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11/22/63 by Stephen King

8 Jul

 

 

 

 

I was truly surprised by King’s new novel. And I didn’t have high hopes for it.

After finishing (and greatly disliking) Under the Dome, I debated whether I was done with King. After reading the disappointing Mile 81, I was sure I was done with King. But decided to give him one more change.

Boy am I ever glad I did!

Jake Epping, an English teacher from 2011, is given the chance to go back in time. His friend Al Templeton has a supply closet in his diner that also happens to be a rabbit hole to September of 1958. Al is dying and leaves Jake with an important task: go back in time and stop the assassination of JFK.

This is easy feat. Because the past is obdurate; it moves against Jake and doesn’t want to be changed. But there are also other distractions.

One is: Did Oswald do the deed alone? Jake must determine this before he acts. The second? A woman named Sadie who Jake falls in love with. Will he risk everything, even the love of his past life, to save another?

At 850 pages, my meagre summary of the plot doesn’t come close to covering everything that happens in 11/22/63. But that’s okay. No plot summary would come close because there is so much life in this novel. The parts where Jake is living through the fifties and sixties really come to life in King’s writing and the stories contained within are ones that are at once timeless and essential.

It’s a novel that you want to live in. Rarely have I been so affected by a novel. It really wasn’t about the assassination, but about the characters and that is where King really shines. He made an 850 page novel seem like it was 300 pages; that is how good the writing is.

There are no supernatural elements to the novel, but that isn’t a downside. King has tried something different by writing what could be loosely described as historical romantic fiction. The good thing is that he succeeds on every level.

I loved this book so much that I didn’t want it to end. When I did finish it, I was left breathless, teary eyed and wanting more. That is the mark of a great book and this is Stephen King’s best work to date, hands down.

Anna’s Tears by Nathalie M. Holmes

8 Jul

 

I’ve been trying for some time to sum up how I reacted to this book. How do you review something when you have a reaction to something so moving and powerful. Someone recently asked me what the literary themes of the novel would be.

My mind drew a blank. Not because Anna’s Teas is a forgettable book. Quite the opposite, in fact; but how do you sum up such a literary jewel in a few words? I had to take a moment to think about that. However, before we begin, here’s the book blurb:

 

How deep do the scars on one family run, and can the wounded dare hope for healing?

Anna’s Tears, the stirring, starkly honest work of fiction by Nathalie M. Holmes, mines the inherited anguish of one family, which spans generations and countries. Throughout, the road to redemption is as hard-won as its matriarch Anna’s painfully absent tears. This elegant, hard-edged work is certain to resonate with readers seeking a masterfully written journey deep into the heart, which illuminates the tender mercies that emerge from the long-hidden damages of life.

In a cold stretch of Canada, Helene desperately tries to both overcome and suppress a childhood of trauma, alcoholism and sexual abuse. Through booze-fueled, foggy nights of high risk and deep regret, Helene leers through her early adulthood, fighting flashes of early memories that are too horrible to bear, and instead inflicting her own fresh pain. Beyond the painful miasma of her childhood, Helene is convinced that there is something even more disturbing in her family’s furtive past.

Helene seeks cold comfort in her paternal grandmother, Anna, whose taciturn, inarticulate sadness offers her a curious refuge. Anna’s tragic story starts before the Second World War in Holland and ends when she moves to Canada after having endured some of the most unimaginable ravages of war. Ernst, who is Helene’s father, is tormented by his own legacy of ghosts, which manifest themselves in a dysfunctional marriage to his wife Jolie, whose blatant narcissism and alcoholism submerge her own self-hatred. The die is cast to propagate an inherited despair, which only the fiercest of reckonings can combat.

A visceral, gripping foray into rough psychological terrain, Anna’s Tears travels to the heart of a family’s darkness to find its way toward the light of hope. With evocative detail of events both past and present, this stunning work guides readers through time and psyche, and ensures they emerge with transformative hope.

 

I should say two things before I forget: The book blurb doesn’t even come CLOSE to describing how amazing this book is; it doesn’t capture the realness of the characters or the beauty of the story. It also describes the story better than I could ever dream possible. I don’t have enough words to describe how incredible this book is.

If I were to come close, I would describe it as a patchwork quilt of time and secrets. However, that doesn’t talk about the depth of the characters, the quality of the novel nor the talent of first time author Nathalie M. Holmes.

I find it difficult to believe that it is her first book; she paints with words, rather than write with them; the result is a lovely kind of liquid poetry that plays with time, shadow and shared grief. Holmes has covered some dark territory in her novel, but ends up writing with an aplomb that many writers achieve. Time flows like water over the page and all you can do is keep reading, needing to know what happens.

I think that’s pretty close, but it does little to encapsulate my emotional response to Anna’s Tears. Anna may have not cried any tears, but I sure did. With grace and stark honesty, Holmes pens a story that will touch everyone that reads it and haunt them long after the last page has been turned.

Though the plights of Anna, Helen, Jolie and Ernst and their connections to each other, are difficult to read at times, it is only because the people that fill these pages are so real. You feel as if you know them (or at least I did) and grow to know them as you fall into their lives.

Anna’s Tears is a moving, emotionally provoking tale that is right up there with Ordinary People by Judith Guest, In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Stark, brilliant and honest, Holmes uses multiple narrators and multiple times to weave her story.

The results are absolutely amazing. I only hope it’s not too long till the release of Holme’s next novel.

I can hardly wait to take another journey with her.

Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland

15 Jul

 

There have been rumours surrounding Shakespeare for decades.

Most feel that he could not possibly have written all the works he penned. Some even go so far as to saying he stole works and put his name to them. Others say that William Shakespeare was more than one man.

Even more mysterious are Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The one hundred and fifty four poems, each composed of fourteen lines a piece, all written to a mysterious Dark Lady; a woman with dark hair and a husband. Who was the mysterious Dark Lady? How did Shakespeare write all that he wrote.

No one really knows the truth; until now.

Posing as a member of human society in the 1500’s, Shakespeare is hiding a secret that would be devastating should it get out: he is actually a vampire. A member of the undead, he is also capable of raising zombie armies.

William Shakespeare is a vampire necromancer.

Though he has not raised armies of the dead for some time (though he did raise undead armies for Caesar and for Cleopatra), a barrage of zombie attacks are threatening the safety of London and his carefully kept secrets.

All of his secrets are in danger of escaping him when he meets Katherine Dymond. Posing as a boy, Katherine stalks the streets of London as a Chasseur, a slayer or hunter of zombies. After accidentally killing William Shakespeare in the dark streets of London, Katherine flees, hoping not to be haunted by what she has done. Though she has killed zombies, she has never taken another human’s life.

But William Shakespeare isn’t human. Using her scent to track Katherine down, William pledges to love and protect Katherine with the rest of his life; considering he’s already dead, it’ll be a hard promise to keep.

Working together, the two lovers must find out who is raising the army of zombies, find out what they plan to do and protect the Queen of England. All in a days work for your typical necromancer vampire playwright and his lover…

I was a little sceptical of this book at first. I’m a huge fan of the literary mashups by Quirk Books. However, any other mashup I’ve read (with a couple of exceptions) has been lacklustre by comparison and is usually riding on the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, published by Quirk Books in 2009.

Thankfully, that is not the case with Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland.

The novel is a sheer delight from start to finish. And it is far from being a mashup. Sure, it takes William Shakespeare and pairs his story with vampires and zombies, but the mashup stops there. Thankfully, Handeland tells her own tale with laugh out loud results.

What I loved about this book, aside from the madcap storyline, was the characters. You really feel for Katherine and for William Shakespeare. He’s suffering from writers block and his words are freed by Katherine’s love for him. The comedy is sheer hilarity and the romance just sizzles off of the page.

Handeland has also done her homework. The novel reads like a farce of one of Shakespeare’s own plays. Women dressing as men, witches, vampires, ghosts, doomed love, a crazy nursemaid and more. Handeland has borrowed freely from Shakespeare’s work and made his story elements her own.

This novel is for anyone who hated reading Shakespeare in high school, or for anyone who hasn’t even read Shakespeare. Far from being a literary mashup, Shakespeare Undead is something altogether more.

An absolute madcap delight, this is one novel you won’t want to miss.

The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

24 May

“This is a Story…”

 

We’ve already heard The Greatest Story Ever Told right?

We’ve seen it in movies, in books about Jesus Christ, in novels that retell his story again and again. Anne Rice’s recent books Christ the Lord Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord The Road To Cana come to mind.

The Greatest Story Every Told, that of Jesus and his birth and the miracles he performed has been told and retold so many times that there’s no possible way to give it a new spin for a modern age. Or is there?

Philip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy and supplemental books, featuring Lyra Belacqua (or Lyra Silvertongue). The books received a lot of notice when they were first published as they are very anti-religion, very anti-God. This should come as no surprise to fans of Pullmans. Pullman himself as admitted that he is an atheist.

When I first heard that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ was being written by Pullman, I wondered why an atheist had chosen to retell The Greatest Story Ever Told. I wondered if Pullman would colour the narrative with his own negative views on Christianity.

Thankfully, he keeps his views to himself. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is an incredible new retelling of the life of Jesus…and his brother.

Pullman sets up the story in the very beginning. Mary gives birth to two baby boys, twins. One, she names Jesus, one she names Christ. Christ seems to be a bit sickly and thin whereas Jesus seems strong and thriving.

When the three Wiseman come, following the star, they see two babes in the manger. When they ask Mary which one is the messiah, which one will be their saviour, she points to Christ. He’s a little sickly and can use the attention, she thinks.

This sets in motion events that no one could have foretold, not even the angels. As Jesus becomes more and more well known, and his miracles become more and more exaggerated, Christ begins to receive visits from a stranger who seems very interested in him.

Who is the mysterious stranger? Will Christ ever be out of Jesus’ shadow? And when Christ begins to write down Jesus’ doings and exaggerating them beyond all truth, the consequences for Jesus and for Christ will be dire indeed…

I’ll admit, this book surprised me. I didn’t expect a book about the life of Jesus written by a well known and vocal atheist to be any good. But it wasn’t just good; it was fantastic. Not only did Pullman give us a new retelling of the life of Jesus that seemed entirely plausible, he kept the story historically accurate.

Pullman has obviously done his research and has written a story that is at once historical novel and modern parable. Though a lot of people will and have react badly to the idea that Jesus Christ was actually two children, Jesus and Christ, it makes the reader stop and think about the history of the story.

It makes us stop and remember.

That, in the end, is the true power of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. You remember it long after you’ve turned the last page. Though it is written in very simple language, though it is written in a style much like a fable, it makes you stop and remember.

I found myself remembering pieces of scripture as I read it, remembering the commandments I had been raised on. It also helps to make you remember what it was like when you were a child and the whole world was at your fingertips. All you had to do was reach out and grasp it.

Though this is the greatest story ever retold, you’ve never ever read it this way before. The ending is cataclysmic and the book will leave you breathless. Told in simple, lyrical prose, The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ is indeed The Greatest Story Every Re-Told.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith

15 Mar

Dear Sirs and Madams,

I have recently had the pleasure of reading the scholarly tomb titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith.

Whilst I enjoyed the previous tomb, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I must admit my disdain when this text was announced. I wondered briefly whether the publishers were simply trying to turn out a quick dollar or two by riding on the coat tails of their previous success. I waited with baited breath to be proved wrong in my assumptions.

Thankfully I was proved gloriously and wondrously wrong in my negative assumptions. Whilst Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters were a right fun romp through Austin’s Victorian London with new gory monster bits, the novels were hampered by having to stay true to Jane Austin’s original writings.

I must admit, though it will cause shock and disdain and perhaps some outrage, that I do not care for Austin’s work on its own. It has the power to cure even my most grievous cases of amnesia. If faced with the challenge to read one of Austin’s novels or instead spend my time being idly poked in my buttocks with a rusty poker of dubious origin, I am afraid that I would pick the rusty poker.

Whilst PPZ and SSSM (not to confused with the bedroom game called SM where patrons get to know each other in very different biblical relations than we would normally care to admit) make Austin’s original writings much more bearable, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls takes the genre of mashups to new levels of gore, hilarity and immense enjoyment, as they are not hampered or held back by Austin’s original flowery prose.

Freed of its flowery constraints, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls is part prequel, part tribute and all fun. In fact, I can quite honestly say that I have never had such an uproarious time reading a book. The only other time that came close was when I was reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover in church behind the hymnal and had to stand after reading one of the more racy moments recounted within the books pages. Prudence Peddington, the local post mistress, glimpsed my discomfort and paid call to my place of residence every day for a week after that sordid event.

Not only does Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls stay true to the tone and flow of Austin’s original work (not to mention the previous book, the New York Times Best Selling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), it manages to go beyond that and have a lot more fun besides. It’s gory, delightful and wonderfully engrossing…and also very gross in certain parts.

While not being held back by Austin’s prose enables the book to go above and beyond Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, PPZ: Dawn of the Deadfuls manages to give us a Victorian story filled with battles, history, romance and gore. Lots and lots of gore. It is without a doubt the best of the mash up novels I have read in recent times and even better than its predecessors. It is my humble opinion that PPZ: Dawn of the Dreadfuls brings the mash up to new, gory heights and it can only go up from there.

 I implore you, Sirs and Madams, to partake of this scholarly tomb, to succumb to the blood soaked hilarity and joy that its pages offer. You will laugh, you will cry, you will scream (only if you are really very squeamish) and you will laugh some more. Quite simply put, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a hilarious, gory, beautiful, wonderful ride.

Yours most truly,

Sir Jamieson Wolf, Esquire and Master of Letters

Dangerous Highlander by Donna Grant

16 Feb

 

Generally, historical and paranormal romance don’t mix.

They are two separate genre’s that don’t get along with each other very well. When I’ve read historical paranormal romance before, one of the two elements falls flat. Either the historical setting takes a background to the paranormal story. Or the paranormal part of the story is overshadowed by the setting.

Either way, it is normally a genre that doesn’t work very well.

So imagine my surprise when I picked up Dangerous Highlander by Donna Grant and ended up blown away. I have read several of Grants other novels, but Dangerous Highlander leaves them all choking in the dust.

Dangerous Highlander is set in the Scottish Highlands and concerns three brothers: Lucan, Quinn and Fallon. They are three immortals who carry a curse inside of them.

Inside of their bodies rests the being of a God bent on destruction. When they let the God inside of them lose, they become that God and have that God’s powers. Unable to come to terms with what they are, they hide inside of their castle and become beings of legend.

Their lives change when Cara MacClure nearly dies. Lucan takes her into the castle, knowing that he risks exposing what they are. Though he knows that he shouldn’t, Lucan feels a passion for Cara that pulls at him, that heats his skin. He wants her but knows that she will not want him when she finds out what she is.

But all is not what it seems. Though Cara knows it not, there is magic inside of her. Magic that someone would kill her for. Can Lucan protect her and his heart? Or will they give into the passion that consumes them both?

I haven’t enjoyed a historical paranormal romance so much in years. Filled with glorious detail, fantastic locales, believable characters and passion that scorches the page and burns the fingers, Dangerous Highlander is one heck of a fantastic book.

Not only does Grant give us characters we can know and love, she surrounds them in a story that pulls you in from the first page and refuses to let go, even after the last page is turned.

Thankfully Dangerous Highlander is the start of the new Dark Sword Series. I, for one, can’t wait for more.

The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff

2 Sep

bride

 

I have just finished an amazing book.

It is part fairy tale, part love story. It is a cross between Charles Dickens and Lemony Snicket. It is part Brothers Grimm and part historical melodrama.

In other words, it is unclassifiable.

I am speaking of The Bride’s Farewell, the new novel by the New York Bestselling, Carnigie Award Winning author Meg Rosoff. This is her fourth novel for young adults, but even there I would say that genre does not suit her.

Meg’s novels are for young adults in that they feature a younger cast of characters. But the themes her books deal with are much more adult; incredibly darker and moodier than most juvenile fiction published today.

Her first novel, How I Live Now, featured a young girl and her cousin that have survived a bombing in a future not unlike ours; and fell in love. Her second novel, Just In Case, concerns a boy who, to escape Fate, reinvents himself; he even imagines an invisible dog for himself that other people can see. Her third novel, What I Was, can be described as a boarding house love story between two boys.

Quite obviously, Meg Rosoff never writes the same book twice.

I was eagerly awaiting to see what Meg Rosoff would give us with The Bride’s Farewell. I wondered what the setting would be. In Rosoff’s novels, the characters and the place around them play equally important roles.

She is a beautiful storyteller. For me, she seems to have written each of her books carefully, choosing each word so that it feels right. Though her books may be short in length (each of her four novels are around the 200 something page count), the emotion and the power in her novels makes the books feel stronger, somehow; more vibrant.

I’m always a little nervous when I begin a Meg Rosoff novel. Since no two stories are the same, I wonder where she is going to take me; what story she is going to tell. Her novels remind me of the novel in verse books written by Ellen Hopkins. Though Rosoff writes in prose, her books mirror Hopkins’ in that they always present us with stories that are engaging, beautifully written and emotionally charged. And each time you open one of their novels you wonder where you are going to end up.

When I read a Meg Rosoff novel, I treat the book as if I am pursuing a gem. So clearly I had high expectations for The Bride’s Farewell. Meg Rosoff’s new novel has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2009.

I am delighted to say that I was not disappointed in the least. 

Quite the contrary, in fact. I think that The Bride’s Farewell is Rosoff’s best book to date. It concerns sixteen year old Pell Ridley who runs away from her home on her wedding day in the year of eighteen hundred and fifty something.

She leaves home with only her horse Jack and her brother Bean, a boy who does not speak. What she returns with is so much more.

I won’t say any more of the plot then that, only to say that you should experience the story as I did. Meg Rosoff writes novels that are not just merely read; they are explored. Each page brings you deeper into the story of Pell and what happens to her that, by the end, you will never want to leave her world. 

Ultimately, The Brides Farewell is really about three things: It is about family and courage. And the incredible power of love.

Through stunning words, vivid imagery, Meg Rosoff has given us a delightful historical novel that reminds us of something important.

She reminds us that we cannot get where we are going, if we do not remember where we came from.

Though the book may seem grim at times, The Bride’s Farewell is ultimately a joyous novel about the search for who we are and the happiness we find at discovering our place in the world.