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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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“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

Shadow of WindShadow of the Wind US 3Shadow of the Wind US 1

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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shelter-meShelter Me was a very creepy little book and a good read, but it wasn’t at all what I expected after reading reviews on Amazon. I was expecting a story more Gothic with at least hints of the supernatural. The reality was a terrifying portrayal of Great Britain during World War II.

Once Maggie reached the coast of Wales and was delivered into the hands of the sadistic nuns I found myself holding my breath and quickly turning the pages to discover what would happen next. With all of the twists and turns throughout the plot, the ending itself was a great disappointment. I love a “happy” ending as much as anybody else but in this case it was unrealistic and highly improbable. I just kept hoping for more – some great twist to end it all that I wouldn’t see coming.

I never really liked Maggie Leigh. I wanted to but she never felt as fully developed as the other characters, and she certainly didn’t have as much personality. I loved the eccentricity of the brash Kate and the “speechless trauma victim”, Eileen.

So would I recommend this book? It’s hard to say really. Once I got past what I was expecting from the book, I was actually enjoying it. Up until the ending. It was a well written book that really drew me in and had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Up until the ending. It reminded me of Alex Garland’s The Coma in that respect. The Coma was another great book that quickly drew me in but fell apart at the end. It left me sitting there, furrowing my brow and scratching my head, going “huh?”. Jenn devoured Shelter Me in one sitting earlier this week and agreed about the ending.  ;o)

Maggie Leigh just wants to be a normal teenager, but when German bombs tear apart London during World War II, her ultra-religious mother sees the destruction as divine punishment. She sends Maggie to a remote boarding school in coastal Wales, supposedly to keep her safe, but also to keep her in line. The school is creepy, the headmistress is a lunatic, and the students range from spoiled rich girls to speechless trauma victims. But when a tragic accident happens on the beach, Maggie and three friends are forced to flee the school, plunging into the nightmarish world of Europe during wartime. Now every decision Maggie makes is fraught with danger, and living to see another day depends on how quickly she can think and act…and how far she’s willing to go.

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“I have never been able to resist a book about books.
Anne Fadiman – Ex Libris

ex-libris4Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader was a great little collection of literary essays. The writing is charming, articulate and humorous. I found myself genuinely laughing out loud many times and nodding my head in mutual recognition of a shared obsession for books. The essays are six to eight pages in length so this is a quick read and great when you only have 10 minutes here and there to spare. The topics are wide-ranging – from marrying libraries to compulsive proof-reading, her “odd shelf” (books unrelated to the rest of her library) to the problem of too many books and too little space. Fadiman’s love of books and reading comes alive on every page as only a reader will appreciate. I recommend this book for any bibliophile.

I loved that throughout the book, Anne Fadiman details her relationships, not only with books, but with her husband, children, parents and friends. I come from a long line of readers myself and am also fortunate to have a husband who loves to read. I can’t imagine not being surrounded by other readers. One of the true joys of reading is being able to share those delights with others.

The stories of growing up in a literary family particularly fascinated me. “Like the young Van Dorens, the Fadiman children were ritually asked to identify literary quotations. While my mother negotiated a honking traffic jam on an Los Angeles freeway… my father would mutter, `We are here as on a darkling plain… Source?’ And Kim and I would squeal in chorus, `Dover Beach.’ ”  How great would that have been to grow up in a family so fond of reading that they regularly quizzed each other?

My favorite essay by far was Never Do That to a Book. In it, Fadiman recounts  staying in a European hotel with her brother when they were young. “Kim left a book facedown on the bedside table. The next afternoon, he returned to find the book closed, a piece of paper inserted to mark the page, and the following note, signed by the chambermaid, resting on its cover: SIR, YOU MUST NEVER DO THAT TO A BOOK.” She goes on to discuss that there is more than one way to love a book – courtly love and carnal love. I am guilty and readily confess to being a courtly lover of books. I happily strive to keep my books in pristine condition no matter how many times I read them… so much so that my grandmother is too afraid to borrow my books. I just can’t help but cringe when I see dog-eared pages and creased spines!

There are so many more good things I want to say about this little book but I will let you read it for yourselves. In the meantime, I am anxiously awaiting receiving my copy of Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love.

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midnight-never-come2Midnight Never Come‘s plot ranges from historical to fantastical, a balance of courtly intrigue and faerie magic. I find the concept of faeries within Elizabethan England incredibly intriguing and Marie Brennan did a great job of meshing Faerie and historical England. The historical and magical elements flow smoothly into one another. However, the book never really lived up to its potential for me.

The world-building and historical aspects were exceptional but the characters, while likable, never felt fully developed. They lacked the emotions needed to fully draw the reader in. This limited the emotional impact on what would have otherwise been a wonderful love story mixed in with all of the intrigue and politics.

The end felt unfinished and left many questions unanswered. There were a few characters who seemed to disappear from the pages of the book. Most of the flashback chapters felt disjointed and unnecessary. I would have liked to read more flashbacks between Invidiana or Queen Elizabeth I or Francis.

With that being said, I am curious about where the “sequel”, In Ashes Lie, will take readers. I would really like to read a “prequel” about Invidiana – a fully developed story about her curse and pact rather than flashbacks and second-hand accounts.

I will definitely be reading more historical fantasies that mesh Faerie with history. Namely, Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age.

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