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Book Review 37: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

17 Jun

This book was delightful in many ways, and disappointing in others. My issue with this book is more an issue with the back cover summary, which induced me to pick it up. The back cover implied that this was going to be “Real World: London,” where 12 or so gods move into a London townhouse, “stop being polite, and start getting real.” I was expecting trashy reality television, with Greek gods.

This book is not that. I took Latin when I was younger, and most of our class was spent learning about the analogous Roman gods and learning very little about actual Latin. The stories are fascinating. This felt like a modern update of a classic story.

Aphrodite and Apollo are engaged in an epic battle of wills. Thousands of years of living among mortals has induced incredible boredom in most of the gods. Their powers are waning as people’s belief in the gods falls. The infighting between Aphrodite and Apollo eventually draws two innocent humans, Neil and Alice, into the world of the gods.

What I didn’t like was the fairly standard “innocent girl dragged into conflict, heroic man rescues her” plot line of Neil and Alice. It was boring in a book that had an otherwise interesting premise and set of characters. While Neil is a reluctant, nerdy hero, he’s still a hero nonetheless. His journey to rescue Alice is fun, and interesting, but it’s still such a cliche and I’ve read a thousand books and seen a thousand movies about these kinds of rescues. It’s not that I wanted Alice to rescue him, necessarily.It just that their plot line was boring. Continue reading

Review 23: The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

14 Apr

I like to read high concept books, simply based off of their premise.  In The Brief History of the Dead, we see two parallel stories.  First, are the people living in the space between their life on Earth and whatever comes next.  They believe they only exist in the inbetween for as long as someone on earth remembers them. And second, we see a young woman, living in Antarctica, as the rest of the world dies from a plague.

The premise alone makes the book worth reading. It’s unique, and Brockmeier does a great job exploring the intricacies and logistics of how this type of passing on would actually work. And the descriptions of how people slide from their earthly life into the next are amazing, beautiful, incredibly creative.

What really struck a chord with me is the idea of trying to figure out how many people you know, or are acquainted with.  We can catalog our lives much easier with social networking, but beyond your 500 or 1,000 Facebook friends are probably 10,000 other people you’ve met at some point in your life.  Every UPS person you ever signed for a package from.  The woman who does your nails, and all of her coworkers she gossips with in the salon. Your acquaintance’s grandmother who you only met one time at their wedding. Thinking about the seemingly never ending web of connections you make during your life was interesting, and I started wondering how many people would be surviving in the in between space if I were the only person left on earth. And it made me want to reach out more.

Book Review 19: Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist

7 Mar

This book is dark. I haven’t seen either of the movies, but the central character at this book is a vampire, and the story spirals out to encompass those whose lives the vampire touches. Eli’s…companion, for lack of a better word, who secures food for Eli when Eli cannot. Eli’s lonely, bullied neighbor who is desperate for a connection, for a friend, and latched on to Eli. The friends of Eli’s dead victim. The friends of one of Eli’s victims who survives, transforming into a vampire herself.

What made this book special is that despite the vampires, the mystery at the core, and the violence, it tackled surprisingly human themes. The young, lonely bullied boy. The ramifications of divorce. Young love. The acceptance (or lack thereof) of homosexuals. The dangers of pedophilia.

I don’t have that much to say about the book. It was suspenseful, tense, keeping me on the edge of my seat. It ultimately left me feeling sad, for almost all of the characters in the story. It was a much more interesting take on the vampire genre that I normally read, and as such, it was refreshing.

Book Review #64: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (Dark Tower II)

5 Nov

So I’m making excruciatingly slow progress through the Dark Tower series. But I love it. I really do.

The Drawing of the Three is basically the book where Roland makes some friends. Most importantly, he makes two friends. Eddie Dean the heroin addict and Odetta Holmes, the Lady of the Shadows. What really stood out  was how Stephen King was able to thrust Roland into a world I understand, our modern, American world, and make my own world feel foreign to me.

Eddie and Odetta, Roland’s new companions, seem like poor choices of companions. Neither of them are as strong or focused as Roland. And more importantly…neither of them particularly want to be there, with Roland. Joining his journey offers them some advantages; but they still miss home. The comforts of their old lives – the drugs, the mental illness, the power that money gave them. They need to learn to navigate their own personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, all over again, with their new strange friend Roland. It’s a frightening prospect, and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

Witnesses Roland’s weakness was also important. When I am truly intrigued by a hero (or potential antihero), I want them to show me something weak. Or something more human. Roland couldn’t cure his own infection. And the care that Eddie took to save Roland was as much of an insight into Eddie as it was into Roland. Roland is fearful of the assistance of others, and he’s not the kind of person who takes on the baggage of others. But now Roland is saddled with two companions who are motivated by things he does not fully understand – love, drugs, mental illness. They don’t share is singular motivation of finding the tower. And that will be a challenge for Roland, their leader, moving forward.

Continue reading

Book Review #55: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

4 Sep

It seems amazing to me that I’ve made it this far in my life without reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, but here we are. I am beginning the journey and it’s awesome so far. I can’t seem to find the second book on reserve in the library, but once I locate it, I plan on reviewing the following 6 novels in a row.

In Book I, we meet the key players. There’s Roland, the gunslinger, who’s chasing the Man in Black across the world, hoping to capture him and force him to take him to the Dark Tower. Roland is sort of a cowboy figure – solitary, quick to draw and passionate about the few women he’s loved. But he’s also surprisingly nostalgic, and the flashbacks throughout the novel really help you get a sense of his motivations. Too often in fantasy character development is sacrificed for advancing the plot, and I really enjoyed the glimpses into Roland’s past. Continue reading

Book Review #53: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

4 Sep

I’ve been meaning to read the Dresden Files for ages. These are the things I love most in books: series, mysteries, supernatural elements, private detectives and police officers. The Dresden Files hits everything on my list. Normally, I would start with the first book in the series. But this was on sale at Target, and I’ve heard the first book or two are hard to get to.

Harry Dresden is a crime solving wizard living in Chicago. In this book, he finds himself dead. And back to his old life, in ghost form, trying to solve the mystery of his murder among things. His life is significantly more complicated now that he’s a ghost – his old wizarding tricks are not so easy anymore. He has to relearn how to use his powers, and learn how to live and survive as a ghost.

Harry is exactly how I like my detectives. He’s snarky, he breaks the rules (both wizarding rules, and the law) and he seems like he’d be a fun guy to hang out with. The mystery side of this book got a little complicated, particularly because I had no background on all of the super natural beings Butcher had introduced in earlier novels.

I also think I would’ve gotten more out of this particular novel if I’d read some of the prior books. Ghost Harry spent a lot of time reflecting on his life, and what had gone wrong (and right), which would have meant more and probably been more enjoyable with some context.

Overall, I was neutral towards the book but I’m interested in reading more. So that’s a win!

Book Review #38: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

6 Jul

I had never heard of Ender’s Game until about a year ago when I read about the movie casting on Deadline. They assembled a formidable cast of young actors and actresses. And well, Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff? Viola Davis as Gwen Anderson? Obviously.

I had no idea that it was a classic Sci Fi book that many, many of my male and female friends cite as the reason they love Sci Fi. Or that people read it in school. Or that it was so awesome.

The premise of the book is that the government identifies genius children and selects the most outstanding children to attend battle training school, in hopes they will someday defeat the aliens threatening their country. Families are permitted two children, but if the first two children show particular promise, they can produce a third child in hopes of creating another prodigy child. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is one of these third children.

Ender, like Neo, or Harry Potter (or Katie Holmes) is the chosen one. Continue reading

Favorites: A Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin

13 May

It started with the television show. Obviously. I watched the first nine episodes of Game of Thrones on demand in a day, while working on cover letters and internship applications. The show’s become an absolute phenomenon for HBO, and rightfully so. Impeccably cast. Incredible script. And Martin retains tight creative control, so the stories are close enough to the books to satisfy the fans.

And then I went on vacation with my extended family, and four of my aunts and uncles were making their way through the book series. So I thought, why not? Reading the series is a commitment – the books can be over a thousand pages, they are incredibly detailed and there are more characters than you can keep track of.  But with the help of the wiki, I made it through.

It’s so worth it. One of the things I like best about the books is that so many people have read them. Discussing your theories on who Jon Snow’s mother is, who will ultimately end up with the crown, who will be killed off next, who will end up marrying who – it’s fun. It’s exciting. People love to talk about it. And Martin keeps you guessing – you can theorize all you want, but he’ll probably toss in something unexpected that totally destroys your theories. Continue reading

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