The Egypt Game

August 20, 2010 at 10:27 pm (Children's lit, Juvanalia, Mystery, Suspense) ()

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
originally published 1967
Dell, 6th printing, 1986
215 pages
Genre: Children’s lit, mystery, suspense

Jacket copy: The first time Melanie Ross meets April Hall, she’s not sure they’ll have anything in common. But she soon discovers that they both love anything to do with ancient Egypt. When they stumble upon a deserted storage yard behind the A-Z Antiques and Curio Shop, Melanie and April decide it’s the perfect spot for the Egypt Game.
Before long there are six Egyptians instead of two. After school and on weekends they all meet to wear costumes, hold ceremonies, and work on their secret code.
Everyone thinks it’s just a game, until strange things begin happening tot he players. Has the Egypt Game gone too far?

Book report: When I’m ready for bed, I read a little. Sometimes, when I’m reading a massive tome (think The Game of Kings), I’ll pick up a lighter volume, usually YA, to read before bed so that I can properly relax without thinking too much. But there are certain books I shouldn’t read before bed, because then I don’t go to sleep. Such is the case with The Egypt Game, one of the many books I appropriated from elementary school teachers (sorry, Ms Kunishima!), which I picked up just before going to sleep, and them promptly read all the way through. It’s just that engaging. And good. Not to mention suspenseful. When things start happening in Egypt, it gives me chills.

Even though I’ve read it literally dozens of times since I was six, and sort of know exactly what happens, Snyder is just so dang good at creating tension and atmosphere that I’m gripped by it and cannot put it down. I haven’t read much else by her, but I can say definitively that The Egypt Game and Eyes in the Fishbowl are two of the finest examples of juvenile suspense fiction out there. And they were both penned back in the Sixties. Why was there such great kid fiction in the Sixties? Seriously: Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Outsiders (which I haven’t read, but I hear it rules), A Wrinkle in Time, The Pigman, etc etc etc, so on and so forth. Need I say more? Read the rest of this entry »

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The Green Flash

July 11, 2010 at 5:10 pm (Children's lit, Fantasy, Horror, Juvanalia, Short stories, Suspense) (, )

The Green Flash by Joan Aiken

The Green Flash, and Other Tales of Horror, Suspense, and Fantasy by Joan Aiken
Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1971
163 pages
Genre: Suspense, horror, fantasy, children’s lit, short stories

Jacket copy: A small self-contained child who dreams reality; the ghost of a love-struck bicycle-riding night watchman; a canary who bears an acute resemblance to the younger sister of Charles II; an old lady, hard of hearing, almost blind, but with a murderous sense of smell–these are just a few of the characters you’ll encounter in this spine-tingling, mind-boggling collection by Joan Aiken.
The impact of the tales is varied and ranges all the way from grisly horror through old-fashioned mystery to comic fantasy. It’s a book to curl up with and enjoy on a dark, rainy night, a book which continues to astound from the first page to the very last.

Book report: So, though it’s been a couple of years since I found out that Joan Aiken had written a whole mess of books in concordance with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (the Wolves Chronicles, they’re sometimes known as)–a shocking discovery for someone who’d read and re-read TWoWC like it was her job–I hadn’t read anything else by her til last winter’s Shivers for Christmas, which included a really excellent little story, “The Ferry.” I not sure why, but I don’t read short stories all that often, though I like them a great deal (especially TALES OF TERROR), but the title of  The Green Flash was well-nigh irresistible. I mean, how evocative is that?

It is such an odd little collection of stories, ranging from the, well, grisly to the subtly disquieting, and from pathos to humor. And for the most part, they’re very, very good. I don’t think I disliked any of the stories, but I couldn’t say that I liked them all. Not because they were bad or uninteresting, but because of that lingering sense of disquiet (“Summer by the Sea” has taken me three readings to come to terms with, and it still makes me uncomfortable) they invoke. But that’s a good thing; I’d much rather puzzle over a story and how it made me feel than simply forget it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jane-Emily & Witches’ Children

July 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm (Children's lit, Historical fiction, Horror, Juvanalia, Suspense) (, )

Jane-Emily & Witches' Children by Patricia Clapp

Jane-Emily & Witches’ Children by Patricia Clapp
originally published 1969 and 1982
Harper, 7th printing, 2007
293 pages
Genre: Horror, suspense, historical fiction

Jacket copy: Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful child who died before her thirteenth birthday. But that was a long time ago.
Jane is nine years old and an orphan when she and her young Aunt Louisa come to spend the summer at Jane’s grandmother’s house, a large, mysterious mansion in Massachusetts. Then one day . . . Jane stares into a reflecting ball in the garden—and the face that looks back at her is not her own.
Many years earlier, a child of rage and malevolence lived in this place. And she never left. Now Emily has dark plans for little Jane—a blood-chilling purpose that Louisa, just a girl herself, must battle with all her heart, soul, and spirit . . . or she will lose her innocent, helpless niece forever.
One of the most adored ghost stories of all time is available again after thirty years—to thrill and chill a new generation!

During the winter of 1692, when the young girls of Salem suddenly find themselves subject to fits of screaming and strange visions, some believe that they have seen the devil and are the victims of witches.

Book report: It’s funny: Though both I’m Deborah Sampson: A Soldier in the War of the Revolution and Witches’ Children were favorites of mine in elementary school, I don’t recall ever happening upon Jane-Emily in the Mililani Library. And don’t doubt me; I read Deborah Sampson (about a girl who dresses as a boy and FIGHTS IN THE REVOLUTION) probably seventy-odd times in second and third grade, and around that time Witches’ Children introduced me to the joys of both historical research and the occult shelf in the Children’s section. Actually, a decade or so later, when I was in The Crucible (Ann Putnam, Sr, whut whut!) and our director was going over historical notes with us, I brought up the cake Tituba makes of rye meal and the girls’ urine (my director–Stephen Clark–was nonplussed at that detail being in a children’s book). Yes, a good ten years later, I still vividly remembered that detail, and it was because the book was THAT good. But yeah, Jane-Emily? Never heard of it, so of course it went on my Shelf Discovery reading list, though there it only merited an Extra Credit mention. If Patricia Clapp wrote it, I was going to read it. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Captive

December 1, 2009 at 1:01 am (Historical fiction, Romance, Suspense) (, , )

The Captive by Victoria Holt

The Captive by Victoria Holt
Doubleday, 1st edition, 1989
357 pages
Genre: Gothic romance, historical romance, romantic suspense

Synopsis & Review: Rosetta Cranleigh is of a genteel background; her parents are both respected scholars of the ancient world, her father working for the British Museum, and their research and studies are the mainstay of their existence. In fact, they hardly see to notice they have a child, despite naming her for one of the century’s most important archeological discoveries. (Quick aside: I was so enchanted by the phrase “Rosetta Stone” when I was little that I invented several characters with that name, and would draw them endlessly, making up stories of their adventures to go along with the drawings. NERD ALERT) Rosetta spends most of her time belowstairs with the servants and her nurse, until a governess is hired for her education. Fortunately, Miss Felicity Wills is young and sympathetic, and remains Rosetta’s dearest friend even after she eventually marries and Rosetta goes off to school.

When Rosetta is eighteen, her parents take her on an extended trip, to South Africa and then to America, for a lecture tour, affording her an unusual opportunity to see the world. On board, she befriends two young men, the dashing Lucas Lorimer and a deckhand, John Player. A terrible storm strikes, forcing the passengers to evacuate the ship, and Rosetta is separated from her parents. Fortunately, John Player finds a lifeboat, and the two rescue the injured Lucas Lorimer from a capsized lifeboat. After a few days at sea, the three wash up on a tiny, deserted atoll on the North African coast. Because of their desperate situation, John confesses to Rosetta that he is not who he seems to be: he is actually a fugitive named Simon Perrivale, a bastard from a gentry background, fleeing accusations of his eldest brother’s murder. He claims his innocence, and Rosetta believes him. A ship spots the stranded travelers, and pirates rescue them from certain death. Lucas ransoms himself, but the blonde, blue-eyed Rosetta and strong Simon are too valuable, and are sold into captivity. The ship soon makes Constantinople, where Rosetta enters the pasha’s seraglio and Simon labors as a gardener.

Safe from sexual debasement until she has recovered from her ordeal, Rosetta befriends the French Nicole, mother to the pasha’s eldest son, Samir. This draws her into the harem’s intrigues, and when Rosetta foils a threat to Samir, Nicole takes pity on the English girl. With the help of the chief eunuch, Rosetta and Simon both escape into the city, where she goes to the British embassy, and John disappears, planning to make his way to Australia.

Rosetta discovers that her father is still alive and eager to see her in London, though her mother was lost at sea. Her capable aunt takes over the household, leaving Rosetta at loose ends, until she stays with Felicity, who reunites her with Lucas, now crippled and a shadow of his former self. Upon learning that Lucas hails from the same area of Cornwall as Simon, Rosetta goes there to investigate, hoping to uncover the truth of the Perrivale murders. She takes a position as governess in the Perrivale house, and though Lucas warns her of danger, Rosetta cannot rest until she clears Simon’s name.

Funny how the captivity narrative is one of the most enduring topos in Western popular fiction. In America, the Indian captivity tale—from Mary Rowlandson to The Searchers—has endured, changing thematically to reflect social concerns. In Colonial America, there was often an emphasis on religion, and the captivity functioned as punishment for sin. Only the strong who remained true to their faith could survive to pass the tale on to a receptive audience. Similarly popular is the Barbary captivity narrative, that of white Christians in bondage in North Africa, or even farther East in the Ottoman world. When tales of Barbary captivities took hold of the popular imagination, North America was in the early stages of colonization, and images of North African “barbarian” and North American Indian “savages” were exchanged; description of either Other were interchangeable or comparative. It might be said that the captivity narrative forms an integral part of North American identity in literature, and the understanding of the Other as represented by the indigenous peoples of North America. Worth exploration is also how the descriptions of white captivity in Africa and the Near East might reflect anxieties about black slavery in North America. But that’s a topic for someone’s history paper, not for me and Victoria Holt. Read the rest of this entry »

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Challenge Wrap-Up: RIP IV

November 1, 2009 at 2:25 pm (Challenge Wrap-Up, Horror, Suspense, Thriller) ()

rip4banner200Like a lot of people, I participated in Carl’s RIP IV Challenge. And as is my habit, I went a little overboard. Not content to simply read four books for the Perils the First Challenge, I read eight. (Like many a classic overachiever, I sometimes exert myself for one massive burst of achievement.)

Books read for RIP IV
1. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
2. The Terror by Dan Simmons
3. The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney
4. Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, ed. by Phyllis Cert Wagner & Herbert Wise

RIP IV bonus books
5. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories My Mother Never Told Me
6. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Sixteen Skeletons from My Closet
7. Hell House by Richard Matheson
8. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

(You can also find my challenge page here.)

Dan Simmons’ The Terror was definitely my favorite, and one I look forward to re-reading. I was glad to finally get around to Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which was as enjoyable as promised, and also glad to finally have Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw under my belt! Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural might not be the best for another RIPer to read due to its length, but it provides an excellent background in horror tales.

It was a really fun challenge, and the first I’ve completed since beginning the stacks my destination! (Which is kind of funny, since it had the shortest time limit. Actually, participating in RIP IV, and keeping myself organized for it, really helped with some of the other challenges that I had joined when I first started this blog, but neglected since. So as far as participating in challenges goes, it might be best to start with a short, quick one to get your feet wet. Lesson learned!) I particularly enjoyed seeing what other people were reading for it, and though I didn’t get to some of the books on my list, that just means I have some to read next year–if I can wait that long! Thanks to Carl, and to all the other RIPers. See you next year.

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

October 21, 2009 at 6:42 pm (German, Historical fiction, Horror, Literary Fiction, Satire, Suspense) (, )

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
translated by John E Wood
originally published 1986
Vintage, 23rd printing, 2001
255 pages
Genre: Horror, magical realism, literary fiction, suspense

Synopsis & Review: On July 17, 1738, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille  is born at the most putrid place in Paris, in all of France. Born to a mother who not only did not want him, but fully intended to discard her newborn son just as she had her four previous children, Grenouille cried out spitefully, gathering the attention of the crowd around her fish stall, and thereby condemned his mother to death. From there he was taken into the care of the government, and then religious authorities, going through four wet-nurses in rapid succession. The infant is a greedy monster, devouring twice as much as the other infants, sucking the wet nurses dry of their assets. This, along with his bizarre lack of personal odor, causes Grenouille to be passed along until he lands in the care of Madame Gaillard. Lacking any sense of smell herself, Mme Galliard doesn’t notice Grenouille’s lack, treating him the same as any other child in her care. His peers, however, recognize him as an alien, a monster, and alternately shun and attempt to murder him, setting a pattern for his life.

For Grenouille is a monster born, and his lack of scent is a warning for people to avoid him, one they often cannot mark in a world filled with stenches and overlaid with perfumes. But Grenouille is also blessed with a singular sense of smell, able to recognize changes in weather, a person’s imminent arrival, or the location of lost objects. When he realizes what scents are, he is driven to accumulate them, to catalog every scent in Paris. The discovery of the most thrilling, enticing, beautiful scent leads Grenouille to his first murder, and also into the arts of perfume making, as he is determined to capture and recreate that perfect scent for himself, leaving a wake of destruction in his path.

I was not that impressed by the film version of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. It was pretty to look at, and there was definitely an interesting story, but there was no magic; it was curiously sterile. But, it still made me want to read the novel it was based on. Which, I might add, took me FOREVER to acquire. Every time I put a hold request on it, the hold would simply disappear. And then one day, after three months of irritation, it suddenly appeared, ready for pick up! I was really excited when Eli brought it home, but also a little concerned. What if Perfume was another The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which started out promisingly, then became The Unbearable Fucking Czech Novel that Makes Me Feel Bad and Irritable Through No Fault of Its Own? (And which I still have not yet finished. I am a bad, lazy reader.) Well, it wasn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

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