Monday, October 31, 2016

Casting the Runes...

The ghost stories of M.R. James are regarded as among the best in the genre. Born in England in 1862, Montague Rhodes James was a medievalist scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge; but he's best known for his supernatural tales. Regarding them, James said, "Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo. Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage."  Above all, James felt that his ghosts "should be malevolent or odious."

Which make these the perfect stories to read at Halloween. James' collection, Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories, contains several subtle tales of eerie suspense. I especially liked "A School Story", "Casting the Runes", and "Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance". Not all of them were as good, though; a few of the stories showed their age with a slower narrative style and endings that felt a little anti-climatic. But that's Victorian writing for you. Still, if you like a classic ghost story, try some of M.R. James'. Or, if you happen to prefer Victorian vampire stories, check out Dracula's Guest edited by Michael Sims. It's a fabulous collection of classic vampire tales written by the likes of Lord Byron, Aleksei Tolstoy, Hume Nisbet, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Mary Chalmondeley and Bram Stoker.

Happy Reading!

And Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Favorite Halloween Movies

The Funny...

The Quietly Suspenseful...

The Classic...

(Although I also love any classic monster movie that has
Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff in Dracula and The Mummy.)

And, of course, the Scary...

What movie will you be watching this Halloween?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Going Gothic...

Anya Seton's Dragonwyck has the same Gothic atmosphere and underlying tension as Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. This historical fiction novel is set in 1844 in the Hudson River Valley, where many old Dutch families settled on large estates they called manors. Into this old-world and monied luxury comes a young farm girl from Connecticut.  Poor Miranda Wells. At 18, she's naive and unsophisticated and longs for a life beyond the narrow confines of her father's strict morality. She dreams of adventure, travel, and romance. So when her cousin, Nicholas Van Ryn, invites her to stay at Dragonwyck with him and his wife, Johanna, she begs her parents to allow her to go. Somewhat reluctantly, they agree.

For Miranda, life with the Van Ryn's is like entering another world.  "...her first sight of Dragonwyck was the most vivid and significant impression of her life. She stared at the fantastic silhouette which loomed dark against the eastern sky, the spires and gables and chimneys dominated in the center by one high tower; and it was as though the good and evil, the happiness and tragedy, which she was to experience under that roof materialized into physical force and struck across the quiet river into her soul."

It doesn't take long before Miranda is enamored of her handsome, well-educated and worldly cousin. Nicholas is very charming when he wants to be, although he can also be very cold and cutting. He is a man who is a little "too polite" to his obese, dull wife; a man with hidden depths of violence. But Miranda can't help falling in love with him. There is both mystery and romance, tragedy and drama, in this Gothic novel. And Seton's writing is amazing. Even when I could see exactly where this story was headed, I couldn't put it down.

Happy Reading!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Shiver by Alex Nye

5 signs your house might be haunted:
flickering lights
pockets of extreme cold
strange creaks and murmurings in the hallway
footsteps when no one is there
ghostly laughter

In Shiver by Alex Nye, Samuel Cunningham and Fiona Morton discover a secret staircase behind the library fireplace that leads to a dead end in the tower of Dunadd House. Their passage not only disturbs the dust, but the two ghost-children hiding there. Eliza and John died in 1604. But now they're awake, and Eliza is feeling very much alive. Samuel and Fiona, along with Fiona's two older brothers, are determined to find out what's hiding at the end of the secret staircase, and why Eliza and John are haunting Dunadd House. But they might be treading on dangerous ground. Because...

"Ghosts are best left to themselves."

So why did I check this middle-grade fiction book out of the library? Because it's set in a haunted house in Scotland. And I love Scotland...and I also love haunted-house stories. But Shiver isn't just a ghost story. It's also a mystery. And there's a blizzard. And a hidden room containing buried secrets from the past. And an adventure. And Samuel and Fiona, and Fiona's brothers, Sebastian and Charles, are very fun characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a well-written, satisfying ghost story. And the perfect October read.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October's Bookish Art...

Winslow Homer -- Girl Reading 
A woman is the only creature that cannot be defined in two consecutive sentences."
--Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Nautical Chart

Happy Reading! 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

Detective extraordinaire R. F. Jackaby and his intrepid assistant, Abigail Rook, are back with another supernatural mystery to solve. This one involves Jenny Cavanagh, the ghost who shares Jackaby's house, and her decade-old murder. Jenny is finally ready to know the truth about her death. But there's more to this mystery than who killded Jenny. And the why of it leads Abigail and Jackaby on another strange adventure that includes a mad scientist, a vampire, a shadowy organization, a magical plot, a short trip to the afterlife, and a machine that will change the world. It also left me on the edge of my seat anxiously awaiting the next book in this fabulous series.

I love Abigail Rook and her quirky, psychic employer. They are a great combination. And it was fun to have the ghostly Jenny take a more active role in this story.  And Charlie Cane is in it, too! (He's in the first two books and a favorite character of mine.) Strange things are afoot in New Fiddleham in Ghostly Echoes, and I enjoyed every moment of this fun supernatural adventure. Now if only William Ritter would hurry up and write the next book!

Happy Reading!

Be sure to read these first:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bookish thoughts...

On Daphne du Maurier.  After reading Rebecca, several of her short stories, and My Cousin Rachel this year, I'm eager to read more of her work. And she's written a lot to choose from, both fiction and non-fiction. I'm leaning towards The Scapegoat or The House on the Strand. Or maybe Jamaica Inn or Frenchman's Creek.  Luckily, my library has copies of all of them.  The only problem is deciding which to read first. Which would you recommend?

On Mother Teresa.  Pope Francis made her a Saint last month. It's pretty obvious why. Like everyone else, I admired the way she lived her life--her compassion and selflessness and her devotion to God. I also admired many of the things she said and wrote. Here's my favorite Mother Teresa quote:
      If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
      If you hare honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
      If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
      The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
      Give the world your best and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
      For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway.

A blog recommendation.  Want to read a blog with posts that are well-written, thoughtful, articulate and humorous? Check out My Life as a Harvard Reject. It's all of these things and more. It's also written by my nephew. So take a minute and click over to his blog and read a few of his amazing posts. They're worth reading; I promise you won't be sorry.

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray

It's 1821, and an unexpected inheritance brings Katherine Randolph and her older brother, George, from their farm in Virginia all the way to England. It's not an easy transition, but Katherine is working hard to learn the rules of etiquette and how to act as a proper lady. Her cousins, Grace and Henry, are there to help. And George. But then, the morning after their introduction ball, George is found dead. Drowned. Every one thinks it's a tragic accident, but Katherine believes someone killed him. And her insistence that her brother was murdered soon puts her own life in danger.

While Katherine falls in love a little too quickly for my tastes, she's also a spunky and determined heroine. I liked how she never gives in to her two cousins, or to anyone else. After all, Katherine isn't a delicate English maiden; she's a fearless Virginian farm girl who knows how to shoot a gun and defend herself. Her own brother calls her Wildcat. I only wish I could have gotten to know her brother better; I suspect I would have liked him, too. And while it was pretty obvious who was behind George's death, there is a twist at the end that I wasn't expecting. Overall, this YA mystery is a fun read. I did find myself wishing that the author had fleshed out certain scenes and characters more than she did though. At only 245 pages, this story sometimes felt a little thin and rushed. But then, if it had been over 400 pages, I'd probably be complaining that it was way too long and needed editing. Isn't that the way it goes?

Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bookish thrills and chills...

Title:  1222 by Anne Holt
First line:  As it was only the train driver who died, you couldn't call it a disaster.
Summary from the blurb:  "A train on its way to the northern reaches of Norway derails during a massive blizzard, 1222 meters above sea level. The passengers abandon the train for a nearby hotel, centuries-old and practically empty, except for the staff. With plenty of food and shelter from the storm, the passengers think they are safe, until one of them is found dead the next morning."  Paralyzed by a bullet, retired police inspector Hanne Wilhemsen is among the rescued passengers. And when old instincts kick in, she can't help investigating her fellow passengers. But time is running out. "Trapped in her wheelchair, trapped by the storm, and now trapped with a killer, Hanne must fit the pieces of the puzzle together before the killer strikes again."

My thoughts:  It was the whole trapped-in-a-snowstorm setting that drew me to this Norwegian mystery. I blame my fascination with bookish blizzards on having read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder so many times as a child. And this locked-room murder mystery is a pretty good read. At times, especially when the murderer is revealed at the end, it reminded me of an Agatha Christie novel. Holt creates some great characters. although it took me several pages before I started to warm up to Hanne, who's a very distant and guarded woman. Adrian, a fifteen-year-old teenage runaway with a sullen disposition and a penchant for angry outbursts was my favorite character; he reluctantly helps Hanne with her investigation. My only real complaint is that for a supposed thriller, 1222 is actually a pretty slow read. I blame that on the first-person narrative. Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting mystery, but I wouldn't call it a fast-paced page turner. Personally, I prefer the mysteries of Kristina Ohlsson and Yrsa Sigurdardottir to this one.

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 3, 2016

A gallimaufry

gallimaufry - n. hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley; mishmash

That's what this post is. A confused medley of some of my favorite things, chosen at random, just for fun.

"Deep night, dark night, the silent of the night,
The Time of night when Troy was set on fire; 
The time when screech owls cry, and ban-dogs howl,
And spirits walk, and ghosts break up their graves."
                              --William Shakespeare


Flammulated Owl -- #150 on my list

Pumpkin Pancakes:

1 3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. canned pumpkin
1 egg
2 Tbls. vegetable oil

Combine ingredients. Then add:
2 c. flour
2 Tbls. brown sugar
1 Tbls. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt

Mix together until moistened. Heat griddle. Pour 1/4 c. batter onto grill. Cook on both sides. Serve.

Wake not the Dead:--they bring but gloomy night
And cheerless desolation into day...
That which from life is pluck'd, becomes the foe
Of life, and whoso wakes it waketh woe.
Seek not the dead to waken from that sleep
In which from mortal eye they lie enshrouded deep.
--Johann Ludwig Tieck

Happy Reading!