Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith

I don't remember if the movie, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was a huge hit or not. I remember seeing it in theatres (with I think Josh), and really enjoying the movie. It was smartly done with that "tongue-in-cheek" undercurrent, which was the only way that movie could have been pulled off.

I first heard about the author, Seth Grahame-Smith from the book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which by the way, I need to actually see the movie. Quick, was it any good? I didn't hear much about it after it came out, but that's probably a bad sign) and loved the fact that it didn't take the whole zombie or the Austen book very seriously. I know Austen fanatics had mixed feelings about it, but since Pride and Prejudice isn't my favorite Austen book (I prefer Sense and Sensibility more. Yes, a lot of my classmates in my women's lit class had a real problem with that too), so I thought the insertion of zombies was a good touch.

He's one of those authors that kind of fly under the radar for me, personally. After reading Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, which I enjoyed, I didn't really keep an eye out for his next books. He's a good writer, but to be honest, I didn't really remember much from both PPZ and Abraham Lincoln, only that I enjoyed it.

So, when Audible threw The Last American Vampire by Grahame-Smith into their $5 dollar sale, like most purchases from that sale, I figured, why not? The voice actor (reader? I still don't know) wasn't annoying (I'm still bitter from Magnus Chase) and like I said before, Grahame-Smith always produced pretty good material.

Honestly, after listening to this book, I want to go back, purchase PPZ and Abraham Lincoln and listen to it... because this book was awesome!

It's definitely fantasy. But what I think makes good fantasy (or bad fantasy) different from great fantasy, is when the "world" or concept, like vampires, is just a tool to to really tell a great story, instead of using said fantasy concept to be the story itself. Grahame-Smith does just that.

Audiobook are really dependent on the voice actor they enlist to read the story. If the actor doesn't get the character correctly, or just blows (I'm still bitter), then the whole story is ruined, no matter how good the book is. MacLeod Andrews (what a name!) is phenomenal. The story is meant to be sort of a transcript. The main character, Henry Sturges, is telling his story to the writer of the novel. The listener feels as if Henry Sturges is actually talking to them and recounting his incredible life story. The powerhouse between Smith's writing and Andrews acting is what made the audiobook such an enjoyable listen.

The story itself is ironic, and tongue-in-cheek, creative, funny and sad. The story is about the journey of the vampire mentor who trained Abraham Lincoln to be a vampire hunter. The book starts with Henry bringing back Lincoln after he was assassinated, and the confrontation between the two right before Lincoln kills himself by jumping into sunlight.

Smith uses British and American history characters such as Abraham Lincoln, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and JFK and many others. He also uses the Romanovs, Rasputin and Nikola Tesla to implement Henry into very well known historical events and lace them with realist fantastical touches. The idea that Rasputin was a vampire (and therefore unkillable) isn't so far fetched.

It's a fun book that shouldn't be passed up because it has the word vampire in it. It's almost reminiscent of early Rice's works, where it's not about the vampires, but state of humanity and the never ending fight between good and evil. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Martian by Andy Weir

I wasn't aware that The Martian was a book before the movie came out, but when it was 20% off at Target, I snapped it up. I also haven't seen the film first, but I heard from many that it's pretty good, and I quote, "he grows potatoes and shit."

I figure that was a good enough endorsement, and since I realized that it takes me longer to get through books once I've seen the movie (because it just feels like I already know what's going on and nothing is a mystery anymore), I decided to wait to read the book, and catch The Movie when it was out on DVD/Redbox/Amazon/HBO Go.

So, with what this book is about, and the fact that many friends that read the book also warned me that it was pretty technical, I thought this would be a drag, and it would take me weeks to finish. However, I was flat out wrong. The combination of such a funny, geeky, crass character named Mark Watney, the probability that the United States would go to Mars in the 20 or so years, and the improbability that Watney would survive made a riveting book.

I didn't mind the jargon and the technical talk. It actually inflated my ego a whole lot because I felt like I understood him, though I'm sure actual astronauts would roll their eyes and say that's not how that would all work. It really helped that the main character was so jovial and made jokes, despite his impending doom every 5 minutes.

I really liked the different perspectives of NASA and the drive to get Watney home.

It's a very straight forward, action packed book with a bit of suspense at the end. I knew that they would have to get Watney and that everyone would live, but there was a moment or two where I thought it was possible that another astronaut would die, or even Watney would die.

I can't wait to watch the movie!

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Well, with the movie and the TV show, it was bound to happen. It seems I always am behind the trends of YA, but I do end up reading some of them.

But man, Cassandra Clare is infamous. Like, Anne Rice infamous. Though, instead of declaring the Lestat series are finished and she would write exclusively Christian themed novels, Clare is rumored to be a plagiarist during her time as a fan fiction writer, as well as parts of her books to be taken from other works.

Now that I've read her books... I don't think she really hides the fact that she definitely uses folk tales, myths, legends and other public fantasy ideas in her works. I mean, come on, "All the stories are true..." is a running theme throughout the books, and she doesn't make it a secret that she uses everything from vampires, to Norse mythology, to fairy tales, even Star Wars (finding out they were siblings?! Come on.), so I don't think any authors who accuse her of stealing her work really has a leg to stand on, because even though she basically uses everything under the sun in her books, it seems it's a work completely her own.Clare creates an imaginative world where she packs everything she can, all the folklore and urban fantasy into almost an unlimited book series.

Man, again, I have to put Clare in with "people whose careers I wish I stole" because she doesn't pretend to think up all of this stuff on her own. She takes it all and her theme is, "all the stores are true." Brilliant. I would take the haters any day of the week.

I do give her mad props for her extensive world building, which led her to numerous books. How many books does she have out now with different series stemming from The Mortal Instruments? 20? She definitely put time and effort using all she can and she's made a career out of it.

The real question is... is it any good? I'm not sure if I'm qualified yet to answer that question, because I feel like I stumbled into a real Hannibal situation, where I am so saturated with the TV show and the movies, that when it came to reading the books, there was nothing new. The books were almost like the movies, and the TV show added much more to the books. The first book, the City of Bones, definitely follows the movie of finding the Mortal cup, though I'm still confused about the big round blue portal in the movie.

However, her downfall are the characters in the books. She creates a very extensive world with alternative realities and universes, and the "rules" of the universe are practically nonexistent, that she leaves barely any room to introduce any real characters. I was deeply confused when it was revealed that Valentine was also Jace's father. Just to move plot along and create conflict between Clary and Jace, Jace, who was deemed a quick thinker, smart and almost wise beyond his years, absolutely took Valentine, who was deemed a psychopath, at his word, and was immediately obedient to him.

What also didn't work for the book was the snappy dialogue between the characters. It had a very Joss Whedon flair to it, which is admirable, but... since I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters, I thought the dialogue fell flat. I also don't buy that 15 year olds talk like that at all. I taught 15 year olds... they are way dumber. Apparently her writing improves greatly, which I'm looking forward too.

Was it riveting? No. Now that I've seen the terrible movie, and I am watching the TV show on free form which leaves me feeling more confused (I still don't know what's happening and I've read the book now) everytime I watch it. Overall, it took me a bit to get through. I found it boring and I also realized that not much happened (which is an awful realization when you are holding a monster of a book). However, I'm reserving my judgement about this book series with the second book because I definitely watched the TV show and the movie before the book.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Audiobook Wednesdays: The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Oh, Philippa, I can't quit you. I wasn't impressed with the last book I read of yours, The King's Curse, but like I said, I was open to reading more of your books... but not pay full price for them.

Enter Audible's 6 dollar audiobook deal. I'm a member, which means I pay $13.00 a month for a book, but every so often, they have sweet, sweet book deals. I would have never known if it wasn't for the fact I put Down the Rabbit Hole on the wish list, and they sent me an email letting me know that it was on the sale. I snapped up Holly's book, and then took are this time around to listen to the voice actors. This is the first time I ever listened to a book with a British voice actor, and I had trepidations. The sample I listened too was pretty good, and along with another book, I figured, what the hell? I bought it.

This book is a neat set up prequel to Gregory's most famous book, The White Queen, and if you wanted to re-read that book again, you can immediately do so at the ending of this book.

The book is about Elizabeth's Woodville's mother, Jaquetta Woodville, the Dowager Duchess of Bedford and Lady Rivers. It introduces her life as a daughter of a wealthy family of Luxembourg and how she became the Duchess of Bedford, then the Lady Rivers. I was very interested to read about Richard Woodville and Jaquetta's romance, and how she was disgraced by marrying him, which was one of the reasons, (along with the price) I pulled the trigger and bought the book.

At first, I thought I made a huge mistakes. The voice actor was annoying, and when she did the voices of men and other women, some of them trailed off mid sentences, which prompted me to hike up the sound so I could hear them and figure out what the heck they were saying (just a day in the life of a hard-of-hearing person...). I thought this was going to be Magnus Chase all over again but I was relieved to find that when Jaquetta got older, she matured into her voice as well as Richard's Woodville's voice.

Jaquetta meets Joan of Arc in the beginning of the book, as well as introduce magical motifs and themes that are there for a lot of her books. Thankfully, it's not so heavy handed as The King's Curse, where Margaret Pole mentions The Curse on nearly page, and even shows Jaquetta resisting her magical gifts in order to fly under radar for most of life.

I always like reading books where the author refers to other events in other books. Call it cheesy, but it makes me feel like I'm apart of an inside joke or I'm in the know. When she mentions "The 3 Suns" or when she refers to her daughter standing in the road, I'm gleeful, because I know what she's referring to, and I feel accomplished.

Margaret of Anjou is laughably evil and spoiled in this book and I can't imagine a person who can't reflect on their own actions and not draw their own conclusions on their decisions. You're glad when England is ride of her and King Henry, who is such a pool fool. This definitely sets up the saviors that is Edward and Elizabeth who overtake the throne.

I read some of the reviews and some of them critique the fact that Philippa constantly referred to people by their name and title and their relation. I don't remember from her other books, but as an audio book, it was good to hear the titles sometimes and be reminded of who the heck they were. Besides, there are a million Richards, and Edwards and Henries... sometimes it's hard to keep track! Nevertheless, the conversations between Jaquetta and Margaret of Anjou was stilted because Gregory felt the need to constantly refer to everyone by their name and station.

Overall, it was an enjoyable listen. There is some good and bad, and if you want a deep, insightful historical fiction book, this isn't it. Many readers, especially history buffs complained that PG is dumbing down her books to appeal to a larger audience, especially the constant references to various people by their titles and station, but I thought it was better than some of her books. I definitely wouldn't buy it for full price.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Violin by Anne Rice

So if you followed me on twitter, tumblr, facebook or goodreads, you know how I already feel about this book. I got this book a few years ago at the Book Fair in Baltimore, and only now have I gotten to it. Reviews on goodreads were brutal and I went into it with very, very low expectations.

It did not disappoint. It provided me with troll gold as I dubbed Triana "Brann Brice" and her ghost, Stephan, "Mestat." Now, before I get into my review of the book, it's always interesting to think about the state of the author's mind or what the media has covered about their lives as they wrote this book. Ann Rice is notorious for being in the public eye and her views publicized. She notoriously declared that she wasn't going to write any more Lestat books and that her books were going to be strictly Christian. is As I read her books, (a project that inevitably started this blog), it's very easy to tell when she became more committed to Catholicism and when she decided to chill out with said Catholicism. Rice is one of those authors that use her real life to inspire her books and it's very obvious.

When I started reading Violin, I assumed it was when her husband died, and needed to write a book about her feelings and emotional turmoil about the loss in her life. It's cool, I get it and it allowed me to dub the main character Brann Brice, cause... come on. However, as I read the back flap of the cover, it also revealed that at the time, her husband was alive at the time. Nevertheless, after some wikipedia-ing, I found out that like the main character, her daughter died when she was very young of cancer. Incredibly sad, and excellent source material.

But... regardless, this is an awful book. The main female character, a definitely reflection of Anne, mourns over the loss of her husband (who btw, was sick when they married and restored her house and left her a shit ton of money in his will) and runs into a violin playing ghost, who for some reason, puts up with Brann, I mean, Triana's abusive nature. Now, I wish this was the synopsis of the book, but it's literally the entire book. I just spoiled it for you. She goes on and on about how she's so depressed (again, which I get), but then steals Mestat, I mean, Stephan's violin  and pretends to be a great violin player.

Oh, there is side plot for 20 pages about Stephan's journey and how he come to be dead with his violin, but then it's tossed to the side for Triana... and they end up in Vienna, which I don't understand why or even how, truly, and I love far fetched fantasy and time travel, and she's now a renown violin player and everyone is rushing hear her play...

It became such hot garbage that it was then I decided to stop reading. I don't known the end of the book and honestly, I don't care.

Rice will continue to be one of my favorite authors but her writing is so inconsistent. Someone should have vetoed this book. Eventually, I will read Prince Lestat and her The Wolf Gift Chronicles, someday... when I have forgiven Anne for tricking me (YES TRICKING ME) into reading this book.

What are your opinions of Rice's books? Love them? Hate them?