Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Reviews

Neil Gaiman
This lovely little adventure tale introduced me to the mastermind that is Neil Gaiman.  I'm only mildly obsessed with the man. To say he's on of my modern literary idols would be completely accurate (don't get me started). If I could trade lives with anyone for a day, I would trade with Neil Gaiman . . . but that's another post for another time.

Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, a very nice but average sort of fellow living an average sort of life in London.  One night, on his way dinner with his fiance, Richard stumbles upon a homeless girl bleeding to death on the street. From that point on, everything in Richard's life unravels.  He finds himself on a quest in an alternate reality: London Below, a fascinating re-imagining of  London's Underground. The characters are wonderfully rendered in this dark, gritty, Alice-in-Wonderland-esque tale.  This was a story that enchanted and terrified me in its first reading, and did so again when I reread it five years later.  Would I ever want to visit London Below? Hmm . . . I'll have to get back to you on that one. Would I reread the Marquis de Carabas, Hunter, Door, and Richard's adventures  again and again? In a HEARTBEAT. 

If you love dark humor/dark fantasy, check Gaiman out. Don't question, just do it. He's a freakin' master.

There seems to be a recent, massive spark in curiosity about one of America's greatest presidents. I'd like to think it all began with the publication of Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (really fun and educational read, by the way--I HIGHLY recommend it to parody lovers), but, then again, great men are always fascinating.

Killing Lincoln covers the final days of the Civil Wat leading to Lee's surrender, John Wilkes Booth's vengeful obsession, that fateful trip to the theater, and ends with Booth's demise.  All the while, the authors tie together the plans, theories, and conspiracies leading to America's first presidential assassination. The research is very detailed without being too bogged down and doesn't read like a history book.  Is it the most thrilling thing I've ever read? Well, I wasn't exactly sweating, but I found myself wanting to keep reading and, quite frankly, enjoying myself. For anyone who paid attention in third grade American history, we all know how the story goes, but all the details O'Reilly and Dugard have managed to collect and relate in everyday language is really interesting.  If you like history, it's definitely worth picking up.

Til We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
C.S. Lewis  
I would have to put this book down as one of my all time favorites.  When I was a junior in high school, a sophomore lent me the book, saying, "I know how much you love Lewis, and this is my favorite. You HAVE to read it. It's a little slow in the beginning, but it's worth it."
I devoured it.
I mean, really, started reading it in the car after school and didn't stop until I had finished it that evening, much to my best friend's dismay, as our sleepover became a watching-Sarah-read fest. (Yes, it was rude, and, yes, I am sorry, but . . . the book was AMAZING).
When I said earlier that Gaiman is one of my modern literary idols, Lewis tops him, which says A  LOT. You have no idea.

The book is a re-imagining of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. The story is told by Psyche's older, ugly sister, Orual, who composes the tale as a case against the gods. The girls grow up in harsh, barbaric kingdom that worships the blood-thirsty Ungit, an incarnation of Aphrodite. When famine and disease plague the land, Psyche is sent as a sacrifice to the God of the Mountain, breaking Orual's heart as she loves her little sister more than life itself. It's a beautiful, raw story that studies and reveals the layers of the human heart.

As a lover of Greek mythology, I adored this retelling--it remains true to the original tale while offering a new voice and vision.  It's a story of selfish love vs sacrificial love, identity, and fate. Lewis did a remarkable job writing in  female voice, making Orual a truly believable character as she observes, struggles, and grows from an intelligent, frightened child to noble, warrior queen. Every time I reread it, I walk away with some new revelation.  Is it a fast-paced, action-packed story with tons of romance? Meh, maybe not by most standards, but it's a fabulous story.  

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