My occasional book reviews.
The most enjoyable novel I’ve read this year. Original, page-turning, fun and scary.
The personification of death, skeletal and robed, has lost its horse, scythe, and purpose in Elisa Hansen’s post-apocalyptic world. Death must reach New York in order to set the world right and resume its life-reaping ways.
Told with multiple points-of-view characters, the story centers around Emily, one of several humans who works to free their kind from enslavement by vampires in locations called communes. Apparently before the world fell apart, technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence was further along than today, though now quite hampered by the scarcity of fuel and electricity.
When a planned raid on a commune goes wrong, overrun by zombies, Emily’s life takes a strange and unprecedented turn. Even Death is stumped. Their destinies now entwined, Emily accompanies Death on its march to Manhattan.
Along the way they encounter Scott, also a human heading east. He had twice missed a chance to get to NYC by airship before the world ended. Now he’s running on fumes, though not alone. With him is Carol, a laser-packing robot who reminds Scott of his sister, because she had built it.
With plenty of mistrust among the four, they must nonetheless work together to reach their destination, all the while being pursued by Leif, a long-lived vampire with his own agenda.
Hansen wonderfully sets up the characters and their motivations, and also raising the intriguing question: what happens when Death no longer reaps?
This is Book 1, so there is more to the story, but I think it ends at a good point after a suspenseful climax.
I loved the scene when Emily is alone in the shed with Scott and her nose catches an irresistible scent. She must… she can’t… but maybe just a little bit… no!
I enjoyed reading this because of it’s a simple straight-forward reluctant vampire tale told from the perspective of Mara, a 1,600-year-old woman recounting her life. She’s not the glamorous, wealthy, worldly vampire one might expect in this kind of story, nor did she participate in consequential historic events or meet those who shaped them. She’s plain, poor, and practical. And tragically, cruelly, she lost the love of her life.Continue reading “Review of The Vampire Memoirs”
The Scribbled Victims tells a familiar tale of the vampire tradition in a way that’s different, emotionally compelling, and doesn’t shy from the horror of the vampire condition. I appreciate that Tomoguchi’s vampires need human blood to survive, though as the author shows, one cannot live on blood alone.Continue reading “Review of The Scribbled Victims”
Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters with the Beast Within is not a mere book, but a thick tome of wonderful, frightful shapeshifter stories. Editor John Skipp lovingly collected 30-plus pieces, introducing each with a remarkable photo-realistic illustration and brief insightful commentary. My hat’s off to his masterful effort. Continue reading “My Thoughts on Werewolves and Shape Shifters”
Reading Portrait of a Town: Cape Charles, 1940-1960 was like spending time with a dear friend as she shows you around the town she grew up in. You can imagine her taking you by the arm as the pair of you stroll down the streets. Continue reading “My Thoughts on Portrait of a Town”
In Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles, author Bert Ashe examines his decision to grow dreadlocks while exploring the hairstyle’s history and cultural significance. The personal and often humorous narrative invites the reader to share in Ashe’s dreadlock journey of discovery, not only about twisting hair, but about himself. Continue reading “My Thoughts on Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles”
Assassin Charles Guiteau believed he was doing God’s work in killing President James Garfield. Surely he would be rewarded with the consulship to France he long sought; surely Vice-president Chester Author would be delighted and grateful by Guiteau’s deed; surely General William Tecumseh Sherman would come to free Guiteau from his jail cell; and surely the American people would celebrate and insist he become president, himself.
Guiteau’s flights of fancy followed his flights from creditors all his life; he would bluff and borrow then skip town, chasing one idea after the next till he hit upon the idea that killing the president would turn his fortunes around. The man’s delusions were astounding to read.
Guiteau is only one part of Candice Millard’s well-researched, but never for a moment dull, book on the events surrounding the assassination of the twentieth president. What unfolds are tales of life’s ironies interwoven with tragic results for Garfield, his physician D. Willard Bliss, Alexander Graham Bell, Arthur, the spoils system, Robert Lincoln, and on and on.
For a man who never sought to be president, there were few so worthy to be one as Garfield.
Hild is an amazing historical novel. I can’t recall another recent novel that so superbly puts me in the world the author creates. The work seems effortless. Whenever I open the book, it’s only a sentence or two till I’m back in seventh-century Britain. Author Nicola Griffith’s skill is par excellence. The narrative is lush, scented, textured, alive.
The book is Griffith’s recreation of the life of the very real Hild (Saint Hilda of Whitby) based on the scant documents of her and that period that survive today. Seamlessly woven into the real historic figures and events of the period are Griffith’s fictional characters and circumstances.
Hild is a young girl and niece to King Edwin. In the midst of clashing tribes, Christianity is making inroads on the island, replacing the old gods. But superstition still holds, and Hild’s visions come to pass, earning the king’s trust and favor, while also earning the enmity of the chief priest Paulinus, who sees her as a rival and a witch. As her influence grows so does the danger.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a collection of eight short stories written by Karen Russell. Each story takes the reader to a different time and a different place. All are vivid and touched with magical realism, though Russell’s own writing borders on otherworldly – effortlessly drawing you into these fantastical, sometimes funny, stories.
- “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” features vampires seeking to slake their thirst on something other than blood.
- “Reeling for the Empire” is about captive girls made into silkworms.
- “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach” is where a boy discovers these birds are hoarding stolen bits of the future.
- “Proving Up” is a ghostly tale set during the homesteading period of U.S. history.
- “The Barn at the End of Our Term” is my favorite (perhaps due to my fondness for U.S. presidential history). A funny speculation about what happened to some of these presidents after they died.
- “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating” is a no-nonsense primer for hard core fans of Team Krill who trek to the bottom of the world for the annual competition.
- “The New Veterans” is about a massage therapist whose patient has an unusual tattoo that changes beneath her hands.
- “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” is about a group of bullies who discover a scarecrow that has an unsettling likeness to that of their victim.
What if vampires exist and the 16th president of the United States made a vow to destroy each and every one of them? It’s the central idea of the novel, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith.
Lincoln’s hatred for the undead begins when he learns that a vampire took his mother’s life. Hot-headed and heedless of danger, he clumsily seeks them out, swinging his trusty ax into the heads and hearts of those he finds. Along the way, he gains allies and a patron, who reveals to Lincoln that the vampires have a grander design for America, and he, Lincoln, has a greater destiny in opposing them.
The idea certainly intrigued me, but while there are admirable elements found in the novel, on the whole, the idea was more gimmick than story.
The writing quality is strong and the author captures the voice of Lincoln and those around him with apparent authenticity (as well as this non-Lincoln-expert can tell). To the point where, especially in passages of Lincoln’s younger life, the writing could pass for creative non-fiction. The voice is authoritative and engaging, painting vivid scenes of young Lincoln, his father and mother, and their hardscrabble years. The details are either well researched or well fabricated. (Less convincing are the “historical” pictures interspersed in the novel.)
But the life of Lincoln is as well known as any historical figure can be. What is really there to add? Where is there room? We all the know the arc of his story. The novel is much like those photographs — something lifted from real history and manipulated to insert a vampire. And like those photographs, flat, bordered, awkward.
I had joked on Twitter while reading this that the story would have been better served if it was Millard Fillmore: Vampire Hunter. Take the most forgettable, inconsequential of U.S. presidents and give him the story of fighting vampires. There would be more potential for humor and suspense. Whereas Lincoln might turn over in his grave with this novel — hadn’t he enough real horror and tragedy in his life? — Fillmore might sit up and read it. A chance at being talked about, remind the world he existed as the last Whig party president and opener of relations with Japan.
I was willing to read further than I otherwise would have as the first third of the book was slow to start. What didn’t help also was the framing, such as it was. The narrator exists in present day and is entrusted with the secret journals of Abraham Lincoln. The narrative flits between the narrator (third-person) and the journal entries (first-person). I did not care for this, finding it distracting too often.
Also, the narrator has no story of his own. He does not even complete the “frame,” as he doesn’t “appear” after the setup in the introduction. It’s as though he was forgotten. And it isn’t convincing that the narrator, as much as we are to know him at all, could relate the tale in the voice and with the knowledge that he does.
At the bottom of it, I guess I just wasn’t that interested in the fate of any of the characters. Again the writing is good, but somehow it failed to connect with me.