Ghostly, ed. by Audrey Niffenegger

GhostlyUm, ghost stories? Audrey Niffenegger? I was so obviously sold on this collection, even after I realized that Niffenegger didn’t actually write all the stories in it. There’s one of her stories tucked in there, and she wrote the introduction, and some shorter introductions before each ghost story, so there’s a lot of her in the book, but it’s possibly more awesome that my attachment to Niffenegger has now led me to some other amazing authors.

Now, Niffenegger makes a point at the beginning of the book that it is not diverse or representative but just full of stories that she thinks are cool, which, I mean, okay, I guess, but it’s kind of weird you brought it up, you know? I have not checked the diversity credentials of the authors in this collection, but when it turns out it’s all white dudes and chicks I will not be surprised. If you’ve got a more diverse collection of ghost stories for me, let me know!

But I can see why Niffenegger thinks these stories are cool. The first story in the book is “The Black Cat”, by one Mr. Poe, which I have read several times for fun and school, but every other story in the book was completely new to me. There are some classics, including the Poe and “They”, by Kipling, and then some newer works by Kelly Link and Neil Gaiman. They all have ghosts in common, or sort-of-ghosts, though the best ones, in my opinion, make you sort of doubt whether there are ghosts at all. Uncertainty is weirdly terrifying.

My favorites of the collection: “The Beckoning Fair One”, by Oliver Onions, in which a writer decides to move into part of a strange old house and finds that his writing is completely stymied and his friendships falling apart, and also there are some strange things happening inside the house but surely that’s just a coincidence. Also “Playmates”, by A.M. Burrage, in which some weird dude adopts an orphan as, like, a social experiment, and is kind of disappointed when she makes friends with ghosts, and “The Specialist’s Hat”, by Kelly Link, in which some kids learn the difference between playing Dead and, well, you can probably guess.

I was actually not that excited about Niffenegger’s own story, “Secret Life, with Cats”, but it was one of the ones that lacked any sort of questions or ambivalence, so if you like your ghost stories wrapped up nice and neat you will probably like it very much.

Overall, this is a solid collection, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more from these authors, like that young upstart Poe but also like Link and Onions. I wish my reading experience hadn’t been tainted by that note on diversity, but on the plus side it will make me seek out the collections that have it. There’s still time for more ghost stories this year, right?

Recommendation: For fans of ghosts and stories.

Rating: 7/10

Books with Pictures: The Raven Girl and The Hypothetical Gentleman

I don’t have deep thoughts about either of these books, but I figured I’d let you know that they exist and are pretty cool!

Raven GirlThe Raven Girl, by Audrey Niffenegger
It is a true fact that I will read basically anything that Ms. Niffenegger publishes, because even when it’s weird it’s usually pretty good.

Well, this is very very weird.

In this story, which is meant to be a sort of modern-day fairy tale (and is in fact shelved in the fairy tales section of my library), a postman and a raven fall in love and somehow (NOT ASKING) produce a part-human, part-raven child whose mother says she is lucky to look human, even if she can only speak in raven, but who does not actually believe that. Our raven girl wants to be a raven, and will do whatever is necessary to make that happen even if society (in the form of a classmate) objects.

There’s a pretty sweet and easy moral to the story — that we all need to be who we are inside no matter who we are on the outside — but this fairy tale is decidedly more Grimm than Disney, especially with the modern-day attempt to become a raven that I still totally agree with the classmate about (well, if our girl were a human, anyway). It’s got pretty pictures and is a quick read, so I’d say if you can get your hands on a library copy you should pick it up.

Rating: 7/10

Doctor Who, Vol. 1Doctor Who, Vol. 1: The Hypothetical Gentleman
So I had thought that this would be one long story like the other Doctor Who comic book I picked up at the same time from the library, but as I figured out, say, halfway through, it’s actually two separate stories. So the first story disappointed me a bit in ending much sooner than I had expected, but I’m not sure I can actually fault the story for that.

In this first and titular story, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory go to hang out at the Great Exhibition, but when they arrive they meet with a strange football, a stranger machine, and a couple of possible clairvoyants. When the machine starts freezing people (including the ever-unlucky Rory) in time, the Doctor puts on his investigating face but (spoilers!) is frustrated in his attempts to figure out what is going on. I am frustrated also.

In the second story, called “The Doctor and the Nurse,” Amy decides that Rory and the Doctor need to have some bonding time, so she drops them off at a pub and goes off to explore on her own. The Doctor says to heck with that and attempts to skip himself and Rory ahead to the end of the evening but of course does not get there as planned. Meanwhile, Amy finds herself following an operative of the Silence and then minimizing the death toll of the London Beer Flood that said operative caused.

I’m not sure how these stories fit into the comic series overall; it seems that the series is full of short two-issue stories but I have no idea if they’re supposed to stand alone or not. As stand-alones, I found them amusing but not terribly good or exciting, though I did notice a running thread of “The Doctor does a lot of unnecessary things” that would be interesting to delve into in more detail, so maybe that’s a thing? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find out someday?

Rating: 7/10

The Night Bookmobile, by Audrey Niffenegger

Oh, Audrey. I know we’ve had our differences before, but I was hoping that maybe if you wrote another book with a librarian in it, we’d be good as new. Sadly, I am still ambivalent.

This is a super-duper short story, told in a graphic format, and there’s not much I can say without giving the whole thing away. Baaaasically, there’s a thing called a Night Bookmobile, which is a sort of mobile library that comes when you need it. Or something. And it holds all of the things you’ve ever read in your life. And the main character, Alexandra, finds her bookmobile and becomes a little obsessed with it, as I imagine one might.

And so that’s an interesting premise, but then the story goes a little crazy at the end, there, and a whole host of issues crop up that would be interesting to address but that do not get addressed. Niffenegger writes in the “After Words” that this is the first installment of a larger work, so I hope that perhaps I will get to see that larger work and that it will tell me what the heck is going on.

Recommendation: Eh, it’s a quick read and it’s certainly ripe for discussion… probably an interesting pick for a voracious reader.

Rating: 5/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger (9 October — 13 October)

I was really super duper excited about this book, and I think that might have been why I didn’t like it so much. I will pause here for a collective gasp from the Blogosphere.

Recovered? Good. 🙂

The plot: Elspeth Noblin (great name, BTW) dies and leaves her estate not to her manfriend Robert, but to her twin Edie’s daughters who are also twins and who are called Julia and Valentina. Elspeth’s will stipulates that the twins must come live in her flat for a year before they can sell it, so they do. And then while they’re there they get haunted by Elspeth, who becomes a ghost (which is neat), and the reasons for the twins having never actually met Elspeth are slowly revealed (oooh, family secrets!).

Good things: I love Niffenegger’s writing, I just do, and it was all very pretty and fun and descriptive. The fact that we got to learn about Elspeth as a ghost was cool. Playing with a Ouija board is always fun. I loved Martin and I was rooting for him the whole time.

Bad things: I didn’t understand why Elspeth left all of her stuff to the twins. She called it “an experiment,” but since she didn’t seem to know she’d be becoming a ghost, I don’t know who was supposed to be monitoring the results. The big family secret is something I figured out in the first few chapters and then had to wait 300 pages to officially find out. And then it was unnecessarily complicated. The whole end-of-book storyline was really weird to me and I didn’t understand why any of that had to happen. Does no one in London have any sense? Also, Martin was the only character I really gave a crap about.

So… yes. This is a book that I would like to discuss with people, so if you have any insight, feel free to leave a comment!

And don’t think that I hated the book… I liked following along with the twins’ lives and I am totally on Team Get Martin Better. But those Bad Things prevented me from loving it.

Rating: 7/10
(RIP Challenge, Countdown Challenge: 2009)

See also:
books i done read
Literate Housewife
Devourer of Books
Stainless Steel Droppings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (13 August)

-contented sigh- I love this book. You should, too. Go read it, now.

What? That’s not enough information, you say? Well. Fine.

I first read this book three years ago while in New Zealand and had to tear myself away from the pages to go hang out with people in Auckland, which is one of my favorite places in the world, so… yeah. I’d been wanting to re-read it for awhile, but I worried it wouldn’t hold up to a second reading, but then the movie was coming out and other people were reading it and I really wanted to read it again so I did! And it held up just fine.

This is a giant sappy love story about a girl called Clare who meets her future husband, Henry when she’s six and he’s thirty-six. But Henry doesn’t meet Clare until he’s twenty-eight and she is twenty. Right. Because Henry randomly travels through time, going to seemingly arbitrary wheres and whens. The story flows mostly chronologically through Clare’s life, with brief jaunts elsewhen here and there, and describes Henry and Clare’s meetings and courtship and attempts (successful and failed) to be a normal couple.

It’s really sweet and made me cry a whole bunch at three in the morning while I was finishing it, even though I knew what was going to happen, even though everyone and his brother knows what’s going to happen, which I think is a strong point of the novel. Or I’m just a big ol’ sap. Or both. You never know.

Rating: 10/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

See also:
The Soul of the Reviewer

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Adventuress, by Audrey Niffenegger (11 January)

I’m not sure I can really count this as a book read, since a quick flip through the pages tells me this book is maybe 120 pages long, with exactly half of those pages illustrated and half with but a few words on each. I picked it up because it’s by Audrey Niffenegger and I love The Time Traveler’s Wife (soon to be re-read because it’s awesome), but when I heard it was a “novel in pictures” I was thinking more graphic novel when it’s actually more picture book.

The story, if there is one, revolves around an unnamed “she” who is created by a scientist and wears only a skirt. Not a book for little kids, here. Her adventures include a foiled marriage, a relationship with Napoleon, giving birth to a cat, and going to a nunnery. These are all supposedly interrelated.

I’m really indifferent to this novel; it’s sort of like how I feel about modern dance. I don’t really get it, but it’s interesting to watch nonetheless. Plus, it only takes like 10 minutes to read, so why not?

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006, Support Your Local Library Challenge)