Faces look ugly when you’re alone

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It figures that a book about people who are happy in their isolation would resonate with me. Shirley Jackson’s self proclaimed “paean to agoraphobia” gives of a sense of unease even during what should be the most mundane domestic scenes.

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, her sister Constance and their ailing uncle Julian are the surviving members of a once prestigious family. The surviving Blackwoods are hated and ridiculed by the surrounding villagers due to an incident which resulted in the death of Merricat and Constance’s parents, brother and aunt (Julian’s wife). Constance has not ventured past her garden in six years and Julian is too ill to go out, leaving Merricat to brave a twice weekly trip into town for groceries and library books. She faces the scorn of the villagers wherever she goes. Despite this, the three of them are content in their isolated routine. Things are soon disrupted when the girls’ cousin Charles Blackwood shows up at their door and begins to ingratiate himself to Constance.

The unease that pervades the book as soon as cousin Charles arrives is palpable. The reader knows that nothing but disaster can come from the arrival of this interloper. And when disaster comes (spoiler?) it’s almost a relief to have it over and done with. Jackson clearly understands isolation and social anxiety and turns out a classic of modern psychological horror.

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Butterflies are free…except not so much

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I feel like this sort of high concept story would have read better in a fantasy or sci fi setting. The dialogue and character interaction just didn’t work for me in the modern day U.S. It’s also very possible that someone who hasn’t read a metric ton of true crime and gritty realistic crime fiction might find this book more enjoyable. Personally, while the overall story was engaging and kept me interested until the end. The writing style came off almost as if a teen girl who knew nothing about the emotional impact of things like rape and abuse had on a person.

The Butterfly Garden follows the initial investigation after the apprehension of a serial killer known as The Gardener. The Gardener captures girls around the age of 16, re-names them, tattoos them with butterfly wings on their backs and keeps them in a gilded cage until their twenty first birthday. At that point he kills them and preserves them in glass. The story is told through one of his butterflies known as Maya who seems to be a sort of leader among the surviving girls. Maya tells the story of her early life, her capture and her life in The Garden to two FBI agents who may as well just be named “Good Cop” and “Bad Cop.” Maya is clearly hiding something and the agents need to find out what because Maya is their best witness so far.

This book wasn’t a bad one. The story moves along at a good pace and it kept me interested until the end. The writing was often annoying and SPOILER ALERT: The big secret at the end was sort of a let down made the whole cat and mouse game between Maya and her interrogators seem pointless. But it makes for a nice little distraction; especially when you have Kindle on your work desktop and you’re stuck on an eternal hold.

Less Scooby Doo, more Shirley Jackson please.

I realize now that I’m pretty difficult to please when it comes to ghost/haunted house stories. This book had all the elements; an old farmhouse, possibly haunted woods and a long dead person’s diary. In the end it just didn’t deliver for me. Possibly, it just wasn’t what I was expecting, or the fact that none of the characters really resonated with me. Overall the book was good, but not great.

The Winter People follows two stories concurrently which occur 100 years apart. In 1908 we follow Sarah Harrison Shea who struggles to accept the death of her daughter Gertie. In the present day, we follow the story of Alice, who lives off the grid in the same house in the present day with her mother Alice and her sister Fawn. Alice goes missing, which propels Ruthie’s story forward. Naturally, the two narratives are connected in ways you may or may not have expected.

I think my issue I had with this book was that I was expecting the creepy atmosphere and building tension of a ghost story, and what I got was essentially a mystery story with supernatural elements. I’ll admit there were a few twists that I did not figure out right away (most notably, the deal with Ruthie’s parents) and the book was interesting enough to keep me reading. It’s a good solid story if you like a supernatural mystery. I think it was just a bit of a letdown after some of the great reads I’ve had this month. the-winter-people

We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot.

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I love post apocalypse fiction. Give me a breakdown of society and roving bands of raiders and I am a happy girl. There are certain standouts in the genre though: The Stand, World War Z (the book, not that godawful movie) and now, The Girl With All the Gifts. Zombie apocalypse fiction has flooded what used to be a niche market in recent years with the popularity of The Walking Dead. M.R. Carey manages to contribute a unique offering to a style that can easily become reliant on gore and stale tropes.

The story focuses mainly on the relationship between a gifted young girl named Melanie and her teacher, Miss Justineau. I’m reluctant to say much beyond that for fear of spoilers but I think most readers will figure out what the score is pretty quickly. Melanie and Mrs. Justineau live at a military which has been turned into a research facility. Things go pear shaped as they often do and again, I’m hesitant to say much more about what happens next. And while there are certainly some familiar characters e.g. the hardened military man and the cold scientist, none of them are one-note stereotypes. And the end while not presented in Usual Suspects-style fwisty fashion, was not one that I saw coming.

If you like zombie fiction, smart horror, strong female characters or just a damn good story, you should definitely pick up The Girl With All The Gifts for your Halloween reading.

“You think I’m psycho don’t you, mama”

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Fifteen year old John Wayne Cleaver might be a sociopath. He finds it almost impossible to empathize with other people. He has a fascination with murder; specifically serial killers. He has one friend whom he can barely stand but keeps around because he wants to keep up the appearance of not being a loner. His one pleasure in life is working in the embalming room of his family’s mortuary. But despite all this, John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer. In fact, he has a very strict set of rules he imposes on himself to prevent him from becoming one. John’s carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos when an apparent serial killer starts murdering people in his tiny rural town. John is naturally fascinated by the unknown killer, which deeply concerns both his mother and his therapist.

I picked this book up because it was a book club selection but I really was just expecting it to be a YA Dexter. I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t. I was also pleasantly surprised to be dead wrong (pun intended) about the “twist” that I thought I saw coming. The book definitely takes an unexpected turn about 100 or so pages in which I won’t spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that this book is definitely not YA Dexter. Dan Wells makes John equally scary and sympathetic. I’m not quite sure how to categorize this book, but if you’re looking for a different sort of read for the Halloween season, I’d definitely check this one out.