Saturday, August 31, 2013

By Its Cover: Super Boys

Review: 'Super Boys: the Amazing Story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster' Returns to Comics' Original Sin Cover Image

You can't see it very well in the image, but the cover has that dotted fill you get in old comic books before they changed the printing method (yes, you still get it sometimes depending on who's printing your comics). Obviously, the cover (the framing, the sketchy - not "creepy" sketchy, but literally "looks like it was sketched" - Superman at the top, the dotted fill, the predecessor-to-Comic-Sans font on the subtitle) is meant to look like an old comic book.

The only thing I would change if I were any part of designing this cover is that I would give "Super Boys" a starburst like it's an onomatopoeia (you know, like "BLAST!" or "BANG!" or "ZOOM!") Though, come to think of it, that might be a little more Silver or Bronze Age than Golden.

I think the cover was well done.  I like the comic book feel that it had, that it was Superman without being all about Superman.  I think it's a fun, and bright, cover.  The cover is what originally led me to decide read it.

I think the thing I like most, however, is the city.  It could be Cleveland.  It could be Metropolis.  It manages to be every city, and no city, that is important in Siegel & Shuster's lives.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Review Me Twice: Super Boys by Brad Ricca

Review: 'Super Boys: the Amazing Story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster' Returns to Comics' Original Sin Cover Image

It's not that this wasn't an interesting book.  It was, I think, just too close to home for Ricca.  He basically spent ten years researching this book about the men who CREATED Superman.  I mean, that must be an interesting story, right?

But I was three fourths of the way through and only then getting to the things that really made the book interesting.  Things like, the battle for the rights to Superman or what actually happened to Jerry's father.  These are the things that you really wanted to know.  And while, yes, the book is going to be about Superman to a certain extent, it should have been MORE about Jerry & Joe.  Specifically Joe because I felt like I learned next to nothing about him.  It was very much the Jerry Show.

There were some interesting things in the book.  You got to see where characters like Lois Lane came from, the similarities between Clark Kent and Jerry (and Joe, to some extent.)  You see all the influences they had during the creation of Superman.  There are strong men, and athletes and all sorts of other things inspiring them.

While an informative book, it was kind of a disappointing one.

My Bottom Line 2 out of 5.

As I feel is demonstrated in the author photo we used on Monday, Brad Ricca is so dramatic. I understand that he is really into this story. He spent a decade researching it; he better be into it. And after a while, either the dramatic flair died down a little, or I got used to it.

The tone aside, I liked the story. But I disagree with Cassy on which part was interesting. I preferred the first part, about the young boys meeting each other and testing their abilities with their amateur projects in high school. Some of the later stuff caught my interest too, but the first hundred pages or so were my favorite.

I've never liked Superman ("classic superhero" is definitely not my genre) but knowing more about where he came from makes him a little more interesting.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Comic Book Eras

Did you know that the history of comic books is divided into eras? The exact boundaries of the eras are debatable (can you imagine a bunch of comic nerds agreeing on anything, ever?) but here are the basics:

Platinum Age
In 1842, The Adventures of M. Obadiah Oldbuck became the first "comic book" (by some definitions). This kicked off what some call the Platinum Age of the American comic book, simply because it came before what most agree to call the Golden Age. The comics of this age are the ones that inspired Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, creators of Superman (and the topic of this week's review book).

Superman crashing a car into a stone, with people running away.

Golden Age
This age spans roughly the 1930s to about 1950, bringing about the archetype of superheroes, including Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Human Torch, and Captain America. You can tell by that list that this is when DC and Timely (later to become Marvel) started their still continuing popularity. Superhero comics lessened in popularity with the end of World War II.


Silver Age
Most agree that the start of the Silver Age of the American comic book was brought about by DC's new Flash. This age goes from about the mid-1950s to around 1970. A lot of the superhero comics quieted down, making way for stories about horror, romance, and crime. This is also the time when fears arose about comics being linked to juvenile delinquency (a notion we continue to work on debunking today). In 1954, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was created to regulate comics' content. This made it easier to publish more superhero stories again (bringing about DC's Justice League and Marvel's Fantastic Four) because the CCA turned down a lot of the horror and crime stories, but superheroes could appear wholesome.

Bronze Age
The start of the Bronze Age is even more nebulous and debatable than the other ages' beginnings, but it began around 1970, and continued until the mid-1980s. This is the age where comics started to become more serious (less "jiminy jillikers!" and more "DC attacks youth's greatest problem: DRUGS!") Gwen Stacy was murdered in a 1973 issue of Amazing Spider-Man, which you never would have seen in the Golden or Silver Ages. Stan Lee also did a three-parter on drugs through the Spiderman vehicle with "Green Goblin Reborn!" That made the CCA happy because it taught an important lesson, and it made everyone else happy because - as the past decade of summer blockbusters has taught us - everyone loves a gritty superhero story. The Bronze Age also brought us minority superheroes like Luke Cage, Blade, John Stewart (from Green Lantern, not The Daily Show) and Cyborg. We also got some of the first company crossovers, like Superman vs. The Amazing Spiderman. Finally, comics reached out to markets other than adolescent boys, with Archie dominating the female market and Disney comics like Casper, Richie Rich, and Wendy Witch becoming very popular with kids. Reprints of Golden Age comics banked on nostalgia and the disappearance of originals (due to World War II paper drives) and were bought up quickly by baby boomers. This is also when we saw the birth of indie comics and underground comics, which were irreverent, dealt with whatever topics they wanted, and could even be pornographic (you've heard of Tijuana bibles?) This stemmed from the strict regulations imposed by the CCA during the Silver Age and the goody-two-shoes nature of the superheroes portrayed by comics giants DC and Marvel.

Modern Age / Dark Age
This is the age we live in now. Some people claim the Bronze Age never ended and is still continuing, but there is a clear division that took place some time in the 1980s. Dark versions of old favorites (like Spidey's black suit) and new, grittier suits for others like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk appeared. Anti-heroes like Wolverine and Frank Miller's new version of Daredevil (above) were very popular (as they continue to be today). Complete universe reboots stemmed from these changes, meaning old secondary characters could come back (and sometimes die again), doing basically what the J J Abrams Star Trek is doing (old characters, parallel universe, anything goes). Villains like Magneto and Galactus gained more psychological depth and became sympathetic, sometimes likable characters. Alan Moore (with Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell), Art Spiegelman (who won a Pulitzer for his biographical Maus), and Frank Miller (with 300 and Sin City) became behemoths of the genre during this time. This is the age where comics became less a niche genre for nerds and outcasts and more accepted by mainstream media. (Have you noticed there are a lot of movies, seen by literally everyone, based in these comics? If you haven't, welcome to Earth; please enjoy your stay.)

I could go further by talking about graphic novels and how they grew out of the world of comics, but I have a feeling that will be coming up pretty soon... Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Favorite Superhero Comic

I've never been big on superheroes in the traditional sense. I prefer the recent gritty reboots over the traditional, brightly-colored, morals-teaching, spandex-and-tights versions of old favorites. I love the modern twists on the superhero genre, like Kick-Ass. So superhero comics are just about the only comics / graphic novels I don't read. But I loved Watchmen.

Alan Moore is a genius, but that goes without saying. Watchmen has everything it should have: homage to what came before it; unexpected character and plot developments; balance between characters and tones. It's a fantastic example to use when you're trying to explain to people that comics are literature, too.

And the movie was okay.

I am going to be oddly specific with my choice.  Storm's Mini-Series in the late 1990s.

Actually, this is NOT the comic series I'm talking about, 
but I couldn't find a pictures of those.

I am a huge, huge, huge, HUGE fan of Storm's.  Ok, so maybe I exaggerate a little, but she's awesome.  She's just so badass and, let's face it, there are very few super heroes who can fight her with any sort of success.  She can electrocute you.  Or throw a tornado your way.

I really liked her first mini-series because she's not as prevalent as some of the others (even though she was one of the first X-Men), so this really gave us a chance to get to know STORM and see what STORM could do.

Storm also has more of a background than the other X-Men.  Storm was buried alive with her dead parents for three days after an earthquake, resulting in extreme claustrophobia   She was living on the streets before she met Xavier, as a thief, because she's a BAD ASS.  You get to really hear about her past in this and see how she doesn't let it control her.  She comes to terms with a lot of the things she did in her life.

Overall, just a great series for a great characters.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Portraying Super Powers in Comics

There are a million and one super hero comics.  There's Batman, Superman, the X-Men, Wonder Woman.  I could go on.  The thing they have in common (well... except for Batman), is that they all have super powers.

Think about how super powers are described in books.  Last week, we read I Am Number Four and he had lots of super powers.  He was super strong, could run really fast, he could light up his has, was impervious to fire.  All sorts of things.  And do you know the way that you found that out?  You were TOLD.  I mean, ok, it was described to you, but essentially, you were told in detail how it worked.

Comics don't work that way.  Since 99% of the writing in comics is dialogue, it would be kind of weird if you sat there and had characters describe every last thing that they did.  Oh, wait... they did do that.

As you can see, the dialogue gets a little ridiculous in the original Avengers comic (and this is not even the worst.  I read the original.  They pretty much dictate EVERYTHING they're doing. "I'm Thor, and I am going to throw my mighty hammer and knock him off a cliff!"  No, really, a whole comic of this.)  In contrast, here's a more updated version of the Avengers.

A little more interaction with the person he's with and a little less of narration of his powers. (FYI, I pulled this from the internet.  I have no idea why he's choking Tony Stark.)

So let's look at some other superheros who have some crazy powers, powers that you have to SHOW, not tell the reader about.

Even if you knew NOTHING about Storm other than she had super powers, this picture gives you a good idea of what her powers are.  She very obviously controls lighting and can fly.  Most of us know that she actually controls the WEATHER, but the point is, you know what her powers are just by looking at a picture of her.

Superman.  Big strong guy, right?  But it's not like you can just come out and say, "I'm going to go lift that building."  Comics are not narrative in the way that books are.  So we have to show the reader the extraordinary powers Superman has.

That's a whole freakin' car, making it obvious that he's super strong.

Sometimes, superheroes get some really weird powers that are a little harder to convey to the audience.  A lot of times multiple pictures of the person over time to show you what exactly they can do.  Take Jubilee for example.

Here her powers look a lot like fireworks (which, they mostly are)

Here you can see that it's a little more concentrated.  
More like a solid firework on her hand.

Whatever powers are portrayed, today you have to make sure that you get it across to your readers.  As a comic book, you can't rely on the narrative, so you must really rely on pictures.  And as the reader, you have to pay a lot more attention in super hero comics.  They could be saying one thing, but a lot is going on in the frame when you have so much to work with.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Author Bio: Brad Ricca

From Ricca's website

Brad Ricca lives in Cleveland, Ohio, which is where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of America's beloved superhero Superman, lived.

He conducted ten years of research on those two men and the history of Superman before publishing his findings in Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster - The Creators of Superman. Since that publication in 2010, Ricca has been interviewed by just about everyone (the BBC, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Comic-Con) about Superman and his creators. He also created a film in 2010 called Last Son telling the Superman creation story (meaning writing/drawing the character, not his origin story about Krypton and whatnot).

Before Super Boys, Ricca earned a PhD in English from Case Western Reserve University, and he published a book of poetry titled American Mastodon in 2009.

You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

By Its Cover - I Am Number Four

The first time I saw this cover I thought sun, mostly.  Off planet (mainly because I had read the inside flap and knew there were aliens involved.)  It just seems bright, but really ominous at the same time.  Even the title, "I Am Number Four" doesn't sound good.  It sounds like it's a death sentence (which, I guess since they killed off 1 - 3, it is kind of a death sentence.)

After reading it, I realize the brightness of the cover is probably supposed to signify Four's growth of powers.  He gains the ability to make his hands light up and be impervious to fire and I kind of think that the cover was more going for that then the, "We're all going to die" aesthetic.

But I'm not totally writing the "we're all going to die" thing off.

I had vaguely paid attention to the trailers when the movie came out, so I knew there were teenagers and superpowers involved, but that was the long and short of it.

The cover looks, at first glance, angry and exciting and action-y. There is danger (red!) and action (yellow!) and more danger (fractured-looking text!)

A second glance only confirms all of this. "Three are dead. I am number four." Foreboding, no?

It's a fairly nondescript cover that could be for any of a number of books (particularly in the YA sci-fi family) but I think they get a little better as the series continues. Just look at The Power of Six and The Rise of Nine:


Friday, August 23, 2013

Review Me Twice: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I had no idea what to expect from this book when I selected it, other than teenagers and some kind of supernatural vibe since it's classified as sci-fi. There's an alien thing going on, but - bear with me here - I Am Number Four approaches aliens in the kind of way Twilight approaches vampires and werewolves, in the sense that it is aware of the stereotypes, discusses them very slightly, and does not conform to them. Which is nothing unusual, but it feels the same way as Twilight because of how it's done, if that makes sense.

The storyline is nothing special: aliens ran away from their homeworld because bad guys were after them, and they were chased to Earth. The characters are nothing special: protagonist who, despite his special abilities, is pretty much an everyman; protagonist's love interest with few identifiable attributes of her own; protagonist's loyal friend who is a little quirky; typical parental figure; typical bully at school (because aliens and vampires and whatever have to go to high school too, you guys).

The biggest problem I had with the book stemmed from the two authors thing, even before I knew there were two authors. The first several chapters had a back-and-forth in the writing style. A large section would be good, then the next large section would be almost unbearable, then I'd get a reprieve just in time with another large section I liked. The moment I noticed that trend was when I put down the book and looked up who Pittacus Lore was... and learned that the book was suffering from two-author syndrome. This went away after a while. I'm not 100% sure whether I just got used to it or if it really did even out, but it just wasn't a problem after a few more chapters.

It sounds like I'm giving the book a hard time, but I really did enjoy it. It's fun, it's compelling, and I'm interested in the rest of the series, especially with the newest installment, The Fall of Five, being released next week.

I REALLY liked this book.  I liked that there's still a mystery by the end of it, but not SO much mystery that it's frustrating.  I liked the excitement and I like the different powers we see and I like that the back story is explained, but not in a way that bogs you down with exposition.

The strength of this book is definitely in the action scenes.  I can SEE everything happening: the fights, the swords, the storm that rages so intensely that faces were appearing.  The author is amazing at having me on the edge of my seat, wondering what in the world is going to happen and is everyone going to survive?

The biggest weakness of this book?  The romance.  It was just so... sappy and unrealistic.  I mean, ok, I get that Lorien's are supposed to fall in love for life, but it's HIGH school and I just have a hard time taking it seriously.  And Sarah wasn't really all that likable.  I didn't DISlike her, but I wasn't exactly a fan of hers.

I really want to pick up the next book to see what happens.  I'm glad that the next book is out so I can do that. 

My Bottom Line 4 out of 5

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Noms de Plume

This week's author, Pittacus Lore, is a pseudonym, which is a fancy word for a fake name. Another fancy phrase is 'nom de plume,' which is French for pen name, or the name an author publishes under instead of their real name.

Historically, soldiers and terrorists will adopt noms de guerre (war names) to disassociate their actions from their real names. Taggers and hackers adopt pseudonyms to protect their real identities, considering their actions are illegal. Actors and musicians adopt stage names for various reasons. And writers choose pen names for many different reasons.

Hide a Personal Trait
Hey, guess what? Women haven't been treated equally for a large portion of history! So when women began publishing books, many of them had to adopt male-sounding names in order to be successful authors, despite their female-ness.

George Eliot at 30 by Fran├žois D'Albert Durade.jpgGeorge Sand by Nadar, 1864.jpg

From left to right, those are George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), George Sand (Amantine Lucille Aurore Dupin) and S. E. Hinton, who initialized her name to mask her gender.

There are several other things a celebrity might want to hide by changing their name. For example, Freddie Mercury's real name is Farrokh Bulsara; he wanted to tone down the "ethnic" sound. John Bongiovi (say it out loud, you'll get it) did the same thing.

Writing Controversial Works
Much like how taggers and hackers use a pseudonym while performing illicit activities to protect their real identities, authors of salacious, controversial, or borderline illegal works can hide their identities by publishing under false names.

Proving Themselves... When They're Already Famous
Sometimes a famous author will want to publish under a pseudonym to show that their work is still good. They want to show that it's not just their name selling the books, but the merit of their writing.

Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman for books like The Long Walk, The Running Man, Thinner, and The Regulators, which you may recognize from my favorite murder story. On the right, Romain Gary set out to test his writing skill by seeing if his new books, published under the name Emile Ajar, would still sell without his prestigious name on them. (They did.)

Avoiding Confusion
There are only so many combinations of names in the world. With billions of us roaming around at any given time, there are bound to be duplicates, or near-duplicates, who become famous. Some celebrities change their names to avoid confusion (though they're not always successful). Winston Churchill added a middle initial "S" when he wrote, to avoid confusion with an already-published American author with the same name as him.

Collaborative Pseudonyms
This week's author, Pittacus Lore, is one name shared by two authors (as you know if you read Monday's post). This serves two main purposes. First, you don't have to worry about whose name goes first. Also, authors who wouldn't normally work together or normally wouldn't write something like the collaborative project can keep their professional distance from the project if they want.

Fictional Characters as Pseudonyms
Pittacus Lore also fits this category, because he is a character in the Lorien Legacies.


On the left are the two authors (Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, which are aliases for Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky, respectively) who make up Ellery Queen, the fictional narrator and detective of The Adventures of Ellery Queen. The middle photo is the author photo for Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), of Series of Unfortunate Events fame, who narrates the series first-person, and participates very lightly in the events that are so unfortunate. The right photo is the author photo for Pittacus Lore.

If you wrote under a pen name, what would it be, and why?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Favorite Series

This week's review book, I Am Number Four, is part of a series called Lorien Legacies, so we're choosing our favorite series, which is a really difficult choice for each of us.

My choice is the Harry Potter series, which you heard each of us weigh in on back in April. I chose HP because I consistently liked all of the books, even though the tone changes drastically from Sorcerer's Stone to Deathly Hallows. It does so gradually, getting a little more serious with each book.

I also love HP because it feels like you know these people. Like you could just strut right up to the Burrow and Molly Weasley would sit you down and make you lunch. As fantastic and magical as the story is, it feels more real than a lot of books out there.

And as much as I want to agree with the rest of the world and say that we need more HP books, I think the series is a good length. It spanned Harry's adolescence, told the story that needed to be told, and didn't overstay its welcome. (Though I'm convinced that this is partially because anyone paying attention within the first few chapters of Sorcerer's Stone knew there would be exactly seven books, so we knew what to expect all along, at least length-wise.)

I have a million and one series' that I've read over the years.  And there are a TON that I love (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Hungers Games.  The list goes on.)  But there's one that I really adore, and has actually been around awhile.

I know there's a lot of controversy over The Vampire Diaries.  And, to be perfectly honest, I haven't read past book six (The Vampire Armand.)  But, they're REALLY good, those first six book.  We already know my feelings on book five.

If nothing else, you should read the first three books.  You grow so attached to Louie and Lestat (ESPECIALLY Louie.  I LOVE Louie.)  You really get a great feel for the characters and Rice makes you fall in love with characters in such a short amount of time.  It's uncanny and takes a lot of talent.

I know that she kind of got a little crazy and a lot religious, but there's a reason that The Vampire Chronicles sold so well and are still a big deal, almost 40 years later.

(A side note: I am unaware as to why we didn't have a vampire tag before today.  Goodness knows we've talked about them enough.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fantastical Fun

We've reviewed one or two fantasy books on this blog before.  (Ok, only about two, but still.  It's there.)  Alex talked to you about world building, so I won't really get into that.  I'm going to show you some of the fun fantasy things from around the internets.

Come see Jim Hines, Fantasy author who also moonlights as a fantasy cover model.

"Cassy, why on earth did you just send me to a site with a creepy guy posing in creepy ways?"  If anyone has ever seen a fantasy cover ever, they know that woman are put in the most ludicrous positions ever on the cover.  So, to highlight that fact, this awesome dude decided to replicated them on his own.

And, just to be fair to both the sexes, Hines also did the male covers, really highlighting how RIDICULOUS the women poses are and how... well, less ridiculous the male poses are.

What would one of these posts be without a name generator?  If you just type "Fantasy Name Generator" into Google, you get about a million, most of them profiling World of Warcraft (which, just for the record, is evil.)  However, this one is pretty good and it gave me names like "Mocaror" and "Drarggrornkon".  Is it just me, or are fantasy names notoriously hard to pronounce?

Of course, there's always a list.  This one from Goodreads isn't terrible.  At the very least, a Twilight book doesn't show up until #35, and even then, it's the Bree Tanner book.

I typed "Twilight Sparkle" into Google expecting 8 Million Edward Pictures.
Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found a bunch of PONIES!!

Hey guys!  Let's talk the Twilight Drinking Game!!  (PS, if that link doesn't work, let me know.)  Now, of course, Alex and I would neeeever endorse excessive drinking.  *Shifty eyes*  But, let's face it, if you're going to read Twilight, you need a way to get through it, so start downing those shots, my friends!

And, just because I like to end on a crazy high note, I once again give you the Anne Rice Monster Freak Out.

Now, really, you didn't think I'd mention Twilight that much and not give you a sparkle gif, did you?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Author Bio: Pittacus Lore

I'd like to show you a picture of Pittacus Lore, author of this week's review book, I Am Number Four. But I can't do that, because he doesn't exist.

This is the photo from the "About the Author" on the book flap.

Pittacus Lore is a pseudonym for two authors working jointly to write the Lorien Legacies series.

This is James Frey. He is one of the two people who make up Pittacus Lore. You may remember him as the author of A Million Little Pieces, the book that enraged millions of Oprah Winfrey's followers because it claimed to be a memoir but was mainly fictionalized. (You may recall me talking about this before.) At least the Lorien Legacies admit that they're fiction. (Which is good, since they're about aliens hiding from other aliens on Earth...)

This is Jobie Hughes, the other half of Pittacus Lore. His website lists only one novel, At Dawn, published in 2012. There is very little other information about him.

Pittacus Lore is much like Lemony Snicket, in that he is mentioned within the stories he is authoring. At first, I thought Pittacus Lore was just a poorly chosen pseudonym by someone who didn't mind everyone knowing that his name was a pseudonym. I even read the little blurb about the author on the book flap... it says that he's an elder of Lorien, hiding on Earth. So I thought this was just a particularly pretentious author with a bad pseudonym.

Then I got maybe 100 pages into I Am Number Four, and saw that Pittacus Lore was mentioned in the story. To the internet I went, and learned the truth. Which is a little better than my assumptions before, I suppose.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

By Its Cover: Beautiful Boy

I didn't pay close attention to this cover before I started reading the book. (For such a visual person, it's surprising how often that happens to me.) If you had asked me what it looked like, I would have just said it was a white background with plain text in the middle. I didn't really notice the jumping boy off to the side.

When I did notice it, though, I thought it was good design. You don't see a face, so it could be anyone (though it's pretty obvious it's supposed to be Nic). He clearly looks joyful, and young, which is something David likes to remember: the simple happiness of his kid's youth. Except the photo does that without sounding really flowery like I just did.

I like the cover a lot.  I like that the kid is off to the side, running, because I think that's exactly how David Sheff felt: Nic was running away from him.  His childhood disappear, NIC disappeared and became this elusive, unreachable thing.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Review Me Twice: Beautiful Boy by David Sheff

I can't help but feel like I've read this story before... oh wait, I have. It was kind of interesting seeing the "other side" of Nic Sheff's story, but I just didn't feel like there was enough new information to make it worth my while. I understand that both David and Nic wanted to work through their version of the events and get them on paper and share them with the world... but personally, I didn't need to read both. Maybe if I were an addict, I would identify better with Nic. Or if I were the parent of an addict, I would have more feels for David. But I find myself more attached to Ellen Hopkins' characters than I did to either of these guys.

While I liked David's writing style more than Nic's, it was only by a little bit, and it still wasn't enough to really grab me, especially when I knew the basics of the story already.

However, I would recommend this book to any parent of an addict or someone in a similar situation. I think David Sheff speaks honestly and doesn't get too flowery or pretentious about the whole thing. He seems to honestly want to write to tell his story and hope that others can benefit from his experience.

This is the first time on this blog that I haven't finished the book (though... I'm in the last third, so I'm pretty damn close.  About 50 pages.)

The big, huge, glaring flaw with this book is that David Sheff gets crazy technical and overly informational about drugs and what happens to people on drugs and all the effects of drugs on the body and families.  Which makes sense, but got to be a little much, making me not really want to read the book.

I also wanted to read about David's point of view about the time that Nic talks about in his memoirs.  I wanted to see the two stories coincide.  But it's in the last third that David talks about Nic's memoir (Nic covers his final, and probably most severe, relapse with drugs.)  He really glazes over it to because, for David, it's just another round of Nic being on drugs and doesn't really differ from the rest of them.

I did think the story is well written and you do feel so sorry and terrible and you really understand how hard addiction can be on the family but... eh, I was expecting the stories to interact more than they did.

I'm with Alex, though.  If you have a family member who has a drug problem, this is probably a book that would be good for you.

My Bottom Line 2 out of 5.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Father-Son Writers

This week's review book is by David Sheff, father of Nic Sheff, who wrote another book we've reviewed. Today I'll tell you about some other fathers and sons who are writers.

Joe Hill & Stephen King
Joe Hill is the pen name of Joe Hillstrom King, son of Stephen King. I feel like you've probably heard of Stephen's work, so I won't bother listing it here. Joe has published three novels (Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2) and the comics series Locke & Key, in addition to tons of short stories.

Alexandre Dumas & Alexandre Dumas (fils)
You know Alexandre Dumas (the father) as the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. His son (Alexandre Dumas (fils)) also became a writer, best known for The Lady of the Camellias. (Fun fact: during my recent trip to Paris, I saw the son's grave in the Montmartre Cemetery and the father's tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon.)

H. G. Wells & Anthony West
(I couldn't find a reliable photo of the latter; thus the question mark.) H. G. Wells is another of those authors who needs no introduction: The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, etc. His son (from an affair with a novelist named Rebecca West) Anthony West wrote a dozen books, to include a biography of his father, titled H. G. Wells: Aspects of a Life.

William F. Buckley & Christopher Buckley
The father of this pair, William, was a conservative commentator and writer of non-fiction, penning over 50 books on topics like writing, speaking, politics, history, and - oddly enough - sailing. His son, Christopher Buckley, continued this tradition with a twist, as a political satirist. He is perhaps best known for Thank You for Smoking and Little Green Men.

Other father-son writing pairs:
Charles Dickens and Charles Dickens, Jr.
John Steinbeck and John Steinbeck IV

What others do you know of?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Favorite Companion Books

This week's review book, Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, serves as a companion book to one we've reviewed before (Tweak by Nic Sheff, David's son). So we're picking our favorite companion books!

(Show of hands: who's suprised?) Mine is Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman, a companion to the Sandman series.

The Endless are seven embodied concepts who have been around longer than anything else and will be around longer than anything else: Death, Dream, Destruction, Destiny, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (formerly Delight). Dream is the "Sandman" and is therefore central to the series, but his siblings all appear at one point or another. This book gives each sibling his or her own story, each depicted by a different illustrator.

Each story is very different. The first three stories are linear, and drawn like normal graphic novel stories. Death's story is about a palace stuck in time. Desire's story is about a woman who kicked major butt, in my personal opinion. Dream's is about how he meets Killalla of the Glow (and, later, Sol). Then Despair's story is a collection of "portraits" of who and what Despair is to different individuals. Delirium comes next, with a partially linear, partially disjointed story with a structure that perfectly embodies her. Destruction is after that, and we're back to the linear, traditional style. And Destiny comes last, with less of a story and more of an explanation of who he is and what he does.

It's beautiful, it's amazing, it adds to Sandman without changing anything about it, and it's the one book I took with me when I went to hear Neil Gaiman speak (in hopes of getting it signed).

By this point in the blog, there should be very little surprise about our favorites.  I mean, after close to a year (I KNOW!!  ALMOST A YEAR!!), you've seen, at minimum, posts about our favorites once a week.  So when I tell you Flirtin' With the Monster is my most favorite book companion, well, you must be new if you're shocked.

The book is, obviously, a companion book to Crank and Glass.  It contains short essays about the books but, here's the kicker, it's not just writers.  There's a court judge, explaining how much of an effect the books have on his rulings, also a councilor, along with, of course, other writers.

But the best part?  Ellen Hopkins writes an essay about her experiences with her daughter... and so does "Kristina's" step-father, sister and son.  Even "Kristina" chimes in and tells you things from her point of view.  It's incredible and heartbreaking and just so incredibly amazing to get such a behind the scenes view at something that is so near and dear to the author's heart.