Category Archives: R.I.P. VII

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Penguin Classic, New York, 2006

From my book shelves.

As an adolescent I watched The Haunting on television several times.  It gave me nightmares.

Welcome to Hill House, a place with a reputation for being “unwelcoming”, if not haunted.  Dr Montague, an academic doing research on the paranormal, has invited Eleanor, a young woman who had some experience with poltergeists as a child, his assistant Theodora and Luke, a young man set to inherit the mansion, to spend some time is this unusual house hoping to find scientific evidence of a haunting.  Unfortunately the house doesn’t seem all that welcoming.  The haunting is not so much generated by spirits as it is generated by the house itself.

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a manic juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. From page 34.

The four of them stood, for the first time, in the wide, dark entrance of Hill House.  Around them the house steadied and located them, above them the hills slept watchfully, small eddies of air and sound and movement stirred and waited and whispered, and the center of consciousness was somehow the small space where they stood, four separate people, and looked trustingly at one another.  From page 58.

These four stay in the house and wonder at its strangeness.  Doors close by themselves, rooms seem to move about and there are places that are very, very cold.  It doesn’t take long for them to discover what they are searching for  It is the atmosphere in, and around the house and the often strained dynamic between the characters, that heightens the creepiness as we read.  We learn early on just how psychologically and emotionally  fragile Eleanor is.   It is no surprise that Hill House chooses to seeks her out.

     Eleanor felt, as she had the day before, that the conversation was being skillfully guided away from the thought of fear, so very present in her own mind.  Perhaps she was to be allowed to speak occasionally  for all of them so that , quieting her, they quieted themselves and could leave the subject behind them; perhaps, vehicle for every kind of fear, she contained enough for all.  They are like children, she thought crossly,daring each other to go first, ready to turn and call names at whoever comes last; she pushed her plate away from her and sighed. From pages 98/99.

I had never read this book before, am in awe of Jackson’s writing and find it one of the most chilling, psychologically unnerving novels I’ve read in a long time.  It is Jackson’s subtle sense of menace that makes this a scary read, along with her ability to worm the reader in to her characters’  heads.  Absolutely lovely, in it’s way, and perfect for my final R.I.P. VII read.

     Sipping, not warmed, Eleanor thought, We are in the eye of the storm, there is not much more time.  She watched Luke carefully carry a glass of brandy over to the doctor and hold it out, and then, without comprehending, watched the glass slip through Luke’s fingers to the floor as the door was shaken, violently and silently.  Luke pulled the doctor back, and the door was attacked without a sound, seeming almost to be pulled away from its hinges, almost ready to buckle and go down,leaving them exposed.  Backing away, Luke and the doctor waited, tense and helpless.  From page 201.

Thanks to Carl V. and all the participants of RIP VII. The links to other reviews are here.  R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril is one of my very favorite reading experiences of the year.

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Filed under Books, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts

The Graveyard Book – Week Three

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

From my book shelves.  Organized by Carl V, Week 3 of our read-along covers chapters 7 and 8 of Neil Gaiman’s Newbury, Carnegie, Hugo and Locus award-winning novel.   It has been a joy reading along with others and seeing their thoughts.  Please visit Carl’s blog for links to other posts about this deeply felt, wonderfully written book.

In Chapter 8 Silas is drawn away from The Graveyard but refuses to tell Bod where he is going or what he is doing.  Bod’s friend, Scarlett, returns from Glasgow and finds herself in a place that seems awfully familiar.  She is befriended by a nice man, Mr Frost, who takes rubbings of gravestones.   With his encouragement she  eventually discovers Bod’s family history, but this discovery has unintended results.

Bod finally learns about his past, about The Man Jack and his organization, and is faced with a difficult decision.  The choice he makes puts Scarlett in extreme danger and she cannot understand it and cannot forgive him for it.  He looses his friend, and is at a loss understanding why.

In Chapter 9 Bod enters young adulthood and begins to change, finding it harder and harder to see his friends and loved ones.  Eventually he must leave The Graveyard and journey into the wider world.

The Graveyard Book is all about growing up, be it in a normal family or a ghostly one.  We make choices, face the consequences and hopefully grow wiser with each of these steps.  If we are lucky we live in a circle of love, amid friends and family who support us, even when we make bad decisions.

Neil Gaiman states in his acknowledgements that he read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book over and over as a child and as an adult.  This is a book I love and read-aloud to elementary-aged children.  I can see the resemblance, but Gaiman has created a world of his own, filled with wonderful, caring, sometimes strict beings who surround and support Bod as he grows and finally leaves his home.  Maybe someday we will learn about his adventures in the world of the living.

There is a balance between gentleness and horror in this book.  A balance Neil Gaiman holds brilliantly.

Thanks to Carl V and all the folks who took part in this read-along.

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Filed under Books, Carnegie Award, DarkFantasy, Horror, Hugo Award, Locus Award, Newbury Award, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

The Graveyard Book – Week 2

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

Organized by Carl V, Week 2 of our read-along covers Chapters 4 thru 6 and includes an Interlude.  Please visit Carl’s blog for links to other posts about this magical book.

One of the best things about The Graveyard Book is that it is made up of many stories, stories of Nobody Owen, growing up, protected and loved by ghosts and other beings that pass between worlds.

We learn a bit more about his guardian Silas, and Bod learns a bit more about the place where he lives. He meets the ghost of a lovely young witch and tries to do something kind for her.  Leaving the Graveyard for the first time since his arrival he runs into trouble.  Maybe the world of the living, outside of the Graveyard fence, is not the best place for a live boy with a kind heart.  But on rare occasions ghosts visit there, and sometimes the living dance with the dead.

     They took hands, the living with the dead, and they began to dance.  Bod saw Mother Slaughter dancing with the man in the turban, while the businessman was dancing with Louisa Bartleby.  Mistress Owens smiled at Bod as she took the hand of the old newspaper seller, and Mr. Owens reached out and took the hand of a small girl as if she had been waiting to dance with him her whole life.  Then Bod stopped looking because someone’s hand closed around his, and the dance began.
Liza Hempstock grinned at him.  “This is fine,” she said, as they began to tread the steps of the dance together.
Then she sand, to the tune of the dance,
“Step and turn, and walk and stay,
  Now we dance the Macabray.”  From page 159.

During the interlude we discover that the Man Jack needs to finish what he started.

Bod learns to fade and to haunt.  And craving knowledge of the world of the living, he goes to school.

Gaiman has a way about him.  A way of mixing life and death and giving grace to both.  Bod’s story is lovely and sad and joyful all at the same time, and oh so gentle, even at it’s most horrific.    I don’t know how this author does it.  It is a mystery, eerie and beautiful.

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Filed under Books, Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli

Bantam Books, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my local library.  A book from my RIP VII reading pool.  I am really glad to have discovered this author.

Wow, talk about dysfunctional families.  The Rand’s are a family of thieves and have been thieves for generations.  They are bound by honor, love and closely held secrets.   When Terrier Rand is called home by his brother, Collie, some of those secrets are exposed to the light, with devastating consequences.

Let me explain.  Collie ( yes, the Rand’s are all named after dog breeds) is on death row, about to be executed.  He was charged with the murders of eight people, openly admits his crime, and has never explained what happened on that awful night.  Five years after the murder his family is still in shock.  Terry, having run from home after the murders, abandoning his girlfriend and his family, comes running back at his brother’s request.  He doesn’t even understanding why.  He returns to the house where he grew up, to his Mother and Father, Sister, Grandfather and Uncles, and all the buried feelings held within.

Surprisingly, considering the horrible violence,  I loved this book.  The Rand family is not exactly likable, but I found myself caring about each one of them, even Collie, unrepentant, sitting in prison and waiting to die.  Pirrilli’s writing kept me up at night, his ability to build relationships and grab onto the defining, disturbing aspects of this family, had me in awe at times.  I really appreciate emotional depth in a thriller.  I also appreciate humor, which Pirrilli uses to bring light to the dark.   I suggest you read this one, even if you are not a fan of the genre.

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Filed under Books, Mystery, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts, Thriller

The Graveyard Book – Week One

 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

From my shelves.  I am reading this book along with others in celebration of R.I.P. VII.   Carl V  suggested that we read The Graveyard Book in three sections, and post our thoughts on consecutive Sundays.  The first section covers Chapters One through Three.

This book has an extremely creepy opening.  The Man Jack goes about his business in a completely ordinary way and the horror builds so quietly from paragraph to paragraph that it is like a dream.  How can a story be frightening and calming at the same time?

A toddler finds his way to a graveyard and is taken in by a community unlike any other I have ever met.  There is so much love here.   I find warmth and comfort among the grave stones, in a place where those feelings are totally unexpected.  The toddler, Nobody Owens, has found a home.

How do the dead take care of the living?  Luckily, there is one who lives in-between and he sees to Bod’s earthly and intellectual needs.  Bod makes a friend, learns his lessons and has adventures.  When his protector, Silas, is forced to take  a journey Bod meets a new teacher.   She is strict in her discipline and who holds a great secret.

It is hard to write about this book without giving much of the story away.  It is layered with horror, mystery, romance and mythology.  I am so glad to be rereading it, going deeper.

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Filed under DarkFantasy, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Harper Collins, New York, 2012

Sent to me by the publisher.   It is not often that I accept books for review as I am always afraid they will get shifted to the bottom of a TBR pile and I will forget to read them, or that I will forget to write and post my thoughts.  When a women from Harper Collins sent an email asking if I would like a copy of Attica Locke’s new book I jumped at the chance.  I read Black Water Rising last year and loved it.

Caren Gray has come back to manage the plantation where members of her family have served, either as slaves or as free people, since before the Civil War.  Belle Vie has been restored to its former beauty,  the tour includes the slave quarters and a rather historically inaccurate re-enactment.  The mansion serves as a location for weddings and parties and provides jobs for local people who have been shut out of working in the local corporate-owned cane fields.  When a murdered woman’s body is discovered on the grounds, it falls to Caren, her ex-husband and a stringer from a New Orleans paper to solve the mystery.

From the beginning the reader knows Caren has come to Belle Vie as a way to escape her past, which is psychologically intriguing because she is returning to the place of her youth.  The job offers stability for her and her daughter, Morgan,  but that stability comes at a cost.  As the murder investigation deepens truths about Caren’s family history and the history of the plantation come to light, and the murderer intends to keep that truth bury, whatever the cost.

The Cutting Season is tightly plotted, the history of this part of the south wrapped in a well constructed mystery.  Locke writes beautifully, somehow folding in painful generational memories, the tension of post civil war plantation life and present day class and racial struggles into a story that never feels like it is carrying deep political and cultural messages.  I found this to be true in Dark Water Rising, Locke has a way of visiting the past, bringing it gently into the present and making it relevant.  I hope this second novel finds a wide audience and look forward to reading her third.

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Filed under Books, LiteraryFiction, Mystery, R.I.P. VII

A More Diverse Universe – Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

This amazing reading event has been organized by several bloggers, including Aarti and Natasha.  What started as a simple suggestion has turned into something that I hope will have wide impact across the book blogging community, introducing readers to speculative fiction written by people of color.

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Riverhead Books, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my public library.  This is the first novel I have read by Helen Oyeyemi.  Oyeyemi is  a young British author whose parents moved to London from Nigeria in the late 1980’s.    She won the Somerset Maugham Award for her third novel, White is for Witching.

Mr Fox is made up of short stories, letters, vignettes and folktales based around the relationships between St John Fox, his wife Daphne and his imaginary (or is she really/) muse, Mary Foxe.  The main theme come from fairy tales that feature women who have been ordered by men to follow certain rules and who, after breaking these restrictions, are murdered and dismembered.  Think of  Bluebeard, The Robber Bridegroom or Joseph Jacob’s Mr. Fox.

Mr Fox starts out lightly, with banter and teasing between St John Fox and his imaginary muse, but eventually Mary becomes angry at his need to kill off the women in his novels.  Does this distance him from truly engaging in his relationships, with his wife and with the world?

Eventually S.J. and Mary agree to write different kinds of stories, ones which delve deeper into what make up true connections.  We never know who writes what, but here is where  Oyeyemi’s abilities as a writer begin to shine.  Whether is is telling a story of Mary’s time as a nanny and the role her charge is forced to play as she grows up, or the tale of a Yoruba woman who falls in love with an Englishman and then grows bored with him, eventually rebuilding the relationship and finding herself renewed,  I was enthralled.  There is often violence woven in these stories, violence against women,  their struggle to be free of it, and their struggle to create.  And foxes, there are many foxes.

She’d thought she didn’t have any stories, but in fact she had too many.

She put down things she didn’t know she knew.  She wrote about a girl who babysat herself while both her parents worked and worked for not enough pay.  The girl didn’t answer the door or the telephone because no one was meant to know she babysat herself, and besides, it might be the Home Office, and then they’d all be deported.  So that she would not be scared, she pretended she was a spy and wrote secret spy notes on pink paper.  She posted the spy notes out of the living room window, she sent them spinning down onto the heads of passersby, who picked them up and didn’t understand them.  They’d look up, but the girl has disappeared from the window – no one was supposed to know she was there.  From pages 106/107

All the time Daphne Fox is floating around the edges of the novel, filmy and a bit bubble-headed.  It is when she begins to believe S.J. is having an affair with Mary that she becomes solid and real, and begins to think of a different life.  And Mary Foxe becomes real for her, Daphne gives her form and, in doing so, gives a new form to her own life.

Mr Fox is not an easy read.  It has no true shape, there are parts that drift, that don’t seem to connect to the whole, but by struggling through I found it all makes sense.  After a time I would like to read it again and I am definitely going to read more of Helen Oyeyemi’s work.  I am so grateful to the organizers of this event for bringing me to this author, and allowing me this opportunity to be part of an important blogging event.

For a brilliant discussions on diversity in fantasy and speculative fiction and please go here and here, and make sure to visit other blogs on this tour.  You can find a list here.

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Filed under Books, Diverse Universe, Fantasy, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts