Archive | April, 2010

Bite Me by Christopher Moore

26 Apr

 

When we last left our vampire lovers in You Suck, Jody and Tommy had been turned into bronze statues by their minion, Countess Abby Von Normal, Back Up Queen of the Night. Jody wanted to remain a vampire. Tommy didn’t.

Rather then let the two lovebirds part ways, Abby had them bronzed. A love like their should stay together forever. But even the best laid plans have a way of unravelling themselves. As this is a Christopher Moore novel, unravelling is rather par for the course.

Abby and her love slave, the righteous Foo Dog, are enjoying their love nest, protecting the bronzed statues of Jody and Tommy. But when Abby’s BFF, an emo Goth by the name of Jared, accidentally frees Jody from her bronze prison while re-enacting a fight scene from his as of yet unwritten novel while wearing Abby’s high heeled Skankenstein boots, things go from weird to worse.

Jody and Tommy have been encased in bronze for five weeks. Able to turn herself into mist, Jody doesn’t mind the confinement so much. But Tommy, who had yet to learn that handy vampire trick before being bronzed, spends every night of his waking hours going slowly and quietly insane.

So when Jody tries to free Tommy, he goes stark raving mad. Jody goes out into the world of San Francisco to track Tommy down, but ends up having to find shelter before the sun comes up. She’s taken in by a warrior by the name of Otakka. He knows that he must keep the red haired woman safe.

Abby, meanwhile, continues on her quest to become a vampire while the notorious Foo Dog tries to find out if there is a way to turn someone from a vampire back into a human. As if that weren’t bad enough, Cavuto and Rivera, two cops who have become personally involved with saving the city a few times, have a new vampire plague on their hands: Vampre Cats.

It seems that Chet, the huge shaved cat we last saw in You Suck, has been ravaging the city of San Francisco and turning all the stray cats into vampires. A cat has to have a hobby, after all.

In order to fight this new threat and save the city, Jody must find Tommy and join forces with Abby, Food Dog, Jared, the Emperor of San Francisco, his dogs Bummer and Lazarus and the frozen turkey bowling Safeway crew.

Because the final battle is coming. And nothing can prepare them for what is about to happen when a horde of vampire hairballs descends upon the city….

Confused yet? Oh boy howdy! But remember, this isn’t a normal novel. This is a novel by genius comedic writer Christopher Moore.

Oh, Christopher Moore, how I love you. How I love your books. Moore’s books are really studies of the theatre of the absurd mixed with some Dave Berry, and perhaps some Anne Rice for good measure. In short, they are absolutely freaking brilliant.

Nothing goes as you expect it in a Christopher Moore novel, and Bite Me is no exception. However, one note of caution: If you are not familiar with the two novels that precede Bite Me, do not start here. The fun begins in Bloodsucking Fiends and continues in You Suck.

You could probably read Bite Me without reading the fist two books (Abby Von Normal does give us a confusing recap of the last two books in the first chapter) but why would you want to? Read the first two books if you want to get to know these characters.

Personally, I think Bite Me is one of Moore’s best novels. My top favourites are Bloodsucking Fiends and then Fool, but Bite Me comes a close third. In the third book in his vampire trilogy, Moore has pulled out all the stops and is going for broke. Thankfully it works.

The book is a laugh a minute, frenzied race to the finish. Not only does it have the same Christopher Moore humour, but it’s also a great look into what makes people human, what drives the human heart. Though it was funny, I was surprised by how dark the book was, how insightful and thought provoking it was. More than just another funny read, Bit Me is a dark look at what love can bring you and what it can take away.

No matter how you look at it, Bite Me is a winner in every way and one of the best books of 2010 so far. If you haven’t read it, or Bloodsucking Fiends or You Suck, read them now.

I’ll have some blood waiting for you…

Horns by Joe Hill

26 Apr

 

Ig Perrish is having a rough go of it.

After a night of drinking, he wakes up hung over and not entirely sure what he got up to the night before. Added to that, he has two small horns growing out of his head.

He knows that they weren’t there before, that they are a new edition to his body. He also quickly finds out that they influence others around him. The horns force others around him to tell him what they’re thinking.

Exactly what they’re thinking.

Those close to him begin to share their innermost secrets. The “I can’t believe you just said that” kind of secrets. Secrets and thoughts about a past that haunts all of them.

Years ago, Ig was accused of the rape and murder of the one woman he loved, the one woman who was his heart. Though he maintains his innocence, he finds out what his family and friends really think.

Everyone believes that he did it. Everyone thinks he killed her.

With his newfound talent, Ig decides to take the only course of action left to him. He decides to find out who really killed the one woman he loved.

And then take out his revenge…

I love Joe Hill. Rather, I love his writing. His first novel, Heart Shaped Box, was one of the creepiest, scariest novels I have read in years. His collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, was one of the most amazing collections of short fiction I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

I wasn’t sure about Horns at first. Second novels have a tendency to be lacklustre and usually don’t live up to the sacred gem of the first novel, especially one as widely heralded as Heart Shaped Box.

Before opening the book, I wondered if Horns would be a one trick wonder. I mean, how can you make a novel out of someone who can force you to share your inner most thoughts? It would get boring and repetitive after a while, right?

What I didn’t take into account was that Horns is a book by Joe Hill, an author who isn’t afraid to take the story one way and then veer off in a completely different, and sometimes shocking, direction.

Though the main story of the novel is Ig trying to find his revenge, the rest of the novel is told in flashbacks that are beautifully, incredibly written. The flashbacks are very emotionally charged. When Ig first meets Merrin, when he learns about love. When he gets his hear broken. The emotion on these pages is tangible.

I was also surprised by how funny the novel was. And I mean laugh out loud funny. Hill has an incredible ear for dialogue and he’s in top form here, giving us shocks, thrills and chills along the way. By the time the first half of the book is over, the people in Horns have stopped being characters on paper; they are real people.

Though the novel dragged a little in the middle (like most good novels do) he picks everything up again and steers us towards what is surely one of the best showdowns in modern fiction history.

Not only has Hill given us an incredible horror story. He’s also written a parable on love, life and, ultimately, the pursuit of happiness.

An incredible read from start to finish, Horns is one literary treat you’ll want to sink your horns, er, teeth into.

Fang: A Maximum Ride Novel by James Patterson

26 Apr

 

Max is special. She is able to fly.

Part of a flock of children who have been genetically altered so that they are part human and part avian, she and her flock have wings and can fly like birds. They have faced many challenges in the past, but this new challenge will cost them dearly.

While working to promote the plight of the people in Africa, Max is approached by doctor who specializes in gene alteration. He needs Max’s help. And he has a surprise for Max.

Another bird kid named Dylan. The doctor insists that he has been created as Max’s other half.

But Max loves Fang. Their love has grown by leaps and bounds. But Max is conflicted; how can she love Fang when he is like a brother to her? Max is further conflicted when Angel makes a startling prediction:

Fang will be the first to die.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, there is someone else besides the doctor who wants to use the bird kids to their advantage. Someone who will stop at nothing until they are his. Even more bizarre, Jeb, their traitor from the past, returns with startling news of his own.

Max will have to use all of her smart, all of her cunning, so that her entire flock will survive…

I was hesitant to pick up this new adventure by James Patterson. There are a few reasons for this but first among them is the fourth book in the series The Final Warning.

Patterson had written three amazing book in the Maximum Ride Series and then, with the fourth book, switched tactics. Instead of a thrilling plot, monsters and battles, the winged kids are asked to help with environmental problems and ecological issues.

I had serious issues with that book. I don’t mind if an author has an agenda. I do mind if he or she puts that agenda into their books, especially books meant for children. After the dismal fourth book, I wondered if I was going to keep reading.

When Max, the fifth book in the series, came out, I decided to give it a shot. Half the size of the first three novels, it was way better than The Final Warning, but nowhere near as good as the first three books. And it still had that environmental message tacked on through out the novel.

With Fang, the go green message is toned down a little, but not by much. The story is better than The Final Warning and more emotional than Max, but in three hundred pages…not a heck of a lot happens.

This book felt like character development filler for the series. Sure, it was an alright read and took me only a day and a bit to devour, but it lacks the spark of the earlier novels in the series.

I normally make it a practise not to compare books to one another, but in this case I feel justified to do so. Patterson had hit gold with the first three books and has pretty much ruined a great series by filling it with a message. I also feel as if he’s just pumping them out now, putting out another book to get the money.

It’s like he doesn’t care about the characters anymore and is just moving them around the page until he’s gotten to his word or page limit. There is no life to the characters anymore, no oomph, no spark that was so evident in The Angel Experiment, Schools Out Forever and Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. It’s as if The Final Warning, Max and Fang are poor copies of their originals.

I think, in the end, I picked up this book because I had the first five in the series and wanted the set to be complete. I wanted to find out if Patterson could make the series great again.

He hasn’t. When the next book in the series comes out (and there will be a next book I’m sure), I probably won’t be the only one who won’t buy it.

Instead, I’ll remember the series as it used to be.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

4 Apr

 

A few years ago, when I was working in a bookstore, one of the books we couldn’t keep on shelves was called House of Leaves. It is an experimental book by Mark Z Danielewski and has achieved what can only be cult status.

I had never read it.

At the bookstore I worked at, there was a waiting list for the book. The publisher would only send two or three copies at a time and I was never quick enough to grab a copy. I would try to find the book in other bookstores, only to find it absent from the shelves.

So it was with pleasure that I found a copy of it at a bookstore in Montreal. It felt odd being able to actually hold the book. I’ve been waiting to read it for a long time.

It is, perhaps, one of the most bizarre books ever written. It is a story within a story and it defies traditional concepts of writing and words. Let me explain…

House of Leaves is really two stories, a story within a story (and within another story as well, but that comes after). The first story concerns the set up of the novel. Johnny Truant, a layabout working at a tattoo parlour, is called at 3am in the morning by his friend Luze. Luze is sure that Zampano, an old man who lives in the building has died.

They find Zampano’s body, but Johnny finds something else as well. In an old trunk, Johnny finds a book written by Zampano called The Navidson Record. The book is written on pieces of paper, envelopes, on the back of stamps, on ticket stubs. Assembled by Johnny Truant, it is a dizzying book.

The Navidson Record is an account of the events found in the documentary of the same name by Will Navidson, a Pulitzer Prize winning photo journalist, who moves his family into a house and sets up cameras because he wants to document a family making a home, a family becoming one with a house.

But there is a problem with the house on Ash Street. Soon, rooms start appearing in the house that were not there before. And, more confusing, the house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

The house is growing.

Through out The Navidson Record, there are footnotes by Zampano. But here’s the thing: the film The Navidson Record doesn’t exist. Neither do Will Navidson or his wife Karen Greene. None of the books that Zampano refers to in his footnotes exist, except for a select few. None of the people Zampano interviewed about the documentary The Navidson Record exist. The entirety of The Navidson Record is a fabrication.

But it has affect Johnny Truant nonetheless.

Sprinkled through out The Navidson Record, we also get to read Jonnhy Truant’s words which become more and more disturbing and unhinged as we forge through the pages of House of Leaves. Soon we are not sure what is real and what is not. As Johnny falls more and more into the darkness, we learn that his mother was house in an insane asylum called Whalestoe. Johnny wonders if he is succumbing to the disease that stole his mother from him or if all this is real indeed….

Sound confusing? You bet. This is a sprawling monster of a novel. I haven’t had to work at reading a novel in a very long time. Normally I want to be entertained; be the story happy, comedic or dramatic or sad, entertainment is my primary goal when I read a novel.

But between the shifting narratives, the shifting typeset, the numerous footnotes and everything else, the book is a chore. But a good one. While I’m reading it, I feel like I’m being let into this secret world that has been hidden from the general public, finally released to the light.

I know that sounds odd, but it’s the tone of the book. It’s this dark, brooding work of fiction that redefines what fiction is.

House of Leaves was followed up by The Whalestoe Letters. It consists of letters to Johnny from his mother while she was in the asylum. Though the letters are included in an appendix to the book, more letters and codes to break are included in the self contained version. So of course I got a copy of The Whalestoe Letters too. You can’t have one without the other right?

House of Leaves is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It is also an overly large book, both in scope and size. Twice the size of a regular hard cover and clocking in at a whopping 700 plus pages, the book is a chore and the mere size of it will put of most people.

Added to that the shifting narrative, the weird storylines, the confusing typesets making it almost impossible to read. This will put off more people. But those few who are able to persevre and read it will read something truly close to genius.

House of Leaves is one scary book. It frightened me and made me incredibly uncomfortable while reading it; which is the point, I think. It is also a love story about what people are willing to do to save the lives of those they love. Or protect them from danger they have no control over.

So yes, House of leaves is a chore, a monster, a challenge. But one that has to be conquered in order to appreciate it’s haunting, bizarre beauty.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

4 Apr

 

 

Sarah Addison Allen’s books are magic.

They really are. The stories have magic in them, but the real magic is the joy that they fill you up with once you’ve finished the book.

Her first two novels were Garden Spells (enchanting) and The Sugar Queen (my favourite). Her new novel, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, is a Southern tale of barbeque, magic, family secrets and redemption.

Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby North Carolina hoping to answer the riddles of her past. Who was her mother? What was she hiding from? And why couldn’t Emily be the person her mother wanted her to be?

She arrives in Mullaby to meet the grandfather she never knew; and discovers that there is more to life than she thought possible. Her grandfather, Vance, is a giant. They call him the Giant of Mullaby. But he is not the oddest thing that lives inside their house.

The wallpaper in Emily’s room changes depending on her mood. And, late at night, Emily sees the Mullaby lights, quick moving shapes that move like quicksilver through the trees behind their house.

When Win, a local boy, starts showing an interest in her, Emily is flattered and flustered all at once. How were his family and her mother connected? And what secret is Win hiding? Why can’t he and his family go out at night?

Julia Winterson runs J’s Barbeque. She plans to stay for six months and pay off her deceased fathers debts. And then leave. Nothing had been good for her in Mullaby and there was no reason things should change now.

To pass the time before she gives herself her freedom, Julia bakes cakes. All kinds of cakes. Cakes mean welcome, they mean joy. But for Julia, who guards an earth shattering secret, cakes mean so much more than that.

Sawyer has always had a sweet sense. He has always been able to smell cakes, no matter where they were hidden. They drew him, called to him. He can see the sprinkles of sugar in the air, the twists of vanilla in the breeze. And Julia’s cakes call to him.

But will she forgive him for what he did, so that their love can grow?

Sarah Addison Allen really is magic. Her understanding of people, of the way they interact with each other, of the magic of life is incredible.

She writes such beautiful, incredible books and, because there is usually some element of food involved, I usually find myself quite hungry during the reading of one of her novels. But I don’t mind at all.

Her sense of observation is spot on, her dialogue rings true and her characters are people you can love and care about and dream about long after you’ve finished the book.

Though her books are always grounded in reality, there is always some element of magic to them, some element of the unknown, that takes what could be a saccharine storyline, but which becomes utter joy in Sarah Addison Allen’s hands.

Her books are joy; she creates joy. And that is the best magic of all.