Book and a Movie Night! Turn of the Screw Vs Haunting of Bly Manor

Turn of the Screw Book I’m embarrassed to say that it took me a few episodes to realize the Haunting of Bly Manor was a loose reimagining of Henry James’ seminal classic, “The Turn of the Screw.” It’s pretty how long it took me to put it all together–the disoriented nanny, the two haunted children, the apparition in the tower–before I finally sat up and yelled at my husband, “Holy crap! It’s the Turn of the Screw!”  What can I say? I’m a little slow up on the uptake these days.

Naturally, I had to download the audiobook narrated by the lovely Emma Thompson to revisit this uncanny tale. In retrospect, it would have been a better idea to read the hardback instead of following a dramatized narration because the writing is DENSE, and it’s easy to get lost in the ambiguity of, well, everything.

In a word, this book can best described as ambiguous. Nothing is straight forward; it’s all just hints and euphemisms. My best advice is to read this very slowly and in small doses because the flowery writing is crazy-making! Also, it would be fun to turn this into a drinking game and take a shot every time the word “prodigious” appears in the governesses’ long, convoluted ramblings about innocence and corruption. Henry James clearly loved that word.

Did the Netflix series do the book justice? Hmm…yes and no. The show beautifully captured the isolated Bly Manor homestead and the overall sense of isolation and doom. It also followed the storyline of Bly Manor’s resident spirits: two former employees who may or may not have been having—gasp—sex! Of course, those words were never spoken, but the subversive text certainly indicates they were very much “corrupted.” Makes me want to clutch my pearls!

This is where I ran into problems with the book. It was hard to figure out what exactly was going on since nothing is fully explained. I think it’s safe to assume the resident ghosts were doing the nasty and the nanny took it upon herself to shield her wards from corruption. In doing so, she makes matters worse, thus turning the screw into madness and destruction.

I could only get on at all by taking “nature” into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.

The problem with the show, however, is that there’s very little guesswork. Sure, the governess seemed nutty at first, but you come to realize in further episodes that the house is indeed haunted. I suppose this works better for the mass audience, but I’m more creeped out by the notion that all the craziness that went down in Bly Manor was all in the nanny’s head.  I mean, really, do we need everything spelled out for us these days? The imagination is so much more fun!

As expected, the book is by far better—and it’s definitely worth a read for fans of the show. Of course, you don’t get to look for the surprise ghosts (aka “Easter eggs”) in every scene. But trust me, there are plenty of Easter eggs in the form of symbols and themes. One, which I particularly enjoyed, is the mentioning of a ship lost at sea. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling you have while following the Governess’s journey into madness. With her at the helm, we’re helplessly drifting off into craziness at every turn, rolling with the waves into a wasteland of nothingness. The mansion in itself feels like a sinking ship, which is masterful foreshadowing for the impending tragedy.

No; it was a big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half replaced and half utilized, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!

Spoiler alert! The literary version doesn’t end well for the young boy named Miles, who was kicked out of boarding school for reasons unknown. All we know is that he relished being bad, and it bothered the governess to no end! She took it up on herself to save the children, believing that she was the only one who could save them. This calls into question the destructiveness of the hero-complex, and the motives behind incompetent fools who feel they can protect others from inevitable forces.

As you can see, there is a LOT packed into this book—and it’s up to you to tease apart all the subversive ramblings about innocence, corruption, the downfall of heroism, and many, many more themes. Is it scary? Eh, depends on how you look at it. To some, it’s a ghost story; to others, it’s a story of a misguided woman descending into madness. Either way, it’s an interesting ride that goes from 60 to zero in a matter of seconds. The abrupt ending still leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment…but I do have some theories. As for the TV series, the mystery is tied together in a neat little bow, which I’m sure appeals plenty of people who need a clear resolution. As for me, I relish the intrigue of a good unsolved mystery.

Lil Bootz’s Friday Flop Day: The Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

The premise of this book and the glowing reviews of it being as creepy as the Blair Witch Project really suckered me into checking it out (thankfully for free via Libby), but boy was I disappointed. I tried, y’all. I really did. I got as far as 50% through the audiobook when I decided to hit the “return early” button. Here’s where it went all kinds of wrong:

The premise it great–a bunch of teenage explorers lost in the woods whilst experimenting with an urban legend in search of a missing girl. My hopes for this story quickly dissipated when I met the main character, Sarah and her slew of friends via tedious direct message threads. Note: these long text conversations do not translate well on audio. Needless to say, I did not enjoy their snarky dialogue, nor did I care much for their personalities in general. The lack of character development is where this book went horribly wrong. We really don’t get under the surface with any of these kids–and there’s way too many of them. It’s like watching a classic teenage B-grade horror movie that makes the audience root for the monsters. The only character with a semblance of depth is Sara, and she’s a real Gloomy Gus. I mean, yeah it’s sad her adopted sister went missing and that she was scorned by her girl-crush, but it was even more sad for me to have to endure her emo attitude. But hey, if you’re into Sylvia Plath, you may enjoy Sara. To each their own.

And then there’s this false promise that this book channels the Blair Witch Project. Sure, there’s a bunch of bickering kids lost in the woods, but that’s the only connection. The genius of the Blair Witch Project is the building suspense of an unseen force that may or may not exist, leaving everything up to the imagination. This book, however, is full of zombie people, ghosts and gates to multiple otherworldly dimensions. Sure it was disorienting, but in a bad acid trip kind of way.

To be fair, I only got halfway through this thing, but from what I could tell, this book was missing a very important element: A villain, either physical or supernatural, that ties the whole legend together. There’s a bunch of rules to follow in order to survive the cursed woods, but what overarching power is casting this spell? What’s the actual “Ghost of Lucy Gallows” legend here? Somewhere before reaching the midpoint of this story, the characters should have figured this out. I mean, it’s good to know what they’re up against, right?

With all the gates to different levels, I felt like I was inside a video game on a mission to capture the damsel in distress from the evil castle troll. But hey, if you’re into that, maybe this book is for you. I’m just not really into fantasy and sci-fi, so it’s not my cup of tea. I’m more into gothic ghost stories and psychological thrillers with supernatural twists.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

I’m just going to come right out and say that everything Riley Sager writes is gold! This book was especially exciting for me because it’s a classic haunted house story set in an old, dilapidated manor rife with legends and ghostly visitations.

This book is sure to win over fans of the new Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House (a modern twist to Shirley Jackson’s literary masterpiece). We’ve got two time-skipping storylines that revolve around the haunted Baneberry Hall. First, we meet Maggy Holt, a troubled woman who experiences haunted happenings while fixing up Baneberry Hall, in spite of her mother’s dire warnings to never set foot in the cursed place. Then the story skips back 25 years when the Holt family moved into the haunted homestead and experienced a slew of horrific events.

Like the Netflix show, we don’t find out why the family fled the house in dead of night until the very end. And trust me, this one’s a page-turner! Every chapter led to more questions, like why are Maggie’s parents so secretive? Why can’t they tell her the truth as to why they abandoned the house? Why did her father turn their story into a bestselling book filled with lies and embellishments? Can we trust the sexy handyman who seems to know more about Maggie’s inherited house than he lets on? Hell, can we even trust Maggie? Why is her memory so spotty? You’ll have to read the book to find out! It’s definitely worth your while.

It’s hard to say which Riley Sager book is my favorite, but this one is up there! The creepy, gothic atmosphere really ratcheted up the suspense. I especially loved the scene when grown-up Maggie stumbled upon the family graveyard up on the hill behind the house. Such fun!

This was the perfect October read, and I may just dive into it again next October! Until then, I’m moving on to an old gothic classic by the venerable Barbara Michaels.

It Came From the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers

I miss going to the movies amidst this never-ending pandemic, so I requested this book just to fill in the void just a bit. Clearly ’80s nostalgia is in vogue these days thanks to Stranger Things, and this book delivers on all of those memories of big hair-sprayed bangs, acid wash denim, Walkman radios and Casey Kasem-approved playlists! Oh how I wish I could go back in time for just one day to roller-skate around the rink with my giggling friends to the beats of Tiffany and Janet Jackson…sigh.

That said, if 80s pulp horror movie nostalgia is what you’re looking for, this book’s for you. If you’re solely in it for the scares and psychological horror, get ready to be disappointed. Most of these stories are very tongue-in-cheek, especially when it comes to over-the-top insect monsters. I’m not a big fan of the B-grade movie monsters myself, but I did enjoy the campy atmosphere. Quite a few of these stories have LGBTQ themes, adding a modern twist to the typical teenage prototypes from that bygone movie era devoid of diversity, aside from the token Black kid.

Most of these stories took place in run-down movie houses or seedy drive-ins, so far from the luxurious leather recliner auditorium seats we’re so accustomed to these days. Alamo Drafthouse has ruined me, y’all! Never again can I see a movie at a place that won’t bring me pitchers of beer and gourmet pizzas.

But I digress. Horror movie buffs, do yourself a favor and read this book. You will especially enjoy the one about the strange theater that only serves a special clientele with very refined palettes. It has a Lovecraftian theme and a not-so-happy ending!

Note: I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

CeeCee’s Halloween Treat: The Shadows by Alex North

Note: I scored the free audiobook on Netgalley, but their app isn’t compatible with any of my devices so I went ahead and scored an audio download from the awesome Austin Library! Thanks, Libby!

This was a fantastic audio experience! The author’s British accent really helped me picture the blue-collar English village and its surrounding haunted woods. I listened to this to scare myself silly on my evening runs around the neighborhood. Maybe not the safest activity, but a girl’s gotta get creative during this time of quarantine, right?

There is something very, very spooky about a group of misfit kids playing around with the dreamworld via witchcraft in order to manifest a red-handed monster with their subconscious minds. Think Slender Man meets Nightmare on Elm Street meets Flatliners! Like I said, it’s freaky stuff!

The book skips from 25 years ago to present day and follows a man named Paul who was a part of the “dream-incubating” group of kiddos until they took things to a whole new level and he had to bail. Good call, buddy. One of the kids gets killed and Paul finds himself walking the earth a haunted, depressed shell of a man. When he returns home to take care of his ailing mom, bad things start happening again in the woods and red hand prints stain his front door! Like I said, this book is creeeeeepy!

While reading it, I kept steeling myself for an anticlimactic ending since the buildup was so dang good. I promise not to spoil anything for you, but I will say that the ending wasn’t a total letdown, but it wasn’t how I wanted things to pan out. It left me feeling more melancholy than scared, really.

Aside from that minor gripe, this book is well worth a read for those of use who love to feel those little hairs stand on end! The writing is top notch, and I will most certainly read his first book “The Whisper Man.”

Pleasant nightmares–and happy Halloween, y’all!

Lil Bootz’s Halloween Treat: The Spook in the Stacks


In short: Somebody knocked off a wealthy businessman in the rare books section of Lucy Richardson’s beloved lighthouse library during a Halloween-themed book event! All clues point to his mysterious–dare I say shifty–granddaughter Julia, who stands to gain a lot from his demise. 

What I liked: The author did a fantastic job creating a fun, spooky atmosphere around the historic Bodie Island lighthouse. The apparition of a horse appears in the mist and things go bump in the night when the lights go out at the historic, possibly haunted lighthouse. I especially enjoyed the scene where the townsfolk gathered outside the library at night for a special reading of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”–my favorite Halloween tale for a dark and spooky night! 

What irked me: Lucy the librarian is great, but she really needs to stop being so wishy washy about her love life. Connor is a catch, but if the chemistry isn’t there, throw the man back out into the dating pool, woman! 

Also, I have to say that Theodore is downright creepy. I get that he’s Ichabod and Julia is his lady Katrina, but dang boy, back off! Seriously, he was the creepiest part of the story. 

The mystery: As usual, this was another solid installment of the Lighthouse Library Mystery series. The murder victim made a lot of enemies among the town’s business community, so there’s a lot of suspects to sort through. I enjoyed tagging along with Lucy and her kitty sidekick Charles (not so much Theodore), as they followed the clues and ferreted out the killer whilst enjoying the haunted happenings around town during All Hallows Eve. Such fun! 

Summed up: I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys literary-themed cozies. Fans of Jen McKinlay and Lorna Barrett are sure to enjoy this cozy Halloweenie read

Lil Bootz’s Halloween Treat: Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

Next up in our Halloween countdown extravaganza is this fun little cozy mystery that we received for free (in exchange for a brutally honest review)  from NetGalley! Since this is light on scares, Lil Bootz recommends this to all the fraidy cats who love a good, cozy whodunnit.


 

image of book Murder in the Bayou Boneyard One look at this cover and I couldn’t hit the “request” button fast enough! How could I resist this adorable vampire basset hound lurking in a spooky graveyard? I always enjoy returning to Maggie’s historic plantation homestead-turned B&B located in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country. While reading this, I kept picturing Disney’s Haunted Mansion overlooking an overgrown cemetery shrouded by Spanish moss.

Of course, this cozy mystery is light on scares, so it appeals to even the most squeamish of readers, but the author does a fine job weaving a lot of Halloween hijinks into the storyline. There’s a rougarou lurking in the woods, inexplicable happenings in the attic and–even more frightening–nefarious relatives outstaying their welcome at the Crozat Mansion B&B! Bloodthirsty Cajun monsters ain’t got nothing over Maggie’s Canadian relatives, let me tell ya!

I must warn you, there’s a LOT of characters to sort through in this mystery, so it’s quite a challenge keeping them all straight, let alone sorting out the suspects. Since I’ve read all the other books in this series, it wasn’t so hard, but I did find myself flipping back to the list of characters. I love it when they include these little glossaries in cozy mysteries because the struggle is real, yo!

As for the characters, Maggie and her Crozat family are as charming as ever. It’s cute that she and her granny are planning their weddings together. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was why the granny’s fiancé never entered the picture. Where was he? Hell, I can’t even remember who she’s marrying, to be honest. Guess I’ll need to look in the previous book to catch myself up to speed. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the “spunky grandma” trope in these books. I find them annoying rather than cute, and Maggie’s grandma is walking a fine line…but she does have her moments.

While I’m being nitpicky, I had to roll my eyes at Maggie when she shouted at a suspected killer –who, at the time was brandishing a potential weapon– “Stop in the name of the law!” I know this was supposed to be chuckle-worthy, but it just made me groan.

Gripes aside, this is a quality mystery series filled with Cajun lore, Southern cooking and heartwarming moments. I must warn you: Do not read this on an empty stomach! You’ll get some mad cravings for shrimp gumbo, crawfish etouffee and sugary cakes!

CeeCee’s Short and Shivery Halloween Treats: Clown in a Cornfield

image of clown in a cornfield

Trick-or-treating may be canceled this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t scare ourselves silly with ghosts, ghoulies and blood-thirsty clowns! Here’s a short and shivery review of Clown in a Cornfield–a new book that’s been getting a lot of buzz from B-movie horror lovers such as myself! If you’re a fan of Pennywise, you’re sure to love this new title. Time to float!


image of Clown in a Cornfield BookWell, well, well, I must say this book took me by surprise! What I thought was going to be a run-of-the-mill YA thriller (low on scares and high on teen melodrama) turned out to be a solid slasher movie-themed thrillride with oodles of blood and guts. It was like reading one of those forbidden B-horror flicks that I’d watch at slumber parties with my giggling friends. Ah such sweet memories of rebellious tweenage bliss.

Amidst the cat-and-mouse chase with killer clowns lurking in the corn fields and dilapidated barns, the author managed to weave some timely themes into the story–themes of small town, small-minded hate and bigotry. The author even spelled it out for us in the townies’ “Make Kettle Springs Great Again” ballcaps. You see where I’m going with this, yes?

So hats off (pun intended!) to the author for weaving some social commentary into this modern-day slasher. You won’t find any big-boobied “bimbos” getting chased through the woods by chainsaw-wielding fiends in this book. Nope, in fact, the female leads are the town’s only hope for survival. There’s even a surprising twist to the love triangle that I didn’t see coming.

The only reason why I knocked off one star is because a big chunk of the book is an action-packed cat-and-mouse chase that demanded a lot of my attention span. I’m probably in the minority here because most reviewers loved the second half of the book, but I’m just not a big fan of chapters and chapters and chapters of action-packed scenes with car chases and exploding buildings. It’s just not my cup of tea.

But, like I said, most people love that stuff, so don’t let my minor misgivings throw you. This book is definitely worth checking out, especially during the spooky month of October!

Lil Bootz’s Meowder Mondays: A Murder She Wrote Reading Roundup!

Hello and happy Monday! Lil Bootz is here to take the sting out of this detestable day of the week by bringing you stories of murder, mayhem and spooky castles! So take a break from the monotonous emails and enjoy purrusing these cozy mysteries starring none other than our favorite busybody, JB Fletcher!


Death of a Blue Blood

Move over, Downton Abbey! Castorbrooke Castle has more nefarious blue bloods and manipulative housemaids than you can shake a stick at! JB Fletcher and her sort-of boyfriend George Sutherland got more than they bargained for when they arrived at the castle for a posh New Year’s Eve ball. Before the champagne is even popped, she’s already stumbling upon her second dead body. I mean, at some point, she should quit acting surprised when this happens. Without fail, someone croaks when she makes an appearance at a party. I love you, JB, but if I see you entering the room, I’m out. Either way, her festive vacation soon turns into a game of Clue and it’s up to JB and George to solve this thing because the local law enforcement is as worthless as a dead slug.

If you love a good old fashioned whodunit, you’ll enjoy this mystery. There’s even a dead body in the conservatory! There’s a good chance you’ll guess the killer early on, but who cares? It’s all about traveling to far and distant lands (with high murder rates) alongside the ever delightful and fashionable JB Fletcher.

Blood on the Vine

In this wine-infused mystery, I get to travel to Napa Valley! I’ve always wanted to go there but never got around to it…maybe because my husband’s more of a beer guy. Either way, I was able to experience the sites through JB’s eyes as she explored the tranquil vineyards, tasted delicious wine at lovely candlelit restaurants and traversed the touristy village with her Scotland Yard detective buddy George Southerland. If you’re expecting their romance to heat up amidst all the wining and dining, don’t hold your breath. Let’s face it, poor George is and will forever be friend-zoned. JB needs to stop stringing the poor ol’ chap along. There are plenty of single grannies out there who would snatch him up in a heartbeat.  Aside from that minor grievance, I absolutely loved every bit of this book. Similar to her adventures in Castorbrooke Castle, JB is surrounded by a bunch of greedy vultures who all have ample motives for killing off the infamous Bill Laddington. He made a lot of money-—and enemies—during his stint in Hollywood as a big-time movie mogul. And, wouldn’t you know, just hours after JB Fletcher joins him for dinner at his winery/castle, he’s floating dead in his moat! Local law enforcement, again, ain’t worth a hill of beans, so she and George must solve the case…while enjoying a taste of the grape here and there. This was a fun puzzle to piece together, and I must admit that the big unveiling was a surprise this time! This book ranks right up there at the top 10 Murder She Wrote installments, definitely worth a read!

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: The Whispers by Greg Howad

It’s been a long time since I’ve said this, but this book is close to perfect. This right here is why young adult–even middle grade–books can be more illuminating than your typical mainstream adult novels. This is some powerful stuff—especially for those of us who went through adolescence feeling alone and unwanted. Even if you don’t have any childhood battle scars, this book will bring back some nostalgia from those long summer days chasing fireflies and camping out in the backyard. As for young readers, I hope this story will draw some empathy for the “weird kids” who often sit alone on the school bus.

Little 12-year-old Riley is one of those kids who always gets picked on for being just a little different. I really felt for the poor guy as he desperately tracked down the magical illuminated “Whispers” floating around in the woods—hoping they would lead him to his missing mother, the only person on earth who loved and accepted him and all of his “conditions.” But of course, he wasn’t totally alone because his faithful best friend Tucker stayed right by his side throughout his journey, as dogs do.

While reading this book, I got to thinking about my own four-legged BFF CeeCee Honeycutt, and how she has always, without fail, been my rock. I could totally relate to Riley when he would reach for his dog during tense moments. I mean, this kid is going through a lot—the mystery of his missing mom, bullying, an emotionally-detached dad, homophobic bible-beating townsfolk and even unrequited love! Oh to be a preteen again…no thanks.

Admittedly, I saw what was coming, so I had to put the book aside for a few days. The last few chapters tore me up, but I needed a good cry because as Riley says, sometimes you just need to cry out your entire soul. Again, this is some heavy stuff, but there are some comforting themes that can really stick with you, like the power of unconditional love, self-acceptance and healing.

At that, I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from this book. It’s clear this author truly loves and understands these magnificent creatures we call dogs. And that’s why CeeCee chose this as her book of the month!

P.S. Kudos to the author for helping to bring LGBTQ into the mainstream! This is a brave, yet risky move in a society that still seems to be living in the dark ages, so I applaud him for it.