24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: horror

Abby Reads: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Ecco Press, 2014, 272 pages
Horror/Thriller

In Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, the people of America have been plagued with unseen creatures that, when viewed, cause the victim to go insane and inflict violence on others before killing themselves. When these creatures first arrive, Malorie soon discovers she is pregnant. It’s not long before she is convinced of the reality of these creatures, their existence and impact brought home by her sister’s grisly death. Malorie becomes a housemate at a small group of survivors and witnesses — and participates in — the various conflicts that come with dealing with this new world. In the present, Malorie endeavors to escape the house and make a perilous twenty-mile journey down the river where she’s been promised safety. But how do you navigate to a Image result for bird box book coverplace you’ve never been without opening your eyes?

If you’d asked me before I read Bird Box if I liked horror novels, the answer would have been no. I tried Stephen King when I was in middle school (Pet Sematary, if you’re curious) and was bored to tears over it, so I figured horror just wasn’t my thing. While I’d read a few other things marketed as horror since (Asylum by Madeleine Roux, for example), nothing in literature really scared me. Plenty of people said they’d read books they couldn’t read at night they were so terrified by them — often listing Pet Sematary as their own example — and so I figured there was something wrong with me.

Bird Box did not keep me up for fear — but it did keep me up for wanting to read more. Though I don’t have a lot to compare it to (see the previous paragraph), Bird Box feels painfully original and Malerman does an astounding job at creating tension and a weird sense of slow urgency in the context of his highly inventive plot. As the reader moves between Malorie’s present and past, the question remains until the end as to whether or not she and the two children she brings with her will survive and thrive.

Though Malorie begins as one of the more blase characters when it comes to the existence of the creatures at the beginning of the novel, she is easily one of the most neurotic about surviving them by the end. It’s this character development that pushes Malerman’s novel to the top. Originally somewhat self-absorbed and, aside from her pregnancy, fairly lighthearted, Malorie ends up a nervous wreck who is specific, demanding, harsh, and tense. She names the children Boy and Girl, fully aware of how futile it seems to give “real” names to children who don’t live in a “real” world and may not survive the day. Meanwhile, deceit and alliances create fascinating relationships throughout the novel with a manageable size of a cast. Seemingly small choices, like the lack of names for the children, indicate in very powerful ways the mental states of the characters and Malerman manages each character fantastically this way.

Malerman doesn’t push the gore too much in the novel. This means when he does describe scenes of carnage, it’s especially effective. Malerman is sometimes restricted by perspective of his characters who are often forced to keep their eyes closed, but he uses this again to his advantage, creating suspense much like the lack of visual on the famed Jaws creates dread in Jaws.

Even if you’re not a fan of horrors or thrillers, Bird Box may be well worth a shot. On top of being fantastically exciting in the most dreadful way, the novel poses fascinating questions and is an impressive exercise of the senses. Fun and smart, the novel doesn’t take too long to read — no matter how I tried to pace myself, I just couldn’t. And once you’ve finished Bird Box, you can look forward to Malerman’s spring publication, Unbury Carol.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ticknor and Fields, 1851, 240 pages
Fiction

In the generations that follow the Salem Witch Trials, one family continues to experience what they believe is a curse placed upon their ancestor by one of the accused in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic classic The House of the Seven Gables. Now caring for the house that belonged to the accused and was 90192taken into possession by her ancestor, Hepzibah Pyncheon has found herself near poverty and must open a shop to offset the costs of living in her old New England town. It seems that various forces are trying to get her out of the house, including her relative who has an interest in owning the house himself. Meanwhile, a young cousin, Phoebe, arrives to Hepzibah’s home and finds herself courting Hepzibah’s tenant, a man by the name of Holgrave. Their connection, however, is more than it appears and the question of the curse continues to linger over the household.

I’ve had an interest in reading this novel for a long time — ever since I visited Hawthorne’s home in Salem, Massachusetts, which is widely believed to be the structure upon which the house of this novel is based. While I tried to read it last October, the prose proved to be too dense for me at that time, so I held off and returned to it this year in the spirit of Halloween. I expected The House of the Seven Gables to have a creepier feel to it, and found that the supernatural elements of the book are more ambiguous and the descriptions less grotesque than I expected, but still found many of the societal horrors Hawthorne portrays chilling.

Hawthorne is surprisingly socially aware, particularly for his time. While you shouldn’t expect anything to the level of Black Lives Matter in Hawthorne’s work, like The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables explores themes of the marginalized. In this case, those in poverty. While the story’s aim, it would seem (never assume author intent!), is primarily one of entertainment, these comments on society find their way into the narrative and Hawthorne finds excellent ways to illustrate the effects of systemic, generational poverty and how it is perpetuated.

Additionally, Hawthorne’s awareness extends into the philosophy of perception, in that while readers are first introduced to Hepzibah Pyncheon essentially through her eyes, her reliability and sanity come into greater question as the perspective shifts to be more from cousin Phoebe. This subtle move brings interesting questions into play about truth, reality, and, of course, perception in a way that is strong without being overbearing or distracting from the story.

Like its contemporaries, The House of the Seven Gables is full of rich prose, which can at times make the novel especially slow. The narrative itself is a bit of a slow burn with subtle plot points and a conflict that, frankly, is not terribly exciting. Still, Hawthorne maintains his readers’ attention with astute observations couched in a style that is fun to unravel and roll around in the mind. And, too, like a Dickens novel, this work slowly builds a case that is revealed in the end — at least in some plot aspects, while others remain shrouded in mystery or up to the reader, depending on what kind of reader you are.

The House of the Seven Gables is about what you can expect insofar as Nineteenth Century classics go — a little on the slow side; full of dense, flowery prose; atmospheric; and philosophical. Although the plot is not full of excitement and drama, it’s still an interesting one and the book as a whole provides a fascinating study of life in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1800s.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Viking Press, 1962, 214 pages
Fiction

Living with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian in a large house in New England as outcasts, Mary Katherine (Merricat) of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is comfortable in her life despite the death of nearly her entire family some six years prior to the events of the novel. When 89724cousin Charles shows up and relentlessly inquires about and comments on the sisters’ financial state, Merricat is reluctant to trust him while Constance is charmed by Charles’s romantic advances. In a story that feels half wrought with horror and half with the stuff of fairy tales, Jackson reveals the creeping underside of the Blackwood family while underscoring the poison that is ostracism.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is an enduring work of slow and dripping dread that dawns on the reader as Jackson peels away the layers of the Blackwood family and Merricat as a character. Despite the brevity of the text, the novel provides plenty to dissect. The most interesting of these aspects, I think, is the subtle and fascinating psychological study Jackson does of her characters, which, with the eighteen-year-old as the narrator, focuses on Merricat. Although the novel was published in 1962, Jackson makes incredibly astute observations about mental illnesses we might recognize as something like sociopathy today. Though psychological science had come quite a ways from Freud by this time, Jackson’s sophisticated and subtle depiction of the psyche of the Blackwoods feels years ahead of its time.

Beyond the individual, Jackson also examines society and the psychology of guilt. It’s difficult to discuss this point without giving too much away, but the theme of food returns in a fascinating way again and again throughout the novel, including in instances as a show of repentance. Jackson considers the reason behind the show of guilt and how people feel compelled to seek forgiveness, often, it seems, more for their own sakes and peace of mind rather than for those they’ve done wrong.

All of these philosophies (and certainly there’s far more to digest than what is merely mentioned above) are delivered through Merricat, whose voice is a swift and strong kick in the teeth from the get-go. We Have Always Lived in the Castle’s iconic opening paragraph is a delicious taste of the originality in the articulation to come and its a pleasure to read and reread Merricat’s thoughts in her distinct style.

And what’s more, is Jackson-as-writer manages layers that Merricat-as-narrator likely does not intend. This allows for a slow, sort of subtle story that heightens the spooky mood and ambiguous supernatural elements. To Merricat, this is just her life, but the very exact way in which Jackson tells the story makes the novel a piece of literature with more than enough to ponder upon for days after the reader finishes the novel.

In fact, a couple of weeks after finishing We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I’m still thinking about it. It’s not a book I feel I understand completely — and even if I read it several more times, I don’t think I could understand it completely: that’s part of what makes it so wonderful. It is a show of mastering storytelling elements that few can even articulate, let alone implement. We Have Always Lived in the Castle left me hungry for more of Merricat and her family, of the world they lived in, and of gothic horror as a whole. While Jackson only gives us a few short pages to inhabit, the story lives well beyond those pages and opens up a reality for readers who wish to be creepily brushed with horror in the most unsettling and realistic way.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Books with Bite

Around the beginning of autumn, it’s easy to fall into the spirit of the season. Pumpkin spice starts appearing in stores in absurd amounts, party stores suddenly become Halloween emporiums, and the idea of curling up with a spooky read and a cup of your favorite fall beverage is awfully tempting. Vampires, werewolves, and other monsters-turned-romantics might have somewhat gone out of style since the Twilight boom, but the pseudo-genre still has its fans. While at the James M. Duncan Branch of the Alexandria Public Library system in Alexandria, VA, I put together this book display of books featuring our fang-toothed friends. While many of of the titles include elements of paranormal romance, several are your standard young adult horror fare.

Young Adult Horror Novels Book Display

The sign for this display was inspired by this incredible large-scale piece. I was totally blown away by that work and, with my limited space, wanted to do something similar. This worked pretty well and added a nice three-dimensional aspect to a small space without overwhelming it. Plus, it was creepy and horror-inspired without too much gore. I really love the thorny background, which beckons feelings of fantasy.

Young Adult Horror Novels Book Display

Using the beloved “Chiller” font, I inserted some super-simple bookmarks that alerted browsers that the books were on display to be checked out.

Young Adult Horror Book Display

Young Adult Horror Book Display

Finding books to include was easy enough — quick subject searches of the four kinds of monsters I focused on yielded tons of results and even browsing what was on our shelves for books with the horror genre sticker led to several finds.  This is the time to start thinking about Halloween and horror displays. You might find some of the forgotten novels of last year’s (okay, 2007’s) genre find new hands and eyes with something fun and spooky!

Abby Reads: Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender

Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender
Disney-Hyperion, 2010, 352 pages
YA Horror/Mystery

Alexis’ little sister is acting weird. She’s withholding information, obsessing over a school project, and generally being a brat. Meanwhile, Alexis is dealing with the usual trials of high school: boys, popularity, and general adolescent discontent. At least she’s got Megan and their growing friendship. But will Alexis’ equally growing knowledge about her sister challenge that friendship?

Alexis is a caricature of every I’m-so-goth-and-hate-cheerleaders character I’ve ever read. She consistently complains about every aspect of her life, making it incredibly difficult to find anything likable about her and thus care about her story. The only thing in life she does seem to like is photography, which is frequently interrupted or damaged by her sister. Meanwhile, she struggles with her mother’s ambition, her father’s desire for a social life, and her sister’s little-sister-ness. She dislikes people based only on what they are, rather than who they are. And while she grows and finds a friend in Megan, this lesson does not seem to infect other people in her life. Her personality is uncomplicated and therefore uninteresting, while the remaining characters are similarly underdeveloped.

Overall, Bad Girls Don’t Die had an intricate plot involving too many dead characters to keep track. Partly because of the complicated structure and history of the novel, the horror of passages were lost. None of the scenes were truly scary, leaving the story with one less element to increase its value.

Alender’s writing style is generally unremarkable, though not poor. The occasional phrase stood out as something unique and beautiful. In general, the sentence structure, vocabulary choices, and voice was nothing spectacular.

Bad Girls Don’t Die seems to tie up nicely, but is followed by a sequel, From Bad to Cursed.

💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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