Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod:

Eighth Grade Bites
Ninth Grade Slays

by Heather Brewer

When I first saw a copy of Eighth Grade Bites in fall of 2007, I thought the cover was awesome. The baggy black hoodie is so totally how teens dress these days, right? I put it on display by the new young adult books and was dismayed that no one checked it out. After a few weeks it went onto the regular shelves, and I forgot about it.

Fast-forward about nine months, and out of nowhere I realize that Twilight by Stephenie Meyer has hundreds of people on the waiting list and is being made into a movie, some of which is being filmed in Oregon. I remember when the book first came out in 2005, and I remember seeing it languishing on the shelf week after week after week. I also remember the sequel, and I remember wondering why we were getting the second book when the first hadn't been checked out even once.

Even once the hoopla started, I didn't want to read Twilight, because I didn't want to wait and because I'm sometimes turned off just by the fact of something being very popular. The upshot, however, is that all the requests for the Meyer books got me thinking again about the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod. I remembered that I'd kind of wanted to read it, and I figured this would be a great time to do so, because it could be a recommendation to give teens for something to read while they're waiting for or after they've finished Twilight.

These books are pretty short, even for YA. The first one especially could be read in one sitting.(Meyer's books are designed to look longer, but I've heard they're not all that long.) While the writing isn't super and there's a noticeable lack of basic editing ("how's so-and-so fairing?"), as well as some continuity failures (creeping down the hall from one room to another, which were previously described as being on different floors), plus some painfully dumb "creative" choices (vampire communities exist in cities such as Cairo, London, Mexico City, and ... the sprawling metropolis of Stokerton?) — all that notwithstanding, I just about loved these books.

The main character is a sweet, likable kid with a crush on a pretty girl and a couple of bullies who pick on him for being goth. The best thing is the new twist on ye olde vampire story that is the centerpiece of the plot: Vlad's dad was a vampire and his mom was mortal (they're both dead), so he was actually born a vampire instead of made into one by being bitten; vampire lore, meanwhile, tells of a such a vampire being born one day, rising to rule over all other vampires and enslave the entire human race. So, as you can imagine, he's got some enemies in the vampire community. And what about the mystery of his parents' death?

Looking forward to the next installment, Tenth Grade Bleeds, in July 2009!

Il Gatto Sul G.

by Tooko Miyagi

This is a two-volume (as far as I know) series from Juné Manga, which publishes some really fantastic boys-love stories, particularly of the romantic and relatively innocent variety. (Such as Only the Ring Finger Knows and Rin!) I read it more than a year ago, so my recollection is a bit hazy, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't that into it. There's this annoying thing where the character would turn (entirely or partially) into a cat as an expression of certain emotions. I don't know how common that is in manga, but I know there's a definite sub-genre, so I suppose some people don't find it irritating the way I do. (How fine is the line between cosplay and furry?) Other than that, it is a fairly typical boys-love set up: young men of slightly different ages, a bit of power imbalance, confused longings and unclear motivations. In this case, the younger character has, or may have, serious psychological problems.

Final judgement? It's worth a shot if you like yaoi manga. Heck, I just requested the second volume so I can give it another chance.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


by Terence Blacker

I don't want to fall behind while catching up, so here's one that I only just finished reading.

It's kind of awful, but I also kind of loved it. The premise is preposterous, and the writing — well, it's hard to tell because the perspective skips from character to character every few paragraphs, which I found intensely irritating and unnecessary. When I read the first 10 or so pages before bed one night, I wasn't sure I'd be able to finish it, that's how bad it seemed. But the next night, I finished the entire book in one sitting, during which I laughed out loud several times and found myself grinning a lot. And I totally swear I only had one beer.

An orphaned American boy moves to live with auntie/uncle/cousin in London; ridiculously, cousin and his friends make American boy dress as a girl for the first week of school. If you can make it past that, you'll get some funny bits. The cross-dressing boy turns out to be pretty cute as a girl, with long blond(e) hair and a small frame. He fancies himself a tough guy, so the way he gets into flipping his hair, swishing his skirt, and wearing a training bra is amusing. The funniest, though, was how this brash and tom-boyish seventh-grader captures the attention of the twelfth-grade lothario. Oh, yeah, and he inherits 2 million dollars, and his long-lost jailbird dad turns up looking to cash in, but sort of turns out to be a decent guy following the impregnation of his new former-stripper wife.

Like I said, ridiculous, but somehow I enjoyed it, the way you can sometimes enjoy a really really really dumb romantic comedy film that you get on Netflix and watch by yourself because you're too embarrassed to admit to anyone that you want to watch it.

The Headmaster Ritual

by Taylor Antrim

How weird is this? In the shower this morning, I was thinking how cathartic it was to finish the zine roundup yesterday and how I was feeling optimistic and into doing this reading journal after months of indifference. Knowing I have a big backlog, I started thinking about what to do when it came time to write about a book I read a while back and didn't really remember or have strong feelings about. The example that came to mind: The Headmaster Ritual.

So, I'm not sure why I wanted to read it in the first place, I think maybe it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. I also tend to enjoy books with boarding school as the setting. (Spud is a good example.) And since I don't have a strong memory of the book, I have to wonder if it's worth doing any research to remind myself, or if it's worth writing anything about it at all.

I just found the NYTBR article on the interwebs (here), and it's not very illuminating. It's not that positive of a review, so what made me want to read the book?

As I work through my backlog, I suppose I'll get better or find a better way of dealing with this situation if it comes up again. And perhaps I'll catch up and never fall behind again and not have to worry about it ever again. (One can dream...)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Another zine roundup

So, it's been ages. I'm terribly behind with this reading journal. I haven't even been reading at my accustomed pace, and I've still got a backlog of dozens of books. I've also read a bunch of zines, mostly stuff that's new to the library's collection. Since I'm so far behind, I'm gonna do this quick and dirty, as they say. Sorry for not linking the titles, but gimme a break, will ya?

Prepubescent, by Ms. Zine
Not comprehensive sex ed. for boys, more anecdotal, but an interesting look at a mother-son relationship on the "pre-" side of puberty. Could be read by sons and/or parents or anyone who interacts with that age group. Favorite part: son asks mom why guys like to look at boobs; mom says, I don't know, you're a guy so you tell me why (or ask another guy; and if you really don't know yet, you'll figure it out soon enough).

Frat-bot and Cod and Thingpart Sampler #5 by Joe Sayers
Love this guy's comic strips from the weekly paper. The sampler is a collection of those strips, while the other is a group of longer vignettes featuring the eponymous characters, all with Sayers' trademark twisted humor. My fave of his strips (not in these, but on my friend's refrigerator): little girl begs mom for a pony, mom agrees, little girl cheers; in the final panel, the little girl is holding a knife and fork, crying in front of a piece of meat, and mom says "shut up and finish your pony."

Phase 7, #s 010, 011, 012, by Alec Longstreth
Great mini-comic about the author's development as a comics artist and zinester, so it's doubly meta: a comic about comics and a zine about zines. Which doesn't make it sound as cool as it is. I don't know how else to explain except to say that you'll feel as if you're catching up with a friend you haven't seen in a while.

The Way Things Used to Be and Argyle, by Erica Schreiner
Argyle tells the story of an intense and relatively brief love affair. I never could tell if it's a true story or not; it has the dreamy sort of feel of something not really imagined but more like a gilded remembrance. The Way Things Used to Be is a gripping first-person narrative of family, social, and romantic issues in senior year of high school. I would totally recommend this to teens of any gender, cuz it feels so real.

The Fart Party, by Julia Wertz
Hilarious mini-comic about slacker/hipster angst. Don't remember which ones (1, 4, or 7) I read, but I got giggles from both. She almost moves to Portland (yay!) but goes to Brooklyn instead. (Boo!)

Big Plans, Nos. 1-3, by Aron Nels Steinke
Completely charming mini-comics relating more or less ordinary events in the life of a young man. But just so effing charming! There's no other word. I have a crush on Aron after reading these.

Hey Tim: five letters, by Bob Wenzel
Poop-your-pants funny! Bob has Crohn's disease and sends letters to his son Tim about some of his extreme potty emergencies, Tim illustrates them and puts out a zine. Not for the squeamish, but if the word "poop" makes you giggle, you're gonna love it. (Crohn's disease isn't funny, and we shouldn't laugh at people who have it. But shit happens, and sometimes all you can do is hold on to your sense of humor.)

Somnambulist #10, by Martha Grover
"The Portland Issue" of highly readable short stories by Grover and others. I also read #7, which relates the smoking and quitting stories of an extended family, most of whom have smoked or still do smoke cigarettes. The smoking issue is more free-form, with less writing and more illustrations. Both are worth the time.

Crudbucket #6, by K.T. Crud
So freaking hilarious. It's "the hodgepodge issue," full of random funny stories. (Not sure how it compares to other issues.) If her last name weren't Crud, it'd have to be Sedaris. Definitely in my Top 10 of humorous zines.

Constant Rider #8, by Kate Lopresti
Oftentimes I like it that zines are short, but this is one I wish were longer. I'm kind of a transportation/urban planning geek, but I think these mini-reports about public transportation are interesting enough for any reader. I've also read #7, and soon the library will have the omnibus.

Superman Stories #2, by Mark Russell
Another entry in the Top 10 humorous zines, along with the first installment. In comic books, movies, television shows, you only get the highlights of a character's life. These zines fill in the blanks with things you never knew you wanted to know about Superman's real life.

Monsters #1-2 and Gordon Smalls Goes to Jail: an act of comicide, by Ken Dahl
Unintentionally giving your girlfriend herpes (and realizing how ignorant you both are about STIs) can make you feel like a monster, as explained in this well-written and highly imaginative comics series. Then, to cheer yourself up, read a realistically harsh and yet somehow also funny comic about spending the night in the clink. Eff the pigs, right? But you're better off not effing with them cuz it really sucks to get busted.

Wierd Sea Creatures of the Sea: focus on narwhal and Homobody #1-3, by Rio Safari
The genius of WSCS is that it's partially true, partially made up, and all precious: an illustrated bonbon of infotainment. Can't wait to see more creatures! The Homobody series consists of single panels and mini-comics relating incidents in the life of a young, gay, punk guy. Often sweet and romantic, totally crush-worthy.

Coffeeshop Crushes: tales of love and lust in coffee establishments (anthology)
I wish I had a copy on hand so I could give you this great quote about the peculiar pscyho-sexual appeal of skinny, pale, blank barista boys. A spotty anothology, but the gems in there are worth looking for — just be sure to give yourself permission to skip around and not read every single entry.

SteamPunk Magazine: lifestyle, mad science, theory & fiction (various authors)
If you've never heard of "steampunk," flip through some of these. If you adore old-fashioned "technology," then revel in these. If nothing else, interesting as evidence of a little-known subculture, and every issue has at least one cool DIY project.

Xploited Zine, Issue 002: public restrooms (anthology)
Reviews and related stories about places to go when you have to "go" in San Francisco. You don't have to live there to find it amusing or informative, though it might help.

Avow #22, by Keith Rosson
Intense confessionals (true?) about living and loving and struggling with addictions. Quality writing compensates for sort of depressing subject matter.

Mary Van Note's Experiences (of the sexual variety) vol. 1, by Mary Van Note
As George Michael once sang, "sex is natural, sex is fun...". Sex is also weird, occasionally icky, and frequently hilarious in this collection of bizarre recollections of sexual awakening.

Dancing with Jack Ketch: the life of Jackson Donfaire, notorious pirate, by Josh Shalek
Not a true story, as far as one quick Google can tell, which is shame. All about an escaped slave turned castaway-cook and pirate captain who returns a ship full of slaves to Africa, it would be great if it were true. Hard to put my finger on exactly why, but I found it overall a bit disappointing.

Mishap #21, by Ryan Mishap
Classic perzine out of Eugene, really runs the gamut. I liked reading the book reviews way more than I expected, and the interview with the lead singer of a Scandinavian, Middle-Earth-themed (yes, as in Tolkien) heavy metal band was a hoot.

Standard Deviation #1, by J.V. Whimper
A brilliant little science zine that's just too darn short. A little miscellanea, a touch of Q&A, and lovely wee lab report of sorts. Would love to see more, and longer ones, in the future.

Glossolalia No. 9, by Sarah Contrary
Lyrical and eloquent meditations on what makes New York and Portland special, each in their own ways. Too bad Sarah doesn't live in Portland anymore! Glad we got her to do a Zinesters Talking (2007) while she was still here.

Messenjerk: Lords of the Extreme, by Natalie Yager
Non-stop making fun of bike messenger culture, especially those ridiculous fixies. Funny cuz it's true, and even when it's exaggerated or made up, still funny cuz it's at someone else's expense. Not sure how actual messenjerks feel about it, tho.

Time Is the Problem #1, by Jim Lowe
Didn't finish this one. Too much non-religious spirituality and life-really-has-meaning. My not liking it is more a matter of my constitution and (lack of) beliefs than a function of the zine's quality, which (see previous) I'm not equipped to judge.