This was really a hard one to rate. First off, holy crow: what a stellar example of the Midwestern Gothic, American horror, eco-horror and haunted hou...moreThis was really a hard one to rate. First off, holy crow: what a stellar example of the Midwestern Gothic, American horror, eco-horror and haunted house genres. Like, should be taught in schools stellar.
Second off, oy the refrigerators.
Let me explain.
While not necessarily an easy or enjoyable read, this book is nonetheless one of the most skillful stories I've ever read. I stayed up past 2 last night reading, then when I woke up this morning all I could think about was finishing the book. It's very, very well done. The characters are interesting, the back-stories are compelling, and the setting is wonderfully horrible. Bailey does a lot of work here with haunted places, the house as body (and vice versa), scars on the American psyche, the gaping wound of urban planning, and race relations in this country and the conventional horror narrative.
He also stuffs women into refrigerators like it's going out of style, which, hopefully, it is.
I loved so much about this book. It's horrible. It tears off a prime American scab from the sixties and pokes a finger in the wound. So much progress from the post-Depression era fell prey to corruption and inner-city blight in the sixties that it drove a knife into the softening flesh of this country, and we're still trying to clean that wound. The rise of ghettoes and the rise of white people's concepts of and disdain for ghettoes, paired with the brutalism of '60s architecture needs more discussion. We need to talk about this, and a truly frightening ghost story like this one is a great place to start.
But we also need to talk about misogyny in horror culture and the media in general.
While there's all this awesomeness about Bailey's novel, there's also this huge problem with women: they exist as sexual objects, to be fucked or raped or shot (don't get me started on Freud there) or fantasized about. They're drunken, failed mothers, or drunken prostitutes, or drunken girlfriends to be taken advantages of. They're victims, whose inevitably tragic and innocent demises provide all but one of the main characters with motivations for revenge.
Stop and think about that for a second. That's really fucked up.
I mean, I just read nearly 400 pages about an urban housing center that ostensibly comes to life, possesses people and kills them off with a Lovecraftian disdain for emotion, that cosmically large, reptilian uncaring for the human state, and yet while working with all these huge, lofty themes, all but one -- four out of five protagonists lug a woman-in-a-refrigerator behind them through the course of the story.
**spoiler alert** What a strange book. It's like Michael McDowell's Blackwater series was invaded by Twilight.
Things I really liked: Gatlin, weatherp...more**spoiler alert** What a strange book. It's like Michael McDowell's Blackwater series was invaded by Twilight.
Things I really liked: Gatlin, weatherporn, eccentric trio of maiden aunts, drowning girl, Nada Surf's "popular", the tardis-style Ravenwood, Amma, the library and random dancing snippets of US history.
Things I could've done without: Ethan, who was a wet blanket; the rave/party thing; how little shrift the Link/Ridley subplot got (because it was very interesting); at least 75 pages that alternated between Lena whining "But you don't understaaaaaaand! I could be dooooooomed!" and Ethan saying wonderingly, "I didn't know any of this, and now I might lose it all!!" *rends garments*
Yeah thanks for the plot recap there, Einstein. How long before the next one? Three pages? Oh, cool. Time to make a sandwich.
Things that were snarky and made me laugh: how it was all so obvious this drama about Lena being Claimed on her 16th birthday and coming into her full powers that there's the one section where her uncle tries to awkwardly talk to her about it and the authors fully admit it's just like the terrible menstruation talks families try to have with daughters. That rocked.
Close to four-stars, because it's compelling enough I just ripped through it in a day and a half and am glad I have the sequel upstairs, but three stars because I could've used more than the standard YA She's The (Chosen) One plot, and 75 pages is a lot of pages where nothing essentially happens except an extended John!Martha! teenaged angst remix.
What a terrible, cruel, devastating and amazing book.
A collection of mostly inaccessible stories that don't care at all whether they're ever accessed...moreWhat a terrible, cruel, devastating and amazing book.
A collection of mostly inaccessible stories that don't care at all whether they're ever accessed or by who or what, that come together in a whip-stitched panoply of truly Kiernan things: transhumanism; the lie of gender; wet, gasping blind moist things; the world beneath the bricks and the dust; drowning girls and rotting metal.
If nothing else, it does what it says on the front cover: these are tales of pain and wonder, but you're never quite sure which at any given time.(less)
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.
Tom Sullivan was standing against the open screen door. His brown suit was curiously old-fashioned. It was years since Jane had seen a man's suit cut that way. He held a bunch of yellow wildflowers in his hand. For a moment Jane wondered where she had last seen flowers like that. Then she remembered: it had been beside her grandparent's tombstone in the cemetary.
She stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind her.
Tom held out the flowers. "I picked these at my place," he told her.
Synopsis: Jane inherits house from dead aunt, is menaced by everything. Unfortunately, she is not smart enough to notice until a demon is in her living room.
An Open Letter to Jane Hardy from Her Brain
Jane? Jane Hardy? Peanut, it's your brain calling. Look, I know we haven't been in touch a lot these past few years, but I'm really starting to worry about you.
Why? Well Jane, there's no easy way to put this, but: ever since you inherited your dead aunt's house, you know, the aunt who was into witchcraft? Aunt Becky? Ever since you inherited her house, you've been acting a little strange.
..What? No, I'm sure. Believe me, I'm sure. Look, here's a partial list of--
C'mon Jane, focus. Yes, that is a pretty dress. Yes, I'm sure you look just as good as your aunt did in it, but--
No, Peanut, come on, focus, follow my finger, follow my finger, we're talking about your aunt's house, and all the weird things that have been happening there, so I really need you to focus. Okay? Now, ever since you moved in, I mean, from the very evening you moved in, there have been some things going on in that house that should've rung some alarm bells, but here you are trying on your dead aunt's dresses and pretending like everything's normal.
What do I mean? Well:
The night you moved in, you heard strange music coming from your aunt's bedroom. When you went in, the music suddenly stopped and you didn't give it a second thought, what with finding shiny earrings on the dresser.
Then the next morning you noticed a music box you'd put on the nightstand was on the dresser. Didn't that strike you as a teensy bit odd, Jane?
The next time you found the music box open and playing, you also found that your bed had been moved to stand at a 45-degree angle to the wall. That really should've struck you as strange, Peanut.
("She stared at it, then shook her head in bewilderment and shoved it back into place. The only possible cause for the moving of the bed was the electricity in the air, she reasoned. Hadn't she read that in a book someplace?")
No, Jane, I'm fairly sure you didn't read that in a book someplace, for oh, about a thousand reasons starting with the fact that as your brain, I can tell you that you last read a book in 10th grade and My Friend Flicka doesn't cover supernatural furniture juggling.
Jane, I know we haven't had That Talk yet, despite the fact that you were married, but inviting a teenage boy into your home to do chores, then getting into soap suds fights with him, letting see you undressing for a shower, and finding his temper tantrums cute is a seriously bad idea. I know, it is flattering that he has a crush on you, but the kind of teenage boy who responds to being turned down for a date by breaking a vase in your kitchen is possibly not one you should have in your home in the first place.
Also, when the teenage boy erects an elaborate rope swing prank to get your attention, and the prank goes mysteriously awry, snapping the rope and cannoning him face-first into the ground, you should see if he's all right. It's just good manners, Peanut.
Speaking of That Talk, this Tom fellow you've been seeing--
("'Out here in the country, Tom, I seem to be really learning for the first time what it's like to take care of myself. And I must say that it feels good. In fact, it feels great.' She smiled at him through the light of the candles. 'So long as I don't get killed in the process!' She broke out into low laughter.
Tom stared into her face for a long moment. 'You are very beautiful when you laugh, Jane,' he told her gravely.")
Yeah, that Tom. Um, isn't there anything about Tom that strikes you as a little bit weird? Like the fact that no one else can see or hear him? Or that you thought he was going to push you out of that rowboat? Or the fact that HE HAS A PET GHOST HEARSE THAT DOES HIS EVIL BIDDING AND IS JEALOUS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
Jane, I'm starting to really worry about you. Please call.
Perilously close to a 5-star book, people. Perilously close.
A haunted mansion! Sassy basset hound! Small-town hijinks! Homicide-minded matriarch! I w...morePerilously close to a 5-star book, people. Perilously close.
A haunted mansion! Sassy basset hound! Small-town hijinks! Homicide-minded matriarch! I was basically hooked from the first chapter, right at the bit where Bubba was holding down the gas station graveyard shift against nefarious old women and snarky teens, so much so that I voluntarily read a book where a basset hound (Precious) was a main character without -- and this is key -- without having someone pre-read it for dog drama. That is just how good it was.
Great characters, great small town. Very interesting to read what was essentially a cozy but with a male protagonist. Few and far between, and in this case, very well done.
I was less impressed with Bubba's romantic confusions than I believe I was supposed to be, but that was because I loved the haunted mansion and all the night-time creeping about things. I especially loved how Bubba's mother, Demetrice, kept insisting she'd killed the late Elgin Snoddy in a variety of interesting ways (poison, snake in his bed, chainsaw) and how Bubba would gently try to get Demetrice back on track by reminding her that his daddy had simply had a heart attack.
It was neck-and-neck for awhile, between Demetrice and Precious the basset hound, but eventually Precious did just up and steal the whole show. Anyone who's ever had a particularly beloved dog can recognize the fineness of the species in Precious and her unswerving dogliness.
I'm off to read book 2. More Bubba, less reviewing.(less)
Ever wonder what Ten Little Indians would be like if all the characters were high schoolers? Me neither! And yet, here we are.
And more than the plot...moreEver wonder what Ten Little Indians would be like if all the characters were high schoolers? Me neither! And yet, here we are.
And more than the plot is recreated here: the spare characterizations are spot on, as is the puzzle-like nature of the plot and the simplistic but immersively created setting. What makes the two different, however, is that I wanted to kill every last one of the characters in Ten myself. They. Are. So. Tedious.
Even the narrator seems to have been Fed Ex-d to the plot from the Daphne du Maurier School for Wide-Eyed Blameless Victims. So you have to bear down and stick with the first sixty pages of obligatory sniping and unsupervised "partying". These high schoolers party like thirty-year-old hipsters. It's kind of tragic.
But when McNeil finally gets around to killing them off, it's very good fun indeed. In fact, at the discovery of the first victim, I was so creeped out I had to set the book aside and wait til morning to continue. That's a hallmark of good storytelling. So too is all the running around the heroine does in aid of solving the plot -- which she basically doesn't, a point I count in her favor.
There's no J'Accuse! moment at the end but there is the obligatory neat resolution of the type that Dame Agatha favored. And with it my desire to know What Happened Next, but that's another story, in more ways than one. (less)
It was interesting to me to come to this 3rd book in the Sharon McCone series directly after the 4th one (Games to Keep the Dark Away) because that's...moreIt was interesting to me to come to this 3rd book in the Sharon McCone series directly after the 4th one (Games to Keep the Dark Away) because that's one of my favorites in the series, and this one...isn't.
Despite being about SF's famed "Painted Ladies" and the romance of architecture in general, this book felt much less polished than its successor. The mystery unfolds in fits and starts, and parts of it felt like McCone was turning into the suspects' therapist. There's a whole murder in here that really never gets a second look, which was strange.
But at the same time, Muller has Sharon tackle thorny race and gender issues and be honestly uncomfortable with what she finds and uncomfortable with her own unresolved politics, which was challenging and refreshing.
I disliked her romantic involvement with homicide inspector Greg, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
Basically even a lesser Sharon McCone still comes in strong. There's a reason this series is a classic. (less)
I am a huge Bellairs fan, and was ver' ver' suspicious when Strickland took over his series. That said, I haven't been disappointed yet in one of the...moreI am a huge Bellairs fan, and was ver' ver' suspicious when Strickland took over his series. That said, I haven't been disappointed yet in one of the Bellairs book's Strickland's finished, but this was my first of his solo outings using Lewis Barnavelt and company.
And it was awesome.
David Keller and his family move into an old house in New Zebedee with a storied past, one rife with mystery and tragedy. After befriending David, Lewis and Rose Rita get mixed up in the mystery and the tragedy which turns out to be not so old as everyone might've thought.
I loved the story of the house, and I loved the way tiny clues to the mystery were sprinkled through the story. There's a bit at the very beginning, which I won't spoil for you, that I found every bit as scary as anything Shirley Jackson wrote. The whole book is atmospheric and mellifluous, Lewis actually sounds like a thirteen year old boy, and best of all, the book passes The Bechdel Test.
Hard to resist flipping the book back over and re-reading it immediately, but it's definitely going on my favorites shelf. (less)
It's hard for me to admit this, even now, but I don't think I really liked this book. And that's hard because I feel like I *should* like this book: m...moreIt's hard for me to admit this, even now, but I don't think I really liked this book. And that's hard because I feel like I *should* like this book: morbid, amoral preteen heroine; tortured yet capable vet; snarky maiden aunt; giant ancestral home filled with drafts and sadness; small village. And this installment, too, had snow and rooftop shenanigans.
Shenanigans, people. I am a sucker for shenanigans.
But overall, I just wasn't moved by it. The writing style's fluid and lambent, and Flavia is annoying, yes, but she's interesting about being annoying. My lack of enthusiasm for the book stems from the trope of movie stars invade unlikely setting x, a trope that has never moved me one iota, and the thawing of the relationship between Flavia and her sisters. I loved in previous books how mean they were to each other because my sister and I at that age tried to kill each other on a regular basis, and it's refreshing to see an honest portrayal of dysfunctional siblings in a book.
That and I realized that this series relies waaaaaay too heavily on gathering the village together for a theatre performance, and for me to keep reading the author needs to level up on the plotting.
I did like how there was more maiden aunt ("Impertinent children ought to be given six coats of shellac and set up in public places as a warning to others." hee.) but as a reader, I was being asked to invest too much in the back-story and personal lives of these walk-on film people rather than the deLuce family, when they're the whole reason I keep reading.
And that said, keep reading I will: I'll definitely read the next one in the series. (less)
Banter makes a great cozy, is the bottom line of this little gem. The formidably amusing duo of Southern belle Hillary and fish-out-of-water Jane is r...moreBanter makes a great cozy, is the bottom line of this little gem. The formidably amusing duo of Southern belle Hillary and fish-out-of-water Jane is rescued from cliche by zippy dialogue that never interferes with the haunted house and its more-than-eccentric Gothic family. Whodunnit's fairly clear early on, but you don't really mind. Loved the recipe for Hillary's Brandy Sauce, wish we could've had the recipe for the pecan-cranberry quickbread she mentions, too. But definitely a keeper.(less)
The first 3/4 of the book is okay if not a little lacking in the haunted house department (I could've used more Blackwood and less Jules Is So Dreamyp...moreThe first 3/4 of the book is okay if not a little lacking in the haunted house department (I could've used more Blackwood and less Jules Is So Dreamypants, but then the last 1/4 of the book takes this soap-opera-style bananas turn and gets awesome, complete with winds whipping about the house and a dead garden. If I had read this at 14, it would have totally been a favorite.(less)