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Book Reviews and Author Interviews

On My Bookshelf: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (A Flavia de Luce Novel), by Alan Bradley

as-chimney-sweepers-come-to-dust
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

I was introduced to the series because of a random walk-in at our local Book Warehouse outlet. The mystery series, starring twelve-year old English heroine Flavia de Luce strikes the right balance between precocious and obnoxious, which is a hard thing to do when writing a child’s character! I particularly enjoyed this seventh book because we got to see Flavia in an entirely new setting (and seemingly alone). Her father and her Aunt Felicity have sent her to Canada to attend Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, which is the mysterious school that her mother Harriett attended in her own youth.

Things are getting Secret Society good in the land of Flavia de Luce. I will be tuning in for more! It probably isn’t fair to classify this is a guilty pleasure read because that seems to convey that the story/writing lacks substance (which it does not), so maybe “binge-read” is a better term.

On My Bookshelf: The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

There are books that are masculine and there are books that are feminine, and this is decidedly a feminine book. Set in 1686 Amsterdam, the book tells the tale of eighteen year-old Petronella Oortman’s new life when she arrives at her new merchant husband’s home. The green flags are where I have marked the book’s “mysteries.”

What secrets are kept by her new sister-in-law Marin? Who is the Miniaturist and why does she do what she does (Alas, we are never told the answer to this question, which was a bit unfulfilling, and I have to guess that the Miniaturist is some sort of psychic and uses her powers through her art to try and help or warn her clients). Lastly, why is her new husband, Johannes, so detached from her? This is a book of mysteries, but more importantly than that, this is a book about relationships, love, forgiveness, betrayal, and perseverance. Life marches on, and so does Nella.

The story line between husband and wife was one I certainly was not expecting, and not one I could relate to or want to relate to. Why does Nella care about him after finding out what he did/who he is? I would have left the sucker to rot in prison, and let him march forward to his execution alone. She was not without resources or family, so she could have left, but Nella is not me, so Nella stayed and supported him. Should his punishment have been death by drowning? Certainly not, and the trial proceedings are chilling. Dangerous times.

I did enjoy the character of Nella and the things she persevered through and overcame. The book was a page turner, and kept me reading to finish the 392 page book in about two days. The story did make me think about how awful it would have been to be a woman in that period of time. I am glad I wasn’t, or if I was, that I have not retained hard memories of it now. Even the wealthy women were just property and slave puppets, mostly. Just an awful, awful time.

Interestingly, Petronella Oortman was a real Dutch woman who had a cabinet house. Today, it is on display at The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

On My Bookshelf: The Brothers Cabal, by Jonathan L. Howard

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The Brothers Cabal

Jonathan Howard focuses more on Horst (the vampire brother) in the fourth installment of the series. I thought it was a nice change to have Horst as the main character in this one, and have his personality developed a bit more for us.

A mysterious society (The Ministerium) has raised Horst from the dead. Less Nosferatu / Lord of the Dead, Horst is really more of a Dapper Dan sort of vampire, which makes for some funny reading. Horst soon discovers the true purpose of the society, which is to raise an army of the dead (zombies, vampires, and werewolves, to be even more specific) to take over society. Chapter 8 (“In Which We Encounter Ladies Wearing Trousers”) introduces some female fighter pilots who are fantastically interwoven into the tale. Really enjoyed those audacious trouser-wearing ladies!

One can’t help but read this as a political parody of today’s Globalism / One World movement. It makes you wonder. Would our victory be as clean and clear as Horst and Johannes found their war? Let us hope.

On My Bookshelf: Ghost Story, by Peter Straub

ghost-story
Ghost Story

This has got to be one of the best horror reads I have ever read. Admittedly, the Prologue threw me a bit, but by the time I reached Page 57, I was pulling out my post-it pad and writing: “One of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read.” I was talking about the Fenny and Gregory Bate part, which was really a story within the story (one of the Chowder Society member’s stories).

Page 141 – 142: Love the Dr. Rabbitfoot description.

Eva Galli and Alma Mobley? Shapeshifter, but the same timeless creature in both earthly characters? Some creature is playing a game with the members of the chowder society, and I think it sounds more like a shapeshifter vs. a ghost. Fascinating.

I don’t always, but every now and then I will read other reviews after finishing a book to see what other people are taking away from the read. I seemed to see a lot of criticism about this book in the sense that allegedly it is not a good book for women (the whole Eva accidental death thing, mainly). Bear in mind that this was written in 1979 before the liberal police were out in such full force. Also, it really irks me when a random person writes a criticism about a book allegedly because they feel that the author somehow failed this anonymous reader in some way. “I wanted a story about a woman who graduated from college in 1929 and became a teacher, later becoming the Principal of her school.” Um… okay, well go pick up another book, asshole.

I really wish readers would try to give authors a bit more respect in the sense that, here is a human being who had a story in him to tell. He got it out on paper, and told it, and the book is a wonderful thing. Why can’t we just try to enjoy his work (or any work we are reading for that matter) for what it is instead of getting on the whole “I wish he would have done it this way,” or “I would have written blah blah blah snort.”

Well, you didn’t write it. Likely, you haven’t written anything except a grocery list, much less been published. Peter Straub wrote it, and it could not have been any other way. He wrote what he had to say. It isn’t here to please you per your exact spec and wish. Remember this, please. Sit back and let the author tell you his story.

So I guess I will quit reading other people’s book reviews, because it just winds up making me irritated. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I’m not saying that we all have to like everything, but I prefer it when reviewers are able to say what works for them, what they find inspiring about the writing, or what doesn’t work. Constructive criticism is fine, but for some housewife to get on the internet and pen ignorant reviews of Peter Straub’s work just really kills me. I can’t take it.

Let the Master be, internet reviewers. And by all means, build a fire and make yourself a cup of tea. Pick up this book and read about what the Chowder Society has been getting up to in Milburn.

On My Bookshelf: Johannes Cabal The Fear Institute, by Jonathan L. Howard

johannes-cabal-the-fear-institute
Johannes Cabal The Fear Institute

And… we are back to why I LOVE this series! This time, Johannes does what he does best (in my opinion) — visiting a new world on a quest. This time, Jonathan L. Howard gives a nod to H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dreamlands.” The Fear Institute scouts Cabal, and they are off to The Dreamlands, to find and destroy the source of all the world’s fear (the Phobic Animus).

I loved that their first stop was across the pond to none other than Arkham, in Massachusetts. Cabal fights monsters, and realizes along the way that he has somehow caught the attention of a God (Nyarlothotep). There is a witch, and a whole gaggle of ghouls, one of which knows him (although Cabal has not yet recognized who the ghoul is – a former human from Cabal’s past).

The Dreamlands and the encounters with the characters (not to mention Nyarlothotep alone) are very trippy, and quite frankly, one of the reasons I read books. It is pure, enjoyable fun. Howard is so witty with his pennings of Cabal’s conversations! I frequently find myself writing “Hilarious!” within the book and marking sections with post-its to read later as examples of how a book should be and why I like it so much.

There is a big twist at the end (beginning in Chapter 14) that I particularly enjoyed, marking the passage as “At which point I begin to say DAMN a lot.” And don’t even get me started on the cat scene in Chapter 12. Yikes! Well done, Mr. Howard. Well done. And thank you for this book.

On My Bookshelf: The Prince of Mist, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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The Prince of Mist

This was Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s very first novel! He wrote it in 1992, but it did not get translated into English until 2010. The Author’s Note in the book explains that his first four novels (preceding the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, containing: The Shadow of the Wind; The Angel’s Game; and The Prisoner of Heaven) are young adult novels, but that he hoped the books would appeal to all ages. This one will, though I would venture to rate it PG-13 for adult situations.

My expectations were high going in because the series of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books are some of the best three books I have ever read in my life! Mr. Zafon as a first time novelist gave a chilling and sad ghost story. The subject involves: A clock that goes backwards; a mysterious shipwreck; an evil magician; a garden of statues that move; and a family with young children who move into an abandoned beach house – one where the previous owner’s son drowned. The character of Cain has elements that share commonalities with the character of Andreas Corelli in The Angel’s Game, although in this tale Cain is called a “magician” versus outright making him the devil incarnate.

In other news, I got an email blast the other day announcing that the fourth book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series will be translated into English in 2018. The book is titled “The Labyrinth of Spirits.” I marked my calendar. That is the first time I have ever had to do that for a release so far in advance! I do not want to miss that book. Meanwhile, I still have the other three young adult novels he authored to read: The Midnight Palace; Marina; and The Watcher in the Shadows.

 

On My Bookshelf: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

I have had this finished book sitting beside my desk all summer. While I always enjoy the experience of reading something new, my impression was that this book was a frustrating reminder to me that I don’t understand time travel, and this is why I haven’t blogged about the book.

Tonight, for reasons I will not go into, I now know the truth. It isn’t that I don’t understand time travel at all! The issue was that I don’t understand time travel as the author has written it! 

That’s a big damn difference.

The kalachakra, the ouroborans, those of us who loop perpetually through the same course of historical events, though our lives within may change – in short, the members of the Cronus Club – forget. Some see this forgetting as a gift, a chance to rediscover things which have already been experienced, to retain some wonder at the universe. A sense of deja vu haunts the oldest members of the Club, who know that they have seen this all before but can’t quite remember when. For others, the imperfect memory of our kin is viewed as proof that we are, for our condition, still human.”

But Harry remembers. He is born, lives, and dies, and lives again all over, but it is the same life. The biggest rule seems to be not to tell anyone where or when he’s from in too much detail (to avoid getting killed).

The living seems to be a curse to Harry (and many of his peers). Time is wasted. People are bored. No one cares about anything, because it doesn’t really matter when you are caught in the loop. But, some of them are free in the knowledge that nothing they do really matters. Some of them can manage to swallow a vapid life.

One of the major themes is that the search for meaning in life is hopeless. This sounds like a sure doom and gloom read if you know that going in, but I don’t interpret it that way at all. I think it is only when you realize that it is hopeless, that you can finally be free. It kind of takes the pressure off to just relax and enjoy yourself. Don’t sweat it too much, we’re all just coming around the bend again anyway… I get that. Freedom in the big empty.

I will concede that I don’t know or understand what a quantum mirror is, and have no interest in learning.

On My Bookshelf: Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, by Stefan Kiesbye

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Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone.

I think I read this because I came across an interview of Paul Tremblay (the author of “A Head Full of Ghosts”) either saying he had been reading this book or recommended it or some such. I must be entering a “Halloween Reading” mood.

The book is gripping / horrifying / crass all at the same time. Christian Bobinski is the narrator of sorts, returning to the small village of Hemmersmoor (in Germany) where he grew up for a funeral. He is now aging, and the stories are those of the children he grew up with. “Time is of no importance.”

Many of the character narratives had me writing “What the Hell?!” inside the book. The stories are intertwined, but they aren’t telling one master story, if that makes sense. They are sort of piece-meal. Because some of the subject matter isn’t pleasant, I found it hard to care about the characters. Some of them are real assholes.

Christian is the most engaging of all, a child murderer, though never caught. Was he possessed? We don’t know if he continued the murders as an adult or not. Two stories are worth the price of admission alone. The first, is Christian’s narrative of his sister Ingrid’s death in the beginning, and his dealings with Rico (a/k/a THE DEVIL HIMSELF). The second story, is around the middle of the book and is told by Linde. She encounters the lost heir over at the manor house in a maze on the property and it is FANTASTIC. I could read an entire book about the discovery of the mad Professor in the lost hedge maze of a grand/yet deteriorating mansion on the moor. Hands down one of the most engaging short stories I have read in a long time.

It was evocative of Alice and the Mad Hatter. I like it when insanity is fun, not scary. “Time is of no importance.”

I liked both of those stories a lot. I can see why the book has been compared to “The Brothers Grimm.” Those fairy tales weren’t for children either.

 

On My Bookshelf: Johannes Cabal The Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard

Never before has a deal with the devil been such rollicking good fun!

Johannes Cabal The Necromancer

Howard’s portrayal of Johannes, and his vampire brother (Horst), makes for a hilariously dark read that takes you from graveyards, from town to town, and directly into the pits of hell itself. Johannes is a scientist who previously made a deal with the devil to learn the art of necromancy. Now, he wants his soul back and makes a second deal with the devil in order to win it back. One that involves a dark carnival (read as inspired by “Something Wicked this Way Comes,” by Ray Bradbury) in which Johannes must get one hundred souls signed over to the devil in order to win his soul back.

You will see just how far over the line Johannes is willing to step as far as getting evil/corrupt people to sign over their souls (people who are arguably damned anyway) vs. tricking innocent souls into signing their lives away. It makes for an interesting ponder over what you might be capable of doing to others if it meant saving yourself or someone you loved. Would you damn an innocent in order to save yourself? If you say that you wouldn’t, I bet when push came to shove, you would. The fight for self-preservation in order to live is very strong, and is an ingrained instinct that would be hard to change, even if you wanted to.

The writing is full of wit, and the darkness of the subject matter is balanced with the humor of both the situations themselves, and by the dialogue between the characters.

I loved it! We learn at the end of this book exactly why necromancy is so important to Johannes. He doesn’t want to create a zombie army to do his evil bidding, nothing like that. The point isn’t that he wants a bunch of animated corpses to provide free labor to work in his lab. He has a reason for wanting what he wants that isn’t based on an evil desire to harm the world, and this reason is what makes him a sympathetic character.

This is the first book of a series, and I have already ordered the remaining books, with the exception of the fifth (because it hasn’t been released yet).

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