Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen.
When I first began reading Dust by Arthur Slade, I didn’t realize it was a YA novel. To me, the writing was cold and hypnotic, and it unfolded the way that darker, more severe, stories about serial killers and children do. Nevertheless, this is most assuredly a young adult dark fantasy.
Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen. Unaware of the danger, the local farmers and the town’s banker fall under his spell and buy into his scheme to save them from the drought. Good luck with that.
As we follow an eleven-year-old boy named Robert, who is desperately searching for his younger brother, Matthew, we come to learn that not only has Matthew disappeared but many other children have as well. And the grownups don’t seem to notice—or care. When we come to know Robert, we can see why he believes it is up to him to find his brother.
One of my favorite things about this novel is the world-building. It takes place in Horshoe, a small town in Saskatchewan during a terrible drought. In the US, the drought occurred in the early 1930s and led to the Dust Bowl. Farmers are barely able to grow any crops due to a lack of rain. It’s always hot, and there’s dust everywhere—grit that blows into peoples’ homes, clings to their clothes, and invades their food. It’s this kind of detail that makes Dust such a compelling read.
Teaser trailer for The Girl in the Mirror, a Sarah Greene Mystery.
Check out the teaser trailer for my new paranormal mystery, The Girl in the Mirror. This is the first book in my new Sarah Greene Mysteries series, and I couldn’t be more excited. Enjoy!
While renovating an old house in Dos Santos, Sarah Greene discovers a conjuring mirror holding the spirit of a teenage girl. As she learns more about the parents who owned Casa Abrigo—and about their strange son, Peter—Sarah comes to believe the girl did not die a natural death and sets out to discover the truth. But prying into the past is dangerous and could put Sarah in terrible danger.
By the time I reached my twenties, I had seen a number of Mexican films, many of them produced during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. My favorites were those directed by the incomparable Spanish director Luis Buñuel—titles such as ‘Subida al cielo,’ ‘Ensayo de un crimen,’ and ‘Nazarín.’ Recently, I saw ‘Roma’ by Alfonso Cuarón, the talented director of ‘Y Tu Mamá También,’ ‘Children of Men,’ and ‘Gravity.’ And, like those great films of the golden age, I was thrilled to see Cuarón had decided to tell his story in black-and-white. Here is the film’s logline:
A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Doesn’t sound all that compelling when you put it that way, right? Well, this film has depth, my friend. And tragedy, suffering, and love. But it is also a celebration of the everyday lives of women who must go on, no matter the obstacles. For me, three things stood out.
A Woman’s Plight Is Universal When we first meet the maid Cleo, we see her washing down the enclosed patio of the family’s home in the city. The director starts and ends the movie with water. Water washes, it breaks—signaling birth—and it almost kills in the form of an angry ocean.
Cleo is sweet and beloved by the family. As she goes about her daily duties, her mistress Sra. Sofía is coming apart as her marriage crumbles before her eyes, her husband having decided to leave the children and her for another woman. Then, after repeated sex with her boyfriend Fermín, Cleo finds herself pregnant. When she informs him, his churlish response is, “What’s it to me?”
Unlike the heartless men in this story, the women band together. Upon learning of her condition, Sra. Sofía doesn’t hesitate to assure Cleo that everything will be fine and that she must remain with the family. As time goes on, she even sends Cleo and Sra. Sofía’s mother to the furniture store to purchase a crib.
There’s really nothing new in the situations these women find themselves in. But it’s their response to misfortune and their determination to carry on that’s so moving. Toward the end of the film, Sra. Sofía tells Cleo, “No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.”
Violence Is Easy, Love Is Hard ‘Roma’ takes place in the early 1970s against a backdrop of violence. Protesting students are shot dead in the streets by the police. The Tlatelolco massacre, during which nearly fifty civilians were killed at the hands of the police and the army, had actually occurred in 1968. I’m curious to know whether the violence continued into the 1970s as the film suggests. What struck me most about those chaotic scenes was, one minute the cops are sitting around smoking, and the next they are firing into the crowd.
Speaking of violence, Fermín’s answer to his miserable upbringing is to better himself through martial arts. Though he has the talent and the discipline for it, he has none of the maturity. He’s still as angry as ever and, after hearing he is a father, he threatens to beat up Cleo—and her unborn child. Then later at the furniture store, he joins in the street violence, shooting the innocent.
Family Is Everything Overall, aside from the doctor who attends Cleo at the hospital, men don’t come out looking too good in this thing. They are, for the most part, corrupt, self-centered, and brutish. In the final scenes, it’s the women and the children who are left behind to get on with their lives.
Cleo loves the family so much that, when two of the children are carried off in the waves of a turbulent sea, she goes in to rescue them, even though she cannot swim. In the end, she doesn’t have Fermín, and she doesn’t have her child. But she has the family.
I don’t recall where I first came across The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, but when I read the book description, I knew I had to have it. I won’t go into the details of the novel since its breadth is vast and includes dozens of fascinating characters, not the least of which are Woland and his bizarre retinue. Here is a highly condensed plot summary that I adapted from Wikipedia:
Satan appears in Moscow at the Patriarch Ponds in the guise of “Professor Woland,” along with a retinue that includes the grotesquely dressed valet Koroviev, a gun-happy, fast-talking black cat Behemoth, a fanged hitman named Azazello, and Hella, a beautiful female vampire. As soon as they arrive, they begin wreaking havoc. First up on the list is the murder of Berlioz, the head of the literary bureaucracy Massolit.
Major episodes in the novel’s first half include a satirical portrait of Massolit and their Griboyedov house; Satan’s magic show at the Variety Theatre, satirizing the vanity, greed, and gullibility of the new Russian elite; and Woland and his retinue taking over the late Berlioz’s apartment.
Part two introduces Margarita, the mistress of an embittered author, known as the Master, who has written a book about Pontius Pilate. She refuses to despair over her lover or his work and vows to remain with him rather than going back to her husband. Later, she is invited to the Devil’s midnight ball, where Woland offers her the chance to become a witch with supernatural powers.
As a reward for serving as hostess of the ball, Woland grants Margarita a wish, which he had expected her to use to release her lover—but which she spends instead on Pontius Pilate, freeing him from his shackle of guilt and infamy and allowing him, at last, to walk alongside Jesus, whose philosophy he so admired. Then, thanks to Woland, the Master and Margarita “die” only to leave civilization with the Devil as all of Moscow’s cupolas and windows burn in the setting Easter sun.
Okay, let’s get started.
Never Accept Anything from the Devil Most people know this, but that doesn’t stop an audience at the Variety Theatre from taking Koroviev’s irresistible offer of free money and new clothes and running into the street, where the clothes suddenly vanish, and the money turns into strips of blank paper—or worse, foreign currency, which is illegal.
The corollary to this advice is, never get into an argument with the devil—especially over something you know nothing about. Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz learns this lesson the hard way at the beginning of the novel when he attempts to tell Woland that Jesus never actually existed, thus promoting the state’s official atheist position. Irritated with this pompous ass, Woland arranges for Berlioz to die in a freak accident with a tram, where he is quickly dispatched by beheading.
Totalitarianism Makes Everyone a Crook During the period in which the novel was written, Bulgakov was living in the Soviet Union under Stalin. As the author described it, pretty much everyone was conning everyone for money, power, position, or a combination of all three. People were hoarding rubles under mattresses and foreign currency in hidden compartments.
Because decent apartments were so hard to come by in Moscow, people resorted to all kinds of deception. Styopa, the director of the Variety Theatre and Berlioz’s roommate at Bolshaya Sadovaya 302-bis, had denounced at least five innocent people as spies just so he and Berlioz could acquire their spacious apartment.
Russians Are as Nutty as We Are The characters portrayed in the novel are not only colorful but easily recognizable. They long for love and money. Husbands cheat on wives, and wives on husbands. They insult one another and kiss up, depending on the circumstances. They overeat and overdrink. They gossip. And some end up in the loony bin.
The Master is residing there, along with a frustrated young poet who goes by the name of Homeless after attempting to chase the devil and catch him for killing his friend Berlioz. George Bengalsky, the master of ceremonies at the Variety Theatre, also ends up in the asylum after having his head torn off, then put back on, when he had the audacity to suggest that what Koroviev was doing onstage was nothing more than tricks and deception.
Wrap-Up The Master and Margarita was written between 1928 and 1940 and is as fresh today as when it was first published in the 1960s. The humor is sharp—sometimes caustic, which is necessary to depict the frustration of living as a “citizen” under Stalin. There’s an especially poignant tone that reflects the sorrow of being an artist in a heartless, atheist state. The novel is a gem that in a highly entertaining way gives everyone their due, including the devil.
If you are looking for a fun middle-grade novel filled with adventure, danger, and sly humor, you should take a look at Secrets of the Book by Erin Fry. I thought the author’s choice of lead characters was interesting. Typically, you give the hero a flaw, like Superman and his sensitivity to Krypton. Which I never really understood because isn’t that where he’s from? Never mind. In this story, Spencer Lemon (pronounced leh-MOHN) suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which means he is slowly going blind. His best friend Gregor is on the spectrum and, as a result, occasionally has episodes when things disrupt his routine and become overwhelming, which essentially defines the entire book, so you can imagine. In lesser hands, these guys would have been relegated to the role of sidekick. But not today.
Now, add a cute, smart girl named Mel and a sketchy old man who goes by “Ed,” and you have the makings for some real excitement. Oh, I almost forgot—there’s this book, and you really shouldn’t mess with it unless you know what you’re doing, which of course, no one does. I mean, the thing has the name Pandora in it. Kind of says it all, don’t you think?
I had a great time reading Secrets of the Book. Fans of KidLit and history should check it out. I’m confident it will have you hooked after the first couple of pages.
Book Description You don’t choose the book—the book chooses you.
Sixth grader Spencer Lemon has a degenerative eye disease—and he’s rapidly losing his eyesight. So he has no idea why he was chosen to guard Pandora’s Book. When Ed, the old guy at the nursing home, hands over the book, he doesn’t get a chance to explain any of the rules to Spencer. Spencer only knows that the book contains famous dead people—people who can be brought back to life. Spencer and his autistic best friend, Gregor, soon figure out how to get people out of the book, but not how to get them back in. Then Ed disappears, and a strange man shows up on Spencer’s doorstep—and he seems to know a lot about Spencer and about Pandora’s Book. Is he one of the bad guys? Or is here to help Spencer unravel the secrets of the book? But there are others interested in Pandora’s Book, others who might use its powers to take over the world. And it’s up to Spencer, along with Gregor and Ed’s mysterious (and cute) granddaughter Mel, to protect the book—and save the world.
Wow, it looks like Spooky Mrs. Green is at it again. If you like witches, werewolves, and vampires, then check out her latest novel, Heart of the Vampire.
It is almost Halloween in Redcliffe, Cornwall, and Jessica Stone is not the woman she used to be. Her summer was hijacked by werewolves, she fell in love with a vampire, and now she is learning how to be a witch, and what it means to celebrate Samhain with her new coven. Her vampire boyfriend, Jack Mason, is busy at work as a police detective, and his identical twin brother Danny, the werewolf alpha, refuses to let go of the woman he has chosen to protect his pack.
Jessica must learn about control, power, and the love that she truly feels for her vampire boyfriend and his brother.
The Redcliffe novels series follow the adventures of bookshop owner Jessica Stone as she meets a man and falls in love, only to discover the hidden werewolf secrets of her close friends. That includes Simon Bunce, manager of the Ship Inn, who turns out to be lieutenant to the Redcliffe werewolf pack, and lover to the wolf alpha Danny Mason. He fights to protect his master from the ethereal animal familiar who threatens to claim their pack. Who knew the Cornish coast could be so deadly?
Find #TheRedcliffeNovels series in bookshops and online and request them in your local library. For buy links and more details, visit Catherine Green at http://catherinegreenauthor.blogspot.co.uk/ You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as @SpookyMrsGreen.
The more I read YA fiction, the more I realize just how hard it is to be a kid nowadays. I won’t bore you with idyllic memories of roasting marshmallows around a campfire, but I will say that for many kids—and parents—today the world is a harsh, unforgiving place fraught with consequences. And this reality was never more evident than in the wonderful new novel by Rebekah Crane entitled The Infinite Pieces of Us. In it, she has given us Esther Ainsworth, a smart, soulful sixteen-year-old girl who has already lived far beyond her years and who is now forced to live in a dry, brittle desert that serves as punishment for something she did and whose secret must never be revealed.
As adults, we are well versed in the notion that we must accept the consequences for our actions. But we also lie—to ourselves and to others—to avoid those consequences, even if only for a while. In this story, Esther learns just how willing adults are to lie to keep the consequences at bay so we can live our lives as though nothing had happened. In such a world, Esther can’t rely on adults for guidance and must turn to her peers, hoping they can help. A touching subplot explores how Esther has fallen away from her sister, Hannah, who blames Esther for ruining her life by making the family move, even though it was their parents’ decision to do so. I found Hannah tragic and vulnerable and could easily picture a sequel starring her.
If you are a parent raising teenagers, read this book. Because these honest, hurt characters will tell you truths that your children will not—that what you see on the surface doesn’t begin to describe the pain and anxiety they carry inside like an even smaller hurt child.
Book Description From the author of The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland comes a hilarious and heartbreaking novel about coming apart, getting it together—and moving on. It’s just a two-hour drive…
Pondering math problems is Esther Ainsworth’s obsession. If only life’s puzzles required logic. Her stepfather’s solution? Avoidance. He’s exiled the family to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to erase a big secret from Esther’s past. So much for the truth. Now for the consequences: an empty swimming pool, a water-sucking cactus outside her window, a goldfish rescued from a church festival, and Esther’s thirst for something real.
Step one: forget about her first love. Step two: make allies. Esther finds them in Jesús from the local coffee bar; a girl named Color who finds beauty in an abandoned video store; Beth, the church choir outcast; and Moss, a boy with alluring possibilities. Step three: confess her secret to those she hopes she can trust. Esther’s new friends do more than just listen. They’re taking Esther one step further.
Together, they hit the road to face Esther’s past head-on. It’s a journey that will lead her to embrace her own truth—in all its glory, pain, and awesomeness.
I suppose if I had been an English Lit major, I would have read this beautifully crafted classic years ago. But I never got around to it until recently. I don’t know what drew me to Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery’s tale of an extraordinary orphan who, by her very nature, continually amazes and confounds everyone in her path. Maybe it was because I have two daughters? Sure, let’s go with that.
What struck me more than anything is Anne’s indomitable spirit. And let me tell you, it’s so contagious that after finishing the novel, I realized that in some ways I had changed, demonstrating once again the power of words to move the human heart. I want to talk about three things I learned, and I hope that for those of you who have not read this lovely book, you will set aside the cozy mysteries and historical romances for a time and introduce yourself to Anne Shirley. Okay, let’s begin.
The Human Spirit Can Soften Even the Most Hardened Hearts By the time Anne arrives at Green Gables, she has charmed the socks off Matthew Cuthbert. This man is the classic strong, silent type, but in his heart burns an eternal child who, in some ways, longs to see the world as Anne does—a wondrous place full of mystery and promise. He had actually gone to the train station to collect a boy from an orphanage to help out at Green Gables now that he and his sister, Marilla, are getting on in years. But due to a mix-up, Anne was sent, and she is the one Matthew finds waiting for him at the station. At first, worried that he would now have to return Anne to the orphanage, he quickly decides that it might not be a bad idea to keep the girl. But he knows his sister, and Marilla surely won’t have it.
Marilla is interesting. Though she and her brother manage a small farm with all the work that entails, I really couldn’t see that things were that bad. There was always plenty of food, a warm house, and beauty all around them in Avonlea. Yet we find that Marilla is a dour woman who never permits herself even a smile. She acts severely, and to meet her, you would think circumstances were much worse. What’s interesting, though, is that secretly Marilla has a sense of humor she keeps to herself.
Despite Marilla’s temperament, Anne manages to convince her to let her stay and then, over the course of the novel, proceeds to soften Marilla’s heart to the point where the old woman can express love outwardly. No one—not even her brother—could do that. Anne’s incredible spirit has triumphed.
Never Underestimate a Girl Though only eleven when she arrives at Green Gables, Anne has already been through a lot. While being passed around from family to family, she learns some useful skills. But adults don’t believe children know anything, which is best illustrated by Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s attitude toward the girl at the beginning of the story.
At one point, Anne is forbidden to see her dearest friend Diana because, through no fault of her own, she served Diana homemade currant wine instead of raspberry cordial. When Mrs. Barry finds her daughter incapacitated, she ends the relationship on the spot, thinking Anne is a wicked, irresponsible girl who has gotten her daughter drunk on purpose.
Later, Diana’s little sister, Minnie May, comes down with croup, leaving the clueless babysitter “helpless and bewildered.” Mr. and Mrs. Barry are away and, as the child’s condition worsens, Diana panics and runs to Green Gables for help. Marilla is also away, and while Matthew goes to get the doctor, Anne accompanies Diana back to her house. Having babysat her share of children, Anne knows well how to treat croup and takes charge, administering regular doses of ipecac. By the time the doctor arrives, the child is sleeping comfortably.
When Mrs. Barry learns that it was Anne who saved her daughter, she happily agrees to allow Diana and her to stay friends.
Recognizing That Mistakes Are Necessary Is Very Grown Up Indeed Anne Shirley makes lots of mistakes throughout the book, exasperating Marilla and making her wonder how she ever let the girl stay. Some of them are funny, like the time Anne leaves a pie in the oven to burn because she is daydreaming. Others are more serious, as when Anne meets the judgmental Mrs. Lynde and screams in her face for insulting her. But in each case, the girl learns something. Take a look at this exchange between Anne and Marilla later in the novel when Anne is older:
“But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”
“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”
“Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”
I’ve known plenty of adults who never figured that one out.
Wrap-Up In a way, Anne Shirley has changed my outlook. I tend to get stressed easily and constantly miss the everyday beauty around me because I’m always focused on getting the next thing done. After finishing the novel, I decided I am going to take more time, enjoy family and friends, and notice things. Yeah, I know. Corny, right? Well, it’s already made a difference. The trick is to keep it up, though. Often, I find myself slipping into old patterns—especially while driving. I sometimes wonder what kind of driver Anne would make. I mean, she does tend to daydream a lot.
Back to the big lesson I learned from reading Anne of Green Gables. It’s about finding joy in everyday things and sharing that joy with others. Not a bad way to live, if you ask me. Peace and love.
Okay, I thought this was such a great find, I had to share it. Check out this post from Literary Hub. By golly, I think I just hit the motherlode!
It’s finally October, which as we all know is officially the spookiest month—and thus the perfect moment to brush up on your literary horror bookshelf. Sure, it’s really on-brand for the season, but sometimes it actually is nice to accompany the new chills in the air with some new chills in your reading list. Horror writing is traditionally overrun by zombies men, but in recent years (and if you think about it, all along) women have been exploding the genre, writing entertaining, immersive, frightening novels and stories that run the gamut from high-brow, award-winning literary horror to bloody, murky genre masterpieces. So if you’re not sure where to start this season, here are a few recommendations of great writers of horror (the genre admittedly here broadly defined) to get you started. Of course, this is by no means a definitive list—one has to stop somewhere, lest the madness descend. On that note, please feel free to add on in the comments section.
Start with: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
Most obvious (and most venerable) first. With the staunch prominence of male writers in the genre, it’s easy to forget that one of the earliest and best horror novels was written 200 years ago by a teenage girl showing off for her boyfriend and their friends. I’d say she won that famous campfire competition of who could tell the best horror story by a significant margin—unless you count what happened to Percy’s heart after his death. Actually, that was probably her story too, so she wins twice.
Start with: Broken Monsters
Article continues after advertisement
South African writer Beukes is one of the biggest names in contemporary horror right now, and for good reason: her novels are intelligent, fast-paced, and leave you with that horrible sick feeling—you know, the one you read horror novels for. For me it was a toss-up between Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls, but considering I locate the nexus of horror in the Internet right now, I’d say start with the former, which opens with the discovery of a body in Detroit: a young boy, whose lower half has been cut off and replaced with that of a deer’s.
Start with: My Soul to Keep
“What I think readers should understand,” the beloved and brilliant Due said in an interview, “[is that] it’s not just that I like to scare people, although I do like to scare people, because I myself get scared, but I’m trying to take things that are not real, at least to me.”
I have not experienced—I have not had a ghost encounter, for example. So these are not experiences from my life. These are nightmare scenarios that actually act as metaphors for the real-life horrible things that happen to us every day.
All of us on this journey are going to sustain losses, and some of them are going to be quite, quite devastating. And I’ve always felt so ill-prepared for that. I think I decided to write about nightmare scenarios so often, really, to create characters who can walk me through the process. “This is what you do when your world falls apart.” And every book is sort of a re-examination of how all of us and all these characters have to triumph over whatever life throws at us.
This is the story of a high school girl named Vivvy—sorry, she hates that—Vivian, whose heart is broken by an attractive, thoughtless jerk named Jake. Viv is smart and funny. She loves romance books and the original Star Trek series—especially Mr. Spock. Any decent guy would be lucky to have her. But because of what happened with Jake, she has taken herself off the market. From now on, she plans to focus on boys who frankly do nothing for her. No sparks, no chance of another broken heart.
I enjoyed this story very much. Each of Vivian’s friends is unique and, like dueling Greek choruses, happily expresses their opinions about true love, raging hormones, and revenge. Of course, it takes two to make a romance, and Dallas is the mysterious newcomer who represents everything that threatens Viv’s plans. He, too, is smart and loves Star Trek—especially Captain Kirk. Also, he is computer-savvy, and plays the cello—the cello! Didn’t see that coming.
If you enjoy breezy romantic comedy with lots of snappy dialog, quirky townsfolk, and a nice beach setting, then this book is for you. And don’t let yourself get too upset with Jaz. She means well.