Sunday, February 24, 2013

Warm Bodies: Hot Book, Cold Movie

Movie adaptation covers make me stabby.
 The husband and I saw the movie adaptation of Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion over the weekend. I had read the book and he had not. We both walked away from the movie unimpressed and feeling a little bit cheated. My husband has been listening to me rave about the book for the last month and I am still very pleasantly surprised by how clever, wry, and insightful the book is. I'm honestly completely exhausted by zombies showing up all in my literature and television... Zombies are overdone. If an outbreak actually happened, I would just let them eat me for no other reason than to save myself from a world where I had to think zombies 24 hours a day.

Zombies all up in my junk all the time also make me stabby.
I knew I would have to read Warm Bodies eventually. First, I'm doing a page to screen program at my library in a couple of weeks. Second, a lot of my work at the library focuses on young adult literature. While I know that Marion doesn't consider Warm Bodies a YA novel, and the book is not technically marketed as one, it has a lot of crossover potential that I have seen realized with the teen demographic constantly checking this book out.

 So, I ordered Warm Bodies on my nook, read the heck out of it, and am still glowing over the complete satisfaction I got from reading it. Warm Bodies is a loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. R (a zombie) falls in love with Julie (not a zombie) after eating her boyfriend's brain. He begins a reverse zombification process and after several hi jinx, the two set off to let the world know that zombies are changing. The incredible charm of Warm Bodies comes from R's inner narrative. He's witty and fun, smart and sentimental, caring and conscientious, but can't articulate any of it because he's, uh, dead. Readers can take this at face value, or apply it to the idea that we're all zombies on the inside, looking for a way to stand out and make a difference. Whether you choose the pleasure or academic route for reading Warm Bodies is up to you. Marion makes either path worth the journey.

The red path is obviously soaked in the blood of zombie victims.
The movie however, fell flat. After reading the book, I was antsy for the movie. I watched the first four minutes or so on and was really pleasantly surprised by how well adapted those four minutes were. R's narrative is so internal. It's easy to convey thoughts in a book, but I was wondering how a movie would do the same. Well... it just didn't. R's voice overs dropped off after the first half hour or so. The book has a lot of interaction between R and a dream version of Julie's boyfriend, Perry, where actually see R changing. These exchanges allow for us to learn more about R and Julie, and Perry - a pretty significant character. But Perry is all but erased from the movie and we don't learn much of anything about R's transformation except that it happens. The movie was obviously tailored for the Twilight demographic. Teresa Palmer, who is adorable in her own right, even looks like a blonde Kristin Stewart.

Dammit, this is why we can't have nice things.
I usually like a book better than a movie adaptation, but this one let me down since the beginning was so promising. I'll continue to talk up Marion's book because it really is wonderful. As for the movie, wait for Netflix.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Teeny Tiny YA Book Club

One of the responsibilities of my job at the library is running a young adult book club. We had our introductory meeting in January, and in my head, I imagined a couple dozen teenagers showing up, ready to read. In my fantasy vision, we all busted into this awesome dance party because we loved books so much.
I wish this was my life all the time.
Needless to say, this vision did not come to pass. At the first meeting, two teens showed up and we had an awkward conversation about what they liked to read and what they wanted out of a book club. All of the snacks and soda I bought went unopened. I was discouraged, but my library is a small one and maybe kids just don't have time for this stuff during the school year.

I pushed the heck out of the first book club pick, The Maze Runner by James Dasher, and I held the book club's second meeting this past Tuesday. One lonely student showed up, but at least she had enough enthusiasm for 10 kids and between myself, this awesomely overexcited kid, and a library coworker, we had a really good conversation about The Maze Runner and books in general.

I would still like to have a bigger book club. I know there are teens who come to my library who read voraciously - I've helped them pick out books. I know there are teens who come in who would like book club a lot, but who are too shy or too cool to join. I'm not sure how to reach them. Hopefully, with time, and a good book selection, more kids will show up. Surprisingly, the lure of free food has not been working.
Isn't this how teenagers operate? I don't know anymore because I'm old.
But speaking of book selection, I think the one mistake I did make and will be careful not to repeat is that I picked a book that I was not invested in. I picked The Maze Runner for bad reasons. I picked it because it was gender neutral. I picked it because it was safe in terms of subject matter. I picked it thinking it might draw fans of The Hunger Games. I did not pick it because it was well written (which it is not) or because I liked it (which I really don't). Big mistake. It's hard to get excited for a book that you don't particularly like.

The Maze Runner is a whole bunch of neat dystopian... uh, stuff? Scenarios? Ideas? without any solid foundation. I feel like Dashner came up with a series of neat sounding scenarios for kids to be trapped in, but didn't bother to build a world to support those scenarios. The plot holes are tremendous. For example, in the world of The Maze Runner, humanity has been decimated by a disease called the Flare. A shadowy organization takes all the kids immune to the Flare and sets them up in dangerous situations where roughly 50% of them die, so they can weed out the strongest and smartest. Um. Wait... what? Wouldn't it make more sense to research and cultivate this immunity to maybe, uh... cure everyone else? That idea is never really addressed, among many others.

Kittens and shirtless Hugh Jackman all in one post. You're welcome.
At any rate, I need to trust that these few kids who are interested in book club will be able to tell a crap book from a good one. I need to really examine the difference between bad books and books I don't like. And while breaking out into song and dance over our love of books would be awesome (and completely weird), I will be a happily available resource at my library for all teens who come in to check out books. And, I will remember that I was a teenager once too and probably wouldn't have joined a book club either.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Dresden Files: White Night

I want to like The Dresden Files so much.

I do like aspects of this series... Harry Dresden has grown on me some. I still find his stubbornness insufferable at times. I feel like he hates certain people for no other reason than spite at this point, like Marcone, who has done far more good than bad for Chicago. I still think Murphy is pretty great and Bob makes me laugh.

I like Bob, but he needs to tell more poop jokes.
But... there's just something missing from this series. The Dresden Files have much potential. Butcher's world building and magic system are both solid and intriguing, if not always original. But I feel like there's so much more he could be doing with this world he has created. The series is a long Dungeons and Dragons campaign where the world only exists for the main characters to react to, but not necessarily interact with.That was especially evident in this book.

Yeah, I know big things are brewing in Dresden's world. But how long will it all take? How much time should one invest in a series until "it gets better." I feel like Butcher is stringing us along with installment after installment where a lot happens physically, but the plot doesn't particularly move forward by more than a few inches. There's a difference between what happens in a book/series and what a book/series is about.

Llamacorns. The Dresden Files is about llamacorns.
 Nine books into The Dresden Files, I'm still not sure what this series is about. That's a structural problem. I can tell anyone who Harry Fights and the outcomes of each fight, who Harry likes, who he hates, what happens in each book... but where is it all going? There's always a lot of yelling and fighting, deal making and deal breaking, destruction, and some death, but no emotion behind any of it. The best way I can describe this series is like running on a treadmill compared jogging from an actual point A to point B, or eating a nutrition supplement instead of real food. Muscles still get worked, nutrients enter the bloodstream, but to what purpose?

What are you, a lobotomy patient? No you cannot haz Fifty Shades of Gray.
I will probably finish this series simply because my husband likes it so much, but life is too short to read bad or uninteresting books.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Apex Book of World Sci-Fi vol. 2

First, this is fair warning that this post may be a little loopy. I had a tooth pulled today and have been eating Vicodin like candy. I'd never had a tooth pulled and I learned a valuable lesson. I will never again compare finishing an awful book to pulling teeth because there is no book on this planet that is worse than having a molar ripped out of your mouth.

Not even this book, which I admit with reluctance. 
About a year and a half ago, I joined a science fiction and fantasy book club through a branch of my local library. Not only am I finding and reading books that I never would have picked up (or even known existed) on my own, but I have made a group of lifelong friends who are wonderfully, unapologetically, as nerdy (and usually more so) than I am. If you take nothing else away from this post, take this: Get thee to a book club.

Our February pick was a little different than usual. Instead of a novel, we decided on an anthology - the Apex Book of World Science Fiction, vol. 2, edited by Lavie Tidhar. I'm not usually a fan of short story collections, even those with a shared universe. I succumb to book hangover too easily - that feeling of despair when you finish a great book and realize that your time with those characters is over. I usually need a day or three to recover before I can pick up another book. So, you see my problem with an anthology - lots of little hangovers in one book.

This is a picture of me after finishing The Magician King by Lev Grossman.
Despite this problem, I had a lot of fun with the Apex anthology. Tidhar selected a very nice variety of narratives, each offering something a little different. Not a single story bored me, and there are several that will stick in my mind for a very long time.

The one selection that stood out the most, that I am still thinking on a couple of weeks later is "The Secret Origin of Spin-Man" by Andrew Drilon. This is the story of a pair of Filipino brothers obsessed with comic books and enthralled by their uncle who lives in America and works for a small comics publisher. Together, they create Spin-Man, but not in any sort of traditional brainstorm sort of way. I loved this story because it spoke to my own childhood. The author and I are of similar age, and his 80s and 90s comics references were ones I understood. The narrative also takes a very unexpected turn. I love a story that can surprise me. Out of all the authors in this anthology, Drilon is the one whose work I will most likely pursue.

You watched this for the Rogue/Gambit relationship drama. Don't lie, sugah.
Other standouts were, “The Sound of Breaking Glass” by Joyce Chng (about an old man who hung polished glass chimes all through his house and grounds for the fairies), “Hungry Man” by Will Elliott (one of the most horrifying tales I have ever read), and “Zombie Lenin” by Ekaterina Sedia (which is not quite a zombie story at all).

There were a lot of other selections that were also pretty great. As I said, I enjoyed this anthology as a whole. This was world sci-fi, with themes and tropes that are not always native to American or first world science fiction. For example, while first world sci-fi tends toward the brave exploration of new lands, authors from other, more impoverished nations write more about survival and adaptation either in colonized lands or failed expeditions. I also felt that many of these stories were more character than plot driven, where most of the American sci-fi I have read is the opposite. This anthology made me reexamine just how ethnocentric/geocentric I really was (and we all are to an extent - truly understanding life from any perspective other than the one you know is difficult). So, not only did I discover a whole new bunch of authors, I got to learn a few things about myself as well.

You mean, there's more to the world than the kitchen and litter box?!
For those of you who like a good anthology, I recommend picking this one up. Even if you're not a big old science fiction nerd, there's some good stuff in here well worth reading.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Of Shakespeare and Dresden

Bam! Another book of The Dresden Files under my belt. I didn't like Proven Guilty quite as much as Dead Beat, but writing a reanimated T-Rex rampaging through the streets of Chicago has to be some sort of author-ly peak. I felt the same way after reading Gateways by F. Paul Wilson. The Repairman Jack/Adversary Cycle series never quite had a moment as awesome as when Oyv the Chihuahua chewed his way out of a mutant alligator in book seven.

Read these books. Read them and love them.
But back to Dresden. I was discussing the series with a friend who has read all of The Dresden Files through Cold Days, and he compared the books to acts, claiming that if there will really be roughly 30 books in the series (as Butcher has planned), then Proven Guilty concludes Act I.

I already had Shakespeare on the brain from watching Shakespeare Uncovered, so I thought about this for a while. I came to the conclusion that maybe I have been looking at The Dresden Files all wrong, and that maybe I should have more faith in Jim Butcher as an author, and trust that the issues I have with Harry Dresden will resolve themselves in the grand scheme of things.

In Shakespeare's tragedies especially, something momentous happens at the end of each act. There are usually five acts in a Shakespeare tragedy and the end of the third act is the major turning point in the play - i.e. where something so irreversible happens that there's nothing the protagonist can do except ride out the consequences of his or her actions. Romeo kills Tybalt in the third act, Hamlet kills Polonius in the third act, Antony dies in the third act, Regan and Edmund gouge out Gloucester's eyes in the third act, Titus Andronicus cuts off his own hand in the third act, etc.

Anthony Hopkins makes this pie at the end of the movie Titus. Guess what's inside of it?
So, if I look at The Dresden Files in terms of acts in a tragedy, I find I'm better able to appreciate the series. Instead of Harry simply having one improbable adventure after another, each new installment seems to be adding up to something big, something greater than the sum of its parts. That being said, I feel like I finished Act II with Proven Guilty as opposed to Act I. I would argue that Act I ended with Dresden setting fire to a whole bunch of Red Court vampires, kicking off the war between the Red Court and the White Council. Proven Guilty ends Act II with Dresden pissing off the Merlin (head of the White Council), taking a giant magical dump on the capital of the Winter fey, and realizing that there is some sort of shadow organization that has been making everyone's lives hell since the first book in the series.

Thank you, Allie Brosh, for creating the original "all the things" meme.
 Modern literature doesn't really fall under the categories of tragedy or comedy as easily as Shakespeare's plays. While I don't know how The Dresden Files will play out, many not so subtle hints in the series point to some seriously dark times ahead for Harry and company. Maybe I'm a literary masochist, but I love a good tragedy. With this new long range outlook on The Dresden Files, I can safely say that I'm in it with Harry for the long haul, for better or worse.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Shakespeare Uncovered

Hey, hey, ladies.
 This isn't really a book review, but a few words on a television show about Shakespeare, who the vast majority of us have had to read at one point in our lives. So, the PBS program Shakespeare Uncovered, counts as a book right?

I wasn't one of those people who had to read Shakespeare. I wanted to read him. Twelfth Night was my first Shakespeare play in the 10th grade and I was lucky enough to have a teacher who made it fun, as it should be since it's a comedy. I hated Macbeth in 11th grade, but loved the idea of divine order. To me, Macbeth wasn't so much a story of power lust and revenge as it was a lesson in what would happen to you if you upset the delicate balance set down by divine forces. Macbeth kills Duncan and then the horses start eating each other for crying out loud. Horses just don't roll that way. Macbeth has since become one of my favorites.

And Duncan's horses started eating each other. Again.

In 12th grade, I was enthralled by Hamlet. I still am. I always will be. The first time I read it, I didn't know how it ended. I was mesmerized. I sped through it while most of the rest of my class got frustrated. I became obsessed with the idea of the supernatural in Hamlet, and have mentally placed it in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy for a long time. In fact, I see a lot of Shakespeare's plays that way - Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, and most obviously, The Tempest. I will forever love Kenneth Branaugh's four hour Hamlet. It's slick and sexy without taking away from the original text. However, I would advise everyone to stay away from the Mel Gibson and Ethan Hawke productions. Mel Gibson's Hamlet is heavy handed and self serving. Ethan Hawke's edition s also self serving and oh so very whiny. Even though I know the story backward and forward by heart, I was really hoping Claudius would just murder the little stink pot in the first act. Not even Bill Murray as Polonius could save the movie. Ugh.

Contrary to popular belief, not everything Bill Murray does is awesome.
Anyway, my husband found this amazing mini-series on PBS called Shakespeare Uncovered. Every episode features a different Shakespeare play with an actor, famous for being in said play, interviewing other actors and directors who have also worked on said play at one time or another. I've seen two episodes so far - Richard II with Derek Jacobi (who killed it as Claudius in Branaugh's Hamlet - heh heh) and Henry IV parts I and II with Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston.

Once more into the breach, my minions! P.S. I know that misappropriated quote is from Henry V, but whatevs. Just look at the Hiddles.
If you love Shakespeare, do yourself a favor and get your eyeballs on Shakespeare Uncovered. Watching different actors take on the same role within each play is incredibly fascinating. The series is like an extended version of the Al Pacino documentary, Looking for Richard. The next episode airs tonight, February 8th, and features David Tennant discussing Hamlet. Even though I'm not a fan of Doctor Who, I'm still really looking forward to checking out this episode.

You've lost some weight, Rose.
I don't care how cliche or trite it sounds - Shakespeare will always be one of my first and greatest loves. I even create dream casts in my head and would kill to see a production of Othello with Michael Emerson as Iago or The Tempest with Michael Caine as Prospero.

Who am I kidding? I would pay to see a production of Michael Emerson reading the phone book.
Shakespeare's stories are timeless. I truly believe that. They focus on love, grief, revenge, envy, regret, and poop and sex jokes, all of which humanity can commonly understand no matter the time or place.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Dresden Files: Dead Beat

My first several posts are going to be Dresden heavy. As I mentioned previously, my husband started listening to The Dresden Files on CD a few months ago and he's hooked. I started reading the series back in 2010 but gave up after the sixth book. A lot of things annoyed me about Jim Butcher's writing style and about Harry Dresden himself. For one thing, I got the impression that Dresden was just a voice box for Butcher, and I always find that annoying. All writers put some of themselves into the characters they create, but a good writer can hide that fact. Harry himself was (and still kind of is) obnoxiously sexist, and acknowledging as much in his inner monologue doesn't make his constant boob gazing any less annoying. Butcher writes a lot of stereotypes and a lot of times his dialogue is a little too cute. I'd like to slap Dresden every time he says "bite me" to a bad guy. Butcher is also too free with the deus ex machina...

Tell me again about how women are fragile, Jim But- I mean Harry Dresden.
*sigh* I could go on.

But The Dresden Files also have a lot of good going for them, so picking the series up again wasn't so hard. Butcher has created a pretty cool world with plausible rules for magic. I like the way he weaves faith and magic together. I like some of his secondary characters quite a bit, especially Karrin Murphy, head of Chicago's supernatural investigation team.

Red-headed Karrin Murphy.
Dead Beat, the seventh book in the series surprised me. Instead of just rushing to the end to find out what happened, I found myself enjoying the story quite a bit. We start with Harry getting blackmailed by Mavra - this really nasty high muckamuck of the vampire Black Court. Either Harry finds a book, The Word of Kemmler, or Mavra makes public pictures of Murphy murdering what appear to be regular people, but are really thralls of the black vampires.

Harry does some research, finds out that Kemmler was a seriously nasty wizard practicing black magic and necromancy right around WWII, and discovers that The Word of Kemmler is this guy's missing book detailing a spell that would make anyone who completed it a god among men. Of course, Harry isn't the only one who wants the book. Kemmler might be dead, but his disciples are also running around Chicago looking for the The Word. If Harry doesn't get his hands on the book first, not only will Murphy go to jail, but the world would be overrun by the most powerful black magic wizard in the history of time.

If Dresden ever fails at anything, this will happen to the world. In every book.
So goes the plot of every Dresden novel - Harry faces a problem that doesn't seem to have a solution, and hi-jinx ensue.  However, with this book, I was really entertained by the ensuing hi-jinx. Harry has grown as a character and Butcher has grown as a writer. Harry makes more mature decisions and finally learns that the world isn't cast in simple black and white. Harry is literally forced to make a deal with a devil toward the end and I'm really looking forward to seeing how that plays out in the rest of the series. Murphy is almost nonexistent in this installment, and I missed her. But instead, we get up close and personal with Waldo Butters - a polka obsessed medical examiner, who starts out as comic relief but becomes so much more. Also, Butcher's proverbial gun on the stage pays off big time... pun intended, for those of you in the know.

I read through this book in a couple of days and had a lot of fun with it. I still don't really buy the fact that Harry gets into as many scrapes as  does. Seriously, dude should learn to just stay home for a few months, or years. I still get a little annoyed with Harry's irreverence. But I like Harry a little more now, so I'm more willing to suspend my disbelief. I hope this new found goodwill lasts through the rest of the series.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Obligatory Welcome Post!

Hi! Welcome to Wizards and Rockets Reviews! All right, I think I've used up my exclamation point quota for at least the next five posts. But I am kind of excited to be writing a book blog.

There are few things I like more than reading, so when I was hired on as a full time reference assistant/teen librarian this past December, I felt like I landed my dream job. I get paid to help my community find answers to pressing questions and get their hands on sweet, sweet books for both research and entertainment. I also get to do my best to encourage the teens in my community to enjoy reading by running a YA book club (in addition to other programming), and adding books and graphic novels to my library's collection that I think they would enjoy. How cool is that?

Me going to work every day.
I figured that the next step would be to write about my reading experiences. About 95% of what I read is some form of sci-fi or fantasy, hence Wizards and Rockets. For example, I've recently re-entered the world of The Dresden Files after an almost two year hiatus. My husband discovered Harry Dresden's Chicago a few months ago and I'm reading along with him because I love book chats. I also can't let him finish a series before I do - he's not good at keeping spoilers to himself.

He was never, ever allowed to watch LOST without me.
I had given up on Dresden in the past because I found Butcher's work fairly mediocre. But in giving it a second chance, I'm having a hard time putting Dresden down to do things like shower, or sleep. I find that a lot of whether or not I like a book depends on mindset.  Maybe I'm in a better place to appreciate Dresden now than I was two years ago. Or maybe Butcher is evolving as a writer. More on that in the next post.

At any rate, I'm excited to start this blog and I'm excited for you to read it. I look forward to some excellent conversations and I hope you keep coming back. If you'll excuse me, I have about 100 pages left of Dead Beat, and there are only so many hours in a day...