Sunday 23 October 2011

RIP VI round-up - 4 novels of thrills and chills, and one fairy tale

Happy late blogversary to me!!
I am dismayed to see that it has been two weeks since I last posted.  I am chagrined, since I meant to post more often these past few weeks, and get back into some semblance of regular writing here.  However, my life is beyond topsy-turvy this year, it is whirlwind of change. And somehow, I have passed my anniversary again!  Every September I get ready to celebrate blog cake and drink with you, and every mid-October I suddenly realize it's gone past, slipped by in the annual frenzy that is October for us.   For today, happy late 4th anniversary to me!  October 1, 2007, was my very first blog post, here.  I've come a long way since then, and not so far, either.  I've made some very good friends, I've learned about Christmas customs around the world thanks to Kailana and Marg's annual Christmas Advent Tour, and most of all, I've discovered that the love of books is indeed the world over. This love of reading, and sharing the books we love, talking about and discussing ideas that books hold, is what I cherish the most - our book blog community.  So even if my posts are a bit far between, it's not because I love you any less, my dear book community, it's that so much is occurring in my personal life that I am not able to come here to talk about books as often as I would like right now. 

RIP reviews:  books I really enjoyed
So, because despite my wish to talk about each book I read in its own post, in order to get these reviewed in this last week of Carl's RIP VI challenge, here are five more books I have read for RIP this year:
Winter House - Carol O'Connell            
   Long-time readers of this blog will know of my love for Detective Kathy Mallory, fictional police detective in the ongoing Mallory series by Carol O'Connell.  Mallory is a detective unlike any other.  She was kidnapped as a child and sold to a child snuff video maker.  She escapes, but what this has done to her, has made her into a beautiful, feral person, completely amoral, and yet with her own sense of right and wrong.  She is also highly intelligent, and the way O'Connell writes about her, surprisingly vulnerable as well as loyal.

Now onto the book - Winter House is a gothic mystery.  Winter House is the name of the house where a most famous massacre in NYC history took place.   The Winter family, whom of most were massacred nearly 60 years ago, consisted of   9 children and  2 adults, plus two servants (a cook and nanny).  Only 4 children survived, two of whom disappeared shortly after.  They were all killed by an ice pick stabbed in the heart.  The case is unsolved though generally believed that one of the surviving children, Nedda Winter, who was 12 at the time, and one of the ones who disappeared, is the killer.  Winter House opens with the discovery of a burglar who is dead in Winter House, stabbed through the heart with an ice pick, and the discovery that Nedda Winter has been found and brought home secretly by her niece, for a reconciliation with her two surviving siblings. Kathy Mallory picks up on the case because it is set in such an infamous locale, unsuspecting that Winter House is more than just a house darkened by its tragic past.  This is a case that will threaten her and her friend Charles Butler's sanity.  Is Winter House haunted?  Maybe.  It's a house where nothing is what it seems, where no one appears as they are, where murder is only the worst of the crimes committed on and by the Winter Family.  It's a very good mystery, though a bit convoluted in how Nedda Winter goes undiscovered for so many years.  Tarot cards play a part, as does jazz, and a bird.  Very very gothic mystery, and perfect for RIP. 4.5/5

Tricks - Ed McBain
 I just finished this mystery last night.  I am really glad I read it, after putting it on my RIP list for the past 2 years.  This is a pure police procedural.  It is set in New York City also, like Winter House, and is one of many books in the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain.  It takes place in a 12 hour period, on Hallowe'en night,  covering  the different crimes that take place for the evening shift of the 87th precinct.  There's a cut-up corpse whose body parts are found in different locations of the city; there's the police set-up to try to catch a serial rapist/murderer, and there's a gang of children raiding liquor stores and shooting the owners.  I really enjoyed this mystery.  I liked the blunt cop talk, the realism of policing the streets, of working with partners, of talking with civilians, of trying to solve crimes in the midst of facing dangers, and of the risks and payouts men and women of the badge take and face every night.  There are several deaths in this novel, most by gun, and a chilling cat-and-mouse game between the policewoman set up as a decoy for the serial rapist, and the rapist.  Good plain policeman's work, and little bit of luck: very enjoyable novel to read, and sets the mood for Hallowe'en next week.  4.5/5 
Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror - Chris Priestley    
I have been on a reading spree this weekend, as I suddenly realized October was almost over and I was nowhere close to my goal of 80 books read by the end of this month.  That will leave me 10 books each for November and December to make my 100 books read in a year.  Luckily it's a break in between birthdays and seasonal events, and cloudy enough outside that I don't feel guilty AT ALL staying to read as much as I can.

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror is absolutely delightful.  It is a young adult novel of ghostly terror tales, told by Uncle Montague to his great-nephew (or great-great, or even further back, no one knows for sure) Edgar, in his great old dark house all by itself in a corner by some woods.  Edgar goes to visit him when he is home from school, to hear these ghostly tales of eerie horror, even though the woods slightly frighten him, even though his Uncle lives only with the mysterious Franz who Edgar has never ever seen, even though the house is so dark and so cold, that Edgar goes - and has seen only - the study, where they spend all their time in front of the fire drinking tea and eating biscuits, and the lavatory for when Edgar has had too much tea. In this darkly thrilling house - because I don't know about you, Gentle Reader, but I would love to see this house, and go into it, because of the ghostly presences we become aware haunt it.  The tales themselves are everything good ghost stories are:  filled with all kinds of children who never quite fit in with their surroundings, who find mysterious girls and boys appearing to them, who lead them to danger, to horror, and sometimes to death.  Haunted trees, paintings, macabre items, and terrifying glimpses of madness and horror - these stories have them all, told delightfully by Uncle Montague to lonely Edgar.  When we finally reach the ending, as Edgar starts his walk home through the same forest that still makes him uneasy, Uncle Montague reveals his terrible secret, and it is so satisfying.  This is one of the best ghost story novels I have read in a long time. I can hardly wait to read it to my children.  The illustrations are eerie and fabulous, reminiscent of Edward Gorey - down to the pen and ink black lines and off-kilter subjects - and I am totally in love with both. 5/5

Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs - retold by Randall Jarrell from the Brothers Grimm, illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert                
I put all that down for the author/illustator, because they are both important for why this retelling of Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs is so enjoyable.  Many of you know that while I read the Disney versions of many Grimm tales as a child, I am not a big fan of Disney.  I discovered this edition of Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs sometime this year, in a second-hand bookstore.  I picked it up because the illustrations are lovely.  I really just grabbed it without looking at it closely, because of the pictures.  I didn't know that Randall Jarrell was a poet, and I didn't know that he kept the original ending of this fairy tale. I was shocked, thrilled and a bit disturbed by the ending which is what a fairy tale is really supposed to do to us. The Evil Queen Stepmother is made to put on a red-hot iron pair of dancing shoes and dance until she dies. I was disturbed in part because I think of this ending as the ending to the Red Shoes, and shocked because I still think it is too good a death for the wicked stepmother.  That got me thinking to what Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs might really be about: beauty.  In some versions of Snow White, she is kind, so kind and soft-hearted and sweet that the Huntsman spares her life, that the animals love her, that the dwarves love her, etc.  What this retelling - and I have to go back and reread the original Grimm, too - makes clear, is that it is Snow White's beauty that affects how everyone treats her.  Several things occur to me here:  where is Snow White's father, the king?  Nowhere. This isn't a story about parents and children (because he doesn't look for her either, does he?  Does he even notice she's gone? what kind of father is he?); it's a story about women and beauty.  From the opening lines when her mother asks for a daughter as beautiful as the red blood on the snow when she pricks her finger:  "a daughter as white as snow, as red as blood, as black as the wood in her window frame."
Nothing about her character, her personality, nothing about being good or pure or kind or loving.  It's about looks.   Snow-White - named because she looks as pure as white snow, another image of purity and beauty-  is shaped by her looks, from her name, to why she is cast out (jealousy), to why the huntsman saved her , to why the prince falls in love with her, to why the dwarves don't stone her or drive her out: her beauty. It is the making of her doom, and also her future happiness, with the making of her place in the world beside the prince, because she is beautiful.  As an illustration of how we judge others by how they look, this book is perfect.  As a book about how Snow White's goodness outshines her beauty, we see this by how the animals don't eat her, and how she bargains with the dwarves for her livelihood : not through sex, but through keeping house. It is fortunate for her that she is a child, and not a teenager, when she is cast out!  It is why I love fairy tales too, and having read this version, I am reminded that the best fairy tales are dark, and about the good and the bad in the human heart. I loved this version, and can see myself rereading it many times in the future.

The illustrations are superb.  The dwarves, wonderfully, magically, are not rendered boyish or non-sexual, but are true dwarves, each with their own face and body, short men. Each with their own personality and character clearly designated - not happy, or sleepy, or another stupid name like that, but real people.  I wonder if the dwarves serve a deeper purpose in this tale than I ever suspected, in that once they get over her beauty, they tell her she must do - she must earn her keep.  It is this that makes this fairy tale so magical for me, not just that the animals love her so, but that she makes her way willingly in the world and earns her way not through her beauty, but by working.  I love the fact that in this version, the dwarves are there at the end, making music in the castle as the prince and princess (because Snow-White is a princess after all) marry.  The other picture I absolutely love, is the one of Snow White fleeing in the forest:  all the animals have come to watch her, drawn to her beauty, and they are partially hidden in the drawing, so it draws your eye in to the scene. It's a lot of fun picking out all the animals, all rendered true to their forms, too.  Wonderful. 5/5

Poltergeist - Kat Richardson
The final book I have read for RIP VI so far - because I am reading two more this week, I hope - is the second in the Greywalker series.   My review for the first in the series, Greywalker, is here.  I read it last year for RIP 5.  (and look, I missed blogging about my anniversary last year too!) Poltergeist is about just that, a poltergeist.  It's not so simple though, as it is also the result of collecting a group of assorted people for a psychological project on what happens when you gather a group to see how far the group will go when they believe they have created something for which they are not responsible for the subsequent actions of.  In this case, paranormal research:  if you create an entity from scratch, a personality, will it begin to have a life of it's own?  What if someone in the group does have latent psi skill of some kind?  And all the members are carefully chosen for their strength of will or suggestibility? What if they do pool their collective mental and emotional energy, who is responsible for the entity?  It's a fascinating premise.  PI Harper Blaine is recommended to come examine if there is something 'fishy' with the experiment, as there is more poltergeist energy than the coordinator things there should be, and he is wondering if someone is sabotaging the experiment.  One person involved in the experiment dies shortly after.  PI Blaine is not your usual private investigator, though.  She died for two minutes, and ever since she can see spirits, talk to ghosts, and walk in the world between this world and the next; the gray world where vampires, zombies, the undead, the ghosts, hang out. She's also smart, and wary, and soon comes to the conclusion that she is being set up to take the fall for the experiment if it fails or more people die.
I really like Harper.  She is still coming to terms with being able to see the dead, the undead, and everything else, and what it means for her life. The series is set in Seattle, and the author, Kat Richardson, uses some real settings - houses, streets, events - to ground this series in the here and now.  I love how the supernatural affects - intersects - with reality, with how Harper has to learn how to ignore the supernatural around her, because they are everywhere.  This novel also involves theories about what causes poltergeists, and hauntings, and how people can be the agents allowing them in, and how this would work. There is a groundedness to this series that makes it viable - she has a ferret names Chaos, who when is let loose in the house, creates pandemonium and chaos much like a poltergeist would. She has a few friends, who give her space and who also have their own unique talents - like calling to like, as it were. I really enjoyed the theory about how ghosts can seem to walk through walls - its because for them, they are stuck in their time period when they lived, where most likely there wasn't a wall or door there. In other words, ghosts walk and see what they know from their lifetime, not from what exists in the now.  I enjoyed this book a bit more than the first, as I like the supernatural  a bit more than sorcery which the first book featured.  Highly recommended, a lot of fun, and very good. 4.7/5

This is also an eerie series, with encounters with the undead, the supernatural, evil, filling both books in the series so far.  I've run out and bought the next two, Underground and Vanished. I hope to catch up soon, as Labyrinth, the one from last year, has a lot of good reviews.

So how is your RIP VI reading coming?  Have you been enjoying this challenge?  Are you in a mood for Hallowe'en in a week's time?  I can't believe it's only one week away.......

Sunday 16 October 2011

Feed - Mira Grant, plus some more horror stuff

Feed by Mira Grant is a fabulous zombie book.  Think of a modern, socially relevant novel that features blogging as part of how the story is told, while all around the storytellers are zombies, and zombie attacks.  Think of a political event, an election, and trying to run an election while avoiding large crowds because they attract zombies.And then think of that hidden fear we all carry around, you know, that fear that the government is NOT telling us what we need to know to survive, and indeed, in this novel, discover that the government might be working for maintaining the fear instead of solving it. Relevant  to today's world? Oh yes. And then throw in two of the cleverest, questioning-everything twenty-something main characters, and you have Feed.  It's about media too,which the word 'feed' plays into - how news is reported, and how to find who to trust to tell the news.  Who do you trust now?  Who would you trust in the event of a world calamity?

In Feed, we learn how the world has changed 20 years after a virus has been released that changes its victims into zombies.   It is riveting reading, full of surprises, including one at the end that found me crying while I was standing in line waiting for a bus.  That's how good Feed is.  Even if zombies scare the dickens out of you like they do me, get this book.  It's really good.  If the tv show The Walking Dead is about how the world ends now with zombies, Feed is about how we have survived the collapse of the world.  It's a  very good horror novel, and one that even those who don't read alot of horror can read, I think.  The gory parts aren't as bad as the tension of waiting for the attacks, because just knowing zombies are lurking everywhere creates its own tension.

As I said, zombies are my 'thing' that I am terrifically horrified by.  I can't even get through 'Night of the Living Dead', which I've tried to.  I can watch 'Sean of the Dead' because of the humour, but not 'Night of the Living Dead'.  I mention this because 'Night of the Living Dead' is referred to in Feed, as is George Romero, the director of this movie and most of it's sequels.  Oh, I have seen 'Dawn of the Dead', barely - stuck in a shopping mall with the undead is kind of like how I feel on most shopping days.  Most of the time, the lurching mindless bodies of the brain-dead fill me with a suffocating panic.  I dream of fighting off zombies, when I do dream of them.  Not werewolves, not vampires - interesting that two of my children have dreamt about vampires, but not zombies, I think.  It's my fear, and that's what I think fear is - intensely personal, a visceral reaction to something that comes deep from my gut, an instinctual 'run away' as fast as I can. So I know there's an important truth there for me too.

What do you think?  Do you have a personal horror or nightmare figure that seizes you when you come across it?  Do you avoid certain types of books or movies because of this type of figure?   have you ever wondered why you are afraid of something?  I have! and now you know - zombies are my thing.  And I still think Feed is an excellent horror novel, despite the eating of flesh.  I'm currently looking for Deadline, the second one in the series.

Look! I bought another book for RIP!!
I read this for Carl's RIP VI challenge.  I am having so much fun with this challenge.  I also bought a new Hallowe'en short story collection that is just out:

Hallowe'en, edited by Paula Gunn.  I found a link to it, here, on, although they are saying that it's only available as an e-book for Kindle.  Since I'm holding a real book in my hands, they're wrong! lol it's a collection of hallowe'en short stories, featuring all the wonderful scary authors you would hope for: Ray Bradbury's October Game, Peter Straub, Charles de Lint, E. Nesbitt, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Sir Walter Scott, Norman Partridge, Caitlin Kiernan, Edgar Allen Poe, and many more - a wide range of authors from several centuries, all featuring hallowe'en in the story.  I've already read the first story, and plan  to indulge to read more to get ready for Hallowe'en in two - 2! - weeks.  Since I'm currently in a mini-slump of reading, despite being so close to my goal of 100 books read this year, I'm hoping this will charge me up for the final run. 

Scary images to get into the mood for Hallowe'en:
Over at Book Chick City, Carolyn and Laura (the Book Chicks)  are featuring a lovely scary collection of scary art to chill you.  I also love how they managed to decorate their header with hallowe'en items!  I want them too! The very first image featured in the photos is one that we also have in front of our National Art Gallery here in Ottawa, and I hate walking underneath it.  The scary art also features the previously-mentioned zombies.  They really are everywhere!  Is there anything  featured in this collection of art that scares you?  Let them know! and me.  I want to know I'm not the only one scared of spiders and creaky noises in the night and the shambling, walking dead.