Monthly Archives: September 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Valeria’s Last Stand

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme,  hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Basically, open the book you’re currently reading and share a couple of sentences from that page on your blog.   Avoid spoilers of course.

My teaser this week is from Marc Fitten’s Valeria’s Last Stand, which I just started:

Valeria felt her head spin.  “There are no flowers in my garden,” she snapped.  “It’s a vegetable garden.”  Then she added, “You didn’t really care enough to pay attention.  You’re trying to flatter me.”

p. 24

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Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Hey, it’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week!  I unfortunately do not have time to write a long post today, but today’s invited topic is:

For those of you who participated in BBAW last year, what’s a great new book blog you’ve discovered since last year’s BBAW?
For those you new to BBAW, what was the first book blog you discovered?

As I started blogging in November 2009, I am new to BBAW.  I actually started reading book blogs regularly as a result of the BBAW 2009 awards, which had been spotlighted in an American Library Association newsletter.  I started subscribing to some of the award nominees and winners, including A Striped Armchair, books i done read, Sophisticated Dorkiness, among others.  I see other winners/nominees from last year whose blogs I currently subscribe to, but I’m not 100% sure I subscribed to them right after reading about the award winners.

Probably Eva’s blog, A Striped Armchair, did the most to compel me to start blogging myself.  I love her Library Loot vlogs!  Additionally, the blogrolls of various bloggers led me on a merry blogroll click-fest throughout the book blogosphere to find other new blogs.  The sense of community was strong and that was the main reason I decided to start blogging myself.

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

1959. Viking. Hardcover. 246 pages.

For the challenge:

RIP Challenge: Peril the Second

Recommendation found at:

books i done read

From: the library

In a nutshell:

A professor researching the paranormal invites several guests to participate in the study of a purportedly haunted house, Hill House.  The group consists of the professor, two women with some past paranormal experiences, and a young man related to the house’s owners.  It doesn’t take too long for eerie things to start happening in Hill House and to start affecting the dynamic of this group of strangers.

Review:

I loved that the library copy of this book was old, worn and a bit stained.  It helped with the atmosphere of this unsettling tale.

Although the story is told in the third-person, the reader’s point of view is mostly limited to that of Eleanor, a lonely woman who has just spent the last decade of her life tending to her ailing mother.  The book introduces her memorably:

Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House.  The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister.  She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends.

As the reader, one spends quite a bit of time in Eleanor’s head.  Out of all the main characters, she is the one most vulnerable, the weakest, and also perhaps the oddest.  It was often awkward if not uneasy to be in her mind.  I sympathized with Eleanor and even identified with her at moments, but then she would think or say something just a bit off.  This perspective lends a certain unsteadiness to the narrative.  Thus things are already off kilter even before Hill House starts terrorizing its inhabitants.

Jackson takes it slow with the creepiness at first.  The characters exchange wit and get friendly and familiar with each other.  I love that the wit persists throughout the novel, as it throws the creepy bits into even starker relief.   At first it is simple things like: doors never stay open in Hill House.  The house is designed to disorient its guests and keep them in darkness.

The guests’ exploration of the disused nursery is when the house starts to appear truly sinister.  And then that night, the two women wake to find that something is seeking them out.  I won’t go into details, but even though I was sitting in a sunlit room, I felt shivery.

The professor tells the history of the house near the beginning of their stay, and though there is no neat parallel between the house’s past and the present-day characters, there is some delicious suggestion of connection and parallels.  Are the characters behaving like the estranged sisters of Hill House’s past, who grew up “like mushrooms in the dark”?  Or maybe someone is like that old woman’s companion, convinced of a nightly thief and intruder, herself accused of a grasping nature?

I like that the book is more suggestive than explanatory.  Creepiness is intensified when not everything is answered in the end.  Was it really a dog that Luke and the professor chased out of the house?  What followed Theo and Eleanor into that clearing?

I was slightly disappointed in the ending, feeling that the final climactic event was not quite the payoff I wanted after all the effective eerie atmosphere.  The very last phrase however, a repetition from the novel’s beginning passage, has acquired an extra meaning it didn’t have before and I liked that.

So far, a great start to the RIP Challenge.

More reviews:

A Striped Armchair

books i done read

The Book Stacks

Chaotic Compendiums

Fizzy Thoughts

The Indextrious Reader

Jenny’s Books

Reading Matters

So Many Books

things mean a lot

Well-Mannered Frivolity

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Reflecting on 9/11

It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11/2001.  I was a sophomore in college at the time.  I went to a Christian college that held chapel on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  So it was in chapel that I heard the news that the Twin Towers and the Pentagon had been hit.

Uncertainly, I went to class afterward and the professor said we could stay and watch the news there in the classroom or leave.  As soon as I saw the destruction at the Pentagon on the news, I left the classroom with a friend.  I had a relative who worked at the Pentagon and as soon as I reached the dorm, I started a series of frantic phone calls.  Eventually through the family grapevine, I found out he was okay.

The next day, classes were held as scheduled.  In moments between, I went to the library computers and read eyewitness accounts about the attacks and looked at photos of the aftermath.  On that day, I had various extracurricular obligations, including one for a nursing home outreach team for which I had been asked to be a leader.  The meeting was in the evening, I think around 9pm.   As the responsibilities were described, I started feeling overwhelmed and was embarrassed to find myself near tears.  The others kindly asked how they could help me feel less overwhelmed.  “I don’t know,” I replied.  I tried to articulate my feeling but fell short.  Finally, I fell back on: “I’m sorry, it’s been a long day.”

Walking back to my dorm after the meeting, still upset, I tried to fix my mind on something calming and suddenly the phrase of a poem came to mind.  The poem was “Evening at a Country Inn” by Jane Kenyon, which I had copied down into a notebook back when I was in high school.  The poem gets at how you can be engaged in normal, even serene activities, and yet your mind can be dwelling on something else entirely.  The last line of the poem is the one that came to my mind.

“Evening at a Country Inn”

by Jane Kenyon

From here I see a single red cloud
impaled on the Town Hall weather vane.
Now the horses are back in their stalls,
and the dogs are nowhere in sight
that made them run and buck
in the brittle morning light.

You laughed only once all day –
when the cat ate cucumbers
in Chekhov’s story. . . and now you smoke
and pace the long hallway downstairs.

The cook is roasting meat for the evening meal,
and the smell rises to all the rooms.
Red-faced skiers stamp past you
on their way in; their hunger is Homeric.

I know you are thinking of the accident –
of picking the slivered glass from his hair.
Just now a truck loaded with hay
stopped at the village store to get gas.
I wish you would look at the hay –
the beautiful sane and solid bales of hay.

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Middlemarch by George Eliot

1872. Bantam. Paperback. 796 pages.

From: picked up for free at the The Book Thing

For the challenge: Read 19 Books Older than I am

Review:

Whew!  Middlemarch has been my literary companion for several weeks now and last night, I finally reached the end!  It’s a brilliant book and I cherished George Eliot’s way of putting things, but I think I’ll be on a diet of short and/or fast-paced books for a while.

As a book blogger I felt somewhat anxious that a single book occupied me for several weeks, leaving my blog rather quiet and dull-seeming.  I didn’t dare read another book simultaneously with Middlemarch, though, for fear of confusing characters and forgetting storylines.

Middlemarch was definitely well worth my time, however, and I’m glad I didn’t rush it.  It’s a book meant to be savored, and just as I savored it in reading, I would like to savor it in the reviewing.  The following will be one of a few posts on Middlemarch, which I thought would be easier for me to do than writing one big long post on everything.  This first post will be the most spoiler-free of any of the posts, so anyone who has not read Middlemarch should find it safe ground to tread.

Sometimes I will read a review that claims that a book gives insight into “the human condition.”  It always sounds a bit too grand a claim to my ears, but that phrase is what popped in my head when I considered my review of Middlemarch.  George Eliot’s writing is astoundingly perceptive of why humans do what they do, and why they relate to each other the way they do.

In Middlemarch, the reader encounters an array of characters who have dreams and plans for the future.  Older characters are obsessed with leaving a legacy, to the point that a couple of them use constraining or surprising stipulations of their wills to prolong their influence from beyond the grave.  Younger characters seek prestige, or at least finding some true useful work to do.  Middlemarch shows what happens to these men and women when those dreams and plans meet reality, clash with others’ designs, or repeatedly get pushed aside.

I will quote a passage from early in the book where the author has just remarked that people may not find one of her character’s disappointed post-marriage tears to be especially exceptional or tragic.

Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual.  That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it.  If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

p.177

I hope I am not giving the impression that this is a depressing or drear book.  Eliot shares humorous observations and dialogue alongside the serious passages.

“It would have been better if I had called him out and shot him a year ago,” said Sir James, not from bloody-mindedness but because he needed something strong to say.

“Really, James, that would have been very disagreeable,” said Celia.

p. 746

Also, I found it inspiring to watch as several of the characters overcame their personal disappointments and adversities to find they had still something to contribute to other people.  If there’s an attribute I’m especially fond of in a fictional character, it’s resilience of spirit.  Whiny, petulant characters can go appeal to another reader’s sympathies.

For my other posts on Middlemarch, I’m considering a discussion of the theme of honor and integrity and how that theme seems a hallmark of classic literature, but doesn’t seem as present today.  I also plan to do a spoiler-filled rundown of all the main characters and what I thought of them, with the targeted audience being others who have read Middlemarch.

Whether or not you have read Middlemarch, I can also respond in a future post to any questions you might have about the book.  Ask in the comments and I’ll seek to incorporate the answers in a future post!

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Joining RIP Challenge!

Before I started my blog in November 2009, I remember seeing all these book bloggers enthusiastically participating in something called the RIP Challenge.  The sense of community conveyed by the participants probably contributed to my decision to start a blog.

And now the challenge has come around again and I can participate!  Although some of my other challenges are in danger of not being completed by the end of the year, the RIP Challenge is too perfectly autumnal of a challenge to pass up.  (Though it certainly does not feel autumnal in the D.C. area right now.)  Also, there is the sense of jumping on the bandwagon as well.  At least eleven of the blogs to which I subscribe have posted their intentions to participate, and the participant list on Carl’s site is huge.

What is the RIP Challenge?  RIP stands for Readers Imbibing Peril and it is hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings.  In the two months leading up to Halloween, participating readers select and devour books from these categories:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

There are different levels and types of participation which are explained in Carl’s post.  I am choosing Peril the Second which requires reading at least two books.  I may read more, however.

Here is my tentative candidate list, from which I will draw my two books:

The Crazy School by Cornelia Read – Dark tale involving a new teacher at a New England boarding school for disturbed teenagers.

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley – My notes say I found this recommendation from Ana, of the blog, things mean a lot

Twelve by Jasper Kent – Set in Russia, 1812.  A goodreads reviewer, Mark, says: “It reads as if it were the progeny of Tolstoy or Pasternak, with a Stokerian twist.”

Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Jackson seems to be a favorite author for this challenge

A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne – The synopsis says something about twins and a decrepit haunted house.  Reviewers mention Gothic atmosphere.  Sounds like a good candidate!

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff – the gals at Forever Young Adult were the source of this recommendation

Skin and Bones by D.C. Corso – Missing children, autumn setting in Washington State.

Little Face by Sophie Hannah – Savidge Reads had a fantastic interview of this author on his blog recently and the synopsis of this book sounds chilling.  A new mother returns to her baby’s room, but swears her baby is gone and been replaced by another.

My perusal of my to-read list reminded me of two books that might also be fun to read prior to Halloween, though not for the RIP Challenge:

Boo by Rene Gutteridge – sounds like a light and fun book about a horror novelist who quits the genre, to the dismay of his hometown, which has used his fame to turn their town into a tourist attraction.

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies – I usually find the little bat silhouettes on Halloween decorations to be so cute.  This children’s book depicts bats reading books in a library, and it depicts famous literary works as populated by bats.  It sounds adorable.  This was a find from the blog Vulpes Libris.

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