30 September 2012

A Page 234 Update of The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Well, a little over two hundred pages into The Casual Vacancy, and I must say, I'm really enjoying it. The small, picture perfect quaint town of Pagford is filled with unethical and gossipy characters that surface even more so when a seat on the parish council opens up after the untimely passing of Barry Fairbrother. I haven't once thought about the "other books." Not one bit. What I can say is that readers should give JK Rowling a chance. After all, she's a creator of worlds and anyone who can successfully come up with what she came up with before should be treated fairly, instead of the initial assumption that what she did before might be all that she can do.

Passage of Note:
It was curious how often everything was back to front, the inverse of what they told you; Fats was starting to think that if you flipped every bit of received wisdom on its head you would have the truth. He wanted to journey through dark labyrinths and wrestle with the strangeness that lurked within; he wanted to crack open piety and expose hypocrisy; he wanted to break taboos and squeeze wisdom from their bloody hearts; he wanted to achieve a state of amoral grace, and be baptized backwards into ignorance and simplicity. (p.76)


28 September 2012

A Page 54 update of The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

I promise I'm reading other books right now. It may not seem like it because the past few posts are all about JK Rowling, but I assure you, there's more to come (of Rowling and others). Like The Secret History by Donna Tartt (which I am loving), and It by Stephen King (the audio book with Steven Weber is just amazing). See?

Quick updates on everything related to The Casual Vacancy:
  • It's really annoying that people are posting one-star reviews on Amazon because they don't like the ebook price. Why not email the publisher? Why skew the rating of the author's work because you're upset about the price?
  • It's easy to forget all about Harry Potter and Hogwarts so far. I mean, JK Rowling has quite a number of swear words used already by page 54, but I haven't found it jarring in the least.
  • The book isn't bad at all. The characters are introduced well and the idyllic setting of a quaint British village called Pagford is beautifully depicted. I actually like it.
Passage of note thus far:
Momentarily stricken, Ruth gazed out of her kitchen window over the crisp whiteness of her frost-crusted lawn, at the abbey across the valley, stark and skeletal against the pale pink and gray sky, and the panoramic view that was the glory of Hilltop House. Pagford, which by night was no more than a cluster of twinkling lights in a dark hollow far below, was emerging into chilly sunlight. (p.12)


27 September 2012

Only Muggles, no magic? Can it be any good?

After months of hushed discussions and no advanced copies forwarded out to reviewers, we can finally learn if JK Rowling's Muggle-filled world with no magic is any good. Although fairly lackluster reviews of the author's first novel for adults were finally posted today by The New York TimesThe Guardian, The LA Times, and the Washington Post, I just got my copy this morning. So we shall see...


20 September 2012

A Readalong for JK Rowling's New Book

Before all of the hype and the press sets in, I've decided to dive in with Literary Musings and Bookworm Meets Bookworm in their readalong for JK Rowling's first novel for adults. I'm nervous and hope that it will be a wonderful reading experience, and I have to remind myself that there is no magic in this book, that Harry Potter will not pop up in the background sitting in a diner drinking a cup of coffee. I have to really discipline myself to not expect any of that, and to not feel disappointed if it doesn't happen.

So here are the details:
  1. Grab the button above.
  2. Link up your post by clicking here.
  3. Thursday, October 4th: First post, no spoilers. No set page length to read up to.
  4. Thursday, October 11th: Final post.
It's a quick timeline to read it in, but it appears it might be a book that could be absorbed and read that fast. So why not join into the fray of reading JK Rowling's first book for adults before the hype hits and you get swayed one way or the other?


17 September 2012

ITalong Midway Post

A big swooshing balloon filled, underground sewer thank you to the ladies over at Fizzy Thoughts and Annotated Reading for hosting the IT-along! With clown noses and bookmarks to share, it's been so fun! To read other participants' posts, click here.

Midway through this book of a group of young kids in 1958 in Derry, Maine, self-dubbed as "The Losers' Club" who are slowly understanding that there is an evil pursuing children, I'm struck by yet again how much I love the way King writes. Alternating chapters with each characters' viewpoints, both when they were children and as adults, it's an incredible story.  It deviates to unimportant events (quite a bit, actually), but I actually enjoy all of it. It may be because I'm listening to the audio book that I don't notice all the back story and uber-character development because the audio is so vivid.

A few thoughts:
  • The audio book is AMAZING. Steven Weber is MAGNIFICENT. Had it not been for Trish recommending the audio and then Audible.com having an incredible $4.95 sale, I never would have downloaded this 44-hour audio book. Forty.Four. HOURS. Instead of being afraid of such a massive audio length, it's because of Sir Weber that I shirk the reading of the book in favor of listening to him take us through the cadences of no less than twenty-two characters. Twenty-two! The fact that King keeps it all straight so that you aren't confused, and that Weber can alter the voices so distinctly that it's always clear who's speaking, is incredible. I do believe that this type of a book may best be listened to in audio. The characters' inner thoughts just become even more riveting.
  • Characters and places reappearing in multiple novels. You may know that the fictional town of Derry, Maine is regularly featured in King's novels, but it's wildly fun when you have a reappearing character pop up. One of the main characters in The Shining (my review is here) is Dick Halloran, the cook at the Overlook Hotel. He is briefly mentioned in Mike Hanlon's section as a fellow soldier at "The Black Spot." I love being familiar with King's characters to notice that!
  • King writes so genuinely about kids. The main thing about Stephen King stories is that he does an incredible job of realistically conveying what it is like to be a kid. Insecurities, feeling left out, how bullies act and how the bullied feel afterwards, is so genuinely drawn that every scene feels so believable. It's not unusual for me to get a little verklempt when I read certain sections, like the part about Ben and the "H" scar on his stomach, for example. Gawd, people. I was so sad when I listened to Steven Weber narrate those scenes.
  • The character I love. I adore all in "The Losers' Club," especially Bill Denbrough, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Ben. He has no friends but never once considers himself as lonely. When he finally gets close to Bev, Eddie, Richie, and everyone in the group, it's just that much more special. Getting beat up by the bullies is frightening but I did love it when Ben turned around to beat them up in the alley after the movie.
  • Turtle? I am lost. No idea what this is.
  • IT vs. The Stand. I gotta admit, I think I like IT so much more than The Stand, but I do think it's because of the audio book, so I have plans to listen to The Stand in the next couple of years to give them both a fair comparison.
  • The Shining. For those who will be participating in the upcoming readalong for The Shining, I highly recommend the audio book narrated by Campbell Scott. It's incredible.

Hoooo boy, Stephen King keeps it creepy. As I've mentioned before, my evening runs in the neighborhood are creepier every time I pass a sewer drain. Weber's clown voice comes through into my ears with "We all float down heeerreee...." and that makes me pick up my pace.


11 September 2012

9/11 Heroes Run 5k, Virginia Beach

It's a day for reflection, isn't it? I participated in the 9/11 Heroes Run 5k on Sunday and posted about the day on my other blog, This Chick Will Run. If you'd like to, please head over that way and check out my recap with pictures.

Never forget.


07 September 2012

Send in the clowns, or, I got a nose job. (Finally!)

In celebration of all things Stephen King and my new nose (er, I mean, clown nose), here's my pic for Fizzy Thought's public shaming contest. I decided to listen/read for the #ITalong, and let me tell you, Steven Weber is AMAZING as the narrator for IT. His voices are just fluidly perfect for each character, and it is incredibly entertaining (and scary). I love listening to it much more than reading it and those nightly runs I now take tend to get much creepier and disturbing when I have to run past any sewers, gutters, drains...

I'm not the most coordinated to begin with, and I was taking the picture myself (because I didn't want my husband to think I was bizarre, but the online world? No problem!) and for some reason I thought I was waving hello, when really...it looks more like an alien hand, right?


06 September 2012

Banned Book Week is right around the corner...

...so why not be a host? Don't know about you, but I am stricken with fear that just one person can challenge a book, potentially banning it, simply because they feel there is something in it so horrible that it absolutely shouldn't be read by anyone else and then they then pursue its removal from shelves, denying access to it. That scares me. Big brother much, right?

I still shake my head when I look at some of the books that have been challenged or banned around the world. I mean, really? Harry Potter? Of Mice and Men? To Kill a Mockingbird? And there are so many of Stephen King's works as well!

Here is the link to the list of the most challenged books from 2000 to 2009 as documented by the ALA (American Library Association). In the few years I've blogged about books, I've enjoyed the celebrations for Banned Book Week and it is right around the corner. I plan to celebrate these wonderful books and I hope you join as well; the more the merrier!

The incomparable Sheila from Book Journey is hosting the event, which will take place from Sunday, September 30 to Saturday, October 6. Click here to read the post and submit your interest for it. As Sheila shared on her post, here is the definition from the American Library Association for what a challenged or banned book is:
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.
Why not consider including a book into your reading world this season that was once considered banned and post about it on your blog? More than likely, a book you were planning to read at some point is probably on the list. So I say, let's read!


04 September 2012

The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye (Audio Review)

New York in 1845 was a powder-keg of unrest. With an influx of Irish immigrants escaping the tragic Great Potato Famine into an already packed city, the New York summer of 1845 was filled with riots, religious unrest, murder, and the eventual birth of the New York Police Department, known by New Yorkers as a "standing army." Timothy Wilde, once a bartender with an unfulfilled love for a charitable woman named Mercy Underhill, has accepted a position as a policeman after a horrible fire leaves him with no bar to tend and his face disfigured. Amidst racism, brothels, drugs and murder, Timothy learns there is much more darkness in the city than he ever imagined. When a young girl, Bird, runs into him one night during his rounds, her nightdress covered in blood, with unbelievable stories of a murdered child, his new career becomes even darker.

A strong dislike for his older and more politically-minded brother, Val, Timothy's got an ethical side that can't be undone. Even with Bird, he doesn't have the heart to deliver her to the House of Refuge for orphaned children and instead takes her back to his apartment building where the female proprietor cares for her. As he takes the case to uncover the child murders, which seem to point heavily to a blatant hatred for Irish Catholicism, Timothy's unsure of who to rely on. His brother is of questionable character and the locals don't take any issue with brothels, even if children are an option. It's a gritty underworld that he didn't expect to be immersed in.

The Gods of Gotham is superb with early 1800s elements of New York life and American history, from the combination of race and religious unrest to the Irish "assimilation" into New York and even to the seedy brothels. While Mercy Underhill maintains her own sense of willful independence that at times was shocking, she provides the clear contrast to the city's evil with her ministering of care to the orphans and uncared for children, all the while dreaming of her one-day voyage across the Atlantic to England to escape New York. Each piece of the story was brilliant.

However, I did take issue with the audiobook so let me first encourage you to visit the Audible.com reviews site because I definitely do not represent the majority of the listeners. While I loved the story, I struggled with the audio considerably. In 1845 New York, I anticipated a little more accented English and instead felt the narrator's voice was flat and non-regional, and a good portion of the audio was monotonous, even to the point that there wasn't any variation between the male voices. There was also a distinct lack of emotion for several of Timothy's truly painful moments and with such a vivid story, it's unfair to the characters to be so colorlessly represented. Usually, a narrator keeps a bad story going, but in this case, The Gods of Gotham was thankfully a captivating tale which was the sole reason I was motivated to continue. I do want to mention that there was one bright spot that I loved in audio, which occurred between the newsboys and Timothy when they spoke "flash," a slang dialect of the lower classes in New York. It was extremely unique and interestingly enough, "flash" is also the foundation of several slang words we use today. Other reviews point out that these conversations were a difficult part when reading in print, however I can say the audiobook makes it much, much easier to understand and visualize and I do feel the narrator did a good job here. (For a really cool interview with the author discussing "flash," click here.)

The story and historical elements are fascinating and while it was a bit wordy at the start of the book, it evened out and became an engaging tale which makes me now eagerly await the sequel. At that time, though, I will be reading the printed version versus listening to the audio.

Publisher: Penguin Audio
Audio Time: 12 hours, 9 minutes
Release Date: 3/5/12
Narrator: Steven Boyer

Others said:
The Guilded Earlobe (Audio Review)

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this audio book at Audible.com

About the Author (from her website)
Lyndsay Faye is the author of Dust and Shadows: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson and the most recent bestseller The Gods of Gotham. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she has adopted New York City as her second home, where she resides with her husband and too many cats and is at work on her next novel, a sequel to The Gods of Gotham.

Visit the author:
Audio Notes: Steven Boyer is an established narrator and has an extensive portfolio available on Audible.com. For a sample of his work on The Gods of Gotham, click here.

This is my first selection for Carl's RIP VII event at Stainless Steel Droppings. Participants' reviews can be found here.


02 September 2012

The Tourist, by Olen Steinhauer

Milo Weaver is a "Tourist" for the "Company," an undercover agent for the CIA. And he's a good one. Known as the legendary Charles Alexander, Milo's time in service has exhausted him and suicide is contemplated daily. After an especially tough case in Venice that leaves him shot, Milo decides to say good-bye to his old world and take a desk in New York to start a new life with his new wife, Tina, and their daughter, Stephanie. When an old friend is labeled as a treasonous double agent, Milo has no choice but to clear his friend's name and his own by going back to the undercover life he left six years ago.

I was  looking for a good spy novel that would take me to the many corners of the world and simultaneously keep me on the edge of my seat. The Tourist certainly did that and more and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It's been a little while since I felt like reading a spy novel (you may recall, I was disappointed with Dr. No by Ian Fleming a few months back), so when I picked this one up at the library the other day, I held my breath. I needn't have worried. While I don't think it's a spy novel breaking new ground, it certainly is extremely effective in sweeping the reader up into exotic locales like Venice, France, and Switzerland and there is just the right amount of heart-pumping scenes where you wonder if people are who they really say they are.

My only gripe is (and I'm certain this will sound insensitive, so my apologies in advance) that I was less interested in Milo's family than I probably should have been and was much more content when the pages would move back to the edge-of-your-seats spy scenes. Don't get me wrong, Milo's family provided that needed contrast between the life Milo loves, with the one he is forced to move back into, in order to protect his name and his family, but his wife and daughter just weren't interesting enough for me to be swept away in their stories. I'm hoping that the later novels in the trilogy offer even more depth for them because they both were equally tough characters, and Stephanie was quite the funny, sarcastic child. Milo himself was a thoroughly unique character, and you can't not love a spy who has a slight obsession with French singers from the 1960s.

All in all, The Tourist is a satisfying and intelligent spy-thriller that won't disappoint as the whirlwind travel around the world brings you ultimately back to the United States where Milo must trust the very people that he never thought he would need to in order to clear his name. With family secrets and old Cold War events blending with the new threats of today, Olen Steinhauer's The Tourist is an excellent first in a series that will whet your appetite to get the second installment immediately.

The trilogy in order:
  • The Tourist (2009)
  • The Nearest Exit (2010)
  • The American Spy (2012)
FTC Disclosure: I checked this book out from my local Virginia Beach Public Library.

Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: 2009
Pages: 408

About the Author (from his website)
Olen Steinhauer grew up in Virginia and has lived throughout the US and Europe. He is the author of The Bridge of Sighs, which began a five-book sequence chronicling Cold War Eastern Europe. The Tourist is book one in a trilogy. Steinhauer lives in Hungary with his wife and daughter.

Visit the author: