Friday, 30 November 2012

Review: 'The Dragondain' by Richard Due

After reading the first of the Moonrealm books, 'The Moon Coin', I knew I wanted to read the rest of them as well. Thankfully, I was allowed to and here I bring you the review of the second book. 
The Dragondain (Moon Realm, #2)It's the middle of the night, you need to send your brother to the Moon Realm, and he won’t wake up. So you improvise. . . . 
When a confused Jasper awakes, he's convinced he's dreaming. But by the time he meets Greydor, Jasper understands that this is no dream. In fact, persuading the King of the Rinn to work with the men of Dain to defeat their common enemy is a nightmare. Then there’s the other side of the coin: convincing Tavin and Dubb that saddling a Rinn isn’t certain death. (“It’ll be fun!”) And perhaps even a greater worry: can he make friends with Dubb’s daughter Darce before she punches his lights out?
Lily has problems, too. There’s a little mousie scratching in her closet. Or at least, it sounds like a little mousie. Oh, and her second confrontation with Curse, and trying to form her first peerin. (Don’t you have to be from Dain to do that?) And where’s Ebb?
One thing’s for sure: now that Lily and Jasper have entered the Moon Realm, nothing can ever be the same again.
I loved this book even more than the last. I realize that as a 19-year old I should perhaps not enjoy reading novels for the younger this much, but I feel that Richard Due really stepped up his game in this novel making it so much easier to just love it. The worlds seem much richer than before, now that we have passed the introductions in the first book. We get to see more of the different cultures of the different moons and more about their history. Especially for younger readers it is a great introduction into fantasy world building. Carolyn Arcabascio's illustrations really bring forward the intense colours of the different worlds.

It was great to get a bit more time with Jasper, as the reader. The last novel was mainly about Lily and her experiences and here we get to see how he deals with the Moon Realm. Richard Due truly created two different characters that are both their own character and yet recognizable for every child and adult who have ever imagined themselves on a fantasy journey. The fact that they're children isn't overlooked, as happens in many teenage novels, but highlighted and used to its best advantage. As children, they have restrictions but also certain liberties adults do not possess. 

As a second novel in a trilogy, a novel often has to achieve multiple things. Not only does it have to keep the readers interested and maintain their relationship with the characters, it also has to find the right balance between answering questions and creating new ones, introducing new characters while maintaining the old characters etc. It is always a shame to see an author struggle, but it is a true joy to see it work. Thankfully, Richard Due is able to find the right balance and keeps the right pace of plot without leaving too many loose ends. It is clear a lot still has to happen and be explained but that is why I am looking forward to the next novel.

I give this novel...
4 UNIVERSES!!!

This is a great introduction to the fantasy genre for any child and a great opportunity for (young) adults to remember their first fantasy. The characters remain interesting and as you read the impression never leaves you that there is so much more to discover. I believe that in fantasy that is the most important thing, knowing that there is always more to imagine, to explore. And I would say that Richard Due achieved this very well.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Review: 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker

Well, this is one of those classics that have to be read at some stage and what stage is better than university? So, I had to read 'Dracula' for my module 'Studying Literature' and I was actually quite looking forward to it. A lot of bloggers and friends have told me that it is a very good read and since the university decided we had to read it, I assumed it would be very good. So, here I go. 
A dreary castle, blood-thirsty vampires, open graves at midnight, and other Gothic touches fill this chilling tale about a young Englishman's confrontation with the evil Count Dracula. A horror romance as deathless as any vampire, the blood-curdling tale still continues to hold readers spellbound a century later.
First of all, the genre of current vampire fiction doesn't really do it for me. I feel like vampirism is simply added to an already existing storyline to give it something extra. So it was quite interesting to go back to the original material, material being the proper word. Being an epistolary novel, the entirety of the plot is presented through letters, telegrams and mainly diary entries by the different characters. So not only do we have letters, we also have different points of view from all the different characters. 

I did enjoy the story a lot. The beginning, centred around Jonathan Harker, is great because the introduction to Count Dracula is both sudden and spooky. Of course a contemporary reader knows exactly who he is, but the way Jonathan slowly finds out his host is supernatural is quite gripping. Dracula is scary and there is even some slight homo-erotic tension there for a bit. Then we seem to lose Jonathan and move on to his fiancee Mina and her friend Lucy. From here on up until near the end there are some definite highlights that keep the story going but in between there were many bits that just made me want to give up on the novel. The diary entries are interesting, yes, but all of them simply go on and on about the same point. As soon as the chase after Dracula starts the story picks up again and then ends rather suddenly. 

The characters were all entertaining, but a bit strange at times. For example, was I the only one who found the relationship between Lucy's three lovers slightly strange? It seems contrived and very unlikely. I did like Mina Harker. She seemed to be very intelligent and independent which was why I was very disappointed when she suddenly became all submissive. I here felt Stoker was trying to stay within the social expectations of his time although he could have created an amazing female character. Dracula himself didn't get as much attention as I had expected but it was good to see that the vampire is a monster, not a sparkly 18-year old. As a Dutch person, I was looking forward to reading about Van Helsing. The German side in be then got annoyed that he constantly said 'Mein Gott', which is clearly not Dutch but German. Make up your mind Stoker!

So, overall I quite enjoyed the book but it didn't blow me away as such. At times it was quite hard to get through, especially compared to the book I read afterwards (James Joyce's 'Dubliners' which I will review tomorrow). I give it...

3 UNIVERSES!!!

'Dracula' is a very interesting novel to read, especially because as a reader you already know about Dracula. There is no suspense as such and no shock at finding he is a vampire. And the fact that it is epistolary makes it hard to read at times as it becomes slightly repetitive and drags along quite a bit. 

Have you read it? What did you think of it?

Friday, 16 November 2012

Dracula's Friday

Gain New Blog FollowersYay, finally I can find it in me to make a Friday post! And I'm loving this week's question!! FF is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.



Q: Books are turned into movies all the time! Turn it around. What movie would make a great book?



This is an easy one. 'Pan's Labyrinth', the 2006 movie by Guillermo del Torro, would make the most beautiful book ever. Since the movie itself plays with the fine line between reality and fantasy, I would love to see it be worked into a book and see how that medium would play with that. Also, since del Torro himself was inspired by fairy tales, the book could be enriched by so much more background detail. And I would love to know more about Captain Vidal. He looks like such a tragic yet interesting character.



I will just have a mini 'rant of love' here for a moment. This movie is truly amazing. It is a very well accomplished mix between a thriller and fantasy. There are some truly scary moments, not because of anything supernatural perse, but because of what humans can do to each other and themselves. And then there are beautiful moments of fantasy and freedom. And of course the cinematography and music is absolutely touching. I still haven't seen 'The Devil's Backbone' but he is also directing a new version of 'Frankenstein', which has me absolutely intrigued!

This week I am reading Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', both for my course and for my Classics 100 list! I should've finished it by today but I am being plagued by a terrible cold that makes me want to crawl in bed and sleep rather than crawl in bed and read. But I will battle through, don't worry.

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 by Freda's Voice.

BB:
'3 May. Bistritz. - Left Munich at 8.35 p.m. on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6.46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets.'
Perhaps not the most riveting of all beginnings but it does set the tone for the novel. There is a lot of travelling and it being an epistolary novel you will have to accept there will be some slightly boring bits.

F56:
'"Who brought him home, I wonder, to hap him here? Murdered off the coast of Andres! an' you consated his body lay under! Why, I could name ye a dozen whose bones lie in the Greenland seas above' -he pointed northwards - 'or where the currents may have drifted them."'
I quite like it when a novelist decides to write in dialect. It offers a break from an otherwise similar narrative and you get to work a bit for what you're reading!

So, what movie would you like to see as a book? And

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

'Dracula' and the Culture of Vampires

The next book we have to read for Studying Literature is 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker. The review will follow as soon as I've finished the novel. But before them I had a very interesting lecture today about vampires and their role in our culture. First we were shown a clip from 'Nosferatu', the German 1922 movie. It was rather funny to see how vampires were represented back then. He looks like a misshapen creature from Michael Jackon's 'Thriller' video, even though the filmography is quite good. We then saw the "sparkle scene" from 'Twilight'. I don't think I need to say which I preferred.


What is really interesting is that vampire literature explores victim hood closely, especially og sexual assault. The vampire works with mind-control and seduction, convincing the women to open their windows and let him in. They feel partly responsible for the crime committed against them because, for a time, they wanted it. This is the idea of the 'other' penetrating the 'self', someone else's wish becoming your own. The idea of penetration is of course very relevant here since the vampire's teeth penetrate the women as another part of a man would during a sexual assault. This reflects the gender anxiety and gender politics of the time.

There are many "rules" concerning how vampires are supposed to behave. Can they walk in sunlight, do they explode, do they sleep, etc. What this shows is that these rules are very flexible. The history of vampires comes from folklore and tales which were very different at times, depending on where they came from. But what seems to be something crucial to vampires is their monstrosity, something that would exclude Edward from the category of vampires. He is no threat to society,  he just wants to love Bella. Throughout the 'Twilight' sage he does not from a threat to society or to Bella's sense of identity (I personally believe she doesn't have one). Dracula has a desire to assimilate into English society and this forms a threat to London. He represents the 'enemy within' that cannot be found.

So, here we have a short history of  vampire literature. In 1801, we had Robert Southey's 'Thalaba, the Destroyer'. In early vampire fiction there was nothing noble about the vampires and they almost resembled zombies. They wake at night, ravage their own kin and have no real control over themselves. We have Lord Byron to thank, indirectly, for the more noble vampire. His 1813 story 'The Giaour' also showed the traditional EU vampire that is a savage, but he himself inspired John Polidori and his 1819 story 'The Vampyre'. Little bit of literature trivia: the idea of this story came about on the same night Mary Shelley thought up 'Frankenstein': in Byron's Geneva home during a creativity match. The vampire here is an image of Byron, suave, seductive and wrong in all the right ways. Then in 1845 we had a text that directly influenced Stoker: James Ryner's 'Varney the Vampire or The Feast of Blood'. Another novel mentioned was 'Carmilla' by J. LeFanu which deals with a female vampire. And then there was 'Dracula'. And afterwards...'Twilight'.


Our lecturer thought that movie adaptations lead to the domestication of vampires. They are supposed to represent something alien and while reading a novel, the "voice" of the vampire might invade your mind, whereas we are further removed when watching movies. He also talked about the sexual inversion that happens in vampire novels, especially concerning female vampires. Women act like men, seducing men and acting free-spirited, whereas men are submissive and powerless. But even despite this, there has to be a happy ending during which social harmony is restored by the vampire dying. It, sadly, has to be that way.

I really enjoyed this lecture and  hope you enjoyed my notes on it!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Teaser Tuesday: The Beckoning Bells

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading. This week I will give you two teasers of my own short story, 'The Beckoning Bells'...I know, shameless self plugging here. Am I ashamed? Not really, I stayed up really late on multiple nights for this! Want to know what has me really excited? My amazing friend in Camberwell Art School, London, has agreed to make a cover for it! It might only be 6 pages, but it will be awesome! Anyways, let's get on with the teasers!

'In short the villagers enjoy each others company. But then the church appears and a silence falls across the crowd. The light of their candles slowly creeps up the big square brick building. The stones seemed black and weather beaten. At the edges of the building, vines crept up the wall with blue and purple flowers that reflected the candle light. The children gaze in amazement as the lights slowly creep up the massive tower.'
and
'He became gaunt and neglected his appearance. A young girl once saw him on his balcony where he stood staring at the village. She ran home and told her friends he had turned into an old gnarly tree in winter.'  

What do you think? I don't have a cover to share yet, but I will share as soon as I do. So, what are you teasing with?


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Review: 'Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey' edited by Lori Perkins

I decided to request this book from Netgalley because I felt I owed it to all the people who loved 'Fifty Shades of Grey' to inform myself about it more before ripping it to shreds. After letting some time pass, I find I am quite ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I quite liked it in the way you like anything that has something of the forbidden or taboo about it. On the other hand, it was a terrible let down in that it wasn't very well-written and, to be honest, wasn't as forbidden or taboo as I had expected it to be. So I thought it would be great to hear 50 other opinions on it, to see whether their comments would help me figure out this book and its, surprising, popularity. This might be the first time I have reviewed a collection of "essays" and this review would be too long if I went through all of them, so I decided to pick up on some of the things that stuck with me while reading.


For one, I think it is a bit early to say that 50 Shades was the last blow to actual printing. Just because it was an online phenomena doesn't mean that now everyone will only publish e-books. As a current English student I can tell you that although many of u have Kindles, we all love the feeling of a real book in our hands and my generation is, after all, the future and I don't see us allowing printed books to die out. Especially not over this book.

Also, I belief that, being a woman, I was always pretty aware of the fact women love to read smutty romances with sex in them. As was the publishing world. Why else would we have all those other smutty romances with strong males and sensuous women in them? Yes, the addition of BDSM might be new (to the public, not the audience), but I don't think it is as much of a game changer as the publishers would like to have us believe. I do agree 'Fifty Shades of Grey' has opened up society to accepting to more erotic literature in public but then again, if you really wanted to find and read it you always could. Perhaps it has now become more mainstream, but is that what you'd want as a genre? To become equal to 'Twilight' and the centre of media attention? Suzan Colon also refers to this when she mentions that the main attractions to Fifty Shades are the naughtiness and secrecy behind reading it. It is almost too in the open for that now.

The great thing about reading a book like this is that you can agree or disagree with authors, much like you can like or dislike characters. Next to Suzan Colon, there was D.L. King that I quite liked. She questioned whether the book was actually erotica or rather erotic romance. She argues that erotica is about the sex, rather than the love story, which would make 'Fifty Shades of Grey', in my eyes, erotic romance rather than erotica. The story is about Ana and Christian falling in love, not about them having sex. If you took out their sex scenes you'd still have the same (admittedly boring) plot and the novel'd work.

Another interesting point was brought up by Jennifer Sanzo, who talked about whether Christian Grey is a modern Byronic man. I'm not quite sure. On the outside, of course he is. Roguish, broody, dark, strangely sensual and attractive. But would I compare him to the likes of Mr. Darcy, Heathcliff or Rochester? No. And that lies in the way it is written. Below are the three quotes Sanzo used:
'If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn't love you as much as I do in a single day.' Heathcliff
'You have bewitched me, body and soul.' Darcy
'You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I am in awe of you. I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul.' Christian Grey
Of course, all three have their romantic qualities, but for me, only the first one is really Byronic, taking into consideration Heathcliff as a character, the second one romantic and the third a slightly melodramatic version of the other two. Heathcliff is the only one out of those three characters that has any kind of real darkness and danger about him. Christian Grey is the perfect romantic hero, willing to overcome his troubles rather than dragging Ana down with him.

I tweeted about Jennifer Armintrout while reading because I really enjoyed her chapter. She wrote about how the line between what we fantasize about and what we actually want was blurred by 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. The controlling behaviour that is seen as romantic by many is actually, when analysed, creepy and not desirable at all. Unlike with other books, the discussions have become personal, rather than about the book. I think Heathcliff is an amazing protagonist who says some beautiful things but I wouldn't ever actually wish to be in a relationship with him. Imagine how scary that would be. The public perception is that women have massively identified themselves with Ana to such an extent that nothing negative can be uttered. Criticizing her or the book would be criticizing women and therefor being disregarding towards women. However, I don't really think women have. Readers aren't stupid, they know that the novel is only fiction and they read it out of escapism, like most books. It has made sex an easier topic of discussion perhaps, but it's not like E.L. James invented sex.

What I also want to say is, thank you Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, finally someone discusses the sex in the book. It is, to be kind, highly unrealistic, to be rude, bullshit. I think it really gives young women, including me, a wrong image of how sex works and how bodies respond. I mean, if this is how sex is for most people I wonder why they ever do anything else! What I found really interesting here were the thoughts of practicing Dominants and subs. One couple explained how they would set up a scene, a Master analysed Christian as a dominant, a submissive explained the release she found in submitting. It gave so much more insight into the world of BDSM and really made me see that what E.L. James created is nothing more than a fancy framework for characters, instead of making it a part of the story.

It was also really interesting to read a history of BDSM (romance) fiction, which, to me, came across as a very open and friendly genre. It explored both male-female and male-male relationships early on. The essays on this also helped me understand why readers of BDSM fiction and people of the lifestyle don't like the novel as much. James wrote it for the average (uninformed) reader, using elements that wouldn't work for the former category. Their backlash is therefore perhaps understandable, especially since the book does link BDSM to childhood trauma and abuse, and I agree with the authors in saying that had 'Fifty Shades' been more to their liking it would maybe not have been such a big success.

One of my favourite chapters in this book was the one by Laura Antoniou, who gave her own, hilarious, view on 'Fifty Shades of Grey' by writing what I will call a parody. And thankfully she made a Youtube video of her reading it (below), which I strongly suggest you watch right now. Please don't drink while watching this, I wouldn't want to be responsible for you ruining your laptop.
Laura Antoniou is amazing, I have decided!

Also very interesting were the couple of essays on the novel's origins as fanfiction. I didn't pay too much attention to that before, but now I actually think it is very interesting. Definitely something I'd like to look into more. I found it very hard to give any kind of rating to this book because of what it is. Can I rate it the same way as a novel? I decided to just do that and gave it...

3 UNIVERSES!!!


In the end, I don't really like 'Fifty Shades of Grey' any better now than I did before, but I'd definitely recommend this book, 'Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey', to everyone wanting to know more. It analyses everything from the success, to the history of romantic fiction, the characters, the reality behind it and so much more. The essays are short, well written, funny and informative. If you liked talking about 'Fifty Shades', this will provide you with a lot more interesting talking points and in my case, it did.