Posted in Reading

Book Review: The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

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Title: Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave
Author: Jonathan Stroud
My Rating: 5 stars

Rarely do I find a book or a series of books that I love as much as Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud. This weekend, I finished The Empty Grave, the fifth and final book in the series, and the feelings I have about these characters’ stories coming to an end are very bittersweet.

The Lockwood & Co. series is about teenage ghost hunters in London. It is set in a time when ghosts have become a big problem in society. Instead of just one or two popping up now and then, they’re everywhere, and they’re dangerous. Ghost-touch is fatal, and adults are especially vulnerable because they can’t see the spirits. Children and teenagers are the ones with the Talents– the ability to see, hear, and sometimes communicate with the dead– so they are the ones hired to fight the ghosts, locate their Sources, and seal them to protect the living. Most of the agencies have adult supervision, but not Lockwood & Co. This small, independent group works without adults, and they’re not afraid to break the rules (or burn a few houses down) to get the job done.

In The Empty Grave, the Lockwood team, consisting of Lucy Carlyle (the sensitive who can communicate with Type 3 ghosts), Anthony Lockwood (the confident, reckless leader of the group), George Cubbins (the always-messy, expert researcher), and their associates (Holly, Kipps, Flo, and the Skull in the jar) are homing in on something big. They think the head of the top agency in London is not who she claims to be and they may actually be close to solving the ghost problem. But in order to prove they’re right, they have to face more danger than ever before, and may even have to take a trip to The Other Side.

One of my favorite things about this book is the Skull in the jar. The Skull is a character in the story, an unusual one. He is the Source of the ghost of a teenage boy, but he’s trapped in a silver glass jar, so he’s not dangerous, and he can communicate with Lucy. He’s sarcastic and rude to her but sometimes helpful, and I love the interactions between them. In this book, the Skull keeps trying to persuade Lucy to let him out of the jar, though he’s not exactly convincing. Here’s an exchange from page 99 of The Empty Grave:

“‘Say I let you out. What would you do?’
I’d flit about. Stretch my plasm. Might strangle Cubbins. Carry out a spot of casual ghost-touch, now and again. Just simple hobbies.’

I think the author writes the Skull’s voice really well. Although he can be a giant pain to Lucy, I love his wit and humor and enjoy listening to his snide remarks.

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How I spent my Saturday…

I love to read, but I am often a slow reader. However, I flew through The Empty Grave, finishing this 437-page book in less than a week. On Saturday, I read for hours, losing a few fingernails and gaining a LOT of calories in the meantime. (I like to snack while I read.) I kept trying to put the book down to do chores or grade papers, but I couldn’t stay away for long. I couldn’t leave my favorite characters alone in such desperate situations. I had to go back. I had to know what happened next. That’s another reason why I love Jonathan Stroud’s books. His characters feel like friends. I’m never lonely when I’m hanging out with Lucy and Lockwood and George. (And the Skull in the jar.)

That brings me to the only thing I didn’t like about The Empty Grave: it ended. I loved the book, but I hate that this story is over. I will miss my character friends. However, there is a way to keep in touch with them. YOU can read the books, and you can tell me what they’re up to. I’d really like that.

If the Lockwood & Co. series sounds like something you would enjoy, start with book one, The Screaming Staircase, and tell my friends hello for me.

Posted in Reading

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography – Book Review

20170296Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

I finally finished this fun book. It took me a long time because sometimes I buy books and then keep them on my shelf for years before reading them. Sometimes I even wait for hours in line to have the book signed by the celebrity who wrote it, basking in my 1.5 seconds of breathing the same air as him, and STILL leave it on the shelf for years before reading it. (I don’t know why I do these things. Don’t ask.)

PicMonkey Collage

It also took a long time because the choose-your-own-adventure format of this memoir is CREATIVE and HILARIOUS and AWESOME, but it’s also a little confusing. When I started the book, I considered using sticky notes to mark the pages I’d read, but ultimately rejected that OCD idea, opting for a more organic experience instead. So I sat down and read and read and read about NPH’s early years and Doogie years and exploring-his-sexuality years. And then I read, read, read some more about his TV movies and his love of magic and his wonderful husband and their emotional journey into parenting. I got to “the end” multiple times and, eventually, decided I’d mostly finished the book. It was time to start back at the beginning and read only the pages that I’d skipped the first time around. This won’t take long. I’ll just make myself a cup of coffee and sit down and finish this thing.

I made the coffee. I sat down. I read. And read and read and read. It turns out, I was over 100 pages from finishing the book! The fact that I hadn’t yet read anything about his award-show hosting or How I Met Your Mother should have been a clue. Anyway, I continued in this manner until I was really– truly– finished with the book. Which was a couple of hours ago.

The fact that this book sat on a shelf for a couple of years and then confused me into thinking I’d finished it when really I’d only read half may make you think it wasn’t that good. But you’re wrong. Neil Patrick Harris is a great actor and a great singer and a great host, but he’s also a great writer. His anecdotes and footnotes and self-deprecating humor kept me smiling the whole way through, and his clever “alternate endings” are a nice touch and an amusing nod to the choose-your-own-adventure format.

All in all, it was fun hanging out with NPH for a few hundred pages. Despite the fact that my home (and life) bears no resemblance to that of his good friend Elton John, I think we’d get along.

*

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Posted in Reading, Writing

How Natalie Goldberg Turned Me Into a Thief

People say TV and video games are bad influences, but it was a book that made me a criminal.

[This story was originally posted on my previous blog, The Black Cat Diaries, on March 4, 2013.]

How Natalie Goldberg Turned Me Into a Thief

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Books can be bad influences.

Today I bought Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.  This book became famous for its inspiration to writers back in the 80s. After hearing it praised by several friends, I finally decided to see what the fuss was about.  Between errands, I popped into Barnes & Noble and picked it up. Then I stopped to grab a quick lunch.  But my quick lunch quickly became a slow leisurely meal as I dived into Goldberg’s book and found no desire to resurface.

From the very first page, I could not put it down. I suddenly felt like I was having lunch with an old friend, one who is really good at writing and really into Zen and who only came to lunch so that she could sit me down and tell me she believes in me and wants to give me a magical gift that will solve all my problems.  (Don’t you love friends/books like that?)  I wanted to linger in that taco shop all day and read all 200 pages, but I had more errands to run, so I ran.

My next stop was the car wash.  Not the drive-through kind, the hand-wash kind.  But not the hand-wash-it-yourself kind, the kind where you pay someone to hand-wash it for you. Specifically, I wanted the dog hair vacuumed out of the backseat before company arrives this weekend.

I drove to the car wash in an altered mental state.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Goldberg’s book.  In particular, I was contemplating her theory of writing as meditation.  I was concentrating so hard on this thought that I entered the car wash through the exit.  Whoops!  When I got myself turned around, I learned it would cost $25 to clean my car inside and out.  Somewhere in the back of my cloudy brain that sounded high to me, but… I was in a rush and decided that I certainly didn’t want to clean the car myself, so I nodded.

Besides, I still wasn’t REALLY thinking about car washes at all.  I was thinking about the part of the book that said, “Too many writers have written great books and gone insane or alcoholic or killed themselves.  This process teaches us about sanity.  We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories.”  I tried to remain sane as I got out of the car and handed the keys to the attendant.  When he handed me a ticket in return, I (thinking about how nice it would be to write a book and not want to kill myself) said, “What do I do with this?  Put it on my dashboard?”  He said, “No, you keep it.”  So I put the ticket in my pocket, floated through the building to the outdoor waiting area, and sat down at a picnic table.

For the next forty-five minutes, I completely lost myself in Writing Down the Bones—reading, underlining, jotting notes.  Before I knew it, a man was calling out, “Honda Civic?”  I waved.  He walked over, handed me my keys, then turned and pointed across the parking lot to my car.  I became vaguely aware that I should tip him.  In my wallet, I had only a twenty and a five, so—what the heck—I handed him the five.  Then I moved to my car, still gliding in the pleasant haze of Goldberg’s words.  I got in, pulled out onto the road, and, realizing I was in heavy traffic, snapped out of my reading-induced fog.

traffic_lightAt the first stoplight, I thought, “Oh my gosh!  It’s 4:30!?  I still have to buy groceries and make dinner!”

At the second stoplight, I looked in the backseat and thought, “Wow, there is still a LOT of dog hair back there!  That stinks!  I’ll have to clean it myself after all!”

At the third stoplight, I thought, “I tipped that guy five bucks.  That means that was a $30 car wash.  And they didn’t even do a good job.  I wonder if I should go back and complain.”

At the fourth stoplight, I thought, “HOLY CRAP!  I DID NOT PAY FOR MY CAR WASH!!!”

Yep, it’s true.  A guy handed me a ticket, I sat down at a picnic table and read a book, a guy handed me my keys, and I left.  The assumption here is that I skipped a step somewhere.  I was probably supposed to hand that ticket to someone inside the building who would then have asked me to give them money.  But I didn’t.  The only money I paid was the $5 tip.

You can judge me all you want, but I didn’t go back.  I was already halfway to HEB in rush hour traffic, and I didn’t feel like driving all the way back just to say, “Hi, I forgot to pay you, so here’s the money.  And by the way, you totally need to clean my car again.”  I do feel bad, but I am hoping the universe will forgive me for this one.

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My new bookmark

Anyway, though I may be lacking in morals, this story is not.

Moral #1:  The key to stealing something and getting away with it is a complete and total cluelessness, combined with a flighty, head-in-the-clouds attitude.  In short, ignorance = confidence, and if you act confident, no one will stop you.

Moral #2Writing Down the Bones is such a good book it can turn you into a criminal.  Thanks, Natalie Goldberg.  You owe the nice guys at the car wash $25.