Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Westing Game

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The Westing Game

16 heirs come together in a game of cat and mouse that will reveal a murderer and award the winner with a $200 million dollar inheritance. Or so everyone thinks. Conveniently brought together in a new apartment complex, Sunset Towers, across the way from the abandoned Westing estate, the 16 heirs are called to the reading of the will for the recently deceased Samuel Westing. Each of the heirs has a connection to the Westing family, and according to the will, one of those heirs murdered Samuel Westing. Or did they? That’s is the task put to the heirs. In order to get the inheritance they must figure out who murdered Samuel Westing. The heir are divided into pairs and each pair is given a set of clues to figure out the murderer.

As the pairs progress with their clues, the reader gets to find out more about each character and their possible connection to Samuel Westing. Raskin does an amazing job of fleshing out each character, giving them depth and personality. Turtle Wexler really stands out in my mind as the precocious and aggressive 13 year old girl who just wants to be noticed and taken seriously. This clever teenager plays a huge role in the final mystery solving and reminded me a bit of Harriet the Spy mixed with Nancy Drew. Turtle can hold her own.

The whole novel was an homage to the locked room mysteries of Agatha Christie. The plot is threaded with subtle clues and red herrings that the reader has to keep track of. The pace of the plot keeps you on your toes and guessing until the end. According to the little introduction in the front of the book, Raskin wrote this novel off the cuff and added on clues as she wrote, which, considering the complexity of the mystery, is pretty darn amazing. I can see why this novel won the Newberry Medal. The plotting is ingenious and the characters unforgettable. The Westing Game is a twisty puzzle of a mystery.

Rating: 4.5/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

Speed Reading

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Speed Reading

Next up in Book Battle 2015 is a book you can read in a day. Once again, I went back and forth on what to choose for this book for the longest time. I was oscillating between three different books but finally decided upon Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. I stumbled across this book at my local library and was instantly intrigued. I had never heard of the novel or the author before which made me doubly intrigued. I love to discover and read new authors.

Reading the back of this book, it sounds like it’s going to be a cross between Clue and Sherlock Holmes. Sixteen people gather together for the reading of Samuel Westing’s will. The will states that they could become millionaires if they play some kind of game in order to get the money. These sixteen people must find the answer to a mysterious question by playing the dangerous Westing game.

With a synopsis like that it sounds like I can’t lose with this one. Not to mention that this novel won the Newberry Medal in 1979.

Stay tuned for the review of The Westing Game and some good old fashioned sleuthing fun. Happy reading!

Ghost Story

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Ghost Story

“What was the worst thing you’ve ever done? I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me…the most dreadful thing…”

Perhaps the best first line I’ve ever read from any book. I was immediately entranced by this novel and wanted to find out what this horrible, dreadful thing was. The prologue of the novel thrusts you right into the thick of things and definitely keeps you, as the reader, on your toes. You’re kind of getting the end in the beginning and then need to work backwards from there to figure out how this character got into the desperate situation he currently finds himself in. And that journey is one wild ride.

To break it down, since I don’t want to give anything away, the novel is about a group of older gentlemen who are exceptionally close friends. These gentlemen have a sort of club called The Chowder Society where they get together and tell each other ghost stories from their past, conveniently circumventing the story they are all involved in. When their dreams begin to become unbearable they decide to invite the nephew of a deceased member of the group to help them figure out what is going on. Each man, Sears, Ricky, John, and Lewis, have the same dream where they enter a house and watch the others die. Since the deceased member’s nephew, Don Wanderley, has written a book about paranormal events they think that he is the best person to help them figure out the strange events surrounding their small New York town and explain what is happening in their dreams.

Enter Don, who is currently living and teaching in Berkeley, and has met a mysterious and beautiful girl he immediately falls in love with. Things between the two escalate quickly and just as quickly fall apart. She’s a strange character and Don begins to suspect horrible things about her. Then as suddenly as she blew into his life, this girl, Alma Mobley, disappears without a trace. To only be found engaged to his own brother in New York. Don tries to warn his brother about the girl but his warning isn’t enough. Disaster strikes and his brother David commits suicide. His life in shambles, he decides to go and meet The Chowder Society.

The plot takes on a frenetic pace when Don arrives in Milburn. Whatever supernatural plans that started with The Chowder Society are fully actualized once Don enters the scene. Everything hits the fan and the town turns upside down. The worst possible things that can happen do, and it’s up to Don and The Chowder Society to find a way to repair the damage and save the town from it’s ghostly presence.

I know this all sounds a bit vague but I don’t want to give even a hint away. This is a novel that must be savored, and I don’t want to take that away from anyone who wants to read it.

I will tell you, this novel scared the pants off me. It took a while to build up but once it got there it was worth the wait. I spent many a night looking down the hallway making sure nothing was lurking there. I even thought about plugging in a nightlight. To me, this novel was the ultimate kind of scare. Like the Nightmare on Elm Street series, this novel dealt with entities invading your mind and taking control over your thoughts to show you things that aren’t real. They use your own thoughts, emotions, desires, and regrets to take control over you and make you do what they want of you. These entities muddy up the waters of perception and memory until you’re so confused you don’t know what’s up or down. You lose control of your faculties and are plunged into a facade of your desires before you realize that what you’ve entered is really a nightmare.

Even Stephen King has said that Ghost Story is one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century. For anyone that loves a good psychological scare, I would highly recommend this book. This novel, however, is a lot more than a horror novel. It’s a psychological look at the human condition and how the mind can be such a powerful force for good and for evil. It shows that perhaps the worst nightmare can be one of our own invention.

Rating: 5/5 Go out and get a copy immediately.

And please stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

Top Ten Tuesday- These are a few of my favorite things

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top ten tuesday

When I saw the topic for this weeks Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish, I couldn’t resist. Picking just 10 favorite authors is such a challenge. I have rarely come across a book I didn’t love. I finally did manage to narrow my favorites down to ten and here they are in no particular order. My top ten favorite, most beloved and admired authors.

1. Daphne du Maurier- Ever since I read Rebecca I have been under du Maurier’s spell. She is such an amazing word craftsman and can create an atmosphere like no other. Her novels are so dark and magical every time you read them you come away with something a bit different.

2. J.K. Rowling- The Harry Potter series was such a huge part of my childhood. I read those books all through elementary school and into college. They were a constant companion and will forever be magical and beloved.

3. Agatha Christie- The Queen of the Classic Mystery genre. My list wouldn’t be complete without her on it. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are perfection.

4. Neil Gaiman- Another author who can create a magical atmosphere in each of his novels. He writes such a range of material that there’s something there for everyone.

5. Terry Pratchett- A friend of mine from England introduced me to Terry Pratchett, and I’ve been laughing and enjoying his prose ever since. Tiffany Aching is the best. Oh the frying pan.

6. Carolyn Keene (all of the women who have written under this pen name)- I’m taking it back a ways for this one. Nancy Drew was a huge part of my childhood. I collected all of those yellow bound books and read and re-read them until I almost had them memorized. Nancy will forever be one of my favorite literary heroines for her daring, charisma, and intellect.

7. Tana French- French’s Murder Squad series is near perfection. Each one is a little world unto itself with realized characters that are flawed and beautiful. I love the way she connects her novels through the characters and shows how multifaceted each is.

8. Jane Austen- Another author that makes me laugh and cry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Pride and Prejudice but it never gets stale. Austen wrote with such fluidity and wit that each of her novels is a classic must read. Look at all of the sequels and miniseries that they have spawned.

9. R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike- So I cheated a bit on this one. I’ve loved these two authors since elementary school. The novels are scary and thought provoking each in their own unique way. Christopher Pike is going to make an appearance in the Book Battle as well so be on the lookout for that.

10. Nova Ren Suma- A new author, especially compared to others on this list, but Suma came to mind almost immediately. Her novels are haunting and beautiful they’re hard to forget. Her prose is so lyrical you have to re-read sections just to immerse yourself in the words. If you haven’t read her please go and find one of her novels! They’re all amazing.

Tales Told Around the Campfire

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Tales Told Around the Campfire

Next up in Book Battle 2015 Ghost Story by Peter Straub. This book was recommended to me by my local used book store owner. He said that Straub is one of the originators of the new horror genre. This book is a bit of a continuation from last time since it’s a book that scares you. I had a had time with this one at first, like the book that will make you cry or laugh, because how do you know if you will be scared if you haven’t read the book before? So I took it out of my hands and asked google for the scariest books and this one came up. Since it was already recommended to me, and I’ve been wanting to read it ever since I bought it, I knew this was the one.

From the book jacket, the plot sounds intriguing. It’s supposed to be a take on Henry James’s Turn of the Screw and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories. In the vein of more psychological Hitchcockian suspense as opposed to the slasher horror genre. I can’t wait to see if it’s true. I loved Turn of the Screw, and the movie with Deborah Kerr which scared the bejeezus out of me. Suspense based scares are my favorite. I don’t particularly like super gory. I like the scares that make you think a little about the future implications and ramifications to the characters and the story universe. Psycho stands out in my mind as a good psychological suspense story, true with a bit of gore. The end scene of the movie with Norman Bates gives me the chills.

As the title suggests, this story is going to be a ghost filled one, whether that’s ghosts from the past coming back to haunt you or real actual ghosts I don’t know. We’ll find out together.

Stay tuned for the review of Ghost Story. Happy reading!

The Winter People

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The Winter People

A small Vermont town surrounded by legends of the undead and plagued by mysterious disappearances for as long as anyone can remember. Only a dead woman’s diary holds the answer to West Hall’s dark past. But will the diary be used for good or to perpetuate more evil. Will a person’s desire overwhelm their common sense?

This is the basis of Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People. The story starts and ends with the words of Sara Harrison Shea. She is the basis for the horror that has befallen West Hall, Vermont. Told in many different perspectives, the story slowly begins the story of the town and what has been plaguing it’s people for centuries. Two people in the present find Sara’s diary explaining the origins of West Hall’s ghosts. First Ruthie finds the diary after she wakes up to discover her other missing from their home. In her search for her mother, she and her sister Fawn discover an ancient diary and wallets from people they have never heard of buried in the floorboards. The second person to discover the diary is Katherine, a woman overcome by grief who moves to West Hall to find out why her husband went to the town the day he died.

The story moves along swiftly, the best parts in my opinion are the bits from Sara Harrison Shea’s diary. The story is very suspenseful and like all good ghost stories did make me look over my shoulder from time to time. Things going bump in the closet have always terrified me since I was a kid and this story awakened those fears a bit. The undead in the closet, shiver.

I did think, however, that at times McMahon had way too many plot lines going at once. She started out simply and it worked. I was intrigued and wanted to know. And then she introduced at least five other plot lines and it lessened the suspense for me. The additional plot lines kind of diluted the ghost story. I understand why she did it after finishing the novel but still feel like I would have liked it more without so many parallel plot lines. It took the focus off the ghost story/horror aspect and made it more like an action movie. The story of Sara Harrison Shea could have well stood on it’s own, even throw in Ruthie and her family. But the rest feel superfluous. It almost felt like McMahon had to scramble to figure out how to tie up all the loose ends in the plot and had to add all of these additional characters and plots in order to do so.

Even with the extra plot lines, the main story is fantastic. It made my skin crawl in places and made my heart beat quicker. I love a good scary story and the main thread in this novel is a great one. Read it yourself and find out how sleepers come back to life and, in some cases, live for eternity.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

Road Trip

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Road Trip

This installment of Book Battle 2015 is another travel destination. This time it’s a place you’ve always wanted to visit, which for me is Vermont. I’ve always wanted to go to the East Coast to see all of the fall colors, especially Vermont and New Hampshire. The pictures I’ve seen are breathtaking. I haven’t really explored the East Coast very much at all so why not start out with a little fiction book traveling to whet the appetite.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is set in Vermont and takes place in two different time periods, 1908 and the present day. The book follows the main characters as they try to make sense of the strange disappearances happening in their small Vermont town. When Ruthie from the present day finds the diary of Sara Harrison Shea from 1908 the worlds collide and Ruthie must stop history from repeating itself.

I have picked up this book so many times in the bookstore that I finally just bought it and decided to read it for this challenge. Naturally I had something else written down but this book was just calling my name. I’m so excited to finally read it and delve into the strange happening surrounding West Hall, Vermont and find out what Ruthie will discover.

Stay tuned for the review of The Winter People. 

I Am The Messenger

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I Am The Messenger

How well do we really know the people who are closest to us? That was the question that kept repeating through my mind on a loop as I read I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak. When you think about it, we really only know what other people present to us and vice versa. You never can tell the inner workings of a person no matter how well you may know them. Everyone presents some kind of facade to the world. And even when people throw out hints about who they really are and their problems sometimes we’re just so caught up in our own lives we fail to see those clues and hints. This is the world the protagonist of I Am The Messenger, Ed Kennedy, occupies. He barely lives in the present let alone thinking about his life in the future. He just kind of exists. That is until he begins to get playing cards in the mail with messages written on them.

The messages point him in the direction of people who need help of some kind, and Ed has to figure out how to help them. From domestic abuse to an old woman waiting for her long lost love to return to her, Ed finds ways to assuage people’s troubles and in a roundabout way his own. With each person he helps, Ed is forced to face the reality of his own life and his impact on others. And he’s surprised to find that by putting himself out there he’s not just changing his relationships but strengthening them and giving them more meaning and depth. The further Ed is pushed the more walls start to break down between himself and those closest to him. He begins to see his life and himself in a new way that is challenging and terrifying but fulfilling.

The novel is reminiscent of the movie Pay It Forward with Haley Joel Osment and Helen Hunt in the sense that by helping others you are spreading a similar message and will get other people to help those around them.

I honestly loved this book. Zusak has proven to me he is a great writer with The Book Thief, and this novel is just as good, though different. I agree with what I said in the beginning, especially after reading the ending. This novel feels very personal for the author. Ed Kennedy could have been him as a teenager. He even inserts himself into the end as explanation for why Ed was sent to help all of the different people around his town.

I Am The Messenger is an interesting twist on the coming of age story where the character is forced by an omniscient hand to  look around him and change his fate. He’s forced to confront his own demons whether he wants to or not and really examine his relationships and how they have affected his life and shaped his identity. But more than that, he can change the way he sees himself and the world around him. He doesn’t have to be what he’s always been. He has the power to change the way other perceive him and at the end of the novel he has the tools to take ahold of his own life.

Rating: 5/5 This is one book not to miss.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015! Happy reading!

Mind Traveling

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Mind Traveling

Next up in Book Battle 2015 is a novel set in a place you’ve always wanted to go. Once again, I went back and forth so many times on this category, from book to book and back again. Finally, I decided to settle on I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak. The novel is set in an unidentified place in Australia, a country I have always wanted to visit even though there are 9 out of 10 of the world’s deadliest creatures living there.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to start reading this novel. I fell in love with Zusak’s The Book Thief  and am expecting equally great things from this novel. In a way, this novel seems more intimate to Zusak himself. The character of Ed Kennedy perhaps a reflection of the author. From the back cover, I think this book might be a round about mystery. It’s hard to say. Ed starts receiving playing cards in the mail with instructions written on them. He has to become a vigilante Batman type, and who doesn’t love a tragic hero.

Stay tuned for the review of this Book Battle installment. Happy reading!

Top Ten Tuesday: After The End

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Top Ten Tuesday: After The End

This Tuesday’s topic is the top ten characters from books you’ve read that you’d like to check back in with. Who hasn’t wanted to know what happens after the book ends? I think we’re all curious about what happens next to beloved characters. There’s a whole genre for continuing character stories. So without further ado, here are the ten characters I’d like to check in on.

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1. Orianna Speerling from The Walls Around Us So I know I just read this but I already am wondering what happened next to this character especially after the novel’s explosive ending.

dreadful sorry

2. Molly from Dreadful Sorry A favorite book from childhood and one I’ve read for the Book Battle. I’d love to find out where she is now and if she and Jared stayed together.

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3. Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice I know there’s been so many takes on this novel but I want to know straight from Jane Austen’s mouth what would have happened to these two characters.

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4. Frank Mackey and family from Faithful Place I’ve been wondering for a while what happened to Frank and his family after the tragedy at the end of Faithful Place. I know French revisits characters from past books and am hoping she will for Frank.

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5. Merricat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle This book left me wondering long after I finished the last page. What happened to Merricat and her sister after the village turned against them?

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6. Gemma Doyle The last book left on a bit of a cliff hanger and I wasn’t ready to let this trilogy go.

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7. Faina from The Snow Child This was such a beautiful take on a fairy tale. I loved the setting and the characters and would love to catch up with the snow child herself.

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8. Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle I was so thoroughly enchanted by Dodie Smith’s book and the world she created. Man do I want to read this book again.

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9. The unnamed main character from Rebecca I have read this book at least 4 times, and plan on reading it again for the Book Battle. Du Maurier is such a gifted story teller. Each time I read the tale I wonder what next.

nancy drew

10. Nancy Drew By far, Nancy Drew captured my childhood. I’ve always wanted to know what happens to Nancy when she grows up. Does she leave River Heights? What about Bess and George and Ned, the long suffering boyfriend? Inquiring minds would love to know.