Book Review: Torsten

Book Review: Torsten by Joshua Kalin

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Torsten

Aznaro, Cordin and Osoro, three blood brothers, have returned to Spain after a tour of the known world.  Already feeling restless, Aznaro becomes interested in a proposed voyage by one Christobal Colon, who thinks he can sail to India faster by heading west across the uncharted ocean.   The brothers sign up as rookie sailors, although there is a bit of a hitch, since it turns out  that Aznaro had sex with Torsten Rentier, first officer of one of the ships, the night before.

Worse, Aznaro soon makes an actual enemy on board the Santa Maria, a man who comes to share a dark secret with the brothers.  And as you might have guessed from your history classes, the voyage is taking them to a destination they could never have guessed.

Though not listed anywhere on the book itself, this is the second book about the brothers, the first one being titled Aznaro.   The main characters have something in their blood that makes them unaging and very hard to kill.  They have in fact been alive nearly three hundred years at the start of this book.  This causes them a certain amount of angst, and the need to move on frequently.

While the point of view skips around quite a bit, sometimes between paragraphs, the primary character is Aznaro, with the major plot threads being his struggle with the new immortal Rodriguez, and his romance with the man he calls “Reindeer.”  The other brothers are on other ships and play very little part in the story.  Indeed, one vanishes from the book altogether around the 3/4 mark!

While the book is quite good on the details of being a sailor in Christopher Columbus’ time, said personage himself  plays a very tiny role, seldom interacting with the crew.  So I can’t really recommend this book to Columbus fans.

While yes, Aznaro and Rentier have sex, it’s not on camera or explicitly described.  The movie if one is made, could probably get by with a PG-13.

Some issues:  There are a couple of brief torture scenes, the viewpoint switching can be confusing as the author doesn’t mark the switches well, and there are numerous missing words and some dubious grammar that  points up the need for a good editor/proofreader.  (this book was self-published.)

If you are in need of a gay romance novel with some paranormal elements, and a bit of history, this might suit your fancy.   But everyone else might want to wait for a revised version with better editing.

Book Review: USA Noir

Book Review: USA Noir edited by Johnny Temple

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  This was an Advanced Reading Copy, and small changes may be made in the final product.

USA Noir

“Noir”, here, is short for noir fiction, a form of hard-boiled crime fiction by analogy with the cinematic film noir.  Noir fiction tends to focus on the seedier side of life, filled with petty criminals, people driven to extremes by circumstance, and bittersweet at best resolutions.  Akashic Books has been putting out anthologies of noir short stories grouped by location since 2004, and this is a “best of” collection.

The stories are grouped by themes such as “True Grit” and “Under the Influence”, and range across the continental United States.  (Yes, that includes the Twin Cities.)  Most are contemporary (one has Google Maps as a plot point) but there are a couple of period pieces set in the 1940s and Fifties.

Some standout stories include: “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane (a man finds an abandoned puppy, and decides to keep it),  “Run Kiss Daddy” by Joyce Carol Oates (a man does not want to upset his new family), “Mastermind” by Reed Farrell Coleman (a dumb crook comes up with the perfect crime), “Loot” by Julie Smith (various people try to cash in on Hurricane Katrina), “Helper” by Joseph Bruchac (revenge comes looking for Indian Charlie, but he’s no pushover) and “Feeding Frenzy” by Tim Broderick (in comic book format, a Wall Street firm has lost a big contract, and the employees search for someone to blame.)

Thirty-seven stories in total, 500+ pages of entertainment.   There’s also a list of the other stories in the volumes these were reprinted from, and a list of awards the series has garnered.

If the genre is not warning enough, I should mention that sordid violence is common in these stories, and some may be triggery.

Overall, the stories are of good quality, and represent an excellent cross-section of today’s noir writers.    It’s good value for money.

Update:  “Animal Rescue” was turned into the 2014 movie “The Drop” starring Tom Hardy; here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy_ogNiryZ8

Comic Book Review: Spartan & the Green Egg

Comic Book Review: Spartan & the Green Egg by Nabila Khashoggi and Manuel Cadag

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Spartan & the Green Egg

Spartan, an adventurous boy, his three human friends, and his dog Grimm make contact with an alien that manifests itself in the shape of an egg.  Using its vast powers, they go on exploration journeys.  In this introductory volume, the kids travel to the Amazon rainforest and learn a little bit about the locals, as well as about deforestation.

This graphic novel is intended for kids about eight to ten, and the main character is named after Nabila Khashoggi’s son.  It’s very light edutainment, with little sense of conflict or peril.  The children have largely interchangeable personalities, and the Egg makes everything just a bit too easy.

I liked that the lumber company employees weren’t characterized as villains, but they seem awfully superstitious and easily tricked.  It also seems highly unlikely that anyone will listen to their crazy story about forest spirits, and the locals won’t have an advanced alien and super technology on their side next time.  On the other hand, a shaman does show the power to send bad dreams, so perhaps it will work out.

This is one book that could have done with a glossary, or a text page with more concentrated information about the Amazon.

The art is serviceable, but it’s clear the artist has a lot of development potential ahead of them.  The lettering is too obviously computer-generated, and takes away from the feel.  One amusing bit is that three of the children, including the business suited black kid, wear swimming-suitable trunks under their clothes, despite not having planned to go swimming that day.  (The fourth child’s swimgear is never seen–perhaps he wears ordinary underpants.)

It’s an okay introduction to the Amazon for young readers, but will leave many of them hungry for more substantial information.  Consult with your local children’s librarian for what might be a good follow-up book.

Anime Review: Servant X Service

Anime Review: Servant X Service

Like America, Japan has had its economic woes in the last few years, with unemployment a serious problem for many people.  One of the jobs considered “safe” and steady if not spectacular work, is being a civil servant.  So it is that a certain city Health and Welfare Office comes to have three new employees starting on the same day.The competent slacker Hasebe, the shy but brutally honest Miyoshi and Yamagami, a young woman on a mission.

Servant X Service

It seems that years ago, Yamagami’s parents couldn’t decide what to name her, so wrote down all the suggestions and passed the list to a civil servant–who approved the entire name as was!   (In Japan, there are name laws that are supposed to protect kids from unfortunate monikers and ones that won’t work properly with the record keeping.)  Lucy (abbr.) Yamagami is determined to track down that civil servant and give them a good talking to.

But  of course, there’s work to be done, and citizens coming in to demand their paperwork be handled swiftly and without error.  So the employees go ahead and do their jobs…mostly.  Other characters expand the cast and add to the sitcom flavor.  Servant X Service is a 13 episode anime series based on a manga by Karino Takatsu.

It’s nice to see an anime that’s about adults in the working world, even if most of them are very young adults.    That said, by episode four, it’s clear that this show was animated for a reason, and people get away with things they never would in a real office.   See if you can spot all the human resources issues in the first episode alone!

I found the series mildly funny to quite funny, especially when Hasebe’s old “friend” Tanaka shows up.  On the other hand, Yamagami’s large breasts are a frequent point of attention, and one episode’s subplot is that her bra clasps have snapped from overwork.  If you find that sort of (fully clothed) fanservice annoying, you may want to give this a miss.

It’s light comedy with romantic overtones, and college-age people will probably get the most out of it.

Comic Book Review: Persepolis

Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Disclaimer:  I received this book through the Rasmussen College One College, One Book program on the premise that I would review it.

Persepolis

This is the graphic novel memoir of Marjane Satrapi, who was nine years old when her home country of Iran had a revolution and kicked out the Western-backed Shah.  It follows her life from when she was small to about age fourteen, when her parents sent her to school in  Austria for her safety.

As it happens,  her family was far from ordinary, as her great-grandfather had been the Emperor of Persia before he was overthrown by Reza Shah, the father of the Shah that was overthrown in 1979.  Her grandfather had been made Reza Shah’s prime minister, but converted to Communism and was treated as a traitor thereafter.  Even so, the family remained relatively wealthy and influential.

Mari (as she is called in the text) and her parents had high hopes for the 1979 Revolution, hoping it would bring the proletariat to power in a socialist republic.  Instead, the Shi’ite fundamentalists took power, and Iran soon became a very different country.  Worse, the things that the revolutionaries most wanted to change from the old regime, imprisonment of dissidents, torture, assassination, only changed in the persons who did them.

All this has a traumatizing effect on young Mari; she sees friends, relatives and random people she meets suffer great injustice, and feels stifled under the new religious restrictions she must obey, even if they are technically not actually laws.  As if all Iran had happening internally was not enough, Saddam Hussein decided that it would be a good time to invade Iran.

Marjane Satrapi does not depict herself as an entire innocent–Mari lies to inflate her self-importance, says hurtful things, and breaks even fair rules.  She has a rebellious spirit that becomes more dangerous to her as she grows older.

The art is black and white, with much use of large black areas.  The creator is a trained illustrator, and it shows.

Trigger warnings for torture, and for off-panel rape.

Because of the subject matter, this book may not be suitable for children, especially sensitive ones, despite being about a child.  I’d rate it as for older teens and up.  There’s also an animated movie which combines this volume and Marjane Satrapi’s later life, which I have not seen.

This is a book that is valuable for its look into a country many Americans have not heard anything good about in a long time, and a reminder that no culture is monolithic.  There are real people underneath the seemingly united front Iran shows the world.

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