“House of Echoes” by Brendan Duffy

I was pleasantly surprised as to how much I liked this book at the end, since I wasn’t very intrigued┬á at the beginning. The suspenseful thriller started slow, and though it left believable characters, I kept trying to guess when the action would happen, slightly bored and expecting your typical “boogeyman” story. I’m glad I hung in there until the end, however.

Duffy introduces the Tierney family- Ben, Caroline, and their sons Charlie and Robert (Bub for short). After some trying times while living in the city, fate appears to give them a chance to start over , reviving an old mansion in upstate New York into an inn. The couple try to adjust to life in a small village, and attempt to mingle with the locals to gain their support of the mansion renovation. Many are intrigued, but others seems distant, even hostile, in their welcome. Undaunted, the couple press on in their efforts, despite the creepy feeling emitted from the old mansion and surrounding forest. Their son Charlie, however, can’t seem to stay out of the forest, and starts playing a “game” with its unofficial occupant dubbed “the Watcher” until one night when the game goes to far.

While reading the first 250 pages of this book, I was really expecting the stereotypical┬á horror thriller-┬á after all, Duffy had plotted many of the elements. The remote village location, the creepy old house, the “thing” living in the forest nearby, the odd village behaviors… all elements carefully placed to keep you expecting a scare. But Duffy did well on the delivery of the scare, and that was the twist I didn’t see coming. By the 300 page mark, I was flipping through the pages, reading as fast as I could to see what happened next. It was so gripping, but paced out so that not everything was exposed until almost the very end of the book. And then, the very last chapter, Duffy changes the point of view to where you think he’s talking to the reader, and all I could do was shout in my head “Wait, what happened?!”. He’s good, ladies and gentlemen.

Since I don’t want to give anything away that I haven’t already, all I’m going to say is this: If you’re curious, pick up the book and get to reading.

 

 

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“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” by J.K. Rowling

I can only imagine what you are thinking right now after seeing this title. ‘Has she never read this book? Does she live under a rock? Why is has she read the fourth book in a series? More J.K. Rowling?’ Listen- I have read all the HP books, many times. Why the 4th book? Well, I finished the last book review book mid-work day, and my friend (shout out to Sydney!) knew how much I loved the Harry Potter series said she had Goblet of Fire in her bag and why not read it? I’ve had a lot of down time at work (it’s slow season here) and prefer reading to internet surfing, so I took her up on her offer. It’s been a while since I’ve reread the series, and starting with the fourth (although it goes against my OCD grain) novel seemed ok since that’s when the action begins. Not to say that books 1-3 aren’t action packed, but I’m so familiar with the Harry Potter origins and main characters that I didn’t mind skipping reintroductions. And the wonderful thing about J.K. Rowling’s writing is that she excels in plot details, so much so that even after rereading the same novel, the reader still manages to unearth a forgotten element or spot foreshadowing that would only be considered foreshadowing if the reader had completed the series. And, because I don’t think any of my readers live under a rock, it’s impossible to reread the HP novels and not compare them to their corresponding movies. I own both the print and DVD collections, but when I moved to Lexington the DVD’s were a little easier to pack. I’ve had many a Harry Potter DVD marathons, so getting back to the print version made my appreciation for the books even more profound.

So as not to bore you all, I’ll skip giving you the plot on this review. You know it, and if you don’t, you best start with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, and avoid reading this because there is no way to avoid spoilers with such bestsellers. In fact, I’m actually just going to skip to the parts that the movies really missed out on, bits that really help the reader make connections in the series.

First off, how many readers remember Winky the house elf? She isn’t mentioned at all in the entire movie franchise, but she plays a key part in the Goblet of Fire. She serves the Crouch family, and is first introduced at the Quidditch World Cup. Her duties as a house-elf hit a nerve with Hermione, leading her to start S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). Winky was freed from the Crouch family, which to most elves is something to be ashamed of (Dobby is a different story) and eventually ends up working at Hogwarts with Dobby. She is distraught and although she is prompted by Hermione and Dobby to enjoy her new freedom, she refuses to accept that she no longer works and cares for the Crouch family, declaring that will never share their secrets. As the story unfolds, we find out why; Barty Crouch Sr. fulfilled his dying wife’s last wish by freeing his Death Eater son from Azkaban, whom Winky was supposed to be looking after. However, during the World Cup events, she and Barty Crouch Jr. become separated and he returns to the Dark Lord. From there, the plot of getting Harry to the graveyard to return Voldemort to full form is enacted. Barty Jr. becomes ex-auror Alastor Moody via polyjuice potion, and he sets up Harry to win the Triwizard Tournament- or should I say, sets him up to be transported to Voldemort’s rebirth. In the movie, Winky’s involvement isn’t mentioned, leaving viewers to fill in the gap of how Crouch got out of Azkaban and into Hogwarts.

The next thing that caught my attention is Rita Skeeter. She gets mention in the movies, but not to the extent that the book does. There is no mention of her overhearing private conversations, which in turn leads to no mention of her being an unregistered animagus. A lot of doubt about Harry Potter started with her, and really helped relay the extent of the slander that lead to the divide with the Ministry of Magic. This point also leads to another missed connection towards the end of the novel, when Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore are arguing with Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic. Here, McGonagall is confronting Fudge about his allowance of his guard dementor performing the Dementor’s Kiss on Crouch Jr. which destroyed the testimony of the plot that brought Voldemort back. This moment is where we see the division of the support from the Ministry of Magic, and though partly caused by cowardice on Fudge’s account, the other part is caused by doubt brought about by Rita Skeeter’s articles. Another piece left for the audience to figure out in the movies.

Finally, just a few things that I caught myself thinking “Oh, Rowling, very clever!”… First, there is mention of a bezoar in a potion class, where Harry forgot to add it as a key ingredient, which later turns up in “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” in which Harry helps save Ron with one after being poisoned. Then, there’s the story behind Hagrid’s past, with the prejudice about giants, that leads to the “special assignment” from Dumbledore. And the last thing that caught my attention- how often Bill Weasley in mentioned, verses the movie, and how he meets Fleur Delacour. Only the readers would understand how they could have possibly met, as the movie audience is left to assume.

I know how popular this series is, and how the franchise has spread- in fact, back when I was 12, I refused to read the first book because it was so popular…stupid, I know. But when I came to my senses, I can remember how I couldn’t put the books down, and would beg my grandmother to buy the next one for me.  In rereading this book, I’ve remembered why I was so obsessed-the books are magical to the imagination. Rowling creates such a believably unbelievable world that the reader can’t help but be taken with the story.

 

 

 

 

“The Stormchasers” by Jenna Blum

This novel was another quick read, with a fast pace and about 350 pages. It follows Karena on the search for her stormchasing twin brother, Charles, whom she lost touch with 20 years ago. Charles is bipolar, and Karena’s always watched out and cared for him in their childhood. After receiving a phone call about him on their 38th birthday, Karena decides to find him by joining a stormchasing team, knowing that he’d be likely following the same large storms. However, the scary part of Karena’s journey aren’t the tornadoes, but instead facing the past that separated her from her twin.

Without giving too much away, Blum lays out a pretty convincing story in the beginning. Sister loses contact with unstable brother, searches for him, finds romance along the way, and then finds brother. There’s humor and action, and set at a quick pace that keeps the reader turning pages. But the plot twist I didn’t see coming- the story of why the twins had lost contact. There’s a flashback to the incident, and the aftermath that separated the two without much discussion. This aftermath comes to a head in the form of Charles’ manic moments brought on by his bipolar disorder, and this is when Blum lost me. The climax of this story is such a blowout that the remainder just fizzles. Blum tries to tie up loose ends neatly, but it reads as blunt. When she had done so much to spell things out for the reader in the beginning, the ending just seemed abrupt and left the reader to draw conclusions.

Before I finished this book I was really excited to review it, but the ending put a damper on the whole thing. Although I enjoyed quite a few parts of this novel- Charles’ character development, Karena and Kevin’s child naming car game- overall I’d have to say I wouldn’t pull it off the shelf for a reread.

 

“Rolling Stone Interviews” Introduction by Jann S. Wenner

Before I share a little about this compilation, let me share a little about myself. My father loves rock and roll from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and therefore I grew up listening to classic rock and schooled to know “who sings it”. My best guy friend is also a total music fiend, and shares my love of classic rock. So for Christmas, I found a similar compilation of Rolling Stone interviews, (read it before I gave it to him) and had to have one myself. Not only were the interviews about the music, but they were also about the comedians, the writers, the movie stars and directors from those decades. Well, turns out there were three being sold online and I bought them all. I don’t splurge often on buying books- I dream of having a library one day, but realistically I just don’t have the space or funds to support the habit- but when I do, there’s a reason.

These interviews are compilations of Rolling Stone magazine from the late 1960’s all the way to the new millennium. Written by different journalists, each interview manages to delve into the personal thoughts of music legends and era icons. Rolling Stone has the reputation of getting the private moments, the exclusive information, and the raw emotion in it’s interviews, from the most high profile guests. The questions are deeply researched, and the answers open and honest, and written as spoken. It’s an answer to everyone who has wanted to know what it’s like to be a fly on the wall near Lennon, or Jagger, or Springsteen.

For me, these interviews are a way to connect myself to the icons that I grew up with, that my parents grew up with. For any one, they are a way to see what they were like off stage, off TV, out of the limelight. I love reading about their inspiration, the artistry behind their product. And personally, I get a thrill when I can mentally “hear” the interviewee’s diction in their responses. Some of my favorite excerpts: (SPOILER ALERT?)

  • Pete Townshend from The Who, outlining the album Tommy:musically then I want the thing to break out, hand it over to Keith-“this is your scene, man, take it from here.”
  • Oriana Fallaci, on her interview style via this example from a press conference with the moon mission astronauts: ““The question is: Are you scared?” Well, after discussing it with Aldrin and Collins, Neil Armstrong was elected to take the walk. “Well,” he hesitated, “you know, the adrenaline goes up.””Ah, bullsh*t. Say you’re scared!”
  • Joni Mitchell, on happiness: “I feel happy suddenly, I don’t know why. Some days, the way the light strikes things. Or for some beautifully immature reason like finding myself some toast.”
  • Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones, explaining the ingredients that made “Satisfaction” a signature song: “It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at the time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kind of songs.”

If you’re a classic rock fan, a rock and roll fan, a blues fan- this book is for you. If you’re into journalism, and want to see some emotional examples- this book is for you. If you want to see celebrities in a different light, or get into their minds- this book is for you. If you just dig music, or history, or just want some artistic or political inspiration, take this book off the shelf. Obviously, I’d recommend it to everyone.