Sunday, February 28, 2010

10. THE HISTORIAN - Elizabeth Kostova


We have our first thrown book of 2010!

A "packet of letters" (please tell me what this brings to mind - an envelope? A folder?) sends a daughter racing after her father, a historian scholar whose life has become entrapped in the tales of Vlad Tepes, or Dracula. Paul has spent his entire life trying to find his missing wife and mentor, fearful that they are part of Dracula's ever-increasing group of minions.
The story is meant to be written in the Victorian style, but this proved to be elusive and annoying. For example, this "packet" of letters proves to take up half of the 600-page novel. The narrator of the letters (Rossi, the missing mentor) and Paul's letters are written in the same voice.
Don't get me started on the ridiculous coincidences. (SPOILER: the mother throws herself off a cliff, leaves a blood stain on a rock, yet manages to survive by rolling onto a grassy portion?! WTFlippin'Hell?!) I truly believe in the suspension of dis/belief in a novel, but this one pushed me past my boundaries.

Door, meet The Historian, traveling at high velocity.
Lucky for you, it is a good basic story, so you will get to see it in theatres within the next four years. I will stay home with a vodka seven and grind my teeth.
1.0 out of 5.0 Vampires.

9. THE MISTS OF AVALON - Marion Zimmer Bradley


As many of you wonderful Books for Breakfast readers know (because this has been recommended for three years), this book is about the Arthurian legend. However, the twist is the old Celtic/Druid tales, as well as the legend told entirely from the women's point of view.
I have studied the lost Druid training of the "Isle of Mona," and I wonder how much could be truth. Or, is it a form of truth that cannot be proven other than in faith? Either way, I was hypnotized by this epic book. At times, the actions of the characters angered me, but this was the purpose of the novel. Such strangely beautiful writing, as well.
Are the other books in the series (and written with her sister-in-law) comparable? How odd that I felt a sense of loss when I read the epilogue and learned that Marion Zimmer Bradley had died two decades ago. It had been like finding a new friend.
4.5 out of 5.0 Green Mists.

Monday, February 22, 2010

8. THE USED WORLD - Haven Kimmel


Three women work at "The Used World," and their lives become so intertwined and messy that one cannot help but continue to read.

However, for me, I was frustrated by a number of points in this novel. If you are not afraid of spoilers, see the comments section.

2.5 out of 5.0 June Bugs.

7. THE STONE CARVERS - Jane Urquhart


With the Winter Olympics held in Toronto, there is an increased interest in all things Canadian. I, of course, turn toward books, and I am fortunate to have a Canadian teacher-friend who has recommended so many great books over the years (thanks, Paul!).

This novel is about the taming of Canadian wilderness. The back story is about her grandfather, who helped build the church in Shoneval. His wood-carving skills created wonder among those who saw his work, and he passed down these lessons and materials to his granddaughter, Klara, and grandson, Tilman.

As adolescents, Klara is typical of the time. She wants to do more than women were "allowed" to do, like carve an enormous statue for the church. Instead, she settles for creating other things as the best tailor in the area. She falls for an Irish farmer who leaves to serve in the war.

Tilman, however, cannot bear to stay home. When he hears the call of the geese, he wants to follow them. This leads to a decades-long separation from his sister. But, when they are reunited, he agrees to go to France with Klara and work on the monument dedicated to the soldiers from the Great World War.

The writing is beautiful and spare, but the characters felt forced into their roles. Klara is bitter and stubborn to the point where I could not comprehend her choices. The end is predictable. If the writing were not so lovely, it would have been painful to read, but I liked the different tales of Canadian history.

2.75 out of 5.0 Canadian Car Bombs.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

6. FOLLOW THE RIVER - James Alexander Thom


The cheesy cover. The almost-romance lift of her skirt. Oh, friend of mine, if I had seen the book when you recommended it, I would never have read it.

However, as this site shows, there are just some bad book covers. Or, it is from a genre writer, so it gets a genre cover. Or, we can blame the 80s. I do it all of the time.

Mary Ingles (not to be confused with Mary Ingalls of Laura Ingalls Wilder fame) is kidnapped by Shawnee Indians after a massacre in her small Virginia settlement. She is nine months pregnant with two sons, but she takes charge of the other prisoners and gets kick-ass respect from her captors.

After plotting her escape, she finally makes a run for it with a Dutch woman, knowing only that she must follow the river to get home to her husband.

Super quick read, fascinating tale that is based on a true story. It made me ask myself, "What if I had to make the same choices?" which is always a sign of a good read in my view.

3.0 out of 5.0 Vodka Chillers.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

5. THE FORGOTTEN LEGION - Ben Kane


As a writer who lives in the world where Romans are enemies and fables become truths, this book spoke to my spirit. Kane has written the first in a series of epic tales about the lost history of the conquered - though definitely not forgotten.

Twins are born to a Roman slave; one becomes a gladiator, while his sister is sold into prostitution. Brennus is the mentor to Romulus, teaching him how to do battle in the arena. When forced to flee, the two join Tarquinius, one of the last Etruscan tribe, who is not only a warrior but a "haruspex," someone who knows the lost arts of divination in the tribe.

The three join the army and fight the Parthians, setting the tone for the future books where they will fight their way to Margiana and become the historically known "Forgotten Legion." Meanwhile, Fabiola, the twin left for death at the whorehouse, is wooed and won by the powerful Brutus. Her fortune also awaits us in the next volume.

While the book may seem like back story for a longer novel, it is full of ancient myths and battles. For example, one greedy general's quest for gold is used to parallel another myth about "beware of what you wish for" (and, strangely enough, appeared in another recent book, as well, but more on that in future posts).

I found myself flipping through the pages like eating potato chips. If kids could read this, history would be ever-so-much-more interesting. However, I don't think I'll feel quite full until I know more about the characters' fates. Please, Mr. Kane, follow the horrible examples of the trilogies turned into six-seven-eight-infinity books, and provide your readers these wonderful stories without dipping into irrational red herrings and plot twists. Diana Gabaldon, I am looking at you.

3.8 out of 5.0 Roman Riots.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

January Free Book Contest: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES

Congratulations to Renee from St. Louis, Missouri, for having the winning entry for this free book give-away!

Check out the February free book contest at the Facebook page (see link at right) on Friday.

What the - ?

Between blizzards and writing and work, I have been a poor blogger, indeed. However, I have a stack of books that need to be reviewed, and a new announcement for a free book.

So, forgive the sudden burst of activity as I try to get caught up over the next week or so.