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Deliverance DaneI was very excited about reading The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane for my Halloween reading fest this year. From the premise, this novel seemed to have all of the ingredients for a great Halloween read…a story based upon the Salem witch trials and present day Salem, Massachusetts…a graduate student researching the history of an undiscovered Salem witch…sounds promising, doesn’t it? All in all, I found the novel disappointing. While the writing wasn’t “bad”, it wasn’t great either. Given the subject matter, the writing was far from being engaging or bewitching. I was expecting a Gothic thriller more along the lines of The Historian. An engaging novel chock-full of history, horror, and suspense. Overall, there was no real magic. No real suspense. The characters were generally flat, the protagonist increasingly dense and obtuse, and the storyline predictable within the first hundred pages. And I truly wanted to love this book but could barely bring myself to finish it.

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“The Church of Ulcis rose unchallenged from the heart of Deepgate, black as a rip in the blood-red sky…”

Deepgate Scar NightDeepgate Iron AngelDeepgate God of Clocks

For nine hundred generations, the city of Deepgate has hung suspended by giant chains over a seemingly bottomless abyss. In the unfathomable darkness below is said to reside the dread god Ulcis, ‘hoarder of souls’, with his army of ghosts. Outside the city extend the barren wastes of Deadsands, inhabited by the enemy Heshette, so that safe access is guaranteed only by a fleet of airships. At the hub of the city itself rises the Temple, in one of whose many crumbling spires resides a youthful angel, Dill, the last of his line. Descendant of heroic battle-archons, yet barely able to wield the great sword he has inherited from his forebears, he lives a sheltered existence under the watchful eye of Presbyter Sypes, who rules the Temple. For despite his sense of purposelessness, Dill has a destiny about to unfold – one that will take him down into terrifying depths of the pit in a desperate quest to save the teeming but precarious city from total annihilation at the hands of a cunning and resourceful traitor.

“…stained glass blazed in its walls. Rooks wheeled around its spires and pinnacles. Gargoyles crowded dizzy perches among flying buttresses, balconies, and crenellated crowns. Legions of the stone-winged beasts stared out beyond the city, facing towards the Deadsands: sneering, grinning, furious.
Alan Campbell – Scar Night

Alan Cambell’s Deepgate Codex is a dark, grimy, Gothic fantasy with elements of dark humor and horror. This thrilling saga is consistently anything but predictable or mundane. It is a madcap tumble through bizarre, lunatic landscapes. Just when you think you know what is coming, guess again!

Scar Night drew me in with descriptions of a city suspended by chains – all crumbling walls and leering gargoyles. The stunning imagery quickly brings the city and characters to life. The story was gripping, with brilliantly developed characters, great concepts, and a spectacular cliffhanger ending. Each character is likable in their own way, and, if not likable, then certainly intriguing.

Iron Angel expands on the original world, through an array of new and fascinating characters and the vast, surreal landscape of Hell. Campbell’s vision of Hell is detailed and stunning. Hell is a labyrinth of walls dripping blood; feeding off of, and consuming, the souls of the dead. It is ever-changing and never what it appears; filled with demons and horrors unimaginable. Yet, in all the nightmarish darkness, there is much more humor in this story and in God of Clocks. One standout scene is of a doorway chasing a certain someone around the labyrinth of hell. Remembering this scene always brings a smile to my face.

God of Clocks picks up where Iron Angel left off and sets off at a madcap pace into what should have been a brilliant conclusion to an incredible trilogy. The ending, unfortunately, felt very rushed. It was building to this amazing climax and then it was…over. It just ended. More questions were left unanswered than answered. Plus a whole new set of questions came up! I truly hope that Alan Campbell is not through with these characters and this world.

Despite the disappointing, befuddling ending, Alan Campbell’s Deepgate Codex is still a strange and brilliant trilogy. I’ve left so much out of my review for fear of saying too much. Read it!

I highly recommend this trilogy for fans of Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin. Like Martin and Lynch, Campbell is not afraid to kill off main characters… although they do not always stay dead

“Hidden among the temple spires, an ivy-strewn tower broke free from a nest of rooftops. Its once arched crown had crumbled, but gargoyles still squatted between the remaining fingers of stone; beasts with lion feet, wings and tusks. Lichen scarred their soft scowls, moss furred their wings, and tiny white flowers sprouted from cracks between their toes, but the gargoyles kept their endless watch undaunted.”
Alan Campbell – Scar Night

I would love to see this trilogy adapted into a movie(s) under the direction of Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro. The vivid imagery throughout is very cinematic and would be perfect animated in the style of 9. I picture Carnival played by Helena Bonham Carter; Ricky votes for Tilda Swinton. John Anchor should definitely be played by Michael Clarke Duncan, and Ray Stevenson would be perfect for Mr. Nettle.

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Review – Once by James Herbert

OnceOnce by James Herbert was more than a little disappointing. Yes, I had read other reviews first and they were all pretty consistent about this book… sucking. Yet I still hoped for more. The synopsis sounded great and I really liked James Herbert’s Haunted. And from the synopsis, I was hoping for something more like John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things or Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Faery with some horror elements. My expectations were set way too high.

Horror master James Herbert serves up a blend of faerie, supernatural chills, eroticism, and identity quest in Once…–a fairy tale with a darker side.

Thom Kindred suffers a stroke and returns to his childhood home to heal. Castle Bracken seems like a pastoral paradise, but almost immediately, Thom begins to experience strange things, both beautiful and frightening. Soon, he finds himself the inexplicable target of hostile magic, even as he begins to recover his childhood ability to perceive the creatures of faerie that inhabit the land. As he struggles to heal, Thom finds himself at the center of a cataclysmic struggle between good and evil that demands all his physical and spiritual strength to survive.

Herbert’s fans may find this story, with its bare-bones plot and extended descriptions of the faerie world, slower-moving and more predictable than his more energetic works Others and The Fog). Explicit sex and scenes of Herbert’s trademark disturbing horror (including every arachnophobe’s nightmare) make this a fairy tale strictly for adults.

The story initially drew me in and had me quickly turning the pages, but it wasn’t long before the descriptions of Faery became tedious rather than magical. The horror was gross rather than creepy. But I think what irritated me the most and put me off was the unnecessary sex that did absolutely nothing to further the plot. 300 pages in and I no longer cared about any of the characters; who lived or who died.

So, if you are looking for some great dark fantasy and adult fairy tales, skip this one and read instead John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter, or any of the fairy tale collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  Just to name a few…

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“Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him. Each moment I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass… Why has he gone where I cannot follow?”
Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife

Time Travelers Wife Movie Poster

Last week, after a long wait and much anticipation, a trailer was finally posted for the screen adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife! Click here to view it. Let’s hope they stay true to the novel (trying not to get my hopes up too much).

Audrey Niffenegger’s innovative debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry finds himself periodically displaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other, as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals – steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

TTWTTW Special

“There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.”
Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife

I first read The Time Traveler’s Wife in December of 2007, after leaving it sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for far too long. I immediately regretted not having read it sooner. This is an incredible, beautiful, heart-wrenching love story… and fantastically original. I was torn between not being able to put it down, and wanting to take my time and savor the story. I didn’t want it to be over. It was as if Henry and Clare were people I knew; their love was so strong and so passionate. The ending just grabbed my heart. I cried and cried. I remember Ricky and I had only been married a couple months and he comes home from work to find me sobbing on the couch, wondering what he’s done wrong.  ;oP

Her Fearful SymmetryHer Fearful Symmetry US

On a side note, Audrey Niffenegger’s second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, is scheduled to come out this Fall. The synopsis sounds very intriguing and I will definitely be picking it up on the release date!

Six years after the phenomenal success of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger has returned with a spectacularly compelling and haunting second novel set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers — with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including — perhaps — their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life — even after death.

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“I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time… ”
Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Shadow of the Wind

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The Shadow of the Wind is a novel about books. A tale of the love of books and stories. This is a book for book lovers. It is rich, complex, magical and decadently Gothic. There are stories within stories, mysteries to unfold, twists to unravel; all intricately woven and told in Carlos Ruis Zafon’s lush, beautiful prose. From the opening pages, I was drawn in and cast under its spell.

Barcelona, 1945—A great world city lies shrouded in secrets after the war, and a boy mourning the loss of his mother finds solace in his love for an extraordinary book called The Shadow of the Wind, by an author named Julian Carax. When the boy searches for Carax’s other books, it begins to dawn on him, to his horror, that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book the man has ever written. Soon the boy realizes that The Shadow of the Wind is as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget, for the mystery of its author’s identity holds the key to an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love that someone will go to any lengths to keep secret.

“This is a story about books. About accursed books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It’s a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Shadow of the Wind

I cannot even begin to say how much I loved this book and how highly I recommend it. It is certainly among my top favorites now, and, at the moment, has ruined me for all other books.

Since finishing it on Saturday, I have missed it immensely. It captured my imagination and my heart with warm, lovable characters. I laughed and I cried. I fell in love. I anxiously held my breath. It had everything from mystery, suspense, terror, humor, romance, doomed love and tragedy. It was a heart warming and heart wrenching tale that ended all to soon.

“I barricaded myself in my room to read the first few lines. Before I knew what was happening, I had fallen right into it. The minutes and hours glided by as in a dream. When the cathedral bells tolled midnight, I barley heard them. Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations, peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my room. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page. I lay in the bluish half-light with the book on my chest and listened to the murmur of the sleeping city. My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story’s spell or bid farewell to its characters yet.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Shadow of the Wind

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“Verily, there is nothing so hideous as the monsters, so contrary to nature, known as witchers for they are the offspring of foul sorcery and devilry. They are rouges without virtue, conscience or scruple, true diabolic creations, fit only for killing. There is no place amidst honest men for such as they.”
Andrzej Sapkowski – Blood of Elves

blood-of-elves Blood of Elves is the first book in a series of books that take place in the Witcher world; unlike The Last Wish which was a collection of short stories. Although Geralt plays an important role in this story, he does not feature in it. He is seen far too little in my opinion. Instead, the story focuses on a young girl named Ciri and it is quickly apparent that she is destined for great things. I love her character. She is quick-witted, precocious and headstrong without being irritating. She reminded me of Arya in George R.R. Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire series.

The narrative did feel a bit disjointed at times but as the story progressed it all began to come together. This book was very dedicated to world building (a map depicating the Witcher’s universe would be great). Light on action and heavy on dialogue. Many new characters are introduced. I love Sapkowski’s characterizations and dialogue. The sharp, witty dialogue is evocative, at times, of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora.

This book won’t be for everyone who loved The Last Wish though. It never reaches a climax and leaves more questions unanswered than answered. I, however, will eagerly await the next book.

As much as I want to know what happens next, I’m really hoping that they will publish the second book of short stories first. It felt as if there was story missing from Blood of Elves, and I would love to read about the beginning of the war with Nilfgaard and the fall of Cintra.

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“They have always been here. Nesting, feeding. In secret and in darkness, because that is their nature. There are seven originals, known as the Ancients. The Masters.”
Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan – The Strain

strain1The Strain is the first in a planned trilogy written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  This was an incredible, spellbinding tale, and I expected no less from the brilliant imagination of Guillermo Del Toro.  It gripped me from the opening pages and never let go.

“In a corner of the barracks, the darkness moved.  A Thing, a towering gaunt figure peeled off from the inky depths and glided over his sleeping comrades.  Its skin was shriveled and dark, blending with the fold of its dark, loose robes.  The thing moved effortlessly, a weightless phantom gliding across the floor.  Its talon like toenails scraped the wood ever so softly.  Its dry lips drew back to reveal mottled gums and two rows of small, yellowed teeth, impossibly sharp.”

The first half of the book slowly builds with a palpable sense of dread and horror, hinting at what is to come.  It’s this slow build-up of the unknown and incomprehensible that draws readers in and makes the events that follow truly creepy and terrifying.  While the details are very gruesome, they only serve to further the very real horrors of the vampire epidemic threatening the extinction of the human race.   Once the tension of the first half is finally released, the everyday world is thrown into chaos with no end or hope in sight.  Reading the last few pages left me breathless and wanting to turn back to the first pages again.   Throughout, the narrative sent chills up my spine.  I cannot wait to see where this will go next!

For me the best parts of the book were the memories and flashbacks of Abraham Setrakian, whose lineage dates back to the Holocaust.   I loved the old world feel that his stories conjured – evoking images from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.  In a few brief sentences, he captures the eeriness of the Romanian forests and the ancient superstitions of vampire lore.  I truly hope that the second book will go into further detail regarding Setrakian’s history and past adventures following the trail of the Master (think Nosferatu rather than Dracula), as well as the origins of the other Ancients.

Del Toro and Hogan could easily write books beyond the planned trilogy.

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