Book Review: The Graveyard Book

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THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman was recommended to me last Christmas by an individual that I thought least likely to ever recommend any type of fantasy literature. That person raved and raved about it and then went on to teach me a lesson in stereotypes by outlining their other favorite fantasy novels, but I started with Neil Gaiman’s phenomenal novel, The Graveyard Book.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK BY NEIL GAIMAN

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK BY NEIL GAIMAN

I have to admit that this was my first ever Gaiman novel, though I knew the author’s name because I saw the movie version of STARDUST some years ago. I enjoyed STARDUST and promised myself that I would one day read the book, but while I never made the time for that I squeezed in the episode of DOCTOR WHO written by Gaiman, “THE DOCTOR’S WIFE”, and I was very impressed. Since then, I’ve had a strange fringe-relationship with Gaiman where I’m familiar-ish with the author despite never having technically ‘read‘ a word of his writing. When The Graveyard Book came to me so highly recommended from a person that I deeply respect, I picked it up without a moment’s delay.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is, perhaps, one of the most difficult books to adequately review that I’ve ever encountered. It is one of those rare novels that examines the most valuable question that anyone has ever asked: what’s the purpose of life? The novel follows Bod Owens, a toddler who has escaped a dark fate and is taken in, quite literally, by the nearby graveyard and the phantoms that inhabit it. Its ghosts and tombs and natural beauty become the little boy’s home and there he grows up, all the while learning more about the world he must be protected from, until the day when the dangers of his past catch up with him.

But do you want to know the truth? That might be what this book is about, but really it’s not about that at all. Gaiman is telling a personal, intimate story in this book. Not about himself, not necessarily, but certainly about everyone. This is a story about death, about growing up and growing old, and about Life.

I’ve read some of the most stirring passages that I’ve ever encountered in my career as a reader within this novel. I love that it’s a children’s book that is still so dangerously adult. I love that I honestly wanted to cry at the end of this book—not manly, crocodile tears but little kid tears.

That, I think, is what The Graveyard Book is about.

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Book Review: The Affinity Bridge

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The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann, was another one in the pile of books that I purchased as a birthday gift to myself. I know they say to never judge a book by it’s cover, but Mann’s cover certainly didn’t dissuade me from purchasing his novel. I am a fan of anything that flies in literature—private planes, jumbo jets, airships—for the practical utility they offer. So fast! So convenient! Mann’s cover then, an enormous airship above Victorian-Era London, sang to me in several ways.

Newbury and Hobbes, the novel’s protagonists, are academics; researchers employed by the British Museum as a cover for their other job as Crown investigators for Queen Victoria. In this fictional steampunk England, Sir Maurice Newbury (think Holmes!) and his assistant Veronica Hobbes (elementary, dear Watson!) are attempting to solve the riddle of a string of murders when an airship crash in London diverts their attention elsewhere. What follows is a brisk story of industrial intrigue, precision investigations, and appropriately romping action.

One of my more marked appreciations for this novel is perhaps the one that is most forward-thinking: Mann spins the trope of the helpless, witless assistant on its head. When it comes to endangered protagonists, I would argue that Hobbes does more of the saving than being saved; and true, Hobbes bumps into sexism on occasion, but Newbury insists on treating her as a fully capable equal. And, repeatedly, he is proven right when Hobbes is daringly more functional than he on occasion!

Beyond that, the plot isn’t terribly thick. Queen Victoria is strangely interested in a civilian airship crash; paupers are being murdered by a “glowing policeman” and the two main characters have private matters to contend with along the way but Mann’s triumph here is the creation of a gripping alternate 1901 London. A London where technological revolution has placed clockwork men on the streets and airships high above. In a very noticeable way London 1901 is the third protagonist of this novel and any reader who appreciates a good detective story and Victorian-London to boot are certain to enjoy themselves.

The novel’s cover declares itself to be “A Newbury and Hobbes Investigation” which, if intuition serves, would indicate that there are more on the way. And, if that isn’t enough, Mann sets the stage for future work with a phenomenal epilogue! Here’s to more “investigations!”

UPDATE: A quick jaunt around George Mann’s blog reveals that, in fact, there are multiple sequels  to THE AFFINITY BRIDGE (which was published in 2009—where have I been?!) which I must now, delightedly, purchase!

300 Pages and Counting

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At a certain point, when we defy our own notion of success, we stop and take stock of our achievements. Today I hit a milestone that I was certain would not be coming anytime soon: 300 pages.

When I hit 200 pages on a separate manuscript last year, it was one of the most memorable accomplishments in my career as a writer. Never, not once before, had I achieved such a monumental goal. With 300 pages under my belt, I now turn my gaze to 400 and wonder, inevitably, how the hell I’m going to get there?

Thank you to everyone who has supported my creative process; I truly hope to have good news somewhere in the nearby future!

Book Buying Bonanza

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After my shopaholic stint at Barnes & Noble on my birthday, it’s safe to say that I’m stocked up on books for the foreseeable future. Eight books later, I’m still trying to figure out the order that I’m going to read all these excellent-looking novels. Also, I’ve noticed a trend: anything steampunk or urban fantasy wound up in the pile without hesitation—with a few exceptions. From smallest to largest, my purchases were: Continue reading

270 Pages Later

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This week marks several milestones. A birthday, a wedding, and now a page-count record breaker! This evening I reached 270 pages on my current manuscript, a number that surpasses the previous record-holder (my last manuscript was 256 pages) by a healthy 14 pages. What’s even more exciting is that I’m not finished with the current manuscript; checking my location against my roadmap for this manuscript suggests to me that I’m around 2/3 complete, overall.

I expect this current manuscript to be finished near the 350 page mark, if I’m lucky! That would be such an amazing feat, especially since I originally thought that this project wouldn’t be more than 250 pages long—and that was back when I also thought the first manuscript would be around 200 pages instead of the 256 pages it eventually became. Looking back, I can’t help but appreciate that this has all been accomplished in a little over 17 months.

To offer some perspective, I was struck by inspiration for this project in the wake of publishing SOMEONE TO REMEMBER ME last February. I wanted to create a very strong, very opinionated female lead and the notion more or less fell into place with another idea that I had been kicking around for ages: to write a more contemporary, more dangerous book that blended fiction and nonfiction, as well as the possibilities of fantasy with the starkness of reality.

I wanted to tackle terrorism and fanaticism; the dangers of the police state and the risks of the unbridled revolution. And the current project went from being planned to being written. Quite abruptly I began writing about Sarah al Villete, the terrorist waging a war against the world’s last government on the world’s last habitable continent. More for her personal lust for revenge rather than the benefit of humanity. Hundreds of pages later, I’m regularly examining the weary questions of war and faith—of what happens when belief clashes with the unwieldy nature of reality.

Originally, I wanted just one big book. I tend to go on a rant against the saturation of the Fantasy and Science-Fiction genres by series. It felt, to me, that whenever I picked up a book in that aisle it was always book three or four in the this-or-that series. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good series as much as anybody but sometimes you want one great, mind-blowing book. Not three or four. Just every once in a while, you know?

So I endeavored to write that type of book and, unsurprisingly, it turned into a total beast on its own. So here I am on part two of a three part mega-book that currently sits at 526 pages and 293,622 words. And it’s worth mentioning that those aren’t book pages—they’re freaking single-spaced, 8 and 1/2 by 11 pages which is sooo much more impressive than those tiny little double-spaced pages you get in normal books. Seriously, go take a peek in that book on your desk—I guarantee you that sucker is at least 1.5 or double space font.

But I digress.

This is a week of milestones, today included. I’m glad that this goes out to at least a handful of people who can appreciate the steady and onward march of creative progress. May your projects continue as swimmingly as mine have.

1,000 Downloads

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I have some exciting news to share with anybody that’s still interested! In early September, after downloads had flatlined around 40 on Kindle and on around 40 on iBooks, I dropped the price of Someone to Remember Me to free just for the hell of it. In my mind, it couldn’t hurt since nobody was downloading the book anyways. I thought there’d be a modest bump in downloads, but Someone to Remember Me instead crossed the one thousand download mark in October on Amazon’s Kindle Store and has pushed further north into the realm of 1,400 downloads as of today.

So that’s really cool in and of itself. It’s mind-boggling to think that 1,400 people have their hands on my writing. I have an exciting update planned for Someone to Remember Me, and when I’ve finalized the details I’ll post more about it here. If you haven’t already, be sure to re-download your copy to receive the updates and corrections I posted back in April.

Thanks again for your support and stay tuned for some exciting news. If you haven’t downloaded Someone to Remember Me, please click here.

Enjoyably Daring: A “Cloud Atlas” Review

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Love it or hate it, the word that typically unites the reception of “CLOUD ATLAS”–the new century-spanning, soul-mate finding journey by the creators of “The Matrix” Trilogy–is usually ‘daring’. For its weaknesses and its strengths, the consensus is that Cloud Atlas is a daring and ambitious work of unusually epic scope. Whether or not this film qualifies as “good” is entirely up to whomever you’re speaking to at the moment, or whichever review you are reading. Since the review in question is mine, I assume you’ll allow me my take on the film. In short, I thought Cloud Atlas was a GREAT movie and I’m very glad I took the time to watch it.

Make no mistake, Cloud Atlas is long. Clocking in at 2 hours and 44 minutes, it’s one of the longest films I’ve watched. What I noticed around the point that I guessed to be the movie’s halfway spot was that the time was flying by. And I mean that both as a witty pun and a literal truth. You see, Cloud Atlas shifts between no less than six time periods: the late 19th century, the 1930s, the 1970s, the modern day, the 23rd century, and an even later period dubbed “After the Fall.” The film weaves in and out of each period, and while the scope of each period is no longer than a few days (with the exception of the 23rd century piece, which spans months at least)—Cloud Atlas is the cinematic entwining of six visual novellas.

So I can understand that it might be confusing, and I’ll be damned if I remember any names myself (except for Sonmi and Chang—they steal the movie in some of it’s most breathtaking sequences, defining the overarching themes that unify the film) but that doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. And, I thought, they wisely recycled the actors for each time period: Hugh Grant as a barbarian in one, Tom Hanks as a thieving lowlife in another.

At the heart of Cloud Atlas is a conversation on the nature of life and death, how our actions impact others, and a debate on living your life for yourself versus living it for others. Nearly all of the characters at one point or another affirm that their lives and what they perceive to be good and true, are worth dying for. And it’s this theme, that propels the film forward. When does survival stop being enough? When do we rise against injustice? Tyranny? Crime?

So even though you might not know all the names, or all the exact dates of the timelines—the thematic elements and the basics of what each character is working for gives the film an appreciable grounding. And the musical score of this film is just downright phenomenal, at times vulnerable while bombastically confident at others.

Is this a movie with its own flaws? Certainly. For a film that claims to examine the actions of our lives and the impacts they have on others across time, you could really cut away three of the six timelines and maintain the integrity of that theme, which would also chop down the movie’s lengthy runtime. However, having seen Cloud Atlas in its prime and natural state, I can’t imagine it any way but this. You see, its length and its characters and its message work together in such a way that Cloud Atlas becomes one of those “big” movies that can make you feel optimistic again, if you allow it to.

I think that’s what gets me most about Cloud Atlas. Though it scrounges around in the darkest and most depressing crevices of the worst within us, it never loses sight of its peculiar brand of optimism:

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

Those are my thoughts on one of my favorite movies, if not my singularly favorite, of the year. Don’t worry about being made to feel lost or confused by Cloud Atlas, rather sit back and enjoy the multitude of fantastic stories, phenomenal orchestration, and lingering optimism that it offers.

After all, isn’t that why we go to the movies in the first place?

CLOUD ATLAS released on October 26, 2012. Available in normal and IMAX formats, runtime 2 hours and 44 minutes. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Barry, and a ton of others. Learn more at the film’s official website.