book review: the last days of new paris

I’ve been waiting to read China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris since it came out. I own a copy. It’s in one of the boxes of books I still haven’t unpacked. After reading about Hitler I was ready for something beautiful and this book was.

It’s mostly about Paris and Surrealist art. Because it’s a Miéville book we’re following Paris’ 1950s resistance against the occupying Nazis in a city where art and demons fight in the streets. It’s about how art can’t be controlled and about secret agents and heroism and discernment.

I loved it, and loved that the appendix has a list of most of the artworks referred to in the novella so if you wanted to study up on surrealism, you have a good launching point.

storytime review: chu’s day, stop snoring bernard & mattoo let’s play

This week I hosted two preschool visits to the library on consecutive days. They were the same adults but different kids (mostly – a couple were there both days). I liked that arrangement because I got to directly fix things that went less well the first time through.

So here are the books I used. Neil Gaiman’s new picturebook Chu’s Day was our opener (after our welcome to storytime rhyme). It worked well with both groups, who really got into the “Ah ahhh ahhhh… No.” conceit. The only problem is that the “bad things that happen” probably require a bit closer examination to really admire the art. And the ending seems to leave kids wanting more.

I tried using Never Take A Shark to the Dentist the first time, because the cover was really attractive to the kids. The book ended up being a little high-concept for 3-4 year olds, but it was super easy to skip pages when that became apparent.

Stop Snoring Bernard worked really well in both groups. I got the kids to help with the snoring noises and in each group someone had one of those Cosby moments when they told everyone about one of their family members who snored. They also got to name some zoo animals, which helped keep everyone involved.

We did Shapes That Roll in the first session, but it was our last book and I think it would have played a bit better with more time to really get into all the shapes and explore them a bit. As it was we just kind of went with the rhyming.

In today’s session I replaced a couple of the less well-received books with a couple about trying very hard to be quiet. Mattoo, Let’s Play is about a loud little girl with a pet cat who forms a bond once she learns that some animals are best attracted by being quiet. We also did Read to Tiger which is about a tiger being very distracting when you’re trying to read. Everyone had fun making the loud distracting noises.

We did a dinosaur song both sessions it all worked out pretty well. Even the kid who was mad he wasn’t there to see a puppet show was unsullen at the end (that could have been because he was finally able to leave).

I’m going to try doing a few more of these types of storytime post-mortems because of something I took away from Miss Julie’s blog post where she mentioned:

In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship.

She goes on to discuss how technologists get all the “rockstar” status in our profession and no one cares about the bloggers who write practical things about doing the feminized work of dealing with kids. Since I’m guilty of writing the odd impractical technology rabblerousing bit, I want to make sure I’m also blogging some of these more practical day-to-day things too. It’s part of that whole advocacy for the importance of libraries and librarians thing to show that the non-technological stuff is important too. So here we go.

book review: killing velazquez

Killing Velazquez is the story of a teenager being involved with a priest doing inappropriately sexual things in Quebec in 1983. The frame for the story is a news report in 2000 when the priest is apprehended in France for doing the same sorts of things. That frame is interesting because you know what the big problem of the story is going to be, and you’re bracing yourself for it. The story proper begins with Philippe out in a Wolf Scouts camping trip, so I was suspicious of the pack leader. And then Philippe is in Catholic school and I was suspicious of the priest teacher. And then, only then do you meet the priest that’s the predator. I really liked how the story did that.

The story does a very good job with the whole story. It’s not graphic and sensational, not played for melodrama, but creepy and effective. The way the priest gives gifts and says stuff like “Now that you’ve accepted my gifts, we’re friends” put terrible chills down my back. The story also does interesting work with contrasting tradition and cool new ways of doing things, using Velazquez and Picasso as the analogy. I also loved how Girard brought in speech from the next scene panels ahead of time (in white-on-black text but coming from in-panel sound sources). It’s one of those cinematic techniques that I’m not sure I’ve seen done in exactly this way before.

book review: birds, bees, blood and beer (wormwood, gentleman corpse vol. 1)

I love Ben Templesmith’s work with Warren Ellis on Fell, and his art is really cool in 30 Days of Night (even if I wasn’t a huge fan of the story). Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse sells me on Templesmith as a writer (well, this and his Twitter feed).

In Birds, Bees Blood and Beer we meet Wormwood and his clockwork genital-less companion. An ex-girlfriend of Worm’s is supposed to be guarding a portal between realms and stuff keeps on sneaking its tentacly way through and erupting out of people’s bodies. Wormwood has to get things sorted out to keep his beer supply and the rest of reality intact the way he prefers it.

I love Templesmith’s art. It’s got this rough, yet digital nature to it that a lot of people try to imitate, but man, he’s just good. And then i loved the characters. Because Wormwood is possessing a corpse, terrible things can happen to the body with little serious trauma to the character (he gets his head blown off and his body ripped in half in this volume). I love that kind of posthuman type stuff, even when it’s dressed up in magickal garb instead of nerd-rapture accoutrements.

Lots of blood and cussing and strippers so probably not a book destined for the shelves of younger readers, but it works really well for tough-talking neo-noir magicky stuff (for my money this is similar to and better than Sandman Slim)

book review: rose sees red

I read Rose Sees Red because the only Cecil Castellucci books I’d read before were her comics for the Minx imprint a few years ago, and supposedly she’s one of the queens of YA. This was okay, but not as good as Plain Janes (the first one at least).

Rose Sees Red is set in the 1980s, which she doesn’t actually tell the reader until maybe halfway through the story. You can tell beforehand that something is off about the setting though because of the ominous nature of having Russians live next door, and KGB jokes and comments about David Bowie and leg-warmers. But honestly, all of that could fit into a story about today, except when the kids go to a No Nukes rally. There are signposts that tell you this is either the past or an alternate reality (the obvious signifier of the World Trade Center standing shows up, as it must in any story about pre-9/11 New York). I wonder if it was set up to be a puzzle to make the reader feel clever for figuring out it’s in the ’80s, or if she thought it was completely obvious and therefore didn’t require any indication.

Anyway, the story is about a girl who used to have friends but then chose to dance so she now has no friends except for the Russian girl from next door who appears in her room one night and they go to a party and experience the wonders of art on the streets of New York.

book review: the blue dragon

The Blue Dragon is a gigantic comic done in a Chinese brush and ink style. It’s about a Canadian man living in Shanghai and two women, one from Montreal, and an artist from Shanghai. The woman from Montreal is in China to adopt a baby.

The story is adapted from a play, and it feels very much like a play, with things happening off the page and discussed with restraint. It’s a beautiful book and does the bilingual stuff very well since there’s so much room on each of the massive pages for the text to slip in.

The main reason to read this book is for the art, which is very good. If you like a lot of intricate plotty things you’ll be disappointed.

book review: janes in love

Janes in Love is the sequel to The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. It’s about the group of arty high school girls who are trying to beautify their boring suburb.

There’s a lot less to this book than the first one. There’s an attempt to get a grant and everyone is negotiating romantic problems and generally it didn’t grab me the way the intersection of art and terrorism in the first book did. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make me want to shove it into people’s hands the way the first did.