R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII Wrap-up

Well, another October is over, thus ending the R.I.P. VII event at Stainless Steel Droppings.

This event asked participants to read books from the following genres:

  • Mystery.
  • Suspense.
  • Thriller.
  • Dark Fantasy.
  • Gothic.
  • Horror.
  • Supernatural.
  • Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

My goals were to read at least two novels and some short stories that fit the criteria. Happily, I managed to exceed my expectations! Here’s what I read:

  1. Seanan McGuire, Ashes of Honor (fantasy/supernatural)
  2. Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (gothic, dark fantasy, short stories)
  3. Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book (dark fantasy/horror)
  4. Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (mystery/thriller)
  5. Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys (fantasy/supernatural)
  6. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (thriller)

So I’m pleased with my perilous reading this fall and look forward to next year’s R.I.P. event! What did you read?

Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian FlynnGillian Flynn, Gone Girl

Nick and Amy Dunne are attractive thirty-somethings living in a large house in Missouri, right by the Mississippi River. From the outside, they seem to have a charmed life, but in fact they’ve been having increasingly severe marital problems. Then, on their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Suspicion naturally falls on Nick, since in these situations it’s usually the husband who is guilty. Did Nick kill Amy, and if not, what happened to her? As the narrative slowly unfolds, the truth becomes ever more complex and more elusive.

This is the kind of book that’s really hard to discuss without major spoilers, but I’ll do my best not to give anything away! For starters, this is not my usual genre; I hardly ever read thrillers, but this one is so popular that I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Overall I think I enjoyed the book, or at any rate I found it compelling. I got sucked into the story and had to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next. Neither Nick nor Amy is entirely likable, and they both get more unpleasant as the book goes on. But it was fun to chase all the plot twists and try to stay one step ahead of the narrators. (Nick and Amy take turns narrating, him from the time of the disappearance and her from diary entries written beforehand.) I didn’t like the ending, though obviously I can’t be more specific. Still, this is a good read for what it is, and I’d recommend it for planes or beaches (but definitely not on your honeymoon!).

Review: The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterMaggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

In a household full of witches, psychics, and otherwise supernaturally gifted women, Blue Sargent is the only one with no powers of her own. She does, however, possess a gift for strengthening other people’s magic; so every year on St. Mark’s Eve, she goes with her mother to a certain church to count the dead as they pass by. Blue has never seen the spirits before, so this time she is shocked to notice a boy about her age walking past the church. He’s wearing an Aglionby sweater, which marks him as a student at the local fancy prep school, a Raven boy. Blue is troubled by her vision because the boy’s presence on this path means he’ll die within the year. When she meets the Aglionby boy and his friends in person, she decides to try to prevent the boy’s death and help him on his own magical quest.

I feel like I didn’t do a very good job of explaining this book, because there are a lot of things going on. Blue is one of the main characters, but the book also spends a lot of time with each of the four Raven boys (the one Blue saw and his three best friends). So we learn a lot about the boys’ pasts, their various problems, and their quest to find the lost body of the Welsh king Owen Glendower. As a result of the scattered focus, nothing is covered in very much depth. I learned just enough about the characters to grow attached to them and become curious about their fates, but there’s a lot left to be resolved. The book’s pace is fairly slow, which fits with Stiefvater’s reflective style of writing. The romantic element of this book, though present, is very low-key; I imagine it will be more prevalent in later books in the series. Overall, this book didn’t blow me away like The Scorpio Races did, but I still really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by Maggie Stiefvater.

Review: The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell HammettDashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade is a private investigator operating in the seedy underbelly of early 20th-century San Francisco. His clients are usually shady types who don’t want to get mixed up with the police, so he knows right away that the beautiful Miss Wonderly, who comes into his office with a sob story about a missing sister, is trouble. Spade agrees to take the case, and his partner Archer shadows the girl in hopes of discovering more about her. When Archer ends up dead shortly thereafter, Spade must investigate Miss Wonderly (whose real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy) and the various shady characters with whom she is involved. But the case becomes even more dangerous than he imagined when he discovers a group of criminals on the trail of a priceless historical artifact known as the Maltese falcon.

I hate to say this about such a well-loved classic mystery, but I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. The writing style didn’t do anything for me, and the plot was only so-so. Now, I’m sure it was wildly creative at the time, as I believe Hammett was one of the pioneers of the noir genre. But in this day and age, the twists are all too familiar. I am glad I read the book, since it’s an influential part of pop culture, but it’s not something that I’d read again just for fun. I am curious to see the movie, though; I predict that this is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book! All in all, while I quite liked The Thin Man, this book was just not for me.

Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanNeil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” So begins this novel about an ordinary boy in an extraordinary situation. When the sinister man Jack murders the boy’s family and comes after him, he manages to escape to the local graveyard and evade Jack for the time being. He is taken in by the ghostly inhabitants of the graveyard, who give him the name Nobody Owens. Bod grows up in the graveyard with certain abilities (such as Fading and Haunting) but certain limitations (such as not interacting with living people). He loves his family in the graveyard but is also curious about the outside world. The older Bod gets, the more he is drawn to the world of the living; but the man Jack is still looking for him, and he must confront many dangers before he can truly begin to live his life.

This book is a wonderfully atmospheric tale, perfect for a chilly autumn evening. Gaiman’s descriptions are evocative and often spooky, from the  menace of Jack and his associates to the slavering ghouls to the ancient power of the Sleer. Bod is a grave (pun intended) but likable child, and his adventures both in and out of the graveyard make for entertaining reading. I also loved Silas, Bod’s guardian, and I would have liked to know more about him. The ending is sad in some ways, but it feels absolutely right for the story. My only complaint is that this book is less substantial than Gaiman’s work for adults (Neverwhere is still my favorite), but I definitely enjoyed it nonetheless.

Review: The Ladies of Grace Adieu

Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

When I read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell last year, it pretty much knocked my socks off, so I was excited to find  Clarke’s collection of short stories (all of which were, I think, previously published elsewhere).  Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:

“The Ladies of Grace Adieu” — Jonathan Strange visits his brother-in-law in Gloucestershire and is surprised to discover three young ladies with magical talents; however, they don’t always use these talents for benevolent purposes. A suitably creepy and atmospheric story, but I didn’t quite follow the plot.

“On Lickerish Hill” — In the 15th or 16th century, a young peasant girl marries the local squire and is forced to spin a large quantity of wool in an impossibly short period of time. My least favorite story in the bunch; the period language got on my nerves, and in general the story didn’t feel like it had very much substance to it.

“Mrs. Mabb” — In Regency England, a girl’s lover jilts her for the mysterious Mrs. Mabb, and the girl decides to fight back. I liked this story, especially the descriptions of the girl’s experiences in fairyland, which are darker and more painful than the word “fairyland” suggests.

“The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse” — The title of this one is pretty self-explanatory. 🙂 This is one of the shortest, most amusing stories in the bunch, and the setting (the village of Wall) is borrowed from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Definitely one of my favorites in the bunch.

“Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower” — Simonelli keeps a journal about his new job as the vicar of a country village and his encounters with a fairy lord who is looking for a new human bride. I liked this story because it was longer and more fleshed out than most of the others; it also conveys a subtly disturbing atmosphere.

“Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby” — A Jew and a fairy visit the decaying town of Thoresby and make a plan to help its inhabitants. I wasn’t terribly interested in this story as such, but it does shed some light on Clarke’s fairies and their family relationships.

“Antickes and Frets” — Mary, Queen of Scots, plots to destroy Elizabeth by using magic. I enjoyed the incorporation of actual historical figures into this story.

“John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” — John Uskglass, the Raven King, inadvertently injures a lowly charcoal burner, who turns to various Christian saints for retribution. This was my favorite story in the bunch; the saints were hilarious, and I just really liked the whole idea of this story.

Sorry that took so long! I never know how to review short story collections. Should I talk about each story individually or just give my impressions on the collection as a whole? As you can see, I’ve chosen the former approach because I think it’s more helpful to people who are deciding whether the collection is worth their time or not. Anyway, I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone who hasn’t read Jonathan Strange, but for those who have read it, these stories shed an interesting light on Clarke’s world and her vision of the realm of fairy.

Review: Ashes of Honor

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuireSeanan McGuire, Ashes of Honor

Still reeling after the tragic events of One Salt Sea, Toby Daye has thrown herself into her work, rushing into unnecessarily dangerous situations and pushing all her friends away. But she can’t avoid the people around her forever — a fact made abundantly clear when Etienne, one of Duke Sylvester’s knights, comes to her for help. His daughter Chelsea, a changeling whose existence he only recently discovered, has inherited extremely strong powers from her fae blood, but she has no idea how to control them. Now she’s ripping doors through Faerie that were never meant to be opened, and Toby has to stop her before she inadvertently destroys the world of Faerie.

I’m really enjoying the Toby Daye books, and this latest installment is no exception. The book moves at a quick pace, with the need to find Chelsea being the driving force, but there’s still the occasional quiet moment to balance out the action sequences. I also noticed several little hints throughout the novel about what might come next in the series: for example, the clues about Quentin’s background should pay off in future installments. Tybalt also plays a prominent role in this book, which is always a plus for me! And as always, I love Toby’s sarcastic voice and gallows humor, which are the perfect antidote to the violence and cruelty that she confronts on a daily basis. Overall, this is another strong installment in an excellent series. Can’t wait for the next Toby Daye novel!