Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Review - Stephen King's The Shining

The Shining by Stephen King
Published by: Pocket Books
Publication Date: January 28th, 1977
Format: Paperback, 683 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Jack Torrence has one last chance. Despite giving up on the drinking, his life has continued a downward spiral, sending him away from his prestigious job at a Vermont Prep school, to Colorado, where he is almost begging for a job as the winter caretaker of The Overlook Hotel. He has his wife and child to think of. Poor Wendy, who has stood by him through everything, even when he broke their Danny's arm, though he has a suspicion she will never forgive him for that. Then there's Danny. He's not like other children. He knows things before they happen. He claims that his friend Tony shows him things, which invariably lead to Danny passing out. Danny isn't the invisible friend they assume him to be. Danny has "the shine." He knows things he shouldn't, and that can be unnerving.

When the family arrive at The Overlook, they think it's just what they all need. Several months together to reunite them. Jack has no access to alcohol and has time to finish the play he always says he's working on. Yet the cook warns Danny that there are things in the hotel. Dick Hallorann also has "the shine." But he naively tells Danny that what he sees in the hotel is like a book, nasty images, but they can't hurt you... the day the snow traps them in, the hotel proves that Mr. Hallorann is very wrong. The hotel has a different plan for the Torrence family, and they will do whatever it takes to get Danny.

In this day and age there is no way that you have lived in this world without knowledge of The Shining. Of course this is more to do with the film's popularity then the phenomenal success of King as a writer. Which, seen from King's point of view, would be irksome. But still, the image of the two Grady girls at the end of the hallway, or more importantly, Jack Nicholson hacking down the bathroom door with an axe, have become part of our shared cultural experiences. As has "redrum." Therefore, going into the novel, much of the suspense as to the horrific future visions that Tony shows Danny are nullified by the fact that we know the monster with the roque mallet is his father and that the mysterious "redrum" is "murder" backwards. So, the question is, was I able to enjoy the book knowing so much about it in advance? Yes I was.

In mentioning his influences for the book King sighted Shirley Jackson, and right from the start, I could feel that vibe at work. The supernatural elements combined with the darker elements of human nature strongly remind me of Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Yet, at some point in the book, King takes a wrong turn and decides that to fully bring across the "haunting" that it is better to show then tell. This is where I think The Shining looses some of it's punch. While I will agree with King that there is distinctly a supernatural element, not Kubrick's take as a malignancy from within Jack creating the "ghosts," despite how fucked up I think Jack to be and how some of my feelings do align with Kubrick's interpretation, there is a point where it's better to leave things to the imagination. What we can create in our head is far more terrifying then ghosts in dog suits barking at you. Little things, like the elevator running on it's own in the night, a cat party mask appearing on the floor, sounds of a party... these things, if never fully explained would have scared me far more then having to endure Jack at a party talking to these long dead people. How about we see the party like we did later, only from Wendy and Danny's point of view? They just hear Jack talking to himself and some general party noises. This would be more disturbing, and leave the whole issue of what is happening to Jack up for debate. Take a cue from Shirley Jackson, the queen of ambiguity. The most horrific scene in The Shining, the mysterious evil presence in the cement tubes on the playground... never explained, deliciously evil.

There is also the issue of Wendy and Jack. Because the book delves into Jack's past and his violent tendencies, the eventual manifestation of his attacking his family seemed a foregone conclusion, even if Tony's "visions" didn't tip you off. All I kept thinking the entire book was how ineffectual Wendy is. Yes, she is also depicted as such in the movie, but in the book you realize how really stupid she is. I mean, the warning signs were all there, why didn't she just leave her husband? Why did it take a hotel trying to go after her son through her husband to realize his abusive tendencies could be fatal. I mean he breaks her back, literally!?! But before that there was the years of drinking, and the fact that his violent outbursts were worse after he gave up drinking... well, sorry Wendy honey, you should have left long ago, before the snow made it impossible. Also, if you're so worried about your son and his health that you use all your extra money to get a phone line installed in your apartment and then agree to be snowbound for six months, you are really a shitty parent, just fyi.

In the final analysis though, the one major flaw of the book was that it needed to be edited. Cull about half the book and you would have had a taut, terrifying, horrific book, and I would have loved every minute of it. As it is... well... there were peaks and troughs. Did Jack Torrence really need to wipe his mouth, oh, let's say fifty million times, because that's how it felt? No, he didn't. Did we need to hear about the Torrence's sex life, which I'm guessing is the only (and very selfish) reason Wendy stayed around? Again, a resounding no. Did we need to follow Dick Hallorann every single step along the way back to Colorado from Florida? Hell no. Finally, did we need chapters and chapters of Jack in the basement sifting though old magazines and newspapers? Another resounding no. Tighter, tauter, more effective. Though I think this is a flaw that we will never cure King of...

Yet, despite all the flaws, this book holds up particularly well. It was a fun read to pick up on a hot summer night when snow actually sounded appealing. What helped was that it was a long time since I had watched the movie, so there was a nice fuzziness around the corners of my memory that helped me enjoy the book. As mentioned before, this book can not be taken out of context to the movie. So how do the two work together? I found it interesting how Kubrick hinted at the back story and how the Grady girls ghosts were added, which seemed like a natural inclusion that the book omitted. The two are interesting to compare side by side because there are things King did better and there are things Kubrick did better, and, there's a wish I have deep down that perhaps if Kubrick had been willing to take more of King's help that maybe the film would have benefited from it, in it's narrative not imagery, because, as King has said, the movie has very memorable imagery. Though, I think it may shock some, but in the end, if I had to chose between the two, well, I'd choose the book. Hands down.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review - Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published by: Library of America
Publication Date: 1962
Format: Hardcover, 832 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy
None of the villagers go to Hill House. No one will hear you scream, in the dark, in the night. Dr. Montague views the house as the ideal location for his research of supernatural phenomena. He sends out numerous invitations to participate in his summer long program taking place at Hill House. Dr. Montague has selected those people who are prone to or have encountered the supernatural before. In the end he gets the shy and awkward Eleanor who spent much of her life caring for her mother who is recently deceased and she doesn't even remember the incident for which Dr. Montague recruited her. Nell just views Hill House as her first real adventure and a way to get out from under the stifling life she's living on a cot at her sister's. Theo was chosen because of her apparent psychic abilities. Then there's Luke. Luke is the heir to Hill House. He has not abilities or haunting experiences, he just needs to get out of his troubling patterns and his grandmother thinks locking him away at Hill House as a guarantee against Dr. Montague's lease is a lovely idea.

After each of the people successfully battle their way past the suspicious caretaker, Mr. Dudley, and get explained the rules as regards meals and clean up by his wife, Mrs. Dudley, the group settle in. It does not take long for weird knocks to happen at doors in the night as well as severe temperature drops. The doors don't like to remain open, if this is Mrs. Dudley, or the house, they can't figure it out. Very shortly they instigate a rule that no one is to wander alone, especially at night. Yet what is actually happening, if they where to write it down as per Dr. Montague's research guidelines, they wouldn't or couldn't be able to put it into words. Strange writings, noises, voices, drafts and above all four very different personalities clashing, not counting the possible personalities of the house's former occupants. Is any of this real? Or are they hallucinating? Or should they all leave the house as fast as they can and never look back?
The Haunting of Hill House is kind of the standard to which ghost stories are held. Even Stephen King has been known on more than one occasion to extol the virtues of the book. My question is why? Jackson is an amazing writer, she is able to depict places and characters so well that you feel you are inhabiting them. Yet this one fell short for me. I think I had a similar reaction to this as I did to my first experience with The Turn of the Screw, which this book very much emulates, in that I was left scratching my head and wondering why. We are left with open ended ambiguity, which, while I'm ok with that, after all I really liked Jackson's other famous work, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which also had an ambiguous ending, but still, there was a feeling of resolution. The story goes on, yet we leave them where Jackson wanted us to, there's more, but we get enough. Here, I DID NOT GET ENOUGH!

There isn't even enough of what one would deem a plot. Any time anything vaguely spooky happens it's just glossed over. The big scene where Theo and Nell are running from something, that's it, they ran, cut to the next morning where it will never be mentioned again. This is just not scary, you just don't know what's going on and you just don't care after a while. If Jackson was trying to build suspense and paranoia by not showing us things than she failed, miserably. You have to show us enough so that or brains can fill in the gaps with our own horrors. Showing nothing at all is basically writing a story about nothing.

Nell is interesting, but you can't really get a read on her. You know what it's like to be inside her, but it quickly becomes clear that this isn't an asset to the storytelling. Her mind jumps and contradicts and doesn't make any kind of sense. I can see why the newest film version tried to make some sort of reasoning for Nell's behavior. Because if she is crazy, she didn't really come across as crazy; not like Merricat in We Have Always Lived at the Castle. Plus the leisurely pace of badminton and long meals and chess games builds no tension. You don't feel that these characters are just sitting around in fear of the next event, more that the next event will just be a little blip in their otherwise languorous lifestyle. They are so laid back about the "haunting" that it is very easy to believe the theory that the house isn't in fact haunted in the least and it might all be Nell. I think the final nail in this book's coffin for me is that the laughably bad Jan De Bont version of the film left more of an impression on me than this book. Though I should mention, no matter how bad the film is, it was really well cast.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella
Published by: The Dial Press
Publication Date: October 21st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"#1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella returns to her beloved Shopaholic series with Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) newly arrived in Hollywood and starry-eyed. She and her two-year-old daughter, Minnie, have relocated to L.A. to join Becky’s husband, Luke, who is there to handle PR for famous actress Sage Seymour. Becky can’t wait to start living the A-list lifestyle, complete with celebrity sightings, yoga retreats, and shopping trips to Rodeo Drive. But she really hopes to become a personal stylist—Sage’s personal stylist—if only Luke would set up an introduction. Then, unexpectedly, Becky is offered the chance to dress Sage’s archrival, and though things become a bit more complicated, it’s a dream come true!

Red carpet premieres, velvet ropes, paparazzi clamoring for attention—suddenly Becky has everything she’s ever wanted.

Or does she?"

Who am I kidding... no matter how much I hate this series I going to still read this...

Ever After High: Once Upon a Time by Shannon Hale
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 21st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Read these exclusive introductions to all your favorite characters to find out what their lives are like at home! A new chapter is about to begin at Ever After High, and all the students are preparing to start their Legacy Year. In just a few weeks it will be Legacy Day when they will sign the Storybook of Legends and commit to live out their fairy-tale destiny, repeating the famous stories of their parents.

This volume collects together for the first time 12 short tales, including five BRAND-NEW stories. For the first time, find out what Dexter and Darling Charming, Cedar Wood, Lizzie Hearts and Kitty Cheshire were doing just before school started. This collection also includes the stories of Apple White, Raven Queen, Madeline Hatter, Briar Beauty, Ashlynn Ella and Hunter Hunstman, and the fairy tale The Tale of Two Sisters, which were previously only available online.

Don't miss this Once Upon a Time special edition of enchanting stories by bestselling and Newbery honor-winning author Shannon Hale."

The lazy person in my rejoices that all those short stories I was trying to keep up with (emphasis on trying) are finally combined into one book!

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: October 21st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The third installment in the mesmerizing series from the irrepressible, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.

Mothers can disappear.

Visions can mislead.

Certainties can unravel.

In a starred review, THE BULLETIN called THE DREAM THIEVES, the previous book in The Raven Cycle, "a complex web of magical intrigue and heart-stopping action." Now, with BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE, the web becomes even more complex, snaring readers at every turn."

Yeah new Stiefvater! So glad I got to see her when she came to Madison this past summer!

The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: October 21st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The shadow of Bram Stoker’s Dracula looms large over the darkest mystery yet faced by Victorian detective Charles Maddox—as the acclaimed author of The Solitary House and A Fatal Likeness once again pays homage to a literary classic, in a chilling tale of superstition, dangerous science, and shocking secrets.

When an Austrian nobleman offers a substantial donation to the University of Oxford, Charles Maddox is called on to investigate the generous benefactor. It is a decidedly mundane task for the increasingly renowned criminal investigator, but Maddox welcomes the chance to trade London’s teeming streets for the comforts of a castle in the Viennese countryside. Comfort, however, is in short supply once Maddox steps onto foreign soil—and into the company of the mysterious Baron Von Reisenberg.

A man of impeccable breeding, the Baron is nonetheless the subject of frightened whispers and macabre legends. Though Maddox isn’t one to entertain supernatural beliefs, the dank halls and foreboding shadows of the castle begin to haunt his sleep with nightmares. But in the light of day the veteran detective can find no evidence of the sinister—until a series of disturbing incidents prove him gravely mistaken and thrust him into a harrowing quest to expose whatever evil lurks behind the locked doors of the Baron’s secretive domain. After a terrifying encounter nearly costs him his sanity, Maddox is forced to return home defeated—and still pursued by the horror he’s unearthed.

Owing to a string of gruesome murders committed by an elusive predator branded the Vampire, London is on the verge of widespread panic. But there’s little doubt in Maddox’s mind who is responsible. And whether his enemy proves merely mortal—or something more—Maddox must finally end the monstrous affair . . . before more innocent blood is spilled."

"Shadow of Bram Stoker" and I'm sold that easy!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review - Henry James's The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Published by: Modern Library
Publication Date: 1898
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

On Christmas Eve ghost stories are being told around the fire and Douglas says his will chill them to their very bones, but he will only tell it in the words of his friend, who at the time was a young governess. Douglas sends away for her journal, which she gave to him for safe keeping after her death, and when it arrives he begins the story. The young governess is hired by the attractive uncle of two children, Miles and Flora. He has them ensconced in the country at his estate in Essex and has no desire to be bothered in any aspect of their upbringing. Upon her arrival at Bly the governess is taken in by the angelic beauty of Flora, just as she will be by Miles when he is expelled from his boarding school and returned to Bly, an occurrence she cannot understand, due to his apparent perfection.

But soon their idyllic life is shattered by the appearance of two people. This man and woman seem to come and go as they will. After discussing them with the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, she learns the female spectre is none other then her predecessor, Miss Jessel, and the male is Peter Quint, Miss Jessel's lover and another former employee. Only both of them are dead. The young governess is convinced they want the children and will do anything to achieve their nefarious goals from beyond the grave. But even if this is what is really happening can she stop them?

Much like the young heroine in The Turn of the Screw I had my head turned by a hansom man and visions of romance. Many many years ago my friends Matt and Becky and I were walking to the video store, you remember those, you could rent physical movies on these large clunky tapes that could get easily damaged and had to be rewound before returning. We were in the trashier section of our college campus and we found $40 on the ground. Knowing it was probably a drunken frat boy who had lost said money we pocketed it and used it to rent some movies.

After looking for ages we decided on two movies, the new Hamlet staring Ethan Hawke and The Turn of the Screw, because, well, Colin Firth. There was one thing all three of us could agree on, and that was Colin Firth is hot. Also the movie not sounding too much like a period piece, Matt agreed, and again, Colin Firth is hot. We lasted only about twenty minutes into Hamlet before we gave up, yes, it was that bad. But we did watch all of The Turn of the Screw... after this both my friends said I should pay them for having to watch the two movies because I had suggested them in the first place. We compromised by making me return them to the video store.

I was left with two thoughts after watching the movie, one, false advertising, you put Colin Firth's name as a star he should be in more then five minutes, and two, evil wins!?! No matter what your interpretation of events, it's evil, in some form, that is victorious. And as evil took root, I waited for Colin to reappear, and he never did. I fell for the same bait and switch as that young governess. Of course she was unwilling to ask him for aid in a time of need to show her reliability and fortitude, whereas I was all like, Colin, come back! Since then the BBC has made another version, this time with several stars from Downton Abbey, which again left me unsatisfied. For so many years I have been under this impression that The Turn of the Screw was this amazing classic that was being done an injustice by bad adaptation after bad adaptation. I now know that that isn't the case. The Turn of the Screw is just a badly written story with enough wiggle room to allow for many interpretations of the text.

In the final analysis the question isn't was the governess insane or were there supernatural forces at work, the question is, is this even readable? The answer is no. The writing in this book verges on the indecipherable. James took a lot of flack for his overwriting stories, and, I can see why. He has a tendency to not only write too much but write sentences that seem to turn back in on themselves so he talks himself out of his original idea. These long sentences with too many commas have a tendency to be the length of paragraphs, and in a few rare instances, pages long, always ending up in an entirely different place then where they started and becoming increasingly incoherent in the process.

If James can't be bothered to maintain a train of thought in a sentence it's no wonder the book is all over the place and ripe for adaptations that can take as many liberties as they want, because, let's face it, even James didn't know where his story was going. If it wasn't for the fact I knew the plot, well, I wouldn't have been able to figure it out by just reading it. I spent more time fighting to grasp onto the text and try to get some sense out of this book then any other book I've ever read. In the end I gave up to the inevitable and just let the text wash over me as my eyes glazed over and I prayed for the end.

But the inability of James to write coherently is nothing to his structural issues and his unsympathetic characters. Firstly, there is no suspense in this story. I'm not sure if this derives from his inability to set the stage or just the fact that I didn't care if all the characters died horrifically, but there was no jeopardy that made me want to keep reading. A ghost story should at the very least have some suspense, some ability to have the hair on your next rise up and question the sudden chill in the room. Now to the aspect that annoyed me most. James uses the "framing" device of having a group of friends sitting around the fire telling each other ghost stories on Christmas Eve. I have no problem with this, what I do have a problem with is that this "framing" device was left unfinished and in the end was more of a prologue.

To frame a story you need it at the beginning and the end, not just the beginning! I get that he might have wanted to end with the "shock value" of what happened to the insufferable Miles, but, well, the governess's story went on, she somehow got another job and came to meet Douglas and impart this story to him. How the hell did she get another job? Just, gaw! She was THE WORST GOVERNESS EVER and someone else employed her after this? Something shouldn't be labelled a classic because of the time you can spend discussing the text and delving into the deeper meanings, sometimes you're just thrusting your own ideas and meanings onto a text that doesn't deserve to be cherished, but deserves to be forgotten in the mists of time... or the mists that hide the spurious phantasms around Bly.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review - H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Published by: Dover
Publication Date: 1896
Format: Paperback, 104 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Edward Prendick was shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean. Some would call it luck that he was picked up by a passing ship, but after what happened to him, perhaps death would have been preferable. He is plucked from the ocean by a man named Montgomery who has a strange animalistic servant, M'ling. The hired crew of the ship don't trust Montgomery and when they get to his destination they abandon Prendick with him. The island is a scientific research station of Dr. Moreau, who Prendick remembers reading about... he was involved in some rather unethical researches if he remembers rightly, vivisection.

Prendick soon learns that Moreau has retreated to this island to continue his work on his Beast Folk, the work others don't understand. His genetic mutations of man and beast drive him and have driven Prendick to flee into the forest to escape Moreau, yet this could be more dangerous then he knows. Moreau has strict laws that his creations must abide by. Besides being as human as possible, walking only on two legs, they must avoid meat and blood. Yet someone hasn't been following the laws... soon Predick's behaviour is secondary to the danger that looms ahead of them. What if the Beast Folk fall prey to their animal instincts?

Growing up in the 80s and 90s if you were a discerning girl there is no excuse for not having the biggest crush on Val Kilmer. I seriously do not know how many times I saw Willow in the theatre, but I know I spent more time watching that movie in the summer of 1988 then doing anything else. Of course this crush meant that after Willow there were many westerns I watched, perhaps the oddest of the Batman movies and then there was The Island of Dr. Moreau. This movie was released right after I got out of high school and I was hoping for it to be the highpoint of my very busy summer. Firstly there was Val Kilmer, secondly there was Fairuza Balk, star of The Worst Witch, the coolest and tackiest movie about witchcraft ever, and then there was Marlon Brando wearing an ice bucket. The movie is so bizarre that there is really no way anyone could categorize it. I just watched it again after reading the book and still, it's just so odd and full of camp and oddly Professor Lupin, that there's really nothing more to say. The Island of Dr. Moreau was just on the cusp of my obsession with reading the book and then going to see the movie. Therefore I had picked up a cheap Dover paperback of the book after I watched the movie and kind of put the book aside thinking I might read it one day.

It took seventeen years but I finally got around to reading the book. And you know what? I rather liked it. The descriptions of the island are so beautiful and poetic that the lack of plot or motivations for the characters makes you wish that Wells had spent more time rounding out the story versus having them run around the island like headless chickens. Also the fact that Prendick, who, let's face it, his name sums up the fact he truly is a dick, seems ok with animal experimentation and vivisection, but as soon as you bring a human or something human esque into it, he gets a bit squeamish. Bit of a double standard there dick boy. Sure it is probably the more acceptable opinion of the times, but, dude, no, just no to the animal experimentation.

Wells has always been heralded as a kind of Nostradamus, and reading this book it is eerie as all get out. He wrote this in 1896! The kind of science he describes would be used by the Nazis in World War II, and if you think about the cloning and gene splicing and steam cells and the use of pig valves in human hearts today, wow. Sure it's a bit squeamish that Wells himself was an advocate of eugenics... but for scientists it's more just a creepy "hands on" Darwinism. Moreau might have been a monster in the eyes of Prendick and the world, but he was a genius that presaged what was to come in the realms of science rather accurately. Makes me openly wonder if perhaps Wells happened to create a time machine and take a quick jaunt into the future... he did strongly believe that the science of this book could be accomplished... he didn't happen to have an island no one knew about did he?

To bring it full circle, let's go back to that weird ass movie adaptation... you know what? I can actually see the framework of the book in the movie, I can also see where it went wrong. I'm not talking about Brando getting to be crazy on set or Val Kilmer's Montgomery shooting up drugs. These things were modernisations of the situations on the island. Where they went wrong was going for ultra violence and trying to make it as a blockbuster with a love interest and all. If they had toned it down, then the little things, the horror of finding the dead bunny would have played better. Let the actors be overstated in the movie and the story be understated... I see now that this movie could have been awesome, and it makes me sad that they had a chance to update a strangely prescient book and failed in the attempt.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 14th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"After an odd encounter at a grand masquerade ball, Lady Emily becomes embroiled in the murder investigation of one of the guests, a sometime actress trying to pass herself off as the mysterious heiress and world traveler Estella Lamar. Each small discovery, however, leads to more questions. Was the intended victim Miss Lamar or the imposter? And who would want either of them dead?

As Emily and Colin try to make sense of all this, a larger puzzle begins to emerge: No one has actually seen Estella Lamar in years, since her only contact has been through letters and the occasional blurry news photograph. Is she even alive? Emily and Colin’s investigation of this double mystery takes them from London to Paris, where, along with their friend Cécile, they must scour the darkest corners of the city in search of the truth."

A new Lady Emily mystery! Who isn't jumping up and down in their seats I ask you?

The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
Published by: Amulet Books
Publication Date: October 14th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout."

Having some cover design issues, other then that, I'm really looking forward to this.

The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale
Published by: Candlewick
Publication Date: October 14th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Who says princesses don’t wear black? When trouble raises its blue monster head, Princess Magnolia ditches her flouncy dresses and becomes the Princess in Black!

Princess Magnolia is having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when . . . Brring! Brring! The monster alarm! A big blue monster is threatening the goats! Stopping monsters is no job for dainty Princess Magnolia. But luckily Princess Magnolia has a secret —she’s also the Princess in Black, and stopping monsters is the perfect job for her! Can the princess sneak away, transform into her alter ego, and defeat the monster before the nosy duchess discovers her secret? From award-winning writing team of Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham, here is the first in a humorous and action-packed chapter book series for young readers who like their princesses not only prim and perfect, but also dressed in black."

New Shannon Hale, can't wait. New Shannon Hale written with her husband? Even more excited! I hope I have time to go to one of their book events!

Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke
Published by: Random House Books for Young Readerss
Publication Date: October 14th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The beloved and bestselling author of Inkheart brings her signature imagination, adventure, and humor to a magical full-color chapter book for young readers!

One night, Emma finds a mysterious green bottle floating in the ocean. When she pulls out the stopper, she sets a blue genie free! Most genies grant three wishes, but Karim can’t grant even one anymore. A yellow genie stole his magic nose ring, leaving him small, powerless, and trapped in that bottle. Emma and her noodle-tailed dog have to help Karim get his nose ring—and his magic—back!"

Totally love Cornelia Funke ever since the Inkworld books!

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
Published by: Crown Archetype
Publication Date: October 14th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened? Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based-life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.

Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, and make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!"

OK, so I would be getting this just for Neil Patrick Harris, even if it wasn't for the awesomeness of the idea. Yes, the idea and the cover take it to a whole new level, I think it might just be LEGENDARY!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Review - Robert W. Chambers's The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
Publication Date: 1895
Format: Kindle, 203 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Never read "The King in Yellow." Your life will be forfeit, insanity will come to you and you will welcome it gladly. Ah, but to resist such a temptation, how is one to do that so easily?  The play will haunt you and the world will change. It doesn't seem possible in a world where war has raged for so many years that a man or a woman could fall not because of a bullet but because of the written word. But Carcosa will haunt you.

"Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa."

Back in January and February there was only one show that everyone was talking about and that was True Detective. I was quite literally indifferent to it. A cop show staring two actors I've never liked, one of which is woefully miscast in a certain movie franchise I quite like, I had better uses of my time, thank you very much. That was until I heard that it was not a run-of-the-mill procedural because of it's incorporation of elements from the supernatural horror genre and it's references to the works of Robert W. Chambers.

This intrigued me because it wasn't something I would expect to be mainstream and the literary tie-in, well, I couldn't pass that up now could I? While the show fell completely apart in the final two episodes to create one of the most forgettable series in recent memory, not to mention my ire because The Yellow King and Carcosa were nothing more then red herrings, my compulsive need to read anything related to adaptations made me pick up Chambers book, and that is where the real payoff lays.

Chambers doesn't squander his setups with a bad denouement worthy of a schlocky B-Movie, oh no. He is able to create this world of paranoia and unease that slowly infiltrates your subconscious and unsettles you in a way the best horror writing will. While I'm not a fan of short stories, because I feel they sometimes limit your ability as a storyteller to go for the bigger picture, the way in which Chambers has his stories obviously set in the same world and has the through line of the destructive play "The King in Yellow" and the symbol of "The Yellow Sign" he is able to create a cohesive whole while still creating these little jewel-like stories. Though the book falls prey then to inconsistency, because in a collection of short stories there will always be one or two that just don't quite work. It's like a literary law of nature.

The way in which Chambers uses elements of Poe and writers of the Victorian Gothic genre yet is able to presage the world to come that is at once eerily accurate yet also just unnervingly different enough makes me wonder why he isn't lauded more for his visionary writing. Lovecraft was strongly influenced by Chambers, even writing about Carcosa himself, as did August Derleth. So why hadn't I heard of Chambers before True Detective? He should be up there with Poe and Jackson and King!

Chambers taps into something that we search for whenever we read a ghost story or watch a horror movie, that "what if" that creates chills up our spines. The most unnerving aspect of The King in Yellow isn't the titular play but the world under siege that Chambers creates. While some of the stories take place during the Siege of Paris that happened some twenty years prior to this book's publication, it's how he extrapolates these events into the future and in his story set in 1920 the world's recovery from a World War is so spookily precise I feel that he knew The Great War was coming and he was some kind of prophet.

While "The Street of the Four Winds" tickled me in how he referred to a cat's fur as plumage, something I thought only I ever did, it was the story "The Mask" that I most connected to. Perhaps this is because, while many of his stories deal with art, here the artist has found a way to alchemically change anything into marble, and what artist wouldn't be intrigued by an amazing new ability as well as a way to cut corners? The fact that this ability then leads to success but also madness and destruction makes it not only a fable, but a supernatural story of the highest order, because did reading the book do this?

The idea underlying all the stories, but in particular this one, is can someone be driven mad by a piece of writing? Can something be so amazing and so horrifying that it literally drives you round the bend? The fact that most of the stories center on artists or those with artistic leanings, the "sensitive souls," makes Chambers's conceit more layered then most arguments for persuasion. Personally I don't believe that video games can make someone commit a crime or murder, that it's always there, deep down in them, but it's an interesting thought to muse on in the dead of night, to wonder, but what if?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review - Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
Published by: The Franklin Library
Publication Date: 1891
Format: Hardcover, 243 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

The painter Basil Hallward has found his muse in Dorian Gray. Just having the dazzling and innocent youth in his life has made his work reach heights he never thought it would. Basil longs to keep Dorian his secret but his dear friend Lord Harry Wotton is so enthralled by the portrait that Basil is painting of Dorian that he demands to meet the youth whose likeness is sure to be the best painting of Basil's career. But the meeting of Harry and Dorian changes everything. Harry fills the empty vessel of Dorian's mind with vanity for his own beauty and that naivete that Basil so adores quickly starts to slip away from Dorian. Upon gazing at the finished portrait Dorian makes a heartfelt plea that he might remain forever youthful and pure in his looks while his likeness ages and withers before his eyes. Little does Dorian know that sometimes wishes come true. After an ill fated love affair Dorian realizes that sometimes the unexplainable happens and soon he's on the path of vice and immorality while his portraiture suffers, all guided by the steady hand of Harry.

The late nineties was the perfect time to develop an Oscar Wilde obsession. Almost a hundred years after his death the cinema was filled with marvelous new adaptations of his most celebrated plays as well as a biopic starring that celebrity I am most likely to kidnap to read all my books to me, Stephen Fry. Even that one movie I saw more then any movie ever in theaters, Velvet Goldmine, had a little Wilde in it. Birthdays and holidays I was gifted new Wilde books, from The Importance of Being a Wit: The Insults of Oscar Wilde to the Wilde: Screenplay. I even had a postcard from my friend Paul promoting Wilde with Stephen Fry in his dapper photoshop pink suit that I remember holding pride of place on the mirror in my bedroom for many years. In fact, I'm pretty sure given the impetus I could dig it out again. I waited for each adaptation with baited breath and saw them all on opening weekend, even if I had to see Wilde at our rather run down art house cinema where half your attention was on the screen and the other half on the ceiling hoping it wouldn't collapse. Wilde and his wit became a way of life for me. 

When I ended up becoming a theater major through the back door by way of classes cross-listed with my art major I felt like I was becoming more in tune with Wilde's world. I studied the history of the theater and read my fair share of plays from the Greeks right up to Wilde himself. In the fall of 2001 I was taking a class that was meant to expand our critical writing skills of plays, both productions and text being analyzed. I was frustrated with this class in that I had spent my life honing these skills and to be given simple exercises that I could have done in freshman year of high school, well, my mind tended to wander. What my mind wandered to was the one thing I was looking forward to in this class, and that was my semester long project on a play of my choice. It almost goes without mentioning that I chose The Importance of Being Earnest. I dove into the research material and lived there while blocking out the boring class. I learned the finer details of Bunburying and the great value of not misplacing your handbag.

While researching my paper I read a selection of Wilde's non-fiction essays and quickly came to the conclusion that he needed to remain a playwright. Reading his only book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, has not changed my opinion on this, in fact it has reinforced it. Plays and prose are such vastly different creatures. The way Wilde writes, every single sentence or line of dialogue is quotable. This works better in a play, because the way the actors bring the words to life and bounce them off each other the rapid fire wit entrances you. In a book it tends to get bogged down and lost. The back and forth of unassigned dialogue makes you confused and makes it loose it's punch. So many of the lines from The Picture of Dorian Grey are classics of Wilde's wit, but read in context they just loose something ineffable.

The best way I've thought of describing this ineffable issue, which, given it's ineffable is near impossible, is to compare Wilde to Nancy Mitford. Nancy Mitford wrote all her books so that each and every line amused her. Some were inside jokes, others mere wordplay, but each book was crafted to the nth degree sentence by sentence. Now Nancy wrote eight fiction books in her lifetime, only half of those are worth reading. Because of the way Nancy wrote the success of her brand of humor was hit or miss, either wonderful or awful. Given Wilde crafted his sole book in a near identical way he had about a fifty-fifty chance of success, and he did not succeed. Nancy had more time to get it right, and I must say it's a pity that Wilde didn't have that luxury, dying at the age of 46. As a reader I am not someone to necessarily be amused by an author who is amused by their own wit. I don't want to be highlighting every line as a favorite quote. You need the book to ebb and flow with valleys and peaks. Even if I take away the fact that Wilde wants us to stay at the top of this mountain range, when he does deign to descend, he gives us weird ramblings about gems and tapestries that would try the patience of any reader.

I am not the only one to have issues with this book. The Victorian society into which Wilde debuted his novel was scandalized by the hedonism and homosexuality of the book. This is another instance where I agree with someone having a problem with the book, but not for the same reasons. Wilde's themes and how he is laying them bare is what intrigued me while scandalizing those prudish Victorians. The way he wrote it is where my annoyance lay. Yet it wasn't my only issue. The self-impressed characters, especially Lord Harry, are people I would have to murder if I spent more then five minutes with them. Also, while the book's themes were worthy, the way they were handled was not with a deft hand. The hedonism was in some regards too obvious and in others too opaque, giving us a muddled view as to how evil Dorian has really become. If you're going to really show how a man's soul has been corrupted, I don't think you can go by halves here. Wilde's already scandalized the public, why not go all out?

The chilling fact that this all stems from Dorian wanting to remain the societal ideal of beauty is the most intriguing aspect of this book, but again it is badly handled. NO ONE EVER COMMENTS ON DORIAN NOT AGING! I just don't get this. By the end of the book he's what, thirty-eight and looking twenty-one? Someone would say something, wouldn't they? Or were Victorians really that missish to think it rude to ask? So while I applaud Wilde for handling a topic that is still relevant to today's society, IE, worshipping at the Temple of Youth where appearance is everything, he could have done a better job. But seeing as Wilde himself was felled by a twenty one year old, well... getting it wrong in literature is not nearly as bad as getting it wrong in your life.

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