R.I.P. VIII Challenge Wrap-up

I’m a bit late to the game here, but the eighth annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event officially ended on October 31.


The purpose of this event was to read books that fell within the genres of mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, supernatural, or anything else sufficiently dark/spooky/autumnal. I attempted Peril the First, which asked me to read at least 4 books that met the challenge criteria.

RIP VIII peril the first

Fortunately, I managed to do a lot of perilous reading in September and October! Here’s what I read:

  1. Luis Fernando Verissimo, The Club of Angels
  2. Rhys Bowen, Royal Blood
  3. Isaac Asimov, A Whiff of Death
  4. Seanan McGuire, Chimes at Midnight
  5. Amy Patricia Meade, Million Dollar Baby
  6. Maggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves
  7. Robin McKinley, Shadows
  8. Ellery Queen, The Roman Hat Mystery
  9. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

Links will take you to my reviews. Overall, my favorite books were The Club of AngelsChimes at Midnight, and The Dream Thieves. My least favorite was undoubtedly Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Did you participate in R.I.P. VIII? If so, what did you read? What were your favorite and least favorite books of the challenge? (Also, don’t forget to link to your wrap-up posts here!)

Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way ComesRay Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

A week before Halloween, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show creeps silently into Green Town, Illinois, in the middle of the night. To most of the town’s inhabitants, the show is a carnival like any other, with its sideshows, rides, and circus freaks. But 13-year-old best friends Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway suspect that something more sinister is at work. The carnival seems to lure unwary visitors into its depths, and those who fall under its spell will never be the same again. It’s up to Jim and Will — and Will’s father, an unassuming librarian who worries about his age and his relationship with his son — to uncover the dark secret at the heart of the circus and to prevent it from ensnaring more victims.

I don’t usually read horror novels, but I was interested in this book because of its classic status (and, frankly, because of its Shakespearean title). Unfortunately, this novel really didn’t work for me, but the problem wasn’t the story at all — it was the writing style. The prose is gratingly faux-poetic, overblown, and melodramatic. Words are often used in unconventional ways (nouns being used as verbs and the like), which can be an effective stylistic choice, but in this case I found it incredibly distracting. I also found the dialogue completely unrealistic and stilted. It’s a shame, because I actually do think the basic story is fascinating and could have been very effective in the right hands. I’m definitely not enthusiastic about trying more Bradbury after this — and I’m wondering how well Fahrenheit 451 would stand up to a re-read!

Review: The Roman Hat Mystery

The Roman Hat MysteryEllery Queen, The Roman Hat Mystery

In 1920s New York City, crowds have been thronging to see the latest Broadway hit, a sensationalist gangster play complete with flashing lights and gunfire. But little did the audience members of the Roman theater suspect that a real murder would be committed during the second act! Inspector Richard Queen of the local police is on the scene almost immediately, with his curious son Ellery in tow. In examining the victim’s body, they soon discover an interesting anomaly: despite being dressed in full evening clothes, the dead man wasn’t wearing a top hat. The police scour the Roman theater from top to bottom and search all the audience members as they leave the premises, but the hat is nowhere to be found. While Inspector Queen and his fellow police detectives identify the corpse and discover his involvement in a blackmailing scheme, Ellery applies himself to the mystery of the missing hat — and deduces the identity of the murderer as a result.

I really enjoy classic mysteries from the early 20th century, so I was excited to read this first Ellery Queen novel. Overall, I was very impressed with the mystery plot itself; the solution is tight and hangs together well, although part of the motive is concealed from readers until the very end. (Historical racism is also an aspect of the solution, which can certainly be offputting for contemporary readers.) I also liked the way in which the police were depicted as they investigated the murder: far from being bumbling idiots, they approach their job intelligently and methodically. I was especially tickled by the introduction of the district attorney as a character. Most mystery novels focus solely on catching the killer — never mind if s/he can actually be convicted in a court of law! I wasn’t as impressed with the characterization of the detectives, however. Inspector Queen was more central to this book than Ellery, but he didn’t seem to be consistently depicted, and Ellery was barely fleshed out at all. Presumably, though, more character development occurs in subsequent books, and I’d certainly be willing to read more Ellery Queen novels.

Review: Shadows

ShadowsRobin McKinley, Shadows

At first glance, Maggie seems to be an ordinary teenage girl: she loves animals, hates algebra, and thinks there’s something wrong with her new stepfather, Val. But it’s not just Val’s funny Oldworld accent or terrible taste in shirts that worries Maggie. It’s the fact that he’s always surrounded by shadows that don’t make sense; they’re the wrong shapes, and there are far too many of them to be natural. To make matters worse, Maggie has started to notice some troubling things about her hometown in Newworld — unexplained phenomena that almost look like breaks in reality. Eventually Maggie confronts Val and learns some unpleasant truths about Newworld and its way of dealing with unnatural occurrences.

I’ve been a huge fan of Robin McKinley’s since the first time I read The Hero and the Crown in elementary school, so I was ecstatic to learn that she’d written a new book, even if it wasn’t the long-awaited continuation of Pegasus. However, I’m sorry to say that I was very disappointed in this book. It does contain many of the classic McKinley touches, such as a wonderful canine companion, a no-nonsense heroine with plenty of gumption, and (less happily) a magical system that is never fully explained. But overall, I felt let down by this story; there were a lot of very interesting threads running throughout the novel, but they were never gathered together in the end. I’m not sure whether a sequel is planned or not, but some further resolution of the story definitely seems necessary. I can’t help but wonder if McKinley was attempting to write her version of the dyptopian YA novel that is so popular nowadays. All I can say is, I vastly prefer her older books!

Review: The Dream Thieves

The Dream ThievesMaggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves

***Warning: SPOILERS for The Raven Boys!***

Ronan Lynch has the unusual ability to steal objects from his dreams. This doesn’t seem very strange to his group of friends, but then, they’re not exactly normal either. Gansey is obsessed with finding the medieval Welsh king Owen Glendower, Adam has made a strange bargain with a magical forest, Noah is a ghost, and Blue lives in a house full of psychics. Although they’re all working together on the Glendower quest, Ronan is more preoccupied with his own talent and how it might be linked to his family’s past. He’s also being drawn into the orbit of another Raven Boy with a bad reputation and a reckless thirst for danger. But the greatest threat of all seems to come from the sinister Grey Man, who is hunting for something — or someone — that can bridge the gap between dreams and reality. Only Ronan’s friends stand between him and the darkness that awaits…who will prevail?

While I enjoyed The Raven Boys when I first read it, I wasn’t completely sure that I cared enough about the story or characters to continue with the series. This book, however, sold me; I’m now committed to reading the entire series as it comes out. Stiefvater is an excellent writer, with a sparse yet poetic way of describing things that I really admire. Also, since this is book #2 in the series, the characters and world have already been established, so there’s an opportunity to dig deeper into Ronan’s and his friends’ backstories. It doesn’t hurt that this book features Ronan heavily; he’s definitely my favorite of the Raven Boys, and his story arc in this book is compelling. I can’t wait to see what happens to him and the other characters as the series continues!

Review: Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar BabyAmy Patricia Meade, Million Dollar Baby

Marjorie McClelland is a mildly successful mystery novelist trying to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Creighton Ashcroft is a wealthy Englishman who has recently purchased the grandest estate in Marjorie’s town. Though they come from two different worlds, Creighton is immediately attracted to the author and offers to help her with her latest book. Marjorie accepts his help, and they soon settle into a daily routine, which is shockingly interrupted by the discovery of a skeleton on Creighton’s property. Creighton and Marjorie call the police immediately, but Creighton regrets this action when the extremely handsome lead detective appears on the scene and competes for Marjorie’s attention. Can this trio of detectives discover what happened to the dead person? And will Creighton be able to win Marjorie’s heart away from his attractive rival?

Being a fan of the classic country house mystery, I was excited to read this book, which is first in a series set in 1930s New England. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t impressed by the writing style. The dialogue was awkward and clumsy, and there was too much “showing” rather than “telling.” I was also annoyed by the rapid shift in Creighton and Marjorie’s relationship; at first, he seems to be merely attracted to her, but about halfway through the book he suddenly feels deep and lasting love. I found the change very abrupt, and I couldn’t figure out why he was so interested in her after a few superficial conversations. I do think the setup of the series is interesting and unique — it’s not every day you have three sleuths embroiled in a love triangle while they attempt to solve crimes! However, the execution just wasn’t good enough for me to continue with the series.

Review: Chimes at Midnight

Chimes at MidnightSeanan McGuire, Chimes at Midnight

October Daye, faerie knight and private detective, is making it her mission to get goblin fruit off the streets of San Francisco. More potent than any human drug, goblin fruit will cause a human or changeling to become addicted with just one taste; its victims will become swallowed up in their dreams, wasting away and eventually dying. When Toby discovers the corpse of yet another changeling addict, she decides to petition the Queen of the Mists for help. But instead of listening to Toby’s arguments, the queen promptly exiles her, giving her only three days to get out of town forever. Reeling from shock, Toby nonetheless decides to fight back — and soon discovers some interesting details about the queen’s accession to her throne.

This book is yet another wonderful installment of the Toby Daye series. I don’t actually read a lot of urban fantasy, but I was hooked on these books from the beginning. I love Toby’s hard-boiled, self-deprecating voice, and it’s easy to root for her even when she’s getting herself into ever more dangerous situations. I think this book in particular was an excellent showcase for all the secondary characters: from Tybalt and May to Quentin and the Luidaeg, everyone seems to have a moment to shine. Also, the mystery of Quentin’s background is finally revealed! This is definitely more of a “plot” book than a “character” book, though; it’s Toby’s race against time to avoid banishment that drives the story forward. Overall, this is another strong installment of a great series — can’t wait for the next one!

Review: A Whiff of Death

A Whiff of DeathIsaac Asimov, A Whiff of Death

Professor Louis Brade is a middle-aged chemistry professor whose biggest problem is his ongoing struggle for tenure. But his life gets much more complicated when one of his students, Ralph Neufeld, is found dead in the research lab. Outward signs point to an accident; Ralph was preparing an experiment at the time, and he might have accidentally used a poisonous chemical instead of the identical-looking harmless one. But Professor Brade knows that Ralph was a meticulous chemist who would never have made such a mistake. He is reluctant to voice his suspicion that Ralph was murdered, however — especially when it becomes clear that Brade himself is a promising suspect. Can Brade discover the cause of Ralph’s death, clear his name, and avoid becoming the murderer’s next victim?

I was surprised and delighted to discover that Isaac Asimov also wrote detective novels! And I have to say, I was very impressed with this mystery. I enjoyed the academic setting, and although chemistry plays a large role in the story, it’s very easy for non-scientists to follow as well. I also liked Brade as a main character, mostly because of how normal he is compared to other fictional detectives: He’s an intelligent but not brilliant professor, and he has a happy-ish marriage that nevertheless has its fair share of conflict. Finally, I really loved the policeman in this case, whose breezy manner conceals a very sharp mind. The interplay between the policeman and Brade was one of my favorite parts of the book. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this to fans of older mysteries, and I plan to look for more of Asimov’s detective stories.

Review: Royal Blood

Royal BloodRhys Bowen, Royal Blood

Lady Georgiana Rannoch, still both royal and impoverished, is desperately searching for a way to make ends meet — especially when her brother Binky and his odious wife Fig come to London expecting her to feed and house them. So when the queen suggests that Georgie represent the British crown at a royal wedding in Romania, she jumps at the chance for a taste of adventure and temporary freedom from her financial woes. When Georgie arrives at the royal palace — which is inevitably located in Transylvania — she is impressed by its suitably gloomy and gothic atmosphere. But when one of the wedding guests, an unpopular Bulgarian dignitary, is poisoned during the house party, it’s up to Georgie to discover the murderer before the tragedy escalates into an international incident.

I started this series a few years ago but lost track of it somewhere along the way, so I’m glad I finally decided to pick up the next book! I really enjoy the light, breezy tone of this series. Georgie is an extremely likable protagonist, a bit silly sometimes, but also full of spunk. I also love the 1930s setting, which allows for glamorous evening parties but also hints at the international strife that will soon erupt into World War II. The mystery plot itself is very slight, with a solution that basically comes out of nowhere; but since I enjoy the setting and characters, I can forgive a relatively weak plot. I definitely wouldn’t recommend the book as a stand-alone novel, but fans of historical mysteries and cozies should give this series a try!

Review: The Club of Angels

The Club of AngelsLuis Fernando Verissimo, The Club of Angels (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

The narrator of this short book, Daniel, is a member of a very exclusive society of gourmands: He and nine other men regularly meet at each other’s houses to feast on the most delicious, exotic, flavorful meals they can create. The club hasn’t met recently due to some bad blood between the members, but then Daniel meets the mysterious chef Lucídio, who agrees to cook for them. The club members all converge on Daniel’s apartment and are delighted to find that Lucídio’s cooking is the best they’ve ever tasted. But then one of the guests mysteriously dies the next day — and the meal Lucídio had prepared was that guest’s favorite dish. The club continues to hold more dinners, and another member dies after each one. Yet for some reason, Daniel and his friends can’t resist experiencing these exquisitely perfect meals, even with the knowledge that each bite could be their last.

From the moment I read the epigraph of this creepy little novel, I was hooked: “All desire is a desire for death. — A possible Japanese maxim.” Verissimo wasn’t being lazy in his attribution; the saying is actually referenced in the novel, and it highlights Daniel’s unreliability as a narrator. From the start, he warns us that he might be making up the whole story, and then he goes on to give a brief philosophy of the detective novel. So you’ll know within the first two pages whether you’ll like this book or not; I thought it was weird and thought-provoking and very good! My library shelves it in the mystery section, which doesn’t make sense to me, since “whodunit” is clear from the outset (well, kind of). But watching the motives slowly unfold was interesting and surprisingly suspenseful. I should also point out that this book is set in Brazil, and the main characters are essentially a microcosm of Brazilian society, from the political protester to the ex-priest to the criminal. Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot and would definitely recommend it, as well as Verissimo’s other novel, Borges and the Eternal Orangutans.