mini book review: The Trial of the Flash

Just finished reading my first book of the new year, Showcase Presents: The Trial of the Flash. It covers a bunch of issues from 1983-85, when the Flash (Barry Allen) is on trial for murder.

We all know I love me some Flash, and overall I loved this (even though it wasn’t my boy Wally), but man were the Carmine Infantino layouts hard to follow sometimes. Like, headache-inducingly difficult.

And it’s not like a few issues in you could figure out the method behind the madness. No, Infantino would use the exact same panel layouts (usually involving diagonals) and expect you to read them in different directions on different pages with no indication as to which. I’d be halfway through a page or panel and realize I was reading things out of order. It got kind of frustrating, but I’m glad I persevered because the story rollicked right along. It was fantastical at times, and I’m not sure all the law checked out, but hey. I can deal with some over-the-top 80s-era stories and some Perry-Mason-esque legal squibbles if the story is great. Which it was.

Also, there’s one panel where Barry has a really nice butt. It was pretty exciting.

Yes, here at Gracetopia we cover the most important parts of a book in our reviews.


book review: 33 snowfish

It’s been a long time since I read a piece of fiction that made me cry. I can actually only remember one—an Evelyn Waugh short story.

Now we are at two.

33 Snowfish, by Adam Rapp, was recommended to my by the lovely Libba Bray. I had met her at SCBWI New York, and I had said something vague about how I didn’t know if what I was writing was really YA, since even though the characters were the right age it seemed really dark, and she said that you could be a lot darker in YA nowadays, for instance had I read the brilliant 33 Snowfish?

So I read it.

And it was brilliant.

And I cried.

33 Snowfish is the heartbreaking yet hopeful story of three runaways, Custis, Boobie, and Curl. Alternating sections are told by each one (Boobie’s are told in picture form). It’s a dark story. These kids have not had happy lives. One was basically a sex-slave to a pedophile, one is a prostitute, and one killed his parents—all this is what they’re running from, with a kidnapped baby.

But it’s so beautiful. Rapp’s language is vivid and intense, and all the characters are so real. He is not quite as good at Curl’s (the girl’s) voice as he is at Custis’s, I don’t think, but they are all real people. You very quickly understand them and where they’re coming from, even though for most readers it is as if the children live in a foreign land. The strong relationship between young Custis and the older boy, Boobie, is especially well-drawn.

The book is so short and wonderful that to say much about it would be doing it and the reader an injustice. But if you are interested in beautiful YA literature, you should pick this up. Just know that it’s dark.

book review: Wobble to Death by Peter Lovesey

wobbleFirst of all, this is like the best name for a mystery ever. Wobble to Death? Really? Awesome.

Written by Peter Lovesey, who you may know as the writer of the Inspector Diamond mysteries, and first published in 1970, Wobble to Death is the first in a short series of Victorian-era mysteries. Victorian England? Mystery? I’m so there. Why had I never heard of this before?

Frankly, it’s not the most brilliant of mysteries, in the mystery sense. I mean, it’s perfectly okay. I wondered who did it, and at the end I was like, “hm, okay, I get that.” But there wasn’t any overly brilliant detective work. The detectives—Cribb and Thackery—were just fine. Nothing particularly interesting about either of them, maybe they (or at least Cribb, it’s advertised as the “Sergeant Cribb mysteries”) become more sparkly as the series progresses.


The Victoriana. Now that sparkled.

The setting of the book is a 6-day race walking competition, called a “wobble.” The first corpse doesn’t fall until page 61, but I didn’t care because the 60 pages of wobble were absolutely fascinating. It’s just so weird. Sixteen men just walking and/or running in circles for six days, many of them collapsing, their feet bleeding, exhausted. It’s so Victorian. It’s so fabulous. Beyond the wobble, the entire book is just drenched in details of the era.

I don’t know how fascinating this actually is. I’m pretty much a Victorian nerd of epic proportions. Reading this book felt like walking the streets of 19th-century London, and I loved every minute. If that doesn’t excite you, you maybe should skip the book.

So, as a mystery, average. As an outlet for my Victorian desires, fabulous. I’ll be reading more just for that.

P.S. According to the blurbs on the back, lots of people thought this was a much better mystery than I did.

P.P.S. And apparently it’s also been made into a tv series??! Who knew?

Book Review: Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

A couple of months ago (May, to be exact) my friend Cindy Pon published her debut YA novel, Silver Phoenix. It took me this long to get around to reading it, because I am a bad friend. But it was totally worth the wait.


At seventeen, Ai Ling should be married, or at least betrothed. But nobody wants her. A free spirit in a land of order and restriction, she almost prefers it that way, except for the shame it brings to her family. Soon, though, she has bigger problems than her social status: her father goes missing and she begins to realize she has a power that she doesn’t understand.

Thus begins Ai Ling’s quest, a quest to find her father and herself.

Aiding her on this journey is Chen Yong, a half-foreigner with major problems of his own, and Chen Yong’s charming, womanizing younger brother Li Rong, as well as a host of other characters. The story is a basic quest/journey tale, but set in a land of such wonder and mystery that you cannot help but be enthralled. Ai Ling meets gods and monsters, some of them in human form, finally arriving at the Emperor’s Palace to battle perhaps the worst of them all: the one that loves her.

The book is just… beautiful. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Cindy also does some fabulous brush paintings, and reading this book was sometimes like looking at one of her paintings. You can see her artist’s eye in the description, even in the language itself. The book also made me incredibly hungry. The food Ai Ling consumes is described in such loving, delectable detail that I could almost smell it wafting from the pages. Cindy is welcome to invite me to her house for dinner anytime. ;)

Anyway, a great book; you can order it here and I highly recommend you do so.

On another note, I have decided that Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, etc.) needs to be in charge of the movie version of this book, and he needs to get on it stat. It has the kinds of mysterious creatures he specializes in, and the type of strong heroine he appreciates, and the sense of wonder that he is a master of. Really. Miyazaki, get to work.

To end, one of Cindy’s paintings:

joy in spring cindy

The disclaimer: I feel like I always need to add this when I review a friend’s book, even though I’m probably just being silly. Yes I know Cindy, but that did not in any way influence the writing of this review. Except possibly for the part where I invited myself over to her house.


So I am currently reading two books: Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog. Both are basically fabulous. Today I want to talk about the Herzog book because I’m basically bookgasming on every single page.

First, some background. Werner Herzog is one of my favorite directors; you’ve probably heard of Grizzly Man, that was his. But back in the ’70s and ’80s he was making movies with a man named Klaus Kinski, a brilliant madman of an actor. Aguirre: Wrath of God is one of the famous collaborations. Also: Fitzcarraldo.

Fitzcarraldo, set in the early 20th century, is about a European opera-lover (Kinski) in the Peruvian jungle who decides to become a rubber baron (also he wants to build an opera house). He gets his parcel of land for rubber harvesting, but for some reason—my memory gets a bit sketchy on the details here—he has to get a steamship from one river to another in order to get to the land, and he decides the best way to do this is to drag it over the top of a mountain. Here’s the trailer if you want the flavor:

So Herzog decided the best way to film the steamship being dragged over the top of a mountain in the Peruvian jungle was to actually drag a steamship over the top of a mountain in the Peruvian jungle. From the book, a conversation with the movie bosses:

The unquestioned assumption is that a plastic model ship will be pulled over a ridge in a studio, or possibly in a botanical garden that is apparently not far from here–or why not San Diego, where there are hothouses with good tropical settings. So what are bad tropical settings, I asked, and I told them the unquestioned assumption had to be a real steamship being hauled over a real mountain, though not for the sake of realism but for the stylization characteristic of grand opera. The pleasantries we exchanged from then on wore a thin coating of frost.

That ended up being an adventure. Throw in a totally crazy leading man and the making of Fitzcarraldo becomes the stuff of legend. There was a documentary made of the making of the film (Burden of Dreams) which I like almost as much as the film itself.

Here is what the filming of Fitzcarraldo looked like, from another famous documentary, this one by Herzog, called My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski. Herzog is the dude with the bandana headband near the end; you’ll figure out Kinski on your own. (even if you skipped the last clip you should watch this one…)

Which led to this, one of the most famous stories to come out of Fitzcarraldo:

So that’s what Herzog was working with. The book I’m reading is his diary from the time of filming, recently published for the first time. I haven’t even gotten to Klaus Kinski yet and the book’s already a firecracker. And so beautifully written, it’s like poetry on every page (it was translated from German, but still). Peru is “a sleepy country at which God’s wrath has cooled.” The room he is using at Francis Ford Coppola’s house has “windows that are filled with this demented light.” And I love all his little stories.

In the Rio Santiago the body of a soldierwho had been shot came floating along, on his back, swollen, the legs bent at the knees and the arms bent likewise; he looked as if he were raising his hands. Birds had already hacked out his eyes and eaten away part of the face. The comandante here advised letting him float by—so as to avoid any trouble; they would have to deal with him farther downstream. He gave the swimmer a gentle nudge with his boot, and the corpse spun around once before the current took hold of him.

Basically you should read this book. I mean, I’m barely 20 pages into it, so obviously this isn’t a proper review at all (see all the youtube videos?) but wow. So good. Bookgasm.

In closing, one more video that you should watch even if you don’t care about anything else in this post. See, Kinski wasn’t originally the lead, it was some other guy who got fired or quit or something so they had to totally restart filming. This video shows a scene first done by the original actor and then by Kinski, and wow. Oh yes, and the reason you should watch it? Mick Jagger’s in it. Good thing Herzog changed his mind about that.