Monday, February 20, 2006

Gil's All-Fright Diner

Book: Gil's All-Fright Diner
Author: A. Lee Martinez
Published: 2005

On a quiet night, two men stop in a diner in the middle of Texas nowhere. As Duke and Earl are eating their meal, they look around to see zombies pressed up against the plate-glass window. The waitress says, "Aw, damn. Not tonight."

Welcome to Rockwood County, where they haven't had this kind of trouble since . . . oh, let's see now . . . last Wednesday. It's particularly annoying for Loretta, who's trying as hard as she can to keep her diner open even though it gets wrecked by zombies every other night. Life can be so hard for the small business owner.

Luckily, Duke's a werewolf and Earl is a vampire, and they have a little more experience than they'd care to admit in cleaning up craziness of this nature. Which is good, because they're up against Mistress Lilith, the Queen of the Night (AKA Tammy), who is damn well going to bring about the Apocolypse. And she doesn't care what her stupid boyfriend wants, it's gonna happen before graduation.

Should be interesting.

From the moment I met Duke and Earl, the undead drinking beer and driving a pickup truck, I realized this wasn't going to be your everyday horror novel. No opera capes, that is for sure. It's a bumpy, twisty, loopy ride through the possible end of the world, complete with adventure, romance, ghost doggies, and tentacular visitors. Also diner food.

The greatest appeal of this book is the cockeyed slant on the horror genre in general. It's probably most delightful because the secondary characters are so blase about, e.g., demonic possession and zombie cows. (No, really.)

Bouncing between Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett-esque tongue-in-cheekery and graphic descriptions of guts'n'gore, Martinez's hilarious first novel is a definite treat for those that don't mind a few oozing brains with their satire.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

Book: From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Published: 1995

Almost-fourteen-year-old Melanin Sun thinks he's got it pretty good. He's got his mama, his homeboys Sean and Raphael, and his notebooks. Sure, nothing's perfect--for one thing, he can't seem to get up the courage to talk to gorgeous Angie from down the block. But things are good.

Which just goes to show how dangerous complacency can be.

When his mama falls in love with a white woman, Mel suddenly finds that everything he's always depended on is as about as dependable as a pogo stick in an earthquake. His mama, always the most important person in his life, now feels like a stranger. He has to lie to Sean and Raphael, and even his budding relationship with Angie is haunted by deception. The only real thing he's got left is the notebooks where he writes down everything he can't say. Using a mixture of first-person narration and excerpts from Mel's notebooks, Wilson chronicles his rocky road through the first great challenge in his young life.

This is a tiny gem of a book, thoughtful and uncompromising, offering no easy answers or pat solutions. Woodson walks a delicate line in her portrayal of Mel, whose reaction to his mother's new love is furious and virulent. Part stepchild-resentment, part homophobia, and part racism, it's completely believable. But the sensitive, loving boy we first got to know re-emerges by the end of the book, as Mel comes to the understanding that no matter what changes, love endures.

Reluctant-reader note: it's a very quick read.