Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review - Aztec

Title: Aztec
Author: Gary Jennings
Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 jaguars

Aztec tells the tale of Mixtli, a citizen of the ancient Aztec land known as The Heart of the World. We follow Mixtli throughout his entire life. We experience his friends, his family, his lovers, and his enemies. We congratulate him on his successes and we feel sorrow for his losses. Mixtli begins his journey through life as a your scribe, but quickly attains status as a warrior and then as a council member. Aztec is the story of one man's life in a world that history has forgotten: the ancient golden and jade world of the Aztecs.

The story opens with Spanish soldiers and scribes interviewing the elderly Mixtli, after invading the great city of Tenochtitlan. They do so in order to catalog Aztec culture - food, government, religion, etc. Mixtli details all aspects of the Aztec life, but also adds his own tales to the mix. The bulk of the book contains Mixtli's narrative, but is also peppered with letters that the Spaniards send to their king Don Carlos.

Gary Jennings brings a lot to the table with Aztec. He paints beautifully colored landscapes and cultures. After reading the book, I was able to picture the Aztec culture to the last reed and temple. Jennings also crafts a masterpiece in Mixtli. The reader follows the main character throughout his entire life, and it is impossible not to relate to him. The story is engrossing, and it feels like Jennings was actually in that ancient land.

Aztec is an AMAZING read, and will attract both historical fiction and fantasy fans!

5 out of 5 jaguars!

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Preview of 2010

Hey everyone! The year is almost over, and a brand new decade is right around the corner. Although I've only been blogging for a few weeks now, I am looking ahead and planning some great things for the beginning of 2010. Tell all your friends - they won't want to miss it!

- I team up with Heather from The Maiden's Court for a cooperative posting/review event of George R. R. Martin's fantasy masterpiece, A Game of Thrones.

- Some sort of cooperative post with Book Snob from Elegantly Bound Books about Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics.

- H. P. Lovecraft week. Each day will focus on a story or a unique aspect of one of the most influencial horror writers of all time.

- My very first giveaway! You will get additional chances to win if you refer someone who begins following my blog, so start spreading the word early!

This is an exciting time, and I can't wait to spend the new year with you all!

Mailbox Monday - Christmas Edition!

Hey all! I hope everyone had a merry Christmas. The day has come and gone, and Santa has left my bookshelves a few thousand pages heavier. Here is what arrived in my mailbox (err, stocking) this week:

Dante's Divine Comedy. A classic about a man's journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven - and the souls he meets along the way. I will be reading this one with my girlfriend, since we were both hoping to get it for Christmas.

Stephen King's Under the Dome. His newest work about an entire city that gets surrounded in a type of forcefield. I haven't read much about this one yet, but I like King, and I am a sucker for long books (over 1,000 pages).

Neil Gaiman's The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1. A collection of 20 issues of Gaiman's graphic novel that features Morpheus, king of dreams. I've been waiting for the one for a while - I can't wait to read it!

Neil Gaiman's Stardust. A popular fairie tale about a boy who crosses into a forbidden land to find his heart's desire. Bought by myself with Christmas money. I loved the movie, and I know I will love the book.

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. A man gets lost in the dark corners of London, and must find his way home. Another one that I haven't read much about. But I know Neil won't let me down!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Spotlight - The Mythology of Morpheus

Every so often, I plan to take an item or issue that was raised in a story and research it in order to share a greater understanding of the story as a whole. The first "spotlight" segment features the main character of the Sandman comic book series by Neil Gaiman - Morpheus.

According to Greek mythology, Hypnos, the god of sleep, had three sons. Their names were Morpheus, Phobetor, and Phantasos. These three sons were the gods of dreams, the most powerful of which was Morpheus. Phobetor was charged with creating frightening dreams. Phatasos was responsible for puzzling and confusing dreams. Morpheus had the ability to change is form into any human being and ruled over the Dream World where he and his brothers resided.

Although Morpheus was able to change his form at will, he is classically described as a hansome winged being who is one with the shadows. He is also known to appear in the dreams of powerful people as a messenger of the gods.

Morpheus' Dream World is barred by two gates. One is made of horn and the other is made of ivory. False dreams passed through the gate of ivory while true dreams passed through the gate of horn. Also, the gates of Morpheus' domain were guarded by feirce monsters to keep all intruders out.

Morpheus was also the master of the onerii, black-winged spirits who were the embodyment of dreams.

Some fun "facts" about Morpheus:

- The narcotic drug - morphine - was named after the god of dreams (or shares the same root, at least).
- Laurence Fishburne's character in The Matrix is named Morpheus, and is responsible for the dream-like transition that Neo makes.
- Morpheus visited Agamemnon's dreams in Homer's The Iliad.
- Morpheus is the nephew of Thanatos, god of death.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Book Review - The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear

Title: The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear
Author: Walter Moers
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5 minipirates

Did you know that bluebears have 27 lives? Do you happen to know what a bluebear is? Why not learn about one of the most famous bluebears in Walter Moers' The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear. In it, Captain Bluebear recounts tales from his hectic life in a continent known as Zamonia. From his sea voyages with the Minipirates to his travels to the 2364th Dimension, the good Captain has seen it all.

Walter Moers was an unknown author to me when I stumbled upon this brightly colored biography of the big blue bear. A wise philosopher once advised against judging a book by its cover, but in this case, the cover really grabbed my eye. A quick scan through the contents, and I picked the book up without knowing much about it at all. Happily, I was not disappointed. This novel, written in first person, outlines the life of the last bluebear in existence. The title, however, is perhaps a misnomer - Captain Bluebear only has one life, but he spends it doing thirteen and one half very different things. Each life takes place in its own chapter.

The story itself is beautifully told, and makes the reader feel as though they are sitting in a bar with Bluebear, listening to his tall tales. The narrative is quite comprehensive in its own right - Bluebear experiences love, loss, fierce battles, and faithful friends. The world in which Bluebear lives is richly detailed, and Moers goes to great lengths to include heaps of information about his surroundings. To this end, he includes encyclopedia articles detailing a particular element of the world whenever something new is discovered. These are often humerous, and very informational. A quick flip through the book will also reveal many illustrations which help render the colorful world of Zamonia in the mind of the reader.

The most amazing thing about Captain Bluebear is the incredibly vast variety of adventures that Bluebear embarks upon. One chapter may find him fleeing from a giant evil witch spider (who knew spiders could be witches?) while in the next, he may find himself in the ear canal of a gigantic beast. Throughout the story, humor and jokes abound. Moers always keeps the narrative upbeat, and you never feel as though he is dragging his feet.

The one criticism that I have of the story has to do with the way in which it is layed out. Do not expect a coherent flowing throughout the various chapters in Captain Bluebear. At times, Moers uses the craziest plot developments to move Bluebear from one life to the next, and it does not alway mesh as cleanly as it could. Also, with only a few execptions, there is little crossover of characters from one life to the next (other than the Captain, of course). While this may prove annoying to the reader at first, it is best to think of Captain Bluebear as a compilation of stories from his life, rather than a complete narrative. Towards the middle of the book, I simply gave up my notions of how stories usually flowed, and and just went along for the ride. This is when I began enjoying the book the most.

Moers is an excellent story teller, and if you enjoy fantasy and fairy tales, you will fall in love with Bluebear and his wacky (yes, wacky) adventures.

4 out of 5 minipirates!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Challenge - Fantasy Reading Challenge

The girls over at Royal Reviews are hosting a challenge that is right up my alley - read a certian number of books in the fantasy genre (3, 6, 12, or 20) throughout 2010. I am going for the 12 book level, because I am not the fastest of readers. My picks (so far) are as follows:

1. Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman - COMPLETE
2. The Absolute Sandman, Vol.1, by Neil Gaiman - COMPLETE
3. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman - COMPLETE
4. The Terror, by Dan Simmons - COMPLETE
5. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman - COMPLETE
6. A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin - COMPLETE
7. The Somnambulist, by Jonathan Barnes - COMPLETE
8. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson - COMPLETE
9. Sphere, by Michael Chrichton - COMPLETE
10. Fevre Dream, by George R. R. Martin - COMPLETE
11. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith - COMPLETE
12. Hood, by Stephen R. Lawhead - COMPLETE

Wish me luck!

Add my Button to your Blog!

Hello everyone! I am writing this post to let you know that I now have a button that links to my blog. You are more than welcome to put it on your blog! If you do, let me know and I will put a link to your blog over here. You can either copy the above picture and link to yourself, or simply copy the html code below into an HTML/JavaScript gadget to do it automatically.

<a href=""><img alt="" border="0" id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5418849761111535522" src="" style="TEXT-ALIGN: center; MARGIN: 0px auto 10px; WIDTH: 190px; DISPLAY: block; HEIGHT: 47px; CURSOR: hand" /></a>

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review - Elantris

Christmas is almost here, and I have a present that should warm you up! It is a review of one of my favorite reads of this past summer.

Title: Elantris
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 decaying nobles

Sanderson tells us a tale of an ancient city of magic called Elantris. This city was home to powerful god-like beings. A mysterious force, known as the Shaod, was once responsible for turning normal humans into these Transformed beings. Once one was Transformed, they would move to Elantris to live the rest of their days in harmony and happiness. However, we soon learn that something went horribly wrong. Elantris began to crumble, its people began to decay, and the Shaod began to transform innocents into walking corpses. So begins the story of Elantris.

Elantris is broken up into alternating third person narratives that focus on three characters at the center of the story. The first is Raoden, a would-be heir to the throne, who was touched by the Shaod and forced to live in the slime-coated city of Elantris. The second is Sarene, the woman who would have been Raoden’s bride. Sarene never met Raoden, but feels it is her duty to get to the bottom of his odd disappearance. The third is Hrathen, a high priest sent by a religious superpower to convert the people of the land at any cost.

I want to first talk about the layout of the story. In a genre where a series of books is the norm (anywhere between three to seven books seems to be average), Elantris makes a bold statement: the story is told in only the one volume, in 615 pages. This is an amazing feat as Sanderson manages to tell an epic story in such a short space, indeed even more intriguing than other more lengthy books. This short length also makes the book extremely accessible to those who do not want to get bogged down in a long story.

Another great thing about Elantris is the unique world in which the characters live. There are no wizards or dragons or vampires. Even those touched by the Shaod are not exactly supernatural. Although they at first seem to resemble zombies, we quickly learn that this is not the case. They are not evil or malicious; their bodies have simply stopped living. In Elantris, plotting and subterfuge takes the forefront while magic and grand battles are put on the back burner. This allows Sanderson to build his characters upon their thoughts and feelings.

This brings me to my next point – Sanderson’s characters are some of the best written and most fully realized that I have read about in a long time. They are all tragically flawed in some way, and as you read through their tales, you begin to root for them – even the “bad guy”. Also, the way in which his three main characters interact with one another is genius!

Elantris combines conspiracy, discovery, love, and hope in a completely believable package that deserves a place on any fantasy lover’s bookshelf.

5 out of 5 decaying nobles!

Challenge - Neil Gaiman Reading Challenge

Hey all! Today is a big day for me! I will be participating in my first. blog. challenge. That's right. It is hosted over at Neil Gaiman Reading Challenge and it is a (guess what) Neil Gaiman challenge! The rules are simple: 365 days, 5 Neil Gaiman books (graphic novels and audio books are OK), and one special prize to be given at random to all who complete the challenge.

Can you say - EXCITING?

Here are my picks for this challenge:

1. Stardust - COMPLETE
2. Anansi Boys - COMPLETE
3. American Gods
4. The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1 - COMPLETE
5. Neverwhere - COMPLETE

So head on over to the challenge's website to sign up and participate, and keep your eyes peeled here throughout 2010 for reviews of these books!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share two “teaser” sentences from that page. Share the title & author of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR list if they like your teaser. Please avoid spoilers!

Today's teasers come from A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin.

"A fat man always sits comfortably, I am thinking, for he takes a pillow with him wherever he goes." - p.137

"Whenever she looked at them, she remembered the taste of blood." - p.232

Monday, December 21, 2009

Goliath - By Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman, one of the most celebrated fantasy writers of our time, delves into the world of The Matrix in his short story entitled Goliath. While reading this story, one can feel the science fiction tones of the subject matter embedded with Gaiman's fairy tale style. If you are a fan of either The Matrix or Neil Gaiman, you will love this story. You can read it on the Warner Brothers website here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review - House of Leaves

Title: House of Leaves
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Genre: Horror
Rating: 4 out of 5 leaves

House of Leaves is unlike any book you will ever read. The main bulk of the story is in the form of an academic essay, supposedly written by an old recluse who spent all of his time shut in a dark and dirty motel room. This hermit, who we come to learn is named Zampano, writes of a very odd home movie that was filmed by artist Will Navidson. In this film, we learn how Navidson provides visual proof that his house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Stranger still: it is getting even larger.

Throughout Zampano’s essay, we are treated to footnotes written by one Johnny Truant, who was unfortunate enough to stumble upon Zampano’s handy work after discovering the old man laying dead in his apartment under very unusual circumstances. Johnny’s footnotes reveal how reading the essay has ruined his life which makes the reader quickly develop a sense of malignancy toward the manuscript.

As both the essay and the footnotes progress, they become more and more devious, and reality begins to unhinge. The characters in the film deal with unspeakable horrors within Navidson’s house, and Johnny begins to have terrifying delusions. Even the words and formatting of the pages in House of Leaves start to become skewed and erratic, as though Zampano himself must have been driven insane while writing the manuscript.

Danielewski throws many elements into his book. The story-within-a-story style along with the odd way of formatting the pages might have come off as unnecessary or complicated, but the author is able to tie everything together very well with the story. When the characters of the film are living their normal lives, the essay resembles a benign retelling of events. As the characters encounter strange events, the seams of the narrative begin to fray. For example, when characters run down a dark hallway, Danielewski puts only a few words on each page. This makes the reader flip through pages rapidly; giving them the sense of the hurried dread that Navidson & Co. must be feeling

The essay that Zampano writes about the house is at times very dry and – to be honest – tedious. However, Danielewski does this as a parody of typical academic writing. He crams in footnotes, cited resources, and appendices. However, unlike those articles you read in college, you may actually want to read these footnotes and extra materials, because a lot of added story is put into them.

Although Johnny Truant’s story line gives a much needed break from Zampano’s essay, I found his footnotes very repetitive after a while. From what he writes, it seems that all Johnny does is get drunk, do drugs, party, and hook up with random women. This is interesting to a point, but it is unfortunate that Danielewski does not spend more time delving deeper into the character during the novel. In fact, in order to appreciate Johnny at any depth at all, you need to sift through the appendices – a time consuming process.

The summary of Navidson’s film is by far the most compelling aspect of House of Leaves. This is where the action happens, and it is brilliantly done. Danielewski takes his time setting up the scene and building a large amount of suspense before shattering all of your preconceptions about Navidson’s house.

House of Leaves was a very enjoyable read, and its uniqueness is as memorable as the story itself. At first glance, it seems like a horror story, but at its core, Leaves is about a man and a woman who lose each other and themselves, only to rediscover their lives on the other side of reality.

4 out of 5 leaves!