Monday, September 27, 2010

Poirot’s First Mystery

Styles Court, a sprawling English estate, should have been inherited by John Cavendish. But instead it is left to his stepmother Emily Cavendish who loses no time in marrying a young fortune hunter… and soon meets her death.

Dapper, brilliant Monsieur Hercule Poirot is fascinated by the mysterious affair and steps out of retirement to unravel the threads of intrigue and snare a most ingenious murderer. And thus is launched the most legendary career in mystery fiction.

Title: The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Author: Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot, Book 1
Start & Finished: 9/2/10- 9/3/10
Published: October 1920
Publisher: John Lane
Pages: 296
Genre: Mystery

A manor house out in the middle of the country in an Agatha Christie novel… must be murder afoot! Matter of fact, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Christie’s very first detective novel as well as the first of many books to feature her "dandyfied little man" Hercule Poirot who is a retired Belgian detective whom "a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound." An eccentric little man with a slightly Sherlock Holmes way of investigating, Poirot was Agatha Christie’s most famous detective. “Perhaps the most salient example of Agatha Christie’s ability to both synthesize elements from the existing tradition of detective fiction and forge something new and original is her creation of Hercule Poirot, the second most famous fictional detective, after Sherlock Holmes. Poirot appears in Christie’s first novel and goes on to star in almost everyone of her most celebrated and admired novels. Christie’s achievement as a detective novelist is closely intertwined with this one character.”

There are several suspects in this story such as Alfred Inglethorp, the recent husband of the deceased who is much younger than she whom nobody likes, John Cavendish, who is the eldest of the two brothers that are the deceased stepsons. He’s a retired lawyer who along with his wife Mary are living at Styles with his stepmother because she holds the purse strings and he is low on funds. Mary herself is estranged from her husband and spends most of her time in the company of a Dr. Baurenstein who is a bit of an expert on poison. The younger brother Lawrence who studied to be a doctor but gave up medicine to pursue a literary career. He’s also low on funds as well. There’s also Evelyn Howard (or ‘Evie’), Mrs. Inglethorp’s companion who soon has a row with the grand dame and leaves a few days before she is murdered. Cynthia Murdoch is also on hand and she works in a dispensary too which has access to poison. She was Mrs. Inglethorp’s ward since Cynthia was an orphan whose father was friends with the grand dame, she took her in. Oh and the narrator is a Lieutenant (later Captain) Hastings but we know he’s not the murderer since he’s helping Poirot.

However, I was pretty sure from the start of Cynthia’s innocence of the crime since she was so hard to wake up the night of the murder and I knew Mary Cavendish was guilty of something for the sole reason that she’s being forced to live with and depend upon her mother-in-law. Other than these two ladies and Hastings’ innocence of course, I didn’t have a clue! Agatha Christie said (and I have to concur), “Like all young writers, I was trying to put far too much plot into one book. I had too many false clues-- so many things to unravel that it might make the whole thing not only more difficult to solve, but more difficult to read.” However, it didn’t make the story no less enjoyable for me. What a remarkably clever woman Agatha Christie was! So far I’ve read three of her books and I haven’t once been able to figure out whodunit. I would never have thought of the guilty party in The Mysterious Affair at Styles and that just goes to show that every single word in a Christie book is important.

“How about calling my little man Hercules? He would be a small man-- Hercules: a good name. His last name was more difficult. I don’t know why I settled on the name Poirot; whether it just came into my head or whether I saw it in some newspaper or written on something-- anyway it came. It went well not with Hercules but with Hercule-- Hercule Poirot.” Hercule Poirot is such a great character even if Ms. Christie was said to have really hated him after a couple of years of writing him, I thought he was very intelligent but hid that behind his funny little ways. The first time I read a story with him in it was Murder on the Orient Express (which was the ninth Poirot novel) and I actually thought he was annoying! I don’t know why I disliked him then but just thought of him as eccentric now but perhaps it’s because the author hadn’t started disliking him yet?

Though this was her first novel and her first murder by poisoning (certainly not her last!) it’s no less masterfully written than her later books. The author was working at a dispensary (just like her character Cynthia in this book) which is a kind of pharmacy, when she decided to write this so a lot of her knowledge of poisons go into her stories. Besides poisons, Christie didn’t know much about solving crime other than what she had read in other detective fiction but since she’s one of the most famous detective writers even several decades after her death, I have to say she did a terrific job. Her publisher John Lane certainly recognized her genius (though it took her a long time to get published) when he said he’d publish The Mysterious Affair at Styles if she would change a few things in the book (like a major overhaul of the ending) and sign what the author would later discover to be a really bad contract that caused her to not earn very much at all with this and her next five books though they all did extremely well.

About her first novel the author said in her autobiography, “And so it was that I started on my long career; not that I suspected at the time that it was going to be a long career. In spite of the clause about the next five novels [in the contract with John Lane], this was to me a single and isolated experiment. I had been dared to write a detective story; I had written a detective story; it had been accepted, and was going to appear in print. There, as far as I was concerned, the matter ended. Certainly at that moment I did not envisage writing any more books. I think if I had been asked, I would have said that I would probably write stories from time to time.” Well considering she published 80 novels in her lifetime, several short stories, and even an autobiography I would have to say she was selling herself short. Almost every book Agatha Christie has written has been adapted for either film, TV, radio, or as a play and The Mysterious Affair at Styles is no different. It was adapted in 1990 for TV by London Weekend Television in Britain with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.

Favorite Quotes
Occasionally she referred to her husband over a question of days or dates. His watchful and attentive manner never varied. From the very first I took a firm and rooted dislike of him, and I flatter myself that my first judgments are usually fairly shrewd.

For the first time I felt that, with Evelyn Howard, something indefinable had gone from the atmosphere. Her presence had spelt security. Now that security was removed- and the air seemed rife with suspicion. The sinister face of Dr. Bauerstein recurred to me unpleasantly. A vague suspicion of every one and everything filled my mind. Just for a moment I had a premonition of approaching evil.

Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective, his flair had been extraordinary, and he had achieved triumphs by unraveling some of the most baffling cases of the day.

I pass over Alfred Inglethorp, who acted the bereaved widower in a manner that felt to be disgusting in its hypocrisy. Did he know that we suspected him, I wondered. Surely he could not be unaware of the fact, conceal it as we would. Did he feel some secret stirring of fear, or was he confident that his crime would go unpunished? Surely the suspicion in the atmosphere must warn him that he was already a marked man.

“It is well. The bad moment has passed. Now all is arranged and classified. One must never permit confusion. The case is not clear yet—no. For it is of the most complicated! It puzzles me. Me, Hercule Poirot!

“Is he quite mad, Mr. Hastings?”
“I honestly don’t know. Sometimes, I feel sure he is mad as a hatter; and then, just as he is at his maddest, I find there is method to his madness.”

Hercule Poirot Series
1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
2. The Murder on the Links (1923)
3. Poirot Investigates (1924)
4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
5. The Big Four (1927)
6. The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)
7. Peril at End House (1932)
8. Lord Edgware Dies (1933) aka Thirteen at Dinner
9. Murder on the Orient Express (1934) aka Murder in the Calais Coach
10. Three Act Tragedy (1934) aka Murder in Three Acts
11. Death in the Clouds (1935) aka Death in the Air
12. The ABC Murders (1936)
13. Cards on the Table (1936)
14. Murder in Mesopotamia (1936)
15. Death on the Nile (1937)
16. Dumb Witness (1937) aka Poirot Loses a Client
17. Murder in the Mews (1937) aka Dead Man's Mirror
18. Appointment with Death (1938)
19. Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1938) aka A Holiday for Murder / Murder for Christmas
20. Sad Cypress (1940)
22. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940) aka An Overdose of Death / The Patriotic Murders
23. Evil Under the Sun (1941)
24. Five Little Pigs (1942) aka Murder in Retrospect
25. The Hollow (1946) aka Murder after Hours
26. The Labours of Hercules (1947)
27. Taken at the Flood (1948) aka There Is a Tide
28. Mrs McGinty's Dead (1952) aka Blood Will Tell
30. After the Funeral (1953) aka Funerals Are Fatal
31. Hickory Dickory Dock (1955)
32. Dead Man's Folly (1956)
33. Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)
34. The Clocks (1963)
35. Third Girl (1966)
36. Hallowe'en Party (1969)
37. Elephants Can Remember (1972)
38. Poirot's Early Cases (1974) aka Hercule Poirot's Early Cases
39. Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (1975)

First Paragraph: The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as "The Styles Case" has now somewhat subsided. Nevertheless, in view of the worldwide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot and the family themselves, to write an account of the whole story. This, we trust, will effectually silence the sensational rumours which still persist.

Complete Book Online
Book Wikipedia
Author Wikipedia
Poirot Wikipedia
Hercule Poirot Site

Source: Library Loan, large print hardcover

Picture Explanations
Styles Manor: This could be the manor house
Floor Plan: This is the sketch of the floor plan included in the book.
House of cards: Poirot is building this when Hasting remarks upon something that helps Poirot solve the crime.
Dispensary: This is what a dispensary looked like back in the 1930s. This is where Cynthia worked.
Hugh Fraiser: He plays Lieutenant Arthur Hastings in the TV adaptation of this book.
Letter: This is the letter to Ms. Hastings from Mrs. Inglethorp

Related Reviews

Murder On the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Murder On the Orient Express (1974)
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Ten Little Indians (1965)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Whole New World to Police

Atlanta: it’s the promised city for the off-worlders, foreigners from the alternate dimensions of heaven-like Elysia and hell-like Charbydon. Some bring good works and miracles. And some bring unimaginable evil…

Charlie Madigan is a divorced mother of one, and a kick-ass cop trained to take down the toughest human and off-world criminals. She’s recently returned from the dead after a brutal attack, an unexplained revival that has left her plagued by ruthless nightmares and random outbursts of strength that make her job for Atlanta P.D.’s Integration Task Force even harder. Since the Revelation, the criminal element in Underground Atlanta has grown, leaving Charlie and her partner Hank to keep the chaos to a dull roar. But now an insidious new danger is descending on her city with terrifying speed, threatening innocent lives: a deadly, off-world narcotic known as ash. Charlie is determined to uncover the source of ash before it targets another victim- but can she protect those she loves from a force more powerful than heaven and hell combined?

Title: The Better Part of Darkness
Author: Kelly Gay
Series: Charlie Madigan, Book 1
Start & Finished: 8/31/10
Published: November 24, 2009
Publisher: Pocket Books
Pages: 391
Genre: Urban Fantasy/ Sci-Fi

Kelly Gay has written other books (and screenplays) before and though they went unpublished they were nominated for several awards. However, The Better Part of Darkness was her debut novel and it was sold to Pocket Books publishing in June of 2008. They've only signed for the first two books in the series so far (the second one that just came out a few weeks ago). This book was an "Okra" pick for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) and finaled in two categories for the RITA's too.

"What if our myths and traditions of heaven and hell were based on some obscure truth? What if the beings in them were nothing like we had imagined? And what if this woman, Charlie, works on the front lines, dealing with the integration of our societies, and suddenly she’s forced to make a terrible choice when it comes to her child?" These are the questions Kelly Gay asked herself and this book is what was the answer. Mythology is what first motivated the author to write and it still inspires her even now. Which shows so much during The Better Part of Darkness in which the Elysian and Charybdon (pronounced  Eh-LEE-see-ah and Char-bih-don) characters are creatures out of our myths. For example, Charlie's partner on the ITF police force Hank is a siren... a male siren! How cool is that? So, don't expect vampires and werewolves in this urban fantasy (there aren't any), but keep an eye out for quite a few other mythological beings!

Even though the beings in the book are found in human's myths about heaven and hell, The Better Part of Darkness actually has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. I don't think religious preferences are ever mentioned by anyone except to say that none of the off-worlders know anything about human's version of God either. Which makes me wonder about the off-worlder's religions actually. Ms. Gay says, "Elysia is a take on the Elysian Fields, the final resting place for heroes and the virtuous in Greek mythology. And Charbydon is a combination of Greek myth words: Charybdis, the sea monster and daughter of Poseidon and/or whirlpool depending on which myths you read, and Charon, the being who ferried souls across the River Styx to the side of the underworld."

The author said, "I think I've always wanted to explore the possibilities of real supernatural creatures being the basis for many of our myths. The main idea for the story, however, came with Charlie and wanting to write about a single mom, to put her in a position where she has to make a choice between her work and her city, and protecting those she loves. I kept thinking of the fierce nature of a mother protecting her young, and how cool this would be in an urban fantasy setting/world. It all kind of fell into place after that." I found it remarkable that the main character was a divorced, single mother as that’s not too common in urban fantasy that I've seen lately. Normally I have a problem with that but being a mother was just part of who Charlie was. It didn't hurt that her kid Emma was a sweetheart and not really all that young either. This is a dark and gritty urban fantasy and Charlie could have run the risk of being just as dark and gritty as her world but I think her kid helped keep her grounded. What surprised me about this divorced mom is that her ex-husband Will is actually not a bad guy, he just got mixed up in some bad things and did some dumb stuff. Really, I was all set up to hate him but he's truly not a bad guy though he did do another stupid thing and it kind of takes him out of the last half of the book which I'm really curious about how the author is going to handle in the sequel. I also really like Rex so that's certainly a conundrum!

The Better Part of Darkness is an incredibly neat book even though it pushed me about as far as I'm willing to go when it comes to sci-fi. It was actually urban fantasy though and set in Atlanta, Georgia.... well, in an alternate version of the city. I haven't seen such original world building in urban fantasy for years (and I‘ve seen some great world building in urban fantasy), you truly believe in this world because it's so grounded so Kelly Gay really hit this one out of the park. My only complaint is that though it's set in an alternate Atlanta, it could have been set in any major city since it doesn't mention any place specifically... though the area around Charlie's sister Bryn's store Hodgepodge sounds a bit like Little Five Points to me. The drug in the book was originally called After Glow which actually makes so much more sense than ash which it ended up being called.

The world building may be awesome but it's the characters that really are what make this story so good. I mean everyone from main to extremely minor characters are very real, colorful, and you want to know more about them. I have never been so strongly reminded of an actress before when reading a book but something about Charlie reminds me of Eliza Dushku who played Faith on Buffy. Partly because of her description but I was influenced a good bit by the cover model as well by Chris McGrath (same cover artist as Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Kat Richardson's Greywalker series). The author offered up actress Stana Katic and she too is somewhat reminiscent of the character as well. I loved that though Charlie is essentially a cop and can be hard as nails, she's not afraid of being a girl (and a mother to boot) either. I always enjoy when an author doesn't make her character sacrifice one for the other and somehow combines both. I do hope the author does write other books in this series with other characters instead of Charlie & Co. as the main ones someday. There are four books planned in this series but Kelly says she wants to do more, especially some stand-alone novels featuring characters besides Charlie. I would love to see one about Hank!

"It's about choices and sacrifice. I wanted to explore what lengths a person would go to, what they'd sacrifice for those they loved. I think most people are certain in their answer, but when faced with it head on...well, it might be an entirely different story. And when it's an entirely different world, things can get even more complicated. I hope readers will find the story unique and fresh, with things they haven't seen before, but with all the human emotions and motivations they recognize and relate to." I can honestly say that Kelly Gay accomplished everything she set out to do with The Better Part of Darkness and I only hope the sequel The Darkest Edge of Dawn is just as good. Kelly Gay also writes under the name Kelly Keaton (for her grandmother) and her first book published under that name will be called Darkness Becomes Her which is a YA novel and will be released in 2011.

Favorite Quotes
Yeah. October tenth was my favorite freaking day of the year. The thirteenth anniversary. The day heaven and hell came out of the closet. Literally.
It wasn’t a day one tended to forget.

Our training and selection process had become legendary. Not many people could look a hellhound in the eye and know how to defeat it. We’d been trained to face every being and beast from both worlds, and we had the scars and the nightmares to prove it.

“Try being a single mother, who carries three lethal firearms and can take down a runner at fifty yards. Trust me, it doesn’t make a date feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”

Ask anyone and they can tell you where they were and what they were doing when the news broke. Scientists had discovered (some say “stumbled upon”) two parallel planes of existence, which, according to many leaders and believers of the world’s major religions, resembled certain aspects of heaven and hell.
They’d been visiting us for thousands of years, using our world as a battleground and neutral zone, interfering in our lives, speaking our languages, doing good works and miracles, committing horrible crimes. And now we knew the truth. Elysia and Charbydon, and the beings in them, weren’t the things of Sunday school lessons and Hallmark figurines.

“I’m fine, Hank.” I just rolled out of a moving car in high heels. “How are you?”

Seconds later, he moved back and whispered, “Hellhound.”
I looked at Rex, “You’re up.”
“I should be on Broadway right now,” he muttered. “Instead I’m here in the Blair Witch forest, about to get eaten by a hairless fucking dog on gigantic fucking steroids.”

Charlie Madigan Series
1. The Better Part of Darkness (2009)
2. The Darkest Edge of Dawn (2010)

First Paragraph: “You told a two-thousand-year-old oracle to prove it.” Hank kept pace beside me, nursing his bloody nose with a handful of fast-food napkins I’d pulled from the glove box earlier. “ I mean, do you ever think before the words spew out of your mouth, Charlie?”

Find Kelly Gay Online
Official Site

Original cover on author's blog  MAY 21, 2009. Slightly different from finished product.
The 2K Event character Charlie interviews another character on author blog
Once Written, Twice Shy- Guest Blog on Fears
Mama Writers- Guest Blog on writing with kids
Deadline Dames- Guest Blog on release day jitters
Debuts & Reviews- Guest Blog on Reviews
Literary Escapisms- Guest Blog on Religion in the book
All Things Urban Fantasy- Guest Blog on Hank the siren

Amberkatze’s Book Blog
Romance Writers on the Journey
The Electic Book Lover
Dark Faerie Tales
Hooked on Romance
Reluctant Adults
Number One Novels
Organized Chaos Kelly Meding character interview
Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings
Novel Thoughts
SciFi Guy
Jackie Kessler Cat and Muse character interview
Sara's Urban Fantasy Blog
Susan Adrian

Source: Personal collection courtesy of All About {n} blog, paperback

Picture Explanations
Atlanta: Takes place in an alternate version of the capital of my home state
Bath House: Where Hank goes to unwind because it reminds him of home and where they get some clues about the ash. Kind of resembles Roman baths
Hospital: Charlie dies before the beginning of the book but she also ends up back in the hospital during it
Bryn's Shop: I did ask the author and she said the area was inspired by Little Five Points

Monday, September 20, 2010

For God's Sake, Get Out!

There's no place like home...for bloodcurdling horror! James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Academy Award® winner* Rod Steiger fall prey to the powers of darkness in this spine-tingling tale of a house possessed by unspeakable evil. One of the most talked-about haunted-house stories of all time, The Amityville Horror will hit you where you live.

For George and Kathy Lutz, the colonial home on the river's edge seemed ideal: quaint, spacious and amazingly affordable. Of course, six brutal murders had taken place there just a year before, but houses don't have memories...or do they? Soon the Lutz dream house becomes a hellish nightmare, as walls begin to drip blood and satanic forces threaten to destroy them. Now the Lutzes must try to escape or forfeit their lives - and their souls!

Title: The Amityville Horror
Release: July 27, 1979
Genre: Horror
MPAA Rating: R
Based On: The Amityville Horror: A True Story by Jay Anson
Writer: Sandor Stern
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Music By: Lalo Schifrin
Produced By: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Elliot Geisinger, & Ronald Saland
Distributed By: American International Pictures & MGM
Run Time: 117 minutes

The only part of the story that is known for a fact is that before the Lutz family moved in, there was a brutal murder of an entire family committed by the eldest son (it’s been said that he had help though he never mentioned it) and that story can be found in dozens of books, some non-fiction and some not. A tragedy sure, but one that shouldn’t get all that much press before it was forgotten… except that the next owners George and Kathy Lutz and their children experienced something remarkable. Was it real or was it a hoax? That’s the question that has been asked ever since the Lutz family ran out of their new home after only living there for 28 days (less than that in the film) claiming that their home was possessed. Psychics, reporters, and especially ghost hunter types descended on the house en masse and the Lutz’s story was made into a bestselling book ) which in turn became the basis for the 1979 movie The Amityville Horror. George and Kathy Lutz both stood by their claims until their deaths.

The problem I have with haunted house-type horror movies (and sometimes books), is that it’s rarely explained as to the why and how. The Amityville Horror is no exception though the filmmakers did throw in a very small scene about Indians and a sorcerer that had fled the Salem Witch Trials being inhabitants of that land at one time. What really bothered me more than anything else is that I never got the feeling that the house itself was a character and that’s what I always look for in a successful haunted house movie.

However, I got pretty much what I expected out of the film, a little bad acting and a few bad special effects though they weren’t quite as badly done (by today’s standards) as I thought it would be. On the other hand, the only time I jumped during the entire film was when that black cat jumped up on the windowsill to hiss at George. I have to admit that I didn’t really enjoy the movie and had to force myself to finish it. I’m not really sure why because it’s not bad and it’s not even all that dated (when you don‘t count the purple pig) yet, Rod Steiger (the priest) and the dog Harry are probably the best actors in this film in my opinion.

That’s not to say James Brolin and Margot Kidder (who play George and Kathy Lutz) are bad actors, there’s just some parts that they overacted, especially Brolin’s whole “I’m coming apart!”- number and when Kidder wakes up from a nightmare screaming, she sounds incredibly fake too. Another thing that bugged me, all the extra characters that didn’t really go anywhere. The police chief for example, besides stalking some characters for a little while, what purpose does he serve? Where did the psychic lady who is married to George’s co-worker go to after she discovered the red room?

One thing I am happy to say is that I did want the characters to burn the house down and salt the earth at the end but other than flies, black goop, slamming doors and windows, and bleeding walls/ stairs how much was the house really responsible for? Was George always a nut with a penchant for firewood? In the film, George smacks Kathy and she just cries and runs upstairs. She should have packed up her kids and left! Let him stay in the psycho house if he wanted to!

The Amityville Horror was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music/ Original Score, two Saturn Awards for Best Actress and Best Horror Film, and a Golden Globe also for Best Original Score but it didn't win any of them. I will say that the soundtrack is great though and one of the very best things about the film. A huge blockbuster when it was first released, the first film in the Amityville franchise just doesn’t work as well today. However, you can go make that decision for yourself.

There have been several more films in this franchise including two theatrically released ones, five low budget, and one remake of the original in 2005 starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. I know I had seen this film when I was younger but I really didn’t remember much about it and what I did remember was slightly tainted by the 2005 remake of the film (not that it was bad, I just remember that one better) which I did see. I did know that this was based on a "true story" (though, there are still many debates one the truthfulness of the real Lutz family) because I had read one of many books about it a long time ago and caught one of the Histories Mysteries episodes about it. Do I believe the Lutz’s story? No, not really because there have been people who have lived in that house since and as of May 2010 it’s for sale again yet the only problems that have been reported are the tourists.

Favorite Quote
Kathy Lutz: I just wish that... all those people hadn't died here. I mean... ugh! A guy kills his whole family. Doesn't that bother you?
George: Well, sure, but... houses don't have memories.

The Amityville Horror Franchise
1. The Amityville Horror (1979)
2. Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
3. Amityville 3-D (1983)
4. Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989) (TV)
5. The Amityville Curse (1990) (V)
6. Amityville 1992: It's About Time (1992) (V)
7. Amityville: A New Generation (1993) (V)
8. Amityville: Dollhouse (1996) (V)
The Amityville Horror (2005) (remake)

Find The Amityville Horror Online

Official Amityville Horror Website (not affiliated with movies)
Directions to and about one of the NJ movie location

2006- Last interview before George Lutz’s death



Good Morning America:

Merv Griffin Show:

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Friday, September 17, 2010

HWA Presents an Anthology

Warning: This Anthology Contains Works of Fiction that are Gruesome, Disturbing, Horrifying, and Drop-Dead Hilarious! 
The Horror Writers Association Presents Blood Lite… a collection of entertaining tales that puts the fun back into dark fiction, with ironic twists and tongue-in-cheek wit to temper the jagged edge. 
Charlaine Harris reveals the dark side of going green, when a quartet of die-hard environmentalists host a fund-raiser with a gory twist in “An Evening with Al Gore”… In an all-new Dresden Files story from Jim Butcher, when it comes to tracking deadly paranormal doings, there’s no such thing as a “Day Off” for the Chicago P.D.’s wizard detective, Harry Dresden… Sherrilyn Kenyon turns a cubicle-dwelling MBA with no life into a demon-fighting seraph with one hell of an afterlife in “Where Angels Fear to Tread”… Celebrity necromancer Jaime Vegas is headlining a sold-out séance tour, but behind the scenes, a disgruntled ghost has a bone to pick in Kelley Armstrong’s “The Ungrateful Dead.”

Title: Blood Lite
Editor: Kevin J. Anderson
Start & Finished: 6/9/10- 8/31/10
Published: October 21, 2008
Publisher: Pocket Books- Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Pages: 468
Genre: Horror

Blood Lite is a collection of stories written by members of the Horror Writers Association featuring tales from award-winning, bestselling authors and even a few that are mostly unknown and only publish in the short story medium. This anthology contains stories about zombies, vampires, demons and angels, even a descendent of Dr. Frankenstein, not to mention homage’s to author’s works such as Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft too. This book is edited together by Kevin J. Anderson, who is also a founding member of the Horror Writers Association, but he does not contribute to the collection.

With every anthology you get some good, some bad, and some that are just okay and in Blood Lite you get a diverse collection of all of these things. Out of the 21 stories I only liked ten of them but there were six that were really good and they were by Kelley Armstrong, Lucien Soulban, Charlaine Harris, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Sharyn McCrumb, and Jim Butcher. I plan on picking up books by these author’s that I haven’t read very soon. Blood Lite II: Overbite comes out September 28, 2010.

Title: The Ungrateful Dead
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Pages: 30

Jaime Vegas first appeared in Canadian author Kelley Armstrong’s Industrial Magic, the fourth book in her Women of the Otherworld series but didn’t get her own story until No Humans Involved which was book seven. The first story in the anthology is called The Ungrateful Dead and for once, Jaime is not being kidnapped but instead she’s being heckled by a rich, spoiled brat of a ghost who seems to think she “serves the dead,” all while on her séance tour too!

She’s not my favorite necromancer (that’s still Anita Blake even if the novels aren’t quite the same now), but Jaime is still one of Armstrong’s best characters from the Women of the Otherworld series. Her partner in crime in this story in Savannah who is the ward of Paige from Dime Store Magic and Industrial Magic but Savannah was probably my favorite character out of the entire piece. This was an extremely funny story whose ending I bemoaned because I still wanted to know what happened next.

First Sentence: I see dead people. Unfortunately, they also see me.

Links: Complete story

Title: Mr. Bear
Author: Joe R. Lansdale
Pages: 31

Joe R. Lansdale's contribution to this anthology was a story about Smokey the Bear, though he never comes right out and says that’s who it is. Mr. Bear is about a famous anthropomorphic bear that is described as being shirtless, “in dungarees and work boots, carrying a hat.” The main character is a man named Jim who this bear sits down next to on a plane and proceeds to brag about all the tail (though that isn’t quite the word he used) he gets and in general be disgusting. Then their plane gets stranded at their layover and then the “fun” begins. Mr. Bear and Jim have a night on the town, get in some trouble, and then make their way to Yellowstone Park. Oh, and Mr. Bear is slightly insane (“two to three berries short of a pie” he says) so poor Jim doesn’t have much choice in what happens after he gets off that plane.

This was truly a disturbing short story that I didn’t enjoy at all. Smokey the Bear is a classic iconic American figure (supposedly the author does this often in his stories, once with Elvis and JFK) and Mr. Bear is just… disturbing. Think what it would be like if you mixed Howard Stern with a real bear and I think I’m insulting Howard Stern here. I won’t say that Mr. Lansdale’s story is badly written, I just didn’t like the subject. In fact, I’ll never be able to think of Smokey the Bear again without thinking of this story so though I really, really disliked it, Mr. Bear is certainly memorable.

First Sentence: Jim watched as the plane filled up.

Title: Hell in a Handbasket
Author: Lucien Soulban
Pages: 27

A baby is left at the mouth of Hell in Lucien Soulban’s story Hell in a Handbasket and the only question is who is going to get to eat her?  This takes place in what is supposed to be Dante’s Hell among many other cultures and religions and includes several demons from history such as Mastema, Gressil, Harpy, Furfur, Vassago (he appeared in Dean Koontz’s book Hideaway), Mammon, and even ones from other cultures too (Heaven makes an appearance as well). Only Vassago knows what the child is and how to deal with her which the demons that want her for supper soon figure out themselves.

An author and video game writer, Lucian Soulban (whose full name means Light-Bringer Moses Thanks Holy Crosses, literally) wrote what is probably one of the best, if not the best story in this anthology. I loved Hell in a Handbasket with all its characters but especially Vasaggo and Eve. What an incredibly inventive and funny story! Here are two of my favorite parts: “Right,” Gaap said, ribbing his fellow demon with his elbow. “Following orders. I think there’s a few Nazis in the Seventh and Eighth Circles still singing that tune.” and ‘Hell was like a trailer-trash family reunion on Jerry Springer. If demons weren’t fornicating with each other like country siblings, they were feuding and squabbling… sometimes in the middle of intercourse.’ Though Hell in a Handbasket isn't quite as raunchy as that sounds, it does have its moments. I will definitely be looking this author up soon.

First Sentence: The basket sat at the foot of the Inferno’s red-hot, iron-wrought gates, below the steaming plate that read ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE!

Title: The Eldritch Pastiche from Beyond the Shadow of Horror
Author: Christopher Welch
Pages: 18

Addicted to writing what amounts to bad horror fanfiction of the Cthulu mythos, Chris seeks help in Christopher Welch's The Eldritch Pastiche from Beyond the Shadow of Horror but someone doesn’t want him to. The author says that his addition to Blood Lite “is more autobiographical than he likes to admit.”

‘I cannot think that way anymore. The night sky was simply the night sky, not some infinite brooding sentience with a conspiratorial agenda to reveal indescribable terrors to a timid dreamer. I will not believe in monsters.’ I can admit to getting so lost in a fictional world and fictional characters that I had trouble afterwards thinking of anything else but I have never had it as bad as the main character in this short story. Lovecraft is an author I’ve never managed to read so I didn’t have the slightest clue who the characters were that are discussed so all of that was Greek to me, but I did like the idea of the story.

First Sentence: I went through the motions, the ritualistic motions I had done hundreds of times.

Title: Elvis Presley and the Bloodsucker Blues
Author: Matt Vene
Pages: 32

Elvis as a vampire… well it’s certainly been done before but Matt Vene takes a slightly different approach than the norm with his story Elvis Presley and the Bloodsucker Blues. In it, Elvis becomes a vampire which is why he stopped making movies and started Viva Las Vegas as well as how he got fat, (instead of biting people he started having blood transfusions) and eventually, setting the record straight on how he died. Everyone but the press knows about it too: ‘Some of the fellas in the Memphis Mafia took to teasin’ me about getting’ myself turned into a damned vampire, thought it was a real hoot to call me “Velvis, the Vampire Elvis.” That might seem like a funny reaction to you, but David and Jerry and Red and Lamar and the rest of the boys- they were used to crazy shit happenin’ all the time. Vampirism was just one more once-in-a-lifetime thing to add to their big old list of once-in-a-lifetime things that happened while hangin’ out with yours truly.’

A vampire Elvis who just happens to be a vampire hunter is certainly a unique idea and the way Mr. Vene plays with the myths of Elvis and brings a lot of real life things to the story is what made it so interesting. I’ve always liked early Elvis, who doesn’t? However, I’ve never seen any of his movies or know all that much about him so I think this particular story would appeal to more Elvis fans than me. I actually did like the story but it wasn’t one of the very best in this anthology. Matt Vene was a writer for the film White Noise 2 and is currently at work on the screenplay for the adaptation of Stephen King's Bag of Bones.

And so the federal agent badge from the president… the weight gain from the blood transfusions… the superhuman improvement of my karate skills… even the addition of “…in a flash” to “Takin’ Care of Business…” (which became my code for “blast those vampires with sunlight, baby!”) It all makes a bit more sense now, don’t it?

First Sentence: Well, ain’t this just a kicker?

Title: No Problem
Author: Don D’Ammassa
Pages: 22

In Don D’Ammassa’s short story No Problem, a scientist studying biochemistry at Brown University discovers some old family journals and learns that he’s the great-great-great grandson of Viktor Frankenstein. After reading some of Frankenstein’s accounts, Herbert Franken throws out his research and begins his studies anew. He says, “Please don’t get the impression that I had suddenly turned into some kind of mad scientist. I had no intention of digging up dead bodies at midnight, erecting a lightening rod on my roof, or stealing brains from Brown University.” However, when he accidentally kills his nosy next door neighbor is when it starts to get hairy.

The story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are almost as well known as Dracula and have been represented in fiction and film for years yet this author takes a softer approach to the reinterpretation of the story. Herbert isn’t a mad scientist but he is a scientist (the kind that experiments on animals), yet he reminded me of that guy that was in a CSI episode who didn’t mean to kill anyone and somehow wound up with all these dead bodies around him. I neither liked nor disliked this particular story, probably because it was over too fast for me to even figure out how I felt about the main character. The idea of the story interests me though as I could easily see this as an episode of Supernatural or something.

First Sentence: I swear I had good intentions.

Title: Old School
Author: Mark Onspaugh
Pages: 4

The seventh story in Blood Lite is called Old School and comes from fiction and film writer Mark Onspaugh. It’s only a little over 3 pages long but in it a group of teenagers get together to try to raise a corpse, mostly to impress the Goth girl one of them has a crush on. Of course their plans go awry…

Well done Mr. Onspaugh! You did in a very few pages what others in this anthology couldn’t in more than 20 and that’s write a small piece of a story and yet make it seem longer than it is. Zombies are one of the two horror monsters I can’t have anything to do with but I didn’t mind Old School. I’m not quite sure I understand the last sentence but overall this was an okay story done in the “old school” way of 80’s teen horror flicks.

First Sentence: “And arise!”

Title: The Sound of Blunder
Author: J.A. Konrath & F. Paul Wilson
Pages: 39

The only story to be written by two authors and the longest story in the anthology, The Sound of Blunder by J.A. Konrath & F. Paul Wilson features two small time crooks Mick and Willie. After (Mick the Mick’s partner in crime’s Nana bakes a pound cake using a key of cocaine that they were holding for a mobster, they need to figure out a way to come up with some money quick because after all, “no junkie is going to snort baked goods.” So they hit upon the idea of robbing the Pennsylvania Museum of Natural History and Baseball Cards where they hope to steal an artifact but end up getting sent through time. This story was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s The Sound of Thunder.

What I would like to know is which author did what in this story. The beginning was fine with the introduction of Mick the leader and Willie his ADHD and seemingly hypochondriac friend even if some of the humor seemed a little flat but once the supernatural element of The Sound of Blunder kicked in it was all down hill from there. It did remind me of something; a Simpson’s episode I believe, that was also based on the Ray Bradbury book (I think it may be mentioned vaguely in this story actually). This wasn’t a bad homage to Mr. Bradbury’s book and I did like it more than some of the others in this book but it doesn’t really stand out in this collection either. Konrath writes a series featuring Lt. Jack Daniels and Wilson is an award-winning author.

First 2 Sentences: “We’re dead! We’re freakin’ dead!”

Title: An Evening with Al Gore
Author: Charlaine Harris
Pages: 29

At first it may seem as if Charlaine Harris’ ecological short story An Evening with Al Gore may not be suitable for this collection and though it has an extremely slow start, the end (last four pages) are… something else. Ms. Harris said it, "was so much fun because it was completely different from anything I’d written before, I worked with the idea for a while before I got it all ironed out. And, I’d just watched Al Gore’s movie [An Inconvenient Truth], of course he’s absolutely right. He’s been proven right, he was right before anyone believed it, he’s right now that everyone believes it and they’re not doing anything about it. I just thought, what if people really acted on Al Gore’s suggestions? This is the supernatural reaction to Al Gore saying we should green up…"

The main reason I bought this book was for Ms. Harris’ contribution but I must confess I thought it was about either Sookie (like most of her short stories) or one of her other characters. Toddy and Mark were staid, laidback people which made the twist and the end even more of a surprise. I did like the end of this story a lot, though I’m not as environmentally aware as I would like to be. I couldn’t see the author turning this into a series but I really wouldn’t mind characters like them (even though not these in particular) if she decided to do something else. She usually has at least two series running simultaneously and she just ended her Harper Connelly books.

First Sentence: Toddy Makepeace had seen Al Gore speak the previous spring, and a year later she hadn’t quite gotten over it.

Title: Dear Prudence
Author: Steven Savile
Pages: 11

Steven Savile’s main character Miller is writing his lovely wife a quick note to let her know he’s going out and then proceeds to fantasize about what he’d really love to say to her in the story Dear Prudence. Each letter more disturbing than the previous though there is no real supernatural element involved in this one. Dear Prudence is the first one in this book that doesn’t have some kind of supernatural or paranormal event or creature in it.

‘Fed into a wood chipper. How much Pru would a wood chipper chip if a wood chipper could chip Pru? That’s today’s million-dollar question.’ Can you tell that the main character in this story really, really dislikes his wife? The author says that “he doesn’t fantasize about killing his wife. Honestly.” Yeah, if I were Ms. Savile I would start sleeping with one eye open… This was certainly a different turn in the anthology because none of the previous stories were about the evil humans can do, or in this case, fantasize about doing all by their selves without supernatural influence.

First Sentence: Miller held the pen poised over the scrap of paper, thinking about what he would write.

Title: A Good Psycho is Hard to Find
Author: Will Ludwigsen
Pages: 11

Chet and his girlfriend Misty find life dull in A Good Psycho is Hard to Find by Will Ludwigsen. After fighting off a psychopath with a chainsaw at a camp where they were counselors, the two seek to recapture that rush. However, ‘Bungee jumping and race-car school didn’t capture the same feeling. The risk was too arbitrary, accidental. [He] needed the personal touch of another human being going out of his or her way to kill [him], not the capricious hand of fate.” Just how are they going to get that feeling back?

A short story writer of mainly horror, Mr. Ludwigsen fits in fine in this anthology. This story follows on the heels of another that has nothing to do with the supernatural and more about the evil of human nature. A Good Psycho is Hard to Find actually wasn’t a bad story and I thought it was well-written too. The ending was a little gruesome but the story does make me curious if other real life survivors have had a similar reaction to violence that these two did.

First Sentence: At least with the Chainsaw Guy, you always knew where you stood.

Title: High Kicks and Misdemeanors
Author: Janet Berliner
Pages: 23

Legs Cleaveland is the main character in Janet Berliner’s High Kicks and Misdemeanors and he is a Las Vegas “self-styled talent scout with a penchant for long-legged chorines.” However after a couple of dead bodies show up near him and he needs some advice one what to do, he heads to his great-uncle Willie Downtown, the scariest loan shark in the city. He’s a great believer in his spirit guide, which happens to be an ostrich and there are some people using his and other ostriches to further their own political agenda.

What an extremely odd little story. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like it before. Well, I don’t make a practice of reading about ostriches in general anyway because they kind of creep me out. I can’t say I really liked this one because it was so far-fetched that it was over my head however, I still have to give props for originality. However, I really want to know the how and why of Willie’s story and while Legs seemed like a bit of a sleaze he was the only sane part of this story so I’d like to know what happened to him as well. The author has written another story with Legs as a character called Amazing Grace: A 'Legs' Cleveland Musical Production.

First Sentence: Most things that happen in Vegas stay in Vegas because no one outside the city would believe them.

Title: PR Problems
Author: Eric James Stone
Pages: 10

Mr. Ahsani the ghoul (which transforms into a hyena and is not undead in the slightest but does eat carrion) is sick of vampires and werewolves getting all the good press while he’s stuck at a custodian job in PR Problems by Eric James Stone. He soon discovers the serial killer that the press nicknamed the “Grove City Ghoul” actually is living in his building, what is he going to do?

PR Problems was one of the very best short stories in the Blood Lite collection. The main character of Mr. Ahsani constantly surprised me. He’s a ghoul but he’s not a killer, he’s genuinely relieved when one of his neighbors arrives home because it means she didn’t get snatched by the killer, and he tries to rescue someone when he probably could have gotten away first. Altogether not a bad guy… if you look past the eating dead flesh part.

First Sentence: What annoys me the most about vampires and werewolves is their good PR.

Title: Where Angels Fear to Tread
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon
Pages: 18

Where Angels Fear to Tread is the first of Sherrilyn Kenyon's Hellchasers which is a group featured in her Dream-Hunter novels (starting with Bad Moon Rising) and who are important to Nick (from the book Fear the Darkness). Working a dead-end job where he constantly gets screamed at by callers, Zeke is in for a bit of a shock once he inherits some things from his estranged granduncle. One of those things is a medallion with something special about it. See how Zeke got his powers!

Sherrilyn Kenyon is a fairly well-known name and yet I’ve never managed to read anything by her before so I did not have the slightest clue what to expect going in this story but if the rest of her books are anything like this, I’m definitely picking them up. I did feel like I was being plunked down in the middle of a bigger plot but I really did like this particular addition to the anthology. There’s a lot of great humor with somewhat modern reference in the book and that was my favorite part. This is an introduction of an already established character from what I can gather but I still enjoyed this story a lot.

First Sentence: “From humble beginnings come great things.”

Title: A Very Special Girl
Author: Mike Resnick
Pages: 21

The “all-time leading award winner for short fiction,” including five Hugo awards, author Mike Resnick writes about his character Harry the Book in his story A Very Special Girl. Harry has appeared in other stories by this author including A Very Formal Affair and The Blimp and the Sixpence but in this one, Harry’s employee Dead End Dugan falls in love and gives Harry’s three grand away. So of course he sets out to retrieve it.

A very awkwardly written story, that I felt like I was missing something vital. The author just drops us into this world where zombies and creatures like Anna exist and doesn’t explain anything, we’re just along for the ride. I did feel like I might have liked this story if I understood what was going on, what exactly is Harry, where exactly are they, and why it seemed like some of the dialogue was badly translated or something.

First Sentence: I am reading the Daily Racing Form in my temporary office, which is the third booth at Joey Chicago’s 3-Star Tavern, and coming to the conclusion that six trillion to one on Flyaway in the fifth at Saratoga is a bit of an underlay, as there is no way this horse gets within twenty lengths of the winner on a fast track, a slow track, or a muddy track, I have my doubts that even a rain of toads moves him up more than two lengths.

Title: Love Seat Solitaire
Author: D.L. Snell
Pages: 21

A bunch of bachelor guys are sitting around playing Street Fighter when the apartment’s poltergeist starts to act up in Love Seat Solitaire by D. L. Snell. At first it just little things but then soon as one of the characters puts it, “Casper’s gone Michael Myers on us.” Better do what he wants or else!

Mr. Snell’s story had some funny parts and an extremely odd ending but for the most part I thought Love Seat Solitaire was extremely crude. I’m guessing that Sam, Dave, and Jess are college kids since Sam owns his own apartment but they act more like high school students. I could easily see this as one of those slapstick comedy horror movies or something (which I really don‘t like).

First Sentence: “Dude,“ Jess said, pushing up his glasses, “the kitchen table’s floating again.”

Title: I Know Who You Ate Last Summer
Author: Nancy Holder
Pages: 17

Rock star cannibals are next in Nancy Holder’s story I Know Who You Ate Last Summer. Angelo and Dwight have been friends since they were kids and it was Angelo with his trust fund that got them to Hollywood and set up to be musicians. However, it was Dwight that helped them both discover the love of human flesh. Now someone is sending text messages saying they know who they ate last summer and their lives are never going to be the same.

This was another odd story that I didn’t particularly care for. No one was likeable in the least bit and Dwight was just seriously creepy… well, they both were actually. I have heard of this author before but I’ve never tried anything by her. She definitely made her main character seem crazy if that was what she was trying to go for. I’m still not quite sure where Ms. Holder was going with this story and it just kind of ends abruptly too.

First Sentence: “That should be ‘whom,’” Carla M. said, “and that’s part of the problem.”

Title: Bitches of the Night
Author: Nancy Kirkpatrick
Pages: 27

Nancy Kirkpatrick explores how Dracula (in this case a vampire named Istvan) would have felt if all his brides were modern women in Bitches of the Night. Poor Istvan is sick and tired of being henpecked by his brides when all he wants to do is relax, drink a little O Negative and watch re-runs on TV.

While some may find the idea of a henpecked, impotent vampire humorous I just thought it was depressing. The story wasn’t horrible and I liked the way the author described things but I just felt bad for Istvan. I also wasn’t impressed with the idea of all women vampires becoming air-headed harpies either. I can't find much about this author except a collection of her vampire stories where she is called "Canada's Queen of the Undead."

First 2 Sentences: “Dis night, you vill take two each, a male and a female. And dis time, no AB negative!”

Title: The Bell… FROM HELL!!!
Author: Jeff Strand
Pages: 11

In Jeff Strand’s story a guy named Howie buys The Bell… FROM HELL!!! However, none of his coworkers believe him so they constantly tease him about it. Finally fed up with their teasing, Howie decides to ring the bell the required six hundred and sixty-six times to prove once and for all that he has a bell to summon Satan.

Possibly the only story out of this anthology that doesn’t fit, Jeff Strand’s story can be taken two ways: either Howie really does have a bell that summons Satan or that he’s just nuts. I think this one was supposed to be cute but it came off as just strained to me. I do wish the ending had been a little different though! Supposedly there is a sequel to this story coming out in Blood Lite II.

First Sentence: I own a bell forged by Satan himself.

Title: Dead Hand
Author: Sharyn McCrumb
Pages: 23

The award-winning author of the book St. Dale (which is the story of ordinary people going on a pilgrimage in honor of Dale Earnhardt and finding a miracle), Sharyn McCrumb says, “Writing about NASCAR was a wonderful experience for me. After spending my adolescence writing term papers and avoiding proms, I am now jumping hills at one hundred mph with a race car driver on Virginia back roads, and it is glorious.” Perhaps it was the acclaim she had gotten from writing about NASCAR (it got her invited to the White House and in touch with several Fortune 500 winners) that inspired her to write another NASCAR story called Dead Hand. This time about a little failing team of drivers who do things the old way still and are losing badly until their Cherokee chief mechanic works up a bit of magic to bring back the ghost of driver known as The Champ who had died in a plane crash.

NASCAR and racing have always bored me to tears when my dad was watching (it’s his favorite “sport” and the only one he watches) or when my husband’s uncle would take us to see the guys he sponsors but reading and watching movies about racing is a whole different thing. I love those! Dead Hand was easily one of the best stories in this anthology though I wish it were a little longer and didn’t have such a sad ending. Rattler and the Champ were great though and I hope the author writes about their back stories one day.

First Sentence: I don’t hold with talking to dead people.

Title: Day Off
Author: Jim Butcher
Pages: 33

Harry Dresden, “Chicago’s only professional wizard, shamus of the supernatural, gumshoe of the ghostly, and wiseguy of the weird is looking forward to his Day Off in Jim Butcher’s short story however, someone up there is bound and determined that he doesn’t get to rest. First, some wizard-wannabes start harassing him, then his assistant proceeds to accidentally blow up his lab, and finally two of his friends that occasionally shift into wolves have a problem and need his help as well. Will Harry ever get to go one his date? Jim Butcher is a well-known, award-winning author of the Dresden Files series of which Day Off takes place.

While I’ve always liked Harry Dresden and his author Jim Butcher, I’ve never managed to read one of the actual books in the series. I have however, read a lot of short stories that feature the wizard and I’ve loved every one of them. Even if I always feel like I’m missing certain things that reading the books would answer for me, I always enjoy the stories anyway. That’s including Day Off! It was funny, interesting, and it has definitely made me want to go out and pick up the actual series.

First Sentence: The thief was examining another trapped doorway when I heard something-- the tromp of approaching feet.

Source: My personal collection, paperback

Related Reviews
Kelley Armstrong
Women of the Otherworld Series
1. Bitten (2001)
2. Stolen (2002)
3. Dime Store Magic (2003)
4. Industrial Magic (2004)
5. Haunted (2005)
6. Broken (2006)
7. No Humans Involved (2007)
8. Personal Demon (2008)
9. Living with the Dead (2008)
10. Frost Bitten (2009)
11. Waking the Witch (2010)
12. Spellbound (2011)

Darkest Powers Series
1. The Summoning (2008)
2. The Awakening (2009)
3. The Reckoning (2010)

Nadia Stafford Series
1. Exit Strategy (2007)
2. Made to Be Broken (2009)

Dates from Hell (2006)
My Big Fat Honeymoon (2007)
Many Bloody Returns (2007)

J.A. Konrath
Wolfsbane and Mistletoe anthology- S.A. by J.A. Konrath

Jim Butcher
Charlaine Harris
Sookie Stackhouse
1. Dead Until Dark (2001)
2. Living Dead in Dallas (2002)
3. Club Dead (2003)
4. Dead to the World (2004)
5. Dead as a Doornail (2005)
6. Definitely Dead (2006)
7. All Together Dead (2007)
8. From Dead to Worse (2008)
9. Dead and Gone (2009)
10. Dead in the Family (2010)
11. Dead Reckoning (2011)

Aurora Teagarden Series:

Harper Connelly Series
1. Grave Sight (2005)
2. Grave Surprise (2006)
4. Grave Secret (2009)


Monday, September 13, 2010

The Race is On for the Grail

"You can search and search on a quest, and in the end you may never get there at all," Barney warned Simon and Jane. The three Drew children, on holiday in Cornwall, had found a crumbling parchment map and embarked on a hunt for ancient treasure linked with King Arthur. The treasure, which lay "over sea, under stone," was more precious than life itself, for, if found by the right people, it would help keep at bay the ancient forces of evil that were once again powerful in the world.
The children soon find themselves beset by deadly dangers that involve the local vicar as well as a curiously menacing man and his sister, who arrive in the little harbor on a gleaming white yacht. The imperiled children turn for help to their Great-Uncle Merry, a renowned scholar, who draws on his vast knowledge of ancient lore to protect them. And when the treasure is almost theirs, Barney, Simon, and Jane find themselves trapped by the rising tide between cliff and sea.
With its powerful, mystical theme, Over Sea, Under Stone begins Susan Cooper's award-winning sequence, The Dark is Rising.

Title: Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence, Book 1
Start & Finished: 8/23/10- 8/26/10
Published: May 1965
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Pages: 252 (hardcover)
Genre: YA- Adventure

The only book in the Dark is Rising Sequence that Susan Cooper wrote before she left England (written for a publishing company competition) to live in the United States, Over Sea, Under Stone is the first book in a five part award-winning series but it’s more of a prequel and the fantasy elements that are much more prevalent in the later books are only hinted at here. This entire series is clearly a struggle between good and evil with Arthurian lore and other British mythology thrown in. The author said she had intended for this book to be an adventure tale “but magic kept creeping in.”

Ms. Cooper said, “Once I was writing fantasy, I don't think I really thought about it. I just felt I'd come home. You don't say to yourself, I am writing fantasy. You don't even say to yourself, I am writing for kids. You just tell the story.” In this book the Drew children- Simon, Barney, and Jane- find an extremely old map in the attic of the house their Great-Uncle Merry (Gumerry) is renting in Trewissick which is in Cornwall, England. The map is supposed to lead to a grail from King Arthur’s era and is said to have answers about who the Pendragon was and will be again. Trewissick is actually a fictional place based on a village in southern Cornwall called Mevagissey. There are several bad people after the map and the treasure and they are just the latest in a long line of people who have been looking for it then the bad guys learn of the existence of the map and the race is on! Surprisingly, the quest wasn’t all that long but I thought the clues were clever.

The plot is awesome but I had problems with the main characters at first. I’m sure I would have liked them immediately if I had read this when I was younger though. They’re normal children but with their imaginations and silly sibling squabbles, they were a little boring but once I got in the proper mindset and got to know them is when I really started enjoying the story. The boys seemed better written than Jane did at times though. Susan Cooper has said that she wishes she had spent more time developing their characters in this book, even calling them “corny kid’s book characters” but supposedly they all become more developed throughout the course of the series. That the Drew children’s ages are never mentioned is something I did notice in this book. Though they seem young and Simon is the eldest by eleven months from Jane, which makes Barnabas (Barney) the youngest. None of them seem over the age of 12 though. The time period isn’t specifically stated either but if I had to guess I would say 1920’s to maybe the 1930’s though it could honestly be earlier than that but not by too much since there are cars.

What I found frustrating that we don’t really know the enemy’s motive (and goodness! Just about everyone seems bad) but the author has Simon explain in a way: “Well”-- Simon wrinkled his forehead, trying to remember what Great-Uncle Merry had said on the first day-- “it’s the grail they want, isn’t it? Because it stands for something, somehow. And that’s why Gumerry wants to find it as well. It’s like two armies fighting in history. You’re never quite sure what they’re actually fighting about, but only that one wants to beat the other.” The author said, “The struggle between the Light and the Dark in my books has more to do with the fact that when I was four World War II broke out. England was very nearly invaded by Germany, and that threat, reinforced by the experience of having people drop bombs on your head, led to a very strong sense of Us and Them. Of course Us is always the good, and Them is always the bad.”

When I started reading this I had no idea of what to expect because I hadn’t read this when I was younger nor did I see the film adaptation of the second book that came out recently. I remember the previews looked interesting though. I was pleasantly surprised with Over Sea, Under Stone and while it did at times bring to mind the feel of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the kids strongly reminded me of Disney’s adaptation of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it was incredibly unique. This story does start off incredibly slow but I really liked the ending. However, I do see why some people skip this book in the series and go on to the sequel, including Hollywood with their 2007 release The Dark is Rising: The Seeker.

Favorite Quotes
Although he was not her real uncle, but only a friend of her father, he had been close to the family for so many years that it never occurred to them to wonder where he had come from in the first place.
Nobody knew very much about Great-Uncle Merry, and nobody ever quite dared to ask. He did not look in the least like his name. He was tall, and straight, with a lot of very thick, wild, white hair. In his grim brown face the nose curved fiercely, like a bent bow, and the eyes were deep-set and dark.
How old he was, nobody knew. “Old as the hills,” Father said, and they felt, deep down, that this was probably right. There was something about Great-Uncle Merry that was like the hills, or the sea, or the sky; something ancient, but without age or end.
Ever since he had learned to read, Barney’s greatest heroes had been King Arthur and his knights. In his dreams he fought imaginary battles as a member of the Round Table, rescuing fair ladies and slaying false knights. He had been longing to come to the West Country; it gave him a strange feeling that he would in some way be coming home.
“You can search and search, on a quest, and in the end you may never get there at all.”
“Oh honestly, Jane,” Simon said. “You can’t find a treasure map and just say, ‘Oh, how nice,’ and put it back again. And that’s what they’d make us do.” “Oh well,” Jane said doubtfully, “I suppose you’re right. We can always put it back afterwards.”
“You remember the fairy stories you were told when you were very small-- ‘once upon a time…’ Why do you think they always began like that?” “Because they weren’t true.” Simon said promptly. Jane said, caught up in the unreality of the high remote place, “Because perhaps they were true once, but nobody could remember when.” Great-Uncle Merry turned his head and smiled at her. “That’s right. Once upon a time… a long time ago… things that happened once, perhaps, but have been talked about for so long that nobody really knows. And underneath all the bits that people have added, the magic swords and lamps, they’re all about one thing-- the good hero fighting the giant, or the witch, or the wicked uncle. Good against bad. Good against evil.”
“This is your quest,” he said. “You must find the way every time yourselves. I am the guardian, no more. I can take no part and give you no help, beyond guarding you all the way.”
Straight as an arrow the long white road of the moon’s reflection stretched towards them across the surface of the sea, like a path from the past and a path to the future; at its edges it danced and glimmered as the waves rose beneath the wind.

Dark Is Rising
1. Over Sea, Under Stone (1965)
2. The Dark Is Rising (1973)
3. Greenwitch (1974)
4. The Grey King (1975)
5. Silver on the Tree (1977)

First Paragraph: "Where is he?"
Barney hopped from one foot to the other as he clambered down from the train, peering in vain through the white-faced crowds flooding eagerly to the St. Austell ticket barrier. "Oh, I can't see him. Is he there?"

The Lost Land- Official
Book Wikipedia
Author Wikipedia
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The Dark is Rising Wiki

With Raymond H. Thompson- 1989

Source: Library loan, paperback

Related Reviews
The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Picture Explanations
All are locations in the book

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