I Hate the Way I Don’t Hate You

There’s not much more terrifying than that image. The full list is older (image borrowed from there), but worth a gander.

Choosing the worst of the worst is HARD. Because Voldemort is bad, no doubt, but Umbridge may be worse. Sauron is pure evil. Hannibal is not only a cannibal, but a snob! There is so much potential here, I don’t want to get it wrong*.

The Shark (Jaws by Peter Benchley). If you want to talk about pop culture influence on a generation, this is a prime example. I’m sure people were always scared of sharks, but that movie causes a visceral reaction at the mere sight of a fin.

Randall Flagg (The Stand by Stephen King). Because there’s needs to be at least one Stephen King character on a list on villains.

Annie Wilkes (Misery by Stephen King). And in this case, there are two. The axe…

Pennywise (IT by Stephen King). Okay, so there’s three, but I couldn’t NOT include a hideously scary clown/spider/entity.

Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray). On one hands, she really gets shit done. On the other… My goodness, have a heart.

Corrine Dollanganger (Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews). Because she really is quite awful. She was supposed to take care of them!

Cathy Ames (East of Eden by John Steinbeck). She’s just ghastly.

Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte). You cannot use love to excuse all your bad behavior, so Heathcliff makes the list too (being vicious and devious and all).

Mrs. Trunchbull (Matilda by Roald Dahl). Calling her the meanest school principal ever is a bit of an understatement.

And the list would not be complete without an Austen villian, because nothing screams scary like a good cad. So I give you Henry Crawford** (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen).

Which villains terrify you? Are literary characters even capable of scaring you? Find more of the worst villains here.

*I suffer from the idea that if I can’t do something well, I shouldn’t do something at all. It’s terrible and untrue, but no one fails to ignore my sage advice more than me.
**I find the older I get, the less tolerance I have for truly evil villains (like in American Psycho or The Wasp Factory or Blood Meridian), horror movies, and the like. Apparently I scare easily these days. I did just finish watching A Quiet Place though, and I didn’t have to avert my eyes once!


In the House in the Dark of the Woods // Laird Hunt

“Once upon a time there was and there wasn’t a woman who went to the woods.”

In this dark fairy tale set in colonial New England, an unnamed puritan woman sets out in the forest to pick some berries for her husband and little boy. She does not return. Perhaps she’s lost. Or perhaps she’s fleeing her tyrannical husband and eerily quiet son. Lost, alone, and injured, she is rescued by a woman – Captain Jane – wrapped in the pelt of a wolf. She takes the Goody to Eliza’s charming stone cottage. But in the house in the dark of the woods, all is not as it seems.

On the surface, this is the story of a woman who is lost, wandering in the woods. She is a wife and mother, she wants to return to her family. Page by page, her journey gets darker the deeper she goes into the woods. She runs into things both fair and foul, beautiful and strange. Hunt’s prose is meandering and lyrical, with searing descriptions.

“Its scratch was like the dry sparking of a flint and a page with fresh marks on it like a blazing porcupine. A tale written down must be like that, I thought. It must be like the block of wood of the body sprouting tiny tongues of fire and who knows where the next one will rise and burn.”

Laird Hunt’s novel is filled with a dream-like terror – beautiful, huge swarms of insects, a water well most foul, a ship made of skin and bones, a watchful master – and filled with witches. Yet it is not terrifying. Is it filled with a building, pervasive dread? Yes. Does it frighten? Yes. This chilling fairy tale is tempered by its lovely, quiet prose and the slow revelation of the nature of these complicated women. In the House in the Dark of the Woods will haunt you, but you might just be grateful. Highly recommended.

*I received review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.


The Witch of Willow Hall // Hester Fox

(It always starts with a Bishop, does it not?)

Boston, 1811.

What if your temper got the best of you, to disastrous results? What if you didn’t know what happened, only to find a boy beaten and bloody at your feet? What if you were only 8 and told it was best to never speak of the incident again? Lydia Montrose, though scared and confused, does what she is told.

New Oldbury, 1821.

Ten years later, the Montrose family flees Boston thanks to the scandalous accusations leveled at them. Only this time it isn’t Lydia’s fault. Relocating to grand, yet isolated Willow Hall seems to be just what the family needs. While the countryside (and a certain handsome neighbor) is idyllic, the expansive home’s atmospheric is malevolent, especially to Lydia and Emeline. After a terrible tragedy strikes the family, Lydia needs to discover who she truly is, if she has any hope of rescuing herself and her family.

What a perfect autumn read! The Witch at Willow Hall* is Hester Fox’s debut novel and I loved it (not to put too fine a point on it). Featuring a strong female lead, a malicious sister, mysterious apparitions, an eligible bachelor, and secret family histories, there’s plenty to keep the pages turning, without being overwhelming. Equal parts gothic mystery, historical fiction, and ghost story, this is a book best read when the leaves are changing and the wind is howling.

Or whenever it strikes your fancy.

What do you consider a perfect autumn book?

*Review copy provided by Graydon House via Netgalley.


Honor Roll

I’m certainly not one to declare the book review dead (says the person who wrote a stellar Agatha Christie review that I’m pretty sure no one read), but I do think it’s the type of post that’s less engaging, less likely to be clicked on, less likely to be read… You get the idea. And, dear readers, I’m secure enough in my insecurity to admit I do want people to read what I write, if only to continue to share my love of whatever wonderful/quirky/clever/delightful/daunting/terrible book I just read. I’ve had a stellar reading year, with more than a few great books. These are a few that made my honor roll, and here are the ones I don’t think you should miss*.

The Library at Mount Char // Scott Hawkins. This absolutely deserves a post of its own, but I am pretty sure it would start out with “I have no idea what I just read, but it was very, very good.” A group of librarians search for their missing, all powerful father. That’s the simplest way I can put it, but it doesn’t even touch the heart of the novel. The Library at Mount Char is a hilarious, heartbreaking novel about what it means to be human, even when you’re not.

The Rules of Magic // Alice Hoffman. I listened to this one on audio and the narrator was wonderful. Possibly too wonderful, as I ended up sobbing at my desk. This prequel to Practical Magic revisits the Owens family curse, and it’s just as fun and touching and tragic as the first time I did.

Everybody’s Fool // Richard Russo. I’m convinced Richard Russo cannot write a bad novel. Everybody’s Fool is the follow up to Nobody’s Fool, checking in with Sully and the town of Bath a decade later. Hijinks ensue.

The Summer Wives // Beatriz Williams. Beatriz Williams is my favorite writer of “summer” fiction. Her books are light, but not without substance, and easily read, without watered down prose. Miranda Schuyler’s mother marries a wealthy aristocrat, exposing Miranda to the upper crust inhabitants of Winthrop Island. The summer after she finishes high school will change her life in ways she can’t imagine.

All These Beautiful Strangers // Elizabeth Klehfoth. The cover of this novel encompasses what I believe is the perfect summer day, which is why I picked it up. Boarding school, secret societies, and buried secrets made this a nice addition to the small number of YA books I read each year.

Often the more I read, the less I review, and the more I love a book, the harder time I have talking about it. Anyone else suffer from this? Or have you read any good books this summer?

*Although it’s quite possible I am the only one who missed them in the first place, as I wouldn’t exactly label these as under the radar.

Image found here.


And Then There Were None // Agatha Christie

“Be sure thy sins will find thee out.”

Agatha Christie was not verbose, and And Then There Were None may well be one of her most spare, yet it may also be one of her most compelling. The novel is relentlessly paced and unsentimental, as it hurdles from one disaster to the next.

Tick, tick, tick, and another one bites the dust.

However, the novel is not just a murder mystery, although it certainly is that (and one that keeps you guessing until the end), it’s a meditation on guilt. Each of the 10 people brought to the island has a hidden, murderous past. Or so it seems. Are the events on Soldier Island an absurd form of justice? Or is someone using past accidents as an excuse to revel in their own insanity? The casual discovery of nearly everyone’s misdeeds is one of the highlights of the novel, often revealing why they act and react the way they do. They provide the motive and misdirection needed to keep the pages turning on what is essentially the bland, systematic murder of an entire cast of characters. It’s effective, creating the atmosphere of a dark fairy tale. It would not be out of place for Christie to have written “one dark and stormy night on a lonely island, the victims meet their fate…”

Make no mistake, the premise is ludicrous and the writing plain, but it’s a masterful page turner nonetheless.

(Interested in imbibing peril with RIPXIII? Join here.)

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