[JABBIC is now on a monthly schedule. Look for the next one in January. Find previous installments here. And you can suggest covers we should use, or volunteer to write a blurb, by emailing us here.]
JABBIC is kind of like Balderdash with book covers. Based only on the cover at right, four of our contributors made up a one-paragraph premise for this week’s contestant, The Poison Tree, by Erin Kelly. Can you reverse-engineer their fabrications and pick out the book’s real plot? (The answer will be posted in the comments later today.)
1.) When they were twelve, Jan and Max swore they would never tell. But secrets can’t last forever. Especially when your secret is a ghost that can kill. The story of a friendship that endures an unbearable secret, Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree explores just how venomous seemingly inconsequential childhood decisions can be to our future selves.
2.) It is the sweltering summer of 1997, and Karen is a strait-laced, straight-A university student. When she meets an impossibly glamorous bohemian orphan who lives in a crumbling old mansion, she is soon drawn into that world–but something terrible is about to happen, and someone’s going to end up dead.
3.) The Poison Tree, a blend of Prophecy and Christian allegory, is a modern version of the Garden of Eden story that young readers can relate to. The story tells of the Jones family, an upright couple with two innocent children who are faced with temptation. They learn in a vision that the fruit of one of their apple trees will bring harm to their neighbors, but great rewards to their own family. The Jones family struggles to walk the path of righteousness and resist falling into the trap of materialism and greed. Erin Kelly is a messenger of faith to young Christians finding their place in the community of believers amidst the wordly seduction of sin.
4.) The fall is the most beautiful time of year in New England – crisp air, warm cider, and fresh pumpkin pie. For the Garlands it’s particularly special: it is when they tap the maple tree out back for sap for their small family-run syrup stand. But this season will turn out to be their autumn of discontent. When this year’s batch ends up causing deaths all over town, things get very sticky and the Garlands find themselves on the run. Was it sabotage or a plot by the Garlands themselves? In the end, The Poison Tree is anything but saccharine.
5.) Frank murdered his wife and buried her under the oak in their backyard. Soon the lawn is littered with dead squirrels and birds. Next his dog lay dead beneath the great tree’s shade. When he hears the tree calling him in the night, Frank must decide if a chainsaw can save him, or if his mind is already lost.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the protagonist of Patrick Suskind’s début novel is arguably one of the most extraordinary characters in contemporary fiction. This extraordinariness, which lies in his unprecedented and enviable power of smell, is an evident manifestation of the author’s creative genius and is responsible for the immense readability of this novel. Suskind hooks the reader right from the start. The novel begins:
In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here.
The initial couple of sentences are enough to convince the reader that there is so much of storytelling to be done. The words like ‘gifted’ and ‘abominable’ intrigue the reader whose curiosity is further increased with the mention of his gifts and ambitions which ‘were restricted to the domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer was originally published in German as Das Parfum: Die Geschiechte eines Morders in 1985 and became an international bestseller. Since then it has been translated into several languages and has also been adapted as a film with the same title. The novel tells the story of Grenouille’s quest to make the finest perfume in the world–and in the process of doing so he kills twenty-five virgin girls. … Continue reading »
[At the end of each month, Aaron surveys the comics he read, celebrates the best, considers the rest, and takes stock of what it means to be a contemporary comic fan. Follow "The State of My Pull List" here.]
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2
The comic book cover fake-out—where the action or mystery revelation on the cover never actually takes place in the book’s pages—is about as old as the medium itself, but the disparity is particularly noteworthy when it comes to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2. The gorgeous Gary Frank cover (itself an homage to creator Wally Wood’s cover for issue eight of the original series) depicts the team battling big robots and uniformed goons while a hooded skull watches—but not only does the issue feature neither the team fighting together nor any big robots, the most action it offers is the speedster character, Lightning, disabling the enemy base’s defenses in less than a second. Some might accuse writer Nick Spencer of extreme decompression, taking several issues to do what other writers might cover in a single page, but the character work in this issue raises the stakes for the eventual action and proves that this is more than just a team-up-and-fight book.
A few more details of the espionage/secret war plot are doled out, but the centerpiece of the issue is our introduction to Lightning, a.k.a Henry Cosegi, a former Olympic runner who accepts T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s offer to become the superfast hero after he’s disgraced by allegations of steroid use (allegations likely fabricated by T.H.U.N.D.E.R. itself). Cosegi’s story is drawn by guest artist ChrisCross, whose work has always been expressive and rich, but looks particularly good here. When Lightning goes into action, we see the consequences of his bargain—the powers allow him to run with purpose once more, but his running complicates the time stream and so he is confronted by successive visions of his own death, occurring at younger and younger ages. It’s a clever take on a well-worn power, but more than that it hits a chord of sadness that isn’t often explored in the genre. By the time this first arc wraps up the plot might not have progressed too much, but we’ll know these characters intimately, and feel the pain of their sacrifices more clearly.
Fans of the book should also pick up this month’s DC Comics Presents T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents 100-Page Spectacular, which reprints issues one, two, and seven of the original Tower Comics series. Last month I mentioned that Spencer seemed to owe a debt to The Wire given its focus on bureaucracy and ideas about work-a-day superheroics, but I was wrong—all of that is embedded in the title’s history. The original issues are excitedly dry, like Jack Kirby writing an episode of “Dragnet.” There’s plenty of adventure and lots of characters, but we don’t really get to know them before the narration whisks us away to another meeting of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. council, or some office politics. Reading this gave me a better perspective on what Spencer is up to in the new series; he’s not simply modernizing an old-fashioned story, but rather building on ideas that were ahead of their time. … Continue reading »
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Bird Cloud, by Annie Proulx, reviewed by Dwight Garner (New York Times)
Proulx’s latest work is a memoir about getting her house renovated. That sounds like a tough project to set yourself, and indeed, Garner says, “Few writers can talk about the perks of their success without sounding either defensive or deplorable. Ms. Proulx is not among those few.” Garner’s review is sharp and funny, and yet he never attacks Proulx. It’s a lesson in how to handle a bad book by a good writer.
Ulin is an impressive reviewer. In this review of a biography about John Cage (the eccentric, influential, experimental composer—try this and this, two of the YouTube clips mentioned in the piece), Ulin balances the requisite stories about the eccentricities of Cage’s work with a fascinatingly insightful thumbnail sketch of Cage’s life and philosophy. It’s the latter—that deeper insight into Cage the man—that Ulin claims the book itself lacks.
Like the Cage book above, this is a biography of an eccentric, fascinating genius (McLuhan was a philosopher who specialized in media theory and said, as Carr points out, “that ‘electronic interdependence’ is the defining aspect of our time … 50 years before anybody ever updated his Facebook page”). Unlike the Cage book, this one features Douglas Coupland, who takes a “fizzy, pop-culture approach to explaining a deep thinker.” I also recommend McLuhan’s crazy art book, The Medium Is the Massage, and check out his appearance in Annie Hall, where the subtitle of this biography originated.
[Original short fiction from the upcoming Chamber Four lit mag, C4. Our first issue is due out this winter; stay tuned for details.]
The usual geniuses had red and blue first-place ribbons on their science fair boards. The usual geniuses themselves stood in front of these testimonies to their brilliance and wore the nonchalant confidence of the high achieving.
Willie – not being a usual genius – did not have a ribbon on his board. Like the rest of the rabble, he stood by his board in lonely silence. Occasionally, he pulled at the too-large tie his mother made him wear and, when he thought no one was watching, gazed at passing girls.
The mother of a boy he’d played with in elementary school came up to him. “Willie! Look how big you’ve grown. I wouldn’t have known you but for the name on your board.”
“Hello, Mrs. Kleeve.”
“Don’t you love the science fair? What’s your project? Show me.”
Willie pointed to a box standing on a table. The box was full of sand. In one corner there was a pool of water, and, in another corner, there were some plants that looked like corn. In a third corner, an earth-colored blob kept banging against the side of the box.
Mrs. Kleeve crinkled her brow in the good-natured way that mothers of usual geniuses do. “Hmm. What have we here?”
Willie fiddled with the knot of his tie and looked down at his shoes. It took all his strength not to melt away like ice cream. It was just so embarrassing. His project was so simplistic; he saw that now. It was something a kindergartner could have done. No wonder he hadn’t won anything. “It’s a carbon-based life form,” he said.
Mrs. Kleeve bent down and took a closer look at the blob. “Really? I haven’t seen one of these in ages. Very unpredictable, aren’t they? Still, there’s always something to be learned from them. What’s your question?”
“Given self awareness and knowledge of its own impermanence, what will a carbon-based life form do?”
In Jones’s short novel, February became a seemingly endless span of time, a punishment–for some unspecified reason–for flight: kites, ballooning, etc. A small town is held hostage by February, who is also a deity of sorts. And as women and children are kidnapped and killed by February, the townspeople decide to stand up against the perpetual winter.
I can’t really discuss this book without giving away a conceit that doesn’t become apparent until later in that book. Basically, if the description is intriguing, you will like this book; I considered labelling it a Great Read. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but since what follows may be a surprise to some, I guess I should issue a spoiler warning: if you want to go into this book completely fresh, stop reading this review now and just read it (it’s good).
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Yu’s second book and first novel, is a remarkable achievement. It’s a tangled, metafictional narrative about a time machine repairman named Charles Yu who discovers a book (written by himself in the future) called “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” which is a convenient find because he’s about to be killed.
Yu the author handles the various threads of his story—especially the rigorous pseudo-scientific explanation of time travel and how it intertwines with the novel’s metafictional elements—with superb confidence and skill, especially for a first-time novelist. On top of that, he writes excellent prose.
Science Fictional has just one weakness: there isn’t much of a story here. While it’s a well-crafted book, it’s a bad novel. … Continue reading »
This collection isn’t quite what it sounds like: it’s not a bunch of stories about zombies and unicorns in battle. That would have been awesome. Instead it’s a collection of stories, some about zombies, some about unicorns. Each is preceded by a short dialogue between editors, each of which helms one of the two camps. The whole debate is pretty juvenile, even for a YA book, but that is, of course, to be expected to a degree considering the subjects at hand.
So does it work? Sort of. This collection is what it is. It boasts a number of recognizable young adult authors, and a few stories (such as “Inoculata” by Scott Westerfeld) are fairly good. The rest, not really so much. … Continue reading »
A biography of Marilyn Monroe told from the perspective of her Maltese terrier, Mafia Honey? Sounds either really dumb or really funny. According to Beck, it’s neither. Instead it’s a competent and compelling biography. It seems Maf is an engaging and readable narrator, which makes me want to read this book, even if I don’t really care at all about Marilyn Monroe. The review is quick and readable, worth a look.
That’s what all good fiction does, I think. It gives us the memory of our culture, as writers have conjured it up, and extends our lives in terms of years as well as geographically and psychologically, if not in actual physical longevity. If you think I’ve said something quite silly, stop reading now, please. But if you have the sense, as I do, that reading fiction gives you powers that approximate the strengths of at least the lower rung of the gods, keep going, because I have a recommendation for you.
This mystery about a girl who can visualize music seems a little smartypants, but also fairly charming. I’m willing to bet it has many of the same blemishes as most debut novels, but it seems on the whole to be a fairly competent work regardless. Lines like “[p]lot is often an afterthought in this kind of character-based literary novel” cause me to cringe a little, but Timberg follows this with “at times the story seems to meander and scatter pleasantly, but Mr. Gallaway brings things together quite neatly, even startlingly.” The Metropolis Case looks like it will be a nice choice to pick up in a few months, and take with you on a spring vacation.
The concept of this book is really awesome. It explores the history of our moon, but not just from the geological and astronomical angles. This book tells the story of humanity’s relationship with the moon and “the ways it inspired the human imagination to take flight.” Brunner explores literature, art, and anthropology to explain our species’ lunar affinity.
He took a similar approach with his last book, Bears, which also looks awesome.
[Edit: As several people have pointed out, there are kids' books with audio, available on the iPad as individual apps. So that's a tie, too.
Edits: See books, newspaper, and final thoughts sections, below.]
I had a chance to play around with an iPad over the holidays. Here’s a comparison of the iPad and the Nook Color, which I’ve been reading on for about a month (full Nook Color review here). Obviously the iPad does a lot more than reading, but this post is designed to give avid readers an idea of whether a Nook will be enough for them, or an iPad will be worth the extra money.
And the short answer is: the Nook will be enough. It’s a close fight, but the iPad simply doesn’t seem to care enough about reading to win.
[Note: I only had a day and a half with the iPad; if you're a more experienced iPad user and I got something wrong, let me know.]
The iPad's more newspaper-like newspaper layout. (Click any picture for full-size.)
Newspapers: iPad wins (for now)
The iPad’s NYTimes app looks more like a real paper, and features big, beautiful pictures and embedded video. Best of all: it’s free (for now). The Timeshas plans to start charging at some point; once that happens, this will be a much closer race.
The Times app needs an Internet connection to work, where the Nook Color downloads the whole paper so you can read it offline. There’s no archive in the iPad version, only today’s news, and if you want a paper other than the Times, you’re out of luck.
I don’t really care about the layout, to be honest. Some people don’t like the Nook Color’s list-of-articles-style layout, and it could certainly use some navigational help (like a back button). But the iPad layout is basically the same, except for the front page of each section.
Photo essays like this one are awesome, but they take an age to download (after several minutes, only five pictures are available).
I am jealous, however, of the NYTimes app’s multimedia content. I’d like to see the digital edition of the Times include videos, photo essays, and blogs like the iPad version, I’d like to see it download an entire edition to your device like the Nook version. The iPad’s 3G is basically worthless, so you have to read the paper at a WiFi connection.
So: the Nook gives you more papers, and gives you the complete archiveable print versions of them. The iPad only gives you the NYTimes, it needs a WiFi connection and expires too quickly, but it offers a lot of multimedia content. Once price is no longer an issue, the winner of this fight will depend on how you read the paper.
[Edit: People have pointed out that there are other newspaper apps in the iPad store. I searched for a dozen prominent papers and came up empty. The selection is definitely worse on iPad, but I can't comment on the apps I didn't try.]