Housewarming Presence: The Invited

The Invited Novel

Hello all, again! I'm here to chat about a new Jennifer McMahon book, The Invited.

I've loved all the books I've read by her. She's never coy about ghosts. She leans hard into "ghosts are real and messing shit up." The Invited does not stray from this. Right from the get go she has a witch hanging and you just know this will not end there. That witch is coming back.

In 2015, Helen and Nate are teachers who decide to leave their jobs and live the rural life in the back woods of Vermont. After a brief house hunting excursion, they decide to build the house of their dreams instead.

Helen, a history teacher, wants land with a story. She finds it in a 40 plus acre swamp once owned by Hattie Breckenridge, a woman hanged for witchcraft by an angry mob in the early 1900s. Nate and Helen get to work right away building their home while living in a run down trailer on the property. Constructing a house under these circumstances is trying enough but they feel added strain. The locals don't approve of strangers moving onto the Breckenridge land, someone has been creeping around the trailer at night, and Helen is feeling an unease she can't explain.

As a distraction from the realities of building a house from scratch, Helen throws herself into learning as much as she can about Hattie. She learns of the tragic life of this misunderstood woman and feels a kinship to her. This feeling grows to near obsessive proportions. Helen finds objects with grim histories to build into their new home, which ultimately help create a new haunted house.

This synopsis is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much going on in The Invited. There is Nate's own obsession with a ghostly deer, a neighbour girl whose mom has disappeared, and a possible buried treasure. The narration switches between two of the main characters, while also slipping back into the past to the tragic histories of the Breckenridge women. It's never boring.

If you are already a fan of McMahon, you won't be disappointed. If she's a new-to-you author, I think The Invited will be a fun surprise.

About the Audio: The narrator is Amanda Carlin. I wasn't a huge fan of the narration, especially at first, though I did get used to it. She would emphasize the last word in each sentence and it was distracting. If that will bother you too much, get the written version instead.

I received this book for review from Random House Audio via Volumes. All opinions are my own.

My Favorite Murderess: My Sister the Serial Killer

Korede's sister Ayoola draws men to her like moths to a flame. She's a knockout. When she enters a room, all eyes are on her. It's no wonder that Korede feels like a shadow in comparison. People can hardly believe they are related, let alone sisters. But sisters they are and their bond is a strong one. Korede would do anything for her little sister, including covering up a murder...or two...or three.

Ayoola for all appearances is the epitome of femininity, but her pretty face hides a dark secret. She's a murderer, or as Korede realizes after the third murder, a serial killer. The victim is always a man, a man she's dating. She tells Korede that she was only trying to defend herself. Korede has her doubts. Why does Ayoola carry their father's knife with her everywhere? And why does she seem a little less upset every time?

While Korede is racked with guilt and fear, Ayoola carries on as if nothing happened. Posting photos of herself looking glam on Instagram and flirting with new victims men. When Ayoola sets her sights on the doctor Korede has a crush on, the stakes get even higher. How can Korede protect both him and her sister?

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite has been called darkly comic. Maybe it's because I listened to the audiobook, but I didn't find it that humorous. There were ridiculous moments here and there. It's told from Korede's point of view and her nervous energy, or the energy imbued by the narrator (Adepero Oduye), made it hard for me to see the humor. If told from Ayoola's point of view, it would be a totally different tale.

Ayoola is a mystery. She doesn't seem to have a lot going on upstairs. She has a helplessness to her that appeals to the men she dates. I also think that's why Korede takes care of her murders. What would happen if Korede couldn't help her? Would she be able to handle things herself? Unfortunately, we'll never know because Korede is always there for her. Why does she kill? The book sort of tries to give a backstory to the reasons why but it's not 100% clear. Maybe she just likes it.

My Sister the Serial Killer is all about appearances. Ayoola is beautiful and the men project their own ideas of womanly perfection onto her. They don't see what she really is until too late. Korede hides Ayoola's crimes from the world. She hides it all with bleach and water. Their mother is all about keeping up appearances, as we find out throughout the novel.

Whatever the book is meant to be, I enjoyed it a lot. Korede's situation is an impossible one and it was a ride to hear her navigate it. It's a short book. The audio is only 255 minutes but there is plenty packed in there.

Circe, You Know, the Sorceress

Circe, famous for turning Odysseus's men into pigs, was born of Helios, the god of the sun, and a nymph named Perse. In Madeline Miller's adaptation, Circe wishes for the approval of her father and a smidge of kindness from her mother. Unfortunately, her parents are gods and only concerned with their own pleasure.

Circe's parents: My thoughts exactly 

At first, she piles all her love unto her brother Aeetes, but he quickly turns his attention to greater things. Alone with her feelings, she falls in love with a mortal who she wills into a god. In thanks, he dumps her. Oh and she also inadvertently creates a monster through jealousy. Whoopsies! This is a new power among the gods and Zeus isn't having it. He exiles her to the island of Aiaia.

Life there sounds pretty sweet, actually. A house that cleans itself? Lots of alone time for sorcery? Pet lions and wolves? Sign me up! However, it's not long until the terrible, terrible world lands at her door. How will Circe deal with humanity?

Circe is a sympathetic look at the goddess. Instead of the evil witch nearly all of literature makes her out to be, she's a goddess with special powers which could be used for good or ill. And mostly she's just trying to be good. Wherever she is, she's lonely, whether it's in her father's palace or her deserted island. Her loneliness makes her desperate. Early on she's a bit of a doormat, but after centuries she comes into her own. By the end of the novel, she's quite the bad ass!

A modern day Circe

Circe is a "suck it, patriarchy" novel, turning the usual narrative of a powerful female as "E-veeeeel" into a story of a goddess finding her rightful place in the world. And I loved it.

That Was a Book That I Read: Mrs Palfrey at The Claremont

Oof! This was not the most uplifting start to the new year. I really wanted my first review of the year to be full on fireworks but I feel pretty 'meh' about this book.

Mrs Palfrey at The Claremont takes place in the late 60s and I guess it was a thing for hotels to rent out rooms to the elderly then. (???) Maybe Assisted Living hadn't been invented yet. I don't know. Anyway Mrs Palfrey checks into the London hotel, The Claremont. She tries to fit into the already established group of elderly people. She casually mentions her adult grandson, Desmond, who lives nearby and how he might visit her. She has no idea that she's walked into a elderly Mean Girls type trap.

You can't just casually bring up a relative to these people. Visitors are the only kind of excitement any of them have. They don't go anywhere or do anything else. Visitors are a status symbol. If you have them, you are admired. To not have them, you are pitied or worse. Everyday Mrs Palfrey is asked, "When is your grandson coming?" She knows Desmond isn't coming. Her relationship with her family is not great.

On a walk, Mrs Palfrey has a fall and is rescued by a young man, Ludo, a poor writer. As a thank you, Mrs Palfrey lures offers him a meal at The Claremont, with one catch: she must call him Desmond.

In the beginning, both of them are using the other. For Mrs Palfrey it's to save face, Ludo fodder for his novel. (He decides to title his novel "We Aren't Allowed to Die Here" from something Mrs Palfrey says.) Eventually a real inter-generational friendship grows between them.

You would think passing off a stranger as a close relation would be the beginning of all kinds of shenanigans, right? Sadly, shenanigans were lacking. One or two whoopsies but no Three's Company style mixups.

I've never read anything by Elizabeth Taylor before and I'm not sure of what the tone is. It wavers between light-hearted and incredibly grim. Pretty much every character is terrible. Taylor hops from one character's mind to the next and she doesn't hold back on what they are thinking. They are petty and selfish. Typically human but it's a bummer to read.

Not much happens at The Claremont. The older guests waste time between meals complaining about the weather and watching the other guests come and go. They rarely have visitors and those that do come are in a rush to leave. The occasional funeral livens things up. Mrs Palfrey soldiers on, then the book turns dark and, boom, The End.

I don't know guys. I don't think January is conducive to right mind set for a novel like this. It's winter. It's dreary. Or maybe this book is too real.

Anyway, I'm moving on! If you love this one, all the high fives for you. Don't @ me, bro.

KonMari Revisited: Tidying Up

Way back in 2015 (omg, where does time go?) I reviewed The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. So when Tidying Up popped up on Netflix, I knew I had to watch it.

Marie Kondo is like a tiny Mary Poppins in sensible flats but without the literal magic. When she first appears, you can practically feel the waves of relief radiating from the participants. "Marie is here! She'll fix us!"

And she is great. Nothing shocks her. Oh you have hundreds of leering Nutcrackers in every corner of the house? It's fine. At this point in her career, she's seen everything and encountered every hang up anyone has ever had about their stuff. She doesn't appear to judge these families, or she's just very good at hiding it. She has the ability to be both firm and gentle at the same time, and she's willing to meet people where they are, emotionally speaking.

The participants: You got to give them a hand, they let cameras into their closets. That's brave. The families chosen were pretty diverse. Yes, in terms of age, race, and sexual orientation, but also in terms of where they are in life. There are couples just moving into together, getting ready for baby, empty nesters, and (heartbreakingly) a widow going through her husband's things. The only nitpick I have is there was only one single person. Single people have stuff too! But, I get it, tension within couples makes for better TV.

Speaking of TV, I've seen enough reality TV to know there is a lot of stuff we don't see behind the scenes. One moment a woman refuses to give up anything and then she has an epiphany and it's all out the door. What really went on there? One thing I found hilarious was in every episode, one of the participants would ask, "Oh, Marie, can you show me how to fold my socks/shirts/pants/underwear?"  It was obvious they were told to ask. Hey, that's TV!

I enjoyed Tidying Up. If nothing else, seeing these people's stuff makes me feel better about my own. I'm doing pretty okay! I did take the KonMari journey. It took me a looooong time. (I only went through my photos last year). I'm stuck on "Papers" only because I don't feel like shredding a ton of paper. I did immediately tidy up my closet after watching the first episode though. These people's closets gave me anxiety.

If you have Netflix and want some decluttering inspiration, then definitely give Tidying Up a look.
It's only eight episodes and I hope there is a season two.

Spooky Halloween Reading from Haunted Nights

During past RIP Challenges, I've read anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow. These collections are always an excellent choice for the season. Haunted Nights is no exception.

Haunted Nights edited by Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton features stories that take place on Halloween. Halloween is a night where anything can happen. Jack O'Lantern attempts to find new victims in two stories: Jack and Wicks's End. Teens regret trying to vandalize an abandoned mansion in With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds. Humans celebrate strange traditions in Nos Galan Gaeaf. And monsters come to life in The Seventeen-Year Itch.

There are tales from the point of view of both the supernatural and just ordinary people. Some are of Halloweens past (All Through the Night) and the future (The First Lunar Halloween). Some are heartbreakingly sad and others a little bit funny, but most are firmly in the creepy camp. There are some authors you might recognize contributing to this anthology, including Kelley Armstrong.

One of my favorites from this collection is also the longest, Lost in the Dark by Jack Langan. It's a little bit Blair Witch, a little bit Ringu. It's a story that has the potential to be a full novel. I was left wanting to know more about the mysterious events that lead to the making of the (fictional) movie Lost in the Dark.

Haunted Nights has a little something for everyone. It's definitely a good collection to read on a dark and dreary Halloween. And that cover is just perfect.

Other Ellen Datlow books reviewed:
The Doll Collection
Supernatural Noir 

Getting Gothic with The Silent Companions

Elsie finds herself in an asylum, injured and drugged, unwilling to remember the events of the past several months. She knows something bad has happened, the word "murderess" is hissed at her by the orderlies. With the prompting of her kind doctor, Elsie begins to piece together what happened in the hopes it will free her.

Months earlier...

Her life is turned upside down after the death of her husband Rupert. Just recently married, the couple was excited to learn Elsie was pregnant. Then Rupert dies under mysterious circumstances and Elsie is forced to live on his family's 200 year old estate, The Bridge, with Rupert's only relative, cousin Sarah. Elsie finds a neglected mansion with a tiny staff of three women, the villagers of the nearby town having refused to work there. At first she is unhappy about the lack of creature comforts, but soon her unhappiness turns to fear after she finds a life sized wooden figure that looks disturbingly like herself. This figure, known as a silent companion, is creepy on its own but it also seems to pop up in unexpected places. And then more begin to appear.

Is someone playing a trick on Elsie? Is she losing her mind? Or is there something evil living within the walls of The Bridge?

If I could read more books like The Silent Companion, I'd be a regular blogger again. I read it over the weekend. I don't think I've read a book that fast in years! It was delightfully creepy. I couldn't stop reading. I had to know what was going on. The novel has all the hallmarks of a gothic novel: spooky house, scary noises, creepy relatives, an asylum, and damsels in distress.

It's the last on this list that Laura Purcell takes a real poke at. There are five women living at The Bridge, all very different. Men aren't experiencing what they are going through. These women are depending on each other to find explanations for their experiences. When men do get involved, they dismiss their fears. The word "hysterical" is tossed around. Elsie's fate is forever in a man's hands: her husband who dies, her younger brother who sticks her at The Bridge, and eventually her doctor who can either free her or condemn her. Unlike the classic gothic novels of centuries past, there isn't a Prince Charming to swoop in and save her. Can she save herself under these circumstances?

Would I recommend The Silent Companions? Absolutely! It's sure to keep you up at night, whether to finish it or for fear of hearing a strange hissing sound, like wood scraping against wood. It's perfect for RIP XIII.

Oh and silent companions are a real thing. Maybe not as creepy as ventriloquist dummies but still pretty creepy!