Revenge of the Lobster Lover by Hilary MacLeod: Review

The Shores has been cut off from the rest of Prince Edward Island after a chunk of ice removed the only land link. The village is even more isolated than it ever was. It's the perfect place for a wealthy aesthete to hide away from the world. The entire village is nosy curious about their new neighbour, even though he wants nothing to do with any of them. Even local writer Hy can't help herself and peeks in his windows.

Hy really needs to meet her deadline for the Super Saver and finish her article on how to cook lobsters. She also needs to find a speaker for the Women's Institute meeting she's hosting. To kill two birds with one stone, she invites who she thinks is an expert on lobster cookery but in reality is part of the Lobster Liberation Legion, a group devoted to lobster rights. This does not go down well in a town dependent on the lobster fishery. To make things worse, the lobster lover won't leave.

If Hy ever wants to face the Women's Institute ladies again, she'll have to get the lobster lover out of the village. It won't be easy since 'that woman' has plans of her own, plans that will get Hy entangled with poachers, vandals and maybe even murderers.

It took me awhile to get into Revenge of the Lobster Lover by Hilary MacLeod. The story starts out slowly and it gets a bit complicated. MacLeod also tends to make asides that I found distracting and pulled me out of the story. However, I was pleased at how everything came together in the end. I was also impressed with the characterizations. There are a lot of characters in Lobster Lover, a whole village, but each one has their own particular quirks. And I want to know more about them. I want to know what will happen next to Hy, Ian, and Gus. Will Moira ever stop courting Ian? Will we get to see more of dedicated Mountie Jane Jamieson? I guess I'll find out when I read Mind Over Mussels.

If you like mysteries with a salty flavour, you might like Revenge of the Lobster Lover.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Review (audio book)

Gulp! I hear the shocked gasps as I write this because The Night Circus did not rock my world as it has so many of my book friends.

First up, the synopsis: Celia and Marco are bound to a magic duel that lasts as long as it lasts and in which they create lovely tricks and do-dads for Le Cirque des Reves. Celia was born with particular talents while Marco has his book learning. Celia's really awful father pledged her without her consent when she was a child to a challenge with his adversary's student. Her Dad's nemesis (or whatever he is) plucked Marco off the street in a My Fair Lady sort of way. As adults, Celia and Marco manipulate the circus in progressively greater acts of magic to the delight of audiences while at the same time totally messing with the performers. With each passing year the circus continues to travel the world as Celia and Marco wonder when it will all end.

I've been trying very hard to put my finger on why I only liked The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern while everyone else thinks it's the best thing since Kraft cheese slices. That's a tough one. At first I thought it was the audio, which I had some issues with (tell you later), but that's not it. Maybe it was the magic? No. I listened to The Book of Lost Things a couple of years ago. It was on audio and it involved magic. Yet that book nearly brought me to tears. The Book of Lost Things has a motherless child who enters a magical world. There is a lot of emotion in that book: grief, acceptance, forgiveness. I was connected to the protagonist. That is where I feel The Night Circus failed me. I was never connected to any of the characters. I didn't love them, I didn't hate them. I didn't get a true sense of who they were or what really motivated them.

The true protagonist of this story is the circus. It's like the Cirque du Soleil on crack. The imagery of the circus, the black and white tents and the mysterious contents of those tents, is beautifully written. Who wouldn't want to go to Le Cirque des Reves? There is nothing spooky or scary about it. It's a circus built for happiness. If not for the circus and the beautiful descriptions, I wouldn't have kept listening.

I'm probably being a little harsher than usual on a debut novel but The Night Circus has a lot of fans. It can take it. I think Morgenstern is doing all right. Even if it didn't blow me away, it did for 80 billion other people. And if it didn't do it for you, come join me at the sad people's table.

About the Audio: (I realized it needed new headphones but that has nothing to do with anything.) Jim Dale narrates The Night Circus and I guess he did Harry Potter too. He wasn't too bad but I had a hard time really listening to his narration. I'm not sure why. Also, he gives the twins a thick Irish accent which made them sound 100 years old (and a little bit like Mr Dress-Up). I cringed whenever they spoke. 

Recommended if you like circuses and magic.

Kerfol/The House of the Dead Hand by Edith Wharton: Short Story Review

Edith Wharton takes us to foreign lands in Kerfol and The House of the Dead Hand.

In Kerfol (1916), a man is interested in buying a house (how many of her stories start out like that?) in France. Friends tell him about an ancient estate, Kerfol, so he sets off to look at the place. When he gets there, he finds the place empty, not even the caretaker there to greet him. He decides to do some trespassing. While he's looking around, dogs start showing up and follow him. They aren't behaving like normal dogs and it freaks him out. 

After he returns to his friends' house, he tells them of his experience. They in turn tell him of Anne de Barrigan, a woman in the 1600s accused of killing her husband, Yves de Cornault. It's a well documented story of cruelty and revenge.

Kefol is interesting to me since Wharton creates a piece of historical fiction within the ghost story. It also shows how under the thumb of men women could be at that time. Anne is mentally tortured by her husband by acts of animal cruelty and she can do nothing about it. He completely wears her down. The guy gets what's coming to him though.

The House of the Dead Hand (1904) takes us to Italy and introduces another travelling visitor. Mr Wyant is not looking for a house. This time it's a painting. A friend wishes him to have a look at a rare Leonardo hanging in the house of an acquaintance. The house, with a bizarre sculpture of a woman's dead hand over the door, is owned by a pretentious doctor described in a way that reminded me of Mr Burns from The Simpsons. He is completely obsessed with the painting and only allows a select few to put their eyeball prints on it. He passes off the painting as his daughter's since he used her inheritance to buy it. The girl seems to hate the painting even though she knows a lot about it. Later, Wyant learns that as long as the doctor has his claws on that painting, the girl cannot marry the man she loves.

The House of the Dead Hand is such a subtle ghost story. In fact, it's more psychological than supernatural, reminding me of Shirley Jackson's work. It left me wondering about the girl's state of mind. There's some heavy handed (ha!) symbolism in the dead hand above the door of a house of a woman doomed.

I read both stories not knowing what either was about. It seems serendipitous that both involve a woman trapped by a man who has her in his power. I know Wharton's marriage wasn't happy and her husband admitted to embezzling her trust fund in 1909. She must have had plenty of fuel for these stories. Both stories also end with her usual fatalism. Even death can't free these women.

Of the two stories, I thought The House of the Dead Hand was the better. It is the kind of story that sneaks up on you. Both are more creepy than scary so skittish readers would enjoy them.

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: On Goodreads and Stuff

The first day of autumn has come and gone. The leaves are turning and there is a funky rotten leaf smell in the air. Yep, it's fall. A season full of dramatic read shelf:

Chris's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Goodreads didn't make a change but it did make an addition. You now can get recommendations based on your virtual shelves. I've been playing around with it the last couple of days. It's hit or miss but I have added quite a few books to my want shelf. Books like Stoner (John Edward Williams), Marianna (Monica Dickens), Ten Cents a Dance (Christine Fletcher). It also helps remind me to add books I forgot I read. Earlier this year, I added all the books I have on my actual shelves. I've kept up with updating my Goodreads page as books come in. There are quite a few books that I've given away or borrowed and gave back that I didn't add to Goodreads.

You can also request recommendations from other readers or recommend books for them. I haven't tried it yet. How about you?

It's not a perfect system though. I'm only getting recommendations based on a few books on my shelves. Still, it's fun to play with right now.

Another thing I noticed about Goodreads recently is when I send a friend request I often get a question: Why do you want to be my friend? I understand why people do this, of course. Goodreads is getting a spammy rep.  However, the first time it happened I was taken aback. What do I say? " you"? I only friend request people I know so I try to resist saying, "C'mon, girl, you know me!" But I don't know how to reply. Have you had this question asked on Goodreads? How do you respond? Do you have that question set up on your Goodreads page?

In other book news, I finished a book that is universally loved. I mean LOVED and I thought it was just okay. It's tough not loving a book all the people you usually agree with do. It makes reviewing it rather tricky. I don't want to look like a jerk but I do want to be honest.

IonaThe Classic Circuit is coming up in October and I have my date (October 24) for my review of The Castle of Wolfenbach. I can't wait to read it. There will be swooning, and crying, and rending of the clothes. Dastardly villains  and helpless maidens. Oh the drama!

That's about it. How was your book week?

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Review

Hemingway. Your manly, mannish, macho prose always disturbed my feminine sensibilities. All that fishin', and bull fightin', and crocodile wrastlin' (ok, I made that last one up). Then I read A Moveable Feast and found out that you were just a big softy.

Hemingway started A Moveable Feast in 1957, basing it on the journals he wrote in Paris in the 1920s before he hit the big time. He and his wife Hadley (and baby Bumby) lived in dirty, cold apartments scraping together enough money for a bottle or two of wine. Occasionally, they'd skip off to Switzerland to ski. In Paris, Hemingway met famous artists and writers. He has a lot to say about them. Sometimes it's sweet and sometimes (most of the time) it's gossipy. His pen is kind to those he really loved and harsh to ones he didn't. He talks about the books he read and the authors he admired. His life was books and writing.

He paints a vivid picture of what it was like to be a struggling writer in Paris at that time. The cafés, the wine, the food, the arguments. There are funny stories and bittersweet stories. It felt sincere. The only thing that bothered me was near the end when he says 'the rich' came between him and Hadley 'using the oldest trick there is.' It didn't seem to me that he was taking any responsibility for his affair. It just happened. "Whoops! How did that get in there?" It did sound like he regretted hurting her though.

A Moveable Feast was published posthumously in 1964. His 4th wife Mary edited the 'original' edition. Recently, his grandson edited a 'restored' version. Whenever relatives are involved in a project like this, they are going to be accused of shenanigans. And both were for different reasons. While reading the original, I wondered if Hemingway had had the final say what the book would look like.

So yes, through A Moveable Feast, I warmed up to Hemingway. A bit. We're not bffs or anything but we can hang out.

Spam Haiku

Spam. Most of the time it's incomprehensible goobly-gook, but sometimes I read it and think, "hey, that's almost pretty." I've taken some prize phrases from recent blog spam comments and mashed them together to create haiku poems.

liked the article
your concept is outstanding
but some disagree

How My Heart Misbehaves
physician studies
the pattern on the paper
to see heart rhythm*

To Sew or Not to Sew
a French fashion house,
a long rectangular bag,
locate a seamstress

Nice Place You Got Here
very nice indeed
housing is really wooden
spectacular place

I'm sure I could come up with more but that will do for now. I wonder what other things you can do with spam, besides delete it.

*This one is almost word-for-word. I don't know what they were trying to sell.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: Buddy Read

It's the 1930s. Katey and her friend Eve are trying to make it in the Big Apple but they always have time for jazz.  Kelly from The Written World and I read Rules of Civility as a buddy read. The first half of our discussion can be found on Kelly's blog, the rest is here.

Kelly: I didn’t really understand Eve, either. I think one of my disappointments with the book is that we never really get a chance to come to terms with her. In the beginning she is a main character, but the next thing you know she is gone and I had lots of questions. I agree with you on Tinker, also. Katey had a preconceived notion of who he was and then when you find out the truth, well, it is a bit shocking. He played a role so well that I was surprised by who he was. I definitely felt bad for him. He worked really hard to get where he was, but at the same time he didn’t go about it in the best way.

Wallace was an interesting character. I thought he was just going to be mentioned in that one scene and then never heard from again. The chance to get to know him a bit better was a great idea. He turned out to be a very interesting character and quite a contrast to what we knew about Tinker at the time. I have to say that all of the characters were written very well. It was an evident gift to be able to have so many and manage to bring all of them to life without bogging the story down. I enjoy good characterizations. Anne was another character that I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of in the beginning. I was not expecting her to play as big a role in the book as she did, but when the truth is revealed it makes a lot of sense. What did you think of Anne? Any other secondary characters that come to mind?

Chris: Anne was a character where I had to wonder what her deal was. There has to be a lot to her. She comes off as so sophisticated but I think she’s really needy. She has to have someone under her thumb. The story she told Katey about living with her nanny (I think) was really telling. You are right about all the characters being well written. They seemed to have lives beyond the page. Henry was another character I had trouble with: was he acting the part of the brooding artist or was he just a jerk?

I mentioned listening to this as an audio book, I wonder how that compares to the text version. I heard that there were no quotation marks. How was that for you?

Kelly: The no quotation mark thing didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Those sections where someone was talking were clear, so I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I have read books with no quotation marks before. It is preferable to me than incorrect spelling, grammar, etc. I always have a hard time getting into books of that nature because I keep getting pulled out when I hit a word or phrase that isn’t ‘correct’. I actually enjoyed reading this book. It flowed well and when I had the chance to sit down with it, I have no problem reading large sections in one sitting.

What did you think of the audio performance?

Chris: The book was narrated by Rebecca Lowman. She had a very raspy voice, tough sounding. Very appropriate, I think, for Katey who is a tough cookie. She could turn her New York accent on and off to suit the characters. She was a good choice for the book.

Kelly: That sounds about right.

Did you have a favourite scene?

Chris: I think my favorite scene is right at the end when Katey gets a delivery. That part really got to me. How about you? What did you think of the title Rules of Civility? Do you think it was the right one for the book?

Kelly: I think my favourite scenes were the ones with Wallace. I find that now that some time has gone by, they are the ones that are sticking in my mind the best. He got Katey outside of her box in such interesting ways. I enjoyed the scene where he takes her to learn how to shoot. That ties in with your favourite scene. In the beginning I thought it was going to be Tinker that I was rooting for, but as the story progressed I rather lost interest in him as the ‘love interest’.

As to the title of the book, I enjoy how it ties in with Tinker’s character, so yes, it was a fitting title. I enjoyed how the ‘Rules of Civility’ were included at the end of the book in their entirety so you could see the ideals that Tinker was attempting to live up to. This book definitely takes place during a time of social standards and rules, so I think it is fitting.

Without giving too much away, did the ending surprise you?

Chris: When the revelation happened I was surprised but it all made sense. There were plenty of clues dropped throughout the story. Katey was quite harsh so I was glad when she came around. After that nothing much surprised me. Towles tied up most of the loose ends and that made me happy. I was happy for Katey.

Kelly: I was happy for Katey, too. It seemed like she spent most of the book trying to find something and I think she found it near the end. I was very happy for her and liked her a lot more as the book progressed than I did in the beginning. I think in the beginning I was just not sure what to make of her.

The last thing that I wanted to mention was the cover. What did you think of it?

Chris: I like it. The very 20s photography and text. The way the lady is laid back while the guy talks to her. I could see Katey doing that with her wealthy friends. What did you think of it?

Kelly: I liked it, too. I think it captures the times and the book itself really well. Plus, it is different from the common covers you see nowadays and I enjoy when things are different.

Chris: I think we’ve covered everything we liked about The Rules of Civility. I hope we’ve convinced the people who haven’t read it to give it a try. Thanks for discussing the book with me!

Kelly: I hope so, too! It was a lot of fun. I look forward to another buddy read soon!

Horns by Joe Hill (audiobook): Review

Ig wakes up hung over and growing a pair of horns from his head. At first he thinks he must be hallucinating, until people he meets react unexpectedly to the horns. They see them but they don't run away screaming as he thinks they would. Instead, they tell him their darkest secrets, all their bad thoughts. This is understandably difficult for Ig, especially when they tell him what they think of him.

Almost one year ago, Ig's girlfriend, Merrin, was brutally murdered. He had no alibi and was arrested but with little evidence the police had to let him go. Most people in his town believe he did it. The weight of his grief and anger eats away at him leading to the events of the previous night that he can't remember but resulting in the horns. With the horns' power Ig finds out what his friends and family really think of him and it's usually unpleasant. Another ability the horns give Ig is the power to see all the evil deeds committed by the person he touches.

One hidden secret is about to turn his world upside down once again and set him on a path to revenge.

Horns by Joe Hill was quite surprising. I expected the story to go in certain directions but it nearly always took a twist. Ig's story is not a straight narrative. Part of Horns flashes back to Ig's youth when he first meets Merrin and follows their romance. The reader gets a frightful view of the thoughts of a sociopath. As I was listening to this as an audiobook, I found myself fast forwarding through some of that. The mind of the killer was a dark place to be. It's scary to think that there are people who take every innocent comment and turn it into an invitation.

Hill turns the idea of good and evil on its head. Ig is a truly good person. He believed that the people he knew were good. Then a terrible event has him questioning his beliefs. The horns are a burden. They end up changing him, being in the presence of the evil in others changes him. The murderer poses as a good person but he has an empty spot where his soul should be. I'm not sure what a very religious person will make of Horns. Even my own reaction to some aspects of the book was “hmmm...” *raised eyebrow*.

But it's funny! There are some seriously funny parts in Horns. The things people tell Ig are shocking but hilarious. Poor Ig doesn't know how to deal with this. It's not really fair, actually. We all have not very nice thoughts about our love ones occasionally but those are fleeting and don't negate the love we really feel for them. Too bad Ig only hears the bad thoughts.

I'm still trying to decide if I'm satisfied with the ending of Horns. On the one hand, it really couldn't have ending any other way but still... I was quite happy about how things turned out for certain characters though.

Horns is both dark and light-hearted. Joe Hill certainly has a good sense of humour and a twisted imagination.

About the audio: I enjoyed the narration of Fred Berman. He has a youngish voice that suited Ig. The only thing that kept distracting me was his voice for Glenna. She kind of sounds like Buford from Phineas and Ferb to me. Sorry but that's who kept replacing the image of Ig's curvy friend in my mind.


Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Playing Catch Up

Today I feel like I'm playing catch up. Over the last couple of weeks I read more than I reviewed and now I'm in a race to write my reviews before I forget everything. I tend to start forgetting details of books as soon as I start a new one. I try never to get more than a couple of reviews behind or that's it. It all goes out my ear or something. When I read that some bloggers have 13 reviews to write, I feel a little panic for them. Are you like me? Do you forget the small details in books as soon as you finish or can you retain most of what you read for long periods of time?

So far today, I've updated my Reviewed Books page, sent reviews to publishers on Netgalley and I've written a guest post for Jenn's new feature Murder, Monsters & Mayhem! (aka Mx3). Mx3 starts in October. Watch for that. I can't wait to see what people do for it. It should be fun!

Now I need to write 2 review posts for my own blog, schedule a post for Tuesday (a buddy read with Kelly), visit the bloggers who dropped by during BBAW, and start looking up some information on Brave New World for my book club. Oh, and read!

This week I finished reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway and The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill. I also started Revenge of the Lobster Lover by Hilary MacLeod and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern on audio book. I'm liking The Night Circus by I'm not blown away like a lot of people are. I'll see how I feel by the end. Maybe it's all the hype surrounding it.

As for new books, I received 3 over the last few weeks. That's a good thing. Too many books is an overwhelming feeling.

  • Everything I Kow About Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell. I love the Smart Bitches blog so I'm looking forward to this.
  • Mind Over Mussels by Hilary MacLeod. This is book #2 in The Shores series which is why I'm reading #1 (Lobster Lover) right now.
  • Quiet by Susan Cain. It's all about introverts and since I'm one I figured it would be my thing.
That's how my reading week looked. How was yours?

Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E Smith

I wouldn't have looked at Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E Smith twice if it hadn't been for Michelle (my books. my life.). The title didn't appeal to me. I saw it and had visions of Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing (which I hated). Fortunately, this is actually non-fiction, part guide to music collecting, part music history from a lady's perspective. From the beginning, I was hooked. There isn't much of an age gap between myself and Courtney Smith so I knew of the bands she discusses. The Bangles, The Go-Gos. Aw, it's the 80s again and I'm rocking the mall hair.

One day recently, I was driving with the girl and the hubs listening to the only radio station we can sort of agree upon. It's a classic rock station. The girl, in great annoyance, huffed, "Why aren't there any girls on this station?" Amen, sister! (Well, daughter.) The sad playlist may include a female voice once every couple of hours. Maybe some Heart. Most of the time they play songs by men trying to get some tush. Their sexist promos set my nerves on edge. Hello, women listen to rock too! Not just the other stations that play Katy Perry 5 times an hour. Do all we have for girls to look up to now is someone who shoots whipped cream out of her boobs in videos? Is that all there is? So, yes, Smith's chapter "Where Have All the Girl Bands Gone?" spoke to me in a big way. 
The utter dearth of successful girl bands is enough to make me wonder: Do women feel they have to remain on the outside because the female voice is not considered universal?
Smith discusses the history of the girl band and hypothesizes on why female artists are reluctant to join the mainstream. That was my favorite chapter.

Not that the rest is anything to sneeze at. I was entertained by Smith's anecdotes, some of them very personal, often about a boy. These stories are sprinkled in between music history lessons and advice on how to create playlists for every situation, from making out to what to play at your funeral (don't worry it's not as depressing as it sounds). Smith was a music programmer for MTV. Music is her life. If anyone can give advice, she can. I read Record Collecting for Girls with my ipod in one hand. If she mentioned a song, I'd look for it either in my own collection or online. I downloaded a few while I read. (How did I miss #1 Crush?) The Interludes tell readers how to use internet resources to find and organize their music. The Choose Your Own Adventure-style interlude on Rhapsody was pretty cute.

I enjoyed just about everything about Record Collecting for Girls with the exception of the music snobbery. I don't understand why a band is hip until someone mentions them in a movie or on TV. All of a sudden they become lame? If you like something, you like it. Who cares if 10 or 100000 people like it too?

Don't let the title fool you. The book is about more than record collecting and it's not just for girls. I suspect it's more appealing for someone like me not only for the nostalgia factor but because I'm a causal listener who wants to learn more. It's a good place to start.

Highly recommended.

BBAW: Community, the Sequel

From the BBAW website:
The world of book blogging has grown enormously and sometimes it can be hard to find a place. Share your tips for finding and keeping community in book blogging despite the hectic demands made on your time and the overwhelming number of blogs out there. If you’re struggling with finding a community, share your concerns and explain what you’re looking for–this is the week to connect!
I'm not sure I'm the one to offer advice on finding and keeping community, since it wasn't so long ago I was pondering the enormity of the book blogging world. It can make a person feel itty-bitty! Over the years, book blogging has changed quite a bit. People have come and gone. Old favorites move on, either they leave blogging altogether or change the focus of their blogs. Life changes and sometimes blogging has to go. I can't say what the next few years will bring to Chrisbookarama. I hope to still be around but who knows.

That's all a bit maudlin, isn't it? The thing about it is while old favorites disappear there are so many blogs popping up everyday. But how do you find people with similar tastes? It's not like there's a newsletter announcing the shiny new blogs out there.

Obviously events like this one and others help to highlight those who are looking to find a place in the book blogosphere. But even these events get bigger every year. How do you know if you have missed a potential book buddy in that brief visit to a new-to-you blog? It's difficult to have a thorough look around when there are hundreds of blogs to visit.

Are you looking for a community? Are you new to my blog? 

Here's what I propose. I'll list my book interests and if you think "Hey, I like that too!" leave a comment. Maybe not today (BBAW is crazy!) but soon, I'll have a Big Look-Around your blog and say "Hello!" Maybe this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Here are some of the types of books I read (with ones I liked as examples):

  • Classics. Fahrenheit 451, Bleak House, The House of Mirth.
  • Suspense & Mystery. The Little Stranger, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Woman in White, any Agatha Christie.
  • Gothic. Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Dracula, The Lantern.
  • Canadian Lit. The Handmaid's Tale, Come Thou, Tortoise, The Birth House.
  • Literary. The Stone Diaries, Rules of Civility.
  • Quirky Books (quirky characters or situations). Attachments, The Eyre Affair, Cold Comfort Farm, Home to Woefield.
  • Miscellaneous. I read a little bit of the following: non-fiction (Bossypants, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl, Locavore), young adult (A Northern Light, The Luxe). 

Does this sound like you? Have you read any of those books? Are we Book Buddies?

If you would like, subscribe to Chrisbookarama through the RSS button over there. ---->

And if you and I already hang out, don't be afraid to say hello! I don't want to leave you guys out either. :)

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill: Review

Now for something completely creepy.

During the holidays, Arthur Kipps finally sits down to write about an experience that's haunted him since it happened many, many years ago. Back when he was a shiny-eyed young lawyer out to prove himself, he was given an assignment that sent him off to the far corners of England: to attend a client's funeral and then go to her house to find her important papers. Right away he gets the feeling things are a bit off. The client is, as his boss puts it, a rum'un. Still Arthur heads off confident he can get things together and be back right quick.

When Arthur arrives, he gets the cold shoulder from the locals. In fact, they act as if he might give them leprosy.  Even village lawyer is jumpy. Then there's the house. Eel Marsh House. It's a very fine house but it's in the middle of a marsh and can only be accessed when the tide is out. Once it's in, you're stuck there. No. Way. Out. Sounds inviting.

Arthur has someone take him to the house to do his business and that's when the bad things start to happen.

I don't want to give too much away since The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is less than 200 pages and there are creepy surprises. Hill did an excellent job building both atmosphere and suspense. The reader and Arthur have no idea what is going on. He knows that what he is experiencing is real and that others have experienced it too but no one will talk about it. The people he tries to talk to give him looks of both fear and pity. He doesn't know why and the reader is dying to know too!

The Woman in Black has the feel of a Victorian novel but from what I pieced together it must be set in the mid-20th century (there are cars, electricity, and a headstone reads 190-). It has that odd quality that it could be any time period. The town is so isolated and the means of getting to the house old-fashioned. The atmosphere is bone chilling. There are impenetrable fogs, known as frets, that envelope the house that make it impossible to leave even if the tide is low. I wish it had been foggy when I read this. It would have been perfect! Even without the fog, I was creeped out. There were moments where the book could have used some time in the freezer.

And the end....whew!.... all I can say is you do not want to see the woman in black.

Highly recommended.

BBAW: A Shout Out to My Homies

A few weeks back, I pondered the book blogging community and how it had grown into a huge city. Now here we are, Book Blogger Appreciation Week again, and today's topic is community. It's deja vu!

This time instead of talking about how big the community is I'm going to take a look at the blogs a little closer to home. Home being the first blogs I ever found, the first ones I commented on, ones that inspired me. I consider them neighbours. 

The Written World. Kelly's blog was one I found during my first reading challenge, The TBR Challenge. I was excited to see that she was from Nova Scotia! We've done several buddy-reads over the years (Rules of Civility is our latest- watch for it!) and someday I hope to meet her.

Tripping Through Lucidity: Estella's Revenge. Andi's blog is another one I discovered early on in my blogging 'career.' Andi has changed so much in the last few years. She's found a guy with a family and had a baby! It's like she's grown right in front of the blogosphere. She might blog a little less now (can you blame her?) but I still enjoy her insights.

Stuff As Dreams Are Made On. I call him Other Chris. I don't think I would have touched a graphic novel if it wasn't for him. I love his Bad Bloggers posts and always find something to add to my own list or something I can't resist commenting on.

We all might be a bit long in the tooth as far as blogging goes but I'm glad to have met them early on. Drop in and say hello!

Tricycle Club of the Century Village Retirement Community Meets Each Morning.

I also want to say thanks to anyone who has ever commented, visited, added me to their follow list or blog reader. I appreciate all of you and the time you take to read the thoughts that I write here. You are part of my community!

Afterward/The Eyes by Edith Wharton: Short Stories

Restoration of a Late 19th Century Example of Victorian Architecture in Atchison, Kansas...06/1974

I really do enjoy Edith Wharton. She writes beautifully though somewhat harshly of the society she knew. I've never read her ghost stories, however. Much like her novels, the two stories I'm featuring here deal with the wealthy and their questionable morality.

In Afterward, a young American couple are anxious to find an old English mansion to live in, one with a real live ghost. They are told of just the house they are looking for, ghost and all. The only catch is that people don't realize they've seen a ghost until 'afterward.'

They move in and go about their business until the wife finds that her husband has become distracted by something. It must be the ghost! she thinks. What she doesn't know is that he has much more on his mind than hauntings. Afterward, the wife gets her wish but not in the way she expected.

In Wharton's usual style, Afterward is heavily descriptive. It's also a straight forward ghost story.


The Eyes is quite a bit different. Here an older gentleman is telling a story to his young friends about how he was twice haunted by a pair of glowing red eyes. As he tells the story, he tries to puzzle out why he was menaced in this way. One of his listeners has an unexpected reaction.

When I came to the end of The Eyes, I fully admit that I didn't know what the heck happened. I figured that the eyes were his conscience telling him not to lie to people to make them happy. Still, I couldn't understand why buddy would react the way he did. I knew I needed some help so to Google I went. I found one analysis of the story and it was much different than mine. It was more of a Dorian Gray-ish situation. This made sense but I'm still not 100% convinced.

Have you read The Eyes? What did you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Afterward and The Eyes can be found in Tales of Men and Ghosts, a collection of Edith Wharton's short fiction.

If you'd enjoy some literary scares, Afterward and The Eyes will do.

Slow Love by Dominique Browning: Blogher Book Club

Slow Love.... take it easy...

Dominique Browning is a woman in her fifties whose career ends when the magazine she's working for folds. After a lifetime of go-go-going, she’s lost. With nothing to occupy her mind, she finds herself obsessing over, not only her lost career, but past relationships. One in particular pops up over and over: her bizarre affair with Stroller (because he strolls in and out of her life, getit?).

Honestly, I wanted to pull my hair out over this. It made me crazy! She would bring up some ‘adorable’ thing he’d done and all I could think of was how loony it sounded. As a thirty-something woman, I wanted some wisdom from this more experienced lady. It was a frustrating endeavour to read the first 50% of the book. Why do smart women make bad choices? After a long time in her pjs and baking muffins, she finds her way out. Although there were moments where she continued to irk me, I ended up enjoying some of what she had to say. There was much that made me scratch my head too. Less of Stroller would have been nice.

I’d recommend Slow Love to those who liked the non-travelling parts of Eat, Pray, Love.

Since this is a Blogher Book Club selection and there’s going to be a month long discussion, I get the feeling there is going to be a la-hawt more things to say about Slow Love.

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud: Review

With a title like Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star, one would think this book is going to be a fun romp with lots of good times. Hold that thought.

Slurry, headed by Fitzwilliam Darcy, is looking for an opening act to replace the numerous bands that have left them during their US tour. In a small town bar, they find Long Borne Suffering, an all female band consisting of  2 sisters and their friend. Guitarist Elizabeth Bennet has ambition; she wants Long Borne Suffering to hit the big time and becoming Slurry's opening act looks like the ticket. When Lizzie overhears on offhand comment from Darcy, she wonders if it is the right decision to join the tour. Have they made a huge mistake?

Just to be clear, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud is Pride and Prejudice only with rock bands. Got it? Okay. I really wanted to love this book. I had been looking forward to reading it but ended up disappointed. Anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice knows that it's actually quite funny. So, I was expecting this book, especially considering the premise (Darcy as a rock star? Come on that is a funny picture), to be funny as well. Instead, I found that the author missed so many opportunities for fun times. The Bennets, that ridiculous family, are barely in it. Imagine the possibilities there. Austen's Lizzie has a smart alecky comment for everyone she meets and she has a self-deprecating sense of humour. This Lizzie takes herself very seriously. She's an artist, damn it.

Some of the topics are heavy, heavy, heavy: pedophilia, sex addiction. It was a bit much for me. I'm not an Austen purist. I've read plenty of sequels and even vampire rewrites, so it's not as if I want authors to stick with the original story. Rock and Roll Austen? Bring it but I was expecting Rock and Roll Fantasy not Rock and Roll Duty. It needed more cowbell for it to work for me.

The copy I read is an Advance Reader's Copy and at 566 pages, it's long for a romance. Goodreads has it at 432 pages. I suspect an edit helped tighten the story up quite a bit. The plot often veers away from the main romance and focuses on the romances of Jane and Charlotte.

If you're interested in another retelling of Pride and Prejudice with raunch and tight leather pants, then give this one a try. You may like it. Lots of other people did.

The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell: Short Story

Woman and boy standing on doorstep
Credit: Hartlepool Cultural Services
This is my very first Elizabeth Gaskell short story for the RIP VI Challenge. I sure hope they get better. The problem is back in Gaskell's time The Old Nurse's Story was probably pretty scary. I've seen enough episodes of Scooby-Doo to be unimpressed. There's a spooky old house with forbidden wings, an organ that plays mysterious music, and a ghostly girl on the moors. Zoinks! The ending I'm sure I saw on The Garfield Halloween Special when I was a kid.

I did enjoy the nurse's voice. Gaskell wrote it in a "as true as I'm sitting here" style that felt authentic. So, who is this nurse and what's her story? The nurse is telling one of her charges about something that happened when his mom was little. Her Miss Rosamond was orphaned quite suddenly and shipped off to live with an ancient aunt in said spooky old house. The nurse goes along happily until she sees the place. Things are fine at first, until the music and the creepy kid start making trouble. Apparently the old aunt has some dirty laundry the dead want revealed.

The title of the short story collection is Curious, If True so you have to wonder if the nurse is telling a true tale or did she end this whopper with a "now eat your green beans or the dead baby will get ya."

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Frogs & Nostalgia

Happy Sunday, Peoples!

I had every intention of catching up on my reading this weekend. I haven't been very successful at it. So far I learned to play Texas Hold Em (badly), visited relatives I hadn't seen in awhile, and played Pocket Frogs. Pocket Frogs, if you don't know, is an ipod app and a huge time waster. I downloaded it to play with my girl and got sucked in. It is a pointless game where you have a frog hop around on lily pads, eating dragonflies and 'breeding' with other frogs to make new combos. Yeah... pointless.

Anyway I did manage to read a short story by Elizabeth Gaskell for RIP's Short Story Peril. It wasn't quite what I expected. Speaking of RIP...

After posting my list for the RIP VI Challenge, I felt so nostalgic for the days when I first discovered Carl's annual challenge. I mentioned on Twitter that it made me feel like we "get the band back together" every year. It doesn't matter if there are people joining for the first time, the feeling is the same. We're doing something just for the heck of it. Together.

There were several posts this week about the end of Weekly Geeks and the changes that have taken place in book blogging since Dewey (the creator of Weekly Geeks who died a few years ago) was such a big part of the book blogging community. 

Book blogging has changed so much over the years for me. Back in the day, I didn't think about stats, and Klout (there was no Klout). I didn't wonder about what publishers thought of me. I had no idea who published the books I read anyway! I didn't know what an ARC was or how to get them. Memes were 'community builders' and I participated in many. I could visit other blogs without feeling overwhelmed. It was just a hobby. I wanted readers, of course, everyone did. 

There was less spam.

Change is inevitable. In two years, I'll look back on this time with fondness. It's not about new or old bloggersYou are all great people. It's about how I felt then.

When Carl hosts his RIP Challenge every year, I get some of that old feeling back. Sure there are new books every year but the old standards- Neil Gaiman, Shirley Jackson, Wilkie Collins- show up on people's lists too. People are excited to see their favorites on other people's lists. I can't resist commenting on a blog I may have never visited before when I read their reaction to a book I loved or hated. We can get silly too. Carl's mini-challenges are fun and creative. It's relaxed and non-competitive.


Since I'm getting nostalgic, here's a question everyone can answer, what book would you read for the first time all over again?

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson: Review

Eve, usually level-headed, drops everything and moves to Provence with a man she just met. Dom is intelligent, confident and has the means to buy a run down farmhouse named Les Genévriers. They revel in the summer months, exploring the mysteries of their new property and each other. As fall closes in, Eve begins to have her doubts about Dom and wonders about his refusal to talk about his ex-wife Rachel. Dom retreats further into himself the more questions she asks. Left to her own devices, Eve starts snooping, trying to find out what happened to Rachel.

While Rachel haunts Eve's relationship, the old house has haunting secrets of its own. The crumbling walls witnessed the comings and goings of generations of Lincels. Bénédicte is the last of the Lincels, finds she's being haunted by the ghosts of her family: first her brother Pierre then her sister . She remembers all the tragedies of her life and all the wrongs she believes she's committed. Unknown to Eve, those tragedies will have impact on her own life.

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson snuck up on me. At first, the slow pace made it easy for me to put down. The writing is lyrical but I didn't know where it was going. The two timelines and narrators were a bit confusing at first. I had a hard time distinguishing the voices. It all comes together at the end but it's hard to see how in the beginning. However, by the midway point I was hooked and didn't want to put it down, even when I was dead tired. 

The Lantern is being heavily promoted as "in the tradition of Rebecca" and Lawrenson even mentions Rebecca in the book. Talk about hitting someone over the head with the obvious stick. But despite the Rebecca/Rachel similarities, The Lantern veers off into spookier territory. Are the ghosts experienced by both Bénédicte and Eve real or is there a logical explanation?

Eve isn't a pushover and though she had moments where she doubted herself, she had the guts to put her foot down. Bénédicte is the character I felt the most sorry for. My heart broke into a thousand pieces for her. By the end of the book, I felt like I had been wrung out. It was a perfect ending.

The Lantern is a beautifully written gothic tale. It's atmospheric. I was there in the ruins of that house with the smell of lavender all around. Lawrenson strikes the perfect balance between the sinister and the beautiful.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review copy. You can find the rest of the tour schedule there. You can check out Deborah Lawrenson's website for more information on her writing.