Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Not a failure, just a delayed success... (?)

As you've all noticed, I haven't been getting around to my blog much this month. As excited as I was to start Nonfiction and Steampunk November, I overshot and didn't anticipate so much to happen this month. Between schoolwork, internship, work, and everything else, I haven't been able to fit as much time in for reading as I had hoped. Plus, I had started reading The Rise of Rome and got a hundred pages in but knew there was no way I'd be able to get it finished. As of right now, I'm continuing with both my challenges but taking my time with it now. I'll get some more reviews up as soon as possible, and hopefully get my challenges finished within some sort of timely manner...

- I gave up on The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt; I definitely overestimated my interest in nonfiction and feel like I started the month off with a textbook.
- I started No Easy Day by Mark Owen, an anonymous account of the raid that ended with Osama bin Laden's death in 2011. About a hundred pages in and loving it; it reads almost like a novel because it is so fast paced and unbelievable.
- Continuing my steampunk challenge, albeit at a much slower pace than one story a day. I'm about halfway through the anthology, so about a week behind on my readings. I still have a few to review as well, so look for those over the long holiday weekend.

Keep reading, and keep letting me know what you all think and want to see from me, it really means a lot when I get contacted by authors and readers who stop by my blog. Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving :D

- Justin

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

So, I've had a lot of people asking me when I was gonna get around to reviewing Rowling's new adult novel. HERE IT IS. And yes, I know it took long enough.

The Casual Vacancy is not the kind of book I would ever have picked up. Drama and politics in a small English town? No thanks. Of course, I'm a sucker for Harry Potter, so Rowling could have written about a rat colony and I would have snagged a copy. I must say, I'm pleased I did. I got to experience a new story, a new type of novel, and Rowling got herself 4 out of 5 stars for giving me such a pleasant surprise.

From the publisher:
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

My thoughts:
YES. This is a book for ADULTS. Within the first few pages, Rowling dropped the F bomb a couple times, and added some other colorful language. There is drugs, sex, and conflict, and the town of Pagford is nothing like Hogwarts. That being said, once I got over the initial shock of seeing some of these words in print, I was surprised at how quickly I was absorbed into the pages.

Few authors can pen a story like JK Rowling. She introduced a lot of characters into The Casual Vacancy, and while I still believe it was a bit much (think Game of Thrones perspective changes, only much more rapidly and unannounced), she was able to make these characters likable and fun to read about, even if they were shooting up or beating their wives. I mean, that takes a lot of skill.

The plot itself wasn't really anything to write home about; Barry Fairbrother dies in the midst of a zoning conflict regarding the 'projects' on the outskirts of town, and opposing sides of this debate fight over control over Barry's now vacant seat on the council. Oh and apparently, when a council member dies or is suddenly unable to perform his duties, this is called a casual vacancy. See? You DO learn from fictional stories. I was thrown off by several twists in the plot, and sudden developments and events. Rowling keeps the story interesting even when it seems like it shouldn't be quite so eventful.

I had a great time reading The Casual Vacancy, even though it definitely wasn't what I had initially expected from JK Rowling. I was very impressed, and it is clear that Rowling is a force to be reckoned with, even without harnessing the power of the Harry Potter series anymore.

- Justin

Steampunk Catchup! SP 6, 7, and 8

So, I'm gonna go ahead and blame the bad weather for my inability to keep up with my blog. And Dr. Who on Netflix, too. I have power, and I've been reading, and here's a little bit of catchup. I shall have the rest for ya tomorrow.

SP 6: Clockwork Fairies by Cat Rambo

This was a fun little story. Claude seeks to engage his fiancé in society a little more, while Desiree is more content with simply building her clockwork machines. And, she seems to get what she wants from 'Lord Tyndall' in the end.

While I understand this is the 19th century, latest, Claude was kind of set in his perspectives on his fiancé. Black, independent woman, and he wants to integrate her and make her a model wife. I'm not against a good compromise, but this would have been a pretty one handed relationship if you ask me. I'm glad that Desiree got to go off and be happy though, that made for a bittersweet ending.

SP 7: The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jala-ud-din Muhammad Akbar by Shweta Narayan

By far my favorite story so far in this anthology, because it was such a moral story about beauty breeding narcissism and suffering. The Artificer was a creature of such wisdom, and her story was moving and sad, even though the characters were all machines. Their heart strings though! So very sad. I don't even know what to write about this story, I just really enjoyed it. Definitely recommended.

SP 8: Prayers of Forges and Furnaces by Aliette de Bodard

Interesting combination of steampunk, technology, and religion/gods. Took me a while to really understand, but it was a pretty good story once I got the hang of it :P basically my understanding is that the machine 'overlords' or the machines in charge, aren't overly fond of the human gods of old. When Tezoca arrives, it forces Xochipil to decide between the two. It was difficult for me to really hold onto this story, but it was interesting how Xochipil informs the 'hierarchy' of Tezoca, but then helps him when she finds him in the desert. She just doesn't know what she wants, does she? I wouldn't trust machines, so hopefully they aren't taking over anytime soon..

I know these were rather brief but I've had a lot going on lately, so I'm just pleased I'm still finding the time to relax and read a little bit. Still working on The Rise of Rome, which is interesting but I'm still not in the proper mindset for a nonfiction book.. Well, we shall see how my month of nonfiction books goes :)

- Justin

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

SP5: The Zeppelin Conductors' Society Annual Gentlemen's Ball by Genevieve Valentine

Sometimes, short stories have a full plot and conflict resolution. Sometimes, they're more descriptive and not much happens, but the reader is still pulled into the story regardless. This, is one of the latter moments.

Valentine's story describes society in the airship days, and the hardships that the airship conductors go through as a result of spending their lives in helium-filled balloons. The author manages to convey in just a few short pages how, even though they are outsiders to the 'regulars' who are not affected by helium on a daily basis, conductors still lead fulfilling, happy lives. I also liked the comparison to ship captains, or really anyone who starts something out of love and passion for that something, but then it becomes a job, a routine, and the passion is lost. These men love what they do, day in and day out, even if the captains of the airships become desensitized and lose their love of the skies. After reading this story, I think I'd still rather be a conductor than a captain.

Like I said, there wasn't really too much actually happening in this story, it was more the narrator describing life as a conductor. I still loved it, because of the emotion that you can feel through the narrator's voice. Sometimes it's difficult to really feel something from a short story, because you don't spend much time with the characters. These unnamed characters were relatable in their desire to simply live their passions, and it really brought a lot to the story. Well played :)

- Justin

Monday, November 5, 2012

SP4: Tom Edison and His Amazing Telegraphic Harpoon by Jay Lake

I'm thinking this is one of my favorite stories of Steampunk November so far.. And yes, this is yesterday's post :P

Tom Edison, an inventor, is traveling west aboard the City of Hoboken, a magnificent steamship. Until, that is, a Nephilim appears and prepares for attack. How will the ship's passengers battle a Biblical creature? Because, of course, that clearly could happen.

This was my favorite 'anarchic mashup' of this anthology so far. The moral of this story? Science and technology trump mythology and religion, any day of the week. Very interesting combination of steampunk and a (fictional) religious creature (the Nephilim strikes me as a dark angel, or a demon of some sort. I'm really picturing the dark angel from the movie Legion). Not what I had thought this story would be about, based on the title, but it was a pleasant surprise.

PS, LOVE the fact that James referenced New Jersey, and Hoboken in particular. Tom Edison would have invented something badass like a telegraphic harpoon. :)

- Justin

SP3: Icebreaker by E. Catherine Tobler

This was quite the story. Muriel Brennan, grieving for her deceased inventor husband J.J., sets out for the Antarctic to cremate his body. And also to visit, you know, the ice. Of course, this isn't OUR Antarctic, but an alternate universe, and the icy terrain is wrought with horrors unique to this story. All the while, Muriel hides the secret of J.J.'s life, the clockwork heart that prolonged his life and that she now keeps close to her own heart. And hides from Mr. Plenty, a reporter who tags along on the ship in an effort to gather a news-worthy article about the death of the renowned inventor.

I just couldn't help enjoying the fantasy and adventure elements that "Icebreaker" had (separate elements from steampunk, obviously). This story was very unique and inventive, and continues showing me that the steampunk genre isn't just goggles and cogs and clockwork (it is, however, still part of it). It's about envisioning a different past, or a different future, with Victorian elements and steam machinery, of course, but also with different morals and traditions and beliefs. Muriel is a widowed dwarfess, who really only got her wish of taking her husband's remains to the Antarctic because of who HE was; women aren't looked on as equals in Tobler's universe. I assume, at least. There are only two women in this entire story.

So, I'm enjoying my foray into the world of steampunk. Hopefully I'll be ready for the convention in May when it comes to the Garden State :)

- Justin

PS brief update; I did in fact start NONFICTION NOVEMBER as well, with The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt. I'm enjoying the book so far, and am pleased to be actually learning something informative and factual, it feels pretty good. And yes, I'll continue capitalizing NONFICTION NOVEMBER. It's my blog, and I enjoy using caps lock, so there. :)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

SP2: The Steam Dancer by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Episode 2 of my Steampunk November; this post is a couple days late but that's alright because I am in fact caught up with my reading, and I'll be posting a few reviews tonight. So there :P

Kiernan's "The Steam Dancer" was a very different short story from what I've read in the past. Usually, there's a brief introduction and exposition, followed by a climax and resolution (you know, like when you learn about the parts of a book in middle school). This story, however, didn't really go anywhere, which definitely seemed like the entire point to begin with. Missouri Banks is a woman who went from street urchin (think Aladdin) to married woman with a 'career' dancing in Madam Ling's establishment. And honestly, I'm not entirely sure I'm convinced it was a strip club, and not a brothel. But I digress.

Missouri spent many a day on the streets begging for food and money, and after a storm of bugs weakens her to the point of death, she is rescued by a mechanic. The swarm of bugs infected her eye, forearm/hand, and leg, but luckily this mechanic was so generous he built her a new arm, leg, and eye. So, now she's half human, half machine (I'm thinking Cyborg from 'Teen Titans', because I'm a child like that), and dancing for Madam Ling. Apparently women with machine body parts are in high demand, because she's a main attraction. Her mechanical leg burns her one night though, and the mechanic has her stay home and rest the next day so he can fix it to avoid future injury.

Really, this is the entire story. I would have liked a little bit more plot, but I think this story was meant more to represent Kiernan's own upbringing (not literally, of course). Perhaps she was orphaned as a child, but was rescued and put back together. Part of me wanted to feel bad for Missouri, but I think that was just the grim style of writing. She seemed very happy though, in love with her mechanic husband and perfectly content to dance half-dressed with her mechanical arm and leg steaming up and such. As long as you're happy though, right?

Interesting story, although rather lacking in substance. I definitely feel like "The Steam Dancer" should be the first chapter to a much longer story, perhaps even a novella or novel. But, I dream.

I'll be back online in a bit to post 2 more reviews for yesterday's and today's steampunk short stories (check out that alliteration) :)

- Justin

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

I can’t even begin to describe how completely sucked into this book I became, right from the start. There was so much passion and intrigue, the characters were phenomenally well done, and this book earned itself 5 out of 5 stars for being so well written and addictive.

From the publisher:
Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force --- a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.

My thoughts:
There are few stories that take the vampire and make him into a sensitive, romantic character while still maintaining bloodlust and avoiding sparkling in sunlight.  Interview with the Vampire eroticized this mythical creature, adding a touch of old world passion and romance that can only come from a setting such as New Orleans or Paris (our characters visited both).

Louis is essentially a lost soul, given the gift (curse?) of eternity by L’estat, a materialistic individual who enjoyed using his thirst for blood to obtain wealth and good fortune. All Louis wants is to lead a quiet life, hunting animals instead of people, and learning all he can with his extended life, but L’estat uses his sensitivity to lead him into a darker side of things, starting with Claudia, a young girl L’estat used as leverage against Louis, to stop him from leaving L’estat in pursuit of knowledge and answers to his questions.

Even in the moments when you dislike L'estat, or Claudia, or any of the other characters, you can't help but sit at the edge of your seat, hoping they get out of harm's way, or succeed in whatever they are attempting in the book. I love this feeling, of knowing the characters and feeling them as entities beyond typed words on a page. These fictional characters, particularly Louis, felt more realistic than some people that actually exist!

In my opinion, it's becoming harder to find a book that I cannot put down; that I am sucked into with every fiber of my being. There was little romance in this book, and yet I thought it was more tantalizing and erotic than Fifty Shades of Grey (and it took a lot of cajones for me to actually write this in my blog). Reading Interview with the Vampire made me want to be a vampire, to use my heightened senses to see the world in a way that I could only have dreamed of before. I dare you to read this story without wanting to be a part of it, without feeling yourself feel Louis’ guilt and pain, without being so enthralled that you’re the only person awake on a 6am bus into New York City (I did it several times, because of this book). I am very much looking forward to picking up the rest of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.


Friday, November 2, 2012

SP1: Fixing Hanover by Jeff VanderMeer

And so we begin with Steampunk November.

"Fixing Hanover" by Jeff VanderMeer

Okay, the lone engineer in a beach village finds a robot in the ocean, and works to repair it and bring it back to life. Simple enough, right? NOPE. Right from the get go, there's a love triangle between our engineer Deniker, Rebecca the Lady Salt (some kind of hot blonde pirate?), and the village's 'leader' Blake. Blake used to sleep with the Lady Salt, who's now sleeping with Deniker. Blake married, but his wife and child died in childbirth. Now he hates Deniker for taking the Lady Salt from him. Soap opera drama.

But, all is not as it seems; the engineer is an escapee from Empire, which strikes me as any world empire from ancient or modern times. He designed airships, which were then used to destroy or take over cities, countries, and basically everything else to continue expanding the Empire. Deniker fled to this beachy town, and all is well until he finds a robot that he decides to fix in an effort to sell to the hill people in order to get money and supplies for the town. I sure hope nothing bad happens..

All in all, I enjoyed this story. I'm looking forward to the genre, because steampunk is so narrow and yet so broad at the same time. "Fixing Hanover" struck me because of the similarities between the Empire's takeover of the world, and England's takeover of the new world, America. Intimidating Native Americans with our technological advances, and destroying them in order to colonize the continent? Yeah, VanderMeer isn't far off the mark with his story. I liked it, and this story makes me more enthusiastic for my month of steampunk.

- Justin

General Updates and (drum roll, please!) November Challenges!

... I cannot even begin to describe how happy I am to be sitting at my computer, at 11:30pm tonight. I lost power on Monday afternoon from Hurricane Sandy, and FINALLY got it back about 15 minutes ago. And no, I did not hop online first thing; I took care of the priorities first (fridge and lights). In any case, I spent my extended weekend reading, and writing. I have a new blog post, in addition to the start of my 2 November challenges I am pleased to say I still managed to start on time :)


Because I don't read many nonfiction books, I figured now would be as good a time as any to start. I spent October getting through a few horror/thriller books that have been waiting on my shelf (Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin, and The Likeness by Tana French, along with 7 other non-themed books), and wanted to expand my horizons with a nonfiction list. This month, I'll be working through this list:

The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt
No Easy Day by Mark Owen
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Butcher by Philip Carlo
War by Sebastian Junger
To the Last Breath by Francis Slakey
Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean
Pacific Crucible by Ian Toll
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Hopefully I'll be able to get through a few of these (at least 4; I'm doing well with reading at least a book a week). Additionally, it's also...

Last October, I gave myself a short story challenge- to read a short story a day for each day in October. Over the summer, I picked up an anthology of steampunk short stories, because it was on sale and I want to get more into the genre. It's got 30 stories, so November makes sense (I didn't think about it in September, so here we are now). I'll read a story a day, and post my thoughts on it. I will also be posting extra reviews this week, since I fell behind, want to catch up, and haven't had a chance to post them in a while. It's called The Mammoth Book of Steampunk edited by Sean Wallace(ISBN #9780762444687 if anyone's interested in reading a story a day with me). I'm really looking forward to this, it's basically my reward for going outside my comfort zone and reading nonfiction :P Not that I'm not looking forward to that too, since I get to learn new things and open my mind up to a whole separate section of books. I just like fictional made up stuff.

So anyway, keep a sharp eye on this blog, because I'll be all over it this month :)
PS, I hope everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy is alright, and that everything will get back to normal soon. I don't know what I'm going to do, with all my shore stops destroyed like they are.. BUT, we're New Jersey. Bars were open last night, and I highly doubt that any shore town will let this storm keep them down.

Looking forward to getting back in blog-mode this month!!
- Justin