Monthly Archives:: February 2009

Blog Tour for DROOD

February 27, 2009 Book Reviews, Books 16

Drood by Dan Simmons

Drood by Dan Simmons

Drood
By Dan Simmons

Little, Brown, 2009
784 pages

On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens–at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world–hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.

Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?

Just as he did in The Terror, Dan Simmons draws impeccably from history to create a gloriously engaging and terrifying narrative. Based on the historical details of Charles Dickens’s life and narrated by Wilkie Collins (Dickens’s friend, frequent collaborator, and Salieri-style secret rival), DROOD explores the still-unsolved mysteries of the famous author’s last years and may provide the key to Dickens’s final, unfinished work: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Chilling, haunting, and utterly original, DROOD is Dan Simmons at his powerful best.

From the moment I heard about Drood, I knew I had to read it.  I love Charles Dickens well enough, but I adore Wilkie Collins.  To have both of them, fictionalized in all their glory… well it was a no-brainer.  I knew I had to read it.  So thank you Miriam at Little, Brown, for sending it to me!

From the very beginning, Simmons immerses the reader in 19th Century England. It’s all very English, very Victorian, and you just know you are in for a finely crafted tale. Simmons knows exactly what he’s doing too, as he sets the stage for the mystery and suspense that builds, and builds, and builds over the many pages to the ending. Dark and stormy nights; opium dens complete with Chinese kings; dodgy (and gigantic) detectives; the fine ‘art’ of mesmerism; all and more are intricately woven into this tale of two men; once friends, collaborators, good-natured competitors and now bitter rivals.

As the tale progresses, the reader is introduced to a new, dark, dangerous London, complete with nameless Wild Boys, retched sewers, dark Cathedrals, graveyards, and the menacing, mysterious Drood. The novel is very Dickensian, with many cliffhangers and foreshadowing of the doom to come. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do, the rest of this gigantic novel moves by quickly as you are caught up by the gripping and enthralling tale. Simmons has clearly done his research. I almost felt as if I were reading Collins’s (the narrator) own journal as he divulged the deepest, darkest secrets of his soul. Simmons does not always paint a flattering portrait of Collins or Dickens. Collins comes out as a drug-addicted madman who sees ghosts and his doppelganger on a regular basis. Dickens is a spoiled, self-righteous brat who discards his wife (and mother of his nine children) to have an affair with a woman many, many years his junior. However, it all merely adds up to make these two men’s lives all the more fascinating and their rivalry stuff of legend.

By the end, I hated to see it all come to a close. Despite their flaws, I had a new appreciation for Dickens (who has never been a particular favorite of mine) and I had forgiven Simmons for creating in Collins such an outrageous and ridiculous fanatic. The ending, while not what I was expecting (especially with a particularly good fake-out), was compelling and delightful and dead entertaining.

Dan Simmons is the award-winning author of several novels, including the New York Times bestsellers Olympos and The Terror. He lives in Colorado.

Some fun goodies:

  • Audio excerpt #1
  • Audio excerpt #2
  • Audio excerpt #3
  • Audio excerpt #4
  • Check out the other blogs participating in this book tour:
    http://hiddenplace.wordpress.com/
    http://book-thirty.blogspot.com/
    http://bermudaonion.wordpress.com/
    http://www.writeforareader.blogspot.com/
    http://thebookczar.blogspot.com/
    http://www.acircleofbooks.blogspot.com/
    http://luanne-abookwormsworld.blogspot.com/
    http://www.thetometraveller.blogspot.com/
    http://www.bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com/
    http://allisonsatticblog.blogspot.com/
    http://linussblanket.com/
    http://www.chikune.com/blog
    http://cafeofdreams.blogspot.com/
    http://readingtoolate.net/
    http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/
    http://jennsbookshelf.blogspot.com/
    http://ablogofbooks.blogspot.com/
    http://cherylsbooknook.blogspot.com/
    http://shootingstarsmag.blogspot.com/
    http://www.savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com/
    http://bestbookihavenotread.wordpress.com/
    http://www.bookishruth.com/
    http://www.bookingmama.blogspot.com/
    http://martasmeanderings.blogspot.com/
    http://dreyslibrary.blogspot.com/

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    Just one of those days…

    February 10, 2009 Miscellaneous 7

    when nothng seems quite right. I feel okay, better than I have in about two weeks. I’m just so tired and bored. I have a very good job, one that I am SO THANKFUL to have in these times, but some days it’s a struggle to get excited about any part of it. I’ve been here 8 years now and I can do everything with one arm tied behind my back. The are seldom any surprises or challenges any more.

    Ho hum

    I hope I’m not being a downer. Just what’s on my mind at the moment.

    Something better….hm…. I had a delightful lunch at Panera today; I adore their Frontega Chicken panini. I also read some more of Drood while sitting in the window and enjoying the warm sunshine streaming through the glass. It is SO gorgeous outside and I find it very cruel of Mother Nature to tease us this way. I am ready for Spring and I’m ready for it NOW!

    Something more substantial soon. I hope.

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    Sweetness Abounds

    February 9, 2009 Miscellaneous 7

    I meant to post this on my birthday but I was too lazy to figure out how to get it off my phone and onto here.  Just click and listen. 

    It’s Wesley. Link Fixed, I hope!

    What the heck, one more, because it makes me smile so much.

    I have so many reviews to write, it isn’t even funny, but I’m going to try to get them all written this week.  I WILL get back into the swing of things, I promise.

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    Forgetting…

    February 3, 2009 Miscellaneous 15

    I think I am forgetting how to blog. I’ve been out of it for so long, what with the holidays, sickness (the kids and now me) and whatnot, that I just haven’t blogged much in the past couple of months. I just don’t know what to say anymore, unless it’s a book review. I don’t want to quit blogging…I just can’t find the words any more.

    Maybe once I feel better….

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    Author Interview – Colleen Gleason

    February 1, 2009 Author Interview 0

    This interview ran in the February 2009 issue of Estella’s Revenge

    HF: So, what is Victoria up to now that she’s back in London, in “When Twilight Burns?”

    CG: Victoria is heading back home to London because she’s been notified that the heir to the Rockley estate has been found, and, well, she needs to get her stuff out of the Rockley house. She also wants to return to London to forestall any chance that her mother and her two cronies will make another trip to Italy. :-)

    HF: Okay, what gives? Just want is it about vampires that has everyone reading? You, Stephanie Meyer, the Casts, and more; it seems like vampires are everywhere!

    CG: There are vampires everywhere! I think it really started with Ann Rice and Chelsea Quin Yarbro–at least, as far as contemporary authors go. (Obviously, there was DRACULA and THE VAMPYRE and other books/stories previously.) And then Laurell K Hamilton, and others like JR Ward, came along. Most of them portray the vampire as the protagonist, whereas in my books, of course, the undead are the villains.

    I think some of the fascination with vampires is that immortality aspect, and the superhuman powers…along with the eroticism of having one’s flesh penetrated (with fangs). The fact that a human can be changed or turned, and given those powers–and those limitations–makes for interesting reading. And for compelling conflict when they interact with mortals. Fascinating, really. I just don’t have the urge to write a sympathetic vampire.

    HF: One of the things I love best about you, besides your writing, of course, is how open you are with your readers through your website and your blog. Do you find that their opinions affect your writing?

    CG: Thanks so much! What a lovely thing to say. (And now I’m blushing.) I really enjoy blogging, and I think part of the reason is that since I don’t go to an office and I work alone, my blog has become that social outlet that I used to have with co-workers. A lot of my blog entries tend to be things like water-cooler conversations, or the kinds of things I’d complain/chat/expound about if I went into an office or other job every day, or if I met friends for lunch or at the bar. That’s the kind of conversations I try to keep on my blog.

    And now that I’ve been blogging for awhile, and I know who my audience is, that makes it even more fun–because I sort of know who I’m talking to. I know how certain people will respond. It’s my social outlet, and usually, it doesn’t take me more than fifteen minutes per day to write the blog. I admit, I’m not as good about coming back and keeping the conversation going–nor am I as good about visiting and commenting on other blogs as I used to…but I’m trying to get better at that.

    I am very flattered that people find my blog interesting, and it always makes my day when people join in the conversation, too.

    Oh, and do the blog-readers’ opinions affect my writing? No. Because by the time they’re reading the books, I’m already one or two books ahead of them–and the decisions have already been made. (Thank goodness!)

    HF: Do you find it hard to take their opinions in stride and stay true to what you want to do as the writer?

    CG: Sometimes it can be a bit cringeworthy, when I hear a particular point of view and I think…oh, huh. Interesting.
    Or…hmmmm…he/she missed the boat on that. Or….NEVER!!! I’d never do that.

    LOL. But that’s okay–everyone has their opinions, and like I said, since the books are already written before the blog readers can even respond to them, it makes it easy for me to say–well, that’s the way it is.

    Aside of that, I really do know how I want the story to be told, so even if everyone was up in arms about something in regards to the story, I wouldn’t change it. That’s called “protecting the story”, as one of my favorite authors, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, has said. And she’s right.


    HF: Now, Max and Sebastian, the hot, hot leading men. Do your fans have strong opinions on which one Victoria should end up with? I know I do!

    CG: Yes, my fans do weigh in on who Victoria should pick. Max has a slight majority over Sebastian, but the Sebastian fans are bloodthirsty. Well, some of the Max fans are too. And there are several people who want to know just why Victoria has to choose, anyway? LOL. Since these books are categorized as Romances, unfortunately, she has to eventually ride off into the sunset with only one of them.

    But I have had people threaten to write fanfic with a Max/Sebastian/Victoria menage. Or, even, a Max/Sebastian scene. (Though I’ve yet to see one.)

    HF: Do you feel that by keeping your blog and such a strong presence in the blogging world has helped your career?

    CG: It’s impossible to quantify whether my blog presence has resulted in more book sales (although I know it has because people have told me so), but at the very least, it’s helped me remain sane. And it also helps me to know that, yeah, there are people who read the books, and who enjoy them, and who are waiting for the next installment….it takes away that worry that I’m writing in a vacuum. So, in those ways, definitely it has helped.

    HF: Has there ever been a question you are surprised you haven’t been asked? What is it and, more importantly, what’s the answer?

    CG: I can’t really think of one, except maybe for people to ask if I have a religious background and what is it–because of the Gardella Vampire Chronicles’ mythology. It is highly influenced by Catholicism. And, yes, I’m Catholic. You can see the that in the series if you’re looking for it–the bottom line being that the series portrays the ever-present battle between good and evil.

    HF: Victoria went to some very dark places, literally and emotionally. How hard was it to write these scenes? Did you ever worry that you would lose control of your character?

    CG: No. I loved writing those scenes. They energized me. I found my heart racing, and my breathing increasing. Seriously. The ends of the books–those last few chapters where everything piles up and the worst happens–are so amazing to write. My fingers don’t work fast enough, and I find myself out of breath, and tense everywhere at the end. :-)

    HF: What is your favorite scene from all of the books?

    CG: Wow. That’s a hard one. I don’t know if I can name a favorite scene, but there are a few that I really loved….In THE BLEEDING DUSK, I really loved the scene where Sebastian, Victoria, and Max are all captured in the dungeon. And in RISES THE NIGHT, I really liked the scene where Max visits Victoria when she’s been captured and disarmed. In WHEN TWILIGHT BURNS, one of my favorite scenes is the chapter wherein a taut string snaps. And I love the epilogue for AS SHADOWS FADE.

    HF: What has been the biggest challenge, other than getting published, with writing this series?

    CG: I think it’s been wanting to make each book different from the last in the sense of its structure. Ie, is it a chase/adventure book (RISES THE NIGHT), a scavenger hunt (DUSK & SHADOWS FADE), a mystery (TWILIGHT BURNS), or what? I try to give each book a different feel as far as structure–but of course, each book is going to have many of the same elements: the Big Bad, the threat of the End of the World, fight scenes, etc. But the structure sort of needs to be a little different. And the underlying message.

    In THE REST FALLS AWAY, the theme was making choices. In RISES THE NIGHT, the theme was sacrifice for the greater good. DUSK portrayed regrets, and how making the wrong decision can haunt you and affect your world. WHEN TWILIGHT BURNS is about how we each have the propensity for evil, and that it’s a constant inner battle. And AS SHADOWS FADE is about sacrifice, and also about acceptance of one’s place/choices in life, and balance.

    HF: Can you tell us a little of what to expect for Victoria in the last book?

    CG: Victoria will face a different sort of evil demon than she’s ever faced before, and this will result in the necessity of the Venators allying themselves–or at least cooperating–with the vampires in order to vanquish this evil. She’ll go to Prague as well as the mountains of Lilith’s lair, and there are a few surprising things that will happen. (I may hear from readers about this one. Yikes.) But, in the end, most of the loose threads will be wrapped up and Victoria will have a happy ever after–at least, as much as Illa Gardella can have.

    HF: And what can we expect for Colleen Gleason?

    CG: I’m currently working on a brand-new series due to be released in 2010 under a pen name (as yet to be decided!). There are no vampires in it, and it’s not set in a historical time period, which is why I’ll be writing under a different name. There will be paranormal elements to this series, and I’ve planned six books (am currently contracted for three). While there will be very strong female leads in the books, the series actually focuses on a group of five men (and the women they will love) who are thrown together when the world undergoes massive destruction…and they come out on the other side, so to speak, changed and bonded. Each book will focus on the story of one of them, although the books will overlap and integrate throughout the series.

    It’s very unique, and I’m really excited about it. More info when I have a name and titles and release dates, etc.

    Thank you so much for having me here on Estella’s Revenge! I always appreciate your time–and the great questions you have for me!

    And thank you Colleen for your fascinating answers!

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    Lane Smith – Author/Illustrator Interview

    February 1, 2009 Author Interview, Books 1

    HF: Congratulations on your new (and timely!) children’s book, Madam President! Can you tell us a little of what it is about?

    LS: Thanks. It’s about a girl who imagines she’s president of the United States. A few books back I did a “presidential” book for the boys: John, Paul, George & Ben, so in the democratic tradition of Equal Time I made one for the girls.

    HF: I just have to say, once upon a time, that I was Katy. I might even still be one. She is such a fantastic character; do you know some Katy’s? Is she based on anyone you know?

    LS: Probably there’s a bit of myself in there. And there’s a neighbor girl down the road named Katie who influenced my Katy as well.

    HF: I just love your gorgeous illustrations. Is there any one medium you prefer to work in or do you dabble in a little bit of everything?

    LS: I like a little bit of everything. Mixed media is the best description. Sometimes I paint in oils and I collage bits of paper into the work. Sometimes I do charcoal or pencil drawings. In the case of Madam President I drew the pictures in pen and ink and painted them digitally in Photoshop. Some of the textures were created with oil paints and scanned in later.

    HF: You collaborate with a lot of authors; Jon Scieszka, Bob Shea, Eve Merriman and many others. Do you find it easier to work with other authors or to write and illustrate your own material? Is your process different?

    LS: I like both. I love to conceive an idea then write and illustrate it myself but I also love interpreting the work of others. My biggest compliment is when an author says, “When I wrote this I never imagined you’d illustrate it this way.” (At least I think that’s a compliment!)

    HF: Just what is your process anyway? Once you conceive an idea, how do you go about creating a book?

    LS: Lots of sketches. Lots of rewrites.

    HF: Which part do you find more difficult? The writing or the illustrating? Do they both come naturally to you?

    LS: Definitely the writing. I’m a visual person so I’m always thinking in terms of mood, color, shadow and shapes. When I write I tend to overwrite so I rely on friends and editors to cut my stuff down.

    HF: What is your work space like?

    LS: I work in an old turn-of-the-century one-room schoolhouse.

    HF: What are your influences? Any particular books? Illustrators? Authors?

    LS: It’s a mix of high brow and low brow influences: Edward hopper, Charles Schulz, Alexander Calder, Edward Gorey, Buster Keaton, Tex Avery, Jean Dubuffet, Alice and Martin Provensen, Paul Klee, Munro Leaf…. I don’t know where to stop.

    HF: What do you think of graphic novels? Is it something you have ever considered trying?

    LS: I love graphic novels. I was a huge comic book collector in junior high and high school. I used to go to the San Diego Comic Con in the 1970s before it became the behemoth that it is today. But I have to admit, I’m not great at sequential panel art. I’ve tried it, Flying Jake, Baloney (Henry P.), but with limited success.

    HF: What are your favorite books for children?

    LS: Many favorite books:

    The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss & Crockett Johnson
    The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone & Michael Smollin
    The Treehorn Trilogy by Florence Parry Heide & Edward Gorey
    Robert Francis Weatherbee by Munro Leaf
    The “…Can Be Fun” series by Munro Leaf
    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
    Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman
    Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
    The “This is…” series by M. Sasek
    Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? By Dr. Seuss
    McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss
    Happy Birthday to You! By Dr. Seuss
    Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide & Victoria Chess
    Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To by Florence Parry Heide, Sylvia Worth Van Clief & Victoria Chess
    Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book by Shel Silverstein
    The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss & Marc Simont
    Wizard of Oz by Baum
    Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
    Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip
    How Little Lori Visited Times Square by Vogel and Sendak
    Thirteen by Remy Charlip & Jerry Joyner
    Donald and the… by Peter Neumeyer & Edward Gorey
    Donald Has a Difficulty by Peter Neumeyer & Edward Gorey

    I’m know I’m leaving out William Steig and Barbara Cooney and Dahl and Raymond Briggs and the Provensens, Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Eleanor Cameron and so many greats not to mention all my contemporary peers but I could be typing all day.

    HF: Do you have any favorite books for adults?

    LS: Again, many:

    Marcovaldo and The Baron in the Trees by Calvino
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee
    Anything by Flannery O’Connor
    Anything by Poe
    Most of Capote
    CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
    David Sedaris…
    I read a lot of biographies and nonfiction as well.

    HF: What is up next on your horizon?

    LS: The Big Elephant in the Room (spring ’09) is about a misunderstanding between friends.

    Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) is about a princess with a curious affliction – unless she is weighted down by a heavy crown and heavy stones and weights, she floats up into the sky. It was written by Florence Parry Heide who you may guess from my above ‘list of Favorite Books’ is one of my heroes. (Fall ’09.)

    Thanks so much to Lane Smith! Visit his website here.

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