Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Gothic”

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #91:Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

This is the fourth (and as far, as I know, final) Ashbury/Brookfield novel. It can be read completely independently of the others, but as many of the characters in this book were introduced in previous books in the series, it may be more enjoyable if you’ve read at least Finding Cassie Crazy and/or Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, where several of the characters in this book were first introduced.

Like all the previous novels in this series, the book is entirely epistolary, telling the story of the graduating year of high school at the posh Ashbury high. Two new scholarship students have been accepted to the school, Riley and Amelia, and no one seems to know who they are or where they come from, only that they are a couple, and enigmatic and glamorous doesn’t begin to describe them.

Told through the exam essay accounts of Riley, the girls Emily and Lydia (both introduced in Finding Cassie Crazy), their friend Toby (introduced in Becoming Bindy Mackenzie), various meeting transcripts from the scholarship committee, and the occasional blog entry, we are given the story of how Riley and Amelia arrived at Ashbury, how they at first seemed completely unwilling to engage in anything, but slowly revealed themselves to be brilliant at swimming, various academic subjects, drama and music.

As always, Moriarty captures the voices of the various teenagers brilliantly, as well as those of the adults in the books. I’m truly sorry that this is the last of the books, as I’d grown so very fond of these characters, and would’ve loved to read more about them, and Riley and Amelia, who I only got to spend time with in this book.

Though the cover of the book is bright and pastel-coloured, don’t let it fool you. This is also a Gothic novel, complete with hidden rooms, dark and mysterious pasts, drama, jealousy, deception and manipulation, unhappy love affairs, self-serving plots, and of course, ghosts. The American title of this book is The Ghosts of Ashbury High, and the students writing exam papers all have to write with reference to the Gothic fiction they have read during the term.

As Emily begins her paper: “Lighting struck! There was a howling of wind, as if wolves roamed about, howlingly. Thunder crashed! Lightning struck again. 

 It was the first day of year 12. I had set out that morning with trepidation. I did not, in all honesty, see a crow, a raven, or any other black bird on the way to school that day. And yet! I was trepidatious.”

It therefore fits perfectly into the R.I.P VII challenge, and is probably my favourite of all the books I’ve read for the challenge so far. Highly recommended to everyone.

Cross posted on my blog.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR Review #15 Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

I’ve been reading a lot into the difference between books based on spectacle and those based on subtlety lately. While The Civil War thrives on spectacle and Indian Killer glories in subtlety, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tries to thread the needle between the two. Seth Graham Smith (the man behind Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) has a lot of fun with coupling the dried, academic language of a typical Lincoln biography with the pulse pounding gothic thrills of a vampire rumble. And even I, stodgy old English teacher that I am, had fun with the genre mash-up most of the time.

A lesser known portrait of the great emancipator

My only complaints (and genuinely, they are minor complaints) revolves around the erratic pacing. Much of the time, Smith is content to let the life story of Lincoln slowly unfurl–like a genuine life story–guiding him to motivated (and logical) peaks of axe-wielding fury. But at points he seems bored with Lincoln’s maturation and either adopts an ambivalent tone in his writing or squeezes in a dream-sequence to satisfy those desperate for a little blood and guts.

Still, it’s a fun ride through the 19th century, with the rail splitter, splitting skulls for fun. Smith tries his best but definitely wobbles between spectacle and subtlety. And while some might say that a man like Abraham Lincoln is badass enough not to need an action-star alter ego, I tend to think of it like a chocolate coated chocolate sauce: unnecessary? Yes. Still worth a try? ABSOLUTELY

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #5, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Says…….I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will………

I ‘m addicted to film based on the books of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters.  I was enraptured by the recent Cary Fukunaga version with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. If Jane Eyre  is advertised on PBS Masterpiece Theater  on a Sunday afternoon or I’ve run across it on Netflix, I’ve  watched it.  I am sucker for a period piece of dark Gothic romance.  Strangely enough, I had never read the book, except for an adapted version that I used for a remedial class at work. The adapted version was bland and boring, and I never thought I’d tackle the real Jane Eyre.

I’m rife with confessions in my book reviews and admitted in review #4 that I was a cheapskate.  This miserly behavior led to my download of a free version of the Jane Eyre e-book for my Kindle (and yes, it’s the cheapest Kindle sold!)

The kids, my mom, and I went to the beach for a couple of days for spring break and I brought along the Kindle just so I would have something to do while the kids swam in the still-freezing pool. I decided to tackle Jane Eyre, and I cannot believe I waited so late in life to finally read this novel.

The story focuses  on the title character, Jane Eyre and her growth from a young girl into a woman. Jane is the saddest of girls because she is an orphan forced to live in the care of her aunt– the typical Victorian tale of woe. As trite as this situation may be to the modern reader familiar with Dickens, Charlotte Bronte creates the most heartfelt and broken scenes of Jane’s life and misfortune using the most gorgeous vocabulary I have read voluntarily in a long time.  You may find it antiquated, but it warms my heart to read SAT vocabulary used in elegant prose.

Jane’s story is divided into several acts. The first act focuses on her life with her maternal uncle’s family at Gateshead. Her parents are dead and now so is her uncle and Jane is cared for by Aunt Sarah Reed who treats her like a servant.  Further, the cousins are mean and the male cousin is mentally and physically abusive. “You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us.” — cousin John Reed. 

Whereas many heroines will take the abuse as if they deserve it, Jane rebels and fights back.  She is punished for her refusal to be abused by being locked in the very room where her uncle died. Jane is terrified, but upon her release, she is brutally honest, I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.–Jane Eyre .  

After her aunt  finds a way to rid herself of the orphan, Jane is sent to the Lowood School for Girls, which is exactly as awful as you can imagine.  Here, the girls aren’t always physically abused, but they are barely fed and rarely loved.  However, it’s far better than what she escaped from: I would not now have exchanged Lowood with all its privations, for Gateshead and its daily luxuries–Jane Eyre. Jane also meets Helen Burns and they strike up a friendship.  Even though conditions here are mostly awful, Jane excels in her education spending six years there as a student and two additional years as a teacher. What else is a girl to do but study  and work when she is poor?

The pivotal act of the book for me was when Jane is employed as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where Jane’s only charge shall be the young French girl, Adele Varens.  The house itself is Gothic and foreboding,  All these relics gave…Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine to memory. I liked the hush, the gloom, the quaintness of these retreats in the day; but I by no means coveted a night’s repose on one of those wide and heavy beds: shut in, some of them, with doors of oak; shaded, others, with wrought old-English hangings crusted with thick work, portraying effigies of strange flowers, and stranger birds, and strangest human beings,–all which would have looked strange, indeed, by the pallid gleam of moonlight …

The master of the house is the mysterious Mr. Rochester, the perfectly Byronic hero of the book. He is mad, bad, and dangerous to know—-a man of secrets and moral ambiguity. He had a dark face, with stern features, and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now. Even though he is threatening, there is something about Rochester that intrigues Jane, but she is not the type of heroine to give in to his demands or desires just because he is the man in charge.

Jane is very strong, fierce and independent. Although she was created in a time of  suppression of the female gender, she does attempt to have a fulfilling life on her own terms.  She is a woman before her time and I so wish that Jane Eyre could be valued more in a modern audience, rather than the insipid Bella Swan.  I know all of us wonder, “Why Am I Here? What is my Purpose in Life?” Jane questions her own life and purpose just as much as any of us still do today, but she doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for herself. She makes the best of what she has.

Jane Eyre is in my mind a romance.  There were the moments of swooning (mine and Jane’s), when Jane admits at one point, her true feelings for Rochester, I had not intended to love him: the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me. It may not have the sweeping gestures of a typical modern romance, but Jane does find satisfaction.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #4, The Wolf Gift, by Anne Rice

What Have I Become, My Sweetest Friend………….

There are many of you Cannonball readers who are  “of a certain age” as I am and you quite possibly are die-hard fans of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I’m the first to argue how much better vampire stories were back in my day!  Rice’s vampires were not sparkly navel gazers; they were monstrous devils.  Rice’s Louis lived a tortured life, regretting his weary immortality, but Lestat was preening, deliciously wicked fun.  The Vampire Chronicles were dirty, deviant, mature, and violent–exactly what is missing in today’s vampire stories.

As you may suspect, I read a lot of Anne Rice. I stuck with Rice when she wrote about the  Mayfair witches, too. But, then I got a little older, and I stopped reading Anne Rice.  I am not sure if that is her fault or mine. However, when I read that she was publishing a new book, The Wolf Gift, I thought maybe I should give it a whirl once more. We had so much history together. Wolves are hot right now, too, and I hoped she injected some maturity into the popular lit-trash that has been published recently.

I admit I am the cheapest cheapskate there is. I have a Kindle, but so far I have just the free stuff, like self-published e-books and the classics.  I placed a hold on The Wolf Gift from the local library and waited patiently for my turn.

When I finally had the opportunity to check out the book, I was thoroughly excited. It was fresh and new. I began reading it immediately.  If you read the publisher’s summary, it tells you the book takes place on the coast of Northern California in the present. I felt that Anne Rice’s description of the scenery was vivid and captivating.  The story begins in  a towering mansion on the edge of the Pacific.  I could see it in my mind. So far so good.

The main character, young Reuben Golding,  is a reporter for the San Francisco Observer and he has arrived at the mysterious mansion because it must be sold quickly.  I was excited by all the details that Anne Rice gave to the setting–the redwood forests, the exquisite details of every room in the house, the weather.  I have always enjoyed her writing in that respect. My desire to go to New Orleans was born with her novels and I can say that my interest in northern California is piqued by this book.

As fascinating as the setting was, I had a difficult time envisioning Reuben. I could never get a clear visual on him, based on either my own inability to comprehend or Rice’s lack of giving as much detail to Reuben’s exterior as she did the setting. He was young, rich, and just a little lost. However, his life is changed at the mansion when he is attacked and bitten by some horrible creature.  This bite transforms him into something wholly implausible and incredible.

Once he begins to transform, his life changes. He has a purpose; he becomes something better than he was before that fateful night in the mysterious mansion. Reuben has received a Gift. Why has he received it? Can he use it for the greater good or will it destroy him?

I do not want to spoil the complete story for anyone interested in reading this book. I will finish by saying that it is not as violent an Anne Rice book as I was expecting. There was a positive angle in the book that was refreshing.  Rice created her own rules and mythology for her creations and characters that is familiar yet new.

Anne Rice created a wholly readable and enjoyable new book that will likely be a series of books. Her writing has changed, just as we have, but she is still a captivating storyteller, capable of maturity and spinning a great yarn.

Mrs Smith Reads The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, #CBR4 Review #8


As a teenager my favorite books were Jane Eyre and anything by or like Anya Seton, Daphne DuMaurier or Mary Stewart that I could get my hands on. Gothic themes, orphaned heroines and forbidden love stories were just my cup of tea. The Thirteenth Tale is a story after my teenaged, romantic heart and I enjoyed every minute of reading it.

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