Genre: Paranormal

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Mar 14

Review of The Graveyard Book

Book Reviews 4 ★★★★

Review of The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean
on September 30, 2008
Genres: Middle Grade, Paranormal
Pages: 312
Goodreads four-stars

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family...
Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

Another one for my Newbery Award Reading Challenge! Somehow, I had never read anything by Neil Gaiman. The closest I had come until last week was seeing the movie Stardust. Which was…different. This is what sticks out most in my memory from that movie because for whatever reason it struck me as absolutely freaking hilarious:

Ahem. Yes, I might have the sense of humor of a 12 year old, at times. ANYWAY. This was my first foray into Gaiman’s works, and it definitely won’t be the last. I thoroughly enjoyed this middle grade novel, and hope that his adult books are just as entertaining if not more so. So without further ado, I present my review of The Graveyard Book!

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There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

Well, if that’s not a hair-raising beginning I don’t know what is! The first chapter was very creepy and just odd enough to make me suspect that something more than just a mass murder was afoot. Thankfully for the target age range, this chapter is by far the most creepy and the rest of the book is mostly adventures and Bod (the MC) growing up.

How you interpret or read this book is going to be greatly effected by how familiar you are with its inspiration, which was Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The resemblance is clear but the characters and setting are SO different and I love the way Gaiman wove in supernatural legends to the basic story of a child raised by ghosts. While all the events of Bod’s growing up years are connected, many of the chapters read like individual short stories, especially when there are jumps in time as Bod grows older.

Silas, Bod’s guardian, is a character that puzzled me right up until the very end. “Not dead but not alive” is the description given of him, along with a few other things that REALLY should have clued me in but for whatever reason I was oblivious. Even though he is Bod’s ultimate authority, Bod is mostly raised by the benevolent ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Owens, along with many other helpful specters. As it is stated in the beginning, when the ghosts decide to allow Bod the protection of their borders, “It will take a graveyard,” to raise the lost boy properly.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bod’s journey. As he moves through very young childhood towards his teen years, he meets many creatures from outside the world of the living. He talks to people centuries old. He learns things. Gradually, he comes to realize that while the graveyard has offered him protection and care in the best way its residents know how, he will have to leave in order to learn about the current world outside. Leaving though, is full of peril, because the evil that killed his parents and older sister, still seeks after him. Bod however, is not a shrinking violet.

“Well,” said Bod. “If I go outside in the world, the question isn’t, ‘who will keep me safe from him?'”

“No?”

“No. It’s ‘who will keep him safe from me?'”

A confrontation looms closer and closer, and at last Bod has his chance to avenge his family and reclaim his own life. This is the one part of the story that I really felt unsatisfactory. Though in the end, the reason for the murder of Bod’s family and the attempted murder of Bod is somewhat explained, it’s really a very murky, insubstantial reason that left me squinting at the book and thinking, “That’s it?” The ending is rather bittersweet too, as Bod realizes that, with the world safe for him at last…he must go out to seek his own fortune.

Overall, this was an entertaining coming-of-age story, with a unique twist. Bod is a very plucky little guy, and his spirit made me smile all the way through.

Bod said, “I want to see life. I want to hold it in my hands. I want to leave a footprint on the sand of a desert island. I want to play football with people. I want,” he said, and then he paused and he thought. “I want everything.”

“Good,” said Silas.

 

four-stars

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Jan 07

Review of Dracula by Bram Stoker

Book Reviews 2 ★★★★

Review of Dracula by Bram StokerDracula by Bram Stoker, Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, Simon Vance, Katherine Kellgren, Susan Duerden, John Lee, Graeme Malcolm, Steven Crossley, James Adams
on February 20th 2012
Genres: Classic, Paranormal
Pages: 16
Goodreads four-stars

15 hours and 28 minutes
Because of the widespread awareness of the story of the evil Transylvanian count and the success of numerous film adaptations that have been created over the years, the modern audience hasn't had a chance to truly appreciate the unknowing dread that readers would have felt when reading Bram Stoker's original 1897 manuscript. Most modern productions employ campiness or sound effects to try to bring back that gothic tension, but we've tried something different. By returning to Stoker's original storytelling structure - a series of letters and journal entries voiced by Jonathan Harker, Dr. Van Helsing, and other characters - with an all-star cast of narrators, we've sought to recapture its originally intended horror and power.
This production of Dracula is presented by what is possibly the best assemblage of narrating talent ever for one audiobook: Emmy Award nominees Alan Cumming and Tim Curry plus an all-star cast of Audie award-winners.

This review of Dracula is long, LONG overdue even if I just finished it last week. Why overdue? Because this was supposed to be part of my Halloween Read-a-Thon! Shameful, I know. To be honest, I got distracted about 2/3 of the way through and it took me forever to start it back up again. Also shameful. It’s a classic! It’s what started the popular image of vampires! Aaaaaand…yeah, I never did care for the whole vampire craze a few years ago. Bram Stoker’s book helped solidify the vampire’s place in literature and popular culture though, so I really wanted to read it. Sadly it doesn’t count for my audiobook challenge, as I finished it between Christmas and New Year’s! Bah.

Narration:

The narrators for this Audible Editions version were fabulous. Each character has their own narrator for their various journal entries, letters, etc., and they were all easily distinguished from each other. I listened at 1.25% speed, which helped with the 15 hour, 28 minute length.

Feels:

I was mostly just very intrigued the whole way through! It was so very different than anything I’ve ever read. I was invested in the characters but not terribly attached, if that makes sense. I felt like I learned a lot from this novel, even though it was fiction. I learned a lot about British/European culture at that time, how they looked at the supernatural, and how they looked at women.

Characters:

First of all, let’s get this Count Dracula straight. Dracula is not something out of True Blood or Twilight. He is not sexy. He does not sparkle. He is not emo or hurt and in need of someone to comfort and heal him. He is evil, cruel, barbaric, and intent on taking over the world. Ok, maybe just England, but still. He is imposing and has a certain ability to manipulate people even without his supernatural powers, something that I think must have been a part of even his regular-human personality.

Then you have the other main characters, which starts off with Jonathan Harker and his fiancee’ (later wife) Mina. They are just normal people trying to live a happy life, and suddenly they are thrown into this mess of Dracula’s creating. Jonathan actually travels to Dracula’s castle, never realizing until much later that the Count is much more than a normal man. Mina doesn’t actually meet Dracula until much later, but she has quite an experience with him due to his involvement with her dearest friend, Lucy.

Lucy is the person who actually brings all the other characters together. She is the typical Victorian blushing virgin, and somehow manages to attract marriage proposals from several men all at once. When she becomes a target for some unknown horror, they all come together – not without some awkwardness – to try to help her.

Plot:

The plot can be summed up in two words: vampire slayers. Because while this book takes AGES to get to the point, in the end that’s what it’s about. Vanquishing the evil that is Count Dracula and his minions, preventing him from further colonization. There are a couple of sub-plots, but they really don’t add a whole lot to the story, in my opinion. Like many books of this era, Dracula is very wordy and goes on and on and on about points that most modern readers really don’t care about.

Worldbuilding/Setting:

The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.

Stoker does a marvelous job of making us see, here, feel, and even smell the setting of Transylvania, the seaside, London. I have absolutely no complaints. I never once felt as though I couldn’t picture the world of the characters. To him of course, the world was HIS world.

Rating/Other Thoughts:

Let me get to these other thoughts before I give my rating.

First of all, the religious atmosphere of this book. It really took me by surprise, but I guess, given that the main characters are British during the 1890s (Queen Victoria’s reign). I was disappointed that the only things (other than garlic) to repel the vampires are relics of the Christian church. I was extremely disappointed by how many pages were devoted to the characters musing on their rightness with God, on whether or not they would go to heaven or hell, and other similar topics. All very accurate to how people thought and believed during that time.

Thus are we ministers of God’s own wish: that the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him. He has allowed us to redeem one soul already, and we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more. Like them we shall travel toward sunrise; and like them, if we fall, we fall in good cause.

Secondly, the treatment of women. Again it’s very accurate to how women in Victorian England were expected to behave, how they were looked at by men and the world at large. Mina Harker, at least, does not entirely accept the traditional role of the fainting female even if she is very willing to accept being the weaker sex. Accurate or not, I find the subservience the female characters demonstrate disturbing. Also disturbing is that Jonathan Harker objects to the female vampire who come to him based solely on the fact that they appear sexually attractive and do not behave like Victoria’s shrinking violet female model. He is attracted to them by their beauty and their open admission of their desire, and yet he feels he sins in the attraction.

I realize that this is all my perspective through a 21st century lens. The points that strike me as repression and bigotry were completely normal and accepted in society at that time. Does that make them right? Of course not. It does explain how and why characters reacted the way they did, however inexplicable their actions seem to a modern reader.

Overall, I’m giving 4 stars. The story, for all its faults, is still gripping even over a hundred years later. Dracula has given rise to countless spin-off tales, even if most modern day readers consider vampires (and werewolves) more sexy than terrifying. Vampires, with their super-human powers of shape changing and manipulation, have enthralled people’s imaginations for decades. I don’t see Dracula leaving the classics list any time soon.

 

four-stars

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Dec 20

Book Review: The Sense of Death

Book Reviews 0 ★★½

Book Review: The Sense of DeathThe Sense of Death by Matty Dalrymple
Published by William Kingsfield Publishers on November 30th 2013
Genres: Cozy, Mystery, Paranormal
Pages: 326
Goodreads two-half-stars

Ann Kinnear has created a peaceful existence at her cabin in the Adirondack woods. But the calm is shattered after Philadelphia socialite Elizabeth Firth is reported missing. With few clues and fewer options, detective Joe Booth calls upon Ann's spirit sensing abilities to help solve the mystery. With Joe and her brother Mike, Ann attempts to uncover what Elizabeth's husband may be hiding beneath his cloak of wealth and privilege. As Ann is drawn deeper into a web of lies and betrayal, she realizes she may be racing against time to keep herself from disappearing too.

So, in full disclosure, when I requested this from Netgalley I totally misread the publication date. Why is a book published in 2013 even still on Netgalley, anyway? I was actually approved (shocking…or not), so I read it anyway because if I didn’t it was going to make my review percentage even worse! How’s that for motivation? ANYwho, behold my review of The Sense of Death!
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The Sense of Death is a first novel, and while it’s an enjoyable cozy mystery – it shows. There are several things about the styling of the story that I didn’t care for, but in the end Ann’s character was one with which I could sympathize (even if I don’t sense spirits). The place descriptions are good. The premise is intriguing. I liked Ann and her relationship with her brother. I personally am intrigued by the idea of spirits or ghosts and the possibility of communicating with them, and I enjoyed how the author used the idea in the book.
It was very disappointing to have the who-dun-it of the story revealed in the first couple of chapters. Takes the mystery right out of it, takes the suspense away, and almost made me DNF it…but then there were more Ann chapters and I was more interested. A lot of the plot honestly seems very far-fetched, especially in the end. I was constantly reading with one eyebrow raised in skepticism. The plot is also a very common one in murder mysteries, but I guess there are only so many. While the deterioration of the culprit is believable, I didn’t feel the motivation was convincing. Also, there are several chapters AFTER the climatic event, most of which were unnecessary.
The author struggles with POV. Even though it’s written in 3rd person throughout, it’s mostly limited 3rd person with random bits of popping into another minor or even walk-on character’s head. That part was very jolting and annoying.
The old telling vs. showing that interferes with a lot of writing is EXTREMELY present. There are entire chapters of almost nothing but backstory, paragraphs going on and on and Ann’s childhood or past experiences. Don’t just TELL us how she felt, SHOW us! At a few points showing was successfully accomplished, but then it would lapse right back into a monologue of info-dumping and it was just a struggle to read.
All that said, I still enjoyed the book. I’m undecided about whether or not I will read the second one. I was going to rate at 2/5 stars until the climatic chapter, and a certain event that actually brought tears to my eyes.
Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.
two-half-stars

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Nov 04

Book Review: Of Flame and Light

Book Reviews 3 ★★★½

This book was such a fun read and nice break from all the YA I’ve been buried in lately! I participated in the blog tour when it released a couple of weeks ago (you can read an excerpt in that post). I love YA, don’t get me wrong, but you know how adding salt to caramel just makes the flavor POP so much more? That’s what mixing in different genres does for my reading. The different “flavors” really enhance all the flavors. Anywho. Enough comparing books to ice cream and chocolate.

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Like this amazing cake from Chowhound (click for recipe)

Of Flame and Light is fast-paced, hilarious, and full of super-sexy men and women intent on screwing the living daylights out of each other. 4/5 FLAMES (not stars, FLAMES…there’s supposed to be flame icons somewhere but I can’t get them to work, haha…still figuring out the new website). I really think this is one of those books that, while you CAN read it as a stand-alone and enjoy it, I would definitely have understood more and enjoyed it more if I had been following along through the entire Weird Girls series. So while I was somewhat confused at points, there’s enough explanation to get a who’s-who and a general idea of the supernatural creatures and world. I definitely plan to start at the beginning and read through at some point. Actually vaguely considering obtaining the other 6 and binge-reading on a weekend…this was a terrific feel-good book and I could use some more.

The plot never stagnates and I was CERTAINLY never bored. This was the main part where I felt like I was missing things, as this book focused on the werewolves and witches and only briefly mentioned the vampires (which seem to have played a bigger part in previous books). Of course Taran’s strange limb and the new magic fusing with her old starts the story off, but it’s soon overtaken by the bigger, overarching problem of a dark, wicked power rising. I liked the conflict between the weres and the witches, but I wish I understood it a little better. I’m guessing the zombies were new to this series?

Taran is a hilarious narrator. Her descriptions of her attempts at “training” with the witches had me snickering as I read. Other than that, honestly…she was pretty bitchy. I wasn’t super fond of her and found her kind of hard to relate to…her strange powers, those I could imagine. But her perfect (except for the arm, which is basically a crazy prosthetic she can’t take off) body, her constant tight dresses and platform heels…THAT I didn’t get. Same goes for her sisters, who all seem to have perky boobs, tiny waists, flat stomachs…yadda yadda. Also, there are SO MANY strapping, hot werewolf men in this book…holy bejeezus, I felt like I was constantly fanning myself! Gemini, Koda, Aric, Bren…phew. She definitely has the sex appeal of werewolves on point. 😉 Of course now I want to know ALL the stories…anyway. I absolutely despised Vieve, the witch coven’s leader. I wanted to reach through the pages and stab her with a fork.

The world-building was good but I still got confused on some things. Like I said before, I’m pretty sure this is partially because I picked up this book partway through the series. Her descriptive powers certainly lit a fire in MY imagination. Did I already mention sexy werewolves? Oh, right, I did.

Issues I had: I was kind of bothered by the fact that – in my opinion – the whole conflict between Taran and Gemini could have been solved if they had JUST SAT DOWN AND TALKED. That’s all. I kept thinking there would be something bigger revealed…but no. Just one big miscommunication that they were too scared to talk about. Besides my annoyance with Taran’s personality, I felt like she really had NO IDEA how to handle her magic, she just happened to get lucky every time it worked for her. She also never really seemed to learn anything from her time with the witches. I find it seriously hard to believe that one person could be that lucky THAT many times.

Overall, 3.5/5 stars. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series! I just downloaded the first, Sealed with a Curse, onto my Nook. 🙂

Thank you so much to Cecy Robson for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

three-half-stars

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Oct 15

Book Review: The Werewolf of Paris

Book Reviews, Books/Writing 10 ★★★

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This is my first finished read for the Halloween Read-A-Thon being hosted by the lovely Lauren at Wonderless Reviews! You can see my complete list in my first post. I picked an older book because I wanted to see some of the beginnings of modern paranormal literature.
The Werewolf of Paris was first published in 1933. The writing style is definitely of the age, but it also shows marks of the beginnings of modern day novel writing. Apparently they liked their smut in the 1930s too, they just tended to be more embarrassed about it. 😛 The first few chapters in this book made me think that maybe this was going to be more of a bodice-ripping paranormal than I was anticipating, but after the initial set-up most of that dies off. There’s only a few particularly descriptive passages.

Bertrand Caillet is the main character, but his story is mostly told by others – a young American who finds a written account of his crimes, and his adoptive uncle (the writer of the account).

The first third of the book has an entirely different flavor than the later parts. It sets up the story of Bertrand’s parents, leads us up to the full onset of his condition, and generally paints him as a sympathetic character. There is a lot of action and a decent amount of dialogue. After Bertrand’s arrival in Paris as a young man, however, the narrative devolved horribly into a dry, boring history lesson on the Franco-Prussian War – I had SO MUCH trouble staying focused!

I really struggled with how Bertrand was portrayed. As I said, at first he seems like a truly sympathetic character – his werewolf nature is in his blood, it’s not something he asked or encouraged. His uncle keeps anything he learns about it from him. He is locked up as a teenager, a prisoner in his own house. He believes his rampages are dreams. So far, so empathizing. BUT. THEN. He begins to figure it out…and he doesn’t fight against it, at least not at first. He is only conscious of his need and desire…he feels shame and sadness when he comes to himself, but he doesn’t truly seek for a cure until later. His relationship with Sophie was truly sad…all the passion of young love (though, what HER mental issues were, I never quite figured out) with so much sickness and no help at all offered to them. No one took pity, no one tried to truly understand, they just tried to force them into acceptable societal roles. 🙁

Overall, this book didn’t strike me as a horror novel, but more of a tragedy. Even reading it after dark didn’t help with that! I even took it to bed with me and read IN the dark with my backlight…yeah, not scary. I’m giving 3/5 stars. While of course there are some gruesome bits…I was mostly just overwhelmed by sadness for Bertrand, for Sophie, and for their families. Not the thriller/scary book I was hoping for.

That said, I can definitely see where this was an influential book for paranormal movies and novels in the modern world. Now I really want to delve into the history of the legends!

three-stars

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