Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Silence for the Dead

"There was silence from the bottom of the stairs, a waiting silence, of something patiently watching me come closer, something with all the time in the world."
 Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James is a perfect mix of historical fiction, mystery and ghost story; an added dash of romance makes this novel a delicious read.

It takes place in 1919 at an isolated estate in England called Portis Hall where sixteen shell-shocked soldiers have come to convalesce. But there is something evil haunting Portis Hall that makes it anything but restful.

The two main characters are Kitty Weekes, who isn't really a nurse but who comes to work at Portis Hall anyway hoping to escape her own past, and Jack Yates, a war hero tormented by nightmares of his own. Together they try to solve the mystery of what, or who, is haunting Portis Hall.
"This house was a vampire, feeding on the pain, the insecurity, the despair of these men. It was feeding on Creeton, it was feeding on Archie, it was feeding on Mabry and Jack. It knew my weaknesses, my fears, and it was only a matter of time before it fed on me. I let go of the bucket, put my head in my hands, and surrendered to my own madness, the madness of this place."
I love the eerie atmosphere St. James creates in her novels; cold and crumbling Portis Hall is remote and unwelcoming and the perfect setting for a gripping ghost story. And St. James' characters, while imperfect, are engaging and likeable. Then there's the romance between Kitty and Jack...sweet and sexy. I really enjoyed this book. It's a well-written and fast-paced mystery (and an awesome airplane/trip book, too)!

Happy Reading!

Be sure to check out Simone S. James' other books:
     The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Monday, April 28, 2014

Fourth Classic of 2014...

"How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping?"

In Shakespeare's plays, the road to love is never smooth or straightforward. Much Ado About Nothing is no exception to this rule. Claudio has fallen in love with Leonato's daughter, Hero, but Don John is determined to disgrace Hero and break up the match before their wedding can take place. Then there are Beatrice and Benedick, who quarrel like better enemies, but who, with a little secret maneuvering by their friends, finally fall in love. It takes five acts of mistaken identity, misunderstanding, and mischief before all is set right, but it ends happily ever after.

I thought this was one of Shakespeare's easier plays to read. It certainly didn't bog down any where. And talk about a perfect title! There is much ado about nothing in this play. Beatrice and Benedick trade barbed jests throughout the play; Don John's plot against Hero and Claudio, while effective at first, is resolved relatively quickly and easily; and no one dies! (Sorry if that's a spoiler.)

While this will never be my favorite Shakespearean play, I did enjoy it, and I'd definitely like to see it performed onstage someday.

"I will live in thy heart, die in they lap, and be buried in they eyes..."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Savoring Shakespeare...

The summer I turned eight my parents took me down to the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah, to see my first Shakespearean plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night. It was the start of a lifelong love affair with Shakespeare for me. The next year we saw A Comedy of Errors, then As You Like It and Taming of the Shrew. Romeo and Juliet was my first tragedy. (And, having already seen it onstage, it was that much easier to read later on in school!) Other tragedies followed: Antony and Cleopatra, Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth.

It was Jennifer Lee Carrell's novel, Interred With Their Bones, that inspired me to read all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in the order that he wrote them. (Although not everyone agrees on what that order is.) I've made my way through 9 histories, 6 tragedies, and 7 comedies. It's been fun. Some plays are definitely better than others. While I loved A Comedy of Errors onstage, it wasn't that great to read; and while I've never seen Two Gentleman of Verona, it's become one of my favorite plays.

I have to admit that I've read a few of the plays out of order because they went along with some other book that I happened to be reading at the time. Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn led me to Troilus and Cressida, while What Time Devours by A.J. Hartley led me to Love's Labour's Lost. I've read a few other books with a Shakespearean connection--like Kathryn Johnson's The Gentleman Poet which has ties to The Tempest, and  The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips, which is about a made-up Shakespeare play. Shakespeare and storytelling just seem to go together. So, here's to Shakespeare and ALL his stories!

What's your favorite play?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

"Death is my world. Everything else, school and friends, they're just things that get in the way of my next ghost." I reach into my back pocket and pull out my athame ... the blade shines in the gray light. Something in my blood, the blood of my father and his before him, makes it more that just a knife. "I'm the only one in the world who can do this. Doesn't that mean it's what I'm supposed to do?"

Cas Lowood has been hunting and killing ghosts since he was 14; his father did it before that (until he was killed by one of the ghosts he was hunting). Now it's just Cas and his mom, and they've just moved to Thunder Bay, Canada--a very haunted Thunder Bay--in search of one particular ghost: Anna Dressed in Blood. But Anna is not like any other ghost he's ever met.
If I'm honest with myself, I know that Anna Korlov has gotten into my mind like few ghosts have before her. I don't know why. There is only one ghost aside from her that has occupied my thoughts like this, that has brought up such a stirring of feeling, and that is the ghost who killed my father.
Some books surprise you with how good they are and this is one of them. I have to admit, when I picked this book up at the library I thought it would just be a fun YA ghost story, nothing more, but Anna Dressed in Blood exceeded my expectations. It's well-written (except for Blake's overuse of the word 'smirk'), fast-paced, tightly plotted, and the main characters ring true; they have fears and hopes and well-developed back stores...even Anna. I finished the last page actually hoping for a sequel. Kudos to Kendare Blake. This is one of the better ghost stories that I've read.

Happy Ghosting!

Similar Reads:
     Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway
     School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins

Monday, April 21, 2014

Another Bookish Game

Can you correctly identify the title or author of a book from just its first line? That's the premise of It Was a Dark & Stormy Night. If you love to read, be sure to check this game out. When my family played it, we divided up into two teams, pairing younger readers with older readers to better everyone's odds of coming up with the right answer. There are 12 different book categories in this game from children's books to novels to Shakespeare; the non-fiction and poetry categories were surprisingly easier than we thought they would be, and we did pretty well with Shakespeare's plays, too. Our least favorite categories? Mystery and Novels written from 1950-Present. We didn't know the answer on any of those. And we ALL tried to land on the squares for Children's Books and Children's Movies (adapted from books). Those were by far our favorite categories! Luckily, you don't need to answer a question from every category; you just need to identify 8 book titles to win. (Or 5 if you want to shorten the game.) I really enjoyed this game and I thought it played pretty fast (we played it twice in an hour). We had a lot of fun giving hints, and throwing out cards that we deemed too obscure, and cheering when we finally got a Harry Potter question. This bookish game was definitely a hit at our house!

Here are a few sample first lines...can you identify the book or the author they're from?

  • (Poetry)  There is a place where the sidewalk ends/ And before the street begins ... 
  • (Children's Movies) "The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette."
  • (Non-Fiction) "But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction--what has that got to do with a room of one's own?"
  • (Novels, Pre-1900) "Marley was dead: to begin with."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

April's Bookish Art...

Carl Larsson - Woman on a Bench Reading

Tension is who you think you should be.
Relaxation is who you are.
--Chinese Proverb 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Galapagos at the Crossroads...

While Carol Ann Bassett focuses on the current challenges facing the Galapagos Islands and their fragile ecosystem--challenges like overfishing, invasive species, colonists, pollution, and tourism--she also touches on their history and the amazing biodiversity of life found here. It's a well-written and eye-opening book.

Here are some of my favorite Galapagos facts:

  • The islands are home to 58 species of birds from flamingoes to penguins, and 27 different kinds of reptiles, including giant tortoises and a cliff-diving marine iguana.
  • The islands are moving east towards South America at a rate of 3 inches a year.
  • Literary pirate William Dampier visited the islands in 1679 and 1684 and later wrote three best-selling travel books about his travels there.
  • Charles Darwin, who visited the islands in 1835, was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln: February 12, 1809.
  • It's the temperature of the nest that determines the sex of turtle hatchlings--if the nest is too hot, it'll be all females; too cool, all males.
  • Land tortoises can survive more than a year without drinking.
  • Flightless cormorants live here, the only cormorant species in the world that has lost the ability to fly.
  • The Galapagos are oceanic islands that straddle the Equator; they are the only oceanic archipelago in the world that still retains 95 percent of its original biodiversity. As Charles Darwin once wrote, the Galapagos "is a little world within itself."

Happy Traveling!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

More Musings...

  • All the books I want to check out at the library are currently on hold for someone else. Don't you just hate that? I wish people would stop reading the books I want to read!
  • Good thing I have a stack of TBR books beckoning in the wings, including a few guilty pleasures like the last two Nightside novels by Simon R. Green.
  • So, I read in the newspaper the other day that they're removing words like prevaricator and sagacious from the SATs because they're not "practical" words. What are they going to replace them with? Selfie and tweet? What a sad commentary on the dumbing down of America when words like prevaricate and sagacious are deemed too obsolete.
  • 5 things I love about spring: no more frost on my car windows in the morning, robins singing, the redolent scent of lilacs, sunny blue skies, and bright yellow daffodils.
  • Best of all? It's spring break next week and I'm off to the Galapagos Islands for a few days. I can't wait!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

To Those who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine.
Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean 
to be Let Furnished for The month of April. Necessary servants remain.
 Z, Box 1000, The Times.

Sounds like a dream, doesn't it? April in Italy. Mrs. Lotty Wilkins and Mrs. Rose Arbuthnot think so, too. They both live in Hampstead, England in the 1920s and both want a change from their humdrum lives. Lotty "was the kind of person who is not noticed at parties. Her clothes, infested by thrift, made her practically invisible; her face was non-arresting; her conversation was reluctant; she was shy." And Rose, with "the face of a patient and disappointed Madonna" has, for years, "been able to be happy only by forgetting happiness." San Salvatore is the cure they both need. So they, along with Lady Caroline Dester and Mrs. Fisher who help share expenses, rent the Italian castle for an entire month. One heavenly month of beauty, freedom and love.
     "All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her feet...She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it. Such beauty; and she alive to feel it. Her face was bathed in light. Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her. A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair. Far out in the bay a cluster of almost motionless fishing boats hovered like a flock of white birds on the tranquil sea. How beautiful, how beautiful. Not to have died before have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this...She stared, her lips parted. Happy? Poor ordinary, everyday word. But what could one say, how could one describe it? It was as though she could hardly stay inside herself, it was as though she were washed through with light."
I love the lyrical quality of von Arnim's writing, and each of her delightful characters, especially Lotty and Lady Caroline (or Scrap, as she calls herself). I've seen the movie version of The Enchanted April many times, but I'd never read the book until now. And I'm glad I did; in fact, I savored every word of it. It's definitely the perfect book for April.

Happy Reading!
(And don't forget to watch the movie, too.) 

"Were you ever, ever in your life so happy?" asked Mrs. Wilkins.
"No," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bookish Medicine...

Having a bad day? Need a laugh? Here are 10 reads that always cheer me up and make me give one a try. After all, laughter is the best medicine!

  1. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (It'll give you a whole new appreciation of Jane Eyre!)
  2. A Room With A View by E. M. Forster (This is Forster's BEST novel; I love it more each time I read it.)
  3. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Just the parts about the bears can make me laugh, not to mention his out-of-shape hiking buddy on Day 1 on the Appalachian Trail.)
  4. The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch (The one picture book EVERY girl should own!)
  5. Can You Keep A Secret? by Sophie Kinsella (This tops her Shopaholic books for funny.)
  6. The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips (Such an odd, quirky book...just thinking about it makes me smile.)
  7. The Sleeping Tiger by Rosamunde Pilcher (I love all her books, but this one is a, it takes place on the lovely island of Mallorca.)
  8. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (An epistolary gem!)
  9. The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague (Although any Mark Teague picture book will lift your spirits.)
  10. Soulless by Gail Carriger (This supernatural adventure of practical Alexia and her parasol makes me chuckle; plus her werewolf suitor is hunky.)
What books make you laugh?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Favorite Read...

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda

This would be a great book club book because there are so many things to think about and discuss in it. 10-year-old Enaiatolla Akbari's mother takes him to Pakistan from their home in Nava, Afghanistan...and leaves him there. Alone. (As a mother, could you do that? Even if it were to save your son's life?) Before she leaves, Enaiat's mother makes him promise to never do three things: never use drugs, never use weapons to harm anyone, and never cheat or steal.

The rest of the book chronicles Enaiat's journey from Pakistan to Iran to Turkey to Greece and, finally, to Italy where he finds asylum, friends, and a home. It is an amazing tale of survival, especially for a boy so young. No child's life should be this hard. But the most amazing thing of all is how Enaiat never loses hope, and how he chooses to be grateful, never bitter. I cried when I finished this book, but it was a good cry. This book is so thought-provoking, and heartbreaking, and powerful, and moving....and good. I love this story. For me, In The Sea There Are Crocodiles is a definite must-read! 

Similar Reads:
     The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
     The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N. Murari

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This book reminds me of that quote by Nietzche, "When you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."

Stanislas Cordova is a reclusive filmmaker who plumbs the "dark crags and muck of human desire and longing" in his underground movies--his 'night films'. He hasn't been seen in public in over three decades, but he has a strong cult following. Now his 24-year-old daughter, Ashley, is dead from an apparent suicide. Ashley was beautiful and enigmatic and a musical prodigy; so why did she kill herself? And how and where did she spend the last ten days of her life?

Journalist Scott McGrath decides to investigate father and daughter. But looking too closely at Cordova can be dangerous; his life is as dark as his films, the truth about him elusive. And Ashley is just as great a mystery. The last person to see her alive, a homeless hatcheck girl named Nora, joins Scott's investigation, as does a young drug dealer named Hopper, who has his own secret connection to Ashley. In the course of the investigation, as McGrath peels away the layers surrounding Cordova and his daughter and edges closer and closer to the truth, he definitely looks into the abyss. And the abyss looks back at him.

I liked this book, all 500-plus pages of it. It's a well-written mystery, not too graphic or gory, with a touch of the occult and a mixed-media twist: there are photocopies of police reports, images from websites, photos, and newspaper clippings. It's like you're part of the investigation. I just wish there'd been more of the mixed-media aspect throughout the entire novel than there was. But that's my only complaint with this psychological thriller. 

Happy Reading!

And, as a bookish bonus, this book fills another category for me in the What's in a Name 2014 Reading Challenge. (That's 3 books read; 2 more to go!) Category completed with this book: Read a book that has a reference to time in its title.