The Dragonbone Chair – Tad Williams

The Dragonbone Chair I had wanted to read fantasy for a while but every time I stop in front of this particular section at the bookstore, I feel overwhelmed. Where to start? Most books there are part of a series and I don’t want to start a ten-book story only to give up after a volume or two, or worse, to find out book number six is not even out yet. My dilemma was solved when a friend gave me the first two volumes of Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”.

Simon (Seoman) is an orphan boy growing up in the castle kitchens of King John Presbyter, under the ever watchful eye of Rachel, the Mistress of Chambermaids. He’s awkward and feels out of place, until doctor Morgenes, a learned man at the court, takes him under his protection. But before Simon could learn about the art of magic from his tutor, the king dies, the court is plunged into turmoil, and Morgenes is killed, not before entrusting the boy with a sheaf of papers and helping him get out of the castle.

Simon decides to undertake a dangerous journey to Naglimund, where Prince Josua, whom he helped escape, is gathering forces to fight off the new king, his own brother, Elias. On his way he saves the life of a Sithi, one of the Fair Ones; makes friends with Binabik the troll and his wolf, Qantaqa; meets Miriamele, the new King’s daughter; has a few close encounters with death, and arrives at Naglimund, only to start on another quest. This time he must help retrieve a sword that could tip the balance in the coming war between Prince Josua and his brother. He is accompanied by a motley band – men, a troll, a wolf, and a few of the Fair Ones. Their path goes through mountains and ends up in a cave where they find the sword, but also a dragon, and some of the group do not survive.

It took me almost four months to finish this mammoth of a book. At 912 pages, not including the appendix, it was quite the undertaking. The only other book closer to this length was Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke with 1,006 pages which I read in January. One chunkster to start the year with, another one to end it.

Two hundred pages in, and I wished things would go a little faster. When it did pick up, little by little I began to realize this was so much like The Lord of the Rings that I started to match the characters – I found Gimli, Legolas, Saruman, Gandalf and even Aragorn. I also have a pretty good idea of who Frodo is. I liked The Lord of the Rings and by all rights I should enjoy this as well, but I find my enthusiasm greatly diminished if I can see where the story is going. Even some of the scenes were the same – a path going up the snowy mountains, a cave inhabited by the dead, a land guarded by a fantastic creature, a mirror that can show things to come. And to top it off, there was Ineluki, the Storm King, a great being from long ago whose dreams of power had changed him into a maleficent creature bent on ruling the world.

With the exception of a handful of characters, I could not keep track of the vast array of people described in the book. After a while I gave up on trying to remember who was fighting for whom. Some of the names were difficult to read – Heahferth, Gwythinn (I kept reading Gwyneth), Elvritshalla.

There were some things I did like – the mystery surrounding Simon’s parentage; the shadowy League of the Scroll, a secret organization Morgenes belonged to; the names of days and months, slightly altered but still recognizable (Tiasday, Udunsday, Drorsday; Novander, Decander, etc.); the religious undercurrent reflected in some of the names – Elias, Josua, Simon, the sign of the tree; and magic. It was fun to see Simon’s progress, from a humble scullion to an important character in the new world slowly taking shape. After him, Binabik and Qantaqa were my favorite characters. The troll has a very distinctive voice and his connection to Simon evolved into a beautiful friendship.
I can safely say I have mixed feelings about this book. The writing is beautiful, and I enjoyed reading about Simon’s adventures so perhaps it’s foolish of me to give up on the story now. Volume two is definitely slimmer and if I am to believe the author’s words at the beginning of book one, I should keep going. Yes, maybe volume two would make for a good start to a new year.

Author’s Warning:

The Qanuk-folk of the snow-mantled Trollfells have a proverb. “He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder.

*

Dotor Morgenes:

‘Books’, Morgenes said grandly, leaning back on his precarious stool, ‘ – books are magic. That is the simple answer. And books are traps as well.
‘Magic? Traps?’
‘Books are a form of magic – ’ the doctor lifted the volume he had just lain on the stack, ‘ – because they span time and distance more surely than any spell or charm. What did so-and-so think about such-and-such two hundred years agone? Can you fly back through the ages and ask him? No – or at least, probably not.’

*

Binabik the troll:

‘Then, let us be considering knowledge like a river of water. If you are a piece of cloth, how are you finding out more about this water – if someone dips in your corner and then pulls it out again, or if you are having yourself thrown in without resistance, so that this water is flowing all through you, around you, and you are becoming soaking wet? Well, then?’

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read from August to December

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Flash fiction – The Bleeding Snowflake

In an attempt to take my mind off Lolita (Oh, Lolita! I feel sorry for you, poor corrupt child, but more on that in another post) I went over to terribleminds and found a new flash fiction challenge – the random title. Now I bent the rules a little and took my pick of the words given and came up with this title. Maybe it’s because December is here, and it’s hot, and today I saw a plastic Christmas tree, and it made me remember snowflakes. And maybe it’s because I do miss winter just a little bit, not too much, and in writing this I conjured up for a moment the feeling of holding a tiny snowflake in my hand.

*

In the great space that was the quiet night, the clouds gathered. They rumbled and grumbled and shook their great bulk. Then it was decided.

As with every year, this was not easy, the violent and suave separation, the letting go of the great whiteness only to be swept with the others, buried, dead, forgotten. What was it that made them fall year after year? And still, it must be done. The clouds were full and soon they would let their children fall and watch them float away from their great bulk and they would be burdened with sadness while their bellies became lighter and lighter, until they could float again, instead of being anchored towards the earth, forced to relinquish their treasure, their sweet, soft darlings who would float into the void below.

At the appointed time they stood dispersed across the great sunless sky and began to shake. The snowflakes fell with a great silent roar, leaving deep white wounds in the great clouds. And they continued their journey, swirled around by the melancholy breeze, their life but a glimpse, a whisper of white flurries, going to their doom. And one of them would be caught by tiny hands and marveled at and then squeezed, bleeding through tiny fingers that would remember its iciness for one brief second.

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House of Small Shadows – Adam Nevill

House of Small Shadows This book starts with an intriguing passage from The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions, a very good story which is part of Widdershins, a short book that can be read for free at gutenberg.org. The passage sets the mood for the story to come, a story where disturbing imagery, intense emotions and glimpses of horrors only hinted at merge to create one of the best books of horror I’ve read and also one of the darkest.

The story begins with Caroline Howard visiting the Red House, famous dwelling of M.H. Mason, master taxidermist and puppeteer, whose work had been kept from the public for a long time. Catherine is sent to evaluate the amazing work that has been kept at the house following H.M. Mason’s suicide. It’s an art curator’s dream come true, a project that would bring fame to the small firm she’s working for, and one that would finally reveal to the world the work of an almost unmatched artist.

The Red House is like a museum, rooms of amazing creations that are unveiled one at a time, and while Catherine can appreciate the craftsmanship and can’t stop dreaming of the great opportunity before her, soon enough she realizes this isn’t just a house, but also the home of some strange people – Edith Mason, the taxidermist’s niece, an old lady guarding her uncle’s work with the zeal of a fanatic, living in a house full of exquisite dolls and amazingly well preserved animals, all existing as if in a separate world, a carnival of the grotesque; the housekeeper, Maude, a stout presence, at times acting like an automaton only to be heard sobbing at night.

Catherine is on an emotional rollercoaster from the start. Her own past, with gaps she struggled to fill with the help of therapists, is in itself a great mystery, and it all comes crashing when her boyfriend leaves her for a woman she hates. Desperate, clinging to her work, not wanting to disappoint Leonard, her wheelchair bound boss, she takes on this new task, determined to see it through, despite the fact that she realizes quite early on something’s not right about her new assignment. Her unexplained seizures, the disappearance of Alice, a childhood friend, the mother she never knew, all make her an unreliable protagonist in the drama enfolding at the Red House.

I know next to nothing about taxidermy but reading about rats and kittens being made to look like people, from their clothes to facial expressions, and the settings they were made to inhabit felt like visualizing a disturbing tableau where the artist went beyond creating something for posterity and reached that place where art marries a sort of madness that can repel and awe at the same time. I was intrigued by the details, and while Nevill doesn’t go into lengthy descriptions (or perhaps it was I who wanted more) he made me see it on the page. And I shuddered, and kept reading. It was unexpected, grotesque, horrifying, scary, wonderful. There’s a particularly disturbing scene where Catherine is running through the dark house, pursued by a voice giving a macabre description of how the process of preserving an animal is achieved.
There were quite a few other shockers, and while the story ends on a satisfying note, it also left me with questions, and no matter how much I would like those questions answered, it made me look at the book in a new light and appreciate it all the more. I had hoped there was a sequel. There isn’t. But in spite of the gloomy, dark, oppressive atmosphere of the book, I found myself fascinated with so many things – Catherine’s seizures, taxidermy, Edith’s past, Maude’s story, Leonard’s duality, even H.M. Mason himself. Nevill gives enough detail to satisfy and create good closure, but my appetite was never completely satisfied. The perfect kind of book – always leaving the reader wanting more.

Some favorite passages from the book:

Speechless, Catherine turned about. And saw red squirrels in frock coats paused in the eating of nuts upon the piano. She looked away and a fox grinned at her from the low table it stalked across. A company of rats in khaki uniforms all stood on their hind legs on parade on the mantel.
She turned again and came face to face with a crowd of pretty kittens in colorful dresses, jostling to get a look at her from inside a tall cabinet. Some of them were taking tea. Others curtsied.
A dog that watched Catherine with a single wet brown eye under a raised brow. In the sunlight that fell through the arched windows the dog’s ruby fur shimmered. The dog, at least, must be real.

*

Unmoving, Catherine looked at them for a while, nonsensically feeling her presence was an intrusion upon a moment of deep intimacy. She also felt the cold shock of carnal betrayal. A disgust at death. And grasped the horribly simple fact that someone could be alive, but go to the wrong place and then not be alive.

victorian taxidermy

photo source – the insane Victorian taxidermy of Walter Potter

*My rating: 4/5 stars
*Read in October-November 2014

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Writing Down the Bones (first published in 1986) – Natalie Goldberg

WDTB This was recommended to me by one of my NaNo buddies and it was the perfect book to read while trying to create my novel. November can be a stressful month – having to come up with fifty thousand words in thirty days can feel like a burden sometimes, so anything I can do to help me reach that goal is more than welcome.

Writing Down the Bones often takes a spiritual approach to writing. Natalie Goldberg makes parallels between meditation and writing, and they make sense. Writing is a lonely process, and so is meditation, but it’s not a book about meditation, or about running, it’s a book about writing (interesting how writers often compare running to writing – Murakami comes to mind).

She has an encouraging voice, she gives examples from personal life, she even gives some writing exercises that can be done in order to get creativity flowing. Her tips for getting down to work – making an appointment with a friend to discuss writing, rewarding herself with a cookie (or four), setting down time for writing, writing first thing in the morning, filling a notebook a month, and teaching a writing class, they all sound wonderful. As I read I began to tick off the ones I’ve tried and worked for me – the first is the best. The last I haven’t tried but it does sound like fun – learning while teaching. The cookies don’t work for me because I can have as many as I like and not feel guilty, and if I do feel guilty I eat them anyway. Too easy, too convenient. So is writing first thing in the morning and writing in that notebook (I do write sometimes when I’m out but since I only go out during weekends, that’s pretty limited). Trying to find a balance between being a slacker and having a schedule is the hardest thing.

Goldberg taught writing for years. She describes her experience during the classes, how she works with the students, and even shares samples from these courses and the poetry readings she has been to. I particularly liked this poem by Russell Edson because it’s funny and unexpected and I never would have thought writing about a toilet could produce such an interesting result:

With Sincerest Regrets

Like a white snail the toilet slides into the living room,
demanding to be loved.
It is impossible, and we tender our sincerest regrets.
In the book of the heart there is no mention made of plumbing.
And though we have spent our intimacy many times
with you, you belong to an unfortunate reference,
which we would rather not embrace…
The toilet slides out of the living room like a white snail,
flushing with grief….

This is a book I can see myself reading again and again. What Goldberg writes about may not be all new and if you’ve read any books about writing some things may even sound the same, but there are pages, passages, words, that strike a chord and I find myself going back and re-reading them.

Some favorite passages:

When we walk around Paris, my friend is afraid of being lost and she is very panicky. I don’t fear being lost. If I am lost, I am lost. That is all. I look on my map and find my way. I even like to wander the streets of Paris not particularly knowing where I am. In the same way I need to wander in the field of aloneness and learn to enjoy it, and when loneliness bites, take out a map and find my way out without panic, without jumping to the existential nothingness of the world, questioning everything – “Why should I be a writer?” – and pushing myself off the abyss.

When you accept writing as what you are supposed to do, after you’ve tried everything else – marriage, hippiedom, traveling, living in Minnesota or New York, teaching, spiritual practices – there’s finally no place else to go. So no matter how big the resistance, there is one day, there is the next day, and the writing work ahead. You can’t depend on its going smoothly day after day. It won’t be that way. You might have one day that is superb, productive, and the next time you write, you are ready to sign up on a ship headed for Saudi Arabia. There are no guarantees. You might think you have finally created a rhythm with three days running, and the next day the needle scratches the record and you squeak through it, teeth on edge.

Have you read any books on writing? Do you have any favorites?

*My rating: 5/5 stars
*Read in November 2014

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NaNo thoughts and what else I’ve been doing in November

It’s been almost a month since I disappeared somewhere in the dark and exhilarating vortex that is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo but now that it’s finally over, I can come up and think about something else other than vampires, kings and queens, pirates, and the red dress my female character was wearing.

Some things I took away from my second year of doing NaNo:

– It gets easier, in a way, although it’s not really easy. Knowing I did it once made me confident enough that I could do it again. The first time around I had no idea if I could do it so the stress was higher.
– Less preparation meant I didn’t really have time to get acquainted with the idea behind my story. Last year I used the beginning from an earlier story I started some years ago (rewrote it completely but kept the idea), and a bunch of sticky notes I could go back to; this year I didn’t write anything anywhere, it was all in my head.
– Taking advantage of support early on instead of waiting until I was at the end of my rope was a great idea. Skype word races with NaNo buddies gave me the push I needed.
– Changing the writing space was good. Sitting on the couch with the laptop felt much more relaxed than sitting on the office chair at my desk which is actually an old dressing table. The mirror does distract from writing (I’m making a face at myself in the mirror as I’m writing this).

Although my reading has considerably slowed down in November, I still managed to read two excellent books– Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill. The former is a great pep talk for people who want to write, complete with some writing exercises and shared personal experiences. The latter is an excellent horror novel. Reviews coming soon.

I listened to some good music, Two Steps from Hell with Protectors of the Earth (think epic movies) and Coldplay with Lost (which was my NaNo song this year because it has a great rhythm).

I went to a book sale and came away with three books I can’t wait to start reading – The Christmas Train in particular, as I love to read Christmas themed books this time of year.

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I also got a Kindle and have mixed feelings about it. While I suspected this moment would eventually arrive, I still feel like a traitor, even though I know I shouldn’t. A story is a story, no matter if it’s on a paper page or a screen, but rationalizing about it doesn’t make me feel better. Maybe it’s a question of getting used to it.

And finally, this coming weekend is the start of Lolita read-along I’m co-hosting with Vishy. If you haven’t made up your mind to join yet, there’s still time. You can post your review any time from the 27th to the last day of the year.

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Read-along – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

A while back, one of my friends sold some of his books before leaving Thailand and going back home. He sent me a list and one of the books that caught my eye was Lolita, a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. It’s a perfect hardcover edition complete with bookmark – he belongs to that group of people who can’t stand the thought of writing on the pages or, God forbid, bending them. Perfectly understandable, as I am the same when it comes to books. The book had been sitting on a shelf ever since, between a copy of Andrew’s On The Holloway Road , which I’ve read, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which I haven’t.

Now it looks like I’m finally going to read it. My blogging friend Vishy from Vishytheknight asked me if we could do a read-along and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. You’re more than welcome to join. I know December is a busy month so I’m hoping that by posting this in advance anybody who wants to join will have the chance to plan and maybe find the time to read with us. If you have a blog, choose one of the badges. If not, just leave your comments here or on Vishy’s blog.

The rules are simple:

1. Read-along starts December 7th.
2. Reviews will be posted from December 27th – 31st.

P.S. If you would like this story to be a surprise, do not read the introduction until after you’ve finished the book. I made the mistake of reading a few sentences and I think I stumbled on a major spoiler.

Lolita readalong 1

Lolita readalong 2

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R.I.P. wrap up and doing NaNoWriMo again

lavinia-portrait small Today ends the R.I.P. reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. Like always, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed my books immensely even though I didn’t read everything I’d planned but that’s fine, there’s always time for that later. I’ve been so caught up in reading that I postponed writing reviews until the last day so I decided to do two mini-reviews for the last two books I read for this challenge.

Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein – The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

This book finally provided the motivation to read Frankenstein, so after finishing with Mary Shelley’s famous classic, I dived right into it. If you ever wondered how Frankenstein came to be written and what Mary Shelley’s life was like, this is the perfect book. While the story centers mostly on Mary and on that famous summer night in 1816 that sparked the challenge behind Frankenstein, there’s also plenty of detail about the other participants in the challenge: her then companion and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John William Polidori – who went on to write the first vampire novel, The Vampyre.

The Monsters I’m always fascinated by details from famous writers’ lives and how they find their way into their stories. The authors give plenty of details to show how different elements from Mary Shelley’s life may have contributed to the idea behind Frankenstein – an emotionally detached father, a mother she never knew, the pressure she felt to produce a great literary work (being the daughter of famous writers), the tumultuous relationship she had with Shelley, a scientific experiment she heard about involving electricity, and later on the deaths and tragedies that marked her life. The book abounds in such details and I’m sure I wouldn’t have found them as interesting had I not read Frankenstein first. It also describes her connection with lord Byron (through her step sister Claire), her strained relationship with Claire, and Byron’s rise to fame as “the first celebrity”. It was a time of travel and friendship, of connections and betrayals, of joy fraught with despair and ever present money problems. It was a time that inspired incredible work, not only from Mary but also from the other writers who took part in Byron’s challenge. A great book I’d love to read again.

My rating: 5/5 stars

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Let me begin by saying I have never read a book quite like this. The story and the pictures (which I avoided looking at until I started reading so as not to spoil my enjoyment) seemed like the perfect combination to create something special. I loved the first part of the book – the grandfather telling fantastical stories to his young nephew, the incredible and unbelievable details about his life as a young man, his decline and death which started a quest for the truth.

Miss P The main protagonist, sixteen-year-old Jacob persuades his father to accompany him on a trip to a desolate island in the hope of finding the house his grandfather talked about in his stories – the monsters he was trying to keep at bay, the bizarre photographs of children he showed Jacob (the peculiars he called them), the “old bird smoking a pipe” who protected the children. And here the story started to lose its spark for me – it wasn’t the time travel, or the strange children with their otherworldly abilities. I’m not sure if I can even pinpoint what exactly it was that threw me off – perhaps the sudden romance between Jacob and Emma, which I felt didn’t really fit with the overall mood of the story. I wanted to know more about the monsters hunting the children and how the children were able to survive in that endless time loop without losing their minds. I wanted Jacob to find a way to live between the two worlds and I felt the story played up a lot on teenager angst and didn’t explore its dark potential to the fullest. But perhaps the answer is in the sequel, which I’d like to read, just to see how the children managed to live in the present and if their special gifts help or hinder them in their new life.

My rating: 3/5 stars

My R.I.P contributions:

The Unpierced Heart

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice / Frankenstein – Mary W Shelley

This House is Haunted – John Boyne / Sepulchre – James Herbert

The Quick – Lauren Owen

Deliver Us from Evil – movie review

Dracula Untold – movie review

I also went over to terribleminds.com and felt inspired to write some flash fiction:

Night Terror (the beginning)
Untitled vampire story (the middle)

NaNo pic And just like one great event ends, another begins. NaNoWriMo starts in less than two hours and I’ve decided to participate this year as well. If I can manage to stay awake past midnight long enough to get a few hundred words in, that would be great. Last year I had a really great time and wrote a story I really liked, even though The End came a few months later. This year I’ve decided to continue in the same genre, fantasy and horror. What greater way to celebrate Halloween than to write a scary story? I don’t know if the world needs another vampire/wizard story but I know I need to write it. Wish me luck.

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Dracula Untold (2014) – a movie review

Vlad Tepes I must have been in primary school the first time I saw a picture of Vlad Tepes and that was long ago, before the vampire craze. It was a history lesson and I stared at the figure on the page, the aquiline nose, the hooded eyes, the headgear that looked like something between a hat and a crown, the black hair falling in ringlets on his shoulders. I thought he looked fierce, a true defender of our nation, a great leader, a thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire. He punished his enemies by impaling them on wooden stakes. He was a hero among Romanians long before Stoker made him famous.

Years later when I moved to Thailand people asked me if Dracula was still alive and if he really drank human blood. I resisted the impulse to tell them he was alive and well, resting in his coffin in my basement. He does like to visit, just to spice up his menu, I should have said with a wicked laugh. What I said instead was no, he’s just a legend, dead long time ago. But is he really dead? It very much looks like the movie industry keeps trying to bring him back to life.

hr_Dracula_Untold_2 It’s the 21st century and here he is, resurrected on the screen, given a new name, a new face, and a new haircut – more like Lord Byron than the original ruler of Wallachia from the 15th century. After watching the trailer, I had the impression I’d already seen the whole movie but being a great fan of vampire movies, I couldn’t miss it. To my delight, I was happy to see there were still a few surprises left.

The movie mixes history and fiction into a tale meant to portray Vlad, the Wallachian prince, as a ruler willing to sacrifice himself for his family and country. Vlad had been a political prisoner of the Turks for a few years when he was young, and when a Turkish emissary came asking for a tribute of one thousand boys including his son, it felt like history was repeating itself. Determined to defend his people, Vlad found there was a way to get what he wanted but that came at a heavy price.

I loved the movie. Luke Evans did a great job of portraying the anguish and indecision, and later on determination of Vlad in defending his own. I was particularly interested in the names – Vlad’s wife, Mirena (which sounds a lot like Marina, a Romanian name), his men – Dumitru, Petru, Cazan, Simion, all old-fashioned Romanian names; even Vlad’s son – he was called Ingeras, which in Romanian means “little angel”, although the English pronunciation sounded nothing like its Romanian equivalent. It wasn’t his real name, of course, just like Mirena wasn’t his wife’s real name, but it added a more familiar touch to the story.

If you expect this to be an accurate historical tale, you’ll be disappointed. The history is there but reworked and retold in a seamless way. There are many differences between the real story of Vlad and the way it was depicted in this movie – his wife’s death for instance; the fortress where he and his family sought refuge from the Turks was Cozia monastery in the movie, but while such a place does exist and is indeed quite famous among Romanians, the movie was probably alluding to the palace Vlad had built to serve as a defense point, Poenari. I understand why this name wasn’t used. For once, its pronunciation in English greatly differs from its Romanian name, while Cozia does not. Vlad’s betrayal by his allies was also worked into the story in a way that fit in perfectly – superstitions and later on allegiance to the pack of vampires he had created, both played a role in his near demise but there was also the nod to Bram Stoker’s novel that ultimately saved him from destruction.

Vlad’s reputation as a ruthless killer is the main idea of the story, but while showing a field of impaled corpses might sound gory, I felt the movie wasn’t playing up on the bloody scenes but showed them as a gruesome act done to repel the enemies rather than a thirst for human blood. His transformation into a vampire is shown in beautiful detail without being overdone. I also liked that it was supposed to be gradual and up to some point, reversible, which is something I don’t recall seeing in other vampire movies. The one who gives him that choice, an old vampire portrayed by Charles Dance makes it clear what the consequences are so Vlad is aware of what he has to lose (and gain) if he decides to stay a vampire.

Overall this was a well done vampire movie. The special effects, the colors – gloomy weather, rain – the clothes and background, all contribute to create a version of a story that makes Vlad a more sympathetic character and less of a bloodthirsty driven monster. The open ending leaves room for more to come and I look forward to watching the sequel.
This is a perfect movie to watch for R.I.P., a reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings.

lavinia-portrait small

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The Quick – Lauren Owen

Victorian London. An old and crumbling house, two orphan children raised by an elderly aunt. A love story, smothered before it has time to grow, and a terrible secret carefully kept for long years. Vampires.

The Quick James and Charlotte Norbury grow up in the family’s great house. Their mother is dead, their father absent most of the time until he comes home to die of an unknown ailment. Raised by their aunt, they live in her house and they separate when James goes to school and then to London. He’s a writer, and spends his days scribbling poems and working on a play. He meets Christopher Paige and they share rooms together, forming an interesting friendship that later turns into something more. They are vigilant but can’t escape the knowing look of Christopher’s brother, Eustace, who threatens James. Soon after, James and Christopher are attacked by vampires and only James survives. He is taken to the Aegolius, an exclusive club for gentlemen – a dark, decadent building, its inhabitants a curious mix of men, most of them in their youth, but wearing clothes that had gone out of fashion a few generations back. Their purpose is not very clear at first, but as their new leader becomes more interested in his newly acquired powers, their plan begins to take shape.
After their aunt dies, Charlotte is worried by the lack of news from her brother. She goes to London to find him but when she does she will have to resort to all the courage she has in order to bring him home safely. She gets help from a strange crew of people – Arthur Howland, who owes James his life, Adeline and Shadwell, united in their grief, a mutilated vampire, and a band of vampires known as the Alia.

The novel starts slowly and at first focuses on James and Charlotte. Other characters come into the story, their roles more or less defined but all important nevertheless. There’s Mould, whose fascination for research in all things vampire gives him quite the reputation and a nickname: Doctor Knife; Porlock, the woman who takes care of Burke, the mutilated vampire; Treadwell, the lone old servant of the Aegolius; Edmund, the new chairman of the club who has grand plans for an expansion; Liza, the vampire child, apparently the lone survivor of her group.

There are details scattered here and there in the story with no apparent purpose until they begin to shift and connect with one another. Right at the beginning of the story there’s an elaborate description of a room wallpapered with an owl design. I often wondered why the author gave it so much attention but later on in the story it becomes obvious it’s not just because it was pretty. The mystery behind the name of the book is revealed later on, and only after that I realized the blurb at the back refers to the name of the book and not to…something else.

The story is peppered with information about vampires – the un-dead or undid – and while it sticks to some well known facts like their dislike for silver and holy water, it also introduces more unconventional details like being able to walk during the day, drinking alcohol mixed with blood, and being able to feel the cold, despite standing next to a blazing fire.
It was also a very pleasant surprise to see the names of famous writers, poets and characters – Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins, Shakespeare, John Donne, Sherlock Holmes.

The ending was quite easy to spot, not at first, but in the last few pages of the book. After all, according to an interview on YouTube, the author is currently working on a sequel and frankly I would like to see what happens to James in the coming book, and how many characters from the first book make a comeback. Also, it would be nice to find out more about his father and the cause of his death. That particular detail is something that’s been nagging at me since the beginning of the story.

lavinia-portrait small This has been an interesting book. I finished it in two days, during which I mostly read and didn’t do much else, holed up in the house in a state of near hibernation. It’s been great to be able to do that and this book was good company and a great choice for this year’s R.I.P, a challenge hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings until the end of October.

My rating: 3.5/ 5 stars

Read in October 2014

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This Hause is Haunted & Sepulchre

lavinia-portrait small

This is the last month of R.I.P. a reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. Last post was about unusual people. This week is all about unusual houses and those who inhabit them.

This House is Haunted – John Boyne

Eliza Caine lives with her father in London. It’s 1867 and one autumn evening, in spite of his persistent cough, Mr Caine convinces his daughter to go with him and see Charles Dickens read from his work. Not long after that, Eliza’s father dies, his sickness being exacerbated by the bad weather.

This House is Haunted Alone and grieving, Eliza decides it’s time for a change. She accepts to work as a governess at Gaudlin Hall, an estate in Norfolk where she has to take care of two young children, Eustace and Isabella, who live in a great house in need of repair. The children’s parents are nowhere to be found, and it takes a while before Eliza finds out the truth from the family’s lawyer, Mr Raisin. It’s a process accomplished in stages, and as more clues point to the right answers, Eliza is convinced somebody in the house is trying to kill her, just like it killed the governesses before her, all except one. She doesn’t know who it might be, but it’s obvious she’s not welcome to stay – great gusts of wind, invisible hands that push her from behind, cold water that turns hot, and that’s not all. But why would someone go to such lengths to get rid of all the governesses at Gaudlin Hall? What secret lies entombed in the great house? And why do the children keep saying they’re not allowed to leave?

The similarities to Jane Eyre abound – the unattractive young governess, alone in the world, coming to take care of children, unexplainable events meant to frighten her away, a handsome man Eliza begins to have feelings for and a few other clues that are best savored fresh. The language is a shade more modern but still striving to stay true to the time period. A good book, not as sinister as I’d hoped, and a little predictable at times, but quite enjoyable nevertheless.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Sepulchre – James Herbert

After reading The Rats recently, I couldn’t resist buying this when I saw it at the bookstore.
The Sepulchre is a mystery with a lot of creepy thrown in, which is just the way I like it. It’s a fun book, a page turner that mixes bits of religion and history into an otherwise modern day story.

Sepulchre Halloran is a bodyguard hired to protect a man named Felix Kline. Just how important Kline is to the company that hired Halloran is very clear, though the reasons are kept a secret at first. Kline knows his life is not safe, although he doesn’t know who might want to harm him. The only place he feels safe is Neath, an old house in a secluded area, and he decides that’s where he’ll spend the weekend, and Halloran has no choice but to follow him.

An old house with a lake nearby – a place far from prying eyes might seem like the perfect place to hide. But the lake is populated by strange creatures yearning to get out, there’s a pack of jackals roaming the grounds, there are locked doors and subterranean passages, and a lodge where the keeper lives, even though nobody has seen him. Before long Halloran finds out the enemy is not far away but as he begins to suspect Kline’s entourage and business partners, he finds out it’s not men with guns he has to protect his client from but something much more sinister. Everybody is a suspect: Monk, his bodyguard, the two Arabs catering to Kline’s every wish, his Polish driver with a peculiar taste for certain food, even his young assistant, Cora.

Herbert gives a lot of background detail about the lives of these characters and lets the reader know exactly how everybody came to work for Kline. That’s the part I enjoyed the most. As their background is revealed, the reader can get an idea of what kind a man Kline really is. His changing moods, his persuasive powers, his hypnotic voice, make him a formidable adversary but Halloran is more than a match.
Halloran is a mysterious character himself – there are glimpses of his childhood throughout the book but they only made me wonder even more about the man. An interesting fact – in Stephen King’s The Shining, there’s also a character called Hallorann, and both of them are fighting on the side of good.
An entertaining story and an easy read, this definitely won’t be my last James Herbert book.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in September, 2014

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