Monday, April 28, 2014

Arthurian Literature.

I have an fascination with Arthurian and Celtic mythology and the Middle Ages.  Not quite so heavy as my Halloween and Horror fascination/obsession, but present nonetheless.  I don't really know when it started, but I think a lot of people romanticize this time period and the legends that grew from the era. 

There was a time when I read everything I could get my hands on about the subject.  Morgan Llewelyn and his books about Druids and Ireland.  Mary Stewart who deepened my love for the topic.  Even non-fiction books about King Arthur.  My discoveries branched out and into the legend of Robin Hood, Welsh mythology and anything that touched upon it.  There was even a time when I wanted to get a degree in Medieval Studies.  (Okay, I still do.)

Looking at Goodreads, I realized that although I remember loving many of these books, I couldn't recall exactly what happened in all of them.  I miss these worlds and I'm remembering the retellings fondly.  There are so many versions.  Ones where Merlin is evil and Morgan Le Fey is good.  Ones where Camelot is a beautiful kingdom and ones where Brittain is dark and Arthur is rough and gritty.  Ones where Guinevere is misunderstood and ones where she doesn't even exist at all and represents, as many scholars say, a personification of the land.

Ironically, the second post I wrote on this blog from 2010 is titled Arthurian Mythology. It's a very short post and simply mentions the book I was reading at the time, Gwynhfar by Mercedes Lackey.   If only I had a blog even before then when I was reading all these great books (you know, before the internet even existed), I could now look back and refresh my memory on the plots and perhaps relive the delight I felt.  I'm really not one to re-read a lot of books, but I'm thinking that perhaps I should.  I don't just love to read, I love to talk about books and I won't be able to talk about them if I can't remember them.  But re-reading books that I read SO long ago may bring up other issues.  I've been reading some reviews of books I loved and I'm a little disappointed at some of them.  Are the books that I adored so much really trite and boring?  Maybe I should just keep the memories I have of them.

I'm also happy to find even more books on the topic than when I was reading them and discovering "old" titles as well.  Right now I'm reading Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliffe and I think I may have to incorporate more Arthurian legends into my blog and reading repetoire.

You can check out my Arthurian bookshelf list on Goodreads and you can also check out my Pinterest board of Arthurian books by clicking below.

Follow Midnyte Reader's board Books - Arthurian on Pinterest.

Image credit: paulfleet / 123RF Stock Photo

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Outside.

Title/Author: The Outside (The Hallowed Ones #2) by Laura Bickle.

Genre: YA, Horror.

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: Purchased.

Synopsis:  After a plague of vampires is unleashed in the world, Katie is kicked out of her Amish community for her refusal to adhere to the new rules of survival.  Now in exile, she enters an outside world of unspeakable violence with only her two "English" friends and a horse by her side.  Together they seek answers and other survivors - but each sunset brings the thread of vampire attack, and each sunrise the threat of starvation.

And yet through this darkness come the shining ones: luminescent men and women with the power to deflect vampires and survive the night.  But can these new people be trusted, and are they even people at all?

In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, it's up to one Amish girl to save her family, her community, and the boy she loves...but what will she asked to leave behind in return?

Midnyte Musings:
The hard part about the end of the world is surviving it.  This is the first sentence in The Outside, the second book of The Hallowed Ones, about Katie, an Amish teen surviving a vampire apocalypse.  The story picks up only a few weeks after the end of the first book and continues with action, heartache, tough choices and a tad of romance.

Now that she is outside of her community, Katie still struggles with religious issues that plagued her when she lived in her own world.  She hasn't been baptized so she's afraid if she dies before she is, she won't go to heaven.  She also questions whether God has forgotten them because of the events that have happened.  However, her experiences in the outside world and her relationship with Alex propels her to re-evaluate her world view and she realizes that her "definition of evil is shrinking."

Turning toward Darkness is a gradual process, in all things. ~Katie.

I found the discussion and theory of human consciousness affecting the physical world very interesting as a concept and a plot device.  Could this be why religious symbols are so powerful against the vampires?  Why churches and religious communities are sacred?

The discovery of a vaccine against vampirism is interesting as well.  This was explained to my satisfaction so it didn't seem too outlandish and it was described very well so I could experience what it was like to be innoculated and what it looked like.  Again, Katie struggles with this vaccine (luminescence) and how much it will change her.  However, how can you turn down protection from vampires?  Her and Alex realize they have to help as many people as they can.  Alex is travelling north to find his parents and Katie is compelled to go back and help her own community.   She goes home to find some things have changed greatly and she again proves her worth and it seems by the end of the book she may be taking on another important role to give her home protection.

I love the romance in The Outside.  Alex is thoughtful and gives her choices when no one else in her life had done so.  Can you imagine if your whole life you were told what to do and when to do it and then another person has enough trust in you to make your own decisions?  He comes off very appealing and their date in the store was sweet.

The Outside also included nice, scary imagery.  The vampires are no less terrifying in this installment and I thought the nun vampires were a great touch.  I won't go into what made them so creepy, because I don't want to spoil too much of the story. 

A few things make this book from being perfect.  Some of their conversations sound like a text, not dialogue.  And, when Alex tells the myths to Katie, it's a bit too deliberate and seems like he is leading a witness.  When I was getting toward the end of The Outside, I felt as if it was an unnecessary sequel, but I liked how the story came full circle with a few changes.   However, I started The Outside as soon as I finished The Hallowed Ones, so that is a testament to how much I liked the characters and how interesting the story is to me.  I don't know if a third book will come out, but I would definitely read it.  

Starstruck Over:  The flow of the story and the journey and development of the characters.

Karen from For What It's Worth Reviews recommended these books.  Read her review of The Outside.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Hallowed Ones

Title/Author: The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

Genre: YA, Horror.

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: Purchased.

Synopsis: Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world.  But the real world comes to her in the dystopian tale with a philosophical bent.  Rumors of massive unrest on the "Outside" abound.  Something murderous is out there.

Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in.  But when Katie finds a gravely unjured young man, she can't leave him to die.  She smuggles him into her family's barn - at what cost to her community?  The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

Midnyte Musings:  I first heard about The Hallowed Ones when Karen from For What It's Worth read and reviewed it on her blog.  I quickly put it on my TBR pile and finally got around to reading it.  I was delighted with everything about it.  Scares, dilemmas, ethics, romance and difficult choices.

"There was a difference...between knowing and believing" Kate said at one point in the book.  I think this is something people struggle with.  Some people have so much faith to the point where they are sure about God, religion and the afterlife.  Some people are more skeptical.  These are issues that Katie, the main character struggles with.  She believes in God, but has questions, She knows she should trust what The Elders (the spiritual leaders in her community) preach, but not everything sits right with her.  I loved this about her.  She is not a sheep that takes everything at face value.  She is independent and a thinker.  She is also a doer.  Another thing I loved about her.  She is brave.  She makes choices about what she thinks is right and she does some required dirty work. What else I love about Katie is that she loves her parents who are very important to her. She wants their approval and love, yet she is true to herself.  I also love how Katie sees herself as selfish because of her very human emotions.

I knew that I was weak, that I sometimes failed to submit to the God's will. But I didn't feel truly sinister. ~Katie.

There is a bit of a love triangle in this story, but I didn't even see it as such until I started to write this sentence.  The relationship between Katie, her childhood sweetheart Elijah, and the new man in her life, Alex, reads as very natural.  Katie has been looking forward to Rumspringa, the time when Amish teens get to experience the outside world for a very long time.  She and Elijah were going to go together.  However, the advent of the vampires changed everything and now because the outside world is too dangerous (the vamps can't come on Amish land - because it is deemed holy) Elijah has opted to be baptized earlier than planned and take his place in the adult community. This causes a rift between Elijah and Katie that is understandable and I couldn't help but sympathize with Katie while understanding Elijah's decision as well. With the arrival of Alex, Katie deals with more decisions.  She also is introduced to another's point of view and maybe begins to understand that there is more than one path to the same Creator.  Basically, to sum all this up, this story includes great theological discussions.

What also tickled me is how Katie would point out things that Outsiders, (okay me) take for granted in society.  For instance, that woman in magazines are obsessed with clothing and horoscopes and sex.  She wonders why there is no mention of other parts of a woman's life such as family, work and their community. Okay, so those magazines are there to sell products, but it shows how she just thinks certain things are more important.

Oh yeah, let's not forget the Horror.  You may be thinking Amish and vampires?  Well it works.  And it works very well.  The reader gets to experience Katie's first encounter with the creatures and the eeriness and fear come across successfully.  It is scary and exciting.  There are other encounters that are frightening as well and a very gory job that Katie has to help with that will not make a sqeamish reader happy.  

The only issues I had with the book was that sometimes I did feel that Katie is too literal. She knows of the outside world so why question everything? Also sometimes the guilt she feels is punctuated too many times, but I guess if you are brought up under such strictness this is understandable and maybe something I cannot relate to.  Also, I feel that the ending was summed up instead of played out and shown to the readers.  However, I started the sequel immediately, so obviously these were just minor issues in the story for me.

Starstruck Over:  The many layers and believable characters of this well written book. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Title/Author: 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

Narrator: Craig Wasson.

Genre:  Speculative Fiction, Sci-Fi.

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Audio.

Source:  Library.

Synopsis:  If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you?  Woud the consequences be what you hoped?

Jake Epping, 35, teaches high-school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and cries reading the brain-damaged janitor's story of childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father.  On his deathbed, pal Al divulges a secret portal to 1958 in his diner back pantry, and enlists Jake to prevent the 11/22/1963 Dallas assassination of American President John F. Kennedy.

Under the alias George Amberson, our hero joins the cigarette-hazed full-flavored world of Elvis rock'n'roll, Negro discrimination, and freeway gas-guzzlers without seat belts.  Will Jake lurk in impoverished immigrant slums beside loner Kee Harvey Oswald, or share small-town friendliness with beautiful high school librarian Sadie Dunhill, the love of his life?  

Midnyte Musings:  Here's a few things I would do if I found a portal to 1958:
-Buy and collect all the Halloween memorabilia and antiques I could. 
-Buy a bunch of cars and put them in a garage and hire someone to start them every few years to keep them running, so that when I came back to the present they would be there waiting for me. If I had enough money, I would also hire someone to buy a lot of classic cars throughout the 60s and 70s to be held for me as well. Ever watch those Barrett's Car Auctions?
-Buy a lot of Beatles memorabilia and maybe even fly to Berlin or wherever they were at that time to meet them.  And probably The Who as well.

But onto Stephen King's vision.  Wow.  Wow, wow, wow.   So much going on. When I first heard about 11/22/63 and the premise, I had thought it would involve the government and agents, secret plots and complicated political intrigues.  I didn't realize it would center around just one man, Jake Epping,  who was attempting to change history.  What a daunting task.  Jake is convinced by his friend Al, that this piece of history must be changed, must be stopped.  That the world would be better if JFK was never assassinated.  But is the vision and intention of one man, even two, absolutely certain?  The fact that Jake is convinced is the impetus of the story and his life as he finds it between 1958 and 1963 is the meat of the story.  He builds a life for himself during this time all the while, keeping up with the comings and goings of Lee Harvey Oswald. 

The concepts are interesting, at times existential. It's not about time travel, it's about different realities. The narrator keeps repeating that the past is obdurate, meaning it doesn't want to change. This is apparent in the the coincidences that occur, in the resistance of manipulating events. Our reality is what we have experienced, as individuals and as a population.  Major events I would want to change would be The Holacaust and 9/11.  But if I managed to do that, what would I then be putting into motion?

Of course there is the typical detailed descriptions and backstory that King is known for. Although in a lot of King books I wonder if I need to know so much, in 11/22/63, the details seemed more pertinent.  The taste of a root beer in 1958, the flavor of the air.  The cost of living and the descriptions of cars and the landscape.  Did King need all that "filler?"  Certainly.  Because Jake's life really began when he went back to 1958, when he found a purpose.  All the richness of his life and what he went through for others adds to the rich tapestry of the story.

When I saw Stephen King speak in Connecticut, he said that 11/22/63 is a love story.  I can definitely see that.  And to me it epitomizes that it's a love story because of the sacrifice.  The love story in my eyes is not epic.  It's quiet and nurturing.  Jake shows his love by standing by Katie, by taking care of her and caring for her.   I don't want to give too much away, but the end had to happen the way it did. In typical King fashion, it left me heartbroken and thinking about it long after I closed the book. 

Narration:  Once again, King has provided a stunning narrator.  The story is told in Epping's first person POV and he is likeable and relatable.  There is nothing forced about his speech, even female voices.  What I loved was the self deprecating chuckles throughout.

Starstruck Over:  It's a beautiful story.  It's a tragic story.  It's an epic story.   Not just for King fans.

Other Editions:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Game of Thrones -- Different (if not "Better") on Paper.

Pop literature makes for great film and TV fodder. Producers love that there is already a built-in following for whatever book series, and much of the conceptual “heavy lifting” (with respect to the writing) has already been done. The die-hard fans, whether they love or hate the adaptation of their favorite book, are sure to talk, blog, and Tweet about their feelings, thereby doing their part, conscientiously or inadvertently, to boost hype around the show.

Game of Thrones is an interesting case-study. It began as a book series from author George R.R. Martin, and has gone on to become an immensely popular television program on HBO. Rabid fans of the show eagerly awaited the premiere of the  fourth season on April 6th, and newbies can get acquainted with the show by watching their own private marathon, if they’d like, thanks to online video streaming (click here to find previous episodes).While there is considerable hype surrounding the series, many fans of the original novels have taken issue with the show deviating from the books in certain ways.

Certain narrative subtleties from the books have been more overt in the series, presumably for the sake of clarity and accessibility. For instance, while the books hint at a romantic relationship between the characters Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell (played by Gethin Anthony and Finn Jones in the show, respectively), the HBO series made no effort to conceal this fact - if anything, the show was intentionally blatant about there being a love interest between the two characters.

Another key difference between the books and the show is the age range of central characters. For instance, the characters Jon and Rob are said to be 14 in the books, but they are 17 on the show. Rickon is three in the books, but double that in the show. It does stand to reason, given all of the sexuality latent within the books, that older actors would be recruited. Underage actors and simulated sex on TV are a major league “no no” even for controversy-courting networks like HBO.

One of the more curious gaps, though, between the books and the show, is the character of Lady Tasila, who exists in the show as a substitute for the character Lady Jeyne Westerling, who, in the book, is a nurse who first meets Robb on the battlefields. George R.R. Martin helped to provide justification for this in an interview panel, saying that the very nature of the character changed organically as they began to flesh her out for the sake of the TV show - bear in mind, that Jeyne Westerling was out of the picture for most of the books. It was decided that they character needed more screen time, and she “evolved” into Tasila, a character who is better suited the TV adaptation.

But, this is all to be expected! Different devices serve different art forms. Literature allows for a level of introspection and contemplation that TV simply can’t. For all their similarities, the two forms are markedly different. TV is all about ephemeral exposures, and stories which keep a pace that’s rapid enough to sustain the interest of a modern viewer. TV, traditionally, is not a medium which lends itself to subtlety. It lends itself to content that is overt, instantly gratifying, and over-stimulating. And now that more and more viewers are watching TV content on the internet, the producers have to be even more cautious, as the internet is infinitely more ephemeral and distracting than television.

However, the fans should try to remember that the true magic of the written word is its power to evoke imagery.  There's always a high degree of mediation that takes place between reading and constructing a teleplay, and the purest relationship you'll ever be able to have with of text is what you have when you sit down to read it.  And remember also, if you were to set about adapting a book for a TV show, it's likely that you yourself would interpret things in a way that would irritate other fans of the books.  

Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, culture, and lifestyle blogger. He lives and works in Chicago. When not working he can be found camped out in his apartment watching the latest films and newest television shows.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

She Walks in Darkness.

Title/Author:  She Walks in Darkness by Evangeline Walton.

Genre: Thriller.

Publisher: Tachyon Publications.

Source:  Purchased.

Synopsis:  A gorgeous Tuscan villa harboring a terrible secret houses this original harrowing adventure of ancient mystery and modern intrigue.

Archaelogist Richard Keyes and his resourceful young bride, Barbara, are expecting a blissful honeymoon in a welcoming new country.  But from the moment they arrive in their secluded new home, circumstances conspire against them.  A car crash leaves Richard lying unconscious in a bed surrounded by frescoes of a benevolent goddess, while a far more sinister deity in the courtyard seems to gain power in the night.

Meanwhile, in Barbara's hour of need, a beautiful, young Tuscan appears, and she is drawn to his seductive charms.  A conflict has been reawakened after generations of sacrifice, betrayal, and madness, and the key to the mystery lies in the catacombs under the villa.

Midnyte Musings:  She Walks in Darkness is a newly discovered manuscript and an automatic purchase for me since I love all of Walton's books.  I'm not sure this is a book I would normally pick up from the synopsis and I have to admit I wasn't as enamored of it as I had hoped to be.  However, it's a good little mystery and I did like Barbara, the main female protagonist.  She is smart and brave in the face of danger and does all she can to keep her husband safe. 

What I also liked about her is her honesty with herself.  She admits to being attracted to another man other than her husband (and on her honeymoon no less) in a precarious situation and she doesn't know if she can even trust this stranger.  She uses her wits and what she has learned form her archaeologist husband to observe all she can in the villa that is on the site of an ancient temple and has a history that is almost palpable, making the location a character in itself.

At times this book reminded me of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, not so much in the plot but in the style of the writing.  It is interesting to me because they were all female writers from the early to mid century.  

Starstruck Over:  I'm happy that I was able to read another work by a favorite author.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Title/Author:  Innocence by Dean Koontz.

Narrator: MacLeod Andrews

Genre: Fantasy.

Publisher:  Brilliance Audio.

Source:  Library.

Synopsis:  He lives in solitude beneath the city, an exile from society, which will destroy him if he is ever seen.
She dwells in seclusion, a fugitive from enemies who will do her harm if she is ever found.

But the bond between them runs deeper than the tragedies that have scarred their lives.  Something more than chance - and nothing less than destiny - has brought them together in a world whose hour of reckoning is fast approaching. 

Midnyte Musings:  I was pleased to see a new audio book by Koontz at my library and although I have mixed feelings about Innocence, it was fun, kept me guessing and reminded me a bit of old Dean Koontz.

There is definitely a creepy, supernatural vibe going on and as a reader, I felt the underlying tone of mystery throughout the story. Things are not what they seem in Innocence and secret after secret is revealed to show the reader a fantastical and kind of whimsical world.   Addison Goodheart (yes, that's his name) must hide from the world because everyone who sees him is overcome by his appearance and tries to hurt him.  His own mother tried to kill him several times until at last, she simply turned him out at eight years old.  Addison finds a man who has the same issue he does and they hide and exist in a subterranean dwelling only venturing out for food runs.

On one excursion, Addison runs into a beautiful girl, named Gwynneth, with her own issues.  She has social anxiety, and therefore is just as isolated as Addison. Unfortunately, she is running from the man who killed her father and wants to destroy her.

To top it off, the threat of a viral contagion that will wipe out humanity is breaking out in the city where Addison and Gwynn live and they will also discover their lives are more intertwined than they knew as events unfold.

I feel that Koontz takes great liberties with his stories in the fact that the characters are over the top, the situations really far-fetched.  I mean really, Dean Koontz can write whatever he likes.  On the one hand, I feel that Innocence works, because it is crafted in such a way where the over the top situations and characters are believable and fun.  Maybe it's because the story started out with the over-the-topness as opposed to inserting it into a real situation.

However, on the other hand, as with a lot of Koontz books, there is a LOT of explanation and a few things that I felt were not played out logically. What was that knocking in Gwynn's attic?  What was up with the clears and the fogs?  I also felt that the marionnette plot device was amazing and would have liked to have seen an entire book written around that premise, not just touched upon.  There are several elements in this story that are hard to swallow. 

Narration:  I liked the narration.  He did Gwynn's voice well, no falsetto.  The villain, Ryan Telferd, was exceptional and carried smugness and arrogance.  Many characters really seemed like different people reading.  

Constellation of Characters:
Addison Goodheart - The male main character, who is so loving and forgiving although all of mankind wants to kill him when they see him. 

Gwynneth - Addison's love interest.  She is his perfect Eve to his Adam, but first must overcome a few obstacles of her own. 

Starstruck Over:  I don't know if I would really recommend this book, but for the most part I enjoyed the fun and the fantasy of the story.  

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