Wednesday, September 30, 2015

RIP X: 6, Beautiful Darkness

I am honestly traumatized after reading Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët. It pairs cuteness and horror into one really uncomfortable read. I am not usually a big fan of horror but dislike it even more when it involves children or toys or anything similar. This had it all.

I mean, this is the heroine, Aurora -- wearing a bloody mouse skin. You don't even want to know where she came from. And the others who came with her aren't exactly paragons of virtue and kindness. Nope.

I'll leave the rest for you to discover ... if you want to.

Or you could look at this instead ...

Cleansing the palate,

Friday, September 25, 2015

RIP X: 5, The Aviary

A middle grade tale of family, history, and magic, The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell has been on my TBR for a while. I'm glad I finally picked it up because it was strange and unique and I enjoyed almost everything about the story.

Clara and her mother live with old Mrs. Glendoveer in a deteriorating house with locked doors and an aviary of somewhat frightening birds in the yard. The birds belonged to Mrs. Glendoveer's husband, a famous magician. One day, she starts telling Clara her secrets but it will be up to Clara to find out the rest of them -- and what they mean for her life.

That description is a bit vague on purpose because not knowing what was coming made this read better. I was nervous more than once about what would happen. My only small complaint about the book is that it is supposed to be a period story but there were very few clues to that in the story or the writing. I didn't even realize that it was supposed to be set in the past until a little way in when a date was mentioned. Still, though this was a bit annoying, it didn't affect my enjoyment of the story. This is a super creepy read that was perfect for the RIP challenge.

Changing my mind about birds,

Thursday, September 17, 2015

RIP X: 4, Bryant & May on the Loose

After a series of more depressing than expected books, I needed a comfort read and Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit Mysteries always cheer me up. Bryant & May on the Loose is the seventh book in the series and was one of my favorites so far. The unit has been disbanded and the detectives and their colleagues have been set adrift. Of course, strange murders and creatures don't know this and so the obvious (and satisfying) thing happens.

The mystery in this story was interesting as always (with a nice tie-in to WWII and some character growth) but just as interesting was the discussion of how things changed in London before the 2012 Olympics. I always enjoy Fowler's research and attention to detail. I think I might read the next book this season as well. This really is one of my favorite series of all time.

Stoking my Anglophilia,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

RIP X: 3, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

Head on over to The Estella Society today to read about my third RIP read, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. This tale of stormy seas, mutiny, and murder was not what I was expecting when I picked up the book. I should have looked more closely and noticed the knife that Charlotte is holding on the cover!

Backing away slowly,

Sunday, September 13, 2015

RIP X: 2, The Uninvited

My second RIP read of the year was the new release The Uninvited by Cat Winters. I got a review copy before it came out in August but I just couldn't resist saving it until time for the challenge.

Set during WWI and the influenza epidemic of 1918, Winters takes us to Buchanan, Illinois, former welcoming home of European immigrants but now a place of illness and suspicion. Ivy Rowan, a twenty-five year old "spinster" has just recovered from the flu and word has recently arrived that her brother Billy was killed in the war. The reaction of her father and other brother? Murder. This prompts Ivy to leave the home that she had been stuck in for years but what she finds in town might just be as horrible.

There are so many surprises and twists in this story that I don't want to say much more. I was annoyed by Ivy for a good chunk of the book but then, as I got to know her, I forgave more of her foibles. What was more interesting to me though (but also horrifying, especially when reading it in the context of current events) was the treatment of the German, Polish, and even Swedish citizens of this small town. Street and business names were changed, music and language were treated suspiciously, and, eventually, almost everyone who was different was either killed, arrested, or driven out of town. This was brutal to read about and almost as terrifying as the spooks. This was a fantastic historical fiction and a fairly good ghost story.

Trying to learn from the past,

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New Release: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

When you set out to read a Salman Rushdie novel, you can assume you will encounter a few things -- extraordinary characters (and ordinary characters, of course), history, philosophy, and irreverence. Rushdie does not disappoint in Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, a tale of rivalry -- that of evil versus good, religion versus reason, and fear versus knowledge. Our narrator lives in a world one-thousand years from now, where a War of the Worlds--our world and the supernatural world of the jinn--has happened now, in our time, to bring about an age of enlightenment.

What you will encounter in this book are strangenesses: people who float and others who are crushed, human lie-detectors and human lightning rods. You will also find many normal people--poets, philosophers, landladies, and wives--who are drawn into the fantastic by those around them and are brought to their knees, some at the whims of evil Ifrits, others by the hands of their own fellow men, and finally some by mere chance. And finally, you will find love -- some true and original, some mere shadows or facsimiles of those loves.

If you are familiar at all with Rushdie's views and novels, you will probably guess what event, what change in the hearts and minds of men, could bring about peace and enlightenment for centuries. It will not be a viewpoint popular with all readers but his reasoning and his use of modern-day examples of corruption and failings in humankind are undeniable. This book made me sad about the world we live in and left me wondering if there is an actual way that we could eventually attain a world of peace and brotherly love without the intervention of supernatural forces. I enjoyed this read, however painful it was.

Without much faith,

p.s. I received an advance reader's edition of this book from LibraryThing.

Friday, September 4, 2015

RIP X: 1, The Madness Underneath

I kicked off my RIP reading this year with The Madness Underneath, second in the Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson. The third book is already out and this is definitely not a trilogy (according to those who have read it). So, I'm not going to talk much about plot here because this is one of those series that build from book to book. The basics though are these: Aurora, Rory for short, has moved from Louisiana to London and has enrolled at a posh boarding school. Soon after she arrives, she almost dies when she chokes at meal time. This leads to her being able to see ghosts which, as you can probably guess, leads to nothing but trouble.

This second book is comparable to the first though the plot has moved on past the Jack the Ripper plotline. For some reason, Rory bugged me more in this one, making blatantly bad decisions and acting in nobody's best interests. Still, one feels for her and can only imagine what it would be like to be thrown into ridiculously fantastical and perilous situations in an unfamiliar place as a majorly hormonal teenager. I'll keep reading the series but I'm going to get the next book from the library rather than buying it. I think this is a one-time-through kind of series for me.

Avoiding the cracks,

Monday, August 31, 2015

Clearing the Slate

I want to clear my review slate so that I can keep up with my RIP books during the next two months so here are some quick mentions of books that are sitting here.

A totally fun read from Matthew Pearl, The Last Bookaneer is yet another of his well-researched forays into the fictional lives of authors. This time we visit Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa as he is visited by bookaneers, people who make a living by stealing notes and works from prominent authors and using differences in copyright laws between different countries to advantage. Pearl is one of my favorite storytellers and this is a great tale.

One of my favorite movies as a kid, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is now one of my favorite books as well. It's beautiful and lyrical and sad and powerful. Schmendrick has a fantastic backstory and everything is much more symbolic and interesting. I did rewatch the film for the first time in about 20 years too and it brought back so many memories.

The Map of Chaos is the final book in Félix J. Palma's brilliant trilogy. Each book focuses on one or more of the works of H.G. Wells and in this one it's The Invisible Man. This story wraps up many of the loose ends in the previous books but also stands on its own. In fact, Palma says that the three books were written to be read in any order. I could see how reading this one first and then moving back through the other two (The Map of Time and The Map of the Sky) might be fun. I think I will be due for rereads of those two soon! One warning though -- if you don't fully pay attention during these books, you will most definitely get lost. They are complex, in the vein of the overarching stories of LOST or The X-Files or Fringe.

A new release, Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans is a WWII London story unlike any other. Noel is already an orphan when he becomes orphaned again with the loss of his godmother. He goes to live with some not-really-relatives and then is eventually evacuated to the home of Vee Sedge, an opportunistic woman who is trying to make a better life for her son and her mother without quite knowing how to go about it. Neither character is perfect but both come together perfectly by the end of the story, finding exactly what they didn't know they were looking for. I truly enjoyed this one as well!

Sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly's The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate does for Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle what the first book does for On the Origin of Species -- which is, to make them both accessible and applicable to children. Callie Tate is still a young scientist but now, instead of searching around with her grandfather for rare plants, she learns about animals thanks to her brother Travis' obsession with strays. She even helps the new local veterinarian even though nobody believes a female to be capable of that sort of work. Calpurnia is one of my favorite characters and I truly hope there are more books in this series.

And, of course, since I read Nimona and loved it, I had to move on to Lumberjanes. It was awesome! I'm going to read this first volume again before I return it to the library. I love how different each girl is and how they use their individual talents. Also, the supernatural stuff is so dang cool. I'm going to be a Lumberjane when I grow up!

Other mentions:

Moone Boy: The Blunder Years by Chris O'Dowd and Nick V. Murphy is based off of the television show, Moone Boy. While I loved the show, I was more ambivalent about the book, specifically it's treatment of Martin Moone's sisters. He tries to use them as collateral to get what me wants and uses terms like "fun bags" to describe parts of their bodies. While this was the way kids talked in the 1980s when this book was set, I'm not sure that we need to tell that to modern kids. And it's one thing to do it in a show that's geared toward adults but less appropriate in a children's book.

Mothman's Curse by Christine Hayes was a fun and sometimes terrifying middle grade story, based on the Mothman that you've probably heard about in more adult stories. It was certainly scarier than most middle grade books but not in a bad way. I would definitely put it in the hands of a kid who complains that other kids' horror books are too tame.

I know that everybody loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin but it didn't completely wow me. I liked the message but was a bit underwhelmed by the story.

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende was a quick little read that made me think about life a bit and feel good while I was reading it but ultimately it didn't change my life. It seems like the kind of book you would give to a non-reader to show them that books can be short but still meaningful.

I really wanted to love Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White but, alas, I didn't. It thought it was way too long because ultimately very little happens. Also, there was just so much that was gratuitous in it that I felt like it was just there for shock value rather than for advancing the story. I would much rather read Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet again.

Finally, I'm reading To Kill a Mockingbird again right now and am blown away by how good it is. This book is completely wasted on high school students. I may have to go back and revisit more required reading books soon!

Taking a weight off,

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