Friday, January 29, 2010

Movie Reviews?

That's right, I will be delving into some movie reviews to help expand my audience a bit as well as expand the types of media I cover. Just reviewing books (and audio books) does not seem to cut it considering libraries do carry movies on DVD these days.

On top of that, I will cover the final season of LOST. I know, I know, countless people will be doing the same thing and nearly all of them will do it better than me. But I love the show so much, I feel the need to chime in with my forty-two cents.

So stay tuned for some movie reviews!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Susan Beth Pfeffer Interview

Susan Beth Pfeffer, author of This World We Live In (review here), was nice enough to take time from her day to answer a few questions.

Library Dad - I liked how This World We Live In fit into the post-apocalyptic genre. What made you choose a world in ruin as your background for this story?

Susan Beth Pfeffer - I like disaster stories and there's something so interesting about the end of the world. I have no ability to write what I call leaping the lava stories (where the hero bravely leaps over a lava flow roughly the width of the Hudson River). What I'm good at is exploring family dynamics. So I decided to see what would happen to a family under the worst possible situation.

It turned out I love ending the world. This World We Live In is something of a sequel to two different books, Life As We Knew It and The Dead And The Gone. Both books deal with the immediate aftermath of the same worldwide catastrophe. In This World We Live In, the characters meet each other. The focus in all three books is simple everyday survival. Not just physical survival, but coping with emotional loss as well.

LD - Do you feel comfortable being placed in the same category as other post-apocalyptic authors like Richard Matheson, S. M. Stirling, and Steven R. Boyett?

SBP - When I wrote Life As We Knew It, I thought of it as a family problem novel, with a really really big problem. After it got shortlisted for the Andre Norton Award, I discovered it was science fiction. Since then I've learned it's post-apocalyptic. It is a tribute to my lack of knowledge of the field that I still can't spell apocalyptic.

LD - What's your favorite part of a typical day?

SBP - I have a kitten named Scooter who'll be a year old in February. Every morning around 7, he wakes up and plays what I call Purr On The Neck. He climbs on my face (sometimes he yanks my hair), and purrs ecstatically. Purr On The Neck can last for as long as ten minutes (at which point he tends to start playing Bite The Hand That Should Be Feeding Me).

I've had cats my entire adult life, but Scooter is the only one who's ever done this. It's our morning ritual. There's something quite luxurious about having a kitten proclaim how thrilled he is to be waking up with me.

LD - What's the simplest thing you never learned to do? Whistle? Skip? Ride a bike?

SBP - I'm not sure I remember how I learned to whistle (I'm an excellent whistler by the way, although I can't carry a tune when I sing), but I do remember being taught how to skip (by my brother) and how to tie shoelaces (by my mother). Both times I was stunned that I could actually master such complex tasks.

I never did manage bike riding though. I will never understand why grownups can't ride tricycles.

LD - What accomplishment are you most proud of?

SBP - I really don't like doing things for people. I don't like being asked to do a favor (and I try very hard not to ask other people to do favors for me).

Many many many years ago, a friend of mine asked me to go to a fast food place that was selling different Looney Tune glasses each week. For some reason she couldn't get there.

I did her the favor and I didn't resent doing it.

I remain very proud of myself for not feeling put upon.

LD - Who is the most under-appreciated author you know?

SBP - I have no idea.

I mostly read non-fiction. But I do have a real fondness for domestic thrillers from approximately 1950-1975. Husbands murdering wives. Wives murdering husbands. Perfectly ordinary people doing heinous things (or knowing someone doing heinous things).

It could be that entire genre is under-appreciated.

Thanks again to Sue for her time and answers!

Monday, January 25, 2010

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer (review)

Title: This World We Live In
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Illustrator: N/A
PDF Pages: 257
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: F Pfe
ISBN: 978-0-547-24804-2
Kindle Cost: $1.65 (for conversion from NetGalley to Kindle)

The main character in this novel is a young woman named Miranda. She keeps a journal (or diary if you like) of the events of her life over the span of a few months. And it is quite a depressing life indeed.

But let's back up a little. The main setting is rural Pennsylvania, but it is not the world as we know it. Instead it is a post-apocalyptic world where an asteroid hits the moon causing it to orbit closer to the earth. Which in turn plays havoc on the weather. You can imagine what would happen from there, but Pfeffer puts most of this global catastrophe in the background. It plays a role in the setting and the hardship the characters live in, but the characters drive this story from start to finish.

From there, we have the genre to consider. While not exactly obvious from the blurbs seen around town, this is most certainly a young-adult novel. And while Miranda is legally an adult, she comes across as a very young teenager instead. As a middle-aged guy, it was hard to identify with her without going back to a middle school mindset and thinking about the girls I knew back then.

Despite the genre not being my primary choice, it did work for me in the post-apocalyptic genre. It did a great job conveying the emotional toll that I'd expect to see after a disaster. And it was this emotion that is rarely seen in other post-apocalyptic stories.

And all that emotion gets depressing. As the reader follows Miranda through her life in a wet and cold hell, we learn that she lives with her controlling mother and two brothers. The family grows through marriage and reunions with lost family members but it also shrinks through death and other natural disasters. What Miranda is looking for in life is not clear, but she and the rest of the people certainly do their best to survive.

All in all, this was a good read for the post-apocalyptic genre as it added the proverbial "woman's touch" as well as emotional depth. How it measures up to other young adult books, I do not know. But I would assume it could hold its own.

One side note. I discovered after reading this book that it was actually the third book in a series. While it is unclear what the name of the trilogy is here in the States, it looks like our UK readers call it The Last Survivors trilogy. Book one is Life as we Knew It and book two is The Dead and the Gone.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dusty Higgins and Van Jensen - A Joint Interview

Joining us today for our first interview of 2010, we have Dusty Higgins and Van Jensen, creators, artists, and writers behind the graphic novel Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer.

LibraryDad: How on Earth did you come up with the idea for a vampire killer in the body of a wooden puppet?

Van Jensen: I'll let Dusty tackle this one, since he came up with the idea.

Dusty Higgins: I sketch a lot just to keep those creative muscles going. It all started with a sketch that got way out of control. That and I've got a weird sense of humor.

LD: How long did it take to write and illustrate the book?

VJ: First we had to talk through the story and get an outline we were both happy with. From there, the scripting took me a few weeks. Then we continued to tweak things until right before it was sent to the printer.

DH: It's hard to say exactly because I juggle a lot of projects around at once, but it was about a year from when we first said "Hey, let's do this" to when we said, "Whoa, we actually finished that."

LD: Are you two working on another another Pinocchio book or some other project?

VJ: I've completed the script to Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer 2 and Dusty is started illustrating it. We can't say much about the story yet, but if you like the first, you'll love the second. Beyond that, I have a handful of my own writing projects that are on the way, including three graphic novels with other illustrators.

DH: I've started the pages for Pinocchio II, and I'm sure we'll be posting some updates on the second book on the Web site in the coming weeks. I'm also working on another project with Ron Wolfe called "Knight of the Living Dead."

LD: Did growing up in the mid-west (Nebraska and Arkansas) make it harder to get the book published? Or did you find a stronger following because of it?*

VJ: The key to getting the book published was finding the right publisher and sending them a good pitch. There are a lot of qualities I think one gains from living in the Midwest, with work ethic being atop that list. But there wasn't anything in my background that really related. I think it helped that I had worked in the comics industry before, and so I knew what publishers were looking for.

DH: I hadn't really thought about it. I think it's the idea and the quality of the work being done that sells the book more than mine or Van's location. The internet has helped a lot in getting the word out on the book. I think that makes location irrelevant. It is kind of nice being considered one of a handful of comic book artists in Arkansas.

LD: What was the best part of working on Pinocchio?

VJ: Definitely seeing pages as Dusty sent them over. It was a fun book to write, and I tried to script as much fun stuff for Dusty to draw as possible. And he always exceeded expectations.

DH: The characters we have, hands down. Be it the ones we created, or the ones we've pulled from the original Pinocchio. They were really fun to work with. It all started with Pinocchio, but some of my favorite characters to draw ended up being Canpanella, the blue fairy, as well as the Fox and the Cat.

LD: What's the least glamorous thing you do in the line of duty?

VJ: I work on the side for the publisher Top Shelf, and often my job is to help out packing boxes in the warehouse. Not very glamorous!

DH: As much as I enjoy it, I wouldn't exactly call drawing comics glamorous. It's a lot of long hours and late nights spent hunched over the drawing board. It can be fun and rewarding but it takes as much as it gives... none of it's glamorous.

LD: What skill would you most like to improve?

VJ: I'm always working on my writing, but one thing I've been focusing on lately is art. I grew up drawing and wanted to illustrate comics as a career. After spending the past decade working as a writer, I'm finally picking up the drawing board again. Unfortunately, my skills are pretty rusty.

DH: My first inclination is to say drawing, but I'm constantly finding new styles I enjoy, and I'll probably never be satisfied with that. Same for my writing. Perhaps my ability to network with people... it's really important nowadys, and I suck at it.

LD: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

VJ: I've been working toward having a book published for the past five years, so to finally have it happen is really rewarding. The most enjoyable part is definitely talking with fans.

DH: I'm proud of finishing a 128-page graphic novel, it was a big achievement. I do feel like my first child, coming in June (sorry, not available in stores), will be an accomplishment I'll be much more proud of.

LD: What keeps you up at night?

VJ: Besides vampires? Usually deadlines.

DH: Assignments... and video games (when the assignments are finished, of course).

LD: Who is the most under-appreciated author you know?

VJ: I'm not sure people realize just how good Rob Venditti is. His two Surrogates graphic novels are the best science fiction I've read in the past decade. He has two big books coming up this year in the thriller Homeland Directive and a graphic novel adaptation of The Lightning Thief, though, so he'll be plenty appreciated soon.

DH: I don't know if he should be described as an author, but I think Ben Caldwell is really under-appreciated as a comic book artist. He does some amazing work and his Wonder Woman for Wednesday Comics was phenomenal. His forms have this terrific feeling of action and movement. I'm surprised he hasn't been asked to do more work in the industry (although maybe he has and has just been turning people down, I don't know).

*I know this sounds like an odd question, but it was actually the Nebraska connection that made me want to read Pinocchio. My father's side of the family comes from central Nebraska so I always have my ears on for authors coming from the region.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer by Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins (review)

Title: Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer
Author: Van Jensen
Illustrator: Dusty Higgins
Pages: about 120
Genre: Graphic Novel
Dewey Decimal: YP GN Jen
ISBN: 978-1-59362-176-6

This is not the Pinocchio I knew as a kid, that is for certain. The Pinocchio I knew was the soft, lovable, Disney version that I am sure most people are familiar with.

Jensen and Higgins give you a much more hard-core Pinocchio that would kick the ass of any other Pinocchio out there. This dude could probably kick my ass. Thankfully he stays on the page and kills vampires.

And that is essentially what you get when you read this short graphic novel. The artwork is very dark (it is black and white, but it has a very noir feel to it) but it fits the mood of the story. Pinocchio is mad at the vampires and he is intent on making them pay. And they do.

One thing to keep in mind when you read this is the humor. Sure, it is a dark story in some places and even a bit sad, but the humor is awesome. Sometimes light and airy, sometimes dry and witty, the humor really makes this book a killer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reading News Roundup

New Releases

Brunonia Barry, author of the Lace Reader (review), has another novel called The Map of True Places coming out in May.
A wild child after her mother takes her own life, Zee Finch grows up to become a highly regarded psychotherapist. Then a particularly difficult patient commits suicide. Barry's The Lace Reader was, of course, a huge hit last year, but this book feels quite different, so let's see what happens. With a one-day laydown on May 4; 250,000-copy first printing, seven-city tour, and reading group guide.
- via Library Journal

I'm no zombie fan, but James Knapp's upcoming State of Decay sounds like it puts an interesting spin on the genre.
- via Library Journal

While urban fantasy also ranks low on my genre preferences meter, I would have expected to at least be familiar with the author's name. Alas Simon R. Green appears to have snuck in under the radar with his Nightside series. And it sounds oddly like a mix of Alex Bledsoe and Anton Strout. And debut author N. K. Jemisin gets a starred review for her new book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I like it when the new kid on the block gets a starred review. Connie Willis revisits the world of her previous novels (The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog) with her newest book, Blackout. This is one author and series that I really, really want to try out again. I just could not get into To Say Nothing of the Dog on my first try.
- via Library Journal
- via Suvudu

I highly doubt I will ever read Laura Resnik's Dopplegangster: An Esther Diamond Novel book, but how can I pass up a mention? I mean, Dopplegangster? It's just so much fun to type.
- via Library Journal

Alexandra Potter has a time-travel book, The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather, coming in March that sounds a bit like a romance novel. I love time-travel, but I think I'll have my wife read this one first.
- via Library Journal

Steve Stirling (or S. M. Stirling if you prefer) is chugging away on his latest novel, A Taint in the Blood. For me, this urban fantasy is a big departure from his usual science-fiction/fantasy works. You can check out the first eight chapters of it here.


Rabbit and Bear Paws, one of the most under-appreciated comics out there, is running a coloring contest for kids. Click here for more info.


What's this? Brandon Sanderson has a movie option for Mistborn? Wowowowowow!


Uber-author Pat Rothfuss sums up my feelings on Firefly being canceled with this simple quote:
Six years later I'm still pissed. I'll probably be pissed about Firefly until the day I die.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (review)

Title: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Author: Benjamin Franklin
Illustrator: N/A
Kindle Locations: 2,513
Genre: Biography
Dewey Decimal: Bio Fra
Kindle Cost: Free

To put this book into perspective, let me quote my doctor who recently surprised me with his familiarity with Ben Franklin.

"He's full of himself, isn't he?"

Yep, that pretty much sums up this entire book, but keep in mind that it is an auto-biography. Which means it is written with a very obvious slant to how things have happened. But I expected that going into it and was not caught off guard.

What was surprising to me were the number of ideas and projects that Franklin was involved in. Again, I am sure he may have exageratted his involvement to some degree (intentionally or not), but everything from public works projects to science experiments kept me reading.

And then he has the whole section on self improvement and eating a vegitartion diet. I never new he was a vegetarian for a time. I knew he worked on his bad habits and tried to improve himself as a person, but never knew he went without meat.
These names of virtues, with their precepts, were: 1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. 2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. 3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. 4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. 5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing. 6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. 7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. 8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. 9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. 10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation. 11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. 12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation. 13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
What I really missed reading about were his nocturnal exploits. As a kid, I was always taught Franklin was the guy with a kite in a lighting storm. It was in college that I learned Franklin was a dirty old man and liked to get in the sack with the ladies. But alas, that was not in my edition, and I frankly doubt he would write something so shocking in there anyway.

In the end, it was an interesting account of part of Franklin's life, but clearly was not the whole story. I would recommend starting your Franklin research here, but by no means will this cover every detail you need to get the true picture.
And, indeed, if it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means. It has already annihilated all the tribes who formerly inhabited the sea-coast.