Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review: Still Life with Crows (spoiler possibility)

So here we are, back in Pendergast-Land, where anything weird that can possibly happen will happen. In this segment we find ourselves in a redneck Kansas town in the middle of cornfields, where the death of woman digging around Indian burial grounds has people talking of a curse. Then more are killed, all in strange but unrelated ways, puzzling even Pendergast, who has the townspeople equally puzzled after he requests steak tartare at the local diner....
Pendergast, with the help of a temporary assistant, the purple-haired goth girl Corrie, pokes around town and makes a general nuisance of himself while trying to solve the murders.

The authors' writing style is, as usual, very engaging, and the characters seem to jump off the page. The ending twist (there's always an ending twist) too is...disturbing, in a way, although I'm very proud to say I had guessed it. Also, the build-up and suspense, and of course the encounters with the unknown killer, gave me chills that I have not had since Relic. The problem comes in, and this may seem spoilerish, that the constant talk of curses has little bearing on the actual plot. Yes, people are scared and talk of ancient Indian burial ground petshops and the like, but it doesn't actually cause anything to happen. The history helps to understand the present but the actual curse fear does not. Secondly, I thought there was too little to go on for Pendergast to figure out the twist. We never hear him pondering it, he just suddenly has all the answers at the end. This, I thought, was a weakness. The facts he had to go on were too scant. You can make a guess but it wasn't enough for him to know what would happen in the final denouement. Lastly, some of the scenes seemed too broken up, almost dreamlike, because you would flip to another scene without any explanation. (This happens especially near the end). It seemed weaker than the others in this way. However, as I said, it was still entertaining, but not the usual fare.

I give this a 2.8/5.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Famous Inboxes

Thanks to the wonderful Republic of Pemberley, I've discovered this amusing little site. Not only do they have Lizzy Bennett's inbox, but also such infamous others as Voldemort, Sauron, Darth Vader, James Bond, Kermit, etc.

So go waste some time.

Miss Elizabeth Bennett's Inbox

Friday, October 15, 2010

Two Reviews: The Haunting of Hill House and Cabinet of Curiosities

Back again with a couple more. I love working at the library. I see so many books while shelving that I normally wouldn't notice. Anyways, on with the reviews!

The Haunting of Hill House:

So I had vague memories of the movie, which I recalled was exceedingly strange, and had a female character I wanted to slap around, and trying to start the book back in high school, which ended when I got to the nonsense about the star cup. However, I pressed on this time, and was....well....I suppose rewarded would be the word, but I still feel very puzzled indeed. A short summary: Dr. Montague moonlights as a supernatural investigator, and would like to find out what exactly is wrong with Hill House (other than the obvious "I am a creepy old house" syndrome). He sends out invitations to people who have come into contact with the supernatural, but only gets two replies: one from Eleanor, our heroine, who was apparently poltergeisted with pebbles on the roof shortly after her father's death, and Theo (The One To Be Slapped) who has some sort of telepathic ability, although we see nothing of this.
When everyone arrives at the house, the gatekeeper (ZUUL!!) warns them off, then lets them in, and his wife, the housekeeper (NOT ZUUL!!) explains that she always leaves at certain times, and informs them of this repetetively. Well, they start experiencing strange things, whilst Eleanor and Theo fight over the heir to the house, Luke.

I suppose it was a good story. Eleanor was an odd one. People spoke of her as though she wasn't there, and the scenes shifted so quickly I had trouble understanding where everyone was at any given time. Which I think was the point; the book seemed a lot like the house, which was apparently built so none of the rooms were exactly square. However, the three young people in the house acted less like thirty-something adults and more like teenagers (Theo especially-i.e. The One To Be Slapped). It was all right, and it had a few creepy moments, but nothing much else. 2.5/5.

Cabinet of Curiosities:

Speaking of creepy things, this book was right up there for the creepiness. To summarize, an old charnel is found at the construction site of the new apartment building, but is quickly covered up so the building can continue. However, archaelogist Dr. Nora Kelly (at the behest of, you guessed it, Agent Pendergast) does some further investigation with her boyfriend Smithback (yes, he has finally scored a female) and discovers what appears to be signs of a serial killer who performed horrible experiments on living human beings. The worst part is that after Smithback publishes his article, new killings eerily similar to the old begin cropping up. Now Pendergast and Co. must find out who has started the killings and stop them.

Now this was an awesome book. Nora is a fun character, who was introduced in an out-of-series book Thunderhead. Also joining for the book is policeman Patrick O'Shaughnessy, who uses his Irish-cop-ness to help out our heroes. The build-up is slow at times, but the end is amazing (and the twist is mind-boggling, as usual). I give it a 4.5/5, the .5 added on because Pendergast says "Barbaric Yankee drivers" at one point in the book.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review + Rant: The Turn of the Screw

In anticipation of the Halloween season (which has been shoved in our faces since August, incidently) I read Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, known as one of the best written ghost stories out there. A young woman is engaged as governess to two young children who are, apparently, being stalked by the ghosts of two former servants. I found it creepy, though a bit confusing. There's a lot of vague sentences where we can only guess what someone was going to say, even vague thoughts where we're really not sure what the heroine is really thinking. I suppose it was his intention to give the reader the same confusion as the heroine, but it actually detached me from the story. The ending is a great deal of depressing drivel, with no real resolution beyond "rocks fall". We don't really get the "everyone dies" part so we don't really know what happened. I know many people enjoy that sort of thing but it just left me feeling abruptly disappointed. Overall I would give this story a 2.5 out of 5. Creepy but not effective as a narrative, I think.

What really got me, though, was all the literary criticism (I could only find a book filled with critics' drivel as well, which is also depressing). Ah, yes, literary criticism, that horrible maze turned more horrible thanks to Freud. Many believe that this story showed only a young woman going insane thinking she was seeing ghosts. Oh yes, they acknowledge James had intended it to be a real ghost story, not one of those silly Scooby-Doo endings where the sheet is pulled off the ghost and police captain Todd is revealed as the villain. Yes, they acknowledge this, but point out James was self-deceived.

Wait wait wait.....So some critic, who has no knowledge of what went through the author's head when writing this story, knows better than the author himself? Since when? I honestly have trouble understanding this mindset in literary criticism. Why should an author know less than the reader? The author wrote the damn thing! You'd think they know how the story should go, unless you adhere to that weird "collective consciousness" drivel (drivel being the word of the day, by the way).

The only other explanation is that literary critics are telepathic and psychic. That would explain a lot.

Anyways, beyond the arrogance displayed, one particular critic does something stupid. He acknowledges that the heroine, being able to describe two people she had never seen before, poses a problem to his "she's insane" theory, but then he completely skips over it, ignoring this issue for the rest of his essay, and in fact then pointing out she must have led the housekeeper on when the housekeeper realizes the identity of the ghost that had frightened the heroine. Well, it doesn't matter. Because Freud is always right.

That's right. The critic comes up with a fool-proof explanation of why the poor governess is suddenly hallucinating.

Sexual repression.

You heard that. Sexual repression causes someone to hallucinate "ghosts" that look identical to people she has never seen before.


Dear critic, sometimes a ghost is just a ghost.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Review: Reliquary

Mind you, it's been awhile since I last read Reliquary. Still, it was an exciting read, with the return of all our favorites (D'Agosta, Smithback, Margo, Dr. Frock and Pendergast) and the introduction of a few new ones that we both love and hate (Waxie the Whiny Police Captain, Laura Hayward the Obligatory Tough Female, Mephisto the odd but lovable homeless guy). Oh, and let's not forget to mention the headless bodies with bite marks....I'm sure if the characters knew the title of the book they would have become even more alarmed.

But I get ahead of myself. The book opens on police divers looking for a brick of heroin, only for the poor newbie to get tangled up in two headless skeletons floating about in the Hudson. One is socialite Pamela Wisher, the other is....Well, you'll find out in due course. :-)

D'Agosta is put on the case, and Drs. Frock and Green (Margo not being one to play the perpetual student role) are asked to examine the bodies once the M.E. discovers those lovely bite marks at the base of Pamela Wisher's neck. As they get closer to the truth, more beheadings begin to happen, while Pendergast and D'Agosta probe the homeless community, filled with victims whose deaths went unnoticed, for information, culminating in a fine dinner of track rabbit with the oh-so-hospitable Mephisto. Suspicions rise as they discover more and more, and we are left to wonder....Will it be the supernatural this time? Is Mbwun really a mad god come back for revenge? Or is there some scientific explanation for this as well? (Hint: there is. But it's a freaky one, so it's okay.)

I would give this a 3.5 out of 5, the extra .5 for Mephisto's overall weirdness and sense of humor.