Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book Review: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (2004)

John M. Barry's The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History is dense and fascinating, with some occasionally strained prose and conclusions that nevertheless underline the severity of the subject matter. Overall, it's a great primer on the rise of good medical science in the US and its response to a powerful virus.

First, Barry establishes the setting: a country where doctors are barely trained and frequently incompetent, at least until William Welch begins collecting talented physicians and researchers for the opening of the Johns Hopkins in 1893. The institution revolutionized medical education and produced brilliant scientists who would play key roles in fighting the 1918 pandemic: Oswald Avery at the Rockefeller Institute, William Park and Anna Williams at the New York City Department of Public Health, and Paul Lewis at the University of Pennsylvania, to name a few. By chronicling the remarkable speed of the transformation of US medicine in the late 19th and early 20th century, Barry illustrates both the strengths and the limitations that American physician-scientists brought to the table once the virus begins its attack.

And what a virus it is! Influenza is the villain in the book, with its cellular biology and mechanisms explained in great detail to highlight how it can be almost unbeatable. (Although this virologist posted some corrections.) Under its onslaught, victims multiplied rapidly, coughed up blood, turned black, and died very, very quickly. The suffering that accompanied the deaths was similarly horrific: people too sick to care for themselves starved to death, medical personnel also expired in droves, and entire cities ground to a standstill as isolation became the norm. And all this happened during World War I, so the country's resources were geared towards the military--which, as Barry notes, was likely the starting point of the outbreak, with soldiers suffering high casualties.

Barry adds two secondary villains to his tale: misinformation and poor leadership. He describes how major newspapers minimized the dangers and risks, choosing to blare about hand washing and not spitting in public. He makes the case that fear of the unknown is the worst, so first we need to make things known, and then the fear can be stopped. The author also points to many political leaders who reacted too slowly to the virus, despite being warned ahead of time about its potency and likely effects on areas under their governance. Barry even suggests that President Woodrow Wilson was a victim of the great influenza, contrasting his firm stance against the demands of the French to his capitulation to the Treaty of Versailles after he gets sick. Apparently, that particular strain of the flu could have had neurological side effects as well, in which case it contributed to post-WWI Germany and the rise of fascism!

In any case, effective villains require great heroes, and here Barry supplies readers with a host of medical professionals who worked frantically to identify the virus and concoct vaccines. Again, Barrys' writing is terrific when describing the application of science: of how the virus is injected into animals, how serum is created, the many attempts to isolate the correct pathogen, etc. The personal stories of the scientists are also woven seamlessly into their struggles. The American Red Cross and even high society play their own critical roles in directing supplies and assets to the affected. These are tight, tense chapters.

However, there's a tendency toward purple prose (e.g. the overdone repetition of "this was influenza, only influenza") at some points, which is jarringly different from the clear, enjoyable narrative flow that makes up the rest of the book. This attempt at drama is most obvious when Barry focuses on Lewis, a highly respected researcher who he contends is the last victim of the pandemic when he died of yellow fever in 1929. Lewis' output diminished after the pandemic, he was antisocial, and his marriage was troubled, but it's still unclear how the influenza pandemic, which Lewis studied--like hundreds of others--led to his death. Barry seems to be reaching here?

In conclusion, The Great Influenza is well researched and combines a number of different elements to craft a compelling history of a virus, those who fell to it, and those who fought valiantly against it. It's instructive, interesting, and a page-turner! It also shows that some things never change; two words: nursing shortage.

TL;DR: Get your flu shot.

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This post brought to you by subzero temperatures!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Game Review: Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PS4)

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the darkest, most mature entry in the Tomb Raider trilogy. It's a brisk adventure with familiar gameplay elements, the usual world-ending stakes, and a heroine on the verge of completing the grim journey she started all those years ago. Overall, it's a thrilling action/adventure game that adds more depth to the iconic Tomb Raider.

The game begins in media res: Lara and Jonah are on a damaged helicopter about to plummet into the Peruvian jungle. Cut to: a flashback-slash-game controls tutorial retracing Lara's steps prior to the crash. Then the action starts up properly, and it's tomb raiding we shall go!

Shadow of the Tomb Raider does many things exceptionally well, including gameplay, controls, combat, and sound. In this adventure, Lara is closing in on Trinity, the ancient secret organization responsible for her personal tragedies. The group's leader and second-in-command are now known entities, as is their goal: the knife-and-box combo of Chak Chel and Ix Chel, the two faces of a Mayan goddess, representing life and death. Something something eclipse apocalypse, and only Lara can do a thing on time to save the world!

Early on, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does something unexpected: it has Lara screw up, big time. Now her mission is to fix her mistake, in ways that will be predictable to those who played the previous two Tomb Raider games: raid tombs and kick butt! Sidequests are also introduced, adding a different dimension to Lara's progress.

The most frequent activity here is exploring, which involves gravity-defying leaps and goddesslike upper body strength. (In the recent movie version, Alicia Vikander absolutely nailed how buff Lara would have to be to perform all her feats.) While the visuals in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy are prettier to look at, it's a joy to bound across chasms and scale sheer cliffs in Lara's pursuit of relics, and by the same token, absolutely nerve-wracking to venture into the darkness of vast underground structures littered with bones and corpses and haunted by unseen skittering creatures.

Game controls are easy and intuitive. Movement is effortless: Lara automatically balances when she's on a narrow ledge or ramp, and she never falls off edges. Switching between weapons, and even subcategories within one weapon, is a breeze. Lara can also use different herbs to enhance her abilities, again with simple button combinations. The only issue I encountered, which Hubby commented on, is the difficult camera angle during aiming--Lara tracks targets relatively slowly, so it takes a while to center on an enemy for a shot.

That aside, combat mechanics are terrific. Outnumbered at every turn, our intrepid heroine must use the environment to conceal herself, stealthily removing isolated guards one by one. But if direct confrontation is the only way, she can just as easily take out multiple bad guys with a single strategic shot (at a conveniently-placed barrel of oil, etc.) However, fighting is definitely a challenge; I especially remember the first time I had to face the Ixaal, zombie-like creatures living in fetid subterranean caves. It was like a horror movie, except I had a shotgun and, wouldn't you know it, cases of unused shotgun shells lying around!

Having ammunition always on hand is just one of the many laughable (but fun!) gameplay elements in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Another are the historical/classified documents scattered everywhere, which is fine with me because they reward observant players and add to the overall story. But the winner of the Unintentionally Humorous category goes to Lara's comically gruesome death sequences. While they're less over-the-top than in the previous installments, they also beg the question: Lara trips and gets impaled on a spike, but doesn't die from inhaling mold or from some viral illness during all her gallivanting? I mean, she literally gets mauled by a jaguar at one point, and is like, "Ow, my back hurts." Plot Armor at its best, folks.

Moving on: costumes! Accessories! Merchants! All of the above make advancing the plot easier, hurray! The costumes are especially satisfying, as they are rewards from completing challenge tombs.

Human connection is a new theme in the game. To that end, the new sidequests feature in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which are optional, serve to strengthen Lara's ties to the people in the towns she visits, making her more sympathetic. For the main storyline, her most important relationship, apart from with Jonah, is with Unuratu, whose unyielding strength of conviction makes an impression on the adventurer. Like Lara, Unuratu fights against Trinity, against the idea of using power to unilaterally "save" others. "We make our own destiny, together," she declares. Lara would later echo her, after finally realizing that she can't do it all alone.

As with the previous games in the series, Lara's growth is a main focus. In this third and final game, Lara confronts her reasons for hunting Trinity ("I could have had a family."), and her frequently dangerous (to herself and others) obsessiveness. She's come so far from the innocent young woman who washed ashore on a cursed island and had to traumatically kill someone for the first time, in mud and dirt. Shadow of the Tomb Raider gives players that scene again, but this time with a harder Lara, who is *clap* not *clap* having *clap* it. There's also a shot of her wrathfully rising out of water that made Hubby go, "That's badass!"

Yes, she is! And she has learned lessons and she has grown and she has changed. The developers, cast, and crew did a terrific job with Lara, using the trilogy to tell the story of how she eventually became the unflinching, unflappable, sexy af tomb raider of my childhood. It's been a hell of a ride. Thank you all.

Finally, some standout moments from Shadow of the Tomb Raider:

  • Players can meet little Lara and understand that surviving serious injury is actually one of her childhood traits!
  • Jonah, on Lara's plot-advancing powers: "If it were you, it would've worked." 
  • Lara, to a  hidden survival cache: "Come to Lara." Me: @_@

TL;DR: A perfect end to the trilogy. Now waiting for the Uncharted crossover with Zoe and Nadine. It shall be called...Uncharted Raider.

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This post brought to you by dimsum!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book vs. TV: The Haunting of Hill House


My ducklings, my gift to you this during this solstice season is: you don't have to read or watch The Haunting of Hill House, because I did it for you! Merry merry!

First, the basics: the OG The Haunting of Hill House is a 1959 horror novel written by Shirley Jackson. It's a classic of the genre, with extraordinary prose, brilliant handling of themes, a fragile protagonist, and the vividly ominous Hill House. In the book, Dr. Montague wants to write about the purported hauntings at the property, and three people show up to join his week-long investigation: main character Eleanor, the free-spirited psychic Theo, and the charming Luke, heir to Hill House. The only other characters are the unfriendly Dudleys, who maintain the house. Hauntings occur during the guests' stay, culminating in a tragic ending.

Meanwhile, the The Haunting of Hill House Netflix series is a 10-episode horror/drama about a family that falls apart during a summer spent at Hill House. Each (surviving) family member continues to be broken in some form, and Hill House lurks constantly in the background, waiting for their return. The show takes its inspiration from the book, and so is its own contained story, one that borrows certain elements from the source material and attaches them as appropriate.

Below a Venn diagram illustrating my point:


The show calls back to the book in small, powerful ways. One is the lifting of lines, verbatim in certain cases, from the novel. Jackson's writing is so strong that her words reverberate long past the final chapter, so the quotes used by the show are instantly recognizable. The opening paragraph of the novel, which immediately sets the tone for the malevolent secrets of Hill House, also serves as the first line on the show, to the same effect. Mrs. Dudley's "in the night, in the dark" monologue is present in both mediums, and Eleanor's cup of stars makes an appearance, altered from Jackson's original version.

Character names on the show are another book reference. Book Eleanor is TV Nell (a nickname for Eleanor), Luke is her twin brother, Theo their older sister, and Hugh their dad. There are also guest appearances, of a sort--there's a Dr. Montague, Arthur (in a scene with the best meet-cute), and even Shirley. As a fan of the book, I appreciate those little Easter eggs.

Obviously, both works examine ghosts. In the novel, personal torments appear to be the strongest factor in the hauntings. One character in particular is overwhelmed by Hill House, which, according to the author, is "not sane" because it exists "under conditions of absolute reality." The manifestations of this reality are too terrible for the victim, who has a lethal moment of insanity. Meanwhile, in the show, Hill House appears to collect unhappy souls, who then recruit others in gruesome, terrifying ways.

But which one is scarier?, you ask. Oh, the show, by far. It has the requisite apparitions and incredibly effective horror music, plus there are numerous hidden ghosts in otherwise ordinary scenes. In addition, it becomes increasingly difficult to watch because none of the characters deserve the horrors visited upon them (except Steve, who sucks.). The show is excellent at building tension and dread through dialogue, framing, music, pacing, and of course, the phenomenal cast and crew. There are two episodes that come to mind when the phrase "Mind. Blown." absolutely applies, one because of the incredible ending, and another because of the camera work. So, well done, team The Haunting of Hill House!

Finally, a word about endings. As befits two separate stories, the book and the show diverge in their conclusions. Initially, the book ending made me go, "Durr?" but then I came to realize that it was a suitable, if crushing, outcome of everything readers had learned about Hill House and about the characters who stayed there. By contrast, the TV ending made me go, "Dafuq." I felt that it detracted from what viewers had seen of Hill House. I mean, this place is not only insane, it also manipulates time and space, such that what's scream-inducing in one episode turns out to be pitiful in another, and vice versa!

But as hubby is fond of saying: "It's fine! Everything's fine!" So, dear readers, if one of your New Year resolutions is to do something that scares you, then by all means, read the book, then watch the show, and be afraid at night time for weeks, like me!

TL;DR: Scary af, highly recommend both.

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This post brought to you by my year-end sniffles! Yay.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Game Review: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch)

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (XC2) is a massive JRPG that outdoes its sprawling predecessor by adding more, more, more! While it has its share of flaws, XC2 offers so many delights that it's already absorbed 150+ hours of my free time. To put that into context, I usually take 80 hours to 100% complete a JRPG. To quote from Brokeback Mountain: "I wish I could quit yew."

Briefly, XC2 tells the story of Rex and Pyra and their quest to reach Elysium, a paradise in the sky. Rex is an earnest young salvager who conscientiously sends his earnings back home, while Pyra is a mild-mannered and sweet-tempered "Blade," or living weapon, which can be wielded by a "Driver." During their journey, the pair encounter various colorful playable and non-playable characters, formidable monsters, and a group called Torna that wants Pyra's power for its own destructive goals.

Like the first Xenoblade Chronicles, XC2 achieves epic scale through, well, scale: the game takes place on a world called Alrest, which consists of the "Cloud Sea" and continent-sized Titans that house all living organisms, including humans, etc. Running around on a giant being while essentially being a microbe evokes a feeling of wonder, an impression helped immensely by the game's outstanding visuals. Of course, the story is appropriately grand, with the world itself at stake, as usual. What starts out as a rather obvious allegory for climate change and humanity's decline becomes an examination of existence.

Image from gamingbolt.com

Of course, love and friendship make every journey worthwhile, and here XC2 performs very well. Every character is my favorite; I simply can't choose one! The playable characters all have an arc and demonstrate a broad range of emotions and reactions. For example, Rex goes from determined to self-doubting to implacable, while Nia learns to trust, without ever losing her signature snark. Meanwhile, their Blades are loyal, loving, and absolute beasts on the battlefield. And the villains are equally engaging, with motivations and histories that turn them into complex, nuanced, and even tragic figures.

But the best part of XC2 is unquestionably its soundtrack. The musical styles run the gamut: hard rock spurs combat; operatic swoops underscore majestic vistas, slapstick twangs mark humorous interactions; and more! I particularly like "Counterattack" and "Kingdom of Tantal (Day)," but the rest of the OST is so good that I don't mind listening to it on repeat. Kudos to Yasunori Mitsuda, et al for yet another excellent body of work.

The tracks perfectly accompany the fabulous cut scenes, which feature a lot of outstanding fight choreography. The voice acting is top-notch, of course, although I can only speak for the Japanese track, which I switched to early on. I did like the UK accents that I heard before the switch!

Now let's talk about some questionable decisions the developers made. The internet is rife with grumbling about the bloated gameplay (here's one example, from Kotaku). Indeed, XC2 is...very extra. This becomes glaringly apparent during combat and sidequests. In combat, there are Driver combos, Blade combos, Fusion combos, Specials, chain attacks, etc., and while players can master these with practice, the absolutely terrible camera angles ruin the fun. I've gone through countless battles where I deliver a devastating blow, and the camera inexplicably focuses on someone's feet or legs. Why? Why?

The aftermath of combat is also a hot mess. Defeating enemies causes money or items to drop, and players have to run around scooping them up. But! If the enemy is, say, an aerial creature that has to be fought over a cliff, say goodbye to your prizes! Rrrrgh! To say nothing of salvaging rare treasure chests, only to lose your chance to open them because an enemy five levels higher got pulled up too. Kyaaaa!

As for sidequests, there are hundreds of them, if you include the Merc Missions, which is how you raise your Blade's Trust levels and max out their affinity charts to unlock special combat skills and Field skills, which are needed to access buried treasure, secret locations, and possibly the cure to cancer. Merc Missions also increase the development level of the various countries you visit, as do talking to NPCs, buying lots of goods at stores, and becoming the owner of said stores. So simple!

The character designs of certain rare Blades have also been dragged (e.g. see this hilarious article about boob monster Dahlia), although I personally have no issue with them. Yes, main character Pyra is in booty shorts, and it took me about 20 hours of gameplay to become inured to her big boobs (which she keeps calling attention to by clasping her hands in front of her chest), but you know what, she's the Aegis, she can wear whatever she wants! Besides, dear Nia is there for contrast, with nary a centimeter of skin showing below the chin.

50% skin vs. 0% skin

And anyway, Rex is the most ridiculously dressed, since he looks like a goddamn blue clown, pardon my French.

Save the world with these clown feet

Let me end with this gripe: the RNG (random number generator) system for acquiring one of the 28 rare Blades is frustrating. In the game, core crystals can be "resonated" with to acquire Blades. There are common, rare, and legendary core crystals, and, as their names suggest, the corresponding likelihood of resonating with a rare Blade. But in practice, it all boils down to chance. To pluck from my own experience: I got KOS-MOS after spamming 44 common cores, T-elos and Perceval from a single common core each, and Zenobia from a combination of common, rare, and legendary. Again: why? Why??? (Actually, this video explains those mechanics pretty well.)

In any case, the fact that I'm still playing XC2 is testament to its strengths overcoming its weaknesses. The characters are great, the story has a good twist, the themes of relationships, self, and memory are thought-provoking, and the music is spectacular. Although I've finished the game and can move on to New Game+, I still have four rare Blades to acquire, and my current rare Blades' side quests to complete. Then, and only then, will I put this game down. Unless some kind person gives me the DLC Torna: Golden Country *cough*Christmasgift*cough*

TL;DR: Flawed but fun, interminable yet addictive! Recommended for non-casual JRPG fans!

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This post brought to you by lentil chips!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Movie Review: Widows (2018)

Widows is a social commentary disguised as a drama/slow burn thriller. It boasts a phenomenal cast, outstanding music, and a tight script by director Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl infamy). Although some plot turns are predictable, Widows is still a terrific exploration of power--what it gives, takes, and costs, and how an unlikely group of women come into theirs.

In the movie, the death of a group of criminals during a heist acts as the catalyst for the eponymous widows to join forces. Viola Davis plays Veronica, whose husband Harry (Liam Neeson) led the gang of men. Veronica gets stuck with Harry's bill, so she reaches out to Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) with a proposition: do one job with her, pay off the debt, keep the remainder. Twist: they've never done this before!

But actually, the real twist is that Steve McQueen is more interested in the women and their antagonists than in the job. Hence the slow burn; Widows spends a lot of time following Veronica, Linda, and Alice, as well as the men they're up against: dynastic politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), his rival Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), and Jamal's ruthless brother (Daniel Kaluuya). Their confrontations occur during an election campaign: as the men vie for the post of Chicago alderman, the women fight to reassert the power they lost to their husbands. One fight takes place in the public eye, the other under the cover of darkness, and it's the shadowy struggle that has more integrity.

McQueen makes a lot of choices that set this film apart from other heists, with my favorite being an angry back-and-forth in a car where the camera remains focused on the exterior, showing the stark difference between working-class neighborhoods and the "good" neighborhood where Mulligan lives, and highlighting just how close the two places are to each other. The issue isn't distance; it's power. Casting Kaluuya as the enforcer character is also excellent--he absolutely nails it as a genuine threat to the protagonists. Finally, it was a delight to see Elizabeth Debicki playing a normal role, albeit whilst towering over everyone else (she's 6'3). Her character probably has the most growth, not that she needed to grow more! ba-dum-dum Get it? 'Cause she's so tall? I slay.

The job itself occurs after the characters and the social/power dynamics are well established, and I found it thrilling, especially since Hans Zimmer's score during those scenes is reminiscent of horror movies. And the aftermath is *Italian chef kiss*

Overall, Widows is an entertaining film with a message that it alternately hammers home and delicately weaves into the story. Its focus on its title characters and the broader social dynamics they act within is beautifully shot and scored, and the cast is perfect.

TL;DR: Qualifies as a light Steve McQueen film, highly recommended.

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This post brought to you by freezing rain!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Review: Four Fish: the Future of the Last Wild Food (2010)

Paul Greenberg's Four Fish: the Future of the Last Wild Food is a good introduction to aquaculture and the industrial fishing practices that bring us our sashimi and scrod. Greenberg, a fishing enthusiast from an early age, contends that four fish--salmon, bass, cod, and tuna--have come to dominate our dinner plates. He devotes a chapter to each fish, vividly describing their physical and physiological characteristics, their range and habits, as well as the evolution of humanity's methods for catching them in increasingly larger numbers.

In this way, Greenberg underlines the inherent lack of sustainability in our collective fishing processes. Overfishing has had such a devastating impact on the focus populations, and Greenberg advocates for government regulation, showing that fish numbers tend to recover when official intervention gives them breathing room. His dismissal of individual consumer choice as a significant influence on the fishing industry is an interesting departure from other food books that I've read. He does have a point--if governments prevented overfished families from reaching the market in the first place, then ordinary folks wouldn't have to vote with their wallet, as it were. Greenberg thinks subsidizing artisanal fishing is the way to go.

Whether or not that has a snowball's chance in hell of happening, I learned a lot from this book! For instance, I found out that the larval stage has astronomically high mortality rates, so the fish we currently eat are those bred to survive that stage (if farmed), or are tough and/or lucky (if wild). I also had no idea that it takes so much fish feed to grow a fish. I was blissfully ignorant about how Chile, Norway, Alaska, and other places supply our sources of omega-3 fatty acids. I had zero clue that party boats for fishing were a thing. Finally, until I saw the cover of this book, I did not know what the eponymous four fish looked like in their non-filleted form. The more you know!

In conclusion, Four Fish is an informative, enjoyable read that practically radiates with the author's love and enthusiasm for, and deep connection to, the subject matter. The prose is clear, the ideas flow well, and best of all, I came away feeling that there are viable solutions to overfishing...if only we could get our act together, which we occasionally do!

TL;DR: A fun, educational book!

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This post brought to you by US midterm elections!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Review, Halloween Edition: The Little Stranger (2009)

'Tis the season to be...spooked!, so I heartily recommend The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. The novel is set in postwar England and the bulk of the action takes place in Hundreds Hall, a deteriorating mansion owned by the Ayres family. Waters' writing here is incredible, as she deftly intertwines themes of loss, family, societal shifts, and also, ghosts. It's a riveting read, and makes me want to see all the works of this author.

The protagonist in The Little Stranger is Dr. Faraday, a rural doctor who has a history with Hundreds Hall, having visited as a child. Thirty years later, he is called there for a medical check-up, and soon his visits become more regular. Through Faraday, readers realize just how far Hundreds has fallen from its glory days. The author vividly describes the estate's decline, which coincides with the deterioration of the family that owns it.

The Little Stranger is a slow burn, and a lot of space is given to illustrating the connection between Hundreds and the Ayres family members. All of them are burdened with their home, to some degree or other. The "master" of the hall, Roderick, is buried in the desperate work of keeping their finances afloat in the midst of a recession and postwar austerity measures. His older sister Caroline is a spinster who is reduced to household work because they can only afford one maid. And their mother, Mrs. Ayres, is in a perpetual (but hidden) state of grief over Susan, her first daughter, who died at Hundreds as a young girl.

Now, the trailer for the movie adaptation starring Domnhall Gleeson makes it seem like Susan is the ghost, but it's more complex than that. In Dr. Faraday's narration, the main characters perceive Hundreds Hall in starkly different ways: Faraday, the outsider, a man from a working-class background, sees a chance at healing and a return to glory; while the Ayres family gloomily foretell its demise, along with the end of the aristocratic class.

These opposing views come into relief once eerie events begin happening. As the Ayres fortunes become even worse, Roderick and Caroline--both sensible, stiff-upper-lip types--blame something in the house. By contrast, Faraday has reasoned explanations for everything. His skepticism and the bizarre nature of the Ayres' misfortunes create a tension and keep readers guessing about what's really going on. The cause, the "little stranger" of the title, is actually explained much later on, and it adds another layer to the mystery of what is ailing the mansion and its inhabitants. Are Faraday's rational conclusions correct? Or is something else at work at Hundreds Hall?

Whatever the case may be, the excellent writing is indisputable. Waters makes Hundreds Hall into another character, at turns pitiful, malevolent, and inviting. Her descriptions of the interiors of the estate are so clear that at one point, I put the book down and half-expected to see dilapidated wallpaper and antique furniture. The "hauntings" are also deliciously spooky, with the standout being a series of occurrences involving the nursery. Finally, kudos to Waters for writing a gothic horror/romance novel where the heroine is repeatedly described as looking like a real person, with big ol' thighs and whatnot, instead of a delicate beauty with slender fingers and suchlike.

In conclusion, The Little Stranger is a well written piece of historical horror fiction, and might I suggest reading it before watching its movie version, which came out in August and will hopefully be on cable sometime soon!

TL;DR: A haunting, disturbing read, perfect for Halloween!

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This post brought to you by Swedish chocolate!