My Favorite Reads – The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, Volume One

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, Volume One by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones, III, introduction by Karen Berger.

From the back cover: The Sandman is the most acclaimed and award-winning comics series of the 1990s for good reason: a smart and deeply brooding epic, elegantly penned by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by a rotating cast of comics’ most sought-after artists, it is a rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama, and legend are all seamlessly interwoven.  The saga of The Sandman encompasses a series of tales unique in graphic literature and is a story you will never forget.

Preludes & Nocturnes introduces readers to a dark and enchanting world of dreams and nightmares — the home of The Sandman, Master of Dreams, and his kin, The Endless.  This first collection of Neil Gaiman’s multi-award-winning title introduces key themes and characters, combining myth, magic, and black humor.

My thoughts: Since this is the last week for My Favorite Reads, I wanted to end with something appropriate for Halloween since it is just a few days away.  Neil Gaiman is an author who ranks among my favorites and I thought this was a perfect pick to end on.

I’m not a comic reader but my husband does pick them up once in a while.  I’m not sure how this came into my hands, but considering how much I adore Gaiman’s writing, why not try his comics as well.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but at the end, I was left wondering why I don’t read more of these.

The Sandman is a complicated character and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel sorry for him or be revolted.  I was both but oddly there’s a human quality to him that also makes you feel sorry for him; although I can’t say that for some of the others in this comic.  The family aspect is fantastic as well and what can I say about the artwork.  It’s phenomenal.  It’s enough to provide guidance in the story but doesn’t anticipate too much so that you stop imagining the story yourself.

There are 11 volumes in this series.  I haven’t read past Preludes & Nocturnes but it might be time to pick up a few more.

Thanks to Alyce for hosting My Favorite Reads.  It’s been fun sharing my favorites.

My Favorite Reads – The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

Description: The leather bound version that is my book does not have a description on the back or inside cover.  It’s a collection of short stories by the author, 61 stories in fact, and includes a number of his well-known pieces that many are probably familiar with such as: Ligeia, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy, The Pit and the Pendulum, Tell-Tale Heart, and The Cask of Amontillado among many others.

If you would like more information on Edgar Allan Poe, the Wikipedia page has a lot of information about his life and work, the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore allows one to read his stories, and lists several as well.

My thoughts: Being that it is the month of October, I thought this book of short stories would be an interesting one to highlight.  At some point, we’ve all probably read a Poe tale or two, most likely in high school/college English classes.   When I’m craving a good, creepy story and one that will leave me wondering hours later, I pick this one off the shelf.  Earlier this year I re-read Ligeia and The Fall of the House of Usher both of which were originally read in high school.  I believe I also wrote a paper on Ligeia in college for an English class.

Each time I re-read these stories I find something new to appreciate — the use of language, the stillness of the stories, and the gothic nature.  I don’t think these stories are for everyone but for me they scream Halloween (yes, pun intended).

There is a Poe House and Museum in Baltimore that I have yet to get to but someday I plan to make the short drive up and visit.  He’s a writer that always seems to fascinate and give me the creeps.

My Favorite Reads – I Am Legend

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.

From the back cover: Robert Neville the last living man on Earth…but he is not alone.  Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville’s blood.

By day, he is a hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization.  By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.

How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?

My thoughts: I know what you’re thinking…not another vampire book.  Recently, I featured The Historian, and yep, I seem to be feeling a theme.  OK readers, it is October, let’s all have a bit o’ creepy fun.  🙂  I know we’re all sick of the vampire thing but humor me — these are the GOOD ones.

I Am Legend is not your typical vampire book.  In fact, it’s more like science fiction.  (As a side note, this book was written in the 50s but takes place in the mid-70s.)  The world that Robert Neville lives in has been decimated by a disease and that disease has turned the world’s population into bloody thirsty fiends.  He spends his days alone trying not to descend into the darkness that inhabits his mind and of course vampire proofing his house and trawling empty grocery and hardware stores for supplies.  In many ways, it’s worse than actually facing the vampire hordes because all of what he experiences is more than possible without the vampire threat looming in the background.  The depression that comes from loneliness, the vampire-imposed confinement, and the vampire taunts that lull him to sleep each night only add to the tension.  In addition to being a vampire book, it’s also a psychological study into how much we as humans can take mentally.

The ending, and no I won’t be revealing too much here, is a strange bit of irony in that Robert Neville becomes the hunted.  I won’t say it’s a twist on the vampire tale but it makes for a much more exciting ending, at least for me.

Will Smith stared in the movie that came out in 2007.  Here’s the I Am Legend IMDB page if you’re interested.  I liked the movie but much was changed, and while it was good, I preferred the book.  Did you expect me to say anything else?!  🙂

My Favorite Reads – Angela’s Ashes

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.

From Frank McCourt’s haunting memoir takes on new life when the author reads from his Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Recounting scenes from his childhood in New York City and Limerick, Ireland, McCourt paints a brutal yet poignant picture of his early days when there was rarely enough food on the table, and boots and coats were a luxury. In a melodic Irish voice that often lends a gentle humor to the unimaginable, the author remembers his wayward yet adoring father who was forever drinking what little money the family had. He recounts the painful loss of his siblings to avoidable sickness and hunger, a proud mother reduced to begging for charity, and the stench of the sewage-strewn streets that ran outside the front door. As McCourt approaches adolescence, he discovers the shame of poverty and the beauty of Shakespeare, the mystery of sex and the unforgiving power of the Irish Catholic Church. This powerful and heart-rending testament to the resiliency and determination of youth is populated with memorable characters and moments, and McCourt’s interpretation of the narrative and the voices it contains will leave listeners laughing through their tears.

My thoughts: I don’t read memoirs.  To be honest, this is probably the only one I have ever read.  They aren’t part of my regular reading fare and I somehow don’t think that will change.  This particular book was recommended to me by a former co-worker about nine years ago and she actually lent me her book so I would read it.  She kept telling me how funny and sad the story was and I kept saying, “That’s great except I don’t read memoirs.”  Finally, I gave in and loved the book so much I bought my own copy.

It is funny, it’s also so sad that it did make me cry in places.  The poverty he experiences growing up, the hunger, the death, and the shame he feels for his family’s position are heart wrenching.  McCourt writes in such a way that even though you feel so hurt by his situation you also want to laugh because he found humor is so many little things in life.

If you don’t like memoirs, this would be an excellent starting point.  I can’t say it made me go out and buy another memoir but I found an appreciation for this genre in Frank McCourt’s story.

My Favorite Reads – The Historian

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

From the inside cover: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters.  The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of — a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known — and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out.  It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula.  Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself — to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world?  Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed — and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends?  The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from the dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe.  In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign — and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.

Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions — and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers — one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and confrontation with the very definition of evil.

My thoughts: I’m currently re-reading this book for The Historian Read Along, and even though I’m only a few pages in, I’m remembering just how much I liked this book, which of course is what led it to be my pick this Thursday.

It’s a slow book so while the description above may give the impression of people running fleetingly across Europe and dashing through the stacks at the library, no such luck.  It feels more like a running conversation with a meandering story told in between.  I don’t mean that the book is boring; it’s more a gradual build toward suspense than action.  The story itself is about research and the depths that historians go to for original sources.  If one is looking for the beginning of the vampire legend, one must look in dark places and both the father and the daughter do that here.

What I like most about this book is the almost hushed tones in which it’s told as though the whole secret cannot, and must not, be revealed instantly but unwrapped at an almost imperceptible pace that keeps the suspense building until the end.

Kostova is a wonderful storyteller and when the father sits down to tell his daughter his story, you feel as if you’re the daughter and his hushed voice is for your ears only.  It adds creepiness to the book that doesn’t ever leave as though you must vigilantly look over your shoulder each time you leave the house.

While bits of the story might feel rambling, I’m not bothered by it.  I patiently wait it out until I’m once again pulled in.  The language can also be somewhat flowery and over descriptive at times and can make the story feel heavy but it also fits with the dark backdrop.

If you’re interested in a vampire story that’s not all about bloodsucking hoards but a more a dark mystery, this one could be it.

My Favorite Reads – The Shipping News

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.

From the back cover: At thirty-six, Quoyle, a third-rate newspaperman, is wrenched violently out of his workaday life when his two-timing wife meets her just desserts.  He retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on the starkly beautiful Newfoundland coast, where a rich cast of local characters all play a part in Quoyle’s struggle to reclaim his life.  As three generations of his family cobble up new lives, Quoyle confronts his private demons — and the unpredictable forces of nature and society — and begins to see the possibility of love without pain or misery.

My thoughts: I haven’t thought about this book in years but when I was flipping around the movie channels about a week or so ago, I came across the movie and remembered how much I loved this book.

Quoyle is such a sad character but you love him, mostly because you feel so bad for him at the beginning, but when he starts to realize that life has some good parts, you really love him.  The family dynamics are fantastic and you can laugh, get annoyed, and cry at all their lives.  I also adored the way Proulx adds cultural touches to the book that feel so right and not added on to fit with the setting.  Everything and everyone belongs.

This book was published in 1993 but if you see a copy around, give it a try.  You’ll be delighted and justly rewarded.

My Favorite Reads – The Wordy Shipmates

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell.

From the inside cover: To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but Vowell investigates what that means — and what it should mean.  What was this great political enterprise all about?  Who were these people who are considered the philosophical, spiritual, and moral ancestors of our nation?  What Vowell discovers is something far different from what their uptight shoe-buckles-and-corn reputation might suggest.  The people she finds are highly literate, deeply principled, and surprisingly feisty.  Their story is filled with pamphlet feuds, witty courtroom dramas, and bloody vengeance.  Along the way she asks:

Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christ-like Christian, or conformity’s tyrannical enforcer?  Answer: Yes!

Was Rhode Island’s architect, Roger Williams, America’s founding freak or the father of the First Amendment?  Same difference.

What does it take to get that jezebel Anne Hutchinson to shut up? A hatchet.

What was the Puritan’s pet name for the Pope? The Great Whore of Babylon.

Sarah Vowell’s special brand of armchair history makes the bazaar and esoteric fascinatingly relevant and fun.  She takes us from the modern-day reenactments of an Indian massacre to the Mohegan Sun casino, from the old-timey Puritan poetry, where “righteousness” is rhymed with “wildness,” to a Mayflower-themed waterslide.  Throughout, The Wordy Shipmates is rich in historical fact, humorous insight, and social commentary by one of America’s most celebrated voices.  Thou shalt enjoy it.

My thoughts: One caution about the book — if you’re looking for a purely historical read, you won’t find it here. A short book, only 254 pages, it reads more like a dissertation rather than an in-depth historical look at the time period. Her topic is well focused and she doesn’t divert from what she has set out to research — the letters of the men inhabiting the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Don’t get me wrong, what she does fill the page with are wonderful and witty insights that will make you laugh about the sheer silliness of history.

She talks about the sometimes trifling events that made America what it is today and includes a few road trips to examine some things first hand.  While she doesn’t provide much in terms of the history of the very early Puritans, her work is focused on the words of the men (let’s be honest, it was all about the men at the time), one is left with an odd but very insightful interpretation of the types of people who were setting out to found a new land.

Vowell has a few other books out, one in particular called Assassination Vacation that I want to read.  She has a great sense of humor and can make a topic like the Puritans seems like a comedy.

My Favorite Reads – My Life in France

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.

From the inside cover: In her own words, here is the captivating story of Julia Child’s years in France, where she fell in love with French food and found her “true calling.”

From the moment the ship docked in Le Havre in the fall of 1948 and Julia watched the well-muscled stevedores unloading the cargo to the first perfectly soigné meal that and her husband, Paul, savored in Rouen en route to Paris, where he was to work for the USIS, Julia had an awakening that changed her life. Soon this tall, outspoken gal from Pasadena, California, who didn’t speak a word of French and knew nothing about the country, was steeped in the language, chatting with purveyors in the local markets and enrolled in the Cordon Bleu.

After managing to get her degree despite the machinations of the disagreeable directrice of the school, Julia started teaching cooking classes herself, then teamed up with two fellow gourmettes, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, to help them with a book they were trying to write on French cooking for Americans. Throwing herself heart and soul into making it a unique and thorough teaching book, only to suffer several rounds of painful rejection, is part of the behind-the-scenes drama that Julia reveals with in inimitable gusto and disarming honesty.

Filled with the beautiful black-and-white photographs that Paul loved to take when he was not battling bureaucrats, as well as family snapshots, this memoir is laced with wonderful stories about the French character, particularly in the world of food, and the way of life that Julia embraced so wholeheartedly. Above all, she reveals the kind of spirit and determination, the sheer love of cooking, and the drive to share that with her fellow Americans that made her the extraordinary success she became.

My thoughts: I have always wanted to be able to cook like Julia Child. Her love of food is contagious in this book and the frank almost off-hand way she tells the story is wonderful. It’s as if she’s sitting next to you telling the story. It’s more than just food but the way food becomes such a large and totally encompassing part of her, and her husband’s, life during their years in France and how a woman, who didn’t know how to cook at all, found herself the icon of French cooking.

I have one of her small cookbooks in my kitchen that is ratty, food stained, and dog earned. I reference it often when I’m trying to cook something I bought and realized had no idea what to do with when I got home. It’s called Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom and is by far one of the best cookbooks I ever bought. She has a way of breaking down a recipe so easily and making it sounds as if you can make the most complicated of dishes with ease.

Memoirs are not a genre I frequent but having watched Julia on PBS for years I had to read this book. It’s just as funny as she is on the show and the stories she tells about learning French, learning to cook, and finding her way in a country and culture very foreign to her is unforgettable. Not only a good cook, she’s a great story-teller as well.

This book was finished after Julia died in 2004 by her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme but none of her voice is lost. The photographs are absolutely fabulous as well.

I don’t have copies of The Art of French Cooking but if you were to ask me what two books I covet most in the world, it would be The Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2. I should admit that I don’t cook a lot of French food and rarely follow a recipe, I mostly look at recipes for ideas, but these are two books I know I would find use for.