Saturday, January 30, 2010

Girl on Book Action: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

ISBN: 978-0-7564-0474-1


“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.”

So begins the tale of Kvothe - from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe as a no
torious magician, an accomplished thief, a masterful musician, and an infamous assassin. But The Name of the Wind is so much more - for the story it tells reveals the truth behind Kvothe's legend.


My Thoughts:

What can I say? This novel is epic, the kind of grand fantasy epic that sucks you in and leaves you wanting more when it’s over. I’m chomping at the bit for the next installment and I know that waiting will be painful, which reminds me of previous fantasy epics I’ve enjoyed, most notably Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy (if you haven’t read these books, let me take a moment to recommend them…and now let us get back to our review). So, as I was saying – epic.

Kvothe’s story left me cringing and laughing and wanting to cry. As the tale unfolds I was left with equal parts hope for positive outcomes of the myriad disasters and dread because it’s clear that eventually things go terribly, terribly wrong. For the most part, the book is a real page-turner and hard to put down. The characters are all well-formed and multi-dimensional, and the world-building is standard fantasy-fair but well-done.

Since you know me by now, you know that I have to have some sort of criticism or I feel like I’m not giving a well-considered review. Honestly, while the majority of the 722 page book had me in its thrall, needing to know what was going to happen next, it sort of flagged in between and I didn’t care about some of Kvothe’s adventures. It felt like too much. I know what the author is doing, he is attempting to create this legendary, mythic figure and that takes a lot of events and crises and heroics, but in between I just wanted to fast forward a little. I’m not sure if that was a product of the story, or some sort of personal preference, or if I was just having a bad day when I was reading that particular section of rural shenanigans. Maybe I just prefer to read about things set in the city, I’m not really sure. I suppose it might help if I described which section really bothered me, but I fear spoiling the book for people, so here is your warning, spoilers straight ahead!

The part that started to feel like too much for me was when Kvothe drops everything at the University and runs off to a place called Trebon, because he hears about a massacre at a wedding. The book then takes a 100+ page ramble into the countryside, where Kvothe not only happens across his love-interest who happened to be at the wedding and was the single survivor, but they also find a gigantic dragon lizard that's become addicted to drugs that he then has to kill. For most of this part I was wishing we could just go back to the city, because I was bored. Also, he goes there to find out about the Chandrian and learns next to nothing new, so it seems like a rather fruitless side-quest.

End Spoilers!

Strange two-thirds of the way into the book lull aside, this story was well-told and a good addition to the halls of the fantasy epic. The only question that remains is this: will the second part be as gripping as the first? And why is this a concern, you wonder? Well, because other great fantasy writers have had some second act issues, where they start off with a solid first part, but the second novel just isn't as good. The second act becomes a sort of lull and then the final book in the trilogy (we're talking about trilogies here) is again really solid and amazing. Only time will tell if Patrick Rothfuss manages to avoid the 2nd-act-trap.

And while you still have time, perhaps you care to take a gander at this novel.

P.S.: The picture is the alternate U.S. cover which is much prettier than the regular cover.

Announcement: The winner of the first Reader's Choice Poll is Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, which I will be reading as soon as I finish Poppy Z. Brite's Drawing Blood. Thank you to everyone who voted!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Directed by Terry Gilliam & Written by Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown.

Preconceptions (my follies): Terry Gilliam, it's been so long since you made a movie I liked. The Brothers Grimm looked interesting but turned out to be him doing a pretty standard movie: playing ball? Too much studio interference, I dunno. I had high hopes for his next movie, Tideland. I thought to myself: well, he did what the studio wanted for the Brothers Grimm surely it must have been to make money for this! Ah, that wacky Gilliam! And this might have been the case, but it didn't make Tideland one iota more bearable. It was the magical adventures of a young girl's imagination without the cut aways to the magical adventures in her imagination. This means two hours of watching a neglected girl play with broken dolls. It managed to be unequal parts dullness (lots) and sadness (some).

I don't want to just harp on about things he's directed that I didn't care for (a bit late for that). The reason I sat through them was because he's made so many flicks that I loved, not to mention Python. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was a childhood favourite and the Fisher King very nearly made these tear ducts of stone well up. More than any other director he's able to capture that Quixotic fantasy and tragedy (but not literally since his version of Don Quixote has the Mummy's curse). And just like I gush about how much I've hated some of his movies, I'm now dribbling about how much I love his other movies. Lets sum up here by saying I had some unrealistic expectations in both directions.

General Review (I'm not even sure how I'd spoil this, even if I tried): I'm certainly not the first person to mention that Terry Gilliam seems to work on a catastrophe curve. He does his very best stuff when opposed on all sides. But only just enough to make it look like his vision might be crushed or that the movie will be shmaltzy and terrible but not quite enough to be out into the utter vacuum of it never being released. I don't know if this is what made this movie far better than anything I've seen of his in years, but it was.

Having different actors playing the same character in the imagination world (which part of the movie is set in) should have been jarring, confusing and irritating. It wasn't. I can't say whether it was solid acting, scripting or directing, but I followed it and it didn't bother me a whit. And believe me, I'm not the type to say this out of respect for the dead, love of a director or because I'm afraid people who are smarter than me will mock me behind my back (except Doomwench, I live in fear of her quiet mockery).

If you'll allow me to drool on myself just a tad more this had everything I've grown up loving about Gilliam (him writing with Charles McKeown for one). It was beautiful, strange and funny. And, if I may be honest it hurt my heart (which is notoriously difficult to even find, let alone pin down) a little bit. It was emotional but not sentimental.

The cast was great, from the obvious gets like Johnny Depp to the surprisingly good Tom Waits. But here endth my salivating because boy oh boy did Verne Troyer bomb. Swapping actors for a main character didn't take me out of the moment, but just about every line delivered by Troyer did. He was almost never funny and completely without charm. He stands out as simply not being in the same acting league of the rest of the cast. This reminded me of Katie Holmes being thrown in with Morgan Freeman and Christian Bale. I suppose I shouldn't complain, at least I didn't have to watch him try and be a believable love interest to Johnny Depp.

I know a lot of you out there felt the same way I did. You thought Gilliam was a cherished childhood memory and that you should plug my ears and say la la la when confronted with his new, sucky movies. Ah-HA, then! I have fooled you, because you haven't closed your eyes yet and you've read my review. Give him this one. I think you'll be surprised. It made me think of Stardust and Going Postal all wrapped up in one silky bow.

Random Thoughts: Christopher Plummer (who I always forget I like) would make a great Prospero. Also I'm pretty sure his voice turns into warm bath water when he's done with it. If he ever gets tired of making movies I probably won't see, he can find work reading books to me while I do boring tasks.

And while I'm losing my internet street cred (tube cred?)by being a bit wistful, keep an eye on Ledger in the scene pictured below. I certainly don't claim that I was any great fan of his before his death, I actually had very little opinion. But I never knew he could do the smolder-y thing that I saw in this scene. His overall performance makes me wonder what else he might have done if he'd had more time to grow as an actor.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Frostbite by David Wellington

Frostbite by David Wellington

ISBN: 978-0-307-46083-7


For Cheyenne Clark, there’s a bad moon on the rise . . .

There’s one sound a woman doesn’t want to hear when she’s lost and alone in the Arctic wilderness: a howl.

When a strange wolf’s teeth slash Cheyenne’s ankle to the bone, her old life ends, and she becomes the very monster that has haunted her nightmares for years. Worse, the only one who can understand what Chey has become is the man–or wolf–who’s doomed her to this fate. He also wants to chop her hea
d off with an axe.

Yet as the line between human and beast blurs, so too does the distinction between hunter and hunted . . . for Chey is more than just the
victim she appears to be. But once she’s within killing range, she may find that–even for a werewolf–it’s not always easy to go for the jugular.


My Thoughts:

The name David Wellington started to come up in connection with his books about zombies and vampires in my many meanderings around the internet this past summer, so when I saw his new book about werewolves at the bookstore I decided to give it a try and I have to say that I’m glad that I did.

I loved the setting – I think that too often in current supernatural and horror fiction the setting is very urban and very much ignores the struggles of predators (werewolves or vampires) living alongside humans. This book doesn’t claim that werewolves can exist next to their prey and thus the setting is isolated, bleak and forbidding. As the events of the book begin to unfold, the setting really lends a great atmosphere and is as much a background as a palpable force itself.

One of the things that added to my enjoyment of this book is that it starts off as one thing, very in medias res and then partway through the book all of our preconceptions, all of our suppositions are turned upside down and we have to come at the story so far from a completely different angle. The plot-twist is a complete surprise (at least it was to me, maybe I didn’t have my critical thinking cap on) and therefore effective. Another strong aspect of the book is that it’s visceral and gory at the parts that need to be visceral and gory, which is to say, it’s not a book for the faint of heart.

At times I felt that some parts ideas and characters could have been explained in more detail, such as Dzo and his strange abilities and affinities with water, but since the story is character driven I think it would have bogged things down to explain something to the reader that Chey doesn’t know or understand. This book is also, as far as I understand from looking at David Wellington’s website, the first in a series so some of the questions that are raised and issues that are left open-ended may be explained in later volumes. And really, not knowing more about Dzo does not detract from the story, it’s just a gripe. Overall, the side-characters were a little two-dimensional, but they don’t really need to be developed further than they are. They do their jobs and that’s all that ultimately matters, if you ask me.

Lastly, I suggest that if you want the book to surprise you, don’t read too much about it on Amazon, etc, because most of those reviews summarize the story and thus give away the plot-twist I found so effective. My opinion is that if the author wanted you to know that kind of detail, it would have made it into the back-cover blurb somehow, or you know, would have been explained at the very beginning of the book, rather than a good third of the way into the narrative. I hate reviews that give things away, so I will not do it here, no, no I will not.

So, this book is another that I would recommend if you’re interested in werewolves, bleak settings, or just reading whatever it is I read.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Announcement: Girl on Book Action reader polls!

What should Doomwench read next?

As some of you know, I have a terrible time with picking what book to read next. So I thought to myself, “how can I make other people decide for me?” and with the beginning of this joint-venture blog I suddenly had an answer! I’ll make our handful of devoted readers pick books for me!

Here’s the deal:

Once a month (possibly more if I happen to be reading A LOT), I’ll put up a poll on the blog with 3 or 4 books to choose from, you vote for the one you want to see me review and the book with the most votes gets moved to the top of my to-be-read pile, meaning it’s the next non-academia related book I read. I’ll be pulling the choices from both my to-be-read pile and books I’ve been meaning to re-read, so hopefully there will be some books of interest.

The poll will be open for 1 week and I will post new polls on Saturdays (most likely sporadically) along with my weekly review.

Now go vote! All the cool kids are doing it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Daybreakers

Daybreakers. Directed & Written by Michael and Peter Spierig.
Preconceptions: Well, this movie made me break my premise already, this review is almost timely. But...a vampire movie where the vampires aren't just bad guys or anti-heroes but proper monsters? Woo! That was enough to tempt me out to the theaters before the herd thinned. It has been an awfully long time since I saw something along these lines. It's also been an awfully long time since I saw Ethan Hawke in a movie I was interested in.

General Review (no spoilers, in case, y'know you want to read this before seeing the movie): My first reactions were good. The opening had a great harsh hook and we get to see some monsters in action almost immediately. It appears to be set in the future of the 50's (fashion time travel is a little known a side effect of vampirism) and I always love to see Sam Neill as a mustache twirling
Another pleasant surprise was that blood drinking had nothing to do with sex. In Daybreakers vampires eat their food rather than sleeping with it.The movie doesn't spend setting up the premise, which is also a nice change of pace. After all, at this point unless it's especially clever do we really need hours of technical mumbo-jumbo to explain why there are vampires? No we don't. Magic Bats, good enough for me. And I promise not going to complain about the nonsense science used to get from point A to B in the plot. Some of it was damned silly, but it rarely broke through my iron clad suspension of disbelief. The commercials playing in the background of scenes were another nice touch. They managed to set the scene quickly and get a giggle or two out of me as well.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Ethan Hawe's cute little dracula ears (which were unendingly adorable) that's all the nice things I have to say about Daybreakers. In general, I'm getting toilet huggingly tired of characters having sudden changes of heart. I am aware that sometimes it just needs to be done to get the plot moving along, but Daybreakers had a lot of the dead fish, flip flop dance.

I'm not against the idea of a standard three act movie that follows the conventions we've come to know and trust. But if that's what your movie is, throw a little something else into the mix for pity's sake. Great actors, snappy dialogue, interesting visuals, a slight twist to mess with my expectations. Anything. Believe me, you don't need to see Daybreakers, you pretty well already have in hundreds of other flicks.

Daybreakers wasn't exactly bad. The acting was alright (though Willem Dafoe was even more cartoony than usual), it was competently shot, the monster design was okay (I'm a fool for the emaciated batwing vampire) and the writing wasn't wretched. But it just didn't have anything interesting going on. Not being bad doesn't mean it's worth your time. And this movie really isn't worth your time. It's a tired standard movie using what has become a tired standard monster. It failed to give new life to the vampire mythos or the human vs plague, human vs isolation story. Spend your bucks or loonies on renting Shadow of a Vampire or buying Richard Matheson's book (let us be clear, the book not the Will Smith movie) I Am Legend.

Random Thoughts (oh how I love to give away plot points in this section): In case you should think I'm only discussing eye candy for the hetero ladies out there, may I mention that Jane Wallace (as Sam Neill's assistant) was worth a look or two in her 50's secretary finery?

Alright, just one complaint about the silly science. If the premise is that vampires happen because of a disease that can be explained using microscopes and test tubes, I just need one line of exposition to say why they explode when they're staked. It doesn't have to make sense, but I need just a tiny sentence to set my mind at ease. Seriously, people, like they were stepping on land mines.

Disappointment in another lusterless monster movie may cause smoking.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

ISBN: 978-1-59474-334-4


'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.' So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Can she vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read.


My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about this book, which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it. I actually thought it was great fun, but the nature of the mixed feelings comes from the fact that it feels like a book that can only be liked by people who enjoy Jane Austen, but that some Austen lovers will hate it because of the way it manipulates and alters the original text. I’m not sure that I can honestly say to myself that I know the difference between fan-fiction and this novel, as really, isn’t that what it is? Someone going “Hey, I kinda like this Jane Austen book, but wouldn’t it be way cooler if it had zombies?” and the trend that it has started, such as Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange and what can be seen as the follow up to Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesSense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (by Ben H. Winters) is already getting old and it has barely begun. In my opinion, taking a previously successful novel and adding monsters does not an author make.

I also felt that the zombies were poorly done – I mean what kind of zombie mistakes a cauliflower for a human brain? … seriously…that just made me shake my head and sigh with disappointment. I expect better from my zombies – they would be able to smell that it’s not any kind of brain.

Aside from all of that – I had fun reading this book as long as I didn’t take it too seriously, as well, it’s not meant to be serious in any way, shape, or form. Its fluffy silliness kept me entertained and enthralled regardless of its merits or shortcomings and I’ll happily mark it as a guilty pleasure. And to demonstrate the campy, guilty pleasureness of it, I leave you with one of the many parts that made me titter:

“She remembered the lead ammunition in her pocket and offered it to him. ‘Your balls, Mr. Darcy?’ He reached out and closed her hand around them, and offered, ‘They belong to you Miss Bennet.’ Upon this, their colour changed, and they were forced to look away from one another, lest they laugh.” (Pg. 205)

Addendum: Something that I take issue with is the conclusion of the blurb, as I find it fairly derisive and it does nothing but show some sort of misplaced disdain for ‘world literature’ that is supposed to be identified as being “cool.” While I’m more than willing to entertain debates about the validity and bias of the literary canon, I think that disdaining a book as something no one wants to read based on its place within the canon is ignorant and not in any way “cool” or “hip” or “avant-garde.”