Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Everything that is, casts a shadow."

I've been so bad at this. Life is crazy but I'm planning to make regular blog posts every month or two from now on, I promise!

Next up: The Diamond Throne by David Eddings

Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2011, Harper Collins

Shadow Moon has had a rough time of it lately. He’s just been released after a three year stint in prison for physically assaulting someone who had stolen from him. With only a day or two left to go before his scheduled release, he is called into the warden’s office and informed that he will be released early, due to the sudden death of his wife in a terrible car accident. Struggling to process and just going through the motions, Shadow finds himself on the plane back home, sitting next to a strange man who calls himself Wednesday. The man knows more things about Shadow and his life than he should.

The stranger offers him a job and, after much consideration and realizing he has nothing left to go back to, he accepts. So begins a cross-country journey as Shadow works as chauffeur, errand boy and muscles for Wednesday. As they travel around the country, meeting with several of Wednesday’s associates, Shadow begins to notice a few very strange things about his new boss and his friends. Time goes by and soon Shadow learns the truth: Wednesday and his friends are old gods brought over to what would become the United States, riding over in the hearts and minds of immigrant believers.

Shadow soon learns that war is coming to the states. As popular culture, technology, media, sex and drugs become more important to Americans, these ideas are being manifested into new gods. Technology is an overweight, pale looking teenager who smells vaguely of motherboards and computer chips. Media comes in the form of a woman who can speak to Shadow through characters on his TV screen, offering to flash him while in the guise of Lucille Ball. The new gods have declared war upon the old ones, deciding there’s no room in this new world for their ancient rituals and ideas.

As a manifestation of Odin, Wednesday travels around the country, getting in touch with the other manifestations of old gods, asking them to join the battle and fight to preserve their existence. Shadow finds himself in the middle of a war between powerful, cunning and manipulative deities, each of them vying for his support in the coming battle. When his dreams begin getting stranger and stranger and his dead wife starts coming to him at night, Shadow has to start wondering: is there more to him than there seems?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the works I have read and/or seen by Neil Gaiman. The man is a genius with a fantastic streak of weird running through everything he creates. He has a kind of Tim Burton-esque darkness that appeals to my former goth self.

Have you seen Mirrormask? If not, you should.

I’ve wanted to read American Gods for ages and, with the new TV show and encouragement of a friend, I finally picked up a copy. I am so glad that I did! It is a fun and imaginative journey into the world of the deities from a variety of different cultures around the world, while simultaneously being a solemn commentary on what’s important to society nowadays.

Gaiman takes readers into the hidden world of the gods who were dragged across the oceans and now reside in the United States, trying to make their way in a land that was never their own. Some have prospered while others have struggled and his depictions of these gods can really pull at your heartstrings, as you discover the state in which some of them have been living. Gaiman pulls from several different cultures to bring his gods to life, drawing characters from Norse mythology, Slavic folklore, Egyptian mythology, Germanic legends and lore, Hindu mythology, as well as the Christian faith and American legends and folklore. While reading, the true identity of some characters isn’t always immediately obvious and, being fortunate to know a few things about different mythologies, I found myself looking for clues with each introduction. As I read it became a game: how quickly could I identify the new characters? This added another layer of fun to the reading of this fantastic novel.

At the same time, I felt Gaiman did a wonderful job on writing his social commentary into the story. The new gods were created from the minds of humanity, a humanity obsessed with computers, smart phones, television and social media. We are, all of us, looking for our next fix, whether it be the most recent episode of a television show, another “like” on a posted photo, another drink, another hit, another roll around in bed. The list is endless. When was the last time we unplugged, left our phones in the car and took a walk in the park? When did we last connect with nature and the planet on which we live? When did we last read a book on a particular religion or enjoy the tales of another culture?

As an English grad student, I can appreciate that last one, especially. I recently enjoyed a wonderful course on Medieval literature, which included ancient Viking sagas on the list of readings. Throughout the course, I got to thinking about these stories and their survival. If we stop reading our legends, sagas and folklore, they will die, replaced by the newest app and the remaining elements of those cultures will disappear from history. The same is true for religion - as society moves more toward technology and instant gratification of whatever their desire may be at the time, drifting further and further away from the church, temple or synagogue, the current major religions will one day become like the Viking sagas or the Greco-Roman pantheons - mythology and legend, barely remembered.

While incredibly entertaining, American Gods gives us a look into what our society has begun to consider as important and what we are losing because of it. I highly recommend this novel to anyone and everyone! Lovers of fantasy, modern fiction, history and social studies, as well as those who just appreciate the general weirdness that is Neil Gaiman, will absolutely love this novel. Go buy it!

Now, it’s time for me to watch the show and see if it lives up to the original!

** Blog title taken from the book.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Valar Morghulis

I must apologize for being away so long. Between working two jobs, applying for Grad school and trying to have at least a tiny bit of a social life, I haven’t done much review writing. I’ll be honest with you, friends, after I get home from a long day of working two shifts, I basically just stare at my computer screen and do absolutely nothing. I think about all the things I could be doing, but the energy to actually do them is just not there.

I have, however, managed to read a few books since my last posting. As all of those books have been part of the Song of Ice and Fire series, I’m going to do a general review covering books 2, 3, 4 and most of 5, as I’m still finishing that one.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Author: George R. R. Martin

Publisher: Bantam

George R.R. Martin knows how to keep readers on their toes. This story is not one where a reader can look at a certain character and just know that they will make it to the end of the book. Just when the audience starts to think to themselves, “Okay, this character is playing a huge part in the story; there’s no way they’re going to die,” Martin pens a scene that just destroys you as a reader. I have heard friends say that when they had finished certain scenes, they slammed the pages closed in anger and threw the book across the room. Those are the kind of responses Martin elicits from his readers. And that, I believe, is a testament to his ability to create lovable and relatable characters.

As mentioned in my review of A Game of Thrones, Martin’s story is more about the politics of the fictional kingdom of Westeros than it is of the few magical creatures that inhabit the lands. The young king currently seated on the Iron Throne is rumored to not be the legitimate heir of the late King Robert. This sparks a war in the kingdoms, with multiple persons laying claim to the crown; Stannis Baratheon, older brother of the late king; Renly Baratheon, Robert’s younger brother; Robb Stark, son of the former Hand of the King, Ned Stark; and across the narrow sea, Daenerys Targaryen, heir of the former royal family of Westeros, is gradually making her way back to her home land, gathering an army and raising the last three living dragons in the world.

On the other hand the kingdom is also dealing with the impending winter, one that is expected to last for several, several years. In addition to the cold weather and snows, there is something else lurking in the northern lands, beyond the wall. Creatures that were long thought to be extinct, after missing for a thousand years, are beginning to resurface, killing every warm-blooded creature they come across. The wall separates them from the rest of Westeros but with the worst winter in centuries about to descend on the kingdoms, things are changing – will the wall be enough to keep the people safe?

There is never a dull moment, as Martin always ends a chapter with a big reveal or on a cliffhanger. The novel is told in third person and each chapter focuses on a different character. The only problem with those cliffhangers is that you may go a hundred or so pages before you get to see what happens next with each character. It does, however, entice you to read the novel as quickly as you can, so you can see what occurs. I am almost finished with the fifth book, “A Dance of Dragons,” and this has been a big problem for me in this installment. However, this isn’t a huge issue – because even though I find it slightly annoying that I don’t know what happened to Arya or Dany since I last saw them a few hundred pages ago, that just keeps me wanting to read even more.

Martin is a wonderful author who creates such dynamic characters – you either absolutely love them and spend the days hoping and praying that they will survive, or you hope they will get what’s coming to them!  As before mentioned, just because a character is considered to be on the good side, that doesn’t mean they will survive to the end. Martin’s style is very realistic – sometimes good doesn’t win, people die and sometimes the bad guys are successful. That’s why you can’t guarantee the safety of anyone in the novels. When I reached the same scene in which my friend threw her book across the room after reading it, I immediately understood why. Though I didn’t throw my book, I was still shocked at what took place on the pages in my hands. A character I was rooting for and expected would survive throughout the entirety of the series because they were one of “the good guys,” was suddenly killed in the most horrifying way. It was at this moment when I realized that, in keeping with the realistic medieval theme of the novels, no one was guaranteed to survive.

I can’t stress highly enough how much I recommend these novels. The storyline itself is enthralling – who, in the end, will actually be the king or queen of Westeros? Martin’s character development is extraordinary. There are so many main characters in this series and yet each of them has their own personality, their own goals and their own breaking point. Not often do you see a novel or series of novels in which you have some sort of attachment, whether positive or negative, to nearly all the characters.

I believe he is still working on book 6, which will be called “The Winds of Winter.” I'm nearly finished book 5, “A Dance with Dragons,” so in a few chapters time I will be one of those people anxiously waiting for the publication date of the next installment. The series, in general, is quite addicting and I encourage you to go pick up a copy of the next book, or if you haven't started them yet, do so! You will not regret it!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Winter is Coming

Title: Game of Thrones

Author: George R. R. Martin

Published: Originally Published August 1996, Bantam

Plot Overview:

The great realm of Westeros is divided into seven smaller sub-kingdoms, each ruled by its own lord, who in turn are ruled by King Robert, who resides in King’s Landing. When the Hand of the King, Lord Arryn, dies suddenly, Robert takes his family and a host of guards and attendants to make the trek north to Winterfell, home of the king’s closest friend, Lord Ned Stark. Ned is very hesitant to take the position, as he has no desire to involve himself in the political games of the kingdom. However, when Ned’s wife Catelyn receives a letter from her sister Lysa, Lord Arryn’s widow, explaining that she believes her husband was murdered by the Lannisters, Ned has a change of heart. Cersei Lannister is unhappily married to his dear friend, King Robert. When the safety of his friend and the potential outbreak of war becomes a threat, Catelyn convinces him that he must accept Robert’s offer to save the Stark family, King Robert’s life and the fate of Westeros.

Upon arriving in King’s Landing, Ned begins to do some research into Lord Arryn’s death. One clue after another brings him to yet another mystery, as he slowly unveils the truth. John Arryn was most certainly murdered, but for what purpose? The answer suddenly reveals itself in the most unexpected way and Ned must decide what he is to do with the knowledge he’s gained – to tell the King would mean hurting his pride and watching the outcome of his wrath; to keep the secret would be damaging to his own honor and loyalty to his friend. The last thing Ned Stark wanted when King Robert’s host entered his castle was to be involved in politics; now he is the keeper of a secret that could rip the kingdoms apart with war.

 Across the narrow sea the last living descendants of Aerys Targaryen, the former ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, are on a quest to take back what is theirs. Prince Viserys has forced his sister, Princess Daenerys (Dany), into an arranged marriage with Khal Drogo, leader of a large Dothraki clan. In return, Drogo has promised an army to Viserys, with which the ambitious prince intends to take back the realm stolen from them in the war upon their father. King Aerys had gone mad and was doing terrible things when the lords of the seven kingdoms rose up against him, killing him and installing Robert Baratheon on the throne. Viserys will do anything to sit upon the throne in King’s Landing

Meanwhile, Ned Stark’s bastard son John Snow is fighting is own battles. Upon his father’s departure from Winterfell, John decided to join the Night’s Watch – a group of men skilled in battle, who protect the realm from things on the other side of the Wall. The Wall is located at the northern most part of the kingdoms, separating Westeros from the Haunted Forest, a land of ice, snow and wild things. The realm has spent the last 9 years reveling in an unusually long summer. But summer cannot last forever and strange, dark things are beginning stir beyond the wall.

Winter is coming.

Review (Spoiler heavy!)

I’ve been meaning to start reading the Song of Ice and Fire series for a long time now. It’s always looked interesting and when I discovered they were adapting a television show from the books, one that looked wicked awesome (forgive my Maineisms), well – that pretty much sealed it. My best friend was fan and after several conversations about the series, with her telling me that I had to read it and me saying I knew I needed to, she loaned me her copy of the first book.

Upon starting the novel, I realized that A Game of Thrones, although it had similar qualities to books I’ve read in the past, was a bit different from my usual choices. I don’t normally pick up books that have a lot of politics and political intrigue in the plot. However, the further into the book I got and the more attached I got to the characters my mind turned away from the “I’m seriously reading about politics?” mentality and more toward “what is the secret and what will it mean for the kingdoms?!”

The character development is just incredible. Just when you think you’ve got a character all figured out they do or say something that completely throws you for a loop and, depending on how you feel about them, will either bring you immense satisfaction or disappointment. I particularly enjoyed the transformations of John Snow, Robb, Sansa and Arya Stark and especially Daenerys Targaryen as they grew up and were affected by the events around them.

John had lived at Winterfell all his life, surrounded by his father and half-siblings, most of which, except for Arya and Robb, didn’t accept him. Catelyn Stark, especially, looked upon him with disdain and wanted nothing to do with him. Although he loved his father very much, he wore the name bastard like a curse. After a conversation with Tyrion Lannister (the only good Lannister, in my opinon), he began to feel less and less ashamed of who he was. Tyrion told him to embrace it, own it and then nothing anyone said about his parentage could ever hurt him again. He went to the Wall as a young man who had been insulted, beaten down and made to feel inferior but when he began his training it quickly became obvious that he was the most skilled, the most talented and the most driven of all the young men who were planning to take the Black of the Night’s Watch. Upon this realization the then became rather proud of himself and a bit pompous. However, after another heart to heart with Tyrion, he began to take less pride in his successes in the training field and began to help his peers with their fighting skills.

Robb and Arya Stark have to grow up very quickly in a short amount of time. While the girls went to King’s Landing with their father, Robb and his younger brothers stayed behind at Winterfell. When tragedy strikes young Brandon Stark just before Ned and party set out, Catelyn becomes inconsolable. She stays by Bran’s bedside and is incapable of handling matters of Winterfell. Robb steps up and takes over duties as Lord, making decisions necessary to successfully run their northern kingdom. When disturbing news reaches them from King’s Landing Robb gathers the northern armies together and begins to march south. Arya, the youngest of the Stark’s two daughters was always a little tomboyish, preferring to play at swords with her brothers than to sit with the ladies and embroider fabric. After arriving in King’s Landing, Ned sets her up with a fencing master, from whom she begins to properly learn how to wield a blade and to fight. The lessons he teaches prove useful when Lannister guardsmen interrupt one of her lessons to take her into custody. She escapes them easily and manages to live secretly on the streets of the city. Unlike her sister, Sansa doesn’t realize that the Lannisters and the Prince, Joffrey, may not be as sincere as they seem or have the best interests of the kingdom at heart. She defends her beloved prince whenever Arya says anything against him and still believes in him up until the day he has her father beheaded for treason. Sansa comes to know the true heart of Joffrey and realizes her errors far too late.

Dany, in addition to Arya and John, is one of my favorite characters in the novel. Her brother sees her as nothing but a bargaining tool and mistreats and verbally abuses her. She has been beaten down by her brother for years and dares not defy him in any way, making her quiet, meek and reserved when we first meet her. Though she doesn’t want to, she is forced to marry a man she has never met, Khal Drogo, leader of the Dothraki clan. While he frightens her at first, she warms up to him and eventually loves him. She is treated like a queen by all in the clan and she gradually begins to feel that she is worth more than what Viserys has made her to believe. As time passes she eventually sees herself as the queen she is and stops taking the abuse from her brother. When a drunk Viserys enters sacred ground of the Dothraki and points a sword at her pregnant belly, she tells him to stop but knows it’s too late for him. She does nothing to stop Khal Drogo from giving him exactly what he deserves. And I feel that, although she loses a brother, she is freed from his constant oppression and is able to more fully grow into the queen and the person she has been all along.

It’s a truly excellent book that I highly recommend. It’s a wonderful blend of political intrigue, fantasy and coming of age stories. And unlike many fantasy novels, Martin doesn’t overwhelm the reader with magic and the supernatural, though there is evidence of it throughout the book. There are only a very few moments in the book when the reader is present when something otherworldly is going on – the white walkers, waking from their millennia-long slumber, the witch who helps Dany save her husband and, most importantly, the dragons Dany helps to hatch. These little glimpses into the magic of Westeros only whets the fantasy appetite, getting the reader more excited for what new brand of magic will be revealed next and also helps to really focus on the political plots woven throughout the story, and that’s really what the book is about – the story of different houses, all trying to do what they think is best for the realm, some of their ambitions a little more self-serving than others.

But while the kingdoms play the game of thrones and you watch tensions mount, wondering who will take the crown in the end, there’s that little thought nagging at the back of your mind. Sempas tell their young charges tales of the long winters that brought with it wild things of old that killed everything in their path and wiped entire villages and cities from existence. And far to the north, beyond the wall and away from the trouble in King’s Landing, things long thought dead are stirring in the darkness. 

Winter is coming.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Hey everyone, I know this isn't a book review, but I've seen so many reviews about last night's Walking Dead episode, I had to post my own. I've read a few that were all positive or mostly positive and then there were some who stated that last night's episode was just awful. Well, I have an opinion on the show as well and this is my blog so I can share it, goshdarnit!

Last night's episode, "The Grove," is one of my favorite episodes this season, maybe of all the seasons so far. Granted, the last ten to fifteen minutes or so I was near tears but that's when you know a show is good - when a scene comes along that punches you right in the feels.

For the past few years we've come to know all the characters on the show. Some of them we love. Some we hate. Some we hate to love and some we love to hate. But no matter how we feel about them, they've all become a part of our Sunday night traditions. We can't wait to see what happens next and when tragedy strikes them we feel it. Oh, how we feel it.

Last night's episode focused on Carol, Tyreese, Lizzie, Mika and little Judith. The Governor's final attack on the prison left the survivors scattered, though we can see that for the most part, they're all missing each other by a mile or two there, an hour or two here. It's frustrating to know that they're so close to each other but are just a few moments too late to see the other group in the same spot. Anyway, I digress. Carol and company happen upon an isolated house in the middle of the woods. Tyreese is dealing with an infected cut on his arm and they have three little ones with them, so they decide to stay in the house for a few days. After clearing the area of zombies, they begin to think that instead of moving further down the tracks to the mysterious Terminus, that maybe they could just stay in the house forever.

Some of the reviews I read stated they thought most of the episode was dull, boring, even. And to you, I say..."what is wrong with you people?!" Personally, I didn't find anything about that episode dull or boring. It seemed to move at the same pace as the last couple of preceding episodes. And I think they had the right idea on this one - all of that peaceful, "we could stay here" footage lulled the audience into a false sense of happiness and security. As the episode progressed we started to feel happy for the little group - everything was going so well! They were finding food, there weren't that many walkers around - life was good!

And then....

The writers ripped that rug right out from under us. The last fifteen or so minutes of Walking Dead hell came crashing down on us as Carol and Tyreese, back from a hunting expedition, come back to their new home to see Lizzie, hands bright red with blood past the wrists, standing over the body of her younger sister. Poor, sweet, little Mika lay on a blanket spread out on the lawn, eyes closed, mouth slightly ajar, while little baby Judith crawled around her still body. Lizzie explains that she wanted to show everyone that walkers weren't bad - they were friends!

Several writers of the reviews I read said they didn't believe Lizzie's slip into madness, that the script felt forced or rushed. As we've seen, this has been building for quite some time now, as it is revealed that Lizzie is the one who fed mice to the walkers at the prison, which eventually leads to the weight of the walkers bringing down the gate. Just a couple of episodes ago we watched as she nearly killed Judith in the woods. Granted, yes, the baby was crying and they didn't want to attract walkers - but as she held her hand over the baby's mouth and nose, her face wasn't an expression of terror, it was something else...something dark, twisted and a bit sinister. Therefore, given that we've had all this evidence piling up that Lizzie's going through some kind of mental breakdown/future serial killer training, I don't find it that hard to believe that she could suddenly snap the way she did. I mean, the poor girl's been living in a world where, no matter what a person dies of, they come back and start nomming everyone else. She watched her father get sick and die, then stayed nearby as Carol shoved a blade into his head to keep him from coming back to kill. She's had to put bullets in the heads of things that were once human. The community they were living in has fallen apart, she saw countless people die during the Governor's attack, they have no idea who, if anyone, may have survived. Hell, if it had been me in her situation I would have cracked a long time ago! So, as sudden as her complete and utter breakdown was, I find it absolutely plausible!

I was so incredibly saddened by the death of Mika. She was so adorable, so sweet and though she could a bullet through a zombie's head almost as well as the trained adults, there still seemed to be an innocence about her that I just loved. But the writers weren't done yet! Oh no, definitely not! A few hours later after Carol had taken care of Mika's body and they'd settled Lizzie upstairs (away from sharp, pointy objects) Tyreese and Carol sat at the kitchen table discussing what to do next. Carol said she would take Lizze and they would go off together, leaving Tyreese to live at the house with Judith. Tyreese, however, didn't want them to be out on their own like that. Carol says, Lizzie "can't be around people." Separating isn't an option and finding an open psychiatrist's office is quite difficult in the zombie apocalypse. So, there's only one thing to do.

"Look at the flowers."

The deaths of Mika and Lizzie are so much more than what they seem. Aside from Judith, those girls were the two youngest characters still alive on the show. There's Carl but he's different from the girls. He's already been able to accept what's happening in the world around him - he's come to grips with it, while the girls are still clinging to the life they had before. This is what makes them seem so innocent to me. Watching as both girls' lives were ended, me, that symbolized the death of innocence in the zombie apocalypse. And when you lose've got to wonder what will happen to people - how they'll change.

Here's to hoping Terminus isn't another Woodbury!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo"

Title: Juliet
Author: Anne Fortier
Published: Ballantine Books, 2012


Julie Jacobs and her sister Janice were orphaned at a young age when their father died tragically in a house fire and their mother, only a short time later, is lost in a car accident. The girls were relocated to America to live with their aunt Rose.

Years later, Julie is returning to her childhood home, devastated by the death of her beloved aunt. She arrives at her aunt’s large estate to find Janice already there, of course. As they aged, the sisters had grown apart, Janice becoming the laid-back, fashion-focused party girl and Julie – well, she was her sister’s exact opposite. Reserved and not very social, Julie lives alone, doesn’t have any friends to speak of and goes from job to job, finding teaching positions where she can.

Their aunt Rose had known Julie was the smarter and more responsible one, making the girl her favorite niece. Which is why it came as such a surprise to Julie when the lawyer read from the will that Janice would receive all their aunt’s estate and Julie would receive an envelope containing a key and a letter from her mother informing her that her name is not really Julie Jacobs, but is in fact Giulietta Tolomei.

Hurt and completely dumbfounded, Julie is unable to make up her mind what to do next. After talking with Umberto, her aunt’s longtime, trusted butler and groundskeeper, she decides to go to Siena to see what it was their mother had locked away from her past. What she finds will change her world forever.

Six centuries earlier, Siena is split into several sections which are ruled over by the wealthiest families. The Tolomeis and Salimbenis have been in an ongoing feud, though they currently claim to be peaceful. Giulietta Tolomei, under the dark of night, is smuggled into Siena to live with her aunt and uncle after her parents were brutally murdered by members of the Salimbeni household. While at a ball held by her relatives, Giulietta meets Romeo Marescotti, a son of one of the other ruling families of Siena. The two quickly fall in love but another has his eye on the young Tolomei lady. Messer Salimbeni, enemy of the Tolomei family, has declared his intentions to marry Giulietta, despite her wishes and the fact that Romeo had presented himself to Messer Tolomei to ask for her hand.

As Julie makes her way around Siena, following her mother’s clues and research, she learns more about the lives of the people who inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Is it possible that her mother’s theory could be true? Could she in fact, be descended from Juliet’s family? Is there still “a plague on both [..] houses?” And will she find her Romeo and break the curse, once and for all?


From the moment I saw this come into the bookstore years ago, I knew I wanted to read it. Again – English major. Someone wrote a new version of one of Shakespeare’s plays? Sign me up! It took me awhile to get my hands on it but I finally did. And I was NOT disappointed!

Fortier did an amazing job weaving the past with the present. We start the novel following Julie’s story as she uncovers the truth about her heritage but it isn’t long before we’re taken back to old Siena, to join Giulietta and read the “real” story of the star crossed lovers.

I’ll grant you, the whole thing about Giulietta needing to find her Romeo to break the curse – a bit corny and romantic comedy-ish. But readers, I’m okay with admitting that occasionally even I, queen of the nerds, like to indulge in a chick flick or rom-com. It’s gotta be something in the female DNA. I dunno. So, although the ending could be described as a delicious cheddar or feta, a little fantasy-romance has never done anyone any harm. Except for creating unrealistic standards and ideas.

Unfulfilled Prince Charming desires aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Fortier’s character development and back story. There’s the enduring childhood feud between two sisters with very different personalities; we’ve all had a similar familial relationship, so their arguments and animosity towards each other feels very real. There’s the mysterious Alessandro, who shows a deep dislike of Julie from the moment they meet – we’ve ALL met that one person who just didn’t like us for no reason at all!

Probably one of my favorite characters was Friar Lorenzo, Giulietta’s friend and confidant. We’ve all either read or seen Romeo and Juliet and we all have an idea of who the helpful friar is as a person. Fortier takes the character further through Friar Lorenzo. We see much more character development in the friar and while he has always had a very important role in the story, Fortier brings him closer to the forefront of the novel. It is evident to the reader just how much the doomed couple relied on him, how much he helped them, knowing full well that everything he was doing to assist them was in direct opposition of her uncle’s wishes. I enjoyed watching (well…reading) as his character and importance grew while Romeo and Juliet’s situation continued to worsen. The under-appreciated friar was essential to their happiness (though we all know how it worked out).

Taking Shakespeare’s frequent use of the supernatural into account (i.e. the witches of Macbeth, the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and of course, the entirety of A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Fortier included a particularly interesting evening in Siena – a night of flickering candles in a darkened ballroom, hooded monks, ancient rituals and a little bit of cult-like action! What Shakespeare inspired novel would be complete without it?!

Fortier did a great job in paying tribute to the Bard and one of his most famous works. I enjoyed the journey she took us on as we discovered what really happened in her version, all those years ago in great Verona/Siena. On her website the reader can look at images taken in Siena during research trips; a wonderful thing for us book nerds! Her descriptions of locations within the city were detailed and beautiful and I wished so much to see it for myself. With any luck someday I will, but for now at least I have the wonderful pictures on her website. She’s a rich and impressive storyteller and I look forward to reading more of her novels. 

* Blog title taken from (of course!) William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A silly little gunshot wound..

Title: The Historian 
Author: Elizabeth Kostova 
Published: Little, Brown and Co., 2005


History grad student, Paul, is in the library one evening, surrounded by books, working on his dissertation about merchants in Denmark, when he notices a book on his table that he hadn't taken off the shelf. It's a very old, leather-bound book. There are no words inside, only a picture of a ferocious dragon in the very center of the tome. He thinks nothing of it, placing it on a rack of books for the librarians to put away upon closing, but the next day, the same book appears on his table again. Curiosity piqued, he takes it with him to a meeting with his faculty advisor, Professor Rossi, who recognizes it immediately - because he has one just like it. The professor then proceeds to tell his student about his own search into the truth behind the legend of Dracula, a search that took him to many countries, onto many dangerous paths and into harm's way more than once. He warns Paul that delving deeper into the mystery makes you a target of the vampire, that one of his minions will appear and threaten you - usually by killing someone or something you love. Professor Rossi also confesses that he’s been working on a book about the undead Wallachian prince. Paul leaves his advisor's office that night, more aware of the sounds around him in the darkness. Looking back at his professor's office window, he thinks he sees a shadow cross the building, but tells himself that his mind is playing tricks on him after the meeting. He turns away and heads for home.

            The next day, as he makes his way to his professor's office once more, he sees college officials and police filling the hallway. As he approaches, he is recognized by the dean and brought into his advisor's office.  The office is in absolute disarray and his advisor is nowhere to be found - what is found, is a rather large, bloody smear across the ceiling. Turns out Paul was the last person to see the missing professor. After a thorough questioning, the police decide he had nothing to do with the disappearance and let him go. What else can he do, but devote all his time and efforts into researching Dracula, who he now knows is real and the cause of his beloved professor's abduction?

            Years later, Paul is now a businessman. He does a lot of traveling and sometimes takes his young daughter with him on trips around the world. On one trip to a university in Europe his daughter (who, although she has the role of narrator in the story, remains unnamed), happens upon her father in the library's supernatural section, surrounded by books that have nothing to do with his line of work. Curiosity gets the best of her and she starts asking her father questions, which he reluctantly begins to answer. As they travel, he tells her about his professor's disappearance and the long, difficult search he put into finding him. He never comes right out and tells her that Dracula exists, but as she hears the stories she begins to feel and see a dark presence wherever they go. One morning she wakes up in the guest house at the college to find a note from her father saying that he had to leave and that she would be taken to the train station and put on a train home. Well, after all she's learned, she can't just go home. After finding some of her father's notes and some letters, she does indeed head to the train station, but she buys a ticket that will take her to St. Mathieu’s, the monastery she believes her father is headed toward. More and more of the history of Dracula, along with the journey Paul took on his search for the vampire and his professor, is revealed as the girl goes in search of her father.

            The novel reaches its epic conclusion as Paul and some friends he made along the way, finally find this legendary monster. But, will they survive to tell the tale?


*Seriously Massive Spoilers! Continue at your own risk!*

            I love books about the supernatural, especially vampires. Yes, dear readers, there was a time when I, too, was a fan of the Twilight series. But fear not, because I eventually realized that I was having a momentary lapse of intelligence and moved on with my life, and onto bigger and (infinitely) better books.

            I also really enjoy the subject of history, even minoring in it in college. History plus vampires - I just had to read this book.

            And I really, really liked it.....................................................until the end.

            The novel really is incredible - the writing style is fantastic (albeit some things were a bit predictable) and the journey of the characters is pretty much epic. The novel is told through alternating viewpoints – Paul verbally relating his story to his daughter and through his journals and letters as she reads them while searching for him. After his professor is abducted, Paul sets out on a mission to find him. A mission, which takes him all over the world, to find the location where Vlad Dracul is supposedly entombed. But knowledge like that is a heavily guarded secret which will take months to crack. One discovery leads him to a brick wall - he can't figure out what to do next. Enter a new character who just so happens to have a document or another clue that can lead to another document or clue (the predictable bit which happens quite often). This book really is a delight for historians - the ancient texts and cities overflowing with bloody history would make any history lover just about explode with happiness. The element of the supernatural also makes me all kinds of happy. The dark mystery that is Dracula is an ever present power throughout the book, which is only added to by the appearance of one of his minions every few chapters. The vampire knows that people are onto him and, hey, he wants to keep living, so he sends out followers - people who would do anything to be turned by him and some who may have already been bitten, who are kind of "infected" by vampirism but aren't turning into bats and sucking the blood of virgins yet. Every few chapters, just as the main characters are on the verge of discovering a new truth about Dracula, a minion appears to stop them. The first appearance was a sickly looking, eavesdropping librarian, who they chased through a library window, only to have him return several chapters later, looking much better than when they had last seen him - splayed out on the street below the said window. There are other, darker minions that inspire more fear in our characters and the reader - a big, brutish, father-of-all bouncers kind of man who appears out of the shadows to rip documents and books from the professor's hands in a dim library basement in Istanbul.

            The book has all the necessary elements to make it an amazing read for lovers of both the supernatural and history and everyone in between. And it delivers...until the end. Paul and his Dracula-mystery-solving partner, Helen (also his soon to be wife and soon to be mother of the unnamed narrator) do indeed find the original burial site of Vlad Tepes (remember, you have to die before you can come back - same is true for Dracula) but they didn't find the ancient vampire. Instead, when they lifted the lid of the sarcophagus, they found the still living (just barely) Professor Rossi. Knowing he doesn't have long, he tells them what happened after he was abducted: he awoke to find himself lying in the very coffin in which they found him. After several hours Dracula, himself, was the first sight Rossi laid his eyes on after the darkness of the coffin. Dracula took him into a large room connected to his burial site. In it, was the largest library the professor had ever seen - thousands upon thousands of rare, ancient books and documents. Dracula wanted the professor to categorize them all. (Honestly not sure how I feel about Dracula having a huge library - I mean...I suppose it makes sense. Just a new and rather random idea, I guess.) If he refused Dracula, well...he'd be breakfast. So, he really only had one option. The professor soon breathes his last and, as a precautionary measure, Paul and Helen must drive a stake into his heart.

            We join the unnamed narrator again, many years later, after she had found her father at St. Mathieu’s, as they find themselves in an underground labyrinth of a cemetery, located beneath the old church. There, the final showdown between Dracula and his hunters takes place. Dracula enters the room in the first line of the first full paragraph on page 624 and he's dead on page by the end of the next to last paragraph on the same page.

            And my love for the book went out the window at this moment, dear readers.

            After 623 pages of being with the characters as they traveled to several countries, searching for countless ancient, hidden texts, inspecting long forgotten churches, monasteries and mosques, surviving despite dark forces being thrown at them at every turn; the villain, the father of all vampires, Dracula, is killed within the span of three relatively short paragraphs. This isn't some sparkling pansy excuse of a bloodsucker. This is Dracula. The first vampire. Made a deal with the devil, himself. He can turn himself into a wolf and freaking mist. He’s Vlad the flipping Impaler. There have been numerous attempts made on his life and yet this dude has been around for *thousands* of years. On a scale of 1 to 10, his badass levels are at a 5,000. Dracula isn't going down because of one, barely-aimed bullet. It's going to take a hell of a lot more effort and cunning than that to kill the original creature of the night. After the 642 pages I devoured, after all the characters had been through, after the mystery of Dracula slowly unveiled itself, proving him to be an even more formidable enemy than you could have ever imagined, the quick death was a huge let-down and such a complete and utter disappointment. When I finished that chapter, dear readers, I looked back on all of it and asked myself what the point of it all was; how much time had I wasted getting to that moment? After all that work, all that build-up, it was over with the snap of two fingers. I just...don't have the words to fully express my disappointment.

            It's fricking Dracula. I expect more.

            That being said, the epilogue leaves us feeling as if it’s possible Dracula survived. There’s a tiny glimmer of hope, as the narrator receives a blank, leather-bound book many, many years after the events at St. Mathieu’s. However, at the bottom of page 624 we are told that he crumbles to dust after a measly gunshot wound. It just doesn’t make sense, fellow book nerds. Not at all. If I come across another title by Elizabeth Kostova, I'll pick it up and give her another shot (no pun intended). I think she's a good writer, it’s just that this particular ending left something to be desired. Maybe next time I'll be a bit more impressed.


   least Dracula didn't sparkle.