Eight Ghosts:The English Heritage Book of New Ghost Stories

I read Eight Ghosts earlier this month. Let's see if I can remember it.

Eight Ghosts: The English Heritage Book of New Ghost Stories edited by Rowan Routh is a collection of ghost stories. Eight contemporary authors tackle eight different historical locations and give their spin on the classic haunted house short story. The result is a varied collection of somewhat spooky tales. I wouldn't say these are scary stories, rather creepy thinkers.

The locations are all famous for their own ghosts and spooky folklore. The authors either build on that foundation or create something totally new. The ghosts themselves vary: malevolent forces to heartbreaking memories. A ghost can be whatever you think it is.

The only outlier in this collection is The Bunker. It's a place that no longer exists and the story is a bit of a mind flip, about a time slip. I still don't know what to make of it.

The end of the book includes a bit of history of each location which is an interesting addition for any history fan. 

This is a middle of the road spooky collection for me. It's a good one if you don't like your ghosts too scary.

Sympathy for the Devil: The Testaments

I haven't been keeping up with what's hot in the book blogging world. I remember reading that Margaret Atwood was writing a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale a while ago, but that information didn't stick in my brain. Then just a couple of weeks ago, I started seeing The Testaments pop up everywhere.

I read The Handmaid's Tale when I first started blogging and I've been watching the TV series. I often wonder why I'm watching; it feels like misery porn. I knew I'd probably read The Testaments, but I wasn't having strong emotions one way or the other about it. When the opportunity to listen to the audiobook came about though, I was game.

All this to say, I went into The Testaments with fairly neutral feelings, which may be the best way to approach it.

The Testaments are three different documents, from three different women. One is written by a young woman who has grown up in Gilead, another by a girl who grew up in Canada not knowing her true history until her sixteenth birthday. The third document is written by the Baga Yaga of Gilead: Aunt Lydia. Their stories cover the time period after the installation of the new government and about fifteen years beyond.

Life for girls growing up in Gilead, even girls from ruling families, is about as wonderful as you think it is. All these young and vulnerable girls under the absolute power of a group of older men. No problems there, surely. Aunt Lydia and the other Aunts are tasked with the job of giving these girls a proper education (flower arranging, definitely no reading) so that they will make perfect wives when they reach the mature age of thirteen. The only other option for them is to become Aunts themselves.

To be an Aunt, the girls are educated for nine years, which includes learning to read and write. After this time period, the girls must have a term as missionaries to the dangerous and decadent world of Canada. These girls become known as Pearl Girls (yes, they wear pearls) and wander the streets of Canada with pamphlets, trying to lure young Canadian women into Gilead. After a successful conversion, a Pearl girl can become an Aunt.

No one at the border to the Pearl Girls

This is all the brainchild of Aunt Lydia, who welds as much power as she can wheedle out of the leaders. Powerful men don't what to be seen dealing with the issues of women, so it falls to Lydia. She was quick to realize this in the beginning, and from the beginning she started collecting secrets. The secrets she keeps are her most powerful weapon, and could bring Gilead down if put into the right hands.

Meanwhile in Canada, Daisy is a typical teen, although her parents are a bit over protective. Then one day a terrible tragedy changes her life dramatically and she becomes a pawn in a dangerous political game that could take down an evil government or end with her trapped behind the walls of Gilead.

The Handmaid's Tale was unique and experimental. It's taught in high schools here in Canada. The Testaments is typical of Atwood's contemporary writing. It's still very good, but not quite what she was doing in 1985.

Atwood to all her critics.

Tonally, the beginning of the book is similar to the original. There are harrowing experiences still to be told about Gilead. Then there is a tone switch and the book becomes something different. It's more espionage and adventure, than misery. I don't think I'd read the two books back to back. The differences would be quite pronounced.

Aunt Lydia's character development is interesting. In The Handmaid's Tale, she appears to be a True Believer, but here her story is one of a survivor and an opportunist. Lydia has a try at redemption, although you never really know if at any moment she'll throw someone until the bus to save herself. I secretly think that Atwood, being an elderly lady like Lydia, is saying, "Eh, we've all done some stuff."

Reviews on Goodreads fall into two camps: love it or hate it. There are few in the middle. People have Feelings about it. I'm kind of in the middle, though I lean toward the love category. The ending is contrived yes, but it feels like the the ending we need right now.

About the Audio: The bulk of the book is narrated by Bryce Dallas Howard as Agnes, Mae Whitman as Daisy, and Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia. If you don't know, Ann Dowd plays Aunt Lydia in the series. These are three excellent actresses so of course they do a great job here. And really, can anyone else be Aunt Lydia at this point? 
Thanks to Random House Audio via Volumes app for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Recursion: If I Could Save Time In a Bottle

Never having read anything from Blake Crouch before, I had no idea what to expect when I started Recursion back in August. I definitely wasn't expecting...that.

Recursion is a pretty wild one. The book is told from the point of view of two characters: Barry Sutton and Helen Smith, two completely unrelated people, or so it seems. Barry is a NYC police detective and the first on the scene of a potential jumper. The woman he finds on the edge of a building tells him she suddenly remembered living a whole other life. In this life she had a husband and a son, a life totally different than the one she is actually living. She's not the first to experience this new phenomenon called False Memory Syndrome. However, this is Barry's first encounter with the strange ailment. Something about the woman's story piques his interest and sends him down a bizarre rabbit hole.

A decade earlier, Helen is a struggling researcher looking for a cure for Alzheimer's. She's trying to get funding for the building of her Memory Chair, an invention she hopes will help patients hold on to their remaining memories. Unexpectedly, she receives a dream offer from a generous donor. The only catch is that she must build it on an abandoned oil platform in the middle of the ocean. What could go wrong!

When I started reading Recursion, within the first few chapters I thought, Ok, this is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is fine. I could have read that book, no big deal.

But.. then it was something else, and then... SOMETHING ELSE. It was totally bonkers. I can't even tell you where this plot goes. Just go with it. It did get grimly repetitive near the end and I so wanted that to end sooner than it did. But don't give up, it does wrap up and we get a somewhat happy ending.

Here's the thing though. After I finished it, I ended up lying in bed at night trying to work out the events in this book. There were some things that just didn't add up. At least in my mind. Maybe they all make perfect sense to Crouch, but who knows because it gets pretty weird.

Don't try to figure it out

About the Audio
: Recursion is narrated by |Jon Lindstrom and Abby Craden. Linstrom is not new to me. He also read Ghostland which I reviewed. 
Thank you to Random House Audio for the review copy via Volumes. All opinions are my own.

A Blogging Tradition: RIP XIV

The only way to get me to log into my blog again is RIP.

It's hard to believe Readers Imbibing Peril is 14 years old! It's a surly teenager now. Wow. Anyway, if you don't know what it is by now, here's a summary.

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:
Dark Fantasy.
The emphasis is never on the word challenge, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.
I will be doing Peril the Third, which is reading one book.  Hopefully, I will read more but that's all I can promise right now.

Here is a list I've compiled of possible reads.

These are my spooky picks for this year. I've seen some of the other participants' lists and I feel a little jealous that they get to read some of my favorite books for the first time. They are so lucky!

Happy Spooky Reading Everyone!

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.