Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Report Monday: Such Wicked Intent

Title: Such Wicked Intent, The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #2

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again—just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed.

If only these things were not so tempting.

When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor’s twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?:  <3 Frankenstein!

Favorite Line:  "And I turned back to the storm and thought: Such astonishing power."

This is the last line of the book and Victor's talking about the lightning struck tree. I was ecstatic to see the connection made to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It's one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite books. Reading it a anew gave me goosebumps...because I'm a nerd.

Honorable Mention: "The sun cleared the eastern peaks and light glittered across the surface of Lake Geneva. I began laughing with sheer joy."

I could have written this line, because when I was in Switzerland it happened to me. Though unlike the character of Victor, I was listening to the Smiths at the time.

My Review: Life at Chateau Frankenstein is no longer the epitome of comfort and happiness. Victor's ideal childhood has been disrupted by loss. More loss, obsession and horror are on the horizon and we see in the sequel to This Dark Endeavor how Victor is changing.

Victor Frankenstein is not the classic hero. He can be very unlikable when it comes down to it. Selfishly one track minded, he gets an idea in his head and is unflappable. Yet Oppel manages to show us a young man who is both true to the nature of Mary Shelley's scientist and yet striving to be good. He wants to do the right thing, even though sometimes his reasons may be self serving.

The journeys into the spirit world leave the human visitors changed. Not only that they seem to have less inhibitions while there but that something about their basic, animalistic selves remain with them even after their leave.

After the first book I wasn't sure how Oppel's story would match up with Shelley's. I thought he was taking it into a different direction, but now I suspect the third installment will have even more references and I cannot wait.

Recommendation: Anyone looking for Young Adult that is not romance focused. It will appeal to boys as well as girls.

For Next Week: Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Report Monday: 'Salem's Lot

Title: 'Salem's Lot

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Synopsis: 'Salem's Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in 'Salem's Lot was a summer of home-coming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to 'Salem's Lot hoping to cast out his own devils... and found instead a new unspeakable horror.

A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.

All would be changed forever—Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of 'Salem's Lot.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: At the urging of my friend Jason, I gave King another try. I love him, but he scares me-Stephen King, I mean, not Jason. Also, I like vampire stories.

Favorite Line: "The world is coming down around our ears and you're sticking at a few vampires."

My Review: I was worried that I'd be too afraid to read the whole thing, as sometimes happens with me and Stephen King, but it was just the right amount of scary for me. Of course, maybe I'm growing immune to vampires because 'Salem's Lot made me jump and cringe when I read it late at night but I never considered putting the book in the freezer. Or putting it down at all.

The delivery of back story was well-timed and spaced out perfectly. Ben Mears, the main character who returns to the town he once lived in (albeit for a short time) as a kid. Now a semi-successful novelist Mears plans to write a story about 'Salem's Lot and the mysterious Marsten House where as a boy he experienced a moment of pure terror, which may have been nothing more than an overactive imagination but this is Stephen King were talking about so you know you can't assume that.

The history of Mears, the Lot and its residents is alluded to when necessary and explained just enough without being boring or excessive. By the time you get the full story you are eager to know it. It even got to the point where I was ready for some scary vampire attacks, which for me is a pretty big deal.

The Lot, as the town is commonly referred to by its inhabitants, is full of characters that keep the story focused on what's happening to everyone rather than just Ben Mears. Some of the characters, like young Mark Petrie-a Van Helsing in training, I adored immediately. While others, like the abusive mother, are impossible to pity even when vampires are on the loose. Small town police with no desire to protect and serve when that extends to fighting dark forces. The bored priest with something to prove. The Van Helsing-esque English teacher at the local high school, Matt, is so cool and clever it's hard not to note that 'Salem's Lot began as a re-imagining of Bram Stoker's Dracula while King was a high school English teacher himself.

Recommendation: A great example of King's books if you haven't read much from him. Good for anyone who likes their vamps undead and unsexy.

For Next Week: Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fun Friday: Fantasy Fashions

While most people are content to show their love of books and movies with t-shirts, reusable tote bags, or by hanging maps of Westeros in their office (or is that just me?) others take it a step farther. It's not a contest. . .but if it was those folks would be winning.

For fans of Game of Thrones there's a tumblr dedicated to the latest fashions which would most likely be worn by Daenerys across the Narrow Sea. Aptly called What Would Khaleesi Wear? the site has hairstyles, clothes, jewelry and more.

Tattoos are common enough that getting one inspired by a book or movie isn't too crazy, but I'll probably blog about it at some point. Still it's fan nature to one up each other and now you can go under the knife to live out your nerdastic fantasies.

While it's just a bad idea to accuse vampire-wannabes of being nerds, what else do you call someone who gets the dental implants semi-permanently attached to their teeth?
I mean when they go to Nana's 90th, those teeth are still there.  

You can now go the surgical route and have a small operation to get pointed ears like and elf or a Vulcan.

Like I said, it's not a competition....but this girl obviously likes elves more than I do...and I like them a lot. Even if I had "the nine" in Sindarin or Orlando Bloom's face inked permanently into my flesh, she'd still be winning.


Elfophiles (aka Alfariophiles*) who aren't prepared to go under the knife can buy accessories that show off their dedication to the Alliance, Lothlorien, Orilla, or pure logic.
*Yes, I made that word up.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Report Monday: Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn

Genre: Thriller

Synopsis: Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: My sister, the Florida one, said she was up all night finishing it. You have to know her to understand how serious this was. She loves sleep, it's precious to her. Normally, I suggest books to my sisters and not the other way around. So when it happens, I take their suggestions and add it to my list, since they usually trust me.

Favorite Line: "So I know I am right not to settle, but it doesn't make me feel better as my friends pair off and I stay home on Friday night with a bottle of wine and make myself an extravagant meal and tell myself, This is perfect, as if I'm the one dating me."

My Review: Relationships can make people crazy. Everyone knows that, but some people are already psychotic, sociopaths beforehand and after. . .well. . .you'll have to read Gone Girl to see what I mean.  

Real people are not easily filed away into categories of good and bad behavior and characters shouldn't be either. Gone Girl is full of fleshed out personalities. At the start, the story pulls you into the psyche of Nick beginning the morning of his wife's disappearance, but she teases with showing how much Nick knows. Is he guilty? Is he guilty? I needed to know. The chapters alternate between Nick's journey and Amy's diary entries which begin with her and Nick's first meeting seven years before she disappears. Both perspectives shed light into the darkest corners of the mind. I enjoyed the way Amy and Nick described the same events, it showed how they each viewed their spouse and what the other one was leaving out or altering.

Flynn shows the relationship ups, downs and insane bumps of Amy and Nick honestly, giving the reader just enough details to hope, cringe, laugh, admire, and worry about the couple's marital state and their psychological well-being in turn. It was an emotional roller coaster, complete with the nausea at the disgust with the extremes some people will go to save face or just to say they won.

Sometimes a book buzzes its way to bestsellerdom and everyone's reading it and they keep telling you to get on board because you're a big reader, are you not? So, you pick it up and it's fan fiction that makes you a little (or more than a little) uncomfortable. This is not one of those bestsellers. Gone Girl is a fast read and there are many unputdownable chapters that kept me up later than usual. 

Recommendation: If you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even though you found the beginning a bit slow, you'll love Gone Girl which will pull you in without delay and none of the names will cause you to stumble and curse the Swedish language.

For Next Week: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Friday, September 7, 2012

Under the Influence

What I read affects not just what or how I write, but how I think about what I'm writing. Since coming out of the writer closet and actively honing some skills (or attempting to), I've begun to read more critically than before. Fortunately, I still become doe-eyed with wonderment when I'm swept up into other worlds, but I'm aware of the elements which pulled me off the couch and into the fiction.

How does one story affect me more than another? Why couldn't I put the book down? Why do I love to hate this character? These are the questions I involuntarily ask myself.

Recently, I've read The Night Circus and Gone Girl (Book Report coming Monday) and they both feature split or partially split timelines, where the story is laid out with the current events next to the past events. In Gone Girl, the husband of a missing woman deals with her disappearance in the present while his wife's diary entries shed light on their past.

The books are very different but the technique used is the same. It left me thinking about the timing of information revealed to the reader. Not that I will be using the past and present parallel in my writing, I'm not that susceptible to the influence. I see how the reveals were laid out in those books and wonder when I should mention a past event that affects the current action. How could I use the placement of information to change the way readers view my characters, plot, settings, etc?

Sometimes it's best to be direct, but it may be better when the information is alluded to, or only half revealed and as the reader you are left suspecting the truth is one thing, hoping it's something else and it ends up being completely different than what you imagined. That's what makes you turn the page, that's why being a writer is still a profession. Surprising people is harder than it seems. You need to do the little reveals in just the right way and at just the right time to lead them in the wrong direction, then when they aren't quite expecting it you BAM! them like Emeril with the truth.

It's easy enough to understand but the trouble is in the execution. I know what I want to convey, but how do I go about conveying? I know my story, I know my characters, and I know when my characters become privy to details. I just don't know where the reader needs to stand to watch it all play out. There isn't an easy answer. There never is...unless you're Emeril, in which case the answer is always, Bam!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Genre: Magical Realism

Synopsis: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

(from Goodreads)

Favorite Line: "The circus arrives without warning."

It's the first line and it's perfect for setting the novel's tone. Other first lines are getting jealous.

My Review: Magical from start to finish to start again. Fair warning: the nonlinear timeline may be disorienting at first, especially since most of the characters are involved in past and present events. One timeline begins before the circus is created, with Celia, a young and magically gifted child about to begin her training. The other starts after the circus has been established. Each chapter begins with a date and location to help clarify when and where you are. Though after a few jumps back and forth it, I felt it became immediately apparent which one I was reading. They grow closer and closer in time until they converge and bring the whole plot together. It is done very well and makes the climax all the more intense.

There are also several short sections written in second person. They take you through the experience of Le Cirque des Rêves. They add nothing to the plot development but show the circus, the way the visitors see it. Each description is very short, about a page or two. It is important to understand the circus as it is the main character of the story.

Le Cirque des Rêves wove itself into my days and nights. I craved caramel-dipped apples and hot chocolate. It's probably the reason I'm so eager for Autumn. I watched Water for Elephants and had dreams where I was surrounded by roaring tigers while trapeze artists tossed each other through the air above me with no safety net between us. I found the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge and listened to it in my car. I don't know if everyone would agree with the Moulin Rouge-Night Circus connection, but when I read about the planning of the circus I couldn't help remembering the scene in Moulin Rouge where they plan out the show. Then I had that song stuck in my head for days, "Spectacular, spectacular. No words in the vernacular can describe this great event. You'll be dumb with wonderment."

Like Moulin Rouge, the love between Marco and Celia is riddled with complications. The star-crossed lovers are bound by magical agreement to compete against each other and finish the game while keeping their love and contest hidden. They cannot quit or surrender and live happily ever after. Magical contracts are cruel like that. Think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he had no choice but to fulfill the agreement.

Recommendation: Great for anyone who loves a little magic in their stories.

For Next Week:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn