What a book!

December 29, 2010

Stephen King: “Under the Dome”

Filed under: Authors,Science fiction,Stephen King,Stephen King — ukmelia @ 11:31 am
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I have not read any new Stephen King novels for quiet some time. He sort of lost me with Tommyknockers and from then on out I just stuck with re-reading old favorites like The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon.

But Under the Dome caught my eye at the bookstore and the price was right and I vaguely remembered a positive tweet from author Neil Gaiman about Stephen King (at the time, I thought the tweet was about this book, but later learned it was for a newer one but by then, I was sucked into The Dome. So thanks Neil, for inadvertently getting me to read Stephen King again.) so I bought the monster-sized book and settled down to read.

Under the Dome is the King I love. The one who takes his time developing characters and adding layer upon layer into a story until you are so completely absorbed that you find yourself thinking about the characters when you’re not reading. You worry about some and hope others get their come-uppance in the end. Most of all, you want to find out what the hell is up with the Dome? He keeps you guessing on it for over a thousand pages but it’s okay, because there’s an entire town full of people who will keep you turning those pages.

The premise is really quite simple: What happens to a small New England town when an invisible-ish barrier is dropped onto it?

What I loved most about this book is it is not a full-on horror story like It or Pet Semetary. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate it when Stephen King gets freaky with the things that can scare you like clowns and zombified relatives. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered what King is really – I mean really – good at is the character study. Stories like Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are where he really shines. Even The Stand, which is my all-time favorite King story is more about the characters than the God/Devil thing.

Under the Dome delivers on just about everything I used to love about King’s writing and I’m so happy I found him again.*

So from me, this book gets five out of five stars. Go find it if you haven’t already read it (it came out in 2009, so it’s not new or anything) and settle in for a good, long stay inside the Dome.

It also looks like the book may be getting the miniseries treatment which could be a good thing or a bad thing. King’s track record for his stuff translating well to the small of big screen is spotty. But for every Dreamcatcher, there is The Shining. For every Langoliers,  there is a Misery. So there is hope – especially since Spielberg may be attached to the project…

*Yes, I know he’s written much since Tommyknockers, including the Dark Tower series and other books I would probably enjoy if I gave them a shot. I was just so put off by by Tommyknockers that it took me a while to get over it.

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September 27, 2010

Bill Bryson: “At Home”

Filed under: Authors,Bill Bryson,Non-fiction — ukmelia @ 4:02 pm
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Intrepid explorer and magnificent wordsmith, Bill Bryson takes us on a journey through his home this time.

That’s a little bit misleading really… I should say he takes us through the history of home life using his own pile of bricks as a sort of jumping off place.

Now, I am a Bryson devotee. I have yet to read a book of his I didn’t love and cherish. But even for me, the subject matter sounded, well, a little bit dull. And this is no small tome either. I wondered how he would go on and on about the rooms of a house for hundreds of pages and keep my interest. To me, it seemed like a bit of a risk for Bryson.

I should never have doubted him. Bryson weaves history, astonishing facts (Thomas Jefferson invented the french fry. Who knew?!), current information, and authoritative references brilliantly and with his usual gentle humour.

Bryson’s old rectory in Norfolk, England forms the basis of the book as we explore his hall, kitchen, parlours, servants’ stairs, bedrooms, and even the fuse box. What fascinates me is that the chapter about the fuse box is filled with the sorts of things you just never think about or take for granted. Things like how dangerous it was to wander about after dark before electricity became widespread. How taking a midnight stroll meant you took your life in your hands and subjected yourself to thieves and murderers because the streets were so dark. Or how Britain was forced into total blackness in 1939 by order of the government for fear of the Luftwaffe. One could be fined for lighting so much as a cigarette on a street corner.

You see? It’s more than just, “And now we enter the hallway which contains some end tables and a lovely rug.” It’s more like, “The hallway of a home used to be THE place for congregating  and indeed the inclusion of separate rooms in medieval times was considered an odd notion.”

It’s rich, exciting, fascinating glimpse into the past that I guarantee will make you look at your own home a bit differently when you’re through.

March 31, 2010

“World War Z” by Max Brooks

Filed under: Authors,Fiction,Max Brooks — ukmelia @ 8:00 pm
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I never thought of myself as a chick who liked zombie stuff. If I’m going to dig supernatural fiction, I tend to enjoy sexy vampires, not rotting corpses. Typical girl, I know 🙂

I think it was the film ‘Shaun of the Dead’ that started to turn me around on zombies and think about them and how they function (or don’t function as the case may be.) I once wrote a short story involving zombies which turned into a book and my zombie love was sealed.

I’m pretty sure I heard about ‘World War Z‘ on Twitter. I follow some authors and other fans of zombie stuff and while I never heard much about what the book was about, I was still intrigued because, you know, zombies. After checking with my Facebook peeps, all of whom highly recommend I get this book pronto, I bought it and, excuse the pun, devoured the thing.

It is perhaps the most unusual take on zombie fiction I’ve ever read.

It’s written as a sort of non-fiction fiction narrative.  A journalist travels the world several years after the Zombie Apocalypse interviewing survivors – doctors, military grunts, politicians, K-9 sniffer dog handlers, artists, spiritualists – to create the definitive (and only record) of those who survived the near-decimation of the entire planet.

It’s haunting. Thought-provoking. Riveting. Sad. Heroic. Uplifting. And creepy as hell. Imagine being tasked by what’s left of your government to march endlessly across the plains on a sweep and clear mission. You must take on wave after wave of “Zacks” (as army grunts call them) and they never seem to end. Only a head shot will take them out and your ammo is limited. Or perhaps you are a panicked, frightened teenager in what’s left of Kyoto. In your apartment building there are nothing but infected corpses reanimating as soon as they die and heading straight for you. How do you escape?

This book is a collection of tales like that and while, yes, it’s fiction, it’s written as if it really happened, without any irony or facetiousness and it will reach out, grab you and make you think about stocking up on bottled water and canned foods.

YOU’LL LIKE THIS IF: You enjoy zombie stuff 🙂 Honestly, it’s one of the better zombie books I’ve read.

World War Z on Wikipedia.

March 22, 2010

“Notes from a Small Island” by Bill Bryson

Filed under: Authors,Bill Bryson,Non-fiction — ukmelia @ 9:07 pm
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When I lived in England in 1998, I lived and worked in a posh little pub tucked away in the hills of the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire. There was a country gent who lived down the lane from my pub who would ask me to give his hair a trim now and then. He was a bit eccentric to let a damn Yank have a whack at his hair but I must have done an okay job because before I left to come back to the states, he gave me a book. “Notes from a Small Island” became a cherished book in my house and introduced me to the wonderfulness of Bill Bryson.

‘Notes’ chronicles an Iowan’s last, fond walkabout around the little island he had called home for almost twenty years, before he packed his family up to come back to the states.

Full of amusing anecdotes and belly-laugh inducing comparisons between the British and Americans (the first few pages are devoted to the fact that the British really have no concept of distance), Bryson makes his way by train and often by foot around England, Scotland and Wales. He revisits many little towns and hamlets he had been to on his first arrival in the UK as well as all the places he had been to since, taking us with him on a grand tour of this enchanting place.

I often find travel books hard to get through. I find them a bit dry and pretty much just good for telling me what time of the year is best for visiting certain places. But Bryson gives us such an intimate and thorough glimpse into the UK in this book (indeed in many of his travel-type books, he does the same thing) that you don’t feel like you’re reading a travel book at all. He has a Dave Barry-esque style to his humour and and writing that I often find myself laughing out loud when reading his books. And then I look around to make sure I’m alone because that just looks odd.

I’ll write about some of his other works in the future, but I wanted to start off with ‘Notes’ because it’s very special to me. I re-read this often and still laugh every time.

YOU’LL LIKE THIS IF: You love anything British and have a quirky sense of humour. Bryson’s digression on place names in England alone will have you rolling. I mean, ‘Farleigh Wallop’. Seriously.

Bill Bryson’s official site

January 28, 2010

“Boneshaker” is full of Steamy goodness.

Filed under: Cherie Priest,Steampunk — ukmelia @ 10:27 am
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Like zombies? Enjoy Steampunk? Would you like to see the two genres meld together in wonderful symbiosis? Then you need to read “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest. It’s quite a ride!

Set in a  slightly altered universe where Seattle is closed, walled-off and overrun with zombies created by a strange gas called ‘The Blight’ that was released during an attempt by a mad scientist named Leviticus Blue to tunnel his way to gold. His machine – the Boneshaker – destroyed the city and left little in the way of survivors once the zombies got through with them.

The story follows Briar Wilkes, widow of Leviticus Blue, as she dons a gas mask and finds her way into Seattle in search of her son. Along the way, she encounters Chinese laborers, cyborg-ish barkeeps, swashbuckling zeppelin pilots, and of course, quite a lot of zombies trying to nom her flesh.

I loved it. The pace was great and I admire the way Cherie Priest blended so many elements from different genres together in such a seamless way. I discovered this book via Twitter where a number of writers I enjoy were touting her book. At the time I was beginning to enjoy my own love affair with Steampunk and I found “Boneshaker” to be the perfect introduction to Steampunk fiction.

So, what the heck is Steampunk? Well I’m glad you asked. Click here and find an excellent primer on this fun genre.

YOU’LL LIKE “BONESHAKER” IF: You’ve seen movies like “Wild, Wild West”, “A League of Extraordinary Gentleman”, or enjoyed books by Jules Verne. If you like Victorian style mixed with modern advances. If you enjoy wearing brass goggles and bustles, or cravats. If you own a pocketwatch. If you’ve ever been been shunned because of your past, lost your son, and would do anything to get him back, even if it mean getting involved with shady zeppelin pilots delivering contraband to Blight survivors… This book is for you. Seriously, it is a fun, page-turning read.

“Boneshaker” gets five out of five stars from me.

Follow Cherie Priest on Twitter or visit her website.

January 19, 2010

The Dresden Files

Filed under: Jim Butcher,Mystery — ukmelia @ 2:18 pm
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Harry Dresden is a private eye in Chicago. He’s also a wizard.

When I first heard about this book series, I was iffy on what my interest level would be. I’m really not much of a sci-fi/fantasy reader in the traditional sense. Don’t get me wrong, The Lord of the Rings books are among the books I must re-read every couple of years. But you really won’t find me haunting the sci-fi section at the bookstore much.

Until the Dresden books came along, that is.

Author, Jim Butcher, uses the gritty streets of Chicago as the backdrop for fantastic tales of wizardry and faeries, of demons and vampires and were-creatures galore. His style harkens back to a sort of noir style. Conjure up an image of a P.I. sitting in his dingy office in some forgotten office building in the bowels of the Big City. He works alone, has few friends and is somewhat ornery. That’s Harry Dresden.

The first book in the series has Harry on the case of a Wizard gone bad and who is wreaking havoc on Harry’s city. As each book in the series unfolds, you discover a larger arc in play. Each books lets you learn a little bit more about Harry and the people (magical and otherwise) around him. Each book also introduces another fantastical element and all of it is written in such a dry, humorous way that it’s almost possible to believe this stuff could be real 😉

There are currently eleven books in the series with the newest one due out this April. Check out Jim Butcher’s official website for more details.

YOU’LL LIKE THIS IF: You like a good detective mystery and don’t mind a little magic thrown in.

I give this entire series  five out of five stars.

January 18, 2010

What Steph Likes

Filed under: Welcome — ukmelia @ 8:09 pm
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Hi! I’m Stephanie, voracious book reader with eclectic tastes. Many thanks to Jack for letting me chime in. I’ll start with favo(u)rites:

My favorite authors are Jim Butcher, classic Stephen King, Larry McMurtry, some Michener, Cherie Priest, Warren Ellis, JK Rowling, Anne Rice before she got all weird, Bill Bryson, Charlaine Harris, Grisham, Margaret Mitchell, John Irving, Victoria Holt… Really, the list goes on and on.

Favorite series include: The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher), The Sookie Stackhouse series, Clan of the Cave Bear series, Harry Potter.

Favorite other books: “The Mother Tongue” (Bryson), “Circle of Friends”, “The Princess Bride”, “Patriot Games”, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

Recently finished books: I’m working my way through the Sookie books. Judging by how quickly I’m getting through them, it’s safe to say I love the series 🙂

I’m a re-reader, bigtime. I have a large array of books that I hold on to and will go back and read through just because I find it comforting to escape into a familiar world now and then.

It’s hard for me to discover new books, so I’m hoping Jack blog here takes off and is useful, not just for me but for other book lovers out there 🙂

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