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!

Jaws by Peter Benchley

Da dum…da dum…DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM—CHOMP!

It’s shark week, y’all! Well…the fin tail end of it anyway, but perfect timing nonetheless for my review of Peter Benchley’s iconic monster hit thriller Jaws! I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched this movie—and it gets scarier with age. Is there anything more terrifying than a massive bloodthirsty shark that can chomp an unsuspecting human into pieces? Sometimes I wonder…all that time at Camp Surf in Imperial Beach, were there any sharks lurking below my feet as they dangled from my surf board? Scratch that thought—I don’t even want to know!

Given my love of horror and my deep-seated fear of sharks, I don’t know why it took me so long to read the book. The movie is just so darn good—a masterpiece even—so I suppose that was enough for me.

image of JawsWell, I hate to say it folks, but the movie is WAAAY better than the book. For the first time ever, I’m advising readers to skip the book altogether. I really thought I was in for a real treat after reading the first horrifying shock scene, but a few chapters later I was rooting for the shark to eat the whole miserable townsfolk of Amity.

Here’s where the movie vastly improved the book: character development. I loved the camaraderie between the stoic Sheriff Brody and the quirky Matt Hooper (all hail the comic genius that is Richard Dreyfuss!). Movie lovers and writers all know and love that iconic scene in the galley where they all showed off their manly scars over beers and laughs with the salty ship captain Clint. In terms of character development, that scene of male bonding is a true work of art. Some even say it’s one of the best movie moments of all time. Why? Because we all got to know the three shark slayers and didn’t want to see them become fish food.

As for the characters in the book…eh, not so much. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother throwing them all a life preserver. A shark’s gotta eat too, you know.  Out of all of them, Sheriff Brody wasn’t the worst, but he was still kind of whiny tool, and then there’s Hooper, a total home-wrecking scumbag with no sense of humor. Perhaps that’s another area where this book is solely lacking. There’s no humor, no salty fisherman wisecracks, no infectious laughter.  If there were, I must’ve missed the punchlines, maybe because they were at the expense of “homos” or “Jews” or “slutty women.” Because yeah, there’s a lot of bigotry and patriarchal overtones thrown into the mix…sigh.

And then there’s Hooper—my most favorite movie character—but a total home-wrecking scumbag in the book. I just about lost it when Clint revealed to Brody that he kills pregnant dolphins to use them and their unborn fetuses for chum—OMG WHAT?! I mean, these literary characters are downright deplorable. Don’t even get me started on Brody’s wife. A third of the book focused on her sleazy affair, which did nothing for the story except keep me hoping that Jaws would get a nice buffet of human body parts.

That said, I must admit that the opening chapter was absolutely horrifying. The way Peter Benchley described that doomed swimmer’s last moments in the open water from the shark’s perspective was nothing short of masterful! I just about lost it when she felt that initial bump and reached down to touch her foot only to feel warm blood spewing from the jagged stump. So if you do crack open this book, just read that opening scene. I promise it will give you the chill bumps and make you second guess that boogie boarding trip!