A TASTE OF BLOOD WINE by Freda Warrington

5 04 2014

I knew Freda Warrington from The Court of the Midnight King, a story of Richard III set in a somewhat alternative 15th Century England (along with a soupçon of time-slip – just my cup of tea), but for some reason I had never come across this wonderful series of vampire novels.

Blood Wine covers

I borrowed A Taste of Blood Wine from a friend – he was reluctant to lend it but I had spotted it on his bookshelf, read the first couple of pages and was now firmly clutching it to my chest. What could he do? Well yes, I know. Gentlemen are now largely a thing of the past, but I won the fight and hurried home still clutching it, and read deep into the night.

Read! You can sleep when you’re dead!

The story opens with a horrifyingly vivid description of First World War trench warfare during the nightly lull in the fighting. And in the middle of the carnage, a vampire walks unhurriedly through no man’s land, “an impossible apparition to anyone left alive. [...] The dying: he sensed them all around him.”

And there, his “maker”, Kristian, finds him.

We learn that the vampire, Karl, has been hiding from Kristian for the last four years.

‘Why immerse yourself in this horror?’
‘Why not?’ said Karl.
‘Because it’s nothing to do with us, this human mess!’ Kristian struck the ground. ‘We are above it!’
‘Are we?’ Karl feared Kristian, but would never let the fear win. ‘Why shy away from evil, when our kind personifies evil?’ [...]
‘Do not speak of evil, Karl.’ Kristian’s dark eyes gleamed. ‘The only Devil is mankind. This is the very folly for which we should punish them.’

This is the backdrop. Karl, who sympathises with humanity and sees himself as something evil, and Kristian, who regards humankind as evil and himself and his kind as the instrument of God.

Back to “reality”: In London in the early 1920s, the Neville sisters are part of the scene at the Season’s parties and dances. Two of them enjoy it all. The third, Charlotte, does not. She wants only to return to Cambridge, where she works alongside her professor father in his laboratory.

Her father, meanwhile, has taken on a new research assistant: the vampire Karl, once a cellist in Mozart’s Salzburg, but now intent on investigating the mystery of life (and death), hoping he might learn in a laboratory how the interminable might be terminated – his own, or Kristian’s; and also hoping to discover something of the true nature of the other dimension known to vampires as the Crystal Ring that exists alongside the dimension in which mere humans live and die.

And so begins one of the great romances of modern literature: the shy, studious wallflower and the charismatic, unnaturally handsome vampire. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but yes, of course, in the sequel, A Dance in Blood Velvet (which I rushed out and bought) Charlotte is a vampire – self-assured now, and living the life of a vampire millionaire with Karl. Home is a secluded chateau in one of the most beautiful parts of Switzerland, and by travelling via the Crystal Ring they can be anywhere in minutes, dining in, say, Venice, before attending the opera in, say, Vienna.

Things can only go wrong, and, of course, they do.

The second book is slower than the first, but still gripping and full of the unexpected – including a ballet dancer, Violette, who is just too perfect to be entirely human, and a couple of rather unsavoury human mages (I won’t call them witches, I’m sorry, for me witches will always be women) who have power even over vampires.

Now I am looking forward to reading the the third book, The Dark Blood of Poppies, which apparently focuses once more on the magical dancer, Violette.

PS What I wrote up there – “Read! You can sleep when you’re dead!”


But can we? Books like this one – and there are so many stories around at the moment of those who have indeed shuffled off this mortal coil – always make me think of Shakespeare’s “To die, to sleep … to sleep?

What Makes MY Heart Sink …

31 03 2014


On the site  WriteWords.org.uk  I came across an article entitled “What makes your heart sink?”

It was actually a kind of survey, a variety of editors and agents answering just that question: What makes your heart sink? – when you glance (condescendingly, bien entendu) at a submission.

The editor of The London Magazine produced this gem: “Bad grammer [sic] or presentation, lazy or unoriginal content. Derivative drivel really annoys me.”

And what made the editor or whoever at Poolbeg Press’s heart sink? I quote: “A badly presented manuscript! One that has an indecipherable handwritten scrawl threatening me that if I don’t respond in 24 hours we’ll loose [sic] a great opportunity.”


28 03 2014

Past Lives Present Dreams coverDenise Linn was one of the first to popularise the whole modern (and I suppose by that I mean Western) approach to reincarnation: learning how to recall one’s past lives and perhaps also undergoing past-life therapy either by oneself or with the help of a professional past-life therapist. She is a writer and lecturer to whom many (if not all) more recent writers on this topic are indebted.

This does not mean that I, or any other student of reincarnation, is going to agree with everything she says. Personally, I take issue with her on several points.

Let’s start though, as she does, with her being knocked off her motorbike by a man in a car who then got out of his car, aimed a gun at her, and shot her. Miraculously, she survived. But the Near Death Experience she describes in detail changed her life, and led directly to her subsequent studies with teachers and gurus as diverse as Zen Buddhist monks, a Hawaian shaman, a Japanese Grand Master of Reiki, and a wise old Native American named Dancing Feather.

The best part of the book is perhaps the chapter on How to Recall a Past Life, which includes a section of Past Life Clues under eighteen different heads ranging from Childhood Games to Food Preferences to Books and Movies, and of course including Déjà Vu Experiences, Personality Traits, Fears and Phobias, and Dreams (as in the title). (If it had been me writing, I would have at least mentioned aptitude for particular foreign languages, which I consider one of the most significant clues.) In the same chapter there is a section on Visualization Technique with a whole series of “different methods that can help you make a successful transition”. Of these, I particularly like the “time tunnel”, the “river of time” and the ‘room of doors”; the method she calls the “mists of time” was new to me as she sets it out but I have tried it and it works – rather more abruptly and completely than the others, so it should be approached with caution (don’t do it alone first time!). This is followed by an actual script you can either record and play back or get someone to read to you while you set about making the transition.

All this is fine, and as I say, indispensable reading even if much of it has been copied and repeated by other authors.

Where I have trouble is with Denise Linn’s concept of changing the past, a form of past-life therapy she seems to particularly favour. Something that happened in a past life is having a traumatic effect on your current life? Then change it. You weren’t drowned, you survived – you didn’t have an abusive step-father, you had a very kind and loving one – and so on. “I believe that you can actually change the past,” she says, but continues “if this is too much for you to accept, then imagine that you are changing the images that are stored in your brain …”

And then there is the problem of Future Lives. Predestination, and its corollary, possible foreknowledge of the future, is a subject on which the great philosophers of the past have disagreed and modern philosophers still do disagree. I obviously cannot begin to go into it here. I would just like to quote one more line from this book and then leave you to read the whole thing for yourself and make up your own mind.

“The future,” she says, “is as malleable as the past.” Surely it should be much more so? No one has any trouble with the concept of planning the future, it is the concept of planning the past which is difficult to grasp – or to swallow.

SHADE by Emily Devenport

23 03 2014

Shade cover

Shade, the runaway daughter of a long-gone father and an absentee mother – Mom’s a concert pianist, one of the best on Earth – who stowed away on a spaceship in light-years-distant California two years ago and now survives among the other Deadtowners living out of garbage bins on the multi-cultural (hah!) planet of Z’taruh. Why “hah!”? There are various different intelligent species – the Q’rin, the Lirri, and the Aesopians, among others – but not much culture, unless you count combat sports like fighting to the death no-holds-barred, and rat-fights, like cock-fights or dog-fights, but between giant marsh-rats and again always to the death. Oh, and not much sign of intelligence, either.

The only ones she likes are the Aesopians.

Early in the book, she is with a mixed group of assorted humans and sub-humans when somebody calls the Aesopians “ugly bastards” and says they were “made out of household pets”.

‘The Aesopians made themselves,’ I said. God knows why I bothered.
He glared at me. ‘Shut up, bitch.’
‘No one knows what they originally looked like,’ I lectured. ‘They worshipped animals for thousands of years. When their technology was advanced enough, they started playing with their genes, trying to imitate the characteristics of their gods.’
‘Who the fuck cares?’
‘They were more successful than they could have dreamed. Soon the different animal-types could not interbreed. Powerful families began to gain control, and war broke out between the groups. Lion, bear, elephant and wolf stuck together against horse, eagle and cobra. The wars lasted hundreds of years and ravaged the planet. The survivors were thrown into a dark age.’
‘Jezus, somebody shut her up!’

But in Deadtown the mix is rather different. Babies, Scarbabies, Skids, Ragnir vets, G-workers, tinkers, dogs. One big, ugly family, all incestuous and diseased. But all better than the thing I was sitting next to.

The thing she was sitting next to was a Lirri.

Knossos, an Aesopian elephant man, and the only person on the planet – indeed in the entire universe – that she has any time for, tells her:

‘Listen. Whether someone is your friend or your enemy does not depend on the shape of his body or the place he was born.’
‘All right,’ I said. ‘I know.’
And I did. Wasn’t I standing there with the elephant man, respecting him more than I did myself and wishing I could follow him back into hiding?

The book is studded with one-liners you just want to quote, like:

Lately I got the feeling that the people I thought I knew never really existed.


‘How old did you think I was?’ she asked.
‘Eighteen. Nineteen.’
She hugged me like it was some big compliment. It wasn’t. Arrested development isn’t anything to be proud of.


Making music and painting pictures are two of the three things humans do best. Guess what the third is. No, I’m not telling you.

and, talking about war, Knossos tells her: ‘Where there is no conflict, there is no life.’

And what about this? She was looking for Snag, a Q’rin, so she went to the morning rat-fights … Sure enough, he was there by late morning, all bright-eyed about watching his favourite kind of meal hop around and bleed. Remind you of Spain?

35 Things You Should Never Say to a Book Lover

12 03 2014

35 Things You Should Never Say to a Book Lover

  1. I liked the movie version much better.
  2. That’s a pretty big book for such a lil’ lady.
  3. People still read!?!?! OMG LOL ROFL FML OMG OMG #SORRYNOTSORRY
  4. You’ll have to get rid of some of these.
  5. I only bought this book because the cover art has my favorite actor on it.
  6. I ripped out all the pages of a first edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer because Pinterest told me I could use them to decoupage a picture frame.
  7. I haven’t read any of them, but don’t they look awesome on my shelf?
  8. Oh this? I just carry it around because it makes me look smart.
  9. I hate the smell.
  10. Who’s Kurt Vonnegut?
  11. Libraries make me nervous. Too quiet!
  12. I only go to the bookstore for the free wifi.
  13. I’m too hungry to look at the secondhand book table with you. Can we skip it?
  14. Wait. The point of this book club is actually to discuss the book? I thought it was code for wine night!
  15. Nope, can’t wait for you to finish this chapter. We need to discuss my date right now.
  16. I have to read Prawst for class. No, I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s pronounced. It’s Swedish.
  17. Do you really need to pack all these books? We’re only going away for 3 days!
  18. I spilled cranberry juice on it. Sorry.
  19. Sorry. It’s just that even the smallest reading light bothers me.
  20. Print is dead, you know.
  21. We’re sorry. Ikea’s Expedit shelving system is being discontinued.
  22. If you could only have one book to read in the whole wide world, what would it be?
  23. No, we’re sorry. The author has decided not to complete the series.
  24. Did you hear Vin Diesel is gonna play Holden Caulfield?
  25. This bookstore is closing to make way for an Equinox.
  26. You have to be out of your apartment in 3 days.
  27. I use them more as plates than anything else.
  28. That book you lent me? Hmm. I can’t remember where I put it. The last thing I remember was highlighting my favorite parts in pink.
  29. But what ELSE do you want for your birthday?
  30. You read a lot. What’s the name of the author who wrote that book about those things?
  31. Why do you care so much about the spine?!
  32. After you pull out your book: Oh. I thought maybe we could chat while we wait.
  33. Yeah, we met in a bookstore. Can you believe it!? I never go to bookstores—I was only in there buying a coffee!
  34. Put that book down. Let’s play beach volleyball instead!
  35. The next volume in the trilogy will hit shelves May 2019.

With thanks to Barnes & Noble


Some Short Stories from the Highlands

27 02 2014

First an individual writer I found while surfing away an idle moment: Fiona Lang, who lives “in a little cottage with a fine view across the Cromarty Firth”. You can read three stunning short stories of hers HERE.

I think my favourite is We Might Be Lucky, but all three bear the mark of the same artist who can create in less than 500 words a character and a setting that is quite unforgettable.


Cromarty and Cromarty Firth

Cromarty and the Cromarty Firth

And while we’re visiting the Highlands, can I draw your attention to the site of HISSAC, the Highlands & Islands Short Story Association? More amazing stories – you might like to start with this one, First and Last by David Ford. These people are geniuses at painting a picture, creating an atmosphere: in this case, a town, a pub, a drinker. This story reminded me of the 12th-century Archpoet’s

Meum est propositum in taberna mori,
ut sint vina proxima morientis ori.
tunc cantabunt letius angelorum chori:
“Sit Deus propitius huic potatori

(My purpose is to die in a tavern,
so that wine might be close to my dying mouth.
Then a choir of angels will happily sing,
“May God be merciful toward this drinker.”

But where the Archpoet looks at death in a tavern through rose-tinted spectacles, the fitting end to a happy life, David Ford sees it all, the life and the death, through a sheet of cold grey drizzle. The last line of the poem, though,  “May God be merciful toward this drinker,” applies just the same.

You can find it, and some other great short stories HERE.


22 02 2014

Aralorn cover

Two early works by Patricia Briggs (of Mercy Thompson fame), or rather a very early work and a later sequel featuring the same cast of characters in the same alternative fantasy universe.

“Wolf” is a great wolf which Aralorn saves from death in a pit full of spiked stakes in the prologue to the first story, Masques. But Wolf turns out to be a shape-shifter, and the only son of the evil sorcerer who is holding the country in thrall.

It is hard to say much about this book without spoiling it for you, but I loved Aralorn and identified with her immediately. Patricia Briggs describes Masques as bearing all the signs of an early work by an author still learning her craft, as opposed to Wolfsbane, the sequel, written twenty years later. Maybe so,  but I saw little difference. She is still there in that world, still totally at home in it, still completely familiar with each character and scene.

Now I would like a third story, please. Make it a trilogy, Patricia!


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