Becky’s One Hundred and Ninth Book Review: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson is a classic that I didn’t even know about until I read “Audrey’s Door” by Sarah Langan. It was one of the books that Langan said inspired her to write “Audrey’s Door” (along with “The Tenant” by Roland Topor and a few others I think). After reading and loving “Audrey’s Door” I decided to check out the books that inspired it. “The Haunting of Hill House” was the first that I got my hands on.

The premise of “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson is a group of strangers are invited to participate in a study at Hill House in an attempt to see if any paranormal activity will occur. There is Dr. Montague who does the research and invites several people who have been involved with suspected paranormal activities in the past to participate in his study. Eleanor and Theo both respond and as a condition for using the house, Dr. Montague is required to have Luke stay there as well, a member of the family that currently owns the home.

As soon as the group arrives, everyone is immediately uncomfortable with Hill House. It doesn’t help that in the letters inviting them to Hill House Dr. Montague explicitly states to not stop in the town and not mention that they are heading for Hill House. Eleanor does stop in the town but refrains from mentioning her destination. She finds the town to have a very odd air to it and does not stay long. Once she arrives at Hill House, she is not exactly welcomed with open arms by Mr. Dudley and then she is led to her room by Mrs. Dudley. Neither of whom have much of a personality, and Mrs. Dudley takes things a step further by letting each guest know individually that she leaves before it gets dark. There will be no one to hear you, in the dark, in the night.

Things very quickly become stranger for the guests at Hill House. The group experiences a variety of spooky events including doors closing by themselves and a distinct banging in the night. Very quickly things start to get even weirder and also personal for one of the guests. The book is short, something like two hundred pages and I got through it very quickly. It was quite an entertaining read.

“The Haunting of Hill House” was not only a great book, but has been adapted into a few movies including the 1999 movie ‘The Haunting’ starring Liam Nieson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It wasn’t until I read this book that I was able to realize how similar it was to the book. There were some changes made of course, but for the most part the movie was true to the book.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that it is one of those books that anyone who is a fan of horror/thrillers should read because it has been the inspiration for many of the now-classics. It was a short read too, so it would be great for even those who do not like to read all that much.

Becky’s One Hundred and Eighth Book Review: “Shoe Addicts Anonymous” by Beth Harbison

“Shoe Addicts Anonymous” by Beth Harbison was a fun, chic-lit novel that would be great to pick up if you are looking for a quick, enjoyable read. I would categorize this as a ‘beach read’ for sure, but that didn’t make the book any less enjoyable.

The premise for “Shoe Addicts Anonymous” is a group of women – all addicted to designer shoes and all going broke because of it – decide to meet in order to swap shoes. One of the tag lines on the back of the book is “Four different women. One common shoe size. And a shared lust for fabulous footwear.” The group ‘shoe addicts anonymous’ is founded by Lorna Rafferty who has an enormous amount of debt and can’t stop shopping for more shoes. On a whim, she decides to make a post on craigslist and see if she can meet up with other shoe addicts in order to swap designer shoes. Her ad is something along the lines of “you must wear a size 7 1/2 shoe, love designer footwear, and be willing to swap”. This ad leads to some unexpected friendships between four women.

Lorna starts the group because of her enormous amount of debt. Helene Zaharis is one of the women who comes. She isn’t in debt, but her husband wants a baby and cancels her credit cards until he gets his way. A third women is battling agoraphobia, so even though she has the means to buy shoes through the outrageous money she makes as a phone sex operator, Sandra Vanderslice joins the group to face her fears. Plus, what better way to get over your fear of leaving your house then to hang out with a bunch of women who love shoes as much as you? The fourth women who joins the group isn’t that into shoes, but is looking for any way to get out of the house as she is a nanny for two sweet boys with a terrible mother that takes advantage of Jocelyn Bowen at every turn.

These four women meet up every Tuesday. They trade shoes and form friendships and in the process, they fight and triumph over their problems. The book was funny, but with an underlying of drama that gave the book another level. The story is told from each of the four women’s perspectives which is a writing technique that I very much enjoy. I think that Beth Harbison has a real talent and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes, but it is certainly a book for a very specific audience. I don’t think most men would find the book appealing, but it is a great beach read. I’d say that it is a good book to read if you are a fan of Sophie Kinsella because it is along the same lines.

Becky’s One Hundreth and Seventh Book Review: “The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory

“The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory was yet another novel focused on the royalty in Europe, largely in England. This novel is about Catalina, Princess of Spain – the youngest daughter to Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon and practically from birth she is also known as Princess of Wales – destined to be Queen of England. Catalina changes her name later to the more well known ‘Katherine of Aragon’. History remembers her as the woman that Anne Boleyn pushed off her throne. But in “The Constant Princess” we know Katherine of Aragon first by the name Catalina. From the very beginning Catalina radiates power and confidence. “My parents’ names are blessed by the Pope as the finest kings to defend the faith against the might of Islam; they are the greatest crusaders of Christendom as well as the first kings of Spain; and I am their youngest daughter, Catalina, Princess of Wales, and I will be Queen of England.” (The Constant Princess, pg 5)

She radiates confidence, but at the same time she often is reflecting on the difficulties of being sent away to England. Once she is married she finds herself surrounded by strangers including the one that she is married to. Their marriage starts off as strictly a royal match but soon we see her fall in love with her husband. As she is becoming comfortable being married to Arthur, she suddenly loses him only a few months into their marriage. On his death bed, he makes her promise that she will fulfill her destiny of becoming the Queen of England. She promises to state that their marriage was not valid because it was never consummated. “I shall have to be clever. I shall have to be more cunning than King Henry Tudor, more determined than his mother. Faced with those two, I don’t know that I can get away with it. But I have to get away with it. I have given my promise, I will tell my lie. England shall be ruled as Arthur wanted. The rose will live again. I shall make the England that he wanted.” (The Constant Princess, pg 166)

Catalina finds that her plan to deny her marriage to Arthur and instead marry Arthur’s younger brother is not as easy as she initially thought. Instead of marrying Harry, she finds her own father-in-law is trying to marry her for himself. This would make her Queen of England, but her sons would not be destined to be king unless something happened to Harry. “Dear God, I am a fool, and a childish, vain fool at that. I have not lured the king into a trap of my own satisfaction but merely baited his trap for me. My vanity and pride in myself made me think that I could tempt him to do whatever I want. Instead, I have tempted him only to his own desires, and now he will do what he wants. And what he wants is me. And it is my own stupid fault.” (The Constant Princess, pg 213) Catalina is forced to find a way around marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather, a man she once knew as her father-in-law. She struggles constantly and finds herself alone much of the time. She pulls from the strength within herself to make things happen for her, to fulfill her destiny.

The various trials that Catalina finds herself going through while in England were interesting to read about. I don’t know how much of the book was Philippa Gregory’s imagination and how much was known historical fact. The bones of the story are true, Katherine of Aragon did come from Spain to England to marry Arthur, only to lose him a few months into their marriage. She then married his younger brother, Harry. He is destined to become Henry VIII, the King with six wives total. (There is that handy rhyme to remember the fates of the various wives, ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’). Among historians, many believe that Catalina and Arthur did consummate their marriage, but Catalina denied this to her dying day.

It was interesting to read about how Katherine viewed Harry, her opinions of him and how she is able to influence him so well during the beginning of their marriage. Not too long into their marriage, she discovers that he might not be just as easy to manipulate as she thought. “I am glad to know that he can play the hypocrite. The court room in the Alhambra Palace has many doors, my father told me that a king should be able to go out of one and come in through another and nobody know his mind. I know that to rule is to keep your own counsel. Harry is a boy now, but one day he will be a man and he will have to make up his own mind and judge well. I will remember that he can say one thing and think another.
        But I have learned something else about him too. When I saw that he did not weep one real tear for his grandmother I knew that this king, our golden Harry, has a cold heart that no one can trust. She had been as a mother to him; she had dominated his childhood. She had cared for him, watched over him, and taught him herself. She supervised his every waking moment and shielded him from every unpleasant sight, she kept him from tutors who would have taught him of the world, and allowed him to walk only in the gardens of her making. She spent hours on her knees in prayer for him and insisted that he be taught the rule and the power of the church. But when she stood in his way, when she denied him his pleasures, he saw her as his enemy; and he cannot forgive anyone who refuses him something he wants. I know from this that this boy, this charming boy, will grow to be a man whose selfishness will be a danger to himself, and to those around him. One day we may all wish that his grandmother had taught him better.” (The Constant Princess, pg 281)

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that this book especially puts Katherine of Aragon into a different light from what people usually think of when they hear her name. I really enjoyed reading about what her life was like before she came to England, to learn about all the different trials that she had to endure while she was clawing her way to the throne. Often, Katherine of Aragon is looked on with pity — she is the wife that Henry VIII put aside so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. “The Constant Princess” paints Katherine of Aragon in a different light and I for one very much enjoyed the story.

Becky’s One Hundred and Sixth Book Review: “The Shining” by Stephen King

“The Shining” is a classic and it deserves all the credit that it gets. Stephen King himself believes that he was able to take Jack Torrance to a whole new level of frightening because he was so real. The alcoholic who was raised by an alcoholic – a loving father and husband one minute and an abusive bastard the next. This was not the first time that I have read “The Shining” but with the sequel coming out (September 27) I wanted to recapture and relive the horror.

It’s hard to say what it is that makes “The Shining” so frightening. There are many aspects of the book that help build up suspense. You have the flashbacks to Jack’s drinking days, both from his perspective and Wendy’s. Then Wendy frequently turns her mind to the Donner party when she thinks of them snowed in at the hotel. In addition to both adults having paranoid moments, Danny has Tony warning him before they even get to the hotel.

Danny’s dis-trustfulness about the Overlook hotel is obvious to any adult willing to look at him long enough. Dick Halloran tries to get Danny to go to Florida with him in a joking manner, but at the same time he is serious. Dick is the one who explains to Danny what ‘the shining’ is and he also gives him some warnings about the hotel. Dick tells Danny to stay away from room 217. He also gives Danny the advice to close his eyes when he sees something scary and it should go away. Wendy also at one point asks Danny if he wants to go stay someplace else for the winter. There are so many warnings in the beginning, but the Torrance family is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jack needs the job at the Overlook and the only other option Wendy has for a place to live would be with her mother. Something that leaves an awful taste in her mouth. Not to mention Danny expressing his extreme unhappiness at the thought.

Their stay starts out uneventful enough and Wendy thinks that this is just what the family needed. A fresh start away from everyone else. A place for Jack to work on his play. Danny is learning how to read and is desperate to do so. Wendy thinks this is because he wants to win his father’s approval and while that is part of it, he also is desperate to know what some of the signs are that Tony shows him sometimes. Most of all, Danny wants to know what Redrum is, even though he is very afraid of it.

Stephen King is a masterful storyteller. He is able to take truth and fiction and weave it all together to make a terrifying story. “The Shining” is a wonderful book and a must-read for any fan of the thriller/horror genre.