Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review - Peter Straub's Mrs. God

Mrs. God by Peter Straub
Published by: Pegasus
Publication Date: February 14th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 208 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Esswood House is the dream of all literary types. Housing rare manuscripts from some of the literary elite. Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford are just some of the luminaries that not only stayed in the house, but left work to the great library. Yet, for researchers, there is a road block to this holy grail. Unlike many country estates in England, this house and it's contents aren't part of The National Trust or even open to the public. Oh no, the Seneschal family not only still reside within it's walls, but are recluses as well. Every year they invite scholars to come and research there, with the coveted Esswood Fellowship. But in all Professor William Standish's life, he has never seen anyone make it to Esswood. Sure, they get the fellowship and are all excited, but then something always happens. A letter appears saying something has arisen, some secret in the candidate's past that invalidates the arrangement.

William Standish has never really thought about applying himself. He's never had a reason. But now, well, now, his standing at his university is in jeopardy, and he needs to be published. He has always had a connection to the work of the minor and virtually unknown poet Isobel Standish. She was the first wife of his grandfather and William has always felt her work deserved a wider audience. Against his wildest imaginings, he is accepted as the Esswood Fellow and waits daily to get the letter saying the offer has been revoked. Yet the letter never comes and he is shortly on a plane to England, leaving behind his very pregnant wife and entering a world of his dreams. Though some dreams quickly become nightmares.

I so wanted to like this short book. Mrs. God has the elements that I so love and long for in my readings, forgotten English Country Houses, literati, ghosts... and yet, this book is the biggest failed attempt to emulate Shirley Jackson that I have ever read. It wanted so much to be of the caliber of The Haunting of Hill House, but Peter Straub is no Shirley Jackson. Firstly their is the crudeness of William Standish. He has dark thoughts and really is a misogynistic bastard. The feelings towards his wife I'm surprised haven't resulted in murder. Not only that but there are constant references to his erections and a rather odd and very disgusting masturbation scene. Also, his eventual breakdown seems not to be because of the unearthly whatever is going on, but because of women all being unfaithful. Yes, because instead of being an adult about things, when women are unfaithful, even if they are pregnant, why not just decapitate them. Say what? I'm dearly hoping that Standish's views on women are nothing more then fiction for Straub, because they are disturbing in the extreme. I kept wishing that at every meal of veal (was it really veal?) and Morel Mushrooms that Standish sat down to that some False Morel's would slip in there and that would be the end of Standish.

Yet this lack of a likable character isn't the only flaw... yes, it is the big flaw, but you can have anti heroes and still have a redeemable book. Though there really was no way to redeem Standish. The lack of any cohesiveness to the "haunting" was a big problem. We see "things" but we get no answers. There are possible immortals that still have aged a bit, witchcraft, aka magick, maybe vampires, maybe little people trapped inside dollhouses, maybe disfigured children that have cold white hard skin, maybe just incest, maybe, maybe, maybe. Yes, ok, there are the great ghost stories, by the likes of Henry James, that have no concrete answers. In The Turn of the Screw was it ghosts or was the governess insane. But see there, it's one or the other... not fifty million possibilities! We have a choice as to what to believe and can create an ending for ourselves. Not be left with the feeling that the author himself obviously had no idea where he was going either so everything will just fall apart, (even his grasp on the English language with the almost incoherent writing the book devolves into), while William Standish feverishly declares that he knows what's going on. Does he really? Because if he does, could he let me in on it... oh wait, he can't... he burned the whole freaking place down and ran off into the woods after some ax murdering, because obviously this is The Shinning now...

Gaw. Give me back my money and my time Straub, you owe me! Also, your graphic designer obviously didn't bother to read the book, because while the cover is suitably Gothic, the house is supposed to be Palladian... so, fail on you Michael Fusco. Shame on you. You give Graphic Designers a bad name!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pink Carnation Spotlight: James Norton (Miles Dorrington *RECAST*)

As I have said before, from my first reading of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation I got a clear image in my mind of Miles. I admit it was an impression that was the wrong end of the stick once I got to know him better in The Masque of the Black Tulip. He was tall and gangly and a little bookish in my mind, a non-threatening beta to Richard's alpha male. At least I got the tall right. So for awhile my mind has been throwing up possible actors, I know, I hate to recast, but I think the time has come. Originally I was thinking of Tom Hopper, because of his connection with the actor I have cast for The Purple Gentian, Bradley James, but then I had a brainwave. I'll be interested to hear what you think...

Name: James Norton (which is also oddly the name of someone I went to high school with)

"Dream" Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Miles Dorrington

First Impression: So, he was in one of the lamest Doctor Who episodes ever. I've basically blocked all of "Cold War" out, so I have to take this screencap's proof he was in it. I mean seriously, you bring back the Ice Warriors and make it into The Hunt for Red October but lamer but at least mercifully shorter. Oh, and they refer to the TARDIS as male, when the TARDIS has and always will be a she!

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: He has that stoic British charm that just won't quit. But more importantly, look at that floppy lock of hair! If we could just get his opinion on ginger biscuits...

Lasting Impression: Oliver Ashford in Belle. Seriously, if you have not seen this movie do so now. James plays the young man interested in Dido's hand. While he is overshadowed by Tom Felton as his creepy and racist brother, there is a sweetness to him that makes you think, well, he's not that bad a guy. Plus those tight trousers and knee breeches stretching and straining as he sits in a chair, hold me back. So yes, the knee breeches made him memorable.

What else you've seen them in: James Norton is an actor who has been popping up all over the place for the past five years. I was shocked by how much I'd actually seen him in without realizing it. He has a great way of being understated but lovable, which will do him well with his new starring role in Grantchester, based on the books by James Runcie. He's made appearances in everything from period comedic pieces like Blandings to the gritty Happy Valley. But it's his sweet, quiet roles that I'm a sucker for, most importantly Henry Alveston who won the heart of Georgiana Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley. How they made that horrid book into an awesome miniseries still boggles the mind!

Can't believe it's them: Again, I state for the record, Doctor Who, but that's because of my own doing.

Wish they hadn't: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding because it is the dullest most boring movie I have ever watched in my entire life. In fairness I think House of Mirth might have been worse but I walked out on that movie when the flying death squad monkeys failed to appear and kill everyone with lasers (yes, this was an event I created and prayed for). But Cheerful Weather for the Wedding made me want to smack my head into my television. How could so many great actors make such a dull movie? One will never know. Oh, and that is Miles hanging out with Amy in this picture.

Bio: He grew up in Yorkshire which makes me wonder, with those cheekbones, how he never ended up as a sexy servant at Downton. Anyway, he was interested in acting at a young age but went to Cambridge to study theology which lead to him going to Nepal and studying Buddhism (at least I'm assuming that's why he went there, one does seem to lead to the other). On his return to England he enrolled in RADA and got his break in a very small role at the end of An Education... which would actually be where I probably saw him first but have totally forgotten, almost like Doctor Who, though not on purpose because I liked that movie. He started to pick up small parts in period pieces, but his breakthrough roles in the aforementioned Death Comes to Pemberley and Happy Valley led to him getting the starring role in Grantchester, which made him an insta-star after the premiere. What I'm really looking forward to though is his turn as Duncan Grant in the new drama about the Bloomsbury set, Life in Squares. Oh, and lots more Grantchester! 

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Published by: DAW Hardcover
Publication Date: October 28th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 176 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows....

In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world."

Ok, I am literally over the moon for this book! Yes, I know it's not the final book in The Kingkiller Chronicle's, but my favorite parts in Pat's books all take place at the University, and Auri is totally one of my favorite characters. So yes, just a little excited, on the scale of peeing your pants excited!

Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman
Published by: Toon Books
Publication Date: October 28th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 56 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Best-selling author Neil Gaiman and fine artist Lorenzo Mattotti join forces to create Hansel and Gretel, a stunning book that’s at once as familiar as a dream and as evocative as a nightmare. Mattotti’s sweeping ink illustrations capture the terror and longing found in the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Neil Gaiman crafts an original text filled with his signature wit and pathos that is sure to become a favorite of readers everywhere, young and old."

Of all the fairy tales, I've always been very meh on Hansel and Gretel, so I'm really excited to see what Gaiman does.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
Published by: Soho Crime
Publication Date: October 28th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The twelfth installment in Stephanie Barron's fan-favorite Being a Jane Austen Mystery series

Christmas Eve, 1814: Jane Austen has been invited to spend the holiday with family and friends at The Vyne, the gorgeous ancestral home of the wealthy and politically prominent Chute family. As the year fades and friends begin to gather beneath the mistletoe for the twelve days of Christmas festivities, Jane and her circle are in a celebratory mood: Mansfield Park is selling nicely; Napoleon has been banished to Elba; British forces have seized Washington, DC; and on Christmas Eve, John Quincy Adams signs the Treaty of Ghent, which will end a war nobody in England really wanted."

I'm kinda loving the synchronicity that the twelfth book is the twelve days of Christmas!

Star of the East by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Macmillan
Publication Date: October 28th, 2014
Format: Kindle, 65 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Emily and Colin Hargreaves make it a rule to spend as little time as possible with her parents in Kent, but are unable to refuse Lady Catherine Bromley’s invitation to join them for a pre-Christmas party that includes the family of Ala Kapur Singh, a powerful Punjabi maharaja who has come to England after receiving the Order of the Star of India. Lady Bromley, quite taken with the exotic beauty and spectacular jewels of the maharani and her daughter, Sunita, and throws herself with abandon into her own version of Indian culture, planning a feast she is certain will be more spectacular than any seen on the sub-continent.

When a priceless emerald and diamond maang tika and a simple gold bangle disappear from Sunita’s room, a diplomatic incident seems imminent, particularly after the maang tika turns up in Emily’s possession. Emily may have what appears to be the more valuable of the two pieces, but the maang tika cannot be worn without the bangle, upon which is engraved the words necessary to ward off a curse placed on the set five hundred years ago by a princess forced to forsake the man she loved. Sunita must wear the maang tika at her wedding, which is scheduled to take place as soon as the family returns to the Punjab, but cannot do so without the bangle. Can Emily convince the maharaja that she is not a thief? And, more important, can she and Colin find the bangle?"

And speaking of some more Christmasy fun! A little Emily and Colin short story for the upcoming holiday season!

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.

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