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Monday Book Review: Storm Front May 3, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews, Uncategorized.
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We haven’t been blogging much lately, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been reading! As of yesterday I was in the middle of 4 different books! I finished one though so I’m down to 3, and have one to review for you today: Storm Front by Jim Butcher.

Storm Front is Book One in The Dresden Files, a series of books about Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, a modern-day wizard. It’s hard to describe what this book is about without making it sound really cheesy… and yet there is nothing cheesy about it. While the main character, Dresden, is indeed a staff-carrying, robe-wearing wizard in contemporary Chicago, he is also a Private Detective and consultant for the local Police Department, called in when crimes occur that are unexplainable by any known laws of nature. The two aspects of this character are so completely intertwined that the novel reads like a hard-boiled detective noir, all the way down to the mysterious dame who comes with her yellow dress and breathy voice, looking for his aid – because only he can help. Then come the fantasy aspects of the story – the toad-like demons spewing acid and melting holes into furniture, love potions, talking skulls (actually this was entertaining, the wizard stores all his data in a spirit that inhabits a skull, like a little google bot you can converse with and ask questions), rapidly-growing poisonous scorpions, all mixed with the typical noir characters: close-mouthed barkeeps, tough nosed mobsters protecting their turf with block-headed thugs, and the just-can’t-shake-her tabloid journalist who will do anything for an outrageous scoop about a wizard.

Overall, not badly written, pretty entertaining even if predictable, and a great mash-up of genres. I wouldn’t recommend the story to anyone who doesn’t appreciate a good supernatural yarn, since there is nothing realistic about these. However, despite the other-worldly setting and circumstances, the formula boils down to a tightly-knit private detective story that has you wondering if the wizard can figure out the puzzle before he’s condemned for the crimes.

P.S. The series has also been serialized in graphic novels, and on television as a series for SyFy (Season One available now on hulu).

Forbe’s Fictional 15 April 14, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Just for Fun.
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Forbe’s has recently disclosed its list of the 15 wealthiest fictional characters. It’s pretty hilarious and worth your time. Check the whole article out here.

Monday Book Review: The Feast of the Goat March 8, 2010

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The Feast of the Goat (La Fiesta del Chivo) by Mario Vargos Llosa, is the fictionalized account of the last days of the Dominican Republic’s tyrannical dictator, Rafael Trujillo, in 1961. The story is told primarily from the point of view of Urania Cabral in 1996, who has returned to the Dominican after over 35 years of self-imposed exile to the United States where she has become a highly successful, though lonely and hermetic, lawyer. The story jumps repeatedly in time from the present, to the night of Trujillo’s assassination, to the days before, to the falling of the regime afterward. Though a fictionalized account of the fall of Trujillo’s regime, the names and basic actions of both Trujillo’s inner circle and his assassins are historical facts, and thus Llosa paints an important picture of the Dominican in the early 1960’s.

I had mixed feelings about this book until about halfway through. Llosa keeps you turning the pages for two reasons. First, the reader wants to know why Urania fled the Dominican and why she is so angry at her father who everyone else believes was a great man. All we are told is that he was one of Trujillo’s right-hand men who fell out of grace right before the assassination. We are also made aware that Urania fled the Dominican on a scholarship provided by local nuns and never made an attempt to communicate with any family members since. Secondly, the reader is brought to the night of Trujillo’s assassination where conspirators Antonio de la Maza and Antonio Imbert Barrera, among many others, wait tensely for “The Chief” (one of Trujillo’s many pseudonyms) to pass by in his car with the hopes to kill him. Though I was intrigued by both scenes, the digressions into politics became at times lengthy and trying to understand and keep straight the dozens of political characters that Llosa introduces really slowed the pace of the action. Once I realized that Llosa’s primary goal was to depict Trujillo’s character and myriad of moods in exhaustive detail and I stopped focusing on keeping every minor character straight, I found that I could enjoy the book a lot more.

The historical character of Rafael Trujillo has interested me every since reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, as well as In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Both are phenomenal books. The latter chronicles the lives and murders of the Mirabal sisters, Dominican dissenters in Trujillo’s time. Their murders were one of the impetuses to assassinating Trujillo and they are mentioned repeatedly in The Feast of the Goat. Llosa’s connection to true historical events was definitely one of the draws of this book. But the way he made Trujillo, such an iconic character, come to life, is even more impressive. Llosa, without seeming to manipulate you, makes you hate and fear Trujillo, and also, strangely, admire him in some ways–clearly the mixture of emotions that the Dominicans of his day felt. Llosa’s manipulation of time is also unique and laudatory, killing Trujillo in one chapter, only to revive him repeatedly by drawing on the past. Just when we think Trujillo has finally been buried, both physically and emotionally for the Dominicans, Llosa revives him once more in the climactic last scene and Urania’s confession, conveying the lesson that the most vile of offenses is usually the most personal, and explaining why she abandoned everything she knew, save, like myself, an obsession with Trujillo-era Dominican history.

Monday Book Review: them January 25, 2010

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Last year when we posted about the 60th anniversary of the National Book Awards, I was surprised at how few of the winners I had read. Since then, I read and reviewed the novella The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty, and now I have finally finished and will review them, by Joyce Carol Oates, National Book Award winner in 1970.

them (note: the title is intentionally not capitalized) is a novel about 3 main characters, a mother and 2 of her children during the 3 decades following World War II and their pursuit of the American Dream. Loretta, the mother, begins the novel as a beautiful young teenager, full of hope for a life of fortune, leisure and happiness. Of course, if that was how her life had turned out, the story would barely be worth writing, and so it’s no spoiler to tell you that instead, she ends up pregnant, married to a dirty cop and living in her in-laws house until her husband gets in trouble and they all move out to the country. The cop-husband leaves them all to fight in the war, leaving Loretta with 2 young children and another on the way. After some time of putting up with her in-laws, Loretta packs up all the kids and moves back to the city (Detroit) where her kids grow up as street urchins. She shuffles them from one dirty apartment to another, always trying to make a step up, but never quite making it. As the kids get older, their father returns, and both parents are unhappy drunks. The older 2 children, Jules and Maureen, take on more and more responsibility, while dreaming of how their futures will be so much better than their parents’. They will move out, make money, get married and have real lives. The novel continues as Jules and Maureen get older and follows their attempts to make it out of poverty, to escape their roots and to make something better of themselves. I can’t say whether or not they are successful, but when the novel ends, each of the characters is exactly where I would expect them to be.

I found this quote about Ms. Oates’ writing for this novel on the National Book Award Blog, and can’t say it better:

Her style allows the reader to focus on story without the intrusion of unfamiliar language, so artfully done, an exercise in event, an adventure in domestic darkness.

Monday Book Review: Final Theory January 11, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews.
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I am still plugging along, reading my latest endeavor into “literature” and thus, do not have anything new to review this week. This is not a problem however, since it gives me a chance to discuss books I have read and enjoyed in the past that readers of this blog may have missed.

About a year and a half ago, my father brought to my attention a New York Times Book Review for a new release. The review itself was intriguing and quirky, starting off by asking what Leonardo da Vinci has in common with Albert Einstein. The answer was “many things” including, “genius” and “usefulness as thriller bait”. Since I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, and I love thrillers and am fascinated by Einstein, Final Theory, by Mark Alpert sounded like a thoroughly enjoyable perfect storm of words.

Final Theory is a suspense novel that can only be described as The DaVinci Code a la Einstein. The story kicks off with the villain torturing an old man almost to death in an attempt to discover a secret that Einstein had hidden long ago – the Holy Grail of Physics, or, the Theory of Everything. The old man dies, but only after he passes the key to the secret theory to a former student of his own. The villain AND the FBI want to find this student, and will stop at nothing to find him and Einstein’s Theory. They all set off on a nationwide manhunt, while the student tries to piece together Einstein’s Theory of Everything, in the hope that it will save him, his family, and the world.

The novel is a well-written debut, with interesting and fully developed characters, a plot that twists and turns to keep the reader flipping pages, and of course, the requisite unpredictable final spectacular reveal. It’s the kind of book that would make a great movie with something for everyone: lighthearted and likeable leading man on an intense journey to save his family and the world, with layman-friendly science and gadgets, a sexually-tense relationship with an old female friend, gunfights and villains and car chases. If it sounds a little formulaic, that’s because it is – but in my opinion, it’s a great formula!

Monday Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency December 15, 2009

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This is a busy time of year with Christmas just barely a week away, and I haven’t been reading as much as normal. I apologize for being late with the Monday Book Review this week, but I haven’t had time to finish my latest novel. So, yesterday afternoon, instead of reviewing, I baked Christmas cookies for a party at work tomorrow, while thinking about what books I have read in the relatively recent past that might be interesting to our readers. Hopefully, this post will be sufficiently insightful as to overcome the delay.

For a long time, I had wanted to read The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. The book had been on my shelf for years, but I buy too many books to read them all, and each time I finished one book and picked up another, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency moved further and further down my TBR (To Be Read list). Finally this past spring, HBO advertised a new series would premiere based upon the series of Ladies’ Detective Agency books. The commercials looked good, and I was quite interested in the series, except usually, I prefer to read a book BEFORE I see the story brought to life under someone else’s vision. Like most people, I am almost always disappointed by movie adaptations of beloved stories, since the director’s vision very rarely matches my own.

Image from HBO.com

I didn’t get a chance to read the books before the series started, but decided to watch anyway. I am so glad I did too, because the shows were extremely well done. The novels are set in Botswana, and according to the HBO website, this is the first series to be filmed entirely on location there. The scenery was absolutely beautiful: stunning landscapes and truly charming little villages. The actors were great and the stories were well plotted and executed. I fell in love with Mama Ramotswe’s friends and community, and cheered for her when she solved a case. I was genuinely disappointed when the season ended. Then I realized, I could have more of Precious and her friends by finally reading the books.

I will admit, I was a little worried that the HBO series would seem less impressive once I had read the novels. However, I found that as I read, I was picturing and hearing the voices of the actors from the show in my head, and it was a perfect fit. I cannot say that I would have been as satisfied had I read first, and watched second, but as it was, the books and shows went together flawlessly.

Unfortunately, the HBO show was developed (and the Pilot episode directed) by Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain), who died before the series finally premiered. I do not know if HBO will continue the series, and as of now, it does not seem they will, but I hope there will be more to look forward to. In the meantime, I will be reading the novels; there are at least 10 so far!