Book Review—We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Cover

Like many school children, I read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” when I was too young to understand it. Later in my twenties, I read The Haunting of Hill House, a mesmerizing experience. Of course, I was well acquainted with the outstanding Robert Wise film adaptation starring Julie Harris as the pitch-perfect Eleanor Vance. What I learned best from that story is that hauntings are best when the victim cooperates.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson’s last novel, and it is a masterwork of madness, deception, and envy. In words that are simple and well chosen, the author allows us to follow Mary Katherine Blackwood—also known as Merricat as she goes about her day in the house, the woods, and sometimes, the village. We come to learn early on that the other family members are long dead—poisoned. And we also discover the village’s hatred of the Blackwood family which, towards the end of the book, comes to a head in a way reminiscent of “The Lottery.”

Things are orderly and cloistered in the Blackwood house until Cousin Charles appears. It’s immediately apparent that he is hoping to cash in on the supposed hidden wealth of the sisters. And, being the imperious lout that he is, he underestimates the strength and protectiveness of Merricat as he bumbles his way through vague overtures toward Constance and threatening promises of things changing for the better.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a story that will chill you with characters who are sympathetic in their trapped existence. It is a brilliant novel that makes me wish Jackson were still alive to write more. After all, there are so many other castles yet to explore.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiousity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

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Book Review—The Infinite Pieces of Us

The Infinite Pieces of Us Cover

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.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

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.

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Book Review—Mrs. Saint and the Defectives

[Mrs Saint and the Defectives Cover]Sometimes, life sends us spiraling in directions we never wanted to go. A death in the family, a natural disaster, or a devastating divorce. And more than the actual event, it’s the resulting fallout that keeps the spiral going until we either grab on to something to stop the inevitable descent into despair, or we simply let go.

The author deftly covers this theme—and much more—in Mrs. Saint and the Defectives. As the journey of the protagonist, Markie, and her son, Jesse, unfolds, we come to learn that, generally, people are broken. Some in little ways and some to the point of near self-destruction.

What’s important, of course, is what we do with the information. Recognizing our own faults and shortcomings, do we still find ways to help others or do we simply wallow in our own misery. And which is the road to happiness? In Markie’s case, maybe she still has a chance at a life worth living.

I enjoyed the interplay of the rich, quirky characters who populate the book. Markie is not the brightest bulb when it comes to self-realization. Fortunately, the author has left the work of solving her problems to the reader. Enjoy the ride.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Critically acclaimed author Julie Lawson Timmer returns with a tale of how community can heal the brokenness in all of us.

Markie, a fortysomething divorcée who has suffered a humiliating and very public fall from marital, financial, and professional grace, moves, along with her teenage son, Jesse, to a new town, hoping to lick her wounds in private. But Markie and Jesse are unable to escape the attention of their new neighbor Mrs. Saint, an irascible, elderly New European woman who takes it upon herself, along with her ragtag group of “defectives,” to identify and fix the flaws in those around her, whether they want her to or not.

What Markie doesn’t realize is that Mrs. Saint has big plans for the divorcée’s broken spirit. Soon, the quirky yet endearing woman recruits Markie to join her eccentric community, a world where both hidden truths and hope unite them. But when Mrs. Saint’s own secrets threaten to unravel their fragile web of healing, it’s up to Markie to mend these wounds and usher in a new era for the “defectives”—one full of second chances and happiness.

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Back to School with MY FIRST TRAVEL BOOKS

[Anna Othitis]by Anna Othitis

… and give them an “education with a world of possibilities.”

Are you ready to take to the skies? Then welcome to Angelic Airlines! Come join the adventures of Captain Frankie and the Angelic Airlines flying angel as they travel across the world to some of the most popular, entertaining and educational places in the world. Captain Frankie is waiting for you to book your ticket, safely stow your bags and open your eyes to the beautiful places created for all of us to visit in My First Travel Book.

[My First Travel Books]

Book Excerpts

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About the Author
Anna Othitis lived and was raised in the beautiful land and country of Zimbabwe, Africa (home will always be home. She left all of her life long memories, endless charity work and good people behind vowing that she will continue supporting the needy children in her land Zimbabwe, Africa and beyond. After traveling long and short distances from the East coast to the West coast twice she and her family eventually found their sense of belonging and final settling destination in New Jersey, USA. You can find Anna on Twitter, at Goodreads, on Facebook and at her Amazon author page.

UNEXPECTED GIFTS—Falling Through Time in America

So, let me first say that I’m not really a fan of historical fiction. I’m more a horror-thriller kind of guy. That said, I had the pleasure of reading Unexpected Gifts and now have a new appreciation for this genre. The author has placed her protagonist Sonia in a contemporary setting, with all of the problems and pain of a nervous young woman trying to take control of her life. And things haven’t been going all that well. Doesn’t sound like the past, right? Well, here comes the “historical” part. Sonia is introduced to past generations of family and friends courtesy of letters that her mother shares with her over a series of days. These aren’t normal letters, mind you. They literally transport Sonia back to a time and place when these people were struggling with their own issues—many of which are tied to famous events. I thought this was a clever device that worked extremely well.

Unexpected Gifts is a book of longing, hope and wonder. Does Sonia ever reach that place of joy and contentment? You’ll have to read those letters to find out.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[Unexpected Gifts Cover]

Can we learn from our ancestral past? Do our relatives’ behaviors help mold our own? In Unexpected Gifts that is precisely what happens to Sonia, a confused college student, heading for addictions and forever choosing the wrong man. Searching for answers, she begins to read her family’s diaries and journals from America’s past: the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and Timothy Leary era; Tupperware parties, McCarthyism, and Black Power; the Great Depression, dance marathons, and Eleanor Roosevelt; the immigrant experience and the Suffragists. Back and forth the book journeys, linking yesteryear with modern life until finally, by understanding her ancestors’ hardships and faults, she gains enough clarity to make some right choices.

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‘Maggie’—A Poignant Family Drama

[Maggie Poster]
Photo Courtesy of IMDb
Maggie’ (2015)
Directed by Henry Hobson
Screenplay by John Scott 3
Drama | Horror | Thriller
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson
LionsGate
Rated PG-13
Log Line: A teenage girl in the Midwest becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that slowly turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father stays by her side.

You see, the thing about zombies is, they’re incredible boring. I’m pretty sure that’s why George Romero always chose to marry the “ghouls” in his stories with political commentary. I had to learn this lesson myself with my own horror-thriller trilogy. You cannot expect readers to embrace three novels—nearly three hundred thousand words—if all they have to look forward to is a bunch of drooling braineaters on the loose.

Forget Zombies
‘Maggie’ is not a zombie movie—not in the normal sense. Yes, there are zombies in it—in particular, the title character, played by Abigail Breslin. But these are not the undead we are used to. They are victims of a plague that has swept the planet and has made ordinary people sick—slowly. They may no longer eat, but they can still talk and think and love. They don’t shuffle, and neither do they move ultra-fast as in World War Z.’ They are simply people who are dying.

Against this backdrop you have a father, played beautifully and with quiet strength by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is determined to keep his daughter not only alive, but safe for as long as possible. In doing so, he drives away his wife and their two small children, manages to earn the scorn of the police and quite possibly risks his own life. Because when the day comes that Maggie “turns”—and that day will come—he will be forced to either take her to a quarantine facility, where they will end her life with a death cocktail, or deal with her in his own way at home.

Family Is What Matters
If there’s one lesson that ‘Maggie’ teaches us, it’s that family and friends matter—especially in times of crisis. This movie didn’t have to be about zombies. Wade and his daughter could have ended up exactly in the same situation as a result of worldwide famine, cataclysmic climate change or End Times. It doesn’t matter. For me, the poignancy is most present in those quiet moments when Wade and his daughter are sharing a memory or a laugh. It’s when he desperately tries to get her to eat something to keep up her strength. And it’s when she’s starting to turn and he exhorts her to fight and stay human.

Box Office Fiasco
‘Maggie’ bombed at the box office. As of this writing, it has earned only $187,112 domestic, according to BoxOfficeMojo. And that’s a shame. I think perhaps LionsGate may not have known how best to market this film. I sympathize, though. As soon as you say “zombie” and Arnold Schwarzenegger, audiences are going to have certain expectations. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were thinking guns, brains, and lots and lots of blood. Too bad. This movie is not that.

I’m really hoping ‘Maggie’ does well on video. It deserves an audience—the right audience.