The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I am a big fan of Harry Potter and Daniel Radcliffe, so I was curious to see what his next movie after completing the HP Franchise would be. When I saw the previews for The Woman in Black I was interested as I am a big fan of horror movies - the suspenseful/thriller kind, not the blood and gore kind. However, I have a strict rule - I always read the book BEFORE seeing the movie. I don't think I have ever seen a film that I loved (or even liked) more than the book. I have to read the book first because more often then not, the movie ruins the book for me. So with the release date of The Woman in Black quickly approaching (February 3rd) I decided to pick this up.

I think I might have been expecting more than I got with this book. It really is a simple ghost story, written in the Gothic style. It tells the story of Arthur Kipps, a young, rising lawyer, who is sent to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral and handle the estate of Mrs. Drablow, a client who has passed away. Upon arrival, Arthur learns that there is much more to this story and that the town is haunted by a woman dressed in black - a relative of Mrs. Drablow. Through the course of his duties, Arthur is forced to spend some time in Eel Marsh House - Mrs. Drablow's house and has several encounters with the Woman in Black.

The story wasn't all that terrifying and it was somewhat predictable, but it was well written and I did enjoy it. I liked how the book was presented - having Arthur look back on the events years later after putting his life back together and reaching some level of peace with the haunting events that rocked his world. I have a feeling that it will translate well to film, and that some license will be taken to make it more suspenseful and scary.


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I picked up this novel because it has appeared on a bunch of best-seller lists, but I clearly did not pay attention to the details. 1Q84 is an extraordinary work of fiction, but word of warning...it is 946 pages long! So only pick it up if you are willing to spend some time with it. It is not a quick read.

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer who has a very interesting writing style. It is very different from any other author I have ever read. To read this story, you have to be willing to jump into the world created by Murakami with no reservations. If you are not a fiction lover, don't bother picking up this book. There are several things that happen in this book that surprised me and left me asking, "What?" or "How is that even possible?" There are several twists and turns in this story - many of them requiring a lapse in logic and reason. Many parallels have been drawn between 1Q84 and George Orwell's novel, 1984. I can't comment on that as I have regrettably not read Orwell's novel. It is on my "to read" list. I just haven't gotten to it yet.

It is hard to summarize the story because it is so intricate and detailed, but I will try to give a general synopsis of the story. There are two main characters in the book - Tengo and Aomame. These characters met back in elementary school when they were in the same class for two years in a row. Both of them lead less then ideal childhoods, and shared a brief encounter at the age of 10 that had a profound effect on both of them. However, when Aomame transfers schools, Tengo never sees Aomame again. The two characters spend the next 20 years thinking about the other, and wondering how their lives might have been different if they had had the courage to act on their connection. Tengo becomes a Math teacher and aspiring fiction writer, while Aomame becomes a fitness trainer and a trained assassin. Through a series of events, Tengo and Aomame find themselves transported from the normal world of 1984, to the world of 1Q84. Aomame calls this world 1Q84 to distinguish it from the "real world" of 1984. The two worlds are very much the same, with the biggest difference being the number of moons. In the 1Q84 there are two moons - the normal moon and a smaller green moon. Aomame and Tengo have been sent to this world in order to find each other, however their are forces working against them who are trying to prevent this.

I enjoyed the book, but it took me a long time to get through it. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character - most often switching between Tengo and Aomame. I think this kept the story from slowing down and dragging out, which easily could have happened if told as a straight narrative. It also allowed the reader to see how the different events in each of the character's lives was moving them closer and closer together. It surprised me to realize that this story is actually a love story. There is so much going on in this novel that it is easy to miss it at first. I don't know if that was the intention of the author, but at the heart of this story is the connection between Tengo and Aomame and their search to find each other after 20 years. I was hoping for more at the end of the story. I feel like there were several loose ends and unanswered questions. However, even though the ending is a little lack luster for me, 1Q84 is worth the read.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a very fun and interesting read. It is a story about a teenager named Jacob who through a series of strange events comes to realize that the stories his Grandfather used to tell him as a child are in fact true. Up until now, Jacob always assumed that the stories his Grandfather told him about the home he grew up in - a home run by Miss Peregrine and full of children with peculiar gifts - were just that...stories.

After his Grandfather is murdered, Jacob finding himself questioning everything, including his own sanity. Armed with the few clues his Grandfather has left him, Jacob sets off to find the mysterious Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book - the narrative is well written and engaging, but what really adds to the story are the photographs scattered throughout the book. According to Ransom Riggs, these photographs are real - found by collectors who scour estate sales and flea markets - and only a small few have undergone any alterations. The pictures add a sense of reality to the story, after all, "seeing is believing." But more than that, they provide a true contrast of the worlds Jacob travels between - the present day and 1940s. Even separated from the story, the pictures are in and of themselves an interesting collection. Ransom Riggs is a collector as well, and often posts some of his more interesting finds on his blog, which I encourage you to check out (click here).

The book is left wide open for a sequel, which Riggs has already announced is forthcoming, and I will be interested to see where the story goes and what new images he will find to include. The film rights have also been purchased, and if it ever comes to the big screen I will be excited to see if they are able to capture the feeling of Jacob's two realities and the wondrous characters who reside in them.


Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite books, but I must admit that I am late to join the fan fiction party. This was my first foray into this world, and I was sorely disappointed.

Death Comes of Pemberley picks up 6 years after Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage. The book opens with the author recounting the events over the past 6 years leading to the blissful life enjoyed by the occupants of Pemberley as they prepare for their annual ball to honor the late Lady Anne.

I do not feel that the author did my favorite characters any justice. Elizabeth Bennet is one of my favorite female characters - she is strong willed, witty, and I have a feeling that she and I would have gotten along splendidly if she had been more than one of Jane Austen's imaginings - however, in this book she is largely reduced to an insipid, worrier lacking all of the characteristics that has made her one of the most well-known and respected literary female characters. Darcy - who I have always harbored a secret literary crush on - does not fare much better. P.D. James does a better job with other characters such as Wickham, Jane, and Mr. Bingley.

Death Comes to Pemberley is billed as a murder mystery, as the peaceful life of Pemberley is thrown into disarray with the unexpected arrival of Lydia, in hysterics, shouting that her husband is dead. A search party is mounted only to find Wickham, covered in blood, hovering over the dead body of his friend. Wickham is quickly arrested for murder and a trial ensues. There is little in the way of mystery in the story, but rather a general revealing of facts, with little in the way of intrigue. The "mystery" wraps itself up neatly with little surprise. I will say that it P.D. James manages to wrap up the mystery surrounding Wickham very much in line with his character.