Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Seth Grahame-Smith)

My first thought when I originally saw this on the bookstore shelves back after its original release in 2010 was "Really?? That's pretty funny; I'll have to read that someday." I read Seth Grahame-Smith's well-done parody Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with my English class and enjoyed it. My respect for Grahame-Smith as a writer grew after seeing how closely he mirrored Austen's voice, cadence, and overall writing style, so I began to consider reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a bit sooner. Then I saw the trailer for the Tim Burton produced movie and decided that I had to read the book before seeing the movie, and I'm glad I did.

The tale picks up early in Lincoln's youth, giving a brief but important background of Lincoln's parents, especially his father, and introducing the young Abraham's motivation to hunt and kill vampires after a poignant family tragedy deeply affects him. He later goes on to learn how to survive his own hunts after nearly dying his first true time out. The story goes on to trace Lincoln from general store employee all the way up to his presidency and assassination, with a generous scattering of blood and violence throughout, though in his later years as President, the blood and violence comes from the Civil War.

This book is a fairly fast and fun read. Grahame-Smith has obviously done his research on Lincoln and his life as well as Lincoln's writing style, presenting the story as a biography of Lincoln's life, albeit a biography of Lincoln's "secret, other life" as a vampire hunter. The excerpts from Lincoln's "secret journal" mirror Lincoln's own writing style masterfully, and the tale is a wonderful balance of history, horror and humor. Scattered throughout the book are various illustrations and photographs, with the successful intent to lend an air of verisimilitude to the story (as well as having the effect of being able to plant the tongue a little more firmly into the cheek).

Overall, the book presents a little something for a variety of fans: historical fiction, horror, parody, or alternative history/biography, and Grahame-Smith weaves them all into an entertaining and wonderfully coherent, witty, fast-paced, and at times horrifying, whole. From Grand Central Publishing and available at your local, independent bookstore. (Buy from locally owned, independent makes more a difference than you think!)

NOTE: The trailer below is for the book, not the movie!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth

Red, White and Blood is the eagerly awaited third installment of Christopher Farnsworth's intense and fast-paced President's Vampire series. This time, vampire Nathaniel Cade faces off against a malevolent entity only known as "The Boogeyman." This isn't the first time Cade has come up against this creature; over the past 100 years or so, it has infested various hosts, taking a wide range of guises, and each time only Cade has been able to stop its murderous rampages, yet each time, it finds a way to come back. This time is different, however. This time, the creature's target is none other than the President of the United States.

Cade and his handler, Zach Barrows find themselves not only having to protect the President, but also avoid media exposure, no easy task considering the President is up for re-election and is on the campaign trail with every move watched closely. While The President's Vampire tended to lean more toward adventure spy novel and a bit less towards horror, Red, White and Blood effectively captures the flavor and balance of Blood Oath: walking that fine line between the two genres. It is an unlikely pairing, but Farnsworth is a master of both and a master of the blend.

The novel is filled with enough twists and turns to keep the reader off balance and the story itself is wire-tight enough to compel more than one late night trying to finish "just one more chapter," and the unexpected ending will leave you aching for the next installment.

If you haven't read the first two books in this series, things will still make sense, however reading the first two (Blood Oath and The President's Vampire) will give you a bit more background about the world of the series, and they're just darned good reading...something you can really sink your teeth into. (There, I said it!)

Red, White and Blood is published by Putnam Books and is available from your local, independent book seller. (Make a difference in your local economy: shop local and independent first!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I was introduced to the Dresden Files by a friend of mine who recommended it to me. I went in search of the  books and happened to find an assortment of them in a locally owned bookstore. I picked one up, and on the first page, in the first paragraph, it said "“An errand is getting a tank of gas or picking up a carton of milk or something. It is not getting chased by flying purple pyromaniac gorillas hurling incendiary poo!” (From Blood Rites, a book later in the series.) Hmm. Demon monkeys flinging balls of flaming poo at the protagonist?? This is my kind of series! I grabbed all that were there and purchased them on the spot. (Thank goodness for used books!)

The first in this cleverly written series by Jim Butcher is Storm Front. In it we meet the central protagonist, one Harry Dresden, a wizard of not necessarily sterling repute with a wry outlook that matches the bizarre life he's been leading up to the point we meet him. Dresden has chosen to use his powers to help people, but for a fee; he's a private detective who works as a consultant to the Chicago police department. (This particular book was adapted for the television on the Sci-Fi network, though ironically not as the pilot, but as with most things, the book was better, so if you've seen the episode, try to set it aside and read the novel.)

The author's style is crisp and keeps the story moving along at a just-right pace. The perfect blend of humor and  tension exists throughout the novel; Butcher pulls you in from the start and keeps you engaged until the last paragraph on the last page. Fortunately, he is still writing this series, so even though I've got a good bit of catching up to do, it's good to know I can look forward to more to come. From Roc and available from your local, independent bookstore. (Make a difference in your local economy: shop local, independent retailers, especially your local bookstore!)

Book review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick)

Lately I've become fond of writers who take the time to tell a fine story through non-traditional means. Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret is one such tale. Based loosely on the life of Georges Melies, this story follows a young orphan named Hugo as he tries to survive and to revive an old automaton his father once owned. The story is told partially through text and partially through illustrations as well as actual film stills, and so while at over 500 pages, it is a relatively quick read. This is not to detract from the story at all; it is creatively written and told and well worth the money one would pay for the hardcover version. (It's worth buying in harcover; this is a book that, like my personal favorite, Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are, is worth handing down to younger generations. The apparent villain seems despicable enough until a sudden twist in the story recasts the entire group of central characters in a different light. Regardless of age, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderful story for everyone. From Scholastic Press and available from your local, independent bookseller. (Want to make a difference in your community? Shop local and independent retailers...starting with your bookstores!)

Summer reading list part 1: the first 25

Shortly before the school year ended, one of my students asked me for a list of books he could read this summer. I asked him how many he thought would be good, and he said, "Oh, I don't know...50?" I embarrassed to admit this list is over a week and a half late (sorry, Nate!), but here is the first half of it at least. Each is linked either to my own review of the book (which has a link to the Boulder Book Store on it) or to a page at the Boulder Book Store. Feel free to add your own recommendations and comments to any of these.

Summer reading list, part 1

  1. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis. I'm actually going to list all seven of the books, but I'm going to list them in chronological order rather than the order in which they were published. And no, it's not cheating to list the series as the first seven since they are classics. So there. (ha ha!) This link will take you to the complete set of Narnia books by Lewis, which makes more sense than posting seven different links in this case.
  2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  3. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
  4. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
  5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
  6. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
  7. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
  8. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  9. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
  10. The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
  11. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  12. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  13. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  14. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  15. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (my review is forthcoming, but for now I'll post the link to the Boulder Book Store)
  16. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  17. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  18. Peter Pan by Sir James M. Barrie
  19. The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean
  20. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  21. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
  22. Holes by Louis Sachar
  23. Dune by Frank Herbert
  24. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  25. Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

There you go...the first half of the list! Enough to get you started, I hope!

Reviews to come (by the end of the week??): Storm Front by Jim Butcher, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, and Red, White, and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth. Coming in August: Book Nerds' Big Day Out II: Book Nerds Do Boulder. Stay tuned!