Category Archives: Literary Criticism

Review: The Haunting of Maddy Clare

  The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

I say:

“Superb, scary and satisfying. A moody ghost story with chills and a touch of romance.”

In the 1920s London, Sarah Piper is alone in the world. She lives in a boarding house and works for a temporary agency to make ends meet.  The agency offers her an unconventional job. Sarah accepts the position as an assistant to wealthy ghost-hunter and World War I veteran Alistair Gellis. Gellis is not just a ghost hunter, he is an obsessed ghost hunter.

He hires Sarah because his regular assistant is on leave and special circumstances surround this potential haunting. Sarah accompanies Gellis on a trip to a rural small town. Summoned by Mrs. Clare the property owner Gellis will be allowed to document the haunting but he is not allowed to enter the building. The ghost will not tolerate men.

They visit Mrs. Clare and learn that the ghost arrived at their door one night as a brutalized young child. She damaged physically and traumatized emotionally. The family took her in and named her Maddy. Incapable of little the family cared for the girl until she committed suicide in the barn leaving a note, “I will kill them.” Mrs. Clare wants Alistair Gellis to rid the barn of Maddy and her rage.

With no training or skill Gellis sends Sarah into the barn with a recorder and a camera. Sarah is to document the ghost and ask her to leave. Nervous but determined Sarah calls to the ghost. She senses the spirit then a door start to move. The ghost taunts her in a terrifying encounter.

They return to the pub where he has secured them rooms. Gellis is euphoric with the manifestation. His assistant, Matthew Ryder, arrives eager as well. Sarah is attracted to Matthew and accidentally sees the burns scars covering his body. Sarah learns that the two men met and developed an enduring bond during the war, WWI.

Further encounters with Maddy escalate the violence and threat. Three damaged people suffering from trauma must uncover the mystery. The poverty-stricken and lonely Sarah, sophisticated Gellis and rough edged Matthew must learn what happened to Maddy, what she wants and how to put her to rest because Maddy is very angry and will stop at nothing to get her revenge.

The story is told in first person by Sarah. Her narration is filled with nuance and details setting the mood and building the characters. The feeling of loneliness and isolation radiate from the Sarah and the men, each trying to overcome a trauma just as Maddy herself suffered.

The mystery is easily determined by the reader. Yet the tension ratchets higher with each page. The author, Simone St. James does a superb job of engaging the reader. I was engrossed with this un-put-downable book. My reading of the book lead to my blog of Review Interruptess.

St. James is the winner of two RITA Awards from the Romance Writers of America ,best new book and best book with strong romantic elements also, the Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. She deserves these awards for penning a chilling, scary read that draws you into the lives and fear of her characters.

Product Details:

  • Print Length: 335 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0451235681
  • Publisher: NAL; 1 Original edition (March 6, 2012)

Join Amazon Prime – Watch Over 40,000 Movies

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Literary Criticism, Recommended, Reviews

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I say:“Compelling, intense and important. Heartbreaking, haunting and hopeful.”

“I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

This book is about suicide. How one character reaches the point that she kills herself and how both her death and the message she leaves impact and haunt another character. Jay Asher has written a compelling, intense and important work.

This is a dark novel about a dark subject. Do not take the subject or the book lightly. I recommend this read before my review, for many reasons, and ask whether you read the review or not – Please read the book. Please think about the topic.

Clay Jensen is a good kid. He receives a package of 7 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker.  Hannah was a beautiful, fragile girl and Clay had a crush on her. Hannah killed herself, committed suicide two weeks before.

Hannah’s voices tells Clay, “I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

On each side of the tape Hannah narrates to the listener her thirteen reasons why she killed herself.  If the person is sent the tapes and his listening to them, they are one of the reasons. This is not a suicide note but an explanation.

Clay is horrified and distraught that he is a reason for her death. He listens to each tape as he walks throughout day and night following Hannah’s own path as she recorded them, a voyeuristic tour of events that created the snowball leading to her suicide.

Clay experiences fear, frustration and guilt as he becomes obsessed wondering what he did, how Hannah came to this point and how could her death have been prevented.

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own.”

The first reason in the start of Hannah’s downward spiral is the story of how she meets a boy named Justin and her first kiss. New in town her innocent interlude with Justin starts rumors.

Intentional and unintentional acts of others impact Hannah as her ability to cope is fractured and broken. Some of Hannah’s reasons are due to acts of violence, others the impact of having not acted.

The suspense builds even though the reader already knows the ending. The experience of all the missed opportunities and thirteen of the reasons a delicate girl with a tenuous grasp on life both emotionally and mentally.

Everything. . . affects everything.

Told in a unique dual narration that Asher skillfully weaves together both Hannah’s thoughts and actions fueling the escalation of despair, depression and hopelessness along with Clay’s anguish and misery as he listens.

This book is a young adult book and a big part of the message is intended for the young reader. I hope the message is conveyed and understood, as I believe it is, that actions, careless or not impact others.

As an adult I enjoyed, though the term seems strange given the subject) this novel. I thought the book was well written and I highly recommend reading if for no other reason that everyone needs a reminder to be kind and careful. I read the book with obsession, the suspense and grief so gripping I was compelled to read.

It occurs to me that the author at some points fails to show Hannah’s emotional despair and loss of hope. But then when she is recording her tapes she has in fact already made her decision. The last tape is her final grasp for help and hope.

Before I wrote my review, I did research and read other reviews. This book made me cry and devastated me. I know how as survivor of a loved one’s act of suicide.  The issue is important and not to be mistreated.

I do not think the author mistreated the subject in his book. Some negative reviews are justified in the evaluation of the writing. But other negative reviews are written by people that not only did not grasp what the book said and intended, they also failed to understand that suicide is a result of how the person sees their life. That suicide is not just a result of an act of violence or PTSD. Suicide is an emotional and mental crisis.

Suicide is an emotional and mental crisis.

Symptoms of suicide are even mentioned in the book and while not thorough as this is not a text-book, they are accurate. One symptom is asking about, talking about, and even mentioning suicide.  Which Hannah does early in the book. Also, change in character or personality and acting is a risky or destructive manner, again Hannah clearly exhibits these signs.

One reviewer, “It was hard to sympathize with her because it seemed like she created these situations for herself. She willingly made stupid decisions… purposely did them anyway against her better judgment.” This review/reader obviously missed the point of the risky and destructive behavior.

I read a review by a teacher that said yes these type of petty cruel things happen but as some other reviews said (paraphrasing) they do not think these are good enough reasons.  The point is that people are affected differently and their reasons are theirs alone. And we don’t know why or how someone is impacted.

Quotes from the book: “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.”

“But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head.”

Suicide is not isolated to young people, though they are the more vulnerable. To learn more and help prevent suicide:

Join Amazon Prime – Watch Over 40,000 Movies

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Literary Criticism, Literature, Recommended, Reviews

Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

This book is an enduring read. I have read this so many times I had to buy another book. Even having repeatedly read the book, I never skip certain areas or paragraphs as I do in other re-reads. That speaks to how marvelously written Sunshine is.

The book starts painting the normal world where our heroine and narrator of the book lives. The first line,

“It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years.”

Rae Seddon nicknamed Sunshine just needs a break from her family. She is the baker for the family coffee shop. She is irritated with the smothering of love and togetherness so she drives out to the lake for a break from everything one night. The author paints an average young woman with normal life when wham the reader learns this is a very different world with the marvelous, last sentence of the chapter.

“And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life. ….. I never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.”

Sunshine takes place in a dark alternate version of our world. A world where demons, ‘were’ creatures (werewolves, wererats), vampires and magic are part of everyday life and everyday fears. The book is in first person and Sunshine’s narration is written like a conversation. Reading is like listening to a friend tell you a story. And McKinley has such talent that throughout this conversation she unveils and builds Sunshine’s world and a sophisticated, intricate well-thought plot. The atmosphere is dark, filled with menace, danger and small doses of humor.

Sunshine is kidnapped by vampires and chained to a wall as human livestock for a fellow captive. Her companion is a starving vampire named Constantine. Vampires are terrifying, frightening, smelly and deadly. Captive Constantine is the enemy of Bo, the leader of the vampire gang that captured them. Both Sunshine and Constantine are victims of an evil taunting game only Bo enjoys. Constantine tells Sunshine to remind him she is a rational creature so that Bo does not win the game today, the consequence being Sunshine dies.

Though petrified Sunshine recalls magic taught by her grandmother. And so she frees herself and Constantine. The mutual imprisonment and escape binds the two as partners in an ongoing battle against evil Bo. Neither is accepting of this bond. The relationship that develops is awkward and uncomfortable for both. Constantine is not evil, we come to know he is good and as a reader he becomes an endearing, heroic character. But the quality of menace remains as he is truly other and alien. Constantine becomes an endearing, heroic character.

Sunshine comes to learn more about the people around her and herself. Yes, she steps up to the fight ahead but as a real person. She is not suddenly brave and strong, she is scared and unsure. She is a flawed but always likeable, confused and deals with the trauma of her capture through work and pushing the people she cares about away. She is often bitchy. But she is a consistent narrator through her capture, escape, trauma and coming to terms with circumstances and the new reality forced on her. The meandering path of Sunshine’s thoughts show a very real person and her seemingly superfluous diversions continue to lay the ground work of this world and the story.

The ending of the book is strangely unfinished, quiet and yet remains true to the characters and story. It is a solid ending that is satisfactory and makes you want to cry. And if you are like me you will also want to cry that you have reached the end.

This is my absolute favorite book. Ms. McKinley is an amazing, talented author. Her storytelling and plotting is brilliant. I fear I have not done justice to the book. Sunshine is infused with the magical prose of Robin McKinley. Neil Gaiman said this book is “Pretty much perfect.” He is right.

Product Details:
Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (April 29, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0142411108 ISBN-13: 978-0142411100
Mass Market Paperback Publisher: Jove (2004)

Ratings 1 – 5
• Readability: 5
• Likability: 5
• Recommended: 5
• Book Club Read: 4
• Author Watch List: 5
• Laugh Meter: 2
• Cry Meter: 1
• Three Word Description: Perfect Urban Fantasy
Join Amazon Prime – Watch Over 40,000 Movies

Other books by this author:

Urban Fantasy Reads:

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Literary Criticism, Recommended, Reviews, Urban Fantasy

One Line Plot Description (Elements of Writing) Killer Titles?

From The Write Life Lessons in The Art of Writing
4 Elements of a Logline – One line plot description by Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Summary of Chapter One – What Is It?A log line is a movie/screen writing term for a one or two line description of the story. Snyder says screenwriters can sell their screen play if they have the following 4 elements.

1) Irony. A good story will have a twist. Identify the conflict. Mention the protagonist
(Hero/Heroine) and the antagonist to involve the reader’s emotions.

2) Target Market. For the author of novels this would be the publisher and genre. Does the description provide an idea of the reader/market? A bookstore is divided by genre to engage the target market. Readers that enjoy romance, young adult section, mystery, sci-fi, etc. head to the labeled section. A blurb on the back, though longer, tells the reader what the story is about.

3) Create a mental picture. Does the description give the potential reader a visual idea of what the book/movie is about?

4) Killer Title. Snyder says if the logline has these elements your pitch will be successful. Even better condense the movie for the marquee and – voila!

So we may not be screenwriters, but as authors if we heed Snyder’s advice we have a better chance of selling our book to the publisher and the reader. I thought a look at some well-known books would be interesting.
Killer Titles:
I love all the following books but if someone hadn’t recommended Outlander I never would have read Gabaldon’s work. To Kill a Mockingbird is an intriguing title and Guilty Pleasures means you must buy the book. Fahrenheit 451? It would intrigue but I am not certain the book would sell today on the title alone. Unwind by Neil Shusterman doesn’t work on the title but the one line plot description of “what if your parents could unwind you….” hits the target market. What book titles SELL the book? Do these titles also meet the one line plot description? Do the elements of irony, target market and creation of a mental picture help make the killer Title?
I think the following books may well meet all 4 criteria:Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris and Undead and Unwed by Mary Janice Davidson. What do you think?

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Literary Criticism, Literature, Recommended, Reviews