Dr. Montague is a scholar of the occult, and he invites three other people to stay with him in Hill House, which is notorious for being haunted. There’s jovial Theodora, timid Eleanor, and the future heir of the house, Luke. What starts as a light-hearted adventure quickly turns sinister in this horror classic.
I actually started reading this audiobook way back in September for the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge. It’s only 7.5 hours long, so I thought it’d be a quick read. I think the fact that it wasn’t demonstrates quite well how not drawn into the story I was. This is a classic haunted house tale that perhaps might not work for the modern reader, depending on how much horror they generally imbibe.
This is going to be a quick review because I honestly don’t have too much to say about the book. Four people arrive at a house. Things appear normal, except one of them, Eleanor, clearly is a bit more emotionally unstable than the rest. She is, for instance, shocked that anyone is interested in her or asks her questions. She also has trouble with her own identity, such as knowing for sure what she likes to eat. Odd things start to happen in the house, and because Eleanor is odd, the others aren’t sure if it’s the house doing them or Eleanor herself. Eleanor becomes overly attached to Theodora. Drama ensues.
None of the house horror scenes really got to me, because frankly I’ve seen worse in plenty of other horror I read. I do love the genre. The parts that actually disturbed me were when the others in the household were inexplicably cruel to Eleanor. That dynamic of an odd woman randomly tossed in with strangers who proceed to be mean to her in a highschoolish way held my interest more than the house did. People and their cruelty are so much more frightening than a haunted house. I understand that the book is sort of leaving it up to the reader to wonder if the house or the people really drive Eleanor crazy, but frankly I think the ending removes all question on this point.
Similarly, there are definitely some undertones in the Theodora/Eleanor relationship that indicates they might possibly have had a fling early on and then Theodora abruptly distances herself from Eleanor when she gets too clingy. None of this is said outright, however it is heavily implied that Theodora’s roommate back home is her lover who she had a quarrel with, and she and Eleanor establish a close bond early on in the book. The problem is this all stays subtext and is never brought out in the open of the book. I get it that this book was published in 1959 so it probably had to stay subtext and was most likely shocking to a reader in the 50s. But to me, a modern reader, it felt like the book kept almost getting interesting and then backing off from it. The combination of the former issue and this one meant that I was left feeling unengaged and uninterested. Basically, I feel that the book didn’t go quite far enough to be shocking, horrifying, or titillating.
The audiobook narration by Bernadette Dunne was excellent as always, and the main reason I kept listening rather than just picking up a copy of the book and speed reading it. I love listening to her voice.
Overall, this classic was boundary pushing when it was first published but it might not come across that way to a modern reader. Readers who read a lot of modern horror might find this book a bit too tame for their tastes. Those interested in the early works of the genre will still enjoy the read, as will modern readers looking for horror lite. Readers looking for the rumored GLBTQ content in this book will most likely be disappointed by the subtlety of it, although those interested in early representation in literature will still find it interesting.
3 out of 5 stars
It’s time for the second gift list here at Opinions of a Wolf (see the first, 10 Non-book Gifts for Book Lovers here). I thought with Hanukkah next week and some holiday parties already happening that it would be interesting to provide a list of cheap ebooks. Ebooks make great last-minute gifts, as you can purchase them literally on your phone on the way to the party and have them arrive in your recipient’s email with them none the wiser that you waited until the last minute. Since you can schedule when the gift email arrives, no one needs to know that you scheduled it only 5 minutes ago. Ebooks are also great because you can find them for very cheap but a reader who loves ebooks doesn’t care how much the ebook cost. A book is a book is a book! I’m not just going to tell you a list of cheap ebooks though. I’m also going to give you a little reader’s advisory–tell you who the book would be best for. Without further ado, here is the list, in order of cost from least to most.
For the lover of YA who enjoys a touch of fantasy:
Initiate by Tara Maya
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi. The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing. Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance. But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi. Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers. But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
This is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia. The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult. See my full review here.
For the urban fantasy reader without a lot of time:
Cursed by S. A. Archer
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned. Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.
This fast-paced novella is perfect for the reader without a lot of time who still wants to get some urban fantasy into their day. See my full review here.
For the lover of the style of classic scifi:
The Coin by Glen Cadigan
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012. The only thing is, it’s 1989. A note from his uncle states that the coin is important. Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them. As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
This novella is a fun new take on the storytelling methods of classic scifi. The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising. See my full review here.
For zombie fans who enjoy a touch of romance:
Hungry For You by A. M. Harte
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.
This short story collection is different and fun simultaneously. It will appeal to zombie pans, particularly women. See my full review here.
For the reader of lesbian romance who loves fairy tale retellings:
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel by Elora Bishop
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel. Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day. The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship. She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into. Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel. Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales. The novellas may be mixed and matched. See my full review here.
For the reader of women’s fiction with an interest in Scotland:
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work. After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art. Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.
This is an emotional, challenging, touching read for fans of contemporary fiction with a heart. See my full review here.
For the horror fan:
Gargoyles by Alan Nayes
Amoreena is determined to be a doctor and help people. She’s a hard-working, scholarship student on the pre-med track in her third year of college. Unfortunately, her single mother just got diagnosed with metastatic cancer and lost her health insurance. With no time for a job and no money for the bills, Amoreena is grateful when she is approached by a surrogacy clinic to be a surrogate for $50,000 with payments upon successful insemination and each trimester. But after she’s successfully inseminated, Amoreena becomes increasingly concerned that something is not quite right with her baby.
If your horror fan loves Rosemary’s Baby and is particularly freaked out by evil pregnancies, they will love this book. See my full review here.
For the lover of noir and urban fantasy:
One Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them. He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire. When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series. See my full review here.
For the reader of thrillers and fans of Gone Girl:
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot. He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee. When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
This is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character. This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for. See my full review here.
For readers of multi-generational family dramas and GLBTQ lit:
The Value Of Rain by Brandon Shire
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert. Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.
This is one of those genre-defying books. Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic. See my full review here.
I hope this list helps you find a read for yourself or a gift for another. Feel free to ask questions about any of these books or ask for recommendations for books for particular recipients in the comments!
India Morgan Phelps, Imp to her friends, is sure that there were two different Eva Cannings who came into her life and changed her world. And one of them was a mermaid (or perhaps a siren?) and the other was a werewolf. But Imp’s ex-girlfriend, Abalyn, insists that no, there was only ever one Eva Canning, and she definitely wasn’t a mermaid or a werewolf. Dr. Ogilvy wants Imp to figure out for herself what actually happened. But that’s awfully hard when you have schizophrenia.
I’d heard that this book was a chilling mystery featuring GLBTQ characters and mental illness. When I discovered it on Audible with an appealing-sounding narrator, I knew what I was listening to next. This book is an engaging mystery that also eloquently captures the experience of having a mental illness that makes you question yourself and what you know while simultaneously giving a realistic glance into the queer community.
Imp is an unreliable first person narrator, and she fully admits this from the beginning. She calls herself a madwoman who was the daughter of a madwoman who was a daughter of a madwoman too. Mental illness runs in her family. She states that she will try not to lie, but it’s hard to know for sure when she’s lying. This is due to her schizophrenia. Imp is writing down the story of what she remembers happening in journal style on her typewriter because she is trying to figure out the mystery of what exactly happened for herself. The reader is just along for this ride. And it’s a haunting, terrifying ride. Not because of what Imp remembers happening with Eva Canning but because of being inside the mind of a person suffering from such a difficult mental illness. Experiencing what it is to not be able to trust your own memories, to not be sure what is real and is not real, is simultaneously terrifying and heart-breaking.
Imp’s schizophrenia, plus some comorbid anxiety and OCD, and how she experiences and deals with them, lead to some stunningly beautiful passages. This is particularly well seen in one portion of the book where she is more symptomatic than usual (for reasons which are spoilers, so I will leave them out):
All our thoughts are mustard seeds. Oh many days now. Many days. Many days of mustard seeds, India Phelps, daughter of madwomen, granddaughter, who doesn’t want to say a word and ergo can’t stop talking. Here is a sad sad tale, woebegone story of the girl who stopped for the two strangers who would not could not could not would not stop for me. She. She who is me. And I creep around the edges of my own life. Afraid to screw off the mayonnaise lid and spill the mustard seeds. (Part 2, loc 55:35)
The thing that’s great about the writing in the book is that it shows both the beauty and pain of mental illness. Imp’s brain is simultaneously beautiful for its artistic abilities and insight and a horrible burden in the ways that her mental illness tortures her and makes it difficult for her to live a “normal” life. This is something many people with mental illness experience but find it hard to express. It’s why many people with mental illness struggle with drug adherence. They like the ability to function in day-to-day society and pass as normal but they miss being who they are in their own minds. Kiernan eloquently demonstrates this struggle and shows the beauty and pain of mental illness.
Dr. Ogilvy and the pills she prescribes are my beeswax and the ropes that hold me fast to the main mast, just as my insanity has always been my siren. (Part 1, loc 4:08:48)
There is a lot of GLBTQ representation in the book, largely because Kiernan is clearly not just writing in a token queer character. Imp is a lesbian, and her world is the world of a real-to-life lesbian. She is not the only lesbian surrounded by straight people. People who are part of the queer community, in multiple different aspects, are a part of Imp’s life. Her girlfriend for part of the book is Abalyn, who is transwoman and has slept with both men and women both before and after her transition. She never identifies her sexuality in the book, but she states she now prefers women because the men tend to not be as interested in her now that she has had bottom surgery. The conversation where she talks about this with Imp is so realistic that I was stunned. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a conversation about both transitioning and the complicated aspects of dating for trans people that was this realistic outside of a memoir. Eva Canning is bisexual. It’s difficult to talk about Eva Canning in-depth without spoilers, so, suffice to say, Eva is out as bisexual and she is also promiscuous. However, her promiscuity is not presented in a biphobic way. Bisexual people exist on the full spectrum from abstinent to monogamous to poly to promiscuous. What makes writing a bisexual character as promiscuous biphobic is whether the promiscuity is presented as the direct result of being bi, and Kiernan definitely does not write Eva this way. Kiernan handles all of the queer characters in a realistic way that supports their three-dimensionality, as well as prevents any GLBTQphobia.
The plot is a difficult one to follow, largely due to Imp’s schizophrenia and her attempts at figuring out exactly what happened. The convoluted plot works to both develop Imp’s character and bring out the mystery in the first two-thirds of the book. The final third, though, takes an odd turn. Imp is trying to figure out what she herself believes actually happened, and it becomes clear that what she ultimately believes happened will be a mix of reality and her schizophrenic visions. That’s not just acceptable, it’s beautiful. However, it’s hard to follow what exactly Imp chooses to believe. I started to lose the thread of what Imp believes happens right around the chapter where multiple long siren songs are recounted. It doesn’t feel like Imp is slowly figuring things out for herself and has made a story that gives her some stability in her life. Instead it feels like she is still too symptomatic to truly function. I never expected clear answers to the mystery but I did at least expect that it would be clear what Imp herself believes happened. The lack of this removed the gut-wrenching power found in the first two-thirds of the book.
The audiobook narration by Suzy Jackson is truly stellar. There are parts of Imp’s journal that must truly have been exceedingly difficult to turn into audio form, but Jackson makes them easy to understand in audio form and also keeps the flow of the story going. Her voice is perfect for Imp. She is not infantilized nor aged beyond her years. She sounds like the 20-something woman she is. I’m honestly not sure the story would have the same power reading it in print. Hearing Imp’s voice through Jackson was so incredibly moving.
Overall, this book takes the traditional mystery and changes it from something external to something internal. The mystery of what really happened exists due to Imp’s schizophrenia, which makes it a unique read for any mystery fan. Further, Imp’s mental illness is presented eloquently through her beautiful first-person narration, and multiple GLBTQ characters are present and written realistically. Recommended to mystery fans looking for something different, those seeking to understand what it is like to have a mental illness, and those looking to read a powerful book featuring GLBTQ characters whose queerness is just an aspect of who they are and not the entire point of the story.
4 out of 5 stars
The group of people who traveled from the future to the Pliocene past for a willful exile were split into two by the alien race, the Tanu, who, surprisingly, inhabits Earth. Half were sent to slave labor, while the others were deemed talented at mind powers, given necklace-like torcs to enhance those powers, and sent to the capital city of Muriah. In the first book, we followed the daring escape of the group sent into slavery. They then discovered that the Tanu share the Earth with the Firvulag–an alien race from their home planet that has many similarities to their own. They also organized an attack on the industrial city of Finiah. This book at first follows the adventures of the other group, the one sent to the capital city of Muriah. Through them we discover the inner workings of the Tanu, the intersections of humans and aliens, and the impact of the human/Firvulag attack on Finiah. When the time for the Great Combat between the Tanu/human subjects and the Firvulag arrives, the survivors of the escaped slave group end up coming back into contact with the group of humans in Muriah. With dire consequences.
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, finding it to be a delightful mash-up of scifi and fantasy. When I discovered my library had the next book in the series, I picked it up as quickly as possible. This entry feels more fantastical than the first, although science definitely still factors in. It is richer in action and intrigue and perhaps a bit less focused on character development.
This is a difficult book to sum up, since so very much happens. It’s an action-packed chunkster, providing the reader with information and new settings without ever feeling like an info-dump. The medieval-like flare of the Tanu and the goblin/fairie/shapeshifter qualities of the Firvulag are stronger in this entry, and it is delightful. Creating a medieval world of aliens on ancient Earth is probably the most brilliant part of the book, followed closely by the idea of torcs enhancing the brain’s abilities. May has created and weaved a complex, fascinating world that manages to also be easy enough to follow and understand. The sense of the medieval-style court is strong from the clothing, buildings, and organization of society. She doesn’t feel the need to willy-nilly invent lots of new words, which I really appreciated.
The intrigue is so complex that it is almost impossible to summarize, and yet it was easy to follow while reading it. Surprises lurk around every corner, and May is definitely not afraid to kill her darlings, following both William Faulkner’s and Stephen King’s writing advice. A lot happens in the book, the characters are tested, and enough change happens that I am excited there are still two more books, as opposed to wondering how the author could possibly tell more story. In spite of the action, sometimes the book did feel overly long, with long descriptions of vegetation and scenery far away from where most of the action was taking place.
The book is full of characters but every single one of them manages to come across as a unique person, even the ones who are not on-screen long enough to be fully three-dimensional. The cast continues to be diverse, similarly to the first book, with a variety of races, ages, and sexual preferences represented. I was surprised by the addition of a transwoman character. She is treated with a mix of acceptance and transphobia. I think, certainly for the 1980s when this was published, it is overall a progressive presentation of her. She is a doctor who is well-respected in Tanu society. However, she also is presented as a bit crazy (not because of being trans but in addition to being trans), and it is stated by one character that she runs the fertility clinic because it is the one part of being a woman that will always be out of her grasp. I am glad at her inclusion in the story but readers should be aware that some aspects of the writing of her and how other characters interact with her could be considered problematic or triggering. I would be interested to hear a transperson’s analysis of her character.
Overall, this entry in the series ramps up the action and more thoroughly investigates the world of the Pliocene Exile. Readers disappointed by the lack of information on the half of the group heading to the capital city in the first book will be pleased that their story is told in this one. Characters are added, including a transwoman doctor, and all continue to feel completely individual and easily decipherable, in spite of the growing cast list. The fast action pace sometimes is interrupted by lengthy descriptions of settings far away from the action, but overall the chunkster of the book moves along at a good pace and remains engaging. Recommended to fans of fantasy who want a touch of science in their stories and who are interested in the idea of medieval aliens.
4 out of 5 stars