The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

I just want to warn everyone that there will be major spoilers below. I’m sorry about that, but I need to discuss this disturbing little story somewhere. I am really hoping for comments on this one because I would love to hear other ideas on “The Lottery”. I need to be able to unpack this thing! This is my first read-through and, knowing Shirley Jackson, I really should have expected it to be disquieting. It completely sucked me in and I can’t stop thinking about it.

——HUGE SPOILERS BELOW——

“The Lottery” takes place in a small town, the sort of place where everyone knows each other. It follows the story of a lottery which the reader finds out is drawn annually, the winner ultimately being the loser, as they are stoned to death. I found it to be unsettling and engrossing, easily the best Shirley Jackson work I’ve read, and one that’s kept me thinking. There are themes of casual acceptance of violence and apathy toward change or improvement, which are chillingly still applicable today.

In the beginning of “The Lottery” the tone is almost lighthearted. The reader is given no clue that the story will end in such an upsetting way. The men talk about their crops; the children talk about school and eventually even start playing. The story says that “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” . With the picture the author has painted of a lighthearted ceremony, I wondered at first if the boys are grabbing stones to skip across a lake, or to use as a fort. Only at the end is it revealed that those very stones gathered by the children were to be used to stone someone to death- possibly even one of the very children who gathered the stones. The lottery has taken on a familiar feel to the participants, and almost seems to signal the beginning of a season. Certainly, no one seems to be upset or even reluctant to participate.

Despite the chilling violence that has taken place for years and years, no one questions or objects to the sacrificing of a life. In fact, when one woman points out that some places have stopped having lotteries, a man claims that there’s “nothing but trouble in that”. This is where I started to see a little beyond the surface, and felt rising tension. This “turn”, so to speak, is one that has served Jackson well in her other works, and it worked wonderfully here. The villagers accept the violence without argument, even encouraging their children to participate. There is almost a duality shown in the neighbors. They can talk about doing dishes one moment, and plan on stoning someone to death in the next. However, the ultimate protest of the person who has “won” the lottery, coupled with the relief of those who have not, shows that no one is quite comfortable with the situation. Not one of them steps in, says anything against it, or even foregoes the chance to throw a stone, though. This shows an apathy and unwillingness to take steps to change or improve. The keeping of tradition is the most important thing, no matter that the tradition is violent and wrong. Even the disheveled state of the lottery box, which has not been fixed, shows a stoic acceptance and indifference- perhaps even an active resistance- to changing or stopping the violence.

“The Lottery” isn’t just a creepy little tale: it’s a commentary on the acceptance of violence, and an unwillingness to question the status quo. This unwillingness to change anything, or even examine whether change needs to happen is still echoed today. Seen through that lens, “The Lottery” becomes at once both fascinating and disturbing. Can you see why I can’t stop thinking about it?

Have you read “The Lottery”? (I kind of hope so, if you’ve read this post, seeing as I posted spoiler after spoiler). What did you think? Did you get the same things out of it that I did?

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives. (taken from Amazon)

The funny thing about The Hazel Wood (and its sequel) by Melissa Albert is that, for me, the best parts weren’t the main storyline. Nope. The best parts were the undeniably eerie fairy tales come-to-life that bled through into the pages of the books. I told my husband that if a collection of Hinterland tales was every published, I’d be super excited to read it. So, of course I had to snag a copy of Tales from the Hinterland!

These completely original fairy tales were about characters that crossed over from the fictional world into the real one in The Hazel Wood books. And they were as creepy as it gets without descending into full-on horror. Let’s just say that the majority of them did not end well for the “hero”. In fact, most of them didn’t have a hero per se. What they did have was a ton of creativity and a darker tone that sent shivers down the spine.

One thing that stood out to me was that the main characters were all female. There were naïve females, clever ones, even evil ones. But males were always in a supporting role. It was an interesting choice. It didn’t change my enjoyment of the book, either positively or negatively; it was just something I noticed.

Another thing that I really liked was that not a single tale seemed even remotely like an existing fairy tale. There were no Beauty and the Beast retellings, and Little Red Riding Hood didn’t make an appearance. The stories were 100% original. It was refreshing to see entirely new ideas (not that I mind a good fairy tale reimagining).

There wasn’t a single story that felt lesser than or out of place. My main complaint, in fact, is that the tone was similar in several tales. I am not even sure if that should be a complaint: that the stories fit well together. Hmm…something to think about.

There were three stories that stood out to me. One was The Door that Wasn’t There, which was equal parts creepy and sad. It’s about two sisters who were locked in a room to starve and what one of them does to survive (no, there’s no cannibalism. Ew!). The feeling that Melissa Albert created in this story was a little bit gothic and a whole lot of unearthly.

The second story that kept me enthralled was The Mother and the Dagger. This felt like your usual tale told to scare kids into coming home before dark- but with a twist that was uncanny and creeptastic. The way this one was written, like someone is talking to you, stood out from the other stories and drew me in. I loved the ending, which had an abrupt finality to it.

Finally, was Twice-Killed Katherine. That character was one of the bits of fairy tales that showed up in The Hazel Wood, and the one that I found the most intriguing. While the story didn’t go the way I expected, it was nonetheless fascinating and really cool to see the backstory the author had for her. That one also felt different in that what was left unsaid could have been stretched and expanded on to create an entirely separate novel in its own right.

Tales from the Hinterland was by far my favorite book that takes place in the Hazel Wood universe (so to speak), even though it’s not a straight-through narrative. It was eerie and intelligent, and definitely not a book to read alone at night. I wouldn’t necessarily call it horror- maybe horror-adjacent. Either way, it was really stinking good.

The Common Tongue: A Dark Fantasy Literary Magazine

Thank you to the editor for providing me with the first issue of The Common Tongue magazine in exchange for my honest opinion. Issue number one will be available on March 31st. Please be aware, readers, that while my review is appropriate for everyone, this is a horror and dark fantasy magazine. As such, younger readers might not be suited to its content.

Wow, this is a strong first issue! The tone of the magazine was well established from the first story, and it continued in a consistently creepy vein throughout. Every story brought its own brand of chilling (up until I got to the nonfiction pieces). I was very impressed at the variety of entries. Not only was there fiction; poetry and nonfiction opinion pieces also made an appearance.

While I thought every piece was very well written, there were three that stood out to me. Deeper Into Darkness by J. Porteous was incredible. It had an eerie vibe to it, and a tension that made me almost hold my breath. It followed a Beastman, a monster hunter, who was sent to a small town to catch and kill a vampyre. The story was told with enough detail to paint a vivid picture of a small place peopled with terrified folk demanding an answer, while equally scared of the one sent to provide it. I loved the way the ending cut off after giving just enough information for the reader to know what happened next. It was skillfully told.

“Everdeath” by Qril was brilliant! A poem that basically describes a total party kill from the perspective of the demon that did the deed, it was phenomenally told. I loved that it rhymed without feeling forced. Each member of the deceased fantasy party (cleric, minstrel, wizard, etc) had their own stanza. It was witty, dark, and altogether a great read. Absolutely genius.

Last, but most certainly not least, I was fascinated by the editorial piece “Differences in Dark Fantasy Subgenres”, written by Kade Draven. I was actually discussing dark fantasy, grimdark, and horror with a friend the other day and how the lines between them can get a little blurred. I really liked reading Kade Draven’s knowledgeable and well researched take on it. It was also a really smart addition to a magazine that will feature a little bit of each subgenre. I’ll be gnawing on this piece for quite a while.

The Common Tongue will be a great magazine for those who enjoy a macabre read, who appreciate that darker area and the things that often lurk in it.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Hendersen

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her. (taken from Amazon)

This is going to be a very odd, convoluted review. I have very mixed thoughts on this one, so of course I’ll be unable to do much but blather. You have been warned.

The Year of the Witching felt like a mash-up of The Crucible and M. Night’s The Village, with some Anne Rice thrown in for good measure. It was haunting and I won’t forget it in a hurry.

The first thing I noticed was the author’s incredible ability to make a small, simple setting seem ominous and fraught with peril. The book takes place in a small, puritanical village. Women are seen as secondary to men and the Prophet controls everything. He uses fear and years of tradition to keep his cult in line. It was uncomfortable to read, but also fascinating. It got me mulling over the differences between obedience through faith and obedience through fear.

The book follows Immanuel, an illegitimate child of a woman who cheated on her betrothed with an Outskirter, a man of a different race and religion. That union does not end well, and Immanuel is raised by the family her mother was supposed to marry into. Immanuel tries to be subservient, the way women are supposed to be in this society, but instead is drawn in the Darkwood, a place of witches and curses. Something is started that only she can stop, if anyone can.

The characters themselves were interesting. The Prophet gave me major ick vibes (he’s supposed to), and at times it became too much. He legitimately scared me because he was utterly believable. In fact, the entire book got under my skin. It borrowed in deep and ended up really unsettling me.

I’m not sure entirely what was so disturbing about this book. I definitely think the overcontrolling patriarchy was part of it, as were the witches themselves. Nothing was overdone; Hendersen kept a balance between the “everyday life” of the book, and the creepiness that slowly bled into that. The curses themselves were set in motion in a way that just really bothered me.

That being said, the book is absolutely engrossing. The slower buildup complimented the claustrophobic feel of the town, and Immanuel’s discontent with the religion and fear of her disobedience being discovered just added to that. Despite being incredibly unsettled, I wanted to know how it ended. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book to every horror reader, but if you like subtle atmospheric horror, this will suit you.

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

Hallotober Book Tag

Image credit: unknown

Thank you to Leah at Leah’s Books for inviting me to do this fun tag! If you don’t follow her blog, you really should: it’s fantastic.

Hallotober Rules

  1. Thank the person who tagged you and link to their post 
  2. Put the rules at the beginning or after introduction
  3. Answer the 13 questions 
  4. Tag 13 people to do the tag 
  5. Delete Question 13, add a new number one question of your own
  6. You are free to use the tag image somewhere in the post

Questions:

1.What is your favorite horror novel or short story?

I am not sure if this even falls on the “horror” spectrum anymore, or if it’s just gothic fiction, but I love The Vampire Lestat. Interview With the Vampire, The Queen of the Damned, and The Vampire Lestat are all fabulous, actually, but Lestat is my favorite of the three books.

2.What was the last Halloween costume you wore?

I went as a rêveur from The Night Circus a few years back. It was a last-minute costume, but it worked out okay.

3. What is your favorite fall snack?

I don’t have a favorite snack (I do like candy corn, though). In fall, I like to drink chai with an espresso shot added. Yum!

Do you carve pumpkins?

Ohhh, no. I have a toddler tornado, and there is no way he should be allowed anywhere near any sharp object. Plus, my oldest would loathe the feel of pumpkin guts, so we choose to paint pumpkins instead. When my oldest was a little guy, he said he wanted to paint his orange.

Do you prefer horror movies or stories?

I don’t really have a preference. I like eerie over gory, so I tend to stick to the more gothic ghostly side of things. If it’s creepy, I don’t really care what the medium is.

What is your favorite Halloween memory?

I dressed up as my husband one year. It was really last minute. I actually drew a beard on with eyeliner in the car. People loved it. Huzzah for last minute costumes!

Do you prefer to give our candy or get candy?

Neither. I like taking my kids out to get the candy.

Do you decorate for Halloween or Fall?

I’ve been a homeschool mom for years, so there’s usually a kid-created seasonal decoration up somewhere. We’ve dropped the ball this year, but seriously: it’s 2020.

Do you have a favorite urban legend? If so, what is it?


I’m partial to the legend of the mombie. You know, the scary, sleep-deprived mother who stumbles around moaning, searching for coffee. You can find her hiding in any home with young children.

Would you rather spend a night in a grave yard or a haunted house?

Hmm…that depends. Is the grave yard haunted?

What is your favorite spooky movie?


This isn’t a horror, but I absolutely love Fallen, starring Denzel Washington. It definitely needs more appreciation. Give it a watch (rated R, so do your homework first).

What is your favorite character from a horror movie or book?


If Bunnicula doesn’t count (ha!), I’ll have to go with Lestat. I like how he’s a bundle of contradictions.

What kinds of books always put you in the Halloween/Fall mood?


Ghost stories or mysteries make me feel Halloweeny (is that a word?) and I reread Dragons of Autumn Twilight every Fall.

This was fun! Here are my questions:

1.What is your favorite horror novel or short story?

2.What was the last Halloween costume you wore?

3. What is your favorite fall snack?

4.Do you carve pumpkins?

5.Do you prefer horror movies or stories?

6.What is your favorite Halloween memory?

7.Do you prefer to give out candy or get candy?

8.Do you decorate for Halloween or fall?

9.Do you have a favorite urban legend? If so what is it?

10.Would you rather spend a night in a grave yard or a haunted house?

11.What is your favorite spooky movie?

12.Who is your favorite character from a horror movie or book?

13.Which is your favorite Universal Monster?


I’m not tagging anyone, but feel free to join the fun! Please link me, so I don’t miss your answers. Happy Halloween!

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

As soon as I started this book, I was presented with a problem: do I read it as quickly as possible to see what happens next? Or do I drag it out as long as I can, enjoying Stephen Chbosky’s fantastic writing? Ultimately, the choice was made for me; I couldn’t put it down.


I’ll start with the characters. They were wonderfully three-dimensional, every one of them. Christopher was such a sweet little boy and I absolutely loved his mom. She was a fighter in every sense of the world. With the many characters this book had, the fact that they were all well developed and had distinct personalities was impressive, to say the least.

In this book, Christopher goes missing for several days. He shows up again, thanks to the “nice man”, whom no-one else has seen. He’s not the same, though. He has a friend that no one else can see. Thanks to this friendship, Christopher learns that he has a very important job that only he can complete. It he doesn’t finish by Christmas, all hell will break loose.

Normally at this point in a horror review, an excellent writer will be called “the next Stephen King”, or some such thing. I can’t do that, though. Chbosky’s writing is so unique that there’s no comparing it to anyone else. His book was very cerebral. To be honest, it got under my skin. He has a knack for knowing exactly what wigs me out. There are layers upon layers in this book, and it kept me fascinated from start to finish.

I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say this: this is a horror book and some people do horrific things. There might be things that would trigger some, so be aware of that as you read. Normally, some of the things touched upon would really bother me, but it was written in a way that I was able to handle.

For those who haven’t recognized the name, Stephen Chbosky is the author of the absolutely incredible The Perks of Being a Wallflower (if you haven’t read it yet, you really need to rectify that problem. I’ll wait). The fact that he is able to write such disparate genres speaks highly of his ability to weave a tale. He also somehow managed to make me tear up at parts, then scare the living daylights out of me a chapter later. Chbosky is a master in his craft.

Read this book.








The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter

In Victorian England, a savvy spiritual medium must outsmart the most important client of her career: a scientist determined to expose frauds like her.

But their game of wits has fatal consequences when a vengeful spirit answers their summons. If they cannot put aside their prejudices—and growing passion—and find a way to banish the ghost together, one of them could be its next victim.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by bestselling authors Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene has many of the trappings of good horror: an old manor with a violent history, a medium (albeit a skeptical one), and plenty of things that go bump in the night. There were things that worked well, and things that didn’t.

This book followed Beatrix Greene, a spiritualist by profession, but not in actuality. She doesn’t believe in that stuff, thank you very much, but a job is a job. However, if she is exposed as a fraud, there goes her livelihood. So when she meets James Walker, a scientist who makes a habit of debunking fake mediums, Beatrix is justifiably nervous. Instead of trying to expose Beatrix, James hires her to spend a night in an old manor to decide if it is truly haunted. Joining them are: Harry, Beatrix’s friend and a rather lousy actor; Amanda, a hired photographer; and Stanhope, a friend of James. Hijinks ensue.

The bones of the story (pun intended) were interesting and it’s obvious that the authors have a love of the eerie. I loved the atmosphere of the book- at least, I loved the first bit. Later on, it went from creeptastic to gory, which kind of bummed me out. It was an abrupt shift that didn’t really work for me.

There were mysteries to solve, and spooks aplenty. My biggest issue with the book was that it felt rushed. The pacing was off. I felt that it could have benefitted from a few extra chapters and a slower buildup to give the creep factor time to set in. It was almost too quick to really appreciate, honestly. There was so much happening that deserved more attention than it was given.

If I look at this book as more of a campfire tale than a horror novel, I’d say it delivers some fun spook. I didn’t love it, but I certainly didn’t hate it. My final takeaway is that, while there were some thrills, there weren’t any chills.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic' Review: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Reinvigorates A ...

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.   
 
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
 
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. 
 
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t usually give trigger warnings in my posts. However, I’m going to give one here because I really wish I’d been given one. This book contains more than one instance of sexual assault. If I had been aware of that going in, I would not have read this book. So. There’s that.

In many aspects, this is a typical gothic novel. It contains many of the things often found in creeptastic books. Isolated rundown mansion? Check. Help staff that has been there forever and is eerily silent? Check. Possible mental illness? Check. Tragic, violent past? Check. Hallucinations-or are they hauntings? Check.

However, Noemi is a fresh take on the heroine. She’s a little spoiled and quite used to getting her way. Being thwarted at every turn only serves to increase her determination to figure out what’s going on. I liked that it explained why she wouldn’t cut and run when it became clear that something wasn’t right.

The other cast of characters were original spins on the usual tropes. There’s Virgil, who personifies the word “vile”; Florence, a strict woman who really dislikes Noemi; Howard, the old and wizened patriarch; Frances, the pale tortured young man; and Constance, the cousin who might be having a nervous breakdown.

In case you haven’t realized it by now, I didn’t care for this book. I was disgusted by the sexual aspects in this book, I was not surprised by any of the “twists,” and the final reveal bordered on the ridiculous. That being said, the descriptions were well done. The author made sure to use all the sense when describing the setting, which made it feel much more real.

If you can handle harsher content, you might enjoy this book. As for me, I was underwhelmed.

 

The Netflix Book Tag

I saw this great tag on Reader Gal’s blog. Her blog is awesome, so make sure to check it out. Original credit for this tag goes to A Book Lovers Playlist. Since we all sometimes put our books on hold to binge a show on Netflix, I think this makes for a fun tag. Here goes nothing:Recently Finished- the last book you finishedIt was either Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls or Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan (my review). I actually think I finished them both on the same day. I really need to make more of an effort to mark my books “read” on Goodreads the day I finish them.Top Picks- A book that was recommended to you based on books you have previously readDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style was suggested to me by Irresponsible Reader (follow his blog!) based on my review of A World Without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age (review here).Recently Added- the last book you boughtI grabbed The Library of the Unwritten, which I’m dying to read. Have I started it yet? Um…Popular on Netflix- Books that everyone knows about (2 you’ve read and 2 you have no interest in )I read and loved both The Ten Thousand Doors of January and Daisy Jones and the Six. I think both of those are ubiquitous at this point. I have absolutely no interest in The Gilded Wolves or Gideon the Ninth.Comedies- a funny bookFowl Language: Winging It had me in stitches. That little duck really understands parenting.Dramas- a character who is a drama king/queenCity of Bones. Both Clary and Jace rate pretty stinking high on the drama-o-meter.Animated- a book with cartoons on the coverI’m not sure if this counts, but I’m going with Thornhill (click on book name to get review).Watch It Again- a book/series you want to rereadI reread both The Night Circus and The Dragonlance Chronicles every year.Documentaries- a non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyoneI loved For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and More . Okay, the name is a bit much. Actually, it’s way too much. The book is excellent, though.Action and Adventure- and action-packed bookKings of the Wyld is chock-full of action. It also has amazing writing, and a sense of fun that it seems a lot of fantasy has been missing lately. I highly recommend it.Well, there it is. What do you think of my answers? I’m not going to tag anyone here, but I’ll probably bug a few people on Twitter. Ha ha! If you do participate, please tag me,so I can see your answers.