Review: This House is Haunted

This House is Haunted, John BoyneHeartbroken after the loss of her father, schoolteacher Eliza Caine is desperate to leave London. When she applies for a position as a governess at a home outside Norwich, she is surprised at her potential employer’s response: he doesn’t ask about her education or for references, or even tell her the number and age of the children she will be teaching.

Her arrival in Norwich does not allay her unease. First someone tries to push her in front of an oncoming train. Then when she arrives at her destination, she is greeted by two children who insist that she is the only adult in the house.

Eliza’s conversations with the village’s residents — including the family lawyer — do not bear much fruit either. People are afraid to tell Eliza anything about the home, the children, or their parents.

Strange and awful things are happening at Gaudlin Hall. Eliza has never been prone to hysterics; but after a pair of invisible hands tries to push her out a window, the young woman knows one thing for certain: this house is haunted.

Heebie-jeebies, anyone?

Nothing hits the spot like a ghost story — especially one with Gothic undertones. This House is Haunted was published in 2013, but it reads like something straight from the mind of Horace Walpole or Wilkie Collins.

It starts out placidly enough, with the narrator and her father going to hear the author Charles Dickens speak. Mr. Caine is out of the way soon enough, however, and Eliza is off to Gaudlin Hall.

Her students, Isabella and Eustace, are bright but strange. Eustace always seems to be on the verge of spilling every secret he’s ever learned, and Isabella is a disconcerting mix of childish and worldly.

Eliza is smart, kind, and — as it turns out — every brave. She’s determined to learn the truth about Gaudlin Hall and its inhabitants, and to protect them if she must.

As with other novels in this genre, though, I found the characters the littlest bit flat. The plot takes precedence; every character is there to move that plot along and keep the story moving forward. I didn’t feel very connected to any of them.

The story itself was excellent, of course. Some lovely twists and a few truly chilling moments. If you’re a fan of The Woman in White or Nine Coaches Waiting, I recommend you pick up a copy of This House is Haunted.

Maybe just don’t read it late at night.

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The Write Stuff: I’ve Made a Terrible Mistake

Writing Challenge: The Write StuffHave you ever done something that scared you, and you didn’t die and it was actually kind of fun, but then you got cocky and bit off more than you could chew? Welcome to my world.

After my marginal success with writing prompts last year, I decided it was time to get back into creative writing. I was a theatre major, after all, and wrote a healthy number of scripts and short stories. I fell off the fiction-writing wagon after college, and it’s something I want to jump back into.

The only problem? It’s hard as shit.

Fiction writing is so much harder than writing about the books I read. I’m stretching muscles I haven’t used in eight years, and it’s brutal.

My goals

I need some, or this whole thing is going to collapse like a poorly-made souffle.

  • Goal 1: Finish four short stories in 2017.
  • Goal 2: Do as many of the 642 Tiny Things to Write About as I can.
  • Goal 3: Join a writing community (and actually share stuff for feedback).
  • Goal 4: Document it all on this blog.

Got any advice?

I’m hoping things get easier as I go, but I’d love any advice from readers who are also writers. What’s your ideation/writing process? How do you stay focused when writing? How do you ignore the little voice in your head that says everything you write is terrible?

Oh…that last one’s just me? Awesome. How could this end badly?

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2016 End of Year Book Survey

2016 End of Year Book SurveyHow can I be so tired of this year when it seems to have gone by so fast? Out with the old, hooray! But first, a quick, nerdy look back at this year’s reading.

Best Books in 2016

1. Best book you read In 2016?

2. What was a book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

Definitely Sorrow’s Knot. The world building was just so disappointing.

3. What was the most surprising (in a good way!) book of the year?

I didn’t expect to enjoy Croak as much as I did. A surprisingly original story.

4. What book did you read and recommended to people most?

The Wicked Boy. Have you read it yet? Why not? Stop reading this and go read that right now!

5. What’s the best series you discovered?

I didn’t do much serial reading this year. But I’m interested in seeing where the The Golem and the Jinni series goes. The next book comes out in 2018, though, so it’ll be a bit of a wait.

6. Who’s your favorite new author you discovered?

Torn between Kate Summerscale (The Wicked Boy, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher) and Andrzej Sapkowksi (the Witcher series). I love the level of detail both authors put into their books.

7. What was the best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I was nervous about Vermilion. I don’t reach much Steampunk, and the book ended up being more violent than I like. But it gave me all kinds of interesting feelings, so I enjoyed it.

8. What was the most thrilling, unputdownable book of the year?

The Winter People kept me up at night. As did Half the Sky, but for totally different reasons.

9. What book did you read this year that you are most likely to re-read next year?

Probably The Wicked Boy. I’m still trying to decide whether or not I agree with the author’s theory that his mother’s abuse is what led Robert Coombes to murder his mother.

10. What’s your favorite cover of a book you read?

2016 best book covers

11. Who’s the most memorable character you met this year?

Robert Coombes from The Wicked Boy. What led him to murder his own mother? And how can a person who commits such a crime go on to become a war hero?

12. What’s the most beautifully written book you read?

Meet the Austins was a lovely, quiet read. Madeleine L’Engle writes from childrens’ perspectives so well. The book reminded me of Wilder’s Little House series, which has always been a favorite.

13. What book had the greatest impact on you?

I really enjoyed Lincoln’s Battle with God. It gave me even more insight into and appreciated for a man I’ve respected for several years.

14. What book do you can’t believe you waited until this year to finally read?

I’ve always found Craig Ferguson hysterical, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of his book, American on Purpose, until this year. He’s done a lot of interesting — and stupid — things, and I like his views on life.

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read?

I loved this quote from Studs Terkel’s Working:

The white-collar guy is scared he may be replaced by the computer. The schoolteacher is asked not to teach but to babysit. God help you if you teach. The minister is trapped by the congregation that’s out of touch with him. He spends his life violating the credo that led him into the ministry. The policeman has no relationship to the people he’s supposed to protect. So he oppresses. The fireman who wants to fight fires ends up fighting a war. People become afraid of each other. They’re convinced there’s not a damn thing they can do.

And I love Craig Ferguson’s maxim from American on Purpose:

Between safety and adventure, I choose adventure.

16. Shortest & longest book you read?

17. What book had a scene in it that left you reeling and dying to talk to somebody?

The Winter People was a total nail-biter!

18. What’s your favorite relationship from a book you read this year (be it romantic, friendship, etc.)?

I really enjoyed the relationship between Geralt and his ward Ciri in Blood of Elves. It’s a cross between a father-daughter and mentor-mentee relationship. Both characters are smart, stubborn, and powerful. And they enjoy needling each other.

19. What’s your favorite book you read this year from an author you’ve read previously?

I’ve loved Clive Cussler for a long time, and that love affair continued this year with The Kingdom. Fun book, and narrator Scott Brick is one of my favorites.

20. What’s the best book you read based solely on a recommendation from someone else?

Definitely Half the Sky. I didn’t do a full review, reading it was one of the things that changed my life this year.

21. What genre did you read the most from this year?

Tie between Mystery/Thriller and History.

22. Who’s your newest fictional crush from a book you read?

Geralt from Blood of Elves! He’d make a terrible boyfriend/husband, so it’s probably best that he’s not real.

23. What’s the best 2016 debut you read?

The Wicked Boy, for sure! Author Kate Summerscale has other great books too.

24. Which book you read this year had the most vivid world/imagery?

Blood of Elves. Fantasy authors are the best at world building, period.

25. What book was the most fun to read?

Heroes Are My Weakness. Modern gothic romance!

26. What book made you cry or nearly cry in 2016?

Half the Sky. It made me cry, and it made me so angry.

27. What book did you read that you think got overlooked this year (or the year it came out)?

Why are there people in the universe who haven’t read The Wicked Boy?!

Looking Ahead

1. What’s one book you didn’t get to in 2016 that will be your biggest priority in 2017?

My lovely family usually gives me lots of books for Christmas, so I imagine I’ll have a look through those and see what strikes my fancy in the moment. I don’t have any priorities right now.

2. What book you are most anticipating for 2017 (non-debut)?

At this exact moment? Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (Therese Oneill) and Witches of America (Alex Mar).

3. What 2017 debut do you anticipate most?

I don’t pay much attention to debut dates.

4. Which series ending in 2016 do you anticipate most?

I don’t pay much attention to this either. I am hoping to finish out Rachel Aaron’s The Legend of Eli Monpress series.

5. What’s one thing you hope to accomplish in your reading/blogging in 2017?

Same as always: to read interesting things by interesting people, and talk about them with other readers.

How did your 2016 reading shake out? What are your reading goals for next year? Let’s talk!

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2016 State of the Blog and Wrap-Up

State of the BlogIt’s just a few days til Christmas. I haven’t recovered from Thanksgiving yet, but soon I will be stuffing my face with even more delicious things and wallowing in a sea of wrapping paper. I’m hoping for good things in 2017, but first I want to take a look back.

First, the basics

  • Books read in 2016: 58 (32 since 7/1)
  • Audiobooks: 5 (0 since 7/1)
  • Ebooks: 9 (7 since 7/1)
  • Pages read: 19,528 (10,504 since 7/1)
  • Books reviewed: 33 (18 since 7/1)
  • Books not enjoyed: 3 (2 since 7/1)
  • Books not finished: 0 (0 since 7/1)
  • Library books: 38 (23 since 7/1)
  • Re-reads: 4 (4 since 7/1)

Genre breakdown (year totals)

  • Fiction: 33
  • Non-fiction: 25
  • Young adult: 6
  • Fantasy: 8
  • History: 14
  • Memoir: 6
  • Mystery/Thriller: 14
  • Humor: 5
  • Gender/sexuality: 6
  • Paranormal/supernatural: 7
  • Period piece: 5
  • Children’s literature: 4
  • Reading for work: 3

Reading challenges

  • Charity Reading Challenge: 58 books @ $2/each = $116 donated to Camfed
  • Monthly Motif Challenge: 12/12 – COMPLETE
  • The Mount TBR Challenge: 3/6

Mount TBR is a bust once again. I think it’s time to switch it out with something new. But I’m so proud of myself for completing the Monthly Motif Challenge, and definitely excited to donate $2 for every book I read in 2016.

Some thoughts

  • My reading is down from last year (when I read 73). The goal-oriented part of me is sad, but my rational side thinks I made good reading choices.
  • Fiction is still beating out non-fiction, but the ratio is much closer this year than last.
  • As much as I enjoy young adult novels, it’s been nice to see that number drop this year.
  • The commute to my new job is much shorter, so I haven’t listened to any audiobooks since April. I don’t really miss them.
  • I’ve gotten hooked on podcasts. Currently I’m subscribed to more than 20. It’s a sickness.

Looking ahead

  • I’ve sent my Christmas wishlist to my family, so fingers crossed I get some yummy books to take me into the new year!
  • I recently learned that Emily Nagoski (author of the fabulous Come as You Are) wrote what some people call a feminist version of Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m so in I could explode!

How did your 2016 reading turn out? What are you most looking forward to in the new year?

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Quickie Reviews: Cozy Winter Reads

If summer is the best time for light reads, winter is the best time for cozy ones. Here’s what’s keeping me curled up with endless cups of hot chocolate this month.

Meet the Austins

Meet the Austins, Madeleine L'EngleThe first in Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin Family series. 12 year-old Vicky Austin lives happily in a big farmhouse with her parents, three siblings, and two dogs. But the family’s life is turned upside down when they take in an orphan named Maggy. This book reminded me so much of The Boxcar Children, with its great characters and their adventures. A touch paternalistic, but otherwise a charming read.

Bonita Faye

Bonita Faye, Margaret MoseleyWhen her abusive husband is killed on a hunting trip, Bonita Faye seizes the opportunity (and Billy Roy’s insurance money) to leave rural Oklahoma for Paris, France. Can Bonita Faye outrun her past, or is she doomed to repeat it? Nothing like a good murder story to keep you warm on a chilly night. I’m not sure I like her as a character, but Bonita Faye definitely knows how to handle herself when the going gets tough.

Annual re-reading

I love the holidays, but they can be so crazy. I spend most of my brain power trying to finish up work projects, shop for presents, make travel plans, etc. that I just don’t have the ability to focus on new books. This is the time of year when I do a lot of re-reading.

Favorite yearly re-reads include Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, as well as Pride and Prejudice and Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Which books are keeping you warm this winter?

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