Metafiction Sends ABC Down the Rabbit Hole With Derrick Storm Series

I’m stunned by this news. I thought it was weird enough reading the Richard Castle novels — someone wrote a TV show starring a writer, and then the company released books referenced on the TV show supposedly by that writer that were more stories that could have been plots on the series, but with another level of fictionalization. Where’s the thesis on all this about self-referentiality and postmodernism?

But wait, there are more than one series of works by Richard Castle — in addition to the “Nikki Heat” books, there are “Derrick Storm” books, which was the series we see him concluding at the beginning of the Castle show. (And I’m not even mentioning the various comics and graphic novels with the character.) Those books are spy thrillers, so I haven’t read them.

Now Variety reports that ABC is developing a Derrick Storm series for television. Although executive producer and Castle creator Andrew Marlowe has moved on from that series as it prepares to launch season 7, he and wife Terri Edda Miller will be producing this new show in conjunction with Gregory Poirier, who is writing the pilot.

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Rock and Roll Love

The artist who calls herself Misako Rocks has reissued her quasi-autobiographical Rock and Roll Love (previously released by Hyperion in 2007). It’s about her trip to the US as an exchange student, where she meets a guy in a band.

Because she’s basing the story on her own life, the telling is unstructured and wandering. She decided to learn English and go to America because she had a crush on a pretty-boy rock star she saw on TV. It’s hard to criticize someone’s real-life choices, but that strikes me as shallow, an impression borne out by how she portrays herself as a character. The emotional roller coaster she goes on is tiring and frequently changing, so much so that the character seems even younger than she is.

Potentially interesting observations about how American kids of the same age seem more grown up are cut short in favor of affirmations like “Yes, I can do it! Anything is possible!” Challenges such as struggling in class due to the language difference are glossed over in a couple of pages with a note that she worked harder. Way too much is packed into this book, so nothing gets the space it deserves a a character moment or story point. Good autobiography is formed in the editing, and there doesn’t seem to have been much of it applied here.

Misako knows she falls too easily and gets too emotional, but she keeps doing it anyway. The message, that if you want something bad enough and work hard, you can make it happen, isn’t one I’d want other kids to internalize, because it’s so unrealistic. She’s clearly not mature enough for a relationship, but instead of showing that from the perspective of the author, looking back, I get the impression that Misako is caught up in how fun it was to be that young.

I wish we got to know Natalie, her 16-year-old host, better. All she is is a voice in the background saying sensible things, such as “Calm down a little bit, okay? You’re too excited.” But we never get enough of an idea of her motivations to see her as a three-dimensional character.

The art has plenty of shading, which gives the book the feel of reading someone’s diary sketchbook. The lettering is computerized, Comic Sans, which isn’t the most professional choice. The images are mostly focused on faces and emotions, as inspired by the shojo manga style.

I hate to be so harsh when it comes to someone’s life, but this was an unfocused, unsatisfying read. (The artist provided a review copy.)

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*Wolf Children Ame & Yuki — Recommended

Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki is a gorgeous manga adaptation of an award-winning animated film. Yen Press has really done the material well, releasing a single-volume hardcover containing over 500 pages of story (three volumes’ worth), color opening pages, and notes and character sketches by the authors.

It’s not a new story, but it’s presented in an affecting way. Hana falls in love with a mysterious bad boy who crashes a college course. Turns out he’s a werewolf, but they get married and have children anyway. After a tragedy, Hana moves to the country to raise their two children, Yuki and her little brother Ame. The kids can become wolves, humans, or humans with wolf ears. Hana wants to give them the choice to be who they are, without others judging them or running in fear or harming them, thus the more natural upbringing in relative solitude.

After two chapters that set up the relationship between her parents — and serve as a model of abbreviated but powerful storytelling, along the lines of Up — Yuki begins narrating the story of her life. I’m a sucker for cute kid stories, and these kids are adorable, particularly as they almost unthinkingly swap between toddlers and animals. I sympathized with Hana’s struggles, trying to raise particularly difficult offspring without being able to ask anyone for help. This is a heartwarming family story with easy-to-read yet emotional art.

With hard work and study, Hana learns what she needs, aided by the community around her. As the story progresses, the little family struggles with the kids going to school, finding mom a job, and building relationships with others. They choose different paths as they grow up, as all children do. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Of All the Gin Joints

Out next month is a wonderful read for anyone interested in Hollywood history and/or alcohol — and really, can the two be separated?

Mark Bailey has assembled in one volume short profiles of movie stars and writers, particularly those notable for how much they imbibed; their often notorious incidents involving drinking; descriptions of famous clubs and watering holes from the past; scenes from classic movies affected by alcohol; and classic cocktail recipes. I wanted to try them all, from the Cocoanut Grove to the Orange Blossom to the Vesper Martini!

Of All the Gin Joints — title taken, of course, from the famous Bogart line from Casablanca — is an excellent time capsule, evoking memories of Hollywood from its earliest days up through the 1970s. The saddest part of the book is how some of the landmarks, gloriously described, no longer exist, replaced by apartments or strip malls.

(The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)

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Railway Ribaldry

If you have an older relative who loves either trains or old-fashioned cartoon art, then I have the perfect gift for you to give them.

Railway Ribaldry was originally published in 1935 to mark the centenary of the (English) Great Western Railway. Now its 96 pages have been reprinted, which should delight those who enjoy pen-and-ink portraits of another way of life.

Most of us will have no idea what the subjects refer to, since few of us take trains any more, but that’s part of the quaint fun. And even if you are a train fan, few will know how things used to be done. (Narrow-gauge engines? Open carriages?) Regardless of whether I understand the details of the gag, the drawings are lovely, with plenty of detail to pore over. They’re full of people, as manual labor was much more common then. And, of course, human nature hasn’t changed, with people picking complicated ways to do things, and them liking to dress up and commemorate first trains.

I don’t know what, specifically, the railway police were about, but I liked the drawing that said they were responsible for “picking up the bits that drop off now and again”. Such British phrasing! Among travelers, smoking was apparently a concern, as was the problem of cold feet. Several cartoons exaggerate how you’d train staff, of which there were varied types, while others tackled getting from and to the train.

Artist William Heath Robinson has a Rube Goldberg-ian love of contraptions. They’re working on getting him a museum in London for that reason, or you can view some of his non-train art online. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Deadly Little Sins

The Prep School Confidential trilogy, a set of young adult novels about murder mysteries at an exclusive boarding school (think Gossip Girl as written by Agatha Christie), concludes with Deadly Little Sins.

I reviewed the first book at the first link; the second was Wicked Little Secrets, in which protagonist Anne Dowling solves a 30-year-old student disappearance. You can read this newest one, Deadly Little Sins, without either of the others, although the characters will be deeper and more recognizable with the two previous novels under your belt.

Having almost been expelled for revealing her school’s dirty secrets, which involved high-powered alumni, Deadly Little Sins opens with Anne’s future in serious question. Doing the right thing isn’t necessarily comfortable or rewarded, particularly when rich and/or powerful people (senators and headmasters and the like) are involved. You can have the right answer and still wind up regretting it, since friends may not want to be associated with someone infamous.

The mystery this time around involves an ally from the previous book. A teacher that tried to help Anne turns out to have a secret of her own — she was at the school under a stolen identity — and now she’s gone missing. While Anne tries to figure out why the teacher took someone else’s name and what happened to her, there are the regular school activities, which make up my favorite part of the book. As a senior, Anne has been roped into helping with orientation.

Plus, there’s the romance. Anne has two potential hook-ups: Brent, a nice-in-spite-of-being-rich schoolmate, and Anthony, a townie with a motorcycle. But neither is now speaking to her after she left the school previously without explanation. Those are some significant relationships to repair while she decides which is more important to her.

The ending feels rushed, although I think author Kara Taylor is moving through things quickly to build suspense and acknowledge the book’s thriller status. Anne tends to less figure things out and more annoy people into trying to kill her, which reveals the true villain. The epilogue is particularly short and unsatisfying, as though Taylor’s trying to set up a different series. The trip to get there, though, is a nailbiter.

The entire trilogy is a great summer read, with life-or-death situations livened with the raised emotional stakes of adolescence. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)

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New Movie Strategy: Avoid a Bad Rep by Retitling

I find this vaguely clever, since I still want to see the Tom Cruise/ Emily Blunt science fiction movie Edge of Tomorrow when it comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on October 7. And I agree that the title is terrible, since it sounds like an old soap opera.

Vox.com is reporting that Warner Brothers is doing its best to rename the movie for home markets, using the previous tagline “Live. Die. Repeat.” as if it was the movie’s title. You can see that at Amazon Instant Video, for example, where the preorder is titled Live. Die. Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow. (The same is true on iTunes.) The Blu-ray is still listed under the original title, but as you can see from the packaging, they’re working on creating a different impression on the casual buyer. Clever!

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Gag Reel

To promote the DVD release of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 next month, Disney has released this blooper-filled gag reel showing the stars blowing lines, having prop problems, and breaking up.

I always find these types of things interesting, because they humanize the actors behind the characters.

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