Tag Archives: Halloween

Book Review: “Guilty Pleasures”

This week we finished up our 9th book on our reading challenge, and the last of our Halloween themed reading for October.

By the way, Happy Halloween (belated) my friends! This week has been a busy one for my family! My mom and two younger sisters came into town, suffering 12 hour drives (my mom from NY, my sisters from FL) to be with us for our favorite holiday. Our family is very Irish (only a few generations removed), and Halloween is very much part of our Druid blood! We haven’t missed a year dressing up in my 26 Halloweens! This year, my girls set the pace, choosing “Star Wars” as our theme! Check out our costumes

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Left to right we have: Mom as C3PO, Tanya at Obi Wan Kenobi, Scarlett (4) as Princess Leia, Me (Regina) as Han Solo, Karina as Darth Vader, and Annabelle (3) as Luke Skywalker. I swear this was all their idea! We’re so proud of our little nerdlings.

ANYWAY….

This weeks’ reading was Laurell K. Hamilton’s vampire “chick lit” (books for women), Guilty Pleasures. The novel follows vampire slayer Anita Blake, known to the St. Louis vampire community as The Executioner. Anita lives in a modern world (well, the 90s, when everyone still carried pagers), where vampires and all sorts of supernatural beings are part of mainstream society, protected by American law and a functioning part of the country. Anita refuses to accept that these beings are anything but evil, and seeks to destroy the vampire undercurrent in the city.

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I have mixed feelings about Hamilton’s book. I’m having a hard time writing this review, because this book was loaned to me by a very well-meaning (and well-read) friend, Katrina, who has read the entire Anita Blake series (apparently there’s dozens of these books), and I feel like if I insult is book, I’m insulting my friend. Let me say, before I start, that on the whole, I enjoyed the book, and am glad I borrowed it. I’d probably give the second in the series a chance as a way to convince me to become a fan of Hamilton’s series. I appreciated Hamilton’s imagination – there was non-stop action, and Hamilton introduces different supernatural beings I would never have considered to be part of mainstream society… besides vampires, there are were-animals (wolves and rats, to name the ones in this book), ghouls, zombies… and Anita herself is a trained “animator,” able to raise the deceased using a sort of voodoo magic. I have to praise Hamilton’s ability to suck you into the story, and Anita is a very strong female character who takes no BS and isn’t sucked into romance (a nice break from the Twilights and Sookie Stackhouses of the “vampire, fantasy chick lit” genre).

I did have a few issues with the book, if I’m being honest. The first actually relates to the “strong female character” that is Anita Blake. She’s almost too strong, in a kind of “get off your high horse” way. I found her really tough to relate to. Her internal monologue got a little old as well (she uses and re-uses a lot of cliche sayings, and I found myself rolling my eyes at the overuse of the same expressions throughout the book). I also had an issue with the amount of action. Stories generally have an ebb and flow – particularly stories that are “high action” – to give the reader (and the characters) a chance to catch their breath and process what just happened. There was really no break in Guilty Pleasures. The action was continuous, and I felt like it was a little disjointed. I found myself reading and having to stop, turn the pages back, and try to figure out what the heck was happening. It was all kind of muddled together, and there was no defined lines between “action scenes.” I felt the beginning half of the book was one big blur of action, and by the second half, Hamilton kind of got her story together, and clarified her writing style. I feel a little guilty judging an author’s writing style because, truth be told, Hamilton is a much better writer, and about 1,000 times more creative, than I could ever hope to be.

That being said, on the whole, I enjoyed Guilty Pleasures. The characters were very well developed – everyone from Anita to the cast of vampires, and even the small supporting characters of Anita’s friends, well all well defined and creative. They all felt like “real people,” that’s for sure. I have a feeling the series gets better along the way, and that Hamilton masters her craft throughout the different books. These books have a HUGE following, and there has to be a reason why. I would recommend this book to a 20-something woman looking for a quick read that she doesn’t have to invest too much brain power or energy into, simply because the pages turn quickly, the language is simple, and the story is creative enough to get you sucked in, but not leave you exhausted after reading it (think the opposite of the time consuming and exhausting Game of Thrones).

How about you? Did you read along? Have you read this book before? What are you thoughts? Am I being too harsh on Anita Blake, and Hamilton in general? Share what you felt about this book – maybe I missed something!

 

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Book Review: “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”

This week’s book, John Berendt’s historical non-fiction, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was the 8th book in our book challenge, and the first non-fiction book of the challenge! With murder, voodoo and… drag queens… Berendt’s novel was a great choice for October’s Halloween themed reading.

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Berendt’s novel is less of a “story” and more a dictation of Berendt’s years in Savannah, Georgia. Berendt narrates his own experience in the city, explaining his interactions with the various sides of Savannah society, ranging from the elite, 7th generation Savannahians, to the nouveau riche, to the outcasts of society. Set in the 1980s, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil seems a pretty outlandish story – made even more interesting by the fact that it is true!

A visitor to Savannah, Berendt is immediately swept up by Savannah’s beauty – from it’s gardens to it’s stately mansions – and decides to split his time between Savannah and his hometown, New York City. The longer Berendt spends in Savannah, the more friends he makes, and the more friends he makes, the more exposed he becomes to the underlying tensions in the city. Berendt clearly outlines the still prevalent “caste system,” that places importance not only on socioeconomic background, but on upbringing and, most importantly, race. Savannah may have lead the way in integrating in the 1960s, but it seems it was only to seem “proper” rather than “right.” The defined classes – “old blood/old money, old blood/no money, new blood/old money, new blood/new money, white middle class, white lower class, black” – are ingrained in Savannah more so than the beautiful architecture. These classes also help drive the main drama in Berendt’s novel – a shooting in a stately mansion.

Berendt spends the first half of his book introducing you to the characters. He could have left this out, and the main point of the story (the shooting and the trial) would still have been interesting, but by including such a deep explanation of the characters, Berendt really makes you feel like you are in Savannah, interacting with these people. From the shooter, Jim Williams, to local con-man, Joe Odem, to the “Grand Empress of Savannah” (drag queen) Lady Chablis, Berendt seems to have met everyone of note in Savannah, and been exposed to the various faces of the city. A lot of time and words are spent explaining and introducing characters who have no sway on the main plot line, but these words make the book much richer and much more interesting. It’s hard to believe there are such diverse and interesting people all in the same few blocks of Savannah.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is exceptionally well written! The pages turn quickly, and soon you feel like you are there, walking the beautiful streets of historic Savannah. The story is the perfect combination of drama, snobbery, humor, history and mystery. It really does have something to offer every reader. Personally, I felt the most interesting part of the story was the explanation of the revival of Savannah starting in the 1950s, and how the city was rescued and restored. I’ve always been interested in the beautiful Southern city, and now I’m determined to visit as soon as I can. Berendt tells a wonderful narrative of a typical Southern town – complete with Cotillion balls and elite, membership only organizations – and introduces the “seedy underbelly” that comes with every city – drag queens running a muck, Voodoo priestesses spreading curses. It’s almost too much to believe, but Berendt takes you there.

I really enjoyed this week’s reading. As I said, the beginning of the story was a little slow, but getting to know the characters made me feel like I was really part of the story. I hope anyone who read along with me enjoyed this book, and look forward to your thoughts on this book!

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November Reading List

Wow! We are rapidly approaching the end of October (where did the time go?!), and our Halloween reading is coming to an end. One book (Guilty Pleasures) and two reviews (Guilty Pleasures and this week’s reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) left, and then it’s time for our November reading. I figured I should probably release the list (which just got finished now) so you can pick up the books you need if you are following along! Remember, the library is a great resource (and will more than likely have all of these books), or you could more than likely find these books at a used book store and save some money!

November’s theme is the “Month of Travel.” I don’t know why I thought that up, but… we’re stuck with it. I was having a hard time making selections, but I think I put together a good list:

Nov. 3 – 9 – Letters from Amelia – Jean L. Backus

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Backus uses real letters from Amelia Earhart, the famous and doomed pilot, to piece together Earhart’s private life. I’ve always found Amelia Earhart to be an interesting subject – mostly because of the mystery surrounding her death – and thought this would be a good chance to pick up a book about her life. The book is a biography, and will be the first biography of our reading challenge.

Nov. 10 – 16 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

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This “travel” book takes place in outer space, and is a great sci-fi comedy book to add to our reading list. When you pick this one up at the library, don’t be intimidated by the size. The book is the first of a series, and has been grouped together with the subsequent books to make one gigantic volume (you might find it under The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), but we’re just reading the first part, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for this reading challenge. If you continue reading the other books, that’s great! I hope you do (and I hope I’ll get a chance to eventually, also).

Nov. 17 – 23 – Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

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I’m a little ashamed to say I’ve never read this classic novel! I’m looking forward to picking this one up … especially because my new 17th and 18th Century British Literature class requires me to read it this semester, so I’ll be knocking out two birds with one stone! I swear I had this book picked out and paid for (yay used book store $1.50) before this class opened (otherwise I wouldn’t have bought it at all because it’s in my textbook). I’m looking forward to reading this book for the first time, and discovering all about Gulliver and his travels.

Nov. 24 – 30 – The Sea Shall Embrace Them – David W. Shaw

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This book is a historical, non-fiction account of “The Tragic Story of the Steamship Arctic.” Shaw writes about the 1854 collision between two steamships, and the “harrowing events” that followed. The book came with a wonderful recommendation from my mom (thanks, Mom!), and was passed on to my husband (who needs to be really bored to read a book), so I am making good use of it and putting it into our book challenge. If my mom liked it, I know I will!

So there you have it, folks! Our reading list for November. It’s hard to imagine we’re so close to the end of 2013 already! Head out to your library and get prepared to read along!

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Week 8 Reading: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

As we move into Week 8 (sorry… day behind here, folks! It was a busy weekend!), we’re picking up John Berendt’s non-fiction book (yay! first of the challenge) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

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The story revolves around a crime that happened in Savannah society, and should prove to be both thrilling and intriguing. I’m excited to read this book. I found it in the mystery section of the used book store, and both the cover and the title made me think of the book as a good (and different) selection for our Halloween themed reading for October. The exciting part is that the book is non-fiction, and the crime in it actually happened!

I hope you are reading along with me, and if you are, I hope you’ll discuss this book with me at the end of the week!

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Book Review: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

Book seven (in as many weeks) down! In keeping with our Halloween theme for October, I took the recommendation of my friend Shannon (hey, Shannon!) and picked up Seth Grahame-Smith’s mock biography, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

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What a fun book! Grahame-Smith introduces us to the “secret” journals of the late great president – journals that catalog Lincoln’s hidden life as a vampire hunter. Grahame-Smith uses real experiences in Lincoln’s life (a multitude of deaths and disappointments) to support the fake plot line, where Lincoln seeks to avenge his loved ones by ridding America of vampires.

The vampire slaying was funny… and very bloody. It was interesting and exciting, but the best part of the books were the real excerpts and letters from Abraham Lincoln himself. Everyone knows the man was a genius, but not everyone knows what a beautiful man he was. Lincoln’s words about his first love, his losses, his children… they introduce us to the man behind the iconic photos and statue in Washington D.C., making us fall in love with the great man, and appreciate his struggles all the more. He was a passionate man who grappled with a rough life and bouts of severe depression, and parts of his journal brought me to tears. These words were, of course, balanced out by the dark humor of Grahame-Smith’s vampire-slaying-plot, which bordered at times on ridiculous

I enjoyed the book mostly for the truth and history it told. I learned a lot about Abraham Lincoln, and have been inspired to learn more about the man. This book would be a great one to introduce to a teenage boy (or man/boy) who doesn’t like to read “boring historical fiction.” It introduces just enough excitement to keep a reader engaged, and teaches a lot of history about a man who lived an exciting life, as well as a very important time in American history. The “hard part” (that isn’t really that hard) is separating the vampire plot from the history (again… not that hard). I did like the ending of Grahame-Smith’s novel MUCH more than the real ending of Lincoln’s story.

I’m happy I read this book! It was a fun break from the more serious books in my challenge so far, and I actually learned more than I expected to.

So what about you? If you read along, or read it in the past, did you like it?

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The Cover for Ransom Rigg’s “Hollow City” Has Been Revealed!

In keeping with our Halloween theme for October, a friend of mine recommended reading Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. My schedule had already been flushed out by that time, although Allison’s recommendations are always appreciated (she is my go-to book guru)… instead I’ll share a post from her blog about the new book cover for Rigg’s newest book, Hollow City.
Check out the post at Well Read Reviews.

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Reading Allison’s review for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children makes me really want to read the book! Check out Allison’s blog Well Read Reviews … my favorite book blog!!

Have you read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? What do you think of the spooky book cover?

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Book Review: “The Mist”

This week was a doozy for me! Monday started the final week of my semester (which is 16 weeks of school shoved into 8 weeks of time), and I had to complete the final exams and essays for these three classes. My Sociology class had me doing a final exam that had 7 “short essay” questions, my Astronomy final forced me to do algebra (which is one of my biggest weaknesses!), and my English class saw me spend all week writing a 20-page paper analyzing Sophocles’ play Antigone. I feel super accomplished that I got it all done today – one day ahead of time – but these assignments took up the bulk of my week. I was up until about midnight last night trying to make my way through the last 100 pages of Stephen King’s “The Mist” so I could post my review today, and stay on track with my “one book per week” challenge.

Now that I’m done complaining…

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“The Mist” is a survival story of people facing supernatural forces that are bent on not only destruction, but mass extinction of the human race. The story begins following a man – David – as he heads to the local grocery store of his small town in Maine after a huge summer storm. David and his son Billy arrive in the store just with a huge, eerie fog comes rolling into town – a fog that isn’t really a fog at all. David, Billy and about 70 townspeople get locked down in the store, and fight for survival as unnatural forces (tentacled monsters, prehistoric bugs and birds) come out of the mist and kill everyone they come into contact with. David fights to save his five-year-old son, and has to try to figure out how to get away when going outside means certain death.

I might be jaded from obsessively watching the (much better) survival story “The Walking Dead,” but I found “The Mist” to be disjointed, boring and a little confusing. The pages turned quickly, but I never felt there was really a climax to the story, and the everlasting “tension” wasn’t really all that exciting. I felt the lack of excitement was hidden behind lots of foul language and bloody violence. I didn’t think the story was scary at any point, and the lack of a solid ending enraged me (seriously – it’s such a cop out to just leave the ending wide open for the reader’s interpretation like that). Sorry, Mr. King, but I just feel like this book was a waste of my time, and not a very good introduction to Stephen King books.

The whole time I was reading the book, I kept thinking King was just pulling ideas out of a hat and adding them into his story. First it’s the scary mist that is intimidating – then suddenly it’s an octopus? That’s where my “suspended belief” turned into eye rolling, and from then on the creatures coming out of the mist were laughable rather than terrifying. King did a great job with the characterization of the different people in his book – they felt very human and multidimensional, but most of them weren’t very likable. At the end of the book, I should have been worrying about their fates – instead I was just glad it was over.

Well… there had to be a time when I didn’t enjoy the chosen reading, and this was the week. My apologies to the Stephen King fans out there, but I’m not impressed. Maybe one day when I have the time I’ll pick up one of his more celebrated novels, but for now, King will have to wait. Hopefully the other books in our Halloween theme for October will get me more into the Halloween spirit!

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On this day in history…

On this day in 1849, Edgar Allan Poe died in a Baltimore hospital at the age of 40. Poe is one of my favorite authors, and I find it absolutely fitting to celebrate his life (and death) as part of our Halloween theme for October.

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Poe is the master of dark stories, and has been captivating audiences for over 150 years. The master of mystery and macabre, Poe’s stories have shocked and horrified us, as well as touched our hearts and minds. Poe has played a huge part in my life! Reading his poetry and short stories in my American Literature class in high school encouraged me to pursue my love for literature in getting my degree in English. My second child (who is 3 now) was named after my favorite poem by Poe, “Anabel Lee” (except we spell her name Annabelle Leigh). Poe played an influential part in the Romantic Movement here in America, and is recognized as one of the greatest American writers.

Today I ask you to honor Poe’s life by reading one of his short stories or poems. I’d recommend either “The Raven,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” or “The Cask of Amontillado.” These works will help get you into the Halloween mood, and allow us to celebrate Poe’s life (and death) in the way that would make him happiest.

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Book 6: Stephen King’s “The Mist”

Keeping with our Halloween theme for October reading, the sixth book on our reading challenge is Stephen King’s The Mist.

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This will be my first Stephen King novel, and I’m really excited! I feel like I’m joining some kind of awesome reader club or hitting a major literary milestone by reading my first King book. I chose The Mist specifically because: 1) it was the cheapest King book at the used book store ($2.25?! SCORE!), and; 2) it was the only King novel at the store that I haven’t seen the accompanying movie yet. This is exciting for me because now I get the thrill ride of an untainted reading experience, and then I get to enjoy seeing the movie.

I don’t think my Halloween reading list could be complete without a thriller from Stephen King, and I’m excited to get underway! I hope you’ll pick up this book and join me for an exciting read!

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Book Review: Frankenstein

Happy October! Halloween is my favorite holiday (hands down), and in my house, the entire month of October is dedicated to the big day. So it goes without saying that my book choice would reflect my love for Halloween! This week’s book was a classic horror novel that has inspired multiple movies and thousands of nightmares – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

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I’ll be honest, I was not expecting the story I read!! I’ve only ever seen the movie (the 1931 classic) and let me tell you – Shelley’s story is completely different. Shelley’s novel is told through the point of view of three men – a sea captain, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature. The sea captain, traveling through the arctic, stumbles upon a freezing and starving Frankenstein, and listens to the terrific story Frankenstein tells him – one of creation, destruction, love and horror. Frankenstein tells of his upbringing – the eldest son in a happy household, Frankenstein is deeply struck by the death of his mother. His passion for science becomes more and more inspired as he grows older, and Frankenstein eventually moves away from home to pursue his studies. Frankenstein goes on the mad mission of creating life – something he succeeds at. His success, however, is muddled by the horrors the creature causes in his life, and Frankenstein’s greatest achievement becomes his downfall.

The most shocking part of the story is the creature – Frankenstein’s monster. Shelley’s character is like a baby born into a grown body, and develops through his “infancy” and “adolescence” without the guidance of a parent. This, coupled with his frightening appearance, causes the creature to receive the worst of human traits, and contributes to him being angry at the world – especially his creator. The creature looks to Frankenstein to help him in his solitude, but Frankenstein sees only a monster needing destruction. The creature, embittered by his mistreatment by the one person who should love him, returns the favor and destroys Frankenstein’s life from the inside out.

Shelley’s story is filled with classic Romantic Era themes – the importance of childhood (both Frankenstein’s and his creature’s), man’s struggle with God (seen in Frankenstein seeking to become “Creator”), man’s constant struggle with self (seen in both characters’ desires to change themselves), and the everlasting debate between science and nature. Frankenstein shows the innate struggle between man trying to overcome Nature, while at the same time relying on Nature for solace. Frankenstein seeks to overcome Nature and God by creating life, and creates something completely unnatural. Yet, whenever Frankenstein needs to seek some kind of happiness, he looks to Nature as a way of healing his broken soul. One of my favorite passages in the novel was when Frankenstein is recovering after being rescued by the sea captain, and the captain observes

Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit, that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures” (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein)

The real theme in the story, however, is the true nature of man – every man can be a monster. While learning the history of Europe, the creature learns of the crimes of humanity. Having struggled with his identity and definition, the creature realizes that all men are monsters, and so aptly sums it up, saying

Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base? (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein)

This felt to me a true turning point. Shelley recognizes the duality of man, and comments on how all men have the capacity to be a monster. The monster was defined as such because of the way he looked, when in reality he was innocent of any crimes. By identifying himself as other men would identify him – as a monster – his belief becomes a self fulfilling prophesy, and the creature fills his role as a monster.

I found Shelley’s story insightful and terrifying – but not because of the creature. Shelley’s commentary on the true nature of mankind was very realistic and very disheartening. We define ourselves and others based of their appearance – fat, thin, beautiful, ugly, black, white, or “monster” – but do not look truthfully at ourselves. The truth of the story, of course, is that Frankenstein was the monster, while his creature was simply the unfortunate byproduct of Frankenstein’s hubris (overwhelming pride). Frankenstein is the classic “tragic hero” – exalted by his abilities, and destructed by his pride.

I greatly enjoyed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and I think it was an excellent choice to kick off our Halloween Theme for October reading! I hope you’ll consider picking it up during the month to get into the Halloween theme. Now it’s time to find what movie adaptation that Shelley would recognize!

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