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Reading Challenge: R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) VI Wrap-up!

November 1, 2011 2 comments

Carl‘s RIPVI is officially over. Sadness!  I love celebrating the crisp, fall air with some deliciously frightening reads.  As I promised, I did much better this year!  I signed up for Peril the First for which I had to read four books.  I read:

  1. Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire by Gabriel Hunt (review)
  2. The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (review)
  3. My Life as A White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland (review)
  4. Symphony of Blood by Adam Pepper (review)
  5. Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge (review)
  6. Horns by Joe Hill (review)
  7. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (review)

Wow!  Not only did I do better this year, but I almost doubled my goal!  Plus, every single one of those books came straight from my tbr pile, so the challenge really helped out with getting that smaller as well.  Of the books read for the challenge, I have to say that my favorite was The Monstrumologist.  It went straight to my keep forever bookshelf after I finished reading it.  I almost made it to eight books, but alas, I will be finishing Anne Rice’s The Mummy today. A bit late. 😉

I also really enjoyed visiting other blogs to check in on what people thought of various spooky books I’ve read over time.  I think the most controversial one was probably The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James.  People seem to either love or hate the ambiguity in that book.  Also, I didn’t count or anything, but a ton of people seem to have read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  It’s on my wishlist, so I didn’t visit the reviews, but it was fun to see a random spooky book get so many reads.  I’m sure that pleased the author and publishers as well.

RIP is everything that’s great about a reading challenge.  Loosely structured but with a theme and community and with multiple participation levels so everyone can get involved.  I can’t wait for next year!

Book Review: Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge

October 12, 2011 5 comments

Evil jack-o-lantern.Summary:
Every year the people of the town lock their boys aged sixteen to nineteen in their bedrooms for five days without food then let them loose on the night of Halloween for the Run.  The October Boy, a living, breathing scarecrow stuffed with candy and topped by a jack-o-lantern head, will try to make it to the church by midnight.  Whatever teenage boy stops him is the winner and is allowed past the Line to escape from town.  Pete is determined to win this year, but not everything about the Run is as it at first appears.

Review:
This short book reads like a campfire story.  I kept finding myself wishing I was huddled up around a campfire reading it out loud to my friends.  The narration style is decidedly written that style.  The style of a whispered urban legend or a campfire ghost story.

I don’t know what possessed Partridge to name this book Dark Harvest, when while I was reading it I definitely thought of it as The October Boy.  Plus, Dark Harvest is a common name whereas The October Boy is not.  The title is definitely one of the weakest points of the book.

Basically this story is an allegory for every teenager who ever felt trapped in a small town.

You remember how it feels, don’t you? All that desire scorching you straight through. Feeling like you’re penned up in a small-town cage, jailed by cornstalk bars. Knowing, just knowing, that you’ll be stuck in that quiet little town forever if you don’t take a chance.  (page 41)

That desire and drive as a teenager to get the heck out of dodge is palpable in the book.  Similarly, the disillusionment as you realize as a teenager that adults are not perfect and do not know it all and maybe even lied to you.  It’s a nice allegory for both of those emotions, but it is not a perfect one.

I felt too many questions were left unanswered at the end of the book.  Perhaps that wouldn’t bother some readers, but it bothered me.  There’s this huge mystery of The October Boy, but while we get some answers, we are left with some questions hanging.  I was hoping for more from this book.

Overall, this is a fun, quick horror story told in an intimate, urban legend style.  Due to its themes, it will work best for teenagers, but adults who vividly remember those emotions will probably enjoy it as well.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

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Book Review: Symphony of Blood by Adam Pepper

October 5, 2011 1 comment

Bald man with red eyes.Summary:
Hank Mondale wanted to be a cop but his gambling, alcohol, and drug addictions ruined his record.  Instead, he is now a private detective barely scraping by, so when a wealthy and famous man named Blake hires him to figure out where the monster pursuing his daughter is hiding out, he takes the case in spite of the odd sound of it.  Particularly since Blake and his daughter insist that this is a literal, shape-changing, lizard-like monster after her.

Review:
This is a book that suffers from bad structure, a plethora of unlikable characters, and a serious lack of editing.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the lack of editing.  Suffice to say it’s a combination of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.  For instance, Jaeger is spelled “Yager” at one point (when being spoken about by an alcoholic character, no less).  Also, although most of the book is told in past tense, periodically present tense shows up.  Similarly, other errors show up that simply jar the reader, such as calling a character “rippled,” when the author meant “ripped.”

These are all editing problems, though, so I always try to look beyond them to see if they were fixed, would the story be a quality one?  Alas, the case in this instance is simply no.  The first half of the book is told entirely from the detective’s point of view, only to abruptly switch and have the next 25% or so back-track and tell what occurred from the monster’s perspective.  Then the last bit of the book reverts back to the detective’s perspective.  This gives the book an incredibly odd structure and simultaneously removes most of the mystery and suspense.  Where before the creature was an enigma, we now understand it intimately.  Similarly, whereas the section told from the creature’s point of view could be an interesting story in its own right, it is instead smushed between two ho-hum detective sections.  Either choose to be investigating the monster or be the monster or alternate more quickly between the two to maintain some mystery.  This structure simply feels like two different books willy-nilly slammed together.

There’s also the problem of the characters.  The only sympathetic one is the monster, which would work if the story was told entirely from the monster’s perspective, yet it is not.  Plus the monster itself just doesn’t make much sense.  It’s hard to picture or imagine how it operates.  It seems the author used the excuse of it being a monster to let it bend all rules whenever it was convenient to the storyline.  Beyond the monster, the detective, his friends, Blake, and the daughter are all completely unsympathetic.  They are the kind of people you’d move away from on the subway or roll your eyes at behind their backs.  Readers, particularly in a mystery, need at least one character they can relate to.

All that said, Pepper does have some writing abilities.  He clearly has a creative mind and is capable of telling a story one can follow.  This would be a good draft, but not a final published work.  He needs to decide if he wants to tell the monster’s story of the detective’s, then rewrite entirely from that point of view and also invest in an editor.  If these steps are followed, Pepper could have a solid book here.  As it stands now, though, I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone, even staunch horror fans.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Copy from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

September 26, 2011 8 comments

Book cover featuring a tumbler of whiskey.Summary:
Everyone’s favorite hard-boiled private eye Marlowe is back, and this time he’s been hired to track down a respectable entrepreneur’s wild wife.  She sent a telegram weeks ago stating she was going to marry her boy toy, Lavery, but Lavery was spotted in Hollywood and claims to have no idea where Mrs. Kingsley is.  The last place she was known to be was at the Kingsleys’ lake-side country cottage, so that small town is where Marlowe starts his investigation.

Review:
I first encountered Chandler in a film noir class I took in undergrad at Brandeis.  Ok, so that class was my first encounter with noir too, but it introduced a whole new genre to me to fall in love with.  The cores of the genre just scream my name from the hard-boiled, alcoholic detective with a “work bottle” of whiskey in his office drawer to the ever-present femme fatale.  *sighs*  Can I live in that world?  Can I?  Anyway, so whenever I stumble upon a Chandler book in a used bookstore, I absolutely must buy it.  There’s simply no question.  This will probably continue until I have collected them all.

The entries are always narrated by Marlowe, and The Lady in the Lake does not fail to smoothly represent everything there is to love about him.  He’s darkly cynical yet possesses a striking wit even in the face of getting a beat-down from the cops (which happens in pretty much every book.  Lots of dirty cops in Marlowe’s world).  Without Marlowe’s voice and ever-present intelligence, the books would not be what they are.  Thankfully, his presence is just as perfect here as in the other Chandler books.

So what about the story?  Well, this time the story is not set entirely in LA.  A solid half of it is in the countryside.  While I enjoyed those scenes, I must admit I did miss the LA grittiness a bit.  Although the scene where the grieving husband drags his wife’s corpse out of the lake on his back was every bit as gritty as any city scene.

The mystery made so much sense in the end that I was kicking myself for not figuring it out.  I still can’t believe I didn’t figure it out!  How Chandler came up with these twists and turns and managed to write them without giving it away is beyond me.  I doubt anyone will be disappointed with the mystery.  I literally had no idea what was going on into Marlowe explained everything in the classic film noir wrap-up scene.

The femme fatale was a weak point in this entry, however.  I think this is why I really liked it but didn’t love it.  She just didn’t seem sexy enough.  Violent, yes.  Brutal, yes.  But sexy? Ehhhh.  Personally I always perceive the femme fatale as a gorgeous black widow spider, and well this one just failed a bit on the gorgeous glamor aspect.  She was still a femme fatale, but perhaps a bit disappointing.

Overall, I truly enjoyed my time in Marlowe’s world with this entry.  Marlowe is someone whose presence it is always worth being in, regardless of whether his surroundings are perfect or not.  I recommend this to noir fans, highly.  Those new to the genre, I recommend start with The Big Sleep.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Harvard Books used book cellar

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