Towers, Ghosts and Handmaids

Here’s what I’ve been reading and watching lately:

dark tower books all

I’ve been slowly but steadily making my way through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series over the last year or so, and finally finished the seventh book and the last in the main series (the eighth, The Wind in the Keyhole, is more of an addendum, a further adventure and untold story that I haven’t read yet–but plan to!).

I find Stephen King an interesting author, if only because he’s written books I have absolutely no interest in reading, while there are others I find, if not brilliant, then impressive and endlessly entertaining. This series is obviously in the latter, or I wouldn’t have continued to read thousands of pages of it. It’s hard to summarize such an epic tale, but it combines fantasy, western, science fiction (and a little bit of horror) to tell the story of Roland of Gilead, a gunslinger of Mid-World, who seeks to save the Dark Tower, which holds all the worlds of creation together. His main antagonists are the Man in Black, and the Crimson King, among many others. His allies are his ka-tet, who he’s “drawn” from other worlds and times: Eddie Dean, Odetta Walker (aka Susannah Dean), the boy Jake Chambers, and Oy, a kind of cross between a dog and a raccoon called a billy bumbler.

Each book, of course, presents its own conflict and goal on Roland’s long journey, weaving a complex, compelling tale that only King could manage. In it, he incorporates several characters from his other books (which in most cases I had not read, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story), and creates a kind of uber-story, gathering them all under the same cosmology. King even inserts himself into the story, which I found a little outrageous at first, but then, this is a story about stories, and he’s the ultimate storyteller. It all fits.

I hurtled through the last 100 pages of the last book, dying learn the mystery of the Dark Tower. And was I disappointed? Not exactly. I didn’t know what was at the top of that Tower, but when Roland opened the last door, after unimaginable trial and tragedy, what lay behind it was unexpected and shocking. That’s all I’ll say, except that, based on my new knowledge, I’m rethinking my opinion on the Dark Tower movie I reviewed a few months ago. I hated it. But I’d watched it before I finished the series, and I was missing some vital information. Now it makes some potential sense. But that’s another blog post.

woman in black daniel

My book club recently read The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill, in honor of the season–we love a good ghost story this time of year! We enjoyed the book and decided to watch the 2012 movie with Daniel Radcliffe.

The premise of both the book and the movie concerns Arthur Kipps, a clerk in a London law firm, who travels to the northern town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of an old widow, Mrs. Drablow, who’d recently died. Her estate, Eel Marsh House, is appropriately isolated and creepy at the mouth of a marshy estuary, a house which gets blocked off from the mainland by the tides several times a day. The townspeople are sullen and distrustful, and while at the house, Arthur encounters ghostly visitations by a terrifying woman in black. While sorting through Mrs. Drablow’s papers, he discovers a family tragedy that explains the haunting, but is unprepared to be so personally affected by the woman’s vengeful malevolence.

The  movie changes a few things and ratchets up the scare factor, giving the story a more traditional beginning, middle, and end format, with Arthur taking action to solve a problem rather than just letting things happen to him, like in the book. The ending is quite different, too, and I’m not sure I’m happy with it, but in the end, it’s a great Halloween movie to hide behind a pillow and watch.

man in the picture

We enjoyed Susan Hill so much, we also read The Man in the Picture, another ghost story, of sorts. This one deals with an old painting of Venice, with masked revelers and gondolas, in which several living people have been trapped as painted figures. It’s another story of a wronged woman gone berserk with hatred and vengeance, and who punishes not only those responsible for her misery, but innocent others who happen to come into contact with her story just for evil’s sake. It’s kind of a disturbing pattern, but definitely touches on female rage and its consequences. Hell hath no fury, and all that.

handmaid 3

I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale many years ago, and though over time the details of the book faded, the disturbing essence of it remained with me. In the middle of watching the Hulu series, I re-read the book (brilliant; read it). The series, with Elizabeth Moss as Offred/June, is just as brilliant and intense, with only a few minor changes that make sense in light of a continuing series. The book was hard to read, but the show is even more difficult, as these characters and terrifying events come to life on the screen.

I watched the first season, which chronicles the events of the book (and with Atwood’s involvement and blessing), but Season Two and Three continues Offred’s story beyond the book, out of Atwood’s territory. I’m on the fence about whether or not I want to continue watching; both the book and Season One ended with Offred possibly escaping her enslavement, leaving one with a feeling of hope. With the continuation of the series, it’s obvious Offred has to be caught and dragged back to Gilead, with more punishment and misery ahead of her. I’m not sure I can endure more of that, quite honestly.

So that’s what’s been keeping me busy lately. Have you read or watched any of these stories? What did you think? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

Advertisements

The End of the World (For Adults)

The end of the world is popular, apparently, considering all the dystopian novels glutting the book world. I love a good doom and gloom story one in a while myself, but I prefer the adult versions rather than all the YA blockbusters out there (sorry, Hunger Games and Divergent fans, but it’s not for me). In no particular order, here are my favorites:

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

StationElevenHCUS2

I loved this novel of the world decimated by a flu-like virus, leaving pockets of humanity behind to fend for themselves and try to stitch a meaningful life back together. Kirsten is a performer in an entertainment troupe called The Travelling Symphony (“Because survival is not enough”) that performs Shakespeare and plays classical music. They travel from town to town, trying to bring a bit of civilization back to the ragged bit of survivors. There is some trouble and a sense of menace from someone called The Prophet, but this is more than a good guys vs. villain story. It switches back and forth in time, beginning with Arthur Leander, an actor performing King Lear on what is to be the last day of the known world, and who suffers a heart attack on stage. The story spins out from this moment, and many of the characters are linked to Arthur and his legacy. This is what I’d call a “literary” dystopian novel, about the fleeting nature of fame, the meaning of art, and what human beings require not just to survive, but to live.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

the road

This Pulitzer prize-winning book is the darkest of this group, telling the story of a man who wanders a post-apocalyptic world with his young son, heading south on foot to a warmer place, and basically just trying to stay alive–searching for food and shelter, and trying to avoid cannibalistic marauders. No one knows what caused the catastrophe (and so neither do we), but the man is determined to survive and to protect his son, whom he tells they are “carrying the fire”. An amazing read, but be warned: it pulls you into a dark, dark place. The 2009 film starring Viggo Mortensen is excellent, capturing both the darkness and the spark of hope the man clings to for the future of mankind.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin

the passage book

This is the first book of a trilogy (The Twelve and City of Mirrors completes the trio), about our world devoured by another virus, this time man-made, an experiment gone terribly wrong. This virus causes some victims to become vampire-like creatures, with an insatiable desire for human blood. This book also toggles back and forth in time, from one hundred years after the catastrophe, to the time leading up to it, and centers around a special little girl named Amy who is somehow linked to the virus. A complex, absorbing story that was a page-turner for me. I’ve heard rumors of a movie, but haven’t seen any evidence yet.

The Stand, by Stephen King

the stand book

Arguably King’s most famous (and favorite among fans), The Stand remains the benchmark among end-of-the-world novels. Yet another virus has been unleashed upon the unsuspecting world, and its survivors have organized into two groups that will ultimately face each other in a showdown between good and evil: those who flock under the guidance of Mother Abigail, and those who follow the devilish Randall Flagg. King’s cast of characters are always vivid and relatable, his attention to detail prodigious, and his plots (and subplots) compelling. The 1994 TV series with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald is watchable and fairly true to the book, but do yourself a favor and just read it instead.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

handmaid's tale book

The most political of this group, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, a woman in the near future who serves as a “handmaid” in a world where women have been subjugated to serve their patriarchal  masters. The U.S. government has been overthrown by a Christian theonomy (which posits that Biblical Law is applicable to Civil Law). Women’s rights have been denied, and their primary function is to bear offspring to their masters. Not strictly “end of the world” material (though it probably would be for me and most women I know), but it’s certainly dystopian. I’m chomping at the bit to watch the new Hulu series based on the book, which has received rave reviews.

Have you read these books? What’s your favorite dystopian novel? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

 

 

TBR Update

Here’s what’s been on my book radar:

I mentioned in my last post that I read The Alienist (1994) by Caleb Carr many years ago. I couldn’t remember the exact details of the book, but now that I’ve watched the TNT series based on it (and loved it), I have a renewed interest in the book. Whenever a movie or TV show is adapted from a book I’ve enjoyed, I’m always curious about how the story is translated to the screen. What’s kept in? What’s cut or changed, and can I see the reason why? Is one medium “better” than the other, or is it apples and oranges? Did it ultimately work? I found myself downloading the book to my Kindle for these reasons and more, mostly because I don’t want to leave these characters yet (or maybe I’m just a little in love with Dr. Kreizler. Okay, maybe I’m a little in love with Daniel Bruhl as Dr. Kreizler). At any rate, I’m delving back into Victorian New York at the turn of the century.

alienist book

Carr wrote a sequel to The Alienist, called The Angel of Darkness, something I wasn’t even aware of until now. The team gathers together again to find the missing child of a Spanish diplomat. I’d like to read that, too, and my hopes are high that it will lead to a Season Two of the TV show, which isn’t guaranteed quite yet. One can dream.

angel of darkness

**

During moments of complete and utter frustration at the world and the horrors contained within it, I’ve often found myself muttering, “If only women ran the world. Then things would be different.” But would it? That’s the question that The Power, by Naomi Alderman, strives to answer, or at least speculate on. It tells the story of how young girls, and then eventually all women, develop the mysterious power of electricity within themselves, which they can dispense through their fingertips. (Admit it, ladies, haven’t you ever dreamed of the exact the same thing?) The balance of power is suddenly shifted as women can now physically defend themselves, and by extension, become the dominant gender. Will the world be a better place? Or does absolute power corrupt absolutely, despite gender? I find this an extremely fascinating question, and am curious to see how Alderman plays it out in her story.

the power book

With these and the Austen novels on my plate, I’ll have a fairly busy reading season. Happy Spring!

Have you read these books? What’s on your TBR list? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

Steeped in Story

Here’s what’s been entertaining me lately:

king dark tower

The past few months have seen me steeped in Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series. It’s the tale of Roland of Gilead, a gunslinger in a world that’s moved on, in search of the Dark Tower, the center of all worlds.

I haven’t read a series in a long time, since my fantasy days in my twenties with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, or George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire in my thirties, neither of which I finished, mostly because I got bored waiting around for the next book. By the time I got to this one, it was complete, and I could download the next one on my Kindle right away.

What I love about this series, besides King’s obvious storytelling skills, is that it covers a range of genres: fantasy, science fiction, horror, western. It’s got it all. In lesser hands, that blending would only create a big mess, but here it’s simply wonderful.

intolerably stupid

I’m also reading Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. My library is putting on a Jane Austen book discussion over the coming year, and though I’ve done this before several years ago, I’m eagerly coming aboard this time, too. Austen’s books are those that beg to be reread an indefinite number of times over one’s lifetime, and you carry something different away from them each and every time. Northanger Abbey is my least favorite, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. It will be followed by Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. I’m planning on writing a review for the blog as I finish each book.

As for TV, I’ve been casting around for a new show to watch for some time now. I began watching the new season of X-files in January, but only got through the first two shows before giving up in disgust. I couldn’t keep up with the lightning-speed, rat-a-tat-tat scenes and felt plunged into confusion as I tried to remember what happened in the series twenty years ago. No thanks.

alienist

Fortunately, I found The Alienist, on TNT. This series is based on a book by Caleb Carr I read just as long ago, mid-nineties or so. It takes place in 1896 New York, where Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is an “alienist”,  a precursor to what we now call a psychologist or psychiatrist. At the time, those who studied the mentally ill considered them to be alienated from their true natures, hence the name. Pyschology was just beginning to emerge as a science at this time, but there were still plenty of people who dismissed the idea as quackery.

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) uses his knowledge of human nature to solve criminal cases, and here he is on the trail of a serial killer who murders and mutilates boy prostitutes. He has help in the form of his illustrator friend John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sara Howland (Dakota Fanning), the first woman to work in the New York police department, and secretary to Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt.

This show is dark, creepy, and gruesome–right up my alley.  The characters are complex and intriguing. Kreizler is soft-spoken and analytical, some might say callous, but underneath his calm, unruffled demeanor is a passionate man with a heart. John Moore is your typical Victorian gentleman who is going to have quite a few of his assumptions cut to ribbons. Sarah, underneath her cold exterior, is an ambitious woman trying to succeed in a man’s world. And Roosevelt has his work cut out for him cleaning up the corruption in the NY police department, whose officers routinely take bribes from the Mob. All have painful pasts and hidden struggles.

The backdrop of the city scales the lush, glittering heights of the very rich, down to the horrific underbelly of the very poor, mostly immigrant communities. I’m mesmerized by every aspect of the show, from the setting to the storyline to the relationships between the characters; but especially by Laszlo’s obsessive investigation into the heart of a human monster. Bravo.

 

 

 

 

Recent Obsessions

Here’s what I can’t get enough of lately:

TV: Stranger Things, Seasons 1 & 2.

stranger things

They had me at 1983. I was 12 years old, just like the kids of Hawkins, Indiana. I wasn’t playing D&D (alas, I’m a girl), but I remember the music, the hair, that sense of being, well, a weirdo. I’d watch this show for the pure nostalgia (casting 80s icons Winona Ryder and Mathew Modine was a nice touch, and they’re great here), but it’s so much more than that.

Ryder plays Joyce Byers, whose sensitive son Will has gone missing, literally out of this world. Will’s crew of faithful, geeky friends are determined to find him; they meet a mysterious girl named Eleven who seems to have supernatural powers, and perhaps knows where Will is. Meanwhile, the town’s police chief Jim Hopper (the wonderful David Harbour), investigates, and climbs deeper into the strange happenings centering around the secretive lab nearby. Strange indeed, but addicting, replete with monsters, a parallel universe, and a surprising amount of heart.

(And because I couldn’t get enough, I watched “Beyond Stranger Things”, a series of short interviews with the cast and creators the Duffer Brothers, which was fun to watch, too).

Movies: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

PPzombies

How can I not love this? It blends two of my favorite things: Jane Austen and The Walking Dead (disclaimer: I haven’t watched the last two seasons of WD–I just couldn’t deal with the never-ending heartache). There are Austen purists who sniff at any tampering with their beloved author’s work (and I know some who dismiss any movie version outside of the Firth-Ehle pairing), but I’m not one of them. Let’s face it, adding a little blood and gore to Regency England’s genteel society is just great fun.

Lizzie Bennet’s weapon has always been her words, but here she wields a sword to add to her considerable arsenal. Austen’s story plays out with the usual, well-know scenes: the country dance where Lizzie and Darcy meet, the Netherfield ball, Mr. Collins’ unwanted proposal, the visit to Rosings, Wickham’s deception. But here England has been invaded by a terrible plague that turns people into zombies; everyone must train in the martial arts to defend themselves from the scourge. Darcy is a colonel in the army; the Bennet girls strap knives to their thighs under their dresses and carry swords and guns.

My favorite scene is Darcy’s botched proposal to Lizzie–while they verbally spar, they engage in a physical fight, throwing each other around the room and attacking with pokers and letter openers. I never knew I wanted Lizzie to kick Darcy’s ass in this scene until I saw it! The plot devolves into a weird zombie scheme involving Wickham, but rest assured, the lovers come to each other’s rescue and overcome their pride and prejudice to wed in the end.

Books: Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

dark tower

I’ve been in a King kind of mood lately, just having read Sleeping Beauties (click here for a mini-review). With the movie The Dark Tower recently in theaters, my interest was piqued. I didn’t get around to the movie, so I thought I’d check out the first book of his epic fantasy series, The Gunslinger.

Here’s the premise: Roland, the last Gunslinger in an alternate world, pursues the Man in Black across a desert wasteland in his quest to find the Dark Tower. That’s about all we know. What’s a Gunslinger? What happened to this decaying world that has “moved on”? Who is the Man in Black? What is the significance of the Dark Tower? Answers come slowly and incompletely. King’s writing style here is different than what most of us are used to, dense and perhaps a bit pretentious, as King admits to in his forward. He came up with the idea very early on in his career, fresh out of writing seminars that dictated language over story. But he knew he wanted to combine the quest story (like Lord of the Rings) with a spaghetti western-style protagonist and landscape.

Despite some initial impatience, I kept on reading the book, and found myself drawn in. I’m well into the second book, The Drawing of the Three, which employs the King voice and style we’re all familiar with, and know I’ll continue with the other books (7 or 8 in all), though probably over time, interspersed with other books. Now that I’ve started, I have to know what happens. I have to penetrate the mystery of the Dark Tower.

 

What’s obsessing you lately? Interested in any of these entertainments? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

What’s Been on My Kindle

Here are a few books I’ve been enjoying lately:

See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt.

see what I have done

When I saw there was a novelization on the story of Lizzie Borden, I knew I had to read it. I wasn’t disappointed. Schmidt speculates on what might have gone through the mind of 32-year old Lizzie, during the days leading up to her father and stepmother’s ax murders in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892. The result is appropriately creepy and mesmerizing, alternating between Lizzie’s point of view with that of her sister Emma, as well as that of a possible intruder on that fateful day. What emerges is a claustrophobic tale of rage and jealousy that culminated in murder.

Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen and Owen King.

sleeping beauties

I’m not the kind of King fan that reads every single novel he puts out, but every once in a while I’ll read one that stands out for me for whatever reason. And when I do, I’m reminded of why he is, indeed, the King. He wrote this one with his son, Owen, and I loved it. What if the women of the world fell asleep and didn’t wake up? That’s the premise of this story, which takes place in the small Appalachian town of Dooley. Women all around the world are falling asleep, presumably from what is being called the “Aurora virus”, and becoming cocooned in a white, web-like substance. Any attempt at unwrapping the women and waking them up leads to the sleepers becoming violent, with fatal results. In Dooley, a woman called Evie appears, the only woman who can sleep and wake again, and who seems to possess supernatural powers. How is she connected to the Aurora phenomenon? As the men left behind become increasingly desperate to wake their women up, Evie polarizes them into two factions who will fight either to protect her or threaten her. In the meantime, the sleeping women of Dooley find themselves in an alternate world with no men (and doing quite fine on their own, thank you), and must eventually make a fateful decision whether to stay and make a go of it, or go back to what was. This is a timely, fascinating story on the essential natures of men and women, wrapped up in a riveting supernatural tale that I found impossible to put down.

The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman.

rules of magic

I read Hoffman’s Practical Magic years ago (and watched the movie, of course) and enjoyed both. Even though my recollection of the story was vague, I was ready to read this prequel. Practical Magic was about the two Owen sisters, Sally and Gillian; this book centers on the youth of their elderly aunts, Frannie and Jet, as well as a heretofore unknown brother, Vincent. The setting is 1960’s New York City, for the most part, and the iconic events of that decade as a backdrop for the formative years of the Owens siblings. Frannie, the eldest, is practical and logical, and plans on becoming a scientist; Jet is sweet and a great beauty, and Vincent is independent and headstrong. All three of them have witchy powers, and all must contend with the “Owen curse” which dooms any person they fall in love with. I’ve always enjoyed Hoffman’s magical realism, and this one is no exception.

 

Have you read any of these books? What have you been reading lately? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

Book and Movie Recap

Time for my periodic summary of what I’ve been reading and watching the past few months. Because I know you’re dying to know.

Books:

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle.

changeling

This is a wonderfully updated version of the changeling myth: a creature (in this case, a troll) steals an infant and leaves in its place a nearly identical facsimile. That this story is written from an African American point of view adds to its freshness. Apollo and his wife Emma have welcomed a new baby boy to their family, but soon Emma begins acting strangely, perhaps with post-partum depression. But when she commits a horrendous act and disappears, Apollo is left reeling. Soon he begins a quest to find his wife and son, but what he finds is beyond anything he had ever imagined.

My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier.

cousin rachel

Daphne du Maurier wrote dozens of books, and somehow I’d only read Rebecca, her most famous book. With the release of the movie version of My Cousin Rachel (which I haven’t seen yet, but will soon), my attention was brought to this wonderful book. Young Englishman Philip suspects that his cousin and guardian Ambrose has been murdered by his wife, Rachel. He hates her before he even meets her, but when she arrives at his home, he begins to fall in love with her. Will history repeat itself? The mystery behind Rachel is the driving force of this addicting novel.

Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins.

into the water

I loved Hawkin’s previous book, The Girl on the Train, and wasn’t disappointed with her latest. Into the Water takes place in a small town called Beckford, where the Drowning Pool has seen its fair share of women victims, through suicide or otherwise. Two women have drowned in the river within two months when the novel begins: Katie, a fifteen year old girl who drowned herself, and Nel, a woman who had been writing a book on the river and its victims, whose death is being investigated as a possible murder. Hawkins is deliciously good at drawing the reader in with multiple points of view, imperfect characters with secrets, and agonizing suspense. Excellent.

Natalie Goldberg: Long Quiet Highway, Thunder and Lightning, The Great Failure, The Great Spring. I’ve been on a Goldberg bender for awhile, catching up on all of her books I hadn’t yet read. Long Quiet Highway is her first memoir from way back in 1993. Thunder and Lightning is a writing book I had read years ago and wanted to read again. The Great Failure is a memoir exploring the two father figures in her life: her real father and her beloved Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi. The Great Spring is her latest memoir, a collection of essays gathered together exploring her two great loves: writing and Zen.

Movies:

The Light Between the Oceans.

oceans movie

Finally watched the movie version of the book I read several months ago. Excellent performances from Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz. The script stays fairly close to the book, about a couple in 1920 Australia who finds a baby in a boat (along with a dead man) washed up on shore of their lighthouse island. After having endured several devastating miscarriages, they decide to keep the child to raise as their own. Predictably, this leads to heartbreak and anguish.

Her.

her movie

This has to be the strangest, most wonderful movie I’ve seen in a long time. The always stellar Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore, a man who falls in love with a computer program named Samantha, a kind of AI that can learn and evolve over time. It sounds weird, but Samantha has a real personality–she just doesn’t have a body. It’s a great exploration of what it means to be in love, what is real, and letting go.

Manchester by the Sea.

manchester sea

Holy cow. Does anyone say Holy Cow anymore? Let me reiterate: Holy cow! This movie is amazing. I didn’t even know Ben Affleck had a younger brother who acted, but here’s Casey Affleck out of nowhere (at least to me) winning an Oscar for his role of Lee Chandler, who’s been appointed guardian of his 16-year old nephew after his brother dies. But Lee is haunted by tragedy, and he struggles with his newfound role to the nephew he loves. Emotionally wrecking, but worth every two hours and fifteen minutes of it.

Have you read any of these books or seen any of these movies? What did you think? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

By the way, this is also my 200th post on My Writing Journey. Go me!