Sunshine

This is the book that should have received all the frenzied attention that Twilight has gotten. The vampires in it are terrifying, obviously unhuman – not sparkly and swoony. Constantine is written alien-like (and rightly so). Sunshine herself is strong, interesting and sufficiently sarcastic to make this book well-balanced. Sometimes you’re frightened for her, other times, she’s making you laugh with her inner monologue. McKinley does a fantastic job of communicating to us that the relationship between Sunshine and Constantine is an anomaly, the world they live in is very dangerous and there are creatures on both sides who would see them used for their own means. Throughout the entire story, I was desperately hoping for an ending that was somewhat resolved (unlike McKinley’s Pegasus books) and was pretty convinced I wasn’t going to get one.

I’d love to see more books set in this universe. I know McKinley has stated she’s done with Sunshine and Constantine’s story, but I sincerely hope there are more stories to be offered up out of this rich world of magic, vampires, weres, and a section of the police force dedicated to the protection of humanity against Others.

Also, a recipe book? Because I really want to know what Bitter Chocolate Death and those famous cinnamon rolls taste like. The entire book had my mouth watering whenever I read a section set in Charlie’s or as Sunshine was baking.

 

“Sunshine” was written by Robin McKinley and published in 2004.

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The Dark Glory War

My husband recommended this book for me, and generally I trust his recommendations. And this book was certainly fabulous for most of my reading experience. I very much enjoyed the world Stackpole created for us to immerse ourselves in – the masks were an interesting and enriching part of the story. But I felt like I couldn’t really get close to any of the characters. I wanted to, but they felt formal and distant. Tarrant a little less than the others, obviously.

My biggest problem with this book was the ending. Stackpole led us into this fantastic geographical area, set up the bones for an amazing plot, and then had the main character lose consciousness. Then, the author gilded over what could have been a chance for great character and plot development and simply ended the book. Maybe this was because this book is meant to be a prequel to another series, but it was completely frustrating to myself as a reader and soured my desire to read the next book in the series.

 

“The Dark Glory War” is a prequel to the DragonCrown War Cycle and was written by Michael Stackpole.  It was published in 2000.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

“The boy had been crouched so long that his legs had fallen asleep beneath him – but he dared not move now.  For here, in a small clearing in the frostbitten forest, were the creatures he had waited so long to see.  The creatures he’d been sent to kill.  He bit down on his lip to keep his teeth from chattering, and aimed his father’s flintlock rifle exactly as he’d been taught. The body, he remembered, The body, not the neck. Quietly, carefully he pulled the hammer back and pointed the barrel at his target, a large male who’d fallen behind the others.  Decades later, the boy would recall what happened next.”

 

This is the newest (or at least when I read it, it was) in the popular strain of horror mashups that have been coming out the last few years.  This isn’t so much a mash-up as it is a fictional retelling of the story of President Abraham Lincoln.  The general flow of his life (leaving his father on terrible terms, being handy with an axe, working on a riverboat up and down the Mississippi) is the same, but with the introduction of vampires.  His mother was killed by one and since his early childhood, Lincoln has sworn to hunt and kill vampires wherever he finds them.  He’s aided in his mission by a friendly but unorthodox vampire who will send him names of blood drinkers that need to be slain for the good of the country.  Along the road to the Presidency, Lincoln comes to have a personal interest in eradicating slavery from the land of the United States – vampires are using it to gain power in the political machine of the US government.

 

This book is fantastic.  Not only is it written by the same author as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” so it has a quirky sense of humor, but he weaves the story of President Lincoln into a story including himself as the author.  It helps you to keep in mind that this story is a fiction – which may be hard to do because it is so well written.  It follows the journals of Lincoln as they have been kept by a society for the preservation of the truth about what really happened in the Civil War and the years preceding it as it pertained to vampires.  Also, Grahame-Smith has included helpful “historically accurate” photographs of points during Lincoln’s life which prove the existence of vampires.

 

While not necessarily a good biography on Lincoln to read for a school project, it most certainly is interesting and entertaining.  I’m not going to count this as my presidential bio for Lincoln, but I wouldn’t mind owning this book just for the sake of owning a great book.  If you like vampire books (without the glitter and the romance) and you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book as a good read.  And I’m anticipating reading whatever Grahame-Smith puts on the shelves next.

 

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” was written by Seth Grahame-Smith and published in 2010.

Ella Minnow Pea

“Dear Cousin Tassie,

Thank you for the lovely postcards.  I trust that you and Aunt Mittie had a pleasant trip, and that all your stateside friends and paternal relations are healthy and happy.  Much has happened during your one-month sojourn off-island.  Perhaps your Village neighbors have apprised you. Or you may have glanced at one of the editions of The Island Tribune that have, no doubt, accumulated on your doorstep.  However, I will make the safest assumption that you have yet to be offered the full account of certain crucial events of the last few days (tucked away as you and your mother are in your quiet and rustic little corner of our island paradise), and inform you of the most critical facts pertaining to such events.  You’ll find it all, if nothing else, quite interesting.”

In a series of letters back and forth between two cousins – Ella and Tassie – we are introduced to a most confusing and interesting situation unfolding on the island of Nollop.  This small island was named after the man who came up with that icon of a sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  In the center of the sovereign nation of a tiny island stands a monument with the phrase mounted upon it, and the residents are dismayed as one by one the letters begin to fall off the plaque they are placed on.  As each letter drops, the ruling council is of the opinion that the will of Nollop is deciding to strike the letter from existence.  Therefore, the residents are steadily deprived of the use of each consonant and vowel as it tumbles and shatters.  If they use the forbidden letters, the consequences grow ever more grave, culminating in banishment or death.  Tassie and Ella, along with a small underground group of rebels have come up with a plan to save the letters of their small town and country, if they can manage it in time.

The supremely creative aspect of this book is the correspondence itself.  Each letter taken away is banned on the island, therefore the writers of these (very) public and censored missives can no longer use them, so the author has placed the same restrictions on himself.  Therefore, when the letter Z is forbidden, the letter Z no longer appears in any of the ladies’ correspondence.  Which may seem quite simple until you lose letters such as I, S, H, and D.  And especially when one’s name includes some of the forbidden letters.

The story itself is quite simple and the characters only alive through their written letters, but the concept itself is engaging enough to warrant a read.  Also, it stretches your brain to consider the possibilities of not having each and every one of our 26 letters at your disposal.  As each letter is dropped from their usage, the writers must find other words to substitute or simplify and still communicate what they wish.  Utter creativity is required from both the author and the reader, challenging both simultaneously.  Any book lover or writer should definitely dive into this book.

“Ella Minnow Pea” was written by Mark Dunn and published in 2001.

The Girl With No Shadow

“It is a relatively little-known fact that, over the course of a single year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead.  People forget to stop the mail – those grieving widows and prospective heirs – and so magazine subscriptions remain uncanceled; distant friends unnotified; library fines unpaid.  That’s twenty million circulars, bank statements, credit cards, love letters, junk mail, greetings, gossip and bills dropping daily onto doormats or parquet floors, thrust casually through railings, wedged into letter boxes, accumulating in stairwells, left unwanted on porches and steps, never to reach their addressee.  The dead don’t care.  More importantly, neither do the living.  The living just follow their petty concerns, quite unaware that very close by, a miracle is taking place.  The dead are coming back to life.”

In the sequel to the critically acclaimed book “Chocolat”, we catch up with Vianne and Anouk Rocher after they’ve moved on from Lansquenet-sous-Tannes.  They are now living in Paris, with Vianne having had another daughter, the impish and capricious Rosette – now four.  The family is living under different names, caretakers of a rented chocolate shop.  Vianne has completely given up her magics in order to protect her daughters.  She’s in a relationship with a stable Parisian named Thierry and is trying to convince herself she’s happy with this normal life.  Then Zozie blows into their neighborhood.  Entrancing all she meets, Zozie is flamboyant, beautiful, and capable of powers similar to Vianne’s.  Quickly setting her sights on her fellow witch, Zozie befriends Anouk and Vianne.  But as she grows closer and more depended on by the little family, Vianne comes to realize that Zozie is after much more than friendship and her family is in the most danger it could possibly be in.  She will have to make a choice between the life she has created and the life she is running from and pay a price for either choice she makes.

If you’re expecting another delightfully sweet book like “Chocolat” in this sequel, you’ll be a bit disappointed.  While reading Chocolat, you inevitably begin to crave sweets, you love all the characters – even finding room in your heart for the curate in the end.  In this book, the sense of danger is always present – and sometimes overwhelming.  Zozie is a menacing character who you get to know right away, as she is one of the three narrators, but the other characters are slow to catch on to her true personality.  Which to me is positively infuriating.

However, if you are a fan of Joanne Harris’s other works – such as “Holy Fools” or “Five Quarters of the Orange” then this book will be right up your way.  She manages the valance of characters brilliantly, switching from Vianne to Anouk to Zozie – which feels effortless except for the fact that all three have similar voices when it comes to magical matters (the entire last third of the book).  You know right away who the villainess is, posing Vianne and Zozie against each other before Vianne even knows it, with Anouk bouncing around in the middle.  Once again, Harris has wonderful word choice and descriptive abilities.  She can bring their little corner of Paris to life in a few swift sentences, placing you in the center of the battle.  Which is the best place to be in a book like this.

“The Girl With No Shadow” was originally titled “The Girl with the Lollipop Shoes” in the United Kingdom.  It was written by Joanne Harris and published in 2007.

…James K. Polk fought Mexico to keep it [Texas]…

James K. Polk was our 11th President and served from March 4,  1845 to March 5, 1849.

Nicknames: Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

Quote: “I prefer to supervise the whole operations of the Government myself rather than entrust the public business to subordinates and this makes my duties very great.”

I read the biography “Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America” by Walter R. Borneman.  Here’s what I learned:

  • up until the election of JFK, when asked to list the top ten US Presidents, historians AND laypeople both consistently put Polk at number 8 or 9, sometimes ahead of George Washington
  • he was of Scotch-Irish descent
  • born in North Carolina in November, 1795
  • growing up, he was constantly in poor health due to urinary tract infections and urinary stones; he had surgery at age 17 with no anasthesia but brandy
  • in 1816, he attended the University of North Carolina and graduated in 1818 with honors
  • his room mate was a future Florida governor
  • he was considered Andrew Jackson’s protege
  • he began his political career as a clerk in the Tennessee Senate while pursuing a law degree
  • in 1823, he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives
  • married socialite Sarah Childress on Jan 1, 1824
  • one of his close friends was a man named Davy Crockett
  • in 1825, he was elected to the Tennessee Congress for the first of five terms
  • was elected governor of Tennessee in 1839
  • he lost two subsequent elections for Tennessee Governor and his political career was considered over
  • then, in 1844, he went from not even an option to becoming the unanimous Democratic candidate for President in under 24 hours, saving a deadlocked convention stuck between Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass
  • his candidacy for President was the first to be announced via telegraph
  • he was also the first President to fail to get his own states electoral votes and still win
  • took a very personal interest and responsibility in micromanaging his office and laid down the strictest instructions for his cabinet of any President, including: all members must support the principles of the Democratic party, in order to run for President or another office they would be required to resign their Cabinet position, they were expected to stay in the capitol at all times except Christmas
  • his Vice President was George Dallas
  • during his Presidency, the brunt of the Oregon Trail was founded
  • the disputed “Oregon Territory” with Great Britain at that time was actually Washington state
  • he attended First Presbyterian church in the capitol regularly and refused visitors on Sundays except in dire circumstances
  • favorite foods (via The Awl) – Ham, corn pone, omelets
  • right before the conflict with Mexico, he told General Taylor to attack any Mexican forces north of the Rio Grande River to protect Texas
  • at the beginning of the Mexican-American War, Mexico owed American merchants over five million dollars
  • on May 13, 1846 we declared war on Mexico
  • he penned the phrase used by many Presidents about how long a war would last – “no more men will be called out and no more money expended than will be absolutely necessary to bring the present state of hostilities to an end.”
  • he nearly brought the U.S. to war with Great Britain and Mexico at the same time with the conflicts over Texas and the Oregon Territories, especially when his Secretary of State, James Buchanan, got involved
  • then, by trying to get California as well, he risked war with Mexico, Great Britain, France, and Russia
  • he was the President who began the transition of power to declare war from the legislative branch (Congress) to the executive branch (the President)
  • he formed the constitutional treasury, the pre-cursor to the Federal Reserve System
  • his Presidential Cabinet was the first to have a group photo taken
  • New Mexico territory was claimed during his term
  • Abraham Lincoln considered him a power hungry maniac
  • Polk laid the cornerstone of the Washington Monument
  • Cave Johnson, his Postmaster General, was the inventor of the pre-paid postage stamp to place on mail, to ensure the postal service would get paid
  • Polk authorized the creation of the Department of the Interior, although he had some doubts
  • He made 5 campaign promises while running for President and he kept all 5 of them: he would only run for one term, he would resolve the Oregon Territory in favor of the US with Great Britain, he would reduce the tariff to a revenue basis, he would form an independent government treasury, and he would secure California and the Southwest for the United States
  • he took a long tour through the South after leaving office on his way to his new retirement home in Tennessee, Polk Place
  • he died, probably of cholera and overwork from his term as President, 4 months after leaving office and after only 13 days at Polk Place, on June 15, 1849
  • his wife, Sarah, had the longest widowhood of any First Lady – 42 years
  • his grave was in the front yard of Polk Place until Sarah died
  • during the Civil War, both sides respected President and Mrs. Polk so much that they made a point never to attack Polk Place and generals from both sides would come to call on Mrs. Polk peaceably

<— John Tyler **********  Zachary Taylor —>

Post title taken from Jonathan Coulton’s “The Presidents”

The Year of the Flood

“In the early morning Toby climbs up to the rooftop to watch the sunrise.  She uses a mop handle for balance: the elevator stopped working some time ago and the back stairs are slick with damp, so if she slips and topples there won’t be anyone to pick her up.  As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swath of trees between her and the derelict city.  The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it’s been raining.  The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef – bleached and colorless, devoid of life.”

Skipping back and forth between time and narrators, “Flood” tells the story of the end of the modern world.  We travel alongside Toby and Ren – two girls from very different backgrounds who both end up in The Gardeners.  One of a plethora of religious/political groups at the end of organized civilization’s timeline, The Gardeners are strict vegetarians who will only eat meat to save their lives.  They live in small communes throughout the remainder of the world’s cities, growing their own gardens on rooftops and in basements, running their own schools, and practicing their own religions.  Toby and Ren play very different roles in their commune, but when a virus breaks out and decimates the world’s population, they are two of the spared.  Both find themselves trapped in semi-safe buildings but forced to make a choice between hiding and dying where they are or fighting for their lives out in the open among genetically-engineered animals, psychotic prison escapees, and things which they can not even imagine.

This is supposedly sort of a prequel to “Oryx and Crake” (who do make appearances, along with Snowman), but since “Oryx and Crake” is supposedly an alternate dimensional option to “The Handmaid’s Tale”…I’ll just let you figure out how they all fit together.  The events in “Flood” happen intermixed with the events in “Crake”, only to different people.  At any rate, I enjoyed this book much more than I did “Crake”.  Possibly because Toby and Ren were both simply trying to survive rather than trying to destroy the world like Crake was.  Much more personable.  And I empathized a great deal with Toby.  Not because she and I have anything in common, but because her character was so beautifully honest about everything she went through – whether it was her lack of faith in the Gardeners or being forced to challenge all her morals about killing another person.  Ren I did not enjoy reading about as much, but I still liked.  Her relationship with Jimmy seemed a little forced, and her relationship with Jessica was uncomfortable and confusing.

Still, I think I would have liked reading “Crake” a lot more had I read this book first.  “Crake” was convoluted and high-toned, while “Flood” was personable and clarified so many things about this dystopian world which would have helped me understand what happened in “Crake.”  I enjoyed this book far more, not only for the characters but for the story and the paths it took.  It’s format is in books and years, told from the head Gardener, Adam One’s, point of view at the beginning and then shifting from Ren to Toby or vice versa.  If you plan on reading “Crake”, I would highly recommend you reading this book first, as it will make a lot of things more clear.  (Although, if I had read them in the opposite order I may be saying the opposite).  They both are wonderful dystopian reads, with “Crake” having a bit more of a preachy tone simply by being about Crake.

“The Year of the Flood” was written by Margaret Atwood and published in