Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Outsider" by H. P. Lovecraft

Here it is, my last post for my October Horror Story Challenge!! I'm really pleased that I stuck it out, and although the last week I was in overtime to make up for the few posts that I missed, I'm happy I was able to see it through to completion.

So now onto Lovecraft's "The Outsider". I am very happy that the book ended with this story, what better way to end a collection of classic horror stories than with one of the best genre authors? After spending his life in isolation and darkness, a young man seeks out human company, and learns more about himself than he cared to ever know.. (And honestly if I said any more, it would pretty much give away the entire story).

Lovecraft has a way of making you sympathize with the protagonist of this story, and I felt quite sad for him, growing up away from human warmth and affection and instead given the company of darkness, bats, rats, and spiders. This is how monsters are created, don't they know psychology and criminology?! People need human attention to grow properly, whether or not they're 'normal'. Still though, it's the tragic plight of the narrator that causes you to just feel sorry for him, whether or not he's truly an outsider to mankind (nay, to the world as a whole).

Although, I have to admit a chill went up my spine when he was in the newly emptied room, after the entirety of the party guests fled from the castle. Every kind of monster ran through my head, and I think it was pretty clever of Lovecraft to not describe the figure itself, just the emotions of horror and despair felt after seeing it.

So, that does it for reviews for my October challenge. Happy Halloween!! Enjoy the reviews, and feel free to post your reactions to my posts or to the stories themselves if you've read them!

- Justin

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"The Horror-Horn" by E. F. Benson

Not only does this prey on any person's fear of what may inhabit snowy mountains and woods, it also makes you feel significantly colder just through the language itself! I'm also rather amused that this was tonight's story, just after our little October snowfall yesterday and throughout last night. The literary powers out there have uncanny timing with that kind of stuff.

Who doesn't believe in the rumors of the Abominable Snowman? Whether it's belief in one being or a tribe, most people can rationally agree that there may in fact be some kind of human-like creature inhabiting whatever mountain range you choose to believe he lives in. This story takes place in the Swiss Alps, and also hints at potential Yeti-life on Mount Everest as well. Creepy.

Naturally, the story begins with a hard snowfall, and the sharing of stories by the fireplace in what I take to be a ski resort (early 20th century style, of course). The narrator listens to a tale of encountering a strange human-like beast, that makes the story-teller think of the un-beauty of life and the idea that such creatures could be crawling from the abyss from which we once crawled, only much less evolved than mankind. Sure enough, the narrator scoffs and only believes the 'intellectual' part of this story, but not so much the sheer animalistic horror felt by one who looks upon such a creature.

The narrator then journeys a few miles off to visit a friend at a separate ski resort (and skis there, rather than, you know, driving. Like a normal person who wouldn't want to be completely beat after such a journey), and gets lost in the clouds and coming snowfall of that evening. What does he come across when the clouds clear up slightly, BUT A SHE-YETI! OH MY GOD I HOPE HE DOESN'T GET RAPED BY IT! He naturally flees, and has to give a coherent, non-psychotic and non-drugged account of his story later for anyone to believe him, and a search party only turns up circumstantial evidence of his encounter with this monster. Surrrrrprise.

I kinda liked this story, because I for one do believe that Yeti might actually exist (make fun of me all you want, but I'm more willing to accept the existence of a species than to deny it simply because I haven't seen it). Also, the author did a great job instilling this pure horror in his readers. I wouldn't want to be eye to eye with such a beast, I happen to be optimistic and look on the bright side of everything. After this kind of encounter, it doesn't appear that anyone would be able to see the better side of life anymore. What kind of world do we live in when these unevolved monsters still exist? A terrifying one.

One more day in October, and one more horror story to go. And I'm very excited for it, as it's H. P. Lovecraft's "The Outsider". It's gotta be good. Right?

- Justin

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"The Bad Lands" by John Metcalfe

It's always hard to discern when something strange or abnormal is occurring in a story, and especially so when the character begins the story moving to the country to cure his 'demon sickness'. I didn't know whether to think Brent was possessed/haunted before his move to Todd, or if the tower and the ominous lands surrounding it did the trick, and the details given in the story weren't really that helpful. After introducing Mr. Stanton-Boyle into the plot, I was more prone to believe that there was something truly abnormal or even supernatural about the land. Was it a tower, or was it 'old Hackney's farm?' Metcalfe may have been trying to create this question in his readers, or it may have just happened regardless. I myself don't think he tried to create this confusion, that the story created it of its own accord. Perhaps Brent brought the strangeness with him to Todd, and that Stanton-Boyle only began to feel its presence after Brent's arrival without knowing that he was the reason. There wasn't enough of a timeline in this story to really be able to pick apart such details. Or maybe that was the point? I'm not sure. Like I've said before, I'm a reader, not a writer. I don't know all their tricks. Yet..

I'm sorta ambivalent about the story; I feel like nothing really got resolved and I just feel bad for Stanton-Boyle now, who doesn't know what to believe. His own senses and memories of what he felt and saw? Or the plenty of passersby/police who claim that Brent was burning down and old barn, and there was nothing odd or out of place about it. So confusing.

Here's hoping tomorrow's story is a little more comprehensive, and hopefully a little creepier. I haven't been sufficiently scared since reading "The Willows", and I'm really hoping for some good Halloween reading.

- Justin

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Silent, White, and Beautiful" by Tod Robbins

Finally, my last post until I'm completely caught up from this weekend's shenanigans and non-literary enjoyment! Go me! Very pleased with myself for managing schoolwork, work, and illness to be able to get 2 stories read and reviewed daily this week, on top of *finally* starting Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus and Will Lavender's Dominance. Quite pleased, indeed.

So yes, Tod Robbins' tale of a madman. René Galien, the story's narrator, is clearly psychopathic and disturbed, and it's incredible that this writing was able to rile up so much emotion. Mostly of shock and horror at his callousness, and dedication to his artwork, but a little bit of pity for the unsuccessful artist he was, and the sad fate of all the characters in this story.

After apprenticing for four years in Paris, and losing his mentor to a suicide, René returns to New York, to the boarding home his father lived in before his death. After a month of unsuccessfully selling his sculptures of gargoyles, nymphs, and satyrs (of which I'm sure I would have bought at least one, they seem remarkable), he winds up married and settled down with the landlady's daughter, and resigned to a life of misery with these two women he whose company he can scarcely tolerate. Of course, there's got to be a bright side to everything, right? René conjures up in his mind images and ideas of an ideal family, his "Happy Family", that he seeks to sculpt and put into clay. And of course, he wants to use his wife and mother-in-law as.. models...

Like I said, René's callousness and insanity truly astonished me. He spoke so matter-of-factly that my psych training once again took control, and I found myself thinking of him as psychotic and psychopathic, with a hint of antisocial/narcissistic personality disorder. Not that that really means anything to the average reader, but I was intrigued. Also SPOILER ALERT I'm pretty sure this story has to be the basis for the original House of Wax story.. I mean, it just has to. He was so devoted to his craft, and sought so desperately to be successful in selling his work, that he was willing to change his subject into one more appealing to the 'stupid optimistic New York public'. Yeah, apparently they don't take to the macabre as well as Paris in this story.

This was a great story, and I think having my psych experience made it even more interesting, as I got a chance to think analytically and compare this character to violent and psychopathic criminals that I've heard about in class. Particularly that time I watched an interview with the Ice Man, Richard Kuklinski (Scared the crap out of me, he was so nonchalant about the hundred-plus murders that he confessed to). Scary how these kinds of people actually exist.

New post tomorrow! So happy to be back on track haha :)

- Justin

"The People of the Pit" by A. Merritt

Man, this story just jumped into the action. It's as if this collection of stories can actually hear what I'm thinking, and gives me what I want (that's what she said).

"The People of the Pit" starts with action, ends with action, and not once does it stop, hardly even to describe the settings in which the story takes place. While journeying to seek gold in the 'Hand Mountain', two companions notice a blue aura coming out of the mountain, accompanied by whispering that draws their dogs to the light, and almost seduces the two men as well. Soon, they notice a wreck of a man, with stumped hands and feet, crawling away from the mountain and seeking refuge from whatever horrors he encountered. After he awakes, he tells his story about climbing down a canyon, and discovering the people of the pit.

I really did enjoy "The People of the Pit" because it's pretty much everything you could want in a story. Granted, if I saw a mysterious blue light and heard disembodied whispering, I would stay as far away as possible whether or not a dying man appeared to warn me about it. There is a lot left unsaid, that opens the mind up to all sorts of ideas about who these people are, and who built the canyon stairs, and all the caves with the guardian carvings at the entrances. Also, why were the dogs not tied up, and allowed to bolt away to the mountain? That's just kinda sad and stupid of the adventurers in the first place. The dogs are the real victims in this story, at least in my animal-loving opinion.

Like I said though, I really did enjoy this story, especially when compared to a lot of other stories as of late. There's plenty of action, the narrator is kind of a part of this story, and there's no controlling wife involved. Also, half of the stories I've read this month have made it clear to me that being an explorer is fraught with all kinds of dangers, from physical and natural to supernatural and spiritual. Remind me not to go off on adventures by myself :P

- Justin

"The Music on the Hill" by Saki aka. Hector Hugh Monroe

Pen names confuse me when people finally realize who the author is. Especially when he's been dead for almost a hundred years. But, I'm a reader and not an author. So onto this 'uncommonly humorless' story. Because naturally, the editor of this collection WOULD choose this story to exemplify the author's works...

So I stopped reading after one paragraph just to write this: This woman sounds like she was only interested in marrying her husband to prove that she could. I need to quote almost this entire paragraph to show you how determined she is to have what she wants, even if he wasn't even interested at all..
"To have married Mortimer Seltoun, "Dead Mortimer" as his more intimate enemies called him, in the teeth of the cold hostility of his family, and in spite of his unaffected indifference to women, was indeed an achievement that had needed some determination and adroitness to carry through; yesterday she had brought her victory to its concluding stage by wrenching her husband away from Town and its group of satellite watering-places and 'settling him down', in the vocabulary of her kind, in this remote wood-girt manor farm which was his country house."

Wait, seriously? So his family hates you, he doesn't really give a damn either way, and you not only marry him in the face of all this, but then 'wrench' him away from the town to his country house? My god, I would have run screaming from this woman. Nobody is going to wrench me up and settle me down elsewhere, unless that someone is me. This woman is wearing her ovaries on the outside, and this man doesn't seem to have any testicles. Or is a zombie and doesn't have a brain. Either way, I'm already not pleased. But I'll finish reading the story and continue posting.

--- 5 minutes later ---

Hmm, I can't say I'm all that upset at Sylvia's demise. You don't taunt the gods, especially Pan. Especially when you live in the country now. And your husband told you to respect Pan whether or not you truly believe in him. Serves you right for being so snobby and selfish. "Oh, but I don't want to stay in the country anymore. I feel lonely and creeped out." Hey, it was your 'victory' after all.

I was SO ANNOYED by Sylvia. Getting married and moving to the country, even if your in-laws hate you, shouldn't be taken as a 'victory' for you. Especially if you likely bribed or somehow coerced your husband into marrying you, despite his 'indifference' of women. Stupid annoying woman. I'm all for women being strong and independent and all that, but Sylvia was just a pompous, self-righteous brat.

And on that note, I'll have two more posts tomorrow and I'll (FINALLY) be all caught up. Just a few more posts till this book is over, and then I'll get back to my book reviews. I have to give you guys reviews of my October reads: Warm Bodies, The Last Werewolf, and Virals. Potentially Dominance and The Night Circus if I manage to get those done soon too, but I've been a little more focused on the short stories (I don't want to fail this self-challenge!!) :)


"Rooum" by Oliver Onions

"Certificated" is apparently a word, something I didn't know. Although I liked it better thinking that it was a fake word. Additionally, the narrator is as afraid of spider as I am.

This was a decent story I suppose, and I'm not really sure what to make of the ending paragraph. The narrator, working for a construction firm, befriends a drifter who occasionally shows up and miraculously repairs or solves whatever problem is currently being faced during a construction task. However, he can't grasp simple concepts (in this story, biology and chemistry are apparently simple concepts). In addition, he's jumpy and anxiety-ridden, constantly looking behind him and avoiding any and all echo-y areas. Unless he goes through these areas slowly, listening intently, and keeping an eye and ear out for the person he always hears and feels running up to him, and then through him, and going on past him.

Yeah, in my opinion this guy was just insane, but the little preface before the story began stated that Onions was trying to tell a story about the presence of some kind of afterlife/alternate life, that only a few unfortunate few can see or feel. Still think that this drifter Rooum was just insane or on drugs, but I'm a psych major so I'm programmed to think that way.

Like I said, the concluding paragraphs confused the hell out of me. After Rooum loses it at a construction site and aggressively controls a crane in an attempt to run over the presence following him, the narrator loses consciousness/memory, and is told by another that he was on his knees in the crane cab 'jabbering away cheerfully to myself'. Is this supposed to mean that he's now able to feel/see the presence that Rooum was terrorized by? Did he just lose it after watching the events that had just unfolded? Was HE somehow this horrifying presence? I don't really know, and I don't really think I care to know, either. This story did have some creepy moments (sleep-talkers and echoes and that feeling of being followed are all a little unnerving), but was mostly kinda bland and uninteresting. Maybe, as I'm told about "Young Goodman Brown", it requires more than one read-through to get into it and see all the little nuances that get missed the first time around. But, unlike "Young Goodman Brown" I'm less inclined to give "Rooum" that chance.

- Justin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The Grove of Ashtaroth" by John Buchan

Every once in a while, a story comes along that encompasses the supernatural, but in a much kinder and gentler way. This is one of those stories. I honestly don't really know what place it has in a collection of so called 'classic horror stories', but I'm not Michael Kelahan, and don't have the expertise (yet) to put myself in his shoes and make such assessments as to which stories belong and which don't. So after that little preamble, it's off to the races with Buchan's tale of mythology and nature.

Quite a nice little story; a man decides to leave the filth and politics of London behind him, and settle down in the country, surrounded by colors and nature. And on that note, I feel bad for London, always kinda bathed in a grey light. I'm sure it's not as bad a place as so many stories make it out to be. In any case, he builds a beautiful home surrounded by rolling greenlands and lush forests filled with wildlife and all the little glories that only nature can provide. Including a little grove, with a small tower in it, a shrine to some long ago forgotten nature goddess. It seems, however, that the goddess may still reside here, breathing her fresh breath into the lands and seeking peace and happiness in one of her last sanctuaries from her reign as a goddess of man.

Again, my love of mythology got a handful with this story; I love the introduction of a peaceful and non-evil or demonic presence in a story. What is the real harm that this presence has created, aside from driving a lone man crazy? I mean, it's his fault, for deciding to plop himself down right in her rightful place. Not that she was hostile and territorial or anything, it's just interesting is all. This is kind of an older version of the Lorax and other environmentally friendly books. Even throughout the climax/conclusion, the narrator was all too aware of the ultimate goodness and peace of this sanctuary and the goddess that inhabited it. And was overcome with guilt and sadness over what he was doing in order to 'cure' his friend. Why not just bring him away from the place, and back to London or somewhere else? It's always the violent destructive solution that the human mind jumps to first..

I think this was an excellent story in how unique and original it really was. Not a true horror story, but I was still really happy that I got to read it and reflect on all the monstrosities mankind has done to nature. After all, the world was here before us, and will be here after us.. Who are we to go about destroying things and claiming that the world is here for our kind, and for our use?

- Justin

"August Heat" by William Fryer Harvey

This was a quick, but very interesting and (dare I say it?!) realistic story. Any self-respecting criminal justice major knows that the number of violent crimes reaches its peak during the hot summer months. And any lay person knows that they're unquestionably and irrationally more cranky and prone to anger during the summer; it's just too hot to be able to think clearly and calmly. William Fryer Harvey takes advantage of this little nuance, and adds an aura of supernatural intervention, to get the adrenaline going.

A young artist named James Clarence Withencroft finds himself, after an afternoon devoted to sketching, drawing an image of an obsese gentleman just after a court trial, with an expression "not so much one of horror as of utter, absolute collapse". It's plain to surmise that this figure just suffered a loss in court, presumably to a serious charge. Upon going for a short walk, James finds himself outside a monumental mason's shop, and lets himself in to investigate what brought his feet to this shop of their own accord. Who does the mason happen to be, but the spitting image of his sketch! What's more, this mason, Atkinson, was just finishing up a headstone for a convention of gravestones (kinda creepy in its own right). Guess whose name and birthday are on that stone. SURPRISE! James Clarence Withencroft. And it appears that the date of death happens to be that next day. They plan for James to spend the night, to prevent any kind of accident occurring on the way back to his house that would cut his life short. But the heat is stifling, and there's no telling what it might do to the rationale and intellect of an otherwise sane man...

I like this story. While most of the horror of it is left up to the reader's imagination (just what happens when the story ends?), it successfully creates an air of tension and anticipation throughout the pages. I almost expected a climax where the conclusion happened to be. Very well done, and what's great is that while this story involves rather extreme and violent potential behavior, this idea of heat causing something bad to happen is more real than a lot of people would like to believe. Don't believe me? Go check some crime reports. I'm off to read some more short stories :)

- Justin

"The Snout" by Edward Lucas White

Anddd yet another story that is told to the narrator through the eyes of another. At least in this story, there's a story behind that rendezvous between narrator and story-teller. Even if it's confusing.

I liked the story itself though, especially because once the word 'mythological' was mentioned, I was racking my brains trying to figure out which god this creepy snouted human-oid was supposed to be (thanks to my love of mythology, and Rick Riordan's many book series, I almost got to the right answer). I was honestly very worried that there were going to be dwarves and midgets, however. I consider myself very open-minded, but putting them in a horror story is enough to make me sleep with my lights on. This fear does NOT extend to real people, and I am in no way discriminatory toward any group of people, but horror stories involving some sort of little people are terrifying to me.

Little off topic, but now you know what scares me. In any case, this was an interesting enough story, kind of an Ocean's Eleven meets the Wolfman, except a less humorous trio of criminals, and a much creepier creature than the Wolfman. I once again, didn't really like that the narrator and the storyteller weren't given names, but at least it made sense that the narrator wasn't personally involved in the 'horror' story. And he had a role in this story besides being told a story! SPOILER ALERT the storyteller was a drunkard, and that's how the narrator knew where the missing money went, and whether or not he was telling the truth about this story. If you haven't noticed, I'm very excited that the narrator has an actual role in this story besides being a third party simply being told a tale of horror from somebody else. I hope more stories include the narrator like this one did.

Okay, I have three stories to read tomorrow for me to be all caught up from this weekend: "August Heat", "The Grove of Ashtaroth", and "Rooum". This is happening, and I shall feel very accomplished. And hopefully you will all be oh so proud of me. :) Happy reading! Hope you all have a truly terrifying pick line up for the last week of October!

- Justin

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Thurnley Abbey" by Perceval Landon

Okay, it was an interesting weekend going back to my undergrad for homecoming, but I'm now several posts behind (obviously haven't posted since Thursday) and I'm determined to fix that immediately. This story was meant for Friday, and while I could just cut my losses and say I missed a few days of my challenge, where's the fun in that? I'm determined to catch up as soon as possible, and luckily these stories are a) short enough and b) interesting enough to do just that.

"Thurnley Abbey" kind of made me realize just what most of these authors are doing with their stories. Rather than have the narrator play a role in the actual story, they are having other characters recount terrifying experiences TO the narrator, and I'm not really sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it's a good way to distance the reader from the actual scary parts of the stories, but on the other hand, that's not the point of a scary story. Even by putting yourself into the narrator's shoes, you're just being told a ghost story by somebody else who may or may not have experienced it. First person stories in which the narrator is a character in the 'actual' story is the way to get readers' blood pumping, and this second-person thing just isn't cutting it (also, I don't think it's actually called second-person, it's just an easy way of putting it).

So this story is about our narrator embarking on a long train/ship journey, and being asked by a fellow passenger if he would mind sharing his lodgings for the trip. Apparently, this other passenger suffered a traumatic experience while visiting an old friend, and doesn't want to be by himself. Anddd we're off into the ghost story, as told to our narrator by this other person.

The story itself was pretty interesting, although I'm very interested in finding out what happened to the Broughtons after this encounter. Did they ever find out what could possibly have happened in the house for there to have been a ghostly encounter? Everyone knows that ghosts are restricted to haunting a place of significance in their lives (or deaths), so something must have happened that this particular soul is tethered to the house. I feel like nothing really got explained in this story, and while it was sufficiently creepy and suspenseful (I especially liked them hiding in the bed when they hear the footsteps coming closer to the master bedroom), I would have been very pleased to learn more about the why behind this haunting.

Ah well, I suppose that would have made the story a little bit longer than a 'short story'. It still would have been nice. It was a good enough story though, I'm continuously more and more pleased that I decided to take on this challenge.

After watching American Horror Story and The Walking Dead tonight, I'm not sure if I'm going to sleep anytime soon.. If not, I'll take on another short story so I can be one more closer to being caught up. Happy reading!!

- Justin

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson

Aw, this was a sad story. Pretty good, even for people who aren't as familiar with maritime terminology (port and starboard and aye and all that).

The story opens with our narrator George looking out into the mist surrounding the ship he's currently on. All by himself, he hears a voice out in the darkness, but this disembodied voice is unwilling to come near the ship, and even more unwilling with a lantern present. After getting the ship's master Will to come out of his cabin, they convince the man to come closer, and learn of his and his fiancé's sad, sad plight.

I was particularly pleased with this story after reading The Count of Monte Cristo, because of the open-water adventures. I mean, I wouldn't want to be a character in this story per se, since it's kind of tragic what happened to the young(?) couple, and I wouldn't want to be Will or George and then have to worry about having somehow been infected with this odd malady. I just like the idea of sailing off and having a story-like adventure. Part of me thinks I live too much of my life in books' pages, but the other part of me doesn't really care anyway. Real life's kinda dull usually.

I mean, I don't really know if this was necessarily a horror story in the same way most of the others I've read so far have been, but it was original enough and I enjoyed myself regardless. Nice change of pace, being set in the ocean and all.

- Justin

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Huguenin's Wife" by M. P. Shiel

This story was much earlier in the collection I'm reading from, and I suppose I just managed to skip it by mistake. No matter, I got back to it and that's all that matters. And frankly, I wouldn't have really missed out by not reading this story.

Upon receiving an odd letter from his friend Huguenin, our narrator travels from London to Delos, Greece, to attempt to help his friend get back in touch with reality. He is truly out of it, speaking of the island in regard to ancient gods and basically pulling out Greek apocalypse stuff. Stuff about Delos sinking from sight, and other assorted things. Naturally, he got all this ideology from his deceased wife Andromeda, an eerie looking woman who was rather insane herself. They didn't even love each other. Sheesh.

I don't know, I really wasn't feeling this story for one reason or another.. It's not that it was poorly written; I just didn't feel like I could really relate to, or feel for, these characters. I liked the concept of 'bringing back the [Greek] gods', and it would have been cool for these mythological elements to have played a different role. A feathered cheetah is probably indicative of one of the gods, but I don't know which. And I didn't really understand most of this story. Did he kill his wife? Is that why he dies in the end? What's this nonsense with the animals? And the red silk that leads Huguenin throughout this house? I don't get it. There are still too many questions, and for all this religious and philosophical discussion I just wasn't feeling it.

Hopefully tomorrow's story is better. And also, hopefully I finish getting all my book reviews posted. I still have to write two for Warm Bodies and The Last Werewolf. And now, I finally have some free time to get those taken care of! Huzzah!


Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (Temeraire Series #2)

I'm beginning to dislike book series, if only because the plot seems to dry up at some point after the first book (I'm looking at you, Sword of Truth series). Novik's second Temeraire novel has already begun to fall into the trap that seems to await book series, and I hesitate to continue reading the next 4 books.

The first book, His Majesty's Dragon was unlike anything I'd read before. A historical fiction, Novik almost seamlessly inserts dragons into the Napoleonic wars of the 19th century. No longer is the war simply on land or at sea, battles now rage in the air as well. Naturally, this book piqued my interest, partly because there was a dragon on the cover and partly because it was available for free for a time on my Nook. I was pretty pleased with the story line and the genre itself; I'd never been one for history but adding dragons pretty much guarantees my interest in it. Naturally, there are some discrepancies between her version of history and the 'facts' regarding dragons (as generally accepted, anyway. And yes, I'm racking up major nerd points right now).

This second book falls shy of my standard for it, however. I don't honestly know why I always hold books up to the same standard as their predecessor in the series; I'm not often pleased with this goal (Hunger Games, Eragon or so I hear...). It just seemed to me as though Novik was adding drama to the story line simply for the sake of adding pages. Sure, it's her fantasy to do whatever she pleases, but can't she give Captain Lawrence and his dragon Temeraire a break from battles and politics once in a while? There's always something new happening, and sometimes there is such a thing as too much plot.

Now don't get me wrong, I especially enjoyed their trip through China, and the plot twists and turns toward the end of this novel. I just feel like a lot of the actual journey to China was full of unnecessary strife. Sea serpents, attacks by the French, assassination attempts, storms.. I miss the good old days of character development in those plot lulls. Just look at Star Wars: A New Hope. Ben begins training Luke in the force aboard the Millennium Falcon, and those scenes are more for character development of these two important figures than they are for actual plot development. Novik should have attempted this in Throne of Jade, particularly in regard to Temeraire's crew, who I feel have not been given the attention that they deserve. Half the characters that died in this story were, to me, unemotional because they were never really given any attention by the author. Why even bother naming these characters?

Although, I guess being "Scared Inmate #2" is okay... ---->

I don't know, I think this is the inevitable pitfall of series (book or movie, it happens with any sequels and trilogies and so on). The first in the series is remarkable, original, and so fantastic that we as a consumer can't help but hold high expectations for the coming sequels, and are subsequently very let down when they don't live up to our abnormally high standards. It's really sad, honestly, because I'm sure if the first of Novik's books wasn't outstanding to me, I might have had lower goals for this second book, and therefore might have enjoyed it a little more.


"The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood

Again, technically yesterday's short story, but once again midterms are getting the better of me. On the bright side, I'm really proud of myself for keeping up with my short stories, even if i miss the daily deadline by just a couple hours (usually, but the weekend was a studying-related fluke).

On to tonight's review, for Blackwood's "The Willows". By far the longest short story in this collection, weighing in at 40 pages. Hence another reason why it's well past the midnight deadline. ANYWAY.

Well done, Mr. Blackwood. Well done. I am sufficiently creeped out, and it's in large part due to the fact that I read a scary story at 4 in the morning. The two best parts about this story are a) the personification of the willows and the river, and b) the fact that you never truly know who or what the monster is. It just IS, and it's this non-description that truly sends a chill up my spine. Plus, apparently we were expecting a storm tonight, and the wind and rain began about halfway through this story. I still have goosebumps, and won't be going to sleep tonight.

Personifying inanimate objects always gives me a chill, and for Blackwood to do so in such a magnificent way really sends the message home that there is a separate entity on the island our narrator and his companion find themselves on. Whether it's an ancient god, or elemental spirits, they're there. And they're not happy at having human visitors.

Like I said though, I'm legitimately not sleeping tonight. Something about not ever reading a description of a monster in a story really gets to me (supposedly proof that I have a functional, and sometimes incredibly overactive, imagination), and there are just so many different terrifying monster/supernatural characteristics flying through my head. THAT'S what I was looking for with these scary stories. The adrenaline rush, the thrill of being scared.. that's what this month is all about. I highly recommend "The Willows", as well as a movie with similar characteristics (iconically, The Amityville Horror, famous for never revealing the demon/monster in the house). I'm going to attempt to calm myself, seeing as I have midterms in just about 11 hours.

- Justin

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Booky Wook by Russell Brand

Or more accurately, A Darker and More Realistic Version of Tucker Max Stories. This book was vulgar yet profound, funny yet poignant, and I'm quite mixed on how I feel about it. On the one hand, you can't help but appreciate his honesty and his ability to make light of even his darkest days of heroin addiction. On the other hand, he's sometimes just too ridiculous. I just shook my head at some of the parts in this book, thinking "Well of course you ended up in jail/hospital/rehab, you're a complete mess!" Plus, there's that whole British thing... my inner voice couldn't help but read this book in a British accent, which made it a hundred times more amusing to read.

So here we go. I'm not going to really bother with a summary of this book; it chronicles his life from birth to its publication in 2007 (well, really up until whenever the deadline for it was, pre-editing and publishing. But I digress). Basically he's a whoring, drug-using, raving lunatic and we just can't help but love him for it now, several years sober (and again, Americans love the British. Sometimes I wonder why we even fought for our independence if we all want their accents and lifestyles. Again, I digress). He's abused alcohol, marijuana, heroin, crack, amphetamines, practically any illicit substances you can put in your system, he's done it. And not surprisingly, he almost destroyed his comedic career before it really had a chance to take off. The ending of this book especially was mostly just a chapter devoted to thank yous and dedications. Not that I blame him, he'd be in jail, a hospital, or a cemetery by now if it weren't for these people that care so deeply for him.

<-- Yep, that's right, Stereotypical psychoanalytic couch reference.

As a psychologist, and especially as a psych student taking a class on addictive behaviors this semester, I couldn't help but make some connections between Brand's childhood and his behaviors later in life. I won't bore you with all the details and theories, but just take his relationship with his parents. He wanted to impress and be closer to his father, and sure enough ended up a hyper-heterosexual with the libido of a jackrabbit, engaging in all sorts of debauchery to make his father proud. Kind of sick and twisted, but again, we accept it. And then there's his early relationships with women: his mother, and his nan. He was coddled and given intense amounts of attention and unquestioned love, and he managed to become obsessed with women, constantly seeking love through one night stands and short-lived relationships. I'm not sure about the sex addiction thing, mostly because I'm still not sure I believe in its existence, but he was constantly seeking female affection. Let the Oedipal complex talk begin.

This booky wook had two disadvantages in my opinion, the first just being the format itself. I read this on my Nook, and while I do love the convenience of being able to carry and read it everywhere, it was difficult having to wait till the end of the chapter to see the footnotes for that chapter. The pictures were badly formatted as well, although e-readers were much less common back in 2007, and this was hardly an issue when the book was published. My fault for reading it on Nook, obviously.

Second disadvantage comes with reading an autobiography by a comedian with a tragic life; you see where all his inspiration comes from. After reading Brand's story, it's pretty clear to me that he doesn't really act in any of the movies he's in; he truly is a recently sober vegetarian comedian addicted to sex, and struggling to maintain self-control every day of his life. Where's the acting? He's not portraying any different characters, he's just himself, on screen. Isn't the whole point of acting being somebody else on screen?

Maybe I'm being slightly overcritical. After all, any artist draws on their real-life experiences for their craft, and actors are no exception. It just would be nice to see a little variation in his acting roles, especially now knowing the (E) true (Hollywood) story of his life.. It was an interesting read regardless, and I'm not really one for nonfiction and memoirs. This might be the beginning of a beautiful relationship with the other sections of a bookstore..

- Justin

"In the Light of the Red Lamp" by Maurice Level

Another story with an incredibly vague ending. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?! I'm rather annoyed, because while it's a good technique in horror stories, it doesn't work in a story like this, which lacks true horror qualities. Don't get me wrong, it is still a horror story, but more in how it hits your emotions.. I felt so very sad for this gentleman, having lost his wife so suddenly only 6 months before. And I felt even more sad for him by the end of the story :(

Maurice Level uses a lot of interesting literary techniques in this story, things that you don't see too often.. For starters, none of the characters had names, they were only referred to by pronouns. I liked it, I think that's a good way of making it more personal. These characters could be anyone you've known in your life, since there's no names already given to them. Kind of adds an edge of creepiness, depending on the content of the story.

Second, as I mentioned before, there's no real ending to the story, it just abruptly stops. What happened with this picture? What happened to the man's wife? There's no explicit reference to supernatural or other phenomena, and it's pretty unique of a story to be so vague and leave so much up to the reader's imagination. Not only can you give these characters any names you wish, but you also get to make up the ending however you see fit!

I'm liking reading short stories more and more, because there is so much left unsaid, that you get to use your imagination so much more than while reading a novel. What happened to get these characters to where they were in the beginning of the story? What happens to them after the text ends? I really like it, and I'm seriously considering continuing this short story challenge after the month ends.

- Justin

Monday, October 17, 2011

"The Screaming Skull" by F. Marion Crawford

*Shivers* this story was quite terrifying, and I have to say that I'm pretty sure it was a combination of leaving the story's action till the end, and also that this story was told in stream of consciousness. I could very clearly hear "The Screaming Skull" being read out loud to me as if I was speaking with Captain Braddock, our narrator. Very well done, and I had some high expectations for this story already! I mean, it IS the name of this collection of stories, after all.

I just couldn't help but feel sorry for Mrs. Pratt. Of course her soul would want to get revenge against her husband, and the man who planted the idea of her murder in his head. I'm sure boiling lead is not the most pleasant way to die, drugged or not. And while I could see this from her perspective, I also felt bad for Braddock, who unintentionally became involved in this woman's death, and therefore became the victim of supernatural harassment, being tormented by this screaming skull of Mrs. Pratt. It's not his fault, and I did feel kind of bad that his life was filled with this angry, vengeance-seeking soul.

Usually, I have at least one or two gripes with these stories, but I really don't think I have any for "The Screaming Skull". Not that it was the best written thing I've read my entire life, but I was really pleased with this story. Kind of a 'Tell-Tale Heart' with a little twist. Ooh, and maybe if I have time, I'll read some more Poe this month now that I'm thinking of it.. Decisions decisions :)

- Justin

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"The White People" by Arthur Machen

Okay, finally caught up! This was a very long short story, considered all the other ones I've read so far have been less then 15 pages (this one was 30.. shockshock) but it was decent.

The prologue was a discussion regarding true and social sins, my gathering is that true sin is not comparable to mortal sins such adultery, murder, and theft, which are considered social sins. There is an evil that, if in a person, those around him would recoil with horror and awe. Creepy, I'm pretty sure I do know people like that. Or maybe they just smell really bad.

Anyway, the second part of the story is a diary, recounting a young girl's childhood and rocks and stuff. I don't really know, she went traveling through the woods and ended up being terrified by large rocks that reminded her of faces, and dead people, and animals. Isn't that why people just stare up at clouds once in a while though? This girl needs to be more creative, evidently. Then she recalls stories from her childhood, while worrying that she brought some mysterious curse/evil back with her from her walk.

I need to stop here; I got distracted in the story thinking about how the first reference to race in any of these stories involves a black man taking a woman away in one of this girl's childhood stories. Really? First reference in almost 200 pages, and it's mildly racist. Sheesh.

So anyway this story. I'm not sure how I feel about it, because it's another of those 'might have, might not have' stories. The stories told in the girl's journal may or may not be true, and the same may be said for her 'autobiographical' account and the details given in the prologue and epilogue. I think there was a little too much going on in this story for it to really be a good one; every page was a different childhood story, and it was difficult trying to keep track of what was going on in the girl's life without having her stories retold to me. They were interesting enough though, anyway.

So yeah, that's that. I've definitely read more interesting stories but that's life. Tomorrow, I get to read this anthology's namesake, "The Screaming Skull". I'm pretty excited for it, and I hope it lives up to my expectations!

- Justin

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs

(Friday's post) at least I make up for not getting things done hahah.

This story was a little more sad than scary, but it was still creepy toward the end. If you had a magical talisman, what three wishes would you ask for? How do you think they would turn out if it was a cursed talisman?

This couple received a monkey's paw, with a supposed spell on it that would grant the owner three wishes. Against the advice of the talisman's previous owner, they take it and their first wish is for two hundred pounds (money, of course), just to see if it would even work. Sure enough it did, but in ways that they certainly wish hadn't, and in a more ironic, coincidental way than magic.

Like I said, this was more of a sad story than a scary one; I like how this monkey's paw clearly has either dark magic or is a talisman of the devil in that it grants wishes, but at a horrible price. Kind of like a sick and twisted gift of the Magi type story, if you will. I really enjoyed reading it though, and still got a kick out of the ending.

And yes, I plan on taking breaks from studying over the next few days so that I don't fall behind in my blog again :P

- Justin

"Marsyas in Flanders" by Vernon Lee

(Thursday, October 13)

Whoops, studying got the better of me... This is the review for the story I read on Thursday.

"Marsyas in Flanders" was a rather religious story, something I'm not usually a fan of, but the ending was quite a twist and I was sufficiently chilled. Might have been that I was reading this story at 2 in the morning, but you get the picture.

A little church, faced with 'miracles' of their crucifix continuously being thrown from the wall and broken into pieces by the stone figure of the Savior that had been found washed ashore centuries before. Frankly, I wouldn't call these miracles any more than I would call a poltergeist's activity miracles, but those religious-type folk.. :P not in an offensive way, of course.

What really got me was the description of what sailors claim to have seen and heard before, of mysterious instruments and howling coming from the church, and even a human figure appearing on the roof. Ooh, just thinking about this is sending a shiver up my spine.

I was pretty pleased with this story, because while there is obviously a religious aspect to it, there's no subtle tones to it regarding the existence of a God or one religion's superiority over another. The only religious aspects of this story involve there being a church, and supernatural activity being construed as miraculous. I still don't understand how you can possibly confuse the two, but there you have it. Silly 19th century people.

I'll have another two posts up later today, one for yesterday's short story, and one for today's. Again, sorry I got so held up with studying, I assure you I'd rather have been doing just about anything else.

- Justin

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Striding Place" by Gertrude Atherton

Yet another story where I am not a fan of the ordinary story part.. I think I'm one of those people who just wants to jump right into the horror and the scary parts of the story, because these have been pretty well-written and I get annoyed by them regardless... So weird of me.

Anyway, Atherton opens up this story with a rather confusing intro paragraph describing how this gentleman Weigall (really?? I thought this was some old English word, not a person) disliked hunting when the game wasn't worth the pursuit. Fair enough statements, but it took a couple times reading it for me to realize that Weigall is the character's name, and for these run on and fragment sentences to finally make sense.

The rest of the story is significantly better, if not almost as vague and confusing as "Young Goodman Brown". Worried about the disappearance two days earlier of his best friend Wyatt Gifford, Weigall goes for a nighttime stroll along a nearby river and through the woods. He approaches what sounds to me like a waterfall, with dangerous slippery rocks that if you slipped on them, your life was essentially forfeit.. "countless others, more venturesome than wise, had gone down into that narrow boiling course, never to appear in the still pool a few yards beyond". Quite sad.. go for an adventurous hike, and end up falling and dying. Boo.

The ending of this story did confuse me quite a bit. Did Weigall actually attempt to help Gifford, just for Gifford to die anyway? Or, was he just interacting with his friend's soul, while his body was floating in the pool below? I think that Atherton does a good job leaving this so vague and unsolved; the reader's imagination really gets a role in determining what actually happened in this story.

So, my whole theory behind this story is that the hunting stuff in the beginning doesn't actually matter, except to give the story a place to start. And I plan on asserting this theory in other stories I'll be reading this month, so as not to allow myself to get bored and annoyed with these little backstories. Of course the authors won't just jump into the supernatural and horror parts without a little plot first! Someday, I'll actually get the hang of this literature review thing. Until then, you'll just have to bear with my nonsensical ramblings :)


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"No. 252 Rue M. Le Prince" by Ralph Adams Cram

Quick review, since I'm not really feeling 100% and wanna get to bed :P

This was quite a page turner of a story, and I found myself just as paralyzed with fear as the narrator during the climax of the story. It's very evident that Cram has architectural skill, because the descriptions of the Rue M. le Prince were phenomenal. I could see them insanely vividly in my head, and it certainly added to the story itself. I have to wonder though, where this curse came from. Was it Mademoiselle Blaye de Tartas, back from the grave to continue her black magic? Or was it the grumpy Sar Torrevieja, the "King of the Sorcerers", and his curse upon the property after it was not bequeathed to him upon Mlle's death? Very mysterious..

I am a big fan of this story; the descriptions and plot flowed seamlessly and nothing was lost throughout the fantastic descriptions of the property. It's nice when a story keeps moving, but you get enough detail to envision being in the story as well as reading it. Bravo, Monsieur Cram.

Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow to get a full review in of "The Striding Place", the next story in this anthology. Additionally, I really want to get my thoughts on Throne of Jade and Warm Bodies on here soon.. If all else fails, they'll be posted next week after my midterms are FINALLY over.

- Justin!

Monday, October 10, 2011

"The Yellow Sign" by Robert W. Chambers

Ooh, this story was interesting. Set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, a young man and his art model learn a little something about the creepy night-watchman of the nearby church. I liked the supernatural elements, and the author's use of dreams to foreshadow and hint at what's to come. Shame these characters can't see their lives like I can. Muahaha omniscience!

So anyway, I thought this was a creative story. An artist realizes something is not quite right about a horrid looking gentleman, after his artwork basically spoils in response to his looking at the man. His model realizes that the man was a hearse-driver in one of her recently recurring dreams, in which a coffin containing the artist was traveling. Creepyy. The artist then has this same dream, in which he is in the coffin and notices the model from one of the windows the hearse passes by. Double creepy, they're sharing dreams. That usually means it's gonna happen.

I didn't like random discussion of the sale of the church, however. Thomas, the bellboy, is a necessary character because of his own experiences regarding the watchman, but the conversation regarding the sale of the church was just filler. Plus, Thomas speaks with a strong British accent, which is hard to understand in written form sometimes. Or spoken, but that's a different story. It was not a necessary part of the story, and I would have liked a little more information on the Yellow Sign, and the book The King in Yellow.

Yeah, so you would think that this book and the pin/yellow sign would seem like an integral part of this story, right? I don't understand why it was rushed over so haphazardly.. It seems almost as if Chambers was trying to make it mysterious and eerie, but he only succeeded in making it vague and confusing. Why was Tessie (the model) so distraught over its contents? Why did the artist try so hard to avoid it in the first place, anyway? Questions that will remain unanswered, it seems. Oh well, the story was pretty good regardless, I would have just liked a little more clarification on what appears to be significant parts of the story (my opinion, anyway).

Justin :)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" by M. R. James

Hmm, I like the theory behind this story. What I'm not a fan of is how James inserts the narrator into the story. Either make him a character, or make the story omniscient, but there was too much flip-flopping for me to truly enjoy the story.

"Our Englishman", or Dennistoun as his name is revealed to be, travels to the little town of St. Bertrand de Comminges to explore an old, historic cathedral. During his exploration, he notices that the sacristan (which sounds to me like a housekeeper or servant of the cathedral) appears as if there is someone behind him. He is jumpy and anxious, and clearly on the border of freaking out and running as far from the place as possible. Insert joke about an overbearing wife here, which M. R. James in fact does.

So, it turns out that this little sacristan guy has a scrapbook from the times of the Canon Alberic de Mauleon (so pretty old). There's one picture, of King Solomon dealing with a creepy, intensely disturbing demon thing. We never really know what this thing is, other than that just this drawing is enough to keep grown men up late at night, or sleeping with the lights on. I'm picturing a disturbing blend of old coworkers, and mythical hairy beast animals. Basically, this demon thing is pretty evil, pretty bad, pretty much scary as hell itself. SPOILER this is really what this whole story is about.

The Englishman, drawn toward anything old, musty, or sentimentally but not practically valuable, takes it off the sacristan's hands for a mere 250 francs. Plus the sacristan's daughter throws in a crucifix, free of charge. I guess she really wanted to get rid of the image of Christ on a crucifix, or maybe she thought he was going to need it more than her now. GET IT YET?! It's a supernatural horror story, I bet you can guess what's going to happen.

SURE ENOUGH later that night, the Englishman notices something on his end table. Lo and behold, IT'S THE DEMON'S HAND, ATTACHED TO THE DEMON ITSELF. (shock shock) So now the Englishman realizes the curse attached to the scrapbook, and spends the rest of his miserable and short life 'obsessing', in his daughter's own terms.

This was a pretty good story. Like I said, I really didn't like the format and perspective in the story. Sometimes the reader was omniscient and you knew everything that was going on, other times the narrator is reminded of something that the Englishman said to him (in person), thereby inserting the narrator INTO the story and not just making him a narrator. It was confusing. And also, why didn't anybody just try burning the picture? Why can't anyone in a horror story or movie just do the smart thing? Keeping this drawing is the equivalent of running up the stairs, instead of out the front door. Yeah, let's just trap ourselves and do all the work from our killer.. Dumb. Or, trade this scrapbook off to someone much earlier than the sacristan seems to have done. He must have been carrying this curse around for years! (in my opinion, anyway.. he seems pretty old and experienced with the curse). Man, if only I lived in a horror story, then everyone would be so much smarter.

I do have to give this author his props, though. The description alone of this demon gave me the shivers. I could only imagine actually seeing this demon thing, or even just the drawing of it. Maybe I'll just look at creepy/terrifying pictures on Halloween night..

- Justin!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"The Death of Halpin Frayser" by Ambrose Bierce

Meh, I wasn't really a fan of this story, mostly because the ending was so sporadic and confusing. Basically, this is the story of a man and the love he had for his mother which bordered on disturbingly romantic; Freud would have had a field day with Ambrose Bierce as a patient. What really bothered me about this story was that it's essentially two different stories, that just so happen to dovetail at the very end, by Bierce giving some of his characters second names that coincide with the second 'sub-story' in the story. It was written well enough, and I found it somewhat creepy and fun to read, but it's not really something that would compel me to read any of Bierce's other works.

I did, however, feel bad for Halpin Frayser, being 'shanghaied' into work as a sailor during his trip to California, and the subsequent years of being marooned on an island and kept so far away from his beloved mother. Kind of sad, and easy to relate to when you consider all the US soldiers shipped overseas after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. There are obviously some glaring differences, in that our soldiers joined the military voluntarily, understanding the risks of being separated from loved ones in times of need, but you get the point. They miss each other. That's what I was going for with that reference.

All in all, I guess this story was okay.. I might also just be biased because I read this story while tired and cranky, and in that kind of mood nothing would have escaped my mind without thorough criticism. Hopefully I'll have a better story to read tomorrow! (and hopefully I get my book reviews up too! I have to review two books now, Warm Bodies and Throne of Jade. So, I sincerely hope I'm more productive tomorrow than I was today..

- Justin! (again!)

"Man Size in Marble" by E. Nesbit

Creepeh. Simply creepeh. After searching high and low, a newly married couple move into a quaint little house overlooking the ocean. Little do they know, their house sits on the site of a much larger house, inhabited by 2 wicked men. Every Halloween, their marble effigies rise up from the town's church and return to their home, and woe to anyone who meets them along the way. At least, that's what their housekeeper, Mrs. Dorman tells them. But that's just a silly fable.. right?

This fall challenge just gets better and better! This story was pretty good, a little cliched but that's probably just because apparently there's no original material anymore; everything nowadays is a remake of something else. Needless to say, there are a lot of stories that sound kinda like this one, just tweaked this way and that. It definitely does not take away from the fun of reading this story, though. Nice and eerily chilling, just the way I like spending my nights after work.

Yah, and technically this was supposed to be posted yesterday. I just didn't really have a chance to get to a computer, so whatever. But I read the story yesterday, which is what matters :P

New post in a couple hours! When I finish today's horror story!
- Justin

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Was it a Dream?" by Guy de Maupassant

I feel like this wasn't a 'horror' story so much as a tragic romance. He loved, she died, he mourned is essentially the entire story. After losing the love of his life to an illness (supposedly pneumonia?) our narrator mourns, and then leaves Paris on a journey. Upon returning to the home he shared with her, he feels an overwhelming urge to pass the night in the cemetery by her grave, and sure enough hides out in the oldest part of the cemetery to avoid being forced out. At night, however, he gets lost and cannot find his love's grave, and wanders for a while trying to find it.

In a 'Night of the Living Dead' type plot, the skeletons dig their way out of the ground. Instead of walking the earth and bringing about the apocalypse, they turn to their tombstones and add a little honesty to the standard brightest-side epitaphs. 'He lived and loved honorably' became 'he tortured his family and deceived his neighbors' and the like. Kind of a final confession, I suppose. Also another reason I would rather be cremated than buried... I don't want to come back as a zombie and destroy my family, nor to I want any deep dark secrets revealed by my guilt-ridden corpse.

Sure enough, our narrator finds his beloved, and reads what is now written on her tombstone, and this is where I'll leave the summary. I think this was a well-written story, drawing on every lover's fear of being cheated on, or hurt in some way. It kind of also shows that guilt will follow you into the grave, as it appears to me that these souls were tormented by their sins even after death, and felt the need to rise up and use their finger bones to change what their epitaph says. Definitely an interesting way to look at a romance story, and I'm quite pleased with it (even though I'm more of an optimist than anyone could ever hope to be). Of all the things to be terrified would happen in a cemetery, at night, I would not expect honest corpses :P

So, I'm 5 stories into my fall challenge, and while my posts are falling a bit behind, I'm still pleased at the progress I've made (and yes, I have been reading a story a day, I just haven't had a chance to post before midnight, between school and work). We'll see how the rest of the month goes, between school, work, and now midterms and papers to worry about, but I'm pretty sure I'll still be able to keep up. We shall wait and see :)

- Justin

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Sir Dominick's Bargain" by J. Sheridan le Fanu

Little late in posting this, but I did in fact have it read before :P

Sir Dominick's Bargain is really everything you could hope for in a devil-related book. Guy sells his soul to the devil, and the devil comes to collect his end of the bargain. Pretty clean cut horror story. What was interesting about this story is that it's a story in the story. Our narrator is a man riding through the hills and forests of Ireland who finds an abandoned house, and since it wouldn't be a story any other way, goes exploring through the ruins of this once majestic building. While sitting on the staircase, enjoying the peace and solitude, an old man appears singing doublets about death and religion. Oh, okay. I mean, we are in a horror story after all, what kind of horror would it be if an old person didn't pop up out of nowhere?

So this guy's shown up, and proceeds to tell our narrator the story of the house they are in, a story about a young man, Sir Dominick, who blew all his money through drinking and gambling with his friends. After making an off-colored joke about bargaining with the devil, he sure enough happens upon the devil himself, who strikes a deal with him: money in exchange for his soul, you know, that whole chestnut.

This story strikes upon traditional tales of the devil; a chance meeting with a 'handsome stranger' in a forest or cemetery late at night, and always about greed and money. My favorite part has to be the very end, when the old man's tale ends and we return to our narrator, now somewhat shaken from the tale he has just heard. The description in those few final sentences is enough to unsettle my nerves, kind of one of those moments where the lightning strikes just at a truly shocking part in a story or something like that. Overall I think this was a well told story, and I really enjoyed reading it. Sure enough, this October fright challenge is proving night after night to have been a great decision :)

Updates!! I finished Throne of Jade this evening, and plan to have a new book review up tomorrow. I also watched the premiere of American Horror Story on FX tonight, which is a GREAT show to watch this month. Granted, the only way to really watch this show appears to be through your fingers; nearly the entire show is nerve-wracking in some way or another. I also plan on starting either Warm Bodies or The Last Werewolf sometime before the end of the weekend, and we'll see how that goes.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"The Moonstone Mass" by Harriet Prescott Spofford

In this short story, dating from the 1860's, Spofford clearly illustrates Manifest Destiny, and America's thirst for uncovering the unknown, the mysterious, the open frontier. What I liked about this story was the first person narration; it essentially forces at least some identification of the reader with the narrator, and in a horror story, creates more emotion in the reader than third person stories do. As much as I like to say I'm a well-cultured individual, I also liked the fact that this was written in fairly modern English, as opposed to ye olde English that many European stories of this time period are written in. This story was, once again, all about the unknown, and the fact that nothing that happened was explicitly stated and understood to have happened makes it all the more creepy and chilling. (Plus there was winter and ice involved, so I put my sweatshirt on before I had finished reading because I was getting cold).

The narrator is revealed to us as a financially savvy young man, which is another way of saying he is cheap as hell. Putting off marriage more and more because he was unsure if he could support two (or more) people comfortably, even though he's working and investing and has a decent income? Yeah, that's cheap and silly. Anyway, his even cheaper uncle Paul entices him into seeking out the Northwest Passage, so he could live vicariously through his nephew.. andd we're off into the great unknown!

Fast forward three years, and the Albatross (the ship he set sail on) is still traveling through the now icy waters riddled with glaciers and more ice. A sledding expedition to seek out land passages goes horribly awry, as the 'land' that they are on breaks up, revealing itself to be an ice mass, and the narrator is suddenly on his own as the other man, and all the sled dogs, perish (a moment of silence for the dogs, please). At this point, the story is left up to the reader's own devices. Is there some ice demon at play? Or does the narrator simply become mad from hunger and hypothermia? Either way, he is tossed and turned on this sheet of ice along the water's current, and finds himself in a huge ice cavern. In this cavern, he sees a moonstone mass, an immensely valuable object should he attain it. Surprise, he doesn't, and instead propels down what to me sounds like a waterfall, awakening to whalemen who find him and, thinking him and his story insane, get him back home and away from them. Nobody believes him, except his now wife (who I don't think actually believes the story, but simply wants him to never leave her again), and he pines for that lost treasure and fortune that he almost gained.

I definitely like the vagueness and mystery in this story, as it plays on a person's fear of the unknown. Even traveling in a forest that someone might know his way around, there is still a level of not knowing what he will come across, or what might happen, and Spofford does a great job playing on this curiosity/fear. I can only imagine what other horrific things early explorers might have suspected were lying in wait for them on their expeditions..

POSTSCRIPT! I am hoping to finish Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik by tomorrow night, meaning that there'll be a new book post by Thursday or Friday (on top of my daily story reviews). I also hope to start and finish Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf and Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies within the next two weeks (seeing as I borrowed one from the library, and the other from work, and have a two week deadline on each). As always, let me know if you have any recommended books/stories for me, and definitely post your responses to my reviews, and to the books/stories themselves. Until next time (and stay warm!),


Back to the Classics.. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS i blatantly discuss character identities and the end of the book in this review; this is your warning to pick another of my posts to read if you plan on reading Monte Cristo at any point soon.

Oh. My. God. This book is insanely detailed and in depth, but it is such a great story. I do not recommend reading this if you have trouble keeping track of characters or following plot lines. Dumas jumps from character to character, at times spending entire chapters talking about characters and events that hardly even seem relevant to the original story. It is one of the most annoying things to be reading about the adventures of Albert and Franz in Rome, to all of a sudden be faced with a chapter on a telegraph and the man in charge of receiving and relaying messages. While it makes sense by the end of each chapter why Dumas put the material in, it is difficult to read the chapter and understand who is being talked about, and what's going on, and what relevance it has to the central plotline.

That being said, I think that the Count of Monte Cristo was a very well written novel, and I wish more books were still written like this today. Dumas used excellent metaphors and descriptions of characters, settings, and events, that it made me feel like I was in Rome, or in Italy, or any of the various settings throughout the story. Definitely not a 'light' read, but a fun one assuming you can handle such a long book.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the emotion and passion that Dumas gave to his characters. The reader really feels the tragic plight of Edmund Dantes, and the thrill of meeting the Count of Monte Cristo on his island. Simply reading this book has gotten me much more interested in reading the classics; hopefully I continue reading more of them, and am just as interested in them.

Things I didn't like:
- Too long. I think a lot of descriptions could have been removed, as they would not hinder understanding of the major players, and major plot developments throughout the story.
- Chapter beginnings. Every new character is introduced as 'the traveler' or something similarly vague. It was interesting that the reader learns the characters' identities as the main characters in the book do, but a little omniscience would have been nice in making the book more understandable.
- What happens to Bennedetto??? And to Albert and Madame de Morcerf? I would have really liked seeing the Count and Mercedes together at the end of the story, and was a little upset that they weren't. Mercedes deserved happiness..
- Where the hell does Franz end up? A lot of the characters in this book get kind of neglected by Dumas, and I rather liked Franz d'Epinay. Ah well, Morrel becomes a much more important character than I thought he would, which was a nice plot development.

Things I liked:
- Morrel and Valentine. No explanation needed, they were simply my favorites.
- Vengeance was so sweet in this book. It's nice to see good things happen to good characters, and bad characters get their comeuppance. No more of this 'nice guys finish last' crap.
- The story itself was outstanding. Like I said, I do not regret picking this book up, and would gladly read it again. Only I would do so during summer vacation, and prepare to take plenty of time to read it. I wasn't expecting it to take me this long, and to cut into my semester. I hate having to choose between homework and recreational reading, especially since I'd take books over homework any day.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed my time reading this book. I just wish it had been a little shorter, and that Dumas would have properly introduced his characters. It was pretty irritating to read a chapter about some mysterious gentleman, to be introduced to him later in the chapter, nay, the book! and have to remember what he was like, and the details or at least the gist of his side plot line. Definitely recommend reading this book, but be prepared to take some time out of your busy schedule for it :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe

Now THIS is what I'm talking about. Poe bringing death into a masquerade filled with young, wealthy, happy people. I was quite pleased with Masque, and with the thrills that came with it. Edgar Allan Poe built up, built up, built up with descriptions of the red death overcoming the country, and the mansion used by Prince Prospero in efforts to hide from this tragic plague. Very nice mix of description and plot, as one of the guests in Prospero's 'I'm not dying tonight' party turns out to be Death incarnate, hiding behind his very own masque for the ball. That just goes to show that not even locked doors, wealth, or masks can protect against the cold fingers of death.

Just enough plot to run a chill down my spine, and get me excited for the rest of the month. Definitely a much different story from "Young Goodman Brown", and I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of the stories will be like.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

So begins my foray into horror short stories! Seeing as I didn't really have any idea where to start in this book, I figured I would start with the first story by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. Andd I sincerely hope that not all the stories in this anthology are similar to this one.

Young Goodman Brown is a very religious book, based on Hawthorne's growing up in New England in the 1800's. My understanding of this story is that Brown leaves his young wife Faith one night with the intentions of joining a witch's circle in the wilderness. After meeting the elderly traveler who is to lead him toward the circle, he expresses hesitation and doubt about committing such a sinful act, and the effects that it may have on himself and his wife, but the traveler convinces him to resume the trip to the meeting regardless.

Once they make it to the meeting, Brown realizes that many of the members of this meeting are goodly, God-respecting people and he is quite surprised at some of the faces (the mayor, Brown's wife Faith... wait, his WIFE?!) and he attempts to stop his wife from partaking in the devil worship and acts of the night just before losing consciousness. Upon awakening, he is no longer the person he was; it is as if the witch's meeting the night before, be it real or a dream, but he became sullen and depressed, no longer able to pray or to tolerate even hearing prayers or song. In my opinion, it sounds as though the potential for him to sin detracted from his life, and sentenced him to a life of gloom and misery.

Okay, I'm assuming this was a little more of a horror story back in 1835 when it was published to a much more pious audience than today's readers. I was more than a little confused, because so little actually happens in this story. Or maybe I'm just not yet in the short story groove, and am used to much more plot and development (and about 300 more pages in a story). All told, I was a little let down, and am definitely hoping that the story I plan to read for tomorrow, "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe, is a little more on par with my whole I-wanna-be-scared thing. It would have to be though, right? I mean, it is Edgar Allan Poe..


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Life's no fun without a good scare... My Fright Challenge!

Okay, I'm about a hundred pages away from finishing The Count of Monte Cristo (FINALLY) and I'll have a review up for it as soon as possible, but I had an idea this afternoon that I plan on putting into motion ASAP.

One of my good friends and coworkers Kerry had a great idea this summer. To immerse herself in both the blogging world and the comic world, she read a comic a day, and posted a review from a feminist perspective on her website, (sorry Kerry, I have no idea how to get this to link to your website, because I'm bad with programming haha).

I picked up a copy of "The Screaming Skull and other Classic Horror Stories" at work today, and had the bright idea to read these 30 horror short stories during the month of October, one a day, and post my response to them each night. Hopefully, this will get me on a more regular blogging pattern, as well as get me a little more interested in horror and thriller stories..

I've gotten kind of complacent with classics and 'top 40'-esque books (The Game of Thrones is phenomenal, but I'd be lying if I said I had been interested in it before the tv show and all the hype surrounding the series). Even if I don't end up interested in the genre, I can at least say I tried it for a month. There's nothing wrong with trying something and not liking it, but I have an issue with not even trying something at all.

So anyway, that's my spiel for the month. Like I said, I'll still be reading other books regularly, and I do plan on keeping on with my Halloween and horror theme throughout the month, with books like Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf and Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies. So, keep an eye on my blog every night this month! (Or at least, keep an eye on my twitter and facebook notifications!) :)

- Justin