Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Sorry for not having a new review up yet. I have my kids for the summer, so much of my time is spent with them. It's not often I have them for long stretches and I'm taking advantage of it.

I'll be back soon with my review of "Divine Misfortune" but A. Lee Martinez. Until then, my friends...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" by Seth Grahame-Smith

Okay readers, I know you’ve both been wondering when my second review would come along. I apologize for the delay, but a note from my doctor proves it was for a good reason. And if you’re willing to forgive me I think you’ll find future installments will arrive with more frequency.

Anyway, on to the matter at hand. My latest review is of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith, who came on the scene in 2009 with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. The genre-bending “Pride” spearheaded a new sub-genre in which public domain novels like “Pride and Prejudice” are combined with horror and action genre elements like zombies, ninjas, sea monsters, etc. It's an interesting idea, and one that has seemingly resonated with readers.

To say his first novel was a success would be an understatement, but in the interest of full-disclosure I must admit that I have not read it. Jane Austen just isn’t my thing. Sorry. But I do like historical non-fiction, so when I saw “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” staring at me from the shelf at Borders I had to get it. (I actually ended up buying it for my iPhone Kindle app so I could save a few bucks... You know how it is.)

As I understood it from the jacket description, the book was a memoir supposedly written by Abraham Lincoln. I assumed that it was, like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” before it, a mash-up novel, this time using an actual Lincoln memoir. I could not have been more wrong.

When I started reading I was surprised to find that the story began in modern times. The narrator (who is Grahame-Smith) is the proprietor of a small store in a small town. He is a frustrated novelist who originally took the job at the store intending to write a novel and then move on to fame and fortune, but that dream never materialized and he has become stuck in the rut that is his life.

Enter Henry, a resident of the town that becomes somewhat of a regular at the store. He and the author exchange only pleasantries for a time, but for reasons that are never really explained Henry chooses the author to be the recipient of a collection of journals supposedly written by Abraham Lincoln. What Henry wants is for the author to novelize the contents of these journals and get the word out that not only was Abraham Lincoln one of our greatest presidents, but he was also a vampire killing bad-ass!

From this point on the book becomes what reads like a biography interspersed with passages from the Lincoln memoirs. Some passages are first-person from Lincoln’s perspective, others are third-person. You get used to it after a while, but to be honest I found this format somewhat off-putting. I really think the story would have benefited from the author choosing a perspective and sticking to it for the duration. It may work for others, but for me, I say no thanks.

Anyway, the story moves from a young Abraham watching his mother die as a result of his father’s dealings with a vampire to Lincoln’s ascension to the White House. I could go into detail and tell you about the in-between stuff, but to be honest it was the same basic setup over and over: Abraham getting a letter from the mysterious “H.” telling him of a vampire that “deserves it sooner”, a bit of stalking the intended target, and then the attack on the vampire that may succeed or fail. And between these passages comes a lot of exposition about not wanting to kill vampires any more, falling in love, people in Abraham’s life dying and him or his wife sulking. It really is that simple and it gets old about half way through the book.

I’m guessing Grahame-Smith knew that his story was growing tiresome at about two-thirds of the way through because he chooses at that point to change the game and retire Lincoln from vampire hunting. Yes, you read that right... In a book entitled “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, the titular character retires from the titular profession and the book becomes about the politics of vapiric involvement in the Civil War. Sounds thrilling, I know. At first the change was welcome, but it wore out it’s welcome very quickly and I actually put the book down for two weeks with about a quarter to go before I made myself finish it.

I’ve read that they are giving this novel the Hollywood treatment, and even though I’ve spent the majority of this review complaining, I think it’ll make a great movie. It will benefit greatly from the inevitable pruning and condensing that takes place when converting a book into a screenplay. As a book it is overly long and boring, but as a film (if the correct adjustments are made) it could be exciting and fun.

I hate to say it, but I don’t recommend this book. I know you’ve already deduced that, but as this is a book review I kind of have to spell it out. It is very uneven and seems to begin as one idea and ends as another. It never returns to the story of Henry and the author/store proprietor, which I found very disappointing, and the ending left a real bad taste in my mouth. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that it has someone becoming something I don’t believe for a second (within the framework of the story) they would ever allow themselves to be.

In my opinion you’d be best served skipping this book unless you have a hankering to be bored. Wait for the movie to come out and watch it instead. At least then if you don’t like it you’ve only wasted, at most, about two hours of your time.

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That’s it for this week, kiddos. Tune in next time when I review “Divine Misfortune” by A. Lee Martinez. Hopefully I’ll have more positive things to say about it than my last selection.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: "Horns" by Joe Hill

My first review... Wow. It feels so important somehow. Kind of like, I don't know, a new beginning or something (cue dramatic, swelling music and fuzzy-lens close-up). It's just so... so... damn special! *sniff

Moving on...

Today I am reviewing "Horns" by Joe Hill. Like most people, I was introduced to this author by reading his first novel, "Heart-Shaped Box" which, to be honest, I initially had no interest in reading. I knew that Hill was the son of Stephen King, who I am not a fan of (*ahem* too many flashbacks), and I was worried that their styles would be similar. Because of this, every time I visited my local Half Price Books, I tried my best to ignore the end cap they had filled with copies of this book.

This went on for a couple of months until one day I was trying in vain to find a book to read and found myself in front of that end cap. I debated with myself for a minute or two and then made a decision. I picked up a copy, read the dust jacket again, and took the plunge.

Let me tell you, I'm very glad I did. It was wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Heart-Shaped Box", and it suffered only a little bit from the patented King "flashback-info-dump-itis". Joe Hill had earned himself a new fan.

Flash forward to a couple months ago. I was unaware that a new Joe Hill book was forthcoming, so needless to say I was very excited when I walked into my local Borders and saw "Horns" staring at me from a table display. I promptly ditched any idea of buying anything else, grabbed a copy and checked out. (Well, after going over to the magazine racks and pawing through the European version of Maxim, that is...)

When I got home I couldn't wait to start reading so I dove right in, and honestly I was caught a little off guard. For the first few chapters it seemed like "Horns" might be a comedy because it read very light and fast, and the interactions between Ig (the main character) and the various people he encounters (none of whom seem to notice the little horn-nubs sprouting from his forehead) really had me laughing. I honestly thought Joe Hill had completely shifted gears from his first novel. And he had, but not in the way I first thought.

Let me explain: "Heart-Shaped Box" is a horror novel. It may be funny in places, but Joe kept the creep-factor high, and there was more than one night I had to keep reading so I could come to a spot that didn't leave me feeling too spooked. It's not jump-out-at-ya scary, but it had many sections that left me feeling very uneasy (much like "The Exorcist" ... I still get chills!)

"Horns", on the other hand, is not what I would call horror. If I had to classify it, I think I would label it as "a dramedy dressed up in a Halloween costume". It has genre elements, but they are not the main focus. Sure, the novel gets it's name from the fact that the protagonist has newly formed horns growing from his forehead, but the horns are just a genre conceit Hill used more to direct the participation of the other characters than as a horrific element.

So while Mr. Hill kept his conversational, easy to read style, he used it to much different effect in his sophomore effort. Instead of finding ways to scare us or make us uneasy, he chose to make us think about life, about perceptions, and about loss. He used his genre conceit to force us to look inside and really think about how it is we treat other people and the myriad ways we find to separate ourselves from everyone else.

All that said, there are horrific elements in this book. There are secrets, there is anger, and there is murder. But beyond that there is heartache, loss, and redemption. I actually choked-up towards the end a couple of times.

I'm purposefully not revealing more about the plot here. You can go and read a synopsis anywhere. What I want you to take from this is not what the dust jacket says the book is about, but what it is, in its heart, really trying to say. And that, my friends, is this: Life is fleeting, as is the love we feel while we are here. Don't take either for granted and make every day count. The currency of time is too precious a commodity to be wasted.

"Horns" is a very good book, and I highly recommend it. I love it because it IS different from "Heart-Shaped Box". I hope Joe Hill continues to push the boundaries of genre fiction and continues to explore the human condition in this way. He really is a unique talent.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my first review as much as I enjoyed writing it. Don't forget to comment if you want to agree or disagree with anything I said. I love discussion.

My next entry will be a review of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" by Seth Grahame-Smith. See you then!

Welcome to my blog!

All of the below also appears in the "About This Blog" section of this site, but I thought it might serve well as my first post. Having said that, welcome to Genre Vive! I hope you enjoy your visit.

   My name is Scott Macumber. I am a full-time IT Analyst, graphic designer, husband and father. As you can imagine I don't have a lot of free time! But in the free time I DO have, I love nothing more than relaxing with a good book ... Getting lost in a world and spending some time away from my real life. I like to view reading as a mental vacation whose destination can be as close as my backyard or as far away as another planet.

   With that in mind, I thought it might be nice to have a place where I could share my opinion on some of these "vacation destinations" so that others might be able to choose their trips more wisely. Buying books can be a daunting task. You never know if you're going to like it until you're well into reading it, and you know that you can't trust the blurbs on the cover because, obviously, they were picked and placed there to entice you.

   I personally find reviews most helpful when deciding what to read, and especially if I have read other books a particular reviewer has shined me on to. That way I know if our tastes are in line and if I typically agree with their choices.

   But, to be honest, I don't usually agree with the "average" reviewer. You know the type ... snooty, thinks they know more than you, over educated and takes themselves WAY too seriously. They don't seem like the average reader. And that's where I come in.

   I am, for the most part, the average reader; I've not been to school for this, I don't have a degree in English Literature, and I won't emasculate a book just because it may not follow all the "rules". What I am is honest, concise, and very very picky. If I have been reading a book and didn't finish it because I didn't like it I will still review it ... It may be a short review, but I'll be honest with you that I put it down for whatever reason.

   I genuinely hope you get something out of your time here. Maybe you'll agree with me and maybe you won't. Either way is fine (and I'd love to hear your opinions, ESPECIALLY if they differ from mine). So dig in and take a look. Who knows, maybe you'll find something you like!