Reading Diary: Summer reading with Bradbury x 2, Burke, Maberry, Lemire and more

My 2011 summer reading was pretty meagre this year. For various reasons too boring to go into here, there wasn't much actually much vacation for me this summer. I think I'll probably have a better December/Christmas reading list than summer. Such is life.

Anyways, what I did read was pretty good, so let's get to it.

Bradbury, Ray and Ron Wimberly. Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Authorized Adaptation. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 144pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809087464

Bradbury, Ray and Dennis Calero. Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 160pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809080458

Both of these are review copies that were sent to me unsolicited by the publisher. Which is always a nice surprise. Especially when the books are ones that are really interesting to me but that I probably wouldn't have gotten around to getting for myself. Both books are, of course, graphic novel adaptations of classic Ray Bradbury novels from the 1950s and 60s, one science fantasy and one dark fantasy or horror.

The first one that I read, Something Wicked this Was Comes, is a dark fantasy from 1962 about a strange carnival that comes to a small town and how it affects the lives of three young boys. The novel itself is one that I'd never read but always meant to so I was very happy to get a chance to finally read it. And I wasn't disappointed. The story is moody and atmospheric, with some good tension and even a bit of action. The adaptation is quite well done, adding to the atmosphere without detracting from the story telling.

The Martian Chronicles adaptation is a bit of a different story. Not really a novel, it's more of a fix-up of a bunch of Bradbury short stories. I did read this novel way back when I was a teenager. The stories are quite atmospheric, with a strong poetic and imaginistic feel to them. The somewhat disjointed nature of the book along with the wordy nature of the narrative -- imagery rather than action -- lead to a rather wordy and stilted adaptation. Some of the vignettes work better than others, mostly around their individual narrative strengths, but over all this is a work that's probably better as purely text rather than calling out for a graphic adaptation. They publisher has also adapted Fahrenheit 451, which with its strong narrative probably works better.

Who would I recommend these books to? Certainly any public library would see these books widely enjoyed. Middle school and high school would probably find better use of SWTWC rather than The Martian Chronicles. Any academic library that collects graphic novels or Ray Bradbury should probably acquire these two books as well.

Lemire, Jeff. The Complete Essex County. Portland: Top Shelf Productions, 2009. 512pp. ISBN-13: 978-1603090384

Whoa. Five stars for this one for sure. The first graphic novel chosen for the CBC's Canada Reads program, Jeff Lemire's Essex County wins on many fronts. Although it didn't actually win Canada Reads, it is one of the best "mainstream" graphic novels you will ever read. It is also one of the most Canadian.

By mainstream I mean a graphic novel that tells the same kind of story that regular mainstream literature tells, but taking advantage of the kinds of things that comics can do to take the story to another level. By Canadian, I mean small town Ontario and an obsession with hockey.

The collected series of stories presented in this book is an interweaving tale of various people in and from Essex County over a fairly long period of time. The whole love, loss and memory thing is really there, but so is violence, hockey, sex and youthful indiscretion. And driving Toronto streetcars. And old folks homes. And not quite knowing who your parents really are, but not quite realizing you don't really know.

Anyways, if you like graphic novels, Canadiana or just plain good old storytelling, give this a try.

I unreservedly recommend this graphic novel to any public or academic library, particularly Canadian. Although, with the Canada Reads things, they probably already have it. As for school libraries, the story might be a bit too adult to pass muster for a middle school but this would be a bit hit among high school students.

Burke, James Lee. Last Car to Elysian Fields. New York: Pocket Star, 2004. 496pp. ISBN-13: 978-0743466639

James Lee Burke is one of the truly great hard boiled/noir writers of the last 30 or 40 years. In particular his Dave Robicheaux series is one of the genre's high points. Like most long series, it's had it's ups and downs but this one is definitely one ofhte stronger late period entries. And yes, I'm a few volumes behind.

Anyways, describing a Burke novel is fairly pointless as they tend to both have fairly intricate plots and at the same time be more about mood and impulse and damaged history. And Elysian Fields is no exception. A woman from Dave's past, a long dead blues singer, underage drinking and a bunch of other strands serve to create a pressure cooker for Dave that cause him to lose it a little, kick some ass, break a lot of rules, ruin some lives and somehow regret coming out on top in the end. Good stuff.

Maberry, Jonathan. The King of Plagues. New York: St. Martin's Griffen, 2011. 448pp. ISBN-13: 978-0312382506

Judas H. Priest but can Jonathan Maberry write an amazing over-the-top horror science fiction thriller. This man cannot write a boring word.

Perfect summer reading, I indulged during my summer vacation trip and it was great to have something so engrossing while travelling. This is the third in the Joe Ledger series of cop horror thrillers, one for each of the last couple of summers for me. In fact, my two sons also tend to read them as well, with great pleasure.

Plot? Well, it's kind of a sequel to last year's The Dragon Factory with the same Big Bad coming back with a new bunch of baddies to once again destroy the world. And once again, Joe Ledger and his crew of Military Science types band together to save the day.

Over the top, violent, with some great set-pieces, good pacing, nice mix of character and action, these are great reads and only getting better.

Golden, Christoper and Thomas E Sniegoski. Monster Island. New York: Simon Spotlight, 2004. 448pp. ISBN-13: 978-0689866999

Not much to say here. This is an above average media adaptation -- decent writing, good plot. What raises it to another level is the authors' very fine touch with the Whedon characters, if sometimes a little heavy-handed and repetitive.

The plot basically revolves around the Scoobies teaming up with Angel's crew to foil a demonic plot to rid the world of demon half-breeds.

Schultz, Mark, Zander Cannon and Kevin CannonThe Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA. New York: Hill and Wang, 2009. 150pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809089475

This graphic novel is the prequel to Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth, which I reviewed earlier this year, which I really loved. They're both set on the imaginary world of Glargaria, where the plot revolves around the Glargarians using Earth's evolutionary history to help them solve some problems on their own planet.

Reading the first, I now know why they tweaked the creative team a bit after the first. The evolution volume really struck a great balance between the science content and telling an amusing story, the sugar to make the medicine go down. This one leans way more on the medicine and not so much on the sugar. It's much more a basic biology textbook, but with silly pictures and some jokes.

Still decent and still recommended for much the same audiences as for the first. But a little disappointing. And boy am I glad they fixed the problems of the first. I heartily look forward to many more volumes from the new creative team.

(Bradbury adaptations provided by the publisher.)

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