Halloween Read: Two by Susan Hill

The Man in the Picture and The Small Hand today on a ghost story double feature!

Both of these tales are little gems of revenge from beyond the grave.  In The Man in the Picture, a mysterious painting of a Venetian scene becomes a tool for malice.  And in The Small Hand, a ghost reaches out of the past and quite literally touches someone.

Hill has a very elegant but spare style that suits these stories well.  Both employ lots of wonderful tension-building and atmosphere, and a fantastic sense of the strange and foreboding.  They’re slim stories, and Hill manages to pack a lot into a small frame in each one.

There’s a sort of dusty old feel to these, as if you’ve uncovered a box in an attic with a lot of forgotten, oddball items inside.  And then those items somehow unleash the supernatural on you.

Pick these stories up this October if you like barely-there scares and old-fashioned strange tales.  They’re straightforward ghost stories with some elegant layering, perfect for an afternoon during the witching season.

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Marie’s Favorite Scary Books Part VI: Get Freaky

I used a Creepypasta name generator to come up with this year’s title, as I’m sure countless horror movie screenwriters have done before me.  The title I used is the one that made me laugh first.  (“Marie’s Favorite Scary Books Part VI: Pull My Finger” was runner-up)

I started my creepy reading nice and early this season, so I’ve got a whole bunch of favorite freaky reads for you this time around.  There are some ghost stories, some haunted houses, some cannibals, some crazy VHS tapes, and some cartoon kids solving mysteries.  I think this year’s list covers a broad area of different kinds of Horror, so no matter what your taste, you might find something you like here!

Several of these will have posts of their own this month, so stay tuned!  This list is also up on the Suggested Reading section of the blog, which you can find here.  If you’re the type who must enjoy things in order, you can begin with the very first Marie’s Favorite Scary Books and work your way up.

Marie’s Favorite Scary Books Part VI: Get Freaky

Brother by Ania Ahlborn
It’s obvious fairly early on that this family is a family of cannibals.  But the story is tragic and gruesome and sad, with one of the most downer endings I’ve ever read.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
Creepy and weird.  It’s extremely unsettling, particularly if you’ve got a vivid imagination.

The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
A taut and atmospheric tale of revenge.

This House is Haunted by John Boyne
A deliciously old-fashioned ghost story, with shades of The Turn of the Screw.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
Atmospheric and disturbing, a great tale of monsters and science in the 19th century.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
A delightful mix of weird fiction and horror, with plenty of truly unsettling images and stories.

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
Scooby Doo meets Lovecraft in this comedy of horrors, all about a crack team of kid detectives who have grown up and have one last mystery to solve.

 

Marie’s Reading: “The Various Haunts of Men” by Susan Hill

various hauntsThe first in the Simon Serrailler trilogy, The Various Haunts of Men is about mysterious disappearances on a still more mysterious hill in a small English town.

There’s very little Simon Serrailler for a Simon Serrailler book, but that’s okay–the rest of the cast is dynamic, involving, and interesting.  Freya Graffam, a detective who’s just transferred to the town of Lafferton from London, is a smart and dedicated cop and a wonderful investigator to follow.  You don’t even really miss Serrailler, even though you get intriguing glimpses of him (mostly through a love-struck Freya).

Hill’s writing is elegant.  It’s like watching a very high-brow police procedural.  Dark yet still compelling and appealing, with a building tension.  The narrative switches a lot between characters, giving a sense of the scope of the town and its people, as well as their connections.  It’s a nice mix of small-village story and crime.

One of the many POV’s in the book is a tape being narrated by the killer, and it’s very chilling and crazy.  The killer’s sections make a nice counterpoint to Graffam’s hunt.  And I have to give props to the one of the best killer motivations I’ve seen in a while, and very well-done reveal.  A real sucker-punch dark ending, too.

An engaging and intricately constructed bit of crime fiction, and a promising start to a series.  I’ll look forward to reading others, to see how Serrailler and his town are fleshed out.

If you’re a British mystery fan, and you like P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Kate Atkinson, and/or Elly Griffiths, you might want to give this a try!

–Marie

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #7

I’m back from vacation!  It was incredibly restful and already feels as if it happened months ago.  I even managed to get most of the books I had on my list read!

From the TBR List:

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.  I really hadn’t read this!  Tom is a totally amoral semi-con-man who is sent to Italy to bring back Dickie Greenleaf, at his father’s request.  Eventually, Tom decides he wants to be Dickie, and will do anything he needs to do to meet this goal.  The slow build is great, and there’s an undercurrent of unease to up the suspense.  A nice reminder to not get into boats with weirdos!  Trust your instincts!

Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff.  I really enjoyed her novel The Monsters of Templeton, so I wanted to try her short stories.  Groff’s writing is lyrical and detailed.  Just about every story is about troubled love, in one way or another–between married couples, between lovers, between friends.  And each one has its own tone and style and feel.  I especially liked Lucky Chow Fun (set in Templeton, the setting for her first novel) and The Dictator’s Wife.

Meddling Kids by Edgar CanteroI skipped to the front end of the TBR list for this one.  Clever, scary, and hilarious–check back at Halloween for more!

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill.  This mystery is going to get a post all to itself.  Stay tuned!

I think I’ve been thoughtlessly adding titles to my GoodReads to-read list for book club and such, because now I’ve got 755 books on the list.  I’ve completely lost track of how I’m doing, but that doesn’t matter!  I’m reading titles I’ve been meaning to get to, and that’s what counts.

–Marie

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #3

Today in the continuing saga of reading my way through my Goodreads To-Be-Read list:

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor.  I’ve read lots of books about English history in my non-fiction group (see our list here), so I’m familiar with the women covered in this book (Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou).  But it was great to see their lives and stories explored in a more fleshed-out way, particularly in the specific context of female leadership in England.

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland.  I like historical fiction that has a good sense of time and place, but doesn’t get bogged down in detail–there’s a sense of reality that comes from the period detail being in the background, the everyday.  Maitland pulls that off well here, I think.  I also liked the novel as a suspense story, one that played on the tensions between the village, the ancient Owl Men, and the Benguinage.  It’s enthralling and atmospheric with a rich cast of characters.  And now I want to learn more about Beguinages!

The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill.  I’m now officially doing a Susan Hill feature for Horror Month, so check back then!

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.  I own this.  I have owned this for years.  I tried once again to get into it and once again I’ve failed.  At least I’ve now watched the movie “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.”  Which is kind of like saying, “I haven’t read the book but I’ve seen the Wishbone episode.”

Medieval Women by Eileen Power.  I think this was on my list because of the many books I’ve read for my nonfiction book group about the Middle Ages.  Not sure where I heard about it, but glad I picked it up!  It’s a collection of lectures Power gave about different aspects of women’s lives in the Middle Ages, including women’s roles and functions, and the gulf between the ideal and the lives of actual women.  Gives a lot of cultural and intellectual context to lots of books I’ve read, both fiction and nonfiction.

Full disclosure: I am technically still in the act of reading She-Wolves and The Small Hand, but I’m going to finish both so they count.

To see previous updates on this challenge, click here and here.  Or just click the TBR Challenge 2017 tag at the bottom of the post.

Next up is another classic I have read the first three pages of at least four times (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and an 800-pager called The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy.  But it’s “a brilliant, multifaceted chronicle of economic and social change” according to The New York Times.  So maybe it will go quickly?

To-Read List Currently Stands At: 823.

–Marie

 

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #1

For those just arriving: I’ve decided to participate in the TBR Challenge this year.  The object is to read as many books as you can that you’ve had on your “to-be-read” pile by the end of the year.

Also, I’ve made a decision about this challenge.  If I’m not into something on my TBR list, I’m not going to finish it.  Too many books, too little time.  I will, however, give each book 100 pages before I give up.

Here’s how it’s going so far…

The Man in the Picture:  A Ghost Story by Susan Hill: Stay tuned for more, Horror Month 2017!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get into this.  I’d certainly suggest it to readers who enjoyed The Golem and the Jinni or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, though!  It’s got incredible atmosphere, nice historical sense of place, and the style is really evocative.  Not my (book)bag, but it might be yours!

The Father of the Rain by Lily King.  I was absorbed in this one from the first chapter.  It’s an engaging, nuanced story of a complicated father/daughter relationship, spanning many years.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt.  I was a couple pages into this novel when I realized that I’d begun it before.  Would you believe I’ve never read anything by Byatt before?  Language to savor and beautiful period detail.  Sweeping and engrossing.  But, alas, not one that grabbed me personally.  And I felt really guilty about that, because it’s a gorgeous book.

The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman.  I’ve read a couple of Goodman’s books, and I enjoy her brand of psychological suspense.  This one, set at a writer’s retreat in upstate New York, is a great Gothic tale and period piece as well as a suspense story.  It reminded me a lot of Kate Morton’s work (The Forgotten Garden in particular).  I got halfway through and then flipped to the end.  For some reason (perhaps the alternating chapters?), the tension just never took for me.

Well.  A bit disappointing.  But I guess this is why some of these books have sat on my To-Read shelf for five years.

Also, I keep adding new stuff to my TBR list, so now I’ve got 842 items on it.  I began with 831.  And have read or tried to read five.

I’m thinking I won’t see much of a net gain from this project.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books” by Cara Nicoletti ; illustrations by Marion Bolognesi

VoraciousIsn’t it great when you find an author who’s a kindred spirit?  Cara Nicoletti is the same age as me, loves food, loves to read, and loves to write about both.  After reading her book Voracious (as well as her blog, Yummy Books), I  feel like we’d be friends.

Nicoletti’s work is charming, warm, funny, and intelligent.  She’s an astute reader who clearly has a lot of passion and a depth and breadth of reading behind her.  She’s just the type of person you’d want to talk about books with as you cook a meal together.  Her book grew out of her blog, which in turn grew out of her book/cooking club.  Really, what an utterly amazing idea, a literary supper club.  I wish I’d thought of it.  (My idea was to read and drink my way through Tequila Mockingbird.  Nicoletti’s idea is a lot classier.)

As I mentioned, Nicoletti and I are the same age, so I got a real kick out of hearing what books she liked when she was a kid.  That was my favorite section of her book, and I enjoyed the piece about Little House in the Big Woods in particular.  In looking over her blog I got embarrassingly excited when I saw “Stacey’s EmergencyBrown Butter Pecan Brownies.    Along with everything else we’ve got in common, we felt the same way about the Babysitters Club.  This is one paragraph among many that made me laugh:

Recently, on a particularly overwhelming day, I impulse-bought Babysitter’s Club Book #43: “Stacey’s Emergency” at a used book store. The dilemma in the book is this: Stacey loves chocolate, but Stacey has diabetes so she cannot eat chocolate. Ignoring her diagnosis, Stacey steals Ring Dings from Claudia’s house and stuffs them in her purse, she eats chocolate bars in the privacy of her bedroom, foams like a rabid animal while making fudge at a babysitting job, and (ROCK BOTTOM), even shoves M&M’s in her mouth in the bathroom of a commuter train. Eventually, Stacey gets really really sick because, you know, cause and effect.

“Charming” is the word I keep coming back to when I think about Voracious.  I was charmed, by the sheer passion, by the fun, by the love of reading, by the love of food.

Howards End Is On the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home by Susan Hill, My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss, Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda, and the lovely lyrical novel Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer would all be wonderful choices, both for tone and content, to pick up after Voracious.  Or after an afternoon of reading Nicoletti’s blog.

–Marie