Sunday Post #45: Rainy Day Reading

Sunday Post

I ask you: is there anything better than sitting inside on a rainy day, listening to the rain fall as you read and sip a hot beverage of your choice? Especially if it also happens to be fall, and even better, October? I live in New England, and our falls are just perfect. My favorite season.

I haven’t written a Sunday Post in a really long time. I’m making good progress with the R. I. P. Challenge. I read the second two Miss Peregrine books, Hollow City and Library of Souls. I have two other contenders currently on the nightstand: The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte and The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine. Progress on my other challenges is mixed.

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantI don’t know that I’ll be able to do 50,000 words this November, but I’ve signed up again for NaNoWriMo. I have an idea that I’m very excited about, but it will involve some research, and I don’t have a ton of time to do it. Still, I do have some, and if I can prioritize some things a bit this month, perhaps I can be ready to go on November 1. I’m returning to my favorite: historical fiction. At any rate, I have a Scrivener file ready to rock and roll with some notes and preliminary sketches. I am thinking about whether or not to get involved with some local events. My experience with writing groups has been decidedly negative up until this point. Not in terms of discouraging feedback or anything, but more in terms of finding a group who takes writing seriously and isn’t, you know, weird.

It’s a nice long weekend. I have Monday off. We are still talking about what we might want to do since it’s rare these days that my husband, my kids, and me all have the same day off. If it’s raining still, I’m not sure we’ll go out, but I was hoping we could go into Boston and look around, but if we’re going to do that, we need to make some plans.

Well, I’m going to curl up with the coffee and book again. I have some reading to do. Enjoy what’s left of your weekend!

The Sunday Salon

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Review: Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls is the third novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. At the end of the previous novel, Hollow City, Jacob Portman has discovered that he not only has the power to see and fight hollowgasts, but he can also control them. He is going to need this power as he travels to the Devil’s Acre, a corrupted loop in the cesspool of Victorian London controlled by wights, to rescue all his peculiar friends and their guardian, Miss Peregrine, along with other ymbrynes.

Emma and Jacob encounter Sharon, who says he can take them to Devil’s Acre, near the docks in London. They set off with Addison the dog for the most dangerous adventure they will yet experience—right into the fortress of the wights itself. The fate of all peculiardom rests on their shoulders.

Library of Souls introduces what I think is probably one of the best secondary characters in the series—the boatman Sharon (think Charon). His dark sense of humor is fun, and he’s interesting to watch—can he be trusted? Jacob and Emma also learn a lot more about the seedier side of peculiardom, including the horrible accident in Siberia (we know it as the Tunguska event) that created hollowgasts, and therefore, also created wights—a scourge peculiars have been hiding from for about 100 years.

As Jacob and Emma learn more, the mythos of peculiardom is fleshed out, and there are ample opportunities for Riggs to continue the series, focusing on new adventures. This particular volume of the series was hard to put down. I think it had perhaps a little bit less of the humor (thought it still retains plenty of funny moments), which makes sense due to the seriousness of the situation in which Jacob and Emma find themselves. I read nearly all of the last half of the book in one big gulp today. It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a book so good I didn’t want to put it down.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book made for a great creepy read for the R. I. P. Challenge, and I’m counting it also for the Reading England Challenge, as Devil’s Acre is the worst of Victorian London. However, I am not counting for other challenges. I just bought the book in September, and it hasn’t been on my TBR list long. It’s not exactly historical fiction either—more of a fantasy.

RIP Eleven

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Review: Hollow City, Ransom Riggs

When Hollow City, the second novel in the Miss Peregrine series, came out a few years ago, I bought it immediately. I also started reading it right away. But for some reason, I set it aside after maybe the first chapter or so, and I didn’t pick it up again until recently. I just can’t imagine now how I ever put it down! The book is nonstop action pretty much from start to finish. One of my students who had read the series last year said that I would want to start the third book immediately after finishing this one, and he was right.

Hollow City picks up right where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children leaves off, as Jacob and the other peculiars escape their island with the injured and “stuck” Miss Peregrine. Be warned: this book does not fill in the gaps for anyone who hasn’t read the first book. You are going to have to start with the first book if you want to follow the story. I had a bit of trouble because it had been a long time since I read Miss Peregrine. In this second book, the peculiars go in search of an ymbryne who can help Miss Peregrine return to her human form. They search for and find a time loops run by an ymbryne named Miss Wren, but they learn Miss Wren is missing. She is the only known ymbryne who has not been captured by wights, so the peculiars set off to London in search of her.

Riggs writes good dialogue, and his characters are well-drawn, particularly his secondary characters like Olive, Millard, Addison the dog, and Enoch. I admit I found the “romance” between Jacob and Emma to be a bit wooden and pat, but the story itself was interesting, and the ending was an excellent surprise. The images are amazing. Do yourself a favor and read this one on paper and not on an e-reader or audiobook. You will get a lot more out of the images if you can savor them and flip through the book.

In all, I definitely recommend the book. It’s a great choice for the R. I. P. Challenge.

Rating: ★★★★½

Because I’ve had this book on my shelf and TBR (or really, a to-be finished) pile for a long time, I’m glad to be able to count it for my Shelf Love and Mount TBR Challenges. I’m also counting this book for both the Reading England 2016 and R. I. P. Challenges.

RIP Eleven

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R. I. P. Challenge XI

RIP Eleven

Yay! The R. I. P. Challenge is back for an 11th year! And it’s back at Carl’s blog after a year at the Estella Society. This is my favorite challenge every single year.

I’m not sure what I am going to read, but I’m considering the following books:

I’m not sure what I will ultimately decide to read, and it may not be any of these, but I am so looking forward to curling up this fall with some great spooky(ish) books. In any case, I am opting to participate in Peril the First, four books.

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Review: Fiercombe Manor, Kate Riordan

Kate Riordan’s novel Fiercombe Manor is the story of Alice Eveleigh, a naive young woman who lives in 1930’s London with her parents. Alice becomes pregnant after having a short affair with a married man. To spare her family shame, Alice’s mother sends her off to Fiercombe Manor in Gloucestershire, where Edith Jelphs, an old friend of Alice’s mother, lives. Alice’s mother tells Mrs. Jelphs that Alice’s husband has tragically been killed in an accident. She plans to collect Alice and the baby and put the baby up for adoption after it’s born (though she does not confide these plans to Mrs. Jelphs).

As Alice settles into Fiercombe Manor, she notices a sort of brooding sadness in the valley, and over time, she comes to learn about the tragic history of the Stanton family, who owns the manor. Alice is particularly transfixed by the story of Elizabeth Stanton, who had been Mrs. Jelphs’s employer when Mrs. Jelphs first came to Fiercombe as a young woman. Elizabeth’s imprint seems palpable in a strange presence Alice feels as well as a diary and a few keepsakes left behind. Alice spends the summer of her confinement wrapping herself into the mystery and wondering if her own fate might be somehow wound up in the tragedy surrounding Fiercombe Manor. She begins to wonder also if the valley isn’t cursed in some way that she will not be able to escape.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The house is a very real character in the book and reminded me not a little of Thornfield Hall or Manderley. Is the house haunted? Can tragedy truly linger around a place? Or is Alice just sensitive and emotional because of pregnancy hormones? She wonders all of these things herself. She also finds herself drawn to the Stanton heir, Tom, who befriends her and shares some of his own tragic secrets with her. Mrs. Jelphs and Ruck are interesting characters as well. Ruck has a little bit of old Joseph, the caretaker of Wuthering Heights, and Mrs. Jelphs might be Jane Eyre‘s Mrs. Fairfax or perhaps Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers. In fact, the novel manages to pay homage to these forbears without ever coming across as derivative.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the book is its exploration of women in the Victorian era. Left with few options and no rights as well as abysmal mental health care, some were forced into rest cures or sent to asylums. I thought of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s brilliant short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” quite a few times as I read. It’s a shameful and shocking part of women’s history.

In the end, the setting is the star, and if Alice is a little bit stupid at the beginning, we can forgive her, as she manages to redeem herself in the ending, which is both satisfying and not as unrealistic as I thought it would be. I definitely felt for Alice in her desperate situation. Though she has a few more options than Elizabeth Stanton before her, she is still a woman with no money of her own, few marriage prospects, and no family support. She will likely remind many readers of the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, or The Thirteenth Tale. I must hasten to add that this book is not the equal of those I’ve mentioned, but if you liked any of them and want to escape into a good, creepy yarn, you should enjoy this novel.

Rating: ★★★★★

This was a great final R. I. P. read, though I think I’m going to keep going with the creepy books. It also puts Gloucestershire on the map for the Reading England Challenge and is yet another Historical Fiction Challenge read as well.

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Review: Things Half in Shadow, Alan Finn

Alan Finn’s novel Things Half in Shadow starts with a fun premise: the protagonist, Edward Clark, is a Civil War veteran and reporter who is assigned the task of exposing Philadelphia mediums as frauds. He has a background that no one, least of all his ingenue fiancée, Violet Willoughby, knows about—his true identity is Columbus Holmes, son of the great magician Magellan Holmes, who killed his wife (Columbus’s mother) and is now rotting away in Eastern State Penitentiary. Unfortunately, Edward makes a nemesis out of a fraudulent medium named Lucy Collins, who threatens to expose Edward’s secrets unless he agrees to help her put her biggest competitor out of business. But Edward and Lucy get a little more than they bargained for when they discover Lenora Grimes Pastor is a real medium—and they become implicated in her murder when she dies mysteriously in the middle of a séance.

This book is fun, and it moves at a brisk pace. The characters, particularly Edward Clark and Lucy Collins, are engaging. The historical details ring true (mostly). However, I didn’t find the ending satisfying. It’s probably the case that the author intends to write a sequel, but few of the loose ends are tied up, and the ending felt rushed compared to the pace of the rest of the book. The clues were not carefully laid for the reader to notice. The reader doesn’t want to feel completely blindsided by the events in the last 100 pages of a mystery. I think it’s fine to surprise the reader, but the dots need to connect, and the clues need to be laid. Otherwise, it feels like a cheat. I would have said it was sitting on four stars until the ending. However, most of the reviews I’ve seen rate it higher than I have, so your mileage may vary, and it’s definitely worth checking out. In fact, most of the reviews I saw gave it 4 or 5 stars. In the right hands, I think it would a fun movie. It sure has enough action scenes for a novel set in a time that couldn’t include a car chase (it did include a carriage chase, if you can believe it). I can’t say that it didn’t hold my interest. I was just looking for more out of the ending.

Rating: ★★★½☆


 

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Sunday Post #34: Revisiting the Graveyard Book

Sunday Post

Three-day weekend! That means more time to read. I spent a large part of today listening to Neil Gaiman read his novel The Graveyard Book. I have listened to it before, but it has been a little while. Since I finished listening to The Shadow of Night yesterday, I wanted to start a new audio book. Given I only have about three and a half hours left, I will probably finish the book either tonight or tomorrow as well. Tonight might be stretching it. I can count it for the R. I. P. Challenge, too! Neil Gaiman is a rare author is also excellent at reading his own work. I think there is a pretty good reason why most audio books are not read by their authors. Neil Gaiman, however, could read just about everything and make it better, I think.

Aside from The Graveyard Book, I’m also still actively reading Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn, Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan, and The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 by James Shapiro. I’m enjoying all three. I’m over halfway done with Things Half in Shadow.

Last night, I broke out the tea for the first time. I don’t drink much tea unless the weather is cool, and then I drink a ton. I’ve really been enjoying the new fall playlist I made, too. Perfect coffee-and-a-book music.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Sunday Post #33: Reading the Midwest

Iowa photo
I seem to be spending more reading time than usual in the Midwest this year. I finished re-reading Jane Smiley’s book A Thousand Acres. My AP students are also reading it right now. I won’t review it, as I reviewed it for this blog already.

In addition to A Thousand Acres, I read following books set in the Midwest this year:

Five books might not seem like a lot, but it’s more than usual. I’m not sure why, but I tend to read along the East Coast, and my reading map for this year certainly reflects that habit as well, though it does seem to have a bit more diversity of setting than usual. I can’t help but notice I’ve read only three books set west of the Mississippi this year.

In some ways, I do feel drawn to the Midwest, though I have never lived there myself for any substantial period of time. I lived in St. Louis for about three months, but other than that, I’ve only visited. I was really struck by my visit to Kenyon College in Ohio this summer, especially as I noticed we drove through Licking County on our way from the airport in Columbus to Kenyon in Gambier. My family farmed in Licking County in the 1800’s before they migrated west to Iowa, settling in Story County. Farmers haven’t existed in my direct family line for several generations now, but I suppose most of us descend from farmers, don’t we?

In other news, we are now in the midst of October, my favorite month. We have fresh apples we picked from a local farm in the kitchen. The weather is finally exactly the way I like it (do I ever loathe summer weather). I’m enjoying my current R. I. P. reads, Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn and Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan. It took a little longer than usual for fall to reach us this year, but I’m glad it’s here at last.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Photo by TumblingRun

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Sunday Post #31: Challenges Update

Sunday PostTomorrow is our Summer Reading Festival at school. Our upper school’s “all-school” (in quotation marks because the middle school read something different, so it’s not technically all-school) read was Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman, and we are inviting a guest speaker to discuss storytelling in general and the why this story was told in this way in particular. We have workshops planned as well, and I plan to lead one on the art and poetry of the children in the Terezin Ghetto / Concentration Camp. This morning I have been planning presentation of that workshop, which will feature a poetry writing workshop as well as an examination of the art and poetry of the children’s work that is featured in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944. It’s astonishing that the children’s work survived the war as a testament to their experiences, especially as almost all of the children who created the poems and art featured in the book later perished in Auschwitz. It will a sobering experience for our students, but it’s also my hope that they will see how art and poetry help us hang on to our humanity, even in the bleakest of times.

In addition to I Never Saw Another Butterfly, this week I also finished my first book for the R. I. P. ChallengeThis House is Haunted by John Boyne (who is perhaps most famous for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). I have picked up both Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn and Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan. I haven’t read very far into either one. I seriously need to finish re-reading a few books for school, and I keep hoping time will be more available during my planning periods, but I haven’t had a lot of luck there so far.

At this stage, I wanted to make an accounting of a couple of my reading challenges. First, I am going to up my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge from 10 books to 15, which is the Medieval Level. I have already read 13, so I have passed the threshold for the Renaissance Reader Level, and I believe I will read at least two more historical fiction books before the year is over. Whether I can increase from Medieval Level (15 books) to Ancient History (25) books, I doubt, but should it look like I’m getting close, I suppose I’ll reconsider. The books I’ve read for the challenge so far include:

I am also making a record of the books I’ve read so far for the Reading England Challenge with their corresponding county (this is helping me keep it straight):

I set myself the goal of reading at least 12 different counties. Not sure I’ll meet that goal, but I’m halfway there. I haven’t counted any books set in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK. It is “Reading England” after all. The trouble is, so many of the books set in England are also set in London, and only one book per county, so all those other London books I’ve read don’t count. Which is fine. I suspect that London is a bit like New York in terms of overused settings in England. When I was a kid, I remember feeling distinctly disgruntled by the fact that most of the books I read were set in New York. There are, after all, other places in America where things happen and where kids live (which was what I thought at the time). It makes sense that cities with the greatest population influence book settings. What we need to do as readers, if we want to branch out to other settings, is look for books set in these other places. Assuming I finish it, Fiercombe Manor can be my Gloucestershire book. As for others, I’ll have to do some thinking, I suppose. I could certainly re-read Jane Austen books. She uses more rural settings, including Devonshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Surrey, and Somerset (Bath). It has been a while since I read Jane Austen, too. Thinking about it. Finishing this particular challenge doesn’t look promising, though.

In other news, the new season of Doctor Who is certainly off to a knuckle-biting start, and it will be interesting to see what they do with Clara in her last season. I was able to catch up on last season right before Netflix announced it was available for streaming. Netflix. Why do you do this to me? Anyway, the psychological question posed in the first episode is an intriguing one. If you ran into a genocidal maniac as a scared child on the field of battle, and you knew he was going to grow up to be a genocidal maniac, what would you do?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Review: This House is Haunted, John Boyne

John Boyne’s novel This House is Haunted is the story of Eliza Caine, a teacher grieving the recent death of her father. She responds to a mysterious ad for a governess in Norfolk, in part for somewhere to go, now that she’s learned her father never owned the house in which they lived and she’s being unceremoniously thrown out, and in part to escape her sadness. As soon as she arrives on the train, she realizes not only that she has been hired under false pretenses, but also that there is a presence in Gaudlin Hall, the home of her young charges Isabella and Eustace, that does not want her there.

Anyone who is familiar with ghost stories/madwomen in the attic tropes will recognize this story. With serious nods to both The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre, as well as bit of “The Fall of the House of Usher” and explicit homages to Dickens, many readers might well accuse this book of cribbing from more illustrious forebears a bit too much. Perhaps there isn’t a whole lot here that is new. As a ghost story, it’s fairly predictable, and despite some pretty chilling scenes (as I described them to my husband, I realized based on his reactions that they were scary at least in the abstract), I wasn’t really scared. I didn’t really want to be terrified. I don’t read much horror for a pretty good reason. It’s not my favorite thing to imagine the absolute worst people do, and I can’t stand gore at all. But a creepy ghost story, like, for instance, The Little Stranger? I’m all over that. This story wasn’t really like that. I think it might make for a pretty interesting atmospheric movie, but it didn’t really deliver any seriously good chills, at least not for me. But it is a quick read, and the story was engaging enough for me to keep turning the pages. It was a nice way to get my feet wet for the R. I. P. Challenge this year.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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