Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Back to Blogging

So, I ended up taking all of Memorial Day weekend off, but starting today I'm back in business. I won't be participating in Top Ten Tuesday today, but reading resumes as of this morning. Thanks for understanding my need to take a short break.

Tomorrow I'll have my month-in-review post up and I should have Working for the Devil finished by tonight, so you'll have a review as well. Yeah, I know I said that before but this time I mean it.

It's good to be back. :)

-Gabe

Monday, May 30, 2011

It's Monday; What Are You Reading?

Hello, all! I'm still in the middle of my short reading break and am almost finished rewatching the first season of Alias. But today is Monday and that means that it's time once again for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Every Monday, Sheila brings together book bloggers from all over the world to share what they read the week before, what they are currently reading, and what they plan to read in the coming week. Many bloggers also choose to share what they've been blogging about the past week or, really, anything they feel like sharing.

Today, I'm sharing a lesson that I learned last week: authors read blogs. To be fair, I knew that this probably happened but to me, especially since I'm still so new at this, that sort of thing happened to other, more established bloggers. Nope. I received a very polite e-mail last week from Jackie Morse Kessler regarding two reviews that I had written about the first two books in her Horsemen of the Apocalypse series. While I wasn't too kind in my review of Hunger, I was much more impressed with Rage

Her e-mail was to thank me for my reviews and to explain to me why she didn't use very much physical description, something that I had taken issue with while reading her novels. She was in no way rude or condescending and I stepped away from the encounter not only unscathed, but also with a new understanding. She said that she appreciated my candor (and I have no intention of not being honest in a review) but e-mailing her back and forth gave me an appreciation for what authors have to deal with when they read reviews of their books. She said it herself--you can't please everyone.

I do, however, think that it's important for me as a reviewer to remember that authors do what they do for the enjoyment of it. As a writer, myself, I know that the stories that I put down on paper are, in the end, for me. They're what I enjoy or else I wouldn't have written it down in the first place. While I may not like a book that I read (see my review of The Road for an example of that), I should remember that there are people out there who do, not the least of which is the author. So, no, I won't beat around the bush if I hate a book or, even, if I mildly dislike it. I don't think anyone wants me to be dishonest. I will, however, always be mindful of the fact that somewhere out there is a writer who slaved over that book and who, while wanting criticism, is also looking for encouragement.

Okay, now for the books:

What I Read Last Week: 
-Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman












-Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler












-The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis













What I'm Currently Reading: 
-Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow













What I'm Reading This Week: 
-Incarceron by Catherine Fisher












-Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach












-Imajica by Clive Barker












-Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow












-Gabe

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Which I'm Taking a (Short) Breather

Hey guys,

So, I just read three books in two days and have posted their reviews already. While I'm in the middle of Working for the Devil, I decided to take Saturday off and veg and watch an Alias marathon. That means no review this morning or, really, any substantial content. Have no fear, though, I'll be finishing up my current read today and will have a review posted Monday.

I apologize for the shoddy post this morning but, frankly, I needed a break from reading and it's been a while since I've watched Jennifer Garner kick ass and take names in tiny, shiny outfits. :)

Just as a reminder, Wednesday is Wild Card Wednesday and the prompt is in the upper left corner of my blog. That gives you a few days to prepare your answer. I decided this was better then just throwing it at you Wednesday morning. I learned last Wednesday that that wasn't such a good idea.

Hope you all are having a great weekend!

-Gabe

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Devilishly Good Time: A Review of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters


Title: The Screwtape Letters
Author: C.S. Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: The Macmillan Company (1943)
Pages: 160 (but according to GoodReads it's 224 so I'm counting it as such for my 1,000,000 pages challenge)
How I Came By This Book: This was suggested to me by the always awesome Nonners so I picked it up at my library
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior "tempter" named Wormwood, so as to advise him on methods of securing the damnation of a British man, known only as "the Patient."

Screwtape holds an administrative post in the bureaucracy ("Lowerarchy") of Hell, and acts as a mentor to Wormwood, the inexperienced tempter. In the body of the thirty-one letters which make up the book, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and promoting sin in the Patient, interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine. Wormwood and Screwtape live in a peculiarly morally reversed world, where individual benefit and greed are seen as the greatest good, and neither demon is capable of comprehending or acknowledging true human virtue when he sees it. (from GoodReads)

Review: Best known to the world at large as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis' was a prosaic writer whose numerous fiction and non-fiction works espoused his beliefs and explored Christianity in a deep and meaningful way. The Screwtape Letters is a Christian text, yes, but its lessons stretch beyond the boundaries of Christianity, breaking down the barrier between theology and philosophy. It is a funny, thought-provoking book in which even the most godless of heathens can find enjoyment.

C. S. Lewis
(If I ever become a famous author, this is the kind of picture
I want on my book jackets--me in a huge chair with a huge book.)

Wormwood is in trouble; his "patient" has become a Christian. Even after spending all that time chipping away at his soul, Wormwood has been unable to fully secure him for the denizens of Hell. "Affectionate" Uncle Screwtape is determined to set his inexperienced nephew right and writes him a series of letters giving him advice as to how best to turn the patient from God and into the clutches of the Devil. This advice ranges from helping the patient find worldly friends who find God to be laughable to getting the patient to try different churches to making him too proud of his religion so that he commits the mortal sin of getting a swelled head. As the book progresses, the "Patient" turns closer to God and Wormwood gets closer to being food for his fellow demons.

I've made no secret of my views of religion and spirituality, but I've also made no secret of my interest in other viewpoints. When Nonners suggested I read this book, I took one look at the synopsis and went, "Oh, yeah, this book's going to be amazing." And I was right. Although short, this slim volume packed a big punch. Screwtape, although a demon, is strangely likable in a "wow, you're a crazy psychopath" kind of way. It's not that I want the demons to win out in the end (although, I do like it when villains succeed), it was that he was funny and was so set in his ways that he became a laughable character.

The strength of this isn't in Screwtape himself, though; it is, instead, in the way that Lewis gets you to think about things. Yes, the humor is a big plus, but the meaning of the book is far more important. As someone who has spent a decent amount of time studying Greek philosophy, I found that there were parallels between Lewis and Plato. The same questions that Lewis raises have been around in one form or another since the dawn of time. What is the nature of love? What does it mean to be pious? How does friendship influence belief? Lewis also explores man's predictability, the ways in which humans act and interact, and the deleterious effect of pride (known as hubris in Platonic dialogues). Although meant for a Christian audience, I argue that The Screwtape Letters can have implications for people of any (or no) faith.

Hey there, Plato!

At its heart is a story of betterment--you shouldn't want things in excess, you shouldn't allow yourself to be felled by pride, you shouldn't turn away from your beliefs because of the people around you, etc. Lewis's Screwtape talks about fear and courage, love and hate, good and evil; all are things which most people deal with on an almost daily basis. I'm in no way suggesting that Lewis intended the book for such a wide-reaching audience, but that's beside the point. Whether he intended it or not, The Screwtape Letters is readable regardless of your views on religion.

The only real issue I had with the book was Screwtape's (and, by extension, Lewis') dismissal of history. As I have a BA in history and intend to study the subject for the rest of my life, I am, of course, biased. Regardless, I believe that the assertion in this book that history is useless and that it only serves to confuse people as to the nature of Christ or, really, any historical figure is wrong. Scholarship of any sort can be incredibly useless and, while there are historians who try to rewrite history for their own ends, there is merit in the construction of a historical Christ and in the exploration of history in general.

Obviously, Lewis and I are of different minds, but the passages in which he bashes history were truly the only cringe-worthy ones that I found. Other than that, I found The Screwtape Letters to be an enjoyable book, one that I would probably read again. Even with my limited theological knowledge, I found that understanding the Biblical references wasn't difficult at all and, from an historical perspective, it was fascinating to read about World War II from the fictional perspective of a demon. It didn't hurt that my copy was published only a year after the book's initial publication.

I found myself engaged in Wormwood's struggle to net the "Patient's" soul and, if I can perfectly honest, the book was almost too short. Even though it came to a satisfying conclusion, I wanted more. Lewis' mind works in such a fascinating way and the mixture of religion and philosophy drew me in completely. I'm giving The Screwtape Letters 4 out of 5 Gabriels. 1/2 a star gets docked for the length, another 1/2 gets lopped off because I didn't like what Lewis said about history. I don't care if that sounds biased or childish or selfish. It's my blog. :)


Favorite Quotes:
It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out. (p. 25)
I gather they are even vaguely pacifist, not on moral grounds but from an ingrained habit of belittling anything that concerns the great mass of their fellow men and from a dash of purely fashionable and literary communism. (p. 53)
...hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful--horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he Fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his charity, you should therefore defeat his courage. (p. 147)
Most Hilarious Note Found in the Book:

As this is a library book, there was a little bit of writing in it. At the top of letter sixteen, someone had written the following:
 Shows the author, after all, subject to the disadvantages of being Anglican, not Catholic.
Lewis, who was a devout Anglican, probably had no such thought in his mind when he wrote that letter. What makes this note even funnier, however, is that, in a later letter, Screwtape advises his nephew to turn the "Patient's" religious feeling into pride, which is a great sin. My college is historically Catholic, although it hasn't been religiously affiliated for years, and my guess is the person who wrote that note all those decades ago was probably a Catholic...a very proud Catholic. Whoever it was hopefully learned their lesson after reading Screwtape's letter on pride.

-Gabe

Friday, May 27, 2011

And You Thought *Your* High School Experience Was Bad: A Review of Jackie Morse Kessler's Rage

Title: Rage
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011)
Pages: 213
How I Came By This Book: This one came in on a cart full of new acquisitions one day when I was working at the library and I had the pleasure of going through them all. I'd heard things about the first book in the series, Hunger, and decided I'd check them both out.
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: Missy didn't mean to cut so deep. But after the party where she was humiliated in front of practically everyone in school, who could blame her for wanting some comfort? Sure, most people don't find comfort in the touch of a razorblade, but Missy always was...different.

That's why she was chosen to become on of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War. Now Missy wields a new kind of blade--a  big, brutal sword that can cut down anyone and anything in her path. But it's with this weapon in her hand that Missy learns something that could help her triumph over her own pain: control.

A unique approach to the topic of self-mutilation, Rage is the story of a young woman who discovers her own power, and refuses to be defeated by the world.

Review: After the disaster that was Hunger, I really wasn't expecting much from this novel, the second in Jackie Morse Kessler's Horsemen of the Apocalypse series. Well, I take that back. I expected a thin plot, poorly-defined characters, extreme over-usage of bad dialogue, and far too much self-pity on the part of the main character. What I found, instead, surprised me.

Kessler seems to have grown a lot as a YA writer since Hunger. Melissa Miller, or Missy, is a fleshed-out (although, yet again, completely undescribed) character who I found myself rooting for from page one. She was a lot more confident than the cloying Lisa from the last book and she was much more likable to boot. Her reaction to Death when she first meets him is what put her in my good graces: she slams the door in his face. At that moment I knew that she was a marked improvement over Hunger's heroine. Death says it best himself: "I don't know if I'm insulted or amused....Definitely amused. I like her." (p. 5)

Missy is strong, whether she thinks so or not. She tries so hard to keep herself from cutting and tends to win out over the strong urges she gets to do so. I have several friends who have a history with self-mutilation and was worried that Kessler would treat the subject in the same disrespectful way as she did anorexia in the last book. Instead, Kessler created a much more believable (and thorough) character history so that the reasons behind Missy's addiction to cutting, after a while, became understandable. She, like many teens, was bowing under the pressure from her parents and her teachers to exceed their expectations and found that she was unable to do so. Cutting relieved the pain she felt over not measuring up to what her parents wanted her to be.

Unlike Hunger, the other characters in the book seemed more realistic. Sure, the party scene towards the beginning of the novel read like every single high school movie I've ever watched--teens getting together to drink, screw, and cause mayhem--but with few exceptions, the dialogue, the behavior, and the personalities of these teens were much more true-to-life than in the last book. I have to say that the insults hurled at Missy were a little weak and some of them seemed unrealistic, but I can overlook that by saying that perhaps Kessler was attempting to show how ridiculous these kids were for taunting a girl who clearly had a problem.

I felt physically ill for Missy when she was betrayed by someone she thought she could trust, exposing her scars to the entire school. It was then that I really started to feel for her and to hope that things would turn out all right in the end. I never got to a point in Hunger where I felt like that for Lisa. I feel that Kessler's character-building skills have improved ten-fold, even if her dialogue still needs a little work. And I could definitely use more character description. Would it really kill you to at least give me a hair color, Jackie? Throw me a bone, here.

Death is, as usual, amazing. He's still just as funny and strange and fracking awesome as he was in the first book. Of course, I could be a little biased considering that I appreciate the fact that he looks like Kurt Cobain a little more than some of the younger readers might. Whatever. He's definitely the character to read these books for. Famine (a new Famine) and a going-crazy Pestilence show up at various points throughout the book and I'm definitely hoping that if there are any more books in this series that they get fleshed out some more. They could be really great characters if Kessler would put as much time into them as she did into creating Death.

The plot was definitely not as thin this time around, although there was a lot of repetition from the first book. Missy didn't have as hard of a time adjusting to her new office, which was refreshing, but there was still a showdown with Famine, still a trip to a grief-stricken part of the world that caused a change in attitude, still a family tension that, while better explained, was sort of weak. I'm guessing that if Kessler's growth as an author continues, however, that by the time her fourth or fifth novel comes out, I'll have very little to complain about. I hope.

There is one major thing that I have to complain about, something that almost ruined the character of Missy for me very early on. You may not think it's major, but for me, it was nearly a deal-breaker. On page 11, Missy and her sort-of friend Erica are talking in art class about a party that Erica wants to go to but that Missy doesn't. Erica asks her what she would wear if she went and Missy replies that she'll wear her normal black. Erica agrees that that's what she would be wearing, too. I'm fine with this so far. Black is a very natural color to wear. I've worn a lot of black in my time. There's a line, however, that made me want to throw the book down and scream:
Missy wore black because it was the color of her soul. Erica wore black because it was trendy. (emphasis added)
Really? Really, Kessler? Black is the "color of her soul?" That's the kind of phrase that makes me want to vomit, partly because it's overused, but mostly because it's so ridiculously dramatic. You know what, Missy? I'm going to guess that your soul is actually pink. Or...robin's egg blue. You know why? Because that's just as likely as it being black. Gah! Whenever someone says that, I want to jab my eye out with a fork. Those two sentences could have been taken out and it wouldn't have done anything to hurt the book. In fact, it would have improved it.

Other than that slip in judgement, I actually really enjoyed this book. It focused more on the action and the struggle to make up for what Missy has lost in being completely humiliated than it does on her having a self-mutilation problem. Missy plays soccer; she likes Marilyn Monroe. She worries about her depression and her cutting, sure, but it doesn't consume 50% of the book like Lisa's anorexia did. The ending was pretty decent and I was glad that Missy made the decision that she did in the end.

I can't give this book a five out of five because there were still some logistical issues that I had with it and because Kessler decided that "black like my soul" is an acceptable phrase that doesn't have the same effect as nails on a chalkboard. Rage does, however, merit a four out of five Gabriels. I'm actually looking forward to other books in this series, especially if Kessler continues to get better as a writer. It's sort of interesting to watch her growth and I'm hoping to someday be able to give her a full score.

-Gabe

Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

It's Book Blogger Hop time again, brought to you by Jennifer at Crazy for Books! As I have a headache and a huge desire to sleep, I won't go into an explanation of what the Hop is, but if you visit Jennifer's blog, you'll have all the information you need.

This week's question: What book-to-movie adaptation have you liked most? Which have you disliked?

My answer:

LIKED: I'm not going to use either Trainspotting or Stardust for this answer because I honestly didn't know they were books when I watched the films; I didn't read them until after I had fallen in love with the movies. Instead, I'm going to choose a book where I watched the film AFTER I had read the book:


I won't say too much about this because I'm reading the book/watching the film next month as part of the Books to Movies Challenge hosted by Two Bibliomaniacs. What I will say is that this film is incredible; not as incredible as the book, and I had an issue with the under-usage of Nadsat in the script, but incredible nonetheless. Malcolm McDowell makes such a terrifying yet sympathetic Alex and Kubrick's trippy way of making films definitely served this book well.

HATED: I don't even have to think for this one. Being that I'm not a Michael Crichton fan, I was surprised how much I really liked the book Timeline. The only reason I read it was because I saw the trailer for the film and decided to read it before going to see the movie. The book was a fun, easy read considering that it had to do with time travel, quantum physics, and the Middle Ages. I really liked the characters and found the plot to be engaging and exciting. Not high-end literature of course, but still a pretty decent read. The film was so bad, however, that I was tempted to demand my money and my time back. They actually added a character at the beginning of the film just so that they could kill him. I hate that, that whole idea of "well, we need a sacrificial lamb, someone to show how dangerous the situation is." Um, these people just went back in time to an era of bad hygiene, non-existent sanitation practices, constant warfare, plagues without medical treatment, and any number of other undesirable things without any knowledge of how to get back to the modern era. Do you really think the audience is that stupid that they'd be like, "Oh, they'll be fine! It'll be a walk in the park." I'm pretty sure we've all seen at least one King Arthur movie, for crying out loud. In addition, the dialogue was laughable, the acting was mostly bad (with few exceptions), and the whole thing just screamed "awful" at the top of its lungs.


-Gabe

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Literary Blog Hop!

Literary Blog Hop

The Blue Bookcase is once again hosting the Literary Blog Hop. This week's question is:

Talk about one author that you love and why his or her writing is unique. Please be specific.

My answer: There are about a million authors I could use to answer this question: Mark Danielewski (who's incredibly unique), Neil Gaiman (who I'm sure you're sick of hearing about), Anthony Burgess (who I'll be talking more about next month), etc. I've decided to talk about Irvine Welsh today.


I've only read one of his books, which is Trainspotting, but I'm obviously going to get around to reading his other novels, especially Porno, which is the sequal to the aforementioned book. There are several things about Welsh's writing in Trainspotting that not only make him unique, but that also make me excited to read his other works.

Use of non-linear time
Trainspotting isn't a book in the normal sense of the word. It doesn't start at the beginning and then progress through to the end. Instead, it moves forward, goes back, turns sideways, flips upside down. In short, it's a book that keeps you on your toes. There is a slight progression at times and the time frame in which the book occurs isn't incredibly long, perhaps a year or two, but for the most part you can never quite be sure of when you are. In Welsh's deft hands, this use of time isn't clumsy at all. It's well-crafted and keeps you interested in the story.

"I cannae listen tae this gadge!"
No, I didn't just have a stroke. Irvine Welsh writes Trainspotting almost completely in dialect...and it's not always the same dialect. The story takes place in Leith, Scotland, a working-class industrial town with many uneducated people. The dialect is sort of low-class and is heavy on slang, which can make it hard to follow. My copy of the book had a glossary in the back and after a while I only needed to look at it for new words. The rest of the dialect started to make sense to me pretty early on, sort of like the use of Nadsat in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. The sentence in bold up above says: "I can't listen to this guy!"

Who the heck was that and why haven't they shown up again?
Welsh's novel has several main characters: Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and, my personal favorite, Begbie. But there are other characters that pop up from time to time, some that have whole chapters devoted to them who are never seen again. The narration shifts from first person to third person and jumps from one character to the next, sometimes in the same chapter. Each chapter is a sort of short story, although some of them connect with earlier or later chapters, while others are simply stand-alones. Some give information about the main characters, while others provide context about Leith, the people, the culture, the poverty, etc. Some, in fact, seem to just sort of be there randomly.


Welsh is a superb writer, but he's a writer that takes a bit of getting used to. Trainspotting is definitely a challenging read, but it's so well-crafted that you don't mind the effort that it takes you. For me, reading this book meant speaking it out loud so that I could try and understand what they were saying in dialect. Others find the subject matter--drug addiction--to be what challenges them. Regardless, this is one book and one author that are worth looking into. Its dark humor, interesting characters, and unique way of telling a story make it one of my favorite books of all time.

-Gabe

The Magic of Short Stories: A Review of Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors

Title: Smoke and Mirrors
Author: Neil Gaiman
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Avon Books (1998)
Pages: 365
How I Came By This Book: I purchased this book, along with three others, at Borders shortly after I started this blog (see this post).
Challenges: Read Your Own Books Challenge, GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion...and anything is possible. In this, Gaiman's first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders--a place where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality--obscured by smoke and darkness, yet brilliantly tangible--in this extraordinary collection of short works by a master prestidigitator. It will dazzle your senses, touch your heart, and haunt your dreams.

Review: Apparently May is Short Story Month, which I wasn't aware of before I started blogging because, frankly, I've never really been a fan of this genre. Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors may have just converted me.

I rave constantly about Gaiman, who is my favorite contemporary author. Except for two books, Stardust and The Graveyard Book, I have loved every single one of his books. That doesn't mean that I didn't approach his short stories with a little trepidation. I needn't have worried.

Gaiman's particular brand of dark humor, horror, sex, and violence serve him well throughout this book. In fact, there wasn't a single story that I can point to and say, "Yeah, I really hated it." There were a few that I didn't exactly love, "When We Went to See the End of the World by Dawnie Morningside, age 11 1/2" being the one that most fits this bill, but I still enjoyed reading them.

Neil Gaiman

Each of these stories, with few exceptions, are stories that take what's in the world around us and morph them into something else, something with a hint of magic--thrift stores, jack-in-the-boxes, male escorts, Penthouse magazine. Most of them seem, on some level, entirely plausible and give you a momentary sensation of hope that someday you could be walking along the street and find the Holy Grail or meet a fallen angel.

His stories are tight, his characters are intriguing, and his skill as a writer is evident. From the first story, which happens to be in the introduction, to the last, there is a painful humanity that pulls you in and leaves you sad to move on to the next story. You come to really like these characters and to enjoy exploring these mini-worlds created right from our own backyards. Unlike The Graveyard Book, these short stories were full of life (no pun intended) and a richness that I have come to associate with Neil Gaiman's work.

I'm having a really hard time choosing my favorite story, but I have it down to two: "We Can Get Them for You Wholesale" and "Murder Mysteries." Honorable mentions go to "Snow, Glass, Apples" and "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar." In order to give you a sense of what you'll find in this book, I'm going to be doing mini-reviews of these four stories.

-"We Can Get Them for You Wholesale"
In this odd but funny tale, a bland young man named Peter, whose fiancée may have cheated on him, gets in over his head with a bargain. Angry at her betrayal, he seeks out a hit-man in the phone book and finds one listed under "Pest Control." When he meets up with their sales rep, Burton Kemble (who, if they ever made this into a film, should be played by Michael Palin), he's told that he can get a two-for-one deal. Peter, who can never turn down a sales offer, decides that, instead of killing just the man she cheated on him with, he will also have his fiancée killed. But, the sales rep tells him, ten people is even cheaper. And a thousand even more so! So it goes until Peter makes a decision that he will regret for the rest of his (short) life. It's funny and dark and Burton Kemble's character really stands out. Definitely a must read.

Michael Palin of Monty Python fame.
He's also the only person named Palin that I can stomach.

-"Murder Mysteries"
An unnamed first-person narrator meets a strange homeless man on the street right after meeting up with an old girlfriend. The man bums a few cigarettes and, as payment, he tells the narrator a story--of when he used to be an angel. The tale becomes an intriguing (albeit short) murder mystery whose setting is the City of Angels...and I don't mean Los Angeles. Right before the creation of the Universe, before Lucifer even fell, these angels each served their purpose in helping the Name (God) work on the prototype. They created concepts like "love" and "green" and they help Him to carry out His plan by performing assigned tasks. The angel the narrator meets was assigned to be the Vengeance of the Lord, to find who murdered one of his fellow angels, and to mete out punishment. This story sticks out in my mind because of the concept; it's like CSI: Heaven. It also, however, gets a nod because of the (sort of) unexpected ending--not the ending of the angel's story, which was amazing, but the ending of the narrator's story.

-"Snow, Glass, Apples"
I will never, ever look at the story of Snow White the same way again. This terrifying, strangely sexual version of the story of the girl with the blood-red lips is haunting and, at times, repulsive...but not in a bad way. Gaiman is at the top of his form in this fairy-tale retelling, narrated by the step-mother, whose story is much different from the one we all grew up hearing. With a scary Snow White, a necrophiliac Prince, and a surprisingly sympathetic step-mother, Gaiman has recreated the tale and I have to say that I like this one a lot better than the original, even if it did make me a little nauseated.

-"Shoggoth's Old Peculiar"
I think I would have liked this story even more if I had actually ever read H.P. Lovecraft. One of my exes kept begging me to do it, but I just haven't gotten around to it. This story, as well as another one in the book, have made me want to get into his Cthulu mythos. As Gaiman explains in the introduction, this tale of a young American doing a seaside tour in England only to find something unexpected and terror-inducing, was inspired by an alcohol-aided conversation he had at a convention once, during which he and his new-found friend John "began talking about Cthulu in the voices of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore." I kind of wish they'd gotten that on tape.

One character that stood out in this book above all the rest was Lawrence Talbot, the werewolf adjustor (sic) from both "Only the End of the World Again" and "Bay Wolf." I was intrigued by him and am now under the sad delusion that one day Gaiman might write a novel about him. It won't happen, but a guy can hope.

I'm giving Smoke and Mirrors five out of five Gabriels. Gaiman completely redeemed the short story for me, unlike David Sedaris, who should really stick to writing essays.


-Gabe

PS: I've come to the conclusion that Neil Gaiman deserves his own tag. I talk about him enough on here that he should get one.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In Which I'm Not Finishing a Book (*gasp*)

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors, which was amazing. I'll have a review up tomorrow. As for the other book I've been reading, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, I'm setting that one aside for now and coming back to it later. Why? Well, let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I was a sophomore in college, double majoring in history and anthropology, and I had what I believed to be a really great idea. I was planning on taking a Native American history course as part of my history major requirements, so when I saw that there was an anthropology course called Native American Peoples and Culture, I decided that it would be beneficial to take them both. I could get two sides of the Native American experience. No way would I be inundated with the same information, right?

About six weeks into the semester I was, to say the least, exhausted by the thought of Native American anything. Don't get me wrong. I have Native American heritage and am close friends with someone who is 100% Native American; I'm not disparaging anyone for their race. What I mean is that between those two classes (and an archaeology class that I was taking in which the professor specialized in, get this, ancient native populations in Central America) I wasn't getting a lot of new material. The history class and the archaeology class were great, but the anthropology class was not. Regardless of whether I liked the classes or not, however, after a while I just kept hearing the same things week after week. In fact, if I ever have to write another paper about Kennewick Man, my head might just explode. Two in one semester was enough, thank you.

So, what does this have to do with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Surprisingly, everything. It had been a few years since I'd read the original by Jane Austen and, as I was expecting something completely different from Grahame-Smith's book, I decided to reread Pride and Prejudice first, just to make sure that I could ensure that I knew exactly what was going on in the zombie-laden edition of the book. What a dumb idea that was. Turns out that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should have been called Pride and Prejudice WITH Zombies.

"That sounds like a pretty
crucial conjunction."

When it says "by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith," it means it. Rather than retelling the story, he simply worked zombies into the original text. Sure, there are some omissions and some things have been truncated, but for the most part it's exactly the same as Pride and Prejudice, except with ninjas, zombies, and a Mr. Darcy who actually tells Miss Bingley exactly what he thinks of her. If it weren't that I had just read the original, I think I would have enjoyed this book more. As it is, I'm going to go back to it in a few months, once I've read some other things. I love the original, but there are very few books that I can read twice in a row. In fact, I think Good Omens is the only one I've ever been able to do that with.

So, no, I'm not saying that I hate Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I actually like it quite a bit, but I need to put some distance between me and Jane Austen's novel before I go back to reading it. And for all of you out there who say that you aren't going to read the original because you don't think you'd like Pride and Prejudice but that you liked Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: guess what? You like Pride and Prejudice. :)

On a related, but different note, I just found out today that my wish has come true. I had said in a Top Ten Tuesday list a while back that I thought that Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter should be made into a movie. One of the students who works at my library just told me yesterday that it's actually going to happen. Here's the IMDb page for it. I'm so there when it comes out in theaters next year.

-Gabe

Harry Potter Countdown!

Kayleigh at Nylon Admiral is anxiously awaiting the last Harry Potter film like the rest of us, but she's actually doing something about it. Every week until the movie comes out, she'll be discussing a different aspect of the series in her Harry Potter Countdown. Anyone is welcome to join, so head on over there and check it out.

This week she's discussing favorite characters. Here's my list, in no particular order:

1) Severus Snape

I'm pretty sure that not a week has gone by in the last few months that I've been blogging that I haven't mentioned how much I like Snape. Even though he's a miserable bastard with a grudge who made poor lifestyle choices as a teenager, Snape is, and always will be, my favorite Harry Potter character. He's a multi-faceted guy with a painful history who spends his whole life trying to make up for his biggest mistake: allowing the woman he loved to die. While I'm really NOT a fan of Snape/Lilly, I think that his devotion, although bordering on crazyobsessivestalker, is touching and adds to a character that I identified with since practically the beginning of the series.

2) Lucius Malfoy

I'm a villain fanatic, especially when those villains are cold and calculating rather than screaming psychopaths. Lucius fits that bill to a "t." He's calm, snobby, quietly angry, and, in the end, he puts being a father before being a genocidal maniac. Malfoy's history with Snape always intrigued me and I wish that Rowling had gotten into their relationship better. I always felt that Snape was like the obnoxious little brother, tagging along everywhere with Lucius, trying to fit in. If Rowling ever gets around to doing prequels about the first war against Voldemort (and I sincerely hope that she does), I'm hoping that she'll delve into the Death Eaters more than she did in the original series because, quite frankly, I find a lot of them more interesting than some of the Order of the Phoenix characters.

3) Sirius Black

Sirius Black is my second-favorite character, getting beaten out only by Snivellus...I mean Severus. As my favorite Marauder, Sirius stood out from the moment he was introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban. I wanted to know more about him and I was hopeful that he'd become a permanent fixture in the series. And then she fracking killed him. Thanks, Rowling. Thanks a lot. Harry's godfather had his faults but he was, at heart, a good man. His real issue was being falsely imprisoned in Azkaban at such a young age, which stunted his emotional growth, leading to him acting childish and not quite being able to live fully in the present. He was always thinking of the good old days and never came to grips with the fact that Harry and James were two very different people. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried for a full hour after finishing Order of the Phoenix. I had really been looking forward to Harry (and Sirius) getting some stability and closure in their lives. But, alas, it was not meant to be.

4) Neville Longbottom

It's been said that when Chuck Norris goes to sleep at night, he checks under his bed for Neville Longbottom. Chubby, frightened Neville started out on the wrong foot at Hogwarts. He was teased by the Slytherins, got full-on body bound by Hermione, and managed to help (alleged) psychopathic criminal Sirius Black into Gryffindor common room. Throughout the series, however, he grew as a character, as a person, and as a wizard. By book seven, he had learned how to take care of himself and was standing up for what he knew in his heart to be right. He even got his grandmother to respect him...and that's no easy task. To top it all off, Neville pulled the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat and used it to kill Nagini, one of Voldemort's horcruxes. Neville Longbottom is a B.A.M.F.

5) Luna Lovegood

As Hogwarts' resident conspiracy theorist, Luna Lovegood is a bit eccentric for some of the students. But for readers, she's an lovable oddity who tends to have her finger on the pulse of exactly what's happening around her. Despite being flighty, Luna's no idiot; she simply looks at the world through a unique lens. Watching this strong young woman face dangers that some of the "bravest" men would quail at is wonderful; watching her develop friendships despite being unpopular is even more so. Luna is the character for anyone, male or female, who has ever felt like the odd one out. She's also really funny, although sometimes she doesn't mean to be.

6) Remus Lupin

My other favorite Marauder, Remus Lupin is the only really good DADA professor that Hogwarts ever had. I guess it kind of makes sense considering that he's a werewolf, but he's also a really smart, kind, caring guy. I'm not too happy about how Rowling changed his character towards the end of the series (what the hell was up with that whole Lupin/Tonks thing?) but for the majority of his tenure as a character, Lupin was the voice of reason and the guy who gave really good advice...even if Harry didn't want to listen to it. I found Lupin's ability to keep his humanity despite transforming into a monster every full moon to be a really interesting take on werewolves and it gave him a depth that was refreshing.

7) Nearly-Headless Nick

Gryffindor's resident ghost, Nearly-Headless Nick, just wants to be respected. It's kind of hard when your death rendered you almost-decapitated, leading the actually-headless to look down on you. Nick is a funny character who didn't show up NEARLY enough in the series. But when he was there, he was always memorable. He also tended to be the ghost that helped solve whatever problem Harry and his friends were having at the time, which made him far more useful than Slytherin's ghost, the Bloody Baron. Although I'm a self-professed Slytherin, I have to admit that Gryffindor gets ten house points for having an awesome ghost.

Honorable Mentions:
-Hermione Granger
-Fred and George Weasley
-Gilderoy Lockhart
-Rubeus Hagrid
-Sybil Trelawney
-Mrs. Weasley
-Oliver Wood
-Draco Malfoy

-Gabe

Wild Card Wednesdays: Because the World Needs More Memes

I've had the name "Wild Card Wednesdays" rattling around in my head for quite a while now, I just couldn't seem to find a concept to attach it to. That's all changed. Today I'm introducing a new meme:


This is how it works. Every Wednesday I'll put up a prompt, but it won't be like the prompts you've seen before. Wildcard Wednesday requires bloggers to use their imaginations, to take what they read and use it in a new and unique way.

This week's prompt is: What would your boggart be and how would you defeat it?

My answer: Thanks to my dad, I have an insane, innate fear of nuclear war. It all stems from when I was about two or three years old and he watched The Day After while I was in the room. It scarred my young brain for life. So, my boggart would probably be a mushroom cloud.


As the way to get rid of a boggart is to laugh at it, the only way I could think of to make a mushroom cloud funny is to turn it into this:


I'm really curious to see a) how many people jump on board today and b) what all of their answers would be. If you're interested in joining in on Wild Card Wednesdays, just grab the image above, answer the prompt, and add your link to the linky. Please link to the actual post that you create.

-Gabe




Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Obligatory Tuesday Post

The transmission in my car blew two weeks ago so I've been sharing a car with my mother. This necessitates that I take her to work. She works in the morning...I work at night. Needless to say, there are days that I'm running on ridiculously low amounts of sleep. Yesterday was one of those days.

As I never really lie about books, there's not much that I can contribute to this week's Top Ten Tuesday, but I just got my 65th follower, so I didn't want to NOT post something. I've never missed a day yet and I don't intend to. So, today I'm giving you guys a sneak peak of next month's reading list. Obviously this is tentative, but I'm hoping to get through all of them.

In no particular order, June's reading list:

-Whichever book gets the most votes in my current poll (if you haven't voted yet, there's still time)
-Imajica by Clive Barker
-Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow
-Possession by A.S. Byatt
-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
-Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
-The Devil's Right Hand by Lilith Saintcrow
-A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
-Death: A Life by George Pendle
-Saint City Sinners by Lilith Saintcrow
-Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
-Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
-To Hell and Back by Lilith Saintcrow
-Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
-Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Extra Books (in case I finish all of these before the end of the month):
-Judas: A Biography by Susan Gubar
-Alias: Shadowed by Elizabeth Skurnick
-Straight Man by Richard Russo
-Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I'm also thinking about doing some sort of giveaway prize-thing for the "Books I Should Have Read By Now" Challenge that I'm hosting (if you have books collecting dust on your shelves, this is the challenge for you). No promises obviously, but I'm curious as to what people would be more interested in: a gift card in some sort of reasonable denomination for a bookstore OR a book or two (either preread or new)? There's time to think about it, but if you have a preference I'd love to hear it.

If anyone has any advice to give about giveaways (or challenges in general), I'm always open to hearing it.

Hope you guys have a great Tuesday! I should have a review for you tomorrow.

-Gabe

Monday, May 23, 2011

In Which I Am Feeling Democratic

Good morning, all!

I've been trying to find new ways to "spice up" my blog, such as the new template, and decided that I would try something that I've seen other bloggers do. For the next week, you will all get a chance to vote on one book for me to read next month. These choices all come from that massive list of recommendations that I got last week from some pretty awesome bloggers. There was no favoritism here; I simply chose the books that were available in my library (and I was disappointed to find that many of my first choices weren't there). There are four choices and you can only pick one. Whichever one gets the highest vote wins.

The poll will be up later today on the top right-hand side of my blog. For now, peruse the titles and see which one you like best. All links are to the GoodReads page.

1) The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
2) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
3) Field of Blood by Denise Mina
4) Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje

If this goes well, I may end up doing it as a monthly or every-other-month kind of thing.

-Gabe

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's Monday; What Are You Reading?

It's Monday (okay, it's actually Sunday but I have to be up early tomorrow so I won't be staying up to write this at the stroke of midnight), and this week I'm completely okay with that. Last Monday I was incredibly distressed to realize that I had read a whopping two books. This week, thanks to not having to drive all over the country, I was much more able to sit down and actually read.

For me, Monday is synonymous with It's Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by the always delightful Sheila at Book Journey. Each week, book bloggers from all over share what they read last week, what they are currently reading, what they're planning of reading next, and anything else they feel like sharing.

What I Read Last Week:
-Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler












-The Engines of God by Jack McDevitt












-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen












What I'm Currently Reading: 
-Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith












What I'm Reading This Week: 
-Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman












-Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler













-The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (recommended by Nonners)












-Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow (reread)












As you can see by my last choice, I'm finally going to start the Dante Valentine series by Lilith Saintcrow. I'm pretty sure that I won't be reading all five of them in a row, but, rather, will be doing one a week. I still have a few books left over from my May reading list that will be carried over into June. The reading list for next month should be up by the end of this week.

So, what are you reading?

-Gabe

Love Is Remarkably Easy to Mistake As Hate: A Review of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austin
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Classics (2003)
Pages: 392 (but for the record I'm saying it's 320 just so that my page total here and on GoodReads matches)
How I Came By This Book: I don't remember when I first read Pride and Prejudice but the copy that I own came to me as a birthday present from a friend. She knew that I loved the book but didn't own a copy and so she surprised me with it about four years ago (gods, is it really that long?).
Challenges: Read Me Baby, One More Time Challenge; GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: "It is a truth universally known, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Thus memorably begins Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, one of the world's most popular novels. Pride and Prejudice--Austen's own "darling child"--tells the story of fiercely independent Elizabeth Bennet, one of five sisters who must marry rich, as she confounds the arrogant, wealthy Mr. Darcy. What ensues is one of the most delightful and engrossingly readable courtships know to literature, written by a precocious Austen when she was just twenty-one years old.

Humorous and profound, and filled with highly entertaining dialogue, this witty comedy of manners dips and turns through drawing-rooms and plots to reach an immensely satisfying finale. In the words of Eudora Welty, Pride and Prejudice is as "irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be."

Review: Okay, so, wow. Um, not really sure what to say after that glowing synopsis up there. Way to go, Barnes and Noble. Now I have nothing to write.

I'm kidding, of course, but I agree with everything said above. This being the third or fourth time I've reread this novel, it's obviously high on my list of favorites. There are some novels that can only be reread once, maybe twice, before they get old. I'm pretty sure that I'll be rereading this book every few years for the rest of my life.

NOTE: There are spoilers below, but I'm going to make a guess and say that most of you have either read this book, seen one of the film adaptations or, at the very least, have read and/or watched Bridget Jones' Diary and are aware of the end result. If none of these is applicable to you, then what the heck have you been wasting your time doing? Go and read this novel now. Seriously, you'll thank me.

Sorry, honey, but you are no 
Elizabeth Bennet.

The story is fairly simple. The Bennets, a family of some, but not much, wealth, are finding it hard to marry off their five daughters because of their considerable lack of funding. The problem is that Mr. Bennet has no male heir and therefore their home will be inherited by his insufferable cousin, Mr. Collins, upon his death. This makes his wife, who is one of my least favorite characters in all of literature by the way, severely nervous to the point of being an incredible bore who is ready to foist her girls off on the first man who even looks at them. Jane, sweet and serene; Elizabeth, stubborn and independent; and Mary, bookish and shy, are in no real hurry to get married. Lydia, young and foolish, and Kitty, silly and impressionable, are trying to find a husband among the officers in the militia who are staying nearby. All of this causes considerable worry to their mother, but their father is pretty indifferent to the whole thing.

Early on, Jane catches the eye of the amazing Mr. Bingley, while Elizabeth finds herself an object of derision for the proud Mr. Dary. Throughout the novel these two women will go through no shortage of trouble on their way to a happy ending with their respective beaus, while the rest of the family runs into no shortage of trouble due to dull cousins and a runaway daughter. The book is exceptionally funny, well-written, and shows incredible skill in the oh-so-young Jane Austen.

The characters are, I think, the strongest part of this novel. From the prejudiced Elizabeth, to the dastardly Mr. Wickham, to the delightful Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Austen creates a cast of characters that are so memorable and likable (with the exception of Mrs. Bennet), that it's hard not to fall in love with this book every time you read it. It is a testament to Ms. Austen that it is not only women that enjoy this book, but men as well. I know that I'm not the only guy who repeatedly loses himself in Austen's novels, although I may be one of the only ones who shouts from the proverbial rooftop that is my blog.

I think secretly most men wish they could be as awesome
as Fitzwilliam Darcy. I, however, make no secret of it.

The dialogue is strong, witty, and full of complexity. There are hidden meanings behind much of what these characters say to each other, although some of them are bold enough, like Lady Catherine, to come right out and say whatever they mean to say. The plot is engaging and the inevitable romance between Elizabeth and Darcy is so well-strung-out that, instead of being tedious, it is fun to watch them slowly come together as a couple. The whole novel is also so chaste that it is almost incredible to see the differences between romance novels today and this novel, which I believe to be the epitome of romantic. The two main characters are never even seen to kiss! Don't get me wrong, I'm not against sex or its use in literature and film (I'm only human, after all), but sometimes it's nice to just dive into a novel in which love takes a considerable amount of time and things aren't so focused on the, uh, "big finish."

This is one of those novels that I recommend to everyone. Of course, most of the people I suggest it to have already read it, but for those of you haven't, please do. Even if those of you who haven't read it didn't heed my warning about spoilers, knowing the end of the novel in NO WAY detracts from the experience. In fact, I think it makes the novel even better.

Pride and Prejudice is obviously getting five out of five Gabriels.


-Gabe

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Here There Be Dragons: A Review of Jack McDevitt's The Engines of God

Title: The Engines of God 
Author: Jack McDevitt
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Ace Books (1995)
Pages: 419
How I Came By This Book: About a year ago I was looking for new sci-fi books at Borders and the cover of this one caught my eye.
Challenges: Read Your Own Books Challenge, GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: Humans call them the Monument-Makers. An unknown race, they left stunning alien statues on distant planets in the galaxy. Each relic is different. Each inscription defies translation. Yet all are heartbreakingly beautiful. And for planet Earth, on the brink of disaster, they may hold the only key in survival for the entire human race.

Review: So yesterday I posted this, my first impressions of this book. I was less than flattering and I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong. And I was wrong.

This book ended up being an exciting and dramatic romp through space. It took a while to get into, yes, but once I was into it I didn't want to put it down.

The basic storyline (and it's a bit confusing so I'll try to leave the unimportant bits out) is that there's a team of archaeologists doing a survey of a planet in the far reaches of the galaxy. They are running out of time, as there is a team of people waiting for them to clear out so that they can blow the ice caps sky high in order to begin terraforming it so that humans can move onto its surface in about fifty years. Earth itself is experiencing the effects of climate change and may possibly already be at the point of no return. So with time running out for the people of Earth, who cares about an archaeological dig?

But then Richard Wald, eminent archaeologist, discovers a clue as to why there are several sites in the galaxy that have signs of uncharacteristically advanced technology. These seemingly unconnected societies, all of which have experienced unexplained cataclysms in the past, suddenly emerge as a pattern of destruction. What follows is a series of events that lead Priscilla Hutchins, Academy pilot, and a group of archaeologists into a dangerous but enlightening adventure.

Priscilla herself, as I'd said yesterday, seemed to be superfluous at first. As the story progressed, however, she developed into a strong, intelligent woman who learned from her mistakes and become well-fleshed out. She and the other characters, like George, Janet, Maggie, and Carson, became very close during the course of the novel and the reader got to experience their bonding, which was very interesting. It reminded me a little of Stargate Universe or Battlestar Galactica, science fiction that really focuses on character development instead of gadgets and aliens.

The plot which had seemed confusing at first came together towards the middle and flowed seamlessly through to the end. Questions that had been raised early on in the book were answered, if not satisfactorily, then at least enough to end the book on a resolute note. There are slower parts of the novel, but these are actually quite enjoyable as this is where a lot of the character development happens. The rest of the time there's action, a lot of it up against an invisible clock of sorts, and all of it keeps you wanting more.

I still feel as if McDevitt tried to do too much. There were times when I didn't quite understand what was going on and it wasn't because he used jargon or anything. Even the small bit of physics, chemistry, and math that were used in the novel were understandable by the scientific layman. No, instead, it seemed as if McDevitt forgot from time-to-time that the reader isn't in these characters heads like he is. Even when something that was confusing was explained later on, it wasn't always fully graspable. It's a small complaint, but one that I think takes away from the novel somewhat.

Jack McDevitt

Other than that, McDevitt is a great science-fiction writer, one who has the Nebula Awards to prove it. He mingles history, archaeology, politics, religion, personal relationships, and science together to create plots with real depth. His world-building is great as well. His world isn't so overly constructed that it takes away from the plot, a huge pet peeve of mine, but neither is it so underdeveloped that it's hard to imagine what's going on. A little more character description would have been nice but the reader is able to piece together an image of the characters through things that aren't related to hair color or height. McDevitt uses actions, dialogue, and other devices to build his characters. The result is rather impressive.

The dialogue never seemed to be too cliche or dull. In fact, it seemed rather natural, even when talking about things like aliens and spaceships. Each character had a unique voice and no one seemed fake or unrealistic. This was a nice change after the last book that I read. Sometimes McDevitt overuses fragment sentences, but after a while the reader doesn't notice. It feels like somewhere around the middle of the book he found his rhythm.

The dragons mentioned in the title of this post aren't real dragons and I can't talk about them without giving anything away, but I will say that the ending of this novel was exciting but also kind of strange. Not in a bad way, just in a way that makes you go "hmm...." I thoroughly enjoyed it along with the rest of the book.

The Engines of God is the first book in a series that revolves around the character of Priscilla Hutchins and I intend to read them all...eventually. I've become rather intrigued by what happens to her next, especially since throughout the book there are little hints. McDevitt seeds his audience's interest in future novels at the same time that he's drawing them into the plot of the present one, which is, I believe, indicative of masterful writing.

I'm giving The Engines of God 4 out of 5 Gabriels. It's not my favorite book I've ever read but I really liked it and would probably reread it, especially once I get my hands on the other novels in the series.


-Gabe

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Thoughts So Far: The Engines of God


I'm only a little over a hundred pages into this book, which means that I have about 300 pages left, but I thought that, since I have nothing else to blog about today, I'd give you my first impressions of Jack McDevitt's The Engines of God.

I bought this book at Borders last year after the cover caught my eye. I mean, seriously, it has Saturn on it. What sci-fi geek is going to turn that down? I've never read any of McDevitt's other books, so I'm not familiar with his style. Because of this, I'm not quite sure where this book is going and, rather than excite me, that sort of annoys me.

I'm not saying that I want this book to be somehow formulaic, but I'm having a hard time following what's going on. There's these creatures called the Monument-Makers and they left some sort of crazy monument on one of Saturn's moons and it somehow is connected to a race of people who weren't technologically advanced but have a fake city on their moon even though they never invented space travel and this race of people is now extinct but no one knows why. *deep breath* And now climate change on Earth has gone so far beyond human control that they're trying to terraform this planet that used to house this extinct race of people and there's an archaeological excavation going on and I'm not sure where the main character fits in, especially when there are other more interesting characters. *deep breath* *sigh*

Okay, so now you understand why my head is spinning and why I kept putting the book down yesterday. It's like I have ADD or something. It's not a bad book, nor is it poorly written but if I were familiar with McDevitt's work, perhaps I might be able to parse out what's going on. I could say, "Oh, well, in the next few chapters all of this is going to make sense because McDevitt likes to do X or because usually he tends to follow this pattern, etc."

Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins is the main character but for right now all she seems to do is fly around in a shuttle and ask lots of questions which far more interesting characters answer. I was hoping she'd be some sort of kick-ass Kara "Starbuck" Thrace character but so far that hasn't been the case. In fact, dare I say it, she seems sort of superfluous. Or, at least, it seems that she shouldn't be the main character.

Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica

There are some great characters and some good dialogue so far but the plot is just losing me at every turn. I'm hoping that things start to make sense soon (and that something actually starts to happen) because otherwise I might just put this one aside to read at a later date. I have a backlog of books that I want to get to sometime soon and I'm not above abandoning one for the moment and pressing onward.

-Gabe

Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

It's Friday and that means it's time to hop! Every Friday, Jennifer from Crazy for Books hosts the Book Blogger Hop. A question is asked and hundreds of bloggers answer it, hopping from blog to blog to see what everyone else has said.

This week's question is: If you were given the chance to spend one day in a fictional world (from a book), which book would it be from and what would that place be?

My answer: There are so many books that I could answer this question with, some more literary than others. I think, in the end, it would have to be Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series. While I would love to spend time in Deanna Raybourn's vision of Transylvania, the far reaches of space that permeate sci-fi novels, or the beautiful British countryside of an Austen tome, Diagon Alley is a place that no one can really visit. It simply doesn't exist. For the right price I could go to Europe or, when technology finally permits, into space, but I can never really go to the magical world that J.K. Rowling built for her novels.


Why, out of the magical locales I could have picked, did I decide on Diagon Alley? Because there's so much to do and to see. Hogwarts is only great if you can actually go to school there and it really doesn't offer many friend-making opportunities for those of us over the age of seventeen. But in London's magical street there are people from all over the world of all shapes and sizes and colors and ages. There's also tons of stores that offer a feast for the eyes. It would be like being a kid in a very large candy shop where most of the candy can probably bite you.

So, what did you guys pick?

-Gabe