Friday, March 26, 2010

Published Reviews!

I have a confession to make: I don't have a book review this week. I went to Barnes & Noble, purchased several new books to review, and got very excited about all of them. So excited, in fact, that I began reading more than one of them, and subsequently finished none of them.

It also doesn't help that I've been playing Final Fantasy XIII every day. I can review the first 18 hours of that if you'd like? No? Alright then.

Anyway, in lieu of an actual, original review—I have a whole string of them coming up, I promise—I thought I would post links to the book reviews that I've published in local newspapers. I can't reprint the reviews themselves, but I can link to them, so take a look at some of the stuff I've been working on for non-Genoshan outlets.

Invisible China: A Journey Through Ethnic Borderlands by Colin Legerton and Jacob Rawson—My first published book review! A great little nonfiction piece about a pair of travelers studying linguistics throughout rural China. It's much more interesting than I ever would've imagined.

Smart Kids, Bad Schools: 38 Ways to Save America's Future by Brian Crosby—My most recent published review (though I've since done other articles/theatre reviews). An interesting look at the American educational system by a Los Angeles-area teacher.

Hard Times in the Country: Ramblings of a Hayseed by Timothy L. Wahl—A terrible book, but a fair study on the pitfalls of self-publishing. I actually received negative comments from an "anonymous source" for this one, and the author even went so far as to bash me on his Twitter account. For a week after this review was published, he posted links to my other website, 5x500, to show how "juvenile" I am. It was kinda satisfying, knowing something I wrote had such a profound effect on someone. And it got me more hits for my website.

Drawn to Life by Walt Stanchfield, edited by Don Hahn—This guide to animation is a compilation of long-time Disney animator Walt Stanchfield's teaching notes. It is an incredible asset for those interested in cartooning, animation, or drawing in general.

There have been other articles, mostly theatre and concert reviews, but most of those were time- and location-sensitive. Reading today in Boston or New Jersey about a play that ran in Burbank six months ago isn't very interesting. Anyway, I hope you enjoy those reviews. Be excited for the next few weeks and all the great books I've got lined up for you! Until then, keep reading, Genoshans!

P.S. Don't be shy! If you've been hearing good/bad/contradictory things about a book that's in stores or coming out soon, feel free to let me know and I'll put it on the list! I'll gladly read and review it so you can know once and for all if you should buy it, borrow it, or skip it altogether.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Secret History (Jean-Pierre Pécau)

It is once again omnibus time! I love reviewing omnibuses (omnibi? omnibeese?) because it gives me a feel for a comic or book series as a whole that I just don't get from reading each piece on its own. The Daily Genoshan has a long history of reviewing omnibuses at this point—remember The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide, Scud: The Disposable Assassin, and Bone?—so I'm glad I get to take a crack at a new one COMING OUT NEXT WEEK! I've been interning for a company called Archaia Comics for a few months now, and the hardcover omnibus for a French series they've imported, The Secret History, comes out in comic book stores everywhere next Wednesday, March 24.


The Secret History
by Jean-Pierre Pécau

TSH follows the paths of four immortals as they influence global events throughout history. The secret to their longevity lies within the runes that were bestowed upon them waaaaaaay back in 3,000 B.C.E., when their village's shaman was brutally murdered by a tribe of neanderthals. The four newly appointed magician's each develop their own style and methods, and over the course of millennia attempt to control the outcomes of wars and other significant human events. They help free the Jews from slavery in Egypt, and sway favor back and forth between enemies in the Crusades. They finance revolutions in France and wars in Germany, all as part of a larger scheme to shift power between themselves. Few people know of their existence, but millions are influenced by their decisions.

So basically, it is what it claims to be, a secret history. It can get fairly convoluted at times keeping track of who works for who and which rune is where, but if you like this kind of alternative theory deal, it's a very satisfying read. The 9 issues included in the omnibus showcase several different artists, all of whom have their own styles and whatnot, but the joy of this book comes from the writing. Pécau hits many of the major chapters in the history of western civilization and shows how they all tied in to the runes and their wielders, weaving together seemingly disparate events with ease. There are also cameos by some rather famous faces: Nostradamus; Emperor Frederick II; Michelangelo; Napoleon. It keeps things exciting. Plus, when I say omnibus, I do mean omnibus. This puppy is 336 pages of goodness, so at $34.99, that comes out to about 10¢/page. Bargain. Take a look at it in the store on Wednesday. Archaia has been doing a great job with finding good books from France and translating them for American readers (see The Killer for an especially great example) and The Secret History is no exception. Check it out.


I'm not gonna give this book a rating because I currently work for the publisher (even if it is unpaid, wah wah). I've read all of their titles, though, and I did genuinely enjoy this one. It's probably not something I would've picked up on my own just because it seems daunting at first, but the omnibusiness helps to pull the whole thing together in ways that single issues simply can't. Also, remember that these are the guys that put out Mouse Guard, and that book kicks ass.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Greek Street (Peter Milligan & Davide Gianfelice)

I rarely just pick up a new comic book or trade paperback blind without knowing anything about the series. I like to at least get a positive review from someone first. I asked the girl behind the counter at my comic book store—yes, girl, it happens—about Greek Street and she said "No, I've never read it, let me know how it is," so I just bought it. It was cheap.


What if Oedipus lived in London and got caught up in a gang war? The end.

Well, I guess there's a little more to it than that, but not much. Peter Milligan takes ancient Greek myths and tragedies and inserts them into the modern-day London underworld. Oedipus is a young kid looking for his mother; Dedalus is a police constable trying to solve a case; the Fureys are a mob family that own a strip club. Throw in lots and lots and lots of boobies, and you have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the book. Sex, murder, extortion, more sex, more murder, classical themes and plot lines.

Greek Street is a Vertigo book, and Vertigo is usually fairly reliable. That doesn't change here. It's no Fables or 100 Bullets—although it kinda reads as if you meshed those two books together, the art is very Eduardo Risso—but it's a pretty solid read. I don't think it deserves any awards, but I actually did enjoy it. I'm interested to see where the books goes in future volumes, and it was only $9.99, so I'd say it was a sound investment. If you're into this kind of graphic sex and violence—see what I just did there? heh—then you'll probably get a kick out of Greek Street. If you're looking for a high concept, intellectual comic book to stimulate your brain, look elsewhere.


Greek Street
by Peter Milligan and Davide Gianfelice

Ooh! Let's put the Greek gods and heroes somewhere other than Greece! That's never been done before! At least Milligan keeps the story interesting, even if the concept isn't all that original.

Nothing to write home about. Again, if you like this kind of thing, you'll like it, but if you don't, you won't.

There's nothing groundbreaking happening here. It's a solid sex-and-violence comic that I'm sure is going to sell well, but won't be remembered very long.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Brightest Moon of the Century (Christopher Meeks)

One of my old professors wrote this book, so I read it and wrote a review for a class I'm taking.


Transitions in life can be very difficult, be it as a student in transition from high school to college, an actor making the move from television to film, or, as is the case with Christopher Meeks, a dramatist and short story author publishing his first novel. With two collections and three full-length plays under his belt, the Los Angeles-based Meeks tries to make this jump with his latest book, The Brightest Moon of the Century, a work teeming with vivid characters making their own transitions.

Shifting deftly between locations as disparate as suburban Minnesota, the hills of Los Angeles, and a trailer park in Alabama, The Brightest Moon of the Century tells the story of Edward Meopian as he tries to survive all of the major transitions in his life: first love; college; post-graduate ennui; marriage; and, ultimately, fatherhood. Edward can’t seem to find himself, and goes searching wherever he can afford, determined to prove that he was meant for something more than his humble Midwestern origins.

The book is told in third person via a series of vignette-like chapters, prominently recalling the author’s roots as a short-story writer. Each chapter takes place in its own unique setting, foregoing much of the transitional writing that might normally be required in a book that spans the three decades covered in The Brightest Moon. His prior writing experience continues to shine through as Meeks focuses intently on each individual scene and the humanness of the interactions between his characters, something he undoubtedly picked up from his stage work.

Edward, often unsure of himself, continually finds himself butting up against friends, authority figures, and, occasionally, over-sexed Southern teenagers. Meeks is sometimes sparse on illustrative details, but never fails to adequately describe the many women that come in and out of Edward’s life, a fact that aids in establishing the importance of female acceptance after the death of Edward’s mother in the opening pages. The transition that the Meopian family is forced to undergo following this tragedy is one of the book’s earliest and longest-running themes.

Another theme that Meeks subtly weaves throughout his otherwise bluntly emotional narrative—Edward tends to cry a lot—regards another type of transition, that of the moon between phases. In the early chapters, the moon is usually presented in its crescent or gibbous form, but over the course of the novel moves, along with Edward, to a fuller and more complete state. That’s not to say that The Brightest Moon of the Century is all happy endings and wonderfully uplifting messages. It’s not. Most of the book focuses on the terrible things that Edward can’t control in his life but must learn to accept. It’s with the help of symbols like these, though, that he and the reader are able to move forward together along a path with seemingly no fixed destination.

There are a few dull spots, primarily in the first few chapters, and the voice evokes the idea of a short story narrator much more strongly than is necessary, but, for the most part, The Brightest Moon of the Century is a rather compelling novel. The language is stiff at times, but the confrontations are visceral and Meeks has a way of injecting suspense into everyday circumstances. There are places where he is able to seamlessly transition from an exultant tone to a sense of utter dread in less than a page, and while the read is often better for it, the same can’t always be said for Edward. His many failures and realistic experiences with love ground him in this world, and make him a character that the reader can’t help growing alongside. It may not be the most polished work, but Christopher Meeks’ The Brightest Moon of the Century is a commendable first novel and a successful transition from the world of short stories and playwriting.


The Brightest Moon of the Century
by Christopher Meeks

Nothing groundbreaking, but it definitely keeps your interest.

I like how the book is broken up. It follows Edward for several decades, and succeeds in showing his growth as a person.

This isn't the best-written book I've come across, but I found myself enjoying it nonetheless. It has a touch of sincerity that I thought was charming and that kept me grounded. It makes me interested to check out Meeks' short stories.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

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