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Monthly Archives: October 2014
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.
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.
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:
I also went over to terribleminds.com and felt inspired to write some flash fiction:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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