Monthly Archives: July 2012

Book Review: The Dante Club.

The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl.

Essentially a book within a book. This novel, set in the 1800s, is a fictional portrayal of real people who were involved in the translation of Dante’s Inferno. This was work dedicated to Dante Alighieri’s belief that he’d been on a journey through various layers of hell, witnessing punishments exacted on those who supposedly deserved it. Many of the punishments described in his works were on people he’d known throughout his life. The novel by Pearl explores the bonds of professional and personal relationships, crime, race, war, and literature.

I find books like this so hard to put down. Whilst learning about Dante and his works, historical figures, war efforts, and issues around the anti-slavery movements, I’m also exploring the possible effects that some texts may have on damaged minds. These zealots could twist the messages an author presents, and take it upon themselves to reenact scenes described in the belief that they are “protecting”. 367 pages describing the fictional adventure of a small group of poets, professors, and one “mulatto” officer, in a race to stop a murderer punishing more men of Boston, with Dante as inspiration.

What I love most, is the characters feel real. They are flawed; they have families, histories, troubles, and often disagreements. But Matthew Pearl had plucked them from their place in history and given them breath and substance. Characters grow and change, becoming more the men they wish they were at the beginning.

Pearl’s extensive knowledge of the subjects at hand is apparent too, and there’s a passion that compels you to keep reading. To see, and understand more.

I honestly have no criticisms of this work, as I enjoyed it immensely. It’s well paced, lots of information rammed in, numerous plot twists and well thought out developments. The only reason I wouldn’t recommend it is if you’d rather read “easy” books. Pearl’s work is based on literature, and throws in many intellectual arguments to consider along the way. There are also graphic descriptions of brutal murders and torture. I don’t feel it’s a difficult book to read, but it does require concentration as you’ll need to follow the various twists and turns; to pick up on little pieces of information littered like a breadcrumb trail.

A fabulously thrilling story, in my opinion.

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Book review: Rosemary’s Baby.

Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin.

I know, I know! Why have I not read this already? Well, because I haven’t. So there.

Rosemary’s Baby, for those of you not ‘in the know’, is about a young married couple that move into a high end apartment block with a spooky history. Rosemary is the female stereotype with old fashioned values – and she is just desperate to get pregnant! Eventually, her husband (the struggling actor) surprising relents and they begin trying.

She has some really bizarre dreams, some incredibly strange cravings through her new pregnancy, and lots of very paranoid thoughts about pretty much everyone she encounters. Even her husband. Somehow, The Devil, witchcraft, and cults all get mixed with it.

The concept isn’t something we’re unfamiliar with anymore, as there is so much out there exploring ideas of possession, demonspawn, religion, cults, etc. For its time though, Ira produced a pretty real scenario that may strike a chord with the general populace.

I enjoyed the read, though the book was only short and didn’t really go any further than following her through pregnancy, and what that meant to her and those around her. It was relatively simple, with few subplots. There were some surprising developments, but most of the ‘twists’ could be guessed.

And the ending left me dissatisfied. I will be reading Son of Rosemary at some point, though I am hoping it has more to it than the first book.

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Book Review: Light Before Day.

Light Before Day, by Christopher Rice.

This is Christopher’s third book. Again, the themes that runs through the core are generally centred around sexuality, society, and accepting oneself. The issues that are faced and challenged in this novel are drugs, sexual grooming, and paedophilia. There is also some murder, crime fighting, and sex thrown in for good measure.

In the previous book of his I reviewed (The Snow Garden), there were a lot of errors which seems to not be such a big issue in this book. (New editor/proofreader, maybe?)

Despite the sensitive nature of the topics raised, Christopher, true to form, does not pussyfoot about. He pulls you on through the rollercoaster ride of emotion and experience, giving you what feels like a very authentic account of the effects of drugs and alcohol on damaged individuals, how a history of abuse or neglect can bring about opportunities for predators to manipulate those victims.

Descriptions and scenarios can be very graphic, so I wouldn’t recommend reading if subjects mentioned above are something you find difficult to hear about. I feel it’s important to build an awareness of what goes on in the world, and this novel is based on very real risks that some children have to deal with. Whilst the novel itself is fictional, the general concept is real.

That said, as with previous works, this book is incredibly easy to read. It is so gripping and I found I just had to keep reading, to keep chasing the characters through the story to find out who did what, where they all fit in, how they fit in… Definitely worth reading!

Come on, Christopher. Time for book number four (which I believe is currently entering the editing process)!

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Book Review: The Snow Garden

The Snow Garden, by Christopher Rice.

To summise, this book is about young people that are going off to university and are at war with themselves (and, seemingly, the world) trying to figure out “who” they are. But it’s never as simple as that. There are cults, arts, sexuality, betrayal, secrets, friendships, relationships, and murder. To name but a few of the issues that run through the core of this book.

Christopher, I love you. And this is why I will overlook the hideous typos that are strewn haphazardly throughout this book. It is probably the only reason I refused to put the book down when I realised there appeared to have been no proofreader, or editor, worth their salt onboard this little adventure.

That aside, I’m glad I didn’t put it down. Once you get past those issues, it’s a pretty incredible plot with various stories that seem to interlock. The same themes of homosexuality, sex, manipulation, and society are presented in this book as with his debut novel (A Density of Souls, which I have reviewed). I just love how he isn’t afraid to throw in ‘taboo’ subjects, he’ll explore, tear apart, and shake the tatters in your face until you realise you just can’t ignore it anymore.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the books are incredibly easy to read. It is clear Christopher has a passion for art, literature, and interests in ‘higher society’, which comes across so well in the book. But they’re interesting to read about, particularly when used as part of his character development.

As with the review of A Density of Souls, I made it clear he does not write like his mother (Anne Rice). He stands alone, and is no worse off for it. He is a bold writer, bringing awareness to subjects like HIV (which is one of the issues he raises in The Snow Garden).

If you can forgive him his errors, I’d definitely recommend reading this book.

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Book Review: Frankenstein by Dean Koontz

Frankenstein (books 1-3), by Dean Koontz

This series was initially commissioned, but ‘creative differences’ led Dean to go his own way and retain control over the content. Just so you know.

The series, believe it or not, is about Frankenstein. It is linked to Mary Shelley’s, but her story is referred to as a myth or legend. These books are set in today’s world, where science is developing, new technology is appearing at a rapid rate, to the point where we begin to question: “is this good, or bad?”

These books do present some really frightening ideas of a ‘mad professor’ creating clones that he can ‘program’ to be whatever he wants them to be, then replaces humans with these genetically engineered individuals. Doctor Frankenstein himself has been able to survive for as long as he has due to his knowledge of preservation. It does go rather sciencey, but not to the point where you lose interest.

There is a really good pace to the books, murder, intrigue, moral questions, science, with lots of interesting characters and dynamics floating around for good measure. What I like most about Dean’s books though, is the attention to detail whilst still remaining really easy books to read.

I did find there was an awful lot of repetition though. The same descriptions were often reworded so you knew who Frankenstein’s monster was, what he stood for, how he came to be… etc. But I became quite frustrated as I kept saying: “But I’ve read this already, I haven’t forgotten”.

If you’re easily freaked out by the thought of what could be lurking under the surface of ‘our’ world, particularly if these secrets are based on very real concerns, then this probably isn’t something you should read. I actually thoroughly enjoyed them though!

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