Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Now the above description may sound confusing, but Holt tells the story well, and I found myself captivated with the story and unable to put the book down. The one huge complaint is one that any woman would have reading the book. The Baron rapes Kate, and although he did it for reprehensible reasons, to ruin Bertrand's relationship, he late couches the event in terms of love. Even Kate, who at first is horrified, starts to have feelings of lust as she recounts the story later. She admits that she may want to go back to being a willing captive of the Baron's. Throughout, even when Kate abhors the Baron and his act, Nicole tries to say that the Baron isn't such a bad person. That really irks me, and I think it really left a bad taste in my mouth at the end of the book when Kate started to change her tune about the Baron. So I am really conflicted about this one. I really was captivated by the story, and It was one of the better Victoria Holt books that I read. I think that's the negative rap on some of the romance books. Rape and consensual sex are confused in these books and it's not a positive image for women.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
This book is shorter than the others and a very quick read. Johnny Dixon really doesn't feature in the book, other than as a possessed body lying in the hospital at the brink of death. Fergie, after all the evil and magical things that have happened to him, is a skeptic, and just thinks that there is nothing mysterious or evil going on. Both Johnny's grandparents and Fergie's parents seem cool with their children hanging out with a nutty old professor, and Fergie's parents let him go on an weekend excursion up the Hudson River with the Professor. Of course, there are lots of chills, and the evil spirit of Warren Windrow is exorcised. As with the other books, Edward Gorey did the cover art, which you can see here. Gorey's art does a great job of capturing the spirit of the story. So far, although this book has some weak spots, I found it the most enjoyable of the Johnny Dixons that I have read.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
As I mentioned, the Johnny Dixon books are very similar in plot. Johnny finds himself in danger of losing his life to evil forces. The professor has to battle to free Johnny from the evil. In The Eyes of the Killer Robot, Johnny is physically kidnapped instead of being spiritually hijacked, and this time the threat is much more dangerous. Not only is the plot good, but the cover art by Edward Gorey is amazing. It really captures the thrill of the moments when Johnny, Fergie, and the professor find the pitching robot, and the moment when the evil Evaristus Sloane tries to steal Johnny's eyes for a new robot. The Johnny Dixon books are good summer vacation reading for the kids and for the adults with a child's enthusiasm.
Friday, May 16, 2014
I was sad to hear that Mary Stewart died earlier this week on May 9. She was 97 years old, and she was one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. If you haven't read her books, you should give them a try. Some of my favorites were The Moon Spinners, The Ivy Tree, Wildfire at Midnight, and My Brother, Michael. I first started reading Mary Stewart after watching Hayley Mills in The Moon Spinners. The movie is not like the book, but it got me reading and enjoying Mary Stewart and the romantic suspense genre, in general. Mary Stewart also wrote the Merlin trilogy: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. I haven't read those books, but I will have to try to wedge them in. I found a video Interview with Mary Stewart on YouTube that gave some nice insight into Stewart. I must admit I was surprised at how Mary Stewart looked in the video because the only picture I ever saw was the one on her books from the 1950s. She looks just like someone's lovable grandmother. RIP, Mary Stewart!
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
That's when things heat up at the professor's house. A mysterious Jack-O-Lantern appears in an upper window, and then the professor disappears. Johnny sees an image of the professor in a mirror asking for help, but of course, the image vanishes. Johnny tries to get his best pal, Fergie, to believe him, but Fergie wants proof, which Johnny can't provide. Johnny finds an unexpected ally in local priest, Father Higgins, who was also a great friend of the professor. Johnny spilled his guts to Father Higgins, except for the vision of the great-uncle's death and Johnny keeping the small skull. Father Higgins suggests a ritual request to Saint Anthony, saint of lost things, to find out where the professor is. Surprises of surprises, when three days after the ceremony, Father Higgins and Johnny receive an answer that sends them to an island in Maine. The interesting thing is that when Father Higgins checked on the clock, he found out that it was sold to someone on the island. Father Higgins travels to Maine with Johnny and Fergie to find and rescue the professor.
Even though Johnny doesn't seem to learn from past mistakes, I have to admit that I found The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull to be a very enjoyable and thrilling read. It has just enough spookiness to keep the reader on the edge of the seat. An interesting commentary on the time. The book is set in 1952. When Father Higgins goes to the Gramma and Granpa to ask if Johnny can go away with him for the weekend, they are agreeable and honored that the Father would take Johnny. Now in the light of all the Catholic priest abuse scandals, I don't think parents would be willing to allow a child to go away for the weekend with a priest.
Edward Gorey did the frontispiece for the book. It's a drawing of the Childermass clock. He seems to have had a good working relationship with Bellairs. I would have liked to have seen more illustrations throughout the book. Drawings of the skull and other eerie events would have added to the tension in my opinion. The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull is an good entry in the Johnny Dixon mysteries. What are you waiting for? Give one of them a try.
Monday, May 12, 2014
The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt was a very enjoyable read. The magic elements were well-done: scary and not overdone. The puzzle of the will was thorny, and obvious, once it was explained. I still like Johnny. As Bellairs says in the book, "Johnny was a pretty strong boy, in spite of his timidity." Johnny has determination, and although he is not the best athlete, he never comes across as wimpy as Lewis Barnavelt. I love the addition of Fergie. He's smart just like Johnny, and they get into a trivia dual when they first meet. Fergie is also athletic and brave. I can't wait for the further adventures of Johnny, Fergie, and Professor Childermass.
Edward Gorey did a frontispiece and maps for the book. The Johnny Dixon series doesn't have many illustrations, but Gorey did a great job of conveying mood and plot through the few illustrations.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Johnny goes off to live with his grandparents, and he unfortunately displays some of the characteristics of Lewis. He is new to the town and school (a Catholic school), and therefore, he has no friends. Johnny also becomes a target for the local bully, Eddie Tompke. Johnny does make friends with his grandparents friend and across the street neighbor, Professor Roderick Childermass. The professor is a learned man, and he befriends Johnny, playing chess with him and plying him with chocolate cake. The professor also tells the tale of Father Baart, local parson who supposedly was given a magic talisman in the late 1800s. Father Baart was rumored to have done some sort of magic to result in the deaths of two local villagers that he hated. Then Father Baart disappeared, never to be seen again. Every now and again, someone sees Father Baart's ghost, but there's no real clue as to what happened to Father Baart. One day, when Johnny was trying to avoid Eddie, he ran into the church attached to Johnny's school. While inside, Johnny explores the basement and finds a hollowed out book with a blue ushabti, an Egyptian statue included in the tombs of the wealthy. The ushabti would perform work for the deceased in the underworld. A note warning that the figure must not be removed from the church is also included. Johnny, of course, takes the book and the ushabti home, and that's when the adventure starts to begin. Johnny asks the professor if the ushabti is real, and if it might be magical. The professor sees that it is just an old souvenir from Cairo, Illinois. However, one evening while Johnny is hanging out in the church because he felt something pulling him there, Johnny meets Mr. Beard. Mr. Beard gives Johnny a ring to wear and tells Johnny to say a daily prayer over the ushabti. The next thing you know, Johnny is being controlled by the ring and scares off Eddie with a gust of strong wind. When Johnny finally realizes that Mr. Beard is really the evil Father Baart in disguise, and that Johnny's soul is at stake, Johnny feels helpless. The professor tries to help, but Johnny won't say anything until he is taken to a psychiatrist who uses Sodium Pentothal to get the truth from Johnny. There is a terrifying showdown between Johnny, the professor, and Father Baard, and I won't ruin the story by saying how that turns out.
Maybe because I so recently finished The Figure in the Shadows, I recognized all the similarities. Both Lewis and Johnny have problems with bullies. Both wind up wearing something (Lewis wears a necklace, and Johnny wear a ring) that negatively controls their behavior and that fights removal. Both of the evil characters are nebulous, hovering, dark forms. Even with all the similarities, I found myself liking Johnny. Also, the professor is a much more realistic and interesting character than Uncle Jonathan. The Figure in the Shadows came first in 1975, while The Curse of the Blue Figurine was published in 1983. The other books in the Johnny Dixon series sound fun, so I'll continue reading them.
Monday, May 5, 2014
At the farm, there is no magic ring, but there are signs that the house was broken into and searched. Mrs. Zimmermann and Rose Rita continue on their road trip, but things start going horribly wrong. Mrs. Zimmermann lost her magical wand in The Figure in the Shadows, and now she seems to be a victim of black magic. Mrs. Zimmermann almost dies of mysterious stomach pains, and Rose Rita crashed the car, Bessie, while trying to drive Mrs. Zimmermann to a doctor. Mrs. Zimmermann and Rose Rita return to the farm after Mrs. Zimmermann starts to realize that someone is trying to use black magic against her. Back at the farm, Mrs. Zimmermann mysteriously vanishes, and it's up to Rose Rita to solve the mystery of Mrs. Zimmermann's disappearance. Will Rose Rita save Mrs. Zimmermann?
I could feel a strong connection to Rose Rita. Growing up is a hard thing to do, especially when you realize that the growing up might involve some major changes on your part. It's even harder when those changes are really not wanted, such as Rose Rita wanting to continue to be a tomboy instead of a girly girl. The situation became quite tense, and there were some especially harrowing moments towards the end of the book. Will Rose Rita change, and will she be happy with the change? Who knows? As Mrs. Zimmermann says Rose Rita will just have to wait and see how her life turns out. That's all any of us can do.