Tag Archives: 1960-1969

Rosemary’s Baby

rosemary's babyAuthor: Ira Levin

My rating: 4 of 5

Life is glowing with promise for young couple Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse. Guy’s just waiting for his big break to launch his acting career. Rosemary is excited by the prospect of making a home and someday soon having a baby. And the both of them are thrilled at the opportunity to move into the exclusive Bramford apartment building. Rosemary’s friend and mentor Hutch, however, isn’t so excited when he hears they are moving there, citing numerous stories of strange, dark happenings in the building. Rosemary and Guy aren’t about to be put off by some stories, though, especially not after Guy hits it off so well with the neighbors. But as time goes on, those neighbors and various occurrences begin to seem more and more off . . . especially after Rosemary becomes pregnant.

Rosemary’s Baby is something of a classic horror novel–and I’m exceedingly glad that I knew that going in, or I would have been very confused. Because at first, it reads like period-typical literary fiction: young couple settling in, starting a career, making friends, that sort of thing. It’s only as you get further into the story that the atmosphere becomes more tense and the signs that something’s very, very wrong begin to show up more and more frequently and obviously. And it’s only in the climax of the last chapter or so that you get a truly apparent horror vibe, although it’s been building for a long time before you actually get there. Rather than being some intense, jump-scare filled thriller, Levin gives us a gradual build of tension with plenty of hints that (if you know what you’re looking at) point rather clearly to occult, dark influences. I would actually recommend reading the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition prior to reading the story if you get a chance, because David Morrell does a great job of pointing out some of the concepts to be looking for and points out the way the story’s focus changes from a very outside, dispassionate observation to a very narrow, emotional view from Rosemary’s perspective as the story develops–all of which add a lot to the horror aspect. On the negative side, this was written in the 1960’s, so there’s a certain amount of period-typical racism (and kind of sexism) that’s present . . . not in a way that’s central to the story, but still. But on the whole, this was an enjoyable read that I would recommend for those who enjoy a slow-build, atmospheric sort of horror.

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Finders Keepers

finders-keepersAuthor: Stephen King

Bill Hodges Trilogy, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

In his obsession with the writings of reclusive author John Rothstein (whom he considers a sell out), Morris Bellamy devises a plan to break into the old man’s house and exact his revenge. There’s also the tantalizing rumor that Rothstein has been writing in private and has volumes of unreleased work hidden somewhere in his home. Morris’s plan works, and he gets away clean, burying dozens of Moleskine notebooks full of Rothstein’s writing as well as several thousand dollars in cash that Rothstein also kept in his safe . . . only to find himself imprisoned for life on other charges before he gets to read a single one of those notebooks. Decades later, thirteen-year-old Pete Saubers finds Morris’s buried treasure by accident. And who could fault a kid for secretly passing the money along to his struggling parents, bit by bit–or for obsessively reading the Rothstein notebooks, fueling an already burning passion for literature. But things get messy when Morris is released from prison and comes looking for what he buried (what he killed for) so long ago.

I have found every Stephen King book I’ve read so far to be quite enjoyable, including Finders Keepers. Having said that, I think King does his best work when there’s something paranormal involved. This book is more of a crime thriller, and while it’s still quite excellent, it’s not his best in my personal opinion. I should note that this is the middle volume of a loosely connected trilogy (preceded by Mr. Mercedes and followed by End of Watch), but it’s entirely possible to read it independently (I did) without missing much; all the background you really need is worked into the plot. I thought the characters were solid enough, although I never strongly connected with any of them–Pete and Holly were probably the closest I came, but even they weren’t particularly immediate to me. The plot was fairly interesting though, all of the seemingly disconnected pieces fitting together like a puzzle. As far as the pacing goes, this is a fairly slow-burn thriller, if that makes any sense at all. There’s definitely action, suspense, and intensity, but as far as the story chronology goes, it takes decades to build, and for the reader, it takes place over several hundred pages. I wouldn’t plan to read the whole thing through in one night, that’s all.  It never got boring or stalled out though, at least not for me. Fair warning that, since one of the characters is a murderer and a convict, this book has more than its fair share of violence and language, so don’t come complaining to me if it’s shocking. Just saying. One of the most fascinating aspects of Finders Keepers for me was the obsession the characters had with Rothstein’s story; that’s something I can sort of relate to, and it’s also a good warning. I think most of us can agree that Bellamy is just stark raving mad, completely losing sight of the boundaries between fiction and reality. The greater warning is Pete’s story, that fine wavering of those boundaries that we can explain away logically while still doing nutty things to feed our obsessions, losing sight of what’s really important–like the people we care about. In any case, although it’s not my favorite of King’s books, I still think Finders Keepers is a good read, especially for those who enjoy the crime genre.

 

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Heart of the Dragon

Author: Keith R. A. DeCandidoheart-of-the-dragon

Supernatural books, vol. 4

My rating: 4 of 5

SPOILER ALERT: The events in this book take place after season 5, episode 8, so there are likely to be spoilers for any episodes prior to that. Plus, knowledge of events leading up to that point will be very helpful in knowing what’s going on in this book.

In 1859, an honorable ronin, known as “Heart of the Dragon” for his brave feats, is defeated by a far-sighted demon and turned into a vengeful spirit, one that may one day be of great use to the forces of darkness during the apocalypse. Years later, a young descendant of this ronin discovers how to bring this spirit back and bend its will to his own petty vengeances. The rash of mysterious (and obviously supernatural) deaths that follow become a plague to three generations of Campbells and Winchesters as the spirit returns once every 20 years.

My experience with media tie-in novels has been extremely patchy, with some being little better than poorly-researched fanfiction (minus the fandom) and others actually being great stories in their own right. I thing Heart of the Dragon is a surprisingly good story . . . if you love the TV series and know what’s going on. And I do have to say, watching the show up to season 5, episode 8, is basically essential to really get much out of this book. But within that context, I was actually really impressed and enjoyed this book quite a lot. I felt like DeCandido got a much better feel for who the characters are than he did in his previous novel Nevermore (which didn’t really impress me). The characters don’t just have a few phrases or stereotypical elements that typify them; they act and talk more like I expect Sam and Dean and the rest to act and talk on-screen. Plus, I thought the plot was interesting. I’ve heard people complaining that there’s just too much going on or that only a small portion of the story actually focused on Sam and Dean. True on both counts, but I enjoyed having a story that spanned from Mary and her parents to John and Bobby to Sam, Dean, and Castiel. Plus, the author did a great job of bringing in authentic period detail in relatively subtle ways to help keep the time jumps distinct. My biggest complaints are probably just me being snobby, honestly; for instance, the author uses “Cass” instead of “Cas” for Castiel’s nickname–he claim’s it’s what’s officially in the scripts, but I’ve never seen that actually used anywhere. Why would you even? But truly, I really enjoyed Heart of the Dragon for both its great characterizations and its interesting plot . . . but mostly for the characters.

 

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson/Translator: Rod Bradburythe-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared

My rating: 4 of 5

On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home with a big party planned in his honor. If only they had deigned to ask what he wanted! Allan would much rather have a bottle of vodka to enjoy–something that is, in fact, forbidden in the home. In that case, it’s time to stop sitting around. Allan climbs out the window of his room and embarks on quite the adventure, one including murder and elephants and, of course, vodka. Not that it will be the first adventure of his long life.

I first discovered The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared through a review by Paul@The Galaxial Word (which you should check out; it’s excellent). It seems that this is a book which inspires rather polarized opinions in either direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I think you have to come at it with the right expectations. Because this book is, essentially, an extended tall tale, a larger than life story that’s meant to be fun and funny but that can’t be taken too seriously. The humor is rather dark, I must warn; there’s some violence (actually, quite a bit) scattered throughout the story as well. I found that, while I didn’t exactly like the characters, they were interesting and they all contributed to the story. As for the plot, it’s a fascinating blend. Half of the time, you get a present-day romp through contemporary Sweden with this old man and the people he picks up along the way sending the police and the papers on a merry chase. The other half, scattered between the present-day chapters, is a historical progression through Karlsson’s long and storied life. It shows his intimate involvement–brought about by his coincidental presence in most circumstances–in numerous high-profile situations throughout the years. Obviously, such involvement is highly improbable and historically unlikely (a common complaint that I’ve heard). Duh. It’s a tall tale; it’s meant to be improbable and unlikely. I did enjoy the close-up walkthrough of those historical events though. I guess what I’m getting at is that, while it’s not for everyone, I personally found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to be enjoyable, and I’m planning to check out others of the author’s books (which all seem to be just as ridiculously titled!).

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M Is for Magic

Author: Neil Gaimanm is for magic

Illustrator: Teddy Kristiansen

My rating: 4.5 of 5

A hard-boiled detective investigates the legendary case of Humpty Dumpty’s murder. A boy wanders off along the railroad tracks and has a close encounter with a troll under a bridge. Another boy finds himself at the wrong party, where the guests talk about the strangest things. An intergalactic scam artist tells the tale of one of his greatest cons. And a group of jaded epicureans bemoan that there’s nothing new for them to taste . . . until one of their members mentions the legendary Sunbird. In other words, pure literary magic.

In the spirit of Ray Bradbury’s classic children’s book R Is for Rocket, Neil Gaiman pulls together a collection of his short stories that seem well suited to a younger audience, and publishes them together in one neat volume, M Is for Magic. I love it. These tales are some of Gaiman’s best short stories, whatever the age of the reader. They evoke the things I love best of his writing–the wit, the magic, the amazing literary style that is both captivating and easy to read. One thing I found unique about this collection (as compared with his adult short-story collections) is the picture it gives of growing up in the sixties. Probably an unexpected but natural result of most of the stories being written in respect to the author’s own childhood, but there’s an authenticity to the feel of that era as demonstrated in these stories that’s really neat to read. I do have to warn: while a more child-friendly collection than his others, there are still a few things in these stories that might be a bit old for some children. Generally speaking, I’d say this collection would be best for a 12 and up audience. Whether you’re looking for a fun fantasy/sci-fi short story collection for a kid you know or you’re interested for yourself, I think M Is for Magic is a choice that’s, well, magical.

 

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Escape to Witch Mountain

Author: Alexander Key

Illustrator: Leon B. Wisdom, Jr.

From the time they were left as orphans with Mrs. Malone, Tony and Tia have been aware of how different they are; from their appearance to their strange abilities, they are distinctly unlike anyone else around. And while Mrs. Malone seemed to get around their oddness (by simply ignoring it, mostly), the people at the group home they are sent to after their guardian’s death don’t adapt particularly well to things outside their ken . . . which naturally leads to bullying. And just when the two siblings are feeling too miserable to bear, a man shows up claiming to be their long-lost uncle. Too good to be true?

Escape to Witch Mountain is a charming, thrilling story in an old-fashioned sort of way. Tony, Tia, and Father O’Day (a kindly priest who helps the beleaguered siblings) are all wonderful characters–and just plain nice, decent people of a sort that you honestly don’t see much of in books today. The story is simple enough, but suspenseful and gracefully written. As I said before, there’s an old-fashioned (sixties/seventies) feel to the story, from the use of terms like “far out” to the whole perspective on aliens to an ephemeral something that I can’t even place but that pervades the story with the feel of a nostalgic era. On a more personal note, the Blue Ridge Mountain setting is particularly charming; I have a deep love for that area myself and truly appreciate that it’s beauty is admired here. Escape to Witch Mountain is definitely recommended, especially for those who like older sci-fi/suspense–plus it’s actually clean and decent for kids to read!

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From Up On Poppy Hill

from up on poppy hillStudio Ghibli

My rating: 5 of 5

From her home on a hill overlooking the sea, Umi still raises naval signal flags every day as a message to her father . . . even though his ship went down years ago during the Korean War. Around her, Yokohama is bustling in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. When she meets Shun, a member of the high-school newspaper club (who rather resembles her father in his younger days), Umi finds herself deeply attracted–a feeling that is mutual. When progress steps in and threatens to destroy the old high-school clubhouse, Umi joins many of her fellow students, male and female, in their campaign to save the old clubhouse. Never could she have dreamed that her growing relationship with Shun might unearth a past that might just change their relationship forever.

I absolutely loved From Up On Poppy Hill. The story is sweet and innocent, and the characters, in the bloom of hesitant first love, are charming. The juxtaposition of their quiet romance against the bustle–both of the country in preparation for the Olympics, and of the students in their quest to transform the clubhouse–is excellently done and brings out both sides beautifully. Speaking of beautiful, the art is classic Studio Ghibli gorgeous. The music is a really great fit too–lots of jazz, lots of movement. This movie took me through a wide range of emotions and left me feeling satisfied at the end. I would definitely recommend From Up On Poppy Hill to just about anyone.

Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Directed by Goro Miyazaki/Original Manga by Chizuru Takahashi & Tetsuro Sayama/Music by Satoshi Takebe

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