Historical fiction meets paranormal in Thores-Cross, a novel set on the outskirts of a Yorkshire village that was submerged to create a reservoir. Emm...moreHistorical fiction meets paranormal in Thores-Cross, a novel set on the outskirts of a Yorkshire village that was submerged to create a reservoir. Emma Moorcroft is an author with writer’s block following a miscarriage. She and her husband have resbuilt their dream home along the shores of Thruscross Reservoir, where Emma spent many happy childhood summers. Their closest neighbors , descendants of the family that owned the village in the 18th century, tell Emma a story about Jennet, the young village wise woman who becomes known as a witch. Soon Emma starts having strange nightmares, and it isn’t long before she begins writing again, compulsively, day and night.
Thores-Cross is less a ghost story than a haunting. Although no ghost ever appears, Emma soon realizes that it’s the spirit of Jennet emerging through her writing. Each of the women narrates her own experiences from their own place in time, and of the two, Jennet’s is by far the most compelling. Ms. Perkins knows her Yorkshire folklore and traditions, and does a superb job of capturing rural life and customs in the moors of the 1700’s. Jennet seems real, and it’s possible to feel a strong sense of rapport with her. On the other hand, Emma and her husband and neighbors come across as vapid, her experiences, although they drive the story, mere melodrama.
While nothing especially scary ever happens, Jennet’s tale is realistic and engrossing and gives pause for thought. A work of straight historical fiction with her at its center might have been even more effective. Emma’s ends in a predictable, rather hurried fashion. (less)
Victoria McQueen has access to “the shorter way” , a bridge that was removed years ago but that she can still locate when she wants to find something....moreVictoria McQueen has access to “the shorter way” , a bridge that was removed years ago but that she can still locate when she wants to find something. She discovered her gift as a child, when looking for her mom’s lost bracelet. Now, as a troubled adult, she must use it to find and destroy a monster who preys on children. NOS4A2 is the story of her quest, which will turn into the most harrowing nightmare in a life filled with nightmares. Charles Manx is the monster’s name, and he cruises around at will in a vintage Rolls Wraith that sports the license plate NOS4A2 in honor of the vampire in an equally vintage horror movie. Manx’s current assistant is Bing Partridge, who speaks in rhyme and views himself as nice and normal despite having murdered his parents with a hammer. These two make up one of creepiest duos in modern literature. Over 500 pages of this lengthy novel lead up to an ultimate showdown in Manx’s “children’s paradise”, which he calls Christmas Land.
Joe Hill has a way with words, no doubt about it. In Christmas Land, he has conjured a timeless village which only Manx can enter and depart from at will – until Vic stumbles onto his scene. Hill draws upon mythology (think vampire, incubus, Batman, immortality), poetry (the concept of inscape, the inner world of the mind described by G. M. Hopkins), music (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and countless Christmas carols), and magic. He incorporates plays on word and ideas all over the place, and these are great fun to recognize. In many ways this book is Harry Potter for adults. He sets Vic on a classic hero’s quest, and along the way she receives assistance from the unlikeliest of friends and family. During her struggle, she comes to know and accept herself and to release the deep love and empathy that she holds deep within. Hill has become a master of the contemporary horror novel, understanding that suggestion can be more powerful than the most grotesque description can ever be. Rather than sicken his readers, he invites them to use their own imagination and fears to experience what his characters are experiencing. And it works. Very, very well. My only criticism of the novel is that its middle third fails to move along at the pace of the first and final sections.
Most of the reviews I’ve read online contain comparisons between the work of Joe Hill and that of his more famous father, Steven King. It’s my belief that Hill’s writing deserves to be considered on its own substantial merits.(less)
Megan Chance creates a twist on the currently popular vampire theme in Inamorata. Struggling American artist Joseph Hannigan and twin sister Sophie tr...moreMegan Chance creates a twist on the currently popular vampire theme in Inamorata. Struggling American artist Joseph Hannigan and twin sister Sophie travel to Venice, where they hope to find a patron interested in supporting championing his work. Everyone who sees it thinks it's quite extraordinary, and are equally entranced by beauty and inter-connectedness of the twins. At the same time, poet Nicholas Dane has arrived, bent on tracing the whereabouts of Odile Leon, the enchanting seductress who left him deep in despair. Odile, it seems, has the powers of a muse, and while her amorous conquests produce beautiful work during their relationship, the men lose their inspiration when they part. As the Hannigans penetrate the inner circle of artists and patrons, young men begin to die in suspicious circumstances, and Nicholas suspects that Odile may be involved.
The Venice of this novel, set in the late 19th century, is a dark, labyrinthine one, damp and menacing. Its plot revolves on the myth of the succubus, a creature with the upper body of an irresistible woman and the lower body of a serpent. Succubi leach away the creativity and life force from their lovers, in order to maintain their immortality. Slowly paced,the story unfolds in a fairly predictable way, but the ending brings about an unforeseen set of circumstances. It also leaves unresolved a question about the true nature of the twins' relationship.
Considering the topic, Inamorata elicits less a sense of horror than one of desolation. (less)
Already well known as a successful writer of young adult novels, Lauren Oliver ventures into the adult market with Rooms. Long estranged from their we...moreAlready well known as a successful writer of young adult novels, Lauren Oliver ventures into the adult market with Rooms. Long estranged from their wealthy husband/ father, the Walkers return to their former home in upstate New York for his funeral. Each of them has brought a parcel of personal struggles along with their baggage, and in the days before the service, long buried memories bubble up to the surface, compounding their distress. Only one of the family, teenaged son Trenton, realizes that they are not alone in the house; two of the former residents, now long dead, have failed to move on.
The stories and circumstances of each of the six main characters are told from their own points of view in a series of alternating vignettes. These play out within a specific room in the house, which accounts for the book’s title. These people are all interesting in his/her own right, and each is emotionally distanced from the others, locked in their own misery. Each is preoccupied with thoughts of their own deaths, and not merely because of the funeral. Their depression is palpable, and it’s easy to see why the ghosts have yet to move on. For me, the most compelling characters are Trenton, and the shades of Alice and Sandra, who were each in early middle age when they died. Yes, their capacity for denial and repression is strong, but these three have cracks in their armor into which slices of honesty keep filtering. Perhaps that is why Trenton senses, hears, and sees faint manifestations of the spirits, especially when they comment between themselves (sometimes humorously) about the Walkers.
One of the most popular songs of 2014 is Let It Go, from Disney’s Frozen. One of the recurring tropes in Rooms is the phrase, “You’ve got to learn to let go.” This is a lesson that everyone absorbs during the last quarter of the book, in greater or lesser degrees, as they are forced by a series of unexpected shocks that turn what they thought they knew upside down, to confront the truths that are holding them in misery. Yes, there is reason to hope, even though none of us can entirely know another.
I'm pretty sure Ms. Oliver will succeed in the adult market!(less)
Extremely detailed study of Lincoln's political career, with many glimpses into his personal side as well. The four main rivals for the Republican pre...moreExtremely detailed study of Lincoln's political career, with many glimpses into his personal side as well. The four main rivals for the Republican presidential nomination are also featured. Not a book to breeze through. (less)
English author Patrick McGrath has been hailed as the master of the neo-gothic, but he prefers to describe himself as the creator of "stories of love...moreEnglish author Patrick McGrath has been hailed as the master of the neo-gothic, but he prefers to describe himself as the creator of "stories of love and madness". I haven't read his other novels, which have generally been highly acclaimed, but having devoured Martha Peake, I can say that the gothic and romantic certainly blend seamlessly here. Told by two unreliable narrators, decades afterward, Martha's tale plays out in four 18th century settings, each equally dark and threatening. Harry Peake makes his first appearance in Cornwall, where he's a good looking, hard drinking smuggler who loses his wife and most of his family in a fire that he caused. His own injuries have left him a bitter, hulking hunchback. He removes with his one loyal daughter, Martha, to London,where, crazed by guilt and grief, Harry tries to expiate himself through humiliation, by displaying his spine nightly to strangers in a seedy bar room. He draws the attention of macabre anatomist Lord Drogo, who employs his own personal resurrection man and displays misshapen human bones at his mansion in the marshes. Martha, who loves her father dearly, becomes terrified about what Drogo might have in mind for Harry. When an unspeakable calamity befalls her, Martha has no choice but to flee alone to America, which is on the brink of revolution. But she can't forget her father, who was alive when she fled, and the choices she makes as a result will make her a symbol of the revolution itself.
The extremes of grotesquery and madness are there, along with injustice and poverty, sordid backstreets, crumbling estates, and foggy cliffs, but what is also there, for those who care to look, are the issues and philosophies of the era. It may even remind you why the war for independence was fought, both the noble and the selfish reasons. To McGrath's credit, he manages to deliver a satisfactory ending while also leaving a sense of mystery about some of the tale's most vivid images (no spoilers, so I won't elaborate). Martha Peake is a finely crafted, multilayered novel, one that deserves to be savored and considered rather than rushed.(less)
Michael Haller is a defense attorney, one who never hit the big time. He is the object of much disrespect because of the sorts of clients he defends,...moreMichael Haller is a defense attorney, one who never hit the big time. He is the object of much disrespect because of the sorts of clients he defends, but Mickey believes that the legal system is stacked against society's lower strata, and is willing to go to bat for them. If some of his tactics are not exactly on the up and up, well, neither are those of the state.
Michael Connelly introduced Haller in the Lincoln Lawyer, and through the next several books in the series, has developed his character into a street smart sort of guy who, at heart, is something of a crusader. Mickey's the sort of protagonist that readers really pull for. The Gods of Guilt (a term uses by Haller's mentor for the jury) features an complex plot, in which his client has been framed for the murder of a prostitute, whom he defended once before and came to care about. As he works to discover who killed her and why, Mickey exposes a web of political corruption, and is targeted by its masterminds. As a result, he loses someone he cares deeply about. But he also recovers a damaged relationship and forges a new one. The story is superbly crafted, with compelling courtroom scenes and a strong sense of justice, as I've come to expect from Mr. Connelly. This is crime fiction at its very best.(less)
Martha Stewart wannabe CC de Poitiers has invaded the tranquility of the picture postcard village of Three Pines, buying up the somewhat creepy mansio...moreMartha Stewart wannabe CC de Poitiers has invaded the tranquility of the picture postcard village of Three Pines, buying up the somewhat creepy mansion in which Inspector Gamache’s last bloody case was brought to a close. Moving in with her henpecked husband and gifted but unloved daughter, CC manages to cast a pall even over the idyllic Christmas Eve service. She’s also shamelessly purloined the ideas of the villagers to publish in her new book as her own. So when CC winds up dead by electrocution during the traditional holiday curling tournament, no one is surprised or sorry. But Gamache must investigate anyway, and has got his work cut out for him. The situation is complicated by the reassignment of agent Yvette Nichol to his squad, who did her utmost to undermine that last investigation. Then there’s the murder of a homeless woman in Montreal, a seemingly unrelated crime that turns out to have serious connections to CC’s death.
The charm of this series lies less in its police procedural aspects than in watching Gamache, a serious student of human nature, piece together tiny bits of evidence and intuitions to formulate a coherent theory to pursue. While occasionally threatening to spill over into the cozy genre, this is avoided by the inclusion of unusual settings and experiences, in this case the curling match and certain parallels to Eleanor of Aquitaine. The behavior of seemingly honest and harmless villagers can also be deceiving. There is no such person in Three Pines or in Gamache’s wider sphere of influence, excepting perhaps, his wife Reine Marie. Like Guido Brunetti in Donna Leon’s series, Armand Gamache is a man of intelligence and humanity, someone you’d like to get to know.(less)
Books about the Salem Witch Trials are legion, and continue to fascinate. Now historian and author Marilynne Roach has taken a...moreMy rating: 4 of 5 stars
Books about the Salem Witch Trials are legion, and continue to fascinate. Now historian and author Marilynne Roach has taken a new approach by studying and presenting the cases of three of the accused and three of their accusers. It opens with
introductions, based upon the limited documentation available, of Rebecca Nurse, Bridget Bishop, Mary English, all accused of witchcraft, and Ann Putnam Sr., Tituba, and Mary Warren, who were heavily involved in making accusations. The detail that the author has compiled helps to make these women seem real.
The second section is an account, month by month, of the hearings and trials, with comprehensive and often verbatim descriptions of the testimony of all involved. Initially, this is fascinating, but as the trials grind on, much of the information involves the dramatic "fits" of the girls supposed to have been bewitched, and their reactions to the suspects. Necessarily, many other individuals, in addition to the eponymous six, enter into the action. Soon these accounts become monotonous in their astonishing similarity, prompting the reader to wonder how the distinguished and "learned" judges allowed themselves to be taken in for eight months. More interesting are the vignettes in which the author imagines what the six might have been thinking at the various steps along the way to the convictions and deaths. Tales of how relatives worked to exonerate their women, coupled with depictions of the hangings, are heartbreaking.
The book's final section deals with the aftermath, when colonial authorities put a stop to the proceedings, shocked at how many were being accused (over 200 men and women) and executed. Once they stopped the admission of spectral evidence, the wind was taken out of the sails of the entire hysterical happening. A complete listing of documentary evidence, with volumes and page numbers, is provided for each chapter. A series of schematic maps is also included.
Although it does lag in sections, Six Women of Salem is well worth reading for students, historians, and anyone interested in the terrible year of 1692 and the witchcraft phenomenon in its American particulars.(less)