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.

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. Challenge, This 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.

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☆

Sunday Post #30: Post-Potter

Sunday PostI finished my re-read of the Harry Potter series late last night. I spent pretty much all day yesterday reading, which is something I haven’t done in a long time, and it felt great. I was reading on my Kindle, and I think I was about a fifth (or close to a fourth) of the way into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when I picked up the book yesterday, and I just read it until I finished it. Every time I finish re-reading the books, I go into a little bit of a post-Potter funk and don’t quite know what to do with myself, so I re-read The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I find so much in those books each time I read them. I can say with certainty that they are my desert-island books. With Pottermore making some changes, I will be interesting to see what they come up with. They have discovered that most of the site’s users are not children, as they anticipated, but adults visiting the site for the extra encyclopedic information and backstory. As a result, they’ve decided to remove the games and interactive parts of the site and focus on the information. From what I understand, not everyone is happy about this, but since I was more interested in the new writing than brewing potions, fighting duels, or playing games, I’m welcoming the changes. I am a little sad they are dispensing with the House system. Proud Ravenclaw, here. Oh, and with that, I think they will be eliminating shopping for your wand. The part of the site I return to most often are the articles about wandlore. My wand is sycamore, phoenix feather core, 10¾ inches, hard.

I did go ahead and pick up This House is Haunted by John Boyne for the R. I. P. Challenge. I’m still trying to decide which other books to read, but that one’s been on my Kindle for a long time now, so I decided I would start with that one. It might perhaps be a mark of how much I love this reading challenge that I’m prioritizing it over my book club and other books I want to read as well.

I didn’t add any books to my to-read pile this week, which was probably smart. It’s too big already. I have a lot of books I need to go ahead and just finish, most of them re-reads for school.

I’ve been lamenting the sad fact this week in particular that my children don’t enjoy reading as much as I do. I have been fairly successful in matching my own students with books, but as much as I try, it doesn’t seem to work as well with my own children. I am a firm believer that it’s not true that people don’t like to read. I think sometimes they haven’t found what they like to read yet, and schools do a great deal of damage in this regard by not allowing students to choose their books, especially in the crucial years of middle school and early high school. If you’re going to lose a reader, I’ve noticed, you generally lose them right about 7th grade. Especially boys. I’m working on it, but if you have tips, please share.

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.

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.

R. I. P. Challenge 2014

R. I. P. ChallengeIt’s time again for my favorite reading challenge, the R. I. P. Challenge. It’s hard to believe this is the ninth year. I don’t think I participated until the third one. I absolutely love this time of year for reading creepy stories.

I like to do Peril the First, which is to “read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R. I. P. literature.” I have been gathering together my list of potentials, and I plan to select my reads from the following list of books:

Aside from More Than This, I’m not sure which of these books I’ll choose. They look like a good list.