5 Unexpected Books in 2017

We’re well into 2018 now, and in the process of setting new reading goals for the year I’ve been thinking about my varied reading success last year. Here are 5 unexpected books I read in 2017.

Most anticipated read
My most anticipated release and read of 2017 was A Column of Fire by Ken Follett. Being a loyal reader of the Pillars of the Earth series, I was keenly awaiting the third in the series and coming in at more than 750 pages, it was an impressive tome. While it was greater in scope than the others in the series, it was a great read.

Most disappointing read
I’d been savouring my signed copy of Prince Lestat by longtime favourite author Anne Rice for ages, delaying the gratification and joy I was sure would ensue from the first page until the last. Unfortunately when I finally picked it up to read last year this wasn’t the case.
This is the 11th in the Vampire Chronicles series and the plot contains chapters from different vampires as they begin to face a crisis threatening their kind. I should have been thrilled to rediscover favourite characters again, but the cause uniting them was a complete bore. Such a shame.

Long overdue
I don’t mean overdue library books here, but a book I should have read long before now. For me, this was Past the Shallows by Australian author Favel Parrett. Set on the coast of Tasmania and dealing with themes of grief, this is a coming-of-age story about brotherhood. Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012, it’s a haunting and often sad story, but it’s also a very quick read so I don’t know why it took me so long to get to it.

Least favourite book
My least favourite read of last year was Artemis by Andy Weir. Main character Jazz is living in a settlement on the moon and I just didn’t care about her or what she was doing. The attempted humour fell flat and the plot was uninteresting. It  clearly lacked the humour and interest of The Martian – one of my favourite books in 2014. If I didn’t know the novel was by Andy Weir, I would have stopped reading early on.

Taught me something new
The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin was one of my favourite books last year and I still think of her theories several times a week, almost six months after reading her book. You can take the quiz for free and determine your own tendency, you’ll be either an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner or Rebel. I’m an Obliger and learning that helped me understand myself and others better and I highly recommend it.

Anne Rice and The Vampire Chronicles

I’m a huge fan of Anne Rice, and her novel Interview With The Vampire is one of my favourite books of all time. Published in 1976, Interview With The Vampire stands the test of time, even surviving a film adaptation in 1994 starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Slater and Antonio Banderas. The book was the first in what would become The Vampire Chronicles, a series of now 12 books, with the latest, Prince Lestat just released.

With this new release, the first in more than 10 years, I thought it was a good time to take a retrospective look at the series and hopefully inspire a few of you to pick up a book by Anne Rice, if you haven’t done so before.Interview With The Vampire book cover Anne Rice

The Vampire Chronicles series of books in order of year published:

Book 1. Interview With The Vampire (1976)
Interview With The Vampire is where it all started, so, what’s it about? The vampire of the title is Louis, and he tells his life story (all 200 immortal years worth) to a young reporter. Made into a vampire by Lestat de Lioncourt for a companion in 1791, Louis’ life takes on many unexpected twists and turns across the decades and themes of love, companionship, loneliness, betrayal, suffering, revenge, horror, value of human life and immortality are all present.

Louis finds that he is tired of being immortal but at the end of the interview, the reporter asks to be made into a vampire, obviously having learned nothing from Louis’ personal story and infuriating Louis beyond belief.

Book 2. The Vampire Lestat (1985)
As the title suggests, the second novel in the series is the story of Lestat de Lioncourt, as he narrates his own life story. He was given the Dark Gift by Magnus. He later meets Armand (see Book 6) who tells Lestat he was made into a vampire by a very old vampire called Marius. Lestat becomes fixated on finding Marius to ask him questions about the history and origins of their kind. He does get answers (no spoilers here) and by the 1980s (time of publishing) Lestat is living life as a rockstar vampire.

Book 3. The Queen of the Damned (1988)
Following on from The Vampire Lestat is The Queen of the Damned, the third in the series (also made into a film). Akasha is the mother of all vampires and the Queen of the Damned and has been ‘woken up’ by Lestat after sleeping for 6,000 years. The reporter, Louis and Lestat are back and find that Akasha has her own agenda. We learn how the mother and father of vampires were created, and Akasha threatens to destroy all vampires.

Book 4. The Tale of the Body Thief (1992)
Lestat is depressed and lonely and takes great risks which almost cost him his immortal life. The body thief of the title is Raglan James who offers to switch bodies with Lestat. Lestat’s relationship with David Talbot (Head of the Talamasca Caste) is explored and he eventually reunites with Louis.

Book 5. Memnoch the Devil (1995)
In one of my favourite novels in the series, Memnoch the Devil, Lestat is approached by the Devil (calling himself Memnoch) and is offered a job of sorts.

Memnoch ‘takes Lestat on a whirlwind tour of Heaven and Hell and retells of the entirety of history from his own point of view in an effort to convince Lestat to join him as God’s adversary. In his journey, Memnoch claims he is not evil, but merely working for God by ushering lost souls into Heaven.’ (Source: WikipediaMemnoch the Devil ‘reinterprets biblical stories to create a complete history of Earth, Heaven and Hell that fit neatly with the history of vampires given in The Queen of the Damned.’ (Source: Wikipedia)

This is a book to make you re-think everything you know, consider life after death and our purpose on the planet and is one of my favourite books by Anne Rice.

Book 6. The Vampire Armand (1998)
In Book 6, we learn more about Armand’s back story, first featured in Interview With The Vampire. Telling his life story to vampire David Talbot, we learn Armand was born 500 years ago and was living and painting in a monastery before being kidnapped by slave traders and later purchased by the vampire Marius. There’s a lot of sex and sexual references in this novel, and when Armand is given the Dark Gift there is a repeat of the theme only to feed on evildoers and the struggle between good and evil.

Book 7. Merrick (2000)
Merrick Mayfair (of the title) is a witch, and features in the Mayfair Witches series also by Anne Rice. Louis, Lestat and David Talbot are back in Book 7 and the novel contains the backstory of Merrick’s relationship with David as well as her yearning for the Dark Gift.

Book 8. Blood and Gold (2001)
Another of my favourite novels of all time by Anne Rice, is Book 8 in The Vampire Chronicles, Blood and Gold. The reason I love it so much is the amount of art and history that is featured. Essentially, it’s the story of Marius.

Book 9. Blackwood Farm (2002)
Book 9 is unusual in that it introduces an entirely new character in Quinn Blackwood, a young boy haunted by a nasty spirit he calls Goblin. Quinn seeks help from Lestat who then contacts Merrick when he can’t rid the boy of the spirit.

Book 10. Blood Canticle (2003)
Quinn is back in Book 10, Blood Canticle, a story narrated by Lestat. Quinn is in love with Mona, a Mayfair Witch and Lestat has a love interest of his own. Mona is dying and Lestat turns her into a vampire to save her.Prince Lestat book cover Anne Rice

Book 11. Prince Lestat (2014)
Fans have been waiting more than a decade, but all the key characters are back in the newly released Prince Lestat, the latest book in The Vampire Chronicles. Apparently the vampire world is in crisis and their only hope of survival is our beloved Prince Lestat. (I can’t wait to read it).

Book 12. Blood Paradise (expected in 2015)
Said to be a sequel to Prince Lestat.

I hope this summary has given you a reading pathway into this series, and I’d love to hear from readers already in love with Anne Rice’s Lestat and other characters. It’s not hard to believe that in November 2008, The Vampire Chronicles had sold more than 80 million copies worldwide, and I’m sure that number will continue to increase with new books 11 and 12.

Enjoy!

There’s No Book Like Vampire Academy

ShiverMy Dorothy-style there’s-no-book-like-Vampire-Academy moan hasn’t stopped since the last few times I’ve mentioned it on this blog. I don’t own red shoes and clicking my heels together to conjure up either more, as-yet-unpublished books in the series or books equal to the task of filling the series’ big, now-empty shoes hasn’t worked.

My friend Kate tried to assuage my sadness (and quite possibly stopper my whinging) by recommending a book she’s found to be pretty good.

Called Shiver and penned by American writer Maggie Stiefvater, it’s a young adult novel about a girl who’s in love with a boy who’s half-human and half-wolf. Grace, the female lead doesn’t initially know the wolf and the boy are the same, of course, and the two watch each other from a distance for a long, long time.

The problem is that cold weather turns human Sam, the male lead, into a wolf and the couple live in a rather chilly, snowfall-is-just-around-the-corner place. Once Grace discovers that Sam and the wolf are one and the same, they become romantically involved and then embroiled in super-human efforts to keep him warm and in human form.

There are further complications with the wolf aspect—and this is where, in my so-very-shallow knowledge of the conventions of young-adult fiction, I think this book offers something unique.

LingerThe complications include that there comes a time when the humans permanently morph into wolf form. That means that Grace and Sam’s recently found true love (and yes, you’re allowed to channel The Princess Bride here) is about to be permanently torn apart.

Also playing out in the background are the storylines that Grace was once been attacked by these wolves, and a newly formed and unstable wolf is causing chaos about town.

As much as I wanted it to be, and as much as I found the cover art very pretty, this book was no Vampire Academy for me. But that’s also an impossibly high and unfair benchmark by which to judge it.

On its own, Shiver is a good book and one that I enjoyed enough to read in a few sittings and for which I sacrificed the hallowed sport of sleep. To continue the Dorothy theme, I should recognise and get over the fact that I’m not in Kansas anymore.

The exchanges between characters were sassy and clever and, although I didn’t think Sam was quite in the realms of Edward (the brooding, vampire love interest from Twilight) or Dimitri (the brooding, kickass vampire love interest from Vampire Academy who kicks even Edward’s ass), I thought he was very sweet.

Shiver also thankfully lacked some of the annoying moral overtones Twilight, in particular, reeked of, or the drawn-out-ness of the will-we-won’t-we love story. Sam and Grace get together, stay together, and there’s no annoying forlorn looks or I’m-a-danger-to-you-so-it’s-best-that-I-leave-you mucking about.

Getting to the final page, I discovered that Grace and Sam’s tale continues, branching out with another one-word-entitled book called Linger. Shiver might not have rocked my world as much as Vampire Academy, but I liked it enough to warrant continuing onto book two. Who knows, maybe the series will grow further on me. Maybe I’ll come to like Sam as much as Dimitri.

Angels in YA Literature (Part 1)

In continuing with my angel and devil-themed posts, I wanted to take a closer look at Young Adult literature, which has recently heralded a host of books on dark or “fallen” angels, in particular.

These are no mere cherubs – they’re winged beings with a dangerous edge. The male lead in current YA angel novels still tend to be Edward Cullen-esque, with their possessiveness and their secretive nature, but lately, things have been getting a wee bit darker.

Hush Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick (released 2009) has Patch, a fallen angel who is Bad News. Yet Nora Grey, our requisite damsel-in-distress protagonist, can’t stay away from him. When this book was first released, bloggers were split clean down the middle. On one side, YA romantics loved the forbidden love and compared the book favourably to Twilight, calling it “thrilling” and “seductive”. On the other side were YA bloggers who were disturbed by the physical interaction between Patch and Nora, considering Patch’s actions to be less seductive and more ‘abusive’. What example is it setting for young adults, to have a protagonist drawn to a bad boy who slams her against a bench, when she has a sinking feeling that he wants to kill her and yet still yearns to trust him?
I’ve read the book, and find myself somewhere in the middle: yes, there are a couple of questionable scenes in the novel, but I figure most girls are smart enough to draw a crooked (okay, sometimes very crooked) line between fantasy and reality, and can enjoy Hush, Hush for what it is: a forbidden romance between a paranormal guy and a human girl, testing the boundaries of hormonal attraction.

I must say, though, I prefer the idea behind Lauren Kate’s Fallen, released just after Hush, Hush. In Fallen, Lucinda falls in love with Daniel, a guy at her new school. Life gets a little more difficult for Lucinda after she finds out Daniel is actually a fallen angel, and that they’ve had a history (ie. many previous lives) where they’ve fallen in love and lost each other each time, thanks to good and evil forces trying to keep them apart. What I like about this scenario is that Lucinda isn’t a passive character – she has responsibility from the experience of her previous lives, and she plays a more active role in attempting to combat fate and the forces, rather than be prone to them. There’re some nice mythology references as well.

Having a dark and tortured celestial being for a boyfriend is a pretty seductive scenario to me – no wonder these kinds of books are so popular. But what I’m really looking forward to is the YA novel where the FEMALE is the fallen angel and the male is the human – would put quite a spin on things, no?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Angels in YA Literature, which focuses on angels existing in a world populated with other sorts of paranormal beings.

If Anne Rice Says It, It’s Gospel

Firstly, guys, apologies for deserting the blog for over a week…put it down to an incredibly hectic College of Law schedule. In case you’re wondering, I’m pretty sure I passed everything so I guess the sleepless nights, lack of socialisation and the mountainloads of chewed-up printer paper must have somehow been worth it (won’t someone please think of the TREES??)!

We should be back to our regular programme broadcasting now – I’ve been itching to discuss a bit more about angels, devils, and their current plan for world domination. And what better person to ask “Are Angels the New Vampires?” than the undisputed queen of contemporary vampire fiction – Anne Rice.

If you’ve just fainted in your chair with excitement, I hate to disappoint you, but I didn’t actually score an interview with Anne Rice (I mean, I’m good, but I ain’t THAT good). I did, however, notice that she’s been cornered by various journalists to give her point of view on the angels versus vampires debate.

Most of us who can stomach such bloodsucking stuff have seen that classic movie adaptation of Rice’s first book in the vampire series – Interview with the Vampire. Even now, I still can’t fathom the fact that they somehow managed to get Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas to all have a go at donning fangs on the same movie set. The mind boggles.

Being the trendsetter that she is, Rice created The Vampire Chronicles’ most fashionable character, the vampire Lestat, as a golden-maned Don Juan with a love of cravats that could rival Masterchef’s Matt Preston. Early in the series, Lestat has a go at the 80s rock scene, and many fans love him for the devil-may-care attitude he displays during these first couple of books. But my personal favourite, which shows early signs of what would be a massively new direction for Anne Rice’s writings later on, is Memnoch the Devil, published 1997. The novel represented the holy dilemma vampires face: how can vampires be a product of God? Are they naturally forsaken, or can they be saved?

Lestat meets a man in a suit, who introduces himself as Memnoch the Devil and spins a yarn Paradise Lost-style. Turns out there are two sides to every story and the Devil’s an angel who’s been misunderstood all this time. Lestat rides on Memnoch’s coattails (or should that be forked tail?) through Heaven, Hell and History, all the while experiencing inner conflict, as he struggles with his sympathy for the Devil versus the possible chance for redemption with a God he had never believed existed. The story of Memnoch the Devil can also be said to have reflected Rice’s own inner religious turmoil at the time (she ended up rejoining the Catholic church in 1998 after years of atheism).

So why did Rice continue writing books for The Vampire Chronicles, and why did she end them when she did (in 2004)?
She told Wall Street Journal:

“Vampires for me were always like feeling grief for my lost childhood faith, being cut off from that life. I reached the point where I didn’t have any more stories to tell from that point of view.”

At the conclusion of the Chronicles, Rice seemed to have made a decision to leave the doomed vampires behind and embark on a writing pilgrimage. Her last two books were spiritual stories about Jesus Christ, and while interesting, they didn’t seem to have the same passion of her earlier works. Imagine my excitement in late 2009 when she released Angel Time, a story of an assassin who is offered redemption by an angel for his sins (sound familiar?)… I haven’t got around to reading it yet: if any of you have, what did you think?

And whether you liked Angel Time or didn’t like it, I also want to know: what does Anne Rice think of her new direction ?

Being on the side of the angels, it feels much better than being on the side of the vampires. Vampires were tortured, tragic figures.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Why I have not read Twilight

TwilightI have not read Twilight! I do not intend to read Twilight! I am content with this decision and I am sure that I will go on to have a happy and fulfilling life without it. But how did I come to this decision?

I had heard a lot about Twilight — both good and bad. It, and its follow-up books, had been getting a lot of publicity for quite some time. When the film was released on DVD, I decided that I should probably read the book before seeing the film and find out what all the fuss was about. So I borrowed a copy from a friend.

I was reading another book at the time, so my wife decided to read it first. For the next week I listened to her read the book. Yes, listened, as she tsk’ed with contempt, groaned with annoyance and snorted with derision… occasionally punctuated by, “OMG, just let me read you this bit…”. At the end of each chapter, I’d cop an earful of colourful rhetoric about how little the story had progressed, yet how much more annoying the characters had become. “Bella just spent an entire chapter whining and pining for Edward!” or “Edward just spent an entire chapter sparkling and being gazed at by a soppy-eyed Bella!” and “I’m dragging myself though this book, in the hopes that a story will actually happen at some point!” When she had finally finished, she turned to me and said: “Honey, don’t read it!”

My wife is probably the only person in the world who can say something like that to me, and have me follow the advice. Normally, being told not to do something just makes me want to do it more. But after 17 years, Kerri (that’s my wife) has come to know me pretty well, and knows my literary likes and dislikes. After years of recommending books to me, this is the first time she has ever recommended I not read a particular book… so I took the recommendation seriously.

That’s not to say that Kerri hated the book. She didn’t. She found it a frustrating but interesting read. Frustrating because there was very little plot and because she found the characters annoying. Interesting, because she said that as a 15-year-old girl she probably would have loved it. Here’s why:

“It pushes all the right buttons for a teenage girl. It’s as if the book were written by a committee of women with a checklist.”

Kerri did express some curiosity in seeing the film version. So we borrowed the DVD from our local video store and put aside an evening of our lives that we will sadly never be able to reclaim. I figured that if I liked the film, I’d make the effort to read the book. I did not like the film. In fact, I hated it! Aside from the fact that it was overacted and poorly directed, there was not all that much to the plot and the dialogue was clichéd and atrociously written. Granted, Kerri did say that the book was marginally better, but given how much I disliked the film, that was not much of an incentive.

Every now and then, someone will still suggest that I should give the book a go. And I toy with the possibility, purely on a curiosity level. But seriously folks, life is too short to be reading stuff that you don’t really want to read. There are HUGE numbers of books that I really do want to read — way too many for me to actually get through. I need to prioritise. And a mild curiosity simply is not enough to get me to put this book on my mile-high “must-get-around-to-reading-someday” stack, let alone my three metre tall “must-read-soon” pile.

So that, folks, is why I have not read Twilight. And that is why I am unlikely to read it. Not unless I get stranded on a desert island without any other reading material.

Now, having said all of the above, I do wish to point out that I have nothing against the people who do like the books and the films. Everyone is entitled to their own literary choices. I’m sure that some of the books I’ve chosen to read over the years would make many people cringe. And I haven’t always made sterling choices. But as I said earlier, I couldn’t possibly read everything that I want to read, so I do have to make choices.

Even though I have chosen not to read it, I believe it to be an important book. It seems to have mimicked Harry Potter’s success in getting people who don’t normally read, to pick up a book. And for that, I applaud it. For many people Twilight will be the beginning of a life-long romance with the written word. That’s a good thing.

Well… that’s it for vampires! On to other things. Tune in next time when Shirley Marr, author of the soon to be released YA novel Fury, drops in to tell us about her first publishing experience.

Catch ya later,  George

Authors with bite

Vampires! Post number two in a series of three about the pointy-toothed blood-suckers we all love to read about.

This time around I have enlisted the help of two authors who have written vamp fic. I’ve asked each of them to share with us their favourite vampire book.

NarrelleFirst cab off the rank is Narrelle M Harris, author of The Opposite of Life.

John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In is a superb vampire novel. It’s Swedish, but the English translation captures its setting of a bleak suburb in 1980s Stockholm perfectly. Oskar, who is viciously bullied at school, befriends strange newcomer, Eli. The fact that Eli is a vampire and a killer is contrasted with the idea that Eli is also an abused child. The line between victim and monster is blurred, here and elsewhere in the story. It’s a disturbing horror story, but also ultimately a gentle love story. It’s elegant, atmospheric and unlike any other vampire story I’ve ever read.

You can find out more about Narrelle and her writing on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter. And for those of you who’ve read The Opposite of Life, you can also follow her two lead characters, Gary (the vampire) and Lissa (the librarian), on Twitter.

FozNext up we have Foz Meadows, author of Solace and Grief.

I love the Evernight series by Claudia Gray. On starting the first book, I was aggressively sceptical, but once I reached the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down, while the sequel volumes, Stargazer and Hourglass, were mesmerising. Gray’s characters are vividly realistic; her plotlines pull no punches. The more the series develops, the more it becomes apparent that a skilful long game is in effect: the mythology is built with care, and there are no loose threads – only questions that haven’t been answered yet. The writing is sleek, the pace swift, and the tension perfectly orchestrated. Definitely worth reading!

You can find out more about Foz and her writing by checking out her blog.

My thanks to Narrelle and Foz for stopping by.

My last post mentioned the vampire books that I loved. But I have read others — from the good (Thirsty by MT Anderson) to the not-so-good (The House of Caine by Ken Eulo). And then, there’s the disappointing…

Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice. This is a book that lots of people have raved about. My first encounter with it was the film version. I really liked the film and so I thought to myself… most film adaptations are not as good as the original books, so I must go and read Interview With The Vampire. Which I did… Unfortunately. I found the characters annoying, the style dry and the whole thing long-winded and boring. After spouting my disappointment at anyone who would listen, an avid Anne Rice fan insisted that the second book in the series was much better and that I should give it a go. I didn’t. In fact, I’ve never read another Anne Rice book. Life is too short and there are way too many other books that I really want to read.

Which now brings me to the Twilight books.

Tune in next time as I tell you why I haven’t read Twilight.

Catch ya later,  George

Books with bite

Vampires seem to be the in thing at the moment. Almost everyone is going ga-ga over the Twilight books and there is now a glut of teen vamp fic. Hollywood is, of course, cashing in on this, with numerous pointy teeth films and tv shows gracing our screens. For a bit of a laugh, check out the trailer for I Kissed a Vampire, a musical web series.

DraculaVampire fiction has been around for a long time. The first vampire book I ever read was Stephen King’s Salom’s Lot. It remains one of my favourites. Since then, I’ve read the occasional bit of vamp fic, including the granddaddy of them all, Dracula (which is well worth a read, even if you’re not into vampires). The one that really sticks in my mind, even though I read is about 13 years ago, is Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls. She has an interesting take on the vampire mythology. Her vamps are a separate species and breeding with humans results in each successive generation being less vampiric. The oldest vampire in the book can eat or drink nothing but blood, has pointy teeth and can be harmed by sunlight. The youngest is a bit of a goth — sunlight won’t hurt him but prefers to go out at night; his teeth aren’t pointy and although he doesn’t need to drink blood to live, he does come to develop a taste for it. There’s a lot more to it, but I’m working from memory here.

I’ve always thought that what this world really needed was some good vampire books set in Australia, preferable Melbourne (my home city). A number of years ago I read Vampire Cities by d’ettut (yes, d’ettut is the name of the author… pseudonym perhaps?), which was partly set in Australia. I remember thinking it was a weird, arty sort of book and that vampires weren’t actually the focus. It mustn’t have made much of an impression on me as I can remember nothing of the story.

More recently, I read Narrelle M Harris’s The Opposite of Life, which is set in Melbourne. I LOVED this book. It’s got lots of blood, dead bodies and pointy teeth and yet it’s a very atypical vampire story. The heroes are a geeky librarian and a slightly podgy, daggy vampire who wears loud Hawaiian shirts.  The book makes marvellous use of its Melbourne locale and is worth a read for that alone. Harris is writing a sequel… I can’t wait. Check out my review of The Opposite of Life.

Solace & GriefI also recently read Solace & Grief by Foz Meadows. The author calls the book an “urban fantasy” rather than a vampire novel. The main character is a vamp, as is the main villain, but there are other supernatural characters as well. It’s a young adult novel set in Sydney (not as good as Melbourne, but hey, at least it’s in Australia) and it’s got quite a different feel to it from any other vampire book I’ve read. It’s been getting some great reviews and with good reason – it’s a really good read. It is the first book of a trilogy called The Rare. Book 2 is currently in the works… definitely one to look out for.

There are probably other Australian vampire books out there. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never made a point of searching them out. The ones I’ve read were those that I happened across. So if anyone out there has any recommendations, I’m all ears… um… err… teeth?

Tune in next time for another vampire post, this time with the assistance of authors Foz Meadows and Narrelle M Harris.

Catch ya later,  George