A post of a different sort

In honor of Veterans Day coming up here in the US, I thought I would depart from my usual urban fantasy reviews and cover something different, Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. I studied US military history at college and I have had to read a lot of books about World War II. This is the best one I have ever read. And the miniseries is amazing.

In case you have not seen the miniseries, Band of Brothers tells the story of Easy Company, 2nd battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry regiment of the 101st Airborne in the US Army. The story starts with the corps group of men in training at Camp Toccoa in Georgia (after the war starts, they often times refer to themselves as Toccoa men to distinguish themselves from the replacements). Their commanding officer is a man by the name of Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer in the miniseries) and he is the epitome of the hated drill instructor. And as much as you love to hate the man as presented, you cannot deny that hating him brought Easy Company together as a unit. Whether or not that was intentional is, I think, up to some debate.

The book goes into detail on their training and just how close the men became, even before being shipped off to England. Easy Company was one of many Airborne divisions that jumped behind the lines at Normandy during D-Day.  The men were scattered as they jumped, some having to bail out of their planes before they were over the landing zone because of heavy flak. Some men lost almost all of their gear, having been forced to put it all in a ridiculous bag that was strapped to their legs by a single thin cord that had a tendency to snap when chutes deployed.

After Normandy was Carentan and after Carentan was the massive failure known as Operation Market Garden. Easy Company had precious little respite during this time and ended up being sent into Bastogne just before the Battle of the Bulge got underway. Easy Company ended up surrounded by the German army with little ammunition and supplies and no winter gear (not good when Christmas was fast approaching).  It was well into January by the time Patton’s 3rd Army rolled into Bastogne to “rescue” the 101st Airborne. My favorite bit about the Bastogne siege was that “no member of the 101st Airborne ever admitted to needing rescuing” (I’m not sure if this is a direct quote or a paraphrase but as a historian it’s better to give Ambrose and or the miniseries writers the credit).

Easy Company continued to follow the front lines, getting little break away from battle. The book and the series does not shy away from the mental toll this took and still takes on these men.  Eventually, though, Easy Company marched into Germany and right up to Berchtesgaden (Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest), one of the bastions of Nazism in Germany. If you were any sort of major player in the Nazi party, you had a home here.

Now I know there are issues and claims of plagiarism on Stephen E. Ambrose but I really hope that it would not take away your enjoyment of this book. It is simply amazing. I also recommend reading Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters (rest in peace Major Winters). Major Winters was Easy Company’s CO starting in Normandy and going until Holland when he got promoted. Even then, he was there on the lines with them. Major Winters wrote his recollections of this same time frame and it is just as good as Band of Brothers. So many thanks to the men and women who have serves in the Armed Forces an any capacity (especially my grandfather, great uncles and current friends). Rating: A. Also, if you haven’t seen the miniseries, DO IT. Be warned that it is graphic but it is amazingly good!

Interview with the Vampire

Well why don’t we start with the classics eh? When I was in junior high, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice was made into a movie. I had not read the book at this point but I wanted to see the movie so bad that my folks ended up renting it for me. On VHS. Man I’m old. 🙂 At any rate, I loved it so much that as soon as I finished it, I watched it again. And then I went out and found the book.

Oh man. What a book. This is probably the quintessential modern vampire book. This book has been the jumping off point for so many fans and writers and I’m just one of them. I always thought that the mark of a truly great writer is someone who, when you read their work, can make you picture what’s going on with such clarity that you feel like you are right there alongside their characters. Anne Rice has this gift as well as some of my other favorite authors like Simon R. Green, Jim Butcher and J.K. Rowling.

The first book in a series, Interview with the Vampire focuses on Louis, a Louisiana plantation owner who lost a wife and baby in birth. It starts in modern San Francisco where Louis finders himself followed by a reporter and decides to speak with the boy. Instead of killing him since the boy seemed to notice something unusual about Louis, he decides to give the reporter his rather long life’s story.

We switch from modern era to colonial times. Depressed from the deaths of his wife and child, Louis tries his damnedest to get his himself killed either with drink or another vice that would lead to violence (gambling, prostitution etc). Lestat is the vampire who sees this and decides that he wants this man, this highly emotional man, as a companion through the centuries. Lestat changes him into a vampire. Louis does not deal well with this.

He tries to live his life as he had before but being unable to go out in the sun really puts a damper on things. The slaves become suspicious of the pair of them. Louis does noting to allay their fears and essentially ends up throwing away his life because of what I can only put as survivors’ guilt. He is still alive, will be for centuries, and his beloved wife and child will never have that chance. Seeing that his companion’s self destructive streak is far from over , Lestat essentially tries to bully him into killing humans. Louis has been feeding on animals up to this point. This plan backfires and makes Louis feel even guiltier, especially when he happens upon young Claudia.

Claudia’s mother dies in a plague that sweeps New Orleans. Louis finds Claudia with the body. Lestat comes upon them and fearing that Louis is set to leave him, turns Claudia into a vampire. Into their daughter. Louis is horrified but simply can’t leave Claudia in the hands of Lestat, despite the fact that she is almost a miniature version of him. She takes to killing appallingly easy.

After many years together however, Claudia comes to the realization that she will never be anything physically other than a six year old girl no matter how much she changes mentally. She figures out that Lestat changed her and it makes her mad. Mad enough to kill him. Well, attempt to at any rate. Lestat survives the initial attempt and comes back for revenge. Louis sets light to their apartments and escapes with Claudia. At this point, they believe Lestat to be truly dead. (spoiler: he isn’t)

The twosome travel to Europe looking for more of their kind as they never found them in America. Initially, they are disappointed because they find vampires that are little more than blood drinking zombies. Its in Paris that they find others much more like them, the Theatre de Vampires. These vampires are actors. They pretend to be humans who are pretending to be vampires and feed on humans in live plays. The humans who attend the plays to be frightened and entertained appear to be none the wiser as there are no pitchforks or torches.

The leader of the Theatre des Vampires is a quietly charming, auburn haired vampire named Armand. Armand is also looking for a companion with a bit more depth of character than his coven of actors. He is immediately attracted to Louis (not sexually really but intellectually). Armand is 400 years old and at this point in the series, he is the oldest vampire that Louis and Claudia have ever met.

Claudia, of course, sees that Louis and Armand get along like a house on fire (no pun intended). She believes, like Lestat once did, that Louis will leave her. She wants a companion of her own, someone to care for her, but she is unable to change someone. She’s either too young or too small to do so. So she forces Louis to change a woman she met, Madeleine, who lost a daughter some time ago, which he does under protest.

Here is where the book differs quite a bit from the movie. In the movie, Lestat does not come back at the end of the movie but here, with the Theatre des Vampires. He survived the fire and went to Armand, making accusations against Louis and Claudia. Armand himself doesn’t do anything but the other vampires abduct the newly minted threesome of vampires. They seal Louis in a coffin to starve for centuries and they set Madeleine and Claudia where they cannot escape the sun. Armand releases Louis the day after Claudia and Madeleine die and he is broken.

Louis takes his revenge by killing the Theatre des Vampires. Armand escapes with Louis and they travel for a while but Louis clearly resents him. They drift apart. From then until sometime in the 20th century, Louis survives on his own until he runs into the boy. Even after all this time, Louis is still hurting and wants to share with someone, anyone, that immortality is not what its cracked up to be. The boy, of course, doesn’t get this and begs to be made a vampire. Louis refuses, going to far as to try and scare the notion out of him with a show of how utterly inhuman vampires are. It doesn’t work and the boy (later we find out that his name is Daniel) tries to find Lestat. He eventually ends up with Armand but that is another story.

Wow, probably my longest review so far. I loved this book. It was the book that got me into fantasy books. If you haven’t, for some reason, read this book you really should. Like right now. Later books in the Vampire Diaries series kind of jump the shark but the first few are well worth the read. Rating: A+

Quick Post

Well, I haven’t been posting much (read: at all) lately because I haven’t read any books since Spirits From Beyond by Simon R. Green. I just haven’t been in the mode (*gasp* the horror!) and I’ve been job hunting. So what I thought I would do is go through my Kindle and/or my bookshelves and start reviewing books that I have previously read. If you could see the state of my Kindle and my bookshelves, you would know this is quite the task.  😉 So I will try to check past posts to make sure I don’t double up but it has been known to happen. Please bear with me. Thanks guys!