Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Secret of Crickley Hall – James Herbert

The Caleigh family has had a rough year. After their son, five year old Cameron, disappeared, his mother Eve had taken a turn for the worse. Still holding on to the hope that he will come back one day, she tried to put on a brave face for the sake of the family, while her husband and their two daughters found their own way of dealing with the loss. Thinking that a change of scenery would be welcome for everybody, and especially being so close to the one year anniversary of Cameron’s disappearance, Gabe decided to rent a house for his family for a few months so he could be closer to work and they could relax in a new environment. That house was Crickley Hall.

It’s pouring down when they arrive, and the gloom of the huge house matches the weather. Even Chester, the family dog, can sense it, and he howls and tries to run outside at every opportunity. Strange sounds come from a cupboard, lights go on and off and a strong smell of soap is felt every now and then. There’s also a cellar door that won’t stay closed, dancing lights that appear out of nowhere, puddles of water on the floor in the middle of the night and the horrible sound of a stick hitting flesh.
As the story unfolds, the terrible history of the house is revealed. There was a group of children who lived there during the war, sent to the house by the authorities who thought the place would provide the perfect shelter against the bombing. Two guardians went with them, Augustus and Magda Cribben, and one night during a great flood, the children were found dead, Augustus disappeared and Magda never spoke again and was put in an asylum. What happened that night, how did the children die and what became of Augustus are questions that find their answers as the story goes on.

I have nothing but praise for this book. The story feels real, the characters are sympathetic and the whole atmosphere of the place is brilliantly conveyed. The story follows the main characters and we get to see their thoughts and actions while the omniscient narrator gives us insights into the mystery of Crickley Hall. What I particularly liked was how the author managed to give clues about what really happened on the night of the flood, while at the same time keeping the biggest surprise for the end. The dramatic past takes turns with the present events as the reader is also told how Cameron disappeared and what became of him, but without going into a lot of detail.
Eve really stood out for me as the strongest character in the book. Not only did she have to deal with the terrible burden of her son’s disappearance, but she also managed not to go crazy when all the dubious things started happening at Crickley Hall, and decided to stay and find out more about what happened to the children and possibly her missing son. There’s also Percy Judd, the house’s ancient caretaker who’s bound to the place by his own personal history, Gordon Pyke who has his own agenda, and Lili Peel, the young psychic who is drawn to Crickley Hall first out of curiosity, then out of a desire to help what she calls “the trapped souls of the children”.
At a little over 600 hundred pages, this was one of the best scary stories I have read. The story is straightforward and easy to follow, a small cast of characters and a dog (I am partial to dogs, I admit), the scary elements were all there and they made sense, and while there was an explanation for all at the end of the story, it still felt satisfyingly creepy and very well told. A modern day ghost story that proved to be a great nighttime read.

*

I bought this book about a year ago from a second hand bookstore and kept it on my shelf since then meaning to read it one day. That day arrived when I was reminded of Carl’s R.I.P. reading event , and it proved to be the perfect choice.

*Read in September, 2012






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R.I.P. – A Reading Event

After my recent book shopping, I thought I’d have no trouble picking up my next book to read. Well, I didn’t, but after all, Angel Time by Anne Rice proved to be too slow paced for my taste and I wanted something more. More creepy, more alert, more gripping, lots and lots of more. So when I came upon Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings and read about his R.I.P. reading event I jumped at the chance to find a book (or more) and join in. After all, what could be more enjoyable than curling up with a book in the dead of night with the monotone sound of the air-conditioning keeping me company, for even though this is an autumn event (images of brightly colored leaves swirling in the wind come to mind), here it’s as hot as one could wish for a day at the beach. No matter. I’m up for a good creepy story anytime, so with this purpose in mind I scanned my bookshelf and found just the perfect book: The Secret of Crickley Hall, by James Herbert.

From Carl’s website:
The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:
Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

There are different levels of participation but right now I don’t think I can make definite plans as to what I’m going to read/watch. I may decide to read a few novels, watch some movies and add a couple of short stories in the mix, who knows…so I’ll leave my options open. The event runs from the 1st of September to the 31st of October so there should be plenty of time for some horrifically fantastic scary stories. Many thanks to Carl for hosting this event. For more details, head over to his site. Maybe you’ll want to join in the fun.






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SHADOW SHOW – All-new stories in celebration of RAY BRADBURY (Edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle)

The book contains 27 new stories by authors like Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Alice Hoffman, Dave Eggers, Harlan Ellison, Margaret Atwood, Jacquelin Mitchard and many others. After each story there’s a short explanation of how the writers came up with the ideas. Some have met Bradbury, even got writing advice from him, or grew up reading his stories, and those stories had shaped their lives as authors. All the stories in the book are connected in some way to Bradbury’s work – be it characters or themes or just concepts that were inspired from his stories; dystopian worlds, monsters, mysterious strangers, these are just some of the ideas the stories are based on. I did not read anything Bradbury until last year, when Fahrenheit 451 had such an impact on me I don’t think I’ll ever forget that first sentence, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. Like with any short story collection, some of the stories were quite enjoyable, others less so. A few words on my favorites:

The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury, by Neil Gaiman.
This story has the feeling of a soliloquy on the subject of Ray Bradbury’s work as a writer. It’s also about forgetting things, particularly names and about the stories that stay with you even though you forgot who wrote them or their complete name. From all the stories in the book, this is the one that feels more like a farewell tribute than a story in itself.

Headlife, by Margaret Atwood
A very apt title, meant to be taken ad literam. Everything happens in the future, where technology is so advanced that heads can be severed from the body and still live to talk. Memories and fantasies can be projected on screens for others to watch and buy. A scary look into what happens when you lose the right to your own privacy.

The Girl in the Funeral Parlor, by Sam Weller.
What happens when you meet your soul mate but she’s already dead? This is a twisted tale of a young man who falls in love with a dead girl and tries to find out more about her and how she died. What he finds out only strengthens his conviction that they would have been perfect for each other but the timing was wrong. A beautiful story.

The Companions, by David Morrell
Death comes at the right time. A couple go out to for a night at the opera where they meet two men who later they find out were dead. The mystery gets deeper as they meet them again a year later and then again, a few years after that. The sightings are not random and the last time the couple sees them, the mystery is revealed and everything comes together. Sad and moving.

Children of the Bedtime Machine, by Robert McCammon
This was a story I particularly liked; maybe it was the loneliness of the old woman living in a world on the brink of extinction, or perhaps the sense of joy and fulfillment she found in reading stories to children. It just goes to show that no matter where you live of how your life turns out, there’s always new territory to discover between the pages of a book.

Who Knocks, by Dave Eggers
A girl takes a boat out on a lake in the middle of the night and is never seen again. All that remains is her journal which is found in the boat – and a few lines that provide a glimpse into the mystery of the disappearance. Scary and entertaining.

Because I’ve only read one book by Bradbury, in a way I feel like I missed out on some of the stories in this collection. Some of them were great as standalone stories but with others I felt like maybe I would have liked them better had I read the original first. Most of the stories were good, some were great (like the ones I mentioned above) and some just didn’t do much for me, but in the end it was worth the read.

*Read in August, 2012






Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 12 Comments

Book shopping and reading plans

What do you do when you find out about a major book sale? You take advantage of it. On my first trip to that book shop I came away with a bunch of books. The second time I got a smaller bunch but even then, I found some titles that made me happy; The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is one book I look forward to reading, and I’ve already started on the new Anne Rice’s series, The Songs of The Seraphim – sadly, 57 pages into Angel Time, the first book, and my mind already wanders to other novels. Have I been spoiled by my recent Victorian read where drama lurks in every corner and mysteries abound? I find my patience is running out and long conversations stretching over a seemingly interminable number of pages make me want to speed read. That being said, I’m not giving up.

Yesterday was our monthly bookcrossing get-together and I came away with two books. One was I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak , a novel I was reading about only a few days ago on Jen’s blog and even though she didn’t seem to like it all that much, I was curious to see what it was all about; the other is called The Best American Travel Writing 2000 which is a collection of short stories from various corners of the world, from Russia and China to France and Uganda, to name just a few.

There are also these two (big!) books I keep telling myself I should read because I need to return them to a friend. I actually started on The Widow for One Year but it just didn’t click with my mood so I put it aside and went on to read something else. Maybe I’ll give the other one a go first. The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao sounds more interesting.

Right now I’m working on a review for Shadow Show, a collection of short stories inspired by Ray Bradbury, which should be up sometimes this week (I hope).

What are your reading plans for this week and do you have any books you can’t wait to read? Or maybe you’re familiar with some of the titles you see here…opinions and recommendations are always welcome.






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The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radclifffe (IV)

A read-along. Part IV/Volume IV

This is the fourth week of the read read-along I am doing with Vishy in which we discuss the last part of The Mysteries of Udolpho.

In this last volume, all mysteries are being revealed and everything comes together, explanations are given and a happy end ensues. Between the drama played by Valancourt and Emily – who was still caught between what was “proper” and what her heart really wanted (a timeless dilemma, isn’t it) the story of the strange goings on at the castle of the count de Villefort, and the nun with a terrible secret at the monastery of Saint Claire, there are banditi attacks, a shocking disappearance and of course, a double wedding. The bad guys get their just punishment, a dark family history is revealed and everything ends on a happy note.

I enjoyed the book – in spite of its happily-ever-after ending and a few high drama moments that had me roll my eyes, there was still enough tension, unpredictability and plenty of mystery to keep me engaged until the end. I liked it better than “A Sicilian Romance” (by the same author) – it was darker, scarier and more mysterious, not to mention much longer and with a more intricate plot. Reading this book only confirmed my preference for Gothic novels which combine romance with mysteries and of course, if there’s a haunted castle and a few ghosts, real or not, even better.

Published in 1794 and the fourth of Ann Radcliffe’s six published novels, The Mysteries of Udolpho was considered the archetypal Gothic novel; while at first sight it appears to be just a novel where romance and elements of the supernatural are combined, the author later provides an explanation for those “supernatural” elements – I’m not sure if that’s good or if an unsolved mystery would have been better but I liked it nevertheless. Sometimes it’s good to have closure.
The book is also mentioned in Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”, which is the reason why I now have this book on my to-be-read pile. Would I recommend The Mysteries of Udolpho? With all my heart, but then it depends on what you want to take away from it – if you’re looking for some deeper meaning, this is not the book you want, but if you’d like something entertaining, with poetry scattered here and there and a wonderfully old language, this is just perfect. Enjoy.

You can find Vishy’s review here.

*Read in August, 2012






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