The Time and Place Book Tag

There are some books in my collection that I’ll always associate with the particular place or time in which I read them. It might be because I read a book on a memorable holiday or read a book at a significant time in my life, but either way, today I’d like to do the Time and Place Book Tag* with you.

The idea is that you take 10 (in this case I’ll only do 5) books from your bookshelf and share the time and place in which you read them. So here goes.

#1 So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson 
In 2006, my reading was really taking off and I remember reading So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading on the tram to and from work. My journey was a relatively short one and I distinctly remember wishing it was a little longer so I could read just one more chapter before I arrived at home or work. Sara Nelson’s enthusiasm for books and reading was contagious and my own reading increased after this.

#2 Dracula by Bram StokerDracula Bram Stoker
In early 2008, I was in the middle of reading Dracula by Bram Stoker when it was time to leave for Fiji to attend a family member’s wedding. I’d planned to finish reading Dracula before we left because I didn’t think it a suitable book for reading in the tropics, but alas, I couldn’t leave it behind. I have a clear memory of reading Dracula in the hotel room with the bright sunshine, palm trees and beach outside while immersed in the cold and darkness of Bram Stoker’s world. The contrast was unforgettable.

#3 The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
In late 2008 I was heading off on my honeymoon and took great joy in deciding what books to take with me on my cruise. (Anyone else do this?) I decided that The Chronicles of Narnia was a nice big fat book, perfect for lounging around with and I wasn’t wrong. I started and finished it on my honeymoon and read more besides. This book is also memorable for me because it was a gift from a dear friend.

#4 Dick Wicks the Magnetic Man by Dick Wicks
Books aren’t always memorable for me just because I read them while on holiday. During a period of poor health in 2011, I turned to the concept of magnets and read Dick Wicks the Magnetic Man – How Magnets Helped Me Beat the Pain by Dick Wicks. He signed a copy for me which I still have and his inspirational and personal story has stayed with me.

#5 The Martian by Andy Weir
In 2014 I went on a two week holiday to New Zealand and took my iPad with me to read a new release called The Martian by Andy Weir. It was a little known title at the time, and I was reading it each night in our hotel room and chuckling on almost every page. My husband asked me what was so funny, and after reading a few snippets, he said “stop, I’ll read it when you’re finished.” A few days later, I handed it over and for the next week, kept pestering him with questions like: “what bit are you up to?” and “what bit are you laughing at?”

Have a look on your own bookshelves. Do some titles stand out to you? Do you remember where you were when you read a particular book or when it was that you read it? I’d love to know, so leave your entries in the comments below.

* The Time and Place Book Tag was created by Jen Campbell, author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.

Department 19

Department 19 is a new YA supernatural, action/adventure, horror novel from debut author Will Hill. It’s not a book I can review without a couple of little spoilers. You have been warned!

Let me start off by saying that I enjoyed Department 19 and that I’ll most likely read the forthcoming sequel (April 2012). This book has a lot going for it — but there are also a few things that just didn’t quite work for me.

The Department 19 of the title is a secret British government organisation that deals with supernatural threats, particularly vampires. It was started many years ago by Van Helsing and his associates, not long after the Dracula incident. (Yes, that’s right, Bram Stoker’s novel is actually a historical account rather than a work of fiction.) Jamie Carpenter is the teenaged descendent of Van Helsing’s valet, and his father Julian has been a secret operative for Department 19 for many years. Two years after Julian Carpenter has been declared a traitor and killed, Jamie’s mother is taken hostage by Alexandru, the second-oldest vampire in the world. Jamie suddenly finds himself immersed in a world he didn’t even know existed. With the assistance of Frankenstein’s monster and a teenage girl vampire, Jamie sets out to rescue his mother and clear his father’s name.

Department 19 is a complete story in it’s own right, but there is also a lot of set-up for the sequel (sequels?).

Department 19 is fast-paced, action-filled and really rather violent — perhaps a little too violent for its advertised age group of 12+. Despite all the guns and blood and dismemberment, the violence is, thankfully, not treated lightly. Jamie even spends times considering it after he is hurt.

“I got hurt today. Not as badly as you, I know, but I got burnt. And it made me realise something, you know? It made me realise that this isn’t a game, or a film, where the good guys win in the end and the bad guys get what’s coming to them. It’s real life, and it’s messy, and it’s complicated, and I’m scared…”

Clichés abound, but for the most part they work quite well. I must say that I enjoyed reading about good old-fashioned, villainous vampires driven by blood-lust, rather than the angsty, lovelorn variety. The main vampires are well defined, their varying motivations making them interesting. There is a heavy reliance on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is fair enough, but I personally would have preferred the titular character to remain dead. (Yes folks, that’s one of the spoilers I warned you about. Sorry!)

The character of Jamie is well handled, both in terms of his initial disorientation and growing determination. He is not always likeable, but it is easy to understand his choices given his situation. Most of the principal supporting characters, such as Frankenstein’s monster (who has adopted the name of his creator) are reasonably handled.

While the plot is interesting and moves at a cracking pace, it is a little predictable at times. There is no surprise when the traitor is revealed, and this character’s motivations are very clichéd.

Hill’s style is, for the most part, very readable and his plotting competent. But I did find there were moments of over-description, poor editing (the mixing up of two character names, Willis and Haslett, on p.201) and logic lapse that pulled me out of the moment. The most notable case is the inconsistency of the offensive/defensive capabilities of the good guys. It is established early on that they use ultra-violet light as a weapon against the vampires. Yet there is not a single UV light used in defence of the base that is attacked by the vampires, thus allowing the vampires a ridiculously easy victory in their assault.

My opinion of Department 19 teeters. There are elements that don’t work for me. But there is no doubt that I still enjoyed it. Read it and make up your own mind!

Has anyone out there read this book already? Opinions? Post a comment!

Catch ya later,  George

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Angels in Literature: Who Dares Disturb Their Slumber?

I noticed recently that Boomerang Books had twittered about a book trailer for The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. Released back in 2008, I read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it because the blurb just sounded so damn good:

The nameless narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

This strange debut offering – which had such a high-falutin’ storyline – turned out to be compulsively readable. From the first sentence the book leapt free of the Gothic Classic narrative I’d been banking on, and was testing its wings in an entirely more modern context. And it may have been more of a shock, because the narrator wasn’t some damsel-in-distress wooed by a chance at love, it was a Hollywood heartthrob with a face of ash, being wooed by an excaped patient from the psychiatric ward next door. So yeah, romance can happen in all places, to all types of people. And this message gave The Gargoyle its ability to enter massmarket fiction for adults. Indeed, it was the first time since the 90s (when angels were popular for the ‘Hard Rock Goths’), that I sensed the concept of a winged being had embarked on a dark road: one to commercial success (excess).

Gargoyles; vampires; angels; demons; concepts of heaven and hell, have all experienced a resurgence in literature. Gothic is all the rage right now, for some reason. You could perhaps, credit Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Gothic poem Christabel (one of me faves) as the stirring of vampires in the 1800s. From there, friend and contemporary Mary Shelley produced Frankenstein, Sheridan Le Fanu was inspired to write a cracking novella titled ‘Carmilla’, and this in turn is said to have partly influenced a book you may know: Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

While Twilight may have awoken the sleeping dead for teenagers and starry-eyed 20- and 30-something women, word around the book blog traps has been that angels, riding on the coattails of the humanised vampire, are ready for a descent themselves. Not only a descent into the world of teens, mind you, but with a plan for fantasy fiction world takeover (including all its subgenre cities).

I don’t know just yet if angels are indeed the new vampires, but the whole religious idea and how it has been translated into popular culture definitely deserves some further investigation. Why are they popular again? How do they differ from their original concept? Religious connotations of heaven and hell, as alluded to in The Gargoyle, also requires some exploration.

Grab a shovel, and get ready to do some digging. Stay tuned for future angelic/demonic posts – it’s a heaven/hell extravaganza!