lavanille: (Default)


ANNO DRACULA: DRACULA CHA CHA CHA is a surprisingly refreshing take on a lot of familiar things. Publishers Weekly describes it as "rich and fulfilling" and I can't think of a more apt description. I picked it up as a light, shallow break for my brain while I'm working on some very heavy work projects. Instead of getting junkfood for the brain it gave me the same sense I get when I dive into a very dense brownie. Considering how flossy and weak most vampire novels are right now, this was a treat with startling bits of philosophy and real-world issues sprinkled throughout the humor and action.

This series explores what would have happened if Dracula was real, hadn't been killed, and proceeded to take over the world. Obviously, people would have fought back. Obviously, some people would have leaped at the chance to become vampires. What results is a world where vampires are 'out', just like they are in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, but with a greater range of vampire breeds and character perspectives.

What makes this book unique is the way it explores why we make the choices we do, without the angst and melodrama of the standard vamp novel. It examines how you can love and keep loving a lot of people throughout your life. It examines how love ages over the course of decades, and how difficult it is when you have to take care of your elderly lover when he's in a wheelchair and choosing to die.

One question that is subtly posed is what would happen with so many centuries living and bumping against one another. There's a lovely scene in a dance hall where the many vampires all dance according to what they had learned in their living years--the waltz, the Charleston, ancient Russian folk dances. One of the vampires wonders aloud if we would have any fresh musicians if the Greats like Bach and Mozart had survived; could people have competed? Or would their music have become seen as boring and dated?

Oh also, it incorporates familiar faces from other fictional novels. How would Agent Bond react to Dracula? How would someone from John LeCarre's novels react to a spy as ostentatious as James Bond? What would happen if Superman met the Addams family? Some names are changed, but the faces and personalities are beautifully executed and there's no doubt as to who they are in the world of Anno Drucula.
lavanille: (my passion)


I came very late to the Harry Potter scene. Actually, I don't know that I ever really arrived there. I don't know how old I was when the first one came out, but when I was seventeen and going through rehab, a friend of mine gave me a heap of fantasy books to read. She thought that I would need a break from my real life, and Harry Potter was her favorite escape.

But I was seventeen, and while I thought the world was clever, I couldn't connect with magical teenagers whose problems in no way resembled my own. Harry Potter was a tragic orphan who never got dangerously drunk, never used heroin or popped a suspicious tablet at a party, never slept with someone and then regretted it. Harry never seriously wondered if he'd be better off dead. Certainly, Harry never ended up in a psychiatric hospital, and the one character I remember who did was hardly a character at all--more of a loose caricature of mental illness who was there to give depth to Neville Longbottom.

Quentin Coldwater is the wizard I would have connected with. His world is as bothered with political intrigue and long-term social issues as the one we live in. He makes mistakes and then suffers for them, and like a real person you sometimes want to shake him, and then as he grows you end up cheering for him.

He makes the same mistakes thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people make. Being a wizard doesn't give him any better tools to fix things than we have; he has to learn, and then he has to live.

The point of him is that he's not a hero, but he wants to be one in his own life if nowhere else. And who among us can say we feel differently? He learns, little by little, that his story is not the only one that matters, and that he is sometimes a footnote when he would rather be a star.

If you loved Harry Potter, consider this the grown up, real-world version. If you've never read fantasy, consider this a fascinating series that explores why we need to dream, and the dangers of forgetting that there's wonder in the world we're already in.
lavanille: (Jared☂I LIKE YOU)
Comment here with where to send your cards! Belated Christmas, early New Years, random cheer, whatever you'd like to think of it as.

Comments, of course, are screened.
lavanille: (don't have time for your blahblahblah)
THE RETURN

This is a book that's about the Mexican drug wars, but it's also about how out of place many of the veterans of the Vietnam War were after they came home. It's about redemption and how we fail to earn it, and it's the most unique revenge story I've read in a very long time. Possibly ever. I'm a sucker for revenge stories, but this one is a very different flavor from the black and white Hollywood vengeance flicks, and it's complex in a different direction than Count of Monte Cristo.

And it has some very diverse characters. My favorite was Statch, the main character's daughter. She's the most intelligent character in the book, easily as resourceful as Patrick Skelly--and he's an ex-Green Beret who has spent the past forty years working in "security contracts". What was satisfying was that she's resourceful in different ways, she's incredibly strong while still being well-rounded, which is something that I find a lot of authors miss the mark on when they write a character who could easily turn into a trope.

Skelly, for example, is not the same gruff and grizzled veteran you find in countless forms of media. He's broken by his experiences, but without suffering hallucinations or being incapable of holding genuine conversations. He's charming, even though he's damaged. And although he's hyper-masculine, a warrior's warrior who spends his time drinking or seducing women, he is also very likely in love with another man. Again: it would have been very easy to write him as a trope, and the plot would still have been entertaining, but that's not what Gruber did. Skelly shines in all the ways Gruber probably intended, and that can be tricky to do.

And then there's Richard Marder, the main character, the ex-Air Force Intelligence grunt who saw only one battle in Vietnam. He's fairly likable and easy to relate to despite his flaws, and reminded me mostly of a big Saint Bernard. He makes mistakes. He makes a lot of them, in fact, and handles them in a way I would probably find irritating in real life, but because the book is told in his point of view I found myself able to sympathize. In many parts I even cheered him on to pursue a perspective that I wouldn't take for myself.

The plot is engaging and a fresh take on revenge. Toward the end, I honestly didn't know what was going to happen next. There are a lot of cultural references and subtle nudges for American readers who will likely never experience the sort of life that people in rural Mexico have. There were small parts that didn't ring quite as authentically, and toward the end the dialogue felt much more scripted and less natural, but on the whole the book is highly recommended.
lavanille: (my passion)


I finished this about ten minutes ago, and it's my first actual German-made film I've ever seen. I think. There have probably been one or two others over the years but if there were, I was too young to get into them.

Cinematically, Schultze has a very subtle feel. For example, there is no artwork except in Schultze's shack and in the bars in America. It makes everywhere else feel bland and bleached out. It took me a while to realize that was what felt so depressing about most of the Germany-based scenes.

The pacing is very slow. If an American producer edited this, it would end up being a twenty-minute short film about a man who plays the accordion and dances in cheesy Southern bars. And then you'd miss all the unspoken little details about his relationships, about his history, and why he is so happy in the Deep South of America. But we would probably have explosions and boat chases, so...

The ending is bittersweet in the best ways. I don't think any other film has ever pulled off that ending and made me smile about it.

8/10 Bass Clefs
lavanille: (reading!)


I got around to reading Warm Bodies last week. School is going to be intense this semester so I'm cramming in all my fun reading while I can. And this book is pretty fun.

I dislike romance for its inherent cheesiness. (I have a thing for unhealthy relationships in novels and the relationship in Warm Bodies is remarkably healthy and mature, so you wouldn't expect it to click with me would you?) But on the other hand it's an action-romance between a zombie and a strong female lead, so you really can't go wrong.

I'm very critical of how women are written sometimes, but I felt Julie had some extremely endearing moments. There were times it felt like she was becoming a vehicle for R's character arc, but her strong moments make it well worth it and she kicks ass in her own unique and genuine ways. More than once, this book surprised me and it was always because of Julie.

Marion has a really different take on the undead lifestyle, which is refreshing even for someone like me who loves zombie literature. You can make so many parallels to the modern condition with zombies, but most authors seem to get swept up in making it all about violence and isolation. Frankly, you can only read about so much fantastic doom-and-gloom before every story starts to feel the same. Kudos for breaking the mold, Isaac Marion.

I don't know if I'll bother seeing the film, but I do recommend the book if you're in the mood for a light-hearted weekend read.


8/10 severed thumbs up
lavanille: (reading!)
A few weeks ago, I read The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett. I'm a fan of horror, strong female characters, well-crafted plots, and 19th century/turn of the century settings. Extra bonus points with sprinkles if you incorporate a carnival somehow.

The Troupe is not about a carnival, it's about a vaudeville troupe. But the rest of my criteria? The book hits them all soundly.

I can't go into too much detail without giving away key elements and twists, but I will say this. The puppets creep the hell out of me, and I've never been afraid of clowns or dolls. Also, the romance in this novel is handled in the most realistic, mature, surprising fashion I have ever seen romance handled. Ever. I loved it. And I say that as a cynic who despises romantic subplots.

I highly recommend this book. If I ran on a star system, I'd give it 5/5.

Afterward, I dug up Bennett's debut novel, Mr. Shivers. This one is set in America during the Great Depression. Now, I think my expectations were high because of The Troupe, so I am trying to be fair and unbiased. But this book is by far the weakest of the three he has out currently. Not a big surprise, since it is his first novel.

I could tell how the book was going to end before I got halfway through. The characters are unmemorable for the most part, and there were hints at deeper characterization that could have been fleshed out (I would have loved to see more of Shivers and Pike)...but instead they were brushed aside and never mentioned again.

If I rated this with candles, I'd give it three and a half out of five. Worth a look if you're in the mood for a gritty vengeance, Stephen-King-flavoured summer read.

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