Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

This is a ghost story in it’s most classic of forms. We are used to haunting spirits and evil demons hidden around every corner, but when we get to the heart of most stories, we forget what it would really be like to encounter a hostile spirit.

Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black does not forget. As the story opens, we are introduced to our protagonist Arthur Kipps joining his family around the fire for some festive story telling on Christmas eve. The children choose to tell horror stories and are surprised to find that Arthur is not only unreceptive to them, but refuses to tell a story of his own. Arthur leaves the house and explains to the reader that he cannot tell a ghost story because for him such tales are all too real. We are then thrown into his past where a young Arthur Kipps is sent to settle the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. It is here that our tale really begins because in that old and heavily avoided house there is something dark and not wholly pleasant awaiting the young Mr. Kipps.

Things I loved:

  • It’s simple horrors. Think about the times you are most frightened. It is often when you are at home alone and you feel that presence near you or hear a noise in the distance. This story calls on all of these chilling experiences. It requires no blood lust or sudden frights. It creeps up on you, and that is the most frightening thing of all.
  • The language. In true Gothic form this book describes the beauty of nature and goes into great detail on the feelings that it inspires.
  • The ending. It left me with a chill in my heart.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • It gets a bit wordy. It could truthfully have been condensed by about a few thousand words and held the same effect if not greater.
Favorite Quote:
 “Whatever was about, whoever I had seen, and heard rocking, and who had passed me by just now, whoever had opened the locked door was not ‘real’. No. But what was ‘real’? At that moment I began to doubt my own reality.”
 
Final Opinion:

I loved this novel. If you are looking for a ghost story that will leave you questioning the existence of spirits or just looking for an interesting tale to peak your interests, I highly recommend this short story. It’s beautifully written and leaves you wanting more.

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Begin

Let me lose myself in your company
Let me get lost in the fires that burn between our silences
There is a beauty in this dance.
It frightens and excites me
My heart sees what yours cannot
yours what mine will not.
The line upon which we tread
—both dangerous and beautiful
Is one I cannot explain.
Do I want to?
Some things defy words.
They are written in a glance
A touch
A kiss
Begging to be released
but finding no words to describe them
they diminish into the silence
Where they shiver excitedly
Standing on a precipice of uncertainty
And that is what I see in you.
A story
Waiting to be read
Needing only to be opened to begin

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Sophie Hatter is a completely normal girl. Well, normal in that she lives in the land of Ingary where fairy tales and magic are real. Normal in that she was placed under a curse by the Witch of the Waste (a curse that she is physically unable to discuss) and must now set out in search of her fortunes, despite being the eldest of three sisters which means she is inevitably doomed to fail.She stumbles across the castle of the Wizard Howl (who is rumored to eat the souls of young women), but all of that is normal enough I suppose. Adventures abound as Sophie attempts  to break her own curse whilst figuring out the mysteries surrounding Howl and his fire demon Calcifer.

Things I loved:

The characters. What a beautiful cast this story has! Each character is uniquely lovely and I found myself smitten with each one. Sophie is very human and easy to relate to. Howl is simply lovable with his mood swings. Even the Witch of the Waste has a hauntingly intriguing quality about her. I couldn’t help but laugh at Cal’s funny antics and side comments, and having seen the film, I genuinely loved the depth that Sophie’s sisters had. (Something lacking in the film as they are not a main player.

The writing style. A mixture of fantasy and a conversation with a good friend…if that makes sense?

Things I didn’t like:

If you are looking for an epic fantasy adventure, this isn’t it. It was often presented to me as such and so that is what I was looking for. It is more of a fantasy based mystery and I loved it for that, but it always takes a while to settle into a book with a different genre than you were expecting.

Favorite Quote:

 “Things are going round and round in my head–or maybe my head is going round and round in things.”

Final Verdict:

If you are a fan of fairy tale novels and books that throw you into a whirl wind adventure outside of your own, you’ll love it. If you are a fan of the movie, prepare for a longer tale that is quite different, but equally enchanting!

Poets

Can I lose myself in the lines of the poets
Wrapped in words of old?
Can I find my heart mixed in with your heart
and mine
and yours
In the lines of a poem,
a sonnet,
a song?
I don’t want to think tonight
I want to drown myself in a sea of ink
losing myself in the words
of the ones who have made it through
Who have seen both the dark and the dawn
And know.
They know.
I know?

look closely: past observations coming full circle

The other day I stumbled across something I’d written almost 3 years ago. Generally when I look back at old things that I have written I chuckle a bit and think, “What on earth were you thinking?!”

But this was different.
This I read and learned from.

It was a lesson I’d learned once, but had allowed myself to forget a bit. It was a lesson well worth re-visiting.
——–

Doubt though the stars are fire

Doubt that the sun doth move

Doubt truth to be a liar

But never doubt I love

-William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet wrote these words to Ophelia and every time I hear them something stirs inside of me. I am, what I describe as, a romantic realist. Bit of an oxymoron that. I have scoffed at cheesy love stories and could never believe in something quite so superficial as “love at first sight,” but when I see a love that is true and passionate it moves me. For a time, I saw myself as a cynic with secret romantic tendencies, but then it occurred to me that I am a 25 year old woman who has had only one serious relationship. I have a few passionate affairs worth mentioning, but they were all too short lived to be described as more than this. My greatest romances were fallacies created from templates of the men I have read about. I romanticized them to be far more interesting (and far more interested in me) than they truly were. A part of me believed that this, in truth, stemmed not from an inability to hold a man’s attention, but from an insistence to never settle. The verdict is still out on whether or not I was right…and whether or not it matters. I do not want the love I see in movies in television. I want something real and honest. I want to feel valued, and if I find you to be lacking in this department I move on. Quite quickly. When you think about the abundance of romance in our modern world it is no wonder that so many men and women are skeptical. The human mind has written about love from the beginning. I believe we got this basis from God, and whether you believe in Him or not, you have to admit that the story of Jesus (the true story and not the one fabricated to fit a human ideal) is the epitome of love. To care so passionately for someone that you leap to your death that they might live. Romeo and Juliet (not truly the best example of love, but one of the most often referenced) could not stand to be apart and killed themselves to escape a world “without” their love, Darcy and Elizabeth were at odds only to realize their differences made them a perfect pair, Charming searched his entire kingdom to find the mysterious woman, with the odd sense in footwear, who bewitched his heart in one night. These are the stories we were raised on. This is the beautiful ideal of love that we were initially given. Do you ever just sit and wonder when that changed? When we thought it best to run off with the first man or woman who slightly swayed our hearts and then later ended up broken and bruised because of it? Why do we ever think that settling is alright? The one time in our lives when we are called to be totally selfish (and at the same time selfless) is when it comes to love because otherwise we are doing an injustice to ourselves and to our “lovers.” Love is never a game. It is one of the most beautiful gifts we have been given. I, for one, am determined to remember this.

Questions

A million questions crashing within my mind and heart
Overwhelming like the waves as they crash and overtake the shore
A million questions I do not wish to ask
But I can no longer ignore them as they ebb and flow through me

Will I share that crippled child that lies inside my heart
Will I open my mind and my heart to the hope of acceptance?
Will I dare to trust that one can mend rather than break
Will I?

Shall I move towards you in the night and find you ever present
Shall I reach out my hand in despair to find yours grasping mine
Shall I see within your eyes the constancy I seek?
Shall I?

Or do you dissipate?
Do you slip away as quickly as you came?
Do you rise only to sink and never return?
Do you pry open my heart and pour me out only to leave me a puddle on the floor?
Do you?

A million questions,
Perhaps a million and one
Each piling on top of the other on top of the other on top
Braced for answers I stand like the rock amidst the waves.
Will I crumble?

Something

There is something amiss in the solitude of this life
How it reaches, ever yearning but never quite grasping that thing which it craves.

Creating an entire world of somethings out of the swirling nothings of the darkness surrounding it.
With each passing year it seems the light of promise dims.
Will it, too, fade into the darkness?

My heart!
It aches to feel the warmth of a home
But is continually placed
in the chilly woods between Almosts and Maybes.

Funny the way it is

I happened across an article today in defense of YA novels.
Can I admit that I was astounded that a certain genre of books needed to be defended? Since when has reading not been enough? I know there was a time when the idea of a novel was rather taboo–“too sensational” they said–but the moment we emerged from that line of thought and appreciated reading for the sheer sake of reading why did it need to turn into another debate?
I am a proud reader of every type of book. At present I am reading The Old Man and the Sea (Oh, Hemingway…how I adore you), and Northanger Abbey (one of the few Austen novels I had never read), but just before this I was unashamedly going through an extensive re-read of Harry Potter’s adventures. I laughed, I cried, and I am certain I grew as a person–as I do every time I read a book that pulls at my heart and/or mind.

So here is my thought on the weird debate about whether or not “adults” should be reading YA novels: If you love it, read it. Do not allow an arbitrary category to limit you. Ever.

As one of my literary heroes, the great Clive Staples Lewis, once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

One of my closest friends read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables when she was 11. She’d fallen in love with the musical, and reading the novel was her natural progession of thought. She is a self-proclaimed slow reader, but she devoted herself to that book for at least six months. (For reference: I am a rather fast reader and it took me a year to read at 25).  She read Harry Potter for the first time when she was 21, and I think it is safe to say her devotion to it was comparable. I remember getting a phone call from her late at night. She was utterly terrified at the prospect of what would happen to her beloved Harry and Dumbledore as they journeyed toward a cave on a dangerous mission. The voicemail I received will always remain in my mind as one of the most beautiful moments of our friendship. Both books–one clearly labed as for adults and the other for children– helped to shape her world and grow her into the beautiful woman that she is today.

A good book is a good book, and age has no real impact on the truth of that statement. I think what matters most is that we are still reading.

River Sunset

Funny how just before the world
goes dark
it slowly fades into the most beautiful array of colors.
Oranges, blues, pinks,
purples, reds, yellows
The sky is ablaze
A watercolor painting drawing my eyes
Stirring my heart
Making me dream
A symphony of color dancing
before the darkness comes
I think that’s how life works.
Like a sunset.
Our lives
beautiful flashes of brilliant colors
and then darkness overwhelms
Plunging us into pools of black
But wait
Within those pools are tiny, shining lights
and after
just when things seem darkest
The colors fade in
And the sun rises again
in all of its radiance

Ego

Don’t let them take it
That thing inside that makes you, you
The light which glows and grows and goes
Where your heart yearns to be
Your particular bit of this world
Designed specifically for you
Peering through your eyes at the sight of all that you adore
Don’t let them take it
Don’t let them kill
The thing that keeps you alive