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You might have seen the Netflix mini-series The Haunting of Hill House. Or the 1999 film The Haunting. Maybe you even saw the 1963 film with the same name.

This is all great stuff. I have seen and enjoyed all of this. But my brothers and sisters in horror, have you ever read the source material? Have you read the original novel, published in 1959? 

This is the first haunted house story. It’s the one that all others take from.

We start with the chilling, iconic description of Hill House, which sets the mood for the whole book. The writing is lyrical, beautiful. It draws you in, lulling you into a false sense of security. Eleanore stops in a small town on her way to Hill House, enchanted by a small child in a restaurant.

Haunting of Hill House cover

“Insist upon your cup of stars,” she thinks, and it’s a metaphor for her insisting upon her own joys after a lifetime of serving her family. We’re drawn into this bid for freedom right away. We want Eleanore to be happy. To find her cup of stars. 

One thing that’s very different in the novel is that Dr. Montague never lied to the participants. Theo and Eleanore are well aware they’re walking into a haunted house and that their job is to record the haunting. I think that’s an important distinction. Eleanore especially knew what she was doing. 

We soon meet our full cast of characters. Including the doctor and Eleanore, we have Theo and Luke. Theo is a bit of a party girl, and Luke is a member of the family who owns the house. Everyone seems to be getting along quite well, especially Eleanore and Theo. I understand that there have always been some suggestions that there was a love affair between the two. And I can say, you can feel the affection they have for each other right away.

It is in fact that affection that is twisted as the story continues. As the house starts to mess with them, Eleanore’s thoughts of Theo begin to change. Where at first she loved that Theo wanted to be the center of attention, she later thinks that Theo would do anything to get everyone’s attention. 

The haunting starts slowly. And it, well it stays slow, to be honest. Doors will not stay open in Hill House, no matter what you do. At one point all of Theo’s clothes are covered in blood that later vanishes. At night there’s a horrible pounding on the doors. But during the day our crew seems fine.

This is something that strikes me. While the nights are horrifying, everyone seems okay during the day. No one seems worried, except for Eleanore. This leads me to a question that I have.

This is a question that I am left with, even after reading the whole novel. After thinking about it for quite some time, and after rewatching much of the Hill House content.

What proof do we have that Hill House is even haunted? Is it possible that all of the banging and blood was just in Eleanore’s imagination? What if the only thing that happened here was that Eleanore slowly went mad until she reached her final, tragic end? Is this a haunting in the traditional sense? Or was the only thing haunting Hill House Eleanore herself?

The difference between the novel and the movies can feel like the difference between an actual supernatural event and the movie based on it. What was a rattling of doorknobs and windows becomes blood spilling out to fill a master bedroom. This is frustrating to a fan, but it’s easy to explain.

Film is a medium that novels don’t always translate to. In a story like Haunting of Hill House, the terror comes from doors that won’t stay open. From cold spots that can be felt but not registered on equipment. From a housekeeper that won’t stay on the grounds at night, but refuses to explain why. The terror is in watching a young woman, finally free of her oppressive family, slowly descending into madness. 

It would make for a boring movie, even with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson. But it made for a singularly chilling novel. 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Buy it here!

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Woom: An Extreme Horror Novel

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“That doesn’t invalidate it,” Angel said. “There’s no statute of limitations on pain.”

The Plot

Angel is a man who knows pain: physical, mental, sexual. The story begins with Angel visiting Room 6 at the Lonely Motel and ordering a plus-size sex worker to his room. What comes next is Angel’s retellings of painful stories while performing sexual acts on the sex worker, Shyla.

The novel reads as a book of short stories, as Angel relays stories to Shyla and she tells him stories back. This is a novel of pain and disgust. Angel’s stories are so dark and traumatic that Shyla can’t believe they are true. As Angel bares his soul, we see a side of him that is melancholy and unable to process hurt in a natural way.

The Verdict

This novel is full of disgusting visuals and isn’t afraid to get dirty. This truly is an extreme horror novel. As a warning, there is discussion of feces, blood, rape, sex, and body horror. This novel is not for the faint of heart. You’ll close this short novel feeling dirty. Angel is a character that begs for sympathy while his stories narrate that he may not be as innocent as he perceives.

When the subtitle says this novel is extreme horror, believe it. Only the strong will survive Duncan Ralston’s Woom. It is more splatterpunk than anything, but true literary quality lies beneath the filth.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Read it yourself by clicking below!

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