Sunday, December 30, 2007

More Top Ten Music

9. Neon Fire by Arcade Fire

The follow up to 2004's Funeral is not a disappointment in any way. The Montreal band reverts to more balladry and it make take a few listens to really appreciate it. Even so, the band melds hope and angst, laid-back tunes and anthemic bombast for another good album.

10. The Reminder by Feist

I'm a bit confused about what I think about this album because while it is quite good, I know that she could do better. The Reminder, stylistically, pretty much follows Let it Die, though it is even more jazzy. Lyrically, it is not as potent as Let it Die and that is my main concern. However, The Reminder is a great, quirky collection and proof that she will keep making timeless pop.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Best Music of 2007 -- The Best that didn't Make the Final Ten

End of the year Best of lists are the funnest things ever, so I can't resist doing my own again. I will post my Top 10 later, but here is my Not Quite the Top 10 but Pretty Good in 2007 list.

Wincing the Night Away by The Shins

They had a lot of pressure put on them to come up with a brilliant album, so I'm impressed that they even released a decent album. The Shins did make a poppier album this go around, which at first seems a bit calculated and maybe it is. However, there are still the cool little moments and experiments that make this a Shins album and a darn good one.

Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird

Singer-songwriter Andrew Bird presents more of his weirdly Gothic and sometimes humorous lyrics. The buzzy guitars, heavy keyboards and steady rhythms nicely complement Bird's crooning voice. Bird has been around for a while, but this well-produced disc seems to be giving him some deserved notoriety.

Boxer by The National

There is not a lot of difference between Boxer and many of its predecessors. The band just keeps doing what it does best which is a lightly adorned blues-rock accompaniment to Matt Berninger's vocals and the band's literary lyrics. This is a very good disc, which some are calling the album of the year.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Flight Vol. 4

Type: Short Story Collection
Published: Villard, 2007

These are absolutely brilliant. This is the fourth volume which includes a couple of great Graphic Novelists. A ton of writers and artists with styles from all over the map contribute to these collections. Yeah, some are weird, a couple are boring, but some of the best are genius, so I recommend all four of these titles.

Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim

Type: Contemporary Fiction
Published: Minx, 2007

I am mostly reviewing this to note that the titles from Minx (a DC imprint) seem to be getting worse with each release. The Plain Janes was really good and Re-gifters was solid, but Confessions of a Blabbermouth and Good as Lily are just run-of-the-mill contemporary GNs.

This is not to say, however, that Good as Lily is terrible. It takes an interesting premise in 18-year old Grace, who meets and has to deal with three versions of herself at different ages. The intriguing plot does not lead to a real deep story and this is its undoing. Readers of the previous Minx titles will probably enjoy this (and Confessions of a Blabbermouth), but that is the end of its appeal.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Notes for a War Story by Gipi

Type: Contemporary Fiction
Published: 2007, First Second

Gipi is the author of the wonderful GN, Garage Band, which I just loved. This is good as well, though much more serious than Garage Band. The Italian author follows three youngsters trying to make their way in an unnamed war=torn country. Watching them get sucked into life with some hard=core criminals is heartbreaking. The art is quite similar to Garage Band and probably matches the tone better for this GN. The viewpoint the reader is given from Gipi seem a bit standoffish considering the subject matter, but this is a very good GN.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aya by by Marguerite Abouet

Type: Contemporary Fiction
Published: Drawn & Quarterly, 2007

Aya is the story of some African teens in 1978 before their area became ravaged by war. The setting and time really carry this story and it is a unique look at Africa. This 19-year old engages in stereotypical teen behavior worrying a lot about boys, but the changes coming to their land put the whole thing in a weird context. A bit of this dragged for me, but it is a solid and subtly presented story.

Ultimate Galactus Vol. 1: Nightmare

Type: Superhero
Published: Marvel Comics, 2005

Okay, so this is a bit old, but I had never read these despite the fact I love the Ultimate Universe and all of the titles (except Ultimate Fantastic Four). In this volume the Ultimates and the X-Men go to Russia to find the source of a communication sent to the whole planet. What they find is Russia's answer to America's program during World War II which created Captain America. Both supergroups find creature after creature that have been lying in wait since the '40s. This is a killer beginning to Ultimate Galactus so I will be reading through the rest of these.

Time to Begin...again

Okay, so I'm back. After I couldn't see things for a while (long story) I was a little busy catching up on life and just couldn't get revved up to blog again. Recently, however, I realized how much I missed it and so I'm jumping back in. I have decided to focus on Graphic Novels of all sorts and will primarily be reviewing those from now on. Thanks and enjoy, Kip.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Concert Review -- Over the Rhine and Dar Williams

OtR played Thursday night with Dar Williams at the Meijer Gardens in G.R. While Dar was billed as the headliner, she actually opened the show without her band. Dar played a solid though unspectacular show playing her mostly pleasing tunes with just her acoustic guitar.

Over the Rhine came as a four piece band this time. They opened the show being very jazzy, then eventually morphing into a rock band. They played a ton of songs from their upcoming album The Trumpet Child including the title track, I Don't Want to Waste Your Time and Nothing is Innocent. They also covered a lot of territory gong through their catalog performing several tunes from Drunkard's Prayer and Ohio.

OtR put on an amazing show and showed how versatile they are. Karin handled lead vocals, acoustic guitar and took over keyboards on a couple of songs. Linford added some background vocals, piano and occasionally guitar and bass. Their bass player played standup and electric bass as well as some electric guitar. The drummer had a long solo (I have not heard OtR allow solos since the days of Ric Hordiniski almost ten years ago) that drew quite an ovation. Actually, the new drummer (I don't know his name) is quite a revelation. His layered and driving percussion really drove a lot of the band's songs and added some meat to some lighter numbers.
I could go on and on. It is a rare band who can combine jazz, folk and rock and spin it into such a poetic venture. It was a trademark passionate OtR show and I can't wait for their new album to come out in a couple of weeks. Also, they will back in December so River City folk will have another chance to see them this year.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Concert Review -- Counting Crows, Live, Collective Soul

Last night I saw the Counting Crows concert that included openers Collective Soul and Live. It felt very much like 1995 sitting in a baseball stadium watching the three bands.

Collective Soul: The band played for 45 minutes trying out one catchy tune from their upcoming album and getting in as many hits as they could. Lead guitarist Joel Kosche laid down their riffs and lead singer Ed Roland has great stage presence. Their songs are quite simple in structure, but Collective Soul put on a very solid show.

Live: The band stumbled through a painfully boring set where they could barely get through their own songs. It was incredibly funny when the lead singer stopped to allow the crowd to sing, but nobody knew the lyrics.

Counting Crows: As usual, Counting Crows put on a very good show. The band did not play to the crowd and just play hits, but chose a mix of songs from most of their albums. It was a weird set, as the band played a ton of songs form August and Everything After and This Desert Life. They did not play anything form their latest album, Hard Candy, until the encore. And in another weird move, they played a strange extended version of Mercury to kick off the encore. Anyway, Adam Duritz said their new album should be out later this year and they kicked last night's concert with a new song that sounded great and reminded me of a lot of the tunes on This Desert Life.

It was fun seeing Collective Soul and Counting Crows, who put on very good shows and worked great in the unique atmosphere of a minor league baseball stadium.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Update

So, I just finished the book minutes ago. Earlier this afternoon, my wife finished the copy we have been peacefully sharing. I will give absolutely no spoilers this early after the book was released, but I just wanted to say that it is another great addition to the series and a wonderful finale. Happy reading...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Music Review -- Cities by Anberlin

This is the third full length album by Anberlin and the follow up to 2005’s catchy Never Take Friendship Personal. On Cities, the band attempts to retain their catchy, intelligent punk-pop sound, and continue to tread into the same old territory.

The album focuses on guitar driven tunes with soaring harmonies like Godspeed and Adelaide. Adelaide actually sounds like it should have been on their last disc with its refrain, “Adelaide, Adelaide, you really had me going this time/ Adelaide, Adelaide, you need to quit, quit making a scene.” A Whispter and a Clamour is a great song that is unfortunately almost ruined by its sing-songy quality, but the driving chorus and lines of, “It's not the lies that you sing/ But what the silence will scream…Clap your hands all ye children/ There's a clamor in your whispering” are great. Another standout is the slower, mushier tune Inevitable. Some of the band’s solid writing is evident here with, “I wanna be your last, first kiss/ That you'll ever have/ I wanna be your last, first kiss/ Amazing how life turns out the way that it does/ We end up hurting the worst, the only ones we really love.”

Once listeners dig into this disc a bit they will realize Anberlin performs their signature style over and over again. Unfortunatley in between some of the catchy and compelling tunes are a few throwaways and this ultimately is the album's downfall. This is not all bad for fans of their earlier emo sound, but there is just not enough to recommend here even though Cities has some good moments. Fans who want another Never Take Friendship Personal will be satisfied, anyone else will not.

1.95 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What I’m Reading -- The Navigator by Eoin McNamee

In this fantasy novel for teens, Owen discovers that he is a Navigator and must save the world from The Harsh, who is causing time to run backwards, thus destroying the whole world. For a time travel novel, however, this is fairly uninteresting. The world McNamee creates here is too run-of-the-mill for fantasy novels. Many of the characters are quite interesting and following Owen, who begins in our world but gets sucked into the battle for time, as he tries to figure out how the world of time keepers work is interesting. This is a solid, though unspectacular teen debut by McNamee.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I'm back blogging, but I can't figure out how to use the Title bar all of a sudden. What happened while I was gone? Anyway, my wild busyness has settled down and I hope to post weekly again beginning with a couple of books and a CD review. Enjoy and see you next week.


Into the Blue by The Album Leaf

Jimmy LaValle's projects as The Album Leaf continue with last year’s release Into the Blue. LaValle combines some elements of folk and atmospheric music with his background in indie rock. Much of the album is instrumental and the songs build slowly and quietly with muted sounds. Many people compare The Album Leaf albums to Sigur Ros, but this is some much mellower and down tempo. This mostly ambient album is neat, though LaValle could add so much more to his songs as evidenced by tracks like Always for You, which is a great song with killer lyrics like, “In the air I flew/ Through the clouds I fall/ And all the things I've tried to say/ Were never easy to explain/ They were always meant for you.” I hope LaValle keeps performing as The Album Leaf, I just hope he puts more of his talent into his next effort. For fans of Sterolab, Air and Dusty Trails.

2.25 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

So, my teen reading continues in full force. Here are a couple I read a while ago and pleasantly surprised me.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

This is my first Dessen novel and she has written a ton. Just Listen is about Annabel, who is popular at school and is a promising model as well. Modeling has lost its appeal to Annabel, her sisters' problems are completely ignored by her parents and an incident involving her former best-friend’s boyfriend has ruined her popularity at school. Now an outsider, she begins to notice the allegedly dangerous and brooding Owen. While this is quite similar to Speak and Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Dessen does a great job rounding out her main characters and this makes their connection seem realistic. Yes it is a bit mushy, but the author shows us Annabel’s transformation from someone who was taught to ignore the problems around her to someone who will be sensitive to life and bold enough to force change.

The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Hyde has also written a ton of books including 2000’s Pay It Forward. This book follows 13-year old Cynnie, who begins to fall into the same habits as her mother. She becomes an alcoholic and is involved in a couple of bad relationships, though caring for her younger brother who has Down Syndrome spurs her to recover. Unfortunately some of the book seems incredibly realistic, while some of it does not seem real at all. Still, Cynnie is a great character to root for and her horrible home life makes for a gripping read.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Music Review -- Children Running Through by Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin has already made a lot of good music in her career, though I have never become a real big fan. I did enjoy seeing her live when she was touring for her ’02 release 1000 Kisses. With Children Running Through, I think Griffin has created the most fully realized album of her career.

I have always tried hard on my blog not to gush about music, especially since my perception of albums tends to change drastically with time and more listens. Nevertheless, I have given this over twenty spins and think this is something special.

Griffin seamlessly slides from mellow or mid-tempo songs to rockier songs without worrying about transitioning or creating a certain mood. This creates a jarring and incredibly satisfying ride of emotions. She begins with the quiet You’ll Remember as she croons, “Maybe one day along the way/ You'll remember me on this island/ Smiling at you how I used to/ Maybe one day, you'll remember.”

Griffin does not do as much storytelling on this album as she usually does, but the writing is excellent. Jangly guitars highlight track two, Stay on the Ride, as she tells the story of a bus ride. The masterpiece of the album is Trapeze, a duet with the amazing Emmylou Harris. Griffin writes, “She started with us on the back of a horse/ Just seventeen and already divorced/ She took to the air with the greatest of ease/ Like she was born to be gliding on the old trapeze/ Some people don't care if they live or they die/ Some people want to know what it feels like to fly/ Gather their courage and they give it a try.”

This is a confident outing with absolutely no soft spots at all. There are many gospel tinged songs here along with Griffin’s characteristic folk rock sound. Rarely is a performer this confident in every song and every style that is attempted. My only very minor complaint is that the album loses a bit of its intensity and swagger near the end, but there are no filler songs on Children Running Through and the mellower tunes are just as powerful as the others. This is for fans of Over the Rhine, Nickel Creek or West by Lucinda Williams. I’ll be extremely surprised if this is not my favorite album at the end of 2007.

3.75 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale

Listening to this makes you feel like those rare, brief moments when you feel extra confident and maybe just a little cocky.

What I’m Reading -- Rash by Pete Hautman

Bo Marsten lives in a future where safety is considered the most important thing. Which makes being Bo, a normal boy with a bit of a temper, a tough thing. Eventually, he gets in enough trouble that he becomes part of the country’s large prison labor force making pizzas. That is until the warden discovers that Bo is quite good at an illegal sport, football. This is a good book though it drags a bit when the conclusion becomes obvious. This is an exciting book and Hautman deftly balances the harsh realities of his future world and the great adventures of Bo and his friends.

What I’m Reading -- Its Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Ned Vizzini’s latest novel is quite reminiscent of another ’06 Teen novel which is Jordan Sonnenblick’s Notes from the Midnight Driver. In Its Kind of a Funny Story, Craig is having trouble dealing with his life that seems to center around his failure to land the girl he wants and failure to handle his new tough school. This gets to him enough that he considers jumping off a New York City brigde, but luckily he gets checked in to a mental hospital. At the hospital, he starts to recover and tries to get things straight in his life again. Of course, he is put in an adult ward with lots of charmingly weird mental patients. This skews any reality that Vizzini builds up during the first part of the book. The author wonderfully sets up Craig’s life and why it becomes too much for him. After he ends up in the mental hospital, the novel is still entertaining, just in a completely different way. Overall, this is a solid novel with aspirations of begin something more. This is as entertaining as his last novel, Be More Chill, so I hope Vizzini is building up to a book that better combines the elements of his novels with a bit more depth.

What I’m Reading -- Heavy Metal and You by Christopher Krovatin

Christopher Krovatin’s first novel is a solid effort. While I did not love the book, there is not really anything bad to say about it. This is basically a relationship novel, but from a guy’s perspective under the backdrop of being a metalhead (actually, it is funny that I’m writing this while jamming out to Aqualung, who is not exactally a hard rock band). Much of the novel is about our identities as Sam starts going out with straightedger Mellissa. Things seem great but Sam starts to think he is completely changing for her and wonders if Mellissa is even being herself. The scenes where they meet each others friends are searing and great fun (who hasn’t wanted to yell at yuppies while in a yuppie bar?). It does seem like while Krovatin handles his story and characters well, there is not much special or unique going on here. Still, this is solid and will definitely appeal to teenage boys.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What I’m Reading -- Dead Connection by Charlie Price

Fiction, Teen -- This first novel from Charlie Price is a god one. I’m not certain why I grabbed this in the first place since I’m not really into creepy otherworldly type things, but this is more of a mystery than you would expect from reading the synopsis. Murray is a weird, lonely high school kid who hangs out in his town’s cemetery where he begins to hear the thoughts of the dead and has conversations with them. At about the same time that a fellow high school student is murdered, he starts to hear a new voice. Pearl, whose father runs the cemetery, becomes intrigued as she sees this odd kid hanging around the graveyard all of the time and becomes involved as well. Meanwhile, Deputy Sheriff Gates, the most interesting character in the book, begins to feel pressure from the community to solve the murder. It turns out that his only connections are a disturbed young man who may have seen something and Murray, who is hard to believe. The whodunit part of the story and Gates’ investigation are very well written and interesting. Readers of supernatural stories and mysteries should both appreciate this story.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What I'm Reading -- Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Fiction, Adult -- In this novel, Brockmeier slowly reveals that a virus is sweeping the earth and killing its inhabitants. Part of the story follows Laura, who is on an expedition in Antarctica and begins to realize that there may be a problem back in civilization. The rest of the story is told by those who are dead, but have not moved on yet. The dead live fairly normal lives, but realize they have passed on from Earth and the theory is that as long as they are remembered by someone on earth they remain in this existence. When no one living has memories of those in this in between state, the dead move to whatever is next. This is an absolutely fascinating novel that keeps a tense yet thoughtful vibe throughout. He is a master at revealing things slowly, but giving a reader just enough to keep interest, which reminded me of M.T. Anderson’s The Pox Party. The struggles of Laura to survive and the investigations of the dead as they try to figure out what is going on as their “city” begins to change is as interesting as a novel gets.

What I’m Reading -- Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Helper

Fiction, Teen -- Scrambled Eggs at Midnight is one of my favorite books in a while. This is basically a romance with two interesting main characters in Calliope (Cal) and Eliot. Both teens are caught in lives they did not ask for and they have created coping mechanisms to deal with their situations. Cal has become used to moving every few months as her Mom works at Renaissance Faires and Cal never talks to her father who has moved on with a new life. Eliot’s family lives in and runs a Christian camp for overweight children forcing him to adopt to his parents strict lifestyles. Basically, this book is Nic and Norah’s Infinite Playlist except that it takes place in a small town (instead of New York) and is not condescending and pretentious. Barkley and Helper do an awesome job making Cal and Eliot realistic as the characters seek to improve their family life and personal lives while cultivating their own relationship together. The story of them meeting while Eliot’s lips are green is hilarious. While some of the plot devices come a bit too easy, this is a great read.

What I'm Reading -- Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Fiction, Teen -- Pfeffer has created a novel that blends sci-fi and a coming of age story. 16-year old Miranda and the rest of the world watch as a meteor is expected to collide with the moon. What the experts did not prognosticate is that the moon gets pushed closer to the earth after the collision which throws off the balance of things and makes life horrible for everyone. As the world is seemingly coming to an end, Miranda writes about her experiences in her diary. Her musings are candid and seem very real. They range from her silly crush on an Olympic skater to deciding how to divvy up her family’s ever dwindling supply of food. I kind of had mixed feelings about this one. It is written clearly and with much emotion, but something about world ending novels just doesn’t click with me. I’m not sure what it is, but I seem to always doubt the author’s conclusions about how people would react, but this is probably just some of my own silly notions. Anyway, I think this is better than Meg Rosoff’s very similar How I Live Now. Fans of Rosoff will definitely like Pfeffer’s account of world changing events as well.

What I’m Reading -- Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker

Fiction, Adult -- The latest novel by Rudy Rucker is quite the wild ride. It begins in a parallel universe where Bela and Paul are doctoral math students who are both competing over creating a groundbreaking theory and for the affections of Alma, another student who is graduating and has an uncertain future. From there the plot gets a bit too crazy for me to explain, but it includes hopping to different worlds, discovering crazy mathematical theories and dealing with a litany of thugs and presidential candidates. This is a sarcastic sci-fi that twists reality. Rucker is great at writing these types of characters and weaves them into a fun story. Rucker’s style is reminiscent of Max Barry and Douglas Coupland, but in Sci-fi style.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Music Review -- Subtitulo by Josh Rouse

Josh Rouse is one of those singer-songwriters that people say I would like, but that I never get around to actually listening to. Rouse’s latest disc, Subtitulo, was on too many “Best of ‘06” lists for me to ignore him any longer. While the CD brings to mind John Mayer and Jack Johnson, it is a much more diverse collection of styles and moods than you could find in any of their albums. Rouse’s laid back style adds weight to the catchy opening tunes of Quiet Town and Summertown. It Looks Like Love is a perfect summertime song with its bouncy melody, jazzy instrumentation and chorus of “There goes that melancholy feeln' again/ it looks like love is gonna find a way.”
Rouse’s introspective lyrics shine throughout the album especially on one of my favorites, Jersey Clowns as Rouse sings, “What a shame he's been away/ Cause he's worked so hard to pay those bills/ He's got two kids from his marriage before/ And I wonder what makes him stay/ You know it ain't the first time / She's played him like this a thousand times…I gotta tell him the truth/ But I don’t wanna do it/ Don't wanna bring him down…”
Rouse has a clear, confident voice that works on his lighter and deeper material. His band is more than capable of performing these songs and does so with an ease that complements Rouse’s vocals. While a little more variety would be appreciated since almost every song is an acoustic guitar-based, jazzy mid-tempo number, this is an accessible yet creative album by a thoughtful artist. This is for fans of the aforementioned artists, Elliott Smith and Wico.

3.00 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale

Listening to this makes you feel like you are in that movie with the tennis courts, swimming pools, rainy days and homemade wine.

Music Review -- So Divided by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

The new album by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead is a weird one. Their CDs have always been dramatic with lots of peaks and valleys and changes of pace. So Divided seems like the band was caught between producing something marketable, keeping their old formula and growing as a band. The bad news is some of these songs seem completely out of place. The good news is that there are some impressive tunes here. One of them is the driving opening song, Stand in Silence. Much of the writing is dark and they begin with, “All that was left of me were walls of doubt/ I asked a question but the world returned with silence/ All that I wanted to know is where'd everyone else go?” This song is followed by the decent anthem, Wasted State of Mind. Unfortunately a few songs don’t really work including the silly and wandering Naked Sun. The other tunes rang from piano based songs to emo to pop to retro rock and while there are some nice moments there is no cohesive structure in which to build any emotional momentum. Source Tags and Codes is the only disc from these guys that I really get in to and it looks like it will remain that way. I really will still be disappointed if rumors of the band breaking up after this album turn out to be true, because despite the flaws of So Divided this is a band trying to be creative and yet stay relevant in the current pop scene. Unfortunately, the result of their efforts is a moderately pleasing album.

2.30 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale

Sunday, March 04, 2007

What I’m Reading -- Teen Novels

So I have been a huge slacker with my blog lately, so I'm posting a few brief reviews to get me halfway caught up with all of the books I have finished in the last few weeks.

Here There be Dragons by James A. Owen

Owen has created a great fantasy realm beginning in the real world during World War I. Three young scholars from England are collected and sent in to a world where all of the world’s mythical lands reside. Here we meet Captain Nemo and other lands and characters from literature. The story of a crumbling world that the three young men must save is quite good. Character development is a bit unrealistic since the three become friends and are convinced to help with the dangerous tasks in a matter of minutes. Also, after I realized who is who at the end of the novel some of the things did not make as much sense to me. Anyway, despite these gripes this is a good fantasy and a quick read. This is very much like Eragon, where it is a teen book that adults should also enjoy.

Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick

In this hilarious book, Sonnenblick writes about mixed up teenager Alex Gregory. Alex narrates his story of a drunken accident which leads to a broken lawn gnome and community service with a grouchy senior named Sol. While not the most realistic of books, Sonnenblick applies a slick balance between humorous situations and the lessons learned from tough situations. This is a good book and one that could produce some good discussions among teen readers.

What I'm Reading -- Graphic Novels

Superman: True Brit by Kim Howard and John Cleese.

This seemed like a guaranteed quality read to me, but it turned out to be very disappointing. Basically, this is how the legend of Superman would have developed if he landed in England instead of the U.S. It sounds like an amazing idea and John Cleese is involved, but somehow this GN was boring and rarely amusing.

Curses by Kevin Huizenga

This is another one I could not get in to. Huizenga’s short story collection centers on spirituality, mortality and plain old weirdness. The writing just did not click with me. The design of the GN and the artwork, however, is absolutely brilliant. At turns stark and detailed Curse is visually impressive, but the stories are only occasionally intriguing.

The Left Bank Gang by Jason

This is fairly brilliant. The Left Bank Gang features literary giants like Hemmingway and Joyce as graphic novelists. Jason first writes about the group struggling with their art and lack of money they get from publishing their works. The plot then shifts and the group plans a robbery which is told from each of their perspectives. This is great.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This award winning GN definitely lives up to the hype. Somehow the author is able to weave three completely different stories into one powerful narrative. Jin is forced to fit in to his American high school as the only Chinese-American, the Monkey King struggles with his quest to become a god and Chin-Kee comes to visit his American cousin every year and engages in behavior that fulfills every stereotype and disgusts his cousin. This is one of the best books in any format for any audience of the year.

What I’m Reading -- Bestselling Authors

I don’t read much in the way of bestsellers, except occasionally for work purposes. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule and those include Nelson DeMille, Jodi Picoult and John Lescroart.

Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille

I got hooked on DeMille when I read 2004’s Night Fall, a novel about the crash of TWA Flight 800. DeMille carries his main characters, John and Kate Corey, over into Wild Fire. John is a former NYPD officer who is now working with a post-9/11 federal anti-terrorism unit with his second wife and FBI agent, Kate. John narrates the story and is a hilarious, sarcastic character.

As for the plot, I do have one gripe. Whether it is books, movies or whatever I just can’t get into the possibility that person A hates country B, so he attacks his own country pretending to be from country B, so that country A will attack country B. This plot is used all of the time and it does not seem that realistic to me.

Anyway in Wild Fire, DeMille writes about the rumored strategy that if the U.S. suffers a nuclear attack on its own soil by a terrorist, the President has a mandatory plan in place to nuke multiple cities in the Middle East. In order to make this come to pass, a group of rich and powerful Americans might be willing to set off some nukes in the U.S. John and Kate become involved in this intricate plot as they investigate why a routine scouting mission turned into the murder of their fellow officer in upstate New York.

This is the epitome of a fun book. The narration is hilarious and the action is about as non-stop as you can get. There are unrealistic moments and the main bad guy reaches James Bond villain status, but they don’t really detract from the book mostly because John and Kate are such likable characters. This is definitely a must read for any suspense fans.

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

Picoult’s The Tenth Circle came out early last year. As always Picoult features several intriguing characters in a swirling and surprising plot. Comic book creater Daniel Stone is putting out a new title for Marvel Comics when his troubled daughter is raped. As the investigation ensues, the true personalities and past sins of Daniel, his wife Laura and 14-year old Trixie come out. Dante’s Inferno and Daniel’s comic book hero Wildclaw parallel what is really happening to a family in crisis. Picoult’s characters are true to life as she drives home the point that people can only change so much.

The Suspect by John Lescroart

The thing I like about Lescroart is that he is a writer who writes legal thrillers and not a lawyer turned writer. In The Suspect, Lescroart takes one of his minor characters, lawyer Gina Roake, and gives her a tough case. It seems obvious to police that Stuart Gorman became angry when he wife threatened to divorce him and so he killed her. You can tell how much Lescroart loves San Fransisco, as the city is carefully described in all of his books. I thought this dragged some in the middle, but Lescroart is a good writer and a perfect read-alike for Grisham and Turow fans.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Music Review -- Waiting for Your Letter by Cary Brothers

Cary Brothers is the performer of two great songs on two great Zach Braff produced soundtracks, Blue Eyes on 2004’s Garden State and Ride (one of my favorite songs from the last couple of years) on 2006’s The Last Kiss. Despite the buzz from the soundtracks, Brothers has only two EPs out, so I decided to pick up the latest one. The five-song disc Waiting for Your Letter is from late 2005.

The album starts with the amazingly bittersweet song Ride. Brothers, in the simply written song, croons, “You are everything I wanted/ The scars of all I’ll ever know/ If I told you you were right/ Would you take my hand tonight?/ If I told you the reasons why/ Would you leave your life and ride?” His brit-rock side comes out in the title track which is an insanely catchy song. Really, what Brothers does best is the mellow, stripped down and wistful songs like Loneliest Girl in the World. While a bit mushy, he has a knack for simple yet meaningful lyrics. In Loneliest Girl he writes, “You are the loneliest girl in the world/ And tonight you’d fall for anyone.” On Wasted One, Brothers stretches out again with a rockier song, then finishes with another emotional tune in Forget About You. Other than Ride, the last track is the best. The speaker seems to see a relationship clearly for the first time and says, “Forget about you/ Forget about all this life we have/ We were the unseen…”

This is a solid effort by Brothers, who is a very solid songwriter, though it would be nice to see some deeper, fuller songs. Until he releases a full length album it is hard to tell what to expect from Brothers, though according to his website he is trying to release a new disc in May. I’m expecting a Pete Yorn type CD with modern rock styling melding with a singer-songwriter’s introspective lyrics. Check out his site at where he streams quite a bit of his music.

2.85 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale

Saturday, February 03, 2007

What I'm Reading -- Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen

Last Town on Earth is a novel based on events in the 1918 flu epidemic, when some cities cut themselves from the rest of the world in order to keep out the flu. While told through the eyes of many of the city of Commonwealth’s citizens, Phillip Worthy is essentially the main character. The orphaned teenager has been taken in by the town’s founder. Commonwealth began as a refuge for those looking to run to a lumber mill without the pressures of working under horrible bosses and terrible working conditions. With the outbreak the deadly flu during the First World War, the town closes its doors and prepares to protect their borders from outsiders. When a couple of soldiers approach the town and nearby cities assume there is something wrong going on inside Commonwealth, the townsfolk find themselves in a lot of trouble and doubting their decision to go into quarantine. Phillip is an impressionable teenager, but becomes the center of all of these issues and is trying to figure his way out trouble. Mullen is a bit too transparent in the obvious parallels between his novel's reality and our post-9/11 reality. Nevertheless, this is a powerfully gripping novel as a town and its people wrestles with their place in a broken world.

What I'm Reading -- Saint Iggy by K.L. Going

The author of the very good Fat Kid Rules the World returns with Saint Iggy. Iggy is a 16-year old son of drug addicted parents. He has some problems doing the right thing and this leads to a misunderstanding that gets him kicked out of school. With the hearing with the school board just days away, Iggy decides he needs to do some great things and make the school board and the world realize that he is a good kid. Things get worse when his one respected friend gets involved with the drug dealer that supplies Iggy’s parents. While a bit overdramatic at times, Going keeps the pressure on Iggy, giving the novel a tense vibe the whole way through. Iggy really is a good kid, making him a character that readers will root for the whole way through. The ominous tone makes the ending less surprising than it usually would be. Going has crafted another touching novel that fans of her earlier work will enjoy.

What I'm Reading -- The Long Run by Leo Furey

Furey’s debut novel is the darkly comic The Long Run. The book follows a group of boys in a Newfoundland orphanage that is overseen by some fairly deranged priests. At times, the book is incredibly funny. It is especially humorous when one of the Catholic Brothers decides to introduce Japanese customs into their studies, which leads to some bizarre sumo wrestling tournaments. Furey also creates a disturbing world where the group of boys joins together to avoid extreme punishment, pedophilic priests and depression. Eventually, they decide to enter a marathon and train for it at night when the Brothers are asleep. The character development is incredibly strong and makes the novel feel realistic. This is a touching, well-crafted coming of age story.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Best Album Covers of 2006

Just for fun, here are my favorite album covers of the year. Here is another site that did the same thing and picked a bunch of cool ones. I noted who the artist is if it is not clear from the cover itself. They are roughly in order of best to relatively worst.

The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me by Brand New

The Crane Wife by The Decemberists