Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan

My hunger for vampire stories led me to The Forest of Hands and Teeth (I love the title, it sounds so creepy!). I dug it out from between the other books in the bookstore and took it home.
The blurb on the back cover made me think of this book as a cross between M.Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” and Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” and while I enjoyed the former better I was also curious to see what this book had to offer.

Mary is a young girl who grew up in an isolated village in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The village is believed to be the last human surviving enclave and is run by The Sisterhood and protected by The Guardians. In her world, rules are important and everyone obeys them. Under the guidance of The Sisterhood, the village is kept safe from the Unconsecrated, living beings that were humans once but got bitten and then turned, becoming creatures with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Now they prowl the fences around the village, their moans of agony a perpetual sound in the background.
In a world under the constant threat of extinction, finding a mate and starting a family is seen as one of the steps a girl must take. Love is not important, it is all about commitment. But Mary’s inquisitive mind does not accept the rules easily. She remembers the stories her mother used to tell, stories of a world before The Return, of a vast stretch of salty water as wide and big as the eyes could see: the ocean. Could those stories be true, does the ocean really exist and if it does, why didn’t anybody try to go and find it? Is there life outside the village or are they really the last surviving people on earth?
The longing to see if her mother’s stories were true start to take over Mary’s thoughts and soon she must make a choice: to live the life that was expected of her, marry, have children and spend the rest of her days in the small community, or leave the village and take the risky journey that may claim her life. How to make a decision between a love and a dream, knowing that having both is not an option? What to do when the decision you know you must make will separate you from the ones you love? And how to leave when just outside the gates the Unconsecrated are waiting, sniffing for the scent of human flesh, always hungry, always ready to rip apart the people they catch? And probably the most haunting question of all is how to silence your dreams when all you want to do is see them turn into reality? These are not easy questions to answer and for a moment it seems as if Mary can have it all: escaping from the village with the one she loves, driven by the desire of seeing what’s behind the fences. But there’s a price to be paid and the man Mary loves is willing to pay it: to sacrifice himself so that she may follow her dreams, knowing that she will never be happy otherwise, that their love will not be enough to quench the fire of curiosity burning in her soul.

The end threw me off a bit. I imagined something else for Mary, I kind of hoped she would come back and wipe the Unconsecrated from the face of the earth. But maybe that will come in the last book of the trilogy. When I bought this book I had no idea it was only the first in a series of three and I’m not sure if I will look for the other two (it’s a good thing this wasn’t book number 2).
This book was like a thriller movie, lots of action, daring characters and every now and then a turn of events that made me gasp (even though some were a bit predictable) and rush on to the next page to see what happens next, hoping that the people will make it out alive. I liked Mary’s fierceness, her determination and her courage, but most of all I liked her for daring to follow her dream.

*read in August 2011






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Top Ten Books I Loved But Never Wrote A Review For

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Today I felt the need for a different post and while browsing through the multitude of blogs available out there, I picked up an idea from one of them. I know it’s well past Tuesday, but it’s only today that I saw this week’s meme and loved it so I decided to participate. You can call it ‘My Top Ten Saturday’ if you like, for the sake of accuracy.
Most of the books I chose today I read many years ago, when reading was enough to satiate my need for words. To do them justice and write proper reviews I would have to read them again which I’m sure I will – maybe not all but some, definitely. If you read any from the list I would love to know your thoughts.

1. Needful Things – Stephen King
King is my favorite author and while I enjoy reading his books, when it comes to writing reviews for them I have trouble putting the right words together. I read this one years ago (followed by many more of his books) and to this day it remains my favorite Stephen King novel.

2. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
One of the most beautiful stories I’ve read. So far I read it twice and I’ll probably read it again someday.

3. The Dark Tower – Stephen King
The amazing adventure of the Gunslinger in his quest of searching for the Dark Tower, this is a 7 book series packed with action and unforgettable characters, not all of them human. Some series are just too amazing to be contained in a few review words. This is one of them.

4. Winnetou – Karl May
Discovered in the dusty bookcase of a relative, Winnetou was the book of my adolescence and my first encounter with the American Indians of the Wild West. I will definitely read this one again and maybe then I’ll try to review it.

5. Harry Potter – J. K. Rowling
Some say this is a book for children but they’re usually the ones who haven’t read it. There’s enough in it for adults and children alike. We all need a bit of magic from time to time.

6. The Kent Family Chronicles – John Jakes
It must have been about 10 years since I read this three-book series. A historical fiction following the adventures of a family through the turbulence of time. A very entertaining read.

7. The Pillars of The Earth – Ken Follett
I’ve read a few of Ken Follett’s books and enjoyed them all but this one is special. Sometimes when I try to remember a book I’ve read a long time ago I can only summon a feeling, and I remember how this book felt at that time: amazing.

8. Gone with The Wind – Margarett Mitchell
This book needs no introduction – a timeless classic, the story of ambitious Scarlett O’Hara has captured my heart. The movie is pretty good, too!
I read it many years ago when writing reviews was not even a thought in my mind yet.

9. The Sorrows of Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A book I read a couple of years ago because one of the professors at university kept bringing it up in his lectures and it got stuck in my head. I loved it, even though it’s unbearably sad.

10. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
I picked up this book after previously having read The Grapes of Wrath. I just wanted more of Steinbeck and while I have enjoyed both, the depressing stories were not easy to read. Nevertheless, I’d like to read East of Eden someday as well.






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By Blood We Live – Vampire stories edited by John Joseph Adams

I could say I have been hungry for short stories but I didn’t know it until I saw the fat book sitting there on the shelf, as if waiting for me. The cover promised rich short stories by writers like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Tad Williams, Anne Rice and many more, just perfect for sinking my teeth into on my commute to and from work. I must confess that I have a soft spot for horror stories, and vampire tales fit into that category nicely. Taking the book from the shelf and leafing through only emphasized my desire to take it home and start eating. I mean reading, of course, reading.

It was good, quite good, better than I expected. The risk with buying a short story collection is that you may like some stories but you may also dislike others, and while for me the balance usually makes it worth buying the book, this time I can’t complain at all. Blood drips from every story, sometimes it’s a little and sometimes it’s whole buckets, and what I liked even more is that some of the stories go that extra step into the horrific. One that comes to mind is Joe Hill’s Abraham’s Boys which I read around 7 o’clock on a beautiful morning on my way to work – I remember distinctly the sun coming through the taxi window on my left, and so bright it made me wish I hadn’t forgotten my sunglasses at home – nevertheless, the end of that story put an icy shiver through me and I’m glad I read it in full daylight. I remember Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box which I read a couple of years ago and while I enjoyed it, this short story was far better, or to be more in sync with the vampire vocabulary, it was horrifyingly good.

Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples was another story I particularly enjoyed. The classic Snow White fairytale gets a revamp (pun intended) and while reading it I was pleasantly surprised to see how the author had managed to stick to many of the original details and also incorporate vampire-related elements to make the story truly unique and also quite creepy. Let’s just say I like the stepmother this time around, and not the beautiful princess.
Some of the stories I’ve read before – Stephen King’s One for the Road where the weather combined with the vampire threat makes for quite a chilling combo and The Master of Rampling Gate by Anne Rice, a story about an inherited old house and an apparently odd request for it to be torn down.

One of the most intriguing stories was The Vechi Barbat by Nancy Kilpatrick, which brings into focus a Romanian girl whose tale about the ancient man who lived in her village reminded me of home. It was a bit disconcerting to turn the page and see words in my native language mixed into an English book like some strange exotic blood used to enhance this feast of stories. But perhaps the oddest tale was Exsanguinations: A Handbook for the Educated Vampire by Anna S. Oppenhagen-Petrescu (translated from the Romanian by Catherynne M. Valente) which is written in the form of a journal/biography and in such a way that it made me wonder if it wasn’t real. Then again, it is a book about vampires and they have been known to play with people’s minds as well as sucking their blood.

I enjoyed this book a lot – the different types of vampires and the little introductory notes at the beginning of each story made for a varied combination perfectly designed to satisfy every appetite: from the fragile beautiful sexy female vampire, to the merciful horrible shape tamed by the sound of human voices telling stories around the fire, to the brutal killing machine whose only desire is to feed; ancient tales mingle with science, brutality with ethereal beauty, immortality with the vulnerability of the moment, and on top of it all, love, desire and lots of blood, not necessarily in that order. And I’m still hungry.

*read in August 2011






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The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson

“Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.”

Quite a catchy opening line, isn’t it?
This is how The Gargoyle starts, and it was enough to keep me reading.
The story begins with a car accident – the survivor, a man, is brought to a hospital, his body covered in severe burns. While going through endless medical procedures which only make him wish for a quick death, he receives a visitor, a strange woman who claims they were lovers a long time ago. Several hundred years, in fact.
Her name is Marianne Engel (not quite angel but almost – I like that) and just like a modern Scheherazade, she starts telling him their love story. Her tale is interspersed with other beautiful love stories, like the Japanese girl who made amazing delicate works of art out of glass and every time one chipped a piece away, the word aishiteru (‘I love you’ – in Japanese) would be released into the air, or the woman whose husband was lost at sea and she always waited for him to come back.

Slowly, his thoughts of suicide fade away and the burned man finds himself looking forward to Marianne Engel’s visits and the stories she brings him. Each day becomes less painful than the last, and while his body is slowly recovering, the burned man remembers his past and cannot help compare his former life to the one he’s forced to accept after his accident.

What about Marianne Engel and her story? What hides beneath that intriguing exterior, who’s underneath those tattoos?

“Her hair was like Tartarean vines that grow in the night, reaching up from a place so dark that the sun is only a rumor.

Ocean waves tossed around her irises, like an unexpected storm ready to steal a sailor from his wife.”

How come she knows so many things, old things, terrible things, and why is she speaking about the hearts she has to give away? And why does she go into a frenzy sculpting those stone monsters, the gargoyles?

The stories within stories kept my attention fully engaged – I only wish I had read Dante’s Inferno before so I would understand that specific part in the book better, but that’s to be done in the future. The sentences are beautifully constructed, the references to other cultures intriguing, the description of the burned man’s wounds and treatment believable (they are probably accurate but to be honest I have no idea – nevertheless I was impressed with the amount of details about this aspect).
This was one of the best love stories I’ve read, a love that asks for everything and burns the soul like fire, a love that requires the greatest sacrifice: that of letting go. It made my heart sing and weep at the same time.
This book is a keeper. I will definitely read it again.

*read in August 2011






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Vanishing Acts – Jodi Picoult

My first encounter with Jodi Picoult’s work was through Weights and Measures, which I read in a book of short stories. In the review I wrote, I described it as “an amazing story of grief and loss and how it can transform people and not just in the psychological sense”. That story had stayed with me – the sadness, the emotions, the feeling of emptiness I imagined the characters in the story must have felt. And so I stored it in the back of my mind and made a mental note to keep an eye out for this author.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a bookcrossing meeting, an event which takes place once a month here, in Bangkok, and where people come to talk about and swap books. To my surprise and delight, somebody had brought Vanishing Acts and that’s how I got to read it.

***

Delia Hopkins is a young woman engaged to Eric, the man she loves. They have a daughter, Sophie, who is 4 years old. Delia’s job is finding people and this she does with the help of a bloodhound named Greta. She lives with her father, Andrew. She thinks her mother is dead. She is haunted by flashbacks she can’t explain, like the one with a lemon tree and a man who calls her grilla.
The mystery of those memories is about to start unraveling when her father is arrested. Seemingly unimportant things have an explanation now and everybody seems caught up in a web of intrigue. Eric, who’s a lawyer and has chosen to represent Delia’s father in court, Delia, who’s about to discover things about her past, Fitz, a childhood friend, who is trapped in the middle, between his feelings for Delia and his friendship with Eric.
The story is told by the characters in separate “chapters”, providing the reader with a varied perspective of the events. The author explores the drama of alcoholism and the effect it has on families, cultural diversity through snippets into the American-Indian and Mexican culture, and things people do to protect the ones they love.

I nearly gave up on the book after the first 80 pages or so – things seemed somehow…disconnected and the dialogue lacking, but there was something in the way the author described the parents-children relationships that appealed to me and helped me get over my reluctance to keep reading.
This is a book about family, about sacrifices and hard decisions, but most of all it’s about one man’s love for his daughter, whose happiness and well-being always came first.
An interesting novel.

*read in August 2011






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The Road Less Traveled – A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, by M. Scott Peck, MD

If you have reached a point in your life when you just want to know more about how the mind works and possibly find some answers to questions about relationships, dealing with problems and finding possible ways to solve them, this might be a good first step in that direction. Written by a psychiatrist in 1978, the book manages to combine a series of real life cases with interesting insights into how people deal with (or manage to avoid) different issues, and plain matter of fact explanations about what triggers the emotional component of our actions.

The book is divided into 4 major sections: Discipline, Love, Growth and Religion, Grace. From the subject of responsibility, problem solving and depression, to the somewhat scientific explanation of the concept of Love, through the issue of religion but not necessarily in the ‘church-going way’, and the power of our unconscious, the book manages to bring structure and a sense of order to the everyday situations and life challenges, while at the same time pointing out ways to attain ‘mental health’.

It is a long, difficult and painful journey which many of us are afraid of, but one which we have to take, every day, every moment, one we may feel like giving up from time to time and one which only ends in the moment of our death: the journey of knowing ourselves, of going through experiences, of suffering and joy, of constant change and adjustment. Life is difficult – that is how the book starts, but that doesn’t have to be taken as a negative thing but more like a challenge. Just like a traveler would pack his bag, put on his walking shoes and start on his journey, so we must do, and if our supplies run out, our shoes get worn and we stop for breaks along the way, we must strive forward, replenishing our resources, getting new shoes and keep going on this road less traveled of our own personal fulfillment.
This is one of those rare books that deserves a second (maybe a third and a fourth) reading.

*Read in July 2011






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A Book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

(Emily Dickinson)






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