Saturday, 10 September 2011

RIP VI - Anya's Ghost and The Thirteen book reviews, plus Under the Dome and The Strain

I am feeling so proud of myself:  I have already read two books for RIP VI, and I'm working on book #3!!  Plus, for fun, at the end, I'm going to throw in book reviews for two other horror books I read just before the challenge started.
Anya's Ghost - Vera Brosgol.
This is a YA graphic novel, newly published this year, and a terrific read.  It's about Anya, who falls down a well, and what she finds at the bottom.  It's about high school, and fitting in, and discovering that no one is exactly as they appear.  And it's about discovering that even ghosts aren't all that they appear to be, either.  The characters are all fun and wonderful, from Anya herself, a teen Russian emigre who has done everything she can to fit in, including shortening her surname to something pronounceable, to all the teens at the school - the author has taken the popular girl, handsome boy, gym class, and made them universal  figures: we all knew a girl in school like Elizabeth, beautiful and graceful, and her boyfriend Sean, good at sports and gorgeous, who Anya has a terrible crush on.  Anya's family - her round mother who feeds her and younger pest brother seem familiar, from the first page.  Yet, Anya's mother with her round smiling face and 'eat, you're too thin' jump off the page like concerned, loving mother she is.  They are real people caught on the page.   Anya's ghost is the other main figure, and it's so much fun to watch how the ghost moves around Anya, and what Anya learns from the ghost.  This is a little darker than you would expect, which makes it all the more believable and fun to read. Including myself, every teen I know comes up on the dark in their teen years, in themselves and in others. Anya's Ghost is a graphic novel about the truth behind the image, just like the ghost who is more than she seems.   Plus, it's a ghost story.  I really liked Anya, and I'm really glad she did what she did at the end. Lovely graphic novel, a little bit eerie, and very enjoyable. 4.7/5

The Thirteen - Susie Moloney
Susie Moloney has published three other horror novels:  Bastion Falls (which I haven't read yet), A Dry Spell (read quite some time ago), The Dwelling, and just this month, The ThirteenThe Dwelling scared me so much - a true haunted house story, with an ending that still bothers me (in the good way, that I'm still thinking about it) now, several years after reading it.  Susie Moloney is Canadian, and it's lovely to have a really good horror novelist in Canada.  That's not to say we don't have lots of short story writers in horror, we do, but a consistent good horror novelist - Susie Moloney is one of our best.  Plus, she shares my name, sort of (I've never been a Susie).  So, onto The Thirteen:
The premise of The Thirteen is that a circle of women have a made a deal with the devil in order to get all that they want.  Now, being someone who knows quite a few pagans, many of whom are practicing wiccans, normally I wouldn't give this book another look.  I get tired of the idea that witchcraft and wicca are 'bad' and evil.  Certainly you can use magic for ill, to harm another - and in a way, what these witches in The Thirteen find out is that even with the best intentions, if you make a bargain with something that is inherently evil, all your good intentions turn on you in the end.  The price they pay is high, and that's part of what makes this book so satisfying.  The other part is that the heroine, Paula Wittmore and her daughter Rowan go home because Paula's mother is in the hospital, and what they find in Paula's old childhood suburb Haven Woods, is anything but a haven.  This is a fun read, with magic shown properly - the bad uses of it, and the good. It's creepy, and it's fun too - Paula finds love in the most unexpected place, and in the end, it comes down to family.  Even the ending, which is a bit of a shocker, makes sense.  Very well done 'witchcraft gone bad' book, a lot of fun to read, and makes good use of those soulless places, the suburbs. I think this might be the most satisfying of all of Susie Moloney's books to read.  Highly recommended. 4.5/5

So, my two freebie reviews for this RIP VI challenge, are for two books I read just before the challenge started.  I couldn't wait!  One really good read, and one so-so.
Under the Dome - Stephen King.
Unputdownable.  This is the most recent of King's novels, a hefty 1,072 pages.  It is good.  One of his best novels, for me.  I loved his resolution - it sounds preposterous, and yet, who among us hasn't had that very same thought?  I can't reveal it for those who haven't read the book yet, but it's a thought I think everyone has had.  It's all to King's credit that he makes this a good horror novel from two angles:  from the mystery of the dome that is placed over the town, and if they can solve it, and from the townspeople themselves, especially the awful family of  Jim Rennie and Junior Rennie.  It even had moments that made me laugh out loud, in the midst of horror and nightmare scenes - pantries were never my favourite place to begin with, but now they will carry with them an unforgettable image of Junior and his girls. It's good to see black humour in a novel of Stephen King's, and Under the Dome has it.  Which didn't detract from the horror or the believableness of the book - I found the laughter good, like King had taken time to be with his characters and see that in the midst of terror, there can be moments of hilarity and humanness.  All of King's strengths are here:  his amazing realistic characters, the way a small town works - the power of the town council, how most people try not to think too hard about what's going on, about how terror can be used to control a population.  I found the last particularly satisfying given the last 10 years of Western culture and the feeling of terror that we've never managed to let go of (I have my own cynical reasons for why this has happened).  The heroes - Barbie, Julia, Andrea, Scarecrow Joe, Norrie, and all the one who act bravely and still die - they are ordinary people who could be any one of us.  That is Stephen King's greatest strength in his writing, his characters and how they talk, that they are just like you and me, caught on the page.  I started reading and I couldn't look away.  The horror is good, and creepy in places, though this is not a 'ghost story haunted house' book, this is about the horror that we do to one another when under stress. And that makes it one of his most frightening and realistic horror novels of all.  4.7/5 (because throwing in a haunted house would have been so cool! lol)

The Strain - Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

                       I wanted to like this book. I really did.  I picked it up with all good feelings, because Bride had bought it - she is usually a good judge of horror books.  The sequel is out in paperback too, so I thought cool, I could get in on the series.  Alas, I didn't find much that was believable in this vampire novel.  There are moments that are very good, and very eerie, and how the vampire plague spreads was quite good.  But the premise - that some old guy from ancient history revived itself during the Holocaust, and has somehow eluded any notice until a dead plane lands, with a mysterious big box aka the coffin, arrives and 'disappears' on video - and no one thinks, hmm, Dracula even - that bothered me.  Dracula and the box of earth have filled our literature since the beginning of the 20th century.  I'm not saying the old creature couldn't stay hidden, I just found the idea that someone else wanted him brought over in order to start a plague, a bit iffy, AND how did the vampire know to start a plague in New York City? Was he hired?  If so, what could a vampire possibly want that anyone human could offer him? (except the way over the ocean, but as Stoker showed, pretty easy to arrange.....)  So, I had struggles with this book. I kept seeing it as a movie, and I think that's exactly how it was written, as Guillermo Del Toro is a movie maker first.
     The characters are good, the setting - New York City - very believable, especially the infighting amongst who had responsibility for the flight, the bodies afterward, though why only four survivors - again, not explained.  If you need to escape completely for a day, this would be a good book to do it in, as it is well-paced and full of action.  Just not entirely believable.    I will say though, how the plague expands - that's the best part of the book, the horror part.  I wish we had more of the horror, the being stalked by the newly made vampires, that eerie feeling of being watched, and the slow realization that something is wrong, in your house, in your street, in your neighborhood.  Maybe Bk 2 will have it..... 3.5/5.

So, how has your RIP VI reading going?  Have you read anything good and satisfying so far?

If you are in the mood to discuss horror, Emily over at Telecommuter Talk has a post on why she reads horror, here.  She took it from my previous post with questions I asked at the end, of my thoughts on why I read horror, here.  Do you have any ideas about why you enjoy reading ghost stories or horror, that you are discovering while you make your way through this challenge?  Why do you look forward to this challenge so much?  What have been your favourite discoveries over past RIP reads?  Please let me or Emily know, we both love to discuss horror, as you can see!  (Thanks Emily, too, for doing a whole post on this subject!)

My favourite RIP reads
I've been a part of RIP for three years now.  I have read some really good ghost stories, been thoroughly scared, and discovered some very good novels.  In fact, one of my RIP reads became my books of the year:
Lonely Werewolf Girl(actual book review here) - Martin Millar - 2008.  I see that The Woman in Black - Susan Hill, and The Terror - Dan Simmons, and The Night Country - Stewart O'Nan, were all read that year.  No wonder I couldn't decide which to pick - in looking back, these all could easily be my books of the year.  In fact, I thought The Terror was,  I loved it so much also, for a separate year.  I think in my mind they are tied now, both are so good.  2008 was a banner year for me.  Coraline by Neil Gaiman - another YA horror book that lingers.  Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle.  They were all on my top 10 books for 2008.  I've linked to all my reviews in case you are looking for something to read for RIP, or just want to see what I thought about the books.  Those are all my favourite reads, too, now.  Books that are permanently on my shelf, along with The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff, and The Passage by Justin Cronin.  I couldn't wait for RIP to read the last two, but if I had, they would be part of this select group. 


animewookie said...

Wow! Three out of four...pretty good :D Great reviews TY

Susan said...

Animewookie: you're welcome! I hope they help you find some good books to read too!

Kailana said...

I really enjoyed Anya's Ghost! I have The Thirteen on my TBR pile... I never even thought of it for R.I.P. As to The Strain, that is a series that I mostly enjoy reading, but it is not something I need to own or reread...

Suey said...

So glad to hear that Under the Dome is unputdownable! We're doing a group read for RIP and this makes me a little less wary about the whole experience!

Eva said...

I think you've sold me on Anya's Ghost! Also, I saw in your sidebar that you've read Shades of Milk and Honey but I can't find a blog post about you recommend it?

Gavin said...

Great reviews, Susan. I've added some King to my possible reads for R.I.P. I think I'll read Full Dark, No Stars before Under the Dome And I hope my library has Anya's Ghost!

Chris said...

I REALLY need to read Under the Dome…matt's trying to get me to read it. And I'm thrilled that you enjoyed Anya's Ghost :D

Susan said...

Kailana: Did you review Anya's Ghost? I'll link it if you did. I'll come see :-) The Strain is a fun read, just not serious vampire stuff, and I like the serious stuff I guess. I hope you enjoy The Thirteen too!

Suey: Oh Under the Dome will be great for a group read! Wait until you see the group dynamics of Chester's Mills (the town) and how well King captures the different personalities and voices of the people who live there.

Eva: I have read Shades of Milk and Honey, I haven't reviewed it yet. I have a long list of books to review! lol It was a fun read, very enjoyable, just a bit light-weight at the end. I'll do a bigger one shortly, really! Yes, do give it a try, Eva.

Gavin: I have to read Full Dark, NO Stars still. It's on my wishlist for books under my tree this year! Fingers crossed your library has Anya's Ghost :-)

Chris: me and Matt are right! you will really enjoy it, I think. It's a really enjoyable novel, and by now sitting down with a book by King is (for me anyway I've been reading him for all my adult life!) a bit like sitting with a favourite relative. I really want to see what you think about how it all turns out! And thanks so much for telling us about Anya's Ghost, we owe it all to you! lol

Cath said...

It sounds like I might need to look into Susie Moloney!

I've tried hard to think why I love ghost stories so much and really can't decide. I first got into them in the early 90s when I rediscovered my love of reading (not that I ever really lost it) when I read a biography of Gorbachev. One book led to another and I think it was a biography of Jerome K. Jerome that led me to ghost stories when a real life ghostly experience of his, on the battlefields of WW1, was related. I was rivetted and started looking into ghost stories and ended up with every ghost anthology I could find from the library. I think maybe I just love the beautiful writing and the story-telling... I never want to be completely terrified but love it when the story is quite 'creepy' and has a very defined sense of place.

I think my favourite books that I've been introduced to were the Tales of Terror series by Chris Priestley... those were down to Carl I think. Also loved The Thirteenth Tale and The Historian. Really this challenge suits me right down to the ground.

DesLily said...

I really want the woman in black ..need to read it before the movie comes out with daniel radcliff! the trailer looks good and he looks like he fits the part perfectly!

I just got a used copy of the dome but heck if I know when I will ever get to it!! I've never read King before so I hope this one keeps me interested.

Susan said...

Cath: you definitely need to see if you have any Susie Moloney there! Let me know if she is available there? If not, I can happily look for you here. :-D Especially seeing as you love ghost stories and creepy atmosphere. I think you would enjoy her immensely. You are right, this challenge does suit you down to the ground, it does me too. I'm almost done my 4th book for this challenge! Thanks for your answers, too :-)

I really enjoyed The HIstorian (though I like Dracula more I think), and still have yet to read The Thirteenth Tale!

Pat: I can't believe you haven't read any Stephen King yet! My all time favourite is The Shining. I dare you to read it and not be scared!!! I can barely read it now - its' a book that i have to read with the lights on, and someone near by.

And yes to The Woman in Black also. I've seen part of one trailer, and it does look good, doesn't it? You have to read that first before the movie, it is genuinely scary.

Eva said...

I'll have to give it a go then: thanks for letting me know! :) I think the couple of sentences you wrote were great: gave me a good feel for the book!

Susan said...

I've never heard of Susie Moloney, but her books definitely sound intriguing. I'll have to check them out.

I've had UNDER THE DOME on my TBR pile ever since it came out, but it's such a HUGE book. I'm glad it was good. I really, really need to read it.

GeraniumCat said...

Inspired by you and Emily, I wrote a post on why I read scary books. I was *meant* to be writing a review for RIP VI - oops!

Last year I read The Glass Demon by Helen Grant, after reading Carl's review of one of her other books. I completely failed to review it, but I thought it was very good. Tamsin has been my favourite "official" RIP read, though.

Susan said...

Geraniumcat: I'm coming to read it! lol thanks :-) and yes - Tamsin is a very good book, isn't it? the Wild Hunt has always seemed more dangerous after reading Tamsin.

Susan said...

Eva: Oh good! I will keep an eye out for your review :-)

Susan: It took me over a year to read Under The Dome, it sat on my shelf for that long! I find that with big books, when I'm in the mood for them then they are better to read. I can't force myself to read a big book. Next up is Drood, equally as large! lol

You might be able to find Susie Moloney at the library, as for our, her books don't all seem to be available right now.

Michelle @ 1morechapter said...

I haven't read a King since Lisey's Story. Under the Dome looks really good.