Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in Hotels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

This was this week’s prompt:

June 29: Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2021

But rather than make yet another TBR, I got to thinking: since people are starting to travel again, what are some good books set in hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and other travel lodgings? And if you still can’t travel IRL, you can do it vicariously with these books. Hotels are great settings because you get all kinds of people, each with their own stories, all in the same place at the same time. I tried to keep it pretty varied.

The Shining by Stephen King– This is a hotel you probably won’t want to stay in! When Jack Torrence gets a job as the caretaker at Overlook Hotel, the recovering alcoholic sees it as a fresh start for himself, his wife, and their son. But the idyllic location is remote and cut off from the rest of the world, particularly during the harsh winter. And the Overlook is home to something dark, something that threatens both Jack’s mind and his family’s safety.

A Room with A View by EM Forester– While traveling in Italy with her aunt, Charlotte, Lucy Honeychurch meets George and his father, who kindly offer to switch hotel rooms with Lucy and Charlotte, as their room has a view. Charlotte refuses this offer out of snobbery. But Lucy finds herself drawn to George. She’s headstrong and bright, and pushing against the ties of her upper class British upbringing, but she can’t quite bring herself to sever those ties. When the characters return to England, where Lucy and George’s paths soon cross again.

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving- In the mid 1950’s, Win decides to buy and convert and old school into a hotel. His family comes along for the ride and the challenges of helping to run, and live in a hotel bring out different aspects of his children’s personalities. When an old friend offers Win the chance to operate an Austrian hotel, he sells his first hotel, and moves the family to Austria. Several years later the family moves to NYC. Along their travels they encounter a number of eccentric characters and situations, but they’re probably the most eccentric of all in their own unique ways.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier– After losing her parents, Mary Yellan moves to north Cornwall, to live with her aunt Prudence and Prudence’s husband, Joss Merlyn, who operates the titular inn. Soon Mary comes to suspect that something criminal is happening at the inn. She finds herself drawn into dangerous situations, and falls in love with a man she doesn’t trust, before she discovers a secret even darker than she’d anticipated.

Eloise by Kay Thompson– Eloise is a precocious child, living in the Plaza Hotel. “Getting bored is not allowed” so Eloise fills her days with various (self assigned) jobs and adventures. It’s a great look at the world of a child who turns a luxury hotel upside down. When I was a little kid I wanted to be Eloise!

Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner – This one about Edith Hope who writes romance novels under a different name. But when she realizes her life is looking like the plot of one of her novels (and not in a good way!) she escapes to the quiet luxury of the titular Swiss hotel. But the hotel’s other guests all seem to come with their own drama.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James This is a pretty decent ghost story/mystery. In 1982 upstate NY, Viv takes a job as a clerk at the titular motel. But something creepy is happening there. In 2017, Carly has heard all about her aunt Viv, who disappeared from the Sun Down Motel before she was born. Unable to let the story go, she moves to Fell, NY and gets a job at the motel. She learns that a lot of things there are still the same, including the things that may have cost Viv her life. The story is told in alternating chapters between the two time periods, but it all comes together at the end.

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis In 1945 actresses Hazel and Maxine meet on a USO tour of Italy. Five years later, they reunite. Hazel is working as a playwright now and Maxine is cast in the lead role of her play. Both are living in the Chelsea Hotel, which a number of artists of various kinds call home. But as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare gains momentum, both Hazel and Maxine and the other artistic residents of the Chelsea find themselves under suspicion. Lies, espionage, betrayal and more abound.

The Unpredictable Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell Sophie wants to put her messy past behind her in St. Carys. When Josh arrives in the idyllic seaside town to run his family’s hotel, he’s taken aback by Sophie’s lack of interest in him (women are usually very interested in him). But there are other dramas happening. Josh is tricked into hiring Sophie’s friend, Tula who seems to have a crush on him that’s unrequited. Meanwhile, someone else has a thing for Tula. And things get more complicated from there… This is frothy fun set in a seaside hotel.

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye – Alice “Nobody” James is a gun moll who arrives in Portland, Oregon in 1921 escaping a violent past. Her newly acquired travelling companion, Max, brings her to the Paragon Hotel to be treated for a bullet wound. The segregated city’s only all black hotel may be an unlikely hiding place, but it has the advantage of a doctor who doesn’t ask too many questions. As she recovers, Nobody is drawn into the lives of the hotel’s residents, especially Blossom, a secretive chanteuse, and Davy a lovable mixed race orphan who is cared for by the hotel’s staff. When Davy disappears, the racial tensions in the city reach a boiling point, and Nobody may be the only person who can safely make inquiries.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Colorful Settings

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

April 13: Book Titles That Sound Like They Could Be Crayola Crayon Colors (Take a moment and Google some of the crazy Crayola crayon colors that exist. Can you think of any book titles that sound like they could also be a crayon color? It might be fun to include a description of the kind of color you’re picturing.)

OK, so follow my logic on this one! I didn’t want to do the topic for this week, so I chose to do settings that I consider “colorful” (yes it’s a bit of a leap, but who cares?) For some reason some settings just resonate with you as a reader. If a book is set in a carnival, circus or amusement park it automatically gets my attention. They have a bright, technicolor surface, but that can hide darkness underneath. From the death defying acrobats to the wild animals to the games of chance, it seems like circuses, carnivals, amusement parks, side shows and fairs have hundreds of stories beneath the tent. Here are some:

  1. The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern– At Le Cirque des Rêves, a competition is underway between two magicians. Celia and Marco have both trained since childhood for this purpose, though they don’t know it. So when they fall in love, it doesn’t bode well that only one can be left alive at the end of this competition.

2. The Circus of the Earth and the Air by Brooke Stevens– At the circus, Iris, a volunteer from the audience is steps into a magician’s box, and the box is set on fire. After the show her husband, Alex, goes backstage to find her (assuming it was a stunt!) But she never reappears. The circus itself vanishes overnight. Alex sets out to find out the truth about what happened to his wife.

3. The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler– Simon is a librarian, living alone in his family home on Long Island. When a book dealer sends him a mysterious volume that may have some connection to his family, Simon gets caught up in the tale it tells, of a misfit living and working with a traveling circus. But he soon comes to realize that the book may reveal a curse on his family. If Simon is right, it may be the only thing that can save his sister.

4. Joyland by Stephen King– This book is more in the crime genre (with some supernatural crossover) than the horror with which King is usually associated. Devon Jones starts working at an amusement park in a small town in North Carolina in the summer of 1973. The first half of the book has a nostalgic feel as Devon comes to know the workers at the park. He befriends a dying boy (who has a secret), and falls for the boy’s beautiful mother. The second half gets more into a murder mystery.

5. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman- The Museum of Extraordinary Things is not a museum at all. It’s a Coney Island freak show in 1911. Coralie Sardie is the owner’s daughter. She’s an excellent swimmer who appears as a mermaid in the show. When she encounters photographer Eddie Cohen, a runaway from his community and his job, they fall in love. But when Eddie photographs the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he gets pulled into the mystery behind a girl’s disappearance.

6. Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz– Slim McKenzie has premonitions. He can also see what he calls “goblins” who hate and inflict suffering on humanity. When he kills one of these goblins, he runs away to join a travelling carnival. Where he discovers that goblins abound. Initially, I thought that the “goblins” were a metaphor for bad people. I thought Slim’s ability to see them was an ability to see through the civil façade that these people present. Then I realized they were actually demonic creatures, but then the explanation of their existence veers more into realm of sci-fi.

7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen– Jacob is a veterinary student who is orphaned and penniless. When he crosses paths with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, he is hired care for the animals. He meets the beautiful Mariana, a beautiful horseback rider married to August, an abusive animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, the “untrainable” elephant. I had my issues with this book, but the circus setting and lure is the best part.

8. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter– Sophie Fevvers is an aerialist, and the start of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She also claims to be part swan. Journalist Jack Walser is intrigued by her story and joins the circus on its European tour to find out the truth about her, And he falls in love with Sophie (of course!)

9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury- I think of this as coming of age meets horror/dark fantasy. When Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show comes to Greentown, Illinois in time for Halloween, and Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are a bit enthralled by the mirror maze and carousel that can make someone grow older or younger depending on if they ride it forwards or backwards. But an something sinister and evil is using the carnival as a way to harvest souls. Jim and Will, along with Will’s father, Charles, have to learn some important lessons to fight the evil force which has invaded their home.

10. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton– When you think about it, Jurassic Park is really an amusement park gone horribly wrong. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years or so, you’re probably at least semi-aware that it’s about a rich man who harnesses technology for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA. He sets up a theme park where people can see the dinosaurs up close. But after a series of incidents prior to the opening, a team of experts come to evaluate the safety of the park. But it soon becomes clear that the people who made the park overestimated their control over mother nature.

Top Ten Tuesday: Places in Books I Would NOT Want to Live

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

March 30: Places In Books I’d Love to Live

For this one I decided to twist things a bit: I’ve given a bit of thought to places in books I’d want to visit/see (here and here ) but these are places I would avoid!

1.Manderley in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- In this case the problem is the servants. Well, really just the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers; but she’s cruel, treacherous, cunning and destructive. Who wants to live with that?

2. Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Here there would be two major issues. One is the fact that I have a crappy sense of direction and I’d probably get lost all the time. The other is the ghosts in the bathrooms. There are some places I just need privacy, and that’s one of them.

3. Panam in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins- The reasons for this one should be fairly obvious. But I would always worry about being chosen for the Hunger Games. I know if I was selected I’d be one of the first to die. Actually there are a lot of dystopias I wouldn’t want to live in. I won’t list them all (that would be a different list) but really most of them sound pretty awful!

4. Obernewtyn in the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody– You could call this one a dystopia I suppose. It takes place in a pretty awful post-nuclear holocaust world. But Obernewtyn itself, after the first book in the series (where it’s a horrible place), becomes sort of a refuge. So I suppose if I had to live in that world this is where I’d choose, but I’d rather not live there at all thankyouverymuch. Just a note: these books are pretty popular in Australia but I think they deserve to be better known in the US.

5. Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– In this one, the biggest problem is the madwoman in the attic who constantly escapes the woman who’s supposed to be watching her, and starts fires. When picking literary houses, that’s an issue I just can’t overlook.

6. Wuthering Heights in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– This one is pretty bad too. From the master of the house who is on a vengeful mission, to the ghost who wanders the moors outside, I would just rather not deal with any of them.

7. Neverworld Wake in Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl- Sort of a limbo state between life and death where the characters must relive the day of their deaths over and over again until they vote on one member of the group to be the sole survivor. Not only does the prospect of limbo sound bad, but reliving the same day endlessly until you make an impossible decision? No thank you!

8. Foxworth Hall in the Dollinganger series by VC Andrews– In this house I don’t know what’s worse: the religious fanatic owners, the greedy, heartless daughter, the sadistic butler, or the four kids locked up in the attic.

9. The Overlook Hotel in The Shining by Stephen King– Even if it weren’t for the malevolent ghosts that drive you crazy, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere that’s so isolated. Plus, the fact that you have to take care of the boiler carefully or the whole place will blow up, sounds very stressful. So the fact that it’s haunted just makes it a bit worse. Really any/every haunted house book falls in this category (similar to dystopias) but I won’t list them all.

Top Ten Tuesday: Small Town Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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This week’s topic was:

August 11: Books I Loved but Never Reviewed

But the thing is that there are a lot of books I’ve loved but never reviewed. My reviewing a book has more to do with time/inclination than love.

Since I wasn’t feeling this week’s topic, so I decided to go with one of my own. I’m definitely more of a big city girl IRL. But I do appreciate some small town fiction.

  1. 71pevpzotdl._ac_uy218_Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn– Camille is a reporter who returns to the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri  to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls. She finds a town that’s even more toxic than the one she left years earlier. At the same time she must grapple with some equally toxic family relationships.
  2. 81jwx0nliyl._ac_uy218_Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery– Avonlea is practically a character in these novels (most of them at least). Actually most of Montgomery’s work features small PEI based towns that play a large role in the story.
  3. a1eoxybsj5l._ac_uy218_We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– The small town takes on a villainous role in this one. I think it rivals Wind Gap for toxicity! This town has it’s own set of witches (sort of), but the “normal” townspeople might be more dangerous than the witches!
  4. 91paeh4pugl._ac_uy218_Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- A lot of Allen’s fiction is set in small towns, but this one (and the sequel First Frost) is set in Bascom, North Carolina. It’s a typical small Southern town in many ways, but some of the residents (namely the Waverly family) are anything but typical. That fact sends Sydney Waverly out of town right after high school graduation. But it might also be what brings her back.
  5. 91j44fyb1ml._ac_uy218_Salem’s Lot by Stephen King- I’m actually not a big fan of  this novel, but one thing that King does in it really successfully (IMO) is create a portrait of mundane, everyday evil. We see acts of abuse and bullying that make up the fabric of daily life in ‘Salem’s Lot. Ultimately I think that’s more chilling than the vampires that eventually make an appearance.
  6. 81ap62fhl._ac_uy218_Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris– I know that the Sookie Stackhouse novels, the Aurora Teagarden series and the Midnight, Texas series are also set in small towns (and have small screen adaptations) but those never really resonated with me. I prefer this series set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. I included this book because it’s the first, but any of the others also apply.
  7. 41fsa9p0jul._ac_uy218_Peyton Place by Grace Metalious– This novel is about how three women come to terms with their identity as women and sexual beings in a very conservative, small, gossipy New England town. This book was a major bestseller when it came out in the 50’s (it was quite scandalous because it dealt with subjects like incest, abortion, adultery, and murder; as well as larger issues like hypocrisy, social inequality, and economic privilege) . It spawned a sequel, and both books got film adaptations. It also inspired a successful TV series. I read it years ago, and don’t remember much in terms of plot, but I do remember that secret filled town.
  8. 713lu0aeegl._ac_uy218_Empire Falls by Richard Russo– The titular town in this novel is a working class town sees through the eyes of Miles Robey. Miles owns the Empire Grill (where everyone in town seems to eat) and is father to a teenager.
  9. 81d3bhbgngl._ac_uy218_Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng- Shaker Heights prides itself on being an open minded small town.  Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl arrive and make a home for themselves there. But when a controversial custody case divides opinions in town, Mia finds herself on the opposite side from her employers, the Richardson family. The split could have dangerous consequences.
  10. 81ay1lxk9l._ac_uy218_To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee– I think that Maycomb, Alabama is one of the of first places I think of when I think of fictional small towns. Like many, it’s a close knit community where there’s a lot of gossip and people know each other’s business. It’s harmless, until it’s not. We see another side of this town from a different perspective in Go Set a Watchman.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in A Single Location

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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April 23: (First Ten) Books I Reviewed (These do not have to be formal reviews. A small sentence on a retailer site or Goodreads counts, too! Submitted by Rissi @ Finding Wonderland)

Since I can’t think of where to begin with that (I’ve written some form of book reviews for years!) I decided to make up my own topic: books set in a single location. While some of these have an opening and/or closing scene in another location all of them have about 70-80% of the narrative set in one space.  Some books, like Room, don’t apply because they’re only 50% in one space and then the story moves elsewhere. Others, like Jane Eyre or The Shining, are set largely in one place but important events to the story and the characters happen elsewhere, during the action of the story.

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1. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett- While there are flashbacks to other places at other times, the bulk of the action in this novel takes place while the characters are held hostage in home of the Vice President of an unnamed South American country.

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– About 85% of this book takes place in the attic of Foxworth Hall. About 10% takes place elsewhere in Foxworth Hall. I think only the first chapter or two takes place in another location.

51sslc2wctl-_ac_us218_3. Misery by Stephen King– This novel is set entirely (save for the epilogue) in an isolated farmhouse where the main character, novelist Paul Sheldon, is being held hostage by Annie Wilkes, a woman who rescued him from a car wreck somewhere in the Colorado Rockies.

51lz9ueudjl-_ac_us218_4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie–  In this case all the action takes place on a train. The train itself moves (until it’s stopped by a snowdrift somewhere in Croatia) but no one gets on or off.

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5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson– In this case we learn things about the characters, and their lives prior to their arrival at Hill House, and their motivations for being there, but the action of the story itself takes place in the house.

51mny8nb9il-_ac_us218_6. The Ruins by Scott Smith- I’d estimate the first 20% of this book is set elsewhere in Mexico, leading up to the four protagonists arriving at the titular ruins. But from the moment they arrive there, they’re trapped.

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_7. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn– In this case, the protagonist, Anna Fox, is  an agoraphobic who is unable to leave her Harlem townhouse. We learn about how she developed her condition via a flashback but a few steps outside of the door is as far as we see her travel during the action of the plot.

41oieugca5l-_ac_us218_8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– The action of this novel is set almost entirely in a mental hospital. Once again, we learn (in some cases) how the characters ended up there, but that information is conveyed via flashback and conversation.

Does anyone have any other novels set predominately in one location?

 

 

 

Gothic Book Tag

In honor of Halloween I decided to do the Classic Club’s Gothic Book Tag

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Warning: Spoilers Abound

Below we have thirteen questions to creep you out and send shivers up your spine!

The rules are easy.

  1. Answer the 13 questions with classic books in mind.
  2. How you define ‘classic’ is up to you.
  3. How you define ‘scary’ is up to you (it could be content, size of book, genre etc).
  4. Add your link back here when you’re done.
  5. If you’re feeling social, visit other blogs and leave a comment or share your thoughts on twitter, fb, instagram or goodreads using #CCgothicbooktag
  6. Join in if you dare.

Which classic book has scared you the most? I think that The Shining by Stephen King was a pleasant surprise to me. I’d seen the film prior to reading the book, so I thought that I had an idea of what to expect, but it was an entirely different ballgame. The film basically takes on a similar premise (a couple and their young child act as caretakers of an isolated, haunted hotel in winter) and the same character names but little else. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film by any means, but it’s a separate thing. Stephen King agrees. In the film, the bulk of the horror is internal stemming from the character Jack Torrance. I’ve actually see arguments that it all took place in the character’s head. In the book, you can’t make that argument. Once I realized that this was going to be a different experience I was along for the ride. The internal and external horror in the book is difficult to separate. Jack Torrance, is an alcoholic with a history of anger issues, who is trying to stay sober for the sake of his wife, Wendy and son, Danny. The evil in the hotel draws the evil inside Jack to the surface, and it comes to possess him, using his internal weaknesses as weapons. At the same time, Jack’s son, Danny has psychic abilities that cause the supernatural activity to become more powerful. Echoes from the hotel’s violent past, make for a dangerous threat in the present when he is around. His ability make him stronger because the hotel can’t posses him, but it also makes him a target for harm.  I liked that the film made all of the horror internal. That was an interesting story as well. But the book is how the internal weaknesses and in Danny’s case, gifts, are weaponized by external forces, and how the lines between internal and external blur. It’s a different story.

Scariest moment in a book? In The Haunting of Hill House when Eleanor and Theodora are in the bedroom and someone (or something…) is trying to open the door. They’re holding hands, and then Eleanor comes to realize that it’s not Theodora whose hand she’s holding… Something about the idea of being in a frightening situation, reaching out for support and realizing that the person you reached out to, thinking it meant safety, may be the very thing you feared gets to me!

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Classic villain that you love to hate? I think Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca is great. You wouldn’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be a threatening villain, but her idealization of and obsession with Rebecca; combined with the unnamed narrator’s insecurity and inferiority complex, makes her powerful enough to almost drive the narrator to suicide.

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Creepiest setting in a book? I think the marshes in The Woman in Black are pretty creepy. It’s a lonely, isolated place and Eel Marsh House is at the mercy of the constantly changing weather. Because the landscape is flat and wet, and there aren’t any distinguishing characteristics like trees to break things up, it feels endless and becomes hard to tell where the sky ends and the begins. This atmosphere makes it a perfect place for the supernatural because boundaries between land and water and earth and sky are already blurred. It’s easy to imagine the boundary between life and death being similarly distorted.

Best scary cover ever? I actually haven’t even read this book yet, but this cover of Shirley Jackson’s The Bird’s Nest creeps me out. How did the girl’s head get in the nest? Was it cut off and put in there? Or did it grow put of there? Why is there an egg on her eye, and what is coming out of the egg?

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Book you’re too scared to read? I’m pretty brave! I haven’t encountered a book as an adult that was too scary to read/finish. As a child on the other hand? It’s a long and fairly embarrassing list!

Spookiest creature in a book? I’ll go with Mr. Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s good and bad in everyone. I think in many ways the scariest thing is the evil that we’re all capable of. In this book that happens to be synthesized into a separate being. But the creepiest thing is that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. Jekyll is presented to the reader as imperfect but a fundamentally decent human being. But everything that Hyde does, including murder, is something that Jekyll has the capability of doing. If he didn’t, Hyde wouldn’t be able to do it either. I think that’s a scary thought!

Classic book that haunts you to this day? I think that in some ways We Have Always Lived in the Castle haunts me more than The Haunting of Hill House. We have these sisters who have been isolated by their town after Constance, the older sister, was acquitted for the murder of their whole family. Merricat, the younger sister, likes this state of affairs, which is threatened when an estranged cousin, Charles, turns up. I suppose that I like that the threats in this book come from so many different sources: there’s the hostile townspeople who think that Constance got away with murder; Charles, who forms a close relationship with the naive Constance, and may be trying to take advantage of her; and Merricat herself, who will lash out dangerously when she thinks her life with her sister is threatened. It’s disturbing because ultimately it has “happy”  ending, at least from Merricat’s point of view. She sets fire to the house, which dives Charles away, and she and Constance live out their days happily (at least according to Merricat, who is an unreliable narrator) in the burned out carcass of their family home.  They become fairy tale witches in a “castle” overlooking a town that fears them.

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Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist?  I’m not sure I’d call it “scary” per se though there are certainly some very creepy/atmospheric moments, but I read Fingersmith on a crowded train and when I came to the end of the first portion of the book, I literally yelled out “Holy crap!” It was a bit embarrassing but this twist totally reset my perception of the characters and the plot.

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Classic book you really, really disliked? I’m not sure you’d call it a “classic,” but I’m not a fan of Anne Rice. Interview With A Vampire did nothing for me. But then I’m not a huge fan of vampires in general.

Character death that disturbed/upset you the most?  I’ll go with Miles in The Turn of the Screw. The narrative is ambiguous so what happens to him could be one of several (disturbing) possibilities. Either he has somehow been manipulated and attacked by the ghost of an employee at his uncle’s estate; or his governess is insane and the ghosts are her delusions, and she kills him in some way and blames it on the supernatural in her mind. In either scenario, he’s a child who is at the mercy of an adult he trusts.

List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.  

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Shining by Stephen King

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

But really most of the books in this post are good!

Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

I think this quote disturbs me because what it expresses is so true. Most people who cause harm and destruction, do so because they have been hurt deeply themselves. Frankenstein’s monster is a character who does a lot of damage but does it because he’s never been nurtured or loved. The idea that all of that violence could have been turned in a positive direction and potentially made the world a better place, is both heartbreaking and frightening. Once we start to see villains as people who have suffered, our sympathies are engaged, and depending on the villainous actions, this can be disturbing too. We don’t want to feel sympathy for monsters because we want them to feel “other” in a fundamental way. Once we feel bad for them, we start to understand their actions, which makes us feel really uncomfortable.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Villians

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 23: Villains (favorite, best, worst, lovable, creepiest, most evil, etc.)

I went with the creepiest/ most evil for this one

TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these villains do some very bad things, so in discussing them, I mention some of those. It you have triggers, be warned.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_1. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– You don’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be a creepy villain, but Mrs. Danvers totally is. From forbidding demeanor to her pathological obsession with her employer’s late wife (the title character) she makes life a living hell for his second wife, interfering in their marriage, playing psychological games and trying to goad the second wife to suicide.

.

51sslc2wctl-_ac_us218_2. Annie Wilkes in Misery by Stephen King- I think that the development of the internet makes such a villain even more plausible. I’ve seen fandoms in which a few people are only lacking the opportunity to save their favorite writer (or actor/singer/whatever) after being injured in a carwreck in an isolated, snowbound area and keep him/her prisoner for months, demanding new material according to the specifications of the individual fan. When the object of Annie’s fanning resists, things get ugly.

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_3. Black Jack Randall Outlander by Diana Gabaldon– There’s a common misconception that Black Jack Randall is gay. He’s not. According to the author, he’s a “bisexual sexual sadist” but I might leave off the “bisexual” because if the opportunity presented itself in an appealing way, I don’t think he’d limit himself to only men and/or women. Early  on in the book he assaults the heroine, and only circumstances keep him from raping her. Later we learn about his assault on our heroine’s sister in law which  was unsuccessful because his intended victim began to laugh (a hysterical reaction, but he took it to mean that she wasn’t suffering, so he couldn’t perform). His fixation with a male character stems from an encounter in which Randall flogged him until he was near dead, but he stills refused to give Randall the satisfaction of screaming and begging. That makes him see this character as his ultimate challenge. It’s got nothing to do with gender.

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_4. Corinne Dollinganger Foxworth in Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– Corrine was disowned by her parents about fifteen years prior to the action of the book. When she’s widowed and in dire financial straits, with four children,  she returns to her wealthy parents home. Her mother explains the situation: her father won’t accept her back if he knows that her marriage produced children, but he’s on his deathbed. She can tell him there were no kids and he’ll write her back into his will. So the children need to stay hidden from him. Fortunately the mansion has an attic where the kids can stay. Once he’s dead, they can come out. It’ll probably only be a week or so. Corrine reluctantly agrees to this plan. But as time goes by and her father lingers on, Corinne develops a fondness for the finer things in life. The kids are really perfectly fine in the attic. And when it becomes clear that her inheritance may depend on no one ever learning of their existence, Corrine is really OK with that…

41uffqdrfll-_ac_us218_5. Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- Eva Khatchadourian is ambivalent about motherhood, even after the birth of her son, Kevin. She does most things “right.” She pays attention to him, takes care of him, is involved in his life at school. But something about him strikes her as “off.” He’s manipulative, and often hostile to her, but her husband, Franklin is pretty convinced that they have the perfect son. When Kevin commits a series of horrific crimes as a teenager, Eva is left wondering where the responsibility lies. Was it nature? Did she sense that something was deeply wrong with her son from the beginning? Is that why she was unable to form an attachment with him? Or was it nurture? Did his own mother’s distaste for him turn Kevin into a monster? Eventually she asks Kevin why he did what he did, and his answer is chilling.

41bzvplqikl-_ac_us218_6. Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens– This may surprise some people since Miss Havisham is generally seen as pathetic rather than villainous. And she is a pitiable figure, refusing to change out of her wedding dress, or take the wedding decorations down after her intended leaves her at the alter. But I think that she becomes villainous some years later when she takes in beautiful  young orphan named Estella, and trains the girl from childhood to torment, manipulate and spurn men, as a revenge against the man who broke Miss Havisham’s heart years earlier. Not only is this unfair to men (who are not all responsible for her fiance’s behavior!) but it’s unfair to Estella, who misses out on friendships and healthy relationships due to her early training.

51cfd7bn2hl-_ac_us218_7. The Other Mother in Coraline by Neil Gaiman- As children, we are supposed to see our mothers as safe, nurturing, and loving (though some of the ladies on this list prove that isn’t always the case!). Coraline’s mother isn’t perfect. She’s often busy and inattentive. But she loves her daughter, and tries to help her. When Coraline stumbles upon the Other World, she discovers the Other Mother. She looks like Coraline’s real mother, but with black button eyes. During the course of the story she comes to look less and less like Coraline’s real mother as she grows taller and thinner. She’s unable to create and can only copy the real world and make her own twisted version of it. She wants someone to mother, so she collects children who she loves possessively to the point of destruction. She’s a twisted version of what we usually associate with motherhood.

51f1lrsblyl-_ac_us218_8. Frederick Clegg in The Collector by John Fowles– When Freddie Clegg wins the lottery it’s a chance to do something he’s wanted to do for a long time. He quits his job and buys an isolated house with a big cellar. He’s admired Miranda Grey for a long time, and he wants to be with her, but his social awkwardness keeps him from approaching her. So he kidnaps her instead, so that he can add her to his “collection” of pretty, preserved objects. Hopefully, after being with him for a while, she’ll grow to love him. After all, he’s fixed up the cellar for her nicely, and he treats her with “every respect.” His difficulty relating to others might make Freddie sympathetic in some circumstances. But when he chloroforms Miranda, shoves her into the back of a van, kidnaps her and holds her prisoner in his basement for an extended period of time, our sympathy starts to waver a bit. But the book is insidious in making us feel for Freddie at times anyway.

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_9. Henry Winter in The Secret History by Donna Tartt- Henry is a Classics student at Hampden College in Vermont. He’s a linguistic genius and probably a sociopath. When he’s blackmailed by another member of his social group (for accidentally killing a man, but it was an accident, so that’s OK) Henry’s solution is to kill his blackmailer and get his friends to help him. As the murder, and the response, tear the group apart, Henry’s sanity begins to unravel (though whether he was ever very “ravelled” is up for debate!) but his charm is probably his most disconcerting characteristic.

512sbygkbgl-_ac_us218_10. Zenia in The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood– This  novel is a gender reversed contemporary re-imagining of the fairy tale The Robber Bridegroom, in which the title character lures women promised to him in marriage back to his house, where he eats them. Zenia isn’t a literal “man eater” in this book but she’s already destroyed the lives of three women by stealing their partners, meddling in their careers, and interfering with their lives. But perhaps the most “evil” thing she does is create a dynamic amongst these women, where they’re almost dependent on hating her. Once she is no longer a threat they seem lost.

Unpopular Literary Opinions

  • 41rryji1bvl-_ac_us218_A lot of contemporary interpretations of Romeo and Juliet misunderstand the play completely.
    • If they don’t believe in love at first sight, they dismiss they entire play. OK, Macbeth opens with witches. Hamlet meets a ghost. Do you say “witches/ghosts don’t exist, so clearly this play offers nothing of value”?  Why should love, at first sight, be any different?
    • They say Romeo is fickle because he thought he was in love with another girl prior to meeting Juliet. But if you look at the poetry, Romeo’s language, once he meets Juliet, becomes more sophisticated. This indicates that it’s the real thing. So why include that other girl at all? Well, it’s Shakespeare telling us that this isn’t a childish infatuation because Romeo’s had that and it looked different.
    • They claim that Romeo and Juliet were two immature teens who didn’t really understand love or life. IRL, of course, a couple in their early teens wouldn’t understand true love. But for the sake of the play, we need to accept that this is a “perfect” love. It’s meant to be. Then we see the tragedy of what happens to a perfect love in a world filled with hate.
  • 511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_In Little Women Jo made the right romantic choices. She and Laurie would have been a disaster as a couple. They’re way too similar in terms of personality and they’d have clashed all the time. Jo also had a deep love for her family and defined herself in terms of her sisters. Laurie also loved her family, and saw Jo as sort of the “Lead March Sister.” In other words, the way he saw her was exactly the way she saw herself. He didn’t challenge her perceptions at all. Bhaer knew and cared for Jo independent of her family.
  • 51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_Wuthering Heights is not a romance. A love story, perhaps, but not a romance. And really it’s just as much a “hate story” as it is a “love story.” Even with the two characters who get a happy romantic ending, we’re ultimately left wondering if it was worth it. Lowood observes Cathy and Hareton together and grumbles “‘They are afraid of nothing…Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions.'” Then he walks back and in the churchyard sees “the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.” The implication is that the price of Cathy and Hareton’s happiness is those three graves.
  • I think of John Green as a YA version of Nicholas Sparks. Which is fine if you like that, but I don’t really. I like his vlogs and persona but I feel like as a writer he doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.
  • 51xipv5h1l-_ac_us218_I actually think that Go Set A Watchman enriched To Kill A Mockingbird and the characters. I much prefer to see Atticus Finch as a flawed human being rather than a perfect white savior. It makes sense that as a child, Scout perceives her father as a hero. And it makes sense that as an adult she’s able to see him as he is: a person with strengths and weaknesses and prejudices. It also makes sense for Atticus’ racism to come out in the way that it does. When an innocent man is accused of a crime that he didn’t commit, Atticus defends him, because a) it’s his job and b) people shouldn’t be held responsible for things that they didn’t do. But twenty years later, when civil rights are becoming a major issue, it seems believable that Atticus, who grew up in a segregated world where the power was squarely in the laps of white males, might begin to feel threatened. He fears to lose the privilege that’s been his all his life.
  • I like the Ron/Hermione pairing in Harry Potter. They’ve got the whole opposites attract thing going for them. They balance each other out. But I always felt like the Ginny/Harry pairing was just so that Harry wasn’t left romantically alone at the end of the series.51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_
  • 41rrzplmctl-_ac_us218_Rupi Kaur has yet to really impress me as a poet. I know a lot of people find her really relatable and I don’t want to diminish that. I think it’s wonderful when people have that response to something, even if I don’t share it. Especially since I can see why they relate to it. A lot of the themes that Kaur addresses in her work are universal. But I feel that, with a few exceptions, she doesn’t address them in an innovative or artful, or skillful way. My problem was that there is enough potential in the work for me to wish it was better.
  • I don’t particularly care for Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. I know that a literary detective in a futuristic world who goes inside books sounds like it should be right up my alley. I tried the first three books in the series but they just left me cold.
  • Stephen King is underrated from a literary point of view. He’s seen as a purely commercial writer. Yes, he’s written his share of trash, but when he gets it right, he really touches on our societies secrets, fears, and shame.

Fairy Tales, Princesses, Gothic Witches, & Popular Fiction

First, just to clarify: in this post, I won’t be discussing fairy tale retellings (books that set out to retell a specific fairy tale in a different way) but rather fairy tale inspired works.

If you look at many of my favorite books from Jane Eyre, to Rebecca, to Wuthering Heights, to We Have Always Lived in the Castle, you’ll see a lot of similar elements. Big houses, family secrets, and other gothic trappings. But there’s another element that’s consistent in them: fairy tales. Jane Eyre and Rebecca are both Bluebeard stories: A young woman becomes romantically involved with a wealthy man with a big house. It would seem to be a Cinderella story, but there’s a secret involving the man’s previous wife. In both cases, the man bears some degree of culpability. In Wuthering Heights, we see Heathcliff continuously compared to a beast; called “wolfish” with “sharp, cannibal teeth.” But unlike the traditional fairytale romantic beast, his actions are as beastly as the rest of him. While the love between Beauty and the Beast sets the Beast’s castle free of an enchantment, the love between Cathy and Heathcliff imprisons them and their families for a generation. We see a more traditional Beauty and the Beast story play out later with their children. Hareton is the Beast made in his father’s image, and Catherine is the Beauty who “tames” him. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle, we see the fairytale castle before it became an enchanted ruin. We learn about the crime that made Witches of normal women.

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But the fairy tale influence isn’t just limited to classics.  As a pre-teen, I was, like many, obsessed with VC Andrews. My favorite of her books was Flowers in the Attic. I haven’t reread it in years and I don’t want to. I have the sense that it’s not the kind of book that will hold up well. But the fairy tale influences are strong throughout. When their father dies, four children are brought to Grandmother’s House by their mother. In this case, Grandmother’s House happens to be a mansion and the children are locked in the attic because if  Grandfather finds out they exist, Mom won’t get her inheritance.  They’re told they won’t be up there long. Grandfather is old and dying. And Mom will try to tell him about them eventually. They’ll be in the attic maybe a week tops.  They’re up there for three years. We have two “witches” here. Grandmother has a bible verse for every occasion, a wide definition of sin, and a ready whip. But even more frightening is Mom, who seems a helpless, beautiful Princess at first. Caught in a bad situation she just wants to do what’s best for her family. But by degrees, she becomes convinced that keeping the kids locked up is the best thing for them. Then she realizes it’s the best thing for her and stops caring about them.  The narrator, Cathy, is twelve when the book begins, and fifteen when it ends. In many ways, she’s literally the Princess locked away in a tower. But she’s also got a bit of a Witch in her (explored more in the sequel, Petals on the Wind) in that like most teenage girls, she’s selfish, cynical, and can see things as pretty bleak. Also, in her family, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. She comes from a long line of Witches. A lot of the tension in the series deals with who she ultimately becomes: Princess or Witch?

A few years ago, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl became a major bestseller. We saw some of that Witch/Princess emerge in the character of Amy. She’s beautiful, in danger, and (for a time) locked away. But she also has some fairly witchy characteristics. Unlike Cathy, in Flowers in the Attic, who is always straddling the Princess/Witch divide, Amy definitely falls on one side more than the other. I won’t say which, to avoid spoilers. But Gone Girl wasn’t the only fairy tale inspired work that Gillian Flynn has in her oeuvre. Its success made her other two novels best sellers. Sharp Objects was just turned into a TV miniseries. In it, we have a clear Witch and a Princess/Witch. Camille is a  troubled journalist who returns to her hometown to investigate a double murder. We also meet her mother, Adora, is a manipulative narcissist. In her essay, “I Was Not A Nice Little Girl” Flynn discusses her intention to write about a Princess raised by a Witch.  Would Rapunzel, raised in a tower by a Witch, be a good woman? Or would she turn into a Witch herself?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope Santa Brings

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 19: Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

Narrowing it down to only ten is the hardest part here! I also tried to go with at least a few books that I really want but might not think to buy for myself. Though obviously since I put them on this list, I did think of it!

51zhmf9kdil-_ac_us218_1. Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis- I’ve been a fan of Samantha Ellis ever since I read her memoir How To Be A Heroine. I’ve always been a big fan of Anne Bronte, who is very much the overlooked Bronte sister. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey deserve a place on the shelf alongside Jane Eyre, Villette, and Wuthering Heights. She was as talented as Charlotte and Emily, but her work hasn’t been adapted to the same extent. It’s not written about as much.  Considering the fact that the Bronte’s are a family about whom a lot has been written, it’s strange that so little has been said about Anne. I look forward to learning more about her and her work.

41oky5u1zsl-_ac_us160_2. Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love by Anne Fadiman (ed)- I’m always intrigued by the idea of rereading things. Part of it is due to my own conflict: there are so many books that I want to revisit, now that I have more experience in life/ a different perspective. But there are also so many books that I haven’t read yet! Which is more worthy of my time? It’s an eternal question. In this book, Anne Fadiman collects essays from seventeen writers about the books that they return to. over and over again. Maybe it will inspire me to reread some old favorites.

41nrqvn9zxl-_ac_us218_3. Hat Box: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim by Stephen Sondheim- Most people know that I am a huge musical theatre geek. Huge. There is no one I have higher respect for than Stephen Sondheim, who has give the American musical so much. He’s the recipient of eight Tony Awards, eight Grammys, an Academy Award for Best Original Song (“Sooner or Later” from Dick Tracy) and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for Sunday in the Park With George) and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. At 87 years old, he is currently working on his next project! This box sets features Sondheim’s two volumes of his collected lyrics; Finishing the Hat and Look I Made A Hat (both titles refer to the lyrics of “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park With George). The lyrics in these books are like really clever poetry. Listening closely to a Sondheim lyric you’ll find internal rhyme, double (and triple) entendres, and complex word play. Not only do these volumes give the full libretto of Sondheim’s musicals, they also include anecdotes, reproductions from his notebooks with corrections and revisions, alternate/cut songs that didn’t make it into the final version of the show, as well as observations, and recollections.

61jbrrzbrel-_ac_us218_4. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss- Theodora Goss is one of the unsung greats of today as far as I’m concerned. She’s a novelist, short story writer, essayist,  poet, and teacher. Her latest is a mash up of female characters from 19th century literature. The orphaned Mary Jekyll is curious about her father’s past. She comes across a clue that points her in the direction of Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend. The hunt for Hyde leads her to his daughter, Diana. Through her search, Mary comes into contact with a number of women, who were all created via scientific experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. Oh and if that wasn’t enough fun, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are also there.

51oi-wfd4bl-_ac_us218_5. Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions and Heretics by Jason Porath-  This is for everyone who is sick of Disney’s princesses!  This book, inspired by the blog of the same name features women for myth to history and back again, who broke the rules, and were a little to fierce to make the cut for animated children’s movies.  It even features illustrations in a contemporary animation style, and turns the pretty pink princess stereotype upside down.

5111djnwwwl-_ac_us218_6. Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood- One of my “discoveries” of 2017 was the wonderful Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (murder is always more palatable when it takes place in a period setting!)  . Set in Australia in the 1920’s, Phryne Fisher leaves high society for life as a private detective. She handles everything from kidnapping to murder with style and flair. The series is based on novels by Kerry Greenwood, none of which I’ve read yet.  This volume contains the first three novels, so it seems like a good start for the series.

41a3p6ukcfl-_ac_us218_7. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King-  This past year I read one of the writing books that had been recommended to me many times; Bird by Bird. For some reason I resisted reading it, but it was very much worth the read. So now I’m thinking it’s time to explore the other writing book that can be described in much the same way. It’s been recommended many times and I’ve resisted reading it. When I think about it though it seems pretty silly. Stephen King has his strengths and weaknesses but it’s hard to deny that he’s one of our most prolific and popular writers. I’m certainly interested in his memoirs of his craft.

41xqczfdy8l-_ac_us218_8. The Blythes Are Quoted by LM Montgomery- This book was intended to by LM Mongomery’s 9th book in her Anne series. It was delivered to her publisher on the day she died and has never been published in its entirety before. It’s been heavily abridged and published as The Road to Yesterday. This is supposedly Montgomery’s most experimental work. It’s divided into two sections; one taking place before WWI and one after. It features 15 short stories that are interspersed with “sketches” featuring Anne and Gilbert discussing poems that Anne wrote with their son, Walter. In this way she fuses prose, poetry, and dialogue.  I’ve always loved the Anne series and have always felt like Rilla of Ingleside was an odd place to leave the family. So It’s nice to know there was intended to be something that comes after.

51kdw4g8bl-_ac_us218_9. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes-  This has been on my TBR for a long time, and I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I figure that having it staring at me on my shelf might help me get to reading it. In the book the author, a Jungian analyst, calls on fairy tales, folklore, and dream symbols to restore women’s instinctive and intuitive abilities. It looks at the Wild Woman archetype of a woman in touch with her instincts via tales from all over the world. I suppose the topic interests me, and I’d like to get around to it at some point.

61anunqkwbl-_ac_us218_10. Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton– Like many, I’m addicted to Humans of New York, a blog that talks to *wait for it* humans in New York. It features pictures that for the most part look like people you’d see on the street and not really give all that much thought to. But alongside the pictures are quotes and stories from the person’s life. It’s wonderful to see how everyone we see, even those we don’t register is a whole story. Some are sweet, some sad,  and some funny.  But it’s a reminder that we’re all stories in progress.