Sunday, March 29, 2015

March Book Reviews - Warm Bodies, The Sculptor, Shutter, The Girl With All The Gifts, The Midas Flesh, Leaving Time

This month, my chosen books were an eclectic mix. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, Shutter by Courtney Alameda, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey, The Midas Flesh by Ryan North, Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and Tenth of December by George Saunders.

Of course, my to-read list grows every day, with new, fantastic books slated for release, as well as classics I haven't gotten around to yet. And I don't think I'll ever reach the end of it. This is at once discouraging and exciting. On to the reviews!

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

This modern-day fable, about art and love and the high cost of passion, is just lovely. When David Smith, a down-on-his-luck sculptor, meets Death in a diner one day, he tells Death that he would give anything for his art. Death takes him at his word, and gives David the ability to shape anything with his bare hands, in exchange for his own life 200 days later. David agrees, and so begins a frenetic six months, full of creation and despair and a fatal deadline that looms ever closer with each passing page.

In those 200 days, David creates some of the most profound works of his life, but he struggles to find validation in the world of fine art. He also meets a girl and falls in love -- real, vulnerable, messy love. And as the end of his gifted powers and his shortened life  race toward him, he begins to realize how much he really has to lose.

I loved this book for a few very specific things:

1. As a visual artist, I'm floored by the art in this book. Every page is just oozing with gorgeous depictions of New York, and tiny moments of beauty that are found in David's everyday life. Also, as David nears the end of his allotted time, small detailed panels flash by, granting the reader a real sense of urgency. Gorgeous splash panels draw the reader in from the beginning. Just brilliant art all around.

2. As someone who has intimate knowledge of mental illness, I so appreciate McCloud's portrayal of clinical depression and bipolar disorder. These illnesses are real, visceral, and so so difficult, and works like McCloud's help to break through the stigma surrounding them. Thank you, Scott McCloud, for writing these struggling characters with such empathy.

3. As a writer of speculative fiction, I love the narrative style. Giving the reader an otherworldy glimpse at the beginning -- an enigmatic taste as an unknown girl looks out at the viewer -- just a few thought-provoking images to whet the reader's interest -- and then at the end, these images come full circle, to bring a wholeness of meaning and context to David's story.

And yes. I cried at the end. Sobbed actually. So there.

Highly recommended.

Warnings on: prevalent language, sexual situations, mature themes.

Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Alameda's debut novel, Shutter follows the four or five days following Micheline Helsing's infection with an ancient evil called a soul chain. Micheline is a tetrochromat, a person born with the ability to see auras around paranormal creatures. She and her team, Oliver Stoker, Ryder, and Jude, hunt these creatures. But this week, they're the ones being hunted.

Okay, I first heard about this book last year at WIFYR. Courtney stood up to introduce her agent, John Cusick (who is a lovely person, btw), and mentioned Shutter, which would be debuting in a few months. The moment I saw the cover, I was drawn into the concept of this story. Look at this cover art. Isn't it so good? I mean, really. Geez.

This book reads like a high-budget horror movie. And I mean that in a good way. I could see everything playing out on the silver screen. Pacing, atmosphere, characterization: it's all tailor made for film. If this book isn't optioned soon, I'll be very surprised. The world building here is absolutely stunning. It does take a bit to get the mythos in place (which isn't surprising, considering how detailed it is), and there are a few info dumps, but really, once it's all there. Wow.

Can I just say I'm glad I don't live in this world? It's terrifying. I've never had to stop reading a creepy YA novel before, but around 3am one night, I had to put Shutter down and wait until daylight. That's probably the best compliment Courtney Alameda could receive.

For any lovers of horror, thriller, and monster fiction, Shutter comes highly recommended. Sensitive readers, beware.

Warnings on: language, violence, gore, general ickiness.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

I read several Picoult novels (Harvesting the Heart, The Pact, My Sister's Keeper, Nineteen Minutes), years ago at the recommendation of a work colleague. For reasons I'll not go into now, I decided I probably wouldn't read another Picoult novel. Then I started hearing a buzz about Leaving Time. Authors that I admire and follow were tweeting about it, so I decided to take a chance. And I'm so glad I did.

For one thing, I love elephants. LOVE them. I find them fascinating, I through my own amateur research, know quite a bit about them. So I was very happy to find elephants prevalent in Leaving Time. Other than that, I don't want to give away much, so I'll just say that Picoult's novel combines: elephants, zoologists, a teen trying to solve a murder, a psychic, a detective, and portrayals of mental illness. All of this is woven into a highly-satisfying tale of mystery, love, and loss.

If you decide to read this book, I would suggest going into it blind. Don't read any reviews, so as not to be accidentally spoiled by some spoilerific spoiler. You really just want to let the story unfold naturally and go along for the ride.

Highly recommended.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

I found this book through a bookseller recommendation at Changing Hands in Tempe.  I would have to agree. Also, Joss Whedon blurbed The Girl With All The Gifts, and his blurb was enough right there for me to pick up the book and read it.

Told in alternating PoVs, The Girl With All The Gifts is beautiful and sweet and horrifying and altogether wonderful. It explores the ins and outs of what it really means to be human and I really can't gush enough about it. It's EXTREMELY difficult to review this book without giving away important things that should be revealed naturally in the narrative, so I'll just say that I'm still thinking about it two weeks later.

If you read this, please please message me so we can talk about it. There's so much I wish I could say, but to do so would compromise the thrill you'll experience by allowing it to all unfold by itself.

HIGHLY recommended.

Warnings on: language, violence, gore, sexual situations.

The Midas Flesh by Ryan North - with art by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb

I ran across this Vol. 1 edition at Changing Hands. It collects the first four issues of the sci-fi adventure steeped in mythology.

Wow. I mean, wow. The cover, pictured here, complete with gold-foil fingerprints, is enough to jump off the shelf into my hands. But the fact that it's made by the creative team behind the Adventure Time comic? That seals the deal.

An intrepid crew of three (1 dinosaur, 1 self-possessed female captain, 1 female pilot in a hajib), pursued by the oppressive Federation, find the object of their quest: a planet completely covered in gold. They've discovered a super-weapon, and just in time.

The art is fantastic. The characterization is (not surprisingly) fantastic. The narrative, dialogue, and pacing? Fantastic.

Again, I don't want to give anything much away. It's exciting, touching, funny, and surprising. Everything you would expect from this team.

Looking for a new graphic novel? Read The Midas Flesh.

Highly recommended.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Here's another party to which I am late. But I've finally arrived, and boy, what a great party.

I saw the movie first. The movie is cute. It's charming. If you didn't like it for some reason (that reason being something other than you don't like zombie stuff), don't let that turn you off from trying the book.

Here's the official synopsis:

R is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he is a little different from his fellow Dead. He may occasionally eat people, but he’d rather be riding abandoned airport escalators, listening to Sinatra in the cozy 747 he calls home, or collecting souvenirs from the ruins of civilization. 

And then he meets a girl. 

First as his captive, then his reluctant house guest, Julie is a blast of living color in R’s gray landscape, and something inside him begins to bloom. He doesn’t want to eat this girl—although she looks delicious—he wants to protect her. But their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.

What the synopsis doesn't hint is how well-written this book is. The prose is beautiful. And the background to the zombie plague is surprising and rather wonderful. There's a depth to this world that isn't portrayed in the film. Besides being a captivating rendition of Romeo and Juliet, Warm Bodies also has this going for it: R is a modern Frankenstein's monster, and I haven't met a monster written with such empathy in a long time. It's a beautiful world we live in, and R reminds us of that.

Highly recommended.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations, violence, gore.

Tenth of December by George Saunders

This collection of short stories is a real gem. I do not say that lightly. George Saunders is a master of voice.

HIGHLY recommended.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations, violence.

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