Sunday, December 30, 2012

Luck or Something Like It by Kenny Rogers

This is a really great memoir: true, honest, funny and incredibly well-written by a man whose music career has spanned decades. I've been quoting factoids from the book ever since I started it; there are tons of great stories, and Kenny's really lived a full and rich life.

While he's met everyone and had friendships, relationships, or partnerships with super-big celebrities, he's not a name-dropper. He discusses his childhood, career, and relationships in an honest approachable style that neither sugar-coats things, nor plays to the reader's sympathy. He's a guy who came from little and became big, yet never forgot the lessons of his upbringing.

Kenny's career has been so expansive (jazz? hippy rock? and of course, country and pop-country) that I'd forgotten much more than I realized. He's had 5 wives, 5 sons, and notable challenges - all of which make for some great meat to the story. He discusses his philanthropy, but doesn't do it in a back-patting kind of way.

I'm a music memoir geek, and unfortunately a lot of them aren't great. But I have to say, this one is stellar.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

What a giant, sweeping saga of life after the apocalypse! Skipping across three generations of Americans during and after a virus changes the world. (The beginning of the story was told in The Passage.)

My only problem is, I keep losing track of all the seven quintrillion characters Cronin has given us. Across three generations! And I should at least be able to keep track of the viral vampires, right? Except most of them haven't been talked about for what seems like a thousand pages, so they feel a little distant. And while they're referred to as the Twelve - there are really 11 now ... except there's also Zero who's not in the count, nor is Amy who's something else entirely.

So perhaps I should have had a graph or a map or something. Cronin gives us a few outlines and character lists in the back, but I didn't find it wildly helpful. (And I know it seems bad that I found that list only because I was peeking ahead to see how many pages I had left. The book is 568 pages, but seems a lot longer.)

It's an interesting idea of the future, and I appreciate the religious and moral implications he presents. He's got some great characters with true, human flaws and drives.

Honestly, I did enjoy the book - but maybe, it was due to the fact I so loved the first book and that bled over. I'm curious to see where Cronin takes us in the next book (it's supposed to be a trilogy).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Those Darn Squirrels! series by Adam Rubin

I do so LOVE a good grumpy guy in a book, and there's nobody crabbier than Old Man Fookwire! All Fookwire wants to do is paint birds, but something's always preventing that - namely migration.

In "Those Darn Squirrels" OMF is trying to keep the squirrels out of his bird feeders. In the end, they make a sort of truce. In "Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door" the gang gets a new neighbor who throws off OMF's whole routine. And her cat - whew, what a terror! In the latest installment, everybody decides to follow the birds to find out what's so great about migration, in "Those Darn Squirrels Fly South."

These are books that are meant to be read aloud. There's a wonderful lyric quality to the writing, and the word choice is stupendous. (I walked around a whole day repeating OMF's signature exclamation: Great googley-moogley!)

The art, by Daniel Salmieri, is understated and just the right amount of weird: OMF is long and skinny, stretched and ugly in his angry. The squirrels are cute, and simply rendered. And the birds are exotic and strange, nothing like the ones that appears in my yard.

These are some of my new favorite picture books. They're funny, and subtle; there's a lot to laugh at on the first read-through, but even more to be discovered upon repetition. Additionally, the books are very informative - I'm sure you never understood the secret genius of squirrels, as revealed here!

The Brick Bible by Brendan Powell Smith

An idea so strange I just had to see it for myself: the Bible, retold in graphic novel format illustrated completely with Legos.

Note: I read both A New Spin on the Old Testament and The New Testament: A New Spin on the Story of Jesus, but I'm reviewing both here together.

I know Lego-format just screams "KIDS!" but I'm not sure I'd recommend these for too young an audience - do you realize how bloody the Bible is, really? Instead, Smith's broken a few of the most famous stories out into stand-alone books specifically for kids (The Christmas Story, Noah's Ark).

Smith explains in the introduction that he really just wanted to get people reading the Bible - it's one of the most referenced and quoted texts, yet most people simply haven't read it. And even here, the novelty of the format only lasts so long - at some point, you've really got to be interested in reading the Bible to enjoy reading these books.

But the art: Wow. It's stunning the diversity of expression he milks out of simple minifigs. The landscapes and stage sets are amazing, and the creativity in depicting such famous images in a unique way are inspiring. The limitations of the format leads to a bit strangeness (How do you show a pregnant Lego? And what about all the circumcisions?). Blood is depicted in transparent red bricks which somewhat neuters the violence and at the same time lend a very surreal quality. And the occasional anachronisms can be truly hilarious.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams

Twelve-year-old soccer star Dennis is a little lonely - his mom left a couple years ago, his dad isn't dealing with it well. So when he strikes up a friendship with Lisa, a glamorous fashionista a couple years older, it's the best thing to happen in a long time.

When Lisa suggests she try on come of her clothes, Dennis is a bit torn: he want to try on the beautiful dress and he's curious how it looks and feels - but he's a boy! Lisa prevails, and Dennis is elated. Then, she has an idea: Hey - how about you go to school this way! I'll say you're a foreign-exchange student so you don't have to talk! I'll bet no one notices you aren't a girl!

The kids don't consider the implications of their scheme, and it goes as bad as one would expect. But there's more to the story, and it's not as down-pat as you might anticipate.

One of the most interesting things about this book is that Dennis is young enough he isn't really considering his sexuality - for him, this is more about the clothes. He's maybe got a bit of a crush on Lisa, but that's not really the focus, either, and nobody in the book asks him if he fancies boys or if he wishes he was a girl - it's totally about what you're wearing.

The story moves fast, and the lively illustrations (by the incomparable Quentin Blake) add to the story without turning it into a picture book. This book would be an awesome conversation starter with a younger age-group, and fun to read, too.