The Baltimore series

I just finished reading Baltimore: The Plague Ships, the first volume of the supernatural series by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Steinbeck. The graphic novel is a continuation of the novel Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, written by Mignola and Golden.

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I read the book last year and enjoyed it immensely, which is why I was really excited to get started on this series. You know how, when you read a good book, you wish the story could go on forever? In most cases, you’re left to imagine what happens with the characters after everything that had transpired in the novel. With Baltimore, you get to find out.

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It’s also nice to see the characters illustrated and in full color. Steinbeck’s art complements the macabre story really well with its gothic vibe.

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Reading it at night makes the experience that much more enjoyable too.

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As with his other works, Mignola managed to make the occult fun without losing its darker aspects. Baltimore is horror mingled with lots of action and enriched by elements of fantasy and mysticism.

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The series is already six volumes in with The Cult of the Red King released last month – a seventh volume entitled Empty Graves is already in the works.

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Overall, volume one did a great job transitioning the story from its written form to the illustrated medium and ended with a good set-up for the next arc. But as enjoyable as it was, I get the feeling the creators were only getting warmed up when they made it. I’m excited for volume two and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how far they can take the Baltimore mythos.

A year in books

It’s hard to believe I only started reading novels as a hobby two years ago. I wasn’t much of a book lover when I was still studying and the only novels I read back then were those that were required for English class. I didn’t even finish most of the books that were assigned to us and I was happy enough to get all the details I needed from online summaries (yes, I have a shameful past). It’s not that I hated reading, but anything that was required for school simply lost its charm. Luckily, however, I picked up the habit a few years down the road, and here I am tearing through as much fiction as I can.

I finished 10 novels in 2014 – a big improvement considering I spent several years prior with an annual book count of zero. When the year ended, I was determined to read more. I felt that although  I had read so much, there are still so many stories to enjoy; so many treasures waiting to be discovered.

These days I often find myself standing in the middle of bookstores wondering if I’ll have enough time to read every book I want to read. There are just so many stories! And I want to read as many of them as I can. So for this year, I set out to finish one novel for each month, and I’m happy to say I was able to accomplish my goal. Here’s a look at the twelve books that made my 2015 amazing.

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Book #1 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

I had a lot of fun with this one, and I imagine anyone who was ever a boy would, too. Tom Sawyer is a classic tale about a boy who did everything a juvenile male would; from escaping chores and corporal punishment, to roughhousing, to flirting with schoolgirls and getting into all sorts of trouble. Twain’s work is the embodiment of “boys being boys.”

Book #2 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Do not let the bad film adaptations dissuade you from picking up this novel. Shelley’s masterpiece, hailed as one of the cornerstones of science fiction, makes for an entertaining read. This cleverly written novel cautions against the sin of hubris and the dangers of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Read: Beyond pitchforks and torches

Book #3 – The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is why I don’t let classifications such as “children’s literature” deter me from picking up books. This illustrated novel is like a silent film on paper. Selznick’s illustrations give life to the story and make for a truly unique reading experience. The story is brilliantly conceptualized and will surely delight you from beginning ‘til end.

Interesting fact: The invention of Hugo Cabret is the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, an award reserved only for picture books.

Book #4 – The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Gangsters, drugs, prostitutes and three unlikely heroes crammed inside a walled city. This fast-paced dystopian fiction will have you turning pages as you follow the protagonists in their struggle to survive Hak Nam and escape the city of criminals before it’s too late.

Book #5 – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Set against the backdrop of 19th century New York, Wecker’s historical fiction is an epic tale that spans a thousand years. This is fantasy done right. I really liked how the author created very human relationships between two magical beings and the people around them. What’s even more amazing is the fact that this is only her first novel. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Wecker’s future works.

Read more about the book and its author here.

Book #6 – Dracula by Bram Stoker

The king of horror stories. Mystery, suspense, adventure and a diabolical villain combine for a thrilling read. As with Frankenstein, no movie adaptation can ever do justice to this classic. Don’t make the mistake of lumping this book together with all the other vampire stories. The amount of creativity and originality that went into this novel is simply mind-blowing, especially if you consider the fact that it was first published in 1897. This book started it all. Literally.

Book #7 – Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Probably the most grueling book I’ve read so far. This is another historical fiction novel that draws on the real-life account of Charles Jamrach, a famous 19th century wildlife dealer, saving a boy from the jaws of an escaped Bengal tiger. The novel crafts a story of survival that revolves around Jaffy Brown, the boy Jamrach saved, who unfortunately gets involved in a failed expedition to capture a dragon.

Book #8 – Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola

This dark fantasy/horror novel from the creator of Hellboy is both thrilling and enchanting. Mignola’s illustrations add to the eerie atmosphere of the book, and you’re sure to find yourself highly engrossed with each chapter. If you like stories of the supernatural, this book is definitely for you.

Read: The Mignola novels

Book #9 – The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The book is about a dystopian world where much of the human population has been wiped out by a fungus that hijacks the brain and turns its victims to flesh eaters – but this isn’t your typical zombie apocalypse. Carey’s work is emotionally charged as it depicts the struggles of the five protagonists to keep, and in some cases, find their humanity amid all the hardships and tough choices they face along the way. I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation.

Book #10 – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This wasn’t the simple, happy family story I expected, and I’m glad for it. Alcott’s novel is more than the story of four daughters growing up. In its own way, it perfectly depicts life and all its twists and turns. This coming of age book is a reminder that not all things turn out the way you expect them to. That, in fact, very few things do. But while you may not get what you initially wanted, there could be other happy endings in store for you. This is one book that I’m excited to read again when I get older.

Read: Meet the Marches

Book #11 – The Number 7 by Jessica Lidh

This book caught me by surprise. The early chapters gave me what I would expect from young adult novels, but as the ending drew near, the story progressed to something much deeper. The closing chapters made me wish I could read more about the Magnusson family, but at the same time the length of the entire novel felt just right. Teenage problems and a mystery rooted in the protagonist’s family history make this an entertaining read.

Book #12 – Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Who wouldn’t want to read about a magical circus? Reading this novel was a complete joy from start to finish. It’s one of those books that, if you didn’t run out of pages, you’d just keep on reading. Finishing it almost felt like being in a real circus and not wanting to leave even when the show’s over.

And there you have it; 12 books in 12 months! As great as this year was, I’m hoping to read much, much more in 2016. There are so many classics that I have yet to get acquainted with and even more new authors who are putting out brilliant stories on the shelves. It’s definitely a good time to be a bibliophile.

 

Author’s note: Since this is a year-end post, I’d like to take the opportunity to send a big THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to check out my blog. I’m quite new at this and having people take interest in the things I share is such a treat. Always feel free to reach out – I enjoy and appreciate all the comments and exchanges. Have a happy new year, and may your 2016 be filled with adventure and wonder!

The Mignola novels

If you’ve never picked up any of Mike Mignola’s works, you’re definitely missing out. Who is he, you ask? Well, you might have heard of his insanely successful comic book series Hellboy, which already has two big-screen adaptations and countless comic book spinoffs which continue to do extremely well in today’s market. Considering the fact that very few comic book titles even reach issue 100 these days, what he has done with Hellboy, and the world he has built around it, is beyond impressive.

Last weekend I finished reading one of his lesser-known works; an illustrated novel called Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, which he co-wrote with Christopher Golden.

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The story revolves around three strangers who were summoned at a rundown tavern by our protagonist, Lord Henry Baltimore – a soldier who had a run-in with a vampire during an ill-fated campaign which forever changed him. As they await his arrival, the three acquaintances swap tales of their own encounters with evil and how each one came to know Baltimore.

Every chapter is in itself a short story and this makes the book very engaging. Mignola is a genius when it comes to horror/fantasy, borrowing from classical literature as well as folktales and mixing them with his own ideas, creating stories that are both familiar and new. In this novel, Mignola pays homage to classics including Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

And did I mention the book has pictures? Mignola’s art fits the genre so well. His simplistic illustrations and effective use of light and shadows complete the dark atmosphere of the book. Whether he’s drawing monsters, people, buildings or landscapes, his art never fails to enchant his work with his trademark eeriness.

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Baltimore is the first of three illustrated novels by Mignola which was released in 2007 and was later on continued as a comic book series. In 2012, he and Golden released two more illustrated novels: Joe Golem and the Drowning City and Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism. I read Joe Golem a few years back and it was one of the first few novels I read when I was starting to seriously get into books. While Baltimore drew inspiration from the classics, Joe Golem closely resembles Mignola’s Hellboy series, pitting a humanized golem against occult forces and a god-summoning cult leader.

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I have yet to get my hands on the third Mignola novel so for now I’ll be satisfied with the idea that there’s at least one good book that’s still out there waiting for me to snatch it up. Hopefully I’ll find it on one of those random days in a random bookstore at a time when I don’t expect to find anything good. (I love it when that happens.)

You may check out more of Mike Mignola’s art on his amazing website.