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Tuesday, September 3 was the release date for Geoffrey Girard’s high concept pair of thrillers: Cain’s Blood and Project Cain. These fit perfectly into my RIP VIII challenge, so I started reading as soon as they downloaded to my kindle.

Cain's Blood

The DNA of the world’s most notorious serial killers has been cloned by the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a new breed of bioweapon. Now in Phase Three, the program includes dozens of young men who have no clue as to their evil heritage. Playing a twisted game of nature vs. nurture, scientists raise some of the clones with loving families and others in abusive circumstances. But everything changes when the most dangerous boys are set free by their creator. A man with demons of his own, former black ops soldier Shawn Castillo is hot on their trail. But Castillo didn’t count on the quiet young man he finds hiding in an abandoned house—a boy who has just learned he is the clone of Jeffrey Dahmer. As Jeffrey and Castillo race across the country on the trail of the rampaging teens, Castillo must protect the boy who is the embodiment of his biggest fears—and who may also be his last hope. Melding all-too-plausible science and ripped from- the-headlines horror, Cain’s Blood is a stunning debut about the potential for good and evil in us all.

[Plot Summary courtesy of Goodreads].

It was difficult for me to decide if I should read Cain’s Blood first, or the companion YA novel told from the perspective of one of the characters. I picked this one, deciding that it would give me a broader overview of the story as a whole. Over all, I think that was a good decision, but I will know for sure once I finish the second, which I am reading next.

I found this book fast-paced. It grabbed my attention, and maintained that attention through the entire reading experience. There is a lot, and I mean a lot of graphic violence, including sexual violence, and disturbing imagery in this book. I would not recommend this book for people who are squeamish, or who are triggered by graphic sexual violence. Think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and then multiply it by about eleventy-billion, and you’ll have an idea of the level of violence of this book.

The book did have a major weakness, and that was a basic inability to connect to the characters. They were all pretty much completely inhumane, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to become attached to them. The character of Jeff, who is the MC of the companion novel, comes the closest to possessing some actual humanity. The technothriller aspect of the book was also interesting, but not all that convincing.

Overall, I think that this was a book that was stylish and enjoyable – if disturbing – while consumed, but which will not stay with me for very long. I am certain that it will not make my top ten list for 2013.

The one last complaint – Gary Ridgway was known as the Green River Killer, not the Green Valley Killer, and he operated in the Pacific Northwest which is nowhere near the Northeast United States. This was a small error, but it was glaring and annoying, since the author had obviously done a great deal of homework on famous serial killers, yet he managed to completely flub this one.

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I followed up Cain’s Blood with this one. I rated Cain’s Blood at 3 stars on Goodreads. I added a star to this one because I personally think that it is the more interesting book of the two.

Fifteen-year-old Jeff Jacobson had never heard of Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous serial killer who brutally murdered seventeen people more than twenty years ago. But Jeff’s life changes forever when the man he’d thought was his father hands him a government file telling him he was constructed in a laboratory only seven years ago, part of a top-secret government cloning experiment called ‘Project CAIN’.

There, he was created entirely from Jeffrey Dahmer’s DNA. There are others like Jeff—those genetically engineered directly from the most notorious murderers of all time: The Son of Sam, The Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy . . . even other Jeffrey Dahmer clones. Some raised, like Jeff, in caring family environments; others within homes that mimicked the horrific early lives of the men they were created from.

When the most dangerous boys are set free by the geneticist who created them, the summer of killing begins. Worse, these same teens now hold a secret weapon even more dangerous than the terrible evil they carry within. Only Jeff can help track the clones down before it’s too late. But will he catch the ‘monsters’ before becoming one himself?[plot summary courtesy of Goodreads]

So, to expand: Cain’s Blood is a very traditional thriller, written in very traditional thriller fashion. Third person narrator. Lots of gore. Government conspiracies abound. Clones of serial killers. Former military special ops dude is hired by private company doing the government’s dirty work to clean up some secret and ill-advised weapons development that’s happening on the down low. Think: Halliburton + Seal Team Six + escaped serial killer clones on a rampage. It’s a ripping read, but there are dozens of books just like it published every month. It puts its own spin on the genre, but it is firmly within the genre.

Project Cain, though, isn’t as easy to pigeonhole. I did read Cain’s Blood first, so I’m not sure if it would have been as easy to follow without already knowing the story. It’s written in the first person, in a retrospective fashion. Some of the other reviews note that it contains a lot of info dumping, and that’s true. It does. There is a lot of researched information – presented in a rather dry and reportorial (I’m not sure if I just made that word up or not) fashion by our narrator, Jeff.

But, in my opinion, it totally works. Because this is Jeff’s story, and Jeff is learning all of this information as he experiences the most disorienting, stunning and terrible events of his life. One day he is one thing, the next day is he is something totally different, and this book is his process of learning who – and what – he is, and coming to an understanding of what it means. We are getting a retrospectively real time narrative from Jeff.

It absolutely isn’t necessary to read this book to get Cain’s Blood. I’m not sure if it’s necessary to read Cain’s Blood to get this one. There is a lot of overlap between the stories (right down to the inclusion of some of the same verbiage in both). I am a very fast reader, so I didn’t feel bogged down or bored by this, but I wonder if someone who is a slower reader would feel bored by the retakes.

I’m not sorry I read them both. I preferred Project Cain. That’s all.

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Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting his 8th consecutive autumn event.

In his words:

Be they our favorite cozy mysteries, exciting police procedurals, classic tales about things that go bump in the night or contemporary terrors that chill us to the bone, there is something delicious about the ability of the printed word to give us a fright. At no time of the year is this more of a delight than when Summer heat turns to Autumn chill as the days become ever darker.

Eight years ago I became aware of reading challenges and wanted to start one of my own, hoping to find others who shared my Autumnal predilection for the works of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker and other authors contemporary and classic who captured the spirit of gothic literature. All these years later we are still going strong, welcoming September with a time of coming together to share our favorite mysteries, detective stories, horror stories, dark fantasies, and everything in between.

This is my second year participating in R.I.P., and as is often the case, last year my intentions were much grander than my accomplishments. But, why let a little thing like that stand in the way of big plans?

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My goal is rather modest: to read two R.I.P books during the event period. I haven’t settled on two specific books yet. Possibly some Bradbury, or some Jackson or Doyle, or some Poe.

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I also plan to participate in the Peril of the Short Story!

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I have a read-along of M.R. James ghost stories tentatively planned in my Goodreads Group for the month of October.

Carl runs one of my favorite blogs, and there are a lot of participants in this years reading event. I think that I linked up as number 152. I am looking forward to all of the posts from people participating in the event – reading about the books that OTHER people are reading is almost as much fun as reading my own!

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Housekeeping matters: I am reading the Penguin Classics print edition, translated by Norman Denney. This edition lacks the scholarly introduction usually contained in the Penguin Classics editions, but does have a note from the translator, explaining his general theory of translation. This is the only edition I have ever read, so I am certainly not in a position to compare the Denney translation versus some of the other available versions, but I will say that I am very much enjoying this version. It is very fluid and readable. I also want to thank Tien for hosting this readalong. I am a bit blog challenged, and can’t figure out how to properly link, but if you are interested in checking out her blog (and I highly recommend that you do) she is on my blogroll.

The first volume of the book introduces us to two major characters: Jean Valjean and Fantine. It opens, however, by focusing on Bishop Myriel, who is a brief, but important, part of the book. Tien has provided us with some discussion questions, which I will deal with first, and then I will just post my overall thoughts about Volume I of Victor Hugo’s masterwork.

What do you think of Bishop Myriel? He’s definitely described as being truly saintly; I’m wondering if there’s any pessimistic reader out there?

I am not a pessimist about Bishop Myriel. I find it refreshing that Hugo has written such an unequivocally positive religious character. He appears to be, truly, a genuinely self-sacrificing man, who is doing things, not because it will make him look good in the eyes of his parishioners, but because he is genuinely altruistic. There was a great deal of hypocrisy amongst the church during this time period, but there must also have been men like Bishop Myriel.

I found the interaction between Valjean and Myriel very touching. It reminded me very strongly of the story of the prodigal son from the Bible. If he were asked, I believe that Myriel would consider the redemption of Jean Valjean to be one of his greatest (if not his greatest) accomplishments.

For those of you who are reading this for the first time, was there any assumptions you have made previously from whatever source which was just incorrect? Was there anything which surprises you from the past week’s readings?

My knowledge of this story was very basic before I began reading. I saw the musical years ago, but I actually remember very little about it other than the incredible music! I can say that my impression of Javert was very simplistic based upon his treatment in the musical version. He is a more complex character than I realized. In addition, Jean Valjean is not quite so simple either. He has a dark side that I’m not sure was really explored in the musical, and was very much a character in need of redemption. He could have gone either way at the moment that he was confronted with his choices, and going in the direction of good wasn’t a foregone conclusion. I like the fact that both of these characters are more complex and less cardboard-cut-out than I had previously realized.

What do you think of the contrast between Javert & Valjean?

This is sort of addressed in the prior paragraphs. Popular impression of this book is that Valjean is good and Javert is bad. The reality of the book is not nearly so simple.

What has been the high point for you this week? Any quote/s which bowled you over this week?

There were two high points for me in this section of the book: first, the scene between Myriel and Valjean, which I have already mentioned. I loved the part where that I remember best from that scene was where Myriel tells Valjean that he has bought back his soul.

The second high point for me was Hugo’s treatment of Fantine, and where he says: “What is the true story of Fantine? It is the story of society’s purchase of a slave. A slave purchased from poverty, hunger, cold, loneliness, defencelessness, destitution. A squalid bargain, a human soul for a hunk of bread” at page 180. This will lead me to some of the broader themes that I want to talk about.

One of the reasons that I love reading classic literature is that it explores important themes. That a book written and published in 1862 could be timely today is always something that astonishes me. And yet, this book is timely, and for two main reasons.

This era of French history was an era where society lacked any safety net for the poor, the impoverished, the “miserables” of society. Valjean provides a pointed example of this: he ended up serving a 19 year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread to feed children. It cannot be denied that the inequities of French society were great. In an era of increasing inequality and increasing assaults on the safety net in my own country, reading a book like this provides a reality check. Humanity is capable of tossing the weakest members out of the social compact. We must guard against losing our compassion, as society lost compassion for Fantine and for Jean Valjean. Their crimes were not so great that they deserved to be discarded as worthless.

As a woman, the story of Fantine is equally (if not more) important to me. The oppression of women is a constant theme in Victorian literature, and let us make no mistake about it: Fantine was punished as though she were a criminal for the “crime” of unchastity, while her partner was free to discard her without suffering any ill-effects whatsoever. There was no access to reliable birth control in those days, and women suffered for it. In my opinion, the single most important thing that separates modern women from the fate of Fantine isn’t our ability to vote, or our ability to own property. It is unrestricted access to reliable, personal, and private birth control, and our ability to chart our own reproductive destinies. I don’t want to go off on a political rant, but there are forces at work in my nation that want to change this, that would, perhaps not send us back to the fate of Fantine, but which would diminish our ability to decide if, and when, we have children. This theme is constant in the literature of the past because it is important. It is best to be reminded, frequently, how things once were because, as the saying goes: those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.

Les Miserables is the history of France, but it is also the history of the world.

Anyway, I am very much enjoying Les Miserables. Victor Hugo was an unrepetant critic of human society. I look forward to the section on Cosette.

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This was my first RIP VII read, and I loved it! Sarah Waters is an amazing author – I am so excited to have found someone with a fairly significant backlist to explore (especially because she is firmly amongst the living, so I can anticipate new books being released by her as well).

I love the cover of this book. I think it does a great job of hinting at the story contained within the covers, and as embarassing as it is to admit, I am attracted to a pretty covers. It is sometimes unfair, judging a book by it’s cover, but in this case, I definitely got what I expected. The image of the crumbling mansion, with the gloomy backdrop definitely provides a sense of atmosphere and foreboding.

Rather than providing a traditional review, I just want to talk a bit about the book, and what I liked about it. I’m not a big horror reader, but I do love a story with gothic attributes, which this one had in spades. I also love the time period of this book, which is set in postwar England during a period of intense social change, where the traditional divisions in English society are rapidly collapsing.

To start, Sarah Waters can write. Her sentences are often a thing of beauty, and her descriptive passages can be simply wonderful. She has an unerring sense of how to build suspense in the book as a whole, but also in smaller increments, in scenes within the book. There was a scene where we, the readers, are aware that something terrible is going to happen at a dinner party because the narrator had told us so in the chapter before the dinner party actually began. Ms. Waters expertly described the dinner party in all of it’s mundanity, while still managing to leave me on the edge of my seat as she built almost unbearable suspense as to when the terrible event would actually occur.

There is also the aspect of the unreliable narrator, Dr. Faraday. I often have very mixed emotions about the use of unreliable narrator, and sometimes feel that it didn’t really work for the story. In this book, though, the unreliable narrator works perfectly. Dr. Faraday is definitely not what he seems, and he is definitely not telling us the unvarnished and objective truth about the events at Hundreds Hall. And because she weaves him so convincingly, even at the end of the book, the reader is left a bit confounded. Rarely am I required to go back through, and think about a book, looking for the trail of breadcrumbs that was dropped by the author. With this book, I feel that I must put some distance between myself and the book, and then I am going to reread it and look, again, for all of those hints that I know Sarah Waters left me – some of which I caught, and some of which, I am certain I missed.

So, The Little Stranger is a simple ghost story. Or it isn’t. The Little Stranger is a psychologically compelling study of a madman. Or it isn’t. The Little Stranger is a description of a series of brilliantly executed murders. Or it isn’t. And that is what makes this book so amazing – any of these possibilities is left open (although I, of course, have my own opinion as to who, or what, The Little Stranger actually was) for the reader to think through at the end and come to his or her own conclusions.

A worthy read for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, indeed.

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I love Harry Potter. Of course, I love Harry, Ron and Hermione. And Neville, Ginny, Luna and Fred and George, and Rowling’s other young characters.

But, as well, I love her grown up characters. I love it that she didn’t fall victim to the old trope of children’s book writers who write adult characters who are simply unalloyed morons. Who continually get IN the way, instead of OUT of the way, or, even better, who work hard to be good examples of adulthood.

So, in honor of Rowling’s awesome adult characters, I want to mention five of my favorites:

  1. Minerva McGonagall. Oh, how I love thee, Professor McGonagall. It’s not just Maggie Smith’s brilliant performance in the movies, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s McGonagall’s unswerving sense of decency, and the prickly tenderness that marks her relationship with Harry, in particular, but also with the other young Gryffindor’s in her charge.
  2. Molly Weasley. The truest mother figure in the series, Molly Weasley is supportive without being disempowered or weak. Her relationship with Arthur Weasley is a lovely example of a real and solid marriage built on things like mutual respect and trust and honor. And, best of all, she effing kicks ass at combat magic. If there is a character that I most aspire to be like, it is probably Molly Weasley. And not just because of that cheer-worthy scene during the Battle For Hogwarts that all Harry Potter fans will remember, and relish, but also because she had a heart big enough to take in a motherless boy and give him the unconditional love that he needed and deserved, even though she had seven children of her own already.
  3. Remus Lupin. Again, my love of all things Lupin isn’t merely because David Thewlis is an amazing actor. Lupin is deeply honorable, and unselfish to the point of self-destruction. He expects literally nothing for himself.
  4. Dolores Umbridge. Yes, I hate her. We’re meant to hate her. And, of course, Rowling almost went over the top with the evil that is Umbridge, as she is one of the least-multi-dimensional characters in the series. There is an argument to be made, and in my opinion that argument is not laughable, that Umbridge is a more dangerous kind of evil than Voldemort. Because Voldemort is openly evil – he revels in his evil, rolls around in it like a dog covering himself in stink. Umbridge, on the other hand, pretends to be good but is, at her core, completely rotten. And therefore, as a character she is valuable. She reminds us to look below the surface, to refuse to take things at face value, to question authority. She added tremendously to the story.
  5. Hagrid. Of course, Hagrid. If Harry is the soul of the story, and Hermione is the brains, then Hagrid is the heart. And he is all heart, all good, almost childlike in his deep and abiding belief in Dumbledore, in Harry, and in the inevitability of the triumph of good over evil. The scene in the last book where Hagrid carries Harry back to castle is beautiful, so poignant and tender that it has the power to move me to tears nearly every time I read it.

There are so many other characters that I could’ve mentioned: Dobby, of course, and Severus Snape, who I’m sure I’ll talk about at some point, and Sirius Black, and Dumbledore himself.

I have nearly finished my re-read of Sorcerer’s Stone. More on that later.

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I’m already signed up for two group reads this fall: Jenna @ Lostgenerationreader’s Harry Potter readalong on http://lostgenerationreader.com/2012/08/31/harry-potter-read-along-master-post/and Les Miserables on Tiensblurb (http://tiensblurb.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/join-a-read-along-les-miserables-15-sept-1-dec/). Discovering the (new to me) wordpress book blogging community has been so much fun that I feel a bit like a kid in the candy store.

So, is one more one too many? I hope not, because having stumbled upon RIP VII, hosted at http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/r-eaders-i-mbibing-p-eril-vii, I can’t resist joining. Between the gorgeous images that are clearly designed to successfully entice readers who love all things autumn, all things gothic, and all things mysterious, and the two books that were picked for the group reads, I am in for Peril the First. I artfully chose the books in my Top Ten list from yesterday to coincide with this readalong.

I will be reading The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Murders in Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe, and one more, to be named later, but quite possibly Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In the Castle. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Shirley Jackson. I read her well-regarded short story – The Lottery – in high school, of course, but haven’t read anything else of hers.

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