Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter takes gigantic liberties. But if you can allow your imagination to accept the incontrovertible fact that our 16th President also killed vampires on the side, you’ll be entertained right up until John Wilkes Booth’s fanged appearance.
After Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies lit/genre mash-up book came and went like the novelty we all believed it was, I was less than hopeful that the author’s next book would be entertaining. I was wrong. Grahame-Smith’s second book is a breezy read, filled with fun references, but it goes so over the top, you don’t have time to be offended by the history bending. The story moves forward at a fast pace, with engaging dialog and fascinating tidbits about the past president’s life, both true and false.
The book opens with the author describing his monotonous existence in Rhinebeck, NY — until one day, a man who always seemed to be a stranger bestows upon him the missing journals of Abraham Lincoln, revealing him to be none other than the world’s most successful vampire hunter. Why does our first-person author believe this mystery man from upstate New York? Because he’s a vampire. And just like that, you’re re-learning everything you ever knew about oneo f the greatest Presidents of the United States.
Grahame-Smith takes real life events, and weaves them with first person accounts of vampire attacks and fanged demons from the fake journals, and the result is surprisingly entertaining. And this is coming from someone who visited Lincoln’s home in New Salem bi-yearly with her family, and treats the Ken Burns Civil War Documentary like the Holy Grail. Once you let go of the idea that this isn’t trying to make fun of past history, nor undermine the actual work Lincoln did, it’s sort of like one of the Back To The Future alternate timelines. What if Abraham Lincoln fought vampires? Turns out he’d still have the same family issues, work ethic and life goals, but for different reasons.
For instance, the main reason Abraham becomes such a devout vampire-killer is due to the death of his mother, which Abraham quickly discovers was at the hands of vampires, thanks to his no-good father’s money issues. Sure, the doctors said she died from “milk sickness,” which is actually what his mother was historically diagnosed with, but in the novel it’s actually vampires. If you can get around that first hurdle, you’re golden through the rest of the novel. If you can’t, then you’re going to have a hell of a time when the band of Union Vampires takes on the Rebel Vampires, or when Lincoln’s first son dies not from sickness, but from vampiric tampering. And that’s not even the most extreme version of the historical liberties this book takes.
Every rumor and myth about Honest Abe gets twisted to embellish the horror premise. What about Abe’s beard? Legends say he grew it because Grace Bedell wrote that women loved whiskers. But in this alternate timeline, the beard was groomed to hide the scar from Lincoln’s vampire-fighting life. Luckily, the book does make an attempt to educate the reader slightly, with footnotes relating side facts and other interesting historical moments — some of them accurate, or at least rumored to be.
George Orwell : The Road to Wigan Pier
A searing account of George Orwells observations of working-class life in the bleak industrial heartlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire in the 1930s, The Road to Wigan Pier is a brilliant and bitter polemic that has lost none of its political impact over time. His graphically unforgettable descriptions of social injustice, cramped slum housing, dangerous mining conditions, squalor, hunger and growing unemployment are written with unblinking honesty, fury and great humanity. It crystallized the ideas that would be found in Orwells later works and novels, and remains a powerful portrait of poverty, injustice and class divisions in Britain.
Tony Visconti: The Autobiography
Famed producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Morrissey) shares decades worth of stories in his new book, “Tony Visconti: The Autobiography — Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy,” which arrived last month in the United Kingdom via Harper Collins. A U.S. publisher has yet to be finalized.
“My memory was remarkably clear for this,” he tells Billboard. “Then, of course, I saw some things I didn’t really want to review again, mainly marriage breakups and drug abuse. Those two things were very painful to revisit. I settled the score with all my ex-wives — three; my drug days have been over for 20 years and my alcohol days for seven years. I don’t want that to be top of mind all the time, but I had to write about it. There’s hardly anything you don’t know about me now.”
Asked if he came a real confidant to the artists with whom he worked so closely, Visconti says, “Friendship inevitably evolves. I just got an e-mail from Bowie. We e-mail all the time, we send each other clips from YouTube and discuss the finer points of growing old. Marc would have loved the Internet, although he was a little dyslexic. It would have been interesting to see a Marc Bolan e-mail, all misspelt words — k’s instead of c’s.”
Visconti is still empowered by a formative moment when he first moved to England and a friend graced him with an early listen to the Beatles’ then-unreleased “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hears Club Band.” “It was the most ‘pinch me, I died and went to heaven’ kind of experience,” he recalls. “Even today, with some of those sounds, you ask yourself, ‘How did they do that?’”
Up next for Visconti is work with St. Louis-born singer/songwriter Kristeen Young, who’s been championed by Morrissey. “He’s really pushing her forward,” he says. “I’m working with a New York-based glam rock group called Semi-Precious Weapons. I’ve [also] been invited to do the next Morrissey album, whenever that takes place. I love to make records — I’m never going to stop.”
Scarlett Thomas : The End of Mr Y
When Ariel Manto uncovers a copy of “The End of Mr Y” in a second-hand bookshop, she can’t believe her eyes. She’s read about its author before, the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas, and this is his most notorious, and rarest, book. It is also believed to hold a curse. Anyone who’s ever read it, including Lumas, has disappeared without trace.With “Mr Y” under her arm, Ariel is thrust into an adventure of faith, physics, love, death, and everything in between.Part gothic mystery, part time-travelling love story, “The End of Mr Y” lies somewhere between “Shadow of the Wind” and “Dr Who”. Scarlett Thomas sends us on a wild and irresistible quest into our deepest selves and our biggest questions.
Elizabeth Kostova : The Historian
The Historian is an ambitious first novel of admirable proportions, a marvellous epic that will take readers on a mysterious, alluring, and quite unforgettable journey into medieval Eastern European history.
The story begins in 1972 Amsterdam, when a sixteen-year-old girl discovers in her father’s library an old volume with a dragon printed in the middle and an envelope of yellowing papers which, on closer inspection, turn out to be personal letters dated 1930.
“My dear and unfortunate successor…” begins each letter, a line fit to become a classic in literature.
Several days later, in a coffee house in Slovania, she asks her father about her findings. A shadow of fear, grief and resignation crosses his face. Thus he begins his tale, one that compasses not only decades but centuries, to Medieval Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and a dark figure who became known for his incredibly cruel and sadistic tortures inflicted not only on his enemies but on his own people as well: Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula.As the protagonists search for Dracula’s tomb, the story moves back and forth in time, through a series of letters by different authors, culminating in a heart-stopping and intriguing ending, to say the least.
The rich, fluent prose and plot technique of “box within a box” is reminiscent of an early Anne Rice in such works as The Witching Hour. The book, which took the author ten years to complete, is filled with fascinating historical details. Indeed, it’s like a crash course in Eastern European history. Never a dull moment, though.
Ultimately, the novel deals with an important theme: “The study of history should be our preparation for understanding the present, rather than an escape from it.” The author alludes to this theme several times throughout the novel: “The past is very useful, but only for what it can teach us about the present.” The title is mysteriously open to interpretation. Who, in fact, is the Historian?
Elizabeth Kostova, a graduate of Yale who is said to have received a two million dollar advance for this book.
William Heaney: Memoirs of a Master Forger
The narrative is split between a 1980s Derby teacher-training college and presentday London. While a student, narrator Heaney penned a tome about how to summon demons, which was used by a fellow student with unforeseen consequences: all the girls Heaney had loved met terrible fates. He’s lived with the guilt and the haunting presence of demons ever since, and atones for his sins by forging first editions of rare books and donating the proceeds to charity. He’s also a charming closet alcoholic, and when he finds himself falling in love against his will he is forced to confront his demons, both literal and metaphoric. The novel is an ultimately uplifting feat of storytelling which grips the reader to the very last page.
Andrew Drummond : Elephantina
Just outside Dundee, in April 1706, an elephant sighs forlornly, topples over, and drowns in a ditch by the side of the road from Broughty Ferry. Foiling almost all the energetic attempts of the citizenry to make off with large chunks of meat, and other elephantine trophies, local surgeon, botanist and anatomist Dr Patrick Blair embarks on a mission to be the first in Britain to dissect an elephant and to complete a pioneering scientific study of the dead animal’s internal organs and skeleton. Blair intends to publish a grand and definitive essay on the Osteology of the Elephant; and hopes that this work, if accepted by Sir Hans Sloane’s Royal Society, will make his name as a scientist, and ease his entry into the community of philosophers of England (or the about to beunitedGreat Britain). One of Blair’s associates is Gilbert Orum, harassed debtor, neglected husband, harassed father, under-employed tradesman; and skilled copper engraver. In the last of these capacities, he is engaged by Blair to assist in the messier moments of the dissection, and to make engravings of the elephant’s internal organs and skeleton. Far from being inspired by this historic task, Orum is much more concerned about keeping clear of all his creditors, or – if he cannot avoid them – repaying his debts with anything other than what he lacks most: ready cash. Some of the more unusual body-parts from the dissected elephant become a form of currency in his endeavours to pay off the butcher, the baker, the chandler, the blacksmith.
Orum also has troubles in his family-life – his wife is sickly and suffers from extreme nervousness; so do all his children; he is relentlessly pursued by a no-longer-young woman, who waits only for his wife’s death to capture the widower for herself; he needs be swift to avoid the baker’s wife, a large lady of a whimsical age, who is keen to convert his debts into ‘certain services’; and he feels obliged to look out for his older brother, who leads a chaotic life with his family of ten. Orum is torn in his feelings about Blair – between his gratitude to the doctor for treating his wife and family and for providing him with occasional work, and his contempt for a man whom he sees driven only by ambition and an insatiable urge to dissect, to the detriment of all other human qualities.
The people of Scotland are, at the time of the death of the Elephant, greatly diverted by the proposed Union of the Parliaments. At almost the same time as the elephant expires, the Commissioners, who are to draw up the Act of Union, begin their negotiations. A number of the great and worthy of Dundee have much to gain and lose by the Act of Union; Blair himself is a closet Jacobite, but wishes none of his sympathies to get in the way of his scientific ambitions.