Mini Reviews

I’ve been meaning to review both of these books for a while, but I kept putting them off and now it’s been weeks. I still want to talk about them so I thought mini-reviews would be best. These are two very different books so have fun with that.

Fact about both books, each is the start of a series.

 

The Name of the StarThe Name of the Star

By Maureen Johnson

GP Putnam Sons

ISBN: 9780399256608

This is my first Maureen Johnson book. I follow her on Twitter and she’s hysterical so I thought I’d finally read one of her books. I know the second book in the Shades of London series is coming out soon so I picked this one. Also, a lot of other bloggers liked it; how could I say no to that kind of recommendation.

Rory, a teenager from Louisiana, moves to a London boarding when her parents take jobs in England. As soon as she arrives, Jack the Ripper style killing begin and she somehow ends up wrapped up in the case.

The Name of the Star is a weird mix-up of ghost story, mystery, police story, and teenage angst. Toss in a bit of boarding school drama and I had a story that I liked very much. I’m now looking forward to the second book.

 

Silent in the GraveSilent in the Grave

By Deanna Raybourn

Mira

ISBN: 9780778324102

Sometimes I do stupid things, like start a series in the middle which means I have to go back and start at the beginning and read ALL the books because that’s how I am. That happened with the Lady Julia Grey series. I read The Dark Enquiry when it came out almost two years ago and now I’m finally getting around to the start of this series and I want to devour ALL of them. No, really, these are so good.

Lady Julia Grey’s husband, Edward, is dead and as it turns out, he was murdered. Nicholas Brisbane, a man Edward hired to help investigate the sinister notes he was getting, is now all up in Julia’s business and she can’t decide if she likes it or not.

This is where Julia and Nicholas get together and oh it’s so fun — the arguing, the lust, and the misunderstandings. So. Much. Fun. Also, it’s a good mystery and the characters are fantastic. Thank god my library likes Deanna Raybourn.

Review – The Anatomy of Ghosts

The Anatomy of Ghosts

By Andrew Taylor

Hyperion

ISBN: 9781401302870

2.5 stars

1786; Cambridge, England; ghosts; a mystery — How could I go wrong? Well, I won’t go and say it was wrong but I will say this one wasn’t my cup of tea. I finished and I’m glad I did but didn’t feel satisfied. There’s nothing specific I can point to but it didn’t come together for me. Wrong book, wrong time?

John Holdworth, a recent widower grieving not only his much loved wife, but his son who was also lost tragically, is called upon by Lady Oldershaw to reestablish her son’s reputation. Frank Oldershaw, a student at Jerusalem College in Cambridge, has been a patient at a mental hospital ever since he saw the ghost of a woman supposedly haunting the college grounds. As John has written a book stating ghosts are mere delusions, Lady Oldershaw believes he’s the best person to investigate her family’s little problem and convince her son that what he saw wasn’t real. What John Holdworth finds at Jerusalem College is much more complicated that he imagined.

John isn’t, for me, a likable character. While his wife is grieving their son, and talking to charlatans in the hopes of hearing her son from the other side, he’s writing a book about how ghosts don’t exist. When she finally succumbs to her grief, his life crumples and he moves along wondering what will happen to him but he’s so drained he can’t even bring himself to feel. Then it happens, he loses everything and ends up working a case of a ghost. Irony there for ya isn’t it?

The whole time I was reading I kept wondering why this guy was doing the investigation. Yes, he was discreet. Yes, he needed a job. Yes, he wrote a book about ghosts. But none of it worked for me. I kept thinking it didn’t make sense. And the mystery; I barely noticed it. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention but I didn’t really care what happened to a group of young, rich men who thought they owned and ran the world and had the privilege of treating everyone around them badly because their money declared they could. Although to not be entirely negative, there were a few interesting plot twists but again I couldn’t bring myself to care much.

I read some good reviews of this several months ago so take what I said cautiously. This was a book that didn’t work for me but that doesn’t mean anything other than I didn’t get into it. In the front of the book I read, there was a list of books by the author and some sound promising. I’m going to try one more book and see how I feel about Andrew Taylor’s writing after the second chance. Sometimes a few bad characters make the difference between loving a book and merely liking it.

Teaser Tuesdays

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’s teaser comes from The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor.

“No, no, Master. A virtuous mind allied to a cultivated understanding must ever—” (pg. 62)

Review – Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

SpookSpook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

By Mary Roach

W.W. Norton & Company

ISBN: 0393059626

4.75 stars

While I don’t foster much belief in the afterlife, I do have a thing about ghosts.  I don’t know whether or not I actually believe in them, but I love stories about them.  This is what partly led me to read Spook, that and I love Mary Roach’s approach to non-fiction.  She doesn’t go all crazy and make you feel as if you must believe everything she’s writing about because it’s non-fiction — in some cases you even wonder if she believes it all — which is refreshing.

In Spook, she takes a look at what science has to say about the afterlife.  She starts out with reincarnation, moves on to measuring the weight of a soul, discusses debunking mediums and psychics, looks at the science of ectoplasm, tries to communicate with the dead, and wraps up with the effects of electromagnetic fields on humans.  For some of the topics, the weight of the soul and ectoplasm in particular, the science is rather thin and doesn’t leave you with a lot of hope or really any good scale for noting how much the soul would possibly weigh.  It seems very little but that doesn’t deter the author here.  She goes with it and at times even pokes fun at some of the methods used to determine such things and why someone would even be interested in finding out the information in the first place.

While I found the chapter on reincarnation interesting, what I loved was the section on debunking mediums.  I’m always fascinated by this, the debunking not crackpot mediums, and the lengths that people will go to to defraud someone, especially someone hurting from the loss of a loved one.  Communicating with the dead was another good chapter especially when she gets into describing the activities involved with talking to, or at least trying, to hear the dead.

Roach approaches her subject with a bit of humor but never lets it overcome what she’s set out to prove or disprove.  I’m not sure that I can say this book made me want to re-visit my belief system but it did provide me with some good info to talk to my sister about who also loves ghost stories.

 

Today’s Book – Spook

I’ve been reading Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach this week.  I can’t say that I heart this book as much as Packing for Mars, but it is absorbing.  I will admit up front that I don’t put much thought in the afterlife, which may or may not be the reason behind my not getting so sucked into this book.  (Oddly, I think this was also true of the author in certain chapters.)  I did find the chapter on reincarnation enlightening (Oh, indulge me. :-)) especially in the context of Indian society.  Granted, Roach was investigating a report of a reincarnation with a doctor in a poor Indian village where death is a common occurrence but it was the attitude toward death that struck me — and I’m paraphrasing here — why worry so much about death since there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be coming back and rather soon.  I thought it was defining in terms of how we, all societies and cultures, mourn and deal with death.

The chapter on fake mediums and what they went through to defraud clients/patrons/etc. was fascinating but then again seeing something debunked is a favorite of mine.  Ghost Hunters anyone?  “No, the bathroom isn’t haunted.  The seal on the faucet needs to be replaced that’s why it drips,” state Grant and Jay.  No Ghost Hunters, Myth Busters then.  You get where I’m going right?  I like bad television.  Well, that much maybe true, but no, point was that I like seeing fake things shown the light of day.  Anyway, the chapter on machines to register ectoplasm and the weight of the soul were a bit dry but considering the science around both of these topics is a little thin, you can tell the author is not so much impressed either with some of the things she’s shown, but both proved to be necessary to the book.  You can’t talk about death without soul involvement, and well, ectoplasm and ghosts go hand in hand.  Ghostbusters anyone?  OK, OK, I’m done with ghost references.

Roach has a very approachable reading style, especially for non-fiction which can sometimes lean toward the dry, and I enjoy the humorous banter she infuses in the footnotes.  If you ever find yourself reading one of her books, and you should, make sure you read the footnotes.

It’s Monday and I got nothin’

Ok, not entirely true but somewhat.  I’ve been hoping to get back to a regular blog rhythm this year but I seem to have turned into a cold and flu magnet and I haven’t felt like doing much writing.  After two rounds of antibiotics and a few days on the couch, I’m finally feeling good enough to sit up and thought I’d take a minute (a short one) to talk about a few of the books I read last week.

The Last Pendragon: A Story of Dark Age Wales by Sarah Woodbury — This was a Nook read.  I found it while looking at my Nook library online and downloaded it.  My love of Arthurian Legend always compels me to do these things.  It won’t top my best of list but it did help me get out of a slump.  There are some supernatural elements in this one that most Arthurian stories don’t have and while I’m not a huge fan of those additions to this story, it worked here.  It adheres to the basic story and many of the required elements are present — the sword in a stone, love, a merlin-like character, etc.  It was more character than plot driven but I’m all right with that.  All in all, interesting.

 

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill — I love ghost stories and when I found out my library had this one, I wanted it.  It delivered on the creepy front.  It’s tension filled and can make you want to turn the lights on in every room of your house.  On the surface it might seem a bit tame — a young lawyer is sent to handle the affairs of a deceased client who lived on a small, isolated island in the north of England.  What he finds is a town unwilling to share information about the woman whose affairs he’s handling and even less willing to talk about the house and property she owned.  Nothing is explained at first and that adds to the story being this dark spot in a small town’s history.  I loved it.

 

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness — As soon as this book entered my house I wanted to read it.  I put it off at first but then gave in as soon as possible.  I don’t really know what to say about this one because I loved it so so much.  Being sick makes it hard for me to read sometimes but I couldn’t put this book down.  The characters all worked for me, the story was complicated, it mixed science and history, and it was a book about a book.  Books about books always entice me.  It was also about witches, vampires, and daemons.  I thought I was sick of the vampire thing but they worked in this book.  I adored the cover too and yes I mentioned that in another post already.

I think my next book is going to be Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDivitt.  I have a non-fiction book about Jamestown but I don’t think I’ll be able to comprehend that one in my current condition.  I also have Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen so my next few days are happily covered.

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale

By Diane Setterfield

Atria Books

ISBN: 978-0-7423-98802-5

4.75 stars

The Thirteenth Tale is about ghosts, what haunts people in their worst moments, personal regrets, and most of all, it is a story about a story.

Margaret Lea is an amateur biographer who works with her father at their antiquarian bookstore. She is called upon by England’s most beloved and well-known writer, Vida Winter, to write her biography. Vida has never told her story to anyone and no one knows anything about her personal life thanks to Vida herself who leads everyone, who dares to ask a personal question, astray. She explains to Margaret her plans to tell her the story of Vida Winter — it will be done properly, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. What comes forth is a story of Gothic proportions, strange unbelievable characters, and a story that is both disturbing and beautiful. Over the weeks she spends listening to Vida’s story, Margaret finds that she has more in common with the enigmatic writer than she ever thought possible. The connection pulls her deeply into the story, a story she almost doesn’t quite believe.

This book is a story within a story. The title of the book itself is a reference to an written tome of Vida’s that fans wish that she would write and it is Margaret that gets to hear the story but it is not what she, or anyone, would ever think of. There are parallels between the author and biographer — both Margaret and Vida are recluses in their own ways, each retreating into a world full of books and stories all while hiding for fear of reviving a ghost that has long remained dormant.

In the end, Setterfield tells you a new tale and everything you thought about these characters is once more thrown into the realm of mystery. The gaps are closed but not in the way you expect and you don’t feel cheated but something like closure for the characters. While I did really enjoy this book, there are a few awkward and disturbing moments that can be a big turnoff for some readers which I think can make this a love it or hate book. I was able to push through those parts and for me it became a fascinating story of a life no one knew was lived.