Halloween Reading

Happy Halloween boys and ghouls. Here’s some quick suggestions for spooky reads:

airmontfrankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

This is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s not like anything you’d expect from seeing Karloff flicks, rather it’s steeped in pathos and haunting characterization. Read my mini-review here, and download a free copy here.


poeThe Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe.

He’s the master. Enough said about that. Download for free.



Pretty much anything written by H.P. Lovecraft


He’s a lesser know master, but a master nonetheless. I’m especially in favor of “The Call of Chutlhu” and “Herbert West: Reanimator.” Some of his work is public domain as well.


dracula_book_cover_1902_doubleday_89Dracula by Bram Stoker

Another great book eclipsed by offshoot Hollywood and pop culture iterations. This book is original and great and old enough to be free.


Night Shift by Stephen King


He’s gotten a little redundant in recent years, but I had to include Stephen King on this list.  I happen to love some of the stories included in this collection, however I almost chose Pet Sematary instead, and you can’t go wrong with that choice either.


scary_stories1Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Swartz

Remember these books from the Scholastic book fairs? They provide a nice collection of spooky tales and lore. The real draw though is the incredible, creepy illustrations. They seriously gave me nightmares when I was little. Read online.

REVIEW: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

sense-and-sensibility-and-sea-monstAuthor: Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

2009, Quirk Classics

Best ebook deal: Sony eBook Store

Filed under Literary, Sci-fi

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 4
Artwork..... 6

What I most enjoyed about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was how it was delivered almost as an enhanced edition of the original text. Most of Austen’s original novel was intact, and Grahame-Smith more or less selectively modified the book. This transformed the story into something different, while ensuring it remained potted in the same soil. In Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Winters takes a very different approach. This novel is very much a rewrite and not a modification. Sea Monsters is essentially a mashup of Austen’s novel and Beauty and the Beast, “Pirates of the Carribbean” and “Bioshock.” It’s still a pretty fun read though.
Continue reading »

Reviews in Haiku #4

Presenting October’s reviews in bite-sized portions for your Halloween goody bags:


The Book of Wonder

not high fantasy

varied and eclectic tales

hit me from left field


The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

writing, kid are sharp

gimmick gets tedious quick

T.S. talks to porch


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

undead English plague

sophisticates sowing gore

with katana swings


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

voice, voice, voice, voice, voice

there are that many, all great

takes dorkiness deep


Juliet, Naked

guy friendly romcom

not much here is new, Hornby

yet, a pleasant yarn


The Book Thief

narrator is death

need not be shunned by book clubs

another great read


The Sherriff of Yrnameer

warning! tv pen

unimaginative bore

pretty much crappy

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

swashbuckling fun

not as clever a round two

reviewed tomorrow


REVIEW:The Sheriff of Yrnameer

the_sheriff_of_yrnameer.largeAuthor: Michael Rubens

2009, Pantheon

Best ebook deal: Barnes & Noble

Filed under: Sci-Fi, Humor

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 3
Entertainment..... 3
Depth..... 2
Originality..... 1

Rubens’s biggest credit in his “About the Author” note is as a writer and producer on The Daily Show. So the conceit is clear: this will be a funny TV guy writing a funny sci-fi novel.

There are two ways this can go. The author can use the wide boundaries of the genre as an excuse to take wild risks with the plot and characters, and so short-circuit the usual novelistic learning curve. Or he could be a funny person who thinks that writing a novel is easy, and doesn’t put nearly enough work into it. Unfortunately, Yrnameer is the latter, and Rubens turns in an uninspired, shapeless mishmash.

The premise is derivative to the least—it reads like a compilation of sci-fi’s greatest hits. The plot is barely there. The characters are two-dimensional. And, possibly worst of all, it’s just not that funny. There’s evidence of a humorous mind at work, but there’s a big difference between being funny on TV or in person, and being funny in a novel.

Rubens’s humor is ill-suited for the novel form, and it seems that he is, too.
Continue reading »

REVIEW: The Book Thief

book-thiefThis book has been chosen as a Great Read

Author: Markus Zusak

2006, Knopf

Best ebook deal: Random House

Filed under Young Adult, Literary, Historical

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 9

What will instantly grab you about this novel is the identity of the narrator. The story is told by Death. At first this concerned me; I was afraid I was stepping intto a sci-fi-ish story about a child in a terrible war, a la “Pan’s Labyrinth”. However, the book doesn’t go there. The supernatural never enters the story (besides the existence of a sentient Death). Moreover, Zusak’s Death will quickly win you over. He’s one of the strongest narrators I’ve read in a very long while.

The Book Thief is about a young German girl named Liesel living with loving adoptive parents during the second world war. At its heart, this is a coming of age novel and a love story, though it would be doing the novel a disservice to label it solely as either.
Continue reading »

Wednesday Links 10-21-2009

Wednesday again. As usual, let’s start off with ereaders and go from there.
  • The Barnes & Noble ereader (maybe named Athena or Nook) is looking pretty snazzy. It’s rumored to be priced competitively at $259; it’s got dual screens and runs on Android. Not to be outdone, so does the mysterious Spring Design’s Alex. Plastic Logic also released some details on their upcoming device, the QUE, which looks pretty sleek and will be available in just a few months.
  • Google has decided to launch an ebook store called Google Editions., which got the Frankfurt Book Fair atwitter. Walmart wants in too, so they will begin selling ebooks on Walmart.com. For the most part I find Walmart to be just about the most evil corporation on the planet, but it will be interesting to see what effect this has on ebook prices, beyond the current scuffle with Amazon–and what formats they make available.
  • German parliament bought a buttload of ereaders for some reason. And, might we see ebooks in bookstores soon? Aussies will. Corey Doctorow put an interesting piece for Publisher’s Weekly about ebooks and why he thinks they can be free. Read this interesting response to a savage review of Jonathan Lethem’s new book. Find a great “captain” Ahab or Poe tee shirt over at Novel-T.
  • For fun this week: Ugliest Tattoos is funny stuff. Until 10/25 you can get the awesome World of Goo (Mac/PC/Linux) legally and name your own price. This Brit video is pretty funny/clever.
  • And, finally, if you are the Russian spammers overloading our comments, please stop. It’s really annoying. (We’ve been scrambling to get the spam cleaned up, so we apologize to any commenters if your post gets deleted by mistake. Feel free to email us if this happens to you and we’ll get your post reactivated.)

REVIEW: Juliet, Naked

juliet-naked-hornbyAuthor: Nick Hornby

2009, Riverhead

Best ebook deal: Barnes & Noble

Filed under: LiteraryHumor

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6

Top Five Nick Hornby Novels

5. How to Be Good

4. High Fidelity

3. Juliet, Naked

2. A Long Way Down

1. About a Boy

OK, that was pretty cheesy. But there’s something about Hornby that invites a certain kind of earnest, jocular cheesiness.

Juliet, Naked will be made into a movie at some point, and I’m guessing it will star Robert Downey Jr. and Kate Winslet, if they can tweak the female lead slightly younger.

As a novel, it’s a fairly straightforward romantic comedy, with a relatively ludicrous premise. But Hornby has a talent for taking relatively ludicrous premises and plumbing their depths until he hits something good. He commits to his characters and his plot points, and, most importantly, he has a preternatural talent for making stories about relationships compelling and fresh.
Continue reading »

Barnes & Noble eReader Device Revealed (sort of)

There have been a bunch of images and rumors floating around over the weekend about the soon-to-be released Barnes & Noble ereader device, and they’re some pretty slick images and rumors.

If all is to be believed, the machine–maybe named the Athena–is designed by former Apple designers (who also worked on the original Kindle?) and will feature two screens on a single plane. The main screen is black and white, utilizing E-Ink, and the second, smaller, navigation/data entry screen features full color multitouch LCD.

Pretty awesome and innovative. Such a combination could possibly obviate a lot of the discussions on the disparities between the various  ereaders’ screens in the current generation.  The machine supposedly runs on Google’s Android OS, meaning it could stand well above the rest in the firmware department as well.

Barnes & Noble has been selling ebooks at competitive prices in eReader format for some months now. They are clearly aiming to take a big bite out of the Kindle’s (not entirely deserved) pie. No word yet on whether they will take a similar propritary format approach as their competetion, but it would definitely be interesting if the device remians open to other formats (particulary if it can handle library books).

There will be a press conference on Tuesday–most likely a full, official reveal with specs. We’ll know more then. Check back later in the week for the skinny.

via BrighthandDVICE, BusinessWeek, Gizmodo

REVIEW: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

This book has been chosen as a Great Read

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoAuthor: Junot Díaz

2007, Riverhead

Best ebook deal: Sony eBook Store

Filed under Literary

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8

The most distinctive element of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has to be the voice. The Dominican-American narrator is part street and part geek, as likely to reference gangster rap as anime or political history, as likely to turn a Spanish phrase as an Elvish one. The narrator balances his vocabulary effortlessly, bridging disparate worlds of discourse with slang and colloquial asides. The voice (excepting one chapter’s departure) is so charming and enveloping that I would have read this novel for the heights of the writing alone, even if the story wasn’t as engaging and tragic as it is.

For the typical reader, this book will be an education in both cultural allusion and the contemporary history of an island not so far from the shores of Miami Beach. Factual asides and footnotes instill the fictional events with historical gravity, and Oscar’s family becomes a vehicle for tracing three generations of brutality and heartbreak from the Dominican to the Dominican diaspora.

In New Jersey, Oscar’s life is a relentless search for love that always seems far beyond his reach. Oscar is fat, nerdy, and cripplingly introspective. Girls pay him no mind, or if they do it’s only to lead him on, but that doesn’t keep Oscar from throwing himself into the search with an enthusiasm that’s embarrassing to nearly everyone but him. When the narrator is compelled to take a special interest in Oscar, because of a special interest in Oscar’s sister, he makes transforming this hopeless geek his personal project.

Would it be a surprise at this point if I said that the project ends up transforming the narrator, that it leads him into a family history that might be the cause of all of Oscar’s troubles in the first place? Or that the book isn’t really about Oscar so much as it’s about legacies, familial, political, historical, and how their descendants respond to them? Maybe that seems a bit grand, but turning the grandiose into the human is the province of good literature. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is certainly that.

Books you might also like: Drown by Junot Díaz, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Wednesday Links 10-14-2009

Another Wednesday, another round of links.

  • Disney’s got an ebook service up and running, so you can read all the Pooh Bear and Hanna Montana ebooks you want for $90 a year. Penguin and Eggmont have signed a deal with EA to bring children’s books to Nintendo’s DS handheld. Wynken de Worde has a nice piece up about the building wave of ebooks. This book’s cover art is hilarious, as is the existence of this toy.