Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: The Haunting Of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

The Haunting Of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Review: I fell in love with Shirley Jackson’s short stories when I was in college, but her novels seem to get mixed reviews. A lot of people love her short fiction and feel “meh” about her longer work. I stumbled across a copy of The Haunting of Hill House at the used bookstore and decided to give it a try.

I guess I fall into the “meh” category. I like parts of this book, but it’s not as creepy as I hoped.

The story follows four people who come to a mansion called Hill House to investigate the paranormal activity that allegedly occurs there. The main character is Eleanor, a young woman who has spent most of her adult life caring for her dying mother and dealing with her overbearing sister. She thinks her trip to Hill House will give her a chance to become independent. At first, the ghost hunt is just a fun adventure with her new friends. Then things start to go wrong. The ghosts at Hill House refuse to let Eleanor leave.

“All I could think of when I got a look at the place from the outside was what fun it would be to stand out there and watch it burn down.” – The Haunting of Hill House

This book is a character-driven horror story. There are ghosts, but most of the tension comes from the relationships between the characters. Eleanor is very childlike, and the other characters treat her like a kid. This pisses her off because she just got away from her awful sister, who also treats her like a kid. She’s still figuring out what she wants to do with her life. She’s not as “adult” as other people her age, but she’s trying (mostly).

The house makes the conflicts worse by turning the characters against each other. Possessions are mysteriously destroyed, forcing the characters to share clothes and bedrooms. Strange writing appears on the walls, making the ghost hunters question if one of them is playing a prank. On the surface, everybody appears to get along, but there’s a simmering tension that runs through the relationships. The reader gets the sense that the characters could start hating each other at any moment.

The descriptions of the house are extremely well written. It’s easy to imagine this huge, creepy mansion with weird doors and staircases everywhere. It’s like a fictional version of the Winchester Mystery House in California.

“Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” – The Haunting of Hill House

My problem with this novel is that there’s entirely too much talking. Most of the time, the characters aren’t even saying anything important. They’re just yapping at each other. It massively got on my nerves. I wanted them to stop talking about ghost hunting and actually go ghost hunting. You’re in a haunted mansion! Put down the alcohol, shut your traps, and do something interesting! I don’t have the patience for this.

My attention wandered often while reading this novel, but I like the ending. It makes the reader question if Eleanor is a reliable narrator. Is the house messing with her mind? Is she going insane? Has she always been insane? As the story progresses, Eleanor’s worst fears come true, and she starts identifying with the house more than with the people inside it. Is that the house’s fault, or Eleanor’s?

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.” – The Haunting of Hill House

I was kind of disappointed with this book. I expected it to be creepier. I liked it enough that I’ll try some of Shirley Jackson’s other novels, but so far, I prefer her short stories.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Sunday Post #127

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
  • On Tuesday I have suggestions for Santa.
  • On Wednesday I review All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.
  • On Thursday I have a Christmas tag.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

2018 Challenges

Next year, I’m once again going to be participating in the Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight. If you have any topics you’d like to see me blather about, let me know. I’ve been participating in this challenge for years, and I’m all out of ideas. Stupid things happen when I run out of ideas. Save me from my own stupidity! Give me discussion topics!

In My Reading Life

Last week, I reread A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. Now I’m (finally!) reading A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. This was one of my most-anticipated releases of 2017. I swear I’m going to finish it before the end of the year.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Rereading a series I like.
  2. Christmas cookies! And Christmas music! I’m sorry to anyone who comes near my desk while I’m working. Those poor people get inundated with Christmas music. I’m probably driving everybody nuts. It’s not my fault that the Internet has so many Christmas playlists. Playlists are meant to be played. Loudly. For hours.
  3. Book mail.
  4. My laptop stopped making that ominous humming sound. (Or my music is so loud that I can’t hear it?) Whatever. I really hope it doesn’t come back because if my laptop breaks, I might have to actually go places and talk to people. *Shudder.*
  5. It snowed!

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The “More Creepiness” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently.

Here are some of the creepy-sounding books I’ll be reading in 2018.

The “More Creepiness” Book Haul

The Possessions – Sara Flannery Murphy

In an unnamed city, Eurydice works for the Elysian Society, a private service that allows grieving clients to reconnect with lost loved ones. She and her fellow workers, known as “bodies,” wear the discarded belongings of the dead and swallow pills called lotuses to summon their spirits—numbing their own minds and losing themselves in the process. Edie has been a body at the Elysian Society for five years, an unusual record. Her success is the result of careful detachment: she seeks refuge in the lotuses’ anesthetic effects and distances herself from making personal connections with her clients. 
But when Edie channels Sylvia, the dead wife of recent widower Patrick Braddock, she becomes obsessed with the glamorous couple. Despite the murky circumstances surrounding Sylvia’s drowning, Edie breaks her own rules and pursues Patrick, moving deeper into his life and summoning Sylvia outside the Elysian Society’s walls. 
After years of hiding beneath the lotuses’ dulling effect, Edie discovers that the lines between her own desires and those of Sylvia have begun to blur, and takes increasing risks to keep Patrick within her grasp. Suddenly, she finds her quiet life unraveling as she grapples not only with Sylvia’s growing influence and the questions surrounding her death, but with her own long-buried secrets.

The Cresswell Plot – Eliza Wass

Castella Cresswell and her five siblings—Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem—know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father. 
Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice. 
Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.

This Monstrous Thing – Mackenzi Lee

In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits. 
His brother, Oliver—dead. 
His sweetheart, Mary—gone. 
His chance to break free of Geneva—lost. 
Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead. 
But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship. 
Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay.

Stranded – Bracken MacLeod

Badly battered by an apocalyptic storm, the crew of the Arctic Promise find themselves in increasingly dire circumstances as they sail blindly into unfamiliar waters and an ominously thickening fog. Without functioning navigation or communication equipment, they are lost and completely alone. One by one, the men fall prey to a mysterious illness. Deckhand Noah Cabot is the only person unaffected by the strange force plaguing the ship and her crew, which does little to ease their growing distrust of him. 
Dismissing Noah's warnings of worsening conditions, the captain of the ship presses on until the sea freezes into ice and they can go no farther. When the men are ordered overboard in an attempt to break the ship free by hand, the fog clears, revealing a faint shape in the distance that may or may not be their destination. Noah leads the last of the able-bodied crew on a journey across the ice and into an uncertain future where they must fight for their lives against the elements, the ghosts of the past and, ultimately, themselves.

A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia. 
To her parents' despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie's descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts' plight. With John, Marjorie's father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Discussion: How A Book Gets A DNF From Me

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2017 Discussion Challenge.

Last month, I discussed how a book gets 5 stars from me, so this month, let’s do the opposite. What makes me quit? Here’s how a book ends up on my DNF (Did Not Finish) shelf on Goodreads.

What makes me quit?

Too Much Dialect

I’ve always been a slow reader. In school, I was that annoying kid who was still pondering question #1 when everyone else was finished with the quiz. I dislike anything that makes my reading even slower. Books with a lot of dialect tend to slow me down so much that I lose patience and give up. However, I did manage to get through Faulkner’s work and A Clockwork Orange in college, so *Pats self on back.*

It Feels Unfinished

This mostly happens with self-published books. I’m not interested in reading a first draft. If a book is full of typos and Creative Writing 101 mistakes, I’m not going to read it.

Google is a thing you should use

I’m usually pretty forgiving of research errors. I realize that authors make mistakes, and that it often takes massive amounts of research to write a book. It’s easy for an author to accidentally overlook something. Still, I occasionally wonder if authors even bother to Google the things they’re writing about.

It’s Unnecessarily Huge

Remember when I said I’m a slow reader? It takes me forever to finish a big book. If I feel like a book is padded with unnecessary fluff, I’m probably not going to finish it.

It Makes Me Feel Confused Or Stupid

Have you ever been reading a book and felt like you were completely missing the point? Like, whatever message the author was trying to send was not being received? I don’t mind reading challenging or weird books, but some of them just go way over my head. I don’t want bafflement to be the primary emotion I feel while reading.

Whine, Whine, Whine

Have you encountered this plot? A character—or an author in nonfiction—gets the opportunity to go on an amazing adventure. The character/author then spends the entire adventure whining about how miserable they are. Yeah. I’m not here to listen to you complain about your amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sorry.

Preach, Preach, Preach

I love it when stories have themes or morals, but I don’t want the moral to be the main point of the story. If the plot and characters only exist to teach me something, I’m going to get annoyed, even if I agree with the message. I can overlook this with fables and fairytales because I know that those exist to teach kids lessons, but if a novel suddenly turns preachy, I’m done.

Is This A Textbook?

I’m extremely picky about nonfiction. I only like narrative nonfiction. If a nonfiction book doesn’t have a plot, I’ll probably get bored. I also can’t stand textbook-like info-dumps in fiction. Too many of them will make my eyes glaze over.

What makes you give up on a book?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review: The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is in fact a good witch who shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna's thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge—with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth's surface. And the woman with the Tiger's heart is on the prowl . . .

Review: I’ve always been confused about literary awards like the Newbery. It’s an award for children’s books, but it’s judged by adults. I sometimes wonder how many of the winning books actually appeal to children. The books I liked as a kid weren’t exactly highbrow. I enjoyed puke jokes and illustrations of characters in their underwear. My definition of “quality literature” changed drastically when I grew up.

My point is: The Girl Who Drank The Moon won the Newbery award, but I don’t think I would’ve had the patience to slog through it as a child.

An evil witch is stalking a fantasy village. To keep the witch happy, the village leaders select one baby every year to leave in the forest as a sacrifice. What the villagers don’t know is that the leaders are lying to them. The witch isn’t evil. She doesn’t require a baby. In fact, the witch has no idea why the leaders keep leaving babies in her forest. Whenever she comes across one of the abandoned children, she takes it to a different village and gives it to a family who wants it. The whole abandoned baby thing is part of a scheme that the leaders are using to stay in power.

The village leaders keep abandoning babies for years until the witch makes a mistake. She accidentally feeds one of the babies moonlight instead of starlight, infusing the child with magic. The baby can no longer be given to a normal human family. The witch names the girl “Luna” and decides to keep her. As Luna grows into a powerful witch, she will help bring down the village’s corrupt leaders.

I can understand why adults love this book. It’s intricately plotted, full of clever wordplay, and has important themes. There are probably some (very patient) children who would also love this book, but I wondered about the average child. How suitable is this novel for a middlegrade audience? Most of the characters are adults. The novel is nearly 400 pages, and it’s excruciatingly slow. And excruciatingly repetitive. I spent most of the book waiting for the disparate plot threads to come together and make sense. I ended up getting frustrated pretty quickly. Beautiful writing can only get you so far. Eventually, something needs to happen. For most of the book, nothing is really happening.

The book does have some awesome themes, though. The story shows the danger of politicians who use fear of outsiders to gain power. The village leaders play up the “evilness” of the witch in the forest to make the villagers compliant. Only the leaders know how to appease the witch. Without the leaders, the witch will destroy the village. Except, none of that is true. The witch is a friendly, loving old lady who has no reason to hurt the villagers. This “irrational fear of outsiders” theme is very relevant to real-life politics right now.

“Knowledge is power, but it is a terrible power when it is hoarded and hidden.” – The Girl Who Drank The Moon 
“A story can tell the truth . . . but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed. And who could benefit most from such a power?” – The Girl Who Drank The Moon

I also love how this book shows adoption and adoptive families. The abandoned babies are given to families who love them immensely. There are no evil stepparent stereotypes in here. Happy families come in all shapes and sizes.

So, there are some parts of The Girl Who Drank The Moon that I enjoyed, but mostly I was bored. The plot takes too long to get moving and start making sense. I really don’t think I would’ve had the patience to finish this book as a child.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: Escape From Eden – Elisa Nader

Escape From Eden – Elisa Nader

Since the age of ten, Mia has lived under the iron fist of the fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join his fanatical family of followers. In Edenton, a supposed “Garden of Eden” deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the Reverend’s strict but arbitrary rules—even the mandate of whom they can marry. Now sixteen, Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in, and the curious out. When the rebellious and sexy Gabriel, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees a chance to escape. 
But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s façade are more shocking than anything they ever imagined. While Gabriel has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond together, more than friends and freedom fighters. But is there time to think of each other as they race to stop the Reverend’s paranoid plan to free his flock from the corrupt world? Can two teenagers crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman who’s only concerned about his own secrets?

Review: If you’ve paid creepily close attention to my reviews, you probably know that I have a thing for cult books. I’ve read a lot of them. Like, a lot of them. Unfortunately, Escape from Eden wasn’t one of my favorites.

Sixteen-year-old Mia lives in a Jonestown-like community deep in the South American rainforest. She dreams of escaping from her life of constant backbreaking labor, but she has no idea how to go about doing it. Then she meets the rebellious (and unbearably sexy) Gabriel. Together, they uncover the secrets of their community and use them to defeat the corrupt Reverend.

If you love romance and thrillers, you’ll probably like this book a lot more than I did. Mia falls in insta-lust with Gabriel within the first few pages. Then the plot takes off and doesn’t slow down. This book is intense. If you like action, then you’ll love it.

My problem is that I don’t believe the action. The characters make decisions that don’t seem logical to me. The book starts with the Reverend murdering eleven people in front of the entire community. Nobody reacts to this. Most people don’t seem to care at all. People in cults aren’t brainless robots, so I have an issue with this mass non-reaction to murder.

Then there’s the whole escape thing. Escaping from the community seems pretty straightforward to me. There’s a road that connects the community to the nearest town, which Mia knows is 10 miles away. Mia and Gabriel have snuck past the guards before. Why is it so hard to figure out how to escape? Start walking and don’t stop.

I also had a hard time believing the personality-altering injection thing. And the ending . . . just . . . no. We all adore The Hunger Games, but . . . no. The plot is too farfetched for my tastes.

I did love that the book is Jonestown inspired. At first, I thought that would make the story predictable, but it isn’t predictable at all. Despite the believability issues, I appreciate that the author deviates from the real-life script.

The writing isn’t great. I actually got confused during one of the action scenes, but the dialogue is where this novel shines. The banter between Gabriel and Mia is kind of hilarious. I like both main characters and wanted them to live happily ever after.

“We're hiding in a tree with people chasing us. Do you really think this is an appropriate time to make suggestive comments?” – Escape from Eden

This isn’t my favorite cult novel, but I’m not the right audience for it. You’d probably love it if you like romance and action. And if you don’t mind books that push the boundaries of believability.

“‘What is the matter with you?’ 
‘You want an alphabetical list?’” – Escape from Eden

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Sunday Post #126

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader.
  • On Wednesday I review The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.
  • On Thursday I tell you what makes me DNF a book.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson. Then I read Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan. Right now, I’m rereading A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I found out that I’m getting a phone for Christmas.
  2. Chocolate and pizza.
  3. I went running in the snow and decided that freezing in winter is way better than sweating in summer.
  4. Christmas music.
  5. The Great American Baking Show is back! It finally feels like Christmas.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere.