Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (#audiobook)

I was a bit judgemental towards this novel when it first came out in 2010 (Lincoln is my Home Boy and I'm a bit protective), but I was also intrigued. While I didn't get around to reading the novel before the movie came out in 2012, I went to see it anyway, book unread. It was an entertaining movie.

While browsing through OverDrive I came across the audio version and thought it, too, would be entertaining. It was. It kept me looking over my shoulder as I walked on the treadmill, which is where much of my audiobook listening occurs.
Publisher's blurb:  Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother's bedside. She's been stricken with something the old-timers call "Milk Sickness."

"My baby boy..." she whispers before dying.

Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother's fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.

When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, "henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose..." Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

Weaving vampires into the fight to end slavery is a rather brilliant idea. The author obviously did a lot of research and knows his stuff. It was fascinating to see how he wove the historical Abe's true life events into this fictional story--from Abe as a young boy on the frontier, to lawyering and politicing in Illinois, to the White House and the Civil War. It still pisses me off to read (or hear the details) of Lincoln's assassination.

If you have a road trip this summer I highly recommend this audiobook. However, a warning is in order: it is a bit gross at times--Abe brandishes an axe to kill vampires and these vampires are not sexy lover-boy types. They not only suck the blood of their prey, they rip and tear their flesh, so this may not be a great choice for a family road trip with little ones.

Having seen the movie and listened to the audio book, I'm still interested in reading the novel. Is that weird?

Title: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Author: Seth Grahame-Smith
Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2010
Read by: Scott Holst

The Last American Vampire, book #2 in the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter series came out in 2015. The time span on this one is Reconstruction through JFK's assassination. I think I'll check this one out as well. Grahame-Smith is also the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I haven't been tempted to read, but am coming around to the idea.

Grahame-Smith's books in chronological order:
  • Big Book of Porn: A Penetrating Look at the World of Dirty Movies (2005)
  • The Spider-Man Handbook: The Ultimate Training Manual (2006)
  • How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills (2007)
  • Pardon My President: Fold-and-Mail Apologies for 8 Years (2008)
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009)
  • Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2010)
  • Unholy Night (2012)
  • The Last American Vampire (2015)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Another Classics Club Spin Fail (#ccspin)

Today, May 2nd, is the day by which I was supposed to have finished the current Classics Club spin book.

Alas, I did not make it through Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court. I feel bad about it because this is the second Classics Club spin book in a row that I didn't complete. Last time it was Catch-22.

Perhaps satire just isn't for me. I like the idea of satire, but it always ends up seeming like such a one trick pony.  I felt this way about Swift's "A Modest Proposal," too.

The military is a damned if you do, damned it you don't organization, 19th century industrial culture is soullessly efficient, British policy is monstrous. I get it, I get. I just don't need to read on and on and on about it.

Hello, beating a dead horse.

For now A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is staying on my shelf. Perhaps I'll take it down and read a chapter here and there and not worry about how long it takes me to finish the novel. As someone who likes both medieval European culture and 19th century American culture, there were some fun bits in this book that at least keep me thinking about it, even if the desire to read it has waned.

What do you think of satire? Fan, foe, indifferent?

Monday, April 25, 2016

#Readathon Recap

Before I get into my recap, please mark your calendars for the next Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon, which is scheduled for October 22, 2016.

Okay, now on to my recap of Saturday's Readathon.

I signed up to be a cheerleader and was placed on #TeamOwl. As I was falling asleep Friday night it hit me that I had an owl who could be my mascot. The owl has lived on my bookshelf since Halloween. For some reason I didn't want to pack "him" away with the other Halloween decorations and now I know why. I used to refer to "him" as "her," but since the artist Prince died earlier in the week and my owl is purple with big expressive eyes, I named him Prince as a tribute.

Prince and I started the day off shortly after 8 am EST with Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man, which I purchased back in March at The Mysterious Bookshop in NYC and saved to read during Readathon.

Shortly after breakfast I spilled a cup of coffee all over myself, but luckily no books were harmed. (Sorry, no pictures available.) After that I did some more reading and some cheering before taking my first walk on the treadmill.

Me on the treadmill. Photo credit: Laura Thoma 😘
Last year I felt like such crap the day after Readathon. Sure, I was short on sleep and had a snack-hangover, but my body hadn't moved much for those 24 hours. This time I vowed to take walks on the treadmill throughout the day. I like to walk outside, but there are no sidewalks where I live and walking on the road while paying attention is dicey enough, let alone trying to walk and read on these roads.  Anyway, I planned on walking for half hour increments. I ended up walking a total of two hours. I felt much better the day after and the walking probably gave my brain more oxygen during the reading.

In addition to snacks I also bought a pre-made lunch the day before so I'd have some real food in my belly. Prince had me tweet a reminder to our fellow readers:

The afternoon and early evening were filled with more reading, more cheering, and a quick run out for dinner.

The second book I started was Hover by Anne A. Wilson. It's about a woman pilot in the Navy. Wilson is a Naval Academy grad who served nine years in the Navy, so the details ring true. And the attitudes towards women are right on (sad to say not much has changed since I served in the Marines in the 80s). Hover is suspense with some romance. I'd seen it before at the bookstore and when I was at R.J. Julia's last week fore book group I read the first couple pages and got hooked. It seemed like it would be a good Readathon book and I was right. Can't wait to finish it tonight.

I knew I wouldn't pull an all-nighter. For one, I'm just not able to do that anymore and two, I had a commitment on Sunday that I wanted to be alive for.

By 1:30 am EST this is how I was looking behind the scenes:


But this is the public picture that I posted on Instagram:



My End of Event Survey:

Which hour was most daunting for you? The hour after I finished my first book. I tend to not start a new novel on the same day I finish one, because I like to give a book some time to percolate in my brain (and soul, if it was THAT good, if you know what I mean). So I had to take some time and walk and flip through books before deciding what to read next.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man both by Dashiell Hammett -- they are short, have great pacing and fantastic characters, not to mention they really seem to capture the time period. I also recommend The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. OMG, so good. Just read it if you haven't already. Also try a shorter novel from Willa Cather or Edith Wharton.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season? I think its pretty darn near perfect. People have to make it their own experience, though, and not sit back and expect the party to come to them. It's like life--you get out of it what you put into it. Being a cheerleader is a great way to up your involvement.

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Taking the focus off blogs and putting it more on social media seemed to make it easier to "visit with" more people. I didn't even write a kick-off post this year, which may just be indicative of something in the air.

 How many books did you read? 1.5 I'm a proud slow reader and for me Readathon day is more about clearing my schedule and relishing having a whole date dedicated to reading and connecting with other readers (and guilt free snacking).  

What were the names of the books you read? The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett and part of Hover by Anne A. Wilson (which I'll finish tonight).  

Which book did you enjoy most? They're both so different. The Thin Man is classic noir and very butch whereas Hover is about a woman helicopter pilot in the Navy trying to deal with her grief over losing her brother, so it's like comparing apples and oranges. Or apples and fiddleheads.

Which did you enjoy least? N/A this time around.  

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? I definitely will in October, if my travel schedule allows.

What role would you be likely to take next time? Cheerleader for sure. Will have to see how my schedule shapes up before I take on any responsibilities.


A HUGE thank you to Andi and Heather and all the other organizers and volunteers for making this event happen! It's one of my favorite days of the year.

If you haven't participated in this Readathon yet I strongly encourage you to! If you did participate this time around, what was your favorite part?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Library Visit: Westbrook Public Library, Westbrook, CT

I've driven past both the old Westbrook Library and the road to the new library many times in the two years we've lived on the shoreline, but this week was the first time I stopped in to check it out. I'm so glad I did. The building is well-lit due to its generous windows and also has an open atmosphere with cozy nooks here-and-there in which to read. It's only 20-40 minutes from my house, depending on whether I take I-95 or Route 1 (aka Boston Post Road).

Westbrook Public Library
61 Goodspeed Drive
Westbrook, CT 06498

First, here's a picture of the old library, which served the town from 1905-1977. It is on the town green and now houses the Westbrook Historical Society.

The library moved east of the town green, to Goodspeed Drive, in 1977. Pictured here is the current library, which opened in September 2008.
A welcoming entrance.
The new arrivals area is one of my favorite sections.
Work tables divide the two rows of stacks.
Looking back toward circulation. Next to those four windows at the back of this photo is a lovely display case filed Art Carney's personal mementos and ephemera. The actor and his family lived in Westbrook. I don't know why I didn't take any pictures of it.
On the bulletin board. If the ocean rises even 10 feet the heart of Westbrook will be gone.
A peek into the stacks.
Sunny reading area with a nautical theme.
Fabulous quilt and wave-like bench.
Cather on the shelf.
The Art Carney Media Center. Audiobooks, VHS, DVDs.
Looking into the children's section.
Computer station for kids.
I image this place is crawling with kids when school's out.
A bit of natural decoration on the picture book endcaps.
Information and celebratory photos liven up this work area.
Libraries and globes, together forever. Love the fishy background.
Walking out of the kids section. The circulation desk is just passed the wall, to the right.
I saved the best for last: behold, an ACTIVE card catalog.
There's also one in the adult section. Upon checking out I asked the librarian if it was actively used and she very enthusiastically said YES and that it is UP-TO-DATE. I was thrilled to hear this. Yes, I love computer databases, but there's nothing like going to a card catalog and seeing what's available in that library's collections. The librarian called over the director and I chatted about card catalogs with him, too. He told me the adult card catalog is also up-to-date and that it came in very handy in the aftermath of the last hurricane.

I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to the Westbrook Public Library. These visits of mine are not complete tours as I try to avoid taking pictures of patrons. To see a list of all the libraries I've visited (or, at least those I've written posts about), please visit my Library Gallery page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New Book on Mark Twain's World Tour: Chasing the Last Laugh by Richard Zacks

In 1893, even though he was the highest paid writer in America and married to an heiress, Mark Twain--Samuel Clemens--was on the brink of financial ruin. This book tells the story of how the already famous writer got out of financial trouble and grew his persona to mega rock star proportions.

One of the big take-aways from this book is that Mark Twain was one hard working writer. He may not have had much business sense, but as a writer and student of human nature he was always observing, pondering, and making notes in his journal.

When it came to writing or telling a story, he would change the details to create a more dramatic story, if necessary, such as in the case of a shuffleboard tournament aboard ship which Twain actually won, but in the telling of it he has another player win to better fit his storyline. He also "stole" stories, such as one from his friend Bram Stoker about a christening. It is impressive that Twain also worked on creating multiple performances so that if he were performing three nights in one city, people would hear fresh material each night. His seemingly simple stories were actually painstakingly constructed works of art.

Apparently Livy Clemens, Twain's wife, had much to do with the success of Twain's onstage storytelling (and perhaps his written work, too). While he was creating content for the tour Livy suggested that instead of telling joke after joke, he add a longer, more serious and emotionally charged story. This blending of pathos and humor is the roller-coaster ride that audiences the world over love.
From the publisher: Richard Zacks, drawing extensively on unpublished material in notebooks and letters from Berkeley’s ongoing Mark Twain Project, chronicles a poignant chapter in the author’s life—one that began in foolishness and bad choices but culminated in humor, hard-won wisdom, and ultimate triumph.
This is an enjoyable read. It's well-written, has a good pace, and packs in a ton of information: the circumstances that landed Twain in serious financial straights and how he managed, along with his wife and good friend H.H. Rogers, to climb out of debt, detail about his friendships & relationships, what it was like to travel in the late 19th century, and even physical ailments such as the carbuncle the great writer had on his leg that was so big and/or painful that he couldn't wear pants for weeks. Physical ailments do impact the creative process. (All hail antibiotics. While they have been over-prescribed in recent years, I think I prefer life with rather than life without antibiotics.)

If you're interested in Twain and have never read anything about him, this is a fascinating place to start. And if you're in the Hartford, CT area Zacks is giving a talk at the Mark Twain House & Museum on Thursday, April 21, at 7pm. Check out his tour schedule here.

Title: Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour
Author: Richard Zacks (author of Island of Vice, An Underground Education, History Laid Bare, The Pirate Hunter, and The Pirate Coast)
Publisher: Doubleday, released April 19, 2016
Source: bound galley advance reader copy
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