Thursday, August 18, 2011


Wow. For the second time this summer I have been proven wrong in my assumptions about the current state of Young Adult fiction with a book that I genuinely found both equal parts wanting to throw the book away but having to read it all in one sitting (which I basically did).

Warning: This review might be a little more spoiler-y than I normally like to do. 

This book is Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

I don't have many things to say about the cover. Except that the tagline is reminiscent of the old Goosebumps book which this one blows out of the water. 
The entire premise of this story is, in the future, after the second civil war in the United States is fought over abortion a kind of joke compromise was reached. It's a joke in that the government never thought it would be taken seriously, but were backed into a corner when both sides said it was acceptable. This new law is called The Bill of Life and makes abortion illegal. Instead, if a parent so chooses, once his or her child reaches the age of reason (13) until the child becomes a legal adult (18) the parent can have the child retroactively aborted, or, unwound.

This appeased both sides of the fight as when a child is unwound they are technically not killed. Every part of the child's body is divided up and given to people who need it. Did I forget to mention that unwinding is code for organ harvesting? Because this is the future, even pieces of the brain can be assimilated into someone else. Parents who, for various reasons, no longer want their children can have them unwound but not have to worry about having killed their child.

There are, apparently, many reasons to unwind a child. For the religious you have children tithed, specifically if you have ten children, then by unwinding one child that you raise and brainwash just for this purpose you are giving your ten percent. For those parents that have out of control children, unwinding is a way to not have to deal with the problems. There is a quote from the book where one child has bought into the reasoning behind why he was being unwound; he wasn't particularly good at anything and he'd rather that part of him go on and be successful instead of all of him being worthless. Unwinding also allows an overburdened foster care system the ability to downsize the population they are dealing with if and when budget cuts come along.

Some of you might be thinking, well, it still doesn't really help the pro-choice movement because the mom is forced to keep the kid until they are 13 at least. Well, that's not the case. This law also includes a "storking" clause where a mother can drop off an infant on any doorstep and so long as they are not caught in the act, the family or person that lives there has to legally take the child. This might sound okay, not great, but okay until you realize that storking allows for the shuffling of infants around a neighborhood. So long as no one sees anyone drop the infant on a doorstep, it can be storked indefinitely. That's not the way the law is supposed to work, but if no one sees, no one knows the law was broken.

Because of the high incidence of children being unwound, the medical practice has gotten a little iffy. Why should they fix a problem when they can just replace the organ or limb with something brand new? Even brains can be replaced, which leads to some issues as the brain is never killed off (all children that are unwound are done so completely conscious as it is believed that the child should have the "right to know what is happening to his or her body". One of the most disturbing scenes in the book takes place from the point of view of a teen that is being unwound.) The child's consciousness never actually leaves and sometimes they continue to exist inside the person who received the organ.

Besides exploring some major ethical grey area, this book also looked at some philosophical and biological philosophy of where the soul/consciousness is kept and what it means to be dead. Is muscle memory another manifestation of the consciousness or personality of the unwound?

What I liked about this book is that we are given several different characters to explore these themes through. One of them is an ultra religious tithe who then loses his religion while other characters have no religious affiliation at all. So it's not like the reader is being bombarded by a large amount of religion or anti-religion.

I had a very hard time putting this book down, and after every new revelation found myself mostly disgusted by the people I saw buying into these laws. But then, when I stopped and thought about it, I did not see the main premise of this book as being that far fetched which can be a problem with dystopic futures. Sometimes these books tend to go for the highly disturbing, but go too far overboard and it ends up unrealistic.

The characters were fairly well rounded, the changes that they went through over the course of the book were natural enough with only a few rough spots where a character appeared too cliche or did something solely as a plot device. The ending was fairly surprising as well, considering, and while it does not end on an entirely happy note, it is not entirely hopeless either.

I would recommend this book to people who like: Dystopias, ethical/moral grey areas, and really, REALLY tense moments.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

I love movies, I consider movies and tv shows to also fall under the storytelling category, same with comics and video games. All of them are just using different mediums to arrive at the same point. Telling stories.

Movies have words in them, so I feel I'm allowed to review them in my blog. It's my blog anyways so there's nothing you can do to stop me!

This time around I'll be looking at an overlooked little gem called Dylan Dog: Dead of Night directed by Kevin Munroe and adapted from the comics Dylan Dog (that's the English translation, the comics are in Italian) by Tiziano Sclavi. I haven't had the opportunity to read the comics just yet, but I do plan to. Not having read the comics is probably why I didn't mind the movie so much, actually. I was able to appreciate the movie for what it was (of course I am probably one of the worst sticklers when it comes to comparing original source to new adaptation and decrying the injustice of it all. I'm looking at you Harry Potter).

While this poster might lead you to believe that Tom Cruise was in this movie, he was not.
The movie, though, I thought was quite entertaining. One of the biggest complaints I've heard is about Dylan's sidekick, Marcus, who is a character created just for the movie. You see, in the comics, Dylan's sidekick is a Groucho Marx impression which meant that there was no way he could have appeared in a low budget US adaptation of the comics as Groucho Marx's estate charges a ton of money to anyone in the United States who wants to use his likeness. They simply could not afford to put him in, so they replaced him with a new character.

Coming from the perspective of not having read the comics I cannot tell you how the new character Marcus stands up against the sidekick from the comics, but, I am not sure I would have enjoyed the movie as much without Marcus in there.

Sam Huntington who plays Marcus- a very reluctant zombie- made the movie for me. Marcus provided a nice counterpoint to the stoic Dylan (played by Brandon Routh of the attempted Superman Reboot fame). The film is shot in the film noir style (something else that got a lot of complaints because apparently people didn't like that Dylan narrated the entire film) which does not allow for the main actor to really spread their acting chops. They don't need to show things, they are, literally, telling you what happens. That is what goes on in film noir.

This doesn't mean that Routh is bad and a wooden block for the entire movie, he has some great one liners. I just think he got outshone by this. 

From what I understand, this movie is not very close to the comics at all. For one, Dylan in the movie is retired from supernaturally P I'ing and doesn't much want to keep the peace between non-livings and livings. that is until some "GRAND CONFLICT" comes along to bring him back into the game. There's also the settings, the movie is in New Orleans and the comics are in London. 
Dylan also shares some blatant characteristics with the Dresden Files and some of the costumes seem recycled from old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Taking it for what it is, though, I enjoyed it and feel it is a decent enough movie to watch and possibly share with friends. Friends who think zombies are funny.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Lately, I have been terribly impressed by the caliber of writing coming from the young adult genre as of late. I had been of the opinion that it was full of nothing but fluff and romance and the occasional boy wizard story that devolves into a romance. Stories like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children written by Ransom Riggs gives me hope that our youngsters won't have to slugg through the mush and brainlessness that had so frequently plagued the young adult section of book stores.

This book was more than a good read, it inspired me to dig through old moldy photography books and find really creepy pictures too!

Speaking of Miss Peregrine's Home, this story had a little bit of everything in it: ghosts (but not really), abandoned buildings, the sea, submarines, Nazis, potential I'm my own grandpa moments (but not really), monsters, children, orphans, teens, a better take on the X-Men than the movies ever managed, time travel, old guys who are obsessed with guns, sheep, islands, not so abandoned buildings, a Welsh pub and most importantly not American accents (though it had those too). Also, there was a kid who called himself a dandy and that is worth the entire book in my opinion!

This is a coming of age tale, Jacob Portman thought he was normal and then gets pulled on a fantastical adventure as young adults/children often are. Don't you remember when you went on your first life changing adventure? You don't? Well then, this book is the perfect one to fill that void in your life.

What I find the most interesting about this book are the photographs. Apparently they are all real photos that the author collected himself or borrowed from friends and they are integral to telling the story. Some of these photos were downright disturbing. One I think of in particular features two little girls on a reindeer and a terrifying Santa Claus sneaking up on them. Others, some of them just simple portraits, seemed disturbing in ways that were hard to put the finger on, probably due to the descriptions of them.

I first began this book expecting a ghost story, but that wasn't what I got at all. I got much more, and am pleased about it. Behind all of the glamor, this story is about a kid who is finally able to make his own choices and find himself. There were questions about what happens to people if they are forced to live the same day over and over and over again. The reader was shown what might happen to people that were born with superpowers.

The ending is left open for a sequel, and I hope Ransom Riggs is able to deliver.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Sisters Brothers

I just finished The Sister's Brothers by Patrick deWitt and thought I should put down a few words about it.

My first impression seems to be along the lines of, "For a book about gunslingers in the "wild west" during the Gold Rush in California there's not a ton of in your face action."

My second thought is about how when you don't have your contacts in, this cover looks like an evil cat...
Taking place in 1850 this tale follows the Sisters Brothers, Eli and Charlie. Charlie, being the eldest is the leader, but Eli (the character from whose point of view the book is told) has some problems with their way of life.

As expected for a western the reader gets to meet many colorful characters: catty whores, big man bosses and little man bosses, drunkards, gentlemen dandies and the two (or really one) brave steed the brothers ride. You see, Charlie, being the lead man, got the better horse, Nimble, while Eli was stuck with Tub, a horse that proves his spirit several times over. When Eli talks about the horses, Tub stands in his and Eli's relationship in the same place that Eli stands in his and Charlie's. In fact, most of the animals that we meet in this book serve as significant symbols and omens to future events. They are often noted when Eli is having some kind of epiphany or when something is being brought to his attention.

As I said before, there isn't a whole lot of in your face action in the book. Eli and his brother are professional killers so when guns are drawn it is treated as an everyday occurrence. There was some true, sinister horror contained in the book too. I think the worst character out of a book full of killers and deranged people is an eight year old girl. Seriously.

Mostly, though, the book is about Eli finally becoming his own person and the journey it takes to actually get him there. I closed the book feeling that, even though at the end, Eli was his own man he was still cheated out of coming to it on his own. 

This book managed to capture my attention almost immediately and I ended up reading more than half of the book in one sitting. For a book that tops 300 pages that is some impressive writing skill.

I would recommend this book to people who like human studies, westerns, or, oddly enough, horror. There is a pretty disturbing thread running through the entire book. Some magic, but it is subtle and it is never known if the magic is real, or if it is the result of a superstitious mind.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Stranger Tides

...or how Disney made fanfiction acceptable to a wide audience. Sort of.

This week I am looking at the book On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, a romping pirate tale that involves Caribbean islands, magic, zombies, the Fountain of Youth and Blackbeard the Pirate. There are also some Daddy daughter issues that involve Mommy's mummified head (this is one of the spots that Disney's latest entry into the Pirates franchise deviates from the source material).

I had never heard of this book before and only picked it up after I saw the latest Pirates movie. While sitting through the credits I noticed that there was one for this book. My interest was piqued so I decided to pick the book up. I like to think it was a good decision on my part. Of course, my views on the book were flavored and it took my until part two to finally stop wondering when Jack Sparrow was going to show up and when I was going to see some of the things, and by things I mean huge plot points, that also appeared in the movie.

After I finished the book, I came to the conclusions that Disney was probably just covering their bases when they said that their movie was based on this book. I could see somewhat where the movie might have been slightly inspired by, and obviously the title was taken directly from this book, but there aren't many similarities aside from what I mentioned in that opening paragraph.

This book is much darker than the Disney movie, there are some pretty dark, adult themes. One character, a main character, only wants to use his magic so that he can rape women in mind and body which is something that Disney appears to have dropped. Blackbeard/Ed Thatch is much fiercer in this book and is not the man with the Daddy daughter issues. As far as we know, he doesn't have any daughters, just a string of dead or insane wives.

Oh! But both main characters are named Jack. Granted, Jack Shandy in the book is not even a pirate technically speaking and he's not very funny. He's your typical hero that turns into a drunkard 3/4's of the way through that then redeems himself in the end.

I really did enjoy this book. It was a great read. Lots of action, magic and New World exploration; even some legal maneuvering, there's an entire subplot about forged inheritances. I also liked that the author did not really gloss over or try to pretty up the race relations of the time. Not all of the language fell into the patios of the time and was contemporary, but it worked. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys pirates, or voudoun. It is not for younger readers, though. Mature themes and all that.