Posts Tagged ‘Book Review’

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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Book Review: The Heretic Queen

The Heretic Queen: A Novel

Michelle Moran
Paperback, 416 pages
Crown Publishing Group
September 01, 2009

 

This is Michelle Moran’s second novel, after Nefertiti, and it picks up around twenty years later when the old religion has been restored, the capital has moved from Amarna back to Thebes, and all that remains of the Heretic Queen’s family is her niece Nefertari. 

Due to her ties with Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the young princess is reviled, feared, and distrusted.  She’s tolerated by her peers solely because of her friendship with Ramesses, the heir to the throne of Egypt.  But when she’s overlooked as Ramesses’ first wife for the beautiful but vapid Iset, granddaughter to a harem wife, Nefertari is filled with dread and doubt, unsure of her place at court and heartbroken at the thought of Ramesses with another. 

When the High Priestess of Hathor – and Ramesses’ aunt – offers to take her under her wing, she reveals a plan to supplant Iset and make Nefertari the young king’s Chief Wife, thus thwarting the plot of her scheming sister (the High Priestess of Isis) to put Iset on the throne in exchange for wealth and power.  Nefertari’s intelligence and knack for foreign languages makes her a valuable asset to the kingdom and she slowly starts to win over the people with her wise and fair judgments in the Audience Chamber.

With enemies surrounding her, Nefertari knows that the only way for the names of her family to be written back into the scrolls of history is to become Chief Wife and to be crowned Queen of Egypt.  She must use all her wiles to avert the many attempts to besmirch her name and turn Ramesses against her.  And to make matters worse, the Nile has not flooded in four years and the Hittites are threatening to invade, and while the kingdom is on the verge of famine and war the people are quick to blame Nefertari. 

But when she puts her own life at risk to ride to war beside Ramesses and uses her mastery of foreign languages to weed out enemy spies, she finds herself surrounded by even more dangers as desperation drives her foes to new heights of treachery.

In my opinion The Heretic Queen was equally impressive as Moran’s début novel, Nefertiti, and I immediately connected to Nefertari and felt what it was like to be harshly and unfairly judged by the wrongdoings of relatives.  And while at first I was a bit disappointed because I thought it was a continuation of Mudnojemet’s story, I was quickly won over by Nefertari and her love of languages and sharp wit.  Ramesses was a very likeable character and I admired how he always treated Iset with love and respect even when she was at her whiniest and behaved like a spoiled brat.  And when Nefertari finally got the opportunity to ruin her, she couldn’t bring herself to do it and my admiration for her deepened. 

It was well researched, fast paced, and I loved the writing style.  My only complaint is that it was too short and I didn’t want it to end.  I desperately wanted to see what happened years into Ramesses’ reign as he built the impressive reputation that remains with him to this day. 

I preemptively gave this book a spot in my Top 10 Historical Fiction list, hoping that it would be well deserved and I’m happy to say that it was.  Who knows, maybe I’ll come across a book in the future that bumps it out (maybe Moran’s next book, Cleopatra’s Daughter?), but for now it’s definitely worthy.

On a side note, I recently had the privilege of visiting the travelling King Tut exhibit at the De Young museum in San Francisco and I was absolutely awestruck at the site of the 3,000 year old artifacts from a civilization that I’ve been fascinated by my entire life.  I actually saw Tutankhamun’s crook & flail, Nefertiti’s bust (breathtaking, even lacking a nose), Queen Tuja’s sarcophagus, and larger than life statues of Akhenaten.  Sadly, the boy king’s golden funerary mask isn’t allowed to travel so I didn’t get to see it, but hopefully someday I’ll find myself in Egypt, walking under the same sky and upon the same sand as the ancient kings of the greatest empire ever known.

Book Review: Fireworks Over Toccoa

Fireworks Over Toccoa

Jeffrey Stepakoff 
Hardcover, 272 pages
St. Martin’s Press
March 30, 2010
Note: I requested this Advance Readers’ Edition free of charge from the publishing company.

 

It’s July 1945. The fighting is over and the residents of Toccoa, Georgia are celebrating in the streets as the soldiers return home from the war.  Twenty year old Lily Davis Woodward knows she should be thrilled at the thought of her husband being among them.  But after spending only two weeks as husband and wife when they were seventeen before he was shipped overseas, Lily worries that he’ll come home a stranger.  After three years of waiting for her life to finally begin – to be a dutiful wife, to start a family, and take care of her perfect home – Lily is filled with anxiety and uncertainty just days before her husband Paul is scheduled to show up on her doorstep.

Then she meets Jake Russo, a young and handsome veteran of Italian descent (who speaks the language of the enemy), and her world is turned upside down in a heartbeat.  Jake’s family has been in the business of fireworks for centuries and the pair meet for the first time when Lily stops on the side of the road to watch some of his dazzling work as he tests his display for the upcoming July 4th town celebration.  Oblivious to the danger she’s in (“Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to stand under fireworks?”), Lily is tackled by Jake just as the debris rains down on her. 

A budding friendship quickly becomes more as Lily and Jake continue to see each other over the next few days.  As the daughter of a Coca-Cola executive/state senator father and proper southern mother, Lily knows what’s expected of her and that she’s treading dangerous ground as the affair goes on.  But she’s drawn to Jake’s passionate nature as he is drawn to her wild spirit.  They both know their time together is brief and Lily must make a choice.  Soon.  Can she give up her life and her husband, tearing her family apart in the process, for this man that she’s come to love in a matter of days?

Fireworks Over Toccoa was a delightful treat to read.  It’s not something I probably would have normally chosen, definitely not my style, but I loved every page.  Lily and Jake are wonderful characters and I was cheering for them to the end.  And even though Lily is thinking of leaving her husband who’s been away at war for this stranger, you sympathize with her completely.  And it was great to see the walls that Jake had built around himself during the war start to crack and tumble down as he opens up to Lily and gives her his complete trust.  They were both just really good people.  In fact, the whole book just seemed to radiate goodness and I have to say it left me feeling good too. 

I definitely got the impression that this would make a fantastic movie and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Jeffrey Stepakoff was a writer on The Wonder Years.  I could practically hear it being narrated, maybe in the voice of Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, only a bit more southern. 

I really enjoyed his writing style.  It was very visual and descriptive (I could always picture myself in each scene – the smell of Cherokee roses, the taste of sweet summer corn, fireflies dancing in the warm, balmy Georgia air) without being too wordy.  The scenes flowed together beautifully and I can’t think of a single part that was slow for me.  One thing I noticed was that  Stepakoff tends to use long sentences (which I love, by the way) that helped me get into Lily’s frame of mind as her thoughts become frantic and torn.  And there’s so much tenderness that you can feel as you read Lily and Jakes’ thoughts, it’s easy to let yourself become swept away in their romance. 

The themes of the book really resonated with me.  Duty versus instinct, following your heart or living up to your responsibilities.  And most of all, living for the moment because life is fleeting.  When Lily asks Jake if he thinks the war changed him he says, “What I’ve come to believe is that you have to cherish…this, the present.  Life and death…it’s a matter of a breath, a hearbeat…a single footstep.”  I think we all need to be reminded of that from time to time.  I know I do.

Book Review: Definitely Dead

Definitely Dead

Charlaine Harris  
Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated

March 27, 2007

Sookie’s vamp cousin Hadley has died, for the second time, and Sookie must travel to New Orleans to collect her possessions and take care of her affairs.  This proves to be a much more dangerous task than it should be after the Queen of Louisiana’s personal messenger is murdered in Sookie’s yard and she and Quinn, her latest gorgeous pursuer, are attacked by newly turned Weres. 

When she finally gets to Louisiana and begins to pack up her cousin’s things, she quickly realizes that the circumstances surrounding Hadley’s death are much more complicated than she thought after finding a gruesome surprise in the closet.  With the help of Hadley’s landlord, who is also a witch, they perform a powerful spell to try to piece together the last hours of the deceased’s life before more people are killed.

Not only does Sookie have to deal with solving the Hadley mystery and trying to save the newly married Queen of Louisiana from a dangerous plot, the Pelts are still hounding her for information about their daughter Debbie’s death.  And to top it all, Sookie finds out a shocking little secret about her heritage that suddenly makes things a whole lot more clear.

Another great Sookie Stackhouse book!  Although, through the first half of it I kept thinking I had accidentally skipped a book because of the way Hadley’s death was referred to.  It was as if I should already know all about it when I was completely in the dark.  That was a little distracting but I got over it soon enough when Quinn, the Were-tiger, entered the picture and things started to heat up.  The plot, that is! 

Eric and Bill were still around, although their roles were fairly small in this book.  I loved the parts when Sookie was at the Queen’s mansion interacting with her entourage (including a set of Saxon twins who never quite assimilated into the modern era).  After the last book in the series, which was predominantly about Weres and shifters, it was nice to finally be surrounded by vampire characters again. 

What can I say about this book besides I love the whole series!  They’re so much fun to read and Sookie is a wonderful character.  I can’t wait to read All Together Dead and see what’s been going on in Bon Temps lately.

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?

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!