Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

by Ray Bradbury

The title is a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and is a line uttered by one of the witches referring to the approach of Macbeth.  So we are warned right of the bat that this isn’t some sweet nostalgic tale, like Dandelion Wine.  I cannot believe that I have never read this classic 1962 Ray Bradbury story as I started reading Bradbury when I was a child.  I absolutely loved it.

James Nightshade and William Halloway, two 13 year old boys, are enjoying a beautiful autumn day a week before Halloween when they run into a lightening rod salesman who tells them a storm is coming and then hear mysterious calliope music - maybe - maybe not.  Mysteriously, in the middle of the night, a carnival appears on the outskirts of town called Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.  The towns people, and especially the two boys, are drawn to the carnival with its maze of mirrors, freaks and carousel.  Jim is especially drawn to the carnival and the carnival seems to have a special interest in him. But all is not fun and games with this carnival and as towns folk start to disappear or appear markedly changed by their visit to the carnival, it is up to Will, with the help of his dad, to save Jim and the town from the evil carnival.

I said it once, I will say it again - I absolutely loved this story.  The writing was superb creating a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, a suspenseful and twisted plot and amazingly memorable characters.  I will never look at a carousel the same again.  It was so ominous when Mr. Dark, who is covered with tattoos of people bound to the carnival, suddenly has tattoos of Jim and Will on his body. The Dust Witches’ pursuit of Jim and Will is terrifying.  And the ending was exciting and heart warming.

I am not usually fond of books that hit you over the head with strong messages but this is a classic allegory about the struggle between good and evil.  And I loved its message that darkness is in us all but it is also within ourselves to defeat the darkness.

The Night Circus has been compared to Something Wicked This Way Comes but I must say I didn’t find much in common with the Night Circus.  Something Wicked is incredibly well written with a wonderful plot, rich compelling characters and the carnival is truly malevolent.  The Night Circus was visually stunning but the Circus itself was magical and wonderful, not malevolent, and the story certainly did not tell a tale of good versus evil.  I highly recommend that you read Something Wicked This Way Comes!                 

Monday, October 29, 2012


by Daphne Du Maurier

I saw the old Hitchcock movie years ago but had never read the novel.  When audible was having a classics sale and I saw this, I thought it would be perfect for RIP and I was right. 

I love the opening line: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again".  Right from the start the book grabs you with the depiction of Manderley, the legendary estate in England, now depicted as deserted with the forest slowly making its advance on the house.  I just love atmospheric stories about houses and Manderley was the main character in this story as far as I was concerned. 

Luckily it had been so long since I saw the movie that I didn’t really remember the plot - and apparently the end is different in the movie.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but for me the plot was not as important as the atmosphere and the characters.  The story is told from the point of view of the second Mrs. De Winters who meets the widowed Mr. De Winter in Monte Carlo, quickly get married and return to Manderley.  The new Mrs. De Winters (who is never actually named in the novel) is young and inexperienced and the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who had been devoted to the first Mrs. De Winter, Rebecca, makes life difficult for the new Mrs. De Winters.  Although never actually part of the current plot, the deceased Rebecca is nevertheless an essential character in this drama, always overshadowing everything that happens at Manderley.  And Mrs. Danvers is one of the creepiest characters you could ever want to meet.

I also enjoyed the style of the book told from the perspective of the narrator, the new Mrs. De Winters.  It took the unreliable narrator technique further than usual as it is not only told from the narrator's point of view but includes a lot of the narrator simply imagining people and events.  Indeed in at least the first half, if not first two thirds, almost all the reader's knowledge of Rebecca comes from the narrator (the new Mrs. De Winters) imagining what she looked like, said or did.  There are long passages recounting events at Manderley that I had to keep reminding my self were being related as the narrator's imaginings and not based on any actual knowledge of the narrator.  It increased the suspense and tension in the story as I was almost always suspicious of the accuracy of what the narrator related.      

As for the new Mrs. De Winters, at first I was just exasperated with her and wanted to give her a good shake - for goodness sake, stand up for yourself for once!  And then when the great revelation is made, her reaction totally puzzled me.  But perhaps I am looking at this from too much of a modern perspective and could not identify with her.  And clearly the new Mrs. De Winters, who doesn’t even merit a name, is intended to contrast with the strong willed, all powerful (even in death) Rebecca.  And Mr. De Winter, or Maxim, for such a central character also seemed somewhat of a wet noodle to me being pushed and pulled by circumstances and of course Rebecca. 

Nonetheless, I loved this creepy, atmospheric gothic tale and highly recommend it.  I listened it as an audio book and while the narrator’s, Anna Massay's, distinct accent and clipped way of speaking took me a bit to get used to, I thought it ultimately fit the new Mrs. De Winter perfectly.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Reckoning

by Alma Katsu

This is Book Two of the Taker Trilogy, and as most middle books of trilogies, I wasn’t that enamored of it. Of course the middle book of a trilogy has a very hard job to do.  It must wrap up the cliff hanger of the first book and move the plot along a little before leaving us with another cliff hanger for the last book.   I was trying to think of any middle books of trilogies that I really enjoyed and couldn’t come up with any.  The Lord of the Rings came to mind but that was written as a single book by Tolkien and subsequently chopped up by publishers.  So suffice it to say I am not a big fan of trilogies. 

Nevertheless, it did its job as a middle book and as I really enjoyed the first book in the trilogy, The Taker, I will doubtlessly keep reading with Book Three, the Descent when it comes out.  So let me start at the beginning.

The Taker opens in the present when a very young women, Lanny, suspected of murder, is brought in by the police to an ER for evaluation.  Instead, the doctor, amazed by her story and evident healing abilities, helps her escape.  From there the “young” girl’s story, which begins at the turn of the 19th century, unfolds.  I don’t want to give too much away, but ultimately our heroine runs away from her family and childhood love, Jonathan, in rural Maine and falls into the clutches of the mysterious Adair in Boston.  Adair apparently holds the secret to immortality and has gathered about him an interesting entourage over the centuries which he rules with an iron fist (and some imaginative torture devices).  I had expected vampires but instead this group’s immortality rests squarely with the talent of Adair and his alchemical skills.  Book One Ends with a cliff hanger as Lanny is able to escape from Adair.

While this is certainly a book about obsessive love, what I enjoyed most about it was the fascinating characters, especially Adair, and the twisted plot.  The characters were rich and interesting and I especially loved the story of Adair’s study of alchemy over the centuries.  The book is dark and horrifying without resorting to trite supernatural elements and I could not put it down.       

The Reckoning is primarily about Adair’s pursuit of Lanny.  One thing I loved about this book was Adair’s reaction and adaptation to two hundred years of technological changes, I thought it was an interesting commentary about our current world.  And I also enjoyed learning more about Adair’s past, the back story of some more of his “family” and the implications of living for a very very long time.  While Book Two didn’t wow me like Book One did, I still enjoyed it and look forward to Book Three. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

This is one of those books that had been the subject of so much buzz last year when it came out that I debated whether or not to read it.  It got lots of rave reviews in last years RIP so I decided to give it a try. 

Here is the blurb from the publisher:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.  
This is a very visual book and I absolutely loved the Night Circus itself.  This is not the typical Barnum and Baily Circus with scary clowns, sad elephants, greasy popcorn and garish tents. 
More than a circus, really, like no circus anyone has ever seen. Not a single large tent but a multitude of tents, each with a particular exhibition. No elephants or clowns. No, something more refined than that. Nothing commonplace. This will be different, this will be an utterly unique experience, a feast for the senses. Theatrics sans theater, an immersive entertainment. We will destroy the presumptions and preconceived notions of what a circus is and make it something else entirely, something new.
And it certainly was something new, some type of circus that I had never encountered before.  The black and white color scheme, the amazing clock, the bonfire, the ice garden, the cloud maze, color changing dresses, the pool of tears, the wishing tree, the red scarved Reveurs all were simply magical. And the descriptions of the Circus were so richly detailed that I could almost smell the cider and taste the chocolate mice.  If the Night Circus were to exist, I would absolutely attend, perhaps even become a Reveur.  I would love to see it in a movie with all the possible special effects. 

The author did an amazing job of creating such  rich imagery of the circus with words.  
The face of the clock becomes a darker grey, and then black, with twinkling stars where the numbers had been previously. The body of the clock, which has been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is now entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower that paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played.
I want to see that clock!  And if you do a quick search on the internet you can find the most amazing arts and crafts that were inspired by the Night Circus. 

But, as a novel, it didn’t work for me.  The plot seemed a half-hearted, at best, attempt. I know some will say that the plot wasn’t important but if you are going to try and have a plot, I think you should do it well.  And I am not one that needs a plot driven story.  (One of my favorite books is Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which has no plot.)  The story was supposedly about a fierce competition or duel between two magicians and their love story.  The love story didn’t work at all (I have no idea why Celia was even interested, much less in love with Marco) and the competition was mostly absent from the story line for most of the book.  And when it came to the fore of the story and I started to become interested in the contest itself, perhaps its origins, its purpose or even its creators, or even some of that “fierce competition”, that plot line just withered away.  The competition story line had so much potential and it was more or less ignored.  Moreover, the characters fell flat for me.  The only character that I found interesting was Bailey but as he played a relatively small role he was not enough to carry the entire story. 

If someone actually creates the Circus or it is made into a movie, or perhaps even a Disney attraction, I would go.  As far as a written work, it simply didn't work for me.