Finished The Winter Queen

In The Winter Queen, Erast Fandorin’s instincts don’t quite compensate for his inexperience.

Cover of The Winter Queen.
In The Winter Queen, Erast Fandorin’s instincts don’t quite compensate for his inexperience. Fandorin senses there is more to a student’s public suicide in the Alexander Gardens, but he is unprepared for where his suspicions lead him. Now finding himself in an ever-widening conspiracy, the young sleuth must travel across Europe to discover the truth, nab the villain and escape with his life.

Russian names aside (they’re a mouthful for me), Boris Akunin’s writing is clear and clean with wonderful details in all the right places. The humor is charming and the twists are numerous. I enjoyed meeting Akunin’s strange characters — even lamenting the demises of some of Fandorin’s adversaries. The Winter Queen is a terrific detective story and I’m eager to pick up the next Fandorin adventure.

Have you read it? What do you think?

Finished Reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Like many others here and around the word, I’ve watched the movie, The Wizard of Oz, many times over. But I’ve not read the book till now.

Like many others here and around the word, I’ve watched the movie, The Wizard of Oz, many times over. But I’ve not read the book till now.

Published in 1900, L. Frank Baum set out to create new fairy tales for children to enjoy. It was a conscious and conspicuous departure from European fables, like those by Aesop and the Brothers Grimm.

Written for children, the simple storytelling is no less enjoyable for this grown-up, enriched by W. W. Denslow‘s original illustrations. We all know the basic story. Kansas farm girl Dorothy, her dog, Toto and their house are whisked away by a cyclone and deposited in Oz and on the Wicked Witch of the East. Now she needs to get back home, but in order to do that, she must visit the Great and Terrible Wizard in the Emerald City. On her journey she befriends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion. Each seeks something they have had all along. The book has many more characters and dangers than the movie with a bit more satisfying ending. Though no musicals.

Ray Bradbury provides the Introduction for the Modern Library edition I read. At the book’s end there is a list of questions for book clubs to spark discussion. Many of the questions are sensible enough — what do you think makes Oz such a timeless story; how is this fairy tale different than those that came before; what lessons can be drawn from it? But what did strike me was question #2: “What roles do money and capitalism play in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? What is valued in the land of Oz as opposed to what is valued in the real world?”

My question: Does everything have to be deconstructed this way? I’m reading here!

Anyway, have you read the book?

Enthralled by The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a marvelous, tragic tale. I enjoyed reading every page. Reviewers are correct: this is magic for grown-ups. There are real stakes here with profound consequences when boyhood fantasies come to life.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a marvelous, tragic tale. I enjoyed reading every page. Reviewers are correct: this is magic for grown-ups. There are real stakes here with profound consequences when boyhood fantasies come to life.

 An exceptionally bright young man, Quentin Coldwater is bored. Something is missing. His talents aren’t appreciated and no one really  understands him. He daydreams of Fillory, a mythical land depicted in a series of books by Christopher Plover. He yearns to escape there. He’s certain if he could just find the way there everything would be all right.

Sure enough, Quentin finds a way, but not to Fillory. Instead he’s transported from Brooklyn to an exclusive college in upstate New York. Here he learns real magic and becomes a real magician. As the semesters pass, Quentin makes friends, falls in love, witnesses wonders and yet still something is missing. He still isn’t happy and worse he isn’t sure what will make him happy. Even after graduating, moving to Manhattan and partying day and night, he is still aimless. With all the power at his fingertips, he is still unfulfilled. Then one day, it happens. A discovery is made that promises that this time, this adventure will be the one that lives up to his expectations. But his imaginings don’t prepare him for the nightmare that comes.

Drinking figures quite heavily in the book. And it underscores a theme that emerges. That magic can leave you with a hangover. Worse, it can make you an alcoholic. With such power, it can surely consume you as a bottle of liquor, pushing you further away from what you really value.

Grossman pays explicit homage to the Harry Potter and Narnia series as well as Dungeons & Dragons, while finding his own voice and shaping his own worlds. They’re vivid and fascinating. There are creatures that are weird, surprising, frightening and savage.

Read an interview of Lev Grossman on the Onion’s AV Club website.

Vigil Comic Books

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to reread the multi-mini-series comic book, Vigil.

First issue of Vigil comic book mini series by Loudermilk and Ivereson.
First issue of Vigil comic book mini series by Loudermilk and Ivereson.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to reread the multi-mini-series comic book, Vigil. Written by Arvin Loudermilk and illustrated by Mike Iverson, the vampire comic first appeared for two issues in 1992 under the imprint Innovation. Over the years it changed from Innovation to Millenium to Duality Press (the creators’ own imprint).

The series has held up since I had first read the title — wow! 17 years ago. (I feel old now.)

The story centers on a vampire named Grace Kimble who is one tough blonde with a serious crush on big guns. (Think Sarah Connor of T2.) In the first story, she aims to take down a late-night talk show host who is a vampire pretending to be a human pretending to be a vampire. With his fame and wealth he gets many unsuspecting women in bed and thereby their blood. In Grace’s efforts to stop him, she inadvertently involves the clueless movie star, Greg Tonell. Nonetheless, Grace ends the talk show host’s life. Unfortunately, Tonell  is wrongfully implicated in  the murder and the two have to escape to Mexico.

The subsequent one-shots and mini-series follow them searching for a cure for Grace’s “affliction,” falling in love with each other and eluding myriad enemies who want Kimble, Tonell or both captured/killed.

The art is black-and-white and realistically drawn. The style works with the writing, very cinematic. Like an action film there are lots of panels and pages with hand-to-hand fighting, gunfire and narrow escapes. Written for mature readers.

I like that it’s a simple, well-told story.

A vampire mythology isn’t touched on in the series. Grace considers herself infected with a virus, though she refers to herself as a vampire. She’s hard to put down, heals quickly and is quite cold. She struggles to be  human and relies on Tonell for the right push. Tonell goes through a nice arc through the series.

Have you read this?