October has passed in a flash – my son turned two, I traveled to my hometown for a weekend, and in between Halloween festivities I’ve also been sick for the last three weeks. This has all conspired to equate to an October hardly full of scary reads.
However, I managed to get through one book that I think counts as seasonally appropriate — and I enjoyed it tremendously.
“Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is not actually as stupid as you think it’s going to be. That’s saying a lot, considering it came along at a time when every publisher in the world seemed to be going — “Ooh! Let’s put [insert horror monster/element here] together with [insert literary classic or historical figure here] and it’s sure to be a bestseller!”
This trend, of course, happened thanks to Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of the very book I’m discussing here. Mr. Grahame-Smith, a writer of considerable talent and cleverness, had previously given the world an utter treat of a novel called “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies,” and it launched a million imitators. Some were okay. Most were not.
At the height of this craze, Mr. Grahame-Smith turned his attention and considerable writing skill to perhaps the most famous of presidents, our own axe-wielding Abe, and managed to create a tale that is not unlike Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Through the device of a modern writer given Abe’s Journal and papers, and historical records and speeches, we’re taken back in time to see the REAL history of slavery, The Civil War, and Lincoln’s enduring legacy — and this time, vampires have been added, and it’s pretty darn brilliant and totally works.
And there’s an appearance from a quite famous literary figure who fits right in. All I’m saying.
I enjoyed this book, and I didn’t really expect to. I’m also in love with the ending, which made me smile.
[Note: Nope. I'm not watching the movie. Don't ask me.]
Have a safe and happy Halloween, friends!
Short and snappy – It’s summertime outside!
Once in a while a book comes along and effortlessly charms the reader. That’s this book. It’s the story of a middle-aged concierge and a tween girl who work/live in a fancy French apartment building, and both pretend to be boring and dull when in reality they’re the most vibrant people in the whole place. One day, a Japanese man moves into the building full of haughty tenants, and things begin to change. It’s one of the smartest books I’ve ever read, and witty as can be at the same time. It’s absolutely brilliant and I couldn’t put it down.
When I began this “read all the books I own and have never read” project, this is exactly what I was hoping for – that somewhere in my collection would be a gem like this, a book I will probably love forever. The adventures of Bathsheba and her lovers in the rural countryside make for a simple and fascinating portrait of a woman who has power in a world where most women don’t. Having never really encountered the works of Mr. Hardy before, I had no idea what to expect (and also, the summary on the back cover of my edition is REALLY not accurate) but I feel like I have a new favorite. I’m going to hunt down the movie adaptation pronto – apparently Julie Christie is in it?!
Maybe my reading of Ms. Morrison’s works is colored by the fact that, having heard her speak recently, I can hear her voice reading her words. “Beloved” is a sensational piece of literature – an absolute masterpiece. Ms. Morrison never dumbs anything down, and expects a lot of her readers, and this book is no exception – things aren’t always spelled out clearly, and there’s a lot of things that happen that could be debated – but that’s the magic. Loved it.
Oh, and it won the Nobel Prize for Literature. So there’s that.
It also won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, in case you don’t believe me.
Combining historical fiction – both of World War Two and the birth of comic books in America – Chabon weaves a stunning tale of the lives of two cousins; Ambitious Brooklyn Boy Sammy Clay and talented Czech artist Josef Kavalier. Together, these two poor kids create the characters that will build them (and the company they work for) a comic book empire, while dealing with the ramifications of the war on Josef’s family members back home, and Sammy’s self-discovery of his sexuality. There’s a free-spirited female artist, Rosa, who inspires a comic book character, as well as Josef, and winds up forming the third point of an unusual “love triangle.” There’s tragedy and humor and delightful interludes where we hear the story behind these comic book creations. There’s also magic, and scheming, and Salvador Dali and Orson Welles even make appearances.
You know you want to read it. You won’t be sorry.
I pledge my undying allegiance to HBO’s super-hit show, “True Blood.” From episode one, I have been totally hooked on the adventures of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, her brother Jason, vampires Bill, Eric, and Pam, bar owner Sam, fabulous fry cook Lafayette, and the rest of the residents of Bon Temps, Louisiana.
But I’d never thought about reading the books they were based on. Enough people had told me that the books and the show aren’t the same, and I thought I’d keep my loyalty to the show.
And then I found “Dead Until Dark” for a dollar at a used bookstore, and I bought it.
In need of a light and fast read, I picked it up the other day — and finished it in under 12 hours. Like the pilot season of the TV show, things happen frequently and fast once Sookie meets and falls for the enigmatic southern gentleman charms of one Vampire Bill Compton. Harris’ writing won’t be winning any major prose awards, but who cares? “Dead Until Dark” isn’t supposed to be poetry. It is a steamy, twisting, supernatural adventure – and it’s fabulous.
For the record, you don’t have to have seen the show or read the book to easily follow/understand the other. They’re the same, but they both stand alone. Series creator Alan Ball (writer of “American Beauty”) has done a masterful job at bringing the dark fun of the book to the small screen, with almost all the books characters in tow. My adoration of the show absolutely colored my reading of the book. It’s hard not to see the brilliant performances of actors like Nelsan Ellis, Ryan Kwanten, and Kristin Bauer once you’ve watched the show.
I love “True Blood.” I mentioned that, right?
(The book also reminded me of one of my favorite characters from the TV show, who doesn’t survive season one.)
Will I read the rest of the books? Who knows? I’m currently enjoying the new season of “True Blood,” and might read another of the Harris books during the (almost year long) season break. It doesn’t matter – I definitely enjoyed “Dead Until Dark.”
(That’s George Clooney on the cover of this book alright. In fact, Mr. Clooney having made the film version of this book – and my desire to see said film version – is the reason I grabbed my copy of “The Descendants” from the used bookstore where I located it.)
Kaui Hart Hemmings has written an incredibly readable – and weirdly hopeful – book about a family in shambles trying to put together whatever pieces they can track down. Matthew King, patriarch, is faced with a wife in a coma and two daughters ages seventeen and ten. The time has come to remove the wife from life support, but before they can do that friends and family need to be notified, and secrets need to be fully revealed. It’s a book that manages to be about death and dark things without ever going too depressing. Thanks largely to the teenagers involved, it’s even quite funny. And it made me want to go back to Hawaii – not that I need much pushing to want to do that.
I read “The Descendants” in one breezy afternoon, and suggest it as a summer read.
Again, there are books I’m reading now (as a mother) that resonate differently with me than they would have pre-having my son. William Haywood Henderson’s “Augusta Locke” is one such novel. It’s the story of Augusta “Gussie” Locke, who leaves her family behind as a teenager and makes her way through Wyoming for the rest of her life, trying to get work, meeting people, sometimes dressing as a man, having a daughter of her own, and trying to find a place in the world while still remaining a wanderer.
Now, I don’t love this book. I probably won’t keep it on my shelf, because I know I’ll never re-read it. That said, it’s a well-written book, with prose that perfectly conveys it’s rural western setting and quickly defines characters. There were certain sections of it – such as a sequence where Gussie’s daughter earns the over-attention/obsession of a woman who lost her own son years ago – that are breathtaking, and terrifying to read as a Mom myself. Gussie is a perfectly imperfect heroine, and no one in the book is entirely likable – just like real life, right?
More than once, it brought to mind “The Grapes of Wrath,” which I totally mean as a compliment. Take that as you will – if you liked Steinbeck’s epic classic, “Augusta Locke” might be one you should read.
I’m not really a Sci-Fi kinda girl, but I wound up with a copy of M.M. Buckner’s “The Gravity Pilot” while at a convention. It was handed to me by someone at a booth sponsored by The Sci-Fi Project, who try and get Sci-Fi into the hands of people who don’t typically read this genre. Basically, they hand out free books. So I took the book, and it sat on my shelf, and now that I’m reading through all the books I’ve never read, I picked it up.
Dude, this is a good book.
Less “Sci-Fi” than a superbly written story about people who happen to work in high-tech environments in a futuristic version of Earth, “The Gravity Pilot” tells the story of brilliant skydiver Orr, who signs a sponsorship deal to make the first skydive from the stratosphere. At the same time as this amazing fortune falls into his hands, his girlfriend leaves him and moves away to start a new life and a new job. Basically, while Orr tries to focus on his new celebrity and training, his new boss schemes to make Orr a huge star and tries to make him fall in love with her. Also, she tries to keep him away from the news that his beloved girlfriend has fallen into a seedy underground world of internet addiction. A mysterious reporter enters the story, tells Orr the news, and the action begins.
It’s an exciting read, and a fast one. I liked it — and I didn’t expect to!
My copy of “Sophie’s World” has been traveling with me across cities and states for a decade now, since some college friends were all abuzz with how great it was. I got a copy, but never got around to reading it. These friends were all Green Party members and amateur philosophers, mind you, and having read the book I see exactly why they liked it.
“Sophie’s World” is bestseller, and a rather remarkable novel — a history of philosophy told within the context of the story of a young girl discovering magic in the world around her. It’s not unlike “A Wrinkle in Time” or “Alice in Wonderland,” except for the addition of enough philosophical history that a reader could probably pass a college-level Introduction to Philosophy class just by reading the book and paying close attention.
Therein was my problem — I just couldn’t pay attention to the philosophy parts. What this says about me, I have no idea, but I found myself skimming large passages of this book and seeking out the bits with Sophie, her tutor Alberto, the dog Hermes, and the other real-world characters in the book. Gaardner lays on the philosophy quite heavily in the letters and booklets Sophie is given and reads to learn about the subject, and it tends to drag down the pace of the book. On the plus side, the scenes of Sophie trying to unravel the central and essential WTF mystery of the book are very interesting.
(This complicated book was apparently made into a Norwegian film, and I might have to check it out — because I can’t imagine how this book can be put onscreen and retain it’s “history of philosophy” angle at the same time.)
While glad I read it, this one’ll be going into the donate bin. Perhaps there is some young reader out there who will get their hands on it and launch themselves into a whole new world of questions and answers. I’m hoping.
“Shanghai Girls” came to my book collection while I was walking down my street one fall day. There’s an apartment building not far from us, and outside it was a cardboard box full of books with a “Free” sign. Never one to turn down free books, I peeked in and was astonished to find quite an awesome little collection of books. In addition to “Shanghai Girls,” I scored two of the George R.R. Martin books, a biography of Stalin, and Russell Brand’s “My Booky-Wook.” (Free is the only amount I would ever consider paying for Brand’s book, but I figured I should give it a shot.)
Having just finished “Shanghai Girls,” I can officially say I got damn lucky the day I stumbled into this book. What a fantastic read! Author Lisa See writes about Chinatown with some frequency, per her bibliography, but this book stands alone as a gripping novel of historical fiction. The story of two beautiful and modern Chinese sisters in 1937 – Pearl and May – the story goes from China to San Francisco to Chicago as these young women are forced to give up all their silliness and freedom after their father’s gambling debts results in their marrying a pair of brothers they’ve never met. Fortunately, they stay together, but unfortunately the circumstances for the rest of their lives are marred by war, violence, and racism as much as they’re blessed with happiness and love.
It’s a beautiful tale of these women’s reality, with no fairy tale ending, lively and engrossing characters, and some absolutely brutal scenes – the kind that make you physically recoil while reading the words. This book made me want to read more by Lisa See.
Fantastic book! Read it!
“Oh, I read that — I don’t really remember it.”
I’m pretty sure that’s how I’m going to feel in a few days when I look back on finishing the book. While reading it, I was aware that Erdrich is obviously a talented writer with a real knack for prose, and that these regular, rural folks are pretty vivid characters, but as a whole the book left me a little cold. Other than the bratty tween daughter of a character, who shows up only toward the end of the book, I didn’t really care about anyone or what happened to them.
“The Beet Queen” is the story of Mary and Karl, who are abandoned by their mother as kids and wind up in Argus, North Dakota. From there, their paths diverge. Tough as nails workhorse Mary stays put, while Karl chooses to wander the country as a (kinda sleazy) salesman. These two people, and those who revolve around them over the course of lifetimes, make up this story.
As someone who grew up in a rural setting, there’s usually something I can latch on to and ride out a book. Not this time. Oh well.
All that said, I got the book for $2.50 at the Open Books Half-Off sale, so I don’t regret my purchase. The book caught my eye as it lay on top a pile of other books, and so I snagged it. I regret nothing!