Book Review – Such Small Hands

TITLE: Such Small Hands
AUTHOR: Andres Barba
TRANSLATED: Lisa Dillman
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHED: 2017 (Original Spanish Version – 2008)

 

At the very beginning of this story, there’s a car accident involving seven year old Marina and her parents.  Her father died immediately, her mother later at the hospital, as they tell you several times in the book.  She’s sent to live in an orphanage with a random group of possessions and a doll whose eyes quit opening and closing like they should.

The other girls in the orphanage are unsure of how to act around her, and what ensues from that is a weird dance of small children who want to know each other and yet can’t bring themselves to say what they mean (or perhaps lack the ability to do so).

 

There’s something about Spanish fiction.  It’s like this beautiful string of poetry that dances in on a gentle breeze, twirls around you a few times, and then leaves you breathless.  Unlike American fiction, there’s no fucking blue chair to understand (ie, no heavy descriptions to bog you down), you get a strand of blonde hair here or a white scar there, never before you need to know about them, and never again after their usefulness is done.  Because it’s not about the overly described thing in the corner that doesn’t even matter, it’s about the moment and about you being a part of it.

The skin around the scar contracted in a fleeting spasm and the girl opened her mouth as if she wanted to devour everything: the air, Marina’s arrogance, her own fear.

This book is in three parts.  Part one is the accident and getting Marina to the orphanage, all Marina’s point of view.  Two and three switch between the other girls, who are seen as a descriptioneless collective.  Parts of a whole that we never talk about individually because they aren’t ‘the other girls’ if we do.  In fact, their names are mentioned individually and then as one collective long name with no spaces.  To Marina they are one, so to us they will be too.  Part 2 is about Marina and the other girls seeing each other and keeping their distance.  Part 3 is about the contact between them.

I want to talk more about part 3.  About how something so sad and so helpless can be made so beautiful.  But I also don’t want to give away what happens.

The book was terribly sad, but in a beautiful wrapper in such a way that I hungered for more.  I felt like the girls, who just wanted to reach out a finger but were afraid of interrupting the magic if they did.  I wanted to know more about so many things, but I knew as soon as I did, it would have the subtlety of a pencil to the butt and that wasn’t at all what I wanted.

It’s only a novella, or maybe even a novelette (My very basic word count estimate is 20k, so novella, but it’s definitely not an accuracy level I’d swear by) which actually enhances the story.  This could be a novel, but you wouldn’t want it to be… it needs to be the single movement and not the whole symphonic performance for the night.  So I give it a very high 4/5 – read the book, somewhere quiet with no distractions, and let it be your own music.  But I don’t think you’ll need to read it more than once, because I think this one will haunt you for a long time to come.

 

 

Advertisements

Books Review – Board Book Roundup

My method for picking out children’s books is to walk around the library and look for books on display that seem interesting/cute, randomly flip to a couple pages and see just how much text there is and to check out the artwork (I can’t tell you how many books I’ve put back because the illustrations are awful!), and then read them to a ridiculously smart almost three year old.  Anyway, I decided to combine several in this review.


TITLE: Harold’s ABC
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Crockett Johnson
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: Originally 1963. This edition – 2016? 2015? (New book/doesn’t say)

The book is kinda cool.  Harold and his trusty purple crayon (yes, that Harold) go out on an adventure through the alphabet.  This isn’t a typical ABC book.  There’s no A is for apple, turn the page, B is for Banana, etc… Instead, what you get is a story interrupted by that… “To go on any kind of trip, you have to leave home. He started with A for Attic…”  And as Harold is going through this, you see illustrations where the letter is front and center to something they’re talking about (In A’s case, the A makes up the top of the house. Q forms the Queen’s head.)

It isn’t bad, but this book is *small* – like maybe 4 inches or so.  I wish it had been just a little bit larger and the letters had been a little bit bolder.  I’m guessing with a kid a little older who already knows his letters that this story would go over better, but in this case, the toddler knows *most* of his letters and it was a little difficult to get him to pick out the letters and he got bored with it.  [Note: This paragraph brought to you by the phrase “little bit”]

A few of the letters were weak (X is for X-out), and Z was for snore “Zzzl” – um.. since when is there an l in the middle of a snore?  But most of them were good.

I’ll give it a 3/5.  Nothing overly wrong with it, but nothing exceptional about it either.


TITLE: Dig
BOOK BY:  National Geographic Kids
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: 2015

So, Dig looked cute.  There’s a photo of large excavating equipment on the front, and when I opened it up randomly, I opened it to a larger photo of the same piece of equipment.  So I sort of assumed that it was about big equipment, which excited me.

Apparently, I should have looked at more pages, because it’s about all kinds of things that dig – people, dogs, whatever.  I was a bit disappointed.  Also, the toddler didn’t really care that mommy and daddy could dig in a garden.  He wanted the big equipment too.

This is an issue I have with board books.  Nothing about the book on the back cover, just a sales pitch for the rest of the series.

Anyway, really disappointed. The book was done well enough, but it isn’t what either of us wanted. And some kid apparently snacked on the library copy, so it tastes good enough.

Still, I’ll give it a tentative 4/5.  I was disappointed in it because it wasn’t what I thought it was (and really, what are the odds that I’d open randomly to the one page of equipment and not any of the other 10 pages of mammals?), but it wasn’t a bad book.


 

Book Review – Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band

TITLE: Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band
AUTHOR: Tim A. McKenzie
ILLUSTRATOR: Elaine Atkinson
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2006

 

So, Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band looked interesting enough and I picked it up to check it out and realized it came with a CD of bass fiddle music.

*Sigh*  I really shouldda left this one on the display.

I googled the guy and apparently he’s a moderately successful fiddler, so of course he’d write a series about it (Note – I had no idea, apparently this is book 2).

I wanted to like this book, but it’s every single stereotype that I hate and by the time I was 2 pages in, I realized I was using one of those hick accents to read with because the book is written with the expectation of one.

But the book is… weird.  BBB wants to fiddle with the cowboys so he takes his Bass, which is about 3x the size of Baxter,  shows up at a ranch, and proves all the ways he and his bass can be useful – melting down a string for a branding iron, using it as a bridge for cows, a wagon, a….  ARGH.  You don’t treat an instrument like that and doing it cutesy in a book like this for kids isn’t going to teach kids how to treat an instrument.  (And yes, I do expect a little realism in my children’s books, even the silly ones… FIT THE WORLD YOUR STORY IS IN)

The words are part of the illustrations and in some places are a little hard to read.  Also, the toddler had ZERO interest in this book when I tried to read it to him.

The music on the CD isn’t bad, but it’s not worth the book.

I’m giving it 2/5 pages for the book and 3/5 musical notes for the CD.  Because I can.

Writer Wednesday – Linda Watkins

1. Who are you? (A name would be good here)
Linda Watkins

2. What type of stuff do you write? (besides shopping lists!)
Contemporary Gothic Fiction

3. What do you want to pimp right now?
My three novels are a series, so pimping one, pimps all! I would pimp primarily the first novel, MATEGUAS ISLAND, A NOVEL OF TERROR AND SUSPENSE

4. What’s your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three… I know how writers are as readers!)
All time favorite:
THE MAGUS by John Fowled (original version)

Other favs:
THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein
THE LIGHTKEEPERS by Abby Geni
A WALK IN THE WOODS by Bill Bryson
THE STAND by Stephen King
SHADOWLAND by Peter Straub

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I am the caregiver, and loving mom, for two very geriatric dogs, both with multiple special needs.

6. Where can we find you?
I’m all over the place!
FB: https://www.facebook.com/LindaWatkins.Author/
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Linda-Watkins/
Twitter: @splatland
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LindaWatkins123/posts
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7754966.Linda_Watkins
My blog: http://lindawatkins.biz/
My website: http://mateguasisland.com/

 


Let’s Talk About Gothic Horror/Mystery

Having been accused of writing contemporary Gothic fiction (MATEGUAS ISLAND, RETURN TO MATEGUAS ISLAND, and GHOSTS OF MATEGUAS), I thought I’d take a moment to discuss the genre and some common elements that make a novel Gothic.

However, before I begin, let me first state that this is by no means meant to be a scholarly treatise on the genre. No, I will leave that to those more schooled in literature than I. This is merely a blog post. It is meant to be slightly informative and, hopefully, fun.

Gothic fiction has been around since medieval times.  Sir Horace Walpole’sTHE CASTLE OF OTRANTO, published in 1764,  is often credited as being the first English gothic horror novel.

But what makes a novel gothic? There are numerous  subtleties that go into creating a novel of this genre and even more when you consider all of its sub-genres (horror, mystery, romance, etc.).  However, I’m just going to touch on some of the most common elements of gothic fiction here.

All right, let’s begin. First of all, we must consider the setting. Gothic fiction is usually played out in a place that is dark and gloomy, conjuring up an atmosphere of horror and dread. For example, inTHE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, Poe calls the estate ‘melancholy’ and a ‘mansion of gloom’. In Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, the house is described as ‘holding darkness within’.  In my novel, MATEGUAS ISLAND, when seeing the island for the first time, Bill remarks that while it is beautiful, it looks ‘cold’. And, then there’s The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s THE SHINING and the ruined castle where Jonathan Harkness first meets the Count in Bram Stoker’s classicDRACULA Need I say more?

All right, we have our setting, what next?  Most gothic novels involve the appearance of supernatural beings – ghosts, specters, vampires, zombies,  and other things that go ‘bump in the night’. In THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, it is the house itself that is suspect, whereas in MATEGUAS ISLAND  it is a malevolent Native American spirit that plagues the Andersens in their new home. In Henry James’ classic, THE TURN OF THE SCREW, the governess sees the ghost of Peter Quint and in THE SHINING there are numerous ghosts, most notably those of former caretaker, Delbert Grady, and his murdered daughters.

Okay, we now have a dark and gloomy setting that is the home to some ghosts or specters. What do we need next to move the plot along?  How about some dark curses or prophesies? In Walpole’s THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO there is an ancient prophesy that  Manfred, the lord of the castle, seeks to avert by marrying his dead son’s betrothed. In  THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, Roderick  believes his family to be cursed by incurable madness. And in REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier, the unnamed heroine must come to grips with a dark and terrible secret being kept by her husband.

So, now we have a dark and dismal setting haunted by ghosts and subject to a terrible curse or prophesy. But what about the human characters? Often we find the pivotal character in a gothic novel to be a woman in jeopardy. For example, in MATEGUAS ISLAND, it is Karen who finds herself strangely transported to a dark and dangerous trail leading deep into the woods. Wendy Torrance in THE SHINING, Lucy and Mina in DRACULA, and the governess in THETURN OF THE SCREW all find themselves facing mortal peril at the hands of supernatural beings. In THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, it is Eleanor who tends to experience dark phenomena to which others in the house are oblivious. And, in REBECCA, the narrator finds herself living in the shadow and mystery of her husband’s former wife.

But is gothic fiction only peopled by damsels in distress? No! To counterbalance the ladies, the gothic genre often employs characters who can be seen as heroes or antiheroes. In the final chapters of THE SHINING, the clairvoyant cook, Hallorann, comes charging through a blizzard on a snowmobile to try to rescue Wendy and Danny. Dex Pierce inMATEGUAS ISLAND sees himself as Karen’s  knight errant and rushes to her side when she collapses in the backyard. In Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Heathcliff enacts the role of both a Byronic and demonic hero. In DRACULA, it is Van Helsing who eventually saves the day.

Okay, now we have a beautiful woman transported to a dark and dismal setting haunted by ghosts and subject to a terrible curse or prophesy who may, or may not, be saved by a dashing or not-so-dashing hero.   So, what comes next?

Romance, of course! In gothic novels, romance can take many forms. It can be a powerful love, heart-stirring, and intense. Or, it could be an unrequited  or illicit love. Basically, anything goes! An example of a  powerful love can be found MATEGUAS ISLAND when Dex realizes he has fallen deeply in love with Karen and vows to do anything necessary to protect her.   In WUTHERING HEIGHTS, we have both powerful and unrequited love in Heathcliff’s desire for Cathy.  In Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE, the heroine falls head over heels for the brooding and moody, Mr. Rochester.

So what have we put together with all these elements? We have a story of beautiful woman living in a dark and dismal place, haunted by ghosts, and subject to a terrible curse or prophesy who meets and, may fall in love with, a dashing or mysterious man who may, or may not, save her! And with that, my friends, we have laid the groundwork for a gothic novel!

Now, for some fun and amusement,  check out the first and last  lines from some classic, and, not-so-classic, novels in the genre.

REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier:  
First Line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Last Line:   “And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.

DRACULA by Bram Stoker:
First Line: “3 May, Bistritz – Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late.”
Last Line: “Later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.”

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE by Anne Rice:
First Line:   “I see…” said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.”
Last Line: “And then, stuffing the notebook quickly in his pocket, he gathered the tapes into his brief case, along with the small recorder, and hurried down the long hallway and down the stairs to the street, …”

FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley:
First Line: “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”
Last Line:  “He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”

MATEGUAS ISLAND by Linda Watkins:
First Line:  “She rolled over to check the clock.”
Last Line: “Oh, so very afraid….”

WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte
First Line:  “1801. – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.”
Last Line:  “I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how ….”

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER by Edgar Allan Poe:
First Line:  “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”
Last Line:  “While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened–there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind–the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight–my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder–there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters–and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher.”

RETURN TO MATEGUAS ISLANDby Linda Watkins :  
First Line: “She stood in the middle of the lawn, arms outstretched, her face turned toward the sea.”
Last Line:  “For what seemed an eternity, he stood that way, silent, his eyes wide open in wonder until the owl, in all its majesty, disappeared back into the fog.”

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL  AND MR. HYDE by Robert Louis Stevenson:
First Line:  “Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable.”
Last Line:  “Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.”

THE THIRTEENTH TALE  by Diane Setterfield:
First Line: “It was November.”
Last Line:  “He opened a cool green eye, regarded me for a moment, then closed it again.”

GHOSTS OF MATEGUAS by Linda Watkins:
First Line: “The fog embraced the coast like a desperate lover, clinging, refusing to let go.”
Last Line:  “Oh Mateguas, grand pere de la mort, entend my priere….”

Book Review – Tales of the Peculiar

TITLE: Tales of the Peculiar
AUTHOR: Ransom Riggs
ILLUSTRATOR: Andrew Davidson
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHED: 2016

Tales of the Peculiar is a companion book to the author’s Miss Peregrine series.  It is a collection of ten short stories, each led with a woodcut illustration.

So I’m going to start right off the bat and say that this is not meant to be part of the story that Riggs does for his trilogy.  It’s meant to be other stories from the same world.  Basically, fairy tales for peculiars.  As such, it takes place long before the trilogy and features no photographs, which we’ve come to want from Riggs.  That doesn’t make it bad at all, just takes a minute to get out of that mindset.

 

Here’s an overview of the stories.  Warning that although I tried to not spoil anything, you never know what slipped through.

The Splendid Cannibals
Travelers with money and a village of peculiars with the ability to regenerate limbs.

The Fork-Tongue Princess
A princess already promised, but her secret will make her a monster.  What’s a peculiar to do?

The First Ymbryne
She didn’t know she was a peculiar until she accidentally managed a special power – the first time loop.

The Woman Who Befriended Ghosts
A woman who had only ghosts as friends moves to a haunted house to make friends.

Cocobolo
A chinese man who searches for his lost father on the open seas and finds a family secret.  They’re peculiar.

The Pigeons of St. Paul’s
Pigeons in London need a place to roost, so they talk in the ear of the best builder and make him build a cathedral.

The Girl Who Could Tame Nightmares
She used her powers to take away peoples nightmares, but was it a good idea?

The Locust
A weird boy with no friends befriends a bug and becomes one.

The Boy Who Could Hold Back the Sea
A boy with the power to hold back and control water currents shows his power and has to go into hiding.

The Tale of Cuthbert
Basically the origin story of Miss Wren’s Menagerie.  There are peculiar animals that need saving, a gentle giant willing to save them, only who will save him?

 

Okay, so I loved the story of the first loop.  The cannibals story was just silly, although one of the stronger ones in the book.  Really, you’re reading fairy tales for peculiars, so you’re going to get absurd stuff (even fairy tales for humans are absurd).  A few stories were weak, but that’s to be expected just by the nature of what everything was.

I loved the woodcuts, even though I was used to bizarre photos and expecting them – I wish they’d’ve found a way to throw in a couple (the area now, perhaps?) – but what was done totally worked for this type of a book so I’m not complaining.

In all, if you like the Peregrine books as I have (My review of book 1 is here) I think you should pick this up as well, so I’ll give it a 4/5 pages with a warning – if you weren’t into the Peregrine books, I don’t think you’ll like this one all that much.

Book Review – Black Horses for the King

TITLE: Black Horses For The King
AUTHOR: Anne McCaffrey
PUBLISHED: 1996
FORMAT: Mass Market

According to the introduction, Black Horses for the King is an Arthurian Legend, but from a direction that we don’t normally get the story.  I’m not a huge fan of Arthur stories, but I thought that a combination of McCaffrey and a new angle would make this interesting.

The story follows Galwyn, apprenticed to his uncle because his father sucked at life.  Lord Artos crosses his path and Galwyn jumps ship (literally) to get away from his uncle and go on an adventure like he wants.  He has an ease with language and is considered an asset to the group.

I liked the writing style for the most part, although there were some wordings that were a little clunky because she was trying to sound old fashioned with how she talked.  But the blatant “screw everything that isn’t my way” was totally unpalatable.   At one point, for instance, Galwyn makes a big deal out of being thankful that his Uncle was only his mother’s sister’s husband and not actually a blood relative because he was pagan.  And no wonder he was a bad person because, duh, he was pagan.

And I’m totally of the opinion that I don’t care what a character is or isn’t, but there better be a damn good reason for making fun of everything.  And there was’t a lot that justified the total pagans-are-shit treatment.  (Because they’re not me and my way is right doesn’t cut it)

In the end, I decided that the book was way too soap box and way too unpalatable to finish. I decided the review was valid, but because I only got through the first 40ish pages, I’m not going to give this a number review.  Voice good, soapbox bad.  Rating ?/5.

Book Review: Horton Halfpott

TITLE: Horton Halfpott
-or- The Fiendish Mystery of Smudgwick Manor
-or- The loosening of M’lady Luggertuck’s Corset
AUTHOR/Illustrator: Tom Angleberger
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2011

I first stumbled across Tom Angleburger as an author in person at the Southern Festival of Books. He was doing a presentation of another book (Origami Yoda) where he helped all the kids fold Emergency Yodas and called them all Larry. (He wouldn’t tell me why)
I was so taken by him that I bought a copy on the spot to have signed, and found out about this book in line. Too late to have him sign it if I ran and bought one for myself, so I told myself I’d read it later.

Later has clearly been a little late in coming.

The book starts with M’lady Luggertuck deciding to not lace her corset up quite so tight.
Apparently this is such an amazing thing that the shift ripples through the entire house and weird things start to happen as a result.
Horton Halfpott is the kitchen boy, assigned to perpetual dish duty (652 spoons one day alone!) in a house full of servants and opulence. He gets a pay of one penny a week, which is good for just about nothing, the least of which is helping his parents misfortune, so his family suffers away from him, dad needing medical care, and Horton hanging on because something is better than nothing, right?
This is a silly book – I’d put it in the same sort of type of writing as a Series of Unfortunate Events. In fact, one of my favorite paragraph-slash-ridiculous sentences:

Imagine how many plates, how many saucers, how many bowls, brandy snifters, butter trays, ice-cube mimbles, gin jiggers, melon ballers, salad tongs, salt cellars, teacups, teakettles, teapots, teaspoons, and tea strainers were used every day at the fancy Luggertuck table, where five-course meals were eaten three times a day, tea was served twice, and midnight snacks were offered at eleven, twelve, and one o’clock.

In the midst of M’Lady’s corset loosening, something strange starts to happen, and a detective is brought in who is pompous, arrogant, and totally useless. He does have some good lines in him, telling the stable boy once “Mr. Bump, you have about you the fragrance of equus poopus…” (horse manure) and offering him money to solve the case for him – discretely of course.

I’m not going to give it away, of course, but the case was solved, and this was the proper amount of silly for a reader of the target age of this (which is probably somewhere around ten). And the corset does, of course, get re-tightened.

I’m sorry I put it off for so long. This book deserves every bit of praise it gets. Angleberger once again proves that he’s awesome at his market. I hope he keeps writing for a lot of years.

Solidly, this book gets a 5 out of 5 pages.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: