Thursday, October 27, 2011

NPR's controversial interview with Amy Greene

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Amy Greene last week, who is the author of Bloodroot.  Her writing is incredibly powerful, and if you have not had the chance to read Bloodroot yet I highly recommend that you make some time!  A couple of months ago I mentioned the debut novel in my Southern Lit Rant, and I still think it is one of the best books I have ever read.

Anyway, Amy Greene mentioned last week that in early 2010 she was interviewed on NPR, and that it ended up being a very controversial show. Jacki Lyden was the host, and though she may not have done this on purpose, she came across as very condescending, even going so far as to suggest that the south is not a part of the "real world."  Apparently this pissed off a lot of people (not just southerners) and NPR received many letters and calls of complaint.

I was very disappointed when I read the transcript of the interview.  I listen to NPR almost every day, and I was appalled at Lyden's ignorance and lack of respect for Amy Greene as a writer.  If you're a southerner, you have probably dealt this kind of stereotyping before, but seriously??? I expected more from NPR.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie

   Monsieur Hercule Poirot has been asked by a friend, Adriadne Oliver, to assist in solving a tragic murder.  At a recent children's Halloween party a young girl of 13, Joyce, bragged to other party-goers that she once witnessed a murder.  Joyce was known for embellishing stories, so no one took her seriously.  But after the party, Joyce is found dead and Ms Oliver wonders if Joyce may have been telling the truth this time.  So she enlists the help of England's greatest detective - Hercule Poirot.

   This book made me remember how much I enjoy Agatha Christie mysteries.  I hadn't read one in several years, so I'm glad I picked it up.  It may not pack as much punch as some of her earlier masterpieces (Hallowe'en was published in 1969), but it's still an Agatha Christie book nonetheless, which means it is well-written and entertaining.  Plus, it is about a murder at a Halloween party...perfect for this time of year!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lost by Gregory Maguire

   Winnie, a novelist, is traveling to London to do some research for a book she is writing about a girl named Wendy who is obsessed with the story of Jack the Ripper.  When Winnie arrives at her stepcousin's flat in London she is surprised to find that the house is under construction and her cousin, John, is nowhere to be found.  According to old family stories, Winnie is the direct descendant of Ebenezer Scrooge, or rather the man who inspired Charles Dickens's timeless character, and John is living in their ancestor's house.

   After a few days in the house, Winnie and the construction workers have reason to believe that the old house is haunted.  A loud knocking sound is coming from the chimney, and further inspection reveals a false wall built hastily around the origin of the noise.  Winnie is unsure if the house is inhabited by the ghost of Jack the Ripper, one of his victims, or her scrooge-like ancestor.  Or, she begins to wonder if her cousin's disappearance has more terrifying implications than she first imagined.

   This book was a quick read, but it took some strange, unexpected turns and ended on a much different note than I thought it would.  The many literary/folklore references never really came together coherently, especially the references to Jack the Ripper.  It's almost like Gregory Maguire decided to write a different story midway through the novel but using the same characters.  It's not his best work and fans of the Wicked series might be disappointed, but it is entertaining.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Creepers by David Morrell

   If you ever thought it might be fun to explore an abandoned building, Creepers will make you think again.  While they prefer to call themselves "Urban Explorers," creepers are people who like to roam abandoned old buildings - not to take anything, just to observe.  They have an obsession with the past, and for them, entering old empty structures is like entering a time capsule.

   In this novel, five people conspire to explore the Paragon hotel - an abandoned building that was once an extravagant hotel often frequented by celebrities, mobsters, and other rich and powerful people.  Even though these creepers are well-practiced and experienced, they did not anticipate the fact that the Paragon Hotel is not as empty as they first presumed.  They could have never imagined the horrors that await them in the once majestic building that time forgot.

   I read most of this book in one sitting with my feet tucked underneath me.  It is seriously disturbing.  As the creepers fight the evil that reside in the Paragon, they experience a few things that could have come straight out of a Quentin Tarantino film - sadistic, disturbing things that would render the majority of people trembling, mindless versions of themselves.  But (much like Tarantino movies), the villain of Creepers underestimates the victims' will to survive.

   By close to the end of the book, I had my suspicions about what was really going on in this hotel, and while some of them were confirmed, others were completely extinguished by some very unexpected plot twists.  Creepers is a well-organized, successful thriller, but I don't recommend reading it at home alone in one sitting or you may end up like I did - sweaty, nervous, hungry, and stiff from 4 hours of not moving.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

   It's the middle of the 17th century, and Jakob Kuisl is one of the most feared and despised men in his small town of Schongau (Bavaria, Germany).  As the town's executioner, he is responsible for ending the lives of the worst criminals, and while this gives him much power, it also causes him to be socially shunned as it is considered bad luck to be seen with the hangman.  Kuisl lives on the outskirts of town with his wife and children, but when the body of a brutally slain child appears on the riverbank with a mysterious symbol on his shoulder, rumors of witchcraft swirl, and Jakob's quiet life on the edge of society is over.  The town suspects a local midwife to be the murderous witch and demand that she be executed.  However, Jakob believes that the midwife is innocent, and he and his family are forced to become more involved in the social and political realms of Schongau than they ever could have imagined.  As more bodies appear, Jakob must work quickly with the help of his daughter, Magdalena, and the town physician, Simon, to avoid another mass hysteria/ witch hunt and find the real killer.

   I'm still not quite sure why this book is called The Hangman's Daughter, as Magdalena doesn't exactly have a starring role in the novel.  Even though she is intelligent and strong, she is also a woman in the 17th century, meaning that no one really takes her that seriously.  I really wish she had been given a bigger role in the book.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the premise of the plot, but the translation seemed pretty sloppy at times.  Also, there were a few too many cliches for me, especially regarding the ending.  The final chapters were reminiscent of Scooby-Doo to be honest...mass confessions and long monologues wrapped everything up in a nice neat bow.  So while I was disappointed by the writing, I will say that the plot was engaging - especially considering that the plot is based on family stories that have been passed down for generations to the author, who is a direct descendant of the famous Kuisl executioners.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Halloween books for all ages

Tis the season to be scary!...

Updated on 10/5/12:

With Halloween coming up in a few weeks, I know a lot of people are ready for some spooky stories.  Here are a few books I would recommend to anyone looking to get into the spirit of Halloween.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

   Agnes Grey is not a very long books, (barely over 200 pages), and it reads like 3 small novellas.  It's not actually divided into separate sections, but Agnes Grey tells 3 main stories.  Miss Grey's family is facing hardship, so she takes a job as a governess for the Bloomfield family.  The Bloomfield children are pretty much the worst kids ever.  They are rude, destructive, defiant, and mean to Agnes.  And of course, the young governess gets no support from their parents.  Instead, they often tend to blame Agnes for their children's deplorable behavior.

   It's no surprise that Agnes does not stay with the Bloomfield family for very long.  She soon moves in as the governess for the Murray family.  Their children are much more manageable, but still unpleasant due to their immense wealth and pampering.  The eldest daughter is an eligible bachelorette, yet her spoiled behavior reveals tremendous immaturity.  Despite the unpleasant life of living with the Murray family, it is in this position where she meets Mr. Weston, a man who works as a pastor in the town's small church.

   This brings us to the third aspect of Agnes Grey: Romance.  Miss Grey and Mr. Weston enter into a completely rational and tame romance, but for Agnes, it's more than enough.  I thought their relationship was the most unconvincing aspect of the novel.  This is likely because the book is semi-autobiographical for Anne Bronte, and she probably didn't want to portray herself as passionate or lusty - characteristics that were not conventional for 19th century women to embody.  I liked reading about Agnes's experience as a governess, as it provided an interesting glimpse into mid 19th century domestic life.  However, I think Anne Bronte may have overdone it a bit in the attempt to portray a quiet good girl.  For me, she often just came across as a pious, naive goody two-shoes.