Showing posts with label vampires. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vampires. Show all posts

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last 2 Books of 2015!

My last 2 mini-reviews of the year!  I was able to squeeze these in right under the wire, bringing me up to 49 for the year.  Not bad!

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Little, Brown and Company, 2005
personal purchase

I put this book on my 30 Before 35 list because I've heard raves about it for the last 10 years, and have had a copy on my bookshelf for almost as long, but I kept pushing it off due to the fact that it's a pretty sizeable chunker (676 pages).  I finally picked it up on a whim, not even knowing what it was about, and was pleased to find that it's a historical fiction novel about the legend behind Dracula.  How fortuitous that I read Stoker's famous book just a few months ago!  However, reading Dracula before The Historian is certainly not a requirement, as this book provides more than enough background to keep you on top of things.

Quick synopsis: the narrator is a teenager in the 1970's, living with her father (a diplomat) in Amsterdam.  One day, she stumbles upon some old letters in her father's study, which turn out to be the beginnings of a rather epic mystery surrounding the legend of Lord Dracula.  When, in the midst of learning about this mystery, the narrator's father disappears, she begins her own journey to figure out where he went, what sort of discoveries he made in the past, and what really happened to her mother.

I only gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads, which feels underwhelming, but unless you are a serious fangirl/fanboy of medieval history, this book is surely going to drag in parts.  And I feel bad saying that, because this book is positively overflowing with lavish detail--a more elaborate story would be hard to find.  But that doesn't erase the fact that it's terribly drawn out, the frequent flashbacks making an already-detailed story even tougher to follow at times.  Even so, the mystery at the heart of the story is intriguing, and I enjoyed the little twist in the epilogue.  Thus, 3 stars is accurate for this middle-of-the-road novel.

Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon
Rodale Books, 2011 edition
received as a Christmas gift :)

What a surprise, right?  Haha.  Now that I am fairly certain I will be running my first marathon in late 2016, I figured it's time to start doing some reading.  I'm a huge fan of Higdon's race training plans (they have worked for me at both the 15K and half marathon distances), and I plan to use one of his novice marathon plans in the fall.  However, I also have a lot of questions about proper nutrition during training, hydration needs, tricks for staying in the game mentally, etc. and I thought this would be a good place to start.

I was correct in my thinking!  Higdon speaks equally to novice and more advanced runners in this book.  Some of the information was familiar to me after following his programs in the past, but some of it was new as well, and a LOT of it is going to be re-read as I dive into marathon training in the late spring.  In particular, I was very interested in the parts about the different varieties of speedwork (seriously, I still have a hard time telling a fartlek from a stride from intervals...), proper long run pacing, and pre-race nutrition.  Plus, I found this book to be a great motivator in general.  Reading about Higdon's formulas for success has left me feeling excited for the marathon journey ahead.

If you're a newbie marathoner looking for some solid advice starting out, or a more advanced marathoner who wants to shave time off of a PR, Hal Higdon's Marathon is an excellent read to help you get going in the right direction.

What's your last book of 2015?  Runners, any other good marathon training books I should look for?

Friday, October 30, 2015

October Minis: Dracula, Meg Wolitzer, & more!

Hellooooo, readers!  And HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVE!  I will be celebrating this weekend by trick-or-treating with a small monkey and a Ninja Turtle.  Let's honor the holiday with my first round of mini book reviews for the month of October.  Three books to discuss with you today...

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Harper, 2011
personal purchase

Here we have a psychological thriller with a unique premise: Christine has suffered a brain injury that erases her memory almost completely every evening when she goes to sleep.  So each morning, she wakes up unaware of where she is, or who is sleeping next to her (poor, forgotten husband).  She has to re-learn her entire life.  Unfortunately, this also means that Christine is easy to manipulate--who can she really trust if she never remembers anyone from day to day?  She finds a journal that she's begun keeping with the help of her doctor, and realizes that her life may be very different than what is being presented to her.

While the suspense and twists in this book are intense (as expected), for me, they were slowed down quite a bit by Christine's journaling style (which is how much of the book is narrated).  For someone who has to furtively write in her journal each night before her husband catches her doing it, she writes in such flowy, painstaking detail.  This felt disingenuous and made it hard for me to find her believable as a character.  However, the story itself is delightfully convoluted and will get your heart rate up (even though I did figure out the "bad guy" a good bit before he/she was actually revealed).

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Grosset & Dunlap, 1897
personal purchase

The most famous vampire story!  I'd been saving this book as a spooky October read for years, and finally got around to it.  It was well-worth the wait, as this was a perfect novel for this time of year.  If you're unfamiliar, Dracula is the tale of how Jonathan & Mina Harker discover, and attempt to take down, the wily vampire Count Dracula, along with their mentor, Van Helsing, and a few brave friends.  There's garlic and wooden stakes and bats and a castle in Transylvania!  How can you go wrong?!?!  The story is told through letters, diary entries, telegrams, and journals written by the main characters.  I loved this format, as it gave the narrative a more modern, fast-paced feel than its publication date would have you expect.  I was a little annoyed by how Mina Harker is treated as a female character (Stoker alternately builds her up as a smart, independent woman, then breaks her down as the male characters keep her out of the loop in order to protect her delicate lady-brain), but otherwise this book was fantastic.  Do yourself a favor and put this one on your Halloween reading list!
(Has anyone seen the film adaptation of this from the early 90s?  From what I can see, it looks like Coppola kind of massacred the plot.  Also, Keanu Reeves?  Srsly?)

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
Scribner, 2003
personal purchase

This story is told by Joan Castleman, in her mid-60s and wife of the (fictional) famous novelist, Joe Castleman.  It's immediately clear that Joan is a tad bitter about her life these days.  As she flies to Finland with Joe to a ceremony in his honor, she flashes us back to their early days of courtship and marriage.  By the end of this quick 200-ish page read, you have a REALLY good understanding of why Joan is disgruntled.

This was my first Meg Wolitzer novel, and I was beyond pleased.  The writing is fantastic: snappy, beautiful, intelligent, and humorous, all at once.  While the title left me thinking that the purpose of the novel was a character study of Joan-as-wife, I soon realized that Wolitzer was also making some interesting statements about the "wife" role in general: what it symbolizes, its value within a family, and how much some women give of themselves when they take on the title.  There was even a surprising twist at the end.  I'm impressed with everything that Wolitzer was able to pack into such a short book, and I can't wait to read more of her work.

What was your best read of October?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King




Title: 'Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: October 1, 1975
Source: received as a gift in a book swap

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

'Salem's Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in 'Salem's Lot was a summer of home-coming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to 'Salem's Lot hoping to cast out his own devils... and found instead a new unspeakable horror.

A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.

All would be changed forever—Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of 'Salem's Lot.


My Review:


My love for Stephen King knows no bounds.  It started when I was in middle school and read The Shining for the first time.  Since then, I have meandered my way through the majority of his more famous works, and many of the less well-known ones too.  But for some reason, 'Salem's Lot eluded me until now.  I decided Halloween time was the perfect season to take care of that!

And what can I say that hasn't already been said?  This is a vampire story that makes me question why I ever wasted time reading the Twilight series.  (Not that I didn't already question that, but...you know what I mean.)  The Volturi have nothing on Kurt Barlow.

There is a lot of the violence and horror that Stephen King is known for (not surprising, since this is one of his earliest works).  The book did a great job keeping me up at night, wondering if the neighbors were going to try to climb through my window and go for the jugular.  Automatic literary scare points for that.  But as is typical of King horror, it isn't a mindless string of bloody deaths and empty storylines.  You get connected to the characters (and yes, you have to say some grotesque goodbyes to some many of them).  King includes a prologue that I kept referring back to throughout the book, because in the beginning, it's hard to make full sense of it--but by the end, you want to go back and re-read it to see all of the "ah-ha" moments he added in.  He's a master of putting a small detail on page 20, and then having it come back to punch you in the face on page 323, when you've fairly well forgotten it.

And of all the characters in the book, I have to say I rooted for Mark Petrie the hardest.  I read a book blog post last week that was stellar--it talked about the way Stephen King writes so many whip-smart child characters, who are often able to triumph over evil opponents in ways that adults cannot.  (If you wrote that post, email me!  I want to reference it, boo to me for not bookmarking it.)  Mark Petrie is a perfect example of this.  At just ten/eleven years old, he's not who you'd probably pick first on your ultimate vampire-killing team.  BUT YOU SHOULD.  And King references many times where Mark, as a child, is able to act swiftly and forcefully because he is not laden with the need to overreact or overthink situations, as an adult would:
"With no pause for thought or consideration (both would have come to an adult--his father, for instance--and both would have undone him), Mark swept up the cross, curled it into a tight fist, and said loudly: "Come on in, then." (p 262)

I had vaguely noticed this in other King novels (It, The Shining, Firestarter, etc.) but I think it was illustrated more strongly in Mark's case because in the group of people making the last stand against the vampires, he is the lone child surrounded by adults.  King sees a power in children that many other authors do not, and it translates well in the horror genre where so many evils await.

Oh, and the ending?  Was awesome.

I could go on for days (there are also a lot of metaphors about how 'Salem's Lot illustrates American society after Vietnam...), but I'll let you Google that stuff and stop here.  Obviously, I loved this book.  It's a horror novel with so many twists and complexities, you won't want to put it down.  Plus, it's the perfect pick with Halloween coming up in a few days!

 
Imagination Designs