Friday, October 25, 2013

Mr. & Mrs. Darcy: Sleuths

October is a great month for mysteries and magic. Halloween is around the corner, so I want something a little devilish. This month for the Pride and Prejudice Bicentennial Challenge I read Carrie Bebris’s The Intrigue at Highbury, which is actually the fifth book in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series. Although the Darcys allude to other mysteries and happenings in other books, I was not lost while making my way through this one. I wonder if someone who does not know Jane Austen’s original novels would be lost reading these books. Anywho, judgmental me was happily surprised to truly enjoy this mystery.

Elizabeth and Darcy are travelling though Highbury, home of the Knightley’s, when a young girl waves them down on the highway. As Fitzwilliam Darcy is nothing if not a gentleman, he stops to help the lady. While their attention is diverted, however, the Darcy’s belongings are stolen from their carriage. In order to report the crime, they must find the village magistrate, none other than Emma’s Mr. Knightley. Emma and Mr. Knightley are having a terrible night already. Frank Churchill’s uncle died at the Knightley’s dinner party celebrating the newly wed Frank and Jane Churchill. The Knightleys invite the Darcys to stay while matters are taken care of. Soon the clues start blurring between the robbery and the murder and when riddles begin arriving for Mr. Knightley, Darcy and Elizabeth step in to help solve this mystery.

I’m going to have to stop saying I don’t like mysteries because lately the mysteries I’ve read have made me want to keep reading this genre. The action kept moving forward in this book. We met new characters and had to rehash the past, but for the most part, new evidence and clues propelled the reader to continue reading. Also, to continue Emma’s obsession with match making, Miss Bates becomes Emma’s newest target after Mrs. Elton begins trying to set Miss Bates up with an ancient farmer. This plot line was an added bonus to the mystery story and I enjoyed hearing about Emma and her post-marriage habits.

I enjoyed the characters from Emma and Pride and Prejudice mixing together. Emma is an Austen character that gets a bad rap. Although she is snobbish, jealous, and sometimes mean, she has a good heart and means well. In Highbury the audience sees a happily married Emma who is still sharp and wants to help those around her, even if it is obtrusive. I did not feel I got as much out of Elizabeth’s character in this book. She seemed to be in the background throughout the novel, but I did get a better glimpse of Darcy. Darcy is an intelligent, trustworthy investigator whose expertise helps Knightley in solving the crime. Darcy and Knightley also become fast friends, which made me happy. Darcy and Knightley are two of my favorite Austen characters.

Bebris did a marvelous job using information from Emma and adding on to the back story of the Churchills. Although I was pretty sure I knew who the murderer was I still kept second guessing myself and wanting to read more. The mystery made me want to keep reading, but it was not my sole fascination with the novel. Bebris’s character development and the interactions between characters was what really drove me to read. I look forward to reading her other books in the Mr. & Mrs. Darcy series.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Growing up with Ghosts

Neil Gaiman is a master. I feel I should just end this post here, but then I’d be depriving you of my eloquent, inspiring words *sarcasm*. Gaiman is an author who knows how to tell a story, create a world, and leave the audience wanting more. In his children’s book The Graveyard Book, he does not disappoint and the critics agreed, giving the book four awards.

Nobody Owens is not a normal boy. After the death of his family when he was only a baby, Nobody was adopted by ghosts from the graveyard he crawled to on that horrible night. As part of the graveyard family, Nobody, nicknamed Bod, is given asylum and thus supernatural abilities. He can Fade, Dream Walk, and walk through walls along with a number of other abilities. Mr. and Mrs. Owens adopt Bod, but it is Silas who provides for Bod and becomes his mentor. As Bod continues to grow, he learns from the other ghosts, gets into mishaps with ghouls, and begins to integrate with the living. Hanging over his head, however, is the murder of his family and the man Jack who still seeks the boy who got away.

So what’s so special about a boy living in a graveyard, you ask? Ahhh how do I put this? It’s a brilliant reinvention of The Jungle Book with the quarks, twists, and dark humor only Gaiman can produce. Although it is a children’s/ young adult novel, it isn’t a cutesy tryst with ghosts. This is a beautiful coming of age story set in a morbid and fascinating setting. Bod, our main character, is curious, intelligent, and well mannered. Each chapter is a new adventure as Bod continues to grow. He discovers new sections of the graveyard, new friends, and the outside world.

I highly suggest this book to those of you who want a good read with fantasy. Neil Gaiman is wonderful! Give him a read if you haven't already.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Legend of the Hempstocks

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is the author’s most recent book and another brilliant escape into magical realism. After returning to his home town, a man finds his way down to the old farmhouse and pond that he had forgotten existed. Once he gets onto the property, a flood of memories returns, nightmares and miracles that were long forgotten. The Hempstock women live on this farm. When the boy was seven he became friends with Lettie Hempstock, a girl who looks eleven, but is wise and capable beyond her years. One day she took him to the other side of the farm with the orange skies. What was supposed to be a quick trip to quell a problem turned into a nightmare that left the boy marked and unleashed a terrible force on this world and especially the boy’s family.

Gaiman did a marvelous job creating a beautiful story and legend in under 150 pages. The man is a marvel. The Hempstocks, especially Lettie and Old Mrs. Hempstock, are extraordinary characters that made me feel safe within the covers of the book. They’re comforting, friendly, wise, and trustworthy. I wanted to walk into their kitchen and sit down for a meal. The story is rich, but contained. Gaiman didn’t try to overdo the details or explain everything about who or what the Hempstocks are. This left me both satisfied and craving more. I wanted more about the women who police unknown creatures, yet lead an unassuming life. Although I’m happy it wasn’t a Tolkein-esque novel, Gaiman certainly has a story worthy of many more tales.

The author does a beautiful job of representing childhood in his character and throughout the novel. The boy keeps to himself and is a book fiend. Gaiman is a lover of stories and he always has superb portrayals of the impact of books. In this novel, it’s no different. The boy finds his escape, bravery, and ideas about how to be adventurous in his stories. All of the reading the boy does, along with being a child, helps him understand and deal with the world of the Hempstocks and the frightening world beyond the farmhouse.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a book that will stay with you. I enjoyed reading it and hope that Gaiman will write more about the Hempstocks.
[Currently, I’m reading Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and one of the ghosts is a witch with the last name Hempstock…]

If you enjoyed this novel try these others:
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. A boy finds refuge in his books after the loss of his mother, but soon his fairy tale world starts becoming real and mirroring his real life.
  • Touch by Alexi Zentner. Sawgamet is a town filled with legend and superstition. A man reflects on his childhood and the stories his grandfather told him about the magical and mysterious logging town he built.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Two boys must save the souls of the townspeople, when a mysterious man comes to town. Suddenly dark secrets and wishes come to the surface and the boys learn you must be careful what you wish for.