Archive for October, 2009

Happy Halloween!

halloweenJust a quick post to wish my fellow bookophiles a Happy Halloween!  What’s everyone doing tonight?  Dressing up?  Taking the little ones trick or treating?  My husband and I are dressing up as Jabba the Hut and Princess Leia (when she’s in her awesome slave metal bikini costume) and hitting the streets with some friends. 

Then tomorrow is the official start of NaNoWriMo, which I’m doing for the first time this year (and trying not to be intimidated by the daunting task)! 

Happy haunting!

Amazing Characters

Great characters can be instrumental in drawing readers into a story, and they can help carry the story during the slower chapters.  To me, a book can have a brilliant, unique plot and still bomb if the characters are poorly written.  I don’t have to understand the characters, or even like them, but I have to invest in them.  They need to be believable and flawed. 

I was thinking about some of my favorite characters from over the years and I noticed that, for the most part, they’re from my favorite books.  That turned into kind of a chicken and egg question: would they still be my favorite books without my favorite characters or would they still be my favorite characters if they were from books that I thought were just okay?  I tend to think the characters are a huge factor in how much I like a book.

Here are some of my favorite characters (I’m sure I’m forgetting some big ones, but here’s a random sample from my memory):

  • Lestat de Lioncourt (The Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice)
  • Roland (The Dark Tower series, Stephen King)
  • Morgaine (The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Raistlin Majere (Dragonlance Chronicles, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman)
  • Tyrion Lancaster (A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin)
  • Jamie Fraser (Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon)

All these characters felt incredibly real to me, larger than life, and I couldn’t wait to see what they would do or say next.  I could relate to them, sympathize with them or they could aggravate me to no end.  Either way they kept me glued to the page and thinking about the book long after it was closed.

Who are some of your favorite characters?

BTT: Blurb

bttSuggested by Jennysbooks:

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: “What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”

I’ve never really thought about this before so let’s see…

Irresistible words:

  1. Provocative
  2. Mystery
  3. Betrayal
  4. Intrigue
  5. Dark
  6. Historic
  7. Fantasy
  8. Haunting
  9. Magical
  10. Impossible

Words that repel me:

  1. Detective
  2. Sports
  3. Faith
  4. Spirituality
  5. Political
  6. Romance

Although, usually the first things that draw me to a book (especially if I’m not familiar with the author) are the title and cover.  Then I usually read the back summary or book jacket, sometimes without paying any attention to the blurbs. 

I love the responses to this question though.  You can really get an idea of the kinds of books people like just by reading a scattering of words.

What’s your answer?

New Challenges

I’ve been checking out a bunch of fantastic book blogs and discovered the existence of reading challenges!  I came across some tempting ones but unfortunately they were almost over.

Luckily, with some advice from the folks over at Book Blogs I’ve decided to try out these two:

Revisit Your Childhood Favorites Challenge

“Guidelines:

  1. Read 5 books that were favorites while growing up
  2. If you would also just like to write a post high lighting your favorite book or series feel free to
  3. Post your reviews or book/series highlight here
  4. Challenge starts today and will end June 30, 2010.
  5. I will do summary posts periodically highlighting the reviews added so far”

I’m thinking of choosing The Vampire Diaries and Watership Down for sure.  I’ll have to think about the other two.  I always used to read Christopher Pike and Babysitter’s Club books, but it feels like I’m definitely forgetting some favorites.

What were your favorite childhood books?

The second challenge I’m going to try is…

The Awesome Author Challenge

“The idea behind this challenge is to read works by authors who have been recommended to you time and again, yet somehow you haven’t managed to read any books by those authors. These are the authors that everyone else tells you are awesome, thus the “Awesome Author Challenge” title.”

There are different levels of this challenge depending on how many books you want to read.  It’s turning out to be harder to choose books for this one than I thought it would be!  Most of the time when people strongly recommend authors to me, I end up reading at least one of their books.  I’m considering Jane Austen, Kurt Vonnegut and possibly Lisa See and C.W. Gortner (although I’m not sure that the last two count because specific books they wrote were actually recommended, ack!). 

I’ll do some more thinking about which books to choose but I’m so excited to try my first challenges!  Is anyone else planning on joining these or any others?

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:

“‘Fourteen or fifteen years ago, as a much younger man, I reported on the…events…of certain drawing-room mystics and on the credulity of those gathered to watch such things.  I am a modern man, Inspector Field, which in my droodgeneration translates to ‘a man of little belief.'”

Page 248, Drood by Dan Simmons

Musical Connections

I was driving home from work today, listening to Jenny Dalton’s second album, Rusalka’s Umbrella, and suddenly I started visualizing scenes from Stephen King’s Duma Key.  I saw the Florida sunsets and the obnoxious pink beach house, and heard the chilling sound of the tide grinding the pebbles underneath it.  rusalka

When I was reading Duma Key (an absolutely fantastic book, by the way), I listened to this album a lot and I guess it became connected to the story in a way that when I hear it now I’m reminded of the haunting tale. 

I was thinking about this connection and realized that the music you listen to during the time you’re reading a certain book can become a kind of soundtrack to the story, and listening to it later on can bring back the people, places, and even emotions the book evoked.  Here is some other music that reminds me of past reads:

  • Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele and Queen of the Damned, by Anne Rice
  • Cara Dillon’s After the Morning and Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
  • Metallica’s S&M and the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Do you ever find yourself being reminded of a book by music?  Does it make you feel the overall tone of the story or the emotions you felt while reading it?

Fresh Faces

Sometimes I tend to get into the habit of falling back on my favorite writers and only reading their books.  It feels like a no-brainer.  I already know I’ll like the writing style and it’s pretty safe to say that if I loved one or two of an author’s titles, chances are I’ll love most of them. 

Let’s face it.  There are so many thousands of books out there that I would love to get a chance to read and since I work full-time and try to keep some semblance of a social life, I have to make choices.  And who has time to read a book they don’t like? 

Now and then I get the courage to take a chance on a new author, whether they’ve just published their first novel or they’re a seasoned pro just new to me.  Recently I can’t believe my luck in finding books by fresh authors that I absolutely love and Fresh Faces will give me an opportunity to give some recommendations.

 

nefertitiNefertiti, by Michelle Moran

Hardcover, 480 pages
Crown Publishing Group
July 10, 2007

I’ve been fascinated by ancient Egypt for years and when I read Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti, I could not put it down.  It’s told from the point of view of Nefertiti’s younger sister, Mutnodjmet, who is brought to live in the royal palace along with the rest of her family upon the marriage of the young Pharoah Amenhotep to her beautiful sister.  This is an incredible period in history when the two rulers cast down the old religion and risked their thrones and lives in the creation of a new, monotheistic cult of the sun disk, Aten.  The beautifully written narrative brings the characters to life as they struggle through famine, plague, and plots against the royal family.  I was definitely won over by this debut novel and can’t wait to read the sequel, The Heretic Queen, along with her next release, Cleopatra’s Daughter.

 

nameThe Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Paperback, 672 pages
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
April 07, 2009

 

This is definitely not just another fantasy book.  From page one, Rothfuss grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me completely into his world.  It tells the story of the legendary and mysterious Kvothe, perhaps the most dangerous man alive, who has been disguising his true identity and playing the role of the owner of the Waystone Inn.  After being discovered by a scribe who has overcome great dangers to find him, Kvothe agrees to divulge the story of his life over a period of three days.  The Name of the Wind recounts the first day, in which he relates the tragic murder of his family, his struggle to survive alone as a poverty-stricken street urchin, and his life at the University, studying to be an arcanist.  I was so enthralled by the story and captivated by the child version of Kvothe, I couldn’t wait to continue his journey and discover his transformation from homeless orphan to feared and awe-inspiring legend.

 

sowerParable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

Paperback, 352 pages
Grand Central Publishing
January 01, 2000

 

Okay, so Octavia E. Butler isn’t exactly a new author but I wasn’t familiar with her work until I read Parable of the Sower, a sort of post-apocalyptic dystopian portrayal of the not-so-distant future.  It was incredibly compelling to say the least, and it was so easy to imagine the horrifying world becoming reality.  A world where society has broken down and people are forced to exist in walled communities, exiled from those on the outside.  Oil is gone, water is a priceless resource, cholera outbreaks kill entire cities and a drug that causes pyromania is spreading throughout the country.  Fifteen year old Lauren Olamina knows it’s only a matter of time before the wall that keeps her neighborhood safe is breached, and she is prepared for that day.  When it finally happens and she’s left alone among the fire and killing, she escapes her devastated home and heads north on foot, travelling freeways that were once clogged with traffic.  This book is not only about the struggle to survive, but the creation of a new way of thinking, a new faith called Earthseed that Lauren believes has the power to save humanity.  It was disturbing but very powerful.  If you’re in the mood to contemplate the future, pick up Parable of the Sower, put on a brave face, and turn the page.

 

poisonPoison Study, by Maria V. Snyder

Paperback, 416 pages
Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
December 01, 2008

 

This is Snyder’s debut, about a young girl who becomes the ruler’s food taster in order to avoid execution for the murder of the son of a general.  The girl, Yelena, is given poison and must receive the antidote each morning in order to stay alive, preventing her escape.  She is immediately tutored on all manners of poison and is exposed to them in order to ensure that she’ll be able to recognize any danger to the Commander that may be hidden in his food or drink.  First of all, the poison lore itself is fascinating and I loved reading about the rigorous training Yelena had to undergo before being ready to embody her new title.  I was drawn to Yelena and interested to find out more about her past and what led her to sign her own death warrant by committing murder.  The other characters, including the Commander’s right-hand man, Valek, were just as three-dimensional and it was easy to invest in them and care about their fates.  It was definitely a unique fantasy and I would highly recommend it, along with the sequel, Magic Study.

 

What new authors have you discovered lately?

Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

deliveranceBy Katherine Howe

Hardcover, 384 pages
Hyperion Press
June 09, 2009
 

This book caught my eye on the New Fiction shelf early this summer but I passed on it at the time because I could barely carry the stack that I was already buying that day.  Recently I passed by it again and couldn’t help but be drawn to its tantalizing cover and unique title.  I immediately scooped it up without bothering to re-read the jacket.

Katherine Howe’s debut novel is about a subject that I’ve always found terrifying and fascinating – the Salem witch trials.  The book is centered around Connie Goodwin, a Harvard grad student struggling to keep her sanity amid gut-wrenching qualifying exams, hounding professors and bottomless dissertation research. 

When she gets a call from her free-spirited, new-age mother asking her to get her late grandmother’s ramshackle house ready to put on the market, Connie reluctantly agrees.  She moves in, planning to spend her summer putting the house in order and doing some much needed research for her dissertation on colonial America.  Early in her stay, Connie stumbles onto a mysterious key, holding a tiny slip of paper bearing the words, Deliverance Dane.

With constant pressure from her advisor, Professor Chilton, to find a new original source for her dissertation, Connie throws herself into a non-stop investigation to learn more about Deliverance Dane, who turns out to be a previously unknown victim of the Salem witch trials,  and the discovery of a centuries-old book that could contain the key to unlocking the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone and the promise of eternal life. 

Soon she comes to realize that a lot more is on the line than her dissertation, and after fellow history buff/romantic interest, Sam Hartley, is stricken with a fatal illness with little hope of recovering, it becomes clear to Connie that finding the book will be a matter of life or death.

 The book is told partially from Connie’s point of view in the early 1990’s, and partially from the perspectives of various players in Salem in the late 17th to early 18th centuries.  The parts in the past bring clues to life as the mystery of the elusive physick book of Deliverance Dane slowly unfolds.  As Connie uncovers the truth about the role of Deliverance and her family during the famed witch hysteria, the more she discovers about her own family history and the magical powers that were passed down through the generations.

 I really liked this book with its illuminating flashes to the past, fast-paced plot and likeable characters.  Howe’s writing style isn’t too flowery or descriptive – it’s to the point and yet descriptive enough to be able to picture yourself in every scene, whether being up to your elbows in a dusty archive or enduring unspeakable horrors in a stinking, overcrowded cell. 

It was easy to sympathize with the characters and the chapters that took place in the 17th centuries were especially interesting to me because they – like Howe’s general perception of the Salem witch trials – were so unlike anything that I had ever read on the topic.  And instead of focusing on how the hysteria was a result of scapegoating social issues in a Puritanical world (where if someone became ill it was because they had sinned), Howe points out that it was much more than that.  These people believed in witchcraft and witches – they genuinely thought that their neighbors were entering into evil pacts with the devil in order to do harm.  It was definitely a refreshing take on a typically one-sided subject.

The only gripe I had was with the Chilton character.  I don’t want to give too much away but his motives and actions throughout the book felt too forced and weren’t quite believable.  But overall, it was a great book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting and entertaining mystery with a historical twist.

On a quick side note, I thought it was interesting that Howe is a descendant of two of the accused Salem witches, Elizabeth Proctor and Elizabeth Howe.

Another successful trip to the bookstore.

Just got back from another jaunt to Borders, $100 poorer and nine books richer.  I absolutely love roaming the various shelves, contemplating the new and exotic people and places waiting for me behind all those intriguing covers. And I always leave feeling refreshed and full of inspiration, excited to curl up and lose myself in the pages.

Today I picked up books from the World and U.S. history sections, as well as from the literature, fantasy and horror sections. I like my trips to the bookstore to be well-rounded and I usually buy titles that will satisfy my love of multiple genres.

I balanced a cup of hazelnut coffee in one hand and the stack of books in the other and plopped my finds onto the counter, where I was welcomed with a shocked expression and an “uh…okay” from the checkout girl. I just smiled and acknowledged my reading-addiction problem, saying that I always overdo it when I go book shopping.  She laughed when I said my husband was going to kill me (he’ll probably just roll his eyes) and replied, “Well, at least you got triple reward points!’  Indeed checkout girl, indeed.

Take a look at today’s buys:

sugar queenThe Sugar Queen, Sarah Addison Allen

 I recently finished Sarah Addison Allen’s first novel, Garden Spells, which I found heartwarming, uplifting, and magical so I was excited to see that her next title was available.  If it’s anything like her debut I’m in for a literary treat.

 

twocitiesA Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

A book I’m currently reading – Drood, by Dan Simmons – piqued my interest in this literary master of classic tales.  Somehow I got through both high school and college without experiencing his works (besides getting halfway through David Copperfield my junior year in high school before being distracted by the latest Anne Rice release).  I intend to remedy that immediately.

hiddenhistoryAmerica’s Hidden History, Kenneth C. Davis

I’m trying to mix in more non-fiction titles and I came across this New York Times Bestseller and thought it looked interesting.  Recently, Tony Horwitz’ A Voyage Long and Strange opened my eyes to how much I really didn’t know about the history of my own country, and I’m eager to learn more and discard the misconceptions on the subject that my brain is undoubtedly clogged with.

14531453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, Roger Crowley

Along those same lines I picked up this non-fic title about the siege of the great center of the Western world by the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II.  This is a time in history that interests me greatly but I know little about, aside from a class on medieval studies in college (which was fascinating, by the way).  Let’s hope it will shed some light on the subject and give my brain some much needed learning.

zenZen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury

This is a collection of eleven essays from one of the most noteworthy writers of our time.  Chapter titles include, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse,” “Investing Dimes: Fahrenheit 451,” and “Just this Side of Byzantium: Dandelion Wine.”  I recently decided to try and resurrect my love of writing and I figured if anyone could give me pointers, Mr. Bradbury could.

citadelThe Twisted Citadel, Sara Douglass

This is the second volume in the Darkglass Mountain series, which takes place in the same realm as her Wayfarer Redemption series.  In the first book, The Serpent Bride, Douglass brings back beloved characters such as Axis and his father Stardrifter as well as introduces a myriad of new characters that are just as complex and real.  Like all the Sara Douglass books I’ve read so far, I loved the first Darkglass Mountain book and I’m itching to continue the epic tale and see what unfolds in the world of Tencendor.

doornaildeadDead as a Doornail and Definitely Dead, Charlaine Harris

These are the 5th and 6th volumes of The Sookie Stackhouse Novels, which the HBO series True Blood is based on.  I was surprisingly late to get on the Sookie bandwagon, considering my affinity for vampiric fiction, but the truth is I didn’t even know about these books until True Blood came out.  I was intrigued by the concept of the show so I decided to try out the first title, Dead Until Dark.  After a truly fun and exciting adventure in Bon Temps, Louisiana, I’ve been going back for more to see what happens to Sookie, Bill, Eric and the rest of the cast of living and undead characters.

wwzWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks

This was a recent recommendation from my cousin and fellow bookophile.  It’s a New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestseller about the haunting accounts of survivors of the horrific worldwide zombie apocalypse, known as World War Z.  I admit I’m a little tentative, only because I’m not a fan of zombies (I find them dull and repulsive at the same time), but I was assured that it was unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  And while I may not be thrilled about the prospect of mindless cannibal corpses, I’m always fascinated with stories of global disasters and the survival of humankind through the breakdown of society, a la Stephen King’s The Stand. 

That’s all for this edition of Book Buys. 

What did you pick off the shelf?