Monthly Archives: February 2009

Reading List: February

This year is shaping up to be a year of second chances and revisiting of books I have enjoyed in the past. This month is no exception.

Abarat and Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War by Clive Barker

I read the first book of this ongoing series, Abarat, in high school. Recently, I was lucky enough to chance upon first edition hardcover versions of these volumes and decided it was time to revisit the series.

The series takes place in two worlds: Chickentown, Minnesota and the Abarat, a collection of twenty-five islands each representing a different hour of the day and the mysterious twenty-fifth hour. Enter Candy Quakenbush, a relatively normal teenager who just so happens to live in a boring, backwards town known only for its chickens. Soon, however, Candy finds herself swept into the Abarat, where she encounters a motley cast of characters and finds herself a key player in saving the islands from a plunge into darkness.

The most striking aspect of the texts is the brilliant paintings that illustrate Candy, her friends, her enemies, and her adventures. Not only is the reader treated to a rich world of words and descriptions, bu finds herself engrossed in colorful, stunning, and stylized illuminations by Barker. In a way, it reminds me of the illuminated texts of Blake—not only do we have a work of words, but a work where the Barker’s paintings are just as central to the text.

 

Christopher Carrion, Lord of Midnight

Christopher Carrion, Lord of Midnight

I loved the experience of the first two books and am eagerly awaiting the rest of what is reported to be a five-part series. Barker’s characters are quirky, strange, and entirely unique creatures that seem to stem from dreams and fairy-tales. We have John Mischief, one of Candy’s first friends in the Abarat, who carries his brothers with him on antler’s sprouting from his head. Not to mention, Christopher Carrion, who wears his nightmares in his collar. Such vivid, expressive characters are more than enough to make this of interest to any fan of fantastical works.

 

My only disappointment with the series lies in the predictable nature of the plot. Very early in the first book, I already knew Candy’s origins and found it tiring when she herself didn’t realize it. That is to say, the foreshadowing and mysteries of this book are very heavy-handed and not in any way subtle. I was very rarely surprised by the twists and turns of the plot and most of the time I could tell you what was going to happen next without having to turn the page. Nevertheless, I found myself falling in love with Barker’s characters, his prose, and his paintings.

 

King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

This Victorian adventure novel was a welcome change from the modern fantasy and fiction novels I have recently been engrossed in. The Victorians, aside from being well dressed, were masters of language and this beautifully crafted book is just one example. If you want to learn how to write, learn from the Victorians. I can certainly see why this book was one of the best selling of its time.

The premise of the story is that Allan Quartermain, a renowned English hunter in Africa, sets out on a quest with Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good, to find Henry’s brother (who had set out after Solomon’s treasure several years before). Along the way, the three find themselves hunting elephants, embroiled in the wars of natives, and stumbling across an unimaginable treasure.

Of particular interest is the fact that this story is the first to take place in Africa, at a time when explorers were constantly discovering new worlds and cultures. Here, Quartermain and his friends plunge into an unknown, savage land—a place where white men had never before set foot. Throughout the narrative, the reader is privilege to the many thrills and trials the men encounter on their adventures. I have to say, I often found myself holding my breath and feeling an intense urge to hop on the first plane to Africa.

The book was a very smooth read. It is short, just barely over two hundred pages, and the reader isn’t once forced to mire through unnecessary descriptions of setting or dialogue. The narrative moves quickly from one event to the next, rarely stopping for breath, and quickly catapulting the reader towards a tidy ending. King Solomon’s Mines is at once a work of simplicity and eloquence.

What’s on the menu for next month? In keeping with the theme of picking up once abandoned books, I will be reading the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.

Advertisements

“Paris is for Book Lovers”

As it is a Wednesday and I’m on my way out the door for a day of adventure, I thought I would share a segment that appeared on CBS’s Sunday Morning several weeks ago. For book lovers everywhere! It certainly makes you want to go to Paris, doesn’t it?

Enjoy.

Reading List: January

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read more. Here’s what I read in January:

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

The story of Neverwhere follows Richard Mayhew, an ordinary businessman with a penchant for collecting trolls, who soon finds himself embroiled within the happenings of London Below. This London Below is exactly what it sounds like, another world below and above London filled with people who have fallen through the cracks of normal society. This is a richly dark, modern-day fairy tale. It has bad guys who are clearly evil. It has good guys who are clearly good. It has quests and trials and beasts and angels.

 Richard is dragged into this darkly-whimsical, industrial-esque world when he chances upon a wounded girl and decides to help her. Soon after he helps her, he finds that he is no longer able to connect with the world around him. Taxi drives do not see him and his friends and co-workers do not remember him. Thus starts his adventures in London Below…

Embarrassingly enough, I had started to read this book multiple times and was never able to make it past the first chapter. The story starts out a little slow but compensates for this by capturing the reader through a variety of charming worlds and characters.

My favorite of these characters happens to be the Marquis de Carabas. If you are familiar with the drow books of R.A. Salvatore and their characters, you will understand what I mean when I say that this character is very much like Jarlaxle. The Marquis is a criminal, a crafty and cunning individual, but still manages to be on the side of good. 

The mini-series that this book was based on aired on the BBC in the 90s. I had the pleasure of watching it after I read the book. While the show, clearly, did not have much in the way of a budget, it really helps to flesh out the events of the books. The actors who played Richard and the Marquis were both very successful– they made the show.

If you are looking for a leisurely, whimsical read, I would certain recommend picking up this book. 

The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice

It has been a number of years since I read The Vampire Chronicles and I wanted to revisit the series. When I first ready these books they changed my life, in so far that I was floored by Anne Rice’s embellished writing and characters. I wanted to be her, granted this was when I was a fledging writer and still in middle school.

I wanted to see if these books stood up to the test of time. Would I, so many years later, still feel the same thrill I did when I read these books? Yes and no. I read Interview with the Vampire over break, and this one touched me more than these two.

The Vampire Lestat is a stunning work of modern prose and carries on the legacy of dark fiction. One of the aspects of Rice’s fiction that strikes me the most is the tension. There were moments when I was, quite literally, holding my breath as my eyes passed over the page. It takes a great deal of artistry to be able to raise this much suspense in a reader. I could go on and on about how beautifully Rice fleshes out her characters, her storylines, and her histories but I won’t.

The Queen of the Damned, on the other hand, I had a multitude of issues with. I appreciate what Rice was trying to do with the switching perspectives and the story of Baby Jenks and so forth. However, I found myself skipping over many a section of this book. I skipped over the story of Baby Jenks, I skipped over many of Lestat’s first person narratives during his time with Akasha. I like the idea, but I think, somehow it distracts from the overall narrative.

That said, I still have a deep love of all things The Vampire Chronicles. Anne Rice’s vampires are some of the most profound and compelling fictional creatures that I have ever come across.

See you next month! February’s reading list includes the first two books of Clive Barker’s Abarat series and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines.

The Prologue.

Hello and Welcome to my shiny, new blog!

You can look for regular weekly updates on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. My updates will include information about current projects, artwork, writing, opinion pieces and so on. More or less, you’ll find my flights of fancy and attempts to keep myself working.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you find something to your liking.