Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black really is a classic ghost story. The protagonist, Arthur Kipps, prompted by his family to tell them a ghost story, recounts his experiences performing his duties as a solicitor for the dead Mrs. Drablow at the isolated Eel Marsh House. There he sees what is known there as ‘the woman in black’ and learns of her cruel history, and the cruel revenge her spirit takes in turn.
Of course I started reading this because I saw the movie, but if I had known The Woman In Black was a book first, I would have dived right in. This ghost story is up there with stories by Shirley Jackson, and the gothic works of Edith Wharton and Henry James. However, I think this is one of my favorites so far.
It’s such an atmospheric novel, I could feel the cold and wet of the marshes surrounding Eel Marsh House, could hear the squelch of the mud as the horse and carriage were heard by Arthur to sink and die in the marsh over and over, repeating that singular moment in time.
One gets the sense of looking back into the gothic, stepping through the threshold of the present into a past as grey and grim as death.
There are actually only a few differences between the book and the movie. (Spoilers ahead)
Arthur lives past the tragedy of the woman in black and into old age, though still mourning the death of his son.
They do not actually find the carriage and dead son of the woman in black, though Arthur was able to figure out the entire mystery based on papers and the apparitions he saw and heard.
I listened to The Woman In Black on audiobook, which was a wonderful experience. The book was read by Paul Ansdell.
I recommend this book to all who want a classic ghost story, to all who want to step into the past, no matter how foreboding it might be.
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What the Dead Want is the story of Gretchen, who, still mourning the mysterious loss of her mother, is asked by her great aunt to come help her sort out her old house. When Gretchen gets there, however, she is introduced to a world where history and the dead rule.
I was very much interested in the concept of this novel before I started reading it. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of ghosts, ghost stories, and ghost lore. So, when a book gets recommended to me about someone who can capture spirits with a camera, I thought I had met my dream book. It sounded like a Victorian gothic dream come to life.
Unfortunately, however, What the Dead Want did not meet my standards. For one thing, the letters featured in the book that were meant to be written by someone from the 1860s read more like someone writing today. I think the historical additions to this novel needed more research.
The writing and the plot also did not meet expectations. The plot seemed very random, and the use of photographs to see ghosts and solve the mystery really weren’t used until the very end of the story. In fact, most of the plot did not pick up until almost near the end of the book, leaving the structure of the rest of the book feeling randomly written and way too introspective. While I liked the fact that this book includes lots of diversity in its characters, the characters, except for Gretchen, felt very much as only accessories, and the perspective of the book was trying to be like Eleanor’s in The Haunting of Hill House and not at all succeeding in it.
While this book has good representation and covers some of the heaviest topics known (i.e. slavery, war, etc.), the writing was sub-par, and the plot not well-executed. I am sure that there is quite an audience for this book, but sadly I am not part of it.
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There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s Someone Inside Your House has been the most compelling read for me so far this year.
It is full of suspense, romance, and friendship, and I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole time.
The following are what I did and didn’t like about the book – warning: may contain some spoilers.
What I liked:
-Representation: the main character, Makani, is a teenager who is both Hawaiian and black; her grandmother is black; and one of her two best friends, Darby, is a transgender man. There was also a lot of balance gender-wise: good, deep female characters, and male characters that exhibit their own deep feelings.
-The suspense: the serial killer of this novel likes to mess with his victims, so it sent my heart a’thumping whenever someone seemed to be going out of their mind.
-Perkins really tried to make the characters help each other, and I think she did a very good job. One thing I was a bit nervous about at first was that some of the friendships got a bit rocky when the killings started to happen – thankfully friendship wins over murder.
-The romance: I really loved the protagonist and her romantic interest together – I kind of wish we would have seen more of them exploring their romance, but honestly, who could with a serial killer on the loose?
What I didn’t like:
-The ending: honestly even though everything pretty much got wrapped up in the end, we did not get to see the characters go back to some kind of normalcy. While I realize that they can really never lead a normal life again, I would have wanted the characters to get a chance to go back home.
-Friends dropping each other just like that: there is that one part in the story when Makani’s friends don’t support her. Now they do end up friends again shortly after, but it was the reason for such a sudden withdrawal that didn’t sit too well with me.
As you can see, there are more positives than negatives. I truly loved this novel, and I recommend it to everyone!
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Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I tend to very much love Stephen King’s shorter works, and Gwendy’s Button Box is no exception. Set in King’s favorite setting of Castle Rock, Maine, this is a story about Gwendy, a young girl who is given a box covered in buttons by a man in a black coat and black bowler hat. The box improves her life drastically, but, as she learns soon after receiving it, the box comes with a price.
What I love about this story is that it is about making mistakes in youth, and making choices as an adult. Through our mistakes and choices, we all find out what is important in life; what we love and what we want to avoid; what we know is best for ourselves. Through Gwendy, King and co-author Richard Chizmar show how such mistakes and choices can affect life, albeit with help from a box bent on destruction. It is definitely a coming-of-age story; a horrific one.
The only thing I would criticize would be the illustrations by Keith Minnion included in this edition. There were not enough of them, and, to be honest, I wasn’t too fond of them. If there had been more I might have appreciated them more.
While this book didn’t scare me, I can tell you right now that if a man in a black coat and black bowler hat came up to me offering a box covered in colorful buttons, I would refuse to take it.
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Today I have just added The Missing Girl to my ever-growing collection of Shirley Jackson stories. If you do not know yet, Shirley Jackson is my favorite author. Now that is not to say that she has written my favorite book (that is Tolkien). Rather, I have loved all her work consistently, and the genre she writes in is my favorite: horror/thriller/downright odd. The three stories in The Missing Girl are no exception to my love of Shirley Jackson’s work.
Most of you have probably watched the recent show “The Haunting of Hill House”, based on Jackson’s book of the same name. The book is wonderfully spooky and psychologically compelling, dealing with the main character Eleanor’s neuroses about herself and how she fits into the world, and ultimately how she fits into the scheme of Hill House itself.
Shirley Jackson takes a mundane world and turns it upside down. Often her stories center on a female main character living a normal life – whether as a wife, a secretary, an old woman living alone in her house, friendly to all her neighbors (remember that these books were written from around the 40s to te 60s). These characters step out of their normal routine by doing something that wouldn’t seem abnormal – going on an errand, sending a letter, visiting a friend, getting away for the weekend – and she meets the abnormal on the way, getting lost in some way on the journey. Similar plots happen in the three stories of The Missing Girl.
In the first story, “The Missing Girl”, a 13 year old girl goes missing from a summer camp. Her roommate didn’t think anything of it at the time because the girl said she would go out. When the camp realizes she is missing they do what people normally do when someone goes missing: they search. However, as the search goes on longer, the camp and the girl’s family start to realize that the girl may not have ever actually attended the camp as she was supposed to. At the end, the question becomes, did the girl ever exist in the first place?
In the second story, “Journey with a Lady”, a young boy travels on a train alone, when a lady sits down on the train next to him. It turns out she is running from the law. The boy at first does not want anything to do with the lady, but when he finds out she is a fugitive and why, he spends time with her, giving her a sense of normalcy and life before she has to turn herself in.
The last story, “Nightmare”, lives up to its title. A secretary, Miss Morgan is tasked by her boss to deliver a package to someone across town. Along the way she sees advertisements for people to find a “Miss X”, who coincidentally (or perhaps not so much) looks exactly like Miss Morgan. After hours of trying to escape the advertisements and people following her, knowing she looks like their “Miss X”, she succumbs to this new role into which the world has put her. And ultimately, she is very happy with the change.
One of the key points in Jackson’s writings is the stepping over the threshold into a different reality. Sometimes the reality is better than the old one, as with Miss Morgan. Other times it leads to loss and confusion, dealings with supernatural beings, or otherwise, death as in Eleanor’s case. The liminality of these stories makes the reader (i.e. myself) feel so wonderfully uneasy, and has them wondering what threshold they have yet to cross, or what supernatural and odd aspects of life are waiting for them in a version of their own realities.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have not been into a book as much as I have been into The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon for a long time. In this novel, 9-year-old Trisha strays from the path and gets lost in the woods, encountering challenges the woods brings her, whether real or not.
As a lover of survival video games, this novel was utterly compelling. The way King writes Trisha’s character has the reader relating to her so much that it’s almost as if the reader and Trisha are one in the decisions that she makes, the fears that she feels, and wondering constantly if this whole thing isn’t just in her head. In the end, both the reader and Trisha find out that the difference between reality and dreams does not matter when you are lost.
The visual descriptions that King provides are so vivid I could imagine myself right in the forest with Trisha.
A big theme in this book is decisions. Not only the decisions Trisha must make during her long trek in the woods, but also the decisions of those who have lost and are looking for her: her mother’s and brother’s decisions of being so stubborn that they push Trisha away; her father’s decision to manipulate in his own way; and so on. It is a wonderful take on humanity – decisions are what define us, make us selfish like Trisha’s parents, or even point us further away from our goals, like Trisha strayed from the path in the woods. In the end, we must make the decisions that will make us stronger, and Trisha does just this.
Overall, I have struggled to put down The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon throughout my read of it. I recommend this novel to anyone who feels lost, and who wants a good thriller.
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