Category Archives: Fiction

Frankenstein

frank_coverFrankenstein
By: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

I’m not going to give this book my regular treatment, discussing the plot and my opinion of the book, since a) you know the plot and b) I would sound like an idiot sharing my opinions on such a classic piece of literature. What i will do is talk about the things that I normally think about when reading classic literature, the way I determine whether I will enjoy it or not, and how those things applied specifically to Frankenstein.

Let me start by saying that if I read a classic and don’t enjoy it, I tend to assume the fault is in me, and not in the book, and therefore, the following apply more to if I was able to enjoy reading the book, rather than if the book was “good” since I think we can safely say that a book which has been added to the canon of “Classic Literature” is pretty outstanding.

First of all, to enjoy a classic, I need to be able to read it. This is obvious, if you can’t read it, you probably can’t enjoy reading it. When I say I need to be able to read it, I don’t mean that it has to be in English, that should be a given. I mean that I have a hard time reading a book that has very lofty vocabulary or very old difficult structures. If I can’t get “flowing” when I read, I can’t get into the story and enjoy the book. I have learned over time that patience can sometimes be rewarded. I don’t like to write off a book before getting at least about a quarter of the way through it. Frankenstein is a great example of the value of patience. At first I thought the language was too out of reach in the way it was written, but as I got farther into the book, this became less and less of a distraction, to the point where I didn’t even notice it probably about half way through.

Another area that I struggle in with classics is the cultural perspectives of the author and a lack of ability to relate. Some books I just don’t get what people are doing and why they are doing it (this is very often true with more current books, but I will just toss those if I don’t get them, no need to try to push through with those). If stuff happens and people do things and I don’t get why or their reasons seem ridiculous, this can throw a roadblock up for me and make it hard for me to get invested in the story. Again, when this happens I blame myself, or better yet, the gap between my culture and that of the author, I don’t assume it is bad writing. In Frankenstein I came across this a couple times, in things like the fact that he was going to marry his cousin that he grew up with like a sister. That seemed weird, but ultimately the big ideas of the book made sense to me. The idea of creating the object of your destruction. The virtues of love and the ugliness of revenge and fear and loneliness. These are pretty universal and outshine the minor cultural differences between my world and Frankenstein’s.

Lastly, pace is important to hold my attention. Lots of classics are just too long and contain far too many asides for me to stick with them. I blame my short attention span. Coming in at right around 250 pages, there is no extra fat in Frankenstein. It is all story, and it is told at a rather breakneck speed. I actually was surprised when I reached the end, not expecting it so soon.

Frankenstein is a classic that I was able to enjoy. I was able to really get into the story and felt the feelings of the monster and of Dr. Frankenstein and the people around him. I felt his despair as he realized his creation had destroyed his life. I understood his ups and downs as he tried to live a normal life, knowing that the creature was out and about but knowing that his depression was hurting his family. I liked the parts that described nature (which I normally wouldn’t) because they contrasted the monster so well. I liked that the monster was deceptive and hypocritical but seemed to think he was good and blamed others for his evil. I liked that the whole thing wasn’t about the creation of the monster, but about the aftermath, and I especially liked that it didn’t have a nice neat happy ending.

This is a classic that I would recommend people try out.

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NOS4A2

nos4a2_coverNOS4A2
By: Joe Hill

So, I am a pretty big fan of Joe Hill, son of Stephen King (yes, THAT Stephen King). I became acquainted with him through his comic series, Locke and Key. If you haven’t read these and like comics, check them out, they are very cool. Since getting into Locke and Key I have read a couple of Hill’s novels including Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, so I was pretty excited when I saw that he had another book coming out.

Synopsis: NOS4A2 is about Vic, a girl who can travel across a magical covered bridge to find things that have been lost. She learns about this special ability when she is a young girl and her parents are fighting over a bracelet her mother had lost. Vic takes off on her bike to get away from her parents and feels drawn to a covered bridge. When she crosses she is in the town where they had vacationed and goes into the restaurant they ate at, where the cook gives her the bracelet the mother had left behind.

Over time Vic realizes that she is not the only person with this special ability. She meets a girl who has magic scrabble tiles which tell her the future. She also learns about Charlie Manx, a man with a magic Rolls-Royce (with the license plate number NOS4A2) that takes him to an imaginary place called Christmasland. Unfortunately Mr. Manx doesn’t use his special ability for what most of us would consider good ends. He steals children and takes them to Christmasland.

Vic ends up on a  collision course with Manx when he steals her son to take him to Christmasland. Vic must outrun the law, who think she is the culprit in the disappearance of her son, to get to Manx and her son before it is too late.

My Opinion: I love that Hill is not afraid to tell really wild stories. Lots of more recent horror stuff feels the need to have some kind of gritty realism. Hill isn’t afraid to go deep into the fantastical places of his imagination, and I really like that. He builds whole worlds within single volumes and he does it well.

Also, Hill is younger and his writing style is younger and his characters tend to be younger (Don’t think teens, think mid-twenties and early thirties). I like this. His characters are flawed, but that isn’t anything new. But, they are flawed in a way that relates to a younger crowd. They have depression, and deal with anxiety and awkwardness around the opposite sex and fear of failure and all that stuff that I don’t know if other authors grab quite so well. Sometimes you feel like the writing is immature, but then you realize that it is actually the character that is immature, and that is pretty impressive. That all sounds kinda weird, but it’s almost as if you relate to the characters better because you don’t always get the way they act, because you don’t always get the way immature people act, so it feels real in that way.

That is all general praise for Hill, but NOS4A2 is his biggest book so far and I think improves on both of those fronts over his previous novels (although Locke and Key is mostly on par in these areas).

One of the coolest things about NOS4A2 is how it ties in lots of other books, both by Hill himself, and by his dad, Stephen King. Before even picking up the book, I thought the evil car idea sounded very familiar, but when you actually start reading it you come across explicit references. I came across the first of these tie-ins fairly early in the book and thought it was just sort of a nod at his dad and his fans, then it came up more and more and I realized Hill was actually filling out the world of NOS4A2 and all these other books, by explaining how this special ability is the reason that a bunch of mysterious things happen in places like Derry, mentioning Pennywise directly, and the doors to Mid-World of the Dark Tower series. He also ties to Locke and Key, Horns, and Heart-Shaped Box. I love all this! It seems from interviews that Hill was just trying to be funny, but you still gotta love it from a guy who didn’t even want people to know he was King’s son just a few years ago.

NOS4A2 is a really fun book to read. Not overly scary, but definitely has some intense page-turning sections. If I felt like there was any problem at all, it was the big confrontation at the end between Vic and Manx. It felt somewhat anticlimactic. You know how you hold your breath for that big moment when you can finally let it go? I didn’t feel that moment. It was kinda like my breath just slowly eased back out, but honestly the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was kinda unsettling. I never felt that moment when everything was ok again, and maybe that’s a good thing. This is a great book to read right now with Halloween coming up and Christmas in the not too distant future. It’ll make it hard for you to hear Christmas songs without looking over your shoulder!


Preacher

PreaImagecher
Written by: Garth Ennis
Drawn By: Steve Dillon

I am going to talk about this as a complete series, since that was how I read it and it is written as one long story arch anyway, so no real need to split it up among TPB volumes.

Preacher is a series that was done by Vertigo back in the 90s and, in my opinion, is everything awesome about the 90s in comic book form. You have some ultra-violence, some antihero action, some morally ambiguous characters that you love, but shouldn’t. a little rock and roll, drug abuse, boobs, and probably the best part, just a little fun irreverence (as in, the whole plot of the story).

So the story follows this guy, Jesse Custer, who starts out as a preacher who kind of hates the job and hates the people he shepherds. He likes to drink and smoke and generally have a good time. Well, during a sermon, he gets hit with this crazy power. Everyone in the church dies, but he walks away. Apparently when demons and angels do the nasty, their spawn is a being with basically the same powers as God. When that spawn, known as Genesis, possesses a person that person gains the ability to make people do whatever he says. Pretty friggin sweet! That is what happens to Jesse Custer, The Preacher.

Once endowed with/possessed by Genesis, Jesse goes on a journey to find God, not in like a metaphysical sense, in the God-abandoned-heaven-and-is-hiding-on-earth sense. God gave up on humanity and heaven and all that, and decided to take a little vacation. Jesse aims to find him and set him straight.

Jesse and his friends, long lost love Tulip, and hard partying vampire Cassidy, journey all over the world, fighting mutant rednecks, a whole religious/political secret underground, an undead cowboy assassin, various angels, and, oh yeah, don’t forget arseface!

The story is ridiculously absurd, but super fun and easy to read. There is a ton of humor. Great storytelling. All around great series that is well worth the read. If you are new to the comic world, or are looking for a good story to try out, I would definitely give this a shot, assuming you are not easily offended.


Cell

Cell
By Stephen King

Synopsis: One October afternoon a pulse is sent out through everyone’s cellphones which makes them turn violent and mindless. Clay, a graphic artist, leads a small group of survivors trying to make their way from Boston to Maine. On their way they run into a flock of the “phone-crazies” sleeping in a field and decide to blow them up. This proves to be a bad idea and they soon realize the full power of the not-so-crazy “phone-crazies.” The small group of survivors is prodded along both physically and mentally to a town where they believe they will be murdered by the “phone-crazies.” The mental power the flock holds over the band of survivors makes it impossible to fight their prodding. Clay hopes that he will find his son when they arrive and that they can find a way to escape.

My Opinion: I heard that Stephen King had written a zombie novel so I figured it would be worth a shot. I’m not a huge fan of his, but I live in Maine so I feel somewhat obligated to read his stuff, especially when he is tapping into a genre that I really enjoy, like zombies. It took me awhile to get into the book. I actually picked it up three separate times before it finally stuck, but once it did, it was interesting enough for me to stick with it.

At first I thought Cell was going to be a pretty straightforward zombie story but after about 150 pages things really started to get weird and by the time I was about 2/3 into it, I knew I was reading a Stephen King novel. There was levitation and dreams and telepathy and intuition and all that stuff that his books are normally full of. One of those things, which annoys me whenever I see it in his books, is the intuition of the main characters explaining how things “work.” What I mean by this is that a character gets a hunch about something, like in this book the hunch is about how the “phone-crazies” are rebooting at night like computers, and then building the whole explanation of what happened off of that surprisingly accurate guess. It seems unrealistic and kind of lazy, like he can’t think of a better way for them to figure things out, so they just end up making perfectly accurate guesses.

Aside from that annoyance, which is pretty common among the stuff I have read by Stephen King, I would say that this book had some pretty cool stuff in it. I am always interested to see how someone can take a very popular subject and put their own spin on it. King certainly did that. The idea of the cellphone pulse was pretty cool, especially now when everyone has a cellphone. I also liked the idea of the flock mentality. I read something similar in the Monster series by David Wellington, but that had more to do with magic and mummies and stuff. In Cell the pulse and the group mind all seemed to be the result of some kind of terrorism. I thought that was also an interesting angle. I liked that he tied the outbreak to two things that are in the spotlight right now: cellphones and terrorism.

While I appreciate the angle that King took with Cell I would say that he went so far as to make you ask if you were reading a “zombie” novel at all. The “phone-crazies” shared many traits with the typical undead: lack of motor skills, lack of independent thought, lack of pain sensation, a propensity toward violence … but they were still alive, they ate, they could think as a group, they could levitate, and they seemed to have higher objectives than simple violence. So Cell borders on being a zombie novel, but for a real undead purist this is NOT a traditional zombie novel, and these “zombies” will break most of your “rules.”

FYI: One of the characters, Ray, was based on a charity auction winner who’s sister paid $25K to have him appear in the book.

Cell at amazon.com


Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor

Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor
By Chuck Black

Synopsis: Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor is book five of The Knights of Arrethtrae series. In this part of the series a young man, Quinlan, feels called to become a knight of the King and follow the Prince. He first trains with a skilled knight and later a Silent Warrior who teach him to fight and overcome his self doubt and fear. After his training is complete he returns to his hometown to fight the hidden Shadow Warriors. When the enemy leader, Lucius finds out that Sir Quinlan has returned he launches an all out attack on the city. The small band of knights under the leadership of Quinlan must lead the charge in the battle against Lucius’ Shadow Warriors.

My Opinion: So Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor is an allegory and full of various Christian truths and life lessons. I think that Black does a mediocre job at presenting this allegory in an interesting and engaging way.

I would say that the good thing about the allegorical element is that many of the truths that he alludes to in the story are important, i.e. trust in the Prince and not ourselves, The King choosing the weak of the world, following the Prince requires complete surrender and a sacrifice of everything but is rewarded greatly when you one day cross the Great Sea, and many others.

The thing that I thought was sub par about the allegory was the totally transparent way that it was presented. Many times Black would almost quote the Bible verbatim through some character’s speech or he would add elements that really didn’t make sense in the story, but fed the allegory. He discusses how the King sent the Prince from across the Great Sea to bring the Kings people back to him and how they rejected him and he died “on a tree” (what does that even mean?) but the King brought him back to life using the Life Spice. Black tries to explain how this death and resurrection enabled the knights to follow the Prince, but it never really makes much sense. I felt like a lot of the more obvious “Christian” themes seemed overly forced into the story.

Aside from the failures in the allegory I thought the book was pretty good. I think that younger kids, probably boys in their tweens mostly, would really enjoy reading this book and would get a lot out of it. The battles are pretty engaging and exciting, and the characters are dynamic enough that you grow to like (or dislike) them. There is a little humor tossed into the mix to keep the dramatic elements from being too overwhelming for younger readers. It certainly isn’t C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but it is another series that could be worth picking up if you have a young avid reader.

FYI: the land Arrethtrae, where the story takes place, is a backward combination of the words Earth and Terra.

Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor at amazon.com

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their Blogging for Books program.


World War Z

World War Z
By Max Brooks

Synopsis: The book is composed of short interview pieces, compiled by a journalist, describing the history of World War Z, or the war against the zombies. While the interviews are from various individuals in several different locations around the world, they are put together in such a way that the story progresses through them. The book is divided into major sections covering the outbreak, the initial reactions of the living, the regrouping and war that the humans wage against the zombies, and the aftermath (those are not the names of the sections, just the general subject of each).

My Opinion: I know I should have read this book a long time ago. It’s hard to be a proper zombie fan without having read this book. The first zombie book I ever read was The Zombie Survival Guide, also by Brooks, but I just never got around to this one, until now. There were things I liked a lot about it and things I thought could have been a lot better.

I liked that he covered the zombie apocalypse from many different angles. If you are only following one character, especially if you don’t have an omniscient narrator, you only have to know what is pertinent to that one character’s story. Brooks has to explain this thing from many different perspectives. This means he would have had to learn enough about biology, weapons, warfare, world history, theology and so on to at least sound convincing when writing each of the “interviews” I’m not an expert in any of these areas, but as a regular guy I thought he sounded pretty convincing.

The big thing I didn’t like was that all the characters seemed to have the same voice and the same vocabulary. I had a hard time believing these were different people. Some swore more than others, one even thought she was still a little girl, but even that didn’t come off convincingly. So he succeeded in being able to speak intelligently about several different expert subjects, but he failed at the more important task of making me feel like I was hearing from different people.

There are lots of cool discussions about history and warfare and peace and violence and different cultures and consumerism and all those fun subjects that zombie novels get to deal with under the surface. All together I could see why it has ranked among the top of the pile for zombie novels. It may not be the “best” zombie novel for the enthusiast, but I would say that it is very digestible (pun fully  intended!) so it will appeal to lots of readers who may not otherwise be interested in zombie novels at all.

FYI: Max Brooks is the son of the hilarious movie maker and actor Mel Brooks.

World War Z at amazon.com


Feed

Feed
By Mira Grant

Synopsis: This book takes place twenty something years after the beginning of a zombie “Rising.” The zombies are still around but some semblance of normality has returned. People can come and go, assuming they have proper hazard clearance for the area they are attempting to enter, and are willing to be subjected to several blood tests to confirm they were not infected while out and about. In this new world bloggers are trusted over traditional media to bring the legitimate news. To get on-board with this trend presidential candidate, Senator Ryman, hires a three part team of young bloggers led by the smart and sarcastic Georgia Mason, who, above all else, wants to find and expose the truth. Their job is to follow and report on his campaign. Everything goes well until people start dying in what first appear to be accidents, but are discovered by the bloggers to be intentional acts of terrorism. Georgia and her team end up in danger as they uncover the truth about what is going on and who is responsible.

My Opinion: I like zombie novels that aren’t really about zombies. What I mean by that is that I like stories about other things (l0ve, friendship, espionage, power-struggles …) that use zombies as a backdrop, or environmental element, to their story. Feed is that kind of story. Because the story is set a while after the initial “Rising,” zombies have become just another hazard of life. They are obviously a very dangerous and civilization changing hazard, but life has gone on since the dead started to rise. Feed is more a story about politics and media and friendship and truth than it is about zombies. Zombies (and the infectious virus) just make a really nice backdrop for the story. The main characters are believable and you end up really liking them and rooting for them. Toward the end of the book the story was so intense that I couldn’t read fast enough. I think that is a good sign that I was into the book at that point! I liked the characters, the plot, the dialogue, and the underlying messages about truth and control and oppression and fear. It was a really good, easy, read. Not too gory or disturbing (not that I consider those to be bad things), definitely a good book to help step into the zombie genre.

FYI: The second installment in this trilogy is titled Deadline, but as far as I know there is no third book yet.

Feed at amazon.com