The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

General information

The book is a collection of mythopoeic works which was edited and published after Tolkien’s death by his son, Christopher Tolkien, with assistance from Guy Gavriel Kay in 1977. The book comprises five parts which were initially separate works. They are as follows:

1. Ainulindalë (tells of the creation of Eä, the “world that is”)

2. Valaquenta (gives a description of the Valar and Maiar, the supernatural powers in Eä)

3. Quenta Silmarillion (divided into twenty-four sub-chapters; which forms the bulk of the collection, chronicles the history of the events before and during the First Age)

4. Akallabêth (relates the history of the Downfall of Númenor and its people, which takes place in the Second Age)

5. Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age (is a brief account of the circumstances which led to and were presented in The Lord of the Rings)


 

 

 

 

 

 

Plot overview

The plot of ‘The Silmarillion’ is very complex and incorporates numerous details of vast importance. That’s why I’ve decided not to write it by myself. Just click on the part of your interest and read a thorough description of the chapter.

1. Ainulindalë

2. Valaquenta

3. Quenta Silmarillion

– Of the Beginning of Days

– Of Aulë and Yavanna

– Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

 Of Thingol and Melian

– Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Edalië

– Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor

 Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor

– Of the Darkening of Valinor

 Of the Flight of the Noldor

– Of the Sindar

 Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor

– Of Men

– Of the Return of the Noldor

– Of Beleriand and Its Realms

 Of the Noldor in Beleriand

– Of Maeglin

– Of the Coming of Men into the West

– Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin

– Of Beren and Lúthien

– Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad

– Of Túrin Turambar

 Of the Ruin of Doriath

 Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin

– Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath

4. Akallabêth

5. Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Review

If I were to think of one word describing the book, it would be definitely the word “challenging”. Personally, I regard Tolkien as the master of confusing the reader with names of places and protagonists, diverse events incorporated in his stories and, of course, the language used in his works. ‘The Silmarilion’ is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. Not at all. The story which came into being thanks to Tolkien is very interesting and engrossing. However, the style of writing and presenting ideas doesn’t let the reader just sit, relax and read. It requires a lot of focus, cause if one doesn’t pay attention, they may get lost very easily. During my first attempt to read the book I had to re-read some pages, or even chapters, to be able to follow the story. But one thing for sure, Tolkien’s imagination was limitless. All the worlds he created, characters he brought to life… that’s really amazing and impressive. That’s why I like his works, even if they’re hard to read. Cause thanks to him I can move to a completely different world, co-exist with characters in a totally diverse reality. So, if you like the world of fantasy and if you have enough patience and are able to really focus on reading, ‘The Silmarillion’ should be a good choice.

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

” The Historian amounts to something profound… We encounter obsession, possession and the struggle against the brevity of life. It is an exploration of the eternal desire for intimacy”

– Saffron Burrows, London Times

“Brooding and atmospheric… Kostova has re-created a Dracula every bit as horrifying and as terrible as when the bloodsucking vampire first became fixed in popular culture with Bram Stoker’s celebrated telling of the tale in 1897… In the end, Kostova may have outdone Stoker”

– Carol Memmott, USA Today

General information

‘The Historian’ is a debut novel by an American writer Elizabeth Kostova, published in 2005 by Little, Brown and Company, a publishing house established by Charles Coffin Little and James Brown. Author’s idea for the book was based on stories about Dracula told by Kostova’s father when she was a child. She worked on a book for ten years and it was sold within few months to the publishing house mentioned above. The novel may be classified as Gothic novel, adventure novel, detective fiction, postmodern historical novel or historical thriller. The book presents history’s role in society, the importance of books, the nature of good and evil as well as the relationship between the Christian West and Islamic East.

Awards:

1. Hopwood Award for Novel-in-progress in 2003 (winner)

2. Quill Award for Debut Author of the Year in 2005 (winner)

3. International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2005 (nominated)

4. Book Sense Award for Best Adult Fiction in 2006 (winner)

Plot overview

Part one: 1930. Bartholomew  Rossi, a graduate student in history, finds a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. Through diligent research at Oxford and Istanbul, he discovers that Dracula (or rather, the historical figure, Vlad the Impaler, on whom Dracula is partially based) is alive, hiding in a secret tomb somewhere in Europe. However, as Rossi pursues this information, people close to him begin to die of violence and blood loss. He ultimately decides it is too dangerous to push any further, and goes back to his usual life at school.

Part two: mid 1950’s. Paul, another graduate student in history, finds a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. He takes it to his mentor, Bartholomew Rossi, who shows Paul his book and recounts some of the events in plot one. Then Rossi disappears, leaving only evidence of a violent and bloody fight. Paul becomes convinced that Rossi has been kidnapped by Dracula and taken back to his hidden tomb for some unknown evil purpose.

He joins forces with Helen, another student who turns out to be Rossi’s illegitimate daughter from a trip Rossi took to Romania in 1930 to search for Dracula’s tomb. (Rossi was given a potion to force him to forget this part of the trip, and thus abandoned Helen and her mother.) Paul and Helen, pursued by an “evil librarian” vampire, search museums, monasteries and libraries in Istanbul and Cold War Eastern Europe for clues to the location to the tomb in a frantic attempt to rescue Rossi. They finally find the tomb in Hungary, but too late: Dracula has fled and Rossi has received the three bites which doom him to become one of the Undead compelled to serve the master vampire. (Dracula kidnapped Rossi because of Rossi’s intelligence and persistence, intending to force Rossi to become…the curator of Dracula’s extensive library.)

With terrible grief, Paul and Helen drive a stake through his heart to spare him that awful fate. In the course of plot two we learn: a) Dracula is the one leaving the mysterious books to students, in order to find brave and brilliant scholars; b) Helen is a direct descendent of Dracula; c) Helen has been bitten twice and carries the vampire taint, although she is not yet one of the undead; and d) Paul and Helen fall in love and become the parents of the narrator of plot three.

Part three: mid 1970’s. Paul and Helen’s eighteen year old daughter narrates. She has been raised by her father; her mother died, apparently of suicide, when she was a baby. She finds her father’s dragon book in his study, and her father slowly tells her, through stories and letters, the events of plot one and two. In the midst of this, he leaves abruptly; she learns he is going to an ancient monastery in France to confront Dracula and rescue her mother, who is really alive and has been hunting the vampire all these years. She follows him to help; most of the book unfolds as she reads letters on the long train ride from England to France. She and her father confront Dracula, and are about to be destroyed when Helen arrives and shoots him through the heart with a silver bullet, reducing him to dust. The family is reunited and lives happily for many years.

Postscript: Present day: The narrator, now a respected professor of history, goes to Philadelphia to look at Bram Stoker’s notes for the book, “Dracula”. As she is leaving, she discovers in her briefcase a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. (Yes, another one.) As she recoils, we end with a description of Vlad Dracul in medieval times, planning his eternal life and eventual world domination (and, presumably, extensive book collecting). (taken from http://www.thebookspoiler.com)

Review

‘The Historian’ is definitely and undeniably one of my favourite novels ever. It was love at first reading. However, I’ll start with one negative thing about the book (the only one I can think of). It requires some patience at the beginning, since until the story gets its pace, it seems to be a little boring and confusing. But when you get into the world which the author created, you’ll become lost in pages until you reach the very last of them. What I liked about the novel, and what can be regarded as a drawback by some readers, is its complexity. It refers to both the protagonists and the plot itself. Kostova incorporated not only fictional characters into her novel, but also real ones. It makes the story more reliable and definitely more interesting. When it comes to the plot, the way the author composed her story is simply amazing. It’s a multi-level construction involving several stories of the main characters. What is interesting, these individual plots float around the same topic and are joined together at the end. This “story within a story”  device used by Kostova makes the book dynamic and puts it on a higher literary level. I really appreciate historical facts and characters which the author made use of. Thanks to this, the book has not only an entertaining function, but also an educational one thanks to which readers get to know the world used as a setting for the plot as it actually was. Finally, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t mention the atmosphere of the novel. Supernatural elements, mysterious places and events, unsolved puzzles, evil standing just behind characters’ backs… that’s what I always seek in books. That’s what makes me want to read one more chapter, and one more… until my eyelids start falling.

Here’s an online audiobook which I’ve found. I’ll put only Part One here. The rest of them are on the same site. Enjoy 🙂

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Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

General information 

The novel was written by an American writer Ira Levin and published in 1967. It is considered to be the classic when it comes to horror genre and the best-selling horror novel of the 1960s (over four million copies sold). The author found his inspiration in the Church of Satan founded in 1966 by Anton La Vey.

Plot overview

The novel presents the story of a married couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, after they move to Bramford, an old, Gothic apartment building. The place has a disturbing history involving witchcraft and murder, however, the housewife and her husband overlook this fact and are very excited about their new flat. Soon after moving in they meet their new neighbours, Minnie and Roman Castevet, who turn out to be an eccentric elderly couple. Although Rosemary is a bit suspicious of her neighbours, Guy seems to get on very well with them and spends more and more time in their company. As the time goes by Guy’s life suddenly starts to change, and so does his attitude towards family life. His bad luck on a professional field appears to be over after his theatrical rival goes blind and Guy takes his part. He also changes his mind when it comes to having babies (before, he wanted to wait for establishment). Finally, Rosemary gets pregnant, however, it takes place in mysterious circumstances. After that, Minnie gets strangely overprotective and starts to snoop on the pregnant woman. With her friend’s help, Rosemary realises that her neighbours are leaders of a Satanic coven and want to sacrifice her child after it’s born. However, no one seems to believe her. Even her husband thinks she’s lost her mind. After she finds out that she was wrong about Minnie and Roman’s plans, she discovers that the truth is even more horrific. It turns out that the baby she carries is Satan’s child, who is supposed to be brought to this world to rule and cover the earth with chaos.

Review

I’ve always been into books involving motifs of religion, good vs. evil, supernatural etc. and I regard ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ as a classic as long as this literary genre is concerned. Why? First of all, because of the atmosphere the book has. It’s not this kind of overwhelming horror, with too many “scary” moments which after all turn out to be rather funny and ridiculous than horrifying. The way the author describes the surrounding, presents characters (especially the baddies) is enough to give you goose bumps from time to time. There doesn’t need to be a monster behind every corner to make a good horror novel. What’s more, the suspense increases with every few pages until a reader can’t hold any longer and wants to finally discover the truth, solve the mystery. In my opinion, the plot is quite daring. A woman giving birth to the Antichrist is very likely to be found scandalous. However, it cannot be denied that Levin’s novel somehow gave birth to this kind of writing. Various writers have found their inspiration in this ’67 horror. What I liked most about this novel is the main protagonist. a scared to death woman, who is left alone in a situation she finds very hard to comprehend. However, she doesn’t give up, doesn’t let her fears take control over her. She fights for her own life and for her baby’s. She turns out to be an extremely strong person who unconditionally loves her son, even after the truth about his real nature is revealed. I strongly recommend this novel to everyone, not only horror lovers, since it’s rightly called a classic.

The novel was made into a film in 1968, directed by Roman Polański (a Polish director born in France). The cast included Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer. Below you can take a look at the trailer.

You can also listen to a famous lullaby from the film. It was created by a Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda and in the original version the voice belonged to Mia Farrow.

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

General information

The debut novel and New York Times Bestseller,International Bestseller and Booksense 76 selection hailed by Esquire as “audacious and captivating” and by The Boston Globe as “a preternaturally accomplished book as wise as it is entertaining.” Chosen by New York Public Library as one of 2003’s 25 Books to Remember (taken from www.matthewpearl.com). The novel was published in the United States in 2003 and quickly reached the top of several best-seller lists. The book is classified as a mystery novel and the plot is mainly fictional, although the main protagonists are real, as are many of their biographical details.  

Plot overview

The action takes place in 1865 Boston. The group of highly respectable men – poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and publisher J. T. Fields set up a group which aims to provide the first American translation of ‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri. They call themselves Dante Club and are not only translators of the Italian masterpiece, but also true followers of its author. However, they bump into some obstacles on their way to introduce Dante to American society. One of the members of Harvard society – Augustus Manning wants to prevent the Club from revealing Dante’s description of a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. However, the worst is yet to come. A series of mysterious murders takes place in Boston and Cambridge. As the time goes by, the members of Dante Club realise that the ways victims were murdered had been based on punishments described in Dante’s Hell (Inferno). The group of friends start their own, secret investigation and try to stop the killer. They find an ally in Nicholas Rey, the first black member of the police department in Boston, and they get closer and closer to puzzle out the mystery. The answer turns out to be closer than they could have thought.

Review

I’ve read the following novel twice and each time my impression was exactly the same. It has everything that a high quality novel ought to have. It is interesting, very engrossing, mysterious and plausible due to its historical background and real characters incorporated into the plot. From the very beginning the author activates readers’ imagination and makes them start their own investigation, come up with their own solutions.  While going through pages I wasn’t just reading some story about some people written by some author. No. I felt as if I’d been the part of the story, as if I’d participated in the events. That’s what I love about books. Their power to move you to a different world, some other reality coexisting with the one you live in. What is more, I like when an author builds up the plot around some other literary works, incorporates other books into his own story. When it comes to ‘The Dante Club’, the author decides to utilize an Italian masterpiece by Dante Alighieri – ‘The Divine Comedy’ which I personally regard as a must read book. Finally, what is crucial when it comes to mystery novels – the ending. Pearl makes readers wait till the very end before he reveals the truth, which makes the book surprising and increases its value. All in all, I highly recommend ‘The Dante Club’. The time spent on reading this novel definitely won’t be wasted.

 

Matthew Pearl was interviewed about The Dante Club on the NPR national radio show “Weekend Edition Sunday” with guest host Linda Wertheimer. You can listen to the interview online HERE

 

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The Painter of Battles by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

  General information

‘The Painter of Battles’ (original title: ‘El Pintor de Batallas’), written by a well-known Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte, was published in 2006. It was considered to be one of the biggest literary events in Spain, since the author is highly respectable and admired and his novels have gained numerous fans, both Spanish and international, over the years. After such novels as ‘The Flanders Panel’ (1990) or ‘The Club Dumas’ (1993) readers had high expectations and waited impatiently to get lost in pages filled with reality created by the author once more.

Plot overview

Andrés Faulques, the main protagonist of the novel, used to work as a war photographer. His photos were supposed to reflect hardships, tragedies, evil and anguish brought by wars as well as the most primitive human instincts. He was unresponsive to suffering of individuals and what was of vast importance for him was to reach the only aim he had – presenting the cruelty of war as precisely as he could. He didn’t want to change the world, he wasn’t even influenced by all the horrid images he’d been exposed to. A turning point in his professional and personal life was the death of his beloved Olvido, a photographer who died after treading on a mine. Faulques gave up his job, bought a tower by the sea and decided to create a painting on its walls. The painting which depicted a battle, but not just an ordinary one. It was supposed to be the quintessence of all wars and battles. However, his isolated, little world was violated by Ivo, a stranger who turned out to be one of the people Falques had presented in his photographs. The man claimed that photographer’s impassive attitude and the presence of the camera in the middle of ongoing tragedies made him lose his sense of existence. Ivo decided to find Falques, pass judgement and finally punish the reporter by killing him. However, before he put his plans into practice, the accuser wanted to understand the photographer’s way of thinking, the motives of his behaviour. It led the two men to start a metaphorical journey through diverse aspects of life and art, in order to comprehend the sense of one’s existence.

Review

I adore and really admire Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s literary skills and find his writing style very interesting. ‘The Flanders Panel’  or ‘The Club Dumas’ are ones of my favourite books ever and after reading a few positive reviews concerning ‘The Painter Of Battles’ I hoped it would be a good choice. However, I was highly disappointed, since the novel didn’t live up to my expectations. It turned out to be a boring, elaborate set of descriptions, which made the book lame and lacking in action and dynamism. Not enough dialogues made the novel monotonous and difficult to follow. While reading I had an impression that the plot wouldn’t lead anywhere and I was really overwhelmed by a descriptive tenor dominating in the novel. I guess every author, even the best one, has some weak moments from time to time. For me, ‘The Painter Of Battles’ is a good example of that.

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The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

General information 

The novel (an original title ‘El Club Dumas’) was written by a Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte and published in 1993 (Spanish) and 1996 (English). It is considered to belong to a crime/mystery novel genre. The novel served as an inspiration for Roman Polański (a Polish film director) who created a film based on it – ‘The Ninth Gate’ (1999).

Plot overview 

Lucas Corso, a book-dealer specializing in getting rare and valuable editions for anonymous buyers, acquires a previously unknown tale from ‘The Three Musketeers’ called ‘The Anjou Wine‘ and tries to check its authenticity. The manuscript was given to Flavio La Ponte, a bibliophile and Corso’s friend, by Enrique Taillefer who commited mysterious suicide right after giving away his book. In the meantime, Corso is given another task to accomplish. Varo Bojra, a collector of occult books, employs him to find and check authenticity of two remaining copies of the book he owns – ‘The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows’ which is supposed to contain a formula for summoning the devil. Corso’s investigation leads him to diverse places in Spain, Portugal and France and makes him discover mysterious and dark facts about the book, as well as face a serious danger. His “mission” and intriguing characters he encounters bear a strong resemblance to the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Soon, the reality, the story of ‘The Three Musketeers’ and the mystery of  ‘The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows’ start to intertwine and Corso does not realise that his role in the events was preplanned and is of vast importance…

 Review

Personally, I consider this novel to be one of the best I have ever read. I am very fond of books which incorporate elements of mystery, supernatural, evil forces and history. ‘The Club Dumas’ has all of them. What I like the most about it is its atmosphere, intriguing, scary, but at the same time funny in a couple of scenes.

The plot is quite complicated and consists of various events which mix with each other and make a very engrossing whole. At times, the plot is quite hard to follow and it requires paying a lot of attention. It is not a book that you can take and read without being focused. But I regard it as an advantage of ‘The Club Dumas’ because this
complexity is not overwhelming and makes the novel more interesting and sophisticated.

The only drawback of the novel that I can think of is predictability. Sometimes it was easy to guess what will happen next, so I simply missed the element of surprise. However, all in all, I find the book worth reading and I will definitely get lost in its pages again and again.

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Introduction

The novel was written by an English writer Diana Gabaldon and published by Dell Books on June 1, 1991. The book came into being accidentally, as an experiment. As Gabaldon claims “I decided to write a novel for practice, in order a) to learn what it took to write a novel, and b) to decide whether I really wanted to do that for real.” (Source: http://www.dianagabaldon.com). It is quite hard to classify the novel by a single genre, since it incorporates elements coming from diverse literary categories. The author describes her work in the following way: ” Frankly, I have never been able to describe this book in twenty-five words or less, and neither has anyone else in the twenty years since it was first published. I have seen it (and the rest of the series) sold—with evident success—as <deep breath> Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical NON-fiction (Really. Well, they are very accurate), Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Military History (No, honest), Gay and Lesbian Fiction, and…Horror. (Really! One of my books beat both George R.R. Martin and Stephen King for a Quill Award in 2006.) Anyway, the only way I have ever found of describing this book to anyone is to begin telling them the story.” (Source: http://www.dianagabaldon.com). The novel is the first book in the Outlander series, which encompasses the following works:

1. Outlander (1991)

2. Dragonfly In Amber (1992)

3. Voyager (1994)

4. Drums Of Autumn (1997)

5. The Fiery Cross (2001)

6. A Breath Of Snow And Ashes (2005)

7. An Echo In The Bone (2009)

8. Written In My Own Heart’s Blood (will be released in 2013)


 Plot Overview

It is the year 1946, World War II is over and a young, ex-combat nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall spends a second honeymoon with her husband Frank, who was in the army as well and with whom she has been separated for six years, in the Scottish Highlands. The couple want to give their relationship a second life. However, everything turns upside-down when one day Claire takes a walk and comes across a circle of standing stones which are very common in this part of Great Britain. She goes through a cleft in one of the stones and disappears. It turns out that she moves back in time, back into 1743. Scared and confused she meets Jack Randal, a gentleman wearing a 18th-century army officer’s uniform, who looks just like her husband. Later on it turns out that Jack is her husband’s six-times-great-grandfather. He also reveals his true nature of a sadistic bisexual pervert. Claire tries to get out of his hands and accidentally bumps into the group of Highland Scots who are trying to escape from Jack Randal as well. As different events go by, it becomes obvious for Claire that the only way to get out of the hands of the cruel captain is to marry one of the young, Scottish clansmen, Jamie Fraser. Claire tries to escape from her just married man and come back home, to her real husband Frank. Things get complicated when she finds out that she has fallen in love with the young Scot. And here the story starts to roll on…

Review 

When I first got to know the plot overview of this novel I was not very pleased. I immediately categorized it as a lame and boring romance in which the passionate scenes of love would be the most sophisticated aspects of the book.  How positively surprised I was after starting to read it. The novel turned out to be not a low-quality love story, but an interesting mixture of romance, supernatural elements and historical background. The story depicts the 18th century situation in Scotland such as the clan system, Scottish-English conflicts etc. The plot is very engrossing, since it is built up on various subsections which mixed together create one of the most interesting wholes I have ever read.

Gabaldon does not use a sophisticated language, which can be considered lame by a lot of readers. However, for me literary structures she utilizes make the novel very comprehensible and easy to follow. It enables the reader to focus completely on the plot, to get lost in pages. Just like I did.

Outlander is definitely worth recommending. It is not a stereotypical love story which only girls with romantic personality may like. It will satisfy every reader who appreciate diversity and truth that every good book has.

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