Friday, October 31, 2014

The Old World Stories

The All Hallow's Read website has their own section for book recommendations so I thought I would contribute.

The post is about classic creepy novels.  Those books written in another time and in a language we're not used to hearing or speaking anymore.

The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James

A woman takes a job as a governess to two children on a lonely countryside estate.  She soon finds herself bearing witness to ghostly figures that roam the house and gardens, searching for the children under her care.  

This book is a short one but goodness, every word is designed to terrify you.  I made the mistake of reading it in one sitting during a winter night.  The house creaked a lot with the cold and someone kept getting up to use the washroom.  A nightmare of a night. This novel is such a delight not just because it terrifies with its suggestions but also because it allows for each reader to experience it differently.  The novel is ambiguous so readers are informed by the main character and their own feelings about what they read.  Henry James...turning you into your own worst enemy since 1898.

The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins

On a midnight stroll on the grounds of a great house, Walter Hartright meets her.  A woman dressed head to toe in white.  What follows is a story of betrayal, mistaken identity, amnesia and crime and of a man with a taste for white mice.

I read this for a class during my time as an undergrad at University.  I think I may have been one of the few that got through it.  It is definitely not a book for everyone. It is long and descriptive, and it  takes its time getting to the good stuff but when it all comes together? It's worth the wait.  This story has mystery and atmosphere and gothic horror.  The last half of the book will leave you screaming.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr. Jekyll, a good man, creates a potion that allows another darker nature to come through.  It's name is Mr. Hyde.

What is so scary about this book is the suggestion that each human being has both good and evil inside them.  The dual personality in one body that struggles for dominance (i.e. Jekyll & Hyde).  Despite knowing the story already, watching the events unfold was interesting.  And Stevenson is a fantastic writer because he filled this short book with subtle complexity.

The Illustrated Man
by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man is a wanderer whose entire body is covered in pictures and each one is alive. Each one tells a story.

Ray Bradbury is an amazing writer.  Reading Fahrenheit 451 as a teenager, I laughed at the idea of flat wall to wall televisions.  Look what we have now. He had a knack for seeing the possibilities in fear and anxiety and that is why his writing is timeless. This collection of stories ranges from fantasy to horror to science fiction. I dare anyone to read The Veldt and say they were not scared by the end of it.

The Best of H.P. Lovecraft
by H.P. Lovecraft

A collection of 16 short and terrifying stories.

Everyone always recommends Mr. Lovecraft and after reading this collection of short stories, I know why.  He knew how to write a story that started out creepy and then got creepier until you were so scared that sleeping was no longer an option.  I dare anyone to turn off the lights after reading The Rats in the Walls.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Name's John Constantine

Constantine premiered last Friday, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Definitely better than Gotham, which was a bit boring in the first episode? I'm finding it hard to go back to.

Anyway,  I have decided to make a short reading list for those of you who want to give the comics a try and do not know where to start.  While the show is different, reading the source material can't hurt.  And you never know, you just might find a new series to get hooked on.
There's more than what I have listed, but I did not want to overwhelm new readers.  If you make it through the above and are looking for more, then there's a pretty good list over at wikipedia.

And with the New 52 reboot, Hellblazer became Constantine.  There are fewer volumes with the new series.

I do recommend these comics for an older teen reader (i.e. 17 years of age) as there may be content that's a little too scary or strange or violent for a younger reader.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just the Sorrow, Thanks.

House of Ivy and Sorrow
by Natalie Whipple

On a day just like any other, a stranger appears at the ivy covered gate.  The stranger brings with him a darkness that Jo has never seen before. It is then she realizes that the curse that killed her mother is now coming for her.  But the more Jo and her grandmother find out about the curse and the person pursuing them, the less things make sense.  They need to figure out how they can fight back or else the Hemlock bloodline ends with them.

If you have skipped ahead and taken a look at the one star I gave this novel then you know that I did not enjoy it.  Goodness.  Let's start out with the positive.  The ideas in this novel were really interesting.

  • Magic is always dark and it takes the strength of character to stay good.
  • Magic has a price.  Always.  Be it flesh or tooth or hair or blood.
  • Places as part of the magical equation.
  • Only women can be witches.
  • The witch lore and writing of histories.
In books, television and movies there has always been good magic and then dark magic. A clear divide that lets us know where the line has been drawn.  To say that all magic is dark makes things so much more intriguing and it raises the stakes in the novel for characters. Also, that magic requires payment from the person involved in the spell makes it painful and a lot more than reading a super secret language from an old book.  However, good ideas can only take you so far.  This book was full of them, but they were not executed well and they did not reach their full potential.

Now onto the major points of the novel that quickly destroyed any enjoyment of this book that I could have had.

To start with, the characters were wooden and stiff.  None of them had individual voices that made them stand out.  They were all just puppets that spoke when they needed to for the main character.  Speaking of the main character, I could not connect with her at all.  She seemed to switch from powerful and adult sorceress to vapid teenager.  There did not seem to be consistency there.

Next, the romance.  I was nonplussed by it.  Their story was not written in a way that made me feel invested in their relationship. If anything, Jo and Winn did not make sense.  There was no build-up.  Also, I got the sense that there might have been a love triangle going on? But it was so forced that I do not know why it was included.  Honestly, the reader knows from the beginning that the other guy does not stand a chance.  So, what was the point of having it?

The villain of the story? Forgettable.  They did not have a presence strong enough to make me scared or fearful for the characters.  This leads me to the resolution of the conflict, it was too easy.  Everything was always too simple and it all worked out too well.  The situation involving her friends, especially.  How they were so accepting and ready to offer up painful payments for spells when they had just been introduced to witchcraft five minutes ago.

It was a disappointing read.  The sad thing is that the first few pages of the first chapter had me..  I think if the writer had slowed down, fattened it up in parts and worked on the characters and the dialogue, then this could have been a better book.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Keepin' You Hangin': Gwen Stacy

This just in! It seems that the Gwen Stacy as Spider Woman issue I mentioned a few weeks ago is being turned into an ongoing series.  That's the information coming from  New York Comic Con attendee Huw Parry , who works over at Talking Comics.

This is exciting news and I hope it keeps being true.  As a girl who grew up watching the Spider Man TV series on the Fox network, this is so incredible.  More female characters in comics taking the lead is what I have been yearning for.

~*Under the Sea*~

Dolphin SOS
written by Roy & Slavia Miki
& illustrated by Julie Flett

Off the coast of Newfoundland, a town wakes up to the urgent cries of three dolphins trapped in the ice.

Two things were disappointing about this picture book.

1. It lacked the diversity I hoped for.  I wanted the main character to be part of the First Nations peoples and was sad to see she was blonde and blue eyed.  My question is why not someone from First Nations?

2. The text lacked the flow I am used to seeing in other picture books.  Reading it aloud felt stilted.  The writing simply didn't inspire an interesting reading experience.

3. The art was cold and uninviting.  It did not pull you in.

What I do love about this book is its story and the information at the end of the book.  I think the story about a community stepping in to do the right thing is so lovely and touching.  It sounds cheesy but it is true.

The end of the book also gives readers information on the true event that the book is based on and on the type of dolphin presented in the story.  I think that extra bit of information could be fun to share with a child. It could lead to them wanting picture books on marine animals.

The Storm Whale
written and illustrated by Benji Davies

Noi is a lonely boy who lives by the sea with his father.  That is until a small whale washes up on shore.

While this one is not based on a true story, I adored it.  It had a great flow in its writing and each line made you smile.  The art is smooth and cute and the colours are lovely.  I also like the interaction between the art and the story.  The artwork adds to the story instead of just retelling it, which I feel enriches the entire reading experience.

The story itself is sweet.  Noi is lonely despite his six cats.  His father is a fisherman that works for many hours each day.  The whale that Noi saves becomes his friend and because of this new friendship, the father learns something about his son and their relationship becomes much stronger.  Overall, just a very nice book.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Diversity in Books

I follow a lot of blogs about young adult books to keep up with what is happening. Today, I stumbled upon a really cool chart about diversity in YA.    These are just some of the titles that show various social issues, relationships, races, cultures and emotions that can be found in the genre.

But this doesn't mean that it is perfect. Of course not. The amount of books that don't touch the above outnumber the titles that do.  This is simply unacceptable.  Our lives are full of different experiences and people and the stories we read should reflect that reality.

And while the chart only mentions contemporary YA fiction, diversity is needed in every genre and subgenre. Not just in young adult books but also in adult romance novels, science fiction, horror, fantasy and nonfiction.  Think about it.

This amazing chart is made by 16-year-old Summer Khaleq.  Check her out at her blog over here:  MissFictional’s World of YA Books.  Also read her post over at the YALSA Blog.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

All Hallows Eve + Reading

There is something in the air, something...spooky.  It's October!  If there is one thing I love about the 10th month of the year it is that it is full of strange and scary things.  It's the only time of year that I have an excuse to repeatedly watch Hocus Pocus and those specials about fictional monsters on the History channel.  I mean...where else are you going to learn that decomposing bodies pass gas? That's hilarious.

Anyway, this year in terms of books, Neil Gaiman is promoting a little thing called All Hallow's Read.  To be put simply, it's about buying scary and spine tingling books or comics for other human beings.  They could be young or old.  They could be your favorite person or your least favorite person. What is important is that you spread the terror of reading spooky stuff.  This isn't an event that requires you to be random. Keep the lucky people in mind and pick items that suit them.

Check out the website for book recommendations. If you have any questions and don't know where to start with this, they have this really informative FAQ section.  Spread the word!

I have also included a video below of Mr. Gaiman talking about All Hallow's Read.