Friday, February 26, 2010

First Impressions - Fevre Dream, by George R. R. Martin

I am currently reading Fevre Dream, by George R. R. Martin. It is set in 1857, in the states along the Mississippi river in America. The plot (so far) follows the ambitious Captain Marsh as he tries to gain a foothold in the burgeoning steamboat industry. To this end, he strikes a deal with a charming - albeit mysterious and vaguely threatening - gentleman by the name of Mr. Joshua York. York agrees to build the grandest steamboat for Marsh. Marsh only needs to allow York free passage for him and his colleagues, and to never inquire about their business.

Other chapters focus on a run-down plantation which is inhabited by odd characters who keep to the shadows... murder innocent passersby... and drink their blood...

So far, Fevre Dream is shaping up to be a riveting read. Captain Marsh and Joshua York make an excellent "odd couple" which is made all the more interesting by the increasing tension, as Marsh learns more and more about his shady benefactor. The writing style is colorful, appropriate to the time period, and very smooth. Stay tuned for my full review!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Review - The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Title: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 old bartenders

In Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, the reader meets an old innkeeper who tells his life story to a record keeper tasked with recording the lives of interesting people of the land. We soon find out that this innocent barkeep is not what he seems. He is the legendary Kvothe, the Kingkiller. From the man's own lips:

"My name is Kvothe. I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me."

I have been putting this review off for quite a while now, for no other reason than that I am afraid I will give it too good of a review. To be honest, The Name of the Wind is as close to a perfect fantasy novel as I can imagine.

As you may have gathered from the above quote, Kvothe's life is rich and full, and he is one of the most enchanting characters that I have ever read about. We get an inside look of the man behind the myths, and we learn that sometimes fame does not paint the whole picture.

The Name of the Wind is wonderfully written, and the 722 page volume (the first of three) reads as if it is no more than 100 pages.

There is too much that is great about this book for me to relate all of it, and I can think of nothing I would change. If you are a fan of fantasy, or just great literature in general, you have to read this book.

5 out of 5 old bartenders!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review - The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 clever plots

The Lies of Locke Lamora (which I will now refer to simply as Lies), by Scott Lynch, tells the tale of Locke and his group of Gentlemen Bastards: con artists, masters of disguise, and all around likeable rogues. Lies outlines their plot to dupe some of the most wealthy nobles out of their money, and the complications that arise when they become the target of a dark plot take over the city.

Lies is extremely well-written. The main plot is broken up by chapters outlining Lamora's past and how he became the daring confidence man that he is. The past and the present interweave to make a story that is both very complex and easy to read.

The things that Locke Lamora comes up with in order to steal from the upper class are great, but some of the most fun parts to read are what he does when things do not go his way. Caught off guard, Locke Lamora & Co. are spontaneous and hilarious. One of the best aspects of these characters is that they aren't perfect and that their plans don't always work out like they planned. Because of this, the reader never knows what to expect.

The characters in Lies are extremely complex. They evoke a broad range of emotions, and there are always new things to learn about them. Although the plot is amazing, it is really the characters that keep the reader going.

The only problem with Lies, in my opinion, is the lack of a well developed antagonist. Yes, there is a "bad guy", but we never learn much about him (other than that we should not like him). While some authors can get away with this, the fact that Lynch obviously spent so much time making his protagonists multi-dimensional makes this reader feel let down by the comparatively flat evil doer.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a wonderful story of fantasy, intrigue, and adventure, and is definitely worth the read!

5 out of 5 clever plots!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Trapped in the Arctic: Captain Crozier and the HMS Terror

Hi folks. In today's Spotlight post, I'd like to talk about the historical facts upon which my current read (The Terror, by Dan Simmons) is based.
The Terror tells the tale of what happened to the crew of HMSs Terror and Erebus on their arctic expedition to force the Northwest Passage in 1845-1848. This novel is best described as a work of historical fiction. However, no one knows what became of the failed expedition, so Simmons has plenty of room to play around with the story and what might have happened. Part historical, part science fiction, part horror; The Terror is a unique read.

The Northwest Passage is the name of an ocean rout through the north Atlantic and waterways of northern Canada. Since the 1500's, explorers jumped at the opportunity to discover a safe way through the Northwest Passage, since it represented a possible trade route between western Europe and eastern Asia. This was no easy task, however, as the Arctic waters of the Passage were plagued with icebergs and often frozen into a solid pack ice that would crush ships if one was not careful. As it happens, the Northwest Passage was not successfully navigated until 1903, some four hundred years after the first attempts. The Terror tells the tale of one ill-fated expedition to force the Passage.

The British expedition including HMS Terror set sail in 1845. The ship began her life as a bombing ship, first commissioned to fight against the Americans during the War of 1812. Because she was so sturdily constructed, she was a good choice for exploration in sub-zero temperatures. Her hulls were reinforced with the strongest oak available, and she was outfitted with a coal-powered steam engine to both add thrust and to heat the vessel in the cold. Terror first explored the Arctic in 1836 under the command of George Back, when she came in contact with an iceberg and had to be sailed back to Ireland before she sank to the frigid depths of the northern Atlantic. After that, she sailed to Antarctica with HMS Erebus under the command of James Ross and Captain Francis Crozier.

Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier, born in 1810, joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13 and quickly became a Mate and then Lieutenant. After taking part in two failed attempts at forcing the Northwest Passage on other ships, he found his final berth on Terror.

In 1845, HMSs Erebus and Terror set sail once more, this time bound for the Arctic Circle and the Northwest Passage. The expedition was last sighted in 1845, entering Baffin Bay. The ships and crew would never leave those frozen waters. After losing contact, the world had no idea what happened to the expedition until a message was recovered from the snow in 1848.

The ships are trapped in the ice. The crew is abandoning their ships. They are seeking shelter in the ice-coated plains of northern Canada.

Later: artifacts, graves, and bodies are found in the snow. No one survived.

What happened to the crew of Terror and Erebus? Why did they leave the shelter of their ships and risk certain death of exposure in the unforgiving Arctic? Dan Simmons tries to answer these questions in his epic novel, The Terror.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Giveaway Results - The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

The time has come to announce the winner of the Lovely Bones challenge!

And the winner is...

sharon54220! Congratulations!

And if you didn't win, better luck next time!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mailbox Monday - The Terror, and Fevre Dream

Good morning folks! I wanted to share with you two of my recent acquisitions, which I am very excited about reading and sharing with you all!

The first is The Terror, by Dan Simmons. It is an historical ficiton novel about two British ships that try to force the Northwest Passage in the mid 1800's. All of the characters and events are historically accurate up to the point that the HMS Terror loses contact with the outside world. After that, Simmons' imagination runs wild, and historical fiction mixes with horror and science fiction. I am currently reading this one, so stay tuned for my first impressions and spotlight posts!

The second book that is new to my shelves is Fevre Dream, by one of my favorite authors, George R. R. Martin. Set in the pre-Civil War South (think Mississippi River, paddle boats, etc), this novel blends an historical backdrop with a dark plot that involves uniting humanity with a race of vampires.

So there you have it. Two genre-bending tales which I can not wait to talk with you about!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review - Sphere, by Michael Crichton

Title: Sphere
Author: Michael Crichton
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 glowing squids

In Michael Crichton's Sphere, a group of scientists and other academics are sent to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to investigate the discovery of a technologically advanced spacecraft. When they arrive, the small group of intellectuals realize that the spacecraft is anything but what they expected, and that its contents have the power to alter the fate of the world.

Sphere is a classic science fiction novel. A group of intelligent people explore the unkown and are presented with things they would never dream of as being possible. Where Crichton excells in is the fact that he blends aspects of horror and suspense seamlessly into the science fiction plot. This tension keeps the reader interested and lightens the heavy science content.

Another great thing about Sphere is that it explains many scientific theories that the reader may not know about. This ranges from special relativity, chemistry, psychology, and even the quest to discover intelligent life. These theories are explained in layman's terms, which allows anyone to appreciate the science that Crichton bases his fiction upon.

There are also many twists and unexpected plot changes throughout this novel, which is great to see.

Where Sphere could have improved, in my opinion, is in character development. We get very little backstory for the characters, and there is only a small amount of development throughout the novel. At times, it feels as though the characters in Sphere are simply puppets that the events of the novel happen around. And although a science fiction author can usually get away with this, Crichton's novel is ultimately about psychology and the mind, which requires dynamic characters to really work well.

However, Sphere is a great sci fi title!

4 out of 5 glowing squids!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Review - I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

Title: I Am Legend
Author: Richard Matheson
Genre: Horror / Science Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 well-spoken vampires

Let me first say this: If you have seen the recent Will Smith movie, I Am Legend, forget everything about it. The film may be based on Richard Matheson's horror novel, but it is so COMPLETELY different that they book and movie feel like very separate stories.

I Am Legend is the story of Robert Neville, the last man on Eart that has survived a plague that turns people and animals into vampires. We follow his attempts at survival and destruction of the undead, while also getting snippets of his past. Also, I Am Legend contains an ending that you WON'T see coming.

The most interesting part about the story is the combination of classic vampire myths with scientific theory. The vampires in Legend come straight out of historical culture: garlic, stakes, mirrors, sunlight, the whole deal. However, Neville's scientific experiments sheds light on a logical causeof the vampirism. This reconcilliation between two different schools of thought is very intriguing.

As with most Matheson novels, the main character is very three dimensional and the reader can not help but feel empathetic towards his situation.

Like I said (and although I won't spoil it for you), the ending was very exciting and surprising. It served to tie together many of the themes of the novel. My only problem with I Am Legend is that the ending seemed to come too quickly.

For a mix of classic vampire lore and modern science fiction, give I Am Legend a try!

4 out of 5 well-spoken vampires

Friday, February 5, 2010

Book Review - Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Title: Anansi Boys
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 spiders

Neil Gaiman's most recent novel, Anansi Boys, tells us the tale of Fat Charlie, a man that is trying to make a decent life for himself. That is, until is recloose father dies and he meets his long lost brother, Spider. At first, the reuinion is a welcomed event in Fat Charlie's life, but then Spider begins to take over Charlie's life and refuses to leave. The lengths that Fat Charlie goes to in order to make him leave will set in motion events that will change his life forever.

Anansi Boys is a classic faerie tale, as one comes to expect from Gaiman. It has quirky characters, fantastic events, and a great moral at the end. The unique aspect of this story, however, is that Gaiman bases it on West African / Carribean mythology. This gives the story a different atmosphere, while still feeling every bit like a Neil Gaiman yarn.

The characters in Anansi Boys feel a bit more three dimensional than those in some of Gaiman's other works, which is great. We watch Fat Charlie develop into a much more confident person. Spider has many layers that are uncovered throughout the novel. The "bad guy" is shocking and unique.

One of my favorite aspects of Anansi Boys is Gaiman's humor. You get a taste of it in his other works, but he really holds nothing back in this novel. This is evident both in the crazy plot developments and in the sarcastic comments that the characters often make. It serves to lighten the mood, which makes Anansi Boys a fun read.

At times, Anansi Boys can be a bit predictable, which is my only complaint about the story. Although this can sometimes be annoying, it doesn't seem to take anything away from the story in the end.

4.5 out of 5 spiders!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Giveaway - The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

The time has come for another giveaway! This time, it will be one copy of the novel The Lovely Bones, written by Alice Sebold. Check out the description on the back of the book...

"'My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.' So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her - her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling. Out of unspeakable tragedy and loss, The Lovely Bones succeeds, miraculously, in building a tale filled with hope, humor, suspense, even joy."

You can also catch my review here.

This giveaway will run for 2 weeks. It will end on 2/16/2010 and the winner will be announced on 2/17/2010. Please: United States residents only!

Here are the rules for entry:

+1 Entry - Leave a comment on this post with your E-mail address
+5 Entries - Become a follower, or tell me if you already are
+5 Entries - Refer someone who becomes a follower (they need to tell me you referred him/her)
+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!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Book & Movie Review - The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

Good evening folks. I have a special treat for you today: a double review of The Lovely Bones. Both the novel by Alice Sebold and the movie directed by Peter Jackson. So, without further adieu, let's get to it!

Title: The Lovely Bones
Author: Alice Sebold
Genre: Paranormal
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 keystone charms

In Seybold's Bones, we follow the lives (and afterlives) of the friends and family of Susie Salmon, a young girl who was raped and murdered in the 70's. We quickly learn that death can be a thing that tears apart the ones we love. However, it can also be the thing that draws them back together.

Bones is a first person narrative told by Susie herself. By the time the reader comes upon her, she is already dead. However, this is just the beginning of her tale. She relates that fateful day in the cornefield, of course, but she also talks about her past and what is happening to her family as they cope with their loss. There are so many things to love about Bones. Susie's narrative is riddled with bittersweetness. She often says things that are at the same time funny and heartwrenching. This mirrors the main plot of her story nicely: her family breaks apart and eventually is healed.

In terms of character development, Sebold does a very nice job. The book deals with Susie's family many years after she dies, and the characters react to different aspects of their lives in a very real way. In addition, Susie herself finds that she comes a long way since the day she died.

The only gripe I have about The Lovely Bones stems from something I love most about the book. Sebold crams many elements into her book: Susie's life before she died, Susie's life in her personal "heaven", her family's life after she dies, her murderer's life, the polices investigation (I can go on and on...). This makes for a very rich story that one can read again and again and pick up new bits. However, Sebold often switches back and forth between these elements in a haphazard way, which can sometimes be distracting.

Never-the-less, The Lovely Bones is an amazing tale of how people cope with loss, and what might happen to us after we die.

4.5 out of 5 keystone charms!


Title: The Lovely Bones
Director: Peter Jackson
Genre: Paranormal
Rating: 4 out of 5

Having read the novel some years ago, you can understand how excited I was when I heard that Bones would become a movie. After reading many less than stellar reviews, I was very nervous about seeing the movie. However, I finally dragged myself to the theaters and I must say, I was not disappointed.

I think the major gripe critics had about The Lovely Bones is that Jackson relied too much on flashy CGI. And yes, while this does at a few points border on needless, The visual representation of Susie's "heaven" is very stunning and brings a visual element to the audience that the book seemed to lack.

In terms of actor performances, everyone was top notch (the top of the heap, of course, was Stanley Tucci as Mr. Harvey). The emotion was there, which is absolutely necessary to a story like this.

Many things were cut out of the movie, of course, due to time restraints. However, I think that what Jackson DID use was very well done. He also included many little details that fans of the book would appreciate. However, I can see that if one had not read the book, they may feel that Bones lacked substance. And to be honest, as a stand alone movie, it did. However, when taken in conjunction with the book, I believe the movie was definitely worth seeing.

4 out of 5!