For the Birds

This is not actually the 8th book I’ve read this year (I think it was actually the 10th), but I am falling behind on posting, and I really want to post my review of this brand new book, especially since most of my reviews thus far have been of old and older books. I was able to acquire this book for free before it was even published via Amazon Prime, and I feel I owe it to the author to post a review. I was hoping to get this done before the book was published, but I had a hard time finding opportunities to read in between school work (which involved a lot of reading). I don’t normally concern myself with spoiler warnings (since most of my reviews have been of older books, as I said), but this one has only been published for a short while, so here goes:

***This review may contain a few spoilers!!***

There you have it, so don’t read further if you don’t want to be spoiled. Note: I do not do major spoilers (like the ending or the big secret, etc…), only the small stuff that you probably know about before you even pick up the book.

Bird EaterThe Bird Eater (2014), by up-and-coming author Ania Ahlborn, is an excellently written horror story about a haunted house and the troubled lives of the people involved with it. Aaron Holbrook, the central figure of the book, returns to the house where his family was killed two decades prior in an attempt to restore not only the house, but his life as well, which is left in shambles after the death of his son. Though he is reunited with friends that thought he had died twenty years earlier, Aaron does not receive the kindest of welcomes back to his childhood hometown. There is one person in particular who incessantly torments him, nudging him further and further onto the brink of sanity. After hearing the ghost stories about the old home, Aaron is left to wonder what is real and what is not, but keeps pushing away those closest to him in fear that he will ruin their lives too, or that they will find out about his.

I really enjoyed how this book opens with two huge conflicts – a haunting and a death – which definitely succeeded in hooking me in. Ahlborn includes a lot of chilling dark imagery throughout that propelled me through the book, and really knows how to pack on the suspense, keeping me on the edge of my seat the entire time. She created characters that I wanted to cheer for as well as yell at, as they make numerous unintelligent decisions, reminiscent of old horror stories. Ahlborn also does a great job showing the scenes – utilizing all the senses to show every unique detail of the house, landscape, and characters. I was able seethe events perfectly while reading , though there was some confusion as she packs in a lot of backstory as well. That confusion is cleared as the story develops, though, as I began to put the pieces together. As the book progressed, and especially as it came to a close, I found myself wishing there had been more sections in the points of view of the supporting characters (Cheri and Eric), just to build their characters a little more. They did have some decent development, but I enjoyed being inside their heads in the brief times it occurred, and wished there had been more of it throughout the book.

Ania Ahlborn creates a unique and intriguing story in The Bird Eater, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. That last star could only be filled by adding more character development for the supporting characters.

Book 7

I have finally done it. I have boldly gone where not many people go anymore. It took me over a month, maybe even more than six weeks, but I have finally finished this whale of a book, this leviathan of a book. The hump of this book – the middle half approximately – was extremely tough to get through, as it was just so boring and dense at times that I had to put the book down and continue it later. But I eventually finished it, and now I can cast it to the bottom of the ocean where it belongs. Now, whenever someone asks me, “Hast seen the white whale?” I can say, “Aye, I have seen that mighty beast, and I have conquered it!”

OK, enough over-exaggerated and cheesy whale talk. Yeah, it took me a long time to finish Moby Dick (1851), but I also had a lot of other things going on, and some family sickness to deal with as well. Here’s what I really thought of it:

There is a ton I could say about Moby Dick. I will not be discussing any of the religious aspects of it though, as much of it is very controversial and I wish to keep that out of my blog for now. In general, I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the story of Captain Ahab and crew hunting the giant whale. I enjoyed the unique and well-crafted characters. I enjoyed the sarcasm and satire that Herman Melville heavily sprinkles into the book. And I enjoyed the ominous white whale, Moby Dick, this massive infamous beast that could be a whaler’s doom or his glory. There is much that I did not enjoy, though, which made for a very dense and painful read.

Moby Dick is comprised of three parts (according to me, not in actuality): The Introduction, the Information, and the Chase.

The Introduction is where we meet all the important characters like Ishmael, Queequeg, Ahab, and the mates. All these characters get long, drawn-out dramatic introductions, especially Queequeg and Ahab. It may be overdone a little bit, but I liked it. The suspense of finding out who these people were kept me reading. I was a little disappointed, though, that after all the character build-up for Queequeg, he nearly disappears for the rest of the book. He makes a couple cameos and then has an entire chapter where he almost dies, but that’s it. I was intrigued by the tattooed face and cannibalistic nature, and wanted more story for him later in the book.

The Information section of the book is what held me up and made me put the book down way too many times. In this section there are many chapters devoted to describing whales, whaling, and the ship. We learn about how a whale is caught, how it is cleaned and stripped, we even learn about how they use the skin of the whale’s penis as a shirt! We learn about the different types of whales, we learn about the whale’s physiognomy and countenance, and the different types of fins that each whale has. Sure, it’s all very interesting stuff, and Melville’s sarcasm and witty remarks make it a fun read (when I can understand his reference), but I just think it was too much. It seemed that what Melville really wanted to do was to write an informative book on whaling, but threw in a tragic adventure story to make it more interesting.

The Chase is the final conflict of the book. Moby Dick is spotted by the crew, and they immediately attempt to catch and kill him. They try for three days. The first two days, Captain Ahab’s boat is torn to pieces, and he barely escapes with his life. On the third day, though, nobody is lucky. The entire ship gets destroyed along with everybody in it. Except for Ishmael, of course, who is telling the story. This section of the book is not only the shortest, but it is also the fastest paced. It kept me on the edge of my seat, even though I already knew the outcome. But by this time, I just wanted to be done with the book, so I read it as fast as I could anyway.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book. It’s been on my to-read list for years, and now I can finally cross it off. It had a lot of unique and interesting features that will influence my own writing. I give Moby Dick 3 out of 5 stars

Book 4 of 2014

006I’ve never read The Scarlet Letter (I know, I know, shame on me! But it’s on my list!), but I have read some shorter works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and I’ve enjoyed everything. The same goes for The House of the Seven Gables. When I signed up for the class “Major American Authors of the 1850’s,” and saw Hawthorne’s name on the list, I thought for sure we would be reading his first, and most famous, novel. But as it turns out, the class has a strong focus on life in the early and mid-19th century, and The Scarlet Letter takes place two centuries prior, so it only makes sense that Seven Gables was chosen.

I was a little disappointed at first, until I opened the book and starting reading away, and realized it was about a cursed family in a haunted house. The book begins in the past, around the time of the Salem Witch Trials, when the revered Colonel Pyncheon accuses Matthew Maule of practicing witchcraft and has him hung. Said Colonel then seizes Maule’s land (with him buried on it) from his cold, dead clutch, and builds a giant seven-gabled house. And who does he hire to build it? Oh, Maule’s son Thomas. “Hey, I killed your father, now build me a house. No hard feelings right?” Well, as the story unfolds, we learn that not only are Wizarding abilities passed down through generations, but so is vengeance. The Maule’s do everything they can to subtly make the Pyncheon’s lives hellish. In the end, a descendant of Maule (under the name of Holgrave) marries one of the last remaining Pyncheons, a beautiful ray of sunshine named Phoebe. One can only wonder if this is the final act of Maule vengeance, uniting the the two ancient families (I’m sure the Colonel is rolling in his grave by this time), or if the two genuinely love each other. After all, Holgrave does hypnotize the poor girl at one point, but stops before he gets too deep into her mind. Or does he? 

Aside from the plot, Hawthorne does a masterful job with language, pacing, and using real names and events, but twisting them around to make them his own. His flowery prose, iconic of just about any book from this time period, gets a little wordy at times. But Hawthorne creates some really wonderful dark settings and creepy images throughout the book. His pacing starts off slow, as explanations of past events are carefully unfolded, but when the action speeds up, so does the pace. And as our mind gets used to reading in the 19th century, we are more able to comprehend the long, flowery sentences, and therefore, allowing the book to move along even quicker. Obviously Hawthorne did not know that his readers’ vocabulary would drastically decrease over the next 150 years (curse you texting and tweeting!), but he does make the reading easier when he’s not giving a tour of the house.

Not only did I enjoy the book, but I also learned a bit of history as well (always a plus!). I had no idea that Hawthorne’s great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne didn’t like that he was related to someone who sentenced innocent people to death, so he added the ‘W’ to his surname so that he was not associated with his ancestor. I also found out that Pyncheon and Maule were real families, and that he used real people for his characters, though he changed them quite drastically. Thomas Maule, who also happened to be an architect and builder, was not a witch (or wizard), but he did call out those Puritan ministers in their false accusations of witchcraft. He was whipped and all copies of his book were confiscated for his “crime.” I find it very interesting how Hawthorne took real people, places, and events, and twisted them around to create a compelling story.

I did not read the entire book pictured above, as half of it is just essays and such. Those that I have read thus far are interesting enough, but this review is for the novel only. I give The House of the Seven Gables 4 out of 5 stars.