Pressed for reading time?  Grab a young adult book.  YA is always my answer to a need for  light, easy- to- read but fun book.  Vampirates just fits the bill…

Author :  Justin Somper

Publication Date :  October 4, 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN-10: 0316013730

ISBN-13: 978-0316013734

No. of pages :  336

The Story :

Fourteen-year-old twins Grace and Connor are left orphaned and penniless in a gossipy old village and so both flee the clutches of their would-be guardians.  They take a dinghy out to sea only to be cursed by a storm and separated from each other.  Connor is rescued by a pirate ship while Grace is saved by a dreaded Vampirate, the terror their father had warned about in a catchy but strangely  comforting shanty.

Despite being oceans apart, both siblings never give up hope that the other is alive and focus their energies into finding each other.  Meanwhile, Connor carves a new life as a pirate while Grace faces dangers from the Vampirate crew who have yet to know of her existence on board.

The Review :

“Yo Ho Ho and a pint of blood!…”

What better way to curdle your RBCs but merge two devils into one — pirates and vampires!  Hence, vampirates!  Quite an original concept and a rather great way to grab the reading attention of very young readers, from nine to fourteen years old.  Well, it caught my attention and I’m no spring chicken (Hey, I’m no geriatric either, LOL! ; but, I’m way over my teen years.  How old? Let’s just say I’m supposedly too old for YA.  Tee hee!).

Since the book was written with this reading market in mind, I must review from this viewpoint and pretend to be twelve.  If I were twelve, I would love this book and cajole mom to buy me the series.

It starts out strong with a good ditty and two engaging twin characters.   The vampires are interesting creatures and quite different from the usual.   There are normal pirates in the book as well; and well, they are  the usual jolly, swashbuckling lot,  quite appealing to young boys.  An innocent, budding romance is also in the air for girls just discovering the world of crushes.

Somper’s writing is just right for the age bracket but his style and the plot may be a little too juvenile for adult tastes.  Still as an “oldie”, I was entertained and finished the book in a day.

One thing I am puzzled about, though, is the fact that the story is set well into the future, specifically the year 2505.  However, with the mention of swords and galleons and the utter lack of modernity in the story,  the whole thing really feels a lot more sixteenth century”ish”.  In fact, you would forget the story’s futuristic date.   Maybe this question is answered in the sequels?

To Read Or Not To Read :

This is a series book, as most YA books are.  To date, there are five, the latest being Empire of the Night, which according to Amazon, will be out in August 2010.  Definitely read if you’re a kid or when you’re just too bored being an adult.  Just remember that this series isn’t over yet with the fifth.

My Mark  :  Very Good!


A most appropriate read for my R.I.P. IV  Challenge and a great one for my and Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.

Author :  Elizabeth Kostova

Date of First Publication :  June, 2005 (Hardcover)

Publisher of 1st Edition :  Little, Brown and Company

This Edition’s Publication Date :  January 2006 (Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher : Back Bay Books

ISBN:  0-316-05788-6

No. of pages : 820  (Paperback)

The Story :

A young American girl stumbles upon an unusual book in her father’s library.  Its pages are empty except for a woodcut of a menacing dragon with the title, Drakulya, on it.  Along with it is a stash of old letters written by a her father’s favorite professor, Bartholomew Rossi, who mysteriously disappeared at the time when her father was still his student.

Her discovery reveals her family’s dark and dangerous quest for the continued existence of Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula.  Slowly , drawn by her father’s accounts, she joins her family’s adventure of pursuing the undead through old letters and ancient texts, from libraries , aged monasteries and closed countries of Eastern Europe.

The Review :

You’ve got to be “in love at first read” with Elizabeth Kostova’s lush, vivid, elegant prose.  Her attention to detail is a constant that keeps the ambience of the book flowing, cloaking the reader with gothic creepiness that blends surprisingly well with romantic elements,  all throughout its eight hundred and so pages.  (By romantic elements I mean the sumptuous descriptions which enamor a reader to places, culture, people, etc. )  To read Kostova’s work is  to experience a story so intimately — you “see” the colorful pageantry of Byzantine culture, “taste”  delectable Turkish food, “smell” the smell of the undead, “feel” the anguish of the tortured.

If she fails to capture your interest in her first one or two hundred pages, chances are you simply cannot love this.  It’s one of those books that will either mesmerize you with its sensual vividness and alluring writing or because of these very qualities, tire you with its ponderous pace and lengthy minutiae.

For me, however, it is exactly Kostova’s way with language and her meticulous manner that are the charms of this novel.  It makes me wish I could absorb Kostova’s prose into my very pores in the hopes I would be able to write as eloquently and as gorgeously as she can.  Aside from being able to string words  so marvelously, she can switch the narrative perspective between a number of characters so effortlessly that the reader is hardly left wondering who is telling the story at certain points.

As a gothic novel, The Historian is superb.  It’s got all those dark elements, creepy atmosphere, but tempered so that it just falls short of being a horror novel.  The story moves like a slow crescendo,  building up bit by bit to a startling peak that gently tapers out toward the end. With all that, the reader is treated also to a well-researched history of Dracula, which makes reading all the more interesting.

In A Nutshell :

A horror novel, The Historian is not.  It may raise a few hairs, make your spine tingle, give you little shivers but it stops short of being truly terrifying.  It wasn’t written to be really such.  Yes, a chiller; but one laden with a lot more history and mystery than visceral terror.

This is a thick, page-laden novel .  But length becomes no object when you have totally immersed yourself in it.

Those who take to the novel quite early are more likely to appreciate this gem.  On the whole, it is worth the time.  To echo  a fellow blogger, KyusiReader, The Historian is indeed a very, very satisfying read.

My Mark :  Excellent

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

My knowledge of this book came from reading a blogger’s take on the movie, “300“.  I do not recall the site anymore but I do recall the blogger’s disappointment in the movie’s distance from historical facts. (As per another blog, “300” was supposed to be based on some comic book  and was meant to be more of a visual treat rather than a factual account on the Battle of Thermopylae.)  This book is one he expressly recommended as one of the best fiction novels on that famous battle as the events and descriptions thereof are well-researched and hold true to history.

Author  :  Steven Pressfield

First Publication Date :  October 20, 1998

First Publisher   :  Doubleday

This Edition’s Publication Date :  September 1999

This Edition’s Publisher :  Bantam Books

No. of Pages :  460

ISBN : 0-553-58053-I

The Story :

After the Persian’s victory at the pass of Thermopylae, a Greek soldier is discovered as the sole survivor of that horrendous battle.  At King Xerxes’ command, the man, Xeones, is spared and nursed as much as could be done for a man with grievous wounds.  It is Xerxes’ desire to know his enemies  whose paltry numbers have decimated a staggering multitude in his army.  As much as his desire is so,  it is also the Greek’s urgent need to tell the story to immortalize the men who valorously held the pass against insurmountable odds.

He begins his discourse with his life’s story, from a homeless boy of a conquered city to a helot in service to a Spartan master.  Of  Sparta he describes its military way of life, where self-discipline and subordination of the needs of one for the many are paramount virtues.  Boys, as young as 12, are subjected to military training, a way of life that would make them into formidable warriors and therefore, real men, ready to defend their state for honor.  Battle training does not merely mean molding superb physiques and extraordinary fighting prowess.  There also exists the Spartan psychology of war in which battle philosophies are inculcated to create a strong foundation of selflessness and a state of mind that renounces fear in the face of death.  This has made Sparta’s military might superior to all as their battle readiness is a product of complete physical, mental, and emotional endurance.  Even Spartan women are physically fit  and stoically ready to give up husbands and sons to defend Sparta.

Under the huge threat of the Persian invasion, Sparta rallies other Greek states to counter this dangerous intention.  The Spartan king, Leonidas, selects 300 soldiers to march to Thermopylae to defend this narrow pass into Greece.  These 300, along with their Greek allies totals a handful 7,000 against 2,000,000 Persian enemies.

Xeones’ narrative breathes life into the personalities behind this historically famous “last stand” and earns for the Hellenes, in particular Sparta, the respect of the enemy who are awed by Greek determination to defend their country to the last man.

The Review :

Few books on war may ever enthrall one as much as “Gates of Fire“, Steven Pressfield’s brilliantly executed story on the Battle of Thermopylae.  The story is done with great mastery for depicting human nature, Spartan culture and psychology, and ancient Greek warfare and battle tactics.

Although war and the violence of  hand-to-hand combat may be alien to most of us, Pressfield makes the sights, smells, sounds, and emotional experiences of the fight so palpable, it intrudes the comfort of one’s reading chair.  One can feel the grit, the determination, the almost inhuman physical and mental endurance, and the nobility of it all.

The characterization is very good.   His ancient warriors do put a new dimension on the concept of  “real men”.   Aside from pure brawn and unimaginable stamina, they are able to transcend basic human nature in the face of insuperable odds.  One may be drawn to how humanly vulnerable the characters are to many weaknessees, like fear, the desire for self preservation, etc. and be filled with admiration for their ability to rise above themselves for the good of the many.

Pressfield’s writing has a poetic quality, rich in metaphors  and analogy, which greatly enhances the descriptive style of his work.

“…Instead each warrior’s lungs pumped only for breath; chests heaved like foundry bellows, sweat coursed into the ground in runnels, while the sound which arose from the throats of the contending masses was like nothing so much as a myriad quarrymen, each harnessed to the twined rope of the sled, groaning and straining to drag some massive stone across the resisting earth. ” — p. 297

What may please one more is that although “Gates of Fire” is a fictional novel,  it is , I believe, laboriously researched and therefore historically accurate.  The author’s knowledge of the battle and characters seem so intimate as to make one believe he had been there himself.  What also makes the book more special is the fact that it also deals with interesting Spartan psychology and philosophy of war:

“War not peace, produces virtue.  War, not peace, purges vice.  War, and the preparation for war, call forth all that is noble and honorable in a man.  It unites him with his brothers and binds them in a selfless love, eradicating in the crucible all which is base and ignoble.  There in the holy mill of murder the meanest of men may seek and find that part of himself, concealed beneath the corrupt, which shines forth brilliant and virtuous, worthy of honor before the gods.   Do not despise war….do not delude yourself that mercy and compassion are virtues superior to andreia, to manly valor.” — p.157

How does one conquer fear of death, the most primordial of terrors….Dogs in a pack find courage to take on a lion.  Each hound knows its place.  He fears the dog ranked above and feeds off the fear of the dog below.  Fear conquers fear.  This is how we Spartans do it, counterpoising to fear of death a greater fear:  that of dishonor.  Of exclusion from the pack.”  — p.265

“Habit will be your champion.  When you train the mind to think one way and one way only, when you refuse to allow it to think in another, that will produce great strength in battle. — p. 159

The excerpts above may appear verbose or too lofty for some when taken as is, but as part of the book it doesn’t seem so.  Steven Pressfield manages to balance his writing to create a wonderful reading experience of a novel — a  remarkably inspirational gem I think few of its genre can equal.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Definitely, a must read!  I must say this is one of the best “battle books”  I’ve ever come across.  It’s a testosterone-laden narrative full of blood, guts, muscle, and masculine stoicism;  yet it is poignant too for the tremendous sacrifice, honor, and virtues  all upheld in this story as well.

For budding ancient war enthusiasts, you will be thrilled by the accurate depiction of battle techniques, strategies, rigorous training methods and the unwavering mindset one must have to become truly Spartan.

Somehow it is hard to believe that men with such physical and mental endurance such as these Spartan warriors ever existed.  But the  mind-boggling part is that they did!  The human mind and body is actually capable of so much more than what we believe so.

Imagine tearing your hamstring (agonizing enough in itself)  and still getting up to fight, using tremendous leg power to push against a human enemy wall, pushing back in return, all the while carrying a spear and a massive oak and bronze shield.   This you should do without surrendering to pain and self-pity, for hours on end with hardly a respite for food and water.   Sounds ridiculously incredible?  Yet this could have been what a warrior must have endured to keep the phalanx intact:

“…I could see the warrior’s feet, at first churning in disarray for purchase on the blood and gore-beslimed earth, now settle into a unison, a grinding relentless cadence….With a heave, the warriors’ shield-side foot pressed forward, bows-on to the enemy;  now the shield-side foot planted at a ninety-degree angle, dug into  the mud; the arch sank as every stone of the man’s weight found purchase upon the insole, and, with left shoulder planted into the inner bowl of the shield whose broad outer surface was  pressed into the back of  the comrade before him, he summoned all force of tissue and tendon to surge and heave upon the beat.  Like ranked oarsmen straining upon the shaft of a single oar, the unified push of the men’s exertions propelled the ship of the phalanx forward into the tide of the enemy. “— pp. 296 – 297

Well, if such “supermen”  existed before, one may come to think :  how come we don’t make many of them anymore?  Tee Hee! 😉

As An Aside :

It is interesting to note  : “‘Gates of Fire‘ is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Reading list. It is taught at West Point and Annapolis and at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico.”  — Wikipedia

It has been floating around that this movie will be adapted to cinema.  However, this project is still in development with no particular date in sight.  Don’t be lazy though and wait for the movie.  Pick up this book;  it’ll be well worth your time.

In A Nutshell :

Steven Pressfield is now on my personal list of fave authors for “Gates Of Fire“, a very beautifully written graphical novel which showcases the author’s superior writing talent.    This is one of those books you can read again and again through the years.  Definitely a keeper and a treasure on my shelf.

My Mark :  Excellent;  Superb!

Author :  Laurell K. Hamilton

Series   :  Book 14, Anita Blake Series

Publication Date :  March 27, 2007 (Paperback Edition)

Publisher :   Jove

ISBN-10: 0515142816

ISBN-13: 978-0515142815

No. of pages : 576

The Story :

Anita Blake thinks she is pregnant but doesn’t know who the father is.  Is it Micah, the wereleopard;  Jean-Claude, her master vampire;  or Richard the werewolf?  She is a human with vampiric powers and a variety of lycanthropic strains — wolf, lion, leopard, etc.  She is supposedly every woman’s erotic fantasy, possessing the powers of the ardeur, which unleashes a sexual desire so great that men cannot resist but fall desperately in lust and in love as well.  Lust is Anita’s food upon which she feeds and her orgasmic delights in turn feed  some of her partners whose very existence rely on her ability to arouse and drink in sexual pleasure.  Thus, her harem of men.

Sex and the ardeur is a necessity so that Anita is not a slut but rather a very important element in the supernatural community.

The Review :

If the synopsis sounds lame and vacuous, that’s because it really is. The thin,  feeble plot seems like an flimsy excuse for providing a story when the book is really just plain porn.   Events always necessitate sex and despite the author’s obvious attempt to imbue deep emotional dimensions on her characters, they come out as pathetically half-baked, sex-starved freaks who just can’t relate with each other without rutting — and rutting in all forms : straight sex, gay sex, threesomes, anal, a bit of SM and animal sex.  And since the story is character driven,  it falls utterly flat on its face with them.

This book practically reeks of sex, so much so that it becomes tiresome and entirely unerotic.  Hamilton comes out as a bad erotic writer (and a bad storyteller,  to boot) and this supernatural piece of porn does not tilltilate but bores.

However, this is the 14th book in the Anita  Blake series and for Hamilton to have published a book this far into her series  makes me  wonder if this particular novel is simply a dud in her  collection, and if her other books are actually great.

To Read Or Not To Read? :

Read, if you :

  • like written erotica  (and you don’t give a damn if it’s artistically done or not)
  • get off on supernaturals
  • are unrelentingly going through each book in this series and so just have to read this one
  • have nothing else to grab for the loo

Otherwise,  ditch this and spend your time on something more worthwhile.  Or get to know the first few novels and see how Hamilton managed to acquire a fan base to make it this far (book # 14).

My Mark :  Poor

This book has been in my local bookstore’s bestseller list for over a month now.  And here is no wonder why:

Author :  Cecelia Ahern

Published Date :  September 2008

Publisher  :  Harper Collins

No. of Pages :  489

ISBN : 978-0-06-172901-0

Synopsis :

In London, Justin Hitchcock braves a blood donation drive, despite a phobia of needles, to secure a date with the program’s hot doctor.

In Dublin, Joyce Conway nearly loses her life in a tragic accident.   She survives but suddenly acquires a vast knowledge and passion for art and architecture and a hoard of memories, belonging to someone she’s never met.

In a chance meeting at a salon, Joyce and Justin feel an inexplicable connection, despite being strangers.  Events then conspire to lead them in a merry serendipitous  chase of catching glimpses of each other, finding out who each other is, and solving the riddle of such thump-thumping of the heart for a virtual stranger.

The Review :

Cecilia Ahern is a delightful author who knows how to write a cute, adorable love story sans the mush.  Well, maybe, there’s a little of it (you gotta have a little or there wouldn’t be a romance, right?); but not much at all, which makes it quite refreshing as long as you can lose yourself in a little absurdity.

The lovely thing about this book is that love here is not confined to romance.  Although the developing romance does drive the plot, most of the book actually depicts a beautiful relationship between father and daughter.  In fact, it does occupy a sizable chunk of it.  Ahern makes good use of the romantic framework to write about the strong filial bonds between father and daughter, love between siblings, and true friendships.

I  enjoyed the nice, heart-warming dialogues between the characters, Joyce and Dad, the most.  Here’s one…

On missing her mom:

‘Do you miss her?’

‘It’s been ten years, love.’

It stings that he could be so dismissive.  I fold my arms and look away, silently fuming.

Dad leans closer and nudges me.  ‘And everyday, I miss her more than I did the day before.’ …

‘It’s like my garden, love.  Everything grows.  Including love.  And with that growing everyday how can you expect missing her to ever fade away?  Everything builds, including our ability to cope with it.   That’s how we keep going.’….

And another :

‘And I just thought you liked pottering,’ I smile.

‘Ah , there’s a lot to be said about pottering…There are lessons in pottering.’

‘Like what?’  I try not to smile.

‘Well, even a garden grows stranglers, love.  It grows them naturally, all by itself.  They creep up and choke the plants that are growing from the very same soil as they are.  We each have our demons, our self-destruct button.  Even in gardens.  Pretty as they may be.  If you don’t potter, you don’t notice them.’…

Years from now, I may not remember the romance nor the book.  But, I would probably remember that I’ve read about a wonderful father-daughter relationship  somewhere.

To Read or Not To Read? :

The novel runs on simple, contemporary writing and some funny endearing characters.  It’s a light, fast read that’s splendid for indulging in short “alone” times, or for toting around your vacation.  Also a perfect book to pick up in between heavier reads.  So, if you just want something in this range,  this book is good—not a compelling page-turner; but it’s far from boring or shallow either.

The Final Word :

Although Thanks For The Memories may have a predictable plot,  there’s a  lot of heart in this book.  A modern fairy-tale-like romance with a wide mass market appeal, this book  must have gently tugged many a reader’s heartstrings  to have made it to a leading bookstore’s list of  must-read books since January.

My Mark :  Good; Quite Enjoyable