Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review - Hood, by Stephen R. Lawhead

Title: Hood
Author: Stephen R. Lawhead
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 arrows

One of the most fun aspects of legends is that the details get fuzzy over time. Names get lost and details get embellished. What remains is the moral of the legend, and the enjoyment of hearing the tale. In Stephen R. Lawhead's novel, Hood, we are treated to one rendition of the legend of Robin Hood. If you are looking for King Richard, Prince John, and the Sherriff of Nottingham, look elsewhere. Hood is set in the nation of Cymru (now called Wales) during the Norman invasion of the early 1000's.

In fact, Hood does not resemble the common legend at all until the last 100 or so pages. Most of this novel serves to set up the locations, characters, and events that lead to "Robin Hood"s (Bran ap Brychan, in this novel) exile and criminal deeds. If one considers this as a standalone novel, they may be disappointed with the result. Hood contains a beginning and middle, but then seems to abruptly stop. This reader thought that it could have used an additional 300-400 pages. However, we need to remember that Hood is part of a trilogy, and I am perfectly content with forgiving Lawhead for his early truncation because the "introductory" material presented in Hood is just so enjoyable.

Hood is filled with beautiful landscapes and complex characters. Bran himself is not the loveable rogue that legend has remembered, but a conflicted and - in some cases - failing hero. This makes the metamorphosis he undergoes throughout the book that much more satisfying.

The pacing of this novel (one of the biggest potential stumbling points of a novel, in this reader's opinion), is spot on. So much so that I didn't even realize the pages were turning and the chapters were advancing. The story just seemed to organically flow from the author's mind to my own, which seemed to harken back to the days when legends were passed on verbally.

Hood has been one of the most enjoyable novels that I have read in a long time. Do yourself a favor: Pick up the trilogy, find a comfortable spot, and read to your heart's content.

5 out of 5 arrows!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Award: Blog Monster!

Hi guys, I just wanted to share the good news - I recieved my second blog award! It is the Blog Monster Award.

This startling award was created by Eleni at La Femme Reader.

It signifies all the bloggers out there who constantly work hard to keep an updated and insightful website. They aren’t afraid to take a bite with their honest reviews and enjoyable content. You amaze me, you inspire me so I call you a blog monster.

Thanks to Fiction Fanatic for this award! And here are some other monsters:

James, at Speculative Horizons
Haley, at The Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object
Heather, at The Maiden's Court

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Teaser (day after) Tuesday

Hi folks! This teaser comes from Hood, by Stephen R. Lawhead. In it, the author describes his novel's protagonist:

"Lithe and long-limbed, habitually clothed in the darkest hues, which gave him an appearance of austerity - an impression completely overthrown by the puckish glint in his clear dark eyes and the sudden, unpredictable, and utterly provocative smile - he nevertheless gorged on an endless glut of indulgence, forever helping himself to the best of everything his noble position could offer. King Brychan's rake of a son was unashamedly pleased with himself." p.20

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Books I'll Never Finish Reading (And Why)

You start reading a book, and quickly realize it isn't for you. For whatever reason, you can't get into it, and you start fantasizing about all of the other books you would love to be reading. What do you do? A lot of people I know would finish the book no matter how much they disliked it. I, on the other hand, feel no shame in truncating my current read in favor of starting a new, more promising conquest. And why not? I have found no good reason to suffer through an unenjoyable book when I could be having a blast reading something that meets my needs.

What follows is a short list of books that I have recently picked up, only to put back down again in light of greener pastures. Am I a fickle reader, my tastes changing with the tides? Perhaps, but I am not ashamed!

Under the Dome, by Stephen King. I have to admit, I was surprised when I found myself rejecting the back half of this book. I am usually a sucker for anything Stephen King, and the premise of this novel was really interesting to me. Why did I drop it? It mostly had to do with the length:content ratio. I love long, epic books, but there didn't seem to be enough going on in this one to warrant the 1,000+ page length. A day would pass in the novel, and it felt like it would take an eternity. Although the story was gripping (something that may eventually bring me back to the novel at a later date), the pace was just too slow.

Alhazred, Author of the Necronomicon, by Donald Tyson. This one didn't last very long. It was touted as a type of "prequel" to Lovecraftian stories, being about the man who first witnessed the cosmic horrors that have been hiding in our world for countless millennia. However, it ended up being about a sniveling cannibal who ended up being one of the least likeable protagonists I have ever read about. There is little to no adherence to H. P. Lovecraft's work, and was just generally disappointing.

God's Demon, by Wayne Barlowe. Let me tell you. I was pretty excited about this one. A novel about a civil war amongst the ranks of demons in Hell should have been one of the most interesting books out there. However, something seemed to be missing. You would think an epic war fought by demons and souls damned to an eternity of suffering would pretty much blown my scifi/fantasy socks off, but this novel was filled with so much bland, political nonsense that it read like a Congressional bill, except I also had the benefit of not being able to pronounce any of the demons' names.
That's all I have to say about that. But I would love to hear what you think! Do you finish every book you start, no matter how disappointing? Or have you set some aside?

Giveaway Results - Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire

Hi folks! Just a quick thank you to everyone who entered!

The winner of a hardcover copy of Son of a Witch, written by Gregory Maguire, is...


Congrats, Haley!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Review - Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Title: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Author: Seth Grahame-Smith
Genre: Historical / Horror
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 bloody axes

In Vampire Hunter, we follow the life of Abraham Lincoln as he discovers, fights, and eventually exiles the plague of vampires that haunted America in its early existence. He makes many friends in his life (both alive and undead) that help him accomplish this task. As you may have read in my First Impressions post, the novel is written in the guise of a biography, in which the author relates to Abraham Lincoln's "private journal".

I found Vampire Hunter an enjoyable read, which is odd considering the fact that I have to give it a less than stellar review. Smith's re-imagining of one of America's most interesting political figures is very interesting and creative. However, I just find the premise too hard to believe. Supposedly, vampires are an unknown threat to America. But how does a man keep a secret like that? In addition, Abe begins to tell his partners about the vampires - this makes it even more unlikely that the secret is kept. Even more fantastic, it seems EVERYONE in Congress knows about them. The fact that the country has lost all information on the vampires until the discovery of the diary is just not possible.

Also Smith seems to get lazy with his writing at point in the book. He includes direct quotes from Abraham Lincoln's journal, which was written by a man living some 150 years ago. This should be a mechanic that adds to the historical feel of the novel. However, one can easily recognize the speech patterns of Smith in the so-called "quotes" of Lincoln. This really ruins the immersion of the novel at times.

However, I eventually decided that when you read this novel, you cannot take it seriously. If you are looking for a solid historical account, you should not be reading the book. Look at it as an exciting ride through what Might have happened in one man's life, and you will get a lot more enjoyment from the experience.

You may love this book, or you may hate this book. I'm somewhere in between...

3.5 out of 5 bloody axes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

First Impressions: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer

I have been reading Seth Grahame-Smith's latest mash up, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. So far, it has been a pretty entertaining read. The novel is written in the form of a biography, in which the author uses (and includes direct quotes from) Lincoln's secret journal, which is supposedly about his second life of killing vampires.

The scenes are action packed - sometimes bloody and violent, but always engaging. I'm not sure how historically accurate the "real" parts of the biography are, but Vampire Hunter is definitely a page turner.

The only gripe I have so far is that some aspects of the novel don't seem to mesh with the whole mechanic that Smith uses. For example, Smith writes this novel using the diary of Abraham Lincoln. But how, then, does he know what Abraham Lincoln's grandfather was thinking and feeling? Although these embellishments add to the story, they sometimes dectract from the immersion.

Stay tuned for more on this unique novel!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mailbox Whatever Day I Feel Like

Hi folks! Today, I'd like to let you know about a book I recently got: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, written by Seth Grahame-Smith (author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters). Popular for slipping horrific elements into classical literature, Grahame-Smith relates the hidden truth of Abraham Lincoln. From the back of the book:

"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 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 the 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 that 140 years.
Using this journal as his guide and writing in the biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life of our greatest president for the first time - all while revealing the hidden story behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation."

As if that wasn't enough of a synopsis, here is the book trailer:

Pretty iteresting! Stay tuned for more posts on this book!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Review - Fevre Dream, by George R. R. Martin

Title: Fevre Dream
Author: George R. R. Martin
Genre: History / Fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5 steamboats

George R. R. Martin tells us a tale of vampires inhabiting the area around the Mississippi river in the mid-1800's. Fevre Dream is inhabited by colorful sailors, captains, and undead. As you might have read in my First Impressions, riverdog Abner Marsh and mysterious Joshua York team up to captain a brand new riverboat. Marsh is occupied with the fame and fortune that comes along with being the fastest, while the pale York has shady ulterior motives. As the novel progresses, we learn the true nature of York's plans, the likes of which will change Abner's life forever.

One of the best parts about Fevre Dream is Abner Marsh's progression from an ignorant captain to a caring friend and partner. He begins this journey as a man possessed by avarice and envy, always trying to be the best captain on the river. Meeting and befriending Joshua York, however, forces him to rethink what matters most in a man's life.

Another main point of the book is the mystery of Joshua York and his true intentions aboard the Fevre Dream. While Abner Marsh is in the dark for most of the first half of the book, the reader figures out the stranger's somewhat obvious secret within the first few chapters. Because of this, it felt to me like Martin draws out this plot point a bit too long, and it loses a bit of it's edge.

Fevre Dream takes place in a colorful pre Civil War backdrop, and the writing style and plot points fit perfectly into this setting. The only thing that I regret about this story is that Martin overstates his main message at some points: Slavery is as much of an injustice as vampirism. It's not that I don't enjoy a moral to my story, but when it is too clearly stated, I feel as though the author is on a soapbox.

With that said, Fevre Dream is still a great novel about faith, redemption, and overcoming insurmountable odds. With all of the novels being published these days about vampires, Fevre Dream remains a breath of fresh air in the genre.

4 out of 5 steamboats!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Giveaway - Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire

This giveaway is for one new hardcover copy of Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire.

This giveaway will run for 2 weeks. It will end on 3/19/2010 and the winner will be announced on 3/20/2010. United States residents only!

The following is taken from the author's website:

"When a Witch dies—not as a crone, withered and incapable, but as a woman in her prime, at the height of her passion and prowess—too much is left unsaid. What might have happened had Elphaba lived? Of her campaigns in defense of the Animals, of her appetite for justice, of her talent for magic itself, what good might have come? If every death is a tragedy, the death of a woman in her prime keenly bereaves the whole world." Read more here.

Here are the rules for entry:

+1 Entry - Leave a comment on this post with your E-mail address
+3 Entries - Become a follower, or tell me if you already are
+2 Entries - Do a blog post, sidebar post, or tweet about this giveaway with a link to this post (make sure you leave a link to it in your comment)

Good luck!

Book Review - The Terror, by Dan Simmons

Title: The Terror
Author: Dan Simmons
Genre: Historical / Horror
Rating: 4 out of 5 icebergs

As you may have read in my spotlight post, The Terror follows the lives of the officers and crew of the Franklin expedition to force the Northwest Passage in the 1800's. The Terror reads mostly like a historical fiction novel, but Dan Simmons is a master of genre-bending, and he incorporates many elements of horror literature as well.

There are many different methods of storytelling in this novel. Alternating chapters focus on different characters, and can take the form of third person, first person, past tense or present tense. While this can often feel confusing and too complex, I think it really works in The Terror. The myriad of different styles makes the personalities of the characters feel all that more distinct.

There are both fast paced action scenes and slower, deeper character development sections. This is a nice combination, but sometimes it feels as though the two different types of story are too segregated, and they occur in too recognizable pattern (action, story, action, story, action, story).

The Terror is not without its faults. However, I believe that the story is very interesting and ultimately well told. What kind of terror was waiting for the sailors on the ice of the Arctic? You'll have to read the novel to find out; that was one of the most interesting parts of the book.

4 out of 5 icebergs!