Life's hard.

It's even harder when you're stupid.

John Wayne

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith ★★★★☆

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

A Well Done Enthralling Story!
Fiction – Alternative History - Paranormal
433 pages
Publication Date:  March 2, 2010
Literary awards: Goodreads Choice Nominee for Paranormal Fantasy (2010)

This is the "true" story of Abraham Lincoln's life as gathered from his very secret journal.  Seth Grahame-Smith give the first look into the role vampires played in shaping Abraham Lincoln the man; from the death of his beloved mother caused by vampires to his fight against slavery - a vampire enterprise - and finally the confrontation with the whole of the United State's future hanging in the the balance during the Civil War.

While not an action packed adventure story Grahame-Smith does a superbly well done biography, completely comparable to other actually real biographies.  I originally expected something a bit more campy or even some tongue and cheek, but this book takes itself seriously without being pretentious.  The story was enthralling and carried me along with it at a very good pace.

The intro gives the book an air of authenticity and sets the believable tone.  I found the intro to be very comfortable and homie and the narrator someone I could actually know in real life.  While the exquisite detail in the story reinforces it’s validity.  The character Henry was incredibly fascinating and I liked the introduction of Edgar Allen Poe.  I didn’t find Abe very likeable at the beginning with his ridiculous pride and endless search for vengeance, but as the story progressed I became so engrossed in his life that I couldn’t help but understand him.

Okay now a couple of minor complaints.  I must confess on occasion the foray into someone’s thoughts during the writing was a bit jarring and the dream sequences did push me out of the storybook world and broke the reality at times.  Likewise, I was a little disappointed with the last couple of chapters; they didn’t seem to measure up to the quality of the rest of the book.  While I found the sequence of events plausible, the writing was harder to follow than it should have been.   I also really would have liked to see a scene between the author and Henry at the end when he turned over the manuscript.  I was invested in the author – it was his story that first made the Lincoln story feel real – and I just didn’t get the payout I felt would have been pretty easy to achieve.  My displeasure in the ending, however, could in no way overshadow the book as a whole.   It was pretty great and fairly comparable to a majority of the “factual” biographies I have read. 

Now I am on the hunt for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of the Jane Austen novels – talk about hilarious -, but I am really interested in seeing what Seth Grahame-Smith has to contribute to it.

ISBN  0446563080 (ISBN13: 9780446563086)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket ★★★☆☆

Different than the everyday happily-ever-after story, but in a good way.
Fiction – Juvenile
8 and up
176 pages
Publication Date: 1999
A Series of Unfortunate Events #1
Literary awards: Nene Award (2003), Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book for Children's Literature (2001)

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1) 

This is the unhappy story of the Baudelaire’s; Violet, the family inventor, Klaus, the family brain and Sunny, the family biter.  After a fire leaves them orphaned they were put into the care of the horrible Count Olaf, who only wants the fortune left to the Baudelaire orphans by their parents.  Violet, Klaus and Sunny must find a way to stop the Count’s dastardly or face the fatal consequences.   But be warned there is no happy ending.

I liked the voice of the narrator enormously and the difference from the everyday happily-ever-after type of story.  The story was very interesting and easy to get through.  The narrator’s direct interaction with me as the reader was a treat and though he used words rather sparingly he made the characters very vivid for me.  The simple, non-flowery style of writing fit the story incredibly well, in a way I would not have expected before reading this book, and I would think very appropriate for a Juvenile reader.  The writing style actually kind of reminded me of C.S. Lewis from the Chronicles of Narnia.  C.S. Lewis wove together magical epic tales in his books, but the details were very sparse and left up to the imagination of the reader to fill in.

ISBN  0439206472 (ISBN13: 9780439206471)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy by Bob Welch ★★★★★

American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy

A purpose filled life
Non Fiction – Biography – WWII History
320 pages                             
Publication Date: 2004

A true American hero, Frances Slanger, was a Jewish girl who grew up in Poland and lived through World War I until her immigration to the United States at the age of seven.  Striving to become a nurse against her family’s wishes and then finally joining the military to become part of the first nursing group to arrive on Normandy beach, Frances Slanger always believed that she had something to contribute, a purpose to fulfill.  She survived the daily hardships of war as a nurse at the 45th Field Hospital and became the voice of a grateful nation when she wrote an unforgettable letter to the Stars and Stripes newspaper honoring the soldiers serving in the European Theatre.  Unfortunately she was killed the next day after mailing the letter by German shells.

A mesmerizing true story so engrossing and vivid that even knowing the end my heart still hurt to read those final chapters.  This story is a fitting tribute to not only Frances Slanger and her sacrifice, but to all of those clinging to hope during that horrific time.   Frances Slanger was a fighter who believed in a God given purpose and actually did something about it.  This is a celebration of a humble woman who believed she had little to give, but gave it willingly.

This is a story not just anyone could write about.  Bob Welch has a special gift; giving a soul to this story and not merely recounting a series of events.  His writing of the unadorned, and at times horrific, reality has a gritty edge to it, which is able to convey the seriousness of the situations without being completely off putting for the reader.  Not a very easy balancing act, but Welch manages it perfectly.  He lightens the load with the graceful interweaving of Slanger’s story and history with other accounts to give dimension and put the reader directly in the action.  Welch also makes great use of Frances Slanger’s own writing; insight into her thoughts feelings and character gives an intimate understanding of her goals and struggles.

Frances Slanger was a woman who was grateful to give.  A woman who believed she could make a difference just by caring.  A woman who heard a call to serve others and answered.

I have older relatives who lament how bad the world has gotten.  Who talk about the “old days” with longing and nostalgia.  I can’t agree with them.  I’ve read enough history to know there haven’t really been the good old days.  WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the cold war, the fight for equality on all levels, these aren’t exactly peaceful things let alone everything going on in people’s lives on a smaller scale.  The landscape of the world changes, our idea of who the “enemy” is changes, but really we still fight the same things.  The real enemy is still there though the face may look different; indifference, greed, hatred, treating others as less than God made them.  I think the fight rages on person by person, heart by heart.

We love stories like Frances Slanger because we love the idea of meaning in life, but more than sitting back and enjoying a good story it should inspire us to find our own purpose.  To find our own way of making the world a better place, to find a cause and take up our own fight.

ISBN 0743477596 (ISBN13: 9780743477598)