REVIEW: I Kill Giants


[This touching, character-driven graphic novel is a C4 Great Read.]

Writer: Joe Kellyi kill giants

Artist: JM Ken Niimura

2014, Image

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Literary, Fantasy

I think it might be more difficult for graphic novels to walk the line between the poignant and the maudlin than other media. Or maybe it’s just not something most of us have come to expect from “comics,” even those of us reared on Calvin & Hobbes. They tend to either be primarily fun, or stylish, or serious, or whatever else. My favorite stories are those, like Calvin & Hobbes, that blur the lines between imagination and reality, and if they can push the emotional envelope at the same time–without going too far toward the aforementioned maudlin or shlocky–then I’m enamored.

I Kill Giants is about a young girl named Barbara whose imagination and role playing takes over her waking life. Obsessed with protecting her home from fearsome giants and titans, she sets traps on the nearby beach and carries around in a heart-shaped handbag a tiny rock hammer which she believes capable of transmogrifying into a mighty war hammer (which she has christened Coveleski, after an obscure Phillies pitcher nicknamed “The Giant Killer”).

Barbara wears rabbit ears to school, and prides herself on being a ruthless Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master. She has friends but none particularly close, and so when a friendship buds with the her new neighbor (who is, by default, not a social outcast, and by experience not much of a geek like Barbara), Barbara struggles to know exactly how to approach the relationship. Bullies hound Barbara, and even when her new friend comes to her aid, or the school psychologist offers her authentic compassion, Barbara struggles to concede any real trust in another person.

Continue reading


REVIEW: Exiles and Expatriates


Author: Eleanor Swansonexiles

2014, Hollywood Books International

Filed Under: Fiction, Short Stories

Alienation and adjustment are central themes in the dozen stories that make up Eleanor Swanson’s fine new collection, Exiles and Expatriates, just as its title implies.  Often, characters are coping with the death of a son, a sister, a fiancé, or even just a person they knew casually at work.  How the characters come to terms with their loss is the source of the tension in these stories; often there does not seem to be a resolution, just further exile and continued sorrow.

In “Solitary,” the protagonist Beth has come home to her parents in Florida from where she lives in Colorado, to tell her family that her marriage has fallen apart.  Ever since her brother Jess’s death in a traffic accident she has not been the same and this has taken a toll on her marriage – her husband has gone off with another woman.  When Beth goes to visit Noah, Jess’s best friend, who is likewise shattered by his death, she breaks down crying, but while this may be cathartic, it doesn’t seem to solve anything.  Indeed, when her husband tried to make her forget the tragedy, Beth thought: “But he’d never understood that she wanted to remember everything.”

Similarly, Katrina, the girlfriend of Pavel, the protagonist of “The Singing Mistress at the Window,” which takes place in Prague, has just broken up with him – probably because he is such a depressive.  Libby, an American who is in Prague researching a book on Kafka, sees the same haunted look as Kafka’s in Pavel’s face.  As it turns out, Pavel’s sister Martina threw herself in front of a train, and his mother, the singing mistress in the title, went mad with grief. Continue reading

REVIEW: Snowpiercer (Vols. 1 and 2)

Snowpiercer vol.1


Writers: Jacques Lob (vol.1) & Benjamin Legrand (vol. 2)

Artist: Jean-Marc Rochette

2014, Titan Comics (originally published in 1984 by Casterman, France)

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi

Snowpiercer, a series of graphic novels by Jean-Marc Rochette, Jacques Lob, and Benjamin Legrand, has only just been released in English thirty years later, but its critique of late capitalism remains potent. In fact, the optimism of the premise – that humanity would find some way to survive a climate disaster, even in a compromised way – seems quaint today. Rochette, Lob, and Legrand seem to have intended Snowpiercer as a warning, but reading it now it feels more like a lament. Continue reading

Albums as Texts: Garbage Gives the Finger (‘90s rock)

“Sex is not the enemy” — Shirley McClain


Garbage, Garbage
Garbage, Version 2.0
Garbage, Beautiful Garbage
Garbage, Bleed Like Me
Garbage, Not Your Kind of People

[This column is about lyrics as text, not a history of music column.  We are listening through close readings for the microcosm of the album and the macrocosm of Youth Culture.]

The band Garbage is the rare group that unerringly creates albums with textual unity.  Headed by Shirley Manson, but backed by drummer and groundbreaking producer Butch Vig— responsible for the enormous sound of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters— Garbage not only creates unified albums every time, but has a meta-arc to their career when considering all the albums together.

The eponymous first album creates the structure and vision— explicated below; Version 2.0 continues this, with even broader pop-rock results, and Beautiful Garbage— though decidedly less successful— follows the same formula.  However, when their record label Almo Sounds was overtaken by Universal Music Group, Garbage was assigned to the Geffen label.  David Geffen is infamous as one of the biggest jerks in the music industry, suing Neil Young in the mid-eighties for not sounding enough like himself.

So Mansion and Vig gave him the finger. Continue reading

The Week’s Best Book Reviews: 6/3/14


[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

Holy crap it’s been a while.  Any-who, now that I’m free to read again, let’s get sharing.


bugjunkNature’s Nether Regions, by Menno Schilthuizen. Reviewed by Tess Taylor (Barnes and Noble Review).

Yup, it’s a book all about the diverse rainbow of animal junks in the world. Read the review.


Rules of Summer, by Shaun Tan. Reviewed by Sarah Harrison Smith (New York Times).

The best kids’ books, to my mind, are the ones people might think are too heavy for children. Seems like a solid indicator that the book is asking children to consider something of more consequence than sharing on the playground. So I love lines like this in a review:

Though boys in the real world play roughly, and like to imagine adventures in which they are the lone survivors of a catastrophe, the dystopian setting of “Rules of Summer” may disturb readers more than they — or their parents — would like.

Tan’s The Arrival is a beautiful picture book that came out years ago and manages to touch on some heavy themes without a single word of text. Also this one’s got demonic rabbit monsters with fuchsia eyes hunting down the world’s children or something. Awesome.


Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, by John Drury. Reviewed by Michael Dirda (Washington Post).

There’s actually nothing special about this review of a book that’s basically lit-crit of a relatively obscure poet who died 5 centuries ago. I just really like that Dirda has reached the point where he basically reviews whatever he feels like for WaPo. Good on him. 


Quickly: This Amazon – Hachette thing is getting pretty ugly. Maybe I’d care more if it were somebody else and not Hachette, I have a hard time drumming up any sympathy for the James Patterson factory. British schools aren’t teaching books by American authors anymore, instead are doubling down on the whole dead white (British) man thing, which will surely do wonders for their students’ world views.

REVIEW: Books of the Dead


Author: Alan CatlinCvr_BooksDead

2014, Pure Heart Press/Main Street Rag

Filed Under: Poetry, Memoir

Alan Catlin’s poignant, grim memoir, Books of the Dead, is a two-part reflection on the death of his mother in 1985 (The New York City Book of the Dead) and his father and stepmother in 2004 (The Central Florida Book of the Dead).  The total effect is sobering. Both narratives, with verse, involve heartache and reflection on the ultimate destiny that faces us all.

Anybody familiar with the small press surely has read Alan Catlin’s work.  He’s all over the place with poems, stories, essays, reviews, chapbooks, etc.  Catlin’s memoir here feels like it could have been plucked straight out of The Chiron Review, and indeed, parts of this book were published in different forms elsewhere in the samizdat press.  Which may be a clue as to what to expect. Continue reading

REVIEW: The Red Knight



Author: Miles Cameron

2012, Gollancz

Filed under: Fantasy

[This review contains mild spoilers regarding the premise of the novel.]

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a review, mainly because I’ve been run ragged working on my new business, Ruskin Woodshop. I have been reading, though, or at least listening to audiobooks while I work. I mentioned my bang-for-the-buck audiobook buying system in my review of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, which, like The Red Knight, is an epic fantasy novel that I bought primarily because it was long and cheap.

The Way of Kings was an amazing book, and led me to believe that I’d been missing something by not reading fantasy since my dabblings with The Sword of Shannara in seventh grade. As it turns out, I wasn’t. I’ve listened to a handful of other, highly touted fantasy novels in the months between The Way of Kings and now, but none of them have delivered the same punch. Continue reading

April/May Podcasts Now Available


UPDATE: The original files got messed up. If the episode you downloaded cuts off unexpectedly, just re-download and the full version should be there. or you can listen to the corrected streams below (should show shortly).

What’s up personal pals. Sorry C4’s been slack the last few months. We promise to get back into the swing of things for the summer.

You can catch back up with us by listening to the two new podcast episodes now live. In the April edition of The Page Count, we discuss a bunch of books, as well as some movies and games, we talk about Amazon’s Comixology buyout and Gabriel Garcia’s death–we also make a death pool for still-living authors–and bring you a fresh edition of Bro2Bro.

When you’re done with that, we invite you to enjoy the lates Drunk Review. We got WriteByNight’s David Duhr drunk and alone (he called in) before noon on a Sunday, then made him discuss Rush Limbaugh’s Rush Revere, a kid’s books featuring a talking time travel horse that encourages children to buy crappy tea that Rush Limbaugh is trying to sell, because America.

Subscribe on iTunes here. If you’d rather the direct RSS feed, here you go. You can also stream the episode below.

Have any topic or reading suggestions, or comments about the show? Please email them to or shoot us a tweet.

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[buzzsprout episode=’176193′ player=’true’]




REVIEW: Spectator



Author: Kara Candito

2014, University of Utah Press

Filed Under: Poetry

Kara Candito writes within the vast context of western poetic traditions.  Her poetry demands a familiarity with forms and an understanding of historical context.  Just as her first collection,  Taste of Cherry, requires an acquaintance with Baudelaire to be truly appreciated, so in her new collection, the Agha Shahid Ali prizewinner, Spectator,  Federico Garcia Lorca  is the Vergil to her Dante.  In short, Candito’s poetry is both intellectual and sensual, and while the subjects of the lyrics are intensely personal, the themes of identity and personal destiny are universal.

The poems in the first of the four parts involve Candito’s family – begin at the beginning, right? – in an almost mythic tone.  The titles suggest this feeling of fable – “Creation Myth, 1979 (Reappropriated),” “Family Elegy in a Late Style of Fire,” “A Genealogy of the Father,” among others.   “Initiative #4: Lorca” opens the collection; in an appropriately Lorcaesque surrealistic touch, the dead poet appears at the foot of Candito’s bed (Vergil leading Dante is not so farfetched at all).  Continue reading

Albums as Texts .) METALHEADS


“Metal is tough, metal will sheen,

metal won’t rust when oil and clay…

Must go recycle my precious machinery…

Metal, metal, metal, metal, metal postcard” — Siouxsie from the Banshees

reading: W.B. Yeats, the Tower
Ozzy Osbourne, Diary of a Madman
Motorhead, Ace of Spades
Metallica: Master of Puppets
movie: This is Spinal Tap

[This is not a history of music column.  This column is about lyrics as text, analyzing lyrics for meaning, close reading of album titles, song titles and close reading of lyrics within the microcosm of the album and the broader macrocosm of youth culture in the 1970’s, 80’s and more recent decades.]

No musical analysis, this week.  But analysis of the heaviest poet of all time, inventing themes in the tradition of High Modernism that will preoccupy Metalhead lyricists for the rest of time.  This is an altered state of consciousness from Neo-Liberalism, Yeats poems, metal lyrics. His images and notions have reverberated across metal texts for a century now.

Metallica’s pre- Black Album main statement is through their music: specifically Lars’ drumming evolves the lengthy songs in builds, swells, in directions with vast scope.  Lemmy from Motorhead is a stark realist, concerned with his own temptations and the common outlaw, such as in his song about roadies.  Their first venture from 70’s Punk Music to the Goth-Metal that would obsess them in the 90’s, the Siouxsie and the Banshees song quoted in the paratext above is a song about a class reunion invitation. Like Patti Smith, in my column on her I say Ozzy Osbourne has a non-normative lived experience, mentally, coming through in his lyrics: a drunkenness, both chemically, but also in terms of brain capacity.  Ozzy is my favorite metalhead lyricist until Mastodon, he is so specific in his detail.

W.B. Yates was drunk on cultish, Celtic mysticism.  One of the most complex and influential poet of the early 20th century, the images in Yates’ texts frequently reference this mysticism, a distinctly metal approach to High Modernism. Continue reading