Wednesday, June 06, 2018

At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft

Written 1931; First published 1936
Kindle edition, 2016; 130 pages

In H.P. Lovecraft's horror novella from 1931, Professor William Dyer, a geologist at Arkham's Miskatonic University, recounts the experiences of his expedition to the Antarctic plateau. The group of scientists and academics were hoping to collect rock and plant specimens from deep within the continent and were at first discouraged to find no evidence of any kind of life in the barren wasteland. The explorers divide into separate groups, and then lose contact with each other.

When Dyer and his companions finally locate the other group, they find the camp devastated with most of the men and sled dogs slaughtered. Then they stumble upon strange fossils of unidentifiable creatures, which lead them further into the unexplored country. Here they find carved stones dating back millions of years, and the ruins of an unknown, lost civilization — incredibly ancient and horrifyingly alien. At last, they come upon a city built by the terrifying "Old Ones" where they face those well-known Lovecraftian "nameless horrors."

The tale is ostensibly told by Professor Dyer, in an attempt to deter a new expedition that's preparing to explore the same part of the Antarctic where his earlier party met disaster; and the very low-key academic prose provides a wonderful contrast with the fantastic happenings it details. It's classic Lovecraft, with mentions of Elder Things, shapeless shoggoths, the Necronomicon, and Edgar Allan Poe. Not great literature, maybe, but these Lovecraft stories have had such a huge influence on later writers and movie-makers — if you enjoy horror or science fiction, they're definitely worth a read. I've had this on my TBR shelf for many years and managed to keep passing it up, even though I've read lots of other Lovecraft works. So glad I finally managed to find time to read it.

I actually read this on my Kindle, but I've also got an old paperback edition with a much more interesting cover:

Rating: ⭑⭑⭑½


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Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter

Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels
by Katherine Anne Porter
First published 1939
Library of America edition, 2014; 150 pages

Katherine Anne Porter apparently disliked the term "novella," and preferred to refer to her brief fiction as short novels (or long stories). And probably none of the three pieces that make up this collection (Old Mortality, Noon Wine, and the title piece, Pale Horse, Pale Rider) would even qualify as novellas today. But for such short works, they pack a very solid punch.

The collection leads off with Old Mortality, set in the early 20th Century American South: Two young sisters (Miranda and Maria) learn the history of their family and especially the story of their Aunt Amy, a flamboyant figure who died young. As the story meanders through time, the girls grow up and find out more about their ancestors and relatives; and, right along with the girls, we learn the story of the family's decline. It's a deceptively simple, and very powerful work.

The second story Noon Wine is, as they say, much anthologized and I'm a little surprised I've never read it before now. It's set on a small dairy farm in South Texas, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and tells the story of the Thompson family and their enigmatic, mysterious hired man. Probably my favorite of the three, it's very different from the other two — darker, and with more of a conventional plot form and some intensely unattractive (though thoroughly human) characters.

In the final piece, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, we catch up with young Miranda from Old Mortality, now all grown up and working as a newspaper drama critic. The story is set at the end of the first World War, during that era's terrible flu epidemic. Through much of the tale, Miranda is dangerously ill with the flu and worrying about Adam, the young soldier she's lately been seeing. It's a story of love and death with an emotionally stirring impact.

This work has been on my TBR list for decades, and I've had the Library of America edition for a couple of years now. It took two reading challenges (Mount TBR and Monthly Key Word) to nudge me into finally reading it — and for that, I'm very grateful. But I'm sorry that I waited so long. Aside from "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," this has been my only experience of Katherine Anne's Porter's work. It definitely won't be my last.

Rating:  ⭑⭑⭑⭑

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Beginnings: The Quest of the Missing Map

The Quest of the Missing Map, by Carolyn Keene. These are the book's first lines:
Chapter 1 - The Haunted House 
Her golden red hair flying in the wind, Nancy Drew ran up the porch steps and opened the front door of her home. 
She could hear Hannah Gruen, the Drews' housekeeper, saying to someone in the living room, "Why don't you tell your mysterious story to Nancy? She's a really clever young detective."

About the Book:
Nancy investigates a small ship cottage at the Chatham estate and discovers a connection between the mysterious occurrences at the cottage and an island where a lost treasure is said to be buried. With one half of a map, Nancy sets out to find a missing twin brother who holds the other half. The mystery becomes dangerous when an assailant hears about the treasure and is determined to push Nancy off the trail. Can she endure this and other grave dangers, and recover in time to solve the mystery? (-summary from Wikipedia)

Initial Thoughts:

I haven't actually decided if I'm going to read this one or not. It's the 19th book in the enormously successful Nancy Drew mystery series. It was first published in 1942 and then went through several reissues (and revisions) over the years. I haven't read Nancy Drew since I was a preteen, but I was looking for a book with a Q/K title/author combination for one of the challenges I'm doing over at Library Thing, and this one popped out at me.

I thought I had read all the early Nancy Drew books, but I don't remember this one. Although that opening could be from any of them: It's such perfect Nancy — her "golden red hair" was always flying in the wind, or shining in the sun, or glittering against her velvety evening cloak.

The cover above is from the original 1942 edition, but I think this is the one I remember, from the late 1950s:

I loved these stories when I was a kid, and this could be a really neat walk down memory lane. Or a huge disappointment. So, to read or not to read? Am I too old for the girl detective?

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.

Monday, May 14, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

OK, middle of May already. Haven't finished any books this month. And I've only posted one review, of one of the books I finished in April:

Time Out of Joint, by Philip K. Dick

This is going to be a busy week for us — lots of stuff to do around the house. But I think I should be able to sneak in a little reading. The book I'm reading now is one of the books I've got on my list for the Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge:

Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter

So far, I'm enjoying this one. It's been on my TBR pile for quite a while now, so it'll qualify for the Mount TBR Challenge, too. And speaking of reading challenges, now that we're approaching midyear, I guess it's time to take a look at how I'm doing in that area. At the moment, I think I'm on track with most of my challenges. And that's definitely a little unusual for me.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. If you want to let the world know what you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Time Out of Joint, by Philip K. Dick

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
240 pages, Kindle edition
First published 1959

In this early Philip K. Dick novel, 46-year-old Ragle Gumm has a perfectly ordinary life, living with his sister Margo and Margo's husband Vincent in a nice quiet, perfectly ordinary community. The only extraordinary thing about Ragle is that he makes his living by winning a daily newspaper contest — the contest is called "Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next?" and Ragle wins it everyday by predicting exactly where this little green person will show up. He has the world's longest-running contest-winning record, and his entire life is devoted to the task.

But lately Ragle has begun having doubts about both those things — his life and the contest. After having some very disturbing hallucinations and a few worrisome encounters, he begins thinking maybe there's more going on than just game-playing. Or maybe someone's just playing a game with him. And when he begins investigating, he comes to believe that there might be a lot more than his reputation resting on his daily win. It's beginning to seem to Ragle that the fate of the world might just be somehow centered on him and his ability to predict the outcome of the daily "Little Green Man" puzzle. But how much of what he imagines is just imagination? And how much is real? Or is any of it real?

Can't say much more about the book because there are twists and surprises I don't want to reveal. Some I saw coming, some caught me completely off guard.

This is the first Philip K. Dick novel I've read, although I think I might have read some of his short fiction back in the 1970s an '80s. I've had this one on my TBR shelf for literally decades, and I'm really glad I finally got around to reading it; for the most part, it was very enjoyable — a little slow in places, but not so slow that I felt like abandoning or skipping ahead to the ending. And it's definitely made me want to read more of his work.

Rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑


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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book Beginnings: The Girls in the Picture

The Girls in the Picture, by Melanie Benjamin (Delacorte Press, January 2018). Opening lines of the book's first chapter:

Frances / 1969

Lately, the line between real life and movies has begun to blur.

About the Book:
It's 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone's lips these days is "flickers" — the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. 
In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing screenplays. She also meets actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have given her the title of America's Sweetheart. The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by the mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution. 
But their ambitions are challenged by men and the limitations imposed on their gender — and their astronomical success comes at a price. As Mary, the world's highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas play out, personalities clash, and even the deepest friendships are tested. 
With cameos from Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, The Girls in the Picture perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era — its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak. (description from publisher)

Initial Thoughts:

This is yet one more of those Early Reviewer books from Library Thing that I've been neglecting over the last couple of months. I had hoped to get this one read and reviewed back around the beginning of the year, but got a little sidetracked by a bunch of other books. (I seem to have that problem a lot these days.)

Anyway, I'm not really sure what it was that first attracted me to this book. I don't generally read historical novels about movie stars, but I'm very interested in the period of the novel. And Frances Marion co-authored the screenplay of one of my favorite classic films, Dinner at Eight. So I'm looking forward to getting started on this one pretty quick.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Beginnings: The Cottingley Secret

The Cottingley Secret, by Hazel Gaynor (William Morrow, 2017). First lines of the book's Prologue:
Cottingley, Yorkshire. August 1921.
Fairies will not be rushed. I know this now; know I must be patient.
Hmmm. Okay. And these are the first lines of Chapter One:
Ireland. Present day.
Olivia Kavanagh didn't believe in happy endings. Life hadn't worked out that way for her so far.
These quotes are from an ARC of the book, so please note that they might be slightly different in the published edition.

About the Book:
[The Cottingley Secret] turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

Initial Thoughts:

Well, my main thought on this one is that I'm really embarrassed about it. It was an Early Reviewer book from Library Thing and I've had it for months now. I just forgot I had it, and it got...sidelined. So now I'm trying to finish it up quickly and do my (very late) review.

My second thought is that I'm not generally a fan of books about fairies. But this episode has always interested me, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Gaynor handles the tale.

And here's one of the actual photos taken by the real Elsie Wright in 1917 (via Wikipedia's USA public domain photo files):

Photo by Elsie Wright (1917)

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.