Monday, June 13, 2011

Diary: A Novel by Chuck Palahnuik


Diary takes the form of a “coma diary” kept by one Misty Tracy Wilmot as her husband lies senseless in a hospital after a suicide attempt. Once she was an art student dreaming of creativity and freedom; now, after marrying Peter at school and being brought back to once quaint, now tourist-overrun Waytansea Island, she’s been reduced to the condition of a resort hotel maid. Peter, it turns out, has been hiding rooms in houses he’s remodeled and scrawling vile messages all over the walls—an old habit of builders but dramatically overdone in Peter’s case. Angry homeowners are suing left and right, and Misty’s dreams of artistic greatness are in ashes. But then, as if possessed by the spirit of Maura Kinkaid, a fabled Waytansea artist of the nineteenth century, Misty begins painting again, compulsively. But can her newly discovered talent be part of a larger, darker plan? Of course it can…


Where do I even start?  This book was the epitome of an enigma for me.  I both hated and yet somehow enjoyed (though that isn't really the right word) this book.  It was strange.  I found myself completely uninterested in the story, but at the same time couldn't seem to put it down.

I just can't even begin to get into this book.  The plot was so completely confusing to me, but oddly I still managed to see the end coming.  It was just an all around weird book.  I found factual errors within the writing, but the characters themselves are so completely off the deep end that I don't know if these mistakes were intentional to reflect the mindsets or if Palahnuik just flat out got it wrong.

I just really don't know.

Bottom line...I DON'T KNOW!!!  I guess, read it and judge for yourself.  Maybe you could explain to me what I just read.



Saturday, June 11, 2011

Jane by April Lindner


Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, an iconic rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer, and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance. But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is tested by a torturous secret from his past.

Part irresistible romance and part darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic
Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.


I had mixed feelings about this book.  As you'll remember from my earlier review, I loved Jane Eyre.  That's why I opted to read this book.  I wanted to see how Lindner would go about updating the story and giving it her own little twist.

For those familiar with Jane Eyre, references to it are easy to spot, even outside of the plot.  Some things however did not translate as well as others.  In Jane Eyre, with Jane first encounters Mr. Rochester, the reader can understand why she doesn't know who he is from sight.  She's never met the man and has seen no pictures.  In Jane, Jane's first meeting with Rathburn is...confusing.  Prior to her starting the job, the book goes into great detail about Jane going online and researching him.  Her inability to know who he is makes zero sense and there's absolutely no adequate explanation given.

I also found some of the renaming of characters to be a little...lame.  To begin with, you don't even really need to keep the names similar to their original counterparts.  Those who've read Jane Eyre can make the connection on their own and those who haven't don't need to know.  While the occasional name similarities were a nice nod to the Jane Eyre fans, naming Rathburn's dog Copilot was beyond stupid, in my opinion.

I was really hoping Rathburn's big secret wasn't going to be exactly as it was in Jane Eyre and was marginally disappointed when that turned out to not be the case.  It would have in my opinion made the story just that much better.  I don't know what it should have been changed to, but it would have been nice for the big twist to have been another "Oh my god" moment.

Like I said before, I started reading this book because of my enjoyment of Jane Eyre.  As I read it though, something occurred to me.  Is it really fair that an author can piggyback on someone else's work...and especially for their debut novel.  I realize that writing a novel isn't easy, but I would imagine that having the entire plot handed to you and only needing to update a few key points makes it significantly easier.  While the idea is good in theory, I can't help but feel that retelling someone else's book is just short of cheating.

Alright.  Enough about what I didn't like.  On to what I did like.

I found myself able to relate to Jane a lot easier than I did, while reading Jane Eyre.  I think putting her in the modern world and placing her in situations more familiar to myself, I could see more of myself in her.  I found myself feeling that I was/am Jane.  I really liked that.

I also found the love story between Jane and Rathburn to be easier to relate to, for pretty much the same reasons.  I can't understand the world Jane Eyre occurs in, but the setting of Jane I could completely get.  It made the love story all the more enchanting.

Bottom it, I guess?  If you like Jane Eyre, I think you might enjoy seeing how Lindner put a new spin on it.  If you haven't read Jane Eyre, I think this book could hook you enough to get you to read the original piece.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith


Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother's bedside. She's been stricken with something the old-timers call "Milk Sickness."

"My baby boy..." she whispers before dying.

Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother's fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.

When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, "henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose..." Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.


This was a really good book.  I enjoyed it so much.  I'll admit that I went into it with a completely false idea of what it was going to be like and, while it didn't live up to those expectations, it more than made-up for it in being what it actually was.  I was expecting a comical book.  Abraham Lincoln fighting vampires?  How could it not be funny.  What it actually turned out to be was a "true" re-telling of his life as a vampire hunter.  True, it was humorous in a tongue-in-cheek, deadpan sort of way, but it wasn't laugh-out-loud funny like I was expecting.

In recent years, there has been a sudden surge in the "Found Material" genre of movies, i.e. The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, etc.  I'm a huge fan of those types of movies and it was very interesting to read a book that falls into the same genre.  The book is presented as both a novel and a work of fiction, in a way.  You're presented with facts about Lincoln's life with fictional accounts of his time hunting vampires woven in.  I loved that.  Having concrete facts (AND PICTURES!!) within this work of fiction almost made me read this as something one might find in the Biography section of any book store.  Amazing.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book was it's tendency to put a vampiric spin on actual facts.  Real moments in history are attributed to the work of vampires and the explanations we've read in our history books are merely cover-ups to protect us from the truth.  Like I previously stated, this style of storytelling made it so I felt as if I was reading an actual biography more than a fantasy story.  I actually learned things, while reading it.  I spent just as much time Googling fact about Lincoln's life as I did actually reading the book.  Incredible.

Favorite part of the book?  Hands down, the final chapter.  I don't want to give anything away, but I absolutely loved it.  Had I not accidentally dropped the book on my way to bed one night and caught a glimpse of the final page, I would have been even more blown away and not had a sense of what was coming, when I began to read the first page of the chapter.  Even then, I was still surprised.  Well played, Mr. Grahame-Smith.

Bottom line, as if you don't see this coming, a definite read.  Saves the Vampire genre from the massacre it's had to endure thanks to Twilight.  I think everyone would enjoy it.  I honestly can't think of a single reason someone would come away with a negative review...unless they're crazy into Lincoln and view it as an affront to his good name.  In that case, do you really care that much about their opinion?  Didn't think so.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters


This delicious, steamy debut novel chronicles the adventures of Nan King, who begins life as an oyster girl in the provincial seaside town of Whitstable and whose fortunes are forever changed when she falls in love with a cross-dressing music-hall singer named Miss Kitty Butler.

When Kitty is called up to London for an engagement on "Grease Paint Avenue", Nan follows as her dresser and secret lover, and, soon after, dons trousers herself and joins the act. In time, Kitty breaks her heart, and Nan assumes the guise of butch roue to commence her own thrilling and varied sexual education - a sort of Moll Flanders in drag - finally finding friendship and true love in the most unexpected places.


So this book took a downward progression for me, as it went on.  In the end, I did enjoy it, but as I made my way through it, I found myself beginning to like it less and less.

To begin with, there were certain twists in the story that I saw coming pages in advance.  I have to give Waters some leniency, since this was her debut novel, but still...a lot of the plot seemed to follow a fairly predictable formula, at times.  Events that were meant to shock or surprise me were entirely expected on my part.

Then there's the character of Nancy.  I started the book liking her.  She seemed like a completely together and likable girl.  Then, all of the sudden I found myself being completely annoyed and put-off by her.  She went from being this strong, independent girl and just suddenly became this weak, whiny thing.  I hated it.  She redeemed herself in the end, but I just didn't like the way her character changed, at times.

Bottom line, I'll it.  For all its flaws, it's a better-than-decent read.  I've read one other book by Waters and I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as this one (which is odd considering this was her first...shouldn't your work improve?).  Be warned ahead of time though that this is a "lesbian fiction" book's kinda heavy on the lesbian, so be prepared for that.  Not saying it's a bad thing.  I just feel compelled to give you a heads up so you're not caught completely off-guard.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

ArchEnemy by Frank Beddor


The war for Wonderland has become a war for Imagination!
King Arch has declared himself King of Wonderland as Alyss searches wildly for the solution to the metaphysical disaster that has engulfed her Queendom. The power of Imagination has been lost!

Alyss's search for answers takes her to London where Arch's assassins threaten Alice Liddell and her family. But after coming to her adopted family's assistance, Alyss discovers herself trapped in a conundrum of evaporating puddles. The shimmering portals that exist to transport her home through the Pool of Tears are disappearing! What is happening in Wonderland? Deep within the Valley of Mushrooms the Caterpillar Oracles issue this prophecy: "Action shall be taken to ensure the safety of the Heart Crystal. For Everqueen." But who is Everqueen?


So...the third and final book in the Looking Glass Wars trilogy.  I'd like to say it was a vast improvement from the previous two installments, but that would be a lie.  It was pretty much another 370 pages of the same.  Mediocre writing, sloppy sentence structures and a shaky plot.

This review's gonna be pretty abbreviated.  I really can't write another blog about how it's not great but it's not horrible.  So I'm just gonna add a couple more comments that came to me, while taking notes on this reading experience.

Beddor has this strange habit of making up a word or device, but failing to adequately define what exactly it means.  The idea of creating your own world of inventions isn't an unheard of practice in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, but the fact that he consistently names off gadgets and fails to even give a basic description was slightly annoying.  I could get an idea in my head that would do for the sake of picturing actions in my head, but the fact that I don't what I should be imagining took away from the ability to know that I was on the same proverbial page as the author.

This strange practice is made further confusing by Beddor's almost anal attention to detail in other aspects of the story.  He went so far as to make the Lewis Carroll in the book have a stutter (something which a quick Google search shows me was factual), but then is completely lax on defining what a "smail-transport" is.  Odd, to say the least.

I also found myself a little put off by Beddor's need to write in sound effects.  I didn't like being taken out of the story, cause I had to spend an unnecessary length of time trying to figure out the pronunciation of "feeeeeeeooooooshhhhkaaaghghgk".  "Bang", "boom" or even "fwoosh" would do the job just as easily and my brain doesn't try to eat itself.

Bottom line, same as the last two, it's a decent read for a boring afternoon with nothing else to do.  I can't say it's a great ending to the trilogy, but it's passable.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor


Alyss of Wonderland’s rule has only just begun and already those who prefer chaos to peace are threatening to destroy everything worth imagining. Trailed by newly appointed Royal Bodyguard Homburg Molly, Alyss does her best to keep pace with the spiraling, non-stop demands of being Queen while attempting to evade Molly for a few private moments with Dodge. Alyss’s life is already a challenging mix of duty, love and imagining when a series of phantom sightings set fire to an urban myth of her Imperial Viciousness’s return and have everyone…Seeing Redd.

Has Redd somehow freed herself and her chief assassin, the Cat, from the confines of the Heart Crystal to challenge her niece once again? If not, then who has resurrected Redd’s brutal footsoldiers, the Glass Eyes, and set them loose to attack Wonderland on all sides? Battles rage, looking glasses explode and the Alyssians are once again uniting to defend White Imagination in this fast-paced second book in The Looking Glass Wars trilogy.


So...for obvious reasons, I found that the second book in the Looking Glass Wars trilogy suffers from pretty much the same problems as the first book did.

Like with The Looking Glass Wars, the writing and story are by no means horrible, but they're not exactly great either.  Beddor seems to have frequent issues with adequately conveying his ideas.  I found myself having to read and re-read sentences, before I could really figure out what exactly he was trying to say.

Beddor also has a few issues with showing the reader where his characters are at, emotionally.  I found myself spending most of the book thinking that one particular character was a bad guy masquerading as good, only to find out that that was never supposed to be the case.  And, no...that wasn't me misinterpreting what was written.  He honestly presented the character in a way that made it seem 100% that they were completely aware of certain facts, only to claim complete ignorance to the fact later.  It was weird and I can't adequately explain exactly what I'm talking about, without spoiling a few key points.

On a side note, to anyone that does read any of the books, what is up with Hatter's backpack?  No matter how many times I read the description of it, I cannot for the life of me get what it does.  Is it a Swiss Army knife?  Corkscrews?  Really?  I'd be far more accepting of the idea, if it didn't sound completely ludicrous (and that means something, when you're reviewing a book set in Wonderland).

Bottom line, if you read the first book, you'll probably find yourself gravitating toward this one too.  They're both decent enough that you'll probably want to find out how the rest of the story pans out.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor


Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, was forced to flee through the Pool of Tears after a bloody palace coup staged by the murderous Redd shattered her world. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the surreal, violent, heartbreaking story of her young life only to see it published as the nonsensical children’s sojourn Alice in Wonderland. Alyss had trusted Lewis Carroll to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere would find her and bring her home.

But Carroll had got it all wrong. He even misspelled her name! If not for the intrepid Hatter Madigan, a member of the Millinery (Wonderland’s security force) who after a 13 year search eventually tracked Alyss to London, she may have become just another society woman sipping tea in a too-tight bodice instead of returning to Wonderland to battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.


I went ahead and read the original two Alice stories, before starting on this book.  I figured it might help to have the originals fresh in my mind, before diving into the "true story" version.  It in no way helped.

That's not to say the book was bad.  On the contrary I enjoyed it.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  This was definitely not a book aimed at my age range or reading level.  There's a good reason you'll find it in the teen section of the library.  It's quite simply because it's just not that challenging of a read.  It's a fun read, but not a challenge.

To begin with, the story is a little slow.  Interesting, but not exactly action packed.  The writing's juvenile at times, but I really can't get myself to hold a book based on a children's story aimed at teenagers to a very high standard.  I know some of you may disagree, but that's just my opinion.  I'd say this falls about "middle of the road", as far as writing skills are concerned.  Not great, but by no means horrible.

One interesting thing I noticed was a strong similarity between Redd's queendom (yes...QUEENdom) and the society depicted within one of my previous reads...1984.  This could go either of two ways.  Either Beddor was paying homage to Orwell...or he was ripping him off and counting on his teenage readers to be not well-read enough to realize.  I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt here.  What can I say?  I'm in a good mood.

One thing would have made this book substantially better.  If it had no tie Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  Honestly, aside from the tie-in of having Carroll publish Alyss's story, there really wasn't much point to tying one to the other.  The Looking Glass Wars can stand perfectly well on it's own.  References to the original work are barely noticeable and not all that important in the grand scheme.  Having the books connected seems to serve more as free publicity for Beddor's work.  Like Alice in Wonderland  Why not read this book too, then?  Pointless.

Bottom line, it's a decent book.  Like I said, not great but not horrible.  Definitely a book to read if you've got an hour or so to spare and wanna give your brain a little rest.