Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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I went into Sharp Objects with extremely high hopes. After stumbling upon and loving Dark Places I was certain that Sharp Objects would be even better. However, I was kind of disappointed.

It had nothing to do with the writing. Flynn is an absolutely stunning writer. She’s wonderful at blending the now of the characters with snippets of history, setting the scene and giving characters that would otherwise fall to the background an identity.

The characterization was also masterfully done (I know, you’re wondering why I was disappointed if I loved so much about it…I’ll get to it.) Flynn has a unique way of building characters that I really wouldn’t like if I met them, but I find myself rooting for them in the story. The thing I found most fascinating about Camille, the protagonist of Sharp Objects, is her style of cutting. She carves words into her skin and whenever she’s feeling particularly off kilter she associates the words in her skin with the situation she’s in. Unique and brilliant, that’s Gillian Flynn all over.

Now…what I didn’t like. I don’t have mommy issues. My mother is a wonderful, loving albeit sarcastic piece of work, who did an amazing job raising three girls who have grown up to be practically normal. I could connect with Camille in a lot of ways: rebellious teenager, snarky, distant. But I was totally disconnected from her any time she dealt with her mother. I have no basis of comparison which, really, is a good thing.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

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Let’s see. I finished The Lightning Thief  about a month ago and in the last four days I finished the next four books. Hot damn. I have not read a series so engrossing since I finished The Hunger Games.

My favorite thing about Percy Jackson and the Olympians is how much research went into them. Riordan didn’t just pick a few well known Greek heroes and use them. He researched animals, minor gods, places, random magical items. I mean, that research alone must have been a blast but add in the choices he got to make contemporizing things and he was able to recreate a world that we not only understood but wanted to know more about.

For example, we had Achilles who Percy meets just before he takes a dip in the river Styx to make himself invincible. Achilles appears the way we expect (in my mind, looking like Brad Pitt but whatever). He wears Greek armor, sandles, etc. But then we also have Daedalus, who appears as a man but is actually a sort of robot holding a life force. How cool is that mixture of history and creativity? I love it.

I also appreciated how realistic the characters were. Percy and Annabeth’s relationship isn’t forced, I mean, they’re obviously meant to be but the handle it the same way real people handle liking each other: ignoring it completely. Even Luke, the villain, behaves realistically, realizing his mistake and doing his best to correct it. And the gods, though sometimes you’re thinking “are you kidding me?” react the way you would expect.

The thing that confused me, however, and maybe I’m just being dense, is that Percy is Perseus…but is he a reincarnation or does he stand alone in a contemporary setting as himself? He’s referred to as Perseus on a number of occasions but the myths about him are as well. It doesn’t matter, the story is still highly entertaining. And I’m anxious to get started on The Heroes of Olympus.

Ticket to Hollywood by Gary Reilly

Ticket to Hollywood was released on December 4th and between moving and Christmas…I just got to it. And by “just got to it” I mean “literally just finished it.”

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Ticket to Hollywood is the second of Gary Reilly’s comic novels about Brendan Murphy, a Denver cab driver. The first book, The Asphalt Warrior, gave us an introduction to Murph and his inability to follow his own rules and he’s up to it again in Ticket to Hollywood-no matter how hard he tries he just can’t help being a good person.

I won’t go into the plot because I think you should read it for yourself. I will talk about my favorite things about the novel though.

First, Reilly’s writing style is brilliant. You forget you’re reading and feel like you’ve just joined Reilly at a coffee shop to listen to stories about his life as a cab driver. He blends seamlessly from describing the action to wandering off on a tangent.  He makes random references that make us chuckle when we catch them but sometimes leaves us thinking things like, “Who the hell is that?” before we turn quickly to Google.

My sister and I always wanted to (and plan to) take the American Gods road trip where you track down all the places in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and go see them. When Reilly’s next novel, The Heart of Darkness Club, releases in May I am making it my personal goal to find out just how many of the places he mentions in Denver are real. My guess is most of them.

And for some reason I have the need to find Reilly’s copy of Finnegans Wake…

The Black Dagger Brotherhood Series by J.R. Ward

Now I wouldn’t usually review trashy romance novels because, as entertaining and fun to read as they are, they’re escapism and not something that dictates the way I write or really what I read. I do love the occasional romance novel because you don’t really have to think, you can finish it in a day (sometimes 2 in a day, the way I’ve been plowing through this series) and they’re easy to recommend to girlfriends because there’s something for everyone.

And the covers aren’t cringingly racy.

That being said I absolutely love J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. The setting is Caldwell, New York and present time, however the men in the series are hundred-some year old vampires so there are some throwback memories. It revolves around an elite group of warriors and their various romantic interests and lives. It isn’t all bodice ripping, however, which is what really dragged me into the novels.

Let’s see. One vampire is going blind, one had a heavy history of abuse, another is addicted to drugs, another with more abuse, one is fighting his feelings for another male warrior, etc. They struggle and they fail, they aren’t all perfect which is what I’ve seen in many of the romance novels I’ve read. Each character is well-defined, interesting, flawed and eventually overcomes the obstacles (of course).

Another thing I appreciate in the series is that it doesn’t treat us like we’re stupid. Too many books take FOREVER to explain the setting, explain the characters motives, discuss the various politicalness in the world. Ward doesn’t do that. The characters act like real people who talk about their plans without over-explaining what they’re doing. Very refreshing.

Except maybe this one…

The real problem with the series is that there are tenbooks (plus a few novellas) so once you’re hooked you’re in it for the long haul. The next book comes out in March 2013 and I can’t wait.

Heroes of Olympus/Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan…I didn’t want to get sucked in. I didn’t. I also didn’t want to pick up a book A) Not on my reading list that B) I wanted to read more than anything on my reading list. But here I am, downloading The Lightning Thief and getting in to bed early to start it.

Just what I need…another book series with a wicked tattoo.

The bookstore I work at made a point to announce the new book The Mark of Athena and it’s got a really great cover with OWLS and HORSES and SWORDS and how can I not know more about this? I should admit I didn’t see the movie as I’m a big believer in reading the book before seeing the movie…and I had no interest in the books…until…well, owls, horses, lightning, swords. Ya ken?

So, after reading Dark Places and being convinced that everyone in my family was going to murder me, I’ll be starting The Lightning Thief. And I’m assuming I’ll start thinking my family are all half-Olympian gods and pegasuses…pegasi?

Just look at this cover!

UPDATE: I have finished The Lightning Thief and I can say I’m hooked. Percy’s character alone is worth the read, he’s almost impossible not to like and you find yourself cringing along with him when he does something stupid. He’s also loyal and brave and intelligent (even if he doesn’t think so sometimes and doesn’t act like it others). I’m reading to head onto the next book The Sea of Monsters and I might even check out The Lightning Thief movie.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

About a month and a half ago, when Nick was in a book buying mood and I couldn’t decide on just ONE book to download, we headed to the local bookstore (that I may just happen to work at) and shopped around. After hearing rave reviews for Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl I decided to start off with (paperback) Dark Places.

I was stunned. The narrative switches between three main characters and the voice in these sections is amazing. In a lot of novels that deal with different perspectives it’s obvious that they’re all being written by the same writer. The same could be said for Flynn, however, the voice is done deliberately because the three characters are related. Considering what happens to the family, it feels darkly touching that their thoughts are this similar.

The most impressive feature of the story is the pacing. I’ve seen it way too many times (and written it myself even more) that authors try to force as much information on you as possible because they have sooooo much to tell you! Flynn sucks us in at the beginning of each chapter and then leaves us hanging at the end. We’re forced to read on, even in the middle of the night, even when we’re babysitting a two year old and know that we’re going to be up in three hours. And then once we put the book down we’re completely on edge about what our family members are up to and did I just hear a creak outside my bedroom door?!

Maybe that’s just me.

My English professor loved the quote, “A good ending should be surprising and inevitable” and Flynn’s novel succeeds at both. This is definitely a must read. And I wrote this all without the novel in front of me because I left it in Nebraska for my sister to read, that’s how good it was…though now she’ll probably be very suspicious of me…

Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Bayse

 

When the Harry Potter series ended five years ago everyone began desperately searching for a new series to read, after they dried their eyes and repeated the mantra “life goes on” even though it certainly didn’t feel like it.

I tried everything, I typed, sounding like a drug addict. I could get into some easily and then be bored by the third or fourth book. Certainly nothing was going to hold my interest for seven! The closest I’ve come is Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series (the most recent of which to be blogged about later) which just released it’s seventh book AND it was just announced that an eighth is due out in July.

But during the lulls between Artemis Fowl I found Dale E. Basye’s Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go. It’s brilliant. The protagonists are unique and interesting, the villains are devious and scheming yet you can’t help but like them a little bit, and the setting is ingenious. The plot follows Milton and Marlo Fauster from just before their deaths and details their time spent in Heck, a mellowed out version of Hell, where kids wait to find out which circle of Heck they’ll be sentenced to. Knowing there are nine circles of Hell, it was easy to see this series was going to take a while. However, I never got bored with it because there was so much action in each novel. It never felt like the author was dragging the story out just to take up shelf space at Barnes and Noble (I’m sure you can think of a few authors that do this). One of the most fun things about reading this book for English majors is to pick up all the literary references and puns.

I’m about halfway through the fourth book, Fibble, and I was really into it until the author made the decision to include himself in the story. He interacts with one of the main villains and it seems like he’ll now become part of the narrative. I’m interested to see how it plays out, for example the only book I can think of that did this well was Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’m still liking the story and plugging along at it but that move definitely made me consider some of the choices I’m making in my own novel.

Sandman by Neil Gaiman

So I recently decided to reread Neil Gaiman’s graphic series The Sandman which is pretty convenient because Gaiman recently announced this, he will be writing a prequel for The Sandman detailing just what Morpheus was up to before Burgess accidentally captured him. All we know is that the story involves Morpheus being pushed to his absolute breaking point, and from what he’s gone through in some of the tales, this is going to be one hell of a show. More details will emerge, as it won’t be out until next year, but I’ll be catching up on my Morpheus-lore (probably more than once) in preparation!

Morpheus plays the Oldest Game.

I really can’t gush about The Sandman enough. The artwork is beyond beautiful, both the dust covers and the panels. The dust covers  are done by Dave McKean. And if I understand the process discussed in The Sandman Dust Covers correctly, he actually builds 6’x6′ works of art incorporating pictures, trinkets, chains, fruit, trees, anything.

That is an actual woman. With a giant moon mask. (Cover of Soft Places from Fables & Reflections)

The characters are well-rounded and interesting, even Morpheus who claims to be unchanging and above petty human emotions is pretty much guilty of all of them. My favorite character,in this and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, is Death, even though Pratchett’s is quite different from Gaiman’s…

Though both are slightly cheerier than you’d expect…

 

The Asphalt Warrior by Gary Reilly

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I typed, sounding like an over-eager freshman in my introductory English class. But it’s true. One of my earliest memories is typing up a story on our old Macintosh and then asking my mom how to spell our last name so I could put my name on it like a true author. It turns out, I had something in common with an uncle who I barely knew.

One thing we don’t have in common: the 70’s hippie hair/beard combo.

Gary Reilly was a writer. He’s written over 20 novels, 11 about a Denver cab driver named Murph and a couple of Vietnam memoirs as well. You haven’t heard of Gary Reilly? That’s because he was also a perfectionist. He rarely sent out any queries to agents, before June 5 of this year he’d only had one story published in an anthology titled, “The Biography Man.” Instead, Gary spent his time honing his novels. Bringing each paragraph, line and word to life and making it the best it could be.

In March of 2011, Gary passed away.

Realizing his time was running out to realize his dream, a dream we share, Gary gave his friends Mark Stevens and Mike Keefe permission to publish his novels. The first one, The Asphalt Warrior was published on June 5. Over 150 people attended the launch at the Tattered Cover bookstore in downtown Denver and The Asphalt Warrior now sits firmly as number 3 on the Denver bestsellers list.

I just finished the novel last night and it was wonderful. It’s a glimpse into the life of an uncle who kept to himself, but he was a lot like me in many ways. Sarcastic, street-smart, he has a knack for connecting with people when all he wants is to be left alone. The writing is superb, it’s clear the years Gary spent editing and re-editing were well spent.

However, he never got to see his books published. He never got to find out how many people related to Murph, how many people can’t wait for the next installment, how many people really, truly loved his work. And as a writer, that scared me. For lack of a better term, it got my ass into gear. I want to see people’s reactions to my work and talk to them about theirs.

Basically, go read it. It’s well worth your time.

The Graveyard Book versus Johnny and the Dead (Spoiler: They both win)

A comparative essay betwixt…

Blelegh! I can’t even make myself write titles like that anymore. A feminist reading of…a Marxist reading of…nope. Not anymore. Not ever.

That being said. One of the big trends hitting juvenile (that’s read mostly by adults) fiction is kids hanging out in graveyards. With the upcoming movie ParaNorman it’s easy to see why this would be such an interesting concept to explore. If you put a bunch of teenagers in a graveyard at night it suddenly turns into a bloodbath, but if it’s a couple of ten year olds it’s suddenly amusing and cute.

I decided to read both Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Terry Prachett’s Johnny and the Dead. These authors have worked together before on Good Omens and I was curious to see if their approach to “boy in graveyard” was similar at all. Luckily, they were both very very different and both very very good.

Gaiman takes a fantasy-esque route where Bod (Nobody Owens) grows up and is protected by the graveryard. He’s gifted with special powers, such as being able to disappear easily, haunt dreams and scare people. The trick is he’s only safe when he’s in the graveyard, and what a boy stuck in a graveyard wants more than anything is to get out.

Pratchett’s novel is part of a trilogy. The old graveyard in Johnny’s town is going to be bulldozed and a built over. With a newfound ability to see and speak to the dead, Johnny has to convince his friends and the town that the graveyard has to be protected. The novel differs from Gaiman’s in that, while we spend most of the novel traveling along with Bod Owens, in Pratchett’s we are delightfully introduced to the histories and personalities of those occupying the graveyard. And they too want to get outside.

Both are quick reads, I tackled each in a day. Charming, witty and surprisingly uplifting both are well worth the read.