Becky’s One Hundred and Seventeenth Book Review: “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

It always amazes me that there are so many books out there that I haven’t read. In high school I was first introduced to Charles Dickens and fell in love with his books. I read through a few of his works (Hard Times, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities) and then purchased just about everything else that he has written. And they sat on my bookshelf. Well, this December I was staring at my bookshelf and decided maybe I should read “A Christmas Carol” since it is that time of year. So I picked it up. Turns out, I still love Charles Dickens and am currently rereading “A Tale of Two Cities”. 

What do I like about Charles Dickens’ works? Well, he has a certain writing style that is just appealing to me. For example, “Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds-born of the wind one might supposed, as sea-weed of the water – rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.” (A Christmas Carol, pg 69). I think this is a great example of how well Dickens is able to shape the English language. I personally think he writes beautifully (even if he did write a book about how much America sucks) and look forward to rereading “A Tale of Two Cities”.

Nearly everyone knows the story of “A Christmas Carol” – it’s been adapted time and again where the gist is the same. There is always a Scrooge. There are always the ghosts that visit – and always the ‘bad guy’ sees the light and does a 180. There is a certain experience that one goes through reading “A Christmas Carol” for the first time. It is interesting to see what the original story feels like. And it was quite enjoyable, I must say. I want to reiterate how beautiful the language that Dickens uses is. I need to include another example. “It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour. When Scrooge’s nephew laughed in this way: holding his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant contortions: Scrooge’s niece, by marriage, laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being not a bit behindhand, roared out, lustily.” (A Christmas Carol, pg 70). 

Would I recommend “A Christmas Carol”? Yes – I think it is a must read, if only so you can have a taste of the original story that spawned so many books, movies, and TV episodes. It was enjoyable and I think most people would be able to get through it pretty quickly (it is short for a book). Check it out!!

Becky’s One Hundred and Sixteenth Book Review: “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

There is all this hype about the Mortal Instrument’s series, the books are selling like crazy, a movie has been made…so I decide to check it out. I figure it can go a few different ways. It could be like the Hunger Games which was a fantastic read, or it could be like Twilight series where I just kept praying that Buffy would come in and kill them all. I started reading “City of Bones” and while I knew that it was a young adult novel, I still thought it had quite a bit of predictability to it. Then I kept reading. 

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with the direction that “City of Bones” went. I think that Cassandra Clare has a unique voice and a wonderful imagination. I look forward to reading the rest of the series. Let me discuss a bit what it was about, shall we?

“City of Bones” is focused around a girl named Clary. The world she knows is one where she is an only child, her father died when she was a baby, she lives with her mother, she has a best friend named Simon, she goes to school, she hangs with her friends, life is pretty normal. Then one night, she is out at a club with Simon and she sees something. What more – no one else CAN see it. “If there is one thing she was learning from all this, it was how easy it was to lose everything you had always thought you’d have forever” (City of Bones, pg 160).

An entire world that Clary never knew existed begins to unravel and reveal itself. In the center of this world is a boy named Jace. Clary and Jace have a budding friendship that really bothers Simon. This is clear pretty much from the beginning, but is repeated again and again. “His eyes were narrowed, as if he half-expected her to tell him that none of it was true and Jace was actually a dangerous escaped lunatic she’d decided to befriend on humanitarian grounds” (City of Bones, pg 117). I like this quote because it shows Simon’s reaction to Jace and it also is an excellent display of the humor that Cassandra Clare distributes throughout her novel. 

Clary only finds out about this world when she gets a frantic call from her mom telling her not to come home. Like any good teenager, she promptly ignores her mom’s instructions and rushes home. She finds her apartment wrecked and ends up in a struggle for her life. After that, all the secrets begin spilling out and Clary finds herself in a whirlwind adventure that she never could have imagined. She is injured and brought to the ‘secret headquarters’ if you will where there are others like Jace who fight demons and those who teach along with a blue cat who was a fun addition to the character list. “…[Jace] was walking a few paces ahead of them, apparently conversing with the cat. Clary wondered what they were talking about. Politics? Opera? The high price of tuna?” (City of Bones, pg 135). Again with the subtle humor. 

I don’t want to give too much away because, although I thought this book was a bit predictable in the beginning, there were some outrageous twists that I never saw coming. Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that it was a fun read and it was quick to get through as well. It would appeal to a wide range of audiences. I think that Cassandra Clare has a unique idea with this series and I hope the rest of the books are as enjoyable as this one was. 

Becky’s One Hundred and Fifteenth Book Review: “After Dead” by Charlaine Harris

Personally, I think that Charlaine Harris is a very creative writer. I like the fact that she has written several series, not just the Sookie Stackhouse one. In fact, I wish that she would write more series. The Sookie series is over now, and she released an additional book “After Dead” which discusses what happens to the rest of the characters. I have to say…I’m a little disappointed. I guess I expected too much from this book. I thought there would be background or something, but it is literally an alphabetical list (one character to a page) with anywhere from two sentences to a couple paragraphs. What I didn’t like was how the characters were not explained. I mean, I’m sorry, but I didn’t know who the fuck most of these characters were. 

If I were writing a book detailing what happened to the rest of the characters in a series that I had written over a decade, I would reference which books the characters first appeared in, to start. Then maybe some backstory like “Quinn – the weretiger, first appears in the fifth Sookie Stackhouse novel ‘Dead as a Doornail’ and was a romantic interest of Sookie’s for a bit.” Possibly extend to include his backstory about his family (mentally ill mother, younger sister), about some of his activities (killing a bunch of humans who were raping his mom and going to vampires to help clean up the mess; getting into an epic battle with Bill over Sookie’s protection). That would be more satisfying than “John Quinn had many more adventures”. REALLY? That is what you came up with as his continued story??? 

If Charlaine Harris had done that, then I wouldn’t have felt ripped off. As it was, I read the book in less than a half hour because there was practically nothing in it. I almost feel like writing a letter to Charlaine Harris and asking for my money back. (Even though I technically didn’t pay for the book because my parents got it for me for Christmas) Really, I just wish she would have done the characters a little more justice and taken the time to write the book correctly. I think that “After Dead” is really the definition of selling out. The price on this book? $18.00 – 195 pages, most not even halfway full of text. Is she hurting for money? I doubt it. I’m fairly certain that Charlaine Harris is pretty comfortable. But she felt the need to write this book half-assed. 

I will NOT be recommending this book to anyone. I think it shouldn’t have cost more than $2.00 and I think it is just a waste of her talent. In the beginning of the book, there is a blurb about how she wrote this book because so many people had questions about what happened to the characters. She wrote this blurb suggesting that this whole book was composed for her fans. But really, if this was for her fans, she wouldn’t have allowed the publishers to charge so much for it and she wouldn’t have done a half-assed job at writing it. I’m very disappointed in you Charlaine Harris. 

Becky’s One Hundred and Fourteenth Book Review: “Thinner” by Stephen King

It had to happen. I mean, it was inevitable. I’ve read a number of Stephen King novels, especially over the past year and I have enjoyed every one of them. Some of these were different degrees of enjoyment, but there was always an overall positive experience. It was bound to happen – I did not enjoy this book. Originally, “Thinner” was not published under Stephen King’s name. It was published under his pseudonym ‘Richard Bachman’ back in 1984. I wonder if he did this because he knew that it was not up to par with his other works. Maybe he didn’t feel that “Thinner” was good enjoy to be considered a Stephen King Novel. Or maybe it was just so that he could make a joke in the book about how ‘all this sounds like a Stephen King novel’. Really?

At this point, I am going to say if you have any desire to read the book, stop reading my review. It is going to contain a lot of spoilers.

What is “Thinner” about you ask? Well, let me tell you. In “Thinner” there is a man named Billy Halleck that is a morbidly obese lawyer. At the beginning of the book, he has just fought and won a case where he was charged with vehicular manslaughter. A woman walked out in the middle of the road while he was driving and he didn’t have time to stop. He hit and killed her. What actually happened was his wife, Heidi, was in the car with him and chose that moment to give him a handjob. He was distracted, and while he could have stopped, he didn’t react quickly enough. The woman who was killed was part of a band of traveling gypseys. As Billy exits the courthouse after getting off with a slap on the wrist, the father of the woman killed leans in close to Billy, strokes his cheek and whispers ‘thinner’. After that, Billy begins losing weight. It falls off rapidly and although he goes to the doctor with the thought that it might be cancer, the doctor cannot find the cause. Billy soon concludes that it is a gypsy curse that has caused this dramatic weight loss. This is further supported in Billy’s mind when the judge who let him off has his entire body covered in scales and the cop who let the charges against Billy be minimal came down with a horrific case of acne. Billy vows to find the gypsy who cursed him and make him take it off. His wife wants Billy to see some more doctors and eventually tries to commit him against his will. This not only causes Billy to turn against her, but his only child – Linda turns against her mom. He blames her in full for being the cause of the accident that got him in this mess in the first place. As she worries about him and his weight loss, he builds up a mountain of hate for her. When Billy finally catches up with the gypsy who cursed him and (with some help from a mob friend) is able to get him to ‘take it off’ Billy finds out it is the kind of thing that cannot be gotten rid of, but only transferred. So the gypsy makes a pie, uses some of Billy’s blood to ‘take it off’ and tells Billy he has to get someone else to eat the pie within a few days or the curse will revert back to him. Billy heads home with the pie with the intention of having Heidi eat it. He even takes the precaution of calling his daughter and telling her to not come home for a bit so that she isn’t around when this happens to her mom. The pie is brought into the house and Heidi is very excited by it – Strawberry pie is her favorite and she feels that the pie is a peace offering from Billy. He goes to bed and she stays up to have some pie. In the morning, Billy goes downstairs to discover two plates and two forks in the sink and discovers that his precious daughter, Linda, came home early to make up with her mom. They ate the pie together. So Billy decides to eat it as well to join his family in death.

I’m not sure where I hoped the story would end up, but I really did not enjoy it. Maybe it was the fact that Billy was able to so quickly turn against his wife. Turn against her to the point where he was willing to transfer his curse to her. Maybe it was the fact that he went through so much just to die from the curse anyway. Either way, I will not be recommending this book to anyone. It was rather disappointing.

Becky’s One Hundred and Twelfth Book Review: “No Reflection” by John Caliburn

“No Reflection” is a collection of short horror stories. The book is John Caliburn’s debut and I have to say, for a first book, it was pretty entertaining. The biggest downside I would say is that most of the stories left me wanting to read more and since they were short stories, there was no more. I liked the majority of the stories though and would definitely pick up something else Caliburn puts out. I’m going to do a short review on each story since there were only seven individual stories and a poem.

The first story is ‘No Reflection’ and I think was the story I liked the least. The main character works in a museum storage room and comes across a mysterious, ancient mirror called ‘The Mirror of Divination’. He is not a very likable character to begin with, he seems like a bum with no regard for anyone else. I am not sure if Caliburn made the character a jerk on purpose, but the whole time I was reading the story, I was hoping it would end the way that it did. So at least that worked out for me. I wouldn’t have led with this story in my collection personally.

The second story I found much more entertaining. It was called, ‘A Child’s Imagination’ and is nice and disturbing, which is how I like my horror stories. (Why do you think I read so much Stephen King?) This short story I could have read a lot more of if Caliburn had expanded it to a full novel. Owen, the main character, is the son of two individuals who own a restaurant that is failing. The really interesting thing about this story was how we were able to understand just how upsetting Owen’s parents troubles were to him. They upset him so much that he became rather twisted. Whenever he fell asleep, he would dream of a magical world where he was surrounded by various animals who were all his friend. Then Owen realized that his friends could all be ingredients for his parent’s restaurant. Pretty entertaining, although disturbing.

The third story was ‘Delusional’ and it is about a mental patient trying to explain to his doctor what had happened to his wife. Her death was the reason that he was institutionalized. The patient explained that he couldn’t go to sleep or the world would end. I found this whole concept to be rather interesting. It was also a different sort of take on a guy in a mental institue. I would have loved for this story to be expanded.

The next story was called ‘Rustling Sheets’ and I didn’t love it. A family moves into a home and the little boy is so excited to finally have his own room with bunk beds. That is until he realizes that he has something else in the room with him. It didn’t get much more exciting than that.

The next story was ‘The Magician’s Assistant’ and I really enjoyed it. The premise of the story is this woman is dating a magician and she is his assistant. Then she finds out that he has been unfaithful and decides to take revenge in the sickest way possible. I don’t think this story could really be expanded upon, although I would have loved to read more about it. One of the best stories in this collection by far.

The next story was ‘Fear of the Shadows’ which was very intriguing. It was a different sort of take on a child being afraid of his stepfather. In this story, the child is forced to chose between his fear of his stepfather and his fear of the dark. He knows that the dark hides theses frightening creatures that can hurt him, but then there is his stepfather who can hurt him as well. It was interesting to read and there was a fair amount of language that really engrossed my attention.

The last story was ‘Watery Grave’. The main character, Alan, just had a huge estate left to him by the aunt whom he killed. Shockingly, she came back to haunt him. Not a great story. I wouldn’t have ended with this personally.

The collection of short stories is concluded with ‘Closet’, a poem. It is short and sweet. I wouldn’t have minded reading some more poetry by Caliburn.

Overall, I think that the collection was very well done. I think that Caliburn has some real potential as an author and I look forward to seeing what he does next. Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, but I think most individuals who enjoy the occasional horror story would enjoy several of the short stories featured in “No Relfection”. There were definitely some disturbing parts of the stories, so they wouldn’t be for everyone.