Sunday Post #35: Ghosts are In

Sunday PostI happened upon a Guardian article this morning that confirmed something I have suspected for a while: vampires are out and ghosts are in. Author Kate Mosse, quoted in the article, says

“We’re definitely seeing a resurgence after horror has held sway for a long time,” says Mosse. “The thing about horror is that it’s not that subtle; it’s a straightforward chase about the terrible thing that’s going to get you. With a ghost story the whole thing is, ‘Is it coming? Is everything in your head?’ Ghost fiction plays on those fears.”

I was more drawn to ghost stories for my R. I. P. Challenge reads this year. In fact, the three books I’ve read, Things Half in Shadow, This House is Haunted, and The Graveyard Book (a re-read) are all ghost stories. I’m reading two now that are sort of mysteries, but I can’t tell yet if they’re going to turn into ghost stories. I’m only one book away from finishing that challenge. I hope I can do it. Less than a week until the challenge ends.

Right now, I’m working my way through several books, but the three I’m reading most seriously:

A quick look at the reviews for this last indicates that the Shakespeare conspiracy theorists are out. Sigh. James Shapiro’s books are often targets for these folks. Don’t let them scare you off. Shapiro’s books are excellent Shakespeare scholarship.

Speaking of Shakespeare, today is the 600th anniversary of the famous Battle of Agincourt. I read this really interesting article about the battle at History Today. In honor of St. Crispin’s Day, here is Henry V’s speech from the Shakespeare play of the same name. Or you can listen to Kenneth Branagh deliver it.

I also found a piece in the Telegraph by historical fiction writer Bernard Cornwell on why we should remember Agincourt and a piece in the Catholic Herald about why we should forget it.

Speaking again of Agincourt, it had a mention on the most recent episode of Doctor Who, which I had to DVR and watch today. Ashildr tells the Doctor she fought in the Hundred Years War at Agincourt and could fire six arrows in under a minute. Cornwell says in his article that a good archer might be able to fire as many as fifteen arrows per minute. But I digress because what I really wanted to talk about was how awesome “The Woman Who Lived” was. I hope that they have Catherine Tregenna write more episodes in the future. It’s the first time in a long time I watched an episode and actually thought about how good the writing was. I’m not the only one who thought it was good.

Well, it’s time to make a nice cup of tea and curl up with my books now. Until next time.

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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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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Sunday Post #29: R. I. P. Challenge X

R. I. P. XI can hardly believe it, but this year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual R. I. P. Challenge, hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings typically, but this year by Andi and Heather of the Estella Society. I look forward to this challenge more than any other every year, and it think it’s mainly because it’s the perfect marriage of time of year (fall) and subject matter—anything creepy, scary, or as Carl says, “Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic. Horror. Supernatural.” I plan to go for broke and read four books. Might be ambitious considering I have a book club and school is starting, but I am going to go all in this time and see what happens.

I need to figure out what I am going to read, but my longlist includes the following books, some of which I already have and should read:

                  

It looks like a good list! Some of these books were on my list last year, and were probably there the year before. I really need to read the ones I’ve bought already, but I have to admit, I’m giving several of these books that I don’t own some rather longing looks.

Aside from starting the challenge, there isn’t much news. I have continued working my way through a re-read of both King Lear and A Thousand Acres in preparation for teaching them. I am also listening to the second book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Shadow of Night. I can’t count it for the R. I. P. Challenge because I started it before the official start date of September 1. I have some other books I pick up from time to time. I’ve also been re-reading the Harry Potter series and am nearly finished with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I really loathe Dolores Umbridge. She’s too realistic a villain. I’ve known crappy teachers like her, and yes, sometimes they go on to be crappy administrators. That book is a really interesting study of what happens when the government interferes with education. I understand the purpose of oversight, but when you have a bunch of people who know nothing about teaching running the show, you’re going to have a disaster. And frankly, this book is too accurate a portrayal of what that looks like in the real world, never mind Hogwarts.

So, are you joining me in the challenge?

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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