Review – Advent

AdventGavin Stokes is an awkward teenager. In fact, he’s always been awkward. He talks to people who aren’t there, see things that aren’t there, and has parents that want him to pretend everything that happens to him, doesn’t. When the opportunity comes to visit his aunt in the country, the only person he ever thought understood him, he jumps at the chance. One strange things after another happens to him and he starts to think that maybe he isn’t so awkward after all and there are a lot of things in this world that can’t be explained.

I don’t know what to make of this book. On one hand, I really liked it. On an entirely different hand, I didn’t really think much of it. Sadly, I’m having trouble pinpointing why this is so. Here’s the thing, the story has a bit of a time slip thing going on. So, when you’re not in the present watching a teenager make a total mess of things, you’re back in the 1500s with a magician who is also making a mess of things. I liked both stories. Each had their strong points. It was when the stories merged that I had trouble. Here’s the thing — the two timelines fit well together, character and plot wise. But I didn’t really care for them meshing. Does that make sense? Ignore me if it doesn’t, I won’t be offended.

One of the reasons I put this book on my list was because I knew it had a few Arthurian legend references and as we all know, (I’ve repeated it often enough) I’ll read anything that has Arthurian elements. That aspect of this book kept me reading and I liked the rather subtle way in which it was introduced. Although, I didn’t like when Gavin’s name went from Gavin to Gawain. It annoys me when characters change names halfway through a book. It was necessary and certainly made sense within the context of the story but it just doesn’t work me. I’m all for people (re: characters) finding themselves but, again, annoying for me. You may love it. Again, ignore me if needed.

The good thing and why this book is worth a try. It’s a book about magic! The magic follows traditional rules, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just pointing it out. And I liked that it was dark and sinister, the way I think magic should be. The way the magic is tangled throughout the centuries is great too. The estate, Pendura, in Cornwall that Gavin retreats to where his aunt is living, is an interesting place as well. It’s almost suspended in time and home to creatures that are only known to exist in the imagination.

Advent is the first book in a trilogy, and according to the author’s website, the second book, Anarchy, it will be out in September in the US. After writing this review, I think I might have talked myself into looking at the second book after all.

Advent

By James Treadwell

Emily Bestler Books/ATRIA

ISBN: 9781451661668

Review – The House of the Vampire

The House of the VampireI’ve been over the vampire thing for a bit but every once in awhile an old school one finds me and I can’t help but read it. While looking on the Gutenberg Project for some horror recently, I found this one. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like a Victorian, Gothic, psychic vampire.

Reginald Clarke is a man everyone loves. He’s talented in every way and people crave his company. Artists flock to him and he takes in writers, musicians, and painters to his home. But something happens to all these talented people — they soon leave him with nothing, not a trace of the talent they arrived with. A young writer staying with Reginald, and for all purposes, under his spell, figures it out and tries to get out from under Reginald’s enchantment.

The House of the Vampire is good and creepy and the type of vampire story I want more of. There’s no blood and certainly no sparkling going on here. Let’s all take a moment to be thankful for that. It’s an interesting concept, a psychic vampire, and frankly one that’s more terrifying, in some ways, than an actual blood sucking vampire. This is someone stealing who and what you are. Taking it for himself and using it to his advantage until there’s nothing left of you. You are a shell of a human being with nothing to give or take from anyone. Think about that.

If Wikipedia is correct, this short story was written in 1907 but it feels younger than its 100 + years.

The House of the Vampire

By George Sylvester Viereck

Gutenberg Project Ebook

 

Review – The Shunned House

The Shunned HouseI’ve never read Lovecraft; I always had good intentions though. Time got away from me and I kept saying I would get to it. I never did, until recently that is. I found a story, this one in fact, while browsing the Gutenberg Project website. It was the only Lovecraft story they had listed and I thought why not, I always meant to read one of his stories.

An abandoned house sits on Benefit Street in the New England town of Providence, Rhode Island. The house, empty for years, is the source of many rumors, and many of these rumors have easily been explained away by most of the town’s people. Then one man and his uncle decide to finally put an end to the rumors. Both have a very strong interest in the house and have been actively researching it for years. They plan to spend the night in the basement of the house and discover the source of the supernatural rumors.

For a short story, about 35 pages, The Shunned House packs in so much. I loved the rumors, all neatly explained away by stoic New Englanders, the research done on the house and all its inhabitants, and the guesses as to the source of the possible supernatural on-goings at the place. It had a great creepy feeling, yet, having read it at lunch, it didn’t scare me much but I’m not sure if I’d go in for reading this while cozy in bed. At least not without all the lights on…but that would be a great way to read Lovecraft, if you aren’t attached to sleeping at all.

The Shunned House
By H.P. Lovecraft
A Gutenberg Project Ebook

Review – A Crystal Time

A Crystal TimeSmith wakes up to find himself dirty and in an unknown place. Realizing the gravity of his situation, he decides he must get to the nearest town to clean up and find out what has happened. He begins his journey but recognizes nothing along the way. When he comes upon a group of people, a funeral in fact, he makes himself known and they take him home with them. During his time with the people kind enough to take him in, he begins to fall deeply in love with a woman named Yolette. His inability to understand his new situation and new home, lead to dire consequences.

It’s a great anthropological sort of story. Smith doesn’t understand the culture he’s now a part of. In some ways, he doesn’t want to understand it either and makes no attempt to figure things out with the exception of basic language skills. What he’s learned is all to his advantage though, it’s not to understand or even be able to thank the people who have taken him in, fed him, clothed him, and cared for him. He makes no effort to embrace this new life even after it’s clear that he isn’t going back to his world or time. While there, he becomes obsesses with a woman named Yolette. The love he professes to her is more an all consuming obsession and possession which she doesn’t understand, and by all rights, should feel uncomfortable with. I was uncomfortable with his weird obsession with her as the reader and wouldn’t want to be the receiver of those types of feelings. Smith, however, doesn’t think any of his actions are outside the bounds of normalcy.

There’s no explanation as to how Smith got to this new place or what happened to his old world. Smith doesn’t seem overly curious about it either which is rightly frustrating. He wants so much for things to be what they were but he doesn’t seem to miss the old place just what was familiar and understandable to him. He’s a very odd character that way which is frustrating because it would have been wonderful to see this world through his eyes. Instead we’re stuck with his complaining and pining for what he knew.

I kept thinking of The Left Hand of Darkness with the anthropological aspects and the story of an explorer who comes to a new land that is very different from his own. I liked that Smith was somewhat interested (even if it was only to get something to his advantage) but didn’t on some level have the ability to understand whereas the character in The Left Hand of Darkness did understand but didn’t, to me anyway, seem interested as he was supposed to be observing and not getting involved per se.

The ending, while not giving it away, is a total cop out. In dealing with his feeling for Yolette, Smith succumbs to a depression. The black wolf that follows him and waits patiently for him to wake each morning to become his shadow is the physical embodiment of this depression. It’s effective but letting that get the better of him felt wrong to me. It’s also a matter of his ignorance and the culture he has become integrated with. All around, Smith was a frustrating character and somewhat unlikeable.

It’s an interesting story though and I’m glad to have picked it up even if I can’t say it was a great book. It has its moments and there were more than enough appealing bits to keep me reading.

A Crystal Time

W.H. Hudson

Gutenberg Project Ebook

More Mini Reviews

More mini reviews. I’m beginning to like these short takes. Be warned, you might see more.  This time, a short story about a boy and a book about the Loch Ness monster. Enjoy.

The Year of the Big ThawYear of the Big Thaw

By Marion Zimmer Bradley

A Gutenberg Project Ebook

Superman. That’s what I thought about as soon as I finished this short story. A boy is found and raised by a caring farmer and his wife who tell no one about the boy’s appearance and let everyone guess as to where he came from and how he came to live with them.

This is an interesting little story and if you’re a fan of Marion Zimmer Bradley, I suggest giving this very brief story a try; it’s only about 25 pages. I always forget that she wrote more than fantasy along the lines of The Mists of Avalon, that being my favorite of her works. But I know she’s written a lot of science fiction, most of which I haven’t touched. I should read more of her science fiction and thanks to the Gutenberg Project, where I found this little beauty, I’m going to make that happen.

If you’ve read some of Zimmer Bradley’s science fiction, suggestions on where I should start?

 

The LochThe Loch

By Steve Alten

Tsunami Books

ISBN: 0976165902

Zachery Wallace is a marine biologist who is called back to Scotland to help out his father who has been arrested for murder. How does a marine biologist help an absentee father who is accused of murder? By proving the Loch Ness Monster exists, of course. Yep, Angus, Zachery’s father, claims a monster ate the man he’s accused of killing and Zachery needs to get over his fear of the water, a great trait in a marine biologist, and anger directed at his father, to prove his innocence.

I read this book in October 2012 as part of my regular creepy Halloween reading. It fit the bill. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad. It was silly and entertaining. I always enjoy anything Loch Ness related so that was a plus. And it was fun. The story is farfetched but I read it in one afternoon curled up on my couch so I don’t have much of anything bad to say about it but I’m writing this review months later and not much of the story remained with me either. If you like stories like this, I say go for it. Spend a weekend and entertain yourself with a story of the Loch Ness monster, if you like that sort of thing.

Review – The Thirty-Nine Steps

The Thirty-Nine StepsSometimes, I like to go old school with my books. This book was one of those occasions. I should start off by telling you that The Thirty-Nine Steps is a serial story that appeared in a magazine in and around 1915 or so. I found it interesting for that reason; the fact that it was an old school spy thriller took it over the top though. However, there’s a reason for my telling you this up-front but the valuable lesson learned will be shared in a moment.

Richard Hannay is an ordinary man trying to settle into his London home after years away in South Africa when a neighbor, Franklin Scudder, corners him and tells him that he’s uncovered a German plot to assassinate a Greek Premier and he needs help hiding out. Soon after agreeing to hide Scudder, Hannay comes home to find him dead. From then on, Hannay is running from everyone. He can’t go to the police, he doesn’t know who is really chasing him, and he doesn’t know if any of it is real or not. Running is his one and only option.

Lesson learned: if you are going to read a serialized story, read it that way. Each chapter is a complete story, in a way. There’s a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Yes, you can say that of most novels but it’s especially true in this case since each chapter was run by itself it needed to reintroduce the characters and story in subtle ways. When I tried to read this book all in one sitting, it didn’t work. I started to wonder if I would even finish it because it wasn’t working for me. So, I started and ended each chapter at lunch. And it clicked! The book started working and I was in love with it. It became exciting to see how Hannay was going to get out of his predicament and who he would meet up with next. It was my lunch reading and I couldn’t wait for it.

It’s a man on the run thriller, one the first of its kind from what I remember reading about this story. The story itself is a great distraction too. I got caught up and was happy to see things work out in some cases or be left wondering about the next set up.

Warning: if you’re going to read this, go one chapter at a time and let the story play out. It’s so much better that way. And try it you should. You can get it from The Gutenberg Project for free so go and do that.

The Thirty-Nine Steps
By John Buchan

A Gutenberg Project Ebook

Thoughts – The Sign of Four

The Sign of FourI used to read a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories. Of course, this was years ago and I think I must have overdid it because I avoided Conan Doyle for years. Like the plague. Then I came across a few short stories when purging the shelves and thought it would be nice to take a look again, and it turns out, I still like me a bit of Sherlock and his handy sidekick, Doctor Watson. Feeling confident, I downloaded The Sign of Four from The Gutenberg Project and decided I would get re-acquainted with the duo. Not so much joy ensued.

Here’s the general overview: a man has gone missing, a treasure has been misplaced, and Sherlock is asked to stick his nose in and sort out the conflicting mess. It’s wildly more complicated than that but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t get into this one and barely trudged to the end. The mystery was bland to me and this is supposed to be one his most revered Sherlockian works. People supposedly love this one and to a high degree I might add.
I may not have had much interest in the actual mystery but what I did find interesting in this story was the drug use. Yep, right at the start Sherlock is getting high on cocaine (I have so little opportunity to quote the Grateful Dead let me revel in it!). It made me wonder why anyone would hire someone who seemed, at least here, to be mildly stoned for most of the day to solve a mystery. Also of interest, we get to meet the future Mrs. Watson.

I want to tell you more but I fear that my boredom with the story will cause me to give too much away. Besides, there are many favorable reviews of this book out there that if you like Sherlock, google it then read it. It might do wonders for you. If I may though, I’d recommend The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s still my favorite.

The Sign of Four
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Gutenberg Project Ebook