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!

Better Late Than Never: RIP 13

Wow, it's been awhile, huh?

Since I never miss a Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge, I'm jumping in. This time I plan on doing Peril the Short Story. I'm always up for a good spooky story this time of year.

I'm thinking of a little MR James and a little Edith Wharton. They're always good old fashioned scares.

Hopefully I'll leave my thoughts on those stories here before October 31. Bye!

Frankenstein Readalong: Last Post, Better Late Than Never

I'm a bit late writing my last Frankenstein Readalong post, but here it is. I finished!

Victor has been working on Monster #2 for almost a year when he finally realizes that the lady might have a mind of her own and not want to be slave to Monster #1. Also, what if they have babies? (Doesn't Victor have the power to prevent this??) The creature pokes his head in to see how things are going. Victor flips out and destroys Monster #2 before she can have agency and peace out of this place. The creature gives this warning: "I will be with you on your wedding night." Victor, a supposed genius, after tearing apart the creature's future wife right in front of him, comes to the conclusion that the creature will murder HIM on his wedding night.

We need you, Captain Obvious
Having nothing else to do, Victor rows to the mainland. The sea is rough and he thinks he might die. We aren't that lucky. He makes it to shore only to learn that Clerval has been murdered and for some reason he is the main suspect. He does what he always does under stress and gets the brain fever.  However, being a rich white dude sometimes has it's advantages. The magistrate not only sends for Victor's dad but gathers witnesses that place him on the island at the time of the murder. So once again other people solve Victor's problems.

Now Victor can't wait to get married. He believes once that happens, he and the creature will have a battle to the death. He acts all weird and freaked out and not at all like a normal groom. Elizabeth is worried and finally asks him what is going on. And, oh my god, this is what he tells her. "I will confide this tale of misery and terror to you THE DAY AFTER OUR MARRIAGE SHOULD TAKE PLACE." What a chicken shit. Tell her now so she can decide whether or not to marry your sorry ass.

No words
No one tries to put an end to this wedding Jane Eyre style so they get married and it seems like the most miserable wedding day ever. They go off on their honeymoon, but that night Victor makes Elizabeth go to the bedroom alone. Guess what happens? You'll never guess. It was so surprising. Yeah. Elizabeth is murdered by the creature.

Victor shares the bad news with his dad and Ernest. His dad has a stroke and dies. I guess no one cares about Ernest, because he's never mentioned again. Finally, Victor tells his tale to the local magistrate, who actually believes him, but he's like "shrug, what can you do?"

That's when Victor chases the creature northward, the creature sometimes writing long paragraphs of encouragement on the bark of trees (????). He finally leads Victor to the arctic and to the present time in the story.

How does this story end? Victor is dying and confides to Walton that he shouldn't have made the monster but since he did it was his responsibility to destroy him. No duh. He also sort of hints that Walton should do it. Victor dies and the creature sneaks onto the boat to cry over him. Walton confronts him. The creature says he feels really bad about killing all those people, but it had to be done because everyone was so mean to him.

Use your words, Creature

I know I sound harsh here, but I do feel bad for the creature to some extent. He shouldn't have been created. That wasn't his doing. Victor was a terrible, gutless creator who abandoned him. He definitely shouldn't have done that either. But the creature wasn't a mindless killing machine. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but still he did it. Between the two of them there was a battle of who is in more pain. As a result, a lot of innocent people died. There is no hero here. They are both the worst.

In the end, the creature tells Walton he will throw himself into a fire to end his own misery. Walton is forced to return to England having never reached the North Pole.

I did enjoy rereading Frankenstein. It's strange reading it at this point in time, where there are people who identify with the creature too much. I first read it in the early 1990s and the world was different, I was different. It's always so interesting to read a book at different times in your life. I highly recommend doing that. There were issues with the writing I never noticed then but I still think Mary Shelley is amazing. She gave us a monster for the ages.

Thanks, Mary
And thanks Jenny for hosting this Frankenstein Readalong! I'm glad I did it.