Tag: vampires

Look, everybody, it’s ME!  I’m back.  Okay enough about my blog hiatus.

I’ve been watching vampire movies, and that calls for a post. Helloooooo!!! This year I actually quit watching The Originals and The Vampire Diaries (still love those shows, but who has time?). Of course that didn’t stop me, and I ended up watching Only Lovers Left Alive, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and What We Do In The Shadows this very month! Oh – I also watched Vampire Academy, but…that one was mostly while I was folding laundry and doing the dishes and meh – other than Claire Foy, a bit of a letdown.

I have to rank Only Lovers Left Alive at the next-to-bottom of this vamp-pile, because despite Tilda and Tom, the film was booooooring and way too in love with itself. Get over your own perceived hipness, Jim Jarmusch. I love Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, too. Some haunting lonesome forlorn cinematography of rundown nighttime Detroit, but otherwise blahhhh, big effing deal that your vampires can dig on science and poetry. Spooky action at a distance? You’re not impressing me.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – YES. Not just because we’re talking Persian vampires, not just because it’s got some of the creeeeeeeepiest vampire stalking scenes ever, not just because black and white arty done right –  but because it’s beautifully shot, it’s got a Westside Story gritty glam romance to it, and hey….the awesomeness that is Mozhan Marnò. You can see her in this movie gem on Netflix streaming!

And then there’s What We Do In The Shadows. I didn’t realize until I saw this movie that I wanted a hilarious vampire film. I do! I so do. I don’t think I ever want to see a serious vampire anything ever again. How does it get better than Jemaine Clement as Vladislav the Poker saying “I’m going for a look that I call Dead but Delicious.” Yaahaaahahaaha.

Pretty much everything is outrageously funny in What We Do In The Shadows. Everything. I was giggling and snort-laughing the whole time. Have you ever had roommates? Were they vampires? I guarantee even if you’ve had regular human roommates you will find something to identify with here. And laugh your ass off. And then…slowly…realize you’re watching a reality TV show that’s more human than most.

Wait – I didn’t answer my original question. Vampires – why bother? I don’t know, it’s up to you, what you do in the shadows. “Just leave me to do my dark bidding on the internet.”  “What are you bidding on?”  “I’m bidding on a table.” HAaaaa! Let’s put the dead back in deadpan!

Photo By Screenshot from “Internet Archive” of the movie Dracula (1958) http://www.archive.org/details/HorrorOfDracula-Trailer, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11740931

get reel

Rebecca Alexander’s The Secrets of Life and Death reminded me of Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins novels – and that’s a compliment.  Alexander’s novel isn’t a doorstopper like a Rickman book, but it’s a suspenseful supernatural mystery with charming yet flawed characters, and even an old cottage in the country (here, it’s Devon).  I wanted to put on a wool sweater, brew a pot of black tea, and tuck my feet up next to a cozy fire.  And then start looking over my shoulder!

It’s difficult to pin down a genre though, for The Secrets of Life and Death.  The title is somewhat generic – it doesn’t tell you at all that inside these pages you’ll find a fictionalized account of real life alleged serial killer Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who may have murdered hundreds of young women and girls in Eastern Europe from 1585 to the date of her imprisonment in 1610.

In this novel, it’s the occultist Edward Kelley who, within the harrowing pages of his journals, recounts the story of how he and his mentor Dr. John Dee saved the young Countess from a deadly sickness, only to make her into an immortal monster – a vampire who derives superhuman strength from human blood.  Kelley and Dee were real historical figures, both of whom studied the full gamut of metaphysical and alchemical lore in the late sixteenth century.  These men were equally at home discussing algebra and astronomy or magic and divination, and saw no division between magic and science.  Edward was said to have the ability to channel angels, a talent – or self-deception – evident in this novel.

Edward Kelley’s story parallels the present-day events in the lives of Jackdaw Hammond and Professor Felix Guichard.  Jack too, is undead, but far from a monster.  She and her friend Maggie use their knowledge of magic and Enochian sigils to save young women from tragic deaths, in the same way Jack herself was saved years ago.  The price the women pay for life is to be metaphysically chained to the power of the protective symbols they must wear on their skin; they become revenants, and their blood carries the power to extend life.

When a disbelieving young girl in Jack and Maggie’s care runs away, only to suffer the fate from which she’d been rescued (an overdose of drugs), her body is found on a train, her skin covered in strange symbols that the police believe must be satanic or black magic.  Professor Felix Guichard, an expert in belief systems outside the mainstream – his degree is in West African sorcery – is called in to evaluate the scene.   In this, the book reminded me too of Michael Gruber’s excellent Jimmy Paz novels, though Gruber is more adept at weaving his research into a narrative.  Nonetheless, Felix, intrigued by the symbols, seeks out Jackdaw, who has recently found a new young girl to save, Sadie.  But something else is hunting Jack, too.  And in 1585, Edward and John are about to make a terrible mistake that will have consequences far in the future – Jack’s future.

It’s the characters that carry this book.  Tormented Edward; fierce Jackdaw, kindhearted Felix, feisty Sadie.  As Jack and Felix’s relationship deepens in the midst of chaos, as Sadie accepts her reality with dignity, and as Edward understands the consequences of his actions, we can reflect on not so much the secrets of life and death, but the ideas of good and evil.  It’s never been completely undisputed that Elizabeth Bathory committed all the atrocities of which she was accused – she was a powerful woman with enemies.  In the novel, she chooses to become cursed.  Jack is given the same choice, but she is not the same kind of person as Bathory.  I wondered why Alexander gave her female character a man’s name, but I think the point is more that she bears the name of a bird – the small black crows – daws – of England and Europe.  Jack means ‘small,’ yet this woman is anything but.  Alexander is currently penning the third book in this trilogy; I can’t wait for Jackdaw to carry more light through darkness.

I received this book as a free ARC from Netgalley.

 

book reviews

Have you been thinking about signing up for Kindle Unlimited, but $9.99 a month seems kinda pricey?  It’s true that you can only “check out” 10 books at a time.  That’s probably plenty for the average reader, but you have to count on a few Did Not Finish’ers.  You can return books and exchange them for others any time.  I signed up for the 30 day free trial and went on a hunt for good speculative fiction.  So far I’ve found some pretty great stuff, but the trick is to go after what you really want (I used my goodreads list), instead of relying on Amazon’s genre lists to spoonfeed you.  They don’t seem to be doing a good job of curating these lists at all.  Example – even though there’s a paranormal/urban fantasy list, there’s nothing for horror or supernatural.   And the sci fi list seems to rely on Wool and Fluency.

So, here’s what I’ve found so far.  If I stay signed on, I’ll update this monthly with whatever I find.  Either way, the book prices are on the low side even if you don’t do Kindle Unlimited.

Click on the covers to link to Amazon.

 

One of the best vampire series out there kicks off with this book.

 

Phil Rickman (aka Will Kingdom) is a Welsh author who writes extremely good supernatural mysteries with wonderful characters.

Laird Barron is one of the spookiest dudes writing horror fiction today.

More people need to read Melissa Scott.

Tentacles on the cover!  Feel the Lovecraft.

 

 

 

book reviews

Part of the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge

YYEEESSSS! YES! This is what I want to read when I want to read a vampire novel.

And get me: I’m addicted to The Vampire Diaries on the CW, I read Anne Rice when I was in high school, and I still consider Stoker’s Dracula to be one of the finest novels ever written (and I can’t stand epistolary novels!). Near Dark kicks Zero Dark Thirty ass in Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial canon, in my opinion, and if you haven’t read Anne Billson’s novel Suckers, you need to immediately. Hopefully this all suffices to establish my street cred as vampire novel evaluator. Notice I’m not mentioning Stephenie whatshernameTwilight here. At least, I’m trying not to.

First, Barbara Hambly is a thinking woman’s writer. Because yes, there are nonthinking women out there. I should know, I am a nonthinking woman sometimes. I read the first Sookie Stackhouse novel (cringe) and ditched the books for HBO’s True Blood adaptation so I could salivate over Alexander Skarsgaard. And there’s of course Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, who is apparently supersexycool (ok, I’m not really sure if she’s that because I haven’t read any Laurell K. Hamilton, but I’m sure I’d prefer Anita Blake over Bella and Edward). There’s now enough vampteen and hip-chick vampire hunter lit out there to make a bookstack that would stretch from here to the Wraith mothership in the Pegasus Galaxy (yes I’m referencing Stargate Atlantis here, and I’m not ashamed). Speaking of the Wraith, what you get with Hambly’s novels is scary vampires. The ones who want you dead because you’re an inferior humanoid food source. The kind of vampires Stoker had in mind.

Anyway, Barbara Hambly’s James Asher novels. Because Those Who Hunt The Night is the first in a series, people. Get on board. And, if you’re not reading my WOGF reviews (it’s ok I know no one is…. I’m sucking at the polls, no vampire bloodsucking pun intended here), you’d also know that without trying (I swear, without trying), I keep choosing novels with serious bromance going on. This one is no different! Well, it definitely starts off differently, however, both in terms of bromance and vampire-human relationships (as recently depicted in film and teen lit, I mean).

Let’s get to the plot, shall we. Or sort of, because I’m really bad at synopses and reviews (see previous three babble-rant paragraphs). Suffice to say, our undead story takes place when and where it damn well should, in early 20th century Britain. Our hero James Asher is an Oxford professor who has a background in the spy trade and a brilliant, headstrong young wife named Lydia who is training to be one of the few female doctors of the time period. You know James is badass because he rides an Indian motorcycle, and Lydia rocks because she isn’t a wilting flower but a sharpwitted scientist who isn’t afraid to perform autopsies.

At the very beginning of the novel, Asher arrives home to find waiting for him the vampire Don Simon Xavier Christian Morado de la Cadena-Ysidro. No, really. Ysidro’s presence confirms the existence of vampires for our hero, and then he pretty much coerces Asher into helping him find out who is murdering vampires in London. You’d be coerced too by a 300 year old superhuman blooddrinker who knows where you live and threatens your wife. The two reach an uneasy bargain, and sleuthing ensues. This isn’t just a vampire novel, it’s a delightfully tense murder mystery and character study with a dash of mad scientism thrown in. James Asher is courageous and resourceful, and so is his wife, and their love story is as important to the book as the bromance between the noble Asher, tormented by his actions during his spy years, and the lonely, ancient Ysidro, who is nobility of a different sort. It’s inevitable that the two men – though really only one of them is a human man – are going to be allies, and you hope despite Ysidro’s age and his coldbloodedness that they will be friends. By the time Asher calls Ysidro by his first name during their scaaaary foray into the Paris catacombs, it’s clear they’re gonna bond and save each others’ lives at some point. Yay! And yet, there’s still that undercurrent of distrust and wariness, punctuated by moments of sly humor. It’s just electric!

Those Who Hunt the Night was published more than ten years after Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, but it’s not a ripoff or some kind of vampire reboot – it’s unique and rewarding. There are three more books in Hambly’s series, which is a wicked little treat! I’m keen to see more of Lydia Asher, whose canny medical know-how helped reveal the mystery at the heart of this story. There are other minor characters in the form of Ysidro’s vampire buddies (and not-so-buddies), and Hambly portrays them as separate personalities, not simply stock villains to be despatched or befriended. One of the best moments of tingly fear comes from a scene in which James meets an abandoned, newly-created vampire thug who has never learned self-control. They have an intense conversation in a dark alley, and Hambly does a masterful job of conveying the vampire’s rage, desperation, and hunger, in sharp contrast to Asher’s brave self-control and quick wits. I was simultaneously terrified, repulsed, saddened, and intrigued.

Hambly has written some great books in other genres as well – you might know her fantasy novel Dragonsbane, and her Benjamin January mystery series. Highly recommended. Me, I’m on to Traveling With The Dead, book 2 in the James Asher series. YES!!!

 

book reviews