17 November, 2009

Book 31 - Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, or: "'I wonder why things have to change,' mumured Piglet."

When books like the (apparently) long-awaited sequel to the original Winnie-the-Pooh books are announced, I always hear a little tinkly bell in the air. Well, less of a tinkle, and more like the CHA-CHING of a cash register. The House at Pooh Corner ends with Pooh and Christopher Robin coming to realise the Christopher Robin is going to have to leave the wood: he's going away to school. It's a poignant moment, a goodbye to childhood, an excellent end to a sweet, funny and imaginative story. So why does there need to be another sequel by someone who isn't even the original author?

Because people will buy it, of course.

Title: Return to the Hundred Acre Wood (2009)

Author: David Benedictus

Why this book?
A Winnie-the-Pooh sequel! I couldn't not read it, no matter how cynical I was.

So what's it all about anyway?
Christopher Robin is home for the holidays, which kick off with a Welcum Back feast for him in the Hundred Acre Woods. There are various adventures with those old familiar characters: Owl gives a Spelling Bee, Rabbit conducts a Census, Piglet goes down a well during a drought, and Pooh goes on a search for honey (of course). There's also a new animal in the wood, an otter named Lottie who fancies herself to be bit above the others, but nevertheless joins in their adventures. Also she plays the mouth organ, which is kind of cool.

The Good and the Bad
I think I can best explain the Bad by quoting one review I read of the book:

"...this isn't more of the same, this is less. ... Although not as poetic or as heroic, lacking sharp wit or the real emotions of love and regret of the originals, this faint shadow will sell thousands of copies because today we always want more."
- Kerry White, 2009. 'In which a reader gets a bit hot and bothered'. Magpies, Vol. 24

And the Good? Well, it's not Disney. Can I just go off on a slight tangent here and say fuck you, Disney, Heffalumps are not meant to be real what the actual fuck is wrong with you. David Benedicus at least understands that much.

So, should I read it or what?
For kids who love Winnie-the-Pooh, this book gets a pass. For adults looking to reminisce, I'd say stick to the originals.

11 November, 2009

Book 30: Fables, Legends in Exile, or: "You look out of breath, Jack. Been climbing beanstalks again?"

Title: Fables: Legends in Exile (2003)

Author: Bill Willingham

Why this book?
I was doing quality control for my mother - she buys graphic novels, I have the arduous task of reading them and deciding if they're appropriate for impressionable young women.

So what's it all about anyway?
After their various homelands and kingdoms were attacked by a mysterious and powerful evil, known only as "the Adversary", many fairytale creatures and mythological figures were forced to find refuge somewhere else entirely - in New York, in a part of the city which becomes known as Fabletown.

The Big Bad Wolf - aka Bigby - acts as Fabletown's sheriff, so when the infamous Jack discovers Rose Red's apartment trashed and covered in blood, it falls on him to find the culprit behind the vicious attack - and to discover what has happened to Rose. Has someone discovered the truth of the Fablefolks origins? Or is the person behind it a little closer to home? Rose Red's sister, the intelligent and capable Snow White, has never quite forgiven her sister for sleeping with her husband. Then there's Jack, who had a recent and very public break-up with Rose; and Bluebear, her current squeeze, used to have the happy little habit of cutting off his wives' heads. And what, exactly, is Prince Charming doing back in town...?

If Bigby doesn't solve the case, and quickly, it might just be the beginning of the end of Fabletown. He's sure there's more going on than meets the eye - but who's lying, and why? And hey - if he does solve it, it might just be that he gets his very own Happily Every After.

The Good and the Bad
It'll probably come as no surprise to you that I loved this graphic novel to pieces. It had my two favourite things: a murder mystery, and fairytale characters! That is pretty much the literary equivalent of a peanut butter and jam sandwich. And for a change, I have nothing bad at all to say about it.

Which isn't to say that it's perfect, but its biggest fault is that it's the first story arc in an ongoing series, so while it is a complete story, there are loose ends - the biggest being we have no real idea who the Adversary is, or why he or she forced the Fables into exile. Still, that didn't actually bother me: Legends in Exile was a full enough story that I didn't even feel the need to rush out and buy the next story arc to find out what happens next.

The way the various characters have been interpreted is definitely one of the book's highlights. Prince Charming was particularly fun, as a womaniser who has managed to schmooze his way across most of Europe. The illustrations were perfect, too - "gritty" and realistic, but not what I'd call ugly. As for the writing - it was dark without being angsty, funny without being silly, and noir-ish without being forced. In conclusion: Awesome.

So, should I read it or what?
Highly recommended.

Some time this century: The biography of a fashion icon, the lacklustre return of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter. That is seriously the name of a book. I'm pretty excited.

03 November, 2009

Books 28 and 29: "There was nothing the two brothers liked more than tackling a tough case."

Do you know what teenagers love doing best? No, it's not drugs. No, it's not groping each other in their parents' cars. No, it's not dressing all in black and talking about how anti-establishment they are. Teenagers love solving mysteries! And I know what I'm talking about, because I spent about two hours last week hangin' out with the Hardy Boys.

Titles: The Flickering Torch Mystery (1971 revised edition)
The Secret of the Old Mill (1972 revised edition)

Author: Franklin W. Dixon, although he's not actually an actual person as far as I know.

Why these books?
Well... I found them at a flea market. And they were cheap! And they reminded me of my childhood! I couldn't resist.

So what's it all about anyway?
OK, I'm going to do my best to remember the actual plots of these books, but they are honestly so convoluted I can barely separate the two.

In Flickering Torch, the Hardy's detective father is busy on a case involving the constant theft of government property, so he fobs off a new client on to Frank and Joe. Needless to say the client is unimpressed that this famous detective is telling him that his teenage sons will take his case. But! Frank and Joe are used to being treated like this, because it is hard to believe they're so brilliant! The mystery has something to do with silkworms being stolen, and the brothers start working on the farm next door to the silk-worm farm, where they talk like the inbred country bumpkins so no one will actually know their true identities. For some reason, this actually works. Then, um, I guess there's a whole lot of detecting that goes on, mostly at night, and there's flickering torches involved somehow, and the boys' case improbably has something to do with their father's, and there's illegal mining involved? I don't even know.

The Old Mill was less confusing. There is money forging going on, and... you know what? It's not less confusing. The counterfeiting is somehow inexplicably tied to this new technology company that has just moved into Bayport, which keeps having its projects sabotaged. For some reason the criminals behind this scheme set their base in the titular mill, which is far less exciting than, say, an underground lair inside a hollowed out volcano. But! Frank and Joe nevertheless solve the mystery! Oh, and I just remembered there was some kind of motor-boat shenanigans in there. The Hardy's boat is called the Sleuth, just in case you were wondering.

The Good and the Bad
Man, these books are hilarious. Frank and Joe are pretty much indistinguishable, except that Joe is slightly more impulsive because he's a whole year younger than Frank (he was the one I had a crush on when I was a kid, incidentally). Neither of them have actual personalities, though. You can tell their best friend Chet Morton is comic relief because not only is he Fat, but he also isn't Super Keen About Mysteries! He is a Reluctant Mystery Solver! Is there anything more hilarious than that? Chet's hobbies involve eating, and also getting a new hobby every book (hilarious!) Alos, you can tell that this is a book for boys, because unlike Nancy Drew, who has a boyfriend she spends quite a lot of time with, Frank and Joe just have "favourite dates", both of whom are not only pretty, but also excellent cooks. That's what every boy wants in a favourite date!

So yeah, really, really outdated. Everything is "swell", everyone is a stereotype, and each page is so dripping with wholesomeness that it is difficult not to choke on it. These books were written at a time when children's books had Bad Guys and Good Guys and zero moral uncertainty. I mean, the Hardys are so amazing that they can tell who the bad guys are just at looking at them. This because bad guys are Surly and Unpleasant, whereas good guys have Honest Faces! Oh Hardys. If only it were really that easy.

Relatedly: You might want to check out Kate Beaton's comic about Mystery Solving Teens. I found it amusing and accurate!

So, should I read it or what?
Ahahahahahaha... hahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Do yourself a favour and don't ruin your childhood.

Later this week, probably: Fairytale characters that are alive! And, in some cases, dead.