The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

The Uninvited Guests1912 – The kitchens of Sterne, a crumbling English manor, are bustling to create a splendid supper for Emerald Torrington’s twentieth birthday. The guests invited include Emerald’s fading femme fatale mother Charlotte, broody brother Clovis, impish but neglected little sister Smudge, childhood friends Patience and Ernest, and eligible bachelor John Buchanan. However, when a horrific railway accident occurs nearby, Sterne is forced to play host to the survivors, a miserable band of lower-class sufferers who throw all plans into chaos and among whom lurks a gentleman whose upper-class appearance belies his malevolent spirit.

(Spoilers ahead)

Well, a Gothic mystery tinged with the supernatural and set in the historical – sounds right up my alley! The gorgeous cover fits Sadie Jones’ The Uninvited Guests extraordinary well, mirroring a scene in which Charlie (the lurking “gentleman”) spies on Emerald attempting to call the railway for answers while also sufficiently adding to the creepy atmosphere.

I did like most of the characters, despite their upper-crust snobbery, but the shortness of the novel caused most of them to lack depth. Since I didn’t understand them fully, I wasn’t particularly attached to any of them so when a certain scene (i.e. the hounds game) exposed the horrific cruelty of their inner human nature, I wasn’t even upset. But I appreciated that they all bucked up in the end – on the whole, the cruelty was balanced by the concluding kindnesses.

The darkly comic tone and flowery Edwardian writing style fit the story well, but the plot was as crumbling as the manor itself. I can’t say the twist is particularly shocking, with the “survivors” actually having not survived the crash. But frustratingly their exact nature (ghosts? zombies?) was left unexplained as was the source of Charlie’s mysterious power.

It was not a very spine-tingling read and probably too bizarre for many readers, but if you can cheerfully throw reason out the door, it proves to be a suitable tale for a dark and stormy summer night that’s a little more literary than your average horror story.

3 Stars

The Necromancer by Jonathan Howard

The Necromancer (Johannes Cabal, #1)Several months ago, I read The Brothers Cabal (Johannes Cabal #4), and really enjoyed its tantalizing blend of humor and horror. So of course I had to go back to the beginning with Jonathan Howard’s The Necromancer, the first book in his series (of which The Brothers Cabal is most recent) about the dread, slightly dreary necromancer Johannes Cabal.

Brilliant scientist Johannes Cabal was so devoted to his work that he sold his soul to the devil years ago in order to gain greater knowledge of necromancy. Satisfied at his master of the subject, he now decides he’d like to get it back. Journeying deep in hell, he finds the Devil, who is fiendishly amused by the idea and proposes a wager: Johannes has one calendar year to harvest 100 souls for Satan or his own is damned forever. With the help of one of Satan’s traveling carnivals, a crew of zombies and his charmingly persuasive vampire brother, Johannes sets off on his macabre road show, and hopefully his redemption.

I was hopeful after reading this description of an adventure that was alluded to in the fourth book, but the carnival is less fun and more tragic than expected. Among the souls that Johannes tries to collect are distraught mothers, abused women, elderly fathers, and young children. I found Johannes cruel at time and (worse!) dreadfully dull, plus there isn’t nearly enough of my favorite adorable brotherly vampire, Horst. Admittedly, the various odd denizens of Hell are delightful as are the hapless zombie minions, but the human soul of the book is close to nonexistent, except ironically in the undead.

Normally I would never advocate to read a series out of order, as I think you lose a sense of the universe it’s in besides spoiling yourself silly, but for this one I will. The Brothers Cabal was way superior a book to The Necromancer in both plot and entertainment, so skip right on ahead past this sagging story to its quirkier sibling.

3 Stars

Lynne Truss’ Cat Out of Hell

Cat Out of HellI found Lynne Truss’ Cat Out of Hell in the “new releases” section of my library, and laughed at the cover.

I’m not laughing now.

British librarian Alec Charlesworth has lost his beloved wife, his job, and now it seems his sanity. For alone in a seaside cottage, he stumbles across a series of files his former coworker left him, containing interviews between an actor “Wiggy” and Roger, a devilish talking cat. Pulled out of his grief by his curiosity, Alec learns about Roger’s nine lives…and the lives that he and his fellow feline companion The Captain have extinguished along the way to immortality. When Alec realizes his wife was one of the victims, he’s determined to send those cats straight back to hell.

Much like Laline Paull’s The Bees, I began this book with affection towards the titular beasts, but ended it in mild (intense) terror. No joke, I was paranoid for days when walking down the street where the “friendly” neighborhood cats prowl. This book has done more than my relatives’ distaste and teasing to persuade me not to get a cat. On the plus side, there’s an adorable dog named Watson who steals the show, largely by virtue of just being there to not be creepy and to quote Sherlockisms at.

The first half was purely horrific as deaths by pets stack up, but Truss’ turn of phrase invoked the dark British humor that I love and eeked out some chuckles among the squeaks of fear. However, the second half rushes towards the supernatural exit with little explanation as to the how and why of these cats’ existence. The narrator excuses himself and thus the author from narrative cohesion, but if the plot holes aren’t filled, one would almost prefer that it was condensed to a straight-up horror tale that ended with cat world domination instead of the cop-out exorcism and Holmes-at-Reichenbach-Falls finale. Yet despite my irritation at the witticisms over substance, I like Alec was eerily charmed by Roger and his story.

Read it if you want the chills and/or to lose the ability to trust your dear fluffball ever again.

3.5 Stars

Best Books of 2014

Howdy, y’all! I’m feeling warm and happy after migrating down South for the holidays, and much looking forward to the new year 🙂

Goodreads kindly sent me an email summary of the books I’ve read in 2014 – I hit 94! Don’t tell, but I’m going to cheat and round to 100, which sounds more impressive. And I’m nearly at 100 posts too, despite only writing this blog for the latter half of the year. So exciting!

In honor of 2014, here are my favorite reads in each genre with links to my reviews:

Contemporary: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa

Fantasy: The Curse of Chalion (close runners-up: The Emperor’s Blades and The City of Stairs)

Historical Fiction: The Visitors

Horror: Dracula

Mystery: Big Little Lies

Nonfiction: War of the Whales (close runner-up: Dream Team)

YA Contemporary: Great (close runner-up: Love Letters to the Dead)

YA Fantasy: tie between Deep Blue and The Paper Magician

If you haven’t gotten around to these in 2014, I highly recommend all of them for 2015. With fingers crossed for another year of great new books, Happy New Year!!!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

DraculaHalloween is hands-down my favorite holiday. I’m still in mourning for the fact that I have to wait a whole year for it to occur again, so I decided it was about time I read the granddaddy of the vampire trend, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And not going to lie – without even opening the book, I thought about draping garlic wreaths around the house. This cover is too freaky! It perfectly captures the creeping terror of the text.

To begin, solicitor Jonathan Harker voyages deep into the forests of Transylvania to meet with his firm’s client, one Count Dracula. Despite spooky and mysterious incidents along the way, Jonathan isn’t daunted and continues to the castle to assist the Count with the purchase of a London house. Soon though, he realizes he’s trapped there with no hope of escaping alive as Dracula’s undead brides vie for his blood.

Meanwhile, in England, three men via for the heart of Lucy Westenra, whose childhood sleepwalking begins anew inspite of the watchful eye of her best friend Mina, who frets about her fiance Jonathan’s absence. By the time Jonathan, deranged from his experiences, reunites with Mina, a series of troubling instances brew – a ship manned by corpses arrives at Whitby, puncture marks are found on the necks of women and youths, wolves escape from the zoo, and a mental patient raves about his Master’s imminent arrival as he murders and eats animals. Psychologist John Seward calls in his mentor Abraham van Helsing to cure Lucy’s affliction and find out the truth about Dracula.

I loved this book! Told in alternating perspectives by the diaries of Jonathan, Mina, and Seward primarily, Stoker conjures an atmosphere of fear by way of lack of information. Slowly the reader can put all the pieces together with the interspersed newspaper articles and letters, but our protagonists’ struggle to understand their circumstances (e.x. the wolves or the empty vessel or Lucy’s bloodlust) enhances the terror. It’s a technique not all authors pull off well since it’s difficult to make each voice distinct, but Stoker’s dexterity showed why Dracula is a classic.

Moreover, all of the characters are appealing, including the renowned Professor van Helsing, who here is intelligent and passionate but still occasionally outwitted by his ancient rival. Too many amazing of these amazing characters are cut or condensed from film adaptations, among them my favorite adorably chivalrous Texan Quincey P. Morris and the mysterious asylum inmate Renfield. But don’t even get me started on the character assassination in film of Lucy and Mina! They were both such respectable women in the novel, with such a deep, strong friendship that I wanted to be friends with them. However, in the movies, one or both of them is/are turned into a whore. They do spend a lot of time talking about their men and Lucy does have numerous suitors, so I’m unsure if it would pass the Bechdel test, but they are also impressively intelligent and determined even in the face of evil.

Stoker almost helped me overcome my vampire-fatigue…and then I heard Anne Rice was releasing a new book. (Shaking fist) Darn you, Anne Rice, for making vampires the new hot thing! Not that I’ve read it, but I whole-heartedly recommended going back to the original vampire and reading Dracula if you haven’t already or re-reading it if you have.

5 Stars