September 2009


To get into the spirit of R.I.P. IV (and as my first read for Fall into Reading 2009),  I settled down under my toasty comforter in a cold room with only my lamp on and this book.  A good way to get spooky-filled thoughts while reading.  The first few pages hit my creepy cravings spot and soon I was on my own towards horrorville.

Author :  Graham Masterton

Date of Publication:  April 29, 2008

Publisher  :  Lesiure Books (mass market paperback)

ISBN-10: 0843957905

ISBN-13: 978-0843957907

No. of pages :  325

The Story :

Three Los Angeles crime lords have allied themselves with black magic through four powerful witches imported from voodoo-practicing countries.  These witches wreak gruesome havoc on the Los Angeles Police Department, undermining its leaders and violently neutralizing law enforcement with regard to their cabal.

Only Detective Dan comes to wholeheartedly believe in witchcraft and seeks to fight fire with fire.  He turns to his neighbour, good Witch Annie, to combat this evil nemesis.  Both have to face hell to save the whole city from this unstoppable evil.

My Review:

At the start, Masterton strongly wields his mighty horror pen, and I think, “Ooooh…yeah!…Finally, something deliciously shivery…”    The first few chapters are riveting, nauseating grippers that dish up scenes like this one:

“Cusack’s stomach churned again, even more violently.  He felt a tickling right at the back of his throat, and he couldn’t stop himself from letting out a cackling retch.  He spat into his hand and spat again, and when he opened it three live cockroaches ran across his fingers and dropped onto the floor…but Cusack was gripped by another hideous spasm, and this time…with his eyes bulging as a huge gush of cockroaches poured out of his mouth and into his lap…”

Just as I’m really into the whole thing, frantically turning page after page, Masterton’s pen starts to gradually peter out of horrific ideas.  It isn’t abrupt but it’s a slow descent toward a lame end so that I am left with just a cold room without the chills. Then I wonder where had that gut-churning terror— the kind that inspired me to keep to the story til 3 a.m.— gone to?

Sigh.  It was kind of a letdown;  I was all so revved up by the voodoo and visceral violence.

Later on it also struck me that if these hideously powerful women had all that magic at their fingertips, why couldn’t they just dispense with the crime lords and be the ruling gang instead?  That’s one angle in the story I felt the author didn’t quite think through.

But hey, it wasn’t all that bad. There are definitely worse out there.  It’s good enough though to get you through a long plane ride, being the fast easy read that it is.

In A Nutshell :

Masterton is a multi-awarded author of the horror genre.  But since even multi-awarded authors have their duds; I guess “The 5th Witch” has to be  one of those efforts that just didn’t work out.  He starts out strong but loses steam along the way so that the novel begins reading like a “B” movie.  Still, some of you may enjoy it especially if you love yucky stuff and gore.  As for me, disgusting and gruesome is ok as long as it’s got a great ending.

My Mark  :   Mediocre

P. S. :

The conclusion also left me in a puzzle.  What was that about the cat?  Didn’t get it….If you do, I would appreciate your two bits on this.

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Another stumble on a reading challenge that’s right up my alley — Fall Into Reading 2009 is just the right push to get me to clean up what’s On The Shelf this year to feature fresh books for 2010.   I may not be able to read all, but this challenge will force me to get most of it into my head and out of the way.

Fall Into Reading 2009 book challenge is a low- to-no-pressure self competition hosted by Callapidder Days.  The whole point is to have fun while getting some reading done.

The challenge runs from September 22 – December 20 (the Fall Season in North America).

Anyone is free to join anytime.  There are no minimum number of books to read.  The whole goal is just :  read a book and enjoy it!

Sounds good?  Find out more here.

This challenge comes with prizes!  However, this is only for those residing in the U.S. or Canada.  😦 Awww……

No matter, this should help a lot of us lop off some from our towering TBR piles now, wouldn’t it?

For this challenge, I’ll be reading :

1.  The 5th Witch — Graham Masterton  

2.  The Ghost of Flight 401 — John G. Fuller 

3. The Shack —- William P. Young        

4. Exile —-  Richard North Patterson  

5.  Avalon —- Anya Seton 

6.  Confessions of An Ugly Stepsister — Gregory Maguire 

7.  Tongue in Chic ——- Cristina Dodd    

8.  The Historian ——–   Elizabeth Kostkova

Three books also figure in my R.I.P. IV  Reading Challenge.  Who says I can’t hit two birds with one stone?

Alrighty, here I go….

November 12 ….

Finished the last book, Avalon,  in the above list; but it’s too early to deem this challenge done. So far,  this challenge has been quite enjoyable.  I’m glad I’ve achieved my reading goals with lots of time to reach for more. So, I’m adding two more books which have been forever in my TBR pile:

Second Nature —- Alice Hoffman  

The Witch of Cologne — Tobsha Learner 




I wanted a respite from the dark-themed books I had been reading for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. Something opposite these, I thought.  My eye settled on this religious fiction by Rebecca Kohn which had been  forever in my TBR pile.

Author :  Rebecca Kohn

Date of Publication : 2005

Publisher : Penguin Books (mass paperback)

ISBN-10: 0143035339

No. of pages :  384

The Story :

This is a story of how a young Jewish orphan, Esther, became Queen to one of the most powerful rulers of the ancient world, King Xerxes. But her story is unique because she goes down in Biblical history as one of those really rare heroines in the Old Testament who succeeded in saving her people from annihilation.

Hadassah, for her own survival, embraces the name Esther and becomes a closet Jew when she is abducted to serve in Xerxes’ harem as part of a crop of young virgins from which he would choose his new bride. (Xerxes had banished his beautiful but cruel wife, Queen Vashti, in a drunken pique for her refusal to appear before his party guests on his command.)

Esther comes to live in the harem, doing the best she can to get along with everyone.   She learns that in such an autocratic and hierarchical-sensitive environment,  the virtues of obedience, submissiveness,  generosity, respect of and deference to authority make life tolerable and endows her with the ability to influence others.

Upon her first presentation to the King,  Esther captivates him and in one night, makes a meteoric rise to Queen.

But her new life is threatened when Xerxes’ issues an edict calling all Jews to be annihilated, as per Haman’s, his corrupt chief advisor’s, whim. Haman is incensed that the Jew, Mordechai, the treasury official and in secret, Esther’s cousin, refuses obeisance to him, and so extends his wrath to all Jews.

Queen Esther is faced with a dangerous dilemma :   save her people by exposing her true lineage and forcing an uninvited audience with the King (an unsummoned presence before the King can earn one the death penalty) to plead for her people’s lives or keep mum about her Jewish parentage to save her own life and her position as Queen.

And so goes one of the most romantic stories in the Old Testament.

My Review :

The tale of Esther is a very powerful and moving story of courage and selflessness.  It is a tale of  a woman’s style of patriotism that necessitated giving up her life for one’s country/people.  It also has very significant religious points that reinforces the belief in (1) God’s existence;  (2) His constant vigil over His Chosen People and (3) His divine will and purpose for each person’s existence.

Rebecca Kohn  tries to capture this with by sticking quite closely to Esther’s story,  narrating it in her florid, romantic style  that makes her descriptions so rich and vibrant:

” The eunuch stopped before the door to the harem court.  On the doorjambs before me, a molded relief of the king fought a rearing lion monster with no more than a dagger in his bare hands….the eunuch rasped,…’You will live here in great comfort until your breasts sag and your sweet honeycomb shrivels…’….I looked at the eunuch , my eyes wide with terror…The lion monster on the doorjamb lunged for me.  I fled from the creature’s wide mouth and sharp claws into the harem court.”   — p.43

Her character, Esther, is a refreshingly different take on the ideal of a strong woman. Here, we see a girl who was strong without having the usual feminist aggressive, adventurous, stubborn, iron-willed character that a lot of writers favor to make their heroine so interesting.  Instead, Esther’s subservience and obedience coupled with her grace and feminine charms realistically favors her successful adaptation  to a masculinely dominated world where women’s subjugation are part of  its culture.   She succeeds without having to be obvertly defiant or wilful;  she simply does what she morally thinks is right in her own firm, quiet, patient way.

However, as a whole, the novel just didn’t quite make it to my standards for an outstanding rating.  Somehow, it just fell a little flat for reasons I cannot really define.  Perhaps, it was the ending which I felt wasn’t quite satisfactorily resolved and  rather anticlimactic at that.

In A Nutshell :

As a debut novel though, “The Gilded Chamber” is a good first effort.  I’ve taken to her writing style so that I’m not put off  from reading other novels Kohn may have churned out by now.    Moreover, for those looking for a fast read, this novel is it.   Aside from being a light read,  it’s got much more intellectual “meat” than say, a vampire or chick-lit novel;  so a good choice for that next beach read.

My Mark :  Very Good

Merrick” wasn’t too heavy on the gothic atmosphere so it was not difficult to decide to pick up another gothic-themed novel for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters”, was initially quite far down my TBR list before this challenge; but, being one mentioned in the pool of books the challenge host, Stainless Steel Droppings, had lined for himself, I decided to plunge into this heavy, page-laden book for my next read.

Author : Gordon Dahlquist

Date of Publication : 2006  (Hardcover edition)

Publisher : Bantam Books

ISBN-10: 0385340354

ISBN-13: 978-0385340359

No. of pages :  768

The Story :

In Victorian England, a rich plantation heiress receives an abrupt “dear john” letter from her beau.  In her pride, the stricken Miss Temple decides to follow her fiance to find out the reason for his rejection.  She tails him on a long train ride and arrives at Lord Vandaariff’s huge labyrinthine Harschmort Manor where a  masked ball is in full swing presumably for the engagement of Vandaariff’s daughter to the German Prince of Macklenberg.  She is mistaken as a woman sent to undergo a mysterious “Process” but is soon discovered to be a gate-crasher, deemed to have seen too much.  Suddenly Miss Temple finds her little adventure taking a dangerous turn when she is forced to save her own life.

At that same time, a half blind assassin, Cardinal Chang, is at the ball with a mission to terminate a Colonel Trapping.  He creeps about for his quarry only to find him already murdered.  But who, why, and how are questions that leave him baffled.  A few days later, he is approached by a wealthy sophisticate  who asks him to find a woman, Isobel Hastings (Miss Temple who gave an assumed name) who is believed to be the killer of the Colonel.

Meanwhile,  Doctor Abelard Svenson of the Macklenburg Prince’s entourage loses his charge in Harschmort Manor.  His search leads him to conclude that  something sinister is brewing in the Vandaariff home.  His independent investigation suddenly imperils his life but his duty-bound nature forces him to continue to try to protect his Prince.

In pursuit of their own agenda, these three people stumble on a secret cabal whose sinister plans involve strange alchemical scientific processes and malign blue glass books which serve as a dire yet addicting repository of memories while relinquishing a person of the same.  Anyone who stares into its thin, crystal pages is stripped of their personal memories and turned into pleasure-addicted, compliant zombies, easily controlled and subverted to the group’s aims.

Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Doctor Svenson propitiously meet and form an unlikely triumvirate bent on stopping this unholy cabal.

What follows is a merry chase with mystery, suspense, science fiction, and even a little romance.  Lest this be construed as simply a long, quaint narrative, Dahlquist has thrown in a good deal of  sex and a bit of gore in the mix which contrast quite nicely with its Victorian prudery and formality.

The Review :

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” is a brilliantly creative debut from author, Gordon Dahlquist.  It is a unique albeit outlandish novel that will, as you read, play out old-fashioned comic book scenes in your head.  Indeed, the narrative would lend itself very well to comic strip illustrations of its events, complete with “Boom!”, “Pow!”, “Whack!” sounds written on it.   And like an old-fashioned comic book, the heroes often extricate themselves from sticky situations after long dialogues with the villains, instead of each realistically  going straight into action to resolve the conflict.  Although an annoyance to some, it does have its charms, especially when executed with Dahlquist’s wonderful prose.  Besides, such an outdated style is quite at home with the book’s outré antiquated atmosphere as well.

Although the book has this unreal yet special flavor, its characters are surprisingly well developed, each discovering himself/herself as the adventure unfolds.

Division of the book’s chapters deal with the narrative accordingly from one character’s perspective.  So for instance, one chapter deals with adventures of Miss Temple, the next, those of Cardinal Chang, etc.  Being long chapters, the reader may find himself going back through a previous few pages to refresh his memory of the others’ experiences.  Still, it wasn’t much of an annoyance as, on the whole, the book had cast its charms on me enough to discount little bothers like this.

What is most captivating about the book is not its unusual plot nor its dark  steampunk  theme but its author’s ornate prose that gives so much allure to the novel.  His style is romantic yet explicitly descriptive, laced with intelligent humor and irony:

“His hair was pale but streaked with grey, long and greasy, combed back behind his ears.  His coat was fine enough but unkempt— in fact the man’s whole appearance gave the impression of a once-cherished article — a sofa, for example — that had been left in the rain and partially ruined.” — p. 155

“Moral perspective is what we carry around with us — it exists nowhere else, I can promise you.   Do you see?  There is liberation and responsibility — for what is natural depends on where you are, Bascombe.  Moreover, vices are like genitals — most are ugly to behold, and yet we find our own dear to us.” — p. 164

To Read Or Not To Read :

To enjoy this book,  be prepared to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow.  After all, it is fantasy.

Mind you, this is a lengthy novel, of which its chief fault (according to some reviews), is its wordiness and long-windedness.  For me, however, this is exactly the novel’s charm as it rests on Dahlquist’s excellent descriptive prose, without which a  book like this can become rather tedious and boring when rendered with a flat, indelicate hand.   Slash the verbiage and this may end up an unremarkable read — not bad, but not great either.

You must have the time to indulge in this book;  otherwise,  you’ll be better off with something else.

As An Aside :

For all my praises for this novel and despite its glowing reception by critics, Bantam Books, its publisher,  has written this off as a massive failure. The book failed to pull in the sales and lost Bantam over U$850,000, after having advanced two million U. S. dollars to the author for a two-book deal.

Most of those, however, who have put in the time to read the book, review this novel with praises.  Perhaps, in time, more readers will get to know this atypical literary work and appreciate it for its originality.

The sequel, “The Dark Volume“, must have already been released this year.   This definitely goes into my list of “must-haves” for 2009. 🙂

In A Nutshell :

This is one of the best books I’ve enjoyed this year.  Its strangeness and inventiveness coupled with Dahlquist’s superb writing skills really had me riveted.  A definite keeper!

My Mark  :  Excellent

Here’s a fun meme from Blooey of Bookmarked! who, in turn, spied it at Coffeespoons.    Using book titles from those you’ve read this year (2009), relate them to these questions.  You can’t  repeat a book title.

If you were a book :

Describe yourself  : I’m a  woman in Full Bloom (Janet Evanovich) .

How do you feel: Like I’ve been Twice Kissed (Lisa Jackson).  Deliciously pleased!

Describe where you currently live: A slow-paced, laid-back place,  truly a World Without End (Ken Follet).

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Fashion Babylon (Imogen-Edward Jones), of course! Where the party is!

Your favorite form of transportation: Maximum Ride (James Patterson)

Your best friend/s : Rachel & Leah :  Women of Genesis (Orson Scott Card).  Really opposites but both are the best!

You and your friends are / were : Having some drinks three nights ago, reminiscing with a toast to say, “Thanks For The Memories” (Cecila Ahern) .

What’s the weather like: Before the Dawn (Nicholas Wade ), it was raining.

You fear : Dying only to face the  Gates Of Fire (Steven Pressfield).

What is the best advice you have to give: Dressed up, dressed down, fat, slim, bad hair day or no…always carry yourself like a Princess (Jean Sasson).

Thought for the day:   “Every Mortal loss is an Immortal Gain. The Ruins (Scott Smith) of Time build Mansions in Eternity.” — William Blake

How I would like to die:  On my feet, dancing and having the time of my life—quite a Danse Macabre (Laurell K. Hamilton)

My soul’s present condition:  Waiting (Frank M. Robinson)… calmly.

Merrick” is my first choice for the R.I.P. IV Challenge just because it’s been quite some time since I’ve read anything from my all-time favorite gothic author, Anne Rice.  As a side story created from her famous vampire and Mayfair witch series,  it merges  Rice’s vampire world with those of her witches’.

Author :   Anne Rice

Date of First Publication :  October 17, 2000

Publisher of First Edition (Hardcover) :  Alfred A. Knopf

My Edition’s Publication Date :  July 2001

My Edition Published By :  The Ballantine Publishing Group (Mass Paperback)

No. of Pages :  379

What It’s All About :

Readers of Rice’s vampire series will be familiar with David Talbot, the secretive Talamasca society’s former Director-General turned bloodsucker by the indomitable Vampire Lestat.  As a favor to his preternatural friend Louis, he approaches the love of his former life,  Merrick, a powerful mortal descended from a long line of witches of the Mayfair clan.  He asks her to call the spirit of a dead vampire child, Claudia, whom Louis had so loved and protected.  From Louis’ desire to know about the witch who agreed to grant his utmost desire,  the story of Merrick is told by David who recounts her life, from the little girl she was when she first came to the Talamasca’s attention to the beautiful, sensual, powerful witch she has become–dangerous enough even to a vampire.

It would be a Rice vampire fan’s  interest to know that the famous Lestat makes a minor comeback here.

The tale revolves mostly on the new character, Merrick,  although there are some jolting surprises by our beloved vampires toward the end.

My Review :

Anne Rice is in her usual passionately sublime style with “Merrick“.  The feel is deliciously dark although there is always a lofty atmosphere, which is a classic Anne Rice stamp on her gothic novels. Her characters always seem to yearn toward something much more and if anything, her novels always have a sense of hope and salvation.

She imbues her unholy characters with strong human passions, and in these are her characters’ saving graces which grip the reader’s affinity and empathy.    When Louis or  David feel, they feel deep pathos, exultation at beauty, stunned awe, infinite hatred, and all-consuming love.  There seems to be no in-between for Rice’s characters.

This is particularly true with her vampire personalities which thrive on beauty.  She has been consistent of their traits from the first book in the vampire series, “Interview With A Vampire” ’til this book.  To illustrate, David’s thoughts on looking at Louis:

“He looked rather splendid in his sorrow.  Again he made me think of the paintings of Andrea del Sarto.  There was something lush in his beauty, for all the sharp and clear well-drawn lines of his eyes and mouth.”  — p. 81

Moreover, her characters are always strongly sensual and oftentimes have no sexual boundaries.  This leaves the author a lot of leeway in exploring sexual issues.  In this particular novel, age factors and homosexuality.

As in most of her other novels,  expect some philosophical meanderings in this one.  As Rice’s vampires are deep feelers and thinkers, she keeps a consistency in their traits all throughout her chronicles.  This novel is no exception:

Louis : “You speak of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as magical, and I understand you, because if the Bread and Wine are transformed into the Holy Sacrifice of the Crucifixion, it is magical, but why does it involve blood?…

What I’m saying is, we might compare rituals the worlds over in all religions and all religions and all systems of magic, forever, but they always involve blood.  Why?  Of course I know human beings cannot live without blood; I know that ‘the blood is the life’, saith Dracula;   I know that humankind speaks in cries and whispers of blood-drenched altars, of bloodshed and blood kin, and blood will have blood, and those of the finest blood.  But why?  What is the quintessential connection that binds all such wisdom or superstition?  And above all, why does God want blood?”– p. 83

You never leave a book from her vampire series without some food for thought.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Although Anne Rice does go back to give a bit of background on her characters,  it would be better for new readers to read the first two or three novels in her “Interview With the Vampire” series so that they would know the characters in context.  Not having a background on the Mayfair witches is alright because Merrick is a new character;  but the Louis, Lestat, Claudia, and David Talbot are vital characters upon whose histories the reader’s appreciation depends.

If you had read the first six novels in the Rice’s  vampire collection,  “Merrick” is a must-read.  It may not stand out as the others but in this, Louis goes through a major turning point which should not be missed.

In A Nutshell:

Those who have not read Anne Rice should know that she has written a wonderful series on vampire and another independent series on witches.  Those worlds had not touched each other until this book; so that Rice’s fans of both series had been thrilled to know that the author breathed new life especially to her vampire chronicles by merging them in “Merrick“.

The resulting novel is quite good; however, it is not that close to Rice’s best ones.  Nevertheless, it is a good addition to her vampire chronicles for her famous pair, Lestat and Louis, are back and are setting the stage for more adventures with a looming war with the Talamasca.  And Rice is still in top form with her lush detailing and profound prose.

My Mark :  Very Good