Tag Archives: Ghosts

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

“A bighearted gothic novel, an intergenerational mystery, a story of heartbreak, and romance, all crammed into one grand Midwestern estate.”Los Angeles Times

100yrhouse

 

The Hundred-Year House is a great sweeping saga about the Devohr family, and the seat of all their dysfunction, Laurelfield. Once a burgeoning artists’ colony in the 1920’s, frequented by luminaries of the time, the backdrop for inspiration, romance, violence and mystery; now sits decaying and forgotten.

Rebecca Makkai hints at the family’s haunting past with the first sentences:

“For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming. She had lived, she was unhappy, and she died by her own hand somewhere in that vast house.”

Mayhem and mystery unravel over three generations of Devohr women as the house and its provenance looms over their lives and ultimately their happiness. Zee is Violet’s great-granddaughter, a Marxist scholar who is embarrassed by her family, and Grace, Zee’s mother and Violet’s daughter, and the current owner of Laurelfield. Both women grapple with trying to define their place, and their identity apart from the grim history of the family estate.

Makkai chronicles the life cycle of the house into four pivotal years: 1999, 1955, 1929 and 1900. With each year we are given a peek into the lives of one of the Devohr women. In 1999, Zee and her husband Doug move into the carriage house on the property while he works on book about Edwin Parfitt, a poet who may or may not have stayed at Laurelfield while it was an artists colony. In 1955, Grace is a newly married woman to a man her family despises, but she loves him despite this. Grace has taken refuge from her family’s disapproval and her husband’s temper in the attic of Laurelfield, the place where her grandmother took her life. While living there, the house and the grounds become a sanctuary for her but in reality it is a crumbling vestige of its former self. In 1929, shortly after the stock market crashes, Laurelfield is struggling to remain relevant as an arts colony. The staff and resident artists, including Edwin Parfitt, are desperate to convince Gamby Devohr (Violet’s son) that the estate is still profitable. And finally in 1900, when Augustus Devohr buys the land on which he will build his family estate or as his wife saw “it as a prison in the wilderness”, the story’s turbulent beginning is revealed.

In a mere 338 pages, The Hundred Year House, is at its’ core a story about a family whose history is colorful, ugly and full of secrets. It is an engaging novel that warrants a second read.

Formats Available: Book (Regular Type, Large Type)

Reviewed by Carolyn, Crescent Hill Branch

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves

thinaircleevesThe Shetland Islands, the northernmost fragments of Scotland, are so far out into the North Sea they are often pictured as an inset on maps of the United Kingdom.  Windy, treeless protrusions of earth where the sun hardly sets in the summer and barely rises in the winter, they are the atmospheric setting for Ann CleevesShetland Islands mystery series.

In Thin  Air, the sixth installment of the series, Detective Jimmy Perez is called to the island of Unst, the the most northern island of the Shetlands, to investigate the murder of Eleanor Longstaff,  She was one of a group of mainlanders visiting the islands for a hamefarin’, a traditional Shetland wedding celebration, for one of their friends. Lowrey, who grew up on the island but went to college in England, has just married Caroline.  Eleanor and Polly are bridesmaids, attending the hamefarin’ with Eleanor’s husband Ian and Polly’s boyfriend Marcus.ravenblackcleeves

Cleeves uses details of the culture and history of the islands that have grown up from the isolation and geography of the islands as springboards for many of the stories in her series.  Jimmy Perez, her most consistent character, claims to derive his Spanish heritage from a sailor shipwrecked way off course from the Spanish Armada of the sixteenth century.  Perhaps the most dramatic is her first novel, Raven Black, which culminates on the night of Up Helly Aa, a fire festival held in coldest January that celebrates the islands’ Viking heritage, complete with a parade of a Viking re-enactors and the burning of a replica Viking longship.

uphellyah

(Image courtesy of Shetland.org: http://www.shetland.org/things/events/culture-heritage/up-helly-aa)

Cleeves portrays the islands both traditional and modern, a landscape that draws artists, tourists and other mainlanders.  One story features a fiddler who is becoming known worldwide for popularizing the islands’ traditional music.   The tension between these two groups, those who perpetuate the old way of life, living in their croft houses and farming neeps (turnips), and those who arrive to create art and exploit the islands’ old ways, often lead to the violent feelings that fuel murder mysteries.

In Thin Air, we learn the legend of Peerie Lizzie, a 10-year-old daughter of the rich family who drowned almost 100 years before the story takes place, supposedly because her nanny wasn’t watching her.  In her white dress and Sunday curls, Peerie Lizzie has appeared to people throughout the years, her appearance gaining the reputation of presaging a pregnancy.  Ironically the victim, Eleanor, who is recovering from a miscarriage, and her friend Polly, the other bridesmaid, both see a little girl who fits this description the day of the hamefarin’.  Eleanor wanders off during the night and her body is found posed on the beach the next day.

Detectives Perez and Willow Reeves explore the complex relationships among the participants in the hamefarin’ – both the wedding guests and the islanders, mostly Lowrey’s family, but also the couple who’ve bought the house where Peerie Lizzie lived and have converted it to a Bed and Breakfast.  Perez takes a trip to London to explore Eleanor’s family and life.

Perez shifts points of view, sometimes taking us inside the mind of Jimmy Perez or Willow Reeves, but most often she focuses on Polly, whose insecurity in her relationships with her female friends and her boyfriend possibly distort her reality. And it’s Polly who ends up in danger from the killer as the story races to a close.

Circumstances, culture, environment, personality, folklore, finances – all figure into the intricate mystery current day mystery and mystery of Peerie Lizzie’s death, which Perez and Reeves unravel in time to save Polly at the climactic ending.

Finishing an Ann Cleeves Shetlands Islands mystery always has me checking airfares for the Shetlands so I can experience this fascinating set of islands for myself.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Ann Cleeves’ website for more information about the Shetland Islands, the author, and her other series!

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), Downloadable Audiobook

Reviewed by Laura, Main Library

The Diviners by Libba Bray

thedivinersJust finished The Diviners today and it is definitely a compelling story set in an interesting time period – the Roaring Twenties.  And it is about fascinating (though occasionally disgusting) paranormal events. But I hate to say it, the book just isn’t as good as it should be.

The Diviners’ diminished impact stems primarily from stretches where the research was so good that Libba Bray couldn’t resist putting in all of her discoveries. The result is a novel which clocks in at almost 600 pages, a good number of which are non-essential to moving along an otherwise thrilling tale.

There are also odd descriptive elements – such as an anthropomorphic wind – that are convenient for linking scenes but do not really add much to the tale. Granted, it may be that the wind takes on a much more important role in the second book, Lair of Dreams, as varied dark forces rise across the land, but I doubt it.

Yet that’s not to say that this is a bad book, not at all.

In fact, the overall structure of the book is solid and the tale is a complete one but which also leaves room for further adventures of its ensemble cast. Further, Bray always delivers on witty dialogue and surprisingly complex emotional motivations for characters that would be flat and cookie-cutter in the hands of a lesser writer.

Take the emotional center, the vivacious Evie O’Neill, formerly of Zenith, Ohio, who has come to Manhattan to live with her Uncle Will. She is the quintessential teenager coming of age in the Jazz Age, all brashness and go, go, go attitude. Evie could have easily been a shell of a person, much as Daisy Buchanan was in The Great Gatsby, but ends up being much braver and tender-hearted than the flapper persona she works so hard at creating. Through her lens, this tale of ghosts and murders feels like an adventure closer to the action pulps of the day rather than a horror tale of the Lovecraftian persuasion it could have been.

lairofdreamsAlso, there is a good deal of mystery surrounding Evie’s Uncle Will and his connection to Sister Margaret Walker, industrialist Jake Marlowe, and con-man Sam Lloyd through a mysterious Project Daedalus. Just enough about the Project is leaked along the way by another character, Jericho Jones, so that one ends up naturally anticipating the unfolding backstory of these characters. Rarely does a series of this nature (horror bordering on paranormal fantasy) get a reader excited about the next installment unless the original plot is unfinished or there is a heavy romance angle left unresolved.

 

Bray also has a fun promotional website for this series at NOVL: http://thenovl.com/thedivinersseries

In Defense of Comics, pt. 2: Take the Challenge!

In a previous article, In Defense of Comics, I closed with a challenge to those who do not normally read comics to try one out.  Of course, picking a title to get started on can be difficult for the novice.  But as I was working up a best of list for this year’s graphic novels, it struck me that this could be a perfect opportunity to assist the those who would like to take me up on that challenge.

The list below comprises some of my favorite comics which I read in the past year (whether or not they were published in 2014).  There are twelve titles in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.  Many of the titles are ongoing series so I have just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume.  I have separately given both the author and main artist for each title (except for those titles where the author and the artist are the same person). 

To make it easier still, all of these works can be checked out from LFPL.  You can click the title and it will take you to the item’s record in our catalog.  If it is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry). 

I suggest that one volume (or series) be read each month in 2015 so that you can become comfortable with the medium.  Notice I said medium not genre.  The works below span several genres – and only two can be said to be of the superhero genre – but they are all clearly using the comic medium.

So, here goes:

Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

bandette

Bandette is a teenaged thief but she’s the most stylish and fun thief you’ll ever meet.  Watch as she defies both the police and the criminal underworld with her wits and panache in this giddy adventure appropriate for children but charming enough to capture adult hearts.  Line art by Colleen Coover is in the Franco-Belgian style and colors are applied in a painterly manner harking back to America’s (then-contemporary) view of Paris in the late 1950’s or 60’s.

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

battlingboy

Son of a fierce warrior god, Battling Boy comes to Earth for his initiation rites.  He lands in Acropolis as it is menaced by a series of monsters and quickly becomes its latest hero (now that the city’s former defender, vigilante Haggard West, has recently died).   Paul Pope, both author and artist, brings his edgy punk rock style to this tale that will appeal to superhero, fantasy, and manga fans alike.

Fatale by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

fatalebrubaker

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their award-winning approach to this tale of crime noir (of course) mixed with horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft.  The book’s title gets its name from the main character, femme fatale Jo, who is stalked across the 20th Century by an ancient evil power.  The art is perfectly pulpy and creepy as befits a tale filled with crooked cops, Nazi spies, Satanic cults, snuff films, and other dark matter.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

ghostopolis

Ghostopolis is a boy’s adventure tale.  The protagonist, Garth Hale, is accidentally zapped to the spirit world by failing ghost hunter, Frank Gallows.  In the spirit world, Garth meets his grandfather’s ghost, Cecil, and the two go on a quest to find a way back home for Garth.  Along the way, the evil ruler of Ghostopolis tries to take control of our hero as Garth has manifested powers that the spirits do not have.  TenNapel‘s art is energetic and the page layouts are well-designed to keep the reader engaged in the story and ready to flip to the next page.

The Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault

grandduke

The Grand Duke, gorgeously rendered by Romain Hugault, is a non-fiction tale set in the waning days of World War II.  It centers around a unit of the Luftwaffe and the Night Witches, a real life women’s air corps that flew for the Soviet Union, as they battle it out in the skies over Eastern Europe.  Despite knowing how history turns out, the author keeps the reader engrossed as both sides raggedly pursue war’s end against great material odds and low morale.

Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter & Christine Norrie

hopelessavages

The perils of punk rock parenting in suburbia with romance, intrigue, and reality TV are explored in this quirky, hip collection of tales.  Due  to the number of artists that have worked on the series over the years, there is no one style that dominates other than it’s all in black and white.  

Lazarus by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

lazaruckas
Lazarus is a dystopian tale set in the near enough future that it sometimes feels scary, as if all that it would take for the events in the story to happen is a few bad years where government breaks down and corporations step into the void.  Lazarus’ main character, Forever Carlyle, is her family’s main protector and enforcer of the harsh set of formal and informal rules that keep them in power.  While in many ways a stereotypical strong female protagonist, Forever comes across as very real.  Rucka deftly shows us how her contradictions and weaknesses form Forever’s motivations.  Michael Lark‘s art combines science fiction and crime elements in a perfect blend with colorist Santiago Arcas‘ subtle use of shade and tone.

Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe & Tyler Jenkins

peterpanzerfaust
Peter Panzerfaust is a retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic story.  The setting is World War II and the charismatic Peter helps a band of orphans survive the German invasion of France.  Soon the group is pursued by an SS officer that Peter wounded in their escape but they are also given assistance by members of the French Resistance, including the alluring Tiger Lily.  Tyler Jenkins manages to blend fantasy art and combat action art into a style akin to noir but which is much more lively and fantastic in tone.  His composition moves the story along effortlessly, shifting from standard panels to open space with ease.

Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra

scalped

Scalped is a dark crime noir story that takes place mostly on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the deeply impoverished Oglala Nation (also known as the Lakota).  This is a sordid environment where the very worst in people is explored during an undercover assignment taken on by the reservation’s own prodigal son, F.B.I. Special Agent Dashiell Bad Horse.  Readers are witness to harrowing drug and alcohol addiction, ultraviolence, and spiritual desolation as Bad Horse attempts to bring to justice the reservation’s Chief Lincoln Red Crow, a former Native American radical now turned mob boss.  Grim and dirty – even ugly at times – art by R.M.  Guéra helps convey the sense that the world the characters live in is terribly damaged.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

superiorfoes

Spider-Man is one of the quintessential characters that people think of when they think of superheroes. However, this is not your quintessential superhero book. In fact, neither Spider-Man nor any other superhero appear in the tale much at all. No, this is character-driven book that looks at the other side of the equation, what it would be like to be a supervillain.  Much like another recent Marvel title, Hawkeye, this comic rests on a sturdy foundation of humor and rough art to convey the working class nature of its characters (i.e., the Sinister Six) as they clumsily attempt to carry off a variety of criminal jobs.

Thief of Thieves by Robert Kirkman & various artists

thiefothieves

This is a straight up heist tale about a veteran thief working a last big score with his crew, the comic equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven. One twist is that this veteran, Redmond, is not just working for himself but to save the life of his wannabe yet ne’er-do-well son, Augustus, from a major crime boss to whom Augustus is heavily indebted. The art varies (as different artists were utilized over the run of the series so far) but as a whole, it is a mix of noir and mainstream comic styles that are appropriately gritty.

Watson and Holmes by Brandon Perlow & Paul Mendoza

watsonandholmes

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson together again!  Sort of.  This time, they are a pair of African-Americans who investigate crimes in New York City.  The art is not easy to pigeonhole into one genre though the use of color and setting do clearly give it the feel of a mystery.  Everyone from Doyle‘s classic tales, from Inspector Lestrade to Sherlock’s Irregulars, makes an appearance at some point as the duo are embroiled in a case that involves drugs, gangs, and guns.

Reviews by Tony, Main Library


If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join us at one of the following LFPL book discussion groups:

Graphic Novel Discussion Group @ Main

Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Graphic Novel and Comic Book Discussion @ Fairdale

Meetings are held at the Fairdale Branch on the first Tuesday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.