The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney
Greenwillow, US ARC, 2005
Genre: Young adult, juvenalia, horror, thriller
Synopsis & Review: Thirteen-year-old Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son, and his father has run out of apprenticeships in which to place his sons. And then the Spook arrives. Spooks protect people and places from being overrun by things that go bump in the night, from boggarts to witches, and as the seventh son of a seventh son, Thomas has special talents that allow him to see–and deal with–the things that lurk in the dark. With the blessings of his family, especially his beloved but mysterious mother, Thomas goes out into the wide world with the Spook. His first test is to spend the night alone in a haunted house–and confront the thing in the cellar.
Once the test is passed, Thomas accompanies the Spook to his Summer House, where something invisible–and angry–does the housekeeping. There the Spook begins teaching Thomas his business, such as the differences between the many kinds of witches, and about the witches buried in the eastern garden. As he learns, Thomas wonders about the Spook’s many other apprentices before him, and how so many of them died. When the Spook goes to Pelham to take care of a problem, Thomas is left alone, and that’s when things go terribly awry. Children go missing, the infamously evil witch Mother Malkin escapes, and Thomas’ only friend may be involved.
I do love a good juvenile horror, and this series promises to deliver. I saw the handsome cover and promising title, and plucked this from a random book of discards from my stepmother’s house (she was in publishing, and her place is literally overflowing with books), figuring it might make a fast, fun read. Last night I decided to start it, reading a chapter or two before bed. But then I couldn’t stop, and I kept reading till I finished the book. How’s that for enthralling? Read the rest of this entry »
Morland Dynasty: The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1980
Genre: historical fiction, family saga
Synopsis & Review: Yorkshire, 1434. Rising sheep-farmer Edward Morland arranges a beneficial marriage for his son Robert, to one Eleanor Courtenay of Dorset. She has no dowry, but comes from good family and is under the protection of Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Somerset. The arrangement is advantageous for everyone: The Morlands gain the patronage of Somerset and step up in the world, Somerset gains the service of wealthy clients, and the penniless Eleanor finally has a chance at marriage and children. Only Eleanor would prefer to not lower her consequence (thus raising theirs) by marriage to a sheep farmer. But as a penniless orphan, she has no say in the matter; while she makes the best of her situation, she continues to punish her husband Robert for not being gentleman enough for her tastes. Despite their initially ill-favored relations, Eleanor and Richard make an excellent team, and she gradually assumes leadership in the family, astutely shepherding the Morlands ever higher, from wealthy sheep farmers to merchants, to gentry. But in her heart Eleanor has cherished the memory of Richard, Duke of York, and when England is torn apart under mad Henry IV and his rapacious wife, the Morlands must choose a side.
I heard about this series a few years ago, and meant to look them up. For some reason, I was under the impression that it was a much older series, like from the fist half of the twentieth century, but I am obviously mental as this book (the first volume) was published in 1980. Huh. Perhaps my library system just didn’t have any when I looked? I do not know. I’m glad I tried looking again, though, because I found The Founding totally enjoyable. Read the rest of this entry »
Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon
Pocket Books, 6th printing, 1987
Genre: horror, post-apocalyptic fiction
Synopsis & Review: At the height of the Cold War, in a world already torn by nuclear warfare, the United States and the USSR are both poised to make First Strike. Their deadly game of cat and mouse comes to a head on July 17th, and nothing is ever the same again. From the charred ruin of America a few survivors rise: Sister Creep, once a New York baglady, now the bearer of a mystical glass ring in search of the people and places it shows her. Josh Hutchins, formerly a pro-football player and the wrestler Black Frankenstein, now recast as a protector. Col Jim Macklin, who escaped a pit in Vietnam only to sink into a pit of his own making after the holocaust. Roland Croninger, a young boy entranced by the trappings of power. The man with the scarlet eye, an ancient evil roaming the earth. And Swan, a nine-year-old girl with a powerful gift, one that could save humanity … the gift of life itself.
I somehow missed out on all the Cold War nuclear anxiety, and didn’t develop any of my own until I was in intermediate school. (That’s middle school to you Mainland people.) After reading The Stand and On the Beach in sixth grade, I was hooked on post-apocalyptic scenarios. Z for Zachariah, The Postman and the Barbara & Scott Siegel Firebrats series were my favorite nuclear holocaust scenarios–until seventh grade, when I discovered Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. Read the rest of this entry »
(Is anybody getting bored with this series of “recent” questions? Because I’m having fun!)
In the case of the former, foreknowledge about the expedition’s disappearance, the fact that no one would survive it, added a strong element of pathos to the reading experience. Their doom was a foregone conclusion, and knowing that heightened the emotional experience of reading the book–which also added bitterness to the suspense. The desperate will to live of the characters trapped in the Arctic was thrown into sharp relief by the obtuseness that went into planning and directing the expedition, which added another gut-wrenching element of tragedy.
The latter was an altogether different kind of sadness, a very sweet, touching sort of sadness. The tale of the two lovers separated by the changed nature of one was very poignant and moving. Mr Tebrick’s obvious passion for his wife Silvia, and his difficulties adjusting to the changes in their marriage were affecting, his despair heartrending. Silvia’s troubles and reactions, too, were moving. The whole story was just heartbreaking and inspiring.
Honestly, I am more than tired of the recent Recent gimmick for BTT. Being that I have a fairly strict interpretation of “recent” and don’t take it to mean “within the past year” or “int he last six months,” I find it frustrating that every week recently, I’ve had to basically write again about books I’ve just written about. I just wrote about them, I don’t want to re-write or condense what I just–sometimes only a day or two before–reviewed and discussed in detail! That’s not fun at all. One or two questions like that aren’t a problem, but every week? It’s tedious and uninteresting, and I would much rather be answering just about any other reading or book-related question. Perhaps the monotony irritates me more; I’m not sure.
In fact, I decline to participate in any more of the Recent questions. No more BTT for me till there’s something requiring a little more thought.
The Terror by Dan Simmons
Little, Brown & Co, 1st edition, 2007
Genre: horror, historical fiction, adventure
Synopsis & Review: From Columbus on, explorers searched North America for a route to the Orient, and as it became clear that the continent stretched for thousands of miles, they refocused their efforts on the North and the possibility of a Northwest Passage. In 1845 the Franklin Expedition set forth with two steam-powered ships–the first to explore the Arctic–Erebus and Terror, under the command of Sir John Franklin and Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier respectively. Both men had been on previous expeditions into the Arctic and even Antarctic. They were provided with 126 men and state of the art preparations. And after whalers sited them as they steamed westward out of Baffin Bay in July of 1845, they were never seen again.
By October 1847, both ships are trapped in the pack ice off of King William Land. After wintering at Beechey island the first year, the immense amount of ice to the northwest belied the Open Polar Sea theory and sent the expedition southward, toward the Adelaide Peninsula in search of the Northwest Passage. But the ice grew ever thicker and winter came early, marooning Erebus and Terror. And in 1847, summer never came. As winter redoubles its efforts, the men of the expedition hunker down in the cold and the dark. Though originally supplied for three years, they are running out of coal, and many of their food stores have gone putrid. The ice is crushing the ships, slowly grinding them to pieces. Worst of all, something in the dark and ice is stalking them, killing the men one, two, or even several at a time.
The key to their salvation may be in Lady Silence, a mute Esquimeaux girl who could lead them to food or rescue. Or who might be a part of the predations upon the men. Captain Francis Crozier will do all he can to keep his men alive, even abandon his ship, but it may not be enough.
Men who read a lot have a more sensitive disposition, added Fowler. And if the poor bloke hadn’t read that stupid story by that American, he wouldn’t have suggested the different-colored compartments for the Carnivale–an idea we all thought was Wonderful at the time–and none of this would have happened.
I did not know what to say to this.
Maybe reading is a sort of curse is all I mean, concluded Fowler. Maybe it’s better for a man to stay inside his own mind.
Amen, I felt like saying, though I do not know why.
Though I was eager to read The Terror for RIP IV, having happened across a mention of it somewhere (I need to keep track of these things) last week, looked it up on Amazon, and requested it from the library all in the space of an hour, I was also a little apprehensive. I was a bit worried about the size of it; I read massive books fairly often, but I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, and trying to read a massive book in which you’re not interested is extremely painful. So I picked it up one night before bed and read the first eighty-five pages. The next night, I found that I’d read two hundred and fifty-seven pages, when I’d only meant to read a chapter. And I could hardly bear to put it down to sleep. Read the rest of this entry »
Lady into Fox by David Garnett
originally published 1922
WW Norton & Company Inc, 1st printing, 1966
Genre: fantasy, wonder tale
Synopsis & Review: One day shortly after their marriage, Mrs Tebrick turns into a vixen. Literally into a female fox. Though mystified and distressed by this change, Mr Tebrick does all he can to protect her and care for her. He dismisses their servants and shuts up the house, and embarks upon a routine of caring for her. Inside, she is still Silvia, his Puss, and he still loves her passionately, so he does his best to satisfy her modesty by dressing her in a bedjacket. He also feeds her at the table, and the two of them play piquet and cribbage. In the mornings, he brushes and scents her fur so that she’s less foxy smelling. Together, they live on as much like before the change as they can, but it cannot last.
Unfortunately, though Mr Tebrick tries to keep their life as it was, Silvia begins succumbing to the nature of her form, slowly becoming more feral, more foxlike. She wants to eat raw meat and chase ducks, and Mr Tebrick struggles with his love for her as a woman when she is now an animal. Mr Tebrick works hard at protecting her and taming her, even allowing her former nurse to attempt to impose order, but nothing works for long. Silvia continues to change, gradually becoming almost entirely a vixen, and Mr Tebrick must decide what is best for her despite his own desires.
You know how sometimes you read something and you think, “Oh my goodness, that was just delightful!” but you can’t quite put your finger on what it was that delighted you, because some of it was awful and sad, or otherwise very difficult for you to read, but overall, you just can’t believe how highly you think of it? Well, that’s pretty much how I feel about Lady into Fox. Read the rest of this entry »