Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Date of Publication: 1818 (my edition: 2003 by Penguin Books)

Number of Pages: 225

Synopsis (from back cover): Obsessed with creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life with electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear. Mary Shelley’s chilling Gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley near Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. It would become the world’s most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity.

Review: I was lucky enough to be assigned this book in my Modern Europe class. It’s a quick read, moving along at a nice pace, but not jam-packed with too much action. Instead, this horror novel is one that reaches the reader on a deeper level. Victor takes an emotional journey, from the happiness and security of his childhood, to his fevered and single-minded pursuit of the creation of life, to the horror and despair at the realization of what his dream will cost him. He is the consummate Romantic hero: tragic, boldly and blindly following his own ambition, and agonizing over the loss of his own soul.

There was really only one thing that bothered me about this book. One is the fact that every time something tragic happens to Victor, he falls into a debilitating fever. I know that this sort of illness was a favorite of the Romantics, but after a while, it seemed formulaic. Other than that, the book is nearly perfect: tragic hero, sympathetic yet terrifying villain, beautiful and innocent heroine, and a landscape that is just as important to the story as Victor and his monster are. I would recommend this book to any fan of contemporary horror fiction, and also to any fan of Romantic fiction or poetry. Also, if you’re going to watch one of the many film adaptations of this book, I suggest watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 version, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Robert De Niro plays the monster, and you can’t get any better than that. Besides, it’s the one movie that stays almost completely true to Mary Shelley’s original story.

Rating: 9/10


The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Date of Publication: 2005, Little. Brown and Company

Number of Pages: 642

Synopsis (from inside cover): Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known – and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself – to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

Review: As a university student about to return to classes in a few weeks, I found an enthusiasm for this very scholarly novel, which I ultimately needed. The main problem with this book is that is stays true to the nature of historical research: searching through libraries with painstaking care, reading ancient texts, puzzling through inconsistencies. This is detective work at its finest, but even my study-starved mind became a little impatient at all the studying required to solve the mystery of Dracula.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the way Kostova weaves her way through time, from stories from ancient Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, to the fevered investigations spanning two generations in the 20th century. Secrets long buried in history are constantly being revealed and there’s a twist in almost every chapter. Kostova is also adept at bringing the environment in which these incredible events take place beautifully to life. I almost felt as if I were traveling through the streets of Istanbul and the countryside of Romania. Kostova also brings this intensity to her storytelling. It was at one moment incredibly frightening, and at another moment so moving it brought tears to my eyes.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history, including the history of Dracula. The Historian is a wonderful and cerebral twist on the traditional Dracula legend.

Rating: 9/10

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, Book 1) by Stephen King

Date of Publication: 1982

Number of Pages: 304

Synopsis (from back cover): This heroic fantasy is set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace that is a dark mirror of our own. A spellbinding tale of good versus evil, it features once of Stephen King’s most powerful creations – The Gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages from ancient myth to frontier western legend. His pursuit of The Man in Black, his liaison with sexually ravenous Alice, his friendship with the kid from Earth called Jake, are part of the drama that is both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, an alchemy of storytelling sorcery.

Review: After months of hearing about The Dark Tower series, and since I’m already a big Stephen King fan, I decided to finally read the first book in the series, just to see what it was all about. It took me until the last page to decide what I thought of it. All I can say really is that I liked it, and I’m planning to read the next one, but of all the Stephen King books I’ve read, this was the most difficult and unusual. The problems I had with this book were not stylistic; the book is very well written, and the characters, though mysteriously aloof from the reader, are well developed. The title character, known throughout most of the book simply as the gunslinger, is not easily identifiable as a hero and is deeply complex. There are mysteries surrounding his past, as well as the lives of most of the characters and the reality in which they live. I think it was these very mysteries that I didn’t really love. They distressed me unexpectedly. However, being the first book in a series, it’s understandable that there will be unanswered questions. Anyone who ventures to read this book should be prepared to read the rest of the series! I certainly will.

Rating: 8/10

The Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Date of Publication: 1995

Synopsis: “A monster on the loose in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History provides the hook for this high-concept, high-energy thriller. A statue of the mad god Mbwun, a monstrous mix of man and reptile, was discovered by a Museum expedition to South America in 1987. Now, it is about to become part of the new Superstition Exhibition at the museum (here renamed the “New York Museum of Natural History”). But as the exhibition’s opening night approaches, the museum may have to be shut down due to a series of savage murders that seem to be the work of a maniac-or a living version of Mbwun. When the museum’s director pulls strings to ensure that the gala affair takes place, it’s up to a small band of believers, led by graduate student Margo Green, her controversial adviser and an FBI agent who investigated similar killings in New Orleans, to stop the monster-if the culprit is indeed a monster-from going on a rampage. Less horror then action-adventure, the narrative builds to a superbly exciting climax, and then offers a final twist to boot. With its close-up view of museum life and politics, plausible scientific background, sharply drawn characters and a plot line that’s blissfully free of gratuitous romance, this well-crafted novel offers first-rate thrills and chills.” -Publishers Weekly

Review: This intensely exciting thriller is the beginning of Preston’s and Child’s series featuring FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast, the tall, ghostly-pale Southern gentleman who is half MacGyver half Oxford professor. Pendergast is one of the best characters I’ve ever read, and certainly the best law enforcement character. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the other characters either, especially the sardonic New York cop, Vincent D’Agosta and the tenacious grad student, Margo Green, who join Pendergast in his search for the truth. The premise of the book is not only breathtakingly frightening, but also breathtakingly believable. I gladly return to this book again and again, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the authors’ continuation of these characters in the rest of the series.

Rating: 10/10

The Taking by Dean Koontz

Date of Publication: 2005

“On the morning that marks the end of the world they have known, Molly and Neil Sloan awaken to the drumbeat of rain on their roof. A luminous silvery downpour is drenching their small California mountain town. It as haunted their sleep, invaded their dreams, and now, in the moody purple dawn, the young couple cannot shake the sense of something terribly wrong.

As the hours pass, Molly and Neil listen to disturbing news of extreme weather phenomena across the globe. By nightfall, their little town loses all contact with the outside world. A thick fog transforms the once-friendly village into a ghostly labyrinth. And soon the Sloans and their neighbors will be forced to dram on reserves of courage and humanity they never knew they had. For within the misty gloom they will encounter what is happening to their world…something that is hunting them with ruthless efficiency.” -Blurb from back cover

I both loved and hated this book. It was thrilling, scary (it gave me nightmares), and shocking, but was also all over the place in terms of its storytelling. The end of each chapter was a cliffhanger, and the final revelation at the very end seemed almost an afterthought. The plot didn’t wander at all, it was simply that it didn’t feel as well thought-out as it could have been. The characters never seemed as surprised as they should have been at the horrors they witness throughout the night, and at the end it seemed as if Koontz had given up, letting them go with the “strange reluctance” to talk about anything they had gone through, as if they didn’t care. On the whole, though, this book was incredibly exciting, and the twist at the end literally had my mouth hanging open. It’s a perfect choice if you’re going on vacation, or on a long plane ride. Just don’t expect too much out of it.

Rating: 7/10