Archive for January, 2011

31
Jan
11

CR3 #10: A Living Nightmare (Cirque Du Freak #1) by Darren Shan

I watched roughly half of the film Cirque Du Freak, and thought to myself , “This is vaguely entertaining. I wonder if there is a book?” And as it turned out, there was!

The first book in the series introduces us to main character Darren Shan, an average 15 year old British schoolboy. He lives with his parents and younger sister and is almost totally average. Then one day, he and his best friend Steve (who seems the very definition of a bad influence) get the opportunity to visit the Cirque Du Freak, a very mysterious freak show. After seeing the show, things begin to go awry for Darren. Steve has some dark secrets, and Darren’s adventures with a poisonous spider bring things to a head. Pretty soon, he ends up becoming part of the Cirque Du Freak as a vampire’s assistant.

This is not a bad book, particularly if you keep in mind that it’s a YA novel. It is probably perfect for the 10 – 14ish range, though I will admit I mostly enjoyed it. The author does very well with using and defining vocabulary words without making it obvious or sounding like a douche (the main reason I couldn’t handle reading any of the Series of Unfortunate Events books was the unbearably pompous narrator). This book suffers a bit from “first book in a series” issues, in that there is an awful lot of exposition. On the whole, though, it is a fun little book to breeze through in an afternoon.

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27
Jan
11

CR3 #9: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman, and I must admit that I only tried it because I saw the film and kind of enjoyed it.

Stardust is the story of Tristran Thorn, a young man of mysterious origins who leaves his small, rural town and heads off into the land of Faerie on a quest to find a fallen star for the girl he loves. He finds the star, but it is not at all what he expected. Tristran also discovers that he is not the only one who has come looking for the star, and that others may have more nefarious uses for it.

This is basically a good old fashioned fairy-tale. With the exception of one or two swear words and a short sex scene, this would be a perfect tale for older children. I enjoyed it, and Gaiman definitely has a way with words and has created very relatable characters. The movie definitely filled out the plot quite a bit–frankly, I found the book ending somewhat dull in comparison–but on the whole it’s a fun little book.

26
Jan
11

CR3 #8: The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain is the first book in a trilogy. It begins with a giant jet airplane landing at JFK and then going inexplicably dark. When the authorities finally board it, they discover every single passenger is dead–or so it appears, anyway.

This is a book about vampires, although their vampires more closely resemble the Reapers of Blade II than they do the traditional Bram Stoker style living dead. They’re fast, creepy, gross, and dangerously close to taking over New York City.

Up against these bloodsuckers is a small group of concerned citizens. First there is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, an epidemiologist from the CDC. (Mostly unrelated note: from the moment I read the name, all I could think of was Dr. Stanley Goodspeed from The Rock. Therefore, I read Eph as Nicolas Cage.) He is accompanied by his on-again-off-again girlfriend/colleague Nora Martinez. There is also Abraham Setrakian, a Holocaust survivor and the group’s Van Helsing, a man who has been preparing for this “incursion” since his youth at Treblinka. In other parts of the city, a young Mexican gang banger and an exterminator have their own parts to play. To complicate matters, there is Eph’s ex-wife Kelly and their son Zach. All of these characters are watching the world fall apart and trying to figure out how to cope, let alone fight back.

I find that this book very closely resembles another old favorite, Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. From the arrival of the master vampire to the small band of slayers trying not to be overwhelmed, there are some definite similarities. In fact, there is a very definite parallel between what happens to the female lead in Salem’s Lot and what happens to Kelly here. To be honest, I found it almost distracting how alike the two stories are, though The Strain plays out on a larger stage, and being a trilogy will have more room to spread out.

I definitely enjoyed the book, and I also found it pretty spooky–walking home from work last night, I saw someone sort of staggering along from the opposite direction, backlit by the street light, and had a moment of panic. Although this is not a genre-changing novel, it’s certainly a good read, and I intend to invest in the sequels.

26
Jan
11

CR3 #7: Poppy Done to Death by Charlaine Harris

Poppy Done to Death is the eighth (and probably last) book in Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series. Aurora is a librarian in a small Southern town where everyone knows one another and where paths always seem to cross. She is very petite and considered a bit eccentric by the locals, and often given a wide berth due to her habit of being in the middle of murder mysteries.

She is recovering from the death of her husband Martin, and is beginning a relationship with an old friend. Things seem to be going well and then–as always seems to happen to Roe–tragedy strikes. Her sister-in-law Poppy (her mother’s husband’s son’s wife) is brutally murdered, and Roe takes it upon herself to help investigate the crime. Poppy was somewhat wild, which makes the investigation more difficult, since it left her with more than the average number of enemies. To complicate things, Roe’s younger half-brother arrives unexpectedly to thrown a cog into the whole process.

On the whole, it’s an all right book. I enjoy the character of Roe, and was satisfied with the the way things ended for her. The mystery of the book is also adequate, though I felt the solution came out of left field a bit. I am certainly going to miss Roe, but it is not a bad way for the series to end.

19
Jan
11

CR3 #6: Chicago Death Trap by Nat Brandt

It seems that life in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was fraught with danger. At any moment truly horrible things could happen to you–you could drown in a flood, perish in a fire-tornado, be overcome by a torrent of molasses, freeze to death on the prairie*, or die of any number of diseases, including the flu*. God forbid you try and travel anywhere, by any method*–then again, you could also be blown to smithereens while in your own home. Life at that time was perilous at best, even for those who lived lives of relative quiet. It’s amazing the country managed to grow and thrive when it seems at every turn there was a disaster like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire*, the horrible destruction of the General Slocum* fire and the sinking of the Eastland (both of which killed hundreds of women and children), or winter storms that froze school children* to death on their buses. The Iroquois Theatre fire–though the worst lost of life on American soil due to accident until that time–almost becomes par for the course when added in to the context of so many disasters.

In 1903, the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago was a beautiful new building, completed at the end of November just in time for the holiday season. It was the height of modern design, ready to bring in the shoppers and tourists to the matinee. The shows that came through were touring companies, brought by syndicate on tours through the entire Midwest. Unfortunately, what no one realized was that the building was a death trap–a building designed to keep the large crowd in no matter what, fire codes barely complied with or ignored entirely, short cuts taken at every turn in order to open on time, and municipal corruption that caused the city to turn a blind eye to this time-bomb in its midst. The result–the death of more than six hundred people, mostly women and children–shook the city and the country to the foundations.

Nat Brandt leads the reader through all the circumstances that led to this tragedy, the disaster itself, and the reaction of the American people afterward. It’s an excellent book, easy to understand, both well-researched and well-written. Although it’s nothing particularly new to its genre, it’s well worth reading.

*Refers to a book read but not blogged on.

18
Jan
11

CR3 #5: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

This is the third in Larsson’s The Girl Who trilogy, and I am going to be honest…I was a little disappointed. There was a lot going on, and a lot to like, but when I finished I was kind of let down.

The plot picks up where The Girl Who Played With Fire ended — Lisbeth Salander fighting for her life in the hospital after being shot by her father, the dangerous Soviet spy who’d been in hiding in Sweden. The plot continues as Mikael Blomkvist and his allies join together to help Salander prove her innocence in several murders and assaults, as well as bring down the nefarious secret society within the Swedish version of the CIA.

Although I was still really into the characters of Salander and Blomkvist, there were just way too many peripheral characters. I know Larsson was trying to show the story from every angle, but it was just overload. I don’t care about Blomkvist’s lover Erika Berger’s travails at her new job with a deranged stalker. I don’t care about the internal workings at Blomkvist’s magazine. And I REALLY don’t need eight pages explaining how this secret internal group came about due to 1970s Swedish politics and HOW THEY GOT THEIR FUNDING. I found myself skimming the pages to try and get back to the heart of the mystery, or at least to a part with either Mikael or Lisbeth. The ending was marginally satisfying, and although I would have been happy to follow these characters more, I was fairly relieved to have the story neatly wrapped up.

This book absolutely cannot stand alone–the second and third book are really one large story–and I’d only recommend it to those who have a desire to finish out the series. It’s okay, but nothing spectacular.

10
Jan
11

CR3 #4: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

It took me a VERY long time to get into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Those first fifty or so pages describing the Swedish banking system very nearly lost me. However, I figured that since nearly every other person I saw on the train was reading the damn thing, it MUST get better. I was happy I persevered, since once the mystery got rolling, I couldn’t put it down.

The Girl Who Played With Fire picks up about a year after the end of Dragon Tattoo. We start out immediately with Lisbeth Salander, who is involved in a near-murder and a hurricane right off the bat. I was psyched, because I though perhaps Larsson had managed to fix his pacing problems in this book. Unfortunately, immediately after that excitement, progress slowed to a crawl again. I didn’t have as much difficulty sticking it out this time, since I knew that it would get better, but there was still some very dull spots.

The plot revolves around sex-trafficking, some brutal murders, and secrets from both Lisbeth and Sweden’s pasts. Mikael Blomkwist is also back, using his investigative skills to try and solve the murder of two colleagues while doing his best to keep Lisbeth out of trouble. It’s a pretty good mystery, with several enjoyable twists and turns.

I really love the characters of Salander and Blomkwist, and they are joined by some interesting new police detectives, including Sonja Modig and “The Bubble.” Unfortunately, there are also about 25 other new characters who get to have passages from their points of view, and this can get confusing. Also (this is totally an American problem, and it really embarrasses me to admit I have it) I had some real trouble keeping the characters straight because several have very similar names.

I’d say I would say that despite those issues, I still enjoyed this book a lot. It’s rare to find a mystery that I can’t solve by the halfway point, and this novel kept me guessing. In addition, Lisbeth Salander is a great character; In my opinion, she’s a heroine in the Buffy Summers vein–strong, smart, resourceful, and tough…though clearly deeply scarred by her past and flawed in her relationships with others. Blomkwist is also great, particularly in his stubborn determination to to befriend Lisbeth.

I am now reading the final in the trilogy, and will let you know how that is as soon as I finish.