Review – Tales of Terror and Mystery

Tales of Terror and Mystery

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Penguin Books

ISBN: 0-14-004878-2

3.75 stars

I’ve been reading more short stories this year and have come to one conclusion — I prefer one author over several.  I enjoy the stories more if I become familiar with the author’s voice and I can then move along without feeling the need to stop and regain my footing at the end of each story.  In Tales of Terror and Mystery, this is exactly what happened.

There were 13 stories here; six tales of terror and seven tales of mystery.

Tales of Terror:

The Horror of the Heights follows a pilot who encounters giant jellyfish like aliens.  The Leather Funnel reminds us what a true nightmare can be.  The New Catacomb is a take on the value of friendship when a woman’s love is involved.  The Case of Lady Sannox is an affair gone wrong.  The Terror of Blue John Gap involves an imaginary monster made real.  The Brazilian Cat is a tale of family woe and backstabbing relatives.

Tales of Mystery:

The Lost Special is a recounting of a train kidnapping.  The Beetle-Hunter follows a young doctor and the horror he finds in answering an advertisement.  The Man with the Watches is about a train with missing persons.  The Japanned Box makes us wonder what a widower is doing alone in a room late at night.  The Black Doctor involves the disappearance and supposed murder of a well-liked town doctor.  The Jew’s Breastplate is a museum caper complete with a mummy.  The Nightmare Room is an odd scene with a séance to boot.

If you know anything about Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, these stories reflect many of his interests including his love of new technologies and preoccupation in the afterlife.  It’s endearing and somewhat uncomfortable at the same time as his prejudices also come through.  I’m not going into that here though.

I enjoyed the tales of terror more and there are a few gems among the mysteries as well but I did see a few endings coming which didn’t cause any disappointment.  With a short story, in some cases only pages, it’s going to happen.

If you’re a fan of Doyle, this one is worth a look.  It’s fast and the stories are entertaining.

 

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Teaser Tuesday – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

Today I’m reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

“These two dimensions allow you to obtain, via a simple calculation, the surface area and volume of the Nautilus.  Its surface area totals 1,011.45 square meters, its volume 1,507.2 cubic meters – which is tantamount to saying that when it’s completely submerged, it displaces 1,500 cubic meters of water, or weighs 1,500 metric tons.” (pg. 225 of 1,089 on Nook)

Today’s Book – The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately, not unusual for me but since I downloaded a bunch of classics to my Nook over the past few weeks, I thought it might be time to take a look at one.  The Woman in White won out, mostly because 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea popped up as 1,098 pages on my Nook and I didn’t want a book that long right now.  I have George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords waiting for me and though I love a good chunkster, I wanted something slightly more manageable.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to spend much time with this tome but I am enjoying what I have been able to read.  It’s got a dark, gothic feel to it which is good since I’m sure to come off the fantasy high someday soon.

Having skipped over Collins many times even though people have said good things about his books, and especially this one, I’m somewhat surprised to find myself liking it.  Collins’s association with Charles Dickens, an author I have yet to appreciate, kept me away in fear that I would be stuck in Dickensonia.  Thankfully, that’s not the case.

I searched for a video to share but didn’t come up with anything interesting but I did find this excerpt from an audiobook produced by the BBC.

Teaser Tuesdays – The Woman in White

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Teaser so I thought I’d play this week.  I started The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins last night.  Interesting, and not at all what I expected.

“The very night before I arrived at this house, I met with an adventure; and the wonder and excitement of, I can assure you, Miss Halcombe, will last me for the whole term of my stay at Cumberland, if not for a much longer period.”

“You don’t say so, Mr. Hartright! May I hear it?” (page 70 of 590 on Nook)

Review – Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Bronte

Barnes & Noble Books

ISBN: 1442168528

5 stars

Jane Eyre is a book I’ve owned for many years.  My mother bought it for me as part of a boxed set of classics that included Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Well meaning that I can be sometimes, I wanted to read it, but something new always appeared on the shelf and I never got around to it.  A few weeks ago I decided that I would read it, and assuage a little guilt as well since I was starting to see it each time I looked at the shelf and realized that once again I hadn’t read it.

Jane is a young orphan being raised by an aunt who can’t stand her.  After an incident with her cousin, her aunt sends her off to Lowood School where Jane finds a life as a teacher.  Wanting a new experience, she sets out to find a governess position and unexpectedly finds a home, a life, love, and heartbreak.  In the midst of her most heartbreaking moment, she stumbles upon unknown family members, rebuilds herself but knows that in the end she must follow her heart even if it means ruin for her battered feelings.

Those few sentences were so difficult to write.  I realize many people already know the story so I didn’t want to drone on about the plot and I also didn’t want to give too much away for the few of you out there that were like me and kept putting it off.  There are so many wonderful moments in this story that in order to truly appreciate how lovely, haunting, and beautiful it is, you must read it.  Which brings me to a new dilemma — how do I talk about this book without getting all saccharine and sloppy on you?

You see, I adored this book.  I adored Jane.  She’s feisty, stubborn, generous, loving, understanding, and loyal.  As a child she hates her family, with good reason as they are abominable people, but when she arrives at Lowood School, despite a cruel headmaster, she flourishes.  She finds friends who believe in her, her kindness shines like a beacon, and she’s adventurous wanting to experience life outside of the comfortable walls of the school.  When she arrives at Thornfield to become a governess to a young French girl, she’s strict yet fun making Adele fall in love with her.  The servants at the house become a family of sorts to her and for the first time in her life Jane enjoys being at home.  The master of Thornfield, Rochester, however, is another issue.  Jane explicitly describes him in a way that makes him seem revolting but she herself is in love with him.  You see through her descriptions to the love she feels but when it ends in heartbreak, she leaves and you want to cry with her.  In her darkest moments, she still feels loyalty to those she loves and I wanted to yell at her.  She’s too smart for her own good but that’s why she is so likable.  When things are most horrid, she somehow perseveres and that staunchness is something you come to appreciate.

Characters are what make a story for me and Jane has found a place in my heart as a favorite character.  There are so many things in her path but she still finds the good in people, even ones that have hurt her, and she has incredible strength.  I admired her for her ability to calmly make decisions and stick with her convictions even when it meant living with nothing but the clothes on her back.  When Jane finds her happy ending (don’t worry the spoiler lover in me won’t say more), I also wanted to cry for her.  She had been through too much for it to be any other way.

Jane Eyre, a book that I will be reading again and probably sooner rather than later.

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

By J.M. Barrie

Barnes & Noble Classics

eISBN: 978-1-411-43289-5

5 stars

My mom once told me that as a child I wouldn’t sleep until she read me Peter Pan.  It usually took three or four reads since I was a child who didn’t care much for sleep.  My mom had the story memorized and said if she turned the page too early, I would stop her to let her know she wasn’t done with the page yet.  Apparently, I also had the story memorized. 🙂  The version I was read while tucked snuggly in bed was not this version but rather an illustrated book probably courtesy of Disney.  Whatever version of the book I was read as a child, this one held true for me and every bit of it was fantastic.

Peter Pan is a young boy who simply refuses to grow up.  He lives in Neverland with the Lost Boys, the Piccaninny tribe, the mermaids, pirates, a ticking crocodile, and of course, Hook.  Peter is the captain of the boys and they do whatever he tells them to.  One night, he meets Wendy and her two brothers, Michael and John, and takes them all away to Neverland to share in his adventures.

One thing I noticed about the book was the violence.  There’s open talk of killing Hook, Peter is not shy about telling anyone that he cut off his hand, and that he plans to finish him.  While no one says what happens to the Lost Boys that get too old, one doesn’t have to look very far for the reason for their disappearance.  Peter is extraordinarily arrogant (Maybe that’s not the right word for describing a child; cocky?) and nothing happens without his say.  Even when danger lurks, not one of the Lost Boys questions his authority even when they are told to kill the pirates.  That astounded me and made me happy to see that Barrie didn’t dumb this story down.  Bad things happen in life and he brought it down to a level that was understandable for a child.  As an adult, I obviously have a different view but was interested in the way he portrayed Peter and the fact that even though he was just a boy, he was a boy with responsibilities for others even if he didn’t think much about it in those terms.  Well, at least until he brought in Wendy to be the mother which solved some of his responsibility issues.

Wendy is playing the mother of the Lost Boys and Peter is somewhat the father as Wendy does say to him often how wonderful their boys are.  It’s slightly odd but I overlooked my wiggly feeling about it.  The boys so badly want someone to love them, and when Wendy comes along, they cling to her like no one else.  It’s almost sad how starved they are for love and attention.  She delights in telling them stories of her parents and tests them frequently so her brothers will remember.

Most of all, this story is all whimsy.  It’s beautifully told with an almost poetic quality to it at times.  It can be harsh and it can be so simple in the way it describes the games the children play.  It’s both amusing and sad reading it as an adult.

I did a few Google searches to find out more about Barrie and it turns out the idea for Peter Pan is based on a brother who died in childhood.  In his mother’s eyes, his brother always remained 14 years old, the age at which he died.  That made me so very sad but if this was the way he finally managed to immortalize his brother, it’s a wonderful tribute.

I wondered how I would feel about this story as an adult and I can honestly say that for me, it will always be a favorite.  It’s magical and I’m glad I got around to reading it again.  I had a whole new perspective as an adult and it gave me a greater appreciation for the story.  I do wonder what my mom would think of it now though…

Dracula

 

Dracula

Dracula

Dracula

By Bram Stoker

Bantam Books

ISBN: 0-553-21271-0

5 stars

I recently re-read Dracula and I have to say, it can still make my heart race even though I know what’s going to happen on the next page.

The novel is composed of journal entries from several characters: Jonathan Harker, Lucy Westerna, Mina Murray, Dr. John Seward, Quincey Morris, Arthur Holwood, and Professor Van Helsing.  Each entry brings a new voice and perspective to the story making it incredibly rich and, in many ways, even scarier because you know these individuals are expressing their true fears since the writing is done in private journals.

The story begins with Jonathan Harker, an English lawyer, on a trip to the Carpathian Mountains to conduct business for a Count Dracula.  He describes his odd journey and the strange responses of the people when they learn where he is going.  He also includes his description of the Count which gives the reader a clear look at Dracula.

Mina, Jonathan’s fiancée, is visiting her friend Lucy and writing happily to her Jonathan.  The entries are full of happiness and hope until Lucy falls gravely ill and the mood becomes tragically sad and somewhat disturbing as Lucy’s behavior and cause is explained.

Dr. Seward, a former suitor of Lucy’s, is at a loss to help her and calls on an old friend.  Professor Van Helsing arrives and sensing the problem begins a fruitless effort to save her.  When Lucy succumbs, Van Helsing knows what must be done but to protect the decency of the lady and emotions of family and friends, he mentions the next step, stake through the heart and beheading, only to Seward.  Seward, nursing his loss of Lucy in several ways, lashes out.  Finally, when neighbors begin to report children missing, Seward agrees to help Van Helsing along with Quincey, an American in love with Lucy as well, and her forlorn fiancé Arthur who feels it is his duty to help Lucy finally rest in peace.  The small band sets out to kill Lucy — again.

Mina at this time is nursing Jonathan back to health after he fell ill during his trip to Transylvania.  She finds and reads his diary against his wishes, in the hope of understanding what is ailing him.  She’s astounded by what she finds but is still determined to help not only Jonathan, but the now assembled group of vampire hunters, remove the scourge from the earth.

As the final battle becomes evident, the journal entries become more morose, creepy, and scary which is what makes this book so fascinating.  You feel as if you’re getting a peek into the characters’ minds.  You feel their terror and frustrations, and are entranced by the minutiae of their planning for the fight with what they consider to be the ultimate evil.

If you’re looking for something to read this October, the original still delivers.