It’s Another Monday! What Am I Reading?*

All these Mondays are starting to add up…  So what’s coming up on BookSexy for everyone to look forward to?

First, check out the  review of Walter Moers’ The Alchemaster’s Apprentice that was posted over the weekend.  It’s a wonderful October read, especially if you have a YA in your life going through Harry Potter & Twilight withdrawals.  It’ll stop the shakes – promise!

And I just downloaded The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood from Audible.com!  That TBR stack is just getting too high – so I thought this book might be a better use of my commute than BBC podcasts.   To be honest, I’m interested in seeing how this goes.  The last “serious” novel I listened to was His Illegal Self by Peter Carey, which was definitely slow going at times (and a bit of a downer).  I usually save my downloads for lighter fare… but we will see.

Amphibian by Carla Gunn is my current reading read (and the next book from my Brooklyn Book Festival haul ).  I’m about 25 pages in and moving along nicely.  The story is told in the first person by Phineas William Walsh, a young environmentalist who’s about to go Greenpeace on his fourth grade class.  Gunn has perfectly re-created the feeling of being trapped in the car with a  precocious 9 year old.  And the physical book, itself, is a pleasure and a prime example of why the transition to digital books will be a slow one.   My copy is a paperback with bright, glossy covers and tightly bound.  The first page you open to is a black and white photo of a tree frog (which features prominently in the plot).  The paper used has a slightly corrugated feel to it, and the typeset is in Legacy & Legacy Sans.  These are details I don’t always notice, but I had to give props to the Coach House Press for a beautiful product.

Happy Monday everyone!

*It’s Monday!  What Am I Reading? is a meme originating from J. Kaye’s Book Blog.  Please check out what other bloggers are reading here.

Mad About Moers! – A Review of The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers

Summer is over, but no one says we need to back away from the escapist fiction!  There’s no shame in losing yourself between the covers of a good book.  Just don’t confuse this kind of escape with the chick lit, mysteries and thrillers you were reading on the beach.    Save those for next year’s daiquiri.  Instead, we advise walking proudly into the Sci-Fi / Fantasy aisle of your local bookshop.  Shove past the pallid guy with the stack of Forgotten Realms paperbacks and the teenage girls with dark circles under their eyes surrounding the Twilight feature table.  Hold your head high!  We’re about to let you in on a little secret.  You see,  there are fantasy novels and then there are Fantasy novels.

In the latter category are Alice in Wonderland, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter, Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.  Books so cleverly conceived and brilliantly written that they can be enjoyed by both adults and children alike.  Their authors don’t tell stories, they create worlds.  Worlds that are intriguing, exciting, and a little bit frightening.  Unfortunately, everyone has read those stories (or should have).  You’re looking for something a little more BookSexy, a little more cutting edge – a book that hasn’t gone viral…at least not yet.

Moers.Statue

Enter Walter Moers’ Zamonia novels, published by The Overlook Press.  Moers is a German author and cartoonist who has had five books translated into English (four of which are set in Zamonia).  The most recent being The Alchemaster’s Apprentice.  These books can be read in any order, so don’t worry about starting with the newest book first.  What Moers has done is set about exploring Zamonia – so while characters may make cameos in eachothers’ stories, this is not a chronologically told tale.  You will not be following the continuing saga of one single character or event through a series of books.  Instead, with each story the reader is allowed to pop in and out of different sections and cities of Zamonia.  You learn about Wolpertings and Crats, Lindworms and Blue Bears, Shark Grubs and more.  You’ll visit Bookholm, the Netherworld and, in this newest adventure, Malaisea.

Picture to yourself the sickest place in the whole of Zamonia!  A little town with winding streets and crooked houses, and looming over it a creepy-looking castle perched on a black crag.  A town afflicted by the rarest bacteria and the oddest diseases: cerebral whooping cough, hepatic migraine, gastric mumps, intestinal acne, digital tinnitus, renal measles, mini-influenza, to which only persons less than one metre tall are susceptible, witching-hour headaches that develop on the stroke of midnight and disappear at one a.m. precisely on the first Thursday of every month, phantom toothaches experienced only by persons wearing a full set of dentures.

Picture a town where there are more apothecaries and herbalists, quacks and tooth-pullers, crutch manufacturers and bandage weavers than anywhere else on the Zamonian continent.  Where ‘Ouch!’ is the conventional form of greeting and ‘Get well soon!’ takes the place of ‘Goodbye’.  Where the air smells of ether and pus, cod-liver oil and emetics, iodine and putrefaction.  Where people vegetate and wheeze instead of living and breathing.  Where nobody laughs, just moans and groans.

And the cause of all this sickness is Ghoolion the Terrible, the Alchemaster of the book’s title and resident of the creepy-looking castle.

Echo, a Crat (looks like a cat, but can speak any language and has two livers), is our hero.  After his mistress’ death he  is left to starve on the streets of Malaisea.  Ghoolion finds Echo and offers him a Faustian bargain.  Until the full moon he will feed Echo the most delicious foods the Crat has ever eaten and teach Echo all his alchemical secrets.  Then, at month’s end, Ghoolion will render Echo down for his fat to use in experiments (Crat fat being extremely rare).  Seeing no other option other than starvation, Echo agrees.

Moers is not only an inventive writer, he is also a very funny one.  As the story progresses, Ghoolion (not without a certain charisma) and Echo form a demented odd couple.  The Alchemaster more than keeps to his part of the bargain – and the two main characters seem to develop a mutual respect which borders on friendship.  Their interactions, evenMoers.Story moreso than Echo’s quest to break his contract, really propel the plot forward.  (In fact, if it wasn’t for the whole killing the Crat for his fat and torturing the citizens of Malaisea with fear and disease – we’d be rooting for team Ghoolian).

The subtitle of The Alchemaster’s Apprentice is A Culinary Tale from Zamonia – and the Zamonian delicacies Ghoolion prepares for Echo are an important (as well as entertaining)  element of the story.

My dear Echo,

I regret my inability to offer you a particularly lavish breakfast this morning, as I will be engaged on a research project all day.  However, the honey on the bread is very special.  It’s made by the Demonic Bees of Honey Valley.

Don’t worry about the dead bees in it, they’ve had their stings removed and they make the honey nice and crunchy.  But be sure to chew with care.  It sometimes happens, though very rarely, that one of the bees has not had its sting removed.  Although a prick in the gum or tongue wouldn’t kill you, it would certainly give you an unpleasant time.  The risk factor is said to be part of the enjoyment one derives from eating a slice of bee-bread.

Bon Apetit!

Succubius Ghoolion

‘Well, well,’ Echo thought sleepily, ‘Demonic Bees from Honey Valley.  Whatever.  After last  night I’d eat a grilled Sewer Dragon, with or without it’s knilch.’ He hurriedly devoured a few morsels and took a swig of milk.  The milk tasted odd – soapy, somehow – so he wolfed another piece of bee-bread to take the taste away – and instantly felt a stabbing pain in his tongue.

‘Ouch!’  he said, but that was as far as he got.  The room began to revolve, alternately bathed in light and darkness, and he went plummeting down a black-and-white shaft that spiraled into the depths, losing consciousness on the way.

When Echo came to, he seemed to be looking into a shattered mirror that reflected many little fragments of the world around him…

(What comes next is one of the funniest scenes in the book, but we won’t ruin it for you).

Moers.5The Alchemaster’s Apprentice is a story that you lose yourself in – the very definition of escapist literature.  It has a cast of supporting characters and settings – all examples of Zamonian flora and fauna – that will fascinate and enchant you.  And when you finish, we promise you’ll want to get the rest of the series:  Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures; The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Blue Bear, and The City of Dreaming Books.  You can pass them on to your friends or just wait for them to discover the books themselves.  “Oh… Moers?  Sweetie, I was reading him back in 2009. The movie just isn’t as good…”

Suggestions:  The Zamonia novels are perfect to share with the little people in your life.  Whether as a bedtime story that won’t put you to sleep,  or just to give you something to talk about on the car trip to the grandparents (nothing like discussing Leathermice philosophy with your favorite tween) – there’s something here for everyone.    Including illustrations.

*R.I.P. IV Challenge

It’s Monday! What Am I Reading?*

It’s Monday and while my stack of books isn’t necessarily going down (which actually makes me very happy) – progress is being made!  Last week I finished reading and reviewed Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow.  I highly recommend it… which is a huge relief! I’ve been reading a lot International literature (mostly British and European) lately and was beginning to worry about my lack of excitement over contemporary American authors.

This week will be an ambitious one.  I’ll be finishing up The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers and am beginning Amphibian by Carla Gunn… both books I picked up at the Brooklyn Book Festival.  Moers is a German author and Gunn is from Canada (see what I mean about the International lit?).

And if you read my interview at Bookduck for Book Blogger Appreciation Week you already know how much I am looking forward to Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood – due out…. TOMORROW!? (Umm, I just looked that up on Amazon).  Another book added to the stack.

Homer &L angley by E.L. DoctorowThe Alchemaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers

the yearoftheflood.cvr*It’sMonday!  What Am I Reading? is a meme originating from J. Kaye’s Book Blog.  Please check out what other bloggers are reading here.

It’s Monday, Again! What Am I Reading?

It’s Monday! What Am I Reading? I wish I could say something more exciting than this… but I’m working my way through A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m  under halfway in… and I’m still waiting for something to happen.  Anything.  A meteor from the sky might liven things up a bit.  What is getting me through is the sheer beauty of the writing and… well, that’s about it.  I will finish this book.  My hope is that at some point it will turn around and blow me away.  It’s happened before.

While I should have been reading my Byatt I finished Homer & Langley.  It’s a refreshing, well written and  a nicely thought out book.  The review will be up by Thursday night.  I’m pleased to say that this was a wonderful intro to E.L. Doctorow and predict a long and beautiful relationship ahead of us.

Tuesday I’ll be posting an interview I did with another blogger (which is why I’m waiting until Thursday to post my review of Homer & Langley).   Definitely come back to check it out.  Stop by at Bookduck in the meantime.  She leans towards  YA and some adult fiction, mainly in the historical and fantasy genre.  She also has great taste in music.

And the best thing about my Monday?  It’s telling you about what I did on Sunday!  The 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival!

Brooklyn Book FestA free yearly event, the Brooklyn Festival features new and emerging figures in literature – as well as some not so new favorites like Edwidge Danticat, Jonathan Ames, Pete Hamill and Steven Millhauser (to name just a few).  The authors participate by giving readings, taking part in panel discussions and signing their books.  And next year I intend to do all that – attend the panels, listen to the readings and have my books signed.  This year I was weak… I couldn’t tear myself away from the tables!

Everywhere you turned there was something to see.  Several small presses are represented – the ones that put out the great books that don’t always make it to the shelves of your local B&N, let alone get put on the feature table.  There were the literary reviews and magazines (Bookforum, The Paris Review & The New York Review of Books), and tons of new writer anthologies.   They even had a children’s section with readings and authors who took questions – exactly like they do for the adults.  I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I heard an author announce very seriously to the crowd, “The question is:  Why was the cow silly?”.

The Brooklyn Book Festival (and other festivals of its kind) is a great opportunity to see what’s going on outside of the bestseller list.  It’s also a chance to connect with authors and publishers.  So, here’s a sample of what I got to take home.  (Remember: this is just the stuff I found interesting and put in my tote.  I’ll be posting reviews in the upcoming weeks with my final thoughts).

  • The Coral Press is an independent press dedicated to a fiction genre they call musical fiction.   They gave out a nice sampler of six of their novels.  You can check them out at www.coralpress.com.  The website features musical accompaniments to their novels.
  • This Republic of Suffering: Death & the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin was a freebie courtesy of the  people from The National Book Award.  I’ve always had an interest in the American Civil War, so while it doesn’t sound all that upbeat I’m looking forward to giving it a try.   But here’s a question thats been troubling me:  Why doesn’t the National Book Award get the attention of, say, the Booker Prize or the Pulitzer?  There are some great books that have won over the years… and this year is their 6oth Anniversary.  To celebrate they’re opening voting for the best of the best to the public (voting begins September 21st).   On September 30th they post their 5 Under 35 (which I’m assuming is their shortlist?) for 2009.  Click here to see their website.  Sheesh, people, it’s time we got serious about our own awards!  The British bookies make ODDS on the Booker!
  • Museum Legs: Fatigue & Hope in the Face of Art by Amy Whitaker (who was kind enough to sign my copy) is a new book by a new author published by a new press.  Hol Art Books specializes in books by authors writing about the visual arts.  They also have a nice selection historical writings, including pamphlets put out for the International Exhibit of Modern Art in 1913.  Definitely a niche market, but an interesting one I’d like to learn more about.
  • Amphibian is a novel by Carla Gunn published by Coach House Books.  This is one of those books I can’t wait to start.  The nine-year-old hero’s name is Phineas William Walsh and he’s an environmentalist.  And I quote from the description on the back cover: “So, when a White’s tree frog ends up in an aquarium in his fourth grade classroom, it’s the last straw, and he and  his best friend, Bird, are spurred to action.”  Tell me, what’s not to like???

And my #1 score of the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival (drumroll)…

  • The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers and published by The Overlook Press.  Moers is a German author and this is his fifth book published in the U.S.  It’s the fourth that takes place in Zamonia (and yes I’ve read the other three).  It’s about a Crat.  It’s fully illustrated.  It makes me want to learn German just because I know there are books of his that haven’t made it into English yet.  If you like J.K. Rowling, you’ll like Moers.  Not because this is anything remotely like Harry Potter…it’s probably the farthest thing from Hogwarts.  You’ll have to take my word for it:   Moers is just fun… and in terms of his books there’s no one out there writing anything like them.  Click here to see.

So there’s just a taste of what followed me home.  For the rest of the month I’ll be posting bits and pieces of the rest of it.

Happy Monday!