The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – A Book Review

I picked up this thin book after enjoying the Netflix series. As I’m prone to do, I wanted to experience the source material.

For those of you craving a more detailed version of the show, prepare to be disappointed. However, if you’re willing to accept The Haunting Of Hill House on its own merits, I think you’ll have a nice read.

Shirley Jackson published The Haunting Of Hill House in 1959. This, of course, predates Stephen King and the brand of horror that we now come to expect. Interestingly, though, I think you’ll find that The Haunting Of Hill House has its own unsettling moments–they are simply just far more subtle, nuanced, and psychological.

To briefly summarize the book, Dr. Montague has gathered a few people together to study Hill House. One of them is Eleanor. She is a young woman isolated from society due to a sickly mother, but very much hoping to rejoin the world now that her mom has passed. Another woman Theodora, is something of a medium, and she bonds with Eleanor immediately. Luke Sanderson is in line to one day take ownership of the home, and he is there to make sure the doctor doesn’t take any liberties with the estate. The four of them immediately hit it off. They experience some disturbing sounds, and doors have a tendency to close without aid, but the real terror of the house emanates from the home itself. To the adventurers, the house simply feels evil. Much of the book establishes the characters and their interpersonal relationships, but then, finally, near the end of the book, the home’s influence rears its true power.

I have to admit that the first three-fourths of the book perplexed me. Not much occurred in regards to a haunting; in fact, Jackson seemed most interested in depicting her four main characters as quick-witted, jovial, and entertaining people with whom to study ghosts.

When the understated horror begins, though, it is all the more potent due to the characterization. We care about these characters, as well as their ultimate fates.

If you enjoyed the Netflix show, this read is worth your time. You’ll obviously recognize some names and scenes, but the show definitely deviated into something far more intricate. Even with that being said, I found this book’s brand of horror refreshing. It didn’t try too hard to scare me, which served the story very well. There’s an old saying that less is more–The Haunting of Hill House proved this to certainly be the case.

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Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer – A Book Review

I did it!  I finally finished this series!

Sorry.

That’s not very eloquent.

You’ll remember that I enjoyed the movie Annihilation, so I read the source material of the same name and found myself … less impressed.  I let a bit of time pass by and then gave the second book–Authority–a chance.  It also failed to win me over.

So you may be wondering why I bothered to read the third book called Acceptance.  I’d like to say I’m a completest, but, if I’m being honest, I just wanted some kind of answers regarding Area X and the Southern Reach.

I’ve got some good news–Acceptance proved more enjoyable than its predecessors.

Everything about Acceptance was superior to the first two installments.  I particularly found the narrative style effective.  VanderMeer elects to alternate chapters between Ghost Bird, the Director, the Lighthouse Keeper, and Control.  By doing this, we are given access to the thoughts of characters we, other than Control, haven’t really before experienced.  The fact that we were just as ignorant as the characters in the first two books regarding the events plaguing them frustrated me to no end.  With Acceptance, we finally experience revelation … sort of.  More on that in a moment.

Now, I’m the first to admit that the main reason I liked Acceptance is because it finally gave me some insight into Ghost Bird, Area X, Southern Reach, the Lighthouse Keeper, and the Director.  Trudging through the first two books should not be a prerequisite to liking the third, however, and I realize this position is a little contradictory.  By the way, the irony of the third book’s title did not escape me.

But, the truth is the truth.  If you read Annihilation and Authority, I guarantee you’ll find Acceptance worth your while.  Be prepared, though.  While it revealed enough to satisfy me, you won’t get much in the way of hard and fast answers.  VanderMeer sets the stage well enough to let your own imagination fill in the gaps, but there is no concrete conclusion to The Southern Reach Trilogy.

I fully accept that.

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Manifest Destiny: Fortis and Invisibilia by Dingess and Roberts – A Book Review

The Manifest Destiny series continues to be perfect for those who love the comic book genre but are not fans of super heroes.  Now on its sixth volume, Manifest Destiny details a fictionalized account of Lewis and Clark as they explore America’s new west.  Thomas Jefferson tasked them with this exploration, but the premise is that history has it wrong.  It wasn’t just to map the area and find a waterway to the Pacific, but also to record and eliminate any super natural creatures posing a threat to future American pioneers.

In this latest volume, Lewis and Clark, as well as their party, have built a fort in order to hunker down during the winter.  However, the men grow weary of the leadership, they grow lustful for the few women in the group, and they grow mutinous against the chain of command.  To make matters worse, the entity for whom we thought spoke only to Lewis?  It’s expanding its influence.

Manifest Destiny began as an adventure comic with touches of horror as it offered both accurate and fictionalized accounts of Lewis and Clark’s travels.  However, Chris Dingess has transitioned the book into a psychological thriller as the men are growing stir crazy in their fort, trapped by nature itself, as well as perhaps the supernatural.

Matthew Roberts continues to blend historically accurate scenery with terrifying creatures throughout.  The clothing he depicts particularly astounds me.  I’d love to know his research methods.  It all seems quite meticulous.  Furthermore, when violence occurs in this book, it is not for the squeamish.  I also appreciate that the colorist, Owen Gieni, has opted to use fairly muted colors to match the eerie tone of isolation and winter.  The book once sported vibrant greens and lush vegetation, but no longer.  It’s a subtle touch, but a deft one.

I have very much enjoyed this series so far.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction, horror, thrillers, and fantasy.  Not to worry if you’ve never read a comic book.  No one is perfect, and you’ll figure it out quickly.  I know you will become hooked on this title.

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Authority by Jeff Vandermeer – A Book Review

You may remember that I read the first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, called Annihilation, in anticipation of the movie.  You may also remember that I wasn’t crazy about it.  However, I eventually saw the movie and loved it.

So even though I didn’t like the first book, the general premise and the movie itself tempted me to give the second literary installment a try.

I recently finished Authority, the sequel to Annihilation, and it left me rather apathetic.  The author, Jeff Vandermeer, elected to change course from the first book and focus instead on the Southern Reach facility, the entity responsible for sending the team into Area X from the first book.  Our main character is no longer the biologist who narrated Annihilation.  Instead, Vandermeer is using a third-person narrator with the story squarely settled on “Control,” the new head of Southern Reach.  Control (John Rodriquez) moves throughout the book utterly confused.  Like the reader, he has no idea what is going on in Area X, nor does he understand the full scope and history of Southern Reach.

In the beginning of the book, I accepted Control’s chaotic immersion into Southern Reach.  I assumed that he would soon solve some of the enigmatic entity’s mysteries.  Instead, Vandermeer chose to pile even more mystery upon both Control and the reader.  Though some revelations arrive, both Control and the audience are left feeling even less informed than they did before!

I basically plodded through most of this book.  The ending intensified, but for the most part, I never fully invested in neither the story nor Control.

However, I’ve come this far, so guess what I’m reading now?  Yes, Acceptance, the third part of the Southern Reach Trilogy.  Like Control, I seemingly have to know Area X and Southern Reach’s secrets, no matter what level of discomfort occurs during the process of discovery.

I have a feeling, though, that the third book will ultimately disclose nothing.  That appears to be the pattern.  I’ll let you know.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A Book Review

Probably like you, I grew intensely interested in this book after watching the first season of the Hulu adaptation.  Though it’s been available since 1985, I regret to reveal that I only recently sat down and read it.

As you no doubt suspect, it absolutely lives up to its reputation.  My only disappointment lies in the fact that the Hulu series is so true to the novel that there isn’t much in the way of “surprise.”

Until the end, that is.

The last ten pages of the book absolutely riveted me.  I did not anticipate the drastic change in direction, but I found it completely appropriate and, when compared to the ambiguous nature of the exterior world surrounding Offred, satisfying.

If you are unfamiliar with general plot of the novel, it occurs in the near future.  The east coast (and maybe more) of the United States has been overrun by an ultra conservative religious group that picks and chooses Scripture to interpret literally.  Because sterility plagues the country, the commanders of this new order, and their wives, are allowed a “Handmaid,” which is a fertile woman forced into servitude.  She is there to copulate with the commander for the sole purpose of providing a child.

The story is told from Offred’s perspective, the Handmaid belonging to the commander known as Fred.  We learn snippets of her present as well as the history of her past.  The fall of our civilization as we know it, while brief and segmented in the novel, is horrifying nonetheless.

This new regime takes it upon themselves to terminate intellectuals, free thinkers, and anyone that does not adhere to their ideologies.   Women are objectified and rendered powerless, all in the name of Scripture.  Ironically, but not surprisingly, the commanders in the novel are blatant in committing “sin” without fear of reprisal.  They bask in it–in fact, they celebrate it among one another.

Most disturbing, however,  is the fact that the last ten pages gloss over all of this travesty.  Without spoiling too much, these grievous violations are looked upon as a means to an end, an uncomfortable moment in history.  All is well, and so thus we mustn’t worry too much about what happened in the past, no matter how terrible.

My fear is that this book is prophetic.  In this day and age, it certainly seems so.  It is warning us about how quickly it can all fall apart.

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I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and Jm Ken Niimura – A Book Review

I felt a bit conflicted about the movie adaption of I Kill Giants.  A friend on GoodReads suggested that I try out the source material to see if it settled a bit better with me.  I’m pleased to report that it most certainly did!

Joe Kelly’s I Kill Giants is far more transparent than the movie version, and I mean that in a good way.  The movie liked to straddle the fence about what exactly was going on, whereas the book just puts it right out there–yes, giants are real, and yes, people can see them.

I also like that the protagonist, Barbara, is a little bit younger, a little bit more likable, a little bit more vulnerable, and a little bit more … rounded.  The movie makes a mistake in that it keeps us guessing about Barbara, but in the book, Kelly tells us almost immediately about Barbara’s personal turmoil.  We know why she fights, and we know what she’s fighting.

By being so direct, Kelly creates a book fraught with emotion.  He makes Barbara so much more identifiable as well.  I appreciate that Kelly didn’t play games–he simply delivered the story in the best way possible.

Jm Ken Niimura’s black and white art is not especially my style, but it most certainly served this story exceptionally well.  His giants are unique, his action is kinetic, his panels are fluid, and his use of space is well-executed.  I can absolutely understand why he’s regarded so highly.

If you had to choose between the book or the movie, I would definitely recommend the book.  I’m glad Kelly and Niimura got the exposure they did due to the film, but this was a universally praised book even before the film adaptation arrived.  I hope you’ll check it out!

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Black Hammer – A Book Review

The cover to this book really threw me off.  I thought it was going to be some kind of a dark magic or horror book.  And though it’s got elements of both, it’s not at all what I expected.

Black Hammer: Secret Origins is about a group of super heroes who have been transported to a small, rural community and cannot leave their immediate surroundings.  Some of them are quite okay with this, some are ambivalent, and some are flat-out angry.

The six characters–by book’s end–captured my interest and prompted me to reserve the next installment at my local library, but I still can’t go so far as to say I “like” this book (even though I am clearly invested).

My primary issue is that the six characters are obvious riffs on popular DC and Marvel icons.  Shazam, Martian Manhunter, Captain America, Adam Strange–they’ve all been cribbed.  I found this kind of thing fascinating back in the mid-80s with Watchmen … I’m less entertained by it now.

Even so, the author, Jeff Lemire, excels at dialogue and character interaction, so I couldn’t help but be drawn in by this book.

Furthermore, the artwork is moody, dark, and eye-catching.  I particularly appreciated the facial expressions throughout.

They aren’t trying to pretend that they aren’t copying other characters, by the way.  There’s no deception taking place on their part.  And by the book’s conclusion, the characters have taken on a personality of their own and found themselves in an interesting predicament.  In fact, I have to hand it to Lemire in regards to character development.  Even though these characters begin as facsimiles, they soon become dynamic and full of engaging complications.  However, after almost four decades of reading comic books, none of these obstacles are unheard of.

It’s just, on a personal level, I feel like I’ve seen it all before.  The characters’ powers, the angst, even the isolation.  It’s all expertly-executed, but not especially fresh in my view.  Perhaps the next volume will completely win me over.  The good news is that I’m committed and want to keep reading this story.

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