29 November 2011

I need motivation to "re-visit" the city I used to live in years ago.

Although I have lived in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area (Hampton Roads) before, being away for almost six years made me look at it differently. I'm proud of this little spot in Southeast Virginia, and I wanted to reintroduce myself to all the fun and local sites.

So "A Walk About Town," a new feature here at Coffee and a Book Chick, was born. For December, I'd like to highlight each week a place I've visited. After the month, I'll evaluate and decide if it will continue. Since I also travel frequently for work, I might also want to do a quick recap of something about the city that I enjoyed. No boundaries here, you know?

And then I thought...about extending it out to anyone who may want to participate. So I've attached a Linky at the bottom of this post.

The Plan
  1. For the month of December 2011, every Thursday (or Friday), I'll post about a place I've visited in the past week.
  2. Whether it's a book store, a restaurant, a movie theater, or a new shop I've been meaning to visit, I want to document it.
  3. The blog button in the sidebar is open for anyone who wants to participate.
  4. Those who do participate, add your post to the Linky below.
  5. You don't need to add a ton of pictures, or any at all. Do what you like.
  6. You don't need to join every week. Whenever you like. Just post your link to my weekly post.
The picture above is actually of a street in Norfolk in front of Prince Books, an independent bookstore I'm featuring today.

So that's the plan. I hope you'll join me as I'd love to take a peek into your local town, or a city you've visited!

Prince Books, an Independent Bookstore in Norfolk, Virginia
Imagine my delight when I learned that Norfolk, Virginia had an independent bookstore. With its warm and inviting atmosphere, a lunchtime café and a great bookstore staff, I knew it was going to be *the* place to go to for author events.

Prince Books opened in 1982 and focuses on poetry, history, biography, boating, travel, and also features a children's section (along with YA titles). The books I bought were The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, The Complete Fairy Tales by George MacDonald, and The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø. I cannot wait to attend the events they'll be hosting in 2012!

Look at all the Penguins...
The shopfront at night when we left


I have never put a list together on this blog, but got to thinking about what book I might give as a gift to my husband. He does read, but occasionally. He's not the voracious reader nut-job that I can be.

So for the upcoming holiday season, I racked my brain thinking of books that might capture his attention. He's not into the old classics, and likes non-fiction, but will read a solid fiction novel that isn't pretentious. If you know someone who's like that, then take a look at the below. I came up with nineteen that I would recommend, in no particular order.

11/22/63, by Stephen King. Duh, of course this would be on here. I'd recommend this to my dog, I want everyone to read it. I loved this book. Time travel, the assassination of JFK, stalking Lee Harvey Oswald...this grabs you from the first page and doesn't let you go. Oh, the range of emotions I went through as I read this! Click the link above to read my review and you can probably feel how much I loved this story.

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. Because it is awesome. The first book in The Song of Ice and Fire series, this fantasy fiction story sets the stage for the Land of the Seven Kingdoms in Westeros. Alternating chapters from eight characters introduce you to the major Houses and their battle for the Iron Throne.

And the HBO series is fantastic.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin. Long, but a great read. A dystopian novel that dives into the creation of the contemporary vampire, a beast generated from a twist in the military science labs, it escapes and devastates the world as we know it. Part of the book is in our current world and then once the world "dies," it switches to the post-apocalyptic world with new characters. Some didn't like this switch because you can get pretty invested in that first half since it. was. just. so. good. While the shift was a little jarring, once I got used to the new characters, I liked it. The second book is coming out in 2012.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. If he likes Bram Stoker's Dracula, he might like this one. Told in an epistolary format (journal entries and letters) and set in the '70s and then also flashing back to the '30s, I loved the Victorian Gothic-style (which, yes, could be slow at times) and the haunting and dark feeling as I read it. It's got those slow points, but the journey through Europe is picturesque. Keep Google around so you can bring up pictures of every place that is visited. I also would advise reading this by yourself on a cold and rainy day. By yourself.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. My husband and I read it and loved it. I think everyone knows the overall gist of the story. Essentially, it's a futuristic world in which the remaining population that was once North America is divided into twelve districts. Each year, two children per district are picked to go up against each other in the brutal Hunger Games. In order to be the last man standing, they have to kill every last contender. Sounds horrifying, but man, this is a great story. The first two books were fabulous, the third was a little disappointing for me. But, The Hunger Games movie comes out next year, so why not read at least the first book?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larssen. Originally planned to be a ten-book series before the author passed away, only three were published. Set in Sweden, a young woman who is a gifted computer hacker and overall genius partners with a journalist who, while just being convicted of the crime of slander, has also been hired to uncover a family secret. Twisted and graphic, but a doggone good story. And, yes, the Hollywood film version comes out soon. The original Swedish version is fantastic, so it'll be interesting to see if the remake is just as good. I like this one, but didn't care as much for books two and three.

Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose. My husband read this one and it's also one of my favorite books of all time. It's the true story of Easy Company, 506th Airborne Division of the U.S. Army during World War II and I loved the HBO series, too.

Major Winters is my hero, as are all the gentlemen featured in this book.

The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. True crime set in the beauty of Florence, an American author and an Italian journalist team up to uncover the story behind who really was Il Mostro di Firenze, a serial killer who murdered lovers in their cars. Viciously murdered. And as they investigate even further, they realize that there is even more to learn about the Italian system of justice as well, to the point that both Preston and Spezi were incarcerated by the Italian police. I've heard that George Clooney is bringing this to the big screen. He's a good choice for Douglas Preston, I think.

Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penney. The only one in the Inspector Gamache series that I've read, this sixth installment is a quiet thriller set in the cold tundra of Quebec City. On vacation from his job and recovering at friend's home after a bad investigation, Gamache can't seem to get away from murder. When a body is uncovered in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society and may have ties to a four hundred year-old secret and the city's founder, Samuel de Champlain, Gamache becomes involved in the investigation. This easily stands well all alone, but I've heard the entire series is one to read. I loved this one and I have it on my to do list to read it in order.

The Last Ember, by Daniel Levin. A young archaeologist, now lawyer, becomes swept up in a suspenseful thriller that takes him from the ruins of Rome to the Temple Mount in Israel.

A quick read that gives more than one history lesson, and I loved every page.

Psycho, by Robert Bloch. Well, this is just a twisted classic, and you all know what it's about. The movie did an excellent job of staying close to the book.


Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Set in Sweden in 1981, this vampire story is completely without the glittery vampire sparkle and instead has a whole lot of creepy gore and disturbing moments that were horrific and brilliant, with so many enthralling layers to the story.

I didn't care for the original Swedish movie, though, so just stick with the book for a gift.

'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King. This is Stephen King's second novel published, set in a quiet and creepy town that seems closed off from the rest of the world. King does this a lot in which the town becomes its own character and this is a great example of it. It's a vampire story, yes, but it is extremely scary. And the vampires in this story are nasty and vile.

Stephen King is THE MAN.

From Before the Blog Days

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. It's the 1100s and one monk wants to succeed in getting the world's largest Gothic cathedral built. A myriad of characters drives this historical fiction novel and oh, my goodness, it is terrifying, incredible, and heart-wrenching. This is close to a thousand pages or some crazy number like that, but I read it in three or four days. Yeah, it's that good. The sequel is World Without End and is apparently just as good.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson. This is going to sound disgusting, but who knew that a non-fiction book about how the human body's waste can kill would be so interesting? But, there's so much more to this book. Set in 1854, the incredible city of London still has absolutely no way to stay clean with garbage and their sewer system. And yes, human feces gets in their public drinking water, and cholera begins to kill. This fascinating book dives into the science of how two men in 1854 found the source of disease and set the stage for how epidemic outbreaks can be avoided and handled in the future. 

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. Ah, the movie is decent, but it's not quite like the book. This non-fiction book shares the quirky characters of Savannah, Georgia and coincides with a murder that brought one of Savannah's long-time residents to the courtroom.

The City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt. Back with another non-fiction book about quirky characters, John Berendt selects Venice, Italy with the backdrop of La Fenice Opera House and when it burned to the ground. I didn't love it as much as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but it's still good.

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larsen
. The stories of both the development and struggles of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the first documented serial killer, H.H. Holmes, are told in alternating chapters and it is incredible. Excellent non-fiction. Apparently, Leonardo DiCaprio will be starring in the film version as the disturbing H.H. Holmes.

Shadow Divers, by Robert Kurson. This made me fall in love with scuba-diving even though I probably will never scuba dive since I'm a wimp around dark water. But, for two deep wreck divers, diving in the dangerous and frigid cold waters is a sport they are passionate about. When a a World War II German U-Boat submarine with no identifying markers is found sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey in early 1991, more than 200 feet deep and is not one documented by historians, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler lead a secret expedition to solve the mystery to uncover which submarine it was and who was on it. Such an incredible story and I couldn't put it down.

What do you think? Is my list a hit or a miss? Let me know what you would also add.


28 November 2011

11/22/63, by Stephen King

11/22/63. The day JFK was assassinated. A nation was devastated, stunned that a President was taken. Could it have been stopped? What if you could change history?

Let's get this out of the way. I loved this book. LOVED IT. There are 849 pages to this sucker, and not one page is a drag. (Look at me, I'm using lingo not quite current anymore, and it's all because I got sucked into this story and felt like I lived Jake Epping's time travel adventure in the late '50s, early '60s). This is a brilliant piece of work, and if I end up making a "Top 10 Books I've Read in 2011" list, this is going smack dab in the number 1 slot. (It's two days away from the last month of the year, so I feel pretty confident about my odds. I could be wrong, but...I don't really think so).

I've recently started reading Stephen King's work. I've been choosy, selecting ones considered King classics, so when 11/22/63 was being touted as the next best thing, I was hesitant. Selfishly, I wanted to wait until others read it.

But then I got a Klout perk, downloaded it to my iPad, and was snagged from the first page into this time travel adventure and read it just under a week. For me, that's insane.

Jake Epping, a small town New England teacher who recently went through a divorce from a struggling alcoholic, is introduced to this time warp by a good friend who invites him to help change history. In some freak of who-knows-what, there's some sort of wonky rabbit hole in his friend's diner that transports him from 2011 to 1958. The crazy thing is it always brings Jake to September 9, 1958, no earlier or later. Same time every time, and even crazier is that no matter how long Jake stays "in the past," when he returns to 2011, he's only missed two minutes. That's it. Whether he spends a day, a week, or  even a few years, whenever he returns, it is only two minutes later "in the present."

So what's a time-traveling good guy to do? The closest major event to 1958 is the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, which spiraled a flurry of events including Robert Kennedy's assassination, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam conflict. Some events could be associated with JFK's death, some maybe not...but it's up to Jake to take his friend's place and live five years in the past and, hopefully, save a President. While living "in the past," he meets a multitude of memorable characters (both good and downright troubling), obsessively stalks Lee Harvey Oswald, becomes attached to a community that makes him feel at home, and falls in love with the incredible and amazing Sadie.

Let's also address this: It is not a horror story. It is all time travel.

What I really enjoyed is that King doesn't waste time trying to explain the science or logistics of why there's a rabbit hole, and why it only deposits you on the same day and time in 1958, or even why only two minutes have passed when returning to the "present." It just is what it is, and that works just fine in this chunkster wallop of a story. I'm not the most experienced sci-fi reader, but I like to think I'm fairly logical. When a book presents me with some convoluted explanation on why something is happening scientifically, I tend to try to poke a hole in it. King, though, doesn't quibble over this, so as the reader I don't have to sit, wonder and worry if something really makes sense. It's as though I'm being told, "Look, the time/worm/rabbit-hole just drops you on September 9, 1958 every time. Why try to figure that out?" So I didn't worry about it.

What is important to discuss is something often debated with time travel: If you change the past, even just slightly, will it have a positive or negative effect on the future? It's that "butterfly effect" which is evaluated in depth and it made me wonder what I would choose to do. I sure am glad I don't have to worry about that.

I love this picture. (image source)
Stephen King is a MASTER. In the short time I've gotten to know his work, it's refreshing. He leaves the pompous BS alone that some storytellers can succumb to within their fiction, and just tells a story humbly and genuinely, which is probably why his horror is so scary and why his non-horror is also loved. It isn't fake. And in this book, it is simply Jake's story and he tells it all in the first person and describes how he takes on another identity in a time when he hasn't even been born yet, how he has to acclimate to the culture shock of living in a world he knows, but doesn't really know, and simultaneously battles an unseen presence that does everything possible to make sure that the past is not changed.

This is a multi-layered story of coincidences, along with Jake's struggles to stop awful events from happening to good people. All of this in the writing of another author might have gotten jumbled and lethargic. Instead, King deftly maneuvers through the story lines, successfully weaving in history and science-fiction, all the while taking you along for the ride so simple to understand that you're left dealing with the raw emotion of each event.

The bottom line is there's a lot to tackle in this book, what with Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK, and the other events Jake tries to change along the way. And then there is also the other side of living, the human side of love, loss, and regret. It's beautiful and I will not lie, I choked up towards the end. When that last page comes, I felt like I was punched in the gut that it was all over. I hated leaving these characters. Do you remember when you were younger and when you read a book you loved, you hated that the story ended not because it was a good book that was now over, but because you had to suddenly face the reality that the characters you fell in love with really didn't exist? I don't know about you, but I experienced that when I was a kid, and I felt that tonight when I finished the book. I loved Jake, Sadie, Deke...every single one of the good guys. I miss them already.

Favorite line
"Goose walked over my grave, I guess." (Sorta like getting goosebumps).

That I'm a new fan of Stephen King so when he brings back a character from a prior book, I don't realize it at all. I instead just like the character and then I find out from friends that so-and-so is from such-and-such, and man, did they love them. It bums me out that I couldn't experience fan-girl joy when a character returns. It's probably a lesson I should read King's work in the order of when it was published.

About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty novels, including The Stand, The Dark Tower, It, The Shining, oh...what more can be written that one doesn't already know? So here you go, click here to visit this cool author's official website.


26 November 2011

It's been a busy few weeks but the Thanksgiving holiday certainly brings it all back to a reset. There was a ton of food, and quite a ton of reading. I've been enjoying 11/22/63 by Stephen King and am ready to move onto the third installment of George R.R. Martin's The Song of Ice and Fire series with A Storm of Swords. I'm in a reading peak of happiness.

I also visited Prince Books in Norfolk, Virginia yesterday, and I cannot wait to post on this independent bookstore. While I wish we had an indie bookstore in Virginia Beach, I'm completely willing to drive the twenty-five minutes to this incredible shop. I can't wait to share with you! Question: How long do you have to drive to go to your favorite indie bookstore?

Also... as a reminder, the Wolf Hall Readalong commences today for reading (or before). Do. Not. Be. Scared. Let's read!

The first time to post on Parts 1 & 2 will be next Sunday, December 4th. I'm excited to co-host this with Nicole from Linus's Blanket, who has a wonderful blog, and a blogger I've been chatting with on Twitter about our similar reading interests. Check out her site, it's fantastic!

I'm also nervous about reading this book because I've heard a lot about it. Good and bad, but mostly all reviews stating that complete focus must be given when reading. Any distraction will result in leaving you lost and confused. Not that I drift a lot when I read a book, but we all know it can happen, and I don't want to miss a thing.

We have fourteen participants with blogs joining the readalong (including me and Nicole), and a few more without blogs who will also be joining either through posting comments on the blog, or on our Facebook sites (Coffee and a Book Chick or on Linus's Blanket). This is pretty exciting and I can't wait to see everyone's contributions. As I've been tweeting out there, "The more the merrier," or... "There is safety in numbers!"

I did receive an email asking if they could listen to the audiobook instead of reading it, and the answer is: Absolutely! Jump to the blog post by clicking here to read the introductory info and to post your intent to participate by either adding your blog link to the list, or by adding a comment if you don't have a blog. As you can see in that post, Nicole and I are completely flexible, there are no hard and fast rules at all, and it's so not a big deal on how you want to experience the reading, when you want to post, yada, yada. Let's just read this beast of a book together and commiserate on any questions or love we have for the story!

Happy Reading,
Natalie ~ the Coffee and a Book Chick


Two weeks ago, I delivered a presentation in Chicago for business that I was nervous about. Thanks to extra preparation (and all of your good Twitter-vibes), it went extremely well. Here are a couple shots from Chicago that I love. The first is a view out of my hotel window right around the corner from Michigan Avenue, and the next is from Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Who knew ceilings could be that interesting?

For more of this week's Saturday Snapshots, visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


21 November 2011

[A little long on the entry this time around for First Chapter, First Paragraph, but I am confident that this will intrigue you to consider reading this new Stephen King venture. If you are new to Stephen King (as I am in the past couple of months), I think you will enjoy this intro to his writing].

I have never been what you'd call a crying man.

My ex-wife said that my "nonexistent emotional gradient" was the main reason she was leaving me (as if the guy she met in her AA meetings was beside the point). Christy said she supposed she could forgive me not crying at her father's funeral; I had only known him for six years and couldn't understand what a wonderful, giving man he had been (a Mustang convertible as a high school graduation present, for instance). But then, when I didn't cry at my own parents' funerals - they died just two years apart, Dad of stomach cancer and Mom of a thunderclap heart attack while walking on a Florida beach - she began to understand the nonexistent gradient thing. I was "unable to feel my feelings," in AA-speak.

"I have never seen you shed tears," she said, speaking in the flat tones people use when they are expressing the absolute final deal-breaker in a relationship. "Even when you told me I had to go to rehab or you were leaving." This conversation happened about six weeks before she packed her things, drove them across town, and moved in with Mel Thompson. "Boy meets girl on the AA campus" - that's another saying they have in those meetings.

I didn't cry when I saw her off. I didn't cry when I went back inside the little house with the great big mortgage, either. The house where no baby had come, or now ever would. I just lay down on the bed that now belonged to me alone, and put my arm over my eyes, and mourned.

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly feature hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea. To participate, share your selection from the book you're reading.


20 November 2011

A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin

Book two in the popular series A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin brings even more action, battle, and underhanded behind-closed-door dealings on the fight to win the Iron Throne. With a self-proclaimed king in almost every realm of the Seven Kingdoms, it is a calculated fight both on and off the field to oust Joffrey and the Lannister family. This clash of kings introduces new characters, and is another skillful creation of the Houses Stark, Lannister, Barratheon, and Targaryen. There is even a bit more of the fantasy element in this book than in the first, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In George R.R. Martin style, each chapter alternates from nine characters, and I can assure you, it is engaging and never confusing. Each voice is so distinct that I could easily tell who was who as I read each chapter without needing to see their name at the start of their sections. From annoying Theon to my favorites Tyrion and Arya, I couldn't put the book down.

Which is why it's hard for me to write that while I still loved the story and the characters, and every ending of a chapter made me manically push forward to read what happened next, this installment didn't resonate as much with me as the first, A Game of Thrones. I normally love battle scenes, for example, but my mind drifted just a bit in those. Maybe it was because it felt a bit more detailed to the point of excess at times? I also didn't care as much for the Targaryen house as I did in the first one, and surprisingly, I also was a little tired of Catelyn as well.

It's probably a bit unfair for me to feel that way because A Game of Thrones was so extremely unique and powerful that I would imagine it would be hard for book two to follow it up with the same energy. Suffice it to say, though, that this book served its purpose to set up book three, A Storm of Swords, so I eagerly downloaded it onto my iPad late last night. Looks like I'll be spending even more time with Arya, Jon Snow, and others over the Thanksgiving holiday this week!

There are, though, so many new events, characters, and moments, that I cannot wait to see it all played out on the HBO series next April!!

About the Author
George R.R. Martin is the author of eleven novels, seven novellas, two novellettes, one children's book, and a score of other writing and editing accomplishments. He was also the writer for seven episodes of the Twilight Zone and fifteen episodes of Beauty and the Beast, including three episodes of the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones. There's so much about this author, I don't have enough space to write it all, so I'll just ask that you:

Click here to visit the author on his website.
Click here to visit the author on his blog.


18 November 2011

Wolf Hall Readalong

I am so excited to be co-hosting with Nicole from Linus's Blanket the readalong of Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, the 2009 Man Booker Prize winner! It's a beast of a read, so we thought we'd split it up into a 3-week schedule. Participants can do a progress post each week instead of answering a list of questions.

Book to Television News
The recent announcement from HBO and the BBC's collaboration to create a four-part miniseries with UK indie Company Pictures should motivate you to pick this one up of your shelf!

How to Participate?
  1. Feel free to write an announcement post on your blog
  2. Feel free to post the above button on your blog
  3. The above isn't required, but definitely don't forget to enter your blog site with Mr. Linky below. (If you don't have a blog, no worries. Add a comment instead to this post and feel free to read with us!)
Schedule (I'm referencing my paperback copy)
  1. November 28: Reading commences on or before
  2. December 4: Progress post for Parts 1 & 2 (pages 3 to 148 = 146 pages to read)
  3. December 11: Progress post for Parts 3 & 4 (pages 149 to 388 = 240 pages to read)
  4. December 18: Final Progress post for Parts 5 & 6 (pages 389 to 604 = 216 pages to read)
  5. Audiobook fans, please join!
Description from Indiebound
In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power.

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.



17 November 2011

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

~ Winter is coming. (The motto of House Stark)

The Stark family in Winterfell has welcomed a guest to their castle, and it's powerful King Robert and his even more powerful wife, Queen Cersei Lannister. The King never would have made it all the way up North in the Seven Kingdoms to visit the Starks, were it not for the fact that the Hand of the King has just passed away, and King Robert needs a new man to fill the position. Someone he trusts, a friend who has protected him on the battlefield, to lead when he is not there. And he's chosen Lord Eddard Stark to be that man. The King would never choose from his own wife's family; the Lannisters are not to be trusted.

So begins this incredible epic adventure in a medieval fantasy world that only a master of storytelling like George R.R. Martin can create. First published in 1996, A Game of Thrones is timeless in the political game of who should be leader. With Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark and his family of six children (including a "bastard" child from an unnamed mother), it's up to Ned to lead in service and in place of King Robert when the King is otherwise engaged. Ned and his wife Catelynn, along with daughters Arya and Sansa move to King's Landing, while Robb, Bran, and Rickon stay back in Winterfell. Jon Snow, the "bastard," becomes a member of the Night's Watch, the military dedicated to keeping the Wall strong without breach. The Wall is of immense size at about 300 miles in length and 700 feet high, solely to protect everyone from what lies outside of the Wall. Whatever that may be...

With eight characters voicing their stories in alternating chapters, the Targaryens, the Starks and the Lannisters come together in a crushing sweep of adventure, corruption, and loyalty. And let's not forget the importance of murder, intrigue, and scandal. As the Stark children find their place in this new world, Ned secretly investigates the death of the man who previously held his position as the Hand of the King. Could it be murder?

Confession: I committed to reading A Game of Thrones strictly because Sean Bean was going to be in the HBO series.

This is most assuredly NOT a sci-fi book.
Instead, it is all medieval, and a little bit fantasy. Other than some jaw-dropping, creepy moments in which the fantasy element sprang up driving more of the mystery, it's got a strong foothold in medieval times. Castles, horses, cloaks, wineskins, kings, knights, superstition, it's all there and more.

For lack of a better way to phrase it, I just couldn't put this book down. I read 600 plus pages in literally a few days, and this is coming from someone who is no expert in fantasy or world-building. I can't point out inconsistencies or the like, but I doubt if any expert could, because there weren't any issues. Even with my scrutinizing hat on, I was never confounded; it all made sense in this region of a world known as Westeros. And with eight characters holding their own with their chapters, you would think it would get confusing. Not in the least. Each voice was distinct and clear, and their personal stories exciting, turbulent, and page-turning. It is simply an amazing book that will sweep you away and before you know it, you are raging at injustices and crying at the most awful thing that could have happened EVER. And when the book ends, you have no choice but to promptly go to the bookstore, or grab your e-reader device, and get the next in the series, A Clash of Kings.

Is it graphic?
Yes. There is war, rape, murder, incest. It's a medieval world and people are doing horrible things (I mean, some of these characters are just absolutely vile). When I posted a few months back that I was reading this book, I received a comment from a reader who made a decision to not read the book or the series because rape happens in A Game of Thrones.

Well, I researched a bit further on this, and what I learned is that there are some who believe that fantasy and sci-fi authors tend to incorporate rape scenes liberally into their stories. I was a little stumped since I don't think this horrific violence is specific to one particular genre and I could pick up contemporary fiction, YA fiction, or an historical fiction book, for example, and rape is incorporated into the storyline (Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth comes to mind). In A Game of Thrones, there is rape, but there are also scenes when one rape victim stops other rapes from happening, too. So, while I could ruminate a bit more, I'd probably say that while these were horrible events in the story, it didn't make me not want to read the book, the series, or other books in the genre. It's a little convoluted to explain it all without giving the story away, so I'll direct you instead to an excellent post by Feeding My Book Addiction which is where I found the link by Scribotarian. Decide for yourself and if you read the book, let me know your thoughts. And if you have a different opinion, please do feel free to share.

Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you. (Tyrion to Jon Snow, the "bastard" child of Lord Stark)
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come. (The Night's Watch Oath)

Bran: Can a man still be brave when he's afraid?
Eddard: That is the only time a man can be brave.

And on a separate note, the HBO television series is incredible. I watched it all in one weekend and, with the exception of a few things here and there, it is extremely faithful to the story, which I attribute to the fact that Martin was heavily involved in the creation and wrote several of the episodes. And I'm so happy that the actor who played Tyrion, Peter Dinklage, won an Emmy for his performance! YES!

And also for you Sean Bean fans, I leave you with...

About the Author
George R.R. Martin is the author of eleven novels, seven novellas, two novellettes, one children's book, and a score of other writing and editing accomplishments. He was also the writer for seven episodes of the Twilight Zone and fifteen episodes of Beauty and the Beast, including three episodes of the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones. There's so much about this author, I don't have enough space to write it all, so I'll just ask that you:

Click here to visit the author on his website.
Click here to visit the author on his blog.


15 November 2011

I...I Just Couldn't Finish...

I can't even believe it. I've learned to love audiobooks this year (what would my errands be like without a good book to listen to), but I unfortunately came across two I couldn't complete. I debated on posting it out in the blogosphere since I didn't finish them, but hey, this is also a personal rant site at times, so why not? Here are the brief reasons why I couldn't finish The American Heiress and Moneyball.

Let me also make sure to note that these are my own opinions and certainly do not represent the love that fans have for these two stories. I'm just an odd duck sometimes.

The American Heiress, by Daisy Goodwin.
I can't tell you how much I wanted to like this one. I love historical fiction, but... It's 1893 and Cora Cash is the richest American heiress and her mother wants Cora to marry an appropriate man, one with a title. After a trip to England, Cora meets the Duke of Wareham and they get married in a lavish wedding in New York. Upon her return to England, Cora begins to realize that her only true friend is her maid, Bertha, who is also an outsider.

This is going to sound silly, but right out the gate, I was a little annoyed by the characters' names. The richest heiress' last name is Cash? The maid's name is Bertha?

I just couldn't get into the story. And *mini-spoiler alert for this paragraph* when the story opened up with Cora wanting to be ready to kiss her love interest at the party that night, she enlists her maid to "show her how." It was intended to be shocking, but I thought it was going for the cheap "thrill."

Guys, you know I love historical fiction. But this one just didn't do it for me at all.

My thoughts on the audio? The narrator certainly carried off the snobbish accent of the turn of the century, but it wasn't the most enjoyable for me to listen to.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning the Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis.
Okay, bottom line, let me first put the disclaimer out there that I love sports, and I love sports stories. I most especially love the science behind sports.

Moneyball is about how one man led the change at the Oakland Athletics on how players are selected. With his team of "geek statisticians," Billy Beane revolutionized the old way of baseball recruiters and didn't opt for the large payroll. Go for the guys who can get on base, even if they don't "look like" a "real" baseball player. In fact, they called Kevin Youkilis from the Boston Red Sox fat, for cryin' out loud, but they knew he could get on base.  The old school recruiters liked the traditional look of a baseball player, but Beane and his geeks pushed to bring "others" to the team. Consequently, the Oakland Athletics had one of the lowest payrolls at the time for baseball, but had one of the best records. Sounds completely fascinating for a geek like me, right?

Moneyball, though, is a whole heck of a lot of stats about baseball, and if you are not a baseball nut (meaning not just a sports fan, but a baseball NUT that knows obscure facts and stats), it is a struggle to get into this story and understand what is happening. I also kept waiting for a storyline to pick up, but quite frankly, it jumped from one reason to another of why Billy Beane changed the recruiting philosophy of baseball. To me, it felt like a legal case: it was one fact after another, further evidence of why Billy Beane was the man.

My husband did end up finishing it, but he's a baseball nut. He did reassure me that it was extremely difficult, though and a lot of events passed him by, too. I felt a little better that it wasn't just me. Moneyball is for the pure baseball fan who doesn't really like a lot of story, but likes a whole lot of facts, stats, and events.

My thoughts on the audio? Unfortunately, even the phenomenal Scott Brick couldn't help me get into this one.


14 November 2011

Look What I Got...

George R.R. Martin, author of the fantasy series (not sci-fi) A Song of Ice and Fire series (A Game of Thrones, etc.) has such an engaging blog. He posts frequently, and even discusses his love of football and his thoughts during the season.

When I read he was clearing his shelves and had 1980s copies of his book Nightflyers, and he would autograph them, I jumped all over it. I've been interested to try sci-fi and since I've loved his fantasy series with A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings (reviews coming soon), I thought I'd have good luck with this as well.

I know he's got a ton of fans and has an assistant(s), but I'm pretty confident he signed this copy just for me...! Right?