My Love of Lore

I’ve been a long-time listener of the podcast series Lore. I forget how I first found out about it. My friends know that I write horror and that I love dark tales, so when I ended up having multiple close friends recommend it, I decided to check it out. Basically Aaron Mahnke will choose a particular topic or theme, and then explore it by beautifully mixing tales with history, and analyzing the topic with respect for the time periods he’s analyzing. He’s tackled changelings, werewolves, vampires, etc.

I was thrilled to hear it was going to get a series on Amazon, but I tried not to get my hopes up. The podcast series was great, but I wasn’t sure how well it could be transferred to a video series. I’m happy to say that after spending the last week watching all the episodes available, that my fears were mistaken. In fact, I would even say that the visuals add so much to the words that Mahnke puts to the episodes.

They do historical reenactments, portraying terrifying experiences and really making the viewer experience the same frightening beliefs that their characters do. Sometimes this gets to be very uncomfortable, especially since historically women were powerless or seen as property and therefore are truly at the whims of the people around them, no matter how disturbing their beliefs. They are also able to pull in historical scenes more often too, whether that’s through video clips that are available or historical documents that really bring the stories home. The series also doesn’t shy away from blood and gore, but they do switch to illustrations whenever they go to portray a gruesome scene, thereby showing the gore just as clearly but taking away the potential production costs.

And that artwork is simply gorgeous. The werewolf episode for example just had me giddy as a long-time werewolf lover. The art style changes each episode to better reflect the topic for the episode. It feels organic and fluid and matches beautifully with the topic of the episode. It reminds me of the switch to animation that you see in Kill Bill Volume 1, which I loved then and I still love now.

My only complaint is that the series was too short, though considering the podcast has over a hundred episodes, I think they have plenty to work with down the road.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman 


Finished: June 11, 2017

Malerman was featured on The Outer Dark podcast sometime last year, I believe. I liked what he had to say and the title and description of the book intrigued me, plus they gave it high praise on the podcast, so I added it to Goodreads. Fast forward to this summer, and Goodreads tells me it’s on sale for $2, so I just had to give it a try!

My review:

Josh Malerman’s Bird Box was one of the more terrifying horror novels I’ve read in a while. There are a number of scenes that are so suspenseful that you almost don’t want to find out what happens next. The scene in the bar was one of the more painful scenes for me. That was when I truly started admiring Malerman’s style and how intense his writing became. I binged half this book in a day because once it got rolling, it was hard to put down.

The only difficulty was the constant changes in perspective. It changes times a lot and sometimes it was difficult for me to pinpoint when a scene was happening and I had to reread sections. Overall this didn’t change how good the novel was, but it did make it slower to start. I definitely recommend it!
What I consider a 5-star book:

  1. Is it a fun read? Definitely! I actually found it hard to stop once I reached the halfway point.
  2. Would you recommend it to others? I’ve actually been dropping plot pieces to friends, describing the dystopian world and the claustrophobia of the blindness that Malerman is so good at. The premise alone sells this book, but the stellar writing is what makes me finish it.
  3. Would you re-read it? I typically don’t reread many books, but I would reread sections of this one. The writing was beautifully gruesome.
  4. Does it stick with you? Oh yes! Sometimes a bit too well. 😉

My overall rating? 5/5

Why I Love The Hobbit

I’m a professional woman with a full-time job.

Tonight I’m going to see the midnight showing of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.

Some people think these two statements don’t go together. For some reason folks have a hard time believing that an adult with a full plate of responsibilities would be interested in taking time off to go to a midnight showing of a movie, not to mention a fantasy film. Aren’t there more important things you could do with your time? Couldn’t you just wait to see it at another time?

These aren’t questions that are always stated, but I can still see them in the curious glances and the odd looks I get. People tend to be shocked when they find out that I’m such a big Lord of the Rings fan, at least until I start talking about it. This seems as good a time as any to explain why I have such an obsession with this franchise, and more specifically, the Desolation of Smaug film.

SmaugHow I met The Hobbit

I have to credit my discovery of The Hobbit from watching the Rankin/Bass version. I absolutely loved the songs, the animation, and all the little character quirks. It was a movie that I grew up with and one that I still rank up there on my favorites list along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Last Unicorn, and Flight of Dragons. It was a fun film as a child and as I got older I realized how rare and wonderful it was.

I’m pretty sure I read the book sometime before I got assigned to read it in High School, but I can’t say when that was exactly. I can say that it was one of my favorite reading assignments. It was a topic I could definitely write about.

Riddles in the Dark

My mother was an elementary teacher. Often I found myself in her classroom helping her clean up or wasting time while she finished getting her classroom and paperwork ready for the next day. I’m pretty sure this was common for teacher’s kids. You just get really used to being at school.

I was reading the Hobbit for maybe the second time, and I was going through a phase where I was asking all my sisters the riddles that Gollum asks Bilbo. It was fun to watch them try to figure it out, much as I had when I first picked up the book. It was only natural to follow this fun with writing a riddle on the board for my mother’s class the next day.

They were a group of fourth graders and all of them were curious and confused at the same time. They spent a few minutes at the beginning of class each day while the kids puzzled over what the answer could be. I’m certain my mom helped them out, she did have a class to run after all, but she thought it went over so well that I should put up another the next day. It didn’t take us long to run out of riddles, and we couldn’t find any good ones really online, so we did the next best thing. We started pulling out quotes from the book and put them up instead.

It only lasted a few weeks, but the kids in the classroom loved it. It’s cool that they got to try to unravel some interesting word puzzles. Most of them had likely not read The Hobbit, so they were really at more of a disadvantage than I was as the reader. After all, I could just glance at the next few lines to see the answer. Some of the riddles were tough too. I like to think that a few of those kids looked at words a bit differently after that.

The Tainted Woods of Mirkwood

When I was a kid, I would go exploring through the woods in our subdivision all the time. My sisters and I spent a good chunk of our childhood in the woods exploring, building forts from sticks, and just getting into trouble. The idea that a disease could come across an entire forest, causing a species of enormous, dark creatures to turn it into their new home intrigued me. The fact that they took the form of giant insects was just downright frightening.

That isn’t the only adventure Bilbo has in Mirkwood though. He also has to deal with the wood elves, King Thranduil’s people, who are terribly mischievous. These scenes are reminiscent of fairy lore in how Bilbo is never sure how much of what he’s seeing is real or not. When you do finally meet the people, they aren’t at all how the typical elves are portrayed. Their elven guards don’t always do what they should and the frequent parties cause many to indulge perhaps too much in wine. They are in many ways counter to the typical view of elves. They are more hunters than magic wielders like the otherworldly elves of Rivendell or Lothelorien. They rely on stealth, speed, and guerrilla tactics; which honestly made me like them all the more. After all, those were the same tactics I might use.

King Thranduil is an especially interesting character. There are some in-depth character analyses of him if you’re interested. He is really just as much a villain as Smaug, but he walks that line quite carefully. He has a multitude of reasons for why he does the things he does, definitely moreso than Smaug does, but that certainly doesn’t make his actions less cruel. He’s what I would call a “lovable bad guy”, or any bad guy who doesn’t quite fit the mold. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter is the first character that comes to mind, but there are dozens more.

The Cleverness of Dragons

It’s difficult for me to explain the impact Smaug had on me, being so little when I first watched the Rankin/Bass film. He was unlike most of the villains you saw at the time, and didn’t seem cruel simply for the sake of being so. He was arrogant and greedy, yes, but he was also undeniably clever. If he was allowed to keep what he had stolen, he would have been a rather quiet neighbor. There is a great build-up of Smaug in the novel as this powerful foe, and maybe a few mentions of his keen wit, but it wasn’t revered to the same level as his fire, his ferocity, and his strength. Indeed Smaug shows how dangerous he is not by murdering thousands, not by destroying buildings, and not by burning people alive; he does it through speech. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t done these terrible things, and they are mentioned, but really you don’t see Smaug in his true fury until he speaks to Bilbo.

You realize quickly that it is good that Bilbo is so very familiar with riddles because Smaug is the ultimate riddle. He is described as a one-man army, yet a common thread in the book is that looks and first impressions can be deceiving. He is a foe who has to be cracked with quick words and a sharp mind, not with anything so basic as a sword. He was perhaps the first intelligent, well-spoken, clever enemy that I ever saw, and I absolutely loved him for it.

There Are Flaws

To be fair, The Hobbit itself is not a perfect book. Tolkien wrote it for children, and so it leans more on the comical side compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I was younger, I adored it specifically because it was so very accessible. I couldn’t get through the Rings because it required a different level of concentration, and The Hobbit made for an excellent fantasy gateway drug you could say. Tolkien considered several times writing a more adult version of it, but I believe friends like C.S. Lewis talked him out of it. A second book on the same story, even if it was in a different style, would be overdone and simply felt repetitive, though today many wish he had written it.

Battles happen in The Hobbit, but you don’t really get to see them. You get to see the skirmishes that Bilbo takes part in, but since it is geared for children and Tolkien had seen war, it is completely understandable why he didn’t want to include it in the book. However its absence is keenly felt. It almost feels like a let-down that you aren’t inside the battles like you are in Rings. You know the battles happened, you see the damage and the fall-out, but since you aren’t a part of it, you can feel the censoring. Even kids can pick up on a missing part of the story.

Even still, The Hobbit is one of my favorite books, perhaps the favorite. I still love it even for all its flaws and weirdness. Even with it’s strange gaps and multitude of characters. As a writer I’ve learned that there is no such thing as a perfect book. It’s going to have problems. A book is a child of carefully molded love, and since people come with their own flaws, so do their creations.

So when someone asks me why I’m going to a midnight showing of Desolation of Smaug tonight, I’m going to explain how much the book has meant to me. I’m going to tell them how much I love how the creepy forests of Mirkwood, the caustic King Thranduil, and the silver-tongued Smaug. Or maybe I’ll just save myself the trouble and point to this post.

Review: The Color of Magic

The Color of MagicThis was a fabulous book. I admit when I first started, it took a bit to wrap my brain around the eclectic style and imagery that Pratchett uses. Once I got into the storyline though, it became a fun rollercoaster. Seriously, what is there not to love about place & time distortions happening in the middle of your storyline? His writing reminds me greatly of Douglas Adams’ work, as in they both make me laugh out loud and look ridiculous wherever I’m reading.

Will definitely be continuing this series!

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellLet me start by saying that the world building involved in the creation of this book is phenomenal. You don’t quite get how detailed it is when you first pick it up. You don’t understand the magnitude. Then you reach your first footnote, and then it dawns on you. Not only has Clarke breathed life into these diversified characters, but behind them is an enormous tapestry that serves as the backdrop for their world.

Having just finished this giant 920-page behemoth, I think I’ll start with what made me love it and rave so fondly over it.

I. The Pros

Picturesque World

The world feels like it’s been painted on a canvas. From the battlefields of Waterloo to the sleepy, cozy visage of Venice. Clarke has quite a way with her descriptions, and at times it feels as though her world makes more sense than our own. In this world, magic isn’t something questioned or pondered about over a cup of coffee, there was actually a king with one foot in the real world and another foot in the magical world of fairy (don’t worry, I’ll get to the historical aspects of the fairy world in a little bit.) Magic is something that need only be awakened to give it power. It exists just beneath the surface, and all it takes is a scratch to bring it forth. Magic though has grown out of taste, so to speak, and the world has forgotten it. The history has been rewritten to better suit the tastes of those in the present, and therefore there does not seem to be any real need to explore magic further – especially not the magic of the aforementioned king.

Two Rage-Inducing Protagonists

A surprising aspect of this book is that the magician who you will likely identify with better isn’t introduced until well into the novel. I suppose when you have so much heft to your manuscript, you can afford to belay your star character until a little later on. Mr. Norrell isn’t a bad guy exactly, he is just very particular. That is to say, he’s stuffy, socially awkward, and despises change. So it’s surprising to see that he is the main instigator in the revitilization of English magic. At times he can be insipid, simple-minded, cruel, and a downright thief. However, you understand why he does it. You don’t approve of his actions, but you don’t think he should be shot for it either. He’s a rather unlikeable main character, and then once he surrounds himself with scoundrels like Drawlight and Lascelles, he becomes a bit of a puppet between the two.

Then comes Jonathan Strange, an entirely different type of magician. He is gregarious and sociable, but since he has more wealth than he knows what to do with, he ends up going into magic out of boredom. Once Strange becomes Norrell’s pupil, that’s when the real meat of the novel comes forth. It takes a good chunk of the book to get to this point of course, but the build-up is quite worth it. When Strange goes to assist the British military in the Napoleonic wars, and then is targeted by the fairy “gentleman with the thistle-down hair”, you find yourself pulling at your hair. He never does what you want him to do, when he ought to do it. He can be very short-sighted, and (as apparently many magicians do), buries his head in books for far too long.

This is quite an interesting set of characters for the reader to be rooting for, but you do indeed find yourself understanding both sides of their tale.

Land of the Fairies

The way that the fairy world is handled was perhaps my favorite aspect of the book. Frequently in folklore fairies are seen as tricksters, deceivers, and shape-shifters. It’s amusing to see how an entire land of the fairy world could be so similar to the real world, but not quite the same at all. Seemingly innocent locations are turned into horrific scenes of slavery and servitude, and arrogant or overly curious bystanders could find themselves forever trapped in a spell. The fairy world isn’t just a place down the road, or in another country, it appears as another reality, and frequently overlaps with the real world in ways that you wouldn’t imagine.

At one point when Strange views this disconnection of worlds, he watches a man walk down a typical street, deftly dodging various tree branches in the fairy realm which he can’t see, but intuitively knows that they are there. It’s a subtle magic, and the craziness of the fairies reminded me very much of the Endless seen in the Sandman series, though not nearly as cohesive. The main fairy that we follow is arrogant, petulant, and his powers are too great for him to manage them properly.

II. The Cons

Worth the Time to Read

I am a very slow reader. I take my time with books, especially ones as complex as this, so it was quite a time commitment for me to choose to read this book. My friends had been urging me to give it a try, promising that I would love it. At over 900 pages (in my eBook copy at least), that was a difficult decision. I could easily see this being divided up into three parts like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the plot is so complex that I imagine some readers would find it hard to pick up where the story left off.

Unsatisfying Ending

The ending, though it closes all the loose ends so to speak, didn’t leave me very satisfied. I wanted to find out more, and I wanted to know the ultimate fate of our two main characters. The fact that this wasn’t clear made me a bit sad, but to be honest, when writing a book this long I could imagine she was reluctant to add even more onto it with a more detailed ending. I would have stayed along for the ride, though I could see some jumping the bandwagon when it went beyond 1k pages.

Footnotes Galore

The footnotes take some getting used to. They span several pages, and can be quite engrossing. The end result is that you’ll find yourself reading through pages of footnotes at the end of a chapter, and forget what was going on in the main storyline. It’s truly a testament to the breath and depth of Clarke’s world, but especially on some eReader devices, I could see this causing problems. My personal copy didn’t link back easily to the original footnote, and frequent bookmarks can cause confusion. It takes the flow out of the writing somewhat, but usually the footnote stories are quite enjoyable, so I honestly can’t count this against the book too much.

III. Final Rating

I can say without hesitation that this book was easy for me to give five stars on. Sure the length is intimidating, but that really shouldn’t dissuade you from trying it out. It’s worth the time, and you’ll appreciate it once you’ve finished it. Especially if you’re a fan of fantasy, surreal worlds, and the Victorian era.

  1. Is it a fun read? Absolutely! Toward the end of the book, I was having trouble putting it down, and flew through a few hundred pages without even realizing it. The build up can be slow, but the pay off is very worth it at the end.
  2. Would you recommend it to others? Oh yes, definitely. It’s probably going to be up there with epic fantasy tales that I love (I’m a die-hard LotR fan), and it will certainly influence my views of magicians from now on. This almost felt like a case study of two magicians, so I feel like I’ve been given a behind-the-scenes look at the daily troubles magicians have to deal with. Harry Potter has a lot of politics in his future, that’s for sure!
  3. Would you re-read it? Simply due to the length, I don’t think so. However I’m a big highlighter and note-taker. I’ve peppered my copy with plenty of markings to keep me entertained the next time I’m picking it up to flip through a few pages.
  4. Does it stick with you?Can’t you tell? 🙂 The original friend who recommended this book told me that she was disappointed when she got to the end. She had gotten so used to being immersed in this Victorian pseudo-realistic magical world that it was sad to have to leave it. I found I had the same trouble myself. It sticks with you so much, that you’re frustrated that you can’t find more written on this very eclectic mixing of genres and styles.Though, I guess I could hop over and read on The Ladies of Grace Adieu, but I think I’ve left my partially read Dark Tower Book 4 gathering dust for too long, and I need time to digest this book a bit more. For such a long read, it’s going to be with me for quite some time.