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review 2018-06-19 02:55
Michael Blumlein, Keeping House

From Casual Debris.

 

 

Following her appointment as Associate Professor of Classics at the nearby university, a woman, along with her husband and their baby daughter, move into their new home. Rather than taking on the challenges of the shabby, broken down yet affordable house on the block, they settle on the more costly, yet renovated house beside it. What is quickly set up as a ghost story becomes something entirely difficult, relying on the psychological rather than the paranormal to illustrate an intelligent and hard-working woman's mental decline.

The story toys a little with the conventions of haunted house stories, referencing some of its tropes, like unpleasant scents and mirrors that reflect things that don't appear to be present at all, but instead of being a ghost story, it is far more akin to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's excellent psychological tale of deterioration, "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892). Like Gilman, "Keeping House" is told through the point of view of a new mother in a new environment who begins to believe that her surroundings are coming alive. Rather than believing someone is living trapped in the wall or its paper, Blumlein's unnamed heroine believes that threatening spirits are trying to infiltrate her home, entering from the adjacent, broken down eyesore of a house she chose not to purchase. To prevent this threat from destroying home and family, she does battle via an obsessive cleaning/cleansing routine.

Though the story can arguably be read ambiguously, there is enough evidence in the text to indicate that the visions and scents stem from the woman's overwrought mind. Possibly following postpartum, as is the case in Gilman, the un-named narrator goes through various extreme mood swings, which eventually culminate in her taking on all aspects of a family provider, and believing there is a threat attempting to pervade the house and harm the order and harmony she is struggling to maintain. She fights back by increasing the need for order and cleanliness to a dangerously obsessive degree.

Our narrator finally snaps as she begins preparations to have sex with her husband. This is the only indication in the story of any form of intimacy between them, hinting that they have not been physical sine conceiving their only child. Like her obsessive cleaning routine, her preparations for sex become ritual-like, and the story hence makes a connection between the couple's intimacy and the invading spirits, at least in the woman's mind. As she fights to prevent threats to invade her home, she is fighting to prevent her husband's invasion of her body. Following this scene we are informed that the husband is grumpy and increasingly absent due to work, though likely he is staying away from his wife in response to her increasing obsessiveness ("You are sick," he tells her), and perhaps also out of basic sexual frustration. The consequence is simply that mother-wife, as in Gilman, becomes increasingly isolated in response to the husband's unsympathetic assessment of her condition.

 
Thematically the story can be read as a modern woman struggling with the pressures of a career and balancing the traditional mother and wife requirements of home. Husband is absent from much of the story as he is struggling at a new job, or so the narrator presumes, and in a sense re-living the postpartum environment as mother is trapped at home with baby. Whatever we wish to read behind the woman's deterioration, it is the process itself that is the focus of the story. Again as with Gilman, our heroine is at the outset of the story already in her isolated state at home, though Blumlein's narrator does have the freedom of escape as she goes to work. The latter portion of the story, however, takes place during the summer, and as a teacher she drops her summer work option and remains at home to battle the demons behind the walls. The ending lacks the pure creepiness of Gilman's final scene, but does give us quietly depressing final act of cutting oneself off entirely from the world that surrounds.
Source: casualdebris.blogspot.com/2018/06/michael-blumlein-keeping-house.html
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review 2018-06-16 09:36
Love Held Captive (Lone Star #3) by Shelley Shepard Gray
Love Held Captive (A Lone Star Hero’s Love Story) - Shelley Shepard Gray

Major Ethan Kelly has never been able to absolve himself of the guilt he feels for raiding a woman’s home shortly before he was taken prisoner during the Civil War. He is struggling to get through each day until he once again crosses paths with Lizbeth Barclay—the very woman he is trying to forget. Life after the war is not much different for former Captain Devin Monroe until he meets Julianne VanFleet. He knows she is the woman he’s been waiting for, but he struggles to come to terms with the sacrifices she made to survive the war. When Ethan and Devin discover that their former colonel, Adam Bushnell, is responsible for both Lizbeth’s and Julianne’s pain, they call on their former fellow soldiers to hunt him down. As the men band together to earn the trust of the women they love, Lizbeth and Julianne seek the justice they deserve in a country longing to heal.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel addresses the topic of rape. 

 

 

During the Civil War, Major Ethan Kelly and his men were pushed to do many things they weren't proud of, but did it they did in the name of survival. One regular unsavory task was raiding the homes of innocent people for supplies to help keep the troops alive. Lizbeth Barclay's home was one of the properties raided by Kelly and his men. Unbeknownst to him, prior to his arrival she had not only suffered the deaths of her family members but also a sexual attack and mutilation by another soldier. 

 

Years later, Kelly and Barclay cross paths once again --- he as a hotel guest, she one of the hotel housekeepers. Though they don't immediately remember their past interaction, Major Kelly's memory is jarred when he sees the long scar running down the side of Lizbeth's face, a scar he never forgot even if he and Lizbeth never got on a first name basis the first time around. 

 

Kelly's friend and military comrade, Captain Devin Monroe develops an acquaintance with Julianne Van Fleet that, on his end, quickly grows into an honest love for her. But when she reveals her own story of some of the unpopular methods she resorted to to survive the war and care for her ailing grandmother, Devin struggles to make peace with it all. He questions whether he can make a life with someone with such a past. Though he's tempted to walk away at first, with some time to consider he realizes Julianne's actions were no worse than any men he served with who were similarly driven to survive. Devin once again comes to Julianne wanting to offer her a chance at a life rich in love, respect, and fidelity. But before the couple's dreams can take flight, their plans are stalled with the threat of former Army acquaintance Colonel Adam Bushnell.

 

When Devin and Ethan and their ladies all come together to share their stories of struggle, they find one common denominator among all of them: Bushnell. At different times, Bushnell terrorized both Lizbeth and Julianne. Devin and Ethan further reveal that these ladies weren't his only victims, not by a longshot. His face scarred by smallpox and hard living, Bushnell likely got in the habit of assaulting women rather than wooing them because his low self-esteem convinced him women would never give him the time of day otherwise. Determined to put a stop to Bushnell's assaults, the men rally the troops (as in, calling in even more Army buddies) to hunt the man down.

 

In addition to the duel romance stories going on here, as well as the manhunt scenes, this novel, like its two predecessors within this series, includes chapters detailing the mens' experiences in a Civil War POW camp, giving the reader an idea of how those months & years of imprisonment reshaped their spirits, inevitably changing them forever. 

 

I'm just going to say it: This book had the worst title of the series. Get beyond the title though, and Love Held Captive (man, that title gives me hard cringe though -- just screams bodice-ripper) is actually the BEST story in the trilogy IMO.  While the previous two books were enjoyable but, if I'm being honest, a little on the forgettable side, this one came alive with much more real characters full of humor, honesty and depth. Julianne's story really inspires empathy in a reader, making one think on maybe not be so quick to judge someone living life in a way that doesn't line up with how we would do things. Take time to consider the limited options they might be forced to choose from.

 

Bushnell is just the right amount of despicable without becoming cartoonish and Major Kelly and Capt. Monroe are just good solid dudes. Especially Devin. Major Kelly, coming from a privileged background and well-to-do family, can come of as slightly snobbish from time to time, but Devin is quick to set him straight and Kelly is open to learn when he oversteps. Lizbeth was a bit overdramatic for me at times, and though she never became one of my favorite characters (I'm too busy shipping Devin & Julianne!), she did grow on me a little by story's end.

 

So there you go! If you, like me, found the first couple books in this series fun enough but maybe a litle flat, don't duck out just yet! Definitely get into this one because the Lone Star series, at least as I see it, is one where author Shelley Shepard Gray left the best for last! 

 

FTC DISCLAIMER:  TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-06-14 03:27
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Wintrop
The Castle in the Attic - Elizabeth Winthrop

William is having a hard time adjusting. He's just found out that his beloved Mrs. Philips is leaving him to return home to London. She's been his companion since he was born, but now he's old enough to look after himself, and, hey, his parents are going to spend more time with him now. William is taking it so hard, because Mrs. Philips is family, but also because he's a bit of a loner, with only one friend not a British nanny, and - dare I say a - crybaby? I scrubbed away a lot of this characterization when I was little, so it was surprising to read it now. That is not why the book has faded for me. William's character, as atypical as it is for such an 'early' kids novel, is vital to the success of the story. His success is so much more meaningful knowing his struggles.

My problem was everything else. 'The Castle in the Attic' was full of mystery and magic, and I imagined myself exploring the castle, meeting Sir Simon, learning swordplay and, why not?, gymnastics. The prophecy was thrilling, the danger so clear. As an adult all of this faded into the simple language demanded at the time. The world William travels to didn't feel convincing, and the nanny problem seemed absurd to me. Has William never really bonded with his parents before this? Who would hire a nanny knowing that was the result? Winthrop likely didn't intend this, but it felt as if Mrs. Philips was responsible for coddling William and her presence isolated him most of the other children.

This is still a worthy book for kids, but I'm afraid its another one lost in the nostalgia wars.

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review 2018-06-13 15:42
The Axeman of New Orleans: The (boring) True Story
The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story - Miriam C. Davis,Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I am DNFing this book. For a story about the axeman, it is so incredibly dull. The author has clearly done her homework but she's included too many sidelines that have nothing to do with the murders. If I wanted to learn about the origins of the Italian Mafia in New Orleans I would've picked up a different book.

 

This story was also one of the subplots in American Horror Story’s season of “Coven”. The "axeman" is the guy Jessica Lange gets cozy with. The gals over at MY FAVORITE MURDER also covered the case in one of their many disturbingly amusing podcasts. I’d say listen to that instead. Life's too short and stressful so I'm picking up something else rather than struggling to stay awake during this one.

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review 2018-06-13 01:20
Dark Harvest by Chris Patchell
Dark Harvest (A Holt Foundation Story) (Volume 2) - Chris Patchell,Mark Cooper,Monica Haynes

Note: Dark Harvest is Book 2 in the series and works best if read after Book 1 simply because you get so much character development that carries over from one book to the next.

I really liked that Brooke, who suffered a brutal kidnapping in Book 1, isn’t all sunshine and roses. She is still walking the hard, dark path to recovery. Marissa, her mom, struggles with how best to help her but she’s doing her best. Brooke’s younger sister, Kelley, puts in a few appearances but we see far less of her than in Book 1 and I missed her. Seth continues to be my favorite character. He’s doing his best to navigate these choppy waters with Marissa and her family, along with his work and memories of his dead wife.

Marissa was hard to root for in this book. She’s really self-centered and I think the author intended for us to see that. However, I don’t see Marissa becoming aware of her flaw and then taking action to better herself. She’s really wrapped up on Seth. He wants to give them all a bit of space to allow Brooke the time to heal and Marissa the time and energy to help Brooke. However, Marissa takes this as rejection. Ugh! Why, Marissa? Why? I wanted to give her a little reality check. I can see why she has a long history of failed relationships.

I also have to mention Marissa in one more thing. This is a MINOR SPOILER. Marissa has failed to take her birth control pill religiously and guess what happens? Yep. This really pissed me off about Marissa. She’s a career woman in her 30s who has basically raised her daughters on her own after becoming unexpectedly pregnant at 16. She’s been down this road before and apparently didn’t learn her lesson. The pill doesn’t work 100% of the time but when you negligently forget to take the pill daily, you’re borrowing trouble.

OK, so let’s talk about the mystery because that’s what really kept me in this book. Someone has been targeting pregnant women but no bodies have turned up. Pretty early on we get to know something about the kidnappers so the majority of the book is a cat and mouse game between the cops and the Holt Foundation and the bad guys. The motivations of the kidnappers were layered and deeper than I initially expected. I really liked that about this mystery. Tori, oh Tori! I wanted things to come out better for you even as I knew you had to pay for what you did. Xander Wilcox, I wonder if you were always so arrogant? Definitely interesting ‘bad guys’.

Seth struggles on several levels in this book. Henry, the computer genius at the Holt Foundation, doesn’t mind breaking laws to get data (phone records, arrest records, utility info, etc.). Seth has retained his cop sense of right and wrong and is mightily uncomfortable about Henry’s activities. However Nathan Holt isn’t interested in pushing Henry to follow the letter of the law. After all, the Holt Foundation is about finding victims before it’s too late. Seth is also struggling to both respect the needs of Marissa’s family as a whole and be supportive to Marissa as his girlfriend. Then he realizes that he hasn’t fully dealt with the death of his wife Holly. He’s a complicated guy and I really enjoyed watching him overcome one hurdle after another.

The ending had a few surprises. Henry! Oh, my! I also like that Seth has wrapped up some of the lose threads of his life. I would have liked further character growth for Marissa because she is a twit in this book. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Lisa Stathoplos and Corey Gagne did a really good job with this book. I really like Gagne as Seth and Stathoplos has a perfect voice for Marissa. She also does a great job with the voices for Kelley and Brooke making all 3 ladies distinct but still sound related. I especially liked the aggravated, arrogant voice for Xander. 5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Chris Patchell. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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