Monday, September 27, 2010

Firsts in Fantasy Series and Why I Haven't Read More

I went to the library the other day to check out A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin. 

"That's a heavy one,"  the clerk commented.  Yeah.  It's a clunker alright.  I could probably use it for some triceps presses or as a meat tenderizer.  And forget about bathtub reading. 

A Song of Fire and Ice is just one of a few epic fantasy series I have started in the last year or so, but when I find out the level of commitment involved (Wheel of Time--12 books?  Whatever happened to the idea of a trilogy?), I get cold feet.  Am I ready for that kind of relationship?  How long can the honeymoon phase really last?

And so I find myself hesitant to go beyond the first book in the following series: 

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, Book 1)
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  3/5 (Based on audio edition)
My memory of this one is sketchy.  I listened to it on audio over a year ago, and I regret having listened to it rather than read the print copy.  Although I love audio books, I've learned that when it comes to new worlds, I need to go at a slower pace until I have a good sense of all of the details and characters. 
I do remember dreams, wolves, powerful women, and lots of names.  These may or may not be important aspects of the story.  It has a sort of Lord of the Rings feel to it  Needless to say, if I do go on with the series, I will probably need to reread the first one, adding another 685 pages to the total.  If I continue to read, here's what I'm looking at:

Other books in the series and number of pages
The Great Hunt (681)
The Dragon Reborn (624)
The Shadow Rising (1008)
The Fires of Heaven (912)
Lord of Chaos (1024)
A Crown of Swords (896)
The Path of Daggers (704)
Winter's Heart (800)
Crossroads of Twilight (704)
Knife of Dreams (860)
The Gathering Storm (783)

Grand total of pages:  8,996

Wizard's First Rule (Sword of Truth, Book 1)
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  4/5
I was pretty much unaware of this set of books until I happened upon the television series Legend of the Seeker on Netflix Intant Play.  After a few episodes I decided I wanted to try out the books first.  Although there is little resemblance between the show and the book, I couldn't help but picture the actors and actresses in my mind.  This worked rather well for me when it came to Richard (played by Australian actor Craig Horner).     
The evil in Richard's world is so twisted.  The token bad guy Darken Rahl is a supreme sicko.  Rahl's followers find pleasure in torture and manipulation.  This all is tempered by a bit of humor, but I still felt like I needed an Anne of Green Gables pick-me-up when I was done.  I'll have to brace myself to read the other installments, which will involve the following commitment:

Other books in the series and number of pages:
Stone of Tears (703)
Blood of the Fold (640)
Temple of the Winds (528)
Soul of the Fire (800)
Faith of the Fallen (800)
The Pillars of Creation (736)
Naked Empire (752)
Chainfire (768)
Phantom (592)
Confessor (592)
Grand Total of Pages:  6,911

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice Book 1)
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  4.5/5
I'm still a little shocked that I liked this one. It's really dark.  It's filled with things that usually make me toss a book aside with disgust.  The women in the book are treated so horribly it's painful to read.  My level of hatred for the more despicable characters was unprecedented.  But there also characters I loved (Jon Snow and Arya Stark are the first two that come to mind), and I became enough attached to them that I want to find out what will become of them.  And if the women get a little vengeance, I will shout out in triumph and have a bit of closure.
I actually have the second one checked out from the library right now, which is promising.  But am I ready for the commitment?

Other books in the series and number of pages:
A Clash of Kings (768)
A Storm of Swords (1216)
A Feast for Crows (1060)
A Dance with Dragons (1008) Not yet released
Two more forthcoming, likely to be a bazillion pages long.
Projected Grand Total of Pages:  6,000+
Which, if any, of these series is worth the sacrifice of thousands of pages of the many other books that I want to read? Any recommendations?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall Into Reading 2010

For the most part, I have been trying to avoid reading challenges (there are always exceptions), but I have a very good reason for joining this one--the button makes me happy:

Autumn and books--what a great combination!  The details for the challenge can be found at Callapidder Days.  It runs from now until December 20.

With this challenge you basically read anything under the sun, so for me this is a chance to actually be a little organized with my reading and jot down the titles swimming around in my head that I plan to get to in the next few months:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Sisters in War by Christina Asquith
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downs
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Monday, September 20, 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Author: Ray Bradbury
Originally Published:  1962
Length:  304 pages
Source:  Library
Challenge:  R.I.P. V
Author website

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

"And . . . here comes the carnival.  Death like a rattle in one hand, Life like candy in the other; shake one to scare you, offer one to make your mouth water."

"Why, most men jump at the chance to give up everything for nothing.  There's nothing we're so slapstick with as our own immortal souls."

Many times I wish I could turn back the hands of time and read a book at a younger age.  This is the case with Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Knock off about 25 birthdays, and I would be just the right age to get lost in this fantastical tale of horror.  But if I could really do it, really become that (relatively) carefree  girl of yesteryear with the super-charged imagination (and cellulite-free thighs), would I?  And what price would I have to pay?

The people of Green Town, Illinois are unwittingly faced with similar questions one autumn when Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show rolls into town.  Its sinister purpose is not to entertain, but to lure and entice for its own gain.  I could feel as I turned each page the longing of the characters to have their deepest desires fulfilled, and the magnetic pull of the carnival with its unspoken promises to give them what they want:  youth, beauty, sex--the usual suspects.

But not everyone feels the "pull."  Will Halloway, innately good, senses the danger, but those who are closest to him are not so immune.  His best friend Jim Nightshade wants to catapult into manhood while Will's father Charles Halloway longs to be young again.  The carnival has a way to give them what they want:  a carousel that adds or takes away the years depending on whether it goes forwards or backwards.  Want a ticket?

One of the novel's strengths is its characterization of Jim and Will. They're kind of allegorically flat and yet subtly complex at the same time.  (This phenomenon may actually be impossible, but it's the only way this wannabe English major can think of to describe it). I enjoyed the contrast between the two boys and the way they were written.  There was sort of a push-pull thing going on in the writing that I enjoyed. 

As far as the scare factor goes, vivid images have been imprinted in my mind.  Freaky characters abound.  The Dust Witch will certainly be the star of my subsequent nightmares.  The evil of the carnival seeped into my bones.  I am now even more disapproving of carousels.

So why just a 3 out of 5 rating?  I got cranky with some of the writing.  Many times  it got in the way of the story. It felt jerky and sometimes forced.  When I'm  feeling that rush of getting to the end to find out what happened, I don't want to get tripped up by excess words and commas and phrases that I have to stop and decipher.   Surely this is breaking some unwritten rule of suspense writing. It's not  bad writing, it just felt misplaced.

So, back to the question:  If I could really go back, would I?  To read this book--I guess not.  To put on a swimsuit and gaze into a mirror at a youthful body sans stretch marks?  Maybe.  Just maybe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Author:  Shirley Jackson
Originally Published:  1959
Length:  246 pages
Source:  Library
Challenge: R.I.P. V

Personal Enjoyment Factor:  3/5

"I think we are all incredibly silly to stay.  I think that an atmosphere like this one can find out the flaws and faults and weaknesses in all of us, and break us apart in a matter of days."

After reading this book that is thought to be one of the best haunted-house stories of the last century I feel . . . defective.  Like I'm missing some sort of goosebump gene.  No thrills, no chills.  (I did have a dream one night that my own house was talking to me, but when I woke up I realized it was just our very noisy water purifier gurgling away.)  So what's wrong with me?

Maybe it was my dislike for the characters and my lack of caring what became of them.  Three quirky/annoying individuals come to Hill House at the request of Dr. Montague to document supernatural events that may or may not happen.  While there, they engage in wacky conversations where someone is usually interrupting someone else and often insulting one another.  There's a very punctual and repetitive caretaker who's a great cook.  They run around a lot and can't keep the doors open.   One girl paints the other girl's toes red and she freaks out a little.  The characters are all very flawed, and although I'm sure the author meant for them to be, it kept me from engaging in the story as much as I would have liked. 

I did like the psychological aspect of the story, but it was more interesting than creepy.  I enjoyed the style of her writing but I'm still not sure if I will read anything else by Jackson.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle sounds promising, but I'm afraid I will be disappointed again.  Maybe fans of  Jackson can put me in my place and tell me what I missed.  Maybe I should have turned off all the lights and paint my toenails red.

Other thoughts:  A Striped ArmchairReading Matters, Things Mean A Lot, Books I Done Read, Fizzy Thoughts, A Good Stopping Point, Jenny's Books, So Many Books, Good Clean Reads 

Any others I can add?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

R. I. P. V

You've heard about it.  It's irresistible.  I'm around the 190th person to sign-up.  Here are my possible reading choices for Peril the First:

1.  The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
2.  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
3.  Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
4.  I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
5.  The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
6.  The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
7.  The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tay
8.  The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre
9.  The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
10.  A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

Author:  Christina Sunley
Published:  2010 (Picador)
Length:  368 pages
Source:  Free review copy
Author website

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

"Winter in Iceland, Freya min, was much longer and darker than here. . .Dark day after long dark day the Icelanders were trapped inside.  How did they stand it?  They read.  Members of the household took turns reading out loud by the smoky glow of a lamp lit by whale oil:  sagas and poetry and the Bible and newspapers and any books they could get their hands on.  Books were passed from farm to farm.  The name for these evening readings was kvoldvaka, meaning evening-wake.  In Iceland in winter, words took the place of light" (pg. 64).

A reverence for literary tradition and a love of words are apparent in this debut novel about a young woman driven to discover a long-hidden family secret.  Freya's curiosity about her Aunt Birdie's past distracts her from an isolated and rather dismal life in New York and invokes memories of Gimli, a village in Canada where she spent summers with her captivating, bipolar Aunt.  The search eventually leads her back to Iceland, the site of a traumatic event in Freya's childhood.  While discovering about her ancestors and Icelandic history and mythology, Freya learns even more about who she is and where she comes from.

There are so many layers to this novel--when I finished I was impressed with how subtly they were all woven together.  It's a lot to pack into one book, but Sunley pulls it off well (although summarizing is difficult!)  I also loved the virtual trip to a place I will probably never go.  The descriptions of Iceland are breathtaking.  There's a definite sense of being "there."  The stark setting and tragic story pair together perfectly.

The writing was unique (to me)--at times poetic, but almost always quite readable.  The only exception to this was the first chapter, until I could wrap my head around the fact that she is addressing a cousin that she has discovered may exist.  It was a little unsettling at first, but I calmed down a bit when I realized she wasn't talking to me.  (I don't like a narrator to pay too much attention to me.)

The first line is "You want a bit of Birdie?"  At first I wasn't so sure that I did want a bit of Birdie, but  I soon got into the rhythm of the book and by the end I can say that it was satisfying to learn more than a bit about Birdie, as well as Freya, Freya's mother and grandmother, not to mention a whole new Icelandic vocabulary that is a whole lot easier to pronounce than the name of the volcano (Eyjafjallaj√∂kull???) that erupted earlier this year in Iceland. 

Any that I missed?