The R.I.P. VI Challenge: A Wrap-Up

HOLY CRAP IT’S NOVEMBER! Who saw that one coming?! I remember, like, yesterday when I sat down and opened my feed reader and saw that it was time for the R.I.P. VI challenge hosted by Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings – one of my favorite challenges, ideas wise, and also the first challenge I’ve successfully completed in quite some time! I’m sad that it’s over, but as the man himself said, “But while it lasts it is deliciously perilous.” Let’s look at how all that creepiness went down over September and October:

This was the bulk of the challenge for me, I’m afraid – I got to caught up in the group reads to give my own personal-choice novels the love they deserve! But I did manage to read all four of the books Peril the First asked for:

  1. The Shining by Stephen King
  2. Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
  3. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Oh, group reads! This was my first experience doing a group read, and I have to say that I absolutely adored both of the books we read, although I think I’m slightly more in favor of the way The Lantern discussion was formatted – I seem to operate better with a set of questions as opposed to a more open ‘tell us what you thought’ format. But I loved it either way! Breakdown of each week’s discussion is listed below (you’ll notice I kind of dropped off on the Fragile Things group read, not because I didn’t enjoy it but because life and illness got in the way!

Fragile Things  by Neil Gaiman

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

I was surprised, as someone who doesn’t generally read short stories, that I was able to read so many of them on my own for this challenge (meaning they weren’t in a collection or weren’t part of some other group read or activity)! Most of the ones I read fell flat, but let me tell you – “The Squaw” still pops in to my brain every now and then and scares the bejessus out of me.

  1. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  2. “The Masque of the Red Death”/”The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allen Poe
  3. “The Squaw” by Bram Stoker
  4. “The Call of Cthulu” by H.P. Lovecraft (didn’t review)

MAN did I watch some awesome movies this R.I.P. season! They weren’t quite as scary as I was hoping they’d be (FBM and I still have yet to come eye to eye on scary movies: he hates them when they’re based on the supernatural, but I can’t stand realistic ‘this could totally happen to you, seriously’ horror, so we’re at an impasse for now) but they were great none the less! I did one big omnibus post here, where I talked about:

  1. Hocus Pocus
  2. The Exorcist
  3. Beetlejuice
  4. Carrie
  5. Criminal Minds (TV show)

That’s it! That’s my R.I.P. reading in a nutshell! It feels so weird looking at it laid out in list format like that – so much of R.I.P. is the sharing and the atmosphere that just the reading doesn’t seem to quite embody that! I had a great time, and I guess now it’s just a matter of looking forward to spring and the Once Upon a Time challenge (that’s a link to last years challenge page). Happy fall reading!

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I found Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus to be an absolutely enchanting read. By this I mean that, while I wasn’t exactly in love with every part of the book, it was still able to carry me far, far away from the mundane bus rides and never-ending emails of my own world! I’ll go ahead and say now what I wish someone had told me going in to reading this book, a sentiment that seems to be cropping up more and more among the bloggers I read: try and not believe the hype that surrounds this book like a big glittery cloud. Yes, this book does have fantastic stripey end papers.  Yes, the descriptions of the circus are magical, and the characters that Morgenstern has created are more than loveable. But, as it always does, the hype machine will let you down. If you go in to this book believing it will be THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ AND IT WILL TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE DOWN AND CURE CANCER AND BRING JOHN LENNON BACK FROM THE GRAVE WITH ITS POWER OF IMAGINATION…well, you’ll be let down. But if you let this book work its magic on you without expecting it to be anything but a great story…well, that’s where the real magic of The Night Circus lies. For those of you who have somehow missed the plot summary of this book, here’s the Goodreads for you:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

But here’s the thing you might find surprising about this book: I really couldn’t give two figs for the romance part of this story. I mean, yes, it’s important because it ultimately ends up driving the entire ending of the book (I’ll give major props to Morgenstern for finding a way to keep the circus going, as for a while there I was as afraid as everyone else that this beautiful creation would have to die!) but, for the most part, these were the parts I was actually the least happy with. When the circus begins, Marco knows that Celia is his competitor, but Celia doesn’t possess this same information. Because of this, we actually get about half way through the book before the two really even get to be in one anothers solitary company, and it’s not until after that that the romance even begins to flourish. The reader is, of course, given that whole line about how it was love at first sight, Marco has known all along, blah blah blah. But honestly? None of that ever works for me if there isn’t the development within the relationship, and this time that part just wasn’t there. I found myself wanting to leave Marco and Celia and get back to the circus, and to Widget and Poppet and Bailey.

Now that I’ve expressed the things that irked me about the book (and I feel like my treatment of this may not have gotten across quite fully enough – I REALLY didn’t care for the relationship part. AT ALL. If it had been removed completely, I wouldn’t have cared at all) I can get to the thing that drove this book for me, and kept me reading to the last page: the circus. The circus, much like it is for all the characters, is the thing that keeps this book together. And it’s pure fracking magic. Let me tell you, Erin Morgenstern just got added to the list of people who’s imagination I would love to play around in for a day (other authors include: Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, and J.K. Rowling). In case the book jacket isn’t enough, here’s a taste. Describing the clock that sits at the main gate:

The face of the clock becomes a darker grey, and then black, with the twinkling stars where the numbers had been previously. The body of the clock, which as been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is not entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower who paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played (69).

Who wouldn’t want a clock like that to exist, let alone to be able to see it in real life. In the book, the followers of the circus are referred to as rêveurs and I think it goes without saying that, were Le Cirque des Rêves real, I would be one of these followers, going to any lengths possible to track it down and spend all my nights in it’s magic. Not only are the tents and features of the circus itself fantastic (I’ll get to those in a minute) but the characters that possess the circus – truly possess it – are unforgettable.

There is a character here for practically everyone. The ambitious and creative Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre. His close family friend, a genius with theatrics and costumes, Madame Padva. The kind clockmaker Friedrick Thiessen and the mysterious contortionist Tsukiko. Much like the circus, none of Morgenstern’s characters are exactly what they appear to be, and her subtle writing when discussing how each of them is mentally and physically affected by the circus are some of the best bits of writing throughout. However, I think I have to say that hands down the best characters in the book are Bailey, the non-magic boy who, in the end, basically gets adopted by the circus and ends up it’s manager, Poppet, and Widget, the two red-headed twins born as the circus opened it’s doors for the first time.

These three, let me tell you, are the kind of characters you get scenes of, but wish the whole book could revolve around. Not only are the twins red-headed and in love with kittens (their act involves tumbling mini-felines), but they’re fantastic siblings to one another, and are just so endearing. They are attached to the circus as no one else is, as they were born at the exact moment that the circus opened, and to spend time with children who’s whole world has been magic and mystery and imagination…it’s refreshing and endearing and inspiring all at once. When the two meet Bailey, and the fledgling romance between Bailey and Poppet begins to blossom, it’s those two for whom I was cheering, as they were the characters who seemed to love and need the circus more than any of the others.

And, finally, we get to the circus. There would be no reason for me to write about the circus, when Morgenstern did just a great job just writing it to begin with. So, to leave this post, I simply leave you with my personal favorite bits of the circus itself (these labels go in order of the quotes below: the ice room, the rêveurs, Widget’s stories, the enchanted human statues, the tent of bedtime stories, and the pool of tears):

It is exactly what the sign described. But it is so much more than that. There are no stripes visible on the walls, everything is sparking and white. She cannot tell how far it stretches, the size of the tent obscured by cascading willows and twisting vines. The air itself is magical. Crisp and sweet in her lungs as she breathes, sending a shiver down to her toes that is caused by more that the fore-warned drop in temperature. There are no patrons in the tent as she explores, circling alone around trellises covered in pale roses and a softly bubbling, elaborately carved fountain. And everything, save for occasional lengths of white ribbon strung like garlands, is made of ice (119).

The seek each other out, these people of such specific like mind. They tell how they found the circus, how those first few steps were like magic. Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars. The pontificate upon the fluffiness of the popcorn, the sweetness of the chocolate. They spend hours discussing the quality of the light, the heat of the bonfire. They sit over drinks smiling like children and they relish being surrounded by kindred spirits, if only for an evening (143).

“Secrets have power,” Widget begins. “And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them…This is, in part, why there is less magic in the world today. Magic is secrets and secrets are magic, after all.” (173)

The woman wears a dress something akin to a bridal gown constructed for a ballerina, white and frothy and laced with black ribbons that flutter in the night air. Her legs are encased in striped stockings, her feet in tall black button-up boots. Her dark hair is piled in waves upon her head, adorned with sprays of white feathers. Her companion is a handsome man, somewhat taller than she, in an impeccably tailored black pinstriped suit. His shirt is a crisp white, his tie black and pristinely knotted. A black bowler hat sits upon his head. They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss. Though you watch them for some time, they do not move…Each of them always gravitating toward the other. Yet still they do not touch (225).

He recalls what the tag said about opening things, wondering what could possibly be inside all of these jars. Most of the clear-glass ones look empty. As he reaches the opposite side of the table, he picks one at random, a small round ceramic jar, glazed in black with a high shine and a lid topped with a round curl of a handle. He pulls the lid off and looks inside. A small wisp of smoke escapes, but other than that it is empty. As he peers inside he smells the smoke of a roaring fire, and a hint of snow and roasting chestnuts. Curious, he inhales deeply. There is the aroma of mulled wine and sugared candy, peppermint and pipe smoke. The crisp pine scent of a fir tree. The wax of dripping candles. He can almost feel the snow, the excitement, and the anticipation, the sugary taste of a striped candy (238).

The sign outside this tent is accompanied by a small box full of smooth black stones. The text instructs you to take one with you as you enter…Inside, the tent is dark, the ceiling covered with open black umbrellas, the curving handles hanging down like icicles. In the center of the room there is a pool. A pond enclosed within a black stone wall that is surrounded by white gravel…Reflections ripple around the room, making it appear as though the entire tent is underwater. You sit on the wall, turning your black stone over and over in your fingers. The stillness of the tent becomes a quiet melancholy. Memories begin to creep forward from hidden corners of your mind. Passing disappointments. Lost chances and lost causes. Heartbreaks and pain and desolate, horrible loneliness. Sorrows you thought long forgotten mingle with still-fresh wounds. The stone feels heavier in your hand. When you drop it in the pool to join the rest of the stones, you feel lighter. As though you have released something more than a smooth polished piece of rock (283).

If that won’t make you read The Night Circus, I don’t know what will. Happy reading!

A R.I.P. Movie-Pallooza

I can’t believe Halloween is basically here and October is almost over! Not only does this mean my other two favorite holidays are just around the corner (Thanksgiving and then HELLO, Christmas!) but it also means I’m down to the wire to finish all those great R.I.P reviews! Seeing as how I haven’t watched nearly as many scary movies as I would have liked to, and the fact that I’ve been watching them rather sporadically, I figured I’d just do one mega-post of the 5 screen-y things I’ve made sure to watch to get myself in the Halloween mood!

There are 5 movies (well, 4 movies and 1 TV show) that I’ve included in this year’s go-round of Peril on the Screen. This is for a couple of reasons: 1.) I think I left most of my good movies at my parents house last Halloween, when I was home housesitting, as I can’t seem to find almost any of them. 2.) FBM is not exactly a scary-movie kind of guy, so it’s either watching them alone (clearly not always the best idea) or finding something in the common ground. So, keeping those two things in mind, here’s what the past month or so has been all about, film wise.

1.) Hocus Pocus – This has been one of my favorite Halloween movies since I was a little girl! My dad and I actually went to see this one as one of our first father-daughter dates (other hits include Anastasia and a crap-ton of Pizza Hut individual pizzas) and every year I wait for just the right mix of cloudy night and cooler temperatures top pop in this classic! I think the reason I love this movie so much, besides the fact that the lovely Bette Midler is one of the idols of the women in my family, is that it’s really a great blend of scary, sad, and funny for kids (and adults that think they’re kids). The scary scenes never get too scary, and the sad scenes end up having pretty much happy endings. Plus, the two ‘evil’ kids in the story, Ice-Man and Jay, crack me up every time I watch. They’re this hilarious mix of, like, white ghetto kids with nothing to do but steal candy from kids and make lame jokes. They’re not intimidating at all, which is what makes them so much more hilarious as ‘bullies’! This movie also inspired me to ‘fly’ around my house singing the song that Sarah Jessica Parker sings to lure all the children of Salem to her (“Come little children, I’ll take thee away/into my garden of magic). If you have no idea what this movie is about, or what I’m prattling on about, do you, your kids, and/or your inner child a favor and  go check it out!

2.) The Exorcist. Or, what my mom still calls ‘the scariest movie ever made’. She told me this when I was 14 and saw the movie for the first time  and I watched it and was just, like…”really? scariest movie ever? really?” (NOT a recommended viewing age, by the way. Not because of the scare factor but because watching a ‘possessed’ girl stab herself in the naughties with a crucifix is too disturbing on too many levels). Even now I don’t necessarily consider this movie “scary”. I mean, don’t get me wrong. The concept of demons and possession and exorcism freaks the hell out of me. But the dialouge is stilted, the guy who plays Dimi (the junior priest helping with the exorcism and dealing with his own metaphorical demons at the same time) is like a bad Marlon Brando, and the special effects are anything but. But all of that isn’t necessarily the point. This movie has a GREAT scary soundtrack, and some of those cold and blustery shots of Georgetown really do set a fantastic horror-movie mood. I think the thing that will always stick out to me about this movie, though, and what has kept me watching pretty much every Halloween, is the fact that so many other people have been scared out of their wits by this movie, my mom included. I mean, there are reports of people having strokes and heart attacks and believing in their own possesssion after they saw this movie in theatres! Plus, the actress who plays the little girl, Reagan, never worked on or in another movie – CRAZY!!! It’s kind of like the curse with Poltergeist and all the unfortunate things that happened to that cast (no idea? check out this wikipedia). Definitely a must see, and not a scary movie to be particularly worried about. At least, not for me!

3.) Beetlejuice – This is one of those movies that, when it’s mentioned, everyone around nods their heads and goes ‘oh, yeah! I forgot about that one…’ At least, that’s what happened when I mentioned to a bunch of co-workers that I was excited to watch another one of my mostly-funny Halloween movies. Be warned, though, that this one is a little bit creepier than Hocus Pocus (and possible The Exorcist, depending on what you find scary). Michael Keaton does a FANTASTIC job as the ghost-with-the-most, hell-raising bioexorcist Beetlejuice, who does nothing but plague Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis after they die in a car accident. And yes, these characters have names in the movie that aren’t Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, but whatever. Anyway, Winona Rider actually gives one of her least-annoying performances here, too, as the dark and depressed Lydia Deetz, a step that doesn’t seem too far removed from the real Winona. This movie sprung from the mind of one Mr. Tim Burton, who I have often believed should share his DNA with one Mr. Neil Gaiman and one Mrs. Helena Bonham Carter (who Burton is technically already married to) in order to produce a super-genuis child of twisted creativity. If the name Tim Burton isn’t ringing a bell, he also did Edward Scissor Hands, The Corpse Bride, and Ed Wood, just to name a few. Oh, and the most recent version of Sweeney Todd, the one with Johnny Depp. Oh, and The Nightmare before Christmas (another great classic that works for both Halloween and Christmas!) Wow…apparently he’s done more of my favorites than I thought. But yes, you can see the style that Burton works in, and Beetlejuice is no different!

4.) Carrie – A great movie based on a GREAT Stephen King novel (I mean, honestly, The Shining is probably a better movie, but Carrie is a far better book) about a girl with telekinetic powers who gets pigs blood dumped on her at the prom and then goes APE SHIT WITH HER MIND POWERS and kills everyone she knows. Like, pretty much literally. Not to mention the fact that her mom is a religious wack-job, she gets tampons thrown at her in the school shower when she starts her period, and she’s asked/taken out to prom by the most popular boy in school just to be humiliated…yeah, I’d be pretty pissed too. In all fairness to the popular boy and his girlfriend – they’re good people, they were just trying to help, and really didn’t know about the pig’s blood. Sissy Spacek does an amazing job in this movie, striking just the right balance between scared and shy and really, really damn mad when the time calls for it. The movie as a whole might by more jumpy or freaky than scary, but if you can watch those last ten minutes without jumping out of your own skin, than you’re doing way better than I am! It’s best not to have one of those guys or groups of guys who think it’s really funny to wait for an obviously tense moment to grab your shoulder and shout intelligibly, laughing when you jump and spill popcorn and Diet Coke everywhere. Not that I’ve had that happen…I’m just saying. There are a number of  ‘gotcha’ moments that will make you jump, and having a group like that around could very quickly ruin your upholstery. Of all the movies posted here so far, this one is probably the scariest for me, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Carrie’s mom is not only crazy, but crazy religious and there is just something about mixing fanatic Christianity with insanity, possible schizophrenia, and a daughter with mind powers that gets under my skin.

5.) Criminal Minds – Yes, this is a TV show. But Carl said we could do that, so hah! *blows raspberry*. Sorry about that. I’m done being, like, six now. Promise. Anyway, this show is fantastic. So fantastic that I’m thinking about  doing a Nerdgasm volume on it. For those of you out of the loop (or who watch things on TV that aren’t crime-solving, procedural cop or courtroom shows), Criminal Minds follows a team of profilers who work for the FBI’s B.A.U (Behavioral Analysis Unit, got to give it up for the federal love for acronyms). These guys and  girls basically profile different suspects, victims, and locations in order to learn who killed whoever died on this week’s episode. Basically, it’s a show about the brains of sociopaths, murderes, rapists, pedophilists, and other various real-life baddies (and the people who make it their work to understand these brains). I know by now you’re probably what makes this R.I.P. worthy – which it is. It’s all-year-round worthy. The answer you’re looking for is that, if you’ve been following any of my R.I.P. reviews, you know that I often think that the horrible things human beings do to each other is more scary than any monster, werewolf, or vampire out there. And this show if chock-full of real life monsters, on top of witty dialogue and characters I just dare you not to fall in love with (Reid! Garcia and Morgan! I just love you all so much!). If you’re looking for a 45 minute fictional glimpse in to the kinds of horrors man can do to each other (where the bad guy actually gets caught in the end, unlike, say, the news), this is most definitely the show for you!

And there you have it, ghosts and ghouls! With Halloween weekend upon us, I hope you’re doing whatever it is (tricking or treating) that puts you and your family in to that delicious, candy-apple-and-wood-smoke fall feeling we all love about this time of year! I’m off to the twisty alleys of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Cirucs, but I wish you all happy reading!

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

The smell of the library always lifted my spirits – that peculiar combination of old stone, dust, woodworm, and paper made properly from rags (p.31)

Okay. So. Here’s the deal. I’m sure you’ve heard me say before that I loved a book and that I think you should go buy said book and read it immediately. I’d be a pretty remiss book blogger if I hadn’t told you all that at least once before. But here’s the thing – I’m a strong enough woman to admit when I was wrong. All those other books I told you to buy? Forget them. All those other books other book bloggers, coworkers, and librarians tell you about? Back-burner them, people. This book? This book right here? This is the book you need to pick up instead. Cross my heart.

This book and I? This is love, here, people. We’re talking so much love that I used an actual BOOKMARK – not an old receipt, not a semi-clean napkin, not even a dog-eared page – to mark my place. And I didn’t write on it in pencil, accidentally spill coffee on it’s back cover, or break the spine by splaying it open. I  treated this book like the treasure it is. And now it’s your turn! Check the book jacket:

Deep in the heart of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, scholar Diana Bishop requests  a manuscript called Ashmole 782 in the course of her research. Coming from an old and distinguished lineage of witches, Diana senses that the ancient book might be bound up with magic – but she herself wants nothing to do sorcery; and ater making a few notes on it’s curious images, she banishes it quickly back to the stacks. But what she doesn’t know is that the old alchemical text has been lost for centuries, and its sudden appearance has set a fantastical underworld stirring. Soon, a distracting horde of daemons, witches, and vampires descends upon the Bodleian’s reading rooms. One of these creatures is Matthew Clarimont, an enigmatic and eminent geneticist, practitioner of yoga, and wine connoisseur – and also a vampire with a keen interest in Ashmole 782.

But it’s just SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT!!! Seeing as how I often have a heard(er) time breaking down what it is that makes me enamored with a particular book – as opposed to those things that make me dislike a work – I’m going to do my best to try and convey what I found so fascinating with  a limited amount of ALL CAPS, !!!!, and *squee*ing.

The first thing that stands out about A Discovery of Witches is the scholarly way the book holds itself. This is most likely due to the fact that both Diana and Matthew work in academia, as professors and researchers, and the fact that Deborah Harkness herself is a professor of history with – gasp – an emphasis in the history of science and magic! Her real-life experience means that reading about the scenes in which Matthew and Diana are researching are never as boring as they might potentially be, and it also means a good deal of the book takes place within libraries and other rooms filled with books – and who doesn’t love that. I also think it’s worth mentioning that Harkness has really done her research (pun maybe a little bit intended), as many things, people, and events (including the Ashmole collection) are real things that can be found in real places. It lends a certain level of truth and reality to a story that still, at it’s heart, is about magical creatures.

And good God the creatures! Let me tell you thins – if you’re looking for a book with complex, alive characters, this is a book for you to check out. Not only does Harkness do old-school vampire in a way that’s completely refreshing (no sparkles, pouty lips, or twat acting here), although if I had one qualm with the book it’s that Matthew can be a bit of a chauvenist, and it takes Diana a little bit to learn to fight back. But, he was originally born before Christ, so Matthew has lived most of his life conforming to different honor and chivalric codes, so I’m willing to cut him a bit of slack. Plus, he’s SO DAMN SEXY. Mmmmm….Matthew Clairmont. Unless, of course, manners, education, crazy-flexible yoga-doing, being knowledgeable about wine, and refined beyond belief aren’t things that float your boat. In which case, there probably isn’t any vampire that would really appeal to your senses. I also want to apply Harkness for writing Diana as a flawed but powerful character. She spends a great deal of the book denying her witchcraft and her powerful legacy (her parents were also incredibly powerful witches, and she follows in their genetic footsteps), but she’s never really unsure of the person she is, or of what she wants. Perhaps her greatest ability is her ability to love and sacrifice for those in her life, and as Harry Potter taught us, love can be an incredibly powerful magic in it’s own right.

But it’s not just Diana and Matthew who are fascinating. Diana’s lesbian aunts Sarah and Em are the perfect balance not only for one another, but for Diana and Matthew, who are the tempest storm to Sarah and Em’s safe-harbor. We don’t really meet Diana’s family until a little more than half-way through the book, but the readers feel immediately welcomed in to their home – a house that, in quite a few moments of humor, is haunted enough to make up it’s own mind about guests. We also get to meet Matthew’s mother Ysabeau, who is everything regal and beautiful and cold that you would expect from an ancient female vampire. The way her and Diana’s relationship progresses feels very natural, and although the two are never buxom buddies, there is a certain level of affection that exists there. Add to this the presence of crazy-artistic daemons Nathaniel, Sophia, and Hamlish, as well as a vampire son or two and some crazy-evil people known as the Congregation who want nothing more than to keep Diana and Matthew apart (well, and to steal Diana’s magic in an incredibly life-ending way) and you’ve got a cast of characters with a little something for everyone.

Damn! This review is at over 1,000 words already, so I’ll try to wrap it up. I know that many other people who have read this book have been a little…disconcerted over the way that SO MANY THINGS happen all towards the end, which is clearly a case of ‘setting-up-for-book-2-in-the-series-itis’. And while usually that bothers me, I think that Harkness has done such a good job creating characters we love and places we love seeing them in (what wouldn’t I give for Matthew’s office/bedroom castle turret? Yep, you heard me right. Turret.) that it doesn’t feel as forced as moves like this usually do. Plus, I think the most important thing for me is that the book has an ending that stands on it’s own. No, not EVERY question is answered (The Lantern did that and it drove me NUTS, even though that’s not a part of a series) but the action had come to a place that, if there weren’t another book coming out, there is still closure for everyone.

This book is the most beautiful combination of history, magic, folklore, romance, and kick-ass brain power that I don’t think I could recommend it any more highly. It just became my number one read of 2011. And may be hard to beat in 2012. Please, please go read it! I need someone to talk about it with desperately, and I’d definitely want that person to be you! In other, current reading news, I’m about half way through The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and it’s also a great book in it’s own way, although I think some of my lukewarmness orginates from reading it right after I finished A Discovery of Witches. Yep. It’s one of those books – one of the ones that make the next few books you read after seem less shiny than they might otherwise. But I’m hoping to finish up The Night Circus as my last read for the R.I.P. Challenge, and what a great month of October reading it’s been. Happy reading to you, and a Happy Halloween (or Samhain, whatever your tastes may be)!

FAVORITE QUOTES:

        We were in the chateau’s graceful round tower – the one that still had its smooth, conical copper roof and was set on the back of the massive main building. Tall, narrow windows punctuated the walls, their leaded panes letting in slashes of light and autumn colors from the fields and trees outside.
The room was circular, and high bookcases smoothed its graceful curves into occasional straight lines. A large fireplace was set squarely into the walls that butted up against the chateau’s central structure…There were armchairs and couches, tables and cassocks, most in shades of green, brown, and gold. (p.228)

As in most old libraries, the books were shelved by size. There were thick manuscripts in leather bindings, shelved with spines in and ornamental clasps out, the titles inked on to the fore edges of the vellum. There were tiny incunabula and pocket-sized books in neat rows on one bookcase, spanning the history of print from the 1450s to the present. A number of rare modern first editions, including a run of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and  T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, were there too. (p. 234)

“I love you, and I’m not going to stop.” Of this, too, I was certain.
“You are not in love with me.”
“I decide who I love, and how, and when. Stop telling me what to do, Matthew. My ideas about vampires may be romantic, but your attitudes toward women need a major overhaul.” (p. 284)

We turned down the rutted road leading to the Bishop house. Its late-eighteenth-century lines were boxy and generous, and it sat back from the road on a little knoll, surrounded by aged apple trees and lilac bushes. The white clapboard was in desperate need of repainting, and the old picket fence was falling down in places. Pale plumes rose in welcome from both chimneys, however, filling the air with the autumn sense of woodsmoke (p. 409)

 

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, Read-a-Long Week 3

I felt horrible to miss last week’s read-a-long post for The Lantern, but as my last post mentioned, I was just deep in the middle of a funk! But I’ve worked my way out of it,  and I can’t wait to share the rest of my thoughts on this wonderful, beautiful fall-time book! On to the questions, sent to us this week by the lovely Heather! As always, you can find the other participants’ answers here!

1. Now that it’s all said and done; what did you think of the book? Did you see the ending coming?

Yes and no. I mean, not in the detail-y way. More in the whole, you know, I began to think about 75% of the way through that things were going to end up working out between Dom and Eve – she was just too damn in love with him throughout the rest of the novel. I did not, however, see Benedicte’s blindness coming, and almost felt that it was a bit of a let-down on Lawrenson’s part that the ghosts could be explained away medically, in essence. It would have been much more interesting, in my book, if she had just left them up as visions (then again, I did kind of like the circularity that the blindness theme presented, so who knows…). I also don’t know how I feel about them choosing to stay in the house – I don’t think I could handle that, in the same situation!

Reading that paragraph makes it sounds like a I had a whole host of problems with the end/whole of the book, but I didn’t. I LOVED the twists with Pierre and the dead bodies, and I thought the whole thing was just the kind of sensory overload I was looking for! I guess I just have a few things still niggling me.

2. What do you think of the characters? Lawrenson took us on a twisty little ride there, I had trouble deciding who was good and who wasn’t for a while there! What do you think of Dom? Of Sabine? Rachel?

I think the only person I was really ever iffy about was Sabine. Don’t get me wrong – I was flat out wrong about Dom. I totally had him pegged as the creepy murdering type, and was actually pleasantly surprised by how well-done Lawrenson was able to work out that twist in the story, especially as it did ‘excuse’ some of Dom’s more moody behavior as well as some of the guilt he was feeling.

However, with Sabine I just couldn’t figure out where she was coming from. Of course, that was revealed by the end of reading, but for the rest of the novel I just couldn’t decide where she was coming from or what she was doing there. I was never really concerned about Rachel, as she was dead and there wasn’t much the story was going to do to change that, but I did like the way Eve and Rachel ‘interacted’ throughout the story. I also think I’m kind of glad that Eve and Dom ended up together, even thought I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW SHE STAYED THAT LONG. See my last read-a-long post for my quibbles with Eve and this whole part of the story.

3. Pierre was such a conflicted character. In the end, do you think he killed Marthe and Annette, or did the fall to their deaths because of their blindness?

To be honest, I never gave credit to the fact that Marthe and Annette fell to their deaths. I mean, true, it could have happened, but then why would Pierre have buried the bodies and not just left them? And how ‘convenient’ was it that, after the visit, Marthe suddenly changed her tune and started talking about how much she wanted to sell and how much she hated Benedicte? Nope, I never bought it – I always believed, and still do, that Pierre is such a thoroughly bad guy that he killed them both, cut Benedicte and Marthe’s ties post-mortem, and disappeared to die drunk, old, and alone.

Pierre is the perfect example of a character who I LOVE to hate, who is so evil that it makes me want to yell, makes my skin crawl, but he was so well-written that I just couldn’t get enough of him!

4. The book is being compared to Rebecca and Daphne du Maurier’s writing. Do you think the book lives up to that description?

If nothing else, I think the books both share such beautiful prose that the rest doesn’t even matter to me. I mean, yes, obviously there are other similarities – a creepy house with a deep history, a young man tortured by his past lover, deceit and lies and mistrust and all those other fun themes. But Lawrenson definitely wrote her own book, though, so I think that the deepest connection the two share is that they both create, so vividly in the mind of the reader, a world and a relationship full of dark corners and dusty secrets, using sights and smells and touches and a deep knowledge of humans to create a world where the reader loves to live almost as much as the characters themselves. If only we could get more and more books like that!

5. Did you have any problems with the book? Narration? Plot? The back and forth between two different characters and times?

See: problems with Eve, the disease causing the ghostly apparitions, staying at Les Genevriers.

6. Do you think Lawrenson tied both stories together well in the end? Is there anything she could/should have done differently?

I don’t think so! I feel like I’m being so repetitive, but honestly, the only thing I really couldn’t accept at the end was the fact that they decided to stay in that house! I mean, yeah, I guess since everything spooky was ‘explained’ – another problem I had with the story – it wouldn’t necessarily matter, but I really don’t know if I could handle staying in a place where there were skeletons found in my pool and a whole host of angry memories locked up in the walls. I also think it would have been far more interesting to see where that whole buried treasure plot line led, as it didn’t really go anywhere and felt like that was kind of an unnecessary plot addition (stop me if I missed something too huge!)

7. One problem I had with the novel is the reliability of the narrators. Do you think any of them were telling the truth? Which ones?

I think part of the thing that worked so well for The Lantern was that the narrators were kind of all unreliable – Benedicte never really knew the truth about what happened to her sister (or her brother) and so everything she tells us is inherently unreliable. And Eve is too preoccupied with Rachel to know/tell the full truth about Dom. However, it works in this story because the truth comes fully to light at the end, and the secrets along the way are just what keep the tension going, stringing the reader along behind!

Well, folks, there you have it! I’m super stoked that I was able to play a bit of catch up this week (I’m now two weeks behind on the Fragile Things read-a-long, but by God I will be there next week to finish up the discussion) and expect to see a few more reviews throughout the week, as well as a new vlog if things go well (this one may NOT be Library Loot, if you can believe it, as I love the vlogging format and would like to see how it goes to use it as a way to review books as well!) Hope that your autumn is as beautiful there as it is here, and happy reading to all!

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson: Read-a-Long Week One

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Hello, all! It’s fall break here, so my today and tomorrow are deliciously clear, and so there is no better time to write my own contribution to Carl V.’s read-a-long of The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson! This is the second read-a-long I’m doing with Carl V. for the R.I.P. Challenge, and I’m super excited to have discussion questions to work from this time. The Fragile Things is far more open, and it’ll be fun to mix it up a little. So, without further ado, the questions!

1. This may seem like an obvious opening question, but what do you think of The Lantern thus far?

I’m loving it (gets McDonalds theme stuck in her head)! It’s been the perfect R.I.P. read and the whole things just smacks of gothic foreshadowing and dark twisty secrets! Lawrenson’s style is lush and is almost as beautiful as the Provence she writes. I’ve often fantasized about doing the ex-pat thing, finding and fixing up an old manor and spending my days reading and market shopping and wine drinking. Of course, this is total fantasy (versus Eve’s similar but more menacing reality) and it’s the discrepancy between my own dream and the way Lawrenson writes the story that has me so intrigued thus far. I also thinks it’s a fantastic show of writer-ship to be able to craft a story clearly lurking beneath the story being told — through everything from foreshadowing to interconnected details, and Lawrenson seems able to do this in spades.

2. The book appears to be following the experiences of two different women, alternating back and forth between their stories. Are you more fond of our main protagonist’s story or of Benedicte’s or are you enjoying them both equally?

To be honest, a this point, I’m far more interested in our main narrators story than I am in Benedicte’s. Again, the appeal of a modern ‘turning over a new leaf’ tale is too much to overcome a story that’s more quasi- historical fiction than anything else. Of course, I absolutely loathe Pierre, so I will be intrigued to see how the relationship between he and Benedicte develops.

3. The Lantern is a book filled with descriptions of scents. How are you liking (or disliking) that aspect of the book? How do you feel about the lavish description of scents? How are the short chapters working for you?

I’m loving the shorter chapters, actually. I feel like it really does help me feel like I’m just zipping along as the chapter numbers get higher and higher, and switching points of view in this manner keeps each chapter ending on a mini-cliff hanger and keeps me from getting overdrawn or tired of any one of the certain stories (I will say that sometimes I got a little worn down by the Eve/Dom relationship drama, which left me very tense and frustrated a certain times).

4. How would you describe the atmosphere of Parts 1 and 2 of The Lantern?

I love, probably more than anything else so far, the opening descriptions of summer at Les Genevriers, the dining on the deck, wine and candles and delicious summer scents and warm evenings. I think it’s this love Lawrenson created in me for the summer setting that caused such delicious growing tension as the seasons progressed in to fall. Which, you know, is pretty, but for me doesn’t pack the same punch as the summer setting. I also greatly admire the way that Lawrenson is able to use the shifting seasons to both create ans mirror the shifting tensions and dynamics between both Eve and Dom and Benedicte and the rest of her family unit. As a writer, I know that can be difficult to do well, and I think Lawrenson pulls it off beautifully!

5. Has anything surprised you to this point? Anything stand out?

Pierre and the kitten! That’s all I’m going to say in case I’m mistaken and this actually happens in part three. But if you know what I’m talking about, then yeah. It’s been a long time since a single action by a single character has literally filled me with so much anger and disgust that I was literally shaking.

6. What are your feelings about Dom in these first two sections of the story?

I have mixed feelings about Dom. Right at the very beginning, I was as enchanted by him as Eve was. He seemed funny and kind and sexy as all hell!! However, I got way sick and tired of this whole “don’t-ask-me-about-Rachel-or-I’ll-be-MAD” thing A LOT sooner than Eve did. I mean, for real. I can get being devastated by an ex and that loss. But after a certain amount of time it’s just, like, DUDE! Get over yourself! You’re either ready to be in a new relationship or your not, and I’m so not letting you jerk me around while you figure it out! There was something very Max DeWinter about him (which is no surprise, considering the many obvious similarities), but I think that the reason this didn’t bother me as much with Max as it did with Dom is that Max had the oodles of charm to pull it off, and Dom so just doesn’t!

Bonus question: Did anyone else hear “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” ringing in their ears through the first sections of the book?

Ohmygoodness YES!! Of course!! The only way, I think, you could miss them is if you’ve never read Rebecca! Especially when Eve begins with such strong foreshadowing to a broken romance and destroyed way of life all centered around a house…yeah. I definitely heard the echoes! The only thing that really bugged me, actually, was that Rebecca was actually brought up within the story as being just like the story currently happening. Stuff like that just never quite sits right with me – it’s like yelling a subtext at the top of your lungs, hitting the reader about the face with subtlety. I’d like to be trusted to get it on my own a bit more!

Well, y’all, there you have it! I’m sure it’ll be one of the last ones up, but I couldn’t miss out on the post completely, but better way later than intended than never at all! Happy reading!

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: Read-a-Long Week Five

Hello, all! I hope that your October has been treating you as lovely as mine has been so far, and that whatever you’re reading has wrapped you up in a lovely blanket of fall and cooler temperatures – finally! (I really, really love fall if my glowing adoration in prose the past few weeks hasn’t given that away!) I’m so glad to be writing another week’s worth of reflections on Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman! For my first ever read-a-long, I’d like to toot my own horn a bit and say that I think I’m doing great with the keeping on schedule and what not, but I really can’t even say that because that’s not important. What’s great is that I’m having such an awesome time discussing these stories and really do look forward every Sunday to seeing what everyone else has to say! This week, we looked at two poems and two short stories. Unfortunately, this was another rough week for me (see week three for another not-so-great time) as I can’t say I really cared for most of the works this week. We’re covering “Locks”, “The Problem of Susan”, “Instructions”, and “How do you Think it Feels” this week, and the only one that stuck with me in a really positive way was “Instructions”. But more on that later! Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?

“Locks”

Alright, alright. So, this is a well-written poem. I can’t really knock it for what it does technically. It reminded me quite a bit of “The Hidden Chamber” in that it was a very prose-y poem, and I remember quite a few people saying that “Hidden Chamber” read like a kind of paragraph with weird line breaks. I feel like we get the same kind of thing going on here – not in a bad way, just a prose-y one. Anyway, the things (well, thing, really) I liked about this poem had very little to do with the actual Goldilocks-inspired content. I mean, I’m sorry, but Goldilocks was never one of my favorites as a kid, and even less so after I was put in to a HORRIBLE childrens theatre rendition in high school, so that part of this poem was just kind of whatever for me. But I really did thoroughly enjoy Gaiman’s on-going discussion in this poem of a theme he started, I believe, in “Flints of Memory Lane” – primarily, what is a story, how do we tell one, and what do we do with the stories we have? I had to go back and read the introduction, but I love what Neil says about he and his daughter still sharing stories, to this day, although the forms have changed, and I think there is importance in that. With all of the paper v. e-reader debates going on out there, its nice to think that stories will always be stories, regardless of the form they take (is an oral tradition less important than a written work is less important than a movie?) I also think that the camaraderie between the teller of the poem (presumably Gaiman, the way I read it) and this child being told, the answer and response and parental reflections on the way we hear our favorite stories differently as we grow up – to me, that’s where the real value in the poem lies and where Gaiman’s skills really show through!

“The Problem of Susan”

Okay, so I should probably say that right off the bat thus story totally spoiler-ed me on the ending of the Narnia series for me. It’s been one of those series that I’ve read bits and pieces of over the years, and always meant to finish, and it’s not this stories fault I haven’t finished them yet, but still. Totally through me for a loop right at the beginning.

While I really liked Gaiman’s focus on the importance of children’s literature (a belief I fully support!!) and the way he turns Susan in to a professor on the subject, but my enjoyment of the story pretty much stopped there. My mind was too busy dwelling on the spoiler effect and the fact that in this one Gaiman RUINED Aslan for me! I mean, the big majestic lion was one of my favorite characters as a child, and to suddenly see him lewd, sexualized, and eating children…I didn’t like it. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in their somewhere, but I don’t really think it’s one I care to unravel.

“Instructions”

In the introduction, Gaiman introduces thus poem simply as a set of things to do if you find yourself in a fairy tale. How good of a poem premise is that?! This one was my favorite for this week without a doubt. Not only do I love the premise, but I thought the imagery of walking through the house was a really good metaphor for how we read and discover fairy tales (and literature) when we’re young. I did think it was interesting to see another red, imp-ish face knocker, and was kind of wondering if a.) anyone else has noticed that these knockers seem to be a favorite of Neil’s, and b.) this is intentional! Unfortunately I don’t have much else to say about this poem except to repeat how much I loved it and to thank this poem for lightening what was an otherwise very bleak week of short stories!

“How do you Think it Feels”

Okay. So. There are really very few things in literature that bother me. I mean, the dirty bits and naughty language usually just kind of…is to me. A part of life in certain interpretations and representations of life. However, that doesn’t mean that I want Neil Gaiman in particular writing said naughty bits or dirty words. I mean, yes, I know this is the same man who wrote all the beautiful darkness of the Sandman series, but he also wrote Stardust and The Graveyard Book and I would just much rather think of him and his writing that way! I did like what the gargoyle over the heart stood for, but as with “Miss Finch”, I really just feel like I missed something here. A not great ending to a not great week.

In other reading news, I’ve begun reviewing for a new site called Custom Reads that functions kind of as a Pandora radio for books, only with real people imputing books to recommend rather than some functional algorithm. I’m super excited about the opportunity and just really hope it goes well! My public library book sale is also Tuesday of this week (at least, that’s when 5$ bag day is) so look forward to me vlogging (hopefully) my scores from that later this week. Happy reading!

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