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Scan 44What’s it all about?

The sins of the fathers. The souls of the innocent. The Accursed is a Gothic tale which tells the story of a curse which has apparently fallen on the town of Princeton between 1905 and 1906, featuring a mixture of real and fictitious characters and some quite grotesque events.

Why did I want to read it?

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favourite authors and this looked to be an unusual addition to her remarkably large body of work.

What did I think of it?

Well. This is without a doubt one of the oddest books I have ever read. I don’t actually have the words to describe it (and I’m not alone in finding writing about the novel difficult because Stephen King reviewed it for  the NYTimes and had a similar issue but handled it significantly better as you would expect).

There is a kidnapping at a wedding, a mysterious stranger with an unnatural influence over the townsfolk, a series of murders (all very unpleasant), cover-ups, political intrigue and a fantasy world of cruelty and despair. And a secret which looms large over one particular family. All about as Gothic as it’s possible to get.

Conclusion

Astonishing. Difficult. Lengthy. Purple. Cover implies vampires but if they’re there they aren’t your usual suspects. Did I mention it’s astonishing? Took many hours of my life. Not entirely successful as a novel but blimey, quite an experience.

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RIP8main200So it’s September tomorrow and that means the start of one of my favourite blogging event’s, Carl’s RIP VIII and the opportunity to read scary and thrilling stuff along with lots of other members of the book blogging community.

As is traditional I have pulled together a book list out of which I hope to be able to meet Peril the Second, where I need to read four books that fit the description of perilous. I’d love to be able to read them all, but we’ll see how that goes.

My list is (in no particular order):rip8peril2nd

A pretty good selection I think, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

rip8perilonscreenI may also take part in Peril on the Screen but no real plans on what that might involve, though it is really about time I re-watched one of my Desert Island Films, Son of Frankenstein with *sigh* Basil Rathbone.

Despite quite a bit of travelling this week I only managed to finish one book: The Telling of Lies by Timothy Findley which is one of my big re-reads.

But the opportunity to go book shopping in Glasgow plus some temptations via the internet meant that the following new books arrived in the Bride’s home this week:

  • The Storyteller by Antonia Michaels – “a spellbinding tale of suspense, danger and transformative love”
  • Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates – “extraordinarily intense, racking and resonant”
  • HP Lovecraft by Michel Houellebecq – “indispensable reading for anyone interested in Lovecraft”
  • Fated by Benedict Jacka – Camden. Mysterious relics in the British Museum. Probability Mages
  • Spitalfields Life by The Gentle Author – the book of the blog, a lovely thing in itself

I am currently thinking of signing up to Carl’s Once Upon a Time challenge, and also the 24 Hour readathon in April. I’ll post on those separately once I’ve (a) made my mind up and (b) started the appropriate book piles.

And at least the sun has been shining; spring is just around the corner.

It’s that wonderful time of the year when Carl hosts his RIP challenge and I am determined this year not only to take part but to actually finish the challenge and I have selected an interesting (well I think so) bunch of books from the stacks to help me do so.

I’m actually going to take part in three of the challenges – books, short stories and films, between 1 September and 31 October. Exciting stuff.

So, when it comes to books I’m going to take part in Peril the First and will be reading four books (at least) from the following list. I’ve already started the Stephen King and am already enjoying it in that “why haven’t I read this already” way that I always get when I pick up a King book that’s been sitting on the tbr pile. Anyhow the list goes something like this:

  • The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – a recent purchase, mentioned here;
  • The Possessions of Doctor Forrest by Richard T Kelly – another recent buy, mentioned here;
  • The Small Hand by Susan Hill – a ghost story
  • Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge – winner of the Bram Stoker award and a fantastic cover (fiery pumpkin-headed things can’t be missed) (I think Susan may also be reading this one);
  • Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist – had this for ages and Silvery Dude tells me it’s excellent
  • The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley – a boy, a mysterious guardian and a haunted house with a terrible secret;
  • The Rapture by Liz Jensen – “electrifying psychological thriller” apparently
  • Duma Key by Stephen King – as mentioned above

Not a bad list, I think

For the short story challenge I’m going to concentrate on Lovecraft Unbound; edited by the wonderful Ellen Datlow this is exactly what it says on the tin, a collection of short stories inspired by the works of one of my all-time favourites HP Lovecraft. A lot of the authors are unknown to me, which is no bad thing, but it does include stories by Michael Chabon and Joyce Carol Oates.

And finally a movie challenge. I am going to watch as many of the following as I can (given that I’m actually going to be in Germany for a chunk of October but we’ll see what can be done:

Right, well that lot should keep me busy. What’s on your list??

Many of you will know that my admiration for Joyce Carol Oates is deeply held and long-standing; I buy (almost) everything she publishes and particularly look out for anything non-fictional which might give an insight into one of the most remarkable authors in terms of quality and productivity. I know I’m gushing a bit but I really do think she’s fabulous. Which is why I was really looking forward (if that’s the word) to her memoir of widowhood. I knew that her husband of many years had died suddenly and was intrigued that she had decided to write about something so personal so soon after the event.

Now, widowhood is one of those things that flutters about in the back of my mind from time to time; the Book God is eleven years older than me and statistically more likely to die before I do so I have occasionally had thoughts about what being a widow would be like (not pleasant), something that has happened more frequently recently as the Book God gets ready to retire at the beginning of June. So reading A Widow’s Story was a mixture of wanting to know something about one of my heroes plus trying to get an idea of what might be in store for me in what I hope will be the far distant future.

This book is not for everyone. JCO’s grief and pain is raw and immediate, and although the writing is as wonderful and vivid as always the content is so upsetting that I found myself only able to read in small chunks (and I can say without any doubt that this is not a book for bedtime reading), so it took me a long time to finish it and even longer to feel that I was able to write about it.

I learned that no matter how prepared you think you might be for the worst that can happen, you never actually are. I learned that even the most outwardly competent of people can fall apart inside while still keeping the show on the road. And of course, I learned that although the support of friends and family are important, the only person who can get you through something like this is yourself.

You might say that none of this is new and you are probably right, but these are things worth repeating.

So a book that is to be experienced and in my case admired rather than enjoyed, but a worthwhile reading experience.

So I may have mentioned once or twice recently that it was my birthday at the end of January (and I promise that I will try not to do so again – well at least not until November) and that of course meant once or two wee pressies of a bookish nature. Plus a couple of small purchases of my own….

First of all, the pressies:

  • The House at Riverton by Kate Morton – I know everyone except me read this ages ago but better late than never, and after all in the Summer of 1924, young poet kills himself, two sisters witness this and never speak to each other again; cue Winter 1999….
  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – read her first one in 2009 (I think) and thought I’d give this a try, who can resist the “Farmhouse Satan Sacrifices”
  • Bright Young Things by DJ Taylor – my mild obsession with the inter-war period continues
  • Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill – terror lies behind the door of Apartment 16; all I can say is we shall see
  • Give Me Your Heart by Joyce Carol Oates – tales of mystery by one of my very favourite authors

Plus a couple of treats for myself:

  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – now a major motion pircture of course but this has been on my wish list for ages, but it has taken Carey, Andrew and Kiera to make it happen
  • Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami – a recommendation from the very nice Japanese girl who gave me a facial in the Covent Garden Molton Brown store last week

Quite pleased especially as this is likely to be the last major book haul for some time.

Despite a TBR list that is in danger of constituting a library in its own right I haven’t stopped buying books, although I’m about to enter the pre-Christmas moratorium where the Book God and I swap our wish lists and sit on our hands until Santa has been.

And in advance of that looming date I really have been unbelievably bad on the purchasing front:

  • The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse – “It’s 1928. Freddie Watson is still giving for his brother, lost in the Great War. Driving through the foothills of the French Pyrenees, his car spins off the road in a snowstorm. Freddie takes refuge in an isolated village and there…..” I have her two previous books but haven’t read them yet, and this looks like it might be fun (and is far less chunky than the others)
  • Nancy Mitford: The Biography by Harold Acton – “This intimate biography draws a witty, real-life portrait of Nancy, based on the letters she intended to use for her autobiography…….” Sparkling and irresistible, apparently, and totally part of my current obsession with all things Mitford.
  • Changeless and Blameless by Gail Carriger – novels of vampires, werewolves, dirigibles and afternoon tea…… Again I have the first one in this series about Alexia Tarabotti but haven’t read it, so this is a bit of a chance, I suppose (what if I hate it??).
  • Blue Eyed Boy by Joanne Harris – “Once there was a widow with three sons, and their names were Black, Brown and Blue. Black was the eldest; moody and aggressive. Brown was the middle child; timid and dull. But Blue was his mother’s favourite. And he was a murderer.” Couldn’t resist it.
  • Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates – it’s a new book of short stories by the great JCO so of course I was going to get it.
  • Dreadnought by Cherie Priest – the sequel to Boneshaker which I got for Christmas (I think, may have been my birthday, too close to call) and still haven’t read. But I feel that I’m going to enjoy it when I get there.
  • Plain Kate by Erin Bow – I saw this on another blog but can’t remember whose (sorry); loved the cover and bought on impulse when in Forbidden Planet with Silvery Dude just after Hallowe’en (I bought The Unwritten 2 at the same time)
  • Decca edited by Peter Y Sussman – see Nancy above. I’m sure I’ll grow out of this at some point….
  • Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie – there was absolutely no way that once I’d got my hands on a copy I would be able to walk out of the bookshop without it. It’s important to recognise one’s limitations….
  • Tamara de Lempicka by Laura Claridge – “Born in 1899 to Russian aristocrats, Tamara de Lempicka escaped the Bolsheviks by exchanging her body for freedom, dramatically beginning a sexual career that included most of the influential men and women she painted.” Irresistible.

HalfMinuteHorrorsSusanRi54375_fSo another quickie review of a fun, scary read. Half-Minute Horrors does exactly what you might think; it pulls together over seventy stories aimed at giving youngsters a good fright through a mixture of prose, poetry and pictures and is really very enjoyable.

The selling point for me was the range of authors included – really well-known names from Neil Gaiman to Joyce Carol Oates (two of my absolute favourites as regular visitors to this blog will know) via Gregory Maguire, Margaret Atwood and Holly Black.

You could choose to read one of these a day if you are a person with discipline and iron self-control. I of course approached this the way I eat chocolates – only meant to have one or two (honest) but before I noticed half of them were gone.

Either way this is cool and creepy and a good introduction to scary stuff.

Sexy - Joyce Carol Oates17610_fOK, so we all know that my admiration for Joyce Carol Oates knows no bounds, that I have read a lot of her stuff but that there is still a huge amount out there to read because she is astonishingly prolific. One of the areas she writes in that I haven’t explored in too much detail is her young adult stuff, and Sexy definitely falls into that category.

Darren Flynn is 16, athletic (he swims in his school team) and beginning to realise, uncomfortably, that he is attractive. As he is struggling to come to terms with his identity he has an encounter with a male teacher who clearly has some regard for him, and this confuses him even more. The same teacher then becomes a target for a campaign by a number of other students, most of them friends of Darren’s from the swim team, which rapidly gets out of hand and has serious consequences, not least for Darren who gets dragged in to the whole thing and has to decide not only what to do but how he feels.

It’s quite difficult to write about this short, powerful novel without giving away what happens, so all I’m going to say is that I thought this was extremely well-written as you would expect, that Darren himself was a compelling character, and that unfortunately what the teenagers get up to is all too believable. Sometimes young people are just not very pleasant, but this is compounded by a tendency not to think things through, or to be aware that their actions have outcomes and consequences which are often beyond what they intended.

A really interesting and worthwhile reading experience.

MySisterMyLoveJoyceCaro50994_fWhile I was about a quarter of the way through this novel I happened upon an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent from a few years ago (we are woefully behind here…) which was similarly based on the Jon-Benet Ramsay murder case but took a very different approach (and guest starred the wonderful Liza Minnelli as the grieving mother); an interesting coincidence.

The L&O slant was very much a classic solve-the-murder thing, as you might expect, but My Sister, My Love is as much about family dynamics and wider society as it is about who killed a small, precociously-talented girl and why.

But it’s fair to say that this is really the story of Skyler Rampike, the older brother of Bliss Rampike, the tiny little skating prodigy who is found murdered in her parents basement not long before her seventh birthday. Skyler tells his story in the first person, and not only gives us the background to his sister’s murder (which happened when he was only nine) but the effect that it has had on him – his estrangement from his parents, his drug addiction, his myriad doctors and special schools as he becomes a problem child who has to be managed rather than a damaged youngster who needs to be looked after.

What is interesting for me is the satirical picture it paints of a certain section of society in the USA, of which I have to say I have no knowledge other than what I see on TV and read in books like this. His parents are acquisitive and have aspirations to move up in society. Skyler (and a number of the youngsters at his various schools) are diagnosed with a range of disorders and syndromes and heavily medicated, and you get the impression from Oates’ perspective that actually most of the time there isn’t really anything wrong with them at all, they are just inconveniently becoming teenagers with all that entails.

Part way through I had developed a pretty good idea of who was responsible for what happened to Bliss but not why, and being right re the culprit didn’t spoil the enjoyment of the novel for me, it’s really well-written and wonderfully put together. I’m a huge JCO fan and looking forward to working through the pile of her stuff that I have tucked away on various bookshelves in the house; happy to have started with this one.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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