Review: Prince Lestat, Anne Rice

Prince Lestat: The Vampire ChroniclesAnne Rice returns to her Vampire Chronicles with Prince Lestat. Rice had said she was not going to write more vampire books, but Prince Lestat is the first in a new planned series.

As the book begins, a strange voice is speaking to many of the vampires, mostly the oldest vampires, begging them to immolate the younger vampires and “thin the herd.” Lestat hears the voice, too, and tries to shut it out. He is dragged out of seclusion by his fellow vampires, who want his help in fighting the voice.

I hesitate to summarize too much because if you’re planning to read this book, you’ll not want too much to be given away. Anne Rice is back in typical form. I have to say this line from the New York Times review of the novel captures the book well (and made me laugh): “Although this is a dreadful novel, it has to be said that the earnestness with which Rice continues to toil at her brand of pop sorcery has an odd, retro sort of charm, an aura redolent of the desperate, decadent silliness of the disco era.”

I am not sure I’d go quite so far as to call it dreadful (and keep in mind that Memnoch the Devil is the only book I have ever thrown across the room), but it’s not up to the heights of Interview with the Vampire or The Vampire Lestat. You will most likely wonder if Apple is paying Rice for product placement. All of the vampires seem to have iPhones, and they seem to use them and talk about them a lot. They also have Mac computers. Thus, I’d agree with the second part of the Times‘s description.

Lestat is his usual self in this one. You’re going to wonder about the sanity of the vampire collective at the end, if you were not already wondering. All of the oldest vampires make a reappearance here, and if you’re into world-building, you’ll learn quite a lot more about vampire origins and some of the oldest vampires, and you’ll also find out how the Talamasca came to be. As such, I had thought while reading the book that perhaps Rice was trying to answer all the open questions and call it a day. However, it’s fairly clear at the end that she’s getting her second wind. God help us all.

I kid, but not much. These books have a weird sort of charm. I sort of enjoy them at the same time as I’m rolling my eyes at Rice’s lavish description and strange tangents (Rose’s story in this one). I am not sure if I have the fortitude to brave another one, but this one wasn’t bad as far as her books go. I listened to it on audio, and the narrator, Simon Vance, was an excellent reader. I kept wondering what he thought about what he was reading, and I wondered if he were thinking the same things as I was. I do think it will appeal to anyone who wanted to know more after The Queen of the Damned.

These two reviews were pretty fair and even-handed:

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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How to Read Novels Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster

Thomas C. Foster’s excellent book  How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines elucidates literary analysis like no other text I have read. It clarifies the sometimes difficult task of interpretation and making meaning. It has an excellent recommended reading list, and it is indispensable for English teachers. I absolutely loved it. I didn’t enjoy its “sequel,” How to Read Novels Like a Professor: A Jaunty Exploration of the World’s Favorite Literary Form nearly as much.

Let’s start with what I liked:

  • The motif, which runs throughout the book, of the reader as creator. Reading is a creative act. Books demand that we have an imagination. It reminds me very much of something I heard Jasper Fforde say about reading when I went to a book signing. Foster says, “readers are the ultimate arbiters of meaning in a work” (126). I agree with him, and it’s one of the things that can be difficult about teaching English. English teachers are often experienced readers who understand the ways in which texts talk to one another and speak the language of symbolism and metaphor. Students, who are less experienced, often become infuriated when a teacher makes a connection or interpretation that the student didn’t make, and English teachers are often wrongly accused of inventing intentions the author never had. The author’s intentions do not matter once the reader reads the books. We readers bring so much experience, prior reading, belief, opinion, and knowledge to everything we read, that no two readers read the same book, and no reader reads the same book the author wrote. I really like it that Foster explained the importance of the reader so clearly because it is a real issue whenever two readers disagree about a book.
  • I like Foster’s breakdown of 18 things we can tell about a book on the first page. It is a great guide for students who struggle with annotation. If you can point students to look for style, tone, mood, diction, point of view, narrative presence, narrative attitude, time frame, time management, place, motif, theme, irony, rhythm, pace, expectations, character, and instructions on how to read the novel (whew!), then you will have paved the way for them to better understand the novel and help them figure out what to look for when they read. Eighteen is a bit much, but I found as I scanned the list that I agreed that most, if not all, of these elements can be determined to some degree on the first page of the novel.
  • I am fond of telling students that literature is the mirror that we hold up to examine our world and to ourselves. It tells us who we are and what we want. Foster expresses a similar sentiment: “So almost any novel can teach us, and the novel has one big lesson that lies at its very root: we matter. A human life has value not because it belongs to an owner, a ruler, a collective, or a political party, but because it exists as itself” (115). As such, characters in novels matter because they are us. We see ourselves in them. We see our humanity in their humanity.

Now to what I didn’t like:

  • The book is repetitive. Foster discusses the same books, pretty much over and over, and if, for some reason, you are unfamiliar with one of his pet texts or if you didn’t like it for some reason, it’s hard to connect to what Foster is saying—or it was for me. Your mileage may vary. I don’t much like Joyce. There, I said it. I did give him a try. I guess I prefer my novels to be more like the great Victorian novels Foster describes. I am not opposed to Postmodernism here or there, and I don’t have to travel with the characters in a straight line. But Joyce doesn’t do it for me. I like it that Foster acknowledges we have different reactions to novels. Towards the end of the book, he describes a discussion with a high school English class in which one lone dissenter admitted he didn’t like Great Expectations. Of this student, Foster says, “It takes courage, to say you’re in AP English and aren’t wild about one of the established classics. For one thing, there’s the weight of more than a century of received opinion going against you” (292-293). Yes. True. I do not like Ulysses. I tried to read it. I was grossed out on page one. I gave it up. And that is OK, though the “weight of [nearly] a century of received opinion” is going against me. But he’s a favorite of Foster’s (not surprising, as he seems to be a favorite of many college profs), and he is used as an example over and over and over. And since I didn’t grok Ulysses, I didn’t find myself connecting to those examples very well.
  • I think Foster’s definition of theme is off, and I wouldn’t recommend sharing it verbatim with students. Foster defines it as “the idea content of the novel” (30). When I teach it, I tend to take it further than that. What message did you get from the novel? Deeper than what it is about—why did the author write it? We can’t know that, of course, but we can extrapolate. Did F. Scott Fitzgerald write The Great Gatsby because he wanted to comment on how the American Dream is not achievable by all, and maybe that it is even dead or never existed in the first place? I don’t know, but that is a message I receive from it when I read it. Certainly different readers will see different themes. But I don’t find the definition “idea content” to be all that helpful.
  • Likewise, Foster describes different kinds of narration on pp. 46-47. I teach students first person, third person omniscient, and third person limited. I mention second person as a type of narration they will rarely encounter. That’s it. And I discovered that there are these other types called third person objective, first person central, and first person secondary, which, as Foster describes them, seem like splitting hairs unnecessarily. He also puts stream of consciousness in there, which is not a type of narration, but a narrative technique. And he even says it’s not a kind of narrator, so I find it confusing that he puts it in this list at all. It doesn’t belong there.
  • The book has no index. How to Read Literature Like a Professor has a great index. It made finding information so much easier.
  • The book doesn’t have a recommended reading list. There is a list of other literary criticism to read, but in How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster shared a list of great literary works to read. I liked it. I suppose he figured the list of all the novels he mentioned in the book should do, but I liked the list in the other book.
  • Foster’s appeal lies to a great degree in his entertaining style. He cracks jokes. He’s snarky. For some reason, it was fun in How to Read Literature Like a Professor. In How to Read Novels like a Professor, I found it less appealing, and occasionally off-putting.

This book is worth it for the discussion of reading as a creative act and intertextuality, but aside from that, it doesn’t bring much to the table that wasn’t captured better in How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I highly recommend that book, and I would recommend it far above How to Read Novels Like a Professor.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier

The Last RunawayTracy Chevalier’s latest book, The Last Runaway, is a bit of a departure from her other work. I have read several of Chevalier’s books, and I can’t think of one that isn’t set in Europe. The Last Runaway is the story of Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman who decides to accompany her sister Grace across the Atlantic to America. Grace plans to marry a man who emigrated to Ohio and used to be a member of the Bridport Friends’ Meeting where the Brights worship. Honor has been jilted by her fiancé, Samuel, who throws her over and leaves the Society of Friends in order to marry outside the religious order. The voyage is terrible for Honor, who suffers from the worst bout of seasickness you’ve ever seen this side of Outlander‘s Jamie Fraser. Honor realizes that she is stuck in America because she can’t imagine being able to endure a crossing back to England. After disembarking, Honor and Grace travel to Ohio by stagecoach, but Grace contracts yellow fever and dies on the voyage. Now all alone in America, Honor must find her own way. Her sister’s fiancé, Adam Cox, takes her in for a time, but his brother has recently died, and he is living with his brother’s widow, Abigail. Before long, the Quakers frown at their unorthodox living arrangement. Adam marries Abigail, and Honor rushes into a marriage with Jack Haymaker, whose stern mother Judith is a Quaker elder who does not approve of Honor.

One of the most interesting threads in the book dealt with quilting. Honor is a quilter. Her adjustment to America is hard, and she especially does not like Americans’ ways of quilting. Her skill with a needle earns her the friendship and hospitality of Belle Mills, a milliner in Wellington. However, it also draws the unwelcome attention of Donovan, Belle’s brother and the local slave catcher. Honor quickly finds herself caught up in the American debate over slavery. Just as the Fugitive Slave Act is passed, Honor finds herself helping slaves cross to Canada as a part of the Underground Railroad. While her in-laws disapprove of slavery, they are also unwilling to allow lawbreaking in their family, and Honor has some difficult decisions to make.

I am a fan of Tracy Chevalier’s books. I especially liked Remarkable Creatures and The Virgin Blue, which was one of the first books I reviewed for this blog. I was interested in reading this book because some of my own immigrant ancestors were Quakers. I imagine they came to America to worship more freely, but they were quite different from the Quakers of Ohio. Within several generations, at least in my own line of the family, they had abandoned their faith for various other Protestant denominations, but my 7th great-grandmother Elizabeth Clark Anthony was the mother of fifteen children and after her husband’s death, she became a Quaker missionary who made four trips between Virginia and Georgia on horseback and lived to be 103 years old.

Perhaps because I was hoping to see a glimpse of what my own ancestors’ lives were like, I really wanted to like this book. I was underwhelmed, however. I found Honor hard to like. She seemed to feel quite sorry for herself a lot of the time, and while it’s true that she was living in difficult circumstances, she created a lot of them. Her attraction to Donovan was inexplicable. I thought Chevalier did everything she could to make him odious, and it was impossible for this reader to understand Honor’s feelings for him. Honor’s disdain for the American way of doing just about everything was trying as well. I understand she was a fish out of water, but for a Quaker, she was terribly judgmental. Almost every chapter closed with a letter from Honor to her family or friends. I found the transition from third person to first jarring in some cases, though I wished more of the story had been told in first person. Though I didn’t like Honor much, I found her voice in the letters to ring true.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Woman Who Died A Lot, Jasper Fforde

The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next NovelJasper Fforde’s latest and seventh book in the Thursday Next series, The Woman Who Died A Lot, picks up Thursday’s story in the year 2004. Thursday is recuperating from an assassination attempt, and she is looking to run SpecOps 27, the Literary Detectives division, the agency responsible for dealing with forged or stolen manuscripts and works of literature. Meanwhile, she has other problems. Her son Friday has received a letter detailing his new future, now that the ChronoGuard has been disbanded and he will no longer be saving the world from destruction by asteroid HR-6984. Instead, he will murder Gavin Watkins the very week during which the book is set and spend the rest of his life in prison. Meanwhile, her daughter Tuesday is feverishly working on an Anti-Smite Defense Shield to protect Swindon from the wrath of the Global Standard Deity (GSD), who has enacted “a series of cleansings” all over the world “mostly as a warning to His creations that messing with the Big Guy’s Ultimate and Very Important and Unknowable Plan was not going to be tolerated.” Thursday’s brother, Joffy, supreme head of the Church of the Global Standard Deity, is taking a stand against the GSD and means to be in his cathedral when the smiting occurs, but Goliath, the large, evil corporation bent on running the world, has plans to lure the GSD’s smiting away from the city center by gathering together a large collection of unrepentant evildoers with the idea that the GSD will smite them instead. Goliath is up to new tricks, replacing Thursday with synthetic “day player” versions of herself. Aornis Hades is on the loose again, and the mindworm about having a daughter named Jenny that she implanted in Thursday continues to wreak its sad destruction. Thursday, older and and not up to her previous physical abilities, must contend with a rival who manages to push her out of her desired position in SpecOps, relegating her to the deceptively tame-sounding job of Chief Librarian of the Wessex Library Service. But this is Jasper Fforde’s world, where “many frustrated citizens who weren’t selected … to train as librarians … will have to console themselves with mundane careers as doctors, lawyers, and lion tamers.”

If it sounds like there was a lot going on, believe me, I have barely scratched the surface. Fforde’s plot had so much going on that it seemed even he was having trouble containing it, and I admit I gave up trying to follow it and just went along for the ride. I think Fforde is at his best when he lures his readers into the BookWorld, the fictional realm of literature in this series. I haven’t enjoyed the last few books in the series as much as I had enjoyed the first few. The story in this particular book doesn’t really ever come together until close to the end, and at that point, I was already so confused, I had forgotten some of the important details from earlier in the book. However, it’s Jasper Fforde, which means fun and hilarity will ensue. While I didn’t laugh out loud as often as I have while reading his earlier books in this series, I did enjoy the whimsy of Jasper Fforde’s alternative world, just as I always do when I visit it. And I will probably read the promised eighth Thursday Next book, too.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Making Soaps & Scents, Catherine Bardey

Making Soaps & Scents : Soaps, Shampoos, Perfumes & Splashes You Can Make At HomeOn my last trip to the local library, I checked out Catherine Bardey’s Making Soaps and Scents, thinking I could learn a few more recipes and tips for my new soap-making endeavor. The book is exactly what it advertises in the title—instructions for how to make soap and scents.

The Good: There are quite a few good ideas in this book, a helpful troubleshooting section (so if something goes wrong, you can determine what the problem is and whether you can fix it/how to fix it), a standard SAP index for figuring out how much lye and water to use depending on the oil type, and nice historical information (how well documented? not sure…). There are quite a few interesting variations, and Bardey includes recipes for shampoo bars and hair rinses—interesting idea. I love my shampoo, so I’ll have to think about it, but it could definitely be a fun gift. In addition, the scent section is interesting. I’m interested in trying solid perfumes, and she had no recipes for that, but who knew cologne could be made with vodka? Probably everyone but me, but I learned something, and that’s good. There is a healthy list of resources, but given the book is now thirteen years old, I’ll bet many of them are no longer available.

The bad: Almost all the soap recipes are based on her vegetable basic soap recipe or her animal basic soap recipe. She uses vegetable shortening in her soap, and I’ve heard of other folks using that, but what if I don’t want Crisco® in my soap? I would basically need to ditch the recipe and start with my own basic oil mixture and her additives, by which time, I may have created some sort of Frankenstein monster soap that won’t play nice with the additives (for all I know). I would have liked to have seen more variety in the recipes, and more discussion of the variety of oils. She doesn’t help out with that much aside from the SAP value chart in the back, and even then, there is no discussion of why you might use one oil over another and how that might impact your recipe. Which is huge! Another quibble I have with the book is that it is an odd size: 9.5 x 4.7 x 0.8 inches. In shape, it has roughly the same dimensions, length and width, as a standard envelope. That limited the size of the pictures. Soap-making books should have a ton of pictures, and this one has some good pictures, but not enough of them. I want to see more. A final quibble: no mention of using a stick blender to help you reach trace faster. In fact, Bardey discourages using hand mixers. Almost every website and book I’ve looked at recommends using stick blenders. I can’t believe that so many excellent soap-makers are wrong. Plus, my own experience is that it worked great. I can’t see why she discourages the use of anything but a wooden or stainless steel spoon. Seems odd to me, and I’d hate for a beginner to be put off soap-making by following that recommendation and finding the process more difficult and perhaps giving up. I know I wouldn’t want to be stirring the soap forever before something happened. Screw that.

The Verdict: This book has some good information, but it’s not for beginners, and is really not diverse enough to be worth hunting down to add to your collection. I found Basic Soap Making by Elizabeth Letcavage and Patsy Buck much more helpful for beginners as well as as a great addition to a more experienced soap-maker’s library. It has more variety in terms of recipes and more helpful information and pictures. I still learned some interesting information from Making Soaps & Scents, and for that reason, I think it’s worth checking out of the library (if your library has it), but it’s not the kind of book I’d consult more than once (well, maybe the troubleshooting section, but that’s it).

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern’s novel The Night Circus has generated a great deal of buzz, and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s not precisely like anything I’ve read before. Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair are rival magicians, entered into a competition by their teachers, Celia’s father Hector (also known as Prospero) and the mysterious Mr. Alexander H.—. No one, including the reader, really knows what the competition is about or what the stakes are until the end of the novel, but the venue for the competition is a magical black-and-white circus, filled with memorable characters and enchantments. The storyline is not chronological, but is instead told in a series of vignettes, out of order and from different points of view.

The imagery in the novel is vivid. Everything from the scent of caramel and taste of apple cider and chocolate popcorn to the vivid black-and-white striped tents and the colorful swatches of red in the Murray twins’ hair and the rêveurs‘ hallmark clothing is vividly described. The book is absolutely gorgeous with description, and it is in this area that Morgenstern excels. The sights, sounds, and smells of the circus pop right off the page. The book itself is a visual treat, from the gorgeous black, white, and red cover to the stripes on the end papers and even the fonts.

On the other hand, the plot was plodding in some areas, and the choice to tell the story out of order came off as gimmicky and confusing for me. In the end, the story did not satisfy nearly as much as the description and imagery. Some readers will enjoy the book in spite of this flaw (and, in fact, it has 4.17 stars on Goodreads after over 5,000 ratings as of this writing, and those readers are a notoriously picky lot). In many ways, it’s a beautiful book, and it’s gorgeously vivid. The story just didn’t hang together in the end. I found myself having no trouble putting the book down for days at a time, even during a month when I had a lot of time off work (to read!) because of school holidays. That’s always a danger sign to me. As beautiful as the imagery was, I never managed to become invested in the story’s plot.

Obviously, I am in the minority, and the book is receiving rave reviews, so please try it out and see what you think. If you can manage to snag one, Starbucks was giving out extended samples as their first book Pick of the Week, and perhaps you could try it on the Kindle and see if it will work for you. I can easily see Tim Burton doing something fantastic with it in film (and I believe film rights have been purchased, though who will direct, I haven’t heard). Johnny Depp would be an excellent Mr. Alexander H.— or Prospero or even Chandresh Lefèvre. A set designer and costumer will have  field day creating the images Morgenstern describes.

I really wanted to like this book because I have heard that it began life as a NaNoWriMo novel, which is always exciting for me to hear about since I would like to turn one of my own NaNoWriMo novels into a smashing success (so wouldn’t we all). Ultimately, however, I needed to have more investment in the storyline and characters than in the vivid descriptions, and the descriptions are the only thing that really kept me reading until the end. I kept waiting for another appearance of Herr Thiessen’s wonderful clock or the chocolate popcorn, and that, in the end, is just not enough.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Man with Two Left Feet, P. G. Wodehouse

P. G. Wodehouse’s The Man with Two Left Feet is an early collection of short stories and contains the first short story featuring Wodehouse’s famous Jeeves and Wooster (“Extricating Young Gussie”). Most of the stories are humorous. Though the collection was published in 1917, the stories have a freshness that, with scant changes, could be adapted to modern scenarios. Most of the twelve stories have, at their heart, a romance, a bit of humorous confusion, and a happy ending.

Easily my favorite stories were “The Mixer: He Meets a Shy Gentleman” and “The Mixer: He Moves in Society.” The self-proclaimed “mixer” is a dog who defines himself by this term because he likes to socialize—he’s not shy. He’s a great little character, and is misunderstanding of human behavior is funny. These two stories reminded me just a little of the Disney film Lady and the Tramp. There wasn’t a dog romance or anything like that, but the Mixer’s confusion about humans reminded me a bit of Lady’s, while his personality was pure Tramp. Very cute stories.

All of the stories are at least good. Probably only Wodehouse could make a story about man about to commit suicide funny. However, as a whole the collection felt a little light, and towards the end, the stories were predictable.

If I were to read the stories again, or for that matter, any short story collection, I’m not sure I’d do it via DailyLit. There was nothing wrong with the formatting or anything, but the installment reading didn’t work for me with short story format. I think I might be better off just dipping into a short story collection from time to time and finishing a whole story in one sitting rather than reading in installments as I did. I found myself sometimes bogged down and falling behind, and then finding it difficult to pick up where I left off. I would try Wodehouse again, especially as I can see even from this early collection that he has a gift for a light, humorous story.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Mansfield Park (Penguin Classics)I finished Mansfield Park just under the wire with less than 24 hours remaining in the year, which means that I have also completed the Everything Austen Challenge.

Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, daughter of the poor sister of Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park. The Bertrams offer to take Fanny in as a favor to their sister, who has had the misfortune to marry poorly and have yet another child practically every year. Fanny is at first treated disdainfully by the Bertrams and her aunt Mrs. Norris, the other sister of Lady Bertram, but she proves her worth to the family through her constancy of character, her forbearance, and her usefulness. Her cousin Edmund, the second eldest son, is the only member of the Bertram family to love Fanny from the first. She develops a love for Edmund beyond the sort of brotherly love he feels for her and is appalled when Henry Crawford, a man with what Fanny deems to be a dubious character, begins trying to win Fanny’s heart. Even worse, Edmund falls in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Crawford. Will Fanny ever catch a break?

This book is very different from the other Jane Austen books I’ve read. I always enjoy a trip into her world. However, it is in this book that Austen truly shows us a peek into the lives of people outside the gentle class with her portrayal of the Prices. Mary Crawford is a nasty little piece of work, and I never liked her. Very selfish and vain. I never liked the Bertram daughters, Maria and Julia, either. They were spoiled and reminded me of the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella. In fact, their aunt Mrs. Norris compares well with the wicked stepmother in that story as well, and of course, Fanny is the too-good-to-be-true, long-suffering Cinderella. She always puts others before herself. I feel at some points in the book, she plants herself on a bit of a moral high horse. But worse, she doesn’t seem to have a single fault. It’s no wonder that some readers don’t like her. She’s a bit too perfect. On the other hand, she is spunky in defying the Bertrams in refusing to marry Henry Crawford. She alone seems to have the true measure of his character.

Here in this novel we have an elopement even more scandalous than that of Lydia and Mr. Wickham. I was extremely puzzled by that plot turn, even though I knew it was coming, because I didn’t feel the groundwork was properly laid for it. I didn’t buy that either Maria or Henry Crawford were interested enough in each other to run off together they way that they did. On the other hand, I did feel Jane Austen explored some issues in this novel that she didn’t explore in her others, and the ending is not nice and neat. Maria has irreparably damaged her reputation and relationship with her family. Tom is sick, and it looks like consumption. Julia didn’t fare much better than Maria. Definitely not a happy ending for all.

Ultimately, I liked the novel better than I expected to, but not as much as Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility. However, now I can say I’ve read all of Austen’s complete novels.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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The Ruby in the Smoke, Philip Pullman

The Ruby in the Smoke: A Sally Lockhart MysteryIt figures the first day of my winter break I would develop a cold. I have been lying in bed, willing myself to recover by Christmas (and thanking myself for finishing the shopping relatively early for a change). Of course, it gave me plenty of time to read today, so I decided to finish Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke.

This novel is the first of the Sally Lockhart trilogy. Sally Lockhart’s father has died under mysterious circumstances, and all she has to go on is the warning “Beware the Seven Blessings.” The first person she asks about the phrase dies of fright. Sally comes face-to-face with the seamy underbelly of Victorian London—opium dens, ruffians, and sooty, Dickensian waifs. She meets a photographer who agrees to help her, but he, like Sally, doesn’t know exactly what he’s gotten himself into.

I think Pullman evokes the setting of Victorian London well. The story is fast-paced and action-packed. Sally and the other characters, especially Jim, are likable enough. For some reason I can’t put my finger on, however, this book just didn’t grab me. I had no trouble putting it down on occasion, and I had to force myself through it a bit. I can’t figure out why because it has all the elements I like in a story, from setting to characters and plot, but it just didn’t interest me. I probably won’t read the other two novels in the series. You know, I tried to pick up The Golden Compass and felt the same way—it has all the elements I like in a story, too, and I never could get into it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics)Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, widely regarded as one of the finest scary stories ever written, is the story of Dr. John Montague, who brings together guests Theodora and Eleanor along with the home’s future owner Luke in the hopes that they can help him in his quest to find scientific evidence of the supernatural. Theodora and Eleanor are invited because they have experienced the paranormal before; of the many guests Dr. Montague invites, they alone accept. The guests quickly begin experiencing terrifying events, and Eleanor seems to be an especial target of the house. But is she becoming possessed by the house, or is she the cause of all the supernatural events herself?

I found this book a little difficult to get through because I didn’t really care for the characters. I think because Eleanor clearly has some psychological problems, and the third-person limited narration seemed to focus on her point of view, it could be difficult to tell what was really going on, and what Eleanor imagined. For instance, she has quite a few arguments with Theodora, and I’m still unsure all of them weren’t in her mind. She isn’t a very likable character—a sort of child. On the other hand, the writing is superb in some places, and Jackson has an excellent aptitude for evoking mood and describing setting. She is wonderful at characterization. Mrs. Montague and Arthur were hilarious. Even Eleanor is well-drawn in her way, but I’m wondering about Jackson’s attraction for grown women with child-like minds—We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I never finished, has one, too. In the end of the book, it’s unclear exactly what happened, and the reader is left to interpret events. I will give this book a higher mark than I ordinarily give a book I kind of had to slog through simply because the writing was brilliant. I just really need a reason to care about the characters if I am going to enjoy a book, and I didn’t find one in this book.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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