Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Other books on my upcoming list are:
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner - a young adult fantasy fiction
Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
And a November 1952 copy of American Home Magazine.
I'm also watching Hamish MacBeth, a BBC TV series made from a series of novels. I liked the novels a lot, the TV show not so much - at least the first episode.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Aren't those just the cutest little ghosts?
This is the back cover of the book, since the front is text only.
Danton Walker was an old fashioned gossip columnist, man about town and bon vivant. Officially, his beat was Broadway but he did not limit himself.
Danton Walker was also a man who believed in ghosts. That is how his book Spooks Deluxe begins. He proclaims his belief in ghosts and scoffs at those ghost book authors who show doubts.
He met a lot of interesting people in his hob-nobbing nighclub-hopping social whirl, and he asked many of them if they had any ghost stories to share. Many of them did, including Burl Ives, Mae West, Ida Lupino, Walter Pidgeon and a bunch of people I've never heard of that must have been minor celebrities of the 1950s.
I was happy to see James Reynolds, a favorite author/artist of mine mentioned in the book. Apparently he was also a stage designer for the Metropolitan Opera house and tells a tale about a woman who goes to see the opera. Her friend had planned to go but had to cancel at the last minute. So the friend's ticket is sold back to the box office, and a terribly rude woman takes her seat. She calls out rude comments to the singers, makes lots of noise with her program, and worst of all, elbows her poor seatmate in the ribs. When the woman complains at intermission they tell her there was no one in the seat! The ghost is said to be the wife of a former opera director who used to carry on like that when she was alive.
Mae West gives a long description of her interest in spiritualism and relays several ghost stories that happened to her family.
Most of the stories are quite short. Some are sad, some are funny and some are not that interesting. The biggest charm of this book is the glimpse it gives into New York society life in the 1950s. Danton Walker was a very breezy and engaging writer and I got the feeling that he genuinely liked and was interested in the people he wrote about, dead or alive.
Spooks Deluxe was published in the UK as That Ghost I Saw and republished in the US in 1969 as I Believe In Ghosts
Monday, May 26, 2008
This book brings to mind a word that I hate to use. It's one of those words that I aways see in book or movie reviews and gag a little bit and turn away. And I liked this book! Yet when I turn this book over in my head, that is the word that keeps popping out. The word is heartwarming.
This is the story of a little girl with a few mysteries in her family. Her father is gone - still alive but never came back from the war after WW2. She lives with her mother's family, who really hate her dad and don't want her to talk to any of his relatives.
It's not exactly hard to guess that Willa Mae's dad comes back and eventually takes her to live with him. They go to a city and even though she enjoys part of it and likes to help her dad with his business, she misses her family and school.
Mostly I enjoyed the descriptions of rural life in the 40s, cooking big Sunday dinners, deciding whether or not to get hooked up to the new electricity coming their way, decorating the graveyard on memorial day, sewing dresses, going to the general store. The author grew up in the time period and are she writes about and does a great job of conveying the atmosphere.
There are differences in the families, for instance her mother's family are very religious teetotalers and her father's family likes a little homemade wine with their meals. I kept expecting some big pivotal fight about this but none came.
I would recommend this book to the younger end of the young adult reading spectrum and to adults who want a quick enjoyable happy read. I think it would also be a good movie.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
This is not a book, it's just a page of first person accounts sent into Strange Magazine. They are short tales of the unusual, not investigated or anything, just in their raw first person form.
I found them fascinating, and they really stimulated my imagination. I liked the emotional intensity of the giant shrimp story. Wow, creepy.
The Wreath and the Wraith was mysterious and scary. I would like to know much more about both of these accounts. They are both written by elderly women and happened a long time ago when the women were young. It seems like they were too freaked out to investigate further at the time and have not been able to get the experiences out of their heads. I know if either of these things had happened to me I would think of them often. Even if I just dreamed either of these they would haunt my life.
The other story that resonated with me was This One Will Grow on You, the story of a Mojave Desert mushroom that grows on people. I did used to live not far from where this story takes place and I 'm glad I never encountered that mushroom.
The rest of the stories are less remarkable, but still interesting - a man with Pterodactyl wings (sounds like Mothman), mysterious nocturnal bites, Bigfoot in the desert, ghostly wolves and the standard I moved into a house with a ghost story. The whole thing is a quick read.
I'm enjoying reading rest of
strangemag.com, which I guess is the free part of Strange Magazine online.
Friday, May 23, 2008
That is, I start to transcribe, and then I find that I actually don't even look at the notes once I get going, I just write it. It usually comes out better than the notes. The first draft is really a rehearsal.
I'm thinking of going to a cafe to write, or just to sit outside somewhere now that the weather is warm.
Writing does get easier when you do it more often and make it a habit, kind of like going to the gym is now a habit for me.
I also joined this group through another blog called Fess Up Friday where you write about what you wrote that week. It's just kind of nice to know there are other writers out there struggling with the same things. So I will see how it goes.
My goal is to write in this blog and in my art blog every day this week.
I've wanted to start a book review blog for a long time. In fact I had written a bunch of book reviews because I didn't want to start out a blog with one measly review and keep adding to it. And you know what? I lost them in a computer incident. So every time I would start thinking about writing a book blog I would think about my lost work and feel mournful, and do something else. So now I have decided to just do it.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I didn't take to this book at first. I stopped reading halfway through the second chapter. It's one of those books where the point of view keeps switching around from person to person and I found it confusing. Plus as it was set at least partially at a school and with teachers and students and it's in England, I thought it was going to be one of those Harry Potter inspired books, you know that don't have much substance beyond Look it's Wizards! In a school! You know with Spells and stuff.
But I was wrong. When I went back and started reading again I realized the book is set in Australia, so I had to switch around the accents in my head as I was reading. Secondly, though it's got spell book in the title, it's not really your average fantasy novel at all. I would say it's just a slight bend in reality. And lots of unlikely and outrageous stuff happens. But I was thinking it was going to be a book about witches and magic, and I was wrong.
No, it's a book about adultery. At least that is one of the major themes running though it. It's also a book about adults. Only one of the major characters is a young adult, Alissa "Listen" Taylor and she does not play a main role. The book centers on two sisters in the Zing family,Marbie and Fancy, and Fancy's daughters second grade teacher. Also on their relationships with men. Oh, and their parents as well. Plus early hot airballoon inventors. Whew! It's a complected book. But I did find it worthwhile to persevere, and soon I was unable to put it down.
The part with Listen is about her starting Junior High, and being ostracized from her group of friends in that cruel random way that kids of that age have. It's an interesting thread of the novel which does weave in well with the rest of the plot. In your average young adult novel this would be the main story and the rest of the book with all the adultery and adult stuff would be going on in the background. A most unusual book this is.
The Zing family secret is one of the other themes of the book. Let me just say that it was not what I thought it was going to be. Not at all! Each Friday night they meet in the garden shed behind Fancy andMarby's parent's house. The secret is revealed to us in tantalizing bits and pieces, until it is all explained near the end of the book. The secret is silly and unlikely, but fascinating. So is the rest of the book, so it fits right in.
Spell Book Of Listen Taylor
I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The main character is little Hayley, a staple of young adult and fantasy fiction. She's the parent-less child sent to live with strict relatives. And she doesn't know what happened to her parents either. Her grandmother is a humorless and unpleasant woman obsessed with rules. Her grandfather can be OK, as long as his wife isn't around. But a lot of the time he's off visiting his other family.
The book starts off with Hayley shipped off to her aunts' house in disgrace. But she has no idea what she's done. Gee, do you think it might have been the time you entered the Mythosphere, that mysterious realm that you aren't allowed to know about? Duh. And what kind of a punishment is it to be sent off to a house full of cheerful happy cousins who love to play games?
They play hide and go seek, but their favorite game is The Game, you know, like the title of the book. It's where they go to the Mythosphere, that dreamlike land where characters from myths, fairy tales and astrology hang out. They have to bring back objects like Cinderella's glass slipper or the sword in the stone and the first one back with their prize wins. This is forbidden though, and when their mean uncle catches wind of it he's furious, and Hayley has to be brought to her other Aunt's house in Scotland to be hidden, where she was apparently supposed to have gone two days ago. Right, like the Mean Uncle is not going to look there.
After this they spend time in and out of the Mythosphere, meeting mythological characters and avoiding the mean uncle and being all quasi-mythological and stuff. The whole Mythosphere thing is murky, like I never really understood how they get there or what the point of the game was and when one of the cousins is in danger of being ripped apart by a mob of drunken slatterns I didn't care a bit.This book would have been a lot better if it was longer and had character development. But Diana Wynne Jones is a skillful enough storyteller that I still enjoyed this quick little tale.
The Game (Firebird)
Monday, May 19, 2008
Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot
Recently at the library a book caught my eye. "Size 12 is Not Fat" was boldly proclaimed on the cover. When I picked it up, I thought it was going to be a non fiction book, dealing with the way many people view any woman over a size 6 or so as fat. No, it's actually fiction. Hmm, I looked at where I took the book from and it's a section where they have "Chick Lit" books. Those are fiction books aimed at women, not formula romance novels but they have a romantic component, and usually feature women in their 20s and 30s. I haven't read many of them, but the ones that I have read all take place in New York City. They are not really my thing, but I'll read them occasionally and I decided to read this one because it deals with weight issues.
It turns out this is a chick lit mystery. I used to read a lot of mysteries, but rarely do any longer because they make my brain explode with how unreal they are. I just can't suspend disbelief enough to enjoy them. The characters get themselves into situations where they would be dead, or arrested. They do such stupid things that are totally outside the realm of any sort of reality that I just can't stand to read them. That's why I started reading science fiction and fantasy novels, I figure it's easier to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story when you are on a fictional world. This book only had a few moments where I had to put it down because it just got too silly, but unlike many similar books, it had enough redeeming qualities that I picked it up again.
The protagonist/detective is Heather Wells, a former teen pop singer whose mother has stolen all her money and run off to Argentina. She's broken up with her boy band pop star boyfriend after catching him cheating, and was dropped by her record company (run by her ex-boyfriend's father) and is the assistant director for a college dorm for a fictional New York college. She lives with her ex-boyfriend's estranged brother, who is an actual private detective, getting free rent in exchange for bookkeeping.
Heather has also put on a few pounds, up to a size 12. She apparently put on weight the same way I did, likes to eat and doesn't exercise much. Through a lot of the book, it talks about what she's eating and how much she's enjoying it and that she feels it's worth it. It's also got other people's response to her "fatness" and her feelings about her boss, a fitness and dieting fanatic who is beautiful, slender and well dressed.
It's written in first person in a casual, engaging style that is easy to follow. Meg Cabot has written a lot of books, including the popular Princess Diaries series for young adults.
The mystery aspects start very early in the book, when a young woman dies by falling in an elevator shaft. Everyone but Heather thinks that she was elevator surfing, kind of a daredevil game. But Heather says that girls don't elevator surf, and especially not the victim, a very straight, conservative young woman. When the next woman dies, same thing, and Heather discovers a connection between them and starts to investigate, all the while in typical amateur sleuth mystery fashion, having her private detective landlord/roommate and the police telling her to stay the hell out of it.
Did I mention that she's in love with the private detective? Well yeah, she is. She fantasizes about him a lot. I didn't like him that much, he seemed rather cold and sort of boring. Then again, the kind of guys who get written about in chick lit novels really don't float my boat.
I had the murderer narrowed down to two people about a third of the way into the book. Before long, I was pretty sure who it was, and it did turn out to be that person.
At the end of the book is a section where the author talks about her inspiration for writing the book, and then there's the first chapter of the next book.
I certainly wouldn't call this a must read, but I did enjoy it enough to read the next book in the series Size 14 is Not Fat Either. I'll review that one when I'm done with it.
Size 12 Is Not Fat: A Heather Wells Mystery
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Another thing is not all of these ghosts are in houses. This book got it's title because of his earlier books Ghosts in Irish Houses and Ghosts in English Houses. The stories in those books are pretty much all set in grand old houses heavy with the weight of history. They are the kind of places you expect to find a ghost. Well of course castle so and so has a ghost, it's 1200 years old! But there's no buildings with near that much history here. It seems like the houses are emphasized more than they should be. But James Reynolds was a very atmospheric writer and did a wonderful job with describing the houses so I don't wonder that he chose to focus on them.
American ghosts are scrappier, and not as obsessed with haunting ancient buildings, though there are mansions in the book. But the stories are just as likely to take place in Pennsylvania barns, shacks in the Ozarks, the Streets of San Francsico, the hills of New York State and alongside moving trains through the Great Plains.
In fact James Reynolds was also a painter, and I know in his other books and in earlier editions of this book there are both black and white and color illustrations by him. There were none in this book, not even the cover. That was disappointing . I'm going to keep my eye out for an illustrated edition of this book. This summer I will be going back to California to collect a lot of my belongings, including a shed full of books in the Mojave desert. I have his Irish and English ghost books there and I am really looking forward to reading them again.
I read a lot of ghost stories and a fair amount of folklore, and I'm impressed that all but one of the stories in this book are new to me.I would like to know more about the life of James Reynolds, his writing and his art. I have not been able to find much on the internet. I have not even been able to find a bibliography.If anyone has information please let me know. I would especially love to own some of his art.
I did find in my searches a review of this book in Time Magazine, which is archived on the web. This book cost twelve dollars when it came out in 1955 - a fortune!
Time Magazine Review of Ghosts in American Houses
I would like to find a complete bibliography. These are the ones I could find on the web:
Ghosts in Irish Houses
More Ghosts in Irish Houses
Ghosts in English Houses
Ghosts in American Houses
James Reynolds' Ireland
The edition of Ghosts in American houses that I have has a horrid cover. I can't believe they didn't use one of his paintings. The cover is a sort of lurid looking ghostly bride descending a staircase. I was going to scan it so I could post it here but I can't find it. I imagine it was stolen by a ghost. Though I don't actually believe in ghosts. I probably read more "non-fiction" ghost books than any most other non-believers!
On edit - I now have another version of this book and have scanned the cover, which has one of James Reynold's paintings on it. I also got Ghosts in Irish Houses and will be reviewing that one soon.
I just ordered James Reynolds' Ireland from an online used bookseller and am looking forward to reading that.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
This is a young adult book which alternates chapters between our world and the world of Faerie. Until of course, the worlds meet up.
The main characters are Harry from our world and and Pyrgus from the other world of Faerie.
Harry lives in modern day England, and his family is having problems pretty typical of the type you find in YA novels, but with a kind of a surprising twist. He finds solace with his friend Charlie (a girl, but not a girl friend) and by spending time working for an old man, cleaning his house. The old man is quite a character who believes in all sorts of conspiracy theories and has a house full of junk.
When we first meet blank he is being pursued through the world of faerie by some thugs and the book becomes action packed quickly.
The world of faerie has a cool combination of science, industry and magic. It has a steampunk feel to it. There are portals to get between Faerie and earth and the description of how these were discovered and then improved upon was really imaginative. I loved the orange dwarf with the poisonous bite who has a slot to put an information card in his head. Where can I get one of those?
There is more sickening violence in this book than in most YA books I read. The demon prince gives quite a description of what he is going to do to one of the heroes of the book. I did skip a half page or so when I was at the part with the glue factory and I figured out what was going on.
The glue factory owners were fun, in a very bad way. With Brimstone, the main glue factory owner, it almost seems a little stereotypical bad rich man (oh noes, he enjoys evicting widows) but I did like what happened to him.
Blue, Pyrgus' sister is a more interesting character than he is. Their father seems kind of bland and unbelievable. The part where Blue has uncovered evidence of a plot to kill Pyrgus and her father insists on just throwing away the evidence just doesn't ring true at all. His son has been poisoned and diverted to another world and he is concerned that his daughter has stolen a journal from someone who had been trying to kill his son and sends his daughter to bed without the book, which will be returned to it's rightful owner? Yeah sure.
What I didn't like - light faeries vs the dark faeries and the dark ones are evil. Could there not be some other way to differentiate between types of mythical creatures that are good and evil besides dark and light? I guess maybe it's just the classic way but it seems so ham handed.
I would have liked to have seen Charlie, Harry's friend, either have more of a presence in the book or just be taken out. The part with her in it almost seems like a false start.
However, there is a whole series of these books and it's entirely possible that she will turn up as a stronger character in the next one.
I did enjoy this book and will look forward to reading at least the next in the series.
I don't have cable or even a TV so I don't watch many TV shows unless I rent them on DVD.
I also don't really like going to movie theaters. I'll go to small theaters but the last time I went to a big commercial multiplex type theater I was just disgusted by the amount of advertising foisted on me without my consent. I'm not paying nine bucks to be a captive audience for ads.
But it's not like I'm only into good books, you know the important thoughtful ones that adults are supposed to read. No. Far from it. I will read all sorts of stuff, from children's books, mysteries, books from the early 1900s, old diet books, advice books, old romance novels, self published vanity press books, young adult novels and a lot of nonfiction, especially books about the paranormal like ghosts and cryptozoology.
I do sometimes read high quality books for adults. But honestly mostly I read for entertainment.