Review – Bag of Bones

Bag of BonesThere are so many good reviews of this that of course I had to read it. It’s one of King’s many books that I never got around to, and with the number of books this man writes and publishes, I’m not surprised it took me this long to read it.

Mike Noonan is an author, a good mid-list author at that. He leads a comfortable life with his wife Jo in New England. When Jo unexpectedly dies of a brain aneurysm, Mike is left alone and almost incapacitated by her sudden death. His wife also left him with a bit of mystery and he wants answers. Since Jo’s death, Mike has developed writer’s block, something he’s never even briefly experienced in his career as a writer. Thinking a change in scenery will help with his writer’s block and hopefully quell the obsession he’s developing with his dead wife’s coming and goings, Mike heads to his vacation house on a lake in the woods of Maine. Shortly after arriving, he finds himself caught up in a nasty custody battle over a three year-old girl he accidentally made friends with when he saw her walking down the middle of a busy road. Unwilling to let Mattie, the young mother, get destroyed by the system, Mike steps in and learns what it means to be a stranger in this part of Maine.

I jumped into this book anticipating a full out ghost story and found myself in the middle of a custody battle. Strange how books emerge sometimes. The ghost element was more than strong and I liked the small town history and how it all tied back to Mike and the property he owns but the custody battle felt like it really never fit for me even when every last tie was explained. I think my expectations were set up to be very different from what I actually got in reading the book. This sounds negative but it’s not. It just wasn’t what I had in mind when I started this book.

That said, I did enjoy this book very much. It reminded me of 11/22/63 in the slight love story that starts to develop, and then when the ghosts start in, there’s nowhere to hide for the reader or the characters. This book spooked me early on but as the story got going, I was more interested in the ghosts themselves than some of the living characters. Anything that scared me in the beginning was out the door by this time because I wanted to know every last detail of this town’s ghosts and have them out every bitter secret.

Even with all the ghosts and their brutal pasts emerging, the main story was sad. Mike Noonan is a man lost without his wife and drifting without a career now that he can no longer write without getting violently ill. When he decides to visit the lake home, he hopes he’ll be able to write again, and when he does, it’s not what he thinks it will be. He ends up have to mourn not only his wife but a part of his life he never thought he’d lose. The custody battle is heartbreaking, as all are, but there’s a cruel aspect to it all that ties back very well to the area’s unfortunately well-known and well-hidden past.

There are a few references to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca in Bag of Bones. I adored Rebecca and referencing it here only made my love of it stronger. Why not invoke a book with a ghostly aspect to enhance another ghost story?

I know many people might stay away from an author like King and may not like horror/ghosts stories either. Well, in some ways this book is many of those things but I still want to encourage you to try it. It’s a good story with some extra supernatural parts to make it interesting. It’s more than its ghosts. In other words, it’s a keeper.

Bag of Bones
By Stephen King
Scribner
ISBN: 9781439106211
4 stars

Stephen King Button BlueThis book was read for The Stephen King Project Challenge. You can find more information here.

Today’s Book with Extra Book Bits

I’m about to finish The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  It’s a ghost story and while it has it’s conventional parts, it feels more like a slow moving thriller and it works wonderfully.  She dishes out details slowly, building a lot of tension for the ending I know is coming.  The best word to describe it would be atmospheric.  It has long, lush sentences that evoke a foreboding for the horrible ending.  It reminds me a lot of Shirley Jackson whose storytelling has the same feel.  In case, you’re wondering how I know what’s coming — I read the end already.

I haven’t done a library loot in forever so here goes.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (See above.)

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt (On my list and it fits a challenge, a twofer book.)

Savage Kingdom: The True story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America by Benjamin Woolley (I read a book last year about Jamestown and loved it so I’m trying another.  We’ll see if my interest holds up through this one.)

Also new to me but not a library loaner is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  I’ve been craving this one since it came through the door and it’s so my next book.  Admire that cover.  I love, love, love it.  Can’t really say why but the sapphire blue cover is working for me.

The House on Tradd Street

The House on Tradd Street

The House on Tradd Street

By Karen White

New American Library

ISBN: 978-0-451-22509-2

4 stars

Melanie Middleton is a realtor in Charleston, South Carolina. She specializes in historic homes but what she really loves is new construction — no character, no flaws, and no problems. During a meeting with a potential client, she inadvertently impresses him when she admits to being able to see the ghost of a woman sitting on the garden swing. When the client dies unexpectedly a few days later, he leaves the house and all its unseen inhabitants in Melanie’s care.

Ghosts are the reason Melanie hates old homes. In a new place, she doesn’t have to see them, talk to them, or help them. In the house on Tradd Street, a house she is not at all fond of being the money pit that it is, there are several ghosts that all seem to want something from her. In addition to the house and ghosts, she also finds herself saddled with a local author who has an odd interest in the house, an alcoholic father trying to get back into her life, and a dog she doesn’t know what to do with.

I like ghost stories and this one was a nice cozy read. There’s a bit of a mystery thrown in but overall nothing too scary if you’re not into ghost/murder/mystery stories like this one. It’s pretty mild. I think there’s enough for all readers to enjoy but I will say that you’ll probably see the twists coming long before they happen. It’s not a bad thing at all. The story is a pleasant read and I didn’t mind when things turned out exactly like I expected them to.

I was turned off a bit by Melanie’s attitude in the beginning but she grew on me as did all the other characters. They’re a bit eccentric which makes it enjoyable. I even found the house restoration a nice addition to the story. If you’re looking for a good fast read, this one is worth it. I’m looking forward to reading The Girl on Legare Street which is a follow-up to The House on Tradd Street.

The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Penguin Books

ISBN: 0-14-30-3998-9

4.5 stars

Eleanor Vance has no life. After the death of her mother, whom she physically cared for the last few years, she moves in with her sister, brother-in-law, and niece. She owns nothing, has no job, and desperately wants to belong somewhere. When a letter from a Dr. John Montague arrives in the mail inviting her to spend the summer at Hill House, she readily accepts thinking this is her chance at a new life. Her sister balks at the idea and tries to stop her by telling her that she cannot borrow the car. Eleanor decides to defy her sister and herself. She takes the car and goes to Hill House not understanding or prepared for what she is about to face.

Dr. Montague is studying the paranormal and plans to write a book documenting the events at Hill House which is widely reported to be haunted. The individuals he invites to spend the summer at the house have all experienced some sort of paranormal activity and he hopes to tap into their collective abilities. With the arrival of Theodora and Luke Sanderson, the experiment begins and quickly takes a strange and frightening turn. Over the next few days, Eleanor gets pulled in deeper and begins to lose her grip on reality. When the others try to help, the experiment takes a tragic turn.

As the reader, you hear Eleanor’s thoughts and they are sad, scary, and deluded. She is always imaging the happy life she thinks she should be living but she’s so incredibly unstable that you feel uncomfortable knowing her thoughts. It’s these same thoughts that keep you hooked though. There’s something so very wrong about the house but also Eleanor that the two become almost one in the book. When the paranormal activity picks up, you do wonder if it’s all in Eleanor’s head.

When reality takes over, you feel bad for Eleanor because what happens to her is almost inevitable. There is no way out and no escape from her depressing life. She exercises the only option she can see and while she does, for one brief moment, question her choice, it’s already too late for her.

I didn’t find The Haunting of Hill House scary for the paranormal activity but Eleanor’s thoughts and life which give the book a tragic and creepy feel. The backdrop of the haunted house only adds to the effect and brings to life the raving thoughts of a person so depressed and scared of life that she has to imagine a new one every second of the day.

Haunting Bombay

Haunting Bombay

Haunting Bombay

Haunting Bombay

By Shilpa Agarwal

Soho Press, Inc.

ISBN: 978-1-56947-558-4

3 stars

Pinky Mittal is being raised by her grandmother after her mother’s death when she was just a baby. Her life in the large bungalow in one of Bombay’s most desirable neighborhoods in anything but happy. Her grandmother treats her kindly and the two have a loving relationship but her extended family is another matter. Her uncle is an alcoholic, her aunt makes her feel unwanted at every opportunity, the servants don’t treat her badly but don’t seem to care much for her, and her three cousins, all boys, are, well, boys.

One night, after humiliating herself in front of one of her cousins, Nimish who she secretly loves, she does something that throws the whole house into chaos. Pinky unlocks a bathroom door that is bolted each night unknowingly releasing a ghost that has remained dormant and hidden for years. When the monsoon season arrives, the ghost uses the water to escape and torments the family fully intending to take revenge for the years of being ignored and shut away.

I had trouble getting into this book. I wanted to like the characters but couldn’t become attached. The family is dysfunctional but not any worse than one would expect with their history. It’s easy to see why Pinky’s aunt would be hostile towards her and why her uncle would be drowning himself in alcohol. I thought the ghost idea was a nice way to showcase the family’s problems, but, honestly, I didn’t really care what happened to any of them.

However, I’m glad I finished it. The story has a strange redeeming quality to it and after the last page, I did feel something for these people and the sad state of their lives. In the end, I was happy to see Pinky find herself and the courage to stand up to her aunt. It was also nice to see the family start to pull itself back together. I do wish I would have experienced more of the redeeming affect while I was reading; it would have made it much more enjoyable. In the end, it was an okay read but not a book I will go back to.

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

By Audrey Niffenegger

Scribner

ISBN: 978-1439165393

5 stars

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. Below is a short summary of my review of Her Fearful Symmetry which can be found on their website in full here.

Her Fearful Symmetry begins with a death. Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, leaving her London apartment to her estranged sister’s twin daughters, Julia and Valentina. Excited by the prospect of a new life life, the twins leave for London unaware of the dark secret which has kept their mother and aunt apart for decades.

This book is full of interesting characters who all seem to be waiting around for something in their lives — a wife to return, a secret to be revealed, a love to return, or a love to be found. Hovering over everyone is death and disappearance. In the end, you feel sad for all the characters, even the ones that manage to find themselves again but you may not get over the final last act that brings everything full circle.

Her Fearful Symmetry was eagerly awaited by fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I didn’t fall in love with these characters that way I did with Henry and Clair but, it was worth the wait and is one great read.