Thursday, November 6, 2008

Scary Books

I know you're thinking, heidenkind, why didn't you do a list of scary books near Halloween when it would have been timelier and seasonally appropriate? Well, first of all, I got the idea from Babbling About Books, which I didn't read until the day of Halloween. And second of all, I don't read much scary fiction. It's not that I have anything against scary books; but I do have a mild obsession with romances, and it's hard to find scary books with romance in them. So it took me a while to come up with my picks.

In any event, better late than never, here they are:

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas is a fry-cook in Pico Mundo, a small desert town in California. Odd can only handle relatively simple jobs like line-order cooking because his true full-time occupation in communing with the dead. Although Odd makes a habit of catching killers, here he finds himself facing something truly evil. This book was a strange combination of charming and terrifying. Charming because of the main charactersOdd, Stormy, Ozzie and Chesterand the small town they live in; terrifying because of the pervading sense of doom that builds during the course of the book and Odd's unique vision of it. Despite the fact that Odd can see dead people, he knows from personal experience that what's truly terrifying is the evil humans visit upon one another, not supernatural beings.

Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop

The Blood is a race of magic-users who rule the fantasy world of Bishop's books. Typically, men and women rule together; but tradition has been corrupted and twisted so that men serve as slaves to one powerful witch who wishes to rule the entire world. Children with powerful magical gifts are killed or crippled early so that they won't pose a threat to the witch's power. The only members of the Blood who could possibly challenge her are Daemon and Lucivar, the last surviving sons of Saetan, whose destinies were foretold to be tied up with the most powerful witch ever born, the only woman who will be able to take down the corrupt system of Blood and restore order to the kingdoms. They've waited for her for over 400 years; but once they finally find her, will they be able to keep her safe? This book goes to some pretty dark places; that's obvious from the first page. But it wasn't until the end that it becomes truly scary—and again, it's because of a building sense of evil in the book and the cruelty humans inflict on one another.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Have I mentioned I don't like serial killers? Serial killers bad. I found this book extremely disturbing, especially because it brings home just how random violence can be. There you are, sleeping in your ranch house out in the middle of nowheres, prairieville, and suddenly two men can break into your house and kill you and your entire family. Like, holy crap. I also learned from this book that bringing killers to justice doesn't do anything to make the friends and family left behind after a murder feel better, and that the death penalty is bull shit.

Still Life With Murder by P. B. Ryan

This isn't a scary book per se. But it is extremely dark and disturbing. The setting is post-Bellum Boston, and Nell Sweeney is governess for a Brahmin family who is asked to look after her mistress' wayward son. Said wayward son is 1. a Civil War vet who survived Andersonville and watched his brother die there (flashbacks, anyone?), 2. an inveterate gambler, and 3. an opium fiend, among other things. The scene where Nell watches him go through the ritual of smoking opium is emblazoned on my mind forever.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Note to Sylvia Plath: I don't want to follow where your sad, twisted mind is going. Nope, I sure as hell don't.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Lord and Spymaster

I totally loved this book! It wasn't so much a romance as an adventure story set in 19th-century London, with just the right amount of romance thrown in to the mix.

The main character is Jessamyn Whitby, a young woman who had led an interesting life, including spying, pick pocketing, and running her father's borderline-respectable business. But now her father has been accused of being Cinq, an English traitor selling secrets to Revolutionary France. Determined to prove her father is innocent, Jess has compiled a list of all the people Cinq could possibly be, and intends to investigate them by breaking into their offices and picking their pockets.

Jess' plans go awry, however, when she's set upon by Irish brigands while picking her first victim's pocket—Sebastien Kennet. Kennet is the head of his own large shipping firm and the bastard son of a peer. He's also the only member of his family with any money, which means his entire family, aunt, uncle, and cousins, all live with him in his huge mansion in Mayfair. What they and Jess don't know is that Sebastien is also an agent for the British Service and the man who put Jess' father in jail and intends to see him hang for the crimes of Cinq.

Almost as soon as Sebastien sees Jess, he falls in love with her. But when he discovers Jess was picking his pocket in order to prove he's Cinq, he's kinda pissed.

Meanwhile, Jess has bigger things to worry about. In order to get the information she needs to free her father, she has to descend into the criminal underworld that was once her old haunt, risking her life in the process.

Sebastien is a great character, but Jess is really the heart of the book, and she's awesome. She's very much like Lyra Belacqua from The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. They're both blonde (superficial, I know, but the similarities get stronger), they both have companion ferrets that help them on their adventure, they're both obsessed with the north, and they both have exactly the type of brazen and precocious-bordering-on-obnoxious personality that would make you believe they have wherewithal to do extraordinarily brave and stupid things. Jess' pet ferret, just like Lyra's, symbolizes her cunning personality, something that's allowed her to survive on her own on the streets of London and rise to the top of its largest crime syndicate; then turn around and run one of England's largest shipping firms.

Aside from the characters—all of whom were well-drawn and pitch-perfect—the historical research was in-depth and spot-on. I love the feeling of reading a book and being transported into another world, whether that world is historical, fantastical, or contemporary, and My Lord and Spymaster definitely delivered in that respect. Once again, I learned something from a historical romance, this time about tea. Jessamyn and her father lived for quite a while in Russia, and she loves Russian tea because, unlike other teas, it's roasted like coffee. Coincidentally, I just happened to have some Russian tea on hand to try. I personally didn't detect any obvious difference in flavor, but then I don't drink a lot of Assam (which was why that tea was still in the cabinet). Anyway, I learned something. Yay!

This is really a great book. Again, it's not so much a romance as it is an adventure story, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys that kind of book. Especially if you like The Golden Compass, I think you should pick this book up.


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