H. P. Lovecraft’s Book of the Supernatural edited by Stephen Jones

Why I Read It: I have been trying to expand my reading horizons; with this book it was classic horror that I explored.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy classic suspenseful short stories, check this out.

Narrators: Bronson Pinchot, Steven Crossley, Davina Porter

Publisher: AudioGO (2012)

Length: 16 hours 44 minutes

Stephen Jones, the editor, has presented us with an interesting collection of horror genre short stories, spanning decades, hand picked by H. P. Lovecraft. In this book, Lovecraft provided a a short introduction to each story, sharing his thoughts on the tale and the writer. This collection contains some of the biggest names in the genre, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, and Washington Irving, along with others who dabbled in the genre, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Louis Stevenson, among other authors. Through this collection, I could see the evolution of the gothic and macabre storytelling over the decades.

In the last few years I have read a bit of Lovecraft (Early Horror Works which was odd, entertaining, not necessarily scary), Bram Stoker (Dracula was was heightened tension and dread and I quite enjoyed it), Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle were more subtle than I expected but still enjoyable), Rudyard Kipling (Kim was a fascinating tale of India which I didn’t quite get but entertained me anyway), and Arthur Conan Doyle (I’ve always found his Sherlock Holmes to be a bit predictable and the endings to be abrupt). So going into this book, I had some preconceived notions of what I was in for. Oooops.

Let me be honest. I wanted to fall in love with this genre that has been around since campfire ghost stories were invented through this book. But I didn’t. At first, I thought perhaps it was just a few of the earlier tales, where all the women are considered somewhat hysterical or silly and need to be protected and rescued. I moved through each story, waiting for that jewel that would be the door into the rest of the book and hence the whole field of the horror genre. Yet the stories overall remained predictable, with the main characters going about normal day to day activities until they glimpse something unusual which is chocked up to fatigue, silliness, perhaps insanity, and usually ending in a way that left so many questions unanswered that the story was not very satisfying.

With that said, if you are already in love with this genre, then you should check this collection out. I found Lovecraft’s introduction to each story to be the most fascinating part of the book – his reasons for choosing each tale, his own fascination or appreciation of the author. It was definitely worth my time to find out that this genre probably won’t be one of my big book loves in life.

The narrators provided an excellent variety in voices for the short stories. I sometimes stay clear of audio short story collections if there is only a single narrator, as I find it difficult to move from tale to tale with the same voice. Several times in this collection, the tale called for a believable scream or hysterical outburst and the narrators did not disappoint.

What I Liked: Lovecraft’s introductions to each story; the variety collected in one book; the audio production itself was well done.

What I Disliked: Overall, the stories were predictable; the ladies were silly or hysterical and needed manly protection or assistance; many of the endings were left so open-ended that they were not satisfying.

As part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, I am going to count this book as horror. This event is still going strong until the end of October, so feel free to hop over there and join the fun.

Emperor: The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: It’s the conclusion to a much enjoyed series.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are into ancient Roman history, Julius Caesar era, then this is a great series for you.

Narrator: Paul Blake

Publisher: AudioGO (2009)

Length: 15 hours 22 minutes

Series: Emperor Book 4

The Gods of War picks up right where The Field of Swords leaves off: Pompey has set himself against Caesar. Pompey has seniority, the Senate backing him, Caesar’s daughter for a wife, and, he believes, the will of the Gods. Caesar has his Gaul battle-hardened troops and a good grasp of the effective use of propaganda. Conn Iggulden spent the bulk of this book on the conflict between these two powerful men and how it nearly tore Rome apart. Julius must live through the betrayal of one of his generals; Iggulden portrayed the motivations and character of both sides in that conflict. I truly enjoyed listening to the author’s rendition of how this bit of history unfolded. Pompey and the Senate flee Rome for Greece, where Caesar must follow, leaving Mark Antony in charge in Rome.

The conflict brings the two Roman armies to blood. Octavian, a young relative of Caesar, is given his chance to show his ability at commanding men in battle and his skill shines through. It was good to see Octavian become a man in this last installment in the series. The conflict eventually spreads to the shores of Egypt, to which about the last quarter of the book was dedicated. Due to the fascination with Cleopatra, this may be the most well-known episode of Caesar’s life (remember that Elizabeth Taylor film?). Julius actually took a holiday in Egypt, for roughly 6 months, traveling the Nile, sightseeing, and most likely bedding the young ruler of Egypt. They eventually had an offspring, which raised all sorts of conflict back home in Rome, to which Julius had to eventually return.

If you ever watched or read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or the more recent HBO series Rome, then you know how this story ends. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who missed out on this classic story, but I will say that I was very satisfied with the book. I felt that the motivations, fears, hopes, and desires of all the main characters were well laid out, giving the reader a very plausible rendition of how and why history fell out the way it did.

Paul Blake provided a decisive and strong voice for Julius Caesar. I also appreciated that he used the Latin pronunciation for the Roman names (such as using the ‘w’ sound for names spelled with a ‘v’). However, I sometimes could not tell when he was using his feminine voice and would have to pay extra attention to the dialogue to track when Cleopatra or another female was speaking.

What I Liked: I have long been fascinated with this period in history and I was well satisfied with this author’s rendition of it; the internal conflict of those who love yet envy Caesar was well portrayed; the battles, while detailed, were not overly gory.

What I Disliked: I would have liked to hear more about Mark Antony and why he was so favored by Caesar; the ladies were few and had limited roles and unfortunately limited depth in this series.

The Graveyard Book Read Along Part I

Those first three chapters went by pretty quick. It’s been probably about two years since I last read this book, and back then I stayed up late two or three nights reading this book in big chunks. One of the things I like about read alongs is that they often force a person to slow down and enjoy the book more thoroughly. Before I launch into my ramble, I want to give thanks to Stainless Steel Droppings for organizing yet another awesome reading event. Make sure you stop by there to see Carl’s thoughts on Part I.

Ye Have Been Warned, Spoilers Abound!

The front of my book lets the reader know right off that this is a Newberry Medal winner – which means that it is a great kids’ book. For those of you who are venturing into this book the first time, I hope you went into it with some preconceived notions just as I did the first time. That first chapter pretty much tears those notions down and shreds them with cramp-on laced boots. Jack is not a good guy and he is up to foul deeds a plenty. My book is illustrated, which lends another level of creepiness to this book.

Jack kills off the entire family except the baby boy who happens to have two things going for him: He is precocious, and he is adventurous. So he manages to slip out of the the house and to a local graveyard where he finds protectors. These protectors are not the normal sort; or rather, they are normal, decent folks who just happen to be dead. While the ghosts cannot leave the graveyard, Silas can, and he does in order to find food, clothing, and eventually books for the baby dubbed Nobody Owens. There are all sorts of tantalizing hints about Silas, but since I have read this before, I won’t spoil anything.

In Chapter Two, we’ve moved ahead a few years and Nobody meets his first living friend, a girl his age. The graveyard has been deemed a Wildlife Preserve, so all sorts of folks use it to stroll around in admiring bushes and headstones. I live in the American Southwest, where big wide open spaces abound and the idea of making a graveyard a preserve struck me as odd. But if you stopped putting dead folk in it decades ago and the natural flora and fauna have moved back in, why not? Anyway, Bod and his new friend explore the place together, including tunneling into the oldest grave, a burial mound from ancient times.

Let’s talk about this, because all sorts of weird stuff happened in a short time. There was an old dusty body, then a phantasmic scarecrow that both youths could see, and then the Sleether. The body I get (previous graverobber wannabe). The rest, even on second read, I am still a bit fuzzy on. Perhaps the Sleether has some residual magic (the scarecrow) that it uses to scare off the weak of heart and imbecilic of mind. Unfortunately, these kids weren’t those things, and so the Sleether had to answer the door personally, enjoying a little chat with Bod. The kids flee, and while she is reunited with her parents Bod chats with Silas about what he found in the burial mound. Oddly, Silas doesn’t seem concerned about the Sleether or about Bod playing with it.

Chapter Two ends with Bod’s friend moving away and she fussed at her parents until they brought her to the Preserve one more time just so she could say goodbye. I thought that was touching.

Chapter Three introduces one of my favorite characters of the book, Miss Lupescu. I can just see her with a ruler, cracking knuckles of bored and unprepared students. Despite her lessons, Bod still ends up playing with the ghouls. I have always been of the opinion (snotty it may seem) that it is best to be explicit in describing dangers to kids. Pictures can help get the idea across. Yet, in so many stories, as in real life, the true meaning of the word DANGEROUS is not fully explained to the main character and must be experienced. Bod made a horrible mistake by playing with the ghouls. However, he did have a mini vacation, catching a glimpse of Ghulheim and meeting a Night Gaunt. Miss Lupescu had to cut the adventure short to ensure Bod didn’t become a permanent resident…. or dinner.

And then I turned the page and started Chapter Four, got four sentences into it, and forced myself to put it down. I know; I’m naughty, yet self-controlled.

So what stood out for you in Nobody’s life in the graveyard?

Any newbies want to guess on Silas?

Can you imagine learning your letters from headstones?

Should I do a Graveyard Book dinner for my man featuring the Food from Miss Lupescu’s Kitchen?

Why do you think the 33rd US president made an appearance in this book?

The Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov

Why I Read It: It leaped off the library shelf at me!

Where I Got It: My library.

Who I Recommend This To: This was a quick, quaint space mystery.

Narrator: Kevin T. Collins

Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America (2009)

Length: 7 CDs

Series: Book 2 Galactic Empire

Rik had his mind wiped clean, which is a pretty rude thing to have happen (unless you are a violent criminal, in which case I have no pity for you). In fact, Rik couldn’t even tend to basic needs without encouragement and assistance at first. Under Lona’s care and guidance, he slowly comes part way back to himself and can hold down a very simple job at the local manufacturing plant on Florina. When Lona takes him to a doctor, they learn that he had been psycho-probed and that he might not get his memory back.

Yet there is something that is trying to worm it’s way out of Rik’s brain; something that connects Florina, the planet’s main export (kryt, which is used for making beautiful cloth), and himself. As Rik remembers more and more, the mystery deepens and they find themselves caught up in a web of intrigue with a growing body count. The regional power of Trantor and the government of the planet Sark vie for possession of Rik and what he will soon remember (hopefully).

I enjoyed this book for the mystery and because I liked watching Rik muddle and struggle through. Even though simple country Lona didn’t understand much of what Rik was trying to remember, she stuck with him throughout. The class differences between the Florina workers and the Sark nobility threw in some added tension between the characters of the story.

I actually didn’t realize this was Book 2 of the Galactic Series until I started writing up the review. This book reads fine as a stand alone space mystery. (Though I am excited to have this simple excuse to dig up the other two Isaac Asimov books in the series.)

Kevin T. Collins did a great job with men’s and women’s voices, with provincial country accents, and imperial demands, even throwing in dialect accents. I enjoyed his crisp and clear pronunciation and the pacing.

What I Liked: Mystery most tangled; ‘Rik’ is the equivalent of ‘idiot’ in the Florina language; nice twist at the end that I didn’t see coming; works fine as a stand alone novel.

What I Disliked: Out of the whole cast of characters, only two females.

As part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, I am going to count this as a mystery, even though it happens in the very far future in space. This event is still going strong until the end of October, so feel free to hop over there and join the fun.

The Pirates of Sufiro by David Lee Summers

Why I Read It: Loved the author’s latest book Owl Dance.

Where I Got It: My book shelf.

Who I Recommend This To: If you are into very fast-paced space operas, you might enjoy this.

Publisher: Commonwealth Publications (1996)

Length: 328 pages

Series: Book 1 The Old Star Saga

This book opens with some privateers, Captain Firebrandt and crew, having it out in space with a military ship captained by a relative of Firebrandt, which leads to some awkward decisions. After loosing most of his crew, Privateer Firebrandt barely manages to land his ship on an uninhabited world. He has his first officer Roberts and his woman Suki for companions. Without the ability to gain space in the near future, they set to making a life on their planet, including the next generation.

This book spans 4 generations of the Firebrandts and can skip ahead decades at a time. As the planet Sufiro becomes known to the galaxy, pioneers from cramped human worlds make the trip to farm and raise a family in open air. This idyllic setting lasts until a rare and expensive metal integral to space flight is discovered on one of the large continents of the planet. This is where the true drama starts.

Over time, the mining communities become rich and technologically-advanced. However, they also become dependent on cheap labor, often ‘imported’ from the farming communities of the metal-dearth continent. Throw in the pressure of needing a beefed-up space fleet to combat a superior alien species, and you get Great Needs versus What Is Right.

This book read like a series of short stories, with the constant fast pace and the leaps in time. While this meant that the characters often lacked depth, I still found myself growing attached to the Firebrandts and their Sufiro neighbors, such as Espedie Raton. It was very interesting to me to have read David Lee Summers‘ latest book (Owl Dance) and then to have jumped back in time to his first published work. I can see how his skill as a writer has grown in the near-two decades in between these books.

What I Liked: The unexpected happens and you have to be able to roll with it, like many of the characters in this book; the women were sexually independent and free to make their own choices as equally as the men; lots of Spanish lingo.

What I Disliked: Not much character depth; for the most part, the women were wives and didn’t play a large role in the book; I sometimes found the leaps in time a bit much and would have liked the book to slow down at certain points.

BTIBMTGT: Orson Scott Card & Robert E. Howard

Books That I’ve Been Meaning to Get To (BTIBMTGT) is an idea from the depths and crannies of Lady Darkcargo (check out her stuff at Darkcargo.com).

On that note:

Why did I let one linger for ever and why have I avoided the other? Let’s talk. Come, sit. Tea?

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card is considered one of the important books in science fiction literature. Back when I was 17 or 16 I read the first in the series, Ender’s Game, and never made it any further in the series. I enjoyed the book, but didn’t get the ending. I also didn’t happen to have Speaker for the Dead on hand and throw those two facts in with moving off to college… But the excuses have to end. So this month I will be listening to Speaker for the Dead. Having recently read Ender’s Game, and enjoyed it immensely, I am most certainly looking forward to the sequel.

Robert E. Howard is famous for creating Conan, who started off life in a loincloth running around short story pulp fiction magazines in the 1920s and 1930s. For years I heard what great stories the original Conan were (mostly from My Main Man). Earlier this year I read my first Conan collection and certainly had mixed feelings; the writing itself was excellent but there were also gender and ethnic equality issues. So I thought I would give this short novel a try. Personally, I am curious to see if the difference in media (pulp fiction magazine versus publishing house book) equals a difference in writing style.

Review of Ender’s Game

Review of Wolfshead

The Graveyard Book Read Along

Stainless Steel Droppings has the schedule up! Hooray! This is a fun reading event featuring one of my favorite books. If you want to play along, it is not too late – head over to Stainless Steel Droppings to sign up. This read along is part of the larger event R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril in which readers can pick a variety of levels to challenge one’s self – and I am surprised how much of my reading material fits into the parameters of this reading event! Who knew I read so much dark fantasy, crime, mystery, etc. With this read along, there are two additional mini-events that you can read about at the end of Stainless Steel Droppings’ post.

This will be a re-read for me, having read The Graveyard Book a few years ago. I contemplated doing the audio version (read by Neil Gaiman himself), but I find it difficult to stop at the correct place – I have a tendency to press on and with this book I could see myself finishing it easily in a few sittings (it’s that entertaining). So I will be reading along in my trusty paperbook, bookmark in hand.

In Carl’s words:

Read Chapters 1-3:

How Nobody Came to the Graveyard
The New Friend
The Hounds of God

from October 1st through October 6th. Post your thoughts on these chapters on Sunday, October 7th.

Read Chapters 4-6:

The Witch’s Headstone
Danse Macabre
Interlude: The Convocation
Nobody Owens’ School Days

from October 8th through October 13th. Post your thoughts on these chapters on Sunday, October 14th.

Read Chapters 7-8:

Every Man Jack
Leavings and Partings

from October 14th through October 20th. Post your thoughts on these final chapters/the book on Sunday, October [21st].

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

Why I Read It: I liked the cover and because it was written about a culture I not very familiar with.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Those who enjoy coming of age and connecting with the past stories.

Narrator: Laural Merlington

Publisher: Tantor Media (2007)

Length: 12 hours 39 minutes

This is a modern day fiction set mostly in Istanbul. The story starts off following Zeliha, 19, and her trip to the abortion clinic. Then we jump to Arizona where we follow a recently divorced Kentucky transplant women, Rose, and her year old baby girl, Armanoush. Jump ahead roughly 20 years, and Zeliha’s daughter Asya is a strong willed women that has been raised by a gaggle of aunties and no men. Her father is never mentioned and the only male relative, uncle Mustafa, lives in America married to a plump blonde wife. Armanoush, an Armenian-American, divides her time between her mother’s place in Arizona and her Armenian family in San Fransisco. The bulk of this book is about these two young ladies; one seeks answers about her past and the other treats her past as dead and buried.

Elif Shafak built these characters with distinct voices and it was so very easy for me to picture Asya stuck at the dinner table with her well-meaning nagging aunties asking about her ballet class. Armanoush flew to Istanbul on a whim and it was nice to see that she had certain assumptions (incorrect though they turned out) about Turkish culture. I could see myself making the same mistakes. This book was by turns serious and funny, touching and exasperating, and has been the spark for me to explore Turkish and Armenian cuisine.

Laural Merlington did an absolutely fantastic job – with humor and sadness, male and female voices, and most of all accents – from Turkish and Armenian words/names to a Kentucky accent. I would not hesitate to listen to another book narrated by her.

What I Liked: The entire atmosphere captured in this book; nearly all female cast of characters without being feminazi-ish; Auntie Banu and her captured djin; Johny Cash got lots of play time in Istanbul; the ending was a bit tough but gave closure.

What I Didn’t Like: Some of the minor characters had long-winded designators instead of names and at times it became tedious to hear them repeated multiple times in one passage.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Why I Read It: The Estella Society was hosting a read along.

Where I Got It: The Library

Who I Recommend This To: Ghost-story lovers who like a slow build up with lots of nuance.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Books on Tape (2009)

Length: 13 CDs

I enjoyed this book from the beginning because of Simon Vance’s voice, a narrator I have been enthralled by on several books. I became captivated by the story because of Sarah Waters‘ nuanced take on a gothic-style ghost story. In fact, if I did not know from the beginning this was a ghost story, this tale would have been a historical fiction in my mental categorization for nearly all of the book.

The story follows Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children Caroline and Roderick through the eyes of our story narrator Dr. Faraday. Each of the main characters has some loss and some deep-seated longing and those two things drives the flaws in them. Set in post-WWII Britain, Hundreds Hall has gotten quite dilapidated. The Aryes can’t admit to themselves or their peers what financial conundrums keeping the place is putting them in. So they struggle on with a part-time cleaning lady and a slip of a girl servant, with Roderick making house repairs and Caroline helping out with the cooking. They both milk the cows.

Dr. Faraday comes from working-man stock and through perseverance on his part and great sacrifice by his parents completed medical school to become a country doctor. In many ways, he straddles the two main classes of society – the working, uneducated poor and the landed nobility. The tale starts off with him as a small child sneaking peaks at a magnificent party at Hundreds Hall while his mother performs her function as a servant. The bulk of the story takes place later in life (Dr. Faraday is in his 40s) and due to his roots and his education he finds that he is welcome few places as anything more than a doctor.

This book kept me riveted during my commute and on days when I didn’t commute, I often thought of reasons to run a few errands just so I would have time and opportunity for this book. I truly enjoyed the slow buildup of the mystery; were all the unfortunate and abnormal incidents at Hundreds Hall due to some paranormal force or aberrant human behavior? This book kept me guessing to nearly the end. I also liked how there was some ambivalency to the ending, leaving it up to the reader to decide one way or the other. In short, this book made me think, and we all know I like a good think.

Simon Vance, as always, was a welcome voice on my ears. His word pronunciation is clear and his pacing excellent. I love how he imbues the written word with an undercurrent of emotion. Once again, The Little Stranger was a quality performance.

What I Liked: Easily read as a historical fiction or ghost story; the portrayal of the class differences was deeply interesting to me; none of these characters are superb heroes or supermodels – they are all flawed in some way; the reader had to pay attention and think throughout the book to make a decision about the ending.

What I Disliked: At a certain point, Roderick has to go off for medical treatment and we as the readers see very little of him afterwards – I think I would have liked a bit more of his presence in the book.

Read Along Part I

Read Along Part II

Not only was this book part of a read along, I also read it as part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event (and I would dual categorize this book as Gothic and Supernatural). It’s not too late for you to play along, so check out Stainless Steel Droppings for details.

Bound for Eternity by Sarah Wisseman

Why I Read It: I love mysteries with a archaeological/ museum bent.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy the mysteries of Elizabeth Peters, who’ll probably enjoy this modern-day sleuth.

Narrator: Priscilla Holbrook

Publisher: Iambik Audio (2012)

Length: 6 hours and 29 minutes

Series: Book 2 in The Lisa Donahue Mysteries

An ancient mummified mystery gets wrapped up in a modern day tangle of death in this Boston crime fiction. I enjoyed this book from the beginning. Lisa Donahue is a widowed mother and is currently on as a probationary hire competing for a permanent position as curator with the Boston University Museum of Archaeology and History.

See, that right there was enough to have me wanting to read this book. Call it a mystery fetish: I like things going down in museums. And Sarah Wisseman must have known this and hence set out to entertain me by creating this series of books (I believe there are currently 4 in print). Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it read just fine as a stand-alone mystery.

Lisa, the narrator of the story, and sleuth of ancient and just-yesterday mysteries is so real because she worries about her job, her kid, her friends, and her love life. She makes mistakes and tries to fix the ones that matter. In this mystery, we have one dead child mummy, and we start off pretty quickly with a dead museum worker. The cop keeps things close to his chest (like he should, as a professional) and Lisa blunders around a bit putting several clues together before she hands them over to the police. I liked this aspect because that is how it is in the real world – you pull the string tracking something down and eventually realize that it could be tied to a major crime and smack yourself in the head for not turning the whole headache over the authorities sooner. The mystery itself had me bouncing between 2 suspects until near the end. Once it became apparent to me as the reader who was the evil-doer, said person behaved within character in attempting yet another murder.

As a sideline to the main conundrum, Lisa also has her romance life to figure out. James the Doctor enters the scene and he is everything a woman could want – successful, sensitive, a widower father, good with kids, and available. If this story has a main character flaw, it is that James was without flaw, and hence, without character depth. But I was able to overlook this as I wanted some tranquility for Lisa, who is stuck in a difficult job situation as a single parent and with the added pressure of having her coworkers knocked-off on a regular basis. Overall, this was an entertaining read.

Priscilla Holbrook gave us accents from the East coast and did a believable job on male voices. I found it easy to listen to her narrate this book primarily in Lisa’s voice. If the audio had a flaw, it was with the variation in audio level; it was never enough so that I had to adjust my settings, but it occurred throughout the book.

What I Liked: Mummy murder mystery; main character has flaws; good people don’t have to have the same morals as you (such as dating the boss); museums are the place to be.

What I Disliked: James The Boyfriend was pretty one dimensional.

Not only was this book read for it’s mummy-ness, I also read it as part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event (fulfilling the category of Mystery). It’s not too late for you to play along, so check out Stainless Steel Droppings for details.