Angel Time, Returning to my Roots

Angel Time: The Songs of the Seraphim

Anne Rice  
Hardcover, 288 pages
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
October 27, 2009

 

I’ve been a devoted Anne Rice fan since I first devoured The Vampire Lestat when I was in middle school.  Through her words I’ve walked the streets of New Orleans and Paris side by side with witches, ghosts, and vampires and loved every bloody minute of it.  Lestat is one of my all-time favorite characters and I practically had a relationship with him throughout my teens and early twenties. 

Since her reconciliation with the Catholic church I haven’t been quite as dedicated to Rice’s books.  After being bitterly disappointed by Christ the Lord, the first in her historical series about the life of Jesus, I wondered if maybe my obsession was a thing of the past.  I decided to give Angel Time a try, hoping that my luke warm feelings for Christ the Lord was just a fluke. 

Angel Time tells the story of Toby O’Dare through the guise of an autobiography, in which he chronicles the extraordinary events that changed his life after being visited by an angel.  If you ran into Toby on the street you probably wouldn’t look twice at him.  You might notice a lisp as he mumbles an apology or see a slight limp when he walks away, but you wouldn’t know you’d just brushed elbows with death.

Toby might appear unremarkable, but he’s actually the notorious contract killer known as Lucky the Fox.  That he’s lethal goes without saying.  But he’s also efficient, meticulous, and absolutely without scruples.  After his alcoholic mother drowned his younger siblings and took her own life when he was a teenager, Toby fled to New York where he  befriended a restaurateur who took him under his wing and gave him a job and a place to stay. 

When it looked like he might lose the only person left in his life that he cared about, Toby took matters into his own hands and went on a carefully planned killing spree, eliminating the entire faction of mobsters that were threatening his business and his life.  For the next ten years he honed his craft, working only for the one he called “The Right Man” who insisted that Toby – now Lucky – was working for the good guys. 

While the body of his latest unfortunate victim is still warm, an angel named Malchiah appears before Toby and claims that God has forgiven all his sins and now has a plan for him.  Toby will travel through “Angel Time”, where Malchiah exists, to different places in “Natural Time” where he will use his talents for the good of mankind. 

Malchiah transports Lucky to 13th century Norwich, England disguised as a Dominican friar where he will be charged with the task of saving a Jewish couple, who have been falsely accused of killing their daughter, from a violent end at the hands of the angry Christian mob.  Armed only with his natural ability to blend in, his quick intellect, and sharp wit, Br. Toby must use every ounce of his inner strength to prevent the impending bloodshed.

It’s a story of sin, forgiveness, and ultimately the struggle for redemption.  Was it one of my favorite Anne Rice novels?  No, definitely not.  Did Toby thrill me as much as Lestat, Marius, or Lasher?  Not even close.  But I did find myself engrossed in the story and despite feeling uncomfortable during certain parts that started to feel preachy, I found myself wanting to go on and keep turning the pages.  The story of Fluria and Meir was engaging and I loved how it turned into a historical novel halfway through. 

One thing I had a problem with was the length.  It felt more like a short story than a novel and in order to really get invested I needed to spend some more time with Toby while he was growing up, working for The Right Man, and questing with Malchiah.  It seemed like I only got the Cliff’s Notes version of each of these three stages in his life.  So the transitions between them happened really fast and I doubted the sincerity of Toby’s reactions.  Would he really have believed so easily that Malchiah was an angel sent down from heaven?  Would his faith return so quickly after all the horrible things he’d witnessed in his life? 

But overall it was a good read and I did enjoy returning to such a beloved author.  I also loved the way the story ended.  Even though I would have preferred to stay with Toby on his next quest, I thought the last page was perfect.  I’m looking forward to continuing Toby’s story in the sequel, Of Love and Evil, which comes out on November 30.

 Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?

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ARC Review: Infinite Days

Infinite Days

Rebecca Maizel  
Paperback, 336 pages
St. Martin’s Press
August 03, 2010

 

I was lucky enough to win an ARC of Rebecca Maizel’s debut novel Infinite Days, the first in her Vampire Queen series, from St. Martin’s Press and once I started reading it was difficult to put down.  It tells the story of Lenah Beaudonte, a 500-year-old vampire with an insatiable appetite for death and destruction.  She’s ruthless, uncontrollably violent, and lacking any sense of compassion or humanity.  She’s the queen of the coven she’s created to provide her with eternal protection and companionship and her rules are followed without question. 

But even though she’s surrounded by opulence and every luxury that money can buy, her only desire is to become human again, to escape the constant pain and misery from which only blood can provide temporary relief.  Her maker, Rhode, learns of a ritual that will give Lenah her wish but only at the cost of his life.  When it’s done, Lenah has awoken to a new life where she can truly live as she’d been meant to in the 15th century before Rhode set his sights on her and turned her into a monster.

Her new life is that of a sixteen year old student attending a prestigious boarding school on the East coast of the United States.  Though at first she has some trouble adjusting to her new, mortal state, she soon gains the friendship of an art student named Tony who helps her adjust to life in the 21st century.  With her soul back, she no longer finds comfort in violent thoughts and begins to at last find peace and happiness in her new home.  Things start to get complicated when Lenah catches the eye of the popular and gorgeous Justin Enos, whose girlfriend Tracy won’t give up without a fight.  Still mourning the loss of Rhode, Lenah is hesitant at first but finds that she is inexplicably drawn to Justin despite the problems their relationship could cause. 

But her social life is the least of her problems and Lenah knows that soon her coven, expecting her to rise from her one hundred year hibernation on Halloween night, will begin to search for her.  The magic that binds them together will ensure that they will stop at nothing to find her and bring her back to their home in England.  But unbeknownst to them, their queen is human again and Lenah fears for her mortal life and the lives of those she’s come to love at her school.  She knows what her beloved coven will do to them once they’re found, because only a short while ago she would have done the same things herself and taken great pleasure in it.

Infinite Days is a thrilling, touching, and enthralling book, and quite unique in its take on vampires (just when you thought the subject had been exhausted, right?).  Maizel’s vampires are animated by the oldest of black magics.  Immortality and great power are small and insignificant benefits compared to the endless suffering and pain they experience night after night.  Bringing death and destruction to others is the only short relief they can find.  And though their senses are heightened, they cannot truly feel anything they touch except for the smallest hint of texture or temperature.  All they can smell is blood, heat, and fear.  They are numb to everything else and can’t even experience the release of weeping.  Small wonder they’re evil by nature. 

Another unique component to the story that I was fascinated by was Lenah’s love of herbs and flowers and their various magical properties and uses.  There’s a scene that I loved that takes place in the greenhouse on campus where she’s explaining some of these properties to Justin.  When she comes to a particular edible flower he leans in and opens his mouth so she can place it on his tongue for him to swallow.  Fabulous.

For someone who’s relatively new to the YA genre (and can’t take too much of it at once), I was relieved to find a welcome respite from all the teenage schoolyard drama during all the chapters from Lenah’s vampire past that are woven into the story.  We get to learn a little about the men that she chose to join her in the ranks of the undead and serve her in the coven, and it leads nicely into her search for redemption after centuries of causing pain and bringing death to countless innocents.  Plus it was nice to have a main character who’s a vampire for a change (are there really no more Lestats out there?  Say it isn’t so…).

I was very excited to read this book and I loved each and every page.  I was very attached to the characters and actually a little torn about how I wanted everything to turn out in the end.  I highly recommend it to fans of vampire fiction (especially of the YA variety) and I’ll be waiting impatiently for the next Vampire Queen book.

The Twentieth Wife

The Twentieth Wife

Indu Sundaresan  
Paperback, 416 pages
Simon & Schuster
February 18, 2003
 
 
From the back cover:
An enchanting historical epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India’s most controversial empresses – a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal Empire.  Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, The Twentieth Wife sweeps readers up in Mehrunnisa’s embattled love with Prince Salim, and in the bedazzling destiny of a woman – a legend in her own time – who was all but lost to history until now.

I confess I’ve never been all that interested in the history of India and I couldn’t even really tell you why.  I guess I’m just more of an ancient Egypt or Rome kind of girl.  But after reading The Twentieth Wife I’m happy to say that I’ve officially been won over.  Indu Sundaresan paints  a beautiful portrait of the Mughal Empire in vibrant colors, tantalising scents, and the rich culture of the multi-faith population under Muslim rule. 

Mehrunnisa is a rich and warm character, with a cunning intellect and just a touch of guile, and it was hard not to fall in love with her.  She had me spellbound from the start, and I delighted in seeing her catch the prince’s attention in the zenana when she was a child, and I shared her devastation when she fails to become pregnant during the first years of her marriage only to miscarry twice – denying her the only form of solace she can conceive of in her loveless marriage to Ali Quli. 

In the Afterword, Sundaresan describes how she set out to fill in the gaps in the incomplete historical record – provided mostly by travelers’ narratives and bazaar gossip – and bring the stories of these women who ruled “behind the veil” to life.  I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about Mehrunnisa’s life in The Feast of Roses as well as the other empresses Sundaresan has chronicled. 

Her writing style is beautiful and almost lyrical, and the pages are filled with emotion.  And best of all, she transports you to an exotic past surrounded by emperors, palaces, and harems (not to mention wild elephants and tigers) in a way that you don’t even realize how foreign it is.  I felt perfectly at ease waiting on the empress in the zenana or strolling through the marketplace with Mehrunnisa, and even watching court proceedings behind a screen or veil.  In fact, I got so immersed in her world I was almost startled when I had to put the book down and get jolted back to reality.

I have to mention that I had the pleasure of hearing Indu speak on a historical fiction panel at the LA Times Festival of Books in April as well as meeting her at the book signing that took place afterward, and she was incredibly well-spoken and personable.  It was wonderful listening to her describe her writing and the ups and downs of her genre (e.g. that no matter how meticulous your research, someone will always find a mistake and email you about it).  It was such a thrill to meet her and I know without a doubt that if I enjoy her other books as much as this one, I’ll be investing my time and money in all her future releases.

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Mary Sharratt  
Hardcover, 352 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade & Reference Publis
April 07, 2010
*I received a complimentary ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

From the publisher:

Daughters of the Witching Hill brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt. Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic folk magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic. When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights. Sharratt interweaves well-researched historical details of the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt with a beautifully imagined story of strong women, family, and betrayal. Daughters of the Witching Hill is a powerful novel of intrigue and revelation.

When I first read the description of this galley I was immediately interested in reading it.  I’ve always been morbidly fascinated by witch trials, and after reading The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane recently I was reminded of my interest in the subject.  Most of my knowledge stems from the trials in Salem, Massachusetts so it was a nice change of pace to learn about one of the most famous witch hunts in the Old World in Daughters of the Witching Hill.

I have to say it was an absolute pleasure reading this book and learning about the women of Pendle Forest that spanned three generations.  Their strength and independence, along with Bess’ reputation as a powerful cunning woman with the ability to heal the sick, gave them the tools to survive in a harsh reality of poverty and hunger and eventually led to their downfall. 

From the first few pages I was drawn into the world that Sharratt recreated so masterfully through what I’m sure was thorough and painstakingly detailed research.  It was beautifully written and what really stands out in my mind after finishing the book is how authentic and three-dimensional the characters seemed to be.  From their speech patterns and interactions even down to their unspoken thoughts, it was readily apparent that these people were genuinely from the 17th century and would stick out like sore thumbs if they were somehow transported to the present.

The magic that Bess, Liza and the other cunning women use was unique in that it was actually just folk magic left over from the forbidden Catholic religion.  It mostly consisted of chanting latin prayers and the use of herbal remedies, but without the help of their familiar spirit the spells would lack the power to work properly.  I thought it was a unique take on the magic employed by witches, which is typically associated with abra cadabra, broomsticks, and deals with the devil. 

Overall, Witching Hill is a great read.  One that’s filled with intensity, love, triumphs, heartbreak, and betrayal.  The harrowing ordeals that these women had to go through were the stuff from nightmares and the fear they lived with leaked right out of the pages into me, making me feel that I was the one accused of sorcery and condemned to hang.  I would definitely recommend it to fans of historical novels, especially if they’re looking for a different perspective on the 17th century witch trials in England.

2010 LA Times Festival of Books

 

In April I attended the LA Times Festival of Books for the first time and it was such an amazing experience I thought I’d share the highlights with you.  My cousin (who is co-authoring the fantasy novel I’m currently working on) flew down from Northern California for the event and when we arrived on Saturday morning my first impression was the sheer size of it!  As we made our way across the gorgeous UCLA campus we crossed a sea of booths and passed through throngs of fellow book lovers.  I’ve never seen so many people gathered to talk about reading and writing, and the buzzing atmosphere was contagious.

Over 400 authors were in attendance to do readings, speak at panels, and sign books.  The first panel we went to was called Science & Humanity: From the Past to the Future and it featured Brian Fagan, Michael Shermer, and Richard Wrangham, who discussed their books about human evolution, pre-history, and sociology.  Brian Fagan was my first archaeology professor at UC Santa Barbara and it was largely due to him that I decided to major in anthropology.  All three authors had fascinating things to say and after the panel I bought Fagan’s new book, Cro-Magnon, and we chatted about his days at the university as he signed it.

 

Then we hit the YA Stage to catch the tail end of Blood, Fangs, and Temptation: Everything Vampire with Heather Brewer, Rachel Caine, Melissa de la Cruz, and Richelle Mead.  I’ve read Vampire Academy and Glass Houses is in my TBR pile so it was interesting to see the authors in the flesh and hear them discuss their books and writing in general.  I’ve been obsessed with vampires since I was a kid so it’s delightful to see that they’ve made a comeback into popular culture. 

We couldn’t stick around to get any of their books signed because we had to book it to our next panel: History Through Fiction’s Lens, with Gabrielle Burton, Thaisa Frank, and Indu Sundaresan.  This was another riveting panel about historical fiction, one of my favorite genres.  The authors were so different, but each brought their own unique perspective to the discussion and it was obvious that they were all equally passionate about their research.  As someone who aspires to write in this genre someday it was assuring to hear Indu say that when writing historical fiction, mistakes are inevitable – you just have to focus on creating a realistic setting to bring your characters, and their stories, to life.  I bought copies of Gabrielle’s Impatient with Desire, about Tamsen Donner of the ill-fated Donner party, and Indu’s The Twentieth Wife, about the Moghul Empire in India.  It was a pleasure meeting them both.

The author I was most excited to meet was Christopher Rice and I almost missed my opportunity, but by a small twist of luck I managed to not only meet him and get a copy of his new book signed, but he was nice enough to take his picture with us.  We’d missed the panel he was on so we ran over to the area where he was signing only to find it empty.  I was extremely disappointed but I talked to a volunteer and she confirmed that we’d missed the signing, but then someone else asked which author I was looking for and he happened to walk by the tent just then.  The volunteer called him over and he happily offered to sign my program.  When I said that I’d meant to buy his new book for the signing he said he and the other authors on the panel were just about to go buy each other’s books and suggested that we come with them.  I was so grateful and thrilled to meet him because I’ve been a fan since his debut novel A Density of Souls.  He was such a sweetheart!

With Christopher Rice

The rest of the day we wandered up and down the aisles of booths, meeting debut authors and picking up literature on writing associations.  We’d been too busy to eat lunch or drink any water so needless to say, we were exhausted as the day wrapped up and we headed home.

We got there earlier on Sunday to attend our first scheduled panel of the day – Publishing: The Editors Speak Out, with Sarah Crichton, Eli Horowitz, and Jack Shoemaker.  It was wonderful to hear about the publishing industry from these insiders’ perspectives and they each gave great advice and provided some insight into the ups and downs of the business.  The next panel we went to was also about publishing and we picked up some more tips that will surely come in handy when we start shopping our manuscript. 

Dionne loaded down with bookish goodies.

We hit some more booths next and remembered to eat lunch this time, copping a squat on the grass next to the Cooking Stage to watch Anne Byrn, the Cake Mix Doctor, whip up some tasty looking desserts. 

 Then it was back to the YA Stage to see Michael Reisman, Margaret Stohl, Tracy Trivas, and Heather Tomlinson at Making the Magic Happen: Writing Young Adult Fantasy.  This was a particularly interesting panel since it was all about our genre, although our novel is decidedly NOT for young adults.  Each author read a short passage from one of their books and answered questions from the audience.   

After reading Empress Orchid last year I was excited to see Anchee Min’s name on the list of authors attending the festival.  I bought a copy of her new release, Pearl of China, and waited in line for a chance to meet her.  Unfortunately the experience was quite a let down.  Unlike all the other authors we’d met so far, who greeted us with smiles and chatted personably, she didn’t say a word and barely cracked a smile.  Also unlike the other authors who personalized their autographs by including our names and a short message, Min just signed her name.  All this is fine, you never know if she was just having a bad day or if she gets nervous at events like that or who knows what, but it was kind of a turn off.  Hopefully the book will make up for it. 

Soaking up the glorious atmosphere.

Overall, the festival was absolutely thrilling and inspirational and we vowed to make it an annual tradition.  I can’t believe I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the better part of a decade and had never even heard of it before this year!  It was wonderful to see so many fantastic authors up close and personal and get to meet some of them.  I hope to be able to attend the festival as an author as well as a reader sometime in the future.

What bookish events have you been to?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson  
Paperback, 608 pages
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
June 23, 2009

Financial reporter Mikael Blomkvist might have just made the biggest mistake of his career.   After running a story in Millennium magazine, of which he is part owner and chief editor, exposing the shady business practices of corporate tycoon Hans-Erik Wennerström, he’s hauled into court and slapped with a libel conviction and a prison sentence.  Now advertisers have started pulling out and in order to protect the magazine from going under, Mikael knows he has to step down as editor and take a temporary leave of absence.  His business partner and sometimes lover, Erika Berger, isn’t happy about it but trusts that he knows what he’s doing and reluctantly agrees to play along. 

Before Mikael even has a chance to figure out his next move he receives a strange phone call from a lawyer who represents a man with an even stranger proposition.  He travels to Hedeby Island to meet with the elderly Henrik Vanger, of the once highly powerful empire of the Vanger Corporation, where he learns that Vanger wants to hire him to spend a year on the island gathering information to write a family history.  But that will just be the cover story.  What Vanger really wants him to do is attempt to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his young niece who vanished from the island without a trace thirty years ago.  Though her body was never discovered, Vanger is certain that she was murdered and he suspects that one of the family members is behind it.  Mikael is hesitant to accept the job at first, despite the large sum of money Vanger is offering as compensation, but finally agrees when Henrik sweetens the deal with the promise to divulge damaging information about Wennerström when the year is over and Mikael’s contract is finished.  

Never imagining that he would crack the case, Mikael immerses himself in researching the rich history of the Vanger family and gets to know the relatives still living on the island.  To his surprise, he stumbles onto some new evidence that had been previously overlooked by both Henrik and the police. 

With the help of the young, emotionally troubled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Mikael soon learns that there’s much more to the story than a young woman gone missing.  The pair uncovers a string of brutal murders that span the decades and they risk their lives to discover the shocking truth.   

With all the corruption, sadism, kidnapping, torture, and good old-fashioned revenge, it’s hard not to get sucked into Mikael’s world, anxious for him to solve the mystery and take down Wennerström.  The setting of the story is Larsson’s native Sweden and having never read any books that take place there, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  At first I had some trouble with the writing style.  It seemed a bit choppy and had all the flow of a laundry list (which might have just been a side effect of the translation), but once I got used to it I didn’t mind it a bit and I was able to focus more on the story and the characters.  It started off on the slow side but about 100 pages in I was hooked.  

I felt like I was right there with Mikael in his little guest house on Hedeby island, pouring through boxes of documents through all hours of the night, shivering next to the little wooden stove.  Even though it took me a little while to get into the story, I liked Mikael immediately and felt a connection with him.  He seemed real to me and it was easy to understand the motives behind his actions throughout the book. 

Salander is a fascinating character with a troubled past and enough flaws and admirable qualities to bring her to life as an intriguing and multi-dimensional person.  She shocked me more than once.  Faced with some terrifying situations she remains cool-headed and rationally plots out her next moves.  She was quite a little firecracker and struck me as a person that I definitely wouldn’t want to cross, despite the fact that she’s five feet tall and probably weighs 100 pounds soaking wet. 

Overall, it’s a great book that I would definitely recommend (although, fair warning that it contains scenes that some people might not be comfortable with).  It actually reminded me quite a bit of Serge Lukianenko’s Watch series (with I love), without all the supernatural elements of course.  I’d never heard of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo before I borrowed it (thanks, D!), but since then I’ve seen it absolutely everywhere.  Chances are, if you haven’t read it yet you’ve at least seen it.  With such an intriguing title and eye-catching cover it’s hard to miss.  

I don’t normally read thrillers but I’d love to see where this trilogy is headed in the next book, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

An Echo in the Bone

 

An Echo in the Bone: A Novel

Diana Gabaldon  
Hardcover, 832 pages
Random House Publishing Group
September 22, 2009

An Echo in the Bone continues the saga of Claire Fraser, the time-travelling doctor who originally hails from England circa World War II, and her Scottish Highlander husband Jamie Frasier.  The American Revolution is in full swing and the Frasers  have fled their home on the Ridge after a devastating fire nearly took their lives.  Though they intend to return to Scotland to retrieve Jamie’s printing press and avoid the fighting, a series of unfortunate circumstances and Jamie’s status as a former militia colonel land them straight in the middle of it.  Jamie’s fear of facing his illegitimate son across the battlefield turns into reality and Claire is up to her elbows in the blood of wounded soldiers as she fights to keep them alive.

Brea and Roger are back in modern-day Scotland, living at Lallybroch, after escaping through the stones with their two young children.  Now all they have of Claire and Jamie are a box of carefully preserved letters that they read one at a time to learn the fate of Brea’s parents.  Roger begins to write a compilation of all they know about the nature of time travel, intending to educate Jem and Mandy when they’re older, but it falls into the wrong hands and Roger will have to risk travelling through the stones once more to save his family.

I’ll stop the synopsis there and just give you my thoughts at this point, because so many things happened in this book it would be nearly impossible to touch on them all without giving too much away.  It started off with a bang but then the story lost my interest a bit for a good couple hundred pages.  I could have done without so many descriptions of Claire’s medical procedures, the entire pirate-ridden, failed sea voyage, and so many chapters centered around Lord John and William.  My favorite parts were the chapters dedicated to Ian and Brea and Roger actually.  I find that I’m unable to connect with Claire as much as I did in the beginning of the series, and I think it’s because she started out as being close to my age and now decades have passed for her and only a few years have for me.  It’s just a theory though.  Gabaldon also introduced some new characters, like the brother and sister Quakers, that I really connected with and of course it was wonderful to revisit the always hectic lives of Claire and Jamie.

The second half of the book picked up again and I dove headfirst into the story, unable to wait to see what would happen next.  I heard about the unsatisfying ending before I even started reading it so I was fully prepared for loose ends to be left open, but honestly I really liked the end.  I knew that the story wouldn’t be wrapped up in a nice little bow with full closure (because of course there has to be another book!) so I took what I could get and turned the last page planning to wait patiently until the next book is released and the saga continues.

Have you read this book?  How did you feel about the ending?

Book Review: Brighid’s Quest

Brighid’s Quest

P. C. Cast  
Paperback, 544 pages
Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
February 23, 2010

* I received a complimentary ebook from the publisher via NetGalley.

Brighid Dianna has fled her homeland of the Centaur Plains, casting aside her destiny to become the herd’s next High Shaman and choosing instead to join Clan MacCallan as its Huntress.  Though she misses running free across the fields of her childhood home, she becomes comfortable with her new life and tries to forget the demanding and power-hungry mother she left behind.  She grows close to Elphame, the Clan’s Chieftain, and volunteers to embark on a journey to retrieve her grieving brother, Cuchulainn, who has traveled to the Wastelands to lead the winged half-blood race of New Fomorians to Partholon.

What Brighid finds when she tracks down Cuchulainn is a complete surprise – instead of the evil, demonic creatures who’d been responsible for the rape and enslavement of countless Partholonian women and the murder of Cuchulainn’s beloved, she finds herself surrounded by a swarm of bright, caring children.  Won over by their innocence and inquisitive nature, Brighid dedicates herself to protecting the New Fomorians as they make the dangerous journey to their rightful home.  

On the way she tries to coax Cuchulainn out of his withdrawn period of mourning and discovers that his soul was shattered when he lost his love, Brenna, and is only existing as a shadow of the warrior he once was.  Now the only way to save him is to tap into the power of the High Shaman inside her and journey into the spirit world to bring back the shattered pieces to make him whole.  And in the process she’ll accomplish much more than saving the life of her Chieftain’s brother.  Her quest will force her to come to terms with who she really is, and in the process, prevent a disastrous war between the two lands she calls home.

When I started reading Brighid’s Quest, I didn’t know it was a continuation of another story (Elphame’s Choice), so in the beginning I was somewhat distracted by all the backtracking.  But once I got a handle on the inner workings of Partholon and the basic history of the relations between humans, Centaurs, and the demon Fomorians, I settled into the story and connected with the characters. 

Brighid and Cuchulainn are both striking and powerful figures, and I love the banter between them that grows into the strong bond they share after Cu is made whole once more.  The New Fomorian children are adorable, despite their never-ending energy and ceaseless chatter, and I was intrigued by the discrimination of humans by the centaurs of Brighid’s herd (which leads to some horrific events).  For a YA novel, I was surprised by a few of the more graphic scenes and details, but it added to the story and none of it seemed gratuitous. 

This was my first time traveling into the world of Partholon and I’m happy to say it won’t be the last.  This book was a lot of fun to read and it had a few truly badass scenes that really make the adrenaline kick into gear.  While it can definitely be read as a stand-alone book, I think I’ll check out Elphame’s Choice before the next one comes out.

Earth Day Updates

Happy Earth Day! 

Just thought I’d check in and give you a few updates about what I’m currently reading and what I’ve been up to in general.

I’m almost finished with Brighid’s Quest – I think I have about 40 or 50 pages to go so a review should be coming shortly. 

Still reading An Echo in the Bone and with about 200 pages left, it’s finally getting really good.  I’d be really curious to see what others think of this book who’ve read it, but it seems to me that a few hundred pages could have been easily cut out to keep the story flowing. 

I started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Monday and at first I was surprised to find that I couldn’t really get into the story (the writing style is somewhat abrupt at times, almost like reading a list).  Finally around page 100 I started getting sucked in and now I’m halfway through and something shocking just happened to one of the characters that was like a slap in the face.  Needless to say, I’m hooked now. 

Last weekend I was in Las Vegas and I finally got to go to the Titanic Exhibition at Luxor.  It was very well done and I highly recommend it.  I was amazed by the quantity and state of preservation of the artifacts on display and seeing pictures of the passengers and reading their stories was haunting and deeply moving.  I picked up The Sinking of the Titanic at the gift shop on the way out, which is a collection of witness accounts from surviving passengers and crew that was written in 1912, and got about halfway through it on the short flight back to Los Angeles.  It’s extremely fascinating so far.

Other than that I haven’t really had a chance to participate in weekly memes because I’ve been devoting much of my free time working on a fantasy novel that my cousin and I are collaborating on.  In fact, we just launched a website that will be dedicated to the story and the world of Salona we’re creating and I’m excited to post the link here:

www.writersofsalona.com

So far we have some character bios, a short synopsis, and an excerpt from the story but we’ll be adding some images soon.  Stop by and let us know what you think! 

 

This weekend I’m going to the annual LA Times Festival of Books for the first time and I’m so excited to get to meet some of my fellow SoCal book bloggers!  I bought tickets to some of the author panels and I’m planning on lifting my temporary book-buying ban to pick up at least the new Christopher Rice and Anchee Min books while I’m there (and hopefully get them signed!). 

Will you be there?  Have you been to past events?

Book Review: Lamb

 

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

Christopher Moore
Paperback, 464 pages
HarperCollins Publishers
February 01, 2003

I’ve been meaning to read Christopher Moore for a while now and after finishing Lamb I’m just sorry I didn’t start sooner.  I shudder to think of all those wasted hours spent watching mindless reality shows, paying bills, going to work..when I could have been in tears laughing at the deliciously witty and beautifully sarcastic prose of Mr. Moore. 

Fan-tast-ic.

Lamb tells the story of the Messiah through the words of his best friend Levi who is called Biff, and it essentially fills in the gaps between Christ’s (Joshua here) famous birth and his crucifixion and resurrection just over thirty years later.  Just to be clear, this book isn’t meant to be read as historical fiction (although Moore did his homework researching the period) or to challenge beliefs, it’s purely a what-if tale that’s meant to entertain.*  It will make you grin, gasp, and definitely laugh out loud.  Frequently.  I mean, the extended title alone is enough to set the comedic tone of the novel: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

The book begins when the angel Raziel receives an assignment to go to Earth (“dirt-side”) and resurrect Biff and give him the task of writing a new Gospel, in honor of the two-millennia anniversary of Christ’s birth.  We’re introduced to Biff (whose nick-name is supposedly derived from the Hebrew slang for “smack upside the head”) and I quickly latched onto his wit, nonchalance, and sarcasm, which he invented.  He begins his tale when he first met Joshua at age six, where the Messiah was engaged in the fascinating activity of mashing lizards to death and then resurrecting them, and precedes to inform us of their childhood in Galilee, where Josh learned he was the son of God, and moves on to their epic journey when they set out in order for Josh to learn more about his nature and what it will take to bring the Kingdom to his people. 

The journey takes them far and wide, through vastly different cultures and religions.  They study everything from Buddhism and Kung Fu to the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads (Biff even learns quite a bit from the Kama Sutra) before finally returning home to spread the word that the Messiah has come.  Through all their adventures we learn the origins of many of his teachings, which were quite controversial and radical at the time. 

As someone who grew up without religion I’m always surprised at how fascinated I am by theology and the history of religion.  I guess it’s the anthropologist in me.  It was fascinating to read about the various philosophies and religious beliefs that influenced Josh during his quest and proved to shape the core values of his budding ministry. 

The story was more than funny (and it was funny) though.  It was clever, intriguing, thought-provoking, and moving.  Biff’s fierce loyalty and the love he feels for his friend came across on every page, despite the constant wise-cracking and sarcastic remarks.  The same can be said for Maggie (Mary Magdalene), who was a wonderful character.  It was easy to see why both Biff and Josh fell in love with her from day one (a chaste love in Josh’s case, of course). 

There were so many quotes that I wanted to include here but in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to choose.  There were just too many gems.  But I will include what Biff refers to as “the gist of almost every sermon I ever heard Joshua give”:

You should be nice to people, even creeps.

And if you:

a) believed that Joshua was the Son of God (and)

b) he had come to save you from sin (and)

c) acknowledged the Holy Spirit within you (became as a little child, he would say) (and)

d) didn’t blaspheme the Holy Ghost (see c),

then you would:

e) live forever

f) someplace nice

g) probably heaven.

However, if you:

h) sinned (and/or)

i) were a hypocrite (and/or)

j) valued things over people (and)

k) didn’t do a, b, c, and d,

then you were:

l) f*cked

I’m tempted to include the rough draft of the Sermon on the Mount but I’ll let you get to that in the context of the story so you can fully appreciate it.

Toward the end of the book I was so engrossed I had to physically stop reading and remind myself to slow down because I was missing all the little details whilst getting caught up in the action.  I loved the ending, although it was a bit abrupt.  I would have happily read through two hundred more pages just to hang out with Biff a while longer.  Maybe there will be (or is there?) a sequel.  Wishful thinking probably.

Well, if you can’t tell yet I was absolutely enchanted by this book and apologies to all the books in my TBR pile who’ve been waiting patiently for their turn, but I just can’t wait to get my hands on another Christopher Moore book.  My only problem is choosing which one to read next.  I’ve heard great things about Fluke so maybe I’ll go with that one.

Have you read this or any other Christopher Moore books?

* Moore includes this statement in his Afterword: “This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone’s faith; however, if one’s faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.”

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