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.
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.
Those who experience the paranormal regularly aren’t like most people. Especially if they are, as the taciturn locals on Fox Island like to say, from away. This is the situation Sammy Kehoe faces when he convinces his sister Charlotte to flee to the scene of their many childhood family vacations rather than face the prospect of continuing as they have been, sad and numb from the long-ago death of their parents and brother. Not to mention suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous languor.
Others might have used the opportunity to refuel so they could return to “real life,” rested and ready to be productive. But Sammy has problems. For starters, he can’t stop seeing the dead and desperately wishes they would leave him the hell alone. Can that explain why at way past college age, he still works in a video rental store?
In lesser hands, the premise of this novel would have played out as maudlin and uninteresting. But the way this author describes Sammy’s state of mind as he tells the story—accompanied often by wry, even side-splitting observations—drew me into this strange family, wanting more than anything to learn how they would extricate themselves from their collective morass which, if left unchecked, could have a lasting adverse effect on Charlotte’s daughter, Maggie.
If you like ghost stories that are fresh and modern and feature plenty of humor, then I highly recommend From Away. You won’t be disappointed.
Book Description Sammy Kehoe, his sister, Charlotte, and her four-year-old daughter, Maggie, are all each other have left since the car accident that killed the rest of their family. When they visit their beloved old family home on remote Fox Island, Maine, Sammy and Charlotte each have relationship sparks with island locals. But the budding idyll is shattered when Sammy and Maggie’s unexplained abilities to “see things” are put to the test when dangerous ghosts from the past resurface. At first, this novel about an unusual and loving family draws readers in with warmth and intrigue—and then it builds with suspense that makes it impossible to put down.
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 supernatural suspense novel, 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 with her ex-husband, Sarah Greene finds a mirror that holds the spirit of a dead girl. As she learns more about the people who built Casa Abrigo—and about their demon-worshiping son—Sarah comes to believe the girl did not die a natural death, and she sets out to discover the truth. But prying into someone’s sketchy past can be risky, especially when it awakens dangerous dark forces.
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.
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.
Just a quick announcement to let you know that Tell Me When I’m Dead is on sale from August 13th through the 19th. So, if you love zombies and mayhem and haven’t yet read this novel, then now is your chance to get it on the cheap.
Normally, this book is $4.99, but during the sale, you can get it for a cool $1.99.
What Critics Are Saying
“The zombie genre has exploded in recent years, and unfortunately, so many similar stories have begun to run together, making it less of a desirable avenue for both writers and readers. However, there is still hope for this genre niche in the form of Tell Me When I’m Dead by Steven Ramirez. The first book in a trilogy, this slow-burning thriller does far more than simply promote an everyman into a zombie-killing hero, introducing readers to a uniquely compelling protagonist.” — Self-Publishing Review
“As Dave’s life slowly starts to unravel, and the body count continues to grow higher through the help of an unknown virus, he is left with a gruesome choice: either wallow in his sorrows or stay alive. In this thrilling novel, Ramirez details an antihero’s struggles for family and love, and to find beauty in a world ruled by the dead.” — Readers’ Favorite
“The sense of pace in Tell Me When I’m Dead is impressive, Ramirez building the suspense and stakes with skill, and ensuring that you care about the characters at the heart of events. As a lead character, Dave is layered, with a compelling backstory and an admirably drawn humanity. He’s not your run-of-the-mill horror hero, and his decisions are believable yet at times unexpected, keeping the reader on their toes and ensuring that this isn’t a predictable tale in the slightest. Chilling, pulse racing, and hugely compelling, Ramirez has brought something new to a popular genre.” — The Bookbag