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Novels, Essays, and More!


THE LOCH
Written by Steve Alten
Published by Tsunami Books

Mysterious drownings, murder, sabotage with a splash of romance make THE LOCH a must read. In this refreshing and well-researched work he dives into the life of a marine biologist whose mission (through a series of unfortunate circumstances) is to discover the truth behind the Loch Ness Monster. Dr. Zachary Wallace, born on the shores of the Loch Ness and raised with the stories of the monster (and the Wallace curse) by his drunk and sometimes abusive father, has no desire to search for the monster and reveal the Loch’s secrets. But as life sometimes throws us surprises, and we don’t always get what we want, he finds himself as an expert witness in his father’s murder trial. As a result he is forced to solve the mystery and hopefully in the process exonerate his father.

Alten goes into great detail about the ecosystems of the Loch and various other parts of the world. He has a way of explaining complex scientific matters that allows someone like me, who is not of a mathematical or scientific mind, to have an easy time of understanding it without it being boring. The human element added to the book can make it almost believable. The synopsis describes this book as a thriller, but while I did find it vastly entertaining, I wouldn’t consider it so. There are some very humorous parts as well as some profound parts that make a person think a little. If you are a fan of the Loch Ness Monster and want an easy read, then I would recommend THE LOCH.

Ericka Stricklett

NICOLE KIDMAN
Written by David Thompson
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

When I hear the name Nicole Kidman, I think of beauty, grace, flawless skin and one of the best-dressed women in Hollywood. But I also wonder what was her childhood like? Who is Nicole Kidman? And of course what was it like being married to Tom Cruise and what happened? When I cracked open NICOLE KIDMAN I thought finally I would get the answers to my questions. Wrong. Thomson’s book should be able to answer these questions, but it doesn’t. What it is, though is a very thorough look at her movies and her acting performances.

Unfortunately, Thomson has an almost unhealthy obsession with Kidman’s performance as Virginia Woolf in THE HOURS. He mentions the performance numerous times (I lost count after twenty). That means that the things that a person would be interested in reading about her life, such as her marriage with Tom Cruise, are briefly glanced over. It’s almost as if he is writing about her life from what he has read in the tabloids. He mentions in the beginning of the book (eventually, once he is done bragging about himself and all of the celebrity interviews he has conducted) that he never interviewed Nicole for the book. He already had the first draft written before he spoke to her and he never actually says that she gave an interview.

My expectations of the book were, in the end crushed. The information in the book that was actually about Nicole’s life could have been written in probably three chapters. It could be a leaflet, not a novel. But I must give Thomson some credit. He does explain the movies that she has made in great detail. However, he does have a strong tendency to divert from the topic and did I mention Virginia Woolf? If you are looking for a book about her movies and not one about her life by all means read NICOLE KIDMAN. You won’t be disappointed. But if you are like me and want to know more about Nicole Kidman herself, save your time. You will be grossly disappointed.

Ericka Stricklett

THE LONG CHALKBOARD AND OTHER STORIES
Written by Jenny Allen and Illustrated by Jules Feiffer
Published by Pantheon Books

CHALKBOARD is an interesting, if flawed, collection of modern fables written by Allen and illustrated with some interesting charcoal drawings by Feiffer. There are three stories in the book: “The Long Chalkboard”, “What Happened”, and “Judy’s Wonder Chili”, and they vary in their quality and aim.

“The Long Chalkboard” leads off the book and is by far the best piece in the book. In it, a young mother named Caroline purchases a room-length chalkboard for her children, and it leads to an odyssey for the board itself, moving from Caroline’s children to many others who will use it for varied purposes. The journey of the chalkboard and its users is fascinating, and Allen demonstrates some wonderfully creative joy in charting the story’s path. But the strength of “Chalkboard” is its payoff; without spoiling Allen’s story, I’ll just tell you that the ending is one of tremendous hope, and a reminder that the real resolution to many of life’s issues may take a longer time than we imagine.

Unfortunately, “Chalkboard” is so good that it makes the flaws of “What Happened” much more apparent. A children’s author discovers that she has a new rival, and he might just be better than her at everything, not just writing. As she grows more and more embittered by the rise of the other writer, her own life begins to tumble away from her, leaving her with the realization that she’s very empty inside. But Allen’s attempt at having her grow and the direction her life takes at the end almost feel like a betrayal. At the least, it feels like too simplistic of a resolution.

The final story, “Judy’s Wonder Chili”, is more successful, if not quite as good as the title tale. Judy is one of those genuine souls who loves to help others, and whenever a friend is in crisis or saddened, she makes them chili. But as her fame for cooking grows, other forces creep in on her and attempt to pervert her motives. At the core of the story is the nature of integrity and just how important integrity is in one’s life, and the conclusion is quite satisfying and subtle.

Feiffer’s illustrations do an excellent job of complementing Allen’s prose, and this feels like the kind of book that would make for an excellent holiday gift for readers who enjoy uplifting stories.

Marc Mason

OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE 36TH EDITION
Edited by Robert M. Overstreet
Published by House Of Collectibles

The latest edition of the OVERSTREET GUIDE continues to demonstrate why the series have survived and thrived for so long; not only does the guide present a fair and comprehensively researched list of prices for virtually every comic ever made, but it also supplements that guide with a series of well researched articles that give solid background to characters and eras worth paying attention to.

This edition takes a substantial amount of time to fill in background on the earliest eras in comics. Not just the 1930s, no; instead, the Overstreet team takes us back to the Victorian Era for a look at how sequential art and comics were actually being produced by the standards we use today. The contributors note many historians’ refusal to acknowledge the works of that time as comics, but clearly this group feels differently. And they back it up with a price guide for those surviving works as well.

Not content with that, we also get stories that focus on the development of Marvel’s THOR, and also about WONDER WOMAN and SUPERGIRL, too. The book also provides an interesting look at the artist Jim Lee and some of his frequent co-creators, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair. Throw in a stunning cover gallery and a comprehensive index to the articles from prior volumes and values for those guides, too, and this really shapes up into a dynamic package.

I generally don’t consider myself the market for this book; I don’t really sell comics anymore. I tend to trade them instead. But if I were a seller, there’s no question that I’d put my fortunes on this book rather than WIZARD’S god-awful, self-serving guide for sure. If you have even the slightest interest in the collectible side of comics, this is a must buy.

Marc Mason

UNRULY 01: A JOURNAL OF FICTION, NON-FICTION, AND COMIX
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dork Storm Press

As this small literary is mostly text, it finds a home on the “Prose” page here at the Comics Waiting Room.

Editor Scott Bateman brings together a nice variety of writing and artistic talents in UNRULY, showcasing some really interesting creators. While he presents some sequential art pieces from comics vets Alex Robinson (TRICKED) and Shannon Wheeler (TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN), the foundation of the book is the textual work, and in this brief format (45 pages for five bucks), that’s ultimately the best choice he can make.

Never is that more obvious that in the book’s signature piece, “Jesus Loins”, by Stacy Pershall. This bit of creative non-fiction is a knockout; she relates a summer from her childhood when both her sexuality and interest in religion began to bloom together thanks to her crush on the handsome married man who led her youth group. Full of marvelous details and great passages like “But because I had tried to cut my hair like Cyndi Lauper, shaving one side and perming the other, it meant that for several months my head looked like an unfortunate prom dress”, Pershall’s story is compulsive reading. So good, in fact, that it’s worth the price of the book by itself.

Some of the short fiction pieces are hit and miss, owing more to their experimental nature more than anything else, I think. Kim Chinquee’s “Three Stories” is an admirable effort, but it plays more as the author putting herself through an exercise. Still, if that’s the worst I have to say about the book, that’s solid indeed. I’d like to see more of this sort of thing.

Marc Mason

WOLF BOY
Written by Evan Kuhlman
Published by Shaye Areheart Books

Award-winning short story writer Kuhlman delivers his first novel with WOLF BOY, and it’s a strong, character-rich piece of work. On a grim day in the middle of winter, Francis Harrelson and his fiancée are in a car accident that claim’s Francis’ life. Left behind are his parents Gene and Helen, his younger sister Crispy, and his younger brother Stephen. Each will find themselves broken and grieving in their own way, and Kuhlman takes us along on their inner journeys.

For Gene, it’s shutting himself off and throwing himself into his work. For Helen, it’s an internal journey that will lead her to some unexpected places. Crispy buries herself in her crush on Marky Mark. But Stephen takes the most fascinating path of all; along with his girlfriend Nicole, they begin creating a series of comics starring their creation Wolf Boy, and those comics express his pain far more than he could ever anticipate.

Enriching his expression for the reader is that we get to see some of the comics. Brendon and Brian Fraim, who draw KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE, provide some wondrous art depicting the young couple’s work. Smartly, the book would read just fine, and be just as emotional, without the graphic pages, but the Fraims’ work enhances Kuhlman’s prose and adds texture to his look at a family in disintegration.

While the subject matter at the core of the book, the exploration of grief and eradication of familial bonds, isn’t a light one, the novel still manages to be engrossing from start to finish because Kuhlman never gives you the chance or desire to give up on wanting better for these people. They’re flawed, broken, and you begin to see way too much of yourself and your own family in them, which disturbs, as good fiction should. Highly recommended.

Marc Mason

 

Clerks II - July 21, 2006

The Important Stuff!!!

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