Scary reads for Halloween

Today I thought I’d pick out a few books from my archive that would make scary reading for Halloween tomorrow. I know, more recycling of posts, but it’s fun for me to look back at my blog, and maybe you’ll find a book you might like to read too. The links are to my reviews in the text, and where you can buy at the bottom.

Firstly, a book for all ages (well for brave 8yrs+):

Moviewatch - Coraline (3D)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  This is a deliciously scary children’s novel that is destined to become an absolute classic. Think Clive Barker for kids, but with a sense of humour and you’re about there.  The animated film is rather wonderful too.  I never thought I’d get scared of everyday items of haberdashery, but Coraline will do that for you (see the bottom of this post if you dare!)

Now for a grown-up novel about werewolves:

red moonRed Moon by Benjamin Percy. Imagine a post 9/11 America into which a new threat has emerged to fuel a nation’s paranoia. It’s the age of the werewolf, or Lycans as Percy dubs them.  Percy’s take on the werewolf genre is firmly grounded in the real world rather than the paranormal which does add a genuinely different feel to this novel. His new approach takes the paranormal out of lycanthropy, and creates a grisly and gritty horror-thriller of speculative fiction.

… and IMHO the best vampire book yet written:

lettherightoneinLet the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. When I came to this Nordic vampire novel, I found something truly dark and horrific that needed a strong stomach and nerves of steel. It is a real contemporary chiller, full of violence and gore, totally relentless – yet at its heart is a the redemptive relationship between a twelve year old boy and a 200 year old vampire frozen into the body of a young girl. A bit long, but stunningly plotted and easily the equal of the best Scandicrime novels.

I shall finish with a classic:

jekyllDr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R L Stevenson. I love novels about mad professors – and this is the daddy of them all. Most of us in the modern age will know the essential twist but there is so much more to Stevenson’s clever story than that. The edition I read also contained two very Gothic short stories by Stevenson too – The Body Snatcher and Markheim – both brilliant also.

What scary books are you reading for Halloween?

34154-coralinephoto

You can button your own eyes at Coraline.com Click on the portrait in the house …

* * * * *
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
Let the Right One In John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Lighten up Anita

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton

I am profoundly aware that I often read books in the wrong order. I’m not referring to books in a series here though – I always prefer to start from the beginning with them; instead I’m talking about influence.

This means for instance that it was forty years before I came to We by Yevgeny Zamyatkin (my review)- the 1924 Russian dystopia that so profoundly influenced Orwell’s 1984. I was really glad to have read both, and actually would probably have found 1984 derivative if read in the publication order. In this case, reading the influenced before the influencer allowed me to revel in both future visions.

Then for my first Season of the Living Dead on this blog back in 2009, I managed to read Twilight before LK Smith’s The Vampire Diaries (my review). The Vampire Diaries arguably paved the way for subsequent teen high-school paranormal romances, but didn’t grab my imagination the way Twilight did.

Affliction

Which brings me to Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton. I was prompted to read this book when a copy of Affliction was sent by the publisher to me.  Affliction turns out to be the 22nd (!) in a series of vampire novels featuring Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter.  Good for me then, that I just happened to have the first, the aforesaid Guilty Pleasures in my bookcase, as I couldn’t possibly dive in at volume 22.

But first, a caveat: I have read and loved some of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels set in the deep south (my review of the first here). Apart from all the vampire blood and gore, there is a rich vein of humour in these books, and Sookie is a kooky and lovable heroine. It didn’t take much research to find that the first Sookie book didn’t appear until eight years after Guilty Pleasures, which also predates Buffy. With Anita being a sort of paranormal Private Investigator, I thought there may be similarities too with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (my review of the first two here), but again The Dresden Files didn’t start until 2000.

Obviously I’ve read these books in the wrong order again, as Hamilton can probably claim to be the first in this particular sub-genre of paranormal urban fantasy writers. So how does Anita Blake hold up to those that follow …

guilty pleasures

I don’t date Vampires. I kill them.
My name is Anita Blake. Vampires call me the Executioner. What I call them isn’t repeatable.
Every since the Supreme Court granted the undead equal rights, most people think vampires are just ordinary folks with fangs. I know better. I’ve seen their victims. I carry the scars.
But now a serial killer is murdering vampires – and the most powerful bloodsucker in town wants me to find the killer.

Anita Blake lives and works in St Louis, Missouri.  Her primary job at the agency run by Bert is as an Animator – she can raise zombies, or put them to rest again. She’s also an expert in vampires. We don’t know the detail, but we know she bears a grudge against the bloodsuckers.  Her expertise in these areas though is very useful to the police; she’s on retainer and is often called in to murders where undead have been involved.

When vampires start being murdered, against her better judgement, she reluctantly agrees to investigate for the vampire grandmaster.  She’s better placed than most investigators to to this, for she is partially immune to the effects of a vampire’s gaze. She still knows better than to look them directly in the eyes.

It’s not clear whether it’s a vampire killing vampires, or one of the human anti-vampire activist groups.  Anita’s first port of call is to the club, Guilty Pleasures, run by vampire Jean-Claude – who has a definite attraction to her.  I suspect that Jean-Claude, who does remain alive at the end of the book, will play a big role in subsequent novels.

Jean-Claude, although masterful, is not the grandmaster of the vampires. That is Nikolaos – a thousand year old child vampire, whose powers are strong indeed. This evil girl is determined to let Anita know that the only reason she is alive is to solve the crimes.

Anita’s investigations also take her to a ‘freak’ party, where she masquerades as a new human vampire junkie – addicted to having some blood sucked from her.  Her escort for the night is Philip, a junkie trying to kick the habit.  He is strong and noble in protecting her, but things go wrong, the party is attacked and they escape. From there, it all gets terribly complicated between all the factions involved, the vampires, the hate-groups, the human servants, and the internal rivalries between the vamps.  Anyone who associates with Anita is at risk too.

We know that Anita will survive to tell at least another 21 tales, but how many others are going to die along with the way with her?  Frankly, it was all a bit grim, and there’s no let-up, no pause for breath. All the action takes place over just a few days and you wonder how Anita has the stamina for it.

Anita is a typical heroine. Super-tough and feisty, also petite – she has to punch above her weight being small. We get few details about what she does off-duty – this is a gal that lives for her job.  She narrates the story in a noir-ish style which, it feels, allows every noir cliché ever coined to be adapted to the world of vampires.

What Anita lacks though, and hence the book, is a sense of humour.  That’s what the other books I mentioned above have, and it allows us to take a breather from the action, and absorb all the complexities of the plot.  With Anita, it’s all bam, bam, bam – no pauses for a cup of joe with a friend, no chance to let off steam and allow another side of her personality to come through. Actually, she’s a bit whiny (mostly at herself, it must be admitted), but I didn’t warm to her the way I did Sookie.  It’s just non-stop action, with a few hours sleep to recover from the mounting number of injuries Anita accrues along the way.  The amount of pain this gal can sustain is superhuman – oh – maybe she is one?

Also, I without the device of Harris’s Tru-blood – the synthetic blood that allows vampires to live alongside humans without the risk of bloodlust killing them all, even if vampires were real, they couldn’t be given equal rights to live alongside humans safely.  Given all their superhuman powers, unless the blood thing could be resolved, Anita’s world can’t exist – they have to remain underground.  That’s what makes the later series work.

While this first novel in the series did keep me reading until the end, I didn’t bond enough with Anita to want to read more of this series.  She does have legions of fans though. Do let me know if you think I should give her another chance. (6.5/10)

* * * * *

Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton, Headline paperback, 327 pages.
Affliction (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter 22), pub July 2nd, 2013, Headline hardback.

The case of the randy old goats and the vampire!

Linger Awhile by Russell Hoban

The ex-pat US author Russell Hoban, who lived in London,  died at the end of 2011 aged 86. He kept writing right up to the end.  I haven’t paid a visit to Hobanville in a while, and this short novel published in 2006 neatly filled in the gap between more major reads. Hoban’s world is weird, wacky and earthy – anything goes, and anything can happen, as it does in abundance in Linger Awhile

I’ve included a larger than usual picture of the book’s cover, as the montage of images seems to cover a lot of what happens – from Soho and Chinatown, to a black and white movie cowgirl who looks a bit like Barbara Stanwyck, a toad of the wart-licking variety, a videotape (remember those!), an old seafort, and of course the vampire and her victim in glorious Technicolor.  All that’s missing are the three old guys and a parrot called Elijah. Let’s  meet one of them…

Irving Goodman was married to Charlotte for ten happy years.

We were faithful to each other and I had no mid-life crisis. Then she died. Nobody talks about end-of-life crises but they do happen and twenty-seven years after Charlotte’s death I fell into one at the age of eighty-three. I needed some technical help with it so I bought a bottle of expensive whisky and went to see Istvan Fallok at Hermes Soundways in Soho.

Irving’s crisis is complex. He’s 83 and he’s fallen in love with Justine Trimble who’s been dead for twenty-five years. She was a black and white movie star in the 1950s, and played the kind of cowgirl “you could tie her to a post and leave her out in the rain for two or three days and she’d come out of it freshly laundered, make-up unsmudged, and with dry knickers.”  Irving is convinced that she can be brought to life from the visual DNA of her image in an old video tape of Last Stage to El Paso, and Istvan will be able to work out how to do it.

They drink their Bowmore Cask Strength Scotch (Hoban is big on this kind of detail), and Irv leaves Istvan to it.  Needless to say, he manages to regenerate Justine – but she’s black and white, and not at all happy to be brought back to life like this.  Istvan ‘sees’ to her, and also donates some red stuff which gives her some colour, but he’s an old man himself, and it’s not enough for the newly energised Justine.  She goes off in search of blood and finds and accidentally kills a woman she encounters just dumping the body around the corner. Chauncey Lim, who’s also a Trimble fan, witnessed it, and soon he’s admitted to the club of her randy old admirers.  Although they move the body, the police are soon on the trail, and it all gets very complicated, especially once Istvan’s girlfriend Grace hears about Justine.

This book is very camp, and totally non-PC, reminding me more of the Carry On films with their farce rather than Hammer Horror with its scream factor – call it ‘carry on vamping’?  There are chuckles aplenty with some good one-liners, and plenty of just desserts distributed to even up the high-jinks.

The whole though, feels a bit like a novella stretched just a little thin.  It was a fun, quick read, but I have read better: 2007’s My Tango with Barbara Strozzi for instance, plus his post-apocalyptic cult classic Riddley Walker which is totally different to the rest of his writing (and wonderful).  This one may be slightly more miss than hit, but Hoban is a writer I will keep on reading, and I’ve got plenty left to catch up with. (6.5/10)

* * * * *
I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Linger Awhile by Russell Hoban, Bloomsbury Paperback 2006, 160 pages.
My Tango with Barbara Strozzi (2007)
Riddley Walker (1980)

One man against a world of vampires …

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

When I first started reading science fiction in my teens, most of the books came in the distinctive yellow jacket with mauve font of publisher Gollancz. Scouting for the cover pic to put in this post, I saw that Gollancz, now the SF & Fantasy imprint of Orion books had included it in their 50th anniversary editions … It took me right back.

I am Legend was first published in 1954; it was Matheson’s third novel. His fourth would go on to make cinematic history – The Shrinking Man would become a huge film hit as The Incredible Shrinking Man in 1957.  I remember adoring the film, and applauding the philosophical soliloquy at the end as Scott accepts his place in the universe.  I now read that this speech was not in the novel, but also that several scenes in the novel were not in the film too.

Anyway, back to Legend – which has been filmed four times over the years, most recently starring Will Smith in 2007.  A plague has infected mankind, mutating humans into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures – vampires.  Robert Neville could be the last man alive – he’s had to say sayonara to his wife and child, and despite the awfulness of his situation, something keeps him going on.  By day he goes out scavenging, and killing vampires; by night he boards himself into his house, turns the music up and often drowns his sorrows in whisky.  The vampires keep the pressure up, trying to tempt him out – especially the creature who used to be his workmate and neighbour Ben.

Neville is a practical sort though.  He has a generator, fuel and freezers full of food. He has set up a workshop in his late daughter’s bedroom – and he turns bundles of stakes on his lathe.  He grows garlic in his outhouse – true to form, the creatures appear to loathe it, they can’t live in the light either.  He starts going to the library to learn about blood and diseases, and his diligence appears to be paying off …

This novel has an excellent balance between SF and dystopian horror. The vampires are scientifically explained which makes a change, and they are more zombie-like than traditional vampires too.  The parts of the book in which Neville relives the demise of his family are inevitably sad, but he deals with it in the same dogged way that he deals with everything else.

All through the novel, you are dying to know whether he is  the last man alive, and this sustains the plot through to the end, where I was surprised at the twist in the tail. This gritty tale is another SF masterwork. (9/10)

* * * * *
I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
I Am Legend (Gollancz 50 Top Ten)
The Shrinking Man (S.F. Masterworks)
Incredible Shrinking Man [DVD]

War & Peace – without much peace, but with added Vampires…

It’s that time of year again when I like to pepper my reading with a bit of blood and gore and undead creatures.  I won’t be reading all vampires and zombies – the plan is to alternate roughly, so do come back later if the undead are not your thang!

My first book in the Transworld Book Group challenge however fits the bill perfectly to kick off Gaskella’s new … Duh-duh-daaah!…

Twelve (Danilov Quintet 1) by Jasper Kent.

I have read War and Peace, so I know a little bit about Napoleon v. General Kutozsov, the Battle of Borodino and Napoleon’s march on Moscow, and I’m sure we all know that Napoleon had to retreat and Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812 overture to commemorate it.

This military setting forms the backbone of this novel as we follow the exploits of Captain Alexei Ivanovich Danilov and his small band of officer comrades.  They work as a kind of elite force, spying on the French and using guerilla tactics to keep one step ahead. It’s hard work though – Alexei lost two fingers when he was captured in a previous campaign.

It’s not going well for the Russians, and Dmitry, nominally in charge of Alexei’s group, has taken matters into his own hands. He has engaged a band of mercenaries whom he met in the Balkans to help. He explains that they’re like the monks the Tsar once had as a bodyguard – the ‘Oprichniki’. The Balkans will act as a guerilla force to pick off a few French soldiers here and there and generally sow fear amongst them.  Dmitry explains …

‘They enjoy their work. Like any army, they live off the vanquished.’ None of us quite followed Dmitry’s meaning. ‘The spoils of war. Armies live off the gold and the food and whatever other plunder they take from the enemy.’
‘I’m not sure they’ll find enough gold with the French army to make their journey worthwhile,’ I said.
‘There are rewards other than gold,’ said Dmitry with an uncharacteristic lack of materialism. ‘They are experts at taking what the rest of us would ignore.’

They are a scary band of chaps, and they certainly go to work with relish – but then they would be, the Oprichniki are vampires.  It’s obvious from the start to us the reader what they are, but it takes Alexei some time to cotton on, and then he becomes a man with a rather different mission.

Meanwhile, in between bouts of spying on the French and haring around the place trying to catch up with his fellow officers, Alexei hangs around Moscow, where he acquires a mistress – a posh prostitute called Domnikiia. Alexei’s wife and young son remain in Petersburg – he feels little guilt though, and continued encounters with the Oprichniki give him no time to consider his position.

Then, of course, there’s a third element after the French and vampires to do battle with – the weather.  It’s winter, and a foodless, occupied Moscow is no place to hang out for humans – the vampires do OK though!

At the beginning of this book, I had wondered whether the military setting would overshadow the rest of the story, which was something I found slightly with The Officer’s Prey – a Napoleonic military detective story by Armand Cabasson I read a couple of years ago.  Twelve though, with its domestic sections in Moscow, came alive in a less soldierly fashion.

Although this book was rather long at 539 pages, and took a little while to get into, I did enjoy it.   It does have a high gore and violence count, but these vampires are the real thing – proper nasty blood-drinking, flesh-rending, sunshine hating, superhuman monsters from the borders of Europe and Asia.   Twelve in the first in a planned quintet of novels – would I read another?  Next vampire season certainly!  (7.5/10)

* * * * *
My copy was supplied by the publisher, Transworld – thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Twelve (Danilov Quintet 1)by Jasper Kent – paperback 539 pages
Thirteen Years Later (Danilov Quintet 2)
The Third Section (Danilov Quintet 3)
War and Peace (Vintage Classics) by Leo Tolstoy
The Officer’s Prey: The Napoleonic Murders by Armand Cabasson.

Gaskella meets … Charlie Higson

This afternoon it was my delight to accompany a party of boys from my school over to the Abingdon school theatre to hear author, actor and comedian Charlie Higson talk about his zombie horror series of books for older children and teenagers. After the event, I was also able to talk briefly to Charlie about his books in my first proper interview for this blog – so exciting!

Charlie started with a straw poll of the audience – zombies or vampires? Being mostly boys, zombies won. Boys it seems, tend to prefer zombie gore, rather than the romantic image of vampires.

Charlie went on tell us about a bit of the history of vampires and zombies in literature.  It all happened one summer back in 1816 at a house party on the shores of Lake Geneva.  It was the summer after Mount Tambora in Indonesia had erupted, and the whole world suffered weird climatic conditions as a result of the ash; so instead of swimming and larking about on the water, this group told stories and from them developed the types of vampires and undead creatures we all adore today.  But who were they?  None other than Byron, Shelley and Shelley’s teenaged girlfriend Mary, plus Byron’s doctor called Polidori, amongst others.  From this gathering would emerge Mary’s Frankenstein, and Polidori’s The Vampyre (expanded from a story fragment by Byron, who was was fascinated by the proto-vampire Strigoi of Balkan legend).  The first literary vampire was very much in the mould of the ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know‘ Byron, and was later combined with the nasty Wallachian king Vlad the Impaler to become best of all vampires, Count Dracula by Stoker.

Then it was on to the zombies!  Charlie told us how he loves horror movies and stories, and that his favourite film is the classic Night of the Living Dead which invented the modern zombie.  After writing five Young Bond books (see previous post), Charlie was ready to write children’s books with his own characters, and decided to try and scare the pants off his readers.

In The Enemy series, he has created a dystopian world in which a disease has killed nearly everyone over the age of fourteen – those who don’t die have been turned into pus-ridden, drooling, children-eating zombies. The remaining children have mostly banded together in groups for safety, and have to find a way to survive, and create a new society.  Sure, there are some Lord of the Flies moments, (my review of that here), but at the heart of the book is the childrens’ quest to find somewhere safe to live, without flesh-eating necrotic zombies around every corner.

The audience of older children, mainly from years 7 & 8 (11+), asked loads of great questions, and all groaned in digust at the drooling zombie in the video trailer for the new book – who rather resembled someone in the room…  I’ll be reviewing the Enemy books more fully in a week or so.

Then, after the boys had gone, I got to sit down and talk with Charlie for a short while.  (Many thanks to Mark at Mostly Books for arranging this for me).

After telling him how much I was enjoying reading all of his books, we started by talking about the Young Bond.  I’d noticed the deliberate homage to Fleming in the first sentence of Silverfin, and asked him about it. He said that he’d put in a quite a few references to the Fleming novels, but didn’t try to capture his style, more the ‘spirit of Fleming’.  I wondered if he’d pictured a younger Sean Connery as his Bond. Charlie said that Fleming’s Bond was really a toff, so that he’d be more a mix of Connery/Brosnan perhaps.  I commented that like Fleming, we always know what Bond is wearing – Charlie replied that the Eton uniform had formed part of his way in to the character – he’d worried that readers wouldn’t believe Bond in starched collars and formal attire, but then he realised it was essentially like a ‘shrunken down tuxedo’ and that was it.

I was going to ask him why zombies in The Enemy series, and not aliens or any other creature, but his love for them was already clear from the talk.  Charlie told me that he wasn’t deeply into the supernatural – his zombies aren’t actually dead, they’re just diseased.  He’d also touched upon the fact that there was the possibility that ‘the thing that’s trying to kill you could be someone you love’there was a scene in the first book where one of the children thinks he recognises his mother, and I said that had creeped me out more than the pus and gore.  I applauded his decision to kill lots of characters, including some unexpected ones – I was thinking of one less than halfway into the first book that I was just growing to love. He said he really enjoyed doing that, but didn’t want killing the characters off to become too expected!

Having a daughter who’s not into adventure books at all (yet!?), I asked if he was finding that girls were reading them too?  It was reassuring to hear that he was as happy to scare girls as boys. He said he did write some strong female characters in them, and felt they did have a good readership amongst girls – at least he had the advantage that girls aren’t afraid to be seen with boyish covers, whereas most boys wouldn’t be seen dead with any books that were at all girly.

I finished by asking him about The Fast Show. You may have heard, but the crew, sans Mark Williams, are back together to film some sketches for the Fosters comedy site, (link below) – they’ll only be online at first though. They will involve all the old characters; I expressed my love for Bob Fleming (cough) who just cracks me up. Charlie said he was great, but it was getting more and more difficult to think of situations to put him into as all he does is cough!

I usually keep out of any photos at events, but this was such a nice experience, I couldn’t resist the souvenir shot like the fangirl I am!  I’d like to thank Charlie for taking the time to talk to me, especially after all the signing he had to do.  He was an absolute pleasure to talk to, and is a really fantastic writer. I’m looking forward to reading many more of his books (including his adult horror ones).


Websites to check out: Charlie Higson,  Young Bond,  The Enemy, Fosters
I bought my copies of the books. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
The Fear (The Enemy) by Charlie Higson
Dracula (Penguin Classics) by Bram Stoker
Frankenstein: The 1818 Text (Oxford World’s Classics) by Mary Shelley
The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre (Oxford World’s Classics) by John Polidori
Night Of The Living Dead [Blu-ray] [1968] directed by George Romero.
The Fast Show : Ultimate Collection (7 Disc BBC Box Set) [DVD]

Vamped out? Book Group Report

Two months ago, we were trying to choose a book to read in August, and no-one could come up with any suggestions that met any consensus. I suggested one of the books in the latest series of the Channel 4 TV Book Club that happens to be a vampire story and a jolly good summer read, everyone said OK then.

The book in question was The Radleys by Matt Haig, which I previously reviewed here. In the pub last night, it got quite a mixed reception – but it was a good discussion!

Most of the group agreed that it was a great summer read.  Some, not knowing that it was also being marketed as a YA crossover title wondered whether it was particularly aimed at teens upwards rather than adults.

Some like me, had loved it, but there were a couple for whom it didn’t hit the mark of being original enough, being True Blood fans, they were vamped out by it. I argued that half the point was to have a comic particularly suburban British look at the entire vampire phenomenon.

We were agreed that there were some great scenes though, the whole vegetarian thing, the dinner party drinks, etc, but several found the ‘Abstainer’s Handbook’ which punctuates the chapters unfunny.  We felt that the darker softback cover (right) promised a different read to the paperback (above).  We also spent some time discussing whether the vampirism was a metaphor for drink, drugs, or a case of name your addiction.

The Radleys would make a good book choice, particularly for groups that haven’t read as many vampire novels as we have between us!

Next month:  Candide by Voltaire – you can’t say we don’t read a wide choice of titles!

* * * * *
To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
The Radleys by Matt Haig
Candide by Voltaire

Sookie Stackhouse #2

Living Dead In Dallas by Charlaine Harris

Living Dead in Dallas is the second in the hugely successful Sookie Stackhouse series of vampire novels by Charlaine Harris. If by any chance you’ve not encountered them before, either as books or in their TV incarnation True Blood, I suggest you start here.

In this second novel, Sookie is developing and deepening her relationship with her vampire boyfriend Bill – at the start she’s still not sure whether it’s true love or still lust (as sex with a vampire is something else).  Then a series of events happen to test them to the limit…

Lafayette, the outrageously gay short-order cook at Merlotte’s where Sookie works is cruelly murdered and Sookie vows to find out who killed her friend.  Then another supernatural being turns up in the woods outside town – the Maenad wild woman (yes, of Greek myth), half kills Sookie and demands tribute from the local undead.  Then Bill’s vampire chief Eric wants to loan Sookie out to help another group of vamps in Dallas (Sookie is a telepath, remember) – one of the group has disappeared and they need Sookie to read some minds to find out where he is.  Sookie agrees as long as the vampires don’t hurt the humans involved, and off they go to Dallas and into a whole mess of crime, vampire hunters, shape-shifters and more.

Once again, I found Sookie and Bill to be great fun, the only bit I wasn’t sure about was the Maenad, otherwise it was more of the same and I loved it.  I liked how Sookie is developing her skills as a telepath and how she is able to stand up to anything or anyone, whereas Bill is as cool as ever.  Again there is an underlying crime element which adds to the plot too. 

I know these books aren’t to everyone’s taste, but for me they’re great, racy, gory fun!  (8.5/10).
I bought this book.

* * * * *
To buy from Amazon.co.uk click below:
Living Dead In Dallas by Charlaine Harris
True Blood Season 1 (HBO) [DVD] [2008]

Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #17

Bits and pieces today …

I would like to read one of Howard Jacobson’s novels soon, but don’t know where to start. Although The Finkler Question won the Booker, it doesn’t feel like the right book to meet an author new to me with.

I’ve heard that The Mightly Walzer is good, but am slightly put off by the coming of age and ping-pong themes, so should I try his previous Booker-listed one, Kalooki Nights – or indeed any other one of his novels. 

Your advice would be appreciated.

* * * * *

Next, I’d like to highlight one of my very favourite blogs – The Age of Uncertainty. Steerforth works with old books, and is always finding things of interest in them – particularly old photos, and he has a unique way of bringing them to life in his blog. The post the link will take you to summarises some recent highlights.

* * * * *

Finally, when the publisher kindly sent me these wraparound editions of YA Buffy the vampire slayer novels – each with three stories, I was rather looking forward to reading some as part of my Season of the Living Dead.  I’ve only ever seen a couple of episodes of the TV series, but thought the books could be fun.  They are standalone I believe, not novelisations of TV episodes, and each is by a different author.  I read one complete tale, and skimmed a couple of others, realising that they were not for me – so they’ve got to one of my friends who is a Buffy fan.  I do like the covers though – very much in vogue – ‘white is the new black’ these days don’t you know. 

I think recognised one of the authors though … many years ago (it’s confession time), I used to read all the Star Trek novels – I was a real Trekkie and my fandom didn’t burn out until my early thirties – I managed to stop short of buying a uniform and going to conventions though.  However I did have about forty of the Trek novels, and the two series have an author, (or possibly more ?) in common! 

* * * * *
To buy books mentioned from Amazon.co.uk – click below:
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson
Kalooki Nights by Howard Jacobson
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1: Coyote Moon; Night of the Living Rerun; Portal Through Time
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 2: Halloween Rain; Bad Bargain; Afterimage

Black magic in Madchester

To the Devil: A Diva! by Paul Magrs.

Magrs is the author of the totally wonderful Brenda & Effie series of novels, gentle comic paranormal mysteries set around Whitby – Never the Bride is the first, and I gave it ten out of ten – but don’t take just my word for it – Juxtabook and Savidge Reads both adored it too.

After so loving Never the Bride, (which I read before I started my blog), I acquired some earlier books by Magrs, and inspired by Juxtabook’s recent review mentioned above, thought I’d retrieve one from the TBR pile . To the Devil – a Diva! (2004) also seemed to fit into my October horror and spooky reading plans – with a vampire on the front cover and a blurb line about Karla who “… at the age of ten, she sold her soul to the devil.”

Karla Sorenson used to be queen of the lesbian vampires in all the best low-budget schlock-horror films flaunting her big bazooms. Now she’s getting on a bit, and needs to make a comeback – a role in a late-night cult soap opera is on the cards.  It’s a raunchy soap called ‘Menswear’ that dares to go further than anything else on telly – but how will the current leading man Lance Randall take her.  No-one including Lance himself is sure whether he’s gay or not; but Karla knows he won’t be happy for there is history between them.  Once Karla arrives in Manchester all hell is let loose and life for Lance, and his new boyfriend Colin who is a barman at the club below his penthouse, will never be the same!

But that’s not where the book starts. It does begin in Manchester with two young girls, Sally and Katy who live in the same street and are evacuated to the Lake District together during WWII.  They stay with the same family who are kind but strange, and Sally, who is a sensible girl, runs away when there are hints of black magic in the air.  Katy however, whose mother drank and had lots of ‘Uncles’, joins in and the legendary Karla is created.

To be frank, this book was not what I expected after the gentleness of my previous Magrs read.  There was an awful lot of sex all over the place, and of all varieties for a start, and everyone was so highly strung and in your face all the time – like birds displaying their plumage, fighting to maintain their places in the TV pecking order. The oasis of calm was Colin’s Gran – but you know from the outset that she has hidden depths too, (a precursor to Brenda & Effie perhaps?). Poor Colin was little more than a pawn in a much bigger game.  For all his failings and confusion, you could feel some sympathy for confused heart-throb Lance too – in danger of being knocked off his pedestal, and trying to find some answers in his life.  There was a long digression into the story of a chap who is out to break up the covens, which seemed confusing and out of place; this really slowed up the middle of the book, which is otherwise firmly Madchester through and through after the opening. 

Not enough was made of Karla’s curse either – people tend to die or disappear around her – I felt that a bit more Dennis Wheatley and Hammer Horror wouldn’t have gone amiss, and I could have done with a bit less of the sex-obsessed clubbers. I freely admit I never watched the 1999 TV drama series ‘Queer as Folk’ which followed the lives of three gay men living in Manchester which would have provided me with one close cultural reference. But on a different tack, I have experienced the slight frisson of excitement of breakfasting in the same hotel as some major Coronation Street stars and I was a contestant on a Granada TV quizshow hosted by a younger Richard Madeley – these experiences gave me a teeny tiny insight into the nature of TV celebritystardom – the arrival of someone like Karla in town would really have put the cat among the pigeons!

You can see the seeds of Magrs’ later books in this one which made it interesting for me rather than out and out enjoyable – A dark contemporary comedy.  (6.5/10)

pub Allison & Busby, 2004.  286pp. I bought this book.

* * * * *
To buy things mentioned from Amazon.co.uk click below:
To the Devil: A Diva!
Never the Bride (Brenda 1)Queer As Folk – Definitive Collector’s Edition [DVD] [1999]