The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Since I found Nymeth’s blog last year, I have learned about so many books and authors that were new to me and I am really grateful for that, because otherwise, I would have never discovered such wonderful fantasy books or authors like Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman. Often, Nymeth would mention Neil Gaiman’s books and how much she loved them and I must admit that she made me curious. Thus, I decided that it was time to read my first Neil Gaiman book and I have chosen to read The Graveyard Book.

Here are my thoughts on this amazing book:

Nobody Owens’ family was murdered when he was just a toddler and since then, he has been living in a graveyard. Raised and educated by ghosts and a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the dead nor of the living, Nobody (called ‘Bod’ for short), has learned a great deal of things and he has embarked on many engaging adventures in the graveyard. From an ancient Indigo Man and ghouls to the terrible Sleer, Bod has encountered many dangers in the graveyard, but he has also made many friends who have protected him and guided him through the years.

As Bod grows from a toddler into a young man, he befriends people from both the world of the dead and of the living, but he doesn’t quite fit in with either of these worlds. Since the young boy yearns to learn more about the world of the living, he is determined to explore the world outside the graveyard. However, there are many dangers that await him there, including the man Jack, who murdered his family and who still looks for Bod. As he explores both the world of the living and of the dead, the reader witnesses how Bod matures and how in the end, this brave young man learns what it means to be alive.

Inspired by Kipling’s The Jungle Book, The Graveyard Book narrates the story of an orphaned boy who, over the course of time, learns so many things about life and ultimately, about himself. As the story evolves, the reader witnesses how Bod changes and matures, and while Bod discovers new things and starts many adventures, we see how he always thirsts for more knowledge and how he becomes more courageous as the story progresses. I really cared deeply about Bod and the other characters and I loved to accompany Bod on his many journeys, including the journey of growing up. Overall, The Graveyard Book is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that is full of kindness, intelligence and surprises! You cannot help but feel touched by this book and you will treasure it like a precious jewel because The Graveyard Book is such a wonderful story that deals with important themes such as courage, risks, change and childhood. Yes, Bod’s story may be a little dark, but Neil Gaiman has accomplished so much with this book! He has narrated a tale that is inventive, warm, suspenseful and educative. The Graveyard Book is one of those books that everybody could read, no matter how old one is as it delivers some strong and important messages to everyone out there. The Graveyard Book teaches the readers that people should dare to take risks and live life to the fullest, as life is too short and we never know when it might come to an end. If we don’t step out of our comfort zone and don’t take certain risks, we might miss out on many wonderful things! Life is hard and there are many dangers out there, but this book teaches us that we have to be brave and believe in ourselves, because in the end, it’s all worth it. Bod sets a perfect example and people can learn so many things from him. Now that he has learned what it means to be alive, Bod is ready to embrace life and enjoy it, with both its good and bad sides. He will make mistakes, meet new people, experience pain, but also joy, as all these things are part of our lives. And if one has not explored the world with all its different facets, one has not lived at all!

Like other readers, I have only one negative thing to say about this book – it’s too short. While reading it, I wanted to learn more about the protagonists, especially Bod’s guardian Silas, Scarlett and Miss Lupescu (I am Romanian / German and although my German is better than my Romanian, I still immediately noticed Miss Lupescu’s name – it’s Romanian and it’s derived from the word ‘wolf’. Also, ‘Lupus’ is Latin for ‘wolf’ and the Romanian language is a Romance language, derived from Latin with 80 % of the Romanian vocabulary being Latin. In addition, on page 211, we find a reference to Miss Lupescu, and we learn that she calls Bod ‘nimeni’, which is again Romanian and means ‘nobody’ in English). Although the book was too short, I found it perfect for me, as it drew me in from page one and it made me think about its themes after I finished reading it. And I love books that make you think and that linger in your mind for a long time! Although I longed for more, I think I know how to satisfy my thirst – I will read more Neil Gaiman books in the future because I just loved The Graveyard Book. If I were to rate it, I would give this book five stars out of five!

Note: I would like to thank Danielle Bartlett from Harper Collins for giving me the opportunity to read and review such a great book!

Other reviews:

Things Mean A Lot

Booklust

Andreea

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes

The Ghosts of Kerfol is a wonderful collection of five interlocking ghost stories inspired by Edith Wharton’s ghost story Kerfol. In her classic tale of thrill and suspense, Edith Wharton narrates the story of Anne de Barrigan, who married Yves de Cornault, the lord of the Kerfol estate. As Yves de Cornault is found dead, seemingly attacked by a pack of dogs, Anne de Barrigan is sentenced of murdering her husband. But here’s the peculiar thing: there were no dogs at Kerfol the day the lord was murdered – at least no living dogs!

I must admit that I have not read Edith Wharton’s ghost story yet, but now that I’ve read and enjoyed The Ghosts of Kerfol, I want to learn more about the original Kerfol. I really absorbed every page of Deborah Noyes’s remarkable collection and I have been haunted by the characters in my sleep (I am serious – after reading some of the ghost stories, I went to sleep and dreamed of Kerfol and its dark secrets). But now let’s have a look at these powerful tales of revenge:

Hunger Moon (set in 1613) is the first ghost story and it’s my favorite one as it revolves around Anne de Barrigan and her husband Yves de Cornault. The story pays tribute to Edith Wharton’s Kerfol and it is told from Perrette’s perspective. Perrette is Anne’s new chambermaid and she witnesses all the strange and frightening events that take place at Kerfol. The young girl is a very likeable character who carefully observes the relationship between Anne and her husband Yves. Perrette immediately perceives that Anne seems very unhappy and lonely at Kerfol and that she doesn’t have any freedom, as her husband is a very ruthless and dominant man. Although he overwhelms her with the most expensive and exquisite gifts, Yves can’t fill Anne’s emptiness and make her happy. But one day, he manages to at least bring some joy to Anne by giving her a little dog. Perrette is glad to see her Milady smile and rejoice for once. However, her happiness is short-lived, as one day, her precious dog is found dead on her pillow, killed with a sapphire and diamond necklace, one of Yves’s gifts to Anne. Everyone at Kerfol supposes that Anne’s jealous husband is behind this dreadful deed. He must have learned that Anne has befriended a young nobleman named Hervé de Lanrivain and as an act of revenge, he killed Anne’s little dog. Other dogs follow, since Anne brings in a new dog every time the previous one is found dead on her pillow, killed exactly as the first dog. A year after the first dog was brought to Kerfol, Yves de Cornault is found dead on the stairs, apparently killed by a brutal pack of dogs. Anne is immediately convicted of murdering her husband, but since the judges disagree with each other, Anne is released into the care of Yves’s relatives, who imprison her in the tower of Kerfol where she dies years later. The judges failed to understand how it was possible that some savage dogs attacked the elderly lord, when there were no living dogs at Kerfol that day. Only Anne’s dead dogs were there, her beloved dogs that were strangled and buried one by one by her violent husband.

The following ghost stories These Heads Would Speak (set in 1802), The Figure Under the Sheet (set in 1926), When I Love You Best (set in 1982) and The Red of Berries (set in 2006) slip forward in time, giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of troubled characters. The stories feature a young and confused artist, a party girl who drowns her sorrows in alcohol, an unhappy young American couple and a deaf gardener who cares for the Kerfol estate. All these people have something in common, as they are plagued and haunted by the ghosts of Kerfol. Anne’s dead dogs torment and rip apart each of these souls and they don’t spare anyone, as they have come to take revenge!

The Ghosts of Kerfol is an absorbing collection of ghost stories that will make your flesh creep and that will leave you hungry for more. The talented Deborah Noyes does a great job creating a dark and sinister atmosphere by using gothic elements and she skilfully portrays a sombre world full of secrets, intrigues and mysteries. I truly loved this book and I highly recommend it to everyone who loves ghost stories and who is a fan of Gothic Literature. These haunting tales will linger in your mind for a long time and you will want to read other works by Deborah Noyes. I just wished that these ghost stories were longer and not so short because I longed for more! Luckily, the author has a promising upcoming novel, Captivity, and you can find out more about it here.

Note: The author kindly sent me a copy of her fascinating book and I would like to thank her for that!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

You know you’ll love a book if the first page makes you long for more and if you forget about everything else that surrounds you. But if the first sentence already overwhelms you and you just want to read on and on and never stop reading, then it must be an amazing book. And for me, that was the case with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I just couldn’t put this book down and I was lost in du Maurier’s beautiful writing style and her vivid descriptions. The entire book is just fascinating and you’re aware of this fact when you just read the first sentence:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

As a reader, you immediately begin to ask a lot of questions (Where is Manderely? What happened there? Who is the narrator?). You just want to find out more about the mysterious speaker and about Manderley. With each page, I was eager to find out more about the narrator and about Rebecca. Needless to say, I just loved this book and it is now one of my favorite books. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it, as I knew about it from my mother and grandmother. We had this book for as long as I can remember, but yet, I didn’t get to read it and I don’t understand why. But better too late than never, right? I am just glad that I finally had the chance to read such a wonderful and engaging book that astounds you and takes you to places who have never dreamed of!

This time, I won’t dwell on the summary of the book, since I think that most of you have already read it. (In case you haven’t read it yet, you can find out more about this book here). Instead, I want to do something different this time. I am going to answer some study questions and that way, you can find out what I have to say in particular about this excellent novel.

I’ve chosen three questions for further reflection:

Why do you think the narrator remains nameless?

If you have read the book, you may have noticed that the heroine’s name is never revealed in this novel. I think that the absence of a name symbolizes how uncertain the heroine is of herself; when she marries Maxim, she takes his name, but she doesn’t feel really comfortable in it, because she is not the first to have taken Maxim’s name. She is not the first Mrs. de Winter, and thus she has to compete with the late Mrs. de Winter, with Rebecca. Rebecca’s name is haunting the narrator like a dark shadow throughout the book and it’s even the book’s title. The heroine feels defeated and overpowered by Rebecca, until she finds out the truth about her. When she learns about Rebecca’s true nature, our heroine is suddenly feeling at ease; she no longer fears Rebecca and she begins to feel comfortable as Mrs. de Winter and as the mistress of Manderley.

What makes this novel a work of Gothic Literature?

There are many gothic elements presented to us throughout the book, but ultimately, it’s Rebecca’s “ghost” what makes this novel a work of Gothic Literature. From the beginning, the narrator has to compete with Rebecca. Everyone compares her to Rebecca and our heroine feels haunted by Maxim’s first wife. Her spirit is still present at Manderley, partly because Manderley is still run just as Rebecca has run it and also because Mrs. Danvers keeps Rebecca’s bedroom ready for her, as if Rebecca would return any minute. Furthermore, Rebecca’s memory is piercing the house and all of those who knew her. Our heroine feels her presence everywhere; every little thing reminds her of Rebecca; from the pen she uses to write letters to the chair she sits in. Everyone is still talking of Rebecca, preserving her memory, and mourning over her death. Thus, Rebecca’s “ghost” is haunting our narrator. Even though we are not talking about a real ghost, or supernatural forces, Rebecca is still present at Manderley; although she is dead, Rebecca’s spirit is still filling up the rooms with the help of her “messenger”, Mrs. Danvers, who is very devoted to Rebecca and who is willing to retain her memory forever, at all cost.

How does Maxim’s relationship with our heroine develop throughout the novel?

At the beginning, our nameless narrator is really happy when she marries Maxim. She has a great time on their honeymoon and she is anxious to arrive at Manderley and to take on the new role as Mrs. de Winter and as the new mistress of the house. But when the couple arrives at Manderley, the heroine sees that Rebecca’s presence dominates the place. Everything is run exactly as it was run when Rebecca was alive. Mrs. Danvers, who admired Rebecca, is always mentioning the former mistress of Manderley and she makes clear that she doesn’t approve of the narrator. The sinister Mrs. Danvers makes our heroine feel inferior and she tells her how much everyone loved the perfect Rebecca, especially Maxim. Thus, our heroine begins to feel intimidated by Rebecca and she begins to wonder if Maxim still loves Rebecca. Maxim and the narrator don’t really spend time together, and Maxim doesn’t tell his wife that he loves her. The heroine thinks that Maxim doesn’t love her and that he has married her only because he didn’t want to be alone anymore. She feels that Maxim treats her like a child and that he makes fun of her. During the course of the novel, everything changes, because Maxim tells her the truth about Rebecca’s evil nature. He tells her that Rebecca’s image was a mere illusion; she was not who she seemed, and therefore, our heroine doesn’t have to compete with the late Rebecca anymore. Maxim finally confesses his love for the narrator, and their bond grows stronger. They are companions now, who share everything with each other and there are no secrets that stand between them anymore. At the beginning, Maxim was distant to her and Rebecca was always lying in-between, but now that everything has been clarified, Rebecca’s shadow cannot interfere with the couple anymore. The question is if they are really happy now, with everything they’ve been through. So many things have happened that none of them will be able to forget and even though they love each other, the past is still haunting them from time to time. Daphne du Maurier gives little hints here and there (at the beginning of the novel) and the reader can conclude that not everything is perfect for the couple. Even if you want to forget your past, you can never quite accomplish that, because there will always be certain things that will remind you of it!

I wish I could answer more questions, but I am afraid that I would give away too much and I don’t want to spoil the story. For those who haven’t read Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece, I highly recommend that you do so. You won’t regret it, as Rebecca is an amazing tale full of dark secrets, remarkable characters and mysteries. This novel has everything I expect from a great book: psychological suspense, gothic elements, romance and twists. I just loved this book from beginning to end as it reminded me a little bit of Jane Eyre (one of my favorite books). I loved the characters and the plot was captivating and mesmerizing! Daphne du Maurier has created a fantastic and unforgettable tale and her descriptions and writing style are beautiful and breath-taking! I can’t wait to read other novels by this talented writer (I only read Frenchman’s Creek a few years ago)!

The Man in the Picture

When Oliver visits his former professor Theo Parmitter at Cambridge University, he thinks that they will be spending time just as usual – sitting by the fire, having nice conversations and drinking whisky. Oliver always enjoys listening to Theo’s stories, but this time, the old professor is about to narrate a strange and disturbing tale that will change Oliver’s life forever. The story begins and ends with a Venetian picture – a painting that hangs on Theo’s wall. It depicts a masked crowd at the Venice carnival. If you stare at the picture for too long, you can see strange things happening. It seems to draw you into itself so that you feel like becoming a part of the Venetian scene.  There’s just something odd and mysterious about that picture and the old professor is ready to reveal its gloomy secret. 

Theo has acquired the Venetian picture at an auction when he was younger. He just knew that he had to buy the painting because it fascinated him. Little did he know that this intriguing painting would have such strong impact on other people’s lives. The professor was very content with his new purchase and he often stared at the picture in awe. The years have passed and Theo’s life went on as usual, and nothing of importance happened. However, one day, he received a letter concerning his beloved painting. The letter was from a Lady Hawdon, a Countess who wished to see him and talk to him about the Venetian picture. Therefore, the professor decided to pay her a visit in order to find out what Lady Hawdon had in mind. When he met the old woman, she made clear that she wanted to buy the picture at any cost. Nevertheless, Theo didn’t want to sell the painting, even when Lady Hawdon told him a horrifying tale – a frightening story connected to the Venetian picture. A dark secret lies behind that alluring picture but what does Oliver have to do with it? 

Susan Hill’s Victorian ghost story is an enjoyable quick read – perfect for a winter day (or night). The Man in the Picture tells a strange story of loss, love and revenge. Even though this ghost story is not as frightening as The Ghost Writer or The Séance by John Harwood, it is still a haunting tale! I really liked this book, thus I recommend it to everyone who loves a good ghost story and to everyone who enjoys reading Gothic Fiction. 

I would like to thank Vida Engstrand from The Overlook Press for sending me a copy of this lovely book!

The Séance by John Harwood

The Séance by John Harwood

Constance Langton’s childhood takes an unhappy turn when her younger sister Alma dies at the age of two. Her mother goes into mourning and hardly speaks to anybody, and her distant father ignores her and eventually abandons the family. Since she feels unloved and neglected by her parents, Constance begins to think that she might have been a foundling. However, her questions remain unanswered because the girl has no one to confide in. She often feels alone and she can’t bear to see her mother so unhappy, therefore, Constance wants to find a way to cheer her mother up and to put an end to her pain. Thus, one day, Constance pretends to be taken over by Alma’s spirit and tells her mother that she is in heaven. The girl thinks that her mother will finally be able to go on with her life and to stop mourning, now that she knows that Alma is in heaven. Constance’s mother, however, seems to become obsessed with the idea of hearing Alma. Thus, the two attend a series of séances where Constance continues to pretend to be her sister. Her mother seems to be happy and she even smiles sometimes, but she is no longer content with only hearing Alma; she also wants to see and hold her. In desperation, Constance decides to take her mother to a séance held by a group of charlatans. There, her mother is convinced that she has really seen her beloved Alma and after all these years of grief, she finally seems to have found peace. But when Constance’s mother commits suicide after this event, the girl is shattered and she begins to blame herself for her mother’s death. Since her mother is gone, Constance is all by her self and she feels hopeless and lonelier than ever. Much to her surprise, Constance soon learns that a distant relative has bequeathed her entire estate to her. The protagonist finds out that the estate consists of Wraxford Hall, a derelict manor house in the English countryside. The decaying mansion has an obscure reputation: once, people have mysteriously disappeared there and other sinister things have taken place. Still, Constance doesn’t seem to be deterred by Wraxford Hall’s sombre history. She is determined to find out everything about the decaying mansion and about her distant relatives in the hope that she will learn more about herself. While she tries to unveil the dark secrets of Wraxford Hall, she becomes more and more convinced that she has indeed been a foundling, as she feels a strong connection to Wraxford Hall’s former residents. As the protagonist digs deeper into the mysterious events surrounding the decaying mansion, she finds herself entangled in a web of secrets, lies and deception. Thus, Constance needs to be careful, as in this world of illusion, nothing is quite as it seems and hidden dangers await her.

The Séance is an accomplished second novel from a very talented author; this compelling tale pays homage to Victorian Literature and to Victorian ghost stories. John Harwood has created a captivating world of intrigues, mysteries and dark secrets. The reader will enjoy this suspenseful ghost story, as the author has successfully managed to capture the language and spirit of the Victorian period and in addition, he has provided us with a well-constructed plot and fascinating characters. The Séance will appeal to readers who enjoy Victorian ghost stories and gothic tales and I recommend this novel to everyone who is interested in the Victorian Era. I am a huge fan of Victorian ghost stories, thus I must say that I loved this spellbinding tale! I really liked reading about Wraxford Hall, with its secret passages and hidden chambers, and I loved how the author has used the elements of a classic ghost story in this engaging novel (haunted houses, stormy nights, skeletons in the closet, dark mysteries and secrets, etc.). All in all, The Séance is a terrific Victorian ghost story and therefore, a must read for ghost story lovers!

I would like to thank Mariner Books for sending me a copy of this engaging novel!

 

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renne Hieber

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is set in the heart of Victorian London, where dark and mysterious things are taking place. Dangerous spirits are haunting this beautiful city and six people have been chosen to safeguard the mortal world from these supernatural terrors. This group, known as The Guard, awaits the fulfillment of the Prophecy, which promises that a last member will join their circle in time and help them fight against the forces of evil.

Nineteen years later, orphan Percy Parker arrives at the Athens Academy in Victorian London. The eighteen-year-old immediately feels out of place at her new school, since she is not like any other girl. Her strange and unique appearance sets her apart from the other students and Percy finds it hard to make friends. The students and professors think that she looks odd and thus, they keep their distance; but if they gave this timid girl a chance, they would find out that she is unique in every way. Percy speaks multiple languages and she has the ability to see ghosts and speak to them. Furthermore, she is often haunted by strange visions. However, Percy does not know why these peculiar things are happening to her. The shy girl yearns for acceptance and wants to be like everybody else, therefore she doesn’t want to tell anyone about her abilities. Percy doesn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to herself, so she tries to behave like the other students. She tries to focus on school and she is concerned about the fact that she has to attend math classes. She is a bright student, but she isn’t good at math and therefore, she hates it. Maybe her attractive Professor Alexi will be able to change her mind. There’s just something about him that fascinates Percy and she cannot stop thinking about him. What does this mysterious Alexi have to hide? And what do these two unlikely characters have in common?

Vivienne at Serendipity mentioned this refreshing novel and when I read the synopsis, I knew that I had to get my hands on this book!

Thus, I was very happy when I received a copy from Dorchester Publishing and I couldn’t wait to read it! I just loved this compelling novel, since it drew me in from the beginning and it took me on an unforgettable journey through Victorian London!

Leanna Renee Hieber has created a charming and imaginative gothic story that is full of spiritualism, mystery and romance. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is an engaging novel and I was immediately captivated by the lyrical language, the mythic themes and the well-drawn characters. In the beginning, Percy is described as a shy girl who has no self-confidence, but when she meets Professor Alexi, she gains strength and courage. Alexi, unlike the others, doesn’t feel intimidated by her appearance; he appreciates Percy and becomes aware of the fact that she is a beautiful young girl who is intelligent, kind and special in every way! All in all, this book is lovely and beautifully written; I really liked everything about it, especially the Victorian setting and the gothic and supernatural elements. This is indeed a strangely beautiful tale!

For more information (trailer, excerpts and prologue), please visit Leanna Renee Hieber’s website.