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Book Reviews and Author Interviews

On My Bookshelf: Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

I finished Ink and Bone earlier this week. This is book one of Rachel Caine’s The Great Library series. This was a thought provoking read about what could have happened if the Great Library of Alexandria had survived; had kept Gutenberg’s printing press from existence; and had kept control of the dissemination of books and knowledge (making personal ownership of books illegal).

A truly terrifying and captivating read! The post-it notes mark all of the passages that reference the personal journals that the characters kept. Oh yes, the Great Library issued  electronic journals to its citizens. Parents were diligent about their children “writing” in their journals every night, and when citizens died, the journals would be seized for The Great Library to archive them.

Page 34: “..the Library provided them free on the birth of a child, and encouraged every citizen of the world to write their thoughts and memories from the earliest age possible. Everyone kept a record of the days and hours of their lives to be archived in the Library upon their deaths. The Library was a kind of memorial, in that way. It was one reason the people loved it so, for the fact that it lent them a kind of immortality.” 

Meanwhile, the Library also used the electronic journals to spy upon its own citizens. Really, really scary. And timely. These people should have kept handwritten journals, not electronic diaries! Perhaps a secret diary journal?

Ink-and-bone-rachel-cain
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Thankfully, we still mostly have the right to be secure in our own papers. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t have that anymore? Chilling!

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On My Bookshelf: Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt

Oh wow, did this book knock my socks off! The mix of the Western New York references; coupled with cults/religious children’s homes really wove together nicely to up the creep factor for me. I loved the clues that the author laid out for the reader as to Ruth’s identity. Maybe I’m slow, but it kept me guessing up until almost the end.

This is one of those books that has a “Sixth Sense” vibe in that you don’t really appreciate everything and how it all ties together until the very end. Then you look back, and think, oh wow, the girl in the motel who gave the speech about dead people?! Seriously?! Sheer brilliance!

Also, in the beginning, I for sure thought that when Nat and Ruth were in the basement and Mr. Bell first appeared, that he was a demon! This is one of the creepiest books I’ve read in a long, long, time. I highly recommend it.

mr-splitfoot-samantha-hunt
Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt

On My Bookshelf: The Invisible Library [series by Genevieve Cogman]

invisible-library-series-by-genevieve-cogman
The Invisible Library [a series by Genevieve Cogman]
I recommend this series to any reader who enjoys escaping into imaginary worlds, and loves reading books about books! Her world building scratched what I will always refer to as my “Harry Potter” itch. An invisible library whose sole purpose is to send their librarian agents out into alternate worlds to capture/claim books for the library? Check! Fae and dragons? Check! Secret agents, a detective who resembles Sherlock Holmes, and an assortment of other possible spies and traitors? Check!

Sign me up for more!

 

On My Bookshelf: Scary Stories Treasury, by Alvin Schwartz

scary-stories-treasury
Scary Stories Treasury, by Alvin Schwartz

If you are a child of the 1980s, Alvin Schwartz’s holy trinity of scary stories for children likely gave your library card a decent amount of exercise. I recently sat down one winter’s evening to revisit the tales. These Boo Men would have given T.S. Eliot a case of the Hoo-Has! (And perhaps you’re alive/And perhaps you’re dead/Hoo ha ha – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n16/mark-ford/i-gotta-use-words).

I did not remember Stephen Gammell’s illustrations being so terrifying, but many of them truly are!

My favorite tales from “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” which is the first installment of the seriesinclude “The Thing;” “Cold as Clay,” “The Guests,” and “Room For One More.” I loved that these all involved ghost stories or premonitions of death. Arguably, as an adult reader, the stories that foretell death are truly the most terrifying tales in the bunch. In “The Thing,” the boy touches the wraith to see if he is real, is followed home by said wraith, and is seemingly marked for death, succumbing within the year. Whether or not the laying of hands on The Thing is what caused his death, or not remains open for debate. What I mean is, if the boy did not actually touch the wraith, would the premonition not have come to pass? Could he have escaped death, or was it coming for him nonetheless, no matter what he did?

For instance, the character in “Room for One More,” has a dream of a hearse pulling up in the driveway, and the driver looks at him and says: “There is room for one more.” He thinks that he is dreaming. He goes into work the next day and finishes his day. He goes to leave the office and presses the button for the elevator. Inside, stands the driver of the hearse. “There is room for one more,” he says. The man declines, and the elevator goes on to crash and everyone dies. The man somehow escaped death because he remembered his dream and did not go when summoned. But does he escape without consequence? When death comes again, will he be even more pissed?

Deep questions.

These stories are based on folklore, and had to have an origin, mind you. Once, when the world was young, maybe the veil was thinner, and death marched openly, and gave you a fighting chance if you were cunning enough to be paying attention and heeded his warning. Death as a forerunner. Hmm…

More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” contains a story that is straight out of a horror movie, and if I ever write a horror script, I will make this scene my own. “One Sunday Morning” is the tale of Ida and what she sees when she is awakened in the dead of night by the church bell. Those of you who know firsthand that one of the scariest places you can ever be is inside the darkened sanctuary of a church at night will be creeped out beyond belief by this short tale. What do they get up to in there during the dead of night? You don’t want to know. And you certainly don’t want to be there for it! The Annotations about this little piece of folklore state: “this tale is rooted in the ancient belief that the night belongs to the dead and that places of worship are haunted after dark.” I have no doubt.

“Scary Stories 3” contains two very chilling tales of death’s arrival: “The Appointment,” which is apparently another ancient tale (this one is based on a young man seeing death in the marketplace in Damascus), and “Like Cat’s Eyes,” which reminds me of what happens in the 1990s movie “Ghost,” when the bad men die. CREEPY AS ALL GET OUT!

If you have not picked up this series since you were ten years old, I highly recommend that you treat yourself to a new look as an adult. But not if you are alone at night in your house. Don’t get crazy.

 

 

 

On My Bookshelf: The Bertie Project, by Alexander McCall Smith

the-bertie-project
The Bertie Project – Alexander McCall Smith

This is the latest installment in the 44 Scotland Street Series. Much like the Isabel Dalhousie series, nothing much happens. This is not to say that the books are about NOTHING. Not so. They are about life. This is my favorite series by Smith.

Alexander McCall Smith sometimes seems to me to be to literature what the great Observational Comics are to comedy. Not always funny, per se, but masters at telling stories about “real” life. And how timely some of these stories are.

In this installment, Smith cracks wise a bit about political correctness, and how everything is out of bounds now “interdicted by self-appointed guardians of sensitivity.” Domenica and Angus have a conversation on which she remarks “Now we’ve come to expect that everybody we see wants to kill us.” A most interesting remark.

Smith is one of my favorite authors, and I think I have read just about every book he has published. Beautiful, beautiful, words.

I was nearly in tears when I thought one of the characters was dying. Although, the description of his last thoughts is perfect. If we must go, please let it be like this:  Page 159 –

“He was aware of movement; some pressure on his arms, as if somebody were pulling him, and for a few moments he resented that there should be this intrusion. But then he felt sleep claim him, and all sensation drained away, faded, and he no longer cared. So this was what it was like to die: it was an abandonment, a giving up, an allowing of life to drain away. It did not mater, he thought. It did not matter.”

The Irene/Stuart relationship is getting interesting and very controversial. I was not in agreement with Stuart’s choice, but I bet many others are.

Lastly, a piece of advice from our friends across the pond:  “Never eat at a restaurant called Momma’s.” Now that remark, I would normally have to take umbrage against. However, I have not eaten at any such establishment called “Momma’s,” although growing up, we often visited “Mama’s.” Well, obviously that’s just different.

Lovely time!

On My Bookshelf: Deadfall Hotel, by Steve Rasnic Tem

Deadfall Hotel
Deadfall Hotel, by Steve Rasnic Tem

I read this book for the second time this year, and it was almost even more enjoyable! I highly recommend this one for those of you who like your literary fiction on the “haunted” side. I can’t help but be vaguely reminded of the animated “Hotel Transylvania” film franchises (which I enjoyed, thank you very much), although this really is not a romping good time at all (though it is not without hope and redemption).

The author can go a little surreal on you from time, and certainly does with the whole cat thing, but “The King of the Cats” in Chapter 3 is just about as perfect as it gets if you want to see an example of how to write the ordinary into sheer horror (how can a little kitty be scary, you ask? Just read.).

I have underlined so many passages, but I will leave you with this to chew on from Page 284:

Most ordinary people, certainly, were monsters…They dreamed all their lives, and in almost every instance they settled for something less than what they dreamed. They took the job they could get, they married the person who would have them, they did the things they knew they could do without pain or humiliation. They lived haunted by the ends to come…They settled.”

If that doesn’t concisely sum up contemporary real-deal American Horror, I don’t know what does. “This is what we have. You do what you can do.”

Wow.

On My Bookshelf: Stoker’s Manuscript, by Royce Prouty

Stoker's Manuscript
Stoker’s Manuscript

For full synopsis, see: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-15855-1

Royce Prouty penned this debut in 2013 and was a Bram Stoker Award Nominee for “first novels.” What a fun/scary ride! I love a book about a book, but throw the legendary Dracul family in the mix, and you have me up at night turning pages!

The elements that really worked for me were: the idea that an informer with inside knowledge into the Dracul family/vampire culture was actually giving Bram Stoker notes when he was writing “Dracula;” the idea that there were missing pieces from Stoker’s manuscript that needed to be found; that God created the vampire first before he created man, and after seeing what he did, gave man a soul; and the personalities/dialogue scenes between Radu/Joseph and Vlad/Joseph.

I’m not sure if this is what people call “fan fiction,” but if it is, I’m thinking this is the first piece of fan fiction that I enjoyed. Definitely time and money well spent!

On My Bookshelf: The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

the-thirteenth-tale
The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield

This is my second reading, the first being not long after the book’s release date in 2006. I honestly could not remember a great deal of the plot or why I liked it so much the first time, so approximately ten years later I gave it another look. The second read did not let me down, but I must say that I am noticing that I am getting a little sensitive to violence and any general unpleasantness in my entertainment choices as I age.

The book is not light fare. There are dark family secrets to be unearthed, and you will not be disappointed with the mystery or the way in which it unravels. The 400 pages go by quickly, and I found myself caught up in the story and reading more than usual in long stretches in a desire to know how the story would end.

I almost think of it is a “Secret Garden” for adults, but I don’t know why. Must be the whole English Moors / old mansion thing. I really liked the way Setterfield used the character of Margaret as a biographer for the famous English author Vida Winter, to tell the story. A contemporary gothic mystery novel. I very much liked it still.

On My Bookshelf: Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

something-wicked-this-way-comes
Something Wicked This Way Comes

A horror classic, but you will have to work for it! I probably spent five days trying to get through this book. Is it rewarding? Yes. But you will have to work for it! My best guess is that I became stalled because the writing is very poetic, and my brain didn’t logically follow the prose as quickly as I normally would. One example on Page 257: “Every glass threw javelins of light which invisibly pierced, sank deep, found heart, soul, lungs, to frost the veins, cut nerves, send Will to ruin, paralyze and then kick-football heart. Hamstrung, the old old man foundered to his knees, as did his suppliant images, his congregation of terrified selves one week, one month, two years, twenty, fifty, seventy, ninety years from now!”

Multiply that paragraph to fill up a 290 page book, and you can see why I did not exactly fly through this book. It was work for me, not an easy pleasure read.

There are plenty of terrifying scenes involving the carnival and its characters, and the book is absolutely a prime example of how “to get it right” if you are an author studying such things. I’m just saying read this when you have a caffeine buzz, and not when you are tired from having already worked all day!

I did enjoy the feel-good aspect of the father (a janitor in the town’s library) getting to play the hero to his son and his son’s friend, although some might say the Aw Shucks aspect of the early 1960’s does not translate so well to today’s times (which is a shame).

 

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