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.

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

The small print and the number of pages in this novel promises ample time in your reading chair.  So be sure to have lots of time to kill to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Author :  Susanna Clarke

Published Date : August 1, 2006

Publisher: Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765356155

ISBN-13: 978-0765356154

Pages :   1,024

Synopsis :

Susanna Clarke writes of an alternate England, a place rich in history of magic and folklore.

It is the beginning of the 19th century in England, a time when magic has been relegated to pages of esoteric books,  studied by only certain gentlemen with a passion for magical theory.  It has been centuries since magicians had wielded any real power or communed with fairy folk so that magic in England has been presumed lost forever or simply non-existent.

At the height of the Napoleonic war,  Mr. Norrell, a reclusive pedantic magician, one of the only practical or practicing magicians in England, suddenly comes out of his solitary society with the goal of restoring magic in England, in his own terms.  So he applies to help the government combat Napoleon Buonaparte.  His magical talents immediately catapult him to celebrity status.  Soon however, a younger and more adventurous magician,  sort of a more freewheeling one in the person of Jonathan Strange, emerges to aid Mr. Norrell in the war.  Owing to the Mr. Norrell’s age and scholarship (he owns almost all the books of magic that can be had), Strange becomes his pupil.  Together, they become England’s most celebrated and only recognized magicians.

Their contradictory personalities and philosophies, however, guarantee a building scenario toward a clash which inevitably brings about Strange’s estrangement from his former mentor.  This division between England’s two foremost magicians lead to a cataclysmic strife in fulfillment of a prophecy for both England and the world of the fairy.

The Review:

This book, a gift from my aunt, had been sitting in my shelf for more than a year now.  Its simple cover and ordinary title just didn’t cry out to be read so that the book was often bypassed in favor of those with more interesting colors and come-ons.

Little did I know…these nondescript book covers hold pages of a marvelous literary gem that outshines many in my library.  This book is a rare delight, a captivating original for which I can find no equal.

The New York Post says of this work :  “…think Harry Potter sprinkled with the dust of Tolkien and Alasdair Gray…”    I disagree.  It is a far cry from J.K. Rowling’s and Tolkien’s work.  This book stands on its own merits and can perhaps have that exceptional position of having no other work in its genre that can be compared to it.

The book is a blend of history and fantasy, the most part being that of fantasy.  However, the reader is never sure where fiction ends and fact begins (are there even any facts?) when the author starts footnoting a word, a title, or a group of  sentences.  The footnotes, fictitious or otherwise, often refer to dated publications.  There are way over a hundred of these footnotes which pepper the entire book.  The footnotes themselves are interesting pieces of asides, ranging as short as as a one-liner to as long as a little story in itself, spanning two pages.  Susanna Clarke  used meticulous footnoting as a brilliant strategy to lend her book a conviction of credibility.

The language of writing is reminiscent of those of the nineteenth century.  Take a peek into a Jane Austen novel and you’ll know what I mean.  The style is formal and elegant yet wonderfully precise so that it showcases the author’s sharp dry wit and her command of vivid description.

“The door opened to reveal a tall, broad fellow of thirty or forty.  His face was round, white, pockmarked and bedabbled with sweat like a Chesire cheese.  All in all he bore a striking resemblance to the man in the moon who is reputed to be made of cheese.  He had shaved himself with no very high degree of skill and here and there on his white face two or three coarse black hairs appeared–rather as if a family of flies had drowned in the milk before the cheese was made and their legs were poking out of it…”

One can be enraptured by this old-fashioned intelligent writing style.  As one so enamored, I felt like I were in a feather cloud of words with all these pretty phrases falling delicately about me.   Susanna Clarke writes very consistently in this manner and even uses archaic spelling in keeping with her language.   For example, she uses “chuse” for choose, “shew” for show, “scissars” for scissors.

This is Susanna Clarke’s debut novel and it speaks for the author’s superb writing talent.  Her deadpan humor can fairly surprise a chuckle from you while her orchestrated sudden mood turns can illicit that gasp of incredulity.  At times, the narrative may sound indifferent and haughty and then dark and sinister in an instant.  How Clarke plays with her words is a marvel to witness;  and with this, she draws her characters and events so well as to leave one wanting more despite the book’s thousand pages.

To Read Or Not To Read?:

All this is not to say, however, that this book is for everyone.  The writing language may not appeal to many, the thousand or so pages may prove to be daunting,  and the footnoting may leave a tedious aftertaste with some readers.    To enjoy it, one must not mind reading a very long fantastical story written in old-fashioned English.  Rather, the reader must savor its literary style  and allow himself to be transported into its world to really appreciate this book.   For those who don’t mind these caveats,  the joy of immersing in a work of quality and originality will be reward enough.

In A Nutshell:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell deserves the heaps of glowing reviews,  and its Hugo and World Fantasy awards.  It is a phenomenal masterpiece  which seamlessly embodies social comedy, fantasy, history, Gothic horror, and a teeny tiny sprinkling of poignant romance.  A wonderful, wonderful book best enjoyed when savored, this  novel of high fantasy has surely earned an honored place in my shelf.

My Mark :  Excellent; Superior

Author: Philippa Gregory
Release Date : February 4, 2002
Publisher :
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
ISBN-10 : 0006514642
ISBN-13 : 978-0006514640
Pages : 640

It is the time of the English Reformation — a moment in history when King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to head the Protestant Church of England. These were the tumultuous times in which we find the heroine, Alys.

The story begins with Alys fleeing from a burning abbey, her home since she was twelve. She had run away from her foster mother, Morach, and her poverty-stricken and loveless life . Morach is the village wise woman, both a healer and a secret dabbler in the dark arts. The ruin of the abbey tragically forces Alys to go back to Morach and her former life of drudgery. But as fate would have it, Alys is sent as an answer to the summons for a healer from the lord of the manor, Lord Hugh, who upon seeing her value in healing and clerkship, makes her live in his castle.

This is where Alys sees the lord’s son, Hugo, and falls obsessively in love at first sight. But Hugo is married to a spiteful, jealous Catherine. And so begins Alys’ spiritual and moral decline in her desire to win and keep Hugo’s love.

Philippa Gregory has written a very dark book. The gloom permeates the entire story in which most of the notable characters are intense sketches of avarice, selfishness, evil, and depravity. There is no respite from the heaviness; but the events will compel one to turn page after page as the suspense mounts. After all, this is a very good story.

Alys is not a historical figure or someone significant in history to be molded according to factual limitations (like some in Gregory’s work – i.e. Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon, et al.). She is the author’s free creation, and therefore shaped to the writer’s unlimited fancy. It is through her, I have come to see and respect Gregory’s remarkable talent in character development.

Alys is a 16-year old who is innately passionate and self-centered, a survivor with an independent streak. With these qualities, the author sets her in a period of gender prejudice and oppression, and throws trial after trial where her character is forced to choose between an expedient but immoral action and an arduously virtuous one. Realistically enough, the character chooses the easier paths; so, with each choice, Gregory chronicles how godly innocence can degrade to vulgar debasement.

The transformation is done gradually and very subtly so that the shift is believable. If this is Philippa Gregory’s aim, then she has succeeded quite well. Moreover, she has created a character that we may not want to see in ourselves but may be lurking, untested and untried, inside many of us with great instincts for self-preservation. Perhaps, she may be challenging us to judge Alys, then to answer truthfully, “If you were in her shoes…”

For those readers who don’t like pervasive pessimistic themes, stay away from this book. This will simply depress you. But for those who don’t mind immersing in such joylessness, reading this will reward you with Gregory’s sheer talent for characterization and of course, you get to read an amazingly good story.

As for the book’s surprising conclusion, again it will be the reader’s judgment that will render it a satisfying end or not. With this note, I’d like to say that A Wise Woman would be great material for your reading circle’s next discussion.

My Mark : Outstanding

This book may not be to everyone’s taste and many may disagree with my mark. If you do so, I would appreciate your opinions.