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Monday Book Review: Storm Front May 3, 2010

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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).

Book Review Monday: Lost, by Gregory Maguire December 28, 2009

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This week’s book review is inspired by Gregory Maguire’s new release, Matchless.

Although you might not know his name, you’ve probably heard of Mr. Maguire: he’s the author of the best-selling novel, Wicked, inspiration for the renowned Broadway Musical. Mr. Maguire has written a number of other novels, many of which, like Wicked, retell a classic fairy tale from the perspective of the tale’s “villain”.

Although I read Wicked several years ago, enjoyed and would recommend it, this review is not about Wicked, nor about its sequel, Son of a Witch, nor even about Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister, which is sitting on my shelf at home. This review is about one of his less well known novels, one done in a slightly different style.

Unlike the retold classics Maguire usually writes, Lost is instead inspired by the circumstances that led to the creation of the classic, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Set in modern London, an author, Winifred Rudge, is staying in her distant cousin’s flat, while researching her new novel about Jack the Ripper. Legend has it, that the flat, once owned by her long-deceased great-great-grandfather, was visited by a young Charles Dickens, and the family lore maintains the old man was the inspiration for Dickens’ famous Ebeneezer Scrooge. Now, many years later, Winifred is convinced that a spirit is trapped within the home, and is determined to figure out if he is her great-great-grandfather, or maybe even Jack the Ripper. Winifred turns out to be a rather unstable character, which is not surprising considering she is searching for ghosts, and there is quite a good deal of emotional damage she is repressing which the reader does not learn until the end. To be perfectly honest, it is not one of Maguire’s best efforts, and I would prefer he stick to the creative reimagining of fairy tales, rather than invention of new material. However, despite this disappointment, I cannot help but be enthusiastic about his latest seasonal effort, Matchless, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, one of my childhood favorites.

Monday Book Review: The Robber Bridegroom November 30, 2009

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Recently, we posted about the National Book Awards, and I was surprised at how few of the 77 past fiction winners I had read. So, I picked a few titles to find at my local library. I had once read a book where the main character was named Eudora, after the famous American writer, and have since been curious about her – so Eudora Welty was my first choice from the National Book Awards list.

My library did not have in stock the actual award winner, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, so I browsed and chose the presently reviewed novella.

The Robber Bridegroom, published in 1942, is a fairy tale, similar in style and theme to many a Brothers Grimm tale. The beautiful daughter of a rich plantation owner is lured away from her home by a bandit, and the two fall in love and encounter a number of unpleasant characters and obstacles, from the girl’s mean and ugly stepmother to the tattletale numbskull neighborboy, Goat, to the psychotic cave-dweller, Little Harp, who is told what to do by his brother’s head, which is kept on a spike in a trunk nearby. The story is both enchanting and confusing, as a few of the characters are apparently legendary in Southern folklore, and perhaps a little prior knowledge of their mythos would have been helpful. Despite this, it was a lovely story, and the writing was as beautiful as it was sprightly and refined.

Eudora Welty

In my curiosity about the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, I found that after her death in 2001, her home in Jackson, Mississippi, was restored and preserved by The Eudora Welty Foundation in a tribute to her, her writing and photography, and as she wished, also to arts and literature in general. The goals of the foundation are to promote and encourage reading and the efforts of young writers, as well as maintain the writer’s home for visitation, education and inspiration. Eudora Welty was also an avid gardener, and the gardens around her home have been restored and preserved. The home and gardens are open for tours in person by reservation. However, if you aren’t planning a trip to Mississippi any time soon, the home is open 24 hours, 7 days a week for a virtual tour on the website. It’s worth checking out.

Monday Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo November 16, 2009

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not someone with whom to mess. She is one tough cookie with a harrowing past, and she’d beat the snot out of me for calling her “cookie”. As she would prefer it, we get to know very little about her in this book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, since although she is integral to the story, she is but one of several central characters, and not the primary focus of the plot. She continues to be featured in the next book of Mr. Larsson’s posthumously published trilogy, and one can only hope to learn more about this fascinating and complex girl.

The novel takes place over the course of a year in northern Sweden, after journalist Mikael Blomkvist is found guilty of libeling a powerful businessman. Blomkvist’s magazine must try to maintain credibility, and so Mikael finds himself looking for something else to do for awhile, while things settle down. He receives an offer from a mysterious, old businessman that both intrigues and disconcerts him. For lack of a better option, he agrees to investigate a disappearance that has haunted the old man for almost 40 years.

Well-written and translated from Swedish, this novel is engaging and intriguing. The story moves along at a brisk pace that while taking the time to fully flesh out each character and scene, still manages to build tension until the full story is revealed in the final chapters. This book will be satisfying to lovers of a good mystery/thriller, but not fully satisfying to lovers of novels driven by character. Although most of the characters are completely drawn, readers who truly want to know all about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will have to look to The Girl Who Played with Fire.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Monday Book Review: The Lost Symbol (no spoilers) November 3, 2009

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Today we debut a new regular feature, the Monday Book Review.

I recently finished the new Dan Brown novel, The Lost Symbol. I like to read popular new bestsellers while they are still popular, but rarely buy a new book on the release date. (Only Harry Potter and Twilight books have held that honor up until now.) I was not going to rush to buy The Lost Symbol until it occurred to me that the longer I wait to read it, the more likely someone would spoil it for me, and I really hate spoilers. On that note – if you haven’t read it yet, I will not give away any details.

To be perfectly honest, I was not particularly impressed by the writing – it was not classic literature, but it wasn’t so bad as to be distracting either- in any case, perfect for a quick-read thriller. The plot was very well-planned and, as expected, the pieces all fell into place neatly, and surprisingly, without too much contrivance. The subject matter of the Free Masons and the setting of Washington D.C. was fascinating, and made me want to visit D.C. again with new eyes. As with any thriller, there are twists and turns along the way, some expected and some unexpected.

If you enjoyed Dan Brown’s other novels, especially The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, and are not yet tired of the formula, then there’s a good chance you’ll also enjoy The Lost Symbol. It was an easy, fun page-turner, that I had no trouble putting down, but wanted to know what would happen next. If you’re tired of the formula, be warned that this book offers nothing new and you’re better off trying another author.

Little Women October 30, 2009

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Please participate in my poll:

With which character from Little Women (books or movies)did you most identify?

After you answer that question, check out this book review that was in the Wall Street Journal this week about a new biography of Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women. Then, come back and let me know if you agree!