The Haunting of Hill House

I like a good horror story, and the less graphic it is, the better. I appreciate a writer who can create a suspenseful mood, a creepy atmosphere without having to use blood and gore to get the desired impact. There are a few stories like this that come to mind, namely Bird Box. I think it’s also much harder to write a good suspense novel than one full of gore.

The Haunting of Hill House is the type of story that you just don’t see anymore. It’s not graphic in the least. There’s nothing squeamish about it. Nothing that you will need to skim past because it’s so gross. But it’s definitely one of the creepiest books I’ve read. Shirley Jackson was a pioneer of the modern horror genre. Her short story, The Lottery is a must-read. I used to teach it and my students absolutely loved it. Again, nothing graphic (I taught it to 12-year-olds) but just a terrifying concept. I’ve been meaning to read Hill House for a while and was really excited when it came up on my Kindle.

The story follows a doctor who wants to “study” Hill House because no one can spend more than a few nights there. He brings along a member of the family that owns the house and two women who are in tune with the paranormal side of the world. The caretakers only work there during the daytime, refusing to be there after dark. We soon learn that the house is built in a very odd manner, circling in on itself leaving the residents confused and lost much of the time. They learn the backstory of Hill House, and the creepiness begins. The story is a slow-burner, meaning not a lot happens in the first half, but once it gets going, the psychological effects on the residents and the readers begin.

I really enjoyed this book. I understand why it’s considered one of the best horror books ever written. Even if this isn’t your genre of choice, don’t be too afraid to give it a try. There’s no blood and guts aspect to it. Just a good old-fashioned creepy tale.

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Girl in Snow

I really love Netgalley, but I’m just really bad at making the books I get from them a priority. When I got Girl in Snow from them a couple of years ago, I had every intention of reading it quickly, but it just got buried under all my other books. But when I saw I needed a book with a weather element in the title, Girl in Snow jumped right into that slot. And if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I’m very particular about mystery/thriller books because so many of them are poorly written. I’m always nervous when I start a book by an unfamiliar author, but wow this was a great one. I’m so happy to report that this was a very well-written, interesting book.

The story is told from three perspectives, all third-person narrator, but from that particular character’s point-of-view. We meet Cameron, an outcast with a rough family story who draws amazing portraits, but who also has a secret. Next is Jade, also an outcast with a rough family, but much angrier about it. Finally is Russ, the police detective tied to the case in an unusual way. At the center of the story is beautiful Lucinda, who is found murdered one morning on the playground of a sleepy Colorado town. It’s likely Russ didn’t do it, considering he didn’t even know her, but Cameron and Jade are on the fringes of suspects because they lived near Lucinda and both knew her. Equally a suspect is Lucinda’s ex-boyfriend, Zap.

I’m really not sure if this book fits into the adult or young adult category, but no matter, because it’s great. I really didn’t know which character murdered Lucinda until the reveal, but the murderer wasn’t just thrown in as a random person never mentioned in the book (like a drifter), so the rationale was explained and legitimate. This book was a quick little read with great, clever language, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

 

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

I’ve seen this title floating around for awhile and had heard it was great, but I really didn’t know much about it. I had added it to my “to-read” list at some point and when I saw it was available on Kindle Unlimited, I went ahead and downloaded it. I have read a great number of books about World War II, but I had never heard the story of Pino Lella. As told to the author, Mark Sullivan, Pino’s story is one of the most dramatic and craziest I’ve read, outside of Holocaust stories. And this one is sad, make no mistake, but it’s also really interesting and unique.

Pino is just an Italian kid trying to avoid being drafted into a war he doesn’t support. His family sends him and his younger brother to a church/school where Pino learns to climb the Alps to help persecuted Jews escape to freedom. Clearly, we see which side Pino is on and rooting for him is easy. Once he turns eighteen, he is expected to join the war, though. So he agrees to join voluntarily and gets assigned to be a diver for Hitler’s left-hand man, a German in Italy who must communicate with Mussolini, decide where “slaves” are deported, which weapons need to be delivered to which location, etc. Pino turns spy. He reports everything to the authorities, never forgetting where his allegiences lie.

There is a really beautiful love story woven in with the war. And knowing all this really happened and that Pino is a real person is just heartbreaking and amazing. I’ve learned that nothing is unfathomable when it comes to World War II and that I should never be surprised when I read another true account, but this was one I didn’t see coming. Once Pino starts driving for the general, I really couldn’t put the book down. I knew Pino lived (spoiler alert, he has to tell the author his story….) but I was constantly wondering where the main players in his story would end up. I really enjoyed this one and think it’s one of the highlights of my year.

And The Ocean Was Our Sky

One of my favorite things about picking up a Patrick Ness book is that I have no idea what I’m going to get. It might be a sweet, sad story like A Monster Calls, a dystopian trilogy like Chaos Walking, a realistic coming-of-age story like Release, a semi-realistic story with a dash of supernatural like The Rest of Us Just Live Here, a crazy mystery like More Than This review, or a flip on a classic tale like And The Ocean Was Our Sky.

Anytime Goodreads tells me Ness has a new book coming out, I hop over to my library and place a request. They are great about buying his books, and I’m usually the only one to request it. When I picked this one up, I saw a boat and a whale on the cover and noticed it was illustrated. Huh. That’s not what I was expecting, but really, I just never know what he’s going to come up with, so anything goes. And, because I didn’t read the book jacket, I had no idea what this book was about, so it took me a few pages to understand what was going. The story is told from the perspective of a whale named Bathsheba (First line of the book: Call me Bathsheba….. do you see where this is headed??) who is an apprentice in a pod of whales searching for a man named, wait for it….. wait for it……. wait   for    it……… Toby. Wick.  COME. ON!!! I WAS SOLD. Immediately. Part of me realized that this could be the dumbest book written, but it’s not. Truly. It’s brilliant and creative and is an amazing way to introduce the Moby Dick story to younger kids.

The plot really is pretty basic. Bathsheba’s pod attacks a ship of men, captures one of the sailors, and keeps him for information about Toby Wick. You quickly realize the whales are vastly smarter than men, and the rationale behind the hunt is explained. There are some really beautiful illustrations to accompany this creative story. You really can’t go wrong with reading a book by Patrick Ness. He’s just supremely talented and his stories are varied. There’s something for everyone!

Insomnia

As I’ve said a dozen times, I love Stephen King. He’s my all-time favorite author (ugh, that’s really hard to say considering how much I love Harry Potter) but it’s true. I’ve reviewed several of his books like The Outsider,  The Stand (my favorite of his),  Sleeping BeautiesPet Sematary, Lisey’s Story, Under the Dome, The Dark Tower, Song of SusannahEnd of WatchWolves of the Calla‘Salem’s Lot, and Wizard and Glass. Whew. I am a firm believer that there’s a King book out there for everyone, even if you don’t like horror. His Mr. Mercedes trilogy is a police detective story. The Eyes of the Dragon is a King Arthur story. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a survival story. The Dark Tower series is a quest. The Stand is dystopian. On and on. Insomnia, at its core, is just a story of a man who loves a woman and their task of helping others. Of course, there is a horror/supernatural element to it.

I had no idea what this book was about, other than it was a huge tie to The Dark Tower series. There’s a character in DT that is really important at the end. And this character is a minor character in Insomnia, but it’s critical that he survives this book because he is needed in DT. Cryptic, I know. But I’m trying to avoid giving too much away. I loved The Dark Tower series and don’t feel like I missed a lot by reading this one after I finished the series, but it would have been great to have the background info from this one first.

This story follows elderly Ralph who loses his wife, Carolyn, to cancer. After that, he begins not sleeping. Every night it gets worse, shaving off a few minutes of when he wakes up. He falls asleep no problem but wakes up at 5:30. 5:22, 5:15, until he is sleeping maybe 2 hours a night. And he starts seeing things. Weird things like people who aren’t there and colorful auras around people. He tries everything to sleep but is at a loss. He eventually realizes he isn’t alone in this insomnia. His equally elderly neighbor, Lois, is suffering as well. Together they must defeat the men of death. Basically, the grim reapers who visit you at that moment. Two of them are kind and do their jobs well, but one is sadistic and takes pleasure in torment. There’s quite the political anti-abortion plot that I rarely see in SK’s books, but it’s an important one to the overall events.

Many people find this book (pun intended) quite the snooze. I loved it, though. With all the DT references (hi there Crimson King) and the bond between Ralph and Lois, I thought it was a fantastic story. I listened to it over 25 hours!!! and didn’t mind a minute of it. This one is a must read for any SK fan.

WWII Graphic Novels

I recently read two very powerful graphic novels that coincidentally were both about WWII. I was aware the first one was about the Holocaust, but it wasn’t until I picked up the second that I realized it was about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Back when I was a teacher, I taught gifted and talented kids, and one of our semester-long curriculums was about the 1940s. Not just about the war, but the entire decade. Two of our books that I taught were MAUS II and Hiroshima, both excellent books. Maus II is a graphic novel telling the story of the father of artist Art Spiegelman, who has taken his father’s survival during the Holocaust and turned it into a graphic novel.  The Jews are depicted as mice, the Germans are cats, French are frogs, etc. The book is beautifully illustrated with haunting depictions of life in Auschwitz. I’ve always meant to read the first MAUS book, but reading them out of order doesn’t lead to any confusion. The first book tells of Spiegelman’s father’s early life, how he met Art’s mother, the birth of their baby, the beginning of the German’s deportation of Jews, etc. Although it is equally important as MAUS II, it isn’t as graphic. That said I taught MAUS II to middle school kids, and some were really bothered by it, but it’s a very powerful book that needs to be used in schools. Of all the books we read, this one was the one that haunted the kids most.

The other book I taught, Hiroshima, was equally as powerful, but from a very different standpoint. Written by a journalist, John Hersey, it is told from a third person perspective of what life was like immediately before, during, and after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The book follows a handful of people through the event. It is at times very graphic and hard to read, but expertly written and an important piece of journalism. When I picked up Pika-Don yesterday, I truly had no idea what the subject matter was. This quick read follows the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man who survived not one, but BOTH atomic bombs dropped during WWII. This book was put together by the Stanford Graphic Novel Project, has several contributors, and is an excellent, beautifully drawn graphic novel. If you can get your hands on it, I absolutely recommend it.

The Collector Trilogy

I’ve been hearing about this series for quite some time. Several friends have recommended them as “can’t put down” thrillers. And as much as I did want to keep reading to see what happened, I didn’t love the writing style of this author. I felt like a lot had been left unsaid, causing me to reread more than I usually do, especially for a thriller, which is usually a fairly easy-to-follow genre, even with the given plot twists.

The first book, The Butterfly Garden, starts with a girl named Maya discussing the past few years of her life. She was kidnapped and forced to live in a hidden garden with several other beautiful girls. They all are tattooed with giant butterflies on their backs and given new names.  However, when they hit 21, they are killed and preserved in resin. Maya realizes, given the number of butterflies already preserved, that the Gardener has been doing this for a long time. Because the book starts with her speaking to the FBI, you know Maya and others have escaped, but *how* that happens is told over the course of the book. The book isn’t graphic, but it is disturbing, so be warned.

The second book follows the FBI team again with a series of killings. Every spring, a girl is murdered, placed in a church, surrounded by flowers. Priya’s sister was one of the murdered girls. And now, several years later, Priya is receiving flowers on her porch. Maya and another butterfly (who will remain nameless to avoid spoilers) are mentioned in this book several times, as well. The FBI team has taken Priya on as a little sister of sorts, and take her situation very seriously, trying to determine if the flower-sender is the killer or just another crazy person who is obsessed with the case.

The last book, The Summer Children, again features the FBI team, namely the female member, in a string of murders. The parents of abused children are being murdered and the children left on the FBI team member’s doorstep. This book was the best well-written, in my opinion, and I was really sucked into figuring out who was behind the murders. Unlike the second book, I had no idea who it was until quite some time through the story.

As for the writing style, I’m sure it’s just my personal preference, but I felt like the author’s editor was a little too enthusiastic with the red-lining because there were scenes that were just not explained well, as if the reader had prior knowledge of the situation when, in reality, that wasn’t the case. I kept rereading to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Overall, the books are interesting enough for me to have kept reading, and when the fourth comes out this spring, I will for sure check it out. That FBI has grown on me, and I want to visit them again.