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I recommend this book heartily to all storyreaders, wherever you went to college. It really should be a Yale SR long, although it might be a little too long for that. Anyway, that's what I was thinking when I dashed off the following Goodreads.com review:

This is one of the most imaginative works I've read in a long time. Whimsical, dark, frightening, hilarious... mash up a late Harry Potter book with The Phantom Tollbooth and Terry Pratchett's DiscWorld (w/ a dash of Patricia A McKillip). Did I mention it's set in a world where books and authors are venerated? Eh, just read it!

From the Publishers Weekly review, for those who like a little plot summary with their recommendations (edited to remove MASSIVE spoilers):

German author and cartoonist Moers returns to the mythical lost continent of Zamonia in his uproarious third fantasy adventure to be translated into English (after 2006's Rumo)... Optimus Yarnspinner, a young saurian novelist, embarks on a quest to track down the anonymous author of the most magnificent piece of writing in the whole of Zamonian literature.

Description from Goodreads.com: The author of 13 1⁄2 Lives of Captain Bluebear transports us to a magical world. Optimus Yarnspinner finds himself marooned in the subterranean world of Bookholm, the City of Dreaming Books, where reading can be dangerous, where ruthless Bookhunters fight to the death.
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I'm not giving anything away by telling you that the Fourth Crusade is the one where the crusaders sack and loot a series of Christian cities, most famously Constantinople (capital of Byzantium). Knowing that, you might expect this book to be depressing. It's actually highly entertaining--a "rip-roaring adventure yarn" (tm)--with lots of action, suspense, and humor. It is, in fact, very like an extended, well-plotted D&D campaign, or better, module with pre-gen characters thrown together in a contrived situation and sent On a Quest. The two protagonists are a bard/assassin and a paladin. Watch them not get along! and then learn to appreciate one another! There's another rogue, a fighter, a tyrant or two, some spineless clerics, and a kickass woman posing as an Arab princess who is rescued by the party (I mean, the main characters). Still, there is character development here. ANd the history is pretty accurate, tho it's the My-Characters-Made-EVERYTHING-Happen school of historical fiction. Essentially, this is shallow fun that's well paced and won't leave you with a toothache.
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Deeply imaginative and always fascinating, this novel imagines a Noah's flood scenario in which a (wait for it)children's hospital becomes an ark. Preserved by angels for some unknown purpose, the colorful cast of characters include a medical student who receives strange healing powers; your typical roster of doctors, residents, fellows, nurses; and a colorful set of child patients. Did I mention angels, a vampire, a mysterious man who washes out of the sea? Wonderful, horrifying, and complex, this novel is a must for lovers of The Stand, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or Cloud Atlas.

([personal profile] resonance42 , you especially)
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My Goodreads.com review of Treblinka

Based on firsthand testimony (written in the 60s), this boor recounts the successful Jewish uprising that destroyed the Treblinka concentration camp. And I thought I knew basically everything about the Holocaust! Steiner puts us inside the world of the organizers of the revolt, telling their story in a way that recalls such oft-tossed around phrases as "triumph of the human spirit." But that's what this story is, and a gripping thriller as well.
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OMG. If you are or ever have been overeducated, a faculty brat, bookish, socially awkward, or in high school (preferably two or more of those): read this book. If you're into thrillers, conspiracy theories, postmodern prose, the movie Heathers, and/or Wildean wit: read this book. Blue van Meer has spent her life traveling the country with her widower dad, a professor. She has her sights on Harvard (I can forgive) but no idea about the world. For her senior year of high school, she attends a prep school where she's drawn into the orbit of a charismatic teacher and the uber-popular kids who are her proteges. A series of strange events culminates in the teacher's death--and our heroine determines to uncover the truth, no matter the cost. Have I mentioned the fact that the table of contents is a syllabus, with each chapter named after and thematically linked to a famous work of literature? The entire novel is that self-consciously clever... but it really is clever.

Read it before they make a half-assed film version like The Golden Compass, which I saw last weekend with M, [livejournal.com profile] matt_rah, and someone whose LJ username I don't know. I'd give the movie a B-. It's not howlingly bad, it's entertaining, it's reasonably faithful to the book (the solution to the religion issue works pretty well). The daemons and bears are done very well. But there's no character development, and we're basically rushing around for two hours with too much Stuff happening to really make Sense.

I'm just waiting for the animated film of Persepolis that comes out on Christmas. That's actually gotten some good buzz, I hear.
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Here's my Goodreads.com review of the above book. Sometimes I love to snark.

Depressing, downbeat, downright morbid? Ah, it must be literary fiction, the type of reading that's too emo hipster for me. Jim Shepard's short-story collection is on the National Book Award shortlist, with scores of rave reviews from popular publications and users of this site. To be fair, it must be very well written, because it kept me reading most of the way through despite my predispositions. Shepard sticks to certain themes: all his protagonists are men living in extreme settings (from the French Revolution to the site of one massive earthquake), with father issues, most of whom inadvertantly precipitate family tragedy (which leaves them wracked with guilt). We're talking excessive, nearly comic tragedy. The narrator of the first story is responsible for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the mass poisoning of the countryside, and the death of his two brothers (sorry, Dad). I did enjoy the horror themes in a few of the stories, such as "Ancestral Legacies." And "Pleasure-Boating in Litubya Bay" had me with its small, contemporary, domestic, slow-motion domestic disaster story. But I'm glad I've read my dose of highbrow fiction--I'll have to go for more of an escape next time.


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January 2009

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