Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

It may not be October just yet, but it’s officially fall. Which means, to me at least, that it’s time to read everything spooky, scary, weird, and harvest themed. I started my journey with a reread of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Not my typical light flavor, but a gothic novel told in a unique voice that’s worth the read.

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

Merricat and Constance Blackwood, along with old Uncle Julian, are the only Blackwoods left. Together, they live in seclusion on the family estate after a horrible incident involving an ingestion of arsenic killed the other members of their family. Uncle Julian, being too ill to go anywhere and Constance, borderline agoraphobic, leave Merricat to do as she pleases throughout the day. Routine is important to her, so aside from neatening the house and burying protective talismans in the yard, she goes into town twice a week for groceries and library books. Merricat does this while imagining different ways the cruel townspeople who taunt her and her family die.

One day, Merricat “feels a change coming, and no one knows it but me.” Her cousin Charles comes to call, with plots within plots but too stupid to carry them out smartly.

Truth be told, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is extremely fascinating. It’s told to us in real time by Merricat, but she is a most unreliable narrator. Seemingly stunted in development from the time of her family’s murder years ago, we can’t quite tell if what’s she’s telling us is how the story actually unfolds. She’s very imaginative and child-like, believing in magic and making up games and rules for herself, but clearly unbalanced.  My personal favorite way to look at her is as if she’s a ghost herself.

Review: Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to read through what’s on my Kindle but I keep getting sidetracked by the Readers Also Enjoyed section of Goodreads. Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca is of the latter, and its the kind of book I went mad for trying to get a hold of. Since it was published in 2015 I thought I might have it in my vault of ebooks already, but in the end I made the purchase on Amazon.

Kelsey and David met in Newport one summer while her family was vacationing at her uncle’s cabin and David’s family came out to help out his grandfather, who lived next door. Fast becoming friends, they learned David and his father would be moving to the little town in Connecticut Kelsey was from. Miscommunications and the hurt David unknowingly caused her left Kelsey reeling after two years of friendship, and when her dad took a job out of state, she jumped at the chance to start over. Reinventing herself completely, she was ready for senior year. But then David walked back into Kelsey’s life, and the world she cultivated for herself got turned upside down.

Told from a back and forth viewing of past and present Kelsey, we watch her friendship with David grow and change and in the end, all is right in their world. Unfortunately for this book, it was 321 pages of cat and mouse with genuinely bad decisions all around. Kelsey and David didn’t really grow at all in their four years of high school and their friends were underdeveloped and underutilized. This was a very frustrating read where I felt nothing but annoyance*

*I did, however, really enjoy the descriptions of Newport and its Cliff Walk as I went to school in Rhode Island and am familiar with the places mentioned.

Review: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Tim Mason is a fuck up. This was well established in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door. In its companion piece, The Boy Most Likely To, we follow Tim as he tries for redemption.

The story opens with an ultimatum and the offer of a scotch. Thankfully, newly sober Tim Mason only accepts the former, and we swiftly move into his escape from his clinical home life and into the arms of the loving and chaotic Garrett family. Living above their garage, there’s no judgement from the people who have welcomed Tim into their lives (expect, perhaps from the oldest Garrett sister, Alice). They accept his sarcasm and charm, and later, the biggest surprise of all.

I felt the twinge of needing something more from My Life Next Door and found it in The Boy Most Likely To. Huntley Fitzpatrick has a way of making you fall in love with her characters. Tim Mason is reckless, charming, and a bit of a mess. A lot of a mess. But he has 50-odd days sober and is trying to turn it around for himself. I like that he realizes he needs to do better or he could go down a road he won’t be able to come back from. He tries for his GED and continues with his job at the Garrett family’s hardware store. He doesn’t find solace in the bottom of a bottle or any illegal substance when he runs into his biggest drama yet. He steps up and does what his family wanted him to do all along – he becomes a man.

Review: Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

In my adult years, I’ve read in voracious spurts. I met a group of friends online who loved to read, and it rekindled my own love. Previously, I hadn’t picked up a book besides the newest Harry Potter in years. Recently I have gone through another dead period, reading only a handful of books a year for about three years or so. And then I picked up Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff.

Brenna Yovanoff is one of my favorite authors for dipping into the slightly strange edge of young adult books. She has only written a few books, but all are worth a read. Published in 2016, Places No One Knows is my favorite book of hers to date and what brought me out of my most recent no-book-funk.

Waverly Camdenmar is the robotic best friend of the most power hungry girl in high school. Her existence up until now has been to do everything exactly right in order to secure a perfect existence in the universe, and at night she runs to feel everything and nothing. When she finds herself in Marshall Holt’s bedroom the first night, her orderly world is turned upside down as a boy she never felt anything for flips the on switch to  her human side. She’s curious about his desire to turn himself into nothing, and when she keeps dreaming herself into his life at night he realizes he still wants more than a few hours of her time. He begins to want more for himself, too.

I cheered for these characters as they went about their daily struggles for perfection and to do better. When they reached their truest potentials, I was happy for them. This was definitely a book I will reread at one point.

Review: Meet Me at the River by Nina de Gramont

I was drawn in by the cover art for Meet Me at the River by Nina de Gramont. I should’ve known then I would only find it to be okay. It’s cliched to say not to judge a book by its cover, but the statement is right, in a way. I was attracted by beautiful artwork and the fact that it popped up under Readers Also Enjoyed on Goodreads.com when I finished reading my last book.

Meet Me at the River tells the story of two step siblings, Tressa Earnshaw and Luke Kingsbury, who love each other. When Luke dies, Tressa has to learn to live again. While navigating her senior year of high school in the mountain town her mother has moved them back to, she comes to terms with her survivors guilt over her boyfriend’s death, as well as a blossoming relationship with two unexpected allies, and a fear of leaving the place that holds all her best memories.

This is a radical story, but de Gramont weaves it neatly in a back and forth narrative style between Tessa and Luke, telling their past, present, and future. It’s poetic in its own way, but as I felt no connection the characters and felt the story dragged on, it’s only three stars from me.