Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Canon Classics | The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Title: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Publication Date: 1886
Source & Format: Library; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
In this harrowing tale of good and evil, the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll develops a potion that unleashes his secret, inner persona—the loathsome, twisted Mr. Hyde.

This is a story that I have known since middle school when I acted in a (heavily adapted) version of this story. The twists of the dual personality and good versus evil has always made this story memorable, but this is the first time that I actually read the book.

There are so many amazing elements to this story, but what really stood out to me was the narration. I loved how Stevenson depicted Jekyll's world - it felt shrouded in darkness. This darkness created the base for the plot, set the scenes for the mystery, and this incredible story. 

I loved the decision to make a different character the primary narrator of the story. Utterson's role as narrator reminded me a lot of Nick's narration in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby - the focus on characterization makes Jekyll and Hyde's personalities stand out as well as emphasize the elements of horror.

Let's put it this way - I read this book in broad daylight on my lunch break and I still had shivers run down my spine. Stevenson is an unsung master of the horror genre - there's nothing quite like the story of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Newbie's Guide to Suspense

This is Halloween, this is Halloween and I turn to suspense every year. I'm not a scary story/movie person, but there's something about the autumn leaves turning that makes me yearn to be just a little bit scared.

Suspense is a genre that closely meshes with mystery and thrillers for me, but there are a few key differences. The GoodReads introduction to suspense explains it perfectly: "an audience experiences suspense when they expect something bad to happen and have (or believe they have) a superior perspective on events in the drama's hierarchy of knowledge, yet they are powerless to intervene to prevent it from happening" (source). 

Suspense branches off into a few different genres, like romantic suspense, mystery and (one of my faves) true crime. 

When FDR stated the "only thing to fear is fear itself" (source), he was onto something. Our minds, while waiting for the terror to come out of the closet or appear from the dark, create the most fantastical things, things that scare us more than the monster ever could. 


For those who like the criminal:
Robert Graysmith's nonfiction thriller gave me shivers and had me checking under beds.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent mixes suspense, history, and some amazing writing for a great story. 

For those who are looking for something a little more classic:
Bram Stoker's master creation
Anything by this master of suspense.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper will change how you look at wallpaper forever.  

Want a contemporary adventure? Try this guy.

How about a little romance?
This Nicholas Sparks novel kept me on the edge of my seat.
Nora Roberts' The Witness has so many unexpected surprising twists that will keep you enthralled.

For the young at heart:
This series stole my heart and made me want to take archery lessons...
This master's classic novella stands alone in the world of suspense.

I hope I've helped you discover (or rediscover) the world of suspense! This is one of my favorite literary genres, so please, let me know if there a novel that I missed? Which ones definitely need to be added to the list? 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Masquerade | Top Ten Character Costumes

There's really only two reasons I love Halloween. It is the only holiday a year that is is completely acceptable for adults to do this: 

And candy. 


1. Frenchie from Grease.
You know you want that pink hair.

2. Buttercup from The Princess Bride.

3. Maleficient 

4. Hermione! She's been my favorite for years, and I've already got the crazy curly hair.
5. Kate of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew
6. Beatrice from Dante
7. Stephanie Plum
8. Eve Dallas from J.D. Robb's In Death series
9. Daisy from The Great Gatsby 

And the finale, what I'm actually going to be for Halloween...


Whether you dress up like this for Halloween...

or like this...

I hope you have a splendid time!

Monday, October 27, 2014

12 Reasons You Should Read May Day by Jess Lourey

Title: May Day
Author: Jess Lourey {blog}
Publication Date: March 2006

Publisher: Midnight Ink
Series: Murder-by-Month Mystery

Source & Format: Gift from Beth Ann; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Minneapolitan Mira James has been taking it easy since college graduation--too easy. Due to a dead-end job and a cheating boyfriend, the Twin Cities have lost their charm, and Mira decides to begin a new life in rural Battle Lake. Right away she is offered jobs as an assistant librarian and part-time reporter, and falls into an unexpected romance with a guy who seems to be the perfect man until he turns up dead between the reference stacks her tenth day on the job. Anxious to learn more about the man who had briefly stolen her heart, Mira delves into the hidden mysteries of Battle Lake, including a old land deed with ancient Ojibwe secrets, an obscure octogenarian crowd with freaky social lives, and a handful of thirtysomething high school buddies who hold bitter, decades-old grudges. Mira soon discovers that unknown dangers are concealed under the polite exterior of this quirky small town, and revenge is a tator-tot hotdish best served cold.A hip, humorous, and gripping account of small-town murder, this novel is the first in a series of cozies featuring Mira James, an urban woman with rural Minnesota roots.

Twelve Reasons You Should Read the First Installment of the Murder by Month Mysteries

1. The main character is a librarian.
2. What, that didn't get you? She's a English major who can reference a ton of literary characters.
3. The dead guy is her boyfriend...well, kinda.
4. The core of this whodunit mystery will definitely appeal to the mystery lovers. 
5. The twist at the end of this story (and the villain) will scare your socks off. Even if you aren't a pansy like me, it'll definitely startle you (In short: I did not see that one coming).
6. The small town of Battle Lake, Minnesota is a wacky Midwestern town that makes me want to move in and stay forever.
7. Mira's simple narration depicts a multi-layered character, a deceivingly complex plot, and a creepy murder.
8. I loved story's narrative - at first, we see the situation Mira is faced with, then flash back to her past to understand how she got there.
9. It's really impossible not to love this nosy librarian.
10. Her cat's name is Tiger Pop. Yes!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Coffee Date | The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

Title: The Gathering Storm
Author: Robin Bridges {website
Publication Date: January 2012
Publisher: Delacorte
Series: Katerina Trilogy {Book 1}

Source & Format: Paperback; owned
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.

An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.

The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?

It's time for the first installment of my revamped feature! Are you as excited as I am?!

Appearance / Cover (3/4)

I loved this cover. The overwhelming white of the snow swirling around Katerina should be angelic and ethereal, but instead it inspires me with a bit of fear. She looks intimidating, defiant, and ready to take on the world. I don't know if the cover would be enough for me to pick it up on the shelves from the bookstore, but I would stop for a glance.

Conversation / Writing and Dialogue (3/4)

The part I loved about this book was the simplicity of Bridges' narration. It let the atmosphere shine through, which was one of the book's highlights. It has been a while since I read a book with such a potent atmosphere - I could imagine each and every one of the scenes in The Gathering Storm as if I were seeing them in front of me.

The dialogue was good. Each character's individual voice and personality stood out from among the rest for the most part - some of the girls' parts blended into the background. 

Personality / Character (3/4)

There is a fire inside of Katerina that I enjoyed. Her passion to become a doctor and to treat the sick is inspirational and astonishing, especially in a female character set in this time period. She has many hurdles standing in her way - her own mother, for example - but more often than not, her own thoughts slowed her in her dream, which bothered me a little. When she is finally forced to take action (about three quarters through the book) she really began to shine for me. 

The characters of the villains of this story were absolutely terrifying. They reminded me of Dracula - that same seductive bloodthirstiness. 

Overall, I loved the characters. Some stood out more than others, and I wish Katerina was a little more self-assured, but I feel like this is coming in the rest of the trilogy. 

Interest / Plot (2/4)

Here's the rub: I love the premise, the ideas of exploring the paranormal during tsarist Russia. The execution left me feeling confused at times. 

There are so many moving parts to this paranormal world Katerina lives in, but I felt confused for a good portion of the book. I felt there wasn't sufficient explanation for a few plot points, and when we finally got to the explanation, the story had moved on already. Maybe it's just me, but I needed more clarification on certain areas of the story. 


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fall Reading Challenge | The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig

Title: The Masque of the Black Tulip
Author: Lauren Willig
Publication Date: October 2006
Publisher: New American Library
Series: The Pink Carnation {Book 2}
Source & Format: Paperback; owned
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Harvard grad student Eloise Kelly achieved the academic coup of the century when she unmasked the spy who saved England from Napoleon. But now she has a million questions about the Pink Carnation's deadly French nemesis, the Black Tulip. And she's pretty sure that her handsome on-again, off-again crush, Colin Selwick, has the answers somewhere in his archives. But what she discovers in an old codebook is something juicier than she ever imagined.

The Masque of the Black Tulip is an entirely different type of story than The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. While Amy and Richard's romance was full of disguises, mistaken identities and romantic longing, Henrietta and Miles' story has humor, banter and a touch of romance. I missed the longing romance of the first installment, but The Masque of the Black Tulip had more than enough to keep me fascinated. 

The Masque of the Black Tulip picks up shortly after The Pink Carnation has left off. Richard and Amy are married and settled, and Miles Dorrington, family friend of the Selwicks, is hoping to get his turn at spy glory, especially since Richard has been unmasked. The good nature and utter enthusiasm (there's really no other word) that makes up Miles' character makes him unlikely for a spy, but luckily, there is just the assignment for him - revealing the Black Tulip. 

Miles and Henrietta's romance holds a special place in my heart - they are the epitome of two friends who realize they are exactly right for each other. Don't worry, that isn't giving anything away - the magic is in how they realize they are right for each other. I was expecting - hoping for - a little more romantic tension, but the romance of the Black Tulip left me with the warm fuzzies. 

The Black Tulip really shines when it comes to the final scenes in the book and the plot tension that leads up to it. The glimpses of Jane's adventures in France, the secret letters passed between England and France, and the final revelation made this book worth daydreaming about (which happened...a lot. I admit it). The red herring, the misleading clues and the tension that create the plot of The Black Tulip were simply excellent. 

As much as I enjoyed both of the characters and the plot of this installment, the romantic element left a little to be desired. I wanted more spark, more tension...just a little bit more


Friday, October 24, 2014

Review | Ain't She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Title: Ain't She Sweet?
Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips {website}
Publication Date: February 2004
Publisher: Piatkus Books
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Ain't She Sweet?
Not exactly . . .The girl everybody loves to hate has returned to the town she'd sworn to leave behind forever. As the rich, spoiled princess of Parrish, Mississippi, Sugar Beth Carey had broken hearts, ruined friendships, and destroyed reputations. But fifteen years have passed, and life has taught Sugar Beth its toughest lessons. Now she's come home -- broke, desperate, and too proud to show it.

The people of Parrish don't believe in forgive and forget. When the Seawillows, Sugar Beth's former girlfriends, get the chance to turn the tables on her, they don't hesitate. And Winnie Davis, Sugar Beth's most bitter enemy, intends to humiliate her in the worst possible way.

Then there's Colin Byrne. . . . Fifteen years earlier, Sugar Beth had tried to ruin his career. Now he's rich, powerful, and the owner of her old home. Even worse, this modern-day dark prince is planning exactly the sort of revenge best designed to bring a beautiful princess to her knees.

But none of them have reckoned on the unexpected strength of a woman who's learned survival the hard way.

While Sugar Beth's battered heart struggles to overcome old mistakes, Colin must choose between payback and love. Does the baddest girl in town deserve a second chance, or are some things beyond forgiving?

Ain't She Sweet? is a story of courage and redemption. . . of friendship and laughter. . . of love and the possibility of happily-ever-after.

I won't lie to you: there were points where this book was downright painful to read. Sugar Beth Carey was the girl in high school that the boys wanted to date and the girls wanted to be. Unfortunately, more often than not, teenage Sugar Beth used her power for evil instead of good...a decision that comes back to haunt her. 

Sugar Beth herself is a fascinating character. I didn't want to like her, but it was dang near impossible not to fall in love with the fiery, spirited, and secretly soft woman that made up the legend of Sugar Beth Carey in the small town of Parrish. Even before I knew her motives before returning home, I felt for the woman who had to face the mess the girl had created. Her defensive posture of sarcasm and flirtation made me laugh even when I cringed, but as the story grew, so did her character. 

It isn't often that the male romantic hero has the same kind of character transformation as his counterpart, but Colin Bryne was equally fascinating. True, he didn't have the same drama and pride that Sugar Beth carried with her, but he had a full history, a past that forced his character to evolve from Sugar Beth's memories to the man she warred with over the driveway. I enjoyed his depth, his emotions, and most of all, his struggles against the hurt Sugar Beth caused his twenty-two year old self and the gallant man who dreamed of rescuing her. 

Phillips' writing catches me every time: it's impossible to not sink into her stories, to feel the emotions of every character, even the minor ones. The minor characters themselves felt fully fleshed out; I felt I knew Jewel, the Seawillows, and the men who howled in the night under Sugar Beth's window. Each was personal, memorable, which is quite a feat considering what else was going on in the story at the time.

Most of all, Ain't She Sweet made me feel. It was a roller coaster ride, one I didn't want to put down (even while I cooked dinner). Sugar Beth's story grabbed me by the heart and I couldn't help but go along for the ride.