Friday, August 24, 2012

The Beckoning Fair One

The Beckoning Fair One, by Oliver Onions

A writer takes rooms in a long-abandoned house, seeking peaceful surroundings in which to finish his current novel-- the work he hopes will finally give him a measure of recognition.  However, strange occurrences soon lead him to wonder if the building has been inhabited-- by something-- all along...

My Reaction:
I listened to Julie's (of Forgotten Classics) reading of this novella.  The brevity and advertised creepiness reeled me in.  ;o)  So, my opinion?  It felt a little slower getting started than I usually like in such a short work, but once it got going, there were some raised hairs.  (You must read/listen to the end.  It's the best part, by far.)  I'd recommend this for anyone who loves creepy ghost stories.  ...As for the rest of what I have to say, I don't think I can write it without spoilers, so...

SPOILER-Filled Comments:

--  I remember one of my high school (or was it middle school?) teachers recommending a very creepy ghost story in which someone hears the sweep and crackle of ghostly hair being brushed-- but I didn't remember the name of the story or author.  How funny to just happen across it all these years later!

--  I was convinced that there would be a happy ending.  Paul would drift away to la-la land for a while, Elsie would come and do no-nonsense battle with the feminine ghost of the place (or maybe she would come to help, but end up in such danger that Paul would finally be scared back into his wits and flee the haunted building), and Paul would realize that he did love Elsie, with a "happily ever after" soon to follow.  So the actual ending came (needless to say) as something of a shock!

--  As I was saying in the last point, shocking ending!  Definitely the creepiest part of the book, to me, was the discovery of Elsie's body and the realization that she'd been dead a while... with Paul lying in just the next room for days (?)... and that now he'll either be executed for her murder or locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane... And meanwhile, that house (or whatever is in it) is still just sitting there, waiting for its next victim.  ~shudder~

--  This is one of those stories that seem to just get creepier and creepier the longer I think about them...

--  Apparently there's an argument that you can read the story not as a ghost story but as a description of Paul's mental breakdown.  From that perspective, he is delusional regarding the haunting and actually kills Elsie himself.  Personally, I think we're "supposed" to believe there's really a ghost, if for no other reason than that Elsie herself seems to sense (multiple times) that there's something wrong about the place and that it's antagonistic to her in particular.  (Plus the house/ghost hurts her twice before she is finally killed.  I don't see how Paul could be blamed for either of those incidences.)

-- I'll have to look out for more Oliver Onions!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Uninvited

The Uninvited, by Dorothy MacArdle

A little-- or a lot-- of background & related info before I get to the book:

I've wanted to read The Uninvited ever since seeing it mentioned in one of Barbara Michaels' books.  (I love it when authors mention other author's works in their books!)  However, it seems to be out of print.  There's a play script available-- something based on the novel-- but I preferred to read the original novel.  The only copies of the original story I could immediately find were used, and the sellers were asking (what I considered to be) ridiculous prices.  Fortunately, I located an audio version, and even better, it's offered free of charge! 

Forgotten Classics is a weekly podcast produced by Julie D., who selects and reads books aloud, a chapter or so at a time.  Usually, these are classics of literature that may have fallen by the wayside or otherwise been overlooked in favor of the famous classics, but sometimes she obtains special permission to read more recently published books.

Julie has a very pleasant, clear voice, and if you didn't know better, you'd think you were listening to a professionally produced audiobook.  (Actually, this one was in many ways superior to some of the professional audiobooks I've heard.)  She chats a little at the beginning and ending of each weekly segment, which may not be to someone's liking if s/he wants an audiobook (as opposed to podcast) experience, but it's not repetitive, mindless chatter (which is the bulk of some podcasts, imho), and Julie has such a soothing "radio-style" speaking voice that it's easy to listen to her, and during the course of listening to The Uninvited, I felt that I got to know her a little, which was nice.  Also, she recommends other podcasts as part of the chatty segments.  I've already found a few other promising sources of entertainment through those recommendation-- so thank you for that, too, Julie (if you ever see this)!

Oh, and I thought I'd mention that I listened to this podcast on my Kindle.  I like having my current audio book in the same place as my current e-book(s)-- and not having to wear earbuds (unless I need to plug them in to avoid disturbing someone else in the room)-- and the fact that the Kindle holds my place in an audio file perfectly, every time (more on that below).

If you have a Kindle but don't know how to listen to audio books on it, it's very easy.  I think some people are under the misapprehension that you can only listen to audiobooks from Audible, but that's not the case.  (Not with the Kindle Keyboard / K3, at least-- the only model I know about.  I suspect that other Kindle models work similarly, though.)  When you have the Kindle hooked up to the computer, simply drag / copy and paste the audio files (in mp3 format) into the "Audible" folder.  That's it.  Each file should show up in your Kindle's table of contents / Home screen.  You'll need to find and start each file manually, so this method works best with files of a reasonable length.  (You don't want to have to start a new file every few minutes-- very disruptive.)  I like to put all related files into a single collection so that I can easily find the next one when I want it. 

One idiosyncrasy I've noticed about listening to audiobooks on the Kindle is that I really must be careful about how I turn off the Kindle.  A while ago, I was having problems with the Kindle forgetting my place and putting me back at the beginning of a file when I turned it on again, which was annoying, to say the least.  I finally figured out how to prevent that from happening, though I'm still not sure why it happens.  If you have the same problem, try this:

When you listen to an audiobook for a while, the Kindle will eventually go to the screensaver, but continue to play your audiobook.  To reactivate the screen (and be able to pause the audiobook), simply slide the power switch as you would to turn it on.  When the screen comes back on (or if it never went to the screensaver at all), pause your book (using the cursor button).  Then-- and this is the important part!-- hit the "Home" button before you turn the Kindle back off.

As long as I do that, the Kindle saves my spot.  Otherwise, it doesn't remember where I was.  Now, if you want to read an e-book after listening to the audiobook, you needn't turn the Kindle off, then back on again to access the e-book.  Just go the Home screen, find your e-book, and commence reading as usual.  They key for saving your spot in audio files seems to be (for my Kindle, at least) to go to the Home screen after listening to the audiobook.

Ok, now back to my typical format!

Blurb (from Book Review Digest):
A beautiful old English house, situated on the Devon cliffs, is reputed to be haunted. Roderick Fitzgerald, a London journalist, and his sister, buy the house, and convert it into a thing of beauty. Almost immediately psychic manifestations occur which grow stronger after every visit of the lovely Stella, who was born in the house, and whose mother has died there.
My Reaction:

It was as advertised-- an enjoyable old-fashioned ghost story.  I didn't find much of it very scary, but then again, I didn't listen to it in a scary atmosphere.  However, there were a few definitely creepy, edge-of-your-seat moments.  By the time I got to the big resolution, I'd already figured out the mystery (as most readers do, perhaps), but I still found it an interesting story.  I'd certainly be interested in reading (or listening to) similar books (and am always on the look-out for a good old-fashioned creepy story).

More Specifics:
--  The original title was Uneasy Freehold.  I'm not sure which title I prefer.  Uneasy Freehold is more distinct... unique... but The Uninvited is so ominous. 

--  I'm proud to say that I actually figured out the mystery of "Lily"/ "li li" almost immediately.  (g)  But it was clever.  The parallels in Roderick's play, on the other hand, never occurred to me.

--  I don't have many specific comments, apparently, because I don't take notes on audio books. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Psmith in the City

Psmith in the City, by P. G. Wodehouse

(Another read-aloud with Donald.)

I think I enjoyed this one more than Mike and Psmith-- possibly because of the change of setting, definitely because there was less cricket.  The game does crop up here and there, but mostly just (briefly) near the beginning and end, so it's not too bad.  (Apologies to those who simply love reading about cricket, but it's deadly dull to those of us who don't even know-- much less care-- how the game's played.  Honestly, though, I can't see myself being interested in reading about any sport.  As far as I'm concerned, sports are meant to be watched-- if even that-- and not read about.) 

Some reviewers point out the various ways in which this early work compares unfavorably to Wodehouse in his prime.  I'm sure they're right, but for the most part, I enjoyed the book just fine and found it an effective comedic escape from the stresses and trials of Real Life.  Is the plot (such as it is) unrealistic?  Well, of course, but who reads Wodehouse for stark realism?!  I want my Wodehouseian heroes to have unrealistically happy endings.  If those endings are extremely convenient and pop up just at the end of the book, I don't really mind.  Besides, the best of Wodehouse, for me, is the dialogue-- the humorous use of language in general.  Plotting is an afterthought.

That said, I was a little disappointed that Mike didn't even have to tough it out for a single night at his rented room in London.  I'd have found that very amusing reading.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"The Transplanted Ghost"

"The Transplanted Ghost:  A Christmas Story", by Wallace Irwin
(from Humorous Ghost Stories)

Started off with promise enough, but ended up being pretty dull, with hardly any humor (but no horror, either).  Also, this story felt much more modern than most of the others.  Electricity, station wagons, etc.

Three interesting points:

--  It took me a while to realize that "donjon" must be an variant of "dungeon". 

--  The ghost makes reference to "earth-years", which makes me think of an alien speaking to an earthling.

--  The castle moved (piece by piece) from England (or Europe in general) to America is a familiar premise.  It's fascinating to think of... Such an extravagant action-- so costly-- so eccentric.  I wonder if it was ever actually done...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"The Ghost Ship"

"The Ghost Ship", by Richard Middleton
(from Humorous Ghost Stories)

Finally, Humorous Ghost Stories redeems itself with another more captivating story.  Still not quite enough to make me want to run through the streets telling strangers they need to read this (but that's not likely to happen even with my very favorite books). 

This story had a nice, chatty flow to it, as well as some rather charming details.  I liked it!

"Back from That Bourne"

"Back from That Bourne", by Anonymous
(from Humorous Ghost Stories)

Well, why even bother "reviewing" them, at this point?  Here's another that was passable, maybe mildly interesting or amusing in spots, but somehow not my cup of tea.  This one was better than the last, at least...  

Do you want to read about a ghost who is "materialized" by a medium and subsequently refuses to dematerialize?  Well, this-un's for you!  ;o)

"The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall"

"The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall", by John Kendrick Bangs
(from Humorous Ghost Stories)

This was an odd one.  There were a few moments of mild humor... (such as the idea of stopping a clock so that a ghost who consistently appears at midnight will not know the time)... but the bulk of it was just... odd-- and a bit dark.  

From what I recall, more of these humorous ghost stories have been odd than not.  I'm getting to the point of just taking the book off my "currently reading" list altogether...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"The Rival Ghosts"

"The Rival Ghosts", by Brander Matthews
Read in Humorous Ghost Stories

It's been a while since I read anything in this Humorous Ghost Stories anthology.  Partly, that's the fault of this very story.  I started by reading it aloud to Donald while we drove somewhere, but stopped when we reached our destination.  The story felt so slow starting that I've put off picking up the book again!

So, that gives you an idea of my impression.  It was not a compelling read, even for a humorous ghost story.   Rather long and wordy and rambling for a short story.  A tiny bit amusing in a few particulars (see below), but nothing amazing.  Then again, if I'd read it all in one sitting, maybe I'd have a more favorable view.  If you're interested, the whole collection of short stories is available for free (in e-book format) from Amazon.  For this individual story alone, look here

SPOILERY Comments:

--  I think some of the humor requires that you be somewhat familiar with history and the locale.  For instance, there's one joke about the (historic?) rivalry between NYC and Boston.  I'm a Southerner with no ties to either place, so... I got the joke, but it might've been funnier if an awareness of the rivalry had been part of my youth.  Then again, maybe that kind of humor just isn't laugh-out-loud funny to me, no matter where I live.

--  All the rest aside, the idea of the two ghosts being forced to occupy one space and not getting along is amusing. 

--  This was funny, too:  "'...he could not hear them-- at least, not distinctly.  There were inarticulate murmurs and stifled rumblings.  But the impression produced on him was that they were swearing.  If they had only sworn right out, he would not have minded it so much, because he would have known the worst.  But the feeling that the air was full of suppressed profanity was very wearing...'"

--  The solution of having the ghosts marry?  Funny, but you can't think much about it or it makes no sense (even for a humorous ghost story).  For one thing, when did marriage ever prevent quarreling?!  (Especially in a couple that was prone to quarreling even before marrying.)  For another, where will they "live"?  I thought one ghost was tied to a property and the other to a man who doesn't live in that property... Long-distance marriage?  How sad.

--  Very abrupt ending-- probably to avoid having to explain how that whole "living situation" thing was going to work out... ;o)