Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Woman in Black & Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

The movie The Woman in Black is one of the scariest movies I've seen in recent years. I'm not much for gore, and I love gothic horror, so I really enjoyed the movie. I didn't know until some time later that it was based on a book. When I found out, I added it to my "to-read" list and saved it for October.
While I liked the book, I think I would have liked it better if I had read it before seeing the movie. The movie stays quite close to the book, but it kicks the creepiness factor way up. I didn't really find the book scary at all, except for the ending. It's a good little gothic tale, and I appreciate the time the author took to get the style right. I love that authors are writing gothic horror in the style of the classics. Books like The Woman in Black and This House is Haunted (see previous review) are a delight to read. I did like This House is Haunted better than The Woman in Black, because I liked the writing better and enjoyed the "tongue in cheek" feeling I got at times. And, as I said, The Woman in Black fell a little short for me after seeing the movie.

It's almost November and that means National Novel Writing Month! I did my first NaNoWriMo last year and absolutely loved it. I also did the April and July camps this year, but didn't have quite as much fun with those. November is a better month for writing. Until yesterday I had only a vague idea of where I was going to go with my story. I sat down and fleshed out some ideas and now I'm really excited about it. Tonight I am hoping to work on a chapter outline and character sketches. The novel I'll be working on is inspired by a novel I wrote last year/earlier this year. This will be a "prequel" of sorts, set in the 1920s-'30s. It's the story of two competing resorts/dance halls in northern Minnesota. There'll be bootlegging, gangsters, and forbidden love. Bring it on, NaNoWriMo!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ordinary Grace

William Kent Krueger has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Not only is he from Minnesota, he is a great writer. So far, I had only read books that were part of his Cork O'Connor mystery series. He also has two stand-alone books, and I received one of them—Ordinary Grace—for my birthday.
Ordinary Grace is a coming-of-age novel narrated by Frank Drum. Frank tells the story of one life-changing summer in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota. Frank's innocence is shattered through a series of deaths that have an impact on his family and the entire community. Frank and his brother, Jake, struggle with making the right decisions that no child should have to make. Much of the information Frank and Jake receive comes as a result of eavesdropping. This was something I could really relate to, since as a kid I eavesdropped myself and learned things I really didn't want to know. But I also understood Frank's desire to be let in on things and being driven to eavesdrop. It was a clever and accurate way to include conversations the adults wouldn't have had in front of the kids, and for Frank and Jake to receive the information they needed to drive the story along.
Ordinary Grace isn't a particularly original story. I figured out pretty much from the start where it was going. That said, it is beautifully written and, to me, conveyed a sense of warmth, like an old quilt. I'd definitely like to see more stand-alone novels like this from William Kent Krueger.

I've also been reading The Woman in Black, and last night I started Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. It's my book club's November selection and, while I usually wait until closer to our meeting to start the book, National Novel Writing Month starts Friday so my reading time will be greatly reduced over the next several weeks.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Heart-Shaped Box

I've been in the mood for some horror this October, and when I was trying to choose what to read next, Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box fit the bill.
Heart-Shaped Box tells the story of rocker Judas Coyne, who buys a ghost on an ebay-like site. Overall, I thought this was a really strong effort. I liked Jude and Marybeth (aka Georgie) and thought both of them grew personally throughout the book. The ghost was scary. There were some parts toward the end—particularly when Jude and Marybeth went to Florida to confront Jessica Price, the woman who sold Jude the ghost. I suppose there are people out there who are as crazy and evil as her, but...well, I found the ghost to be more believable than she was. I really liked the ending a lot, and thought it tied everything together pretty neatly. It's definitely a good effort from Joe Hill, and I'd read more from him. (I have read one of his other books, 20th Century Ghosts.) I'd give this one 3.5 stars.
I'm now starting another ghost story—The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. While the movie based on this story wasn't perfect, I did enjoy it and got a good scare out of it. I'm also reading Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, who I am going to hear speak next week. I'm very excited!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Doctor Sleep

Every once in a while, something comes along that not only meets your expectations, it exceeds it. Stephen King's sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, has done that for me.
I'm sure I'm not alone in getting to the end of many books and wondering, "What's next?" Most of the time writers don't tell you because what happens afterward isn't that interesting. But in the case of Danny Torrance, who survived the horrors of the Overlook Hotel, it felt like there had to be more there.
Writing Doctor Sleep took a lot of cojones for Stephen King. Sure, he's the master of horror and people are going to buy what he writes no matter what. But The Shining is a classic, and to screw that up with a sequel that wasn't any good would have been a shame.
In Doctor Sleep, we meet a grown-up Danny Torrance. Not surprisingly, he is one messed up dude. When he is called upon to help a little girl named Abra who shines even stronger than he did, things begin to change. Abra is in danger, but not from the ghosts who tried to claim Danny at the Overlook. The True Knot are living, breathing people who feed off children like Abra. Just like Dick Halloran was the only one who could save Danny, it's only Danny who can help Abra. Along the way, there are some great plot twists that I never saw coming.
I'll admit, it took me a few weeks to read Doctor Sleep. Looking back, I'm happy I took so long reading it. It was good for me to spend some time with these characters and get attached to them. By reading it slowly, I was able to savor it. The last hundred pages or so are really a thing of beauty. I found myself in tears several times, and when it ended I felt a sense of closure.
And so Doctor Sleep has found its way onto my list of favorite Stephen King books. It's the second of his books to work his way there this year—I also really loved 11/22/63. It took me four years to read one of his books after Under the Dome. I hated that book so much. I think it suffered from being too long, which I have found true in more than one of his books. I think King is at his best when he's under 500-600 pages or so. Anything more than that, and I feel like the middle 400 pages can be skipped. He really shines in his shorter books and short stories.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Good Fall

Last night I finished A Good Fall by Ha Jin. I read it at this time of year thinking it was going to be about autumn. I was so wrong, and feel a little dumb about that. That's okay, though. It was a really good bok!
A Good Fall is a collection of stories about Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans living in Flushing, New York. Even though there is something different going on in every story, there are common themes that run throughout the book. The main characters are often walking a tightrope between two cultures. I think similar stories could be written by just about any group of immigrants. In that way, I felt that this book was really about humanity—that despite all of our differences, we are all very much the same.
I definitely would read more from Ha Jin. The stories were very easy to read, but packed a big punch. As a whole, it's a very strong collection.
I am *still* working on Doctor Sleep. I really like it, but I don't know what is taking me so long to read it. That is what I get for reading three books at once, I guess. Yet that isn't stopping me from starting another book. I want to read Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger before I go to hear him speak in two weeks. Krueger is new to me this year, but he is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I've read the first three books in his Cork O'Connor series. Ordinary Grace is a stand-alone book. I can't wait to start it tonight!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Little History of Literature

I feel like I've been slacking over the past week or so, having not posted a review since the end of last month. The truth is that I've been reading three different books at the same time.
I received A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland through Net Galley. This book is a whirlwind tour of a subject very near and dear to my heart. I majored in English Lit, so this book was a great review for me. I enjoyed revisiting some of my favorite authors and works, and learning about others I'm not familiar with. For those who have an interest in literature, this book is a great choice. It's readable while covering a vast amount of information. I would have loved having a book like this when I was in college to use as a resource.
I'm still working on Stephen King's latest book, Doctor Sleep. I'm over halfway through now and still loving it. I swore I'd never read one of his books again after Under the Dome, but he's definitely made amends with this and 11/22/63.
I also started reading A Good Fall, a short story collection by Ha Jin. I'm finding it kind of refreshing to read short stories for a change. I need to do this more often.