It’s not the shuffling or the groaning or the brain-eating (all of which, I will admit, are not ideal), it’s the terrible sadness...moreMan, I hate zombies.
It’s not the shuffling or the groaning or the brain-eating (all of which, I will admit, are not ideal), it’s the terrible sadness of them. Out of all the paranormal creatures currently shaking their little tushes on the publishing catwalk, zombies got the worst deal. Vampires? Killer nightlife. Werewolves? Monthly inconvenience. Faeries? Avoid blacksmiths and enjoy your courtly drama. Ditto for elves but with a better wardrobe.
But zombies, man. Zombies got nothing.
Their bodies get dragged around 24/7, steadily decomposing, while they’re driven by ceaseless hunger and rabid bands of Hollywood actors toting shotguns. There’s just no indication that they get to enjoy their unlife. They exist solely to gross out the survivors of a story before being squooshily killed.
And Frankenstein’s monsters, despite how eloquent the first monster was in Shelley’s original story, are basically zombies. Which raises the question: who would do something like that?
Victor Frankenstein, that’s who. In the original, he’s a hyper-obsessed, arrogant, woe-is-me mad scientist, with no time for little people with little minds, thinking little thoughts about religion, morality and consequence. No time!
He is, in fact, a d-bag, and all the best Frankenstein re-tellings showcase some aspect of his d-baggery. But what none of them have done is have everyone else — everyone like his beloved Elizabeth and faithful dog friend Henry Clerval call him out on it. Until now!
Such Wicked Intent re-tells the Frankenstein story in an interestingly fractured way. Victor now has a twin brother, Konrad (and doppelgangers always make my heart go pitter-pat. Blame Miami Vice) along with an unhinged, wild-eyed ancestor named Wilhelm (who was played, in my head, by Robert Smith of The Cure). That’s about it for cast changes. At the time of the series, Victor is a young man only just beginning to feel the throb of science in his budding loins (consistent with the original) and also feeling the throb of something else when he looks at Elizabeth (again consistent), but oh no! She’s in love with Konrad! Who is dying of a mysterious disease!
That sound you just heard was spectral Mary Shelley throwing her hands in the air at the addition of a melodramatic teenage love triangle to her classic horror story. Yes, you’re right. It sounded like a gentle whooshing noise.
Then again, history tells us Mary (Ms. Shelley if you’re nasty) had her fair share of melodramatic love triangles, so maybe she should settle herself.
Anyway! As book 2 opens (and no, I haven’t read book 1 yet), Konrad’s succumbed to his illness despite what sounds like shenanigans from book 1 and Victor’s dad is royally pissed that in trying to save his brother, Victor opened up mad old uncle Wilhelm’s Dark Library and went rooting around in his necronomicons. So they’re all being burned in the courtyard, so Victor can just think about what he’s done, mister.
Victor does of course think about what he’s done, and realizes that if he’s going to bring his brother back from the dead (and/or woo Elizabeth (he is a busy little monkey)), he really needs to step up his game. And wouldn’t you know it, mad old uncle Wilhelm has just the thing for that.
Then shit gets crazy.
Now, it’s really hard to talk about the book’s plot in any concrete terms without giving away massive spoilers.
So what I’ll talk about instead is the kick-ass way in which Oppel blends his origami’d Frankenstein myth with a haunted house story, Shirley Jackson-style. Because the Frankenstein mansion plays an integral part in the story, not just by providing secret rooms at times that are convenient for the plot (although it does do that), but it also provides a womb-like enclosure for the story as a whole, where–
What? What’d I say?
I know, but we’re talking about a Frankenstein story, the original warped creation mythos, so you’re all just lucky this entire review isn’t one big bed of fertility metaphors and birth similes. Plus this book is all about the fear hhhhhhofthepussy.
So much fear. Not a ton of pussy.
But when you choose as the symbols/vehicles of your strange, dark netherworld black butterflies, and have them alight charmingly on your heroes and fill them with sharp, momentary surges of intense tingles and emotional well-being before flitting off and leaving the heroes bereft; and when you have Victor get nauseated when Elizabeth begins acting maternal to Victor’s monster (not a euphemism. Should be. Isn’t.) and when you flat out describe the monster as emerging from a womb, then we need to talk.
There’s more, but see above re: spoilers. You want to get into it in more detail, grab me in the comments or over on GR. Suffice it to say that thematically, if I’m expecting fear of the pussy anywhere, it’s in a damn Frankenstein book. It works.
But back to the mansion.
All the rooms are intensely well-described, so you as the reader feel like you’re following along at the heels of this mad-science Scooby Gang, but Oppel also has the house serve as the landscape of purgatory, which is where Konrad’s hanging out waiting for Victor to get his act together. And as Victor sets his plan to save Konrad in motion, he also discovers he has particular powers over the house in purgatory — power to move the walls, power to see all the ages of the house all at once, which if you stop to think about it, is very weird but appropriate for someone who’s trying to make a concertina out of the boundary between life and death.
I did wish that Elizabeth got to be more than simply a decision as to who she mates with, but at the very least, she gets to have agency in that decision and in addition she gets to be sneaky and duplicitous, which I am always here for and btw did I mention that fear of the pussy thing we got going on here? Did I mention Victor at one point takes a butterfly directly to the face and screams and falls over?
Anyway, I can’t help it. I really enjoyed the book. I want to fanfic it. I want a sequel, but I suspect I’m out of luck there, as nothing’s been announced and the author’s let his domain lapse, which is kind of a bad sign. I’ll settle for reading the prequel and continuing to enjoy all the ways in which Elizabeth and Henry point out to Victor just how big of a douchewaffle he’s being, and he, in true dedication to the douchewaffle cause, agrees and declares it’s part of his charm. Then he gets slapped a bunch. It’s awesome.
And you know Mrs Amberson will cut anyone who isn't.
I know what you're all asking yourselves right now: Self? you ask. Odd...moreBut really I'm Team Murray.
And you know Mrs Amberson will cut anyone who isn't.
I know what you're all asking yourselves right now: Self? you ask. Odd makes such a dagblammed fuss about not reading books with dogs in then here's this book and it full up has a dog in. What gives?
Or maybe not. Maybe 'dagblammit' isn't a word in your dialect. But you know what I mean. Anyway, here is the reason: as soon as I finished Suite Scarlett which you all know I am not sane about, at all, I flat out next-day'd Scarlett Fever because it was killing me that there was more to this story that I hadn't read. And of course, two pages in, I ran smack into Murray The Purse Terrier. PROBLEM. What is a girl to do in this situation? She of course flips to the back of the book to make sure the dog was still in the picture. And I honestly can't say whether I would've read this book if I couldn't locate Murray.
AND THAT WOULD'VE BEEN A TRAGEDY.
Y'all, this book, it just--
I just didn't think the sequel would be better, that's all. I didn't think my crush on Mrs Amberson could get any more fierce than it was by the end of the first book. I didn't think Spencer could keep on being funny and meanly big brotherly than he was in the first book. I thought Marlene's storyline was basically over, and ditto Lola's.
So. Much. Good. Stuff.
I think you all need to know, right off the bat, that, even without my crush on Mrs. Amy Amberson*, I'm convinced that she could never be paired off with anyone who wasn't a small neurotic dog who needed to live in a purse to be happy. Hear me out. Mrs Amberson is just SO MUCH and there are in fact a surfeit** of small neurotic dogs made for purses who people eventually get unhappy with and try to pawn off, leaving said snd (my fingers have a lazy now) alone and abandoned.
First of all, if you abandon a snd, I hope piranhas emerge from your showerhead and chew your squishy bits to the bone. Let's just get that out of the way.
Second of all, people have to then come to the aid of snds who have been abandoned and care for their giant, broken, soft-as-velvet little souls and who better than Mrs Amberson? She has just the right amount of Walk It Off, Murray going for her along with the constant need for an audience that she is a snd rescue organization's dream. Also, any dude who tried to date her would be in alcoholic liver failure in six months or less. It's me or Murray, Amy. And I won't be hurt if you choose him.
My god, I've just looked over at my bedraggled little copy of Scarlett Fever (well-loved before it even arrived) and holy crow I dog-eared some pages. Where to start, where to start.
Possibly I should start by saying that yesterday, on my way to the bus stop I walked by the street-level kitchen window of a small and too-chi-chi cafe and saw they had piles of chocolate cakes, cooling, and I burst into helpless laughter. In fact, the word "cake" now makes me chortle. THAT WAS MY SECOND FAVORITE PART OF THE WHOLE BOOK.
I never saw it coming. Not at all. I was just as clueless as everyone but Scarlett, but when Spencer hurled himself artistically and heart-feltedly into that hateful boat-cake, I laughed so hard that my poor husband, who was downstairs playing a first-person shooter game turned up loud, stopped his game and actually came up the stairs to see if I was okay. And all I could gasp out was that one word: caaaaaaaake.
I loved how Spencer knew how Lola felt about the cake without being told. I loved how he couldn't show up to this fancy shin-dig without being, on some level, Spencer. I loved how Scarlett knew what he was going to do and stepped in front of her sister, to protect her. I loved how horrified everyone was, and how Scarlett and Max and Spencer just wound up covered in frosting and hiding on the patio.
I loved everything that had built up to the scene where Scarlett has to go get bail money for Mrs Amberson and winds up hopping around her apartment, trying to take the head off that Chinese dog sculpture while Murray quietly widdles himself into a coma watching her. I nearly fell off the bed with that one.
Some of the criticisms that were leveled at the first book are potentially still valid in this one: that the hotel itself continues to get short shrift, and that Eric is basically Goatlike Teenage Boy #1 and not an actual full-fledged character. To those I'd add that Max's sister Whatnot (no, I don't care) got entirely too much screentime for what was essentially, a plot moppet.
You heard me. She was only in the book so that Scarlett met Max and we understood Max had a shit homelife. There was no reason she needed lines or pages or any other attention that could've been taken up by my mentor and future life partner Amy Amberson, and of course, Murray.
*I'd live in her purse. I'm man enough to admit that. **There is never, exactly, a surfeit of dogs. There are just more dogs than homes.(less)
It's like someone updated The Westing Game for me.
First of all, I hope y'all stopped and read both the dedication and the introduction because for me...moreIt's like someone updated The Westing Game for me.
First of all, I hope y'all stopped and read both the dedication and the introduction because for me, they exemplified how authors can use those two tools to just let their freak flags fly.
Any author who writes the following passage:
On the morning of the tenth of June, Scarlett Martin woke up to the sound of loud impromptu rap penetrating her thin bedroom wall from the direction of the bathroom next door. Scarlett had been trying to ignore this noise for fifteen minutes by incorporating it into her dream, but it was a difficult thing to weave the constantly repeated phrase, 'I got a butt-butt, I got a mud hut' into a dream about trying to hide a bunch of rabbits in her T-shirt drawer.
I am tempted to pelt with cookies. Seeing how this passage very conveniently appears at the very beginning of the book, I also know to read this book only in places where snortling will not be unduly disruptive.
Readers, I LOVED IT. Bring your hate and your disdain in comments if you need, because I am in a serious RELATIONSHIP with this book and its sequel which has a small dog in it and I plowed ahead and read it anyway instead of hiding like the wiener I usually am.
I loved Spencer, who, I hope, in the movie version will be played by DJ Qualls. I loved how fifteen Scarlett was, and how she got mown down by her own love life and laid out smashed on the tracks of her own bad decisions.
I loved how New York the book was, seeing how I had just read a book for a review that was nominally set in Manhattan but had people driving around to the park and no muggers and things. Whereas by contrast this book has:
A crowded New York subway car in the summer is a wonderful place to meet new people. There is no decorum, no breathing room, and often, no deodorant. You survive by keeping yourself small and taking short maintenance breaths and making them last, like divers do.
I loved Mrs. Amberson and how grand and chaotic she was, and how evil, because it was freeing that she could be that evil. Speaking of evil, making the cancer-stricken child a villain was a stroke of genius indicative of an author with balls roughly the size of the Elgin Marbles.
I loved the hotel, because I suspect I am predisposed to love buildings that are breaking slowly and/or have ghosts. I would've loved a little more detail on the historical plaque-like things that appeared between parts of the book and more of them, but I am greedy like that.
I loved how many quotes I had to painstakingly copy into my journal.
I did think at one point that Scarlett and Spencer were maybe *ahem* a little too close for brother and sister but then I decided that V.C. Andrews basically ruined everything for an entire generation with that sort of thinking and cast it aside.
Eric wasn't much to like simply because he was the goatlike teenage boy love interest, but at least he rode a unicycle so he had some distinguishing characteristic. And at least Spencer punched him.
I love the cover of the first edition hardcover book, even though I couldn't afford that version of the book and bought the paperback with the key on instead because I had. to. have. this. book. It (and the sequel) were able to bump two other books off the shelf at the very head of my bed with their awesomeness. I loved Spencer's commentary about unicycles and bushes and Central Park. I loved that he was the skinny theatre geek who got all the chicks. I loved Lola's crazy understated love for Ninety-Eight and how evil the other siblings were to him.
I'm sure this book is horrible for other people and that I overlooked plot holes through which elephants could stampede, possibly with chains of acrobats riding on their backs, but for some reason I just-- there wasn't any part of this book where I wasn't hanging on every word and giggling like a wee fiend.
I just hope at some point I have a birthday and someone gives me one of the Hopewell suites. (less)
I feel like I'd been waiting so long for this very book, the first one that's gotten everything right about how teenage girls run around carrying so m...moreI feel like I'd been waiting so long for this very book, the first one that's gotten everything right about how teenage girls run around carrying so much heat and anger, and how terrified everyone else is of that. (less)
Of all the herbs, Jasmine thought, basil was her soul mate. She rubbed her fingers over a leaf and sniffed deeply at the pungent, almost licorice scent. Basil was sensuous, liking to stretch out green and silky under a hot sun with its feet covered in cool soil. Basil married so well with her favorite ingredients: rich, ripe tomatoes, a rare roast lamb, a meaty mozzarella. Jasmine plucked three leaves from her basil plant and slivered them in quick, precise slashes, then tucked them into her salad along with a tablespoon of slivered orange rind. Her lunch today was to be full of surprises.
Synopsis: Tired of the DC diet scene, her anorexic teenager's backtalk and her husband's secrets, mid-list cookbook author Jasmine March embarks on a quest to make fat fun again. Which in no way explains the corpse on her kitchen floor.
I loved it.
Even if it hadn't had a mysterious inscription on the flyleaf, I would still have loved this curious, over-the-top little novel.
At the beginning of the book Jasmine is presented to the reader as an object of pity: the fat wife of a handsome man, the awkward mother of a lanky, beautiful teenager and a cookbook author hopelessly out of touch with the current trends in beautiful, low-calorie fusion foods.
But the measure of a great character is how they respond to adversity, and the worse things get, the more Jasmine gets her shit together and stops accepting other people's excuses. She continues to take refuge in her great love of food and cooking, but as she accepts it as her strength, she also learns to wield it like a weapon.
Other reviews I've read of this book take it to task for Killham's style ("Everything about How to Cook a Tart, the debut novel from Washington Post food writer Nina Killham, is too much." --amazon review) and it's definitely a dense, almost overwrought style that takes some getting used to. You'll either love it or you'll hate it. It reminded me quite a bit of Caitlin Kiernan and Jean Rhys, so I loved the hell out of it.
Another review complained of the "basil is her soul-mate" sentence up above, which I get; there are a couple of other oddities along those lines, including the Yodaesque, "Almost afraid to move, so shattered she felt."
But for my money they're greatly outnumbered by more lush and beautiful constructions:
--"Handled well, Jasmine thought, a good sharp knife was more useful than beauty."
--"In her bathroom, Careme washed the blood from her face. She watched it curl toward the drain like a red whisper."
While the book is stuffed to the rafters with food, it contains no recipes, at least not ones that require spelling out; Jasmine simply isn't that kind of cook. Just as she isn't that kind of heroine. Her lessons are more organic and pulled together out of the type of knowledge you just can't find in any cookbook. At least not one that's not like this one.(less)
A step or two took me into the living room and I turned on another light.
Unlikely colors elbowed each other; so did a lot of blond functional furniture. There were some showy abstractions on the walls and some fantastic bits of sculpture standing around. You know the type of thing where something called 'Madonna' or 'Crouching Lion' looks like a branch blown off a crab-apple tree. One whole wall was covered with the most violent-looking drapes I'd ever seen.
But I didn't waste much time on the decor. There were other points of interest. Like the guy asleep on the sectional sofa.
Synopsis: Rocky Mountain gumshoe has a drunk blonde fall on him from a small height. When he does the right thing and puts her back upright, someone very rudely kills her the next day.
In an unnamed small city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, PI Vince Latimer plies his trade. Fundamentally a decent guy with a dirty job, Latimer answers the door one late late night only to have the young, blonde and inebriated Sylvia Cavanaugh tumble into his lap. With a sigh of resignation, he takes her to her house and goes back to sleep, only to be woken the next morning by a call from Sylvia's sister: young and blonde Sylvia might be, but the sister's convinced Sylvia's gone to the family mountain cabin to get drunk with her own brother-in-law. Would Latimer be so kind as to quietly investigate?
Latimer is so kind.
Of course, nothing's ever what it seems to be in sweet and cryptic pulps like these, and when Latimer finds Sylvia not drunk but dead at the cabin, he remembers her words from the night before: "They're going to kill me."
Latimer gets less kind and investigates.
A fantastic noir. There are dames as far as the eye can see and they're all hiding something, usually not their knockout figures, either. There are trenchcoats and fedoras and driving rain. There are unsympathetic small-town sheriffs, convenient lawmen and an even more convenient lake. It's a great period piece stuffed with plot, plot and more plot, all of it rendered in gruff and artful details. If you like noirs, you'll really like this one, even though yet again, I got lost in the unveiling. I'm starting to suspect following along's not really my strong suit. But once again, the fun of the book was, for me, all in the telling.(less)