely practical but increasingly challenging steps to achieve a transformation she admits is "slow, undramatic and incremental," as we battle against our inherent egotism expressed in the "Four Fs" of instinctive behavior--feeding, fighting, fleeing and what she decorously calls reproduction.
Armstrong starts simply with the admonition to "learn about compassion," a step she makes easier by exploring its roots in the world's major faiths (including an especially thoughtful and important discussion of its place in Islam). From there she proceeds through practices like compassion for oneself, mindfulness and compassionate speech. Each step builds upon all that have gone before, ascending to what she calls the "supreme test of compassion," the ability to love one's enemies. Although she makes occasional references to a meditation practice, its description is somewhat vague and that may be disappointing to those who come to the book expecting an emphasis on self-help.
While Armstrong is not so naïve as to think her program possesses some magical transformative power, she is committed to the notion that even tentative steps in the direction of living more compassionately, if taken seriously and practiced widely, have the power to make the world a more hospitable place. A new year lies before you like an empty page. What better time is there to take her up on that challenge, and what do you have to lose if you do?
--Harvey Freedenberg