Sunday, November 30, 2014


by E.F. Benson

A professional medium who frequently supplements his genuine psychic abilities with trickery has an eye-opening experience.

My Reaction:
Eh, it was ok.  Predictable, but ok.  Beyond that, I haven't much to say. 

Well, here's one thing:
When you have a story that's so predictable and completely lacking in creepiness, there's not much to recommend it.  I mean, it's a story.  There's not even an illusion of "this really happened, and the implications are startling!"  That can be ok, if the story is presented with the right atmosphere and shiver-inducing details or presentation.  Without either verisimilitude or spookiness, it's pretty bland.

Here's another thing:
The medium at one point says, "There is a D; I see a D.  Not Dick, not David.  There is a Y.  It is Denys."  I am very strongly reminded of John Edward.  Only he probably wouldn't have suggested the Y or anything so specific as "Denys".  (Is my skepticism coming through?)

Incidentally, just the other day I came across a reference to E.F. Benson in one of E.M. Delafield's Provincial Lady books.  She didn't say much about him-- just that the Provincial Lady and someone else discussed his writing, among a couple of other topics-- but I always enjoy it when I know something about the author or book referenced.  It was a reminder, too, that the two were contemporaries.  "Their time" (the late 1800s up until WWII)-- particularly in England, Canada, and the U.S.-- has become my favorite setting for literature, lately. 

Friday, November 28, 2014


by Sarah Rees Brennan

Powerful love comes with a price. Who will be the sacrifice?

Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town.

Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.

This final book in the Lynburn Legacy is a wild, entertaining ride from beginning to shocking end.

My Reaction:
This series wasn't really for me, I guess.  I liked the first book the best of the three.  The second was disappointing, but I decided to stick with it through the third installation for the sake of the  conclusion.  Sometimes I had to talk myself into continuing with this third book.  I'm glad it's the last in the series, because if there had been a fourth, maybe I would've just made up my own conclusion and saved some time.

My usual damning-with-faint-praise reaction applies here: This wasn't an absolutely awful book, but I don't feel persuaded to sing praises.  The "teen romance" element was ok, but it's repetitive, with plenty of forced drama/misunderstanding/angst.  (Have you read any romance novels ever?  Then you know the sort of thing.)  Then there's this whole big Magic Plot that, honestly, I could hardly have cared less about, by the end.  I was interested to see if the "shocking end" would turn out better than expected.  ...It didn't. 

When the best thing the book has going for it is the romance-- and the romance is torturously drawn out, interspersed with so much "other stuff" that falls flat-- it's not the most satisfying or engaging read ever, that's all. 

Specific Tidbits (with SPOILERS):
--  I'd forgotten much of the Magic Plot from the first two books, but the beginning does a pretty good job of filling you in.  I still would never recommend reading this one if you hadn't already read the first two.

--  I still don't find the characters' jokes funny.  They're always laughing and grinning at one another, apparently enchanted by their own witty banter, but I can't quite feel like joining in. 

--  Kami wears a skirt with frills when she goes on her "rescue Jared" mission.  Yes, I know that Kami loves skirts and dresses and feminine clothes, and that's fine, but who wears a frilly skirt on a rescue mission?!

--  "She felt the shape of his mouth against her hair and was amazed by how crazy he was: he was smiling."  ...How can she feel a smile on her head, through her hair?  That seems unlikely.  Hear a smile in his voice, sure, but feel a smile against your scalp?  I'm doubtful.

--  The one thing I find most appealing about this whole series is the concept of Kami and Jared's psychic bond.  It's one of those things that could never work out well in real life, but in fiction, it's so cozy!  "He had been closer to her than if they slept cheek to cheek on the same pillow every night, closer than her own thoughts, for their whole lives."  In a fantasy/romance novel, that's pretty swoon-worthy stuff.  In real life?  Um, no.  I'll keep (some of) the contents of my mind private, please.

--  At some point, it becomes completely unbelievable to me that Jared wouldn't understand how Kami feels about him (and vice versa).  That point, for me, came fairly early in this book.

--  The "blood brothers" spell scene?  Yuck.

--  Kami's weird obsession with grabbing handfuls of Jared's shirt(s) continues into this book.  (Seriously.  Just about any time they kiss, she's grabbing up a handful of the dude's shirt.  She's going to stretch them out!!)

--  I'll confess:  I did some eye-rolling during the scene in which Kami's dad shoots Rob.  Kami's excessive shock that Daddy Dearest has actually fired a gun!  Jon's inability to aim the first shot at Rob's head instead of his leg, which would've solved so many problems!  Oh, and when Jon laments the fact that he messed up, Kami replies that he didn't mess up.  "'Not being ready to kill someone isn't screwing up.'" ...Well.  When the someone in question is an evil sorcerer who has already killed people and is demanding human sacrifices and kind of terrorizing your whole family... :o/ It's fine to comfort your father in those circumstances, since blaming him will only make him feel worse, but how is killing Rob with magic (which-- spoiler alert!-- Kami does herself at the end of the book) any different from killing him with a bullet to the head?  (Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I get the distinct impression that the author would not have been okay with Kami killing Rob with a gun.  Guns are bad, you know.  Killing with magic is... Well, it's different, okay?!)

--  Jon (Kami's dad) to Kami: "I didn't achieve you.  You are the greatest achievement of your own life."  Okay...  True, parents can't take full credit for how a high-school-age child has turned out-- and I'm all for teens understanding that who they are is not entirely dependent on their parents (particularly in cases where maybe the parents aren't setting the greatest examples)-- but this rubbed me the wrong way.  Maybe because it undervalues the contribution that good parents have made in getting their kids to the point that they are good, decent young adults.

--  After Kami's mom gives the evil/bad/"wrong side of history" (to use a phrase that I really, really hate) sorcerers food poisoning, they all sneak out of Aurimere and sort of meander home.  Like, to their own home.  Which is weird.  Where's the sense of urgency with these people?  It's a perfect example of one of my pet peeves with this series.  It's a very strange story where people are supposedly in grave danger, but nothing feels remotely important (most of the time) in comparison with the teen romances.  "Whelp, we've just escaped from the not-very-friendly sorcerers led by that one guy who kinda wants to kill us.  But they've got a case of food poisoning, so we can totally for sure go home (where everyone knows we live) and sleep safe and sound in our own beds.  I'm pretty sure they'll be sick for the rest of the night.  We should be fine until tomorrow.  Lights out! Nighty-night, John-boy!"  (Later that night, their house is set ablaze with Magic Fire™.  The family narrowly escape with their lives.)

--  "The first thing to do was slip away from her father, who might have questions about why she kept insisting on going back to the lair of ultimate evil.  Kami saw why so many teenagers who had adventures in books were interestingly tragic orphans.  Parents were a real buzzkill, adventure-wise."  Heh.  Yeah, but that didn't seem to be as much of an issue in the first two books.

--  I think I might have forgotten something from the first or second book, but is there something keeping Kami and her friends and family from just leaving this cursed town?  Once her mother's turned into a statue, sure, it may be too late, but it seems kind of silly to stay in a town where your life and the lives of your young siblings are at risk.  Why?  Because Kami wants to be a Heroine and save the whole town?  Why can't they all leave, in that case?

--  Rusty's death seems so utterly pointless.  Manipulative.  Also, did Rusty not realize that giving Rob a willing sacrifice would make him more powerful?  I know he thought he was buying time/protecting the others until the equinox ritual with the twin pools, but why couldn't they have just left town for a few days, instead?

--  The stunning revelation that Rob planned to destroy the whole town wasn't quite so shocking as it was meant to be, I think.

--  "Kami read the article aloud to her family and friends as they stood all together in Room 31B, Kami's newspaper office."  ...How embarrassing.  Captive audience, huh?

--  When Holly and Angela have their first kiss, there's this description of how their respective lipsticks/lip glosses "interact"/taste/whatever.  And I think it's supposed to be edgy or something, because, ooh, "girl kiss" and they're both wearing lipstick/gloss which is so interesting because guys don't wear make-up, and it's all so new and exciting-- but... Why are they even wearing lipstick/gloss on a day like this?  They're preparing to battle for their lives and the survival of their entire town.  I certainly wouldn't be bothering to put on lipstick.  Maybe I'm not girly enough to understand these things.  I often put on a modest/safe/non-clashy shade of lipstick if I'm going out in public, but that's on a normal day.  I feel pretty confident that if I'm ever getting dressed for battle with sorcerers, make-up won't be a priority.  (But that's just me.)

--  Angered by Lillian (if I recall correctly), Rob announces, "If you're not with me, you're against me."  ...Is that supposed to be a super-subtle political jibe?  Or is it more in reference to the Bible?  Or what?

--  Poor Ash seems badly treated all through these books (though at least he gets to live to see the end of the trilogy).  In this book, he loses his father.  Now, admittedly, his father's not a good person, and he's known that for a while, by the end, but that's still not an easy thing to come to terms with.  He learns that his father wanted to murder and lay ruin to a town full of people.  Then Kami disintegrates the man.  And now, a few months later, Ash is perfectly fine with everything, I guess.  It's too easy.  (Like a lot of things in these books.)

--  I feel a bit patronized at times, reading this trilogy.  Maybe that was just me.

--  The very end?  Predictable, but right.  Though I still feel like Kami and Jared are a bit too dense to be believed-- at least as far as each other are concerned.  They should've figured that whole thing out long before the end.  Of course, since this is a romance, the romantic leads have to be bull-headed, star-crossed, blinded, confused, or whatever else it takes to keep them apart until the final page.  It's understood.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
by Agatha Christie

Poirot, a Belgian refugee of the Great War, is settling in England near the home of Emily Inglethorp, who helped him to his new life. His friend Hastings arrives as a guest at her home. When the woman is killed, Poirot uses his detective skills to solve the mystery.

My Reaction:
I listened to the audiobook version read by David Suchet (the actor who portrays Poirot in the recently concluded series of adaptations).

I've seen the TV adaptation of this novel multiple times-- once not that long ago-- but I'd forgotten enough to be uncertain of the exact solution to the mystery.  Because I listened in dribs and drabs, I found it difficult to remember who some of the characters were, by the end of the book.  The two young women-- Mary and Cynthia-- and the two brothers were particularly indistinguishable, at times.

What with one thing or another, I don't feel up to writing a real review of/reaction to this book-- not at all.  It was interesting enough to listen to while I worked on a string quilt, cooked, or planted daylilies, but I clearly wasn't fully engaged while listening.  (Apparently I need to see things-- like character names-- in order to remember them.)

I've listened to another audiobook version of an Agatha Christie mystery.  That one was read by Hugh Fraser, the actor who plays Hastings.  I remember thinking that his Poirot was very good but his female voices a little tiring.  His Hastings, of course, was perfect.  ;o)  If nothing else, it was interesting to compare that reading with this.  As you might expect, Suchet was spot-on as Poirot. (Amazing, huh?)  The female voices I again found tiring at times.  (I'm sorry, but it hurts my ears to listen to men trying to sound like women.)  The narrator of the novel is Hastings, and while Suchet's reading was excellent, with good inflection that very rarely took me out of the story, I really prefer Hugh Fraser's version of Hastings. 

...Anyway... I might consider listening to audiobooks of more mysteries, but I think I get more of out of almost all genres if I read the old-fashioned way.  Still, it's a nice alternative to music, talk radio, or TV background noise.  I'd definitely be happy to listen to more readings by Suchet, though I think I'll always like him best as Poirot.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Vanishment

The Vanishment
by Jonathan Aycliffe

Publisher's Blurb:
Writer Peter Clare has bright hopes that a summer by the sea in Cornwall will renew his faltering marriage. But when his wife becomes the next victim of "the vanishments" of Petherick House, Peter is plunged into a battle with unspeakable evil.

My Reaction:
I'm going to have a hard time rating this one.  It lacked a completely satisfying conclusion-- but on the other hand, I found it really, really creepy.  Was most of it a hodge-podge of "creepy stuff" we've seen or read before?  Yes, but it was still creepy!  I'd rather an author use tried and true eerie elements than attempt to make something entirely original that simply falls flat.  (Or in other words, there's a reason these things seem familiar.  They work, so no wonder they're kept in constant rotation.)

I recommend this book for readers more interested in the journey than the destination-- anyone in the mood for shivers.  Prepare to think twice about walking through the house in the dark, and don't be surprised if you get the feeling that something's looking over your shoulder as you read...

In Greater Detail (with SPOILERS):
--  Some things (like the fact that the Clares were never meant to have been allowed to rent Petherick House) were immediately obvious.  Others should have been obvious, but for some reason I missed them.  (Witness the location of Catherine's body, hinted at early on by the clue in Sarah's painting.)

-- This is the second book I've read (in recent memory) with a coin-fed meter box for electricity in a rented building/room.  (The other was Stella Gibbons' Starlight, incidentally.)  I don't know if that was/is a "British thing"-- or just not an American thing... or if it's (been) done in the U.S., too, and I only happen never to have seen or heard about it.

I guess it makes sense for a rented place, but it strikes me as odd.  I can't imagine living somewhere where I'd have to put coins in a box to keep the lights on, as opposed to paying a monthly bill through the mail.  On the positive side(?), I guess it would serve to make you more immediately conscious of your electricity usage. 

(...Okay, looked it up.  It seems they were used in at least parts of the U.S. in the early fifties.  They were installed as a "penalty" if you had a history of not paying your bill!  The person I found discussing it called it a quarter meter.)

--  I was uncertain for a while of when the book took place.  I guess it was meant to be present-day (published in the mid-90s, with most of the action taking place about ten years prior to that).  Eventually, there is enough information given (Peter's age, year of conviction, etc.) that you could narrow it down to almost the exact time, if you were that interested.  (I'm not.)

--  I liked how quickly things started happening.  None of this "everything seemed fine for several days/weeks" business.  Sarah knows right away that something's wrong.

--  I've read several other reader reviews, already, and some of the points others have made echoed my own thoughts.  First, Peter is an unsympathetic character.  Early in the book, he admits to himself (and us) that his wife doesn't mean "everything" to him.  Then we have his casual reaction to her fears.  He emotionally blackmails her into staying at Petherick House, even though he knows there's something "off" about the place and that it's troubling her.  Why is he so determined that they stay?  Then when she goes missing, he doesn't seem especially bothered.  Even taking into consideration the fact that they've had problems in the past, it's not the behavior of a loving husband.  ("The devil of it was that I loved her very much.  We had been married thirteen years." ...Yes, I can really sense the great love you felt toward her.)  Later, when we learn more about Peter's history, it's even more difficult to sympathize with him.

--  Speaking of Peter's history, it's awfully suspicious that the reader doesn't learn the particulars of his past (his drunken accidental killing of his own daughter, his time in prison, and the subject of his early works) until so late in the book.  It lends credence to one reader/reviewer's suggestion that Peter is an unreliable narrator who may be even less innocent than he would have us believe.  How much of this narrative can we trust? 

--  It seems unlikely that Sarah would stay with Peter, given the way their daughter died.  Even if you can accept that she manages to forgive him, why would Susan and Tim leave their own young daughter in Peter's care while Susan's off at work?  Maybe he's stopped drinking, but I can't imagine entrusting my child to someone with that kind of history.  Not worth the risk.

-- The bleak insertions of the "present-day Peter" into the narrative removes all hope for a happy resolution and darkens an already dark tale.  From those "present-day" comments, I think we're meant to infer that Peter has concluded that his efforts to "lay the ghosts" haven't been entirely successful.  The mother and child are at peace, yes, but Agnes is as bitter and malevolent as ever.  In killing Susannah Adderstone, he saved Rachel, but Agnes is still there, haunting Petherick House.  When Peter gets out of prison and has nowhere to go but there, she will be waiting to torment him in his final days.

--  There were so many parallels that they got a little bit silly.  The death/disappearance dates all falling on July 16th.  Sarah's resemblance to Susannah Trevorrow.  Sarah (according to her sister) just happening to have bought a bracelet that looks exactly like the one belonging to Susannah Trevorrow.  Susannah Adderstone's resemblance to Agnes.  The inspectors both dying of TB within a few months of taking on the cases of "vanishment".  Both Peter's and S. Trevorrow's daughters being named "Catherine".  Some of it is explained away by the blood link-- but apparently several young women and children in the community have gone missing or been affected without any family connection.  Rachel, too, is profoundly affected, but there's no reason to suspect that she was related to the Trevorrows.

-- Speaking of Rachel... Are we meant to believe that she's being temporarily possessed by Catherine Trevorrow's spirit?  Or is she supposed to be remembering a past life?  I really hope it's the former, because the latter is just too much of a coincidence, don't you think?  The fact that it's even a question (for me, at least) is a testament to the fact that things are rather in a jumble in this book.  The author's method seems to have been to take a little of this, a little of that, and a touch of something else, then swirl it all together and hope that it makes sense in the end.  All (or most) of the individual elements are good (creepy) on their own, but somehow there's a little less coherent adhesion than one might have hoped.  The sum of the parts?  Not greater than the whole, I'm afraid.

--  That said, some of those parts are super creepy.  When we finally learn exactly what happened in the house... Agnes calmly making herself a meal after locking away her sister and niece... Then the terrible discovery she makes when she opens the door again... The image of Susannah standing, staring out that window... ~shudder~  And then Agnes covering the window and leaving Susannah to die in the dark.  Yeah, that's scary.

--  The legal system seems to let Peter off fairly lightly for his crimes.  For the conviction of manslaughter (the accidental, drunken killing of his daughter), he spent five years in prison.  Then the incident with Susannah Adderstone took place.  We're told that he was only acting to save Rachel's young life, but to the outside world, it looks like he's just taken an axe to the neck of an innocent young woman, with no provocation.  (She'd have no reason for wanting to harm Rachel.  No violent past and hardly any connection to Peter.  Also, this happened in a house her father owns, whereas Peter is hiding out after having "abducted" Rachel.)  For this offense, he's spent ten years in prison.  He tells us, "in a few years I shall be a free man again." Good grief!  He's literally an axe murderer, in the eyes of the law.  At what point do they decide to just keep you away from other people for the rest of your life?

--  Thinking over the book, there's one thing that happens toward the end that I just can't completely figure out.  I've tried reading reviews, but I've only found other readers equally as confused.  This is the problem:  After killing Susannah A. (possessed by Agnes), he's recounting the two things he had to do.  One was burying Catherine T.'s remains with her mother's in the graveyard.  (He discovered those remains hidden in one of the walls of the room where she died.)  The other task "was to go downstairs and break open the old cupboard that Agnes had boarded up, the one between the kitchen and the study.  What I found there I wrapped in sheets the next morning, after the mist had cleared.  I took the bundles down to the cliff and threw them into the sea.  It was better no one knew.  Tredannack and its inhabitants would not rest any easier for being told."

The question is, what was in the cupboard?  The best solution I can come up with is that it's the rest of the physical evidence of what Agnes did to her sister and niece.  She threw her sister into the ocean, and she hid what was left of her niece behind a wall, but there had also been a lot of other "stuff" in her sister's room.  Mr. Adderstone told Peter, "The room had been ripped to shreds.  Driven mad with thirst and hunger, Susannah had torn the bedclothes to pieces.  She had stripped the paper from the walls.  Her own clothes had been shredded. ... There was a lot of blood."  And after Susannah finally died, Agnes had to get rid of the evidence: "All I know is that somehow she cleared the room."  My guess is that the cupboard/closet was stuffed with all of the ripped fabric and wallpaper-- and whatever Agnes had to use to clean all traces of blood.  She put them in there, then sealed them in, never to be seen again.  Only Rachel-as-Catherine remembered that there used to be a door, and mentioned it to Peter, who apparently put two and two together.

Throwing the stained, befouled shreds of fabric and wallpaper into the sea would've been unwise, because someone might have found them and linked them to Petherick House.  Why she wouldn't have burned or buried them, I can't say.  I'm also not sure how long those kinds of things would last, hidden away in a closet-- but it's the only explanation I can come up with, so until something better comes along...

--  Certain aspects of this book remind me of The Uninvited (a.k.a. Uneasy Freehold)-- only this story is about 100 times darker.

--  Quibbles aside, it was an absorbing read, and I'd like to try another of the author's books, sometime.