In Our Strange Gardens

(No Series)

In Our Strange Gardens was named a BookSense 76 Recommended Pick for January 2002! Michel has a story to tell. It's about his father, an exquisitely common man whose very ordinariness is a source of grave embarrassment for the boy. It's also the story told to him by his uncle, who shared a family secret with the child in the flickering black and white images of a Sunday matinee.

Years before, in the bitter years of World War II, during the Nazi occupation of France, two brothers found themselves at the mercy of a German guard following an explosive act of resistance. Thrown into a deep pit with a small group of terrified prisoners, the men are told that one of them will die by dawn to serve as an example for the others. It's up to the prisoners to propose who will be sacrificed. But in the middle of the night, the guard returns with an extraordinary proposition of his own.

A novel of revelation, innocence and ignorance, of the power of language and the strength and complexity of family, In Our Strange Gardens is a fable of nuance and power, a mesmerizing addition to the literature of war.

A short, reflective piece that would be ideal in schools, telling moral lessons and how heroes grow out of the mundane before a child's eyes. Beautifully written in a poetic, first person point of view, the story is told as an adult looking back toward childhood. 

Let's just say this story, for a change, gives a positive reputation for clowns. A neat twist in sobering circumstances, all is happy and better in the end, as people do sometimes truly grow and thrive from tragedy if they overcome. Rather than an actual story, it is composed an introduction, a life changing scene, and an afterword. 

Yes, this is a ridiculously short review - so short I considered not putting it up at all - but with the short content length there's not much to say other than the point of the story: the moral lesson. 

Man of Steel

(No Series)

Havill, author of Deep Truth: The Lives of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein offers readers the inside story of Christopher Reeve's heroic struggle with paralysis. Reeve has been in the public spotlight since his equestrian accident, giving encouragement to his millions of fans and peers in the entertainment industry. This is the first book available on this tragic, yet uplifting story.

Thankfully well-researched, the writer takes up little space with introspection and filler, instead using facts, quotes and known impressions down to the finest details and the more obscure sources. If you're a Superman or Reeves fan, I highly recommend this book when searching for a biography.

The book opens announcing the world's reaction to the accident, going into detail about what was required for procedure and everything leading up to it. There were details and tidbits about the procedures and problems with outside influences that were discussed in the biography, while Reeves did not personally bring them up in his own book.

Man of Steel went into graphic detail about the filming of each Superman film, which should delight fans, but also chronicles every stage of Reeve's acting career, from every small film and every struggle. Most attention is given to the first big movie, Superman, taking pages to show how hard it was to cast parts with each actor. Marlon Brando was certainly painted in a poor light, not really from the side of the producers and during the movie, but especially afterward with scathing reviews.

Even small, amusing tidbits like this were included: "...was concerned that when his star wore the costume with the bright red tights that the protruding part of Reeve's anatomy be in the same place for each shot. To make sure, he assigned a script girl to keep track. After a conference it was decided that a true Superman would be neither left nor right - but dead center. A plastic codpiece was found... "

Toward the end of the book, as Reeve grew more passionate about causes, protects, and politics, this was all handled well by dishing out tidbits about groups he joined, speeches given, leading causes under his enthusiasm. I was surprised to learn about the Donald Trump involvement with Reeve over Trumptown in New York, and of course impressed by the speech and rally at Chilie which may have well saved 88 lives. With the political turnout a year later for the better, country officials again noted Reeve's involvement. It was especially invigorating how he chose to spend time lobbying for the Arts guild, including fighting a school board that fired a teacher for a controversial play. His comments on censorship there - bravo.

The writer also digs deeply into what the tabloids speculated and what Reeve confirmed or disproved regarding his ten year relationship (no marriage) to his sweetheart Gae, and his firm stance on no-marriage until hitting an older age and meeting Dana. I learned through his words in interviews how his relationship with father and mother were and differed, in a way more than I learned from his personal autobiography, Still Me.

Man of Steel presents a courageous, impressive man who was talented in so many ways - childhood pianist, enthusiastic pilot, sailor, activist, and of course actor. While presenting a positive and admiring light of Reeve's character and ambitions, it is unapologetic with it's honesty during the rougher times of his acting career, lining up reasons the career fell so far in a straight way any reader will get without being told. (Surprisingly it wasn't at first from being typecast as Superman, not so much.) Even the most brutal and vicious review piece is shared, all to accurately portray his acting achievements and pitfalls throughout the years.

The wrap-up at the end was touching and you could feel the support of fellow actors and those lives he touched as he attended the awards. Inspiring stuff.

This thorough book is a wonderful accompaniment to 'Still Me.' The autobiography definitely shouldn't be passed up for this less personal piece, for 'Still Me' shows his personal mindset about his love of acting, of life, of sports, and of the tragedy that befell him. His philosophical musings, especially at the end, were sobering, powerful pieces. But taken together, both factual book and the more personal one, was a rewarding reading experience about this interesting man who was so well suited to play the man in red and blue.

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The Shadow Hero

(No Series)
Published July 2014

In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity... The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of "American Born Chinese," Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in "Shadow Hero," a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore.

Hank is an everyday boy who loves his father - a man who faithfully runs a small grocery store in Chinatown. His mother, an unhappy woman, gets it into his mind that her son should become a superhero and spice up their lives. Hilarity - tragedy - and bizarreness ensues.

I ended up loving this one - the humor worked well without any force, making me laugh out loud - I LOVED the mother, she cracked me up. The art was quirky and fun, in the beginning being dim and gray and slowing brightening to color. The character's faces - and some of their chins - added to the experience. 

I loved the theme for the superhero and the different costumes they went through to get there. The effects of the mother trying to turn him into a superhero = priceless. There was some tragedy, as there is in a lot of superhero origins. The background story for the main family was not only funny, it made sense and was interesting. The China guardians and animals spirits - not sure what else to call them - were also intriguing.

There was culture, humor, realism, and fun fantasy for this graphic novel. I'm not the biggest fan of superheroes from the street without many powers, at least not as into the actual powered ones, but this is still a fun, fascinating story I enjoyed reading.

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Baal by Robert McCammon

(No Series)

A woman is ravished... and to her a child is born... unleashing an unimaginable evil upon the world! And they call him BAAL in the orphanage, where he leads the children on a rampage of California, where he appears as the head of a deadly Manson-like Kuwait, where crazed millions heed his call to murder and orgy. They call him BAAL in the Arctic's hellish wasteland, where he is tracked by the only three men with a will to stop him: Zark, the shaman; Virga, the aging professor of theology; and Michael, the powerful, mysterious stranger.

Reading the two-page afterword that followed this book, I learned that Robert McCammon considers this his "Angry Young Man novel", and that this was his first full-length publication. The story was born from feeling surrounded by powerless circumstances - in the twenties with little money, a dead-end job catering to under-appreciative employers, little respect from peers. Baal rose up to form a story that has been told and retold in so many ways before. It's not new, but as far as these types of tellings go, it's damn good.

The thing I appreciate most is that McCammon stuck to the viewpoints of a select few, staying with them a good length in between, not head-hopping too much, something that drives me bonkers with these types. It was subtly apocalyptic until the end, where it still felt sheltered and isolated, but that was the trick of the hand and the weight over the eyes.

Focal settings help the story succeed well - told through the POV of the unlucky parents for the first segment; Baal's interesting choice of carriers to fame through the boy's home as a teenager; Virga, the quiet and subtle hero at the college; the destruction and desolation as Baal gains power in the middle east; and ultimately the long, perilous journey that three heroes bear on the ice. Each of these segments drew out to highlight the power of the story, not needing to jump around, and in staying amidst themselves and having respect/importance for each scene, making each segment count as much as the first and the last - well, that is where this story truly succeeded.

Virga was such an awesome hero because, like in so many biblical stories and lessons, he was an ordinary man. Aged, not strong in stature, not particularly brave, he helped as best as he could but was not saved in any way through good fortune, talent, luck, or skill. He couldn't fight, he couldn't shoot weapons, he couldn't track, and he was the slowest of the group in the ice, slowing them down. An unassuming hero with his own brands of flaws. Baal was truly evil, yicky with his intents and his purposes, a one-dimensional foe. While I usually prefer my heroes AND villains with grey spots, Baal could be nothing but pure black to be convincing considering what he is supposed to be.

McCammon writes well with his pacing and scenes. At over 350 pages, this novel doesn't need trimming or editing. He especially excelled with convincing dialogue, especially when Baal either speaks or bellows. There is a small twist at the end (but it's not surprising) and the battle is almost anticlimactic - perhaps a little weak - but ultimately it works with the subtle, apocalyptic story.

No real flaws, but a three-star rating is earned because the story only entertains semi-far due to it's content. Plotting structure is fine and well constructed, but the story's material is simple.

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