Archive for December, 2009

Book Review: Drood

Drood: A Novel

Dan Simmons 
Hardcover, 784 pages
Little Brown & Company
February 09, 2009

 

I was trying to think of how I wanted to write this review and I still haven’t really decided, but I thought I’d take a whack at it anyway.  The problem is there are just so many little twists and turns that I would love to share with you but I don’t want to give too much away. 

~In fact, I really hope someone replies and says they’ve read it so I can talk about it with them!~

The book is an examination of the last years of Charles Dickens’ life and his obsession with an entity (Phantom?  Mass murderer?  Hallucination?) known simply as Drood.  It’s told in the voice of Wilkie Collins – fellow author, collaborator, and protegé to the famed Dickens – who begins the tale with a graphic and intense description of a railway accident that Dickens survives, never to be the same again.    That first chapter hit me like a sucker punch in the stomach and I instantly knew that I was going to be drawn into the story.

Wilkie soon finds himself tangled up in a macabre world of  underground opium dens, wild children, ancient Egyptian rites and rituals – and of course – murder, all while battling his own personal demons (and juggling his two current mistresses).  While most gentlemen of the period partake in medicinal laudanum a few drops at a time, diluted in wine, by the middle of the book Wilkie is downing glass after glass in addition to regular visits to the aforementioned opium den to smoke the drug in its most potent forms. 

He’s also haunted by a sickening and terrifying hag-phantom, who gets ever more violent and corporeal, along with the doppelgänger that has been with him since childhood (who sometimes pens his works when he’s in a laudanum induced sleep).

It’s obvious that the relationship between the two writers has never been one of equals and throughout the book Wilkie struggles to prove himself as superior to the beloved Dickens, who styles himself the Inimitable, and it’s hilarious when he launches into tirades about how ridiculous he finds Dickens’ writing to be.  Meanwhile, Dickens is becoming increasingly obsessed with mesmerism and mind control as Wilkie teams up (unwillingly at first) with a private detective who’s hell-bent on catching the infamous Drood.  The detective’s plan is to follow Dickens at all hours in the hopes that he’ll lead them to the wanted man himself.

I absolutely loved this book.  I was completely captivated and fascinated right up to the last sentence.  The last word in fact!  Wilkie is a well-written, wonderful character who’s incredibly witty and sarcastic and I loved being along for the ride as he struggles to distinguish reality from fantasy and unravel the mysteries of London’s undertown and Drood and his minions. 

Aside from all the gritty, gruesome moments (and there were plenty of those), I really enjoyed reading about Wilkie’s books as they were being developed.  Writing The Moonstone is a central theme and he also writes Man and Wife as well as adapts several of his works into plays throughout the course of the book.  As an aspiring writer I was particularly interested in learning about the lifestyle of a novelist in the 19th century and how different it was doing research (no internet!) and dealing with publishing and publicity back then.

The mystery of Drood kept me guessing until the very end, and again I’m trying my best not to include any spoilers here.  And if you’ve ever read Dickens’ last (unfinished) book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, you’re almost given satisfaction as to who the murderer was (if Edwin Drood was actually dead) when Dickens is about to reveal the truth to Wilkie before being interrupted.  I haven’t read it myself, but after this story I’m dying to get my hands on it along with more Dickens and definitely some of Wilkie Collins’ books (especially The Woman in White and The Moonstone, which I hear are both fantastic).

Kudos to Dan Simmons, I really enjoyed this book.  It was dark, chilling, and masterful, dotted with dark humor and filled with danger, violence and excellent imagery and descriptions.  I would definitely give it a spot in my top five reads for the year.

Has anyone else read this or Dickens’  The Mystery of Edwin Drood?  How about our narrator Wilkie Collins?

Quick Update

I finally finished Drood, by Dan Simmons, after I believe about two months!  I can’t believe how long it took me to read.  Granted, it is a behemoth of a book and I also read eight other books during that time, but still.  Shocking!  And it wasn’t due to disinterest, I can assure you.  To me, it was nothing short of brilliant.  Amazing.  Genius.  Wow.  Shivers.

All the little details are still swirling around in my brain, like the plastic bag in American Beauty, so I’m not going to even attempt to review it now.  But I wanted to spread the word that a review will be coming along shortly and I can already tell you, Dear Reader (as we’re so endearingly referred to by the narrator, Wilkie Collins) that it will come highly recommended. 

Now that I’ve left the underworld of phantoms and devilry and joined the bright, bustling world again, what’s everyone reading?

BTT: Speed

Suggested by Barbara H:

What do you think of speed-reading? Is it a good way to get through a lot of books, or does the speed-reader miss depth and nuance? Do you speed-read? Is some material better suited to speed-reading than others?


Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!
 

 

I’m torn on this one.  On one hand, I’m envious of speed-readers who can devour books in a fraction of the time that it would take me, which means they get to read a lot more.  On the other hand (and I can’t say this with certainty because I’m not a speed-reader – although I can quickly skim pages when I need to), it really does seem like things could get missed this way.

Sometimes I like to take my time with books and soak up each word, and sometimes I just race to the end because I can’t help it.  If I was able to speed-read, I think some books would definitely be more suited to it than others.  Anything with complex narrative or in-depth plot I would prefer to take my time with.  Brain candy type books would work better.

To each his own.  If someone feels like they can really absorb everything about a book while speed-reading, more power to them!

Book Review: Dead as a Doornail

Dead As a Doornail

Charlaine Harris
Paperback, 320 pages
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
April 25, 2006

 

Sookie Stackhouse is back in the fifth book of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries – and she just can’t catch a break.  First, her brother Jason – recently turned into a werepanther – is having a hard time assimilating into his new life.  When weres and shifters become the target of an unknown sniper, Jason becomes the prime suspect among the supernatural community of Bon Temps.  Sookie has to use her telepathic abilities to try to discover who the real murderer is before the pack condemns him to death.

When Sam is numbered as one of the shooter’s victims he enlists Sookie to ask Eric, the owner of the vampire bar Fangtasia, to lend Merlotte’s a bartender while Sam’s broken leg heals.  Still conflicted about what happened between her and Eric when he was under a witch’s curse, Sookie is reluctant to get involved.  Eric presses her for information about what went on before he recovered his memory and agrees to lend a hand only when she tells him what he wants to know.

She soon finds herself in the middle of yet another supernatural phenomenon when the packleader of the werewolves is killed in a car accident and his replacement is chosen after a series of contests in agility and strength. 

A bartending pirate, a devastating fire, an abusive new vampire who has his claws (or fangs, I guess) in Sookie’s friend Tara, another trip to the ER (after her oh so pointless New Year’s resolution of not getting beat up anymore), and of course the reappearance of her first love Bill, keep Sookie quite busy throughout the story.  Throw in some sexual tension with Sam, Eric and Alcide and you’ve got another great Southern Vampire Mystery. 

I love this series because it’s so fun and fast – pure brain candy.  I think I read this last one in about a day.  I’m glad Sookie isn’t quite so obsessed with Bill anymore, although she’s not quite over him yet, and Harris manages to keep throwing in new problems without the characters’ reactions getting old or overdone.  This one focused a little too much on shifters/weres for my taste but I loved it anyway, especially the parts with Eric and Sam.  If you liked any of the previous books it’s safe to say you’ll like this one too. 

These books always pull me into the story and leave me impatient to find out what happens next.

Have you read them?  What are your thoughts?

Book Review: Fire Study

Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder

The third book in the Study series, Fire Study features Yelena Zaltana – former Ixian prisoner and food taster turned Sitian magician and Soulfinder.  With Ferde and Cahil still on the loose, Yelena tries to convince the council to hunt them down.  Not only do they refuse her request, First Magician Roze Featherstone continues to insist that Yelena is too dangerous to be allowed to live.

Yelena and her brother Leif set off on a journey to try to prevent a brewing war between her two homelands.  Facing a whirlwind of simultaneous conflicts and dangers, she struggles to come to terms with the corruptible nature of magic as she faces the her most powerful adversary yet – a Fire Warper that’s steadily gaining power from a horrific blood magic ritual practiced by the Daviian clan.

I really loved reading this trilogy, especially the first one (Poison Study).  While I still enjoyed this one, I thought it dove into conflict after conflict without letting me pause to really get into the story.  The Fire Warper was a really interesting addition and I wanted to learn more about him, and of course I wanted more scenes with Valek, who is one of my favorite characters in the books.  Ari and Janco showed up in a few scenes though, so that made me happy.

I love the juxtaposition between the structured districts of Ixia and the free-spirited, magic wielding citizens of Sitia.  Yelena is a wonderful character, full of passion and stubbornness, and all three books are packed with adventure, humor and raw human emotion.

Although this wasn’t my favorite of the Study series I highly recommend it and look forward to reading her Glass series soon!

Top 10: Fantasy

Fantasy is one of my favorite genres to read, whether it’s elves and wizards, alternate histories, or mythical kingdoms and realms.  I’ve read them all and loved them all.  There’s just something about stepping into different worlds where reality gives way to magic, mythical creatures, and fabled nations battling for power. 

Here’s a list of some of the best fantasy stories that I’ve come across so far.  They aren’t in any particular order and many of them are series rather than individual books.  On a side note, you’ll see that Lord of the Rings is not on the list.  It’s not because I didn’t enjoy it or don’t respect it as one of the best fantasy stories of all time, it just isn’t one of my personal favorites. 

And without further ado!

1. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Arthurian legends have always appealed to me and this epic classic, centered around Morgaine and the magic of Avalon, absolutely swept me away. 

 

 

2. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Before I was even halfway through this book I knew it would rank among my favorite fantasy stories.  Wonderful storytelling, appealing characters and a fascinating world!

 

 

3. Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

This was the first fantasy series I ever tried and it’s textbook fantasy, complete with elves, dwarves, mages, and perilous journeys undertaken to vanquish evil.  I was very skeptical of the genre and refused to read these for years until I finally gave in.  I absolutely cherish these books and they’ll always be special to me since they opened up a whole new world for me. 

 

 

4. The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass

Fantastic.  I love the races she created, like the winged Icari, and the books are filled with action and adventure and fascinating characters.

 

 

5. Kushiel Series by Jacqueline Carey

Years ago I was first drawn to these because of the beautiful covers featuring Phedre and the intricate rose tattoo covering her entire back.  The world that’s almost ours but not quite and the twist on real life religions and history make these books thrilling and unique.

 

  

6. The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub

I think this was the first real fantasy book by Stephen King that I’d ever read.   It’s an epic quest in which young Jack must travel between parallel realities, searching for an enchanted crystal to save his dying mother.  It’s a wonderful tale that relates to the Dark Tower, although the connection wasn’t intended at the time it was written.

 

7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

A historical fantasy classic featuring time travel to 18th century Scotland.  Some people label the series as romance but to me it’s pure fantasy that happens to prominently feature a relationship between the two main characters, Claire and Jamie.  I couldn’t put this book down!  The whole series is great but this was my favorite.

 

8. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

I’ve heard a lot of mixed opinions about this series, especially the ending, but to me it was brilliance, pure and simple.  It combines elements not only from fantasy, but from sci-fi, horror and even Westerns (King described it as a mix between The Lord of the Rings and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly).  My obsession with this series when I was reading it was borderline unhealthy.  Be prepared to be glued to the page…

 

9. The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore

In this prequel trilogy to the popular Icewind Dale trilogy we’re introduced to the scimitar-wielding Drizzt Do’Urden as he grows up in the matriarchal society of the underground drow city of Menzoberranzan.  I actually haven’t read Icewind Dale yet but I was instantly hooked on the tale of Drizzt’s beginnings as he journeys to the surface world.

 

10. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

These epic books read more like historical fiction than fantasy.  The warring kingdoms and cultures seem so real you’ll swear you’re learning about the famous battles of the kings and pretenders of old as they vie for the throne.  I’ve been waiting patiently for the next book to be released and earlier this year I had hoped to be able to include it on my Christmas wish list, but unless Santa makes it magically appear under my tree, it looks like I’ll have to wait until next year (hopefully).

What are your fantasy faves?  What should I have included?  I’m always looking for tantalizing new reads!

BTT: Mark The Spot

Suggested by Tammy:

What items have you ever used as a bookmark? What is the most unusual item you’ve ever used or seen used?
Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

I tend to misplace bookmarks, which I feel terrible about since most of mine were gifts from people who know about my reading addiction.  I usually only have one actual bookmark in my possession at a time and if I’m reading multiple books at once that means I have to scrounge around looking for substitutions.

The most common un-bookmarks I use are shopping receipts (which serves a dual purpose since I usually lose those too), airline tickets, concert ticket stubs, and bills.  I’ve also used magnets, post-its, Christmas cards, pretty much anything I can find in front of me on my coffee table (which is usually filled with clutter).

What about you?

Books for Free from DailyLit

Free?  You ask.  Why, yes! 

I recently found out about DailyLit.com where you can sign up to read all kinds of books via email or RSS feed.  When you subscribe you’ll receive short installments of the books you choose so you can cram in some reading even if you only have five minutes to spare, which is perfect for me.

  They mostly have classics, contemporary, drama, poetry and short stories but you can also find selections from pretty much any genre you can think of. 

The CEO just released an announcement that the site is now 100% free and you can even send a book as a gift to someone with personalized messages in each installment.  I thought I’d spread the happy news to all my fellow book addicts!

So far I’ve signed up for Pride and Prejudice which I was planning to read for the Awesome Authors challenge I’m doing. 

Go check it out if you’re interested!

First Blog Award!

Lauren at Geeb’s Book Club was kind enough to give me te Honest Scrap award!   Thanks so much! 

When you’re given this award you must post 10 honest things about yourself and then pass it along to 10 blogs you follow. Here it goes!

1. My only real regret in life is quitting dance.

2. I’ve lived in California my whole life (minus three years in Texas) and I’ve never attempted to surf.

3. I’m obsessed with ancient civilizations like Egypt and Rome and I’m determined to visit them both someday.

4. I’ve been with my husband since we were in high school (almost 11 years!).

5. My parents have also been together since they were in high school (many, many more years).

6. I think rats make wonderful pets.  I was mommy to several for a few years and they were my precious babies.

7. Foreign countries I’ve visited (not counting layovers): Mexico (stranded there during 9/11), French Polynesia, Croatia, and Bosnia (for about 15 minutes).

8. Interview with the Vampire is my all-time favorite movie and I’ve had it memorized since it came out.  “So you want me to tell you the story of my life…”

9. If I was a best-selling novelist and could quit my day job I’d follow my favorite bands around on tour.

10. I used to scuba dive but had to stop after getting decompression sickness twice for no apparent reason (try spending hours in a glass coffin afterward, NOT fun!).

And I nominate:

At Home With Books

Debbie’s World of Books

Ellz Readz

Literary Escapism

My Overstuffed Bookshelf

Okbo Lover

Should Be Reading

Terra On the Bookshelf

The New Dork Review of Books

Too Many Books, Too Little Time

Review: The Lightning Thief

Rick Riordan
Paperback, 377 pages
Miramax Books
April 01, 2006

 

Summary from Borders.com:

“Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse — Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends — one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena — Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.”

This is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and a friend was kind enough to lend it to me last weekend (thanks Robin!).  It’s meant for kids age 10 and up and it’s very similar to the first Harry Potter book, of which I was warned in advance. 

Strange things tend to happen around Percy and one day he finds out that he’s not a normal kid at all, but a demigod – the son of Poseidon no less (one of the “Big Three” Olympians).  He finds sanctuary at Camp Half-Blood (a la Hogwarts) and befriends a Hermione-like daughter of Athena and a screw-up satyr who join him on his Hero’s quest.   A cryptic prophecy from the Oracle is involved and, of course, bully rivals who are determined to humiliate and persecute our brave young hero. 

It was definitely a quick, fun read and some of the descriptions of the various gods and other mythical creatures Percy and his friends encounter during their quest were hilarious.  It didn’t quite have the same magic that lured me into the Harry Potter books though.  The plot has limitless potential and I love all the Greek mythology that’s woven into the story, but I’m not sure if I’m going to read any more of the series.  Being that I’m not a ten year old, the writing didn’t really do much for me even though I liked the general premise. 

Have you read this series?  Should I take a chance on the next book?

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