Friday, 3 October 2008

At last, some book reviews - RIP3 catch-up

Last night, I was all primed to watch two sets of debates - here in Canada it's also our Federal election time, and all five party leaders were having a debate, at the same time - yes, the very same hour!- that the VP debates were happening in the US. So there I was, channel selector in hand.....and I fell asleep. I woke up when it was all over! So I can't give an opinion on either set of debates last night! And I was so looking forward to hearing Sarah Palin for myself, and to hearing our own leaders (hopefully) discuss issues and not resort to name calling as the last few debates have been. All this, to explain that I haven't been able to get on as often as I would like because I keep falling asleep shortly after the kids are in bed! So, here are the round-up of book-reviews from RIP 3, which I've read 6 in total so far, and with one exception, have thoroughly enjoyed them all so far. And yes, before you ask - I do intend to keep reading from my horror list right through to Hallowe'en night! Of course, you all keep adding books I wish I could find up here - Chris at Stuff as Dreams are Made Of
especially: Cherie Priest, The Bat-Poet, and oh no! Today he just reviewed The Graveyard Book here
and it's an amazing review and I still haven't made it to a bookstore yet to get it!!! I've put them all on my immediate to buy list if I ever make it to the bookstore!

Anyway, here are the books I've read and not reviewed yet for the RIP 3 Challenge:

The Night Country, by Stewart O'Nan. I finished this last night. It is one that left me almost in tears, it is so full of melancholy. It's the story of the anniversary a year later of a car crash that kills three of the 5 riders, and gives the perspective from one of the parents of Kyle, one of the 2 survivors, from Tim, the other survivor, from Brooks, the policeman who found them, and the ghosts of the three themselves, one of whom is telling the story. Because it is a year later, the messiness, the terrible grief and anger is felt mostly in the ramifications of that night a year ago, in how life is now, in the book. The sadness is there, but it doesn't overwhelm the story, nor does the grief, or anger, or guilt. It's a beautiful story of life after, and yet, it is also a horror story. Because that night isn't over. Something happened that night, and for everyone who was there, they can't escape it. Not until the ending of this book, are things put right.
Because it deals with grief and loss, it's not a light read. It is intensely moving in places, and I couldn't put it down as I realized there was a terrible secret about the crash. I had to know what it was.
I can promise that you will never look at ghosts or the idea of haunting in quite the same way again. There is no gore here, no truly scary eerie skin-crawling horror. This is a quiet novel about ghosts, and tragedy, and really, it becomes a novel of lost chances and regret. It is bittersweet and melancholic, perfect for autumn and the rainy mists and leaves swirling down. Fittingly, the accident occurs on Hallowe'en night, and the novel occurs over the 24 hour period to the time of the crash a year later. I highly recommend it.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead - James Lee Burke. This is one of the early Dave Robicheaux mysteries, set in Louisiana, in the bayous in Jefferson Parish, and other names familiar to us from the recent hurricanes that have battered that part of the US. Indeed, during this book there are two tropical storms that hit the area! None of course, in the book, do much damage besides flooding. (This is because Tin-Roof Blow-down, the latest book by Burke in this series, is about Katrina and events that happen during the hurricane. I've already been told I'm getting it for Christmas, my mother says it's very very good). In this book, Hollywood has started filming a Civil War movie, and an old boyhood acquaintance of Dave's comes to town, rolling the money out for the movie - Baby Feet Julie the Bone, a mobster; a serial killer is stalking young prostitutes and brutally killing them, and the star of the movie is an alcoholic who sees spirits, and the spirits start talking to Dave. What Dave learns, and how he sovles the case - and gets rid of Julie in the process, makes for at-the-edge of my seat reading. I had to keep telling myself to breathe! Because at the edge of everything Dave Robicheaux does, is his past in the Vietnam War, and the resulting nightmares and alcoholism he has struggled to overcome.
I have always considered these books among the best mysteries written because the crime isn't glossed over, and the politics are dirty. Dirty, and mean, the way we all know now politics are after the past twenty years, both down in the US and up here in Canada. I like the writing, it's honest: "I don't like to bust drunk drivers, I don't like to listen to their explanations, watch their pitiful attempts to affect sobriety, or see the sheen of fear break out in their eyes when they realize they're headed for the drunk tank with little to look forward to in the morning except the appearance of their names in the newspaper. Or maybe in truth I just don't like to see myself when I look into their faces."
One of the things I like best about this series is that Dave is happily married to Boots, and they have adopted Alafair. Batiste helps him out in the bait shop (they run a small fishing boat for hire business on the side). Dave has roots in this community, he is grounded in his family, and this helps keep the terrible acts from taking over the book.
And, Dave has ethics, and these always get him trouble, and since I have trouble keeping myself from speaking out, he is someone I can easily relate too.
There are ghosts in this book, and they play a role in confronting the evil in Dave's parish, as well as resolving a crime from long ago that he witnessed, as well as helping Dave to come to terms a bit more with himself and his past. A very well done mystery. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Wolf Moon by Charles de Lint. This is sadly, the only book I have not enjoyed so far. It was published in 1988, and reads like it was an early effort at horror. His characters are good, as usual, but somewhat cliche, and the dialogue is the weak and very cliche. It's a fascinating idea - a musician who can call forth the true shapes of things, and is hunting werewolves, which the main character, Kern, is. This book is set in medieval country, as was many of Charles' early efforts like Riddle of the Wren, which also has some of the same flaws - but is better told, which is why people know it and not Wolf Moon! The musician is a harpist, and one dimensional. We aren't even told why he hunts werewolves! Sorry, I know I'm giving a bit of the plot away, but I really wanted to like this book because I could see the idea he was working on, but it isn't a natural fit. The fantasy elements are great, and work, and the horror becomes cliche, down to the musician bespelling them all against Kern for being a werewolf. Granted, one character, Fion, is able to break it, but I really wanted a character to surprise me, and in the end nothing did. I wish I could recommend it, so to those who want to read a book early in a successful writer's career - and a book that isn't very good (to cheer you up! keep writing!), here's one to try! Otherwise, this can be, sadly, missed.

And, finally, last, but it's one of my favourites (by now you should know I leave the icing for last on the cake, all the best things I leave for the end, I want the bad news first so I can have the good news last!!! - I'm that kind of person!) so far, a really decent horror story, Alexandra Sokoloff's The Harrowing.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a first novel, and nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. It didn't win, and I haven't read the winner of that year yet to know if it should have, but definitely The Harrowing deserved to be nominated. It is scary! It's got a ghost haunting a college dormitory, past suspicious deaths, an ouija board, and creepiness and unsettling descriptions of being alone in the dormitory over Thanksgiving holidays: 'And Robin hadn't really imagined how different it would feel - that there was a life force in the presence of others that pervaded the building. Even when she was in her own room, consciously unaware, her subconscious must have registered all the others.
Now the Hall was as empty and dead as a shell.'
The descriptions are a little heavy-handed in obvious symbolism - the outside of the hall Robin compares to the delirious imaginings of Hawthorne and Poe, the grave, emptiness, darkness, are mentioned often in the first few pages. Bear with this - it gets better, especially as the other characters meet in the dormitory living room one night over the holidays and the story really gets going. It is a quick read, by that I mean it is a fast-paced horror novel, with characters that could have been cliched but turn out not to be. In fact, this book is like that - it could have been a walking cliche, but everything turns out much darker, deeper, and well-thought out.

I read the book in a night. There was no way I could go to sleep with the horror lurking in that building, with the characters facing the unknowable - will they survive? they are young adults and so not always bright in their choices, but they are faced with an ancient evil that does lift this book from the ordinary "teens make bad choices and pay the price' bad ghost story novel. This is a good story. I dare you to read it and not get scared at some point! At the least, not get creeped out at the idea of staying in a dormitory alone. I sure couldn't. My imagination is barely contained at the best of times! I really like how the characters have layers, and aren't one dimensional, and I really like how the plot is resolved. This is a really satisfying ghost story with some really thrilling, scary moments. (*Note: sorry for all the reallys. I was writing this with pizza waiting on the counter....and the kids were needing attention....)

This is a great close-to-Hallowe'en scary ghost story read, well-deserving of its nomination, and I think deserves to be more widely read. I like the quote that Robin hears on the last Friday before Thanksgiving begins: "But while Freud contended that the forces that drive us come from within us, our own unconscious, his disciple and colleague Jung believed there was a universal unconscious around us, populated by ancient forces that exist apart from us, yet interact with and act upon us." He paused, looked around at the class.
"So who is right? Do our demons come from without, or within us?"

And that is how I look at horror - it is an archetype. We all know horror, we have all encountered it in some form in our lives, so how do we deal with it? Horror novels give us some options and show conclusions. How can we deal with horror? And how can we hold ourselves together when we do encounter it? I look at horror novels as signposts along the way - either pointing for a way through the trees safely, or showing bad decisions leading to traps, cliffs, and paths that end that end in graveyards.

I am so enjoying this challenge. I know I keep saying this, and I really am!

Other links to books:
The Night Country: 3M (An Adventure in Reading)


? said...

Hello Susan and all,

I know that saying " the book in a night. There was no way I could go to sleep with the horror lurking in that building.."

In my case, from the moment I open the first page of a book, I become enslaved which is why I try to read as many as possible at the same time to free myself from this bondage. Right now, there are a number of gates I need to open. Really interesting challenge.

But, Ill be checking 6 of these books out - you make it seem ever so interesting as though one was watching a preview of it. appears you may be succeeding at making me a reader of very modern books although I wouldn't want to be a very mordern mind reader.

You seem to be at the vanguard of things and into the thriller genre and the above seem exceptional. I think Ill get the Night country going by your depiction of an appealing melancholy...

Don't know whether I asked if you had read any of rushdies books but hope to see you on red eyes?

Until we blog again.

raidergirl3 said...

You made The Night Country sound so good, I ran off and requested it at the library. I've been wanting to read a O'Nan book too.

Susan said...

red eyes: I'm in the middle of reading Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which I have to admit i;ve put aside rather gladly for this challenge! I'm thrilled I'm tempting you to open some of these 'modern' books, though I wouldn't say I was at the vanguard - Nymeth and Chris read more of what's really new in the field that I do. I'll by your blog shortly.....

raidergirl3: lol! thank you! I was hoping someone would want to read it. Stephen King really liked it also, gave it a 'must-read' review when it came out, so I had been keeping the title in mind for a while until I finally found a copy. I hope you enjoy it!

chrisa511 said...

Well thanks! I'm glad that you've enjoyed the reviews. I hope you do get the Graveyard Book soon! In the Electric the way, sounds really cool! I actually live in Jefferson Parish, so I really need to get my hands on that one!

Becky said...

"The Harrowing," sounds incredible! I just finished reading, "Recovering Charles," by Jason Wright. It is a great novel that centers around the events of Hurricane Katrina- it really was a well written book, with a great heart warming story. I have been looking forward to something new to read and am going to give,"The Harrowing," a try- it will be exciting to read it around the Halloween season! Thanks for suggesting it.

Ana S. said...

The Night Country sounds so beautiful. I love that kind of bittersweet and melancholy ghost story. And The Harrowing sounds great too, in a different way.

I'm sorry to hear about Wolf Moon! Judging by your review and Chris' recent review of another one of his horror books, it sounds like de Lint is much better at fantasy!

David Alan Richards said...

The Harrowing sounds cool. I've got to check it out.

David Alan Richards said...

Sorry, that's:

Bybee said...

That's a nice picture on your header. Beautiful.

DesLily said...

If it isn't Chris it's Carl. If it isn't Carl it's Nymeth. . and on and'd think they got together and own the bookstore! lol

glad you finished RIP and enjoyed so many books!

heather (errantdreams) said...

Ooooh. Now I really want to read "The Harrowing." :D

Susan said...

chris: you haven't read any of Burke's books? I hope you give them a try one day! And I just picked up my copy of Graveyard Book!

becky: I hope you like The Harrowing! It really is a fun, good ghost horror story!! I'll look out for Recovering Charles, thanks!

nymeth: I hope you can get your hands on them!!! and yes, Charle's fantasy is much better than his horror, I am finding.

david: I'll come see you shortly. thanks for coming by!

bybee: thanks! I took so many shots, just to get that one! It suddenly got windy too, so the butterfly was bobbing up and down and the flower started you miss seeing the MOnarch, over there?

deslily: I'm such a sucker, I'm reading more horror! I have too many good ones to not read more before Hallowe'en!!! lol

heather: oh good, I'm hoping my review will get more people reading it, because it is really good and scary too. I hope you enjoy it!!

Daphne said...

Great reviews! I will put The Harrowing on my list, and I'm so glad that you mentioned James Lee Burke because someone at work just recommended his novels today!

Susan said...

daphne: I've read most of his early books, and I really enjoy them. So does my mother, who reads even more mystery series than I do! I hope you do, let me know what you're going to try. And same with The Harrowing, I hope you enjoy it!!

Unknown said...

Thanks, I got a couple of good ideas for my to read list from this post.