R.I.P. IX Challenge Wrap-Up

I’m a couple days late on this, but with the end of October came the end of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings.

RIP ix peril the first

The “challenge” was simply to read books that fit within the genres of mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, and/or supernatural. Peril the First had a goal of four books, but I ended up reading ten:

1.) Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
2.) Lauren Willig, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla
3.) Ashley Weaver, Murder at the Brightwell
4.) Seanan McGuire, The Winter Long
5.) Sylvia Izzo Hunter, The Midnight Queen
6.) Roberto Ampuero, The Neruda Case
7.) Ethel Lina White, The Lady Vanishes
8.) Diane Setterfield, Bellman & Black
9.) Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Good Omens
10.) Maggie Stiefvater, Blue Lily, Lily Blue

To be fair, some of these books are a bit of a stretch…for example, while Good Omens has angels and demons and the Apocalypse, its tone is far from dark. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla includes vampires and a murder, but it’s really a delightful Regency romp. But I’m counting them anyway, dangit! This non-challenge is supposed to be fun! :)

I did enjoy most of the books I read for this challenge, but my standout favorites were Good Omens and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. My least favorites were The Shadow of the Wind and The Neruda Case, both of which dragged for me. What books did you read for R.I.P.? Did any of them scare you?

Secret Santa Sign-Ups

I know Halloween just passed, and Thanksgiving is still a month away…but I can’t resist signing up for the 5th annual Secret Santa hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

A full description of the event, including the rules, is at the sign-up page. But basically, here’s what you do: (1) Email TBTB before November 14 with some info about yourself, including your mailing address and some books you’d like to get from Santa. (2) TBTB will email you back with the info for your giftee. (3) Go shopping! Mail your gift no later than December 15. (4) Email TBTB again when you receive a package from your Secret Santa. I’ve participated in this event for the last several years and have always enjoyed it. I think my favorite part has been picking out presents for my own Secret Santa! :)

Review: Good Omens

Good OmensNeil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Good Omens

Since the beginning of the world, the forces of good and evil have been preparing for battle, and now Armageddon is imminent. The Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse roam the earth, the Antichrist is about to be born, and the end times are at hand. But angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley aren’t terribly enthusiastic about the upcoming war and ensuing destruction of Earth. In fact, they’ve both become rather fond of the planet and the foolish humans who populate it. So unbeknownst to their superiors, they strike a truce: neither one of them will attempt to influence the newborn Antichrist in their favor. Little do they know that, thanks to a mix-up at the hospital, they’ve focused their efforts on the wrong baby! Meanwhile, the Antichrist grows up as a perfectly normal human boy called Adam Young, who knows nothing about his special destiny. But as the signs of the end times become harder to ignore, Aziraphale and Crowley must race against time to prevent Adam from unwittingly using his powers to destroy the world.

This book is a delightful romp through the Book of Revelation and common cultural perceptions regarding the end of the world. It truly has something for everyone, from demons to witchfinders to psychics to aliens, and I lost count of the jokes that made me laugh out loud! I loved the fact that Famine (one of the Horsepersons) was a diet guru, and that one of Crowley’s most notable Hellish accomplishments was the M25 motorway surrounding London. The book’s plot is rather sprawling, and I wasn’t a big fan of every storyline (didn’t care too much about Anathema Device, for example, although I loved Newton Pulsifer — the name alone!). But then again, who cares about plot when there’s such brilliant silliness to enjoy? I do think this book would be best enjoyed by people who are at least somewhat familiar with the Book of Revelation, because otherwise you won’t get all the jokes! But I honestly think that anyone who enjoys British humor will find this book hugely entertaining.

Top Ten Tuesday: (Book) Spine-tingling reads

Top 10 TuesdayWith Halloween coming up in just a few days, it’s the perfect time for a list of books and movies to get you in the (spooky, possibly evil) spirit! To be honest, I’m a big chicken when it comes to horror, so my list isn’t actually that scary…I tend more toward the creepy/gothic/atmospheric at this time of year. So here’s a list of some books (and movies!) that seem Halloween-ish to me:

1. Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale — If you want gorgeous prose and a deliciously creepy atmosphere, look no further! I read this book several years ago and totally fell in love.

2. Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere — Neil Gaiman makes my skin crawl, which sounds like an insult but definitely is NOT! I’m slowly making my way through his oeuvre, but Neverwhere is still my favorite.

3. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart” — A classic story of madness and murder. I also (still, genuinely) get creeped out by “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

4. Robin McKinley, Sunshine — A vampire book for people who don’t like vampire books (a.k.a., me!).

5. Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races — This one is actually very seasonally appropriate, because the races themselves occur on November 1 every year. Also, there are horses that eat people. But also romance and beautiful language and a setting so real I could practically taste the salty winds of Thisby.

6. Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca — I am a little bit in awe of this book. The most vivid character is a dead woman, and while she’s not a literal ghost, she figuratively haunts the creepy mansion of Manderley, as well as the book’s narrator (who, by comparison, doesn’t even get a name!).

7. Roald Dahl, The Witches — Truth time: I haven’t actually read this book since I was a kid. BECAUSE IT FREAKED ME OUT SO MUCH.

8. “Laura,” starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews — This movie is a wonderful example of film noir, complete with a murder, a femme fatale, and a pretty great twist halfway through! Also, Vincent Price is in it (and playing totally against type)!

9. “Notorious,” starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman — No, it’s not the movie about the rapper. This is a classic Hitchcock film about fighting the Nazis, and it is creepy as hell. The last scene always gives me chills!

10. “The Corpse Bride,” starring (the voices of) Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter — OK, not even I am scared by this movie. :) But it’s a fun romp through Tim Burton’s weird (and frankly disturbing) imagination, and there’s some singing, and there ARE ghosts in it, so it totally counts!

What’s in a Name 2014 Challenge Wrap-Up

I’ve officially completed the 2014 What’s in a Name challenge, hosted this year by The Worm Hole!

What's in a Name 2014

Participants were asked to read books whose titles fit within six different categories. Here’s what I read:

1.) A title with a reference to time: LATE NIGHTS on Air by Elizabeth Hay
2.) A title with a position of royalty: The Midnight QUEEN by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
3.) A title with a number written in letters: The TWO Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson
4.) A title with a forename or names: The Letters of NANCY Mitford and EVELYN Waugh
5.) A title with a type or element of weather: The SUNNE in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
6.) A title with a school subject: The Beauty CHORUS by Kate Lord Brown

I enjoyed almost every book I read for this challenge…I don’t even think I can pick a clear favorite. But The Beauty Chorus was definitely my least favorite! So this was a fun challenge for me, and while I probably won’t be doing it next year (I’m really cutting back on challenges in 2015!), I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to get a little creative about choosing books!

Review: The Beauty Chorus

Beauty Chorus, TheKate Lord Brown, The Beauty Chorus

This novel centers around three female pilots who join the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying planes back and forth between Allied bases during World War II. Evie Chase is a headstrong young debutante who enjoys her life of privilege but wants to “do her bit” for the war effort — and escape from her odious stepmother. Stella Grainger is struggling with being separated from her baby boy, whom she’s sent to her husband’s parents in Ireland. And Megan Jones, a 17-year-old Welsh girl, wants nothing more than to keep her family’s farm running and to marry her sweetheart, Bill. These three young women couldn’t be more different, but when they join the ATA and become roommates, they form an extremely close bond. Together they deal with the challenges of flying different aircraft, the discrimination they face for being women in a man’s world, and the joys and sorrows of wartime love affairs. But despite their strength and determination, they can never quite escape the brutal realities of war.

This is a book I really wanted to love. The story has so much going for it — WWII, female pilots, romance, and even a little espionage! — but unfortunately, I was disappointed. The biggest problem for me was the clunky writing style; for example, on one occasion, the author drops a character name into the story before introducing that character. I had to flip backward to make sure I hadn’t somehow missed his entrance, but in fact, it was just a confusing way to introduce the new character. There’s also a lot of head-hopping in the book; not only does the point of view shift between the three girls (which would be understandable), but there are random paragraphs from the perspectives of their suitors and various other minor characters. Finally, while I liked the main characters in theory, they never really rose above clichés. For example, Evie is a typical HF heroine: incredibly beautiful, naturally talented as a flyer, and implausibly far ahead of her time. Overall, while the book certainly wasn’t a slog, I can’t say I’d recommend it either.

Vintage Mystery Bingo Wrap-up

I officially call BINGO for the 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge!

Vintage Mystery 2014

Participants were invited to play Bingo on either the Golden Age card (mysteries written pre-1960), the Silver Age card (mysteries written between 1960 and 1989), or both. Because of my other challenge commitments, I only attempted one straight-line Bingo, and I chose to use the Golden Age card:

Vintage Golden Card

G1: A book with a color in the title – A.A. Milne, The Red House Mystery
O1: A book published under more than one title — Michael Innes, Death at the President’s Lodging — also published as Seven Suspects
L1: A book with a “spooky” title — Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop
D1: A book by an author you’ve read before — Georgette Heyer, A Blunt Instrument
E1: A  book with a detective “team” >> FREE SPACE >> An author you’ve never read before — Ethel Lina White, The Lady Vanishes
N1: A book with an animal in the title — Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance – a type of snake

As always, I really enjoyed this challenge! My favorite books were probably A Blunt Instrument and The Lady Vanishes, while my least favorite was Death at the President’s Lodging (great solution, but what a slog to get there!). I’m already looking forward to the 2015 challenge…I’ve got lots of new (old) books that will work!

Review: Bellman & Black

Bellman & BlackDiane Setterfield, Bellman & Black

This atmospheric novel tells the story of William Bellman, who makes one decision in childhood that will alter the entire course of his life. When he is ten years old, he and a few friends are playing in the field near their village, and they see a rook on a far-off tree branch. Will bets his friends that he can hit the bird with his slingshot, and to everyone’s astonishment, he actually does it. Will and his friends soon forget the incident, but from then on, rooks become a touchstone and a bad omen for William Bellman. As he gets older, he becomes more and more successful: first he get a job at his uncle’s mill, then rises through the ranks until he eventually runs it. He marries and has children, and he begins to make a very comfortable living. But when an illness sweeps through the village and takes most of William’s family, he will do anything to save his remaining daughter — including making a desperate deal with the mysterious Mr. Black. William’s encounter with Black leads him to an entirely different business venture, one that eventually threatens to consume him.

I absolutely loved Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, so I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, I’m coming away from it with mixed feelings. The writing style is just as rich and gorgeous as I remember, and I found myself reading very quickly despite the slow-moving plot. I also admire the novel’s atmosphere of suspense; it has a wonderfully autumnal, sinister quality, despite the fact that not a lot of scary stuff actually happens. In fact, that may be my biggest problem with the book: there’s this great buildup of tension throughout the novel, but in the end there’s no payoff. The interludes about rooks — and William’s encounters with them throughout the book — are meant to heighten the suspense, I think, but I didn’t really understand their role in the story. Frankly, I was a bit confused about the story as a whole; I was expecting a Faustian narrative in which William essentially sells his soul for success, but that’s not really what happens. In short, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be taking away from this book — but I’m definitely not giving up on Setterfield yet!

Review: The Lady Vanishes

Lady Vanishes, TheEthel Lina White, The Lady Vanishes

Iris Carr is a privileged young Englishwoman enjoying a holiday somewhere in Europe with a large group of friends. But when her crowd is ready to leave, Iris decides to stay an extra day and enjoy the beauties of the mountains by herself. When she boards the train to go home, she is immediately isolated from the other passengers because she doesn’t speak the native language. So when a talkative English spinster named Miss Froy introduces herself, Iris is glad to have the company, even though Miss Froy is rather a bore. After a long chat, Iris takes a nap in her compartment; but when she wakes up, Miss Froy is gone! Eventually she begins to worry, so she finds a young Englisman to act as interpreter and ask the other passengers where Miss Froy went. To Iris’ shock, they all claim not to remember Miss Froy and say Iris must be imagining things. Iris knows she didn’t imagine Miss Froy, but without any evidence to the contrary, how can she be sure? And if the lady does exist, why won’t anyone admit to seeing her?

Recently I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” and really enjoyed it, but I had no idea it was based on a book! I’m glad I discovered the novel, though, because with all due deference to Hitchcock, the book is better. While the movie is a somewhat straightforward thriller, the book has more psychological tension because it keeps you in the dark about Iris’ mental state for much longer. Are the other passengers involved in some sort of unlikely but sinister conspiracy, meaning that she and Miss Froy are both in danger? Or, perhaps even worse, is Iris having a mental breakdown and imagining the whole thing? Either way, she’s trapped in a nightmarish situation, and the book does an excellent job of heightening this tension. I also think the book’s ending is better than the movie’s; while the film ends with a dramatic shootout, the novel has a much more subtle conclusion. So I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who likes psychological thrillers, especially if you’ve seen or plan to see the movie!