It's a good book, but it's not my Typee...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Haunting of Hill House


Creeping me out is not that easy. I can watch ghost movies or read scary books right before bedtime and then sleep like a baby. Turns out the supposedly scary books I've read have been too obvious, or perhaps a little too weird, for me to take seriously.

Stephen King is all well and good, but I've never found any of his creations truly frightening. Probably because I just can't see a sentient car trying to kill me.

Visiting a house which is known to be haunted and having the heck haunted out of you, however, seems possible to me.

Shirley Jackson, as the undisputed queen of 20th century Gothic tales, was a master at creating a chilling atmosphere. I love those moments in books where I stop reading and gasp aloud. Usually, they're brought on by the pieces of a mystery falling into place or a sudden revelation. I can't ever remember having that reaction because something was so spooky. Until now. Twice while reading The Haunting of Hill House, I jumped back, wide eyed because the story had lulled me and then shaken me violently.


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But the scary bits are just a tiny part of what makes this book so wonderful. The characters are real and intricate, especially the two women. Eleanor and Theodora take Dr. Montague up on his invitation to investigate the titular haunting and find themselves instant friends.

The vast majority of the book comes to us from the perspective of Eleanor, a narrator of dubious reliability. But is it Eleanor herself who is unreliable or is the house affecting her in strange ways? She is a highly imaginative woman whose stifling life has made her hungry for the enchantments of stone lions and picnics by a brook. Her desperation to belong draws her toward any available port and Theodora's easy camaraderie gives her hope that she will find a home with her somehow.

As Laura Miller points out in this edition's introduction, Jackson frequently presents the reader with two paired women as representations of her own dual personality. She could write about the bleakest, most distressing topics, but at home she was the happy mother and hostess. Drawing on this chaotic version of domestic bliss, she wrote articles about her real life for women's magazines. How fortunate she was to find a willing audience for both the darkness and the light inside her.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Activation by Adam Gellert

I just recently got back into the free review copy game. In other words, I've been entering to win free books through Goodreads.com. Earlier this week I received a copy of Activation by Adam Gellert.

Christian books can be hit or miss and I'm picky about what I choose to read. The description was:


     "When God decides to activate and transform your life, amazing adventures await. Join Adam Gellert and his family on a journey of incredible revelations and discoveries, and see how God desires to reveal His true nature to all of us, His children. Are you ready for your ACTIVATION?
Winner of the 2016 Henri Christian Literary Award for Best Non-Fiction!"

So I decided it sounded pretty good, even though it seemed to be some kind of self-help book. I can count the number of self-help books I've read on one hand, thanks to that book I read on improving your digital math. (Get it, digital math?  Ha!) But I try to keep an open mind. And it turns out that this isn't actually a self-help book, which is a good start. It's simply the story of a man's developing interactions with God.

Activation has something else going for it. Christian authors are usually earnest, positive people. But their writing and editing skills sometimes leave something to be desired. I don't know why that is. Maybe the excitement of getting the book to the presses and getting their word out there leads to a rushed job. Gellert, however, is a pretty decent writer. The grammar is not always flawless and I noticed what appeared to be a typo, but overall this is some solid work.

As an author, Gellert's voice is engaging and encouraging. There's no holier than thou patronizing here. He is straightforward with the reader when it comes to times he has under performed in his faith and tells us over and over that we shouldn't sell ourselves short. The book also flows nicely, which makes it a quick read. The Activation Application section at the back boils each chapter down to a few concise and thought-provoking questions, followed by suggested scriptures.


The message I will personally take away is about prayer. I have sometimes been reluctant to pray for big, miraculous things because I know that while God hears our prayers, only He knows what is best for us. Most of the time, I just pray for God to guide the situation and help me toward the best outcome. But the feeling I got from reading Adam Gellert's personal story is that you should absolutely ask for outrageous things. Why? Because God loves each of us and wants what is best for us. Things WILL NOT always work out the way you want because God may have plans to use what seems like a tragedy for ultimate good. And as long as you accept whatever God's answer is, you should never be afraid to go to Him and ask.

~~~I received a free copy of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway~~~

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dan Wells, My New Favorite Author

I Am Not A Serial Killer has been on my list of books to read ever since it came out. (Quick summary: it's like the Dexter series but infinitely better.) It sat patiently on my list while I read dozens of other things. Then one day, my world changed. I discovered they were coming out with a movie and that there is now a series of books.

I said to myself, "Quick, to the bookshelf, Kyle!" I call myself Kyle.

I make it a rule to read the book before I see a movie if it looks like the book is any good at all. So I have now spent numerous hours reading all about everyone's favorite sociopathic teen, John Wayne Cleaver. And then I rented the movie from Amazon and watched it twice.

Having seen the preview, I couldn't help but imagine Max Records as John. Slowly I realized that there was nothing dislodging this image from my mind because the books give very little indication of what John looks like. This bothered me for about 0.5 seconds until I considered John's personality. Told in the first person, his story is one of alienation and confusion. John never experiences emotion in a "normal" way. He's either giddy at the thought of touching a dead body or semi-annoyed when the cutest girls in school want to talk to him.

John doesn't really care what he looks like and we therefore don't get a self-centered description from the book's hero. And yes, John is a hero despite his shortcomings and defects. He is an extreme example of someone choosing to use their unusual traits for good. As a student of serial killers and a sociopath himself, he decides to step in and stop the killer stalking his town because it takes one to know one.

Some people have expressed a bewildered frustration with the first book because part of the way through THE ENTIRE FREAKING GAME CHANGES. But I say don't let that stop you. It's still an awesome book and the rest of the series so far is greatly pleasing. Just take it from your old friend, Kyle.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dimestore by Lee Smith

Dimestore is a collection of essays wherein Lee Smith describes everything from her childhood to the archetype of a fussy southern woman, which Ms. Smith herself certainly is not.

One of the parts I will probably remember longest is her decision to visit the new, gargantuan Walmart which has been invited (yes, invited) into the heart of her Virginia hometown in search of wine to help her cope with all the change she sees around her during her visit. She explains that this will be her only chance to buy alcohol in Grundy because the town fathers drove away a potential Applebee's due to the fact that they serve mixed drinks. There is something shocking and charming about seeing such evil in mediocre, overpriced margaritas.

Smith's nonfiction is incredibly easy to read. It's not simple or unintelligent, but it gives to the reader rather than making demands. The author herself calls the short works which make up the book essays, but the word seems too formal. The essays of such a well-respected author should be weighty things which require highlighting and rereading for one to truly understand them. Right? But each of the stories here is a little flower, already in bloom and self contained, which Smith places in our hand.