Tag Archives: October

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 7: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

In keeping with our Halloween theme for our October reading, this week’s reading is a “biography” about one of the greatest American presidents … who also happened to be on a secret mission to rid America of vampires. Seth Grahame-Smith’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” gives us our first “comedy” book (although I’m pretty sure it’s a dark comedy) of our book challenge.

All a reader has to do is look at the cover art to know this is going to be a fun week of reading:

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Classic, famous image of Mr. Lincoln… splattered with blood and… what’s that behind his back?

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Ah…. looks like someone’s been busy.

Hopefully this will prove to be a fun book to lift us out of the drudgery of last week’s reading! I’ve been anxious to throw something less serious into our book selection, and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” should be the perfect way to put us into the Halloween Spirit, but not give us nightmares!

So get to the library or used book store, or download the ebook, and let’s get reading!

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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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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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October Reading

The end of September is rapidly approaching, and with it the first month of my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge is coming to a close! It’s hard to imagine that: 1) I’ve actually kept up with my schedule so far; and 2) It’s almost Halloween!! Cannot wait!

Speaking of Halloween, the holiday was the inspiration for the book selection for October. That’s right – October’s theme is “Halloween” (surprise surprise)! Now, I didn’t want to just pick horror novels, so I dug deep (and asked for inspiration from some great friends) and came up with a list of books I’m happy with. So, without further ado, here is October’s book selection!

Sept. 29 – Oct 5. – Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

  • This novel is a good crossover between September’s “Movie/TV” theme, and October’s “Halloween” theme. Shelley’s classic horror novel has been adapted into dozens of different movies, and her monster has been played by everyone from Boris Karloff to Robert De Niro. In 2014, Aaron Eckhart will don the bolts in “I, Frankenstein” (the verdict is still out on that one…). What better way to start off our Halloween month than with the real story?!

Oct. 6 – Oct 12The Mist – Steven King

  • Here comes a really embarrassing admission: I have never read a Steven King book before. Not once. I’ve seen plenty of the movies (I love horror films), but never picked up one of his books! I should probably be rewarded for this feat considering that it’s almost impossible to avoid his book with how many he’s written, but… it’s just never happened for me (my mother is probably gasping in horror at this point because I know she encouraged me to read The Stand at different points in my life… sorry, Mom). Why did I choose The Mist? Well, if I’m being honest, it was the only one at the used book store that I hadn’t seen the movie adaptation for, and I was anxious for a new scary story!

Oct. 13 – Oct. 19Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith

  • Well, we finally have our first comedy book on our list! This “biographical horror story” tells about Abraham Lincoln’s secret life as a vampire hunter! Did you know he not only created great social change in America, but also rid our country of vampires? Join me in reading all about his heroic life! This should be a good break from the horror novels, and bring some “light” to our Halloween theme! This book was  a recommendation from a friend (thanks Shannon!!!), and I can’t wait to give it a shot!

Oct. 20 – 26 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt

  • This book is our first non-fiction on our list, as well as our first mystery story. It tells about a group of society ladies in Georgia who are somehow connected to a shooting that is being investigated … but is it murder or self defense? To be honest, I wouldn’t have picked up this book if it weren’t $2.50 at the used book store (and the lovely cover art and intriguing title helped, too). I’m not much into non-fiction or mystery, but I have been surprised before!

Oct. 27 – Nov. 2 – Guilty Pleasures – Laurell K. Hamilton

  • I’m always excited for recommendations from friends, and this was the first book my wonderful friend Katrina handed me when I told her about my book challenge idea. Guilty Pleasures is the first in a series of books called “Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter Novels” and revolves around the heroine’s attempts to rid the world of vampires – in a time when vampires are protected by the law. I always love a strong female lead. Apparently there are some strong sexual undercurrents in this novel. To be honest, I was thinking about incorporating one of the Sookie Stackhouse (“True Blood”) novels into this challenge, but Katrina’s recommendation that I give Anita Blake a chance won me over. I’m sure the title give enough of an idea what kind of “smut” to expect.

So there you have it, folks. My carefully prepared list of “Halloween” themed books for the month of October. I hope this gives you enough time to get to the library, find the ebook, hit up the used book store, or find a friend who can loan them out to you! I can’t wait to read these books with you, and start getting into the Halloween spirit!

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