Monday, April 20, 2009

Captain Freedom by G. Xavier Robillard

A friend of mine sent this to me and I have to say I was skeptical at first. The author is a McSweeney's guy and I have a real prejudice there, mostly because everyone seems to thinks its all brilliant stuff and I just don't get it; leaves me as flat and cold as a flounder in a fridge. But I trust my friend, I love the superhero thang and I needed something light to read on my cruise.

Gotta say, perfect vacation read. Captain Freedom is fast, funny and surprisingly insightful especially on the subject of fame in our current society.

The Captain is an analyst's wet dream:
vain as hell and COMPLETELY self-absorbed, yet still somehow super-heroic. The world Robillard has created is clever and plays to how ridiculously obsessed we have become with all things "celebrity". Even the super famous want to be more famous. Where does it end?

Now, there was no lack of groaners (a dinosaur called a "Thesaurus", for example. Must we? Really?) and it sometimes felt like that sitcom style of writing where they try to cram as many gags per page as possible but it can be forgiven.
Much like the drink du jour my faithful server, Nestor, kept bringing me on-deck, Captain Freedom was a tasty mix of frothiness and pithiness, served up tall and cool.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

I had never heard of David Benioff, I hadn't read any reviews of this book, no hype, nothing but this one had me at the cover. Something about it's Adrian Tomine-esque artwork and it's Charlie Brown pine tree just grabbed me and told me the story inside was worth reading. Then I read the 5 page intro. Three times because I couldn't believe how pitch perfect it was.

It's 1942, the siege of Leningrad. Bleak, cold, desolate. Lev, a 15 year old boy and Kolya, a Russian soldier, end up in a jail cell together, pleading innocence of their individual charges. A colonel makes them an impossible deal: in exchange for their freedom, the boy and the solider must find one dozen eggs for the wedding cake of his daughter who is about to marry. During the Siege of freakin' Leningrad!

Part buddy picture, part coming-of-age tale and certainly part "horrors of war" story, Benioff has created a masterful novel that is wildly funny, deeply moving and profoundly meaningful. The characters are rich, history is respected and Benioff has the ability to make you feel a part of the story; like you're there in this freezing, Russian winter, hungry as hell, scared, with your very freedom just within reach despite the absurdity and impossibility of what has been asked of you.

This will be the book against which the rest of his upcoming books will be measured and it will be no small task to best this one. I wish him luck and look forward to more.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trying to catch up with The Good Thief

Well, I'm easily the blogger who blogs the least. Sort of an anti-blogger. I don't mean to be. I am backed up on book posts like I've been eating matzah all week. (I haven't been eating matzah all week though I should have been eating matzah all week. Another story entirely.) But it's got me on this rant about not getting the things done I really want to because I have all this other crap that needs my attention, as well.

For example, I really needed to get started on the yard yesterday as it appears that a herd of meerkats (a flock? a pride?) must have moved into my backyard over the winter and I never noticed somehow. The yard behind the garage is lousy with tunnels, mounds and bald patches. As I mowed, I was cutting the tops of these mounds off and releasing a geyser of dirt and dust into the air--charming. What I'm saying is the time I spent decapitating giant anthills could've been spent blogging about Tinti's The Good Thief, which I promised to post about months ago but haven't. So I will. Long story short:
I loved this book.

The story opens in an orphanage where we meet 12-year Ren, a one-handed orphan with a head full of lice and the tiniest hope of being adopted in his heart. Con artist Benjamin Nab, who is up to no good though is as charming and resourceful as the day is long, adopts Ren and finds him a quick study. Thus begins a tale that is a throwback to the likes of Dickens workhouse thieves or the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson. Narrow escapes, evil factory owners, kindly landladies, mousetrap girls, murderers, poverty, sickness and a sense of family--it's a rollicking tale and beautifully written. Tinti has a wonderful way with words and imbues the many characters with great humanity despite their many, many flaws. She can also be damned funny. Too, there is a cinematic quality to this story. You can just picture it all unfolding in front of you on a big screen.

With all the swashbuckling exploits and wonderful characters, The Good Thief offers a reassuring payoff: it finds family where there wasn't before. The author Richard Bach has a quote I've always loved that I think captures what Hannah Tinti does so well with this book:

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.

Enjoy The Good Thief.