Eaters of the Dead

Right from the beginning of a Michael Crichton novel, he begins selling untruths. But the way he folds them into his introduction, they seem like an Author’s Note at the start of any other book, laying the real, historical foundation before diving into fiction. The reader can hardly separate his “facts” from reality and is immediately drawn into whatever world Crichton has masterfully created.

With his science fiction, he often creates fictitious organizations or groundbreaking legal statutes–anything that will build up his coming story and provide a plausible backbone. It is almost tempting to Google InGen and expect to find real stocktickers or company data.

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When I pulled Eaters of the Dead from my shelf, two things happened:

  1. I was shocked to find it wasn’t sci-fi. It sure sounds like a book about zombies. And it’s Michael Crichton, right? He is one of our best known creature sci-fi writers. What the heck is this? “The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan, Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922.” Ooooookkkkk….
  2. I was able to GOOGLE IDN FADLAN AND FIND INFORMATION ON HIM. He was a real person. His manuscript was real, Crichton didn’t make this up.

So then I was really confused. What was this book I had in my hands? Michael Crichton did a historical translation? That didn’t seem right. But, I couldn’t put it down. The book is absolutely fascinating.

Of course it is. It’s Michael Crichton.

Ibn Fadlan is a 10th century Arab ambassador from Bagdad, who crosses paths with a group of Vikings on his way north. He travels with them for awhile, and writes about their barbaric customs–before being enlisted in their war against a cannibalistic ghost-like creature.

This “manuscript” isn’t very long, only about 180 pages, along with extremely detailed footnotes. The details about Arab and Viking culture were extremely interesting–I have 3 pages of notes from those 180 pages.

…but now I am questioning everything I wrote down…

Michael Crichton, genius that he is, took the first half of the book from the real Ibn Fadlan manuscript. That part really did happen. But after that first half, things get a little crazy, and you can tell that the supernatural is taking over and maybe things aren’t totally real anymore. It turns out he took the rest from a story in Beowulf. The footnotes, which seem like Crichton explaining Ibn Fadlan’s translated words are actually a fictitious narrator. Now, they are obviously extremely well researched, and probably factual (mostly), but with MC…, question everything.

Either way, real or not real…this book is brilliant. Some of you may know it as The 13th Warrior, as it was republished under that name when it was turned into an Antonio Banderas movie (I have feelings about that, but I’ll keep my mouth shut). I’d never heard of either, I just knew it was on my shelf with the rest of our MC books. It definitely needs to be read by any MC fan–I’m not sure it will push Prey out of line for my favorite, but it might be number #2 now.

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Hulk: Season One

As much as I read in my childhood, I never read comics. They have always been out of my circle of geekiness. I knew a few boys who read them, and my grandparents (who were huge garage sale shoppers) always had a few Archies in their basement, but that was all I really knew. My world was centered on books, books, and…more books.

With the advent of superhero movies, Tumblr fandom, cons, and everything else associated with geek today, comics are coming back. Fans are able to network and gab about the latest issues, the lack of diversity, and push for more indie artists. I have a LOT of friends now who read comics, even a few who draw them. And yet, I still don’t read them. Why? I don’t really have a good reason, except I didn’t know where to start. That and the financial anxiety of weekly pull list commitments.

But, I do want to learn more about this world my friends love so much. It’s time to expand my geek. And so I was trying to figure out where I was going to begin….months ago. Sigh….

Then my friend sent me a care package, and included Hulk:  Season One. The green giant has been kind of a symbol of my depression–the evil beast fighting to get out, the gentler, smarter side fighting back with science. You get the picture. If I was going to start with Marvel, Banner was a good place for me to begin, so I appreciate her sending me my first graphic novel!

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I’ll break this down into two sections. Again…first graphic novel ever…this is going to be a learning process.

Story/Writing:  Boy was this dark! I had heard people say The Hulk was a dark story, but this is not The Hulk I knew at ALL. Obviously, this is not the Avengers Hulk, and maybe I’ll do some reading to see where all that fits in, but he is not a superhero here. I kept waiting for that to happen, and it didn’t. The explosion happens, Banner doesn’t die, and his superiors are pissed that he’s still alive? Ummmm ok? Thanks a bunch, asshole. The misogyny in this book is horrible, by the way, and the jokes are totally crude. I had to look to see when this was written–I was expecting 20 years ago, not 2012. I was also extremely confused by Banner vs Hulk. In the interpretation I am used to, Banner IS Hulk, but in this book it seems that they are two split entities/bodies. At first I thought they just had two different consciousnesses warring with each other–that would make sense to me–but about halfway through I think they were no longer even in the same place. I wasn’t entirely sure how that split happened or why.

Art:  The aesthetics of this book were not to my taste, but that doesn’t mean they were necessarily bad. They are definitely for a more traditional, hyper-masculine sort of fan. The men are jacked up, and I’m sorry…but no female scientist is going to be in a mini-dress and knee high boots with exposed legs and an open labcoat. Nope. Sorry boys. I did, however, really like the super close up panels of The Hulk “hulking out,”–like the shots of his eyeball or the sound-effects. There’s also a great one where Banner is walking with a clipboard in his hand and The Hulk is ginormous behind him (again, I thought it was representing his subconscious…but maybe they really are split at that point).

 

I definitely much prefer Movie Hulk–and maybe I’ll look into reading something with the Avengers, so I can see the difference. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. This was a little dark for me, and the art wasn’t to my taste. But…now that I have a bit of an idea how to read a comic and what I am looking at, I have my foot in the door! AdultBooklr does a monthly Graphic Novel readalong, so maybe I’ll start participating in that.

What do you think? Should I add Graphic Novel reads to the blog?

 

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The Martian

I first heard about The Martian about two years ago when a friend of mine downloaded the audiobook. He was raving about it at a party, and it sounded like the nerdiest thing ever. So of course I was intrigued! But…while I love space and science…books about it are not my strongest subject, and it sounded like this one had a LOT of math.

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And so I put it off. Every once in awhile I’d here someone mention it, but it kind of fell to the background of my TBR.

Until they announced the movie. As things usually go–whenever a book is being made into a movie, the book is an immediate hit, even if it wasn’t originally. And WOW has The Martian been a hit. EVERYONE is reading it now, and so up it went to the top of my TBR! It was even one of the books AdultBooklr read for August…so I just barely made it in.

Again, just like with Armada, I got super lucky and got this one from Blogging for Books. (Seriously guys, if you have a book blog, sign yourself up for Klout and try to get on with them. Fantastic site.) I literally jumped for joy when I saw The Martian was available, because I’ve been waiting for three months for the hold list at the library. Now it’s mine. Yay!

Almost everyone knows about this one by now, but short summary, just in case–Mark Watney gets injured in a massive dust storm on Mars, and his team, thinking he has died, leaves him when they escape to safety. When he comes to and finds himself alone, he formulates a plan to get stay alive until the next Ares mission…4 years in the future.

I was right about the math and the science. There is a LOT of math and science. But, it doesn’t really overwhelm the story, unless you are super into that sort of thing (which I am not). I just took it at face value and moved on. Instead, what moves the plot is the snark and sarcasm that Watney provides through the log-based storyline.

And guys, there is SO.MUCH.SNARK. It’s amazingly fantastic. Aside from him being obviously above my intelligence level, I would love to have a beer with this guy. I feel like we would be friends on snarkiness alone.

This is a book where a man is alone on a foreign planet for a year and a half and has no one to talk to but himself. But there is nothing boring about it. Andy Weir has encased so much emotion and action and hilarity into such a small, sand-encrusted space–I would never have expected it to be this good. By the end, I was so invested that I was basically screaming on the AdultBooklr chat. I was ready to throw the book at the wall. I promise, you will be so invested in this by the last 10 pages, that you will completely understand what I mean.

Two random, funny thoughts that I had before I go:

  1. I couldn’t stop reading this book in Hank Green’s voice. I think I’ve listened to too many Dear Hank & John Podcasts with “News From Mars.” Every single Log was read in Hank’s unique cadence.
  2. I’d be interested to know how many terrorist watch lists Andy Weir was on while researching this book, or if he had to get special permission to do certain research. I mean, Plutonium as a heat source is a major part of the story…that isn’t something you can just google…right? I’m not going to try it to find out.

 

If you haven’t read The Martian, move it to the top of your list immediately. DO IT NOW.

 

Blogging for Books provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review.

 

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Reading as an Experience

When I approach a new book, I often know very little about it.

Many have been on my TBR for years–recommendations from acquaintances long forgotten–“Oh, you should read this!” Any one who finds out how much I read has a book for me, so it goes on The List. Bestsellers often end up on there, popular books making the rounds on Tumblr, and of course, the Boxall 1001. The List is over 3,000 titles long.

I will usually read a brief description of an ARC before I request it, but even then, it’s a month or two before I actually read it, since I prefer to wait until just before release to do the review. I have a general idea of most of the popular classic novels, but just an outline or topic. Only in the rare occasion that I really love the author and have been anxiously waiting a release, or it’s a book with a huge publicity push will I actually have a strong knowledge base before beginning.

Why do I do so little research about the books I read? Two simple reasons.

  1. I read almost a book a day. At that volume, it would be impossible for me to read pre-reviews on every single book. Nope, can’t do it.
  2. The biggest reason, though, is that I’d much rather go into a book blind. That way, every twist and turn is new, every character I meet is unexpected. It’s the same reason I often don’t watch every movie trailer anymore. I want to experience the book fresh. Sometimes with ARCs I hardly even pay attention to who the author is. I take notes with my reactions, mark down quotes, etc. With difficult books, I will often Wiki it, to make sure I am understanding what is happening–though I don’t usually do that until later in the story, or afterwards, unless I am really confused.

Reading for me is an immersive experience, and I try to get as much out of it as possible. It is enjoyable, but it is no longer just a hobby. I learn a great deal from the books I read, and so I have expanded the breadth of what I am taking in.

I’ve discussed this multiple times here before–how much I read, what I read, how I do it. I won’t get into that now. But learning is important to me, and I get really excited about it.

 

However, I’ve had a few conversations about reading as an experience this week. Not everyone reads the same way I do. And you know what, THAT IS OK!

I had one conversation where we geeked out about the toxic relationships in Wuthering Heights and analyzed the perception of that novel as a romance vs what the book really is. We talked about how we think all classics are well-written because the language is so much different than modern day English, but in reality, the authors fought with each other about their writing style as much as we do now.

But you know what also makes me really excited? Talking to someone who struggled with reading for years, hating it because they had trouble with dyslexia or any other reading disorder. But then someone gave them Harry Potter (or Twilight or Percy Jackson or INSERT BOOK HERE) and it opened up words for them. And it may take them a month to read one book but now they can do it and we can geek out together about our favorite stories. And it has nothing to do with the great masters of writing or the state of the world. It’s just words on a page that fit together to make a story that we all can share.

 

My point is this–read what you like. For years I read Nora Roberts and Rachel Gibson smut. I read every JD Robb In Death book in order for like 4-5 years. Maybe longer. That’s no longer my thing, but if it’s yours GREAT! If you’re an adult who loves YA, thumbs up. If you’re a kid who likes adult fiction, YES! Comics, newspapers, magazines, shampoo bottles? Done.

I’m kind of joking about the shampoo bottles, but I can’t say I haven’t done it when there’s nothing else in the bathroom.

Paperbacks, hard covers, ereaders, audiobooks. All valid sources. Guys, let’s stop arguing about what people like to read, and get excited about everyone who loves it as much as we do. Bookworms have gotten made fun of since the beginning of time. Let’s not beat up on each other too.

I firmly believe that reading is a process. It starts with that first book we fall in love with, and we just keep going. Every next book drags us a little further down the line. Maybe one day we step out from our normal genre into something new. Maybe next time it’s a bit more advanced than what we are used to. That process can be fast, or it may take a long time and be really gradual–and it may change hardly at all. My grandfather read Westerns his entire life…until the last year or two when he started reading Amish Christian fiction. So don’t let me or anyone else pressure you to step outside your comfort zone, but I do encourage it, when you’re ready.

There is a whole world of books out there! And you know I have a full List of recommendations for you!

Happy reading everyone!

Movie Adaptation: Dark Places

I haven’t done a movie adaptation in awhile, but I got to see a free pre-screening of Dark Places Tuesday night, so I felt I owed a review.

First things first, before I even get into the meat of it, I want to give a warning to those who need it, because there wasn’t one on-screen:  IF STROBE LIGHTS BOTHER YOU, DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. Or at least proceed with caution. There is a huge scene about a quarter of the way through, when she goes to The Kill Club with EXTREME strobing, so just be aware of it. Also, a lot of the flashbacks aren’t strobe, but they are a really funky black, white, sepiaish coloring. Almost negative filmy type effect, but whatever it was, it really hurt my eyes. I don’t have seizures but we were pretty close to the screen and I definitely left with a headache.

Ok, on with the review:

From what I understand, Dark Places was actually a French production, made before Gone Girl. But, even with the superb casting, they weren’t completely sure how it would go over in the US, so they held off on the release. Then, when Gone Girl became a smash hit, of COURSE they had to bring it out. I’ve seen nary a trailer for it though, which is sad because while I don’t think it would make near as big of a smash, I think a lot of people would go see this if they knew about it.

It’s a much different film than Gone Girl is, however. Instead of being so high impact drama, it’s more slow and steady. You get the present day plot mixed with the flash backs. Sort of a look this way while I show you something else, make you think one thing and actually the reality is something else entirely. Gillian Flynn is fantastic at this. Her sociopaths never look like sociopaths until the very end.

As I said before, the casting here, at least for the main characters, is superb. Charlize Theron was excellent…but, is she ever bad in anything? How can she be so goddamn gorgeous in greasy short hair and the same dirty shirt all movie long? Oh. Right. She’s Charlize freaking Theron. I did alter my vision of what adult Libby’s life looked like in my previous book review. I think the movie nailed what Flynn was going for–and not at all what I had imagined. It fits much more with who she would have been.

Christina Hendricks as Patty Day? I mean…yes. My friend, as we were walking out, made a comment similar to what I said about Theron. “I didn’t know they could make Christina Hendricks look so good dirty!”

But, in the end, it’s not about the beauty, it’s about the acting, and these two both got their characters down perfectly. We’ve seen them in extremely sophisticated roles, but here they are both in very raw, emotional ones, and the performances were really powerful.

At first, I wasn’t sure Nicholas Hoult was the right choice for Lyle. He’s very young next to Theron, and I balked a bit because in the book, she’s only 30. But, they expanded the time gap a bit in the movie, so it made more sense. Also, for once in, well, EVER, the writers did not make this movie about romance at all. There were plenty of openings for them to do that, and yet they refrained, and I was grateful they didn’t change that part of the story, especially in one where there was so much PTSD, pain, and recovery happening.

This movie is going to be released tomorrow, August 7. I’m unsure how broad of a release it will get, but if it’s showing near you, go see it, especially if you like brain twisters and thrillers. This one isn’t so much on the racing plot thriller type, but more of a plot twist type. Definitely worth a showing.

 

Disclaimer:  My friend got free tickets to see this screening at Angelika Theater Dallas from her work and was kind enough to share one with me.

Dark Places

Tonight, I have tickets with friends for a screening of Dark Places. Gillian Flynn’s second movie isn’t getting near as much fanfare as Gone Girl did, but anything with Charlize Theron has got to be good, right?

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I read Dark Places a long time ago, but I could not remember anything about it, so I made sure to pick it back up before tonight’s show. Libby Day is 30, broke, and unemployed. Up until now, she’s lived off the charity of crime obsessed philanthropists who years ago threw money at the little girl left broken-hearted and lost. Her family was murdered by her Satanist brother when she was young, and she was forced to testify against him as the only witness. Now, those charitable hearts have moved on in favor of other crimes and she has to find money quick.

Welcome Kill Club–a creepy organization of people who geek out over conspiracy theories. One favorite conspiracy circles around the Day family and the night Libby’s family was killed, and they are willing to pay her to track down information for her.

Dark Places is a very weird book. I wanted to say that I find Libby a very awkward, uncomfortable character, unbelievable in that she should be much more traumatized by what happened instead of just skimming money and using it for nice cars and clothes until it runs out. But, we all react in our own ways. The more I think about Libby and her, for lack of a better word, laziness to do anything with her life, I realize that just about everyone her world is that way–except maybe Patty. The town was full of excuses and poverty and drugs, the kind of small town where no one ever gets out.

My romantic reader brain wants her to be heroic–full of fight and power. And she does too–she even mentions it at one point to herself, when she thinks about how all she did was hide in the closet and that’s why she didn’t see the attacker. But, that’s not who Libby is. It was much easier for her to hide after the murders, to turn away from Ben and Diane and Runner, dye her hair blonde, and use all the donations she could.

The book itself is bit of a quiet start, but there is a crescendo of action at the end. In typical Flynn fashion, she keeps you guessing and fascinated right up until the end, when all at once you will connect every single dot she left for you with one big EUREKA moment.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the screening tonight!

 

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Les Miserables

One Thousand Four Hundred and Sixty-Three.

That’s how many pages are in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

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I started this beast on Sunday. It has been a long time since I have conquered a book like this and it was almost as big a battle as the battle Hugo as writing about.

Ok…maybe not that big. But at times it felt like it. Like when we get through the biggest fight scene in the book–the big drama throw down at the barricade–and then we get a dissertation on Paris’ sewers.

No one kills a climax like Victor Hugo. WOMP.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. It’s impossible to read something this massive without having super strong feelings about it. This book is powerful, no way around it. And because I saw the movie musical first, it’s really hard to separate the two in my head. The entire time I was reading it, I was singing the songs. The main characters were their cast, of course. And I was pleased to find out how well the play actually did follow the main plot of the book…

…when we actually got to see the actual main plot of the book.

Here’s the thing about Hugo (or at least Les Mis, as this is my first Hugo):  he is the KING of context. For every 2 books/volumes of plot, there is at least one of scene setting or character building. For instance, before we even get to the storyline, we have to know every single itty bitty detail about the household of the bishop who redeems Jean ValJean. He’s an important character, sure, but a minor one. One we see him, he’s gone from the story. So why do we need to know Old Testament-level detail about his life? And we get that for nearly every single person who is introduced into the book.

You would think this would be a helpful feature in remembering who everyone is. But it’s actually just the opposite. All of the overcharacterization actually made it harder to keep track of the people in my head. It was just too much information. I didn’t realize until the end that Gavroche was the little boy until he took the note from Marius to Jean ValJean during the battle, or that Enjolras was the leader of the rebels. I actually had those two people backwards. Of course, I knew the main people–Jean ValJean, Javert, Cosette, and Marius–because, helloooo, I will never ever forget an Eddie Redmayne character, ever. But the rest is curtained by Hugo’s overwriting.

On the flipside, some of the extra stuff, even if it gets in the way of the story is interesting. Les Mis is as much philosophy as it is fiction. (Great historical fiction–but fiction nonetheless.) Sewer rant aside, there is quite a bit to be gained from diving into Hugo’s studies, even if it does sound like he’s standing on a soap box preaching at the top of his lungs. I also felt like I got much of the French history that I was missing. I want to go back and read parts of it from yesterday because I was not in the mindset to absorb it all and there was so much there that I have been wanting to learn about.

Les Miserables is a hell of a beast, but extremely worthy of my time and effort. I would suggest that if you’re going to try it, clear the other projects off your list.  This isn’t a book that you are going to be able share your reading schedule with, as I learned the hard way. Hugo requires too much focus for that. It’ll go in my reread pile…but not for quite some time.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #47:  A play

Fulfills Boxall #92