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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Listening, Remembering "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson

A review by Kitty Griffin

Oh college and term papers, yes, things remembered.
That seems a lifetime ago, a different life, a different time, same person.

Something has stirred the dust of memory. Something has stirred and encouraged me to go into the attic and find the little door in the corner where a term paper is stored.
“The Evil of Innocence—the Work of Shirley Jackson” by Kitty Griffin.

I can’t even begin to describe how intensely I read as a kid. In high school I devoured books. One of the authors I discovered was Shirley Jackson. What did I like about her stories? They were about ordinary things that in a different light became wholly unordinary things. They were about delightful, delicate dreams that suddenly turned on the dreamer, grabbing them by the throat and throttling them. They were about characters proceeding with everyday life in innocence, only to let the readers discover to our horror their absolute evil. (A prime example of this is the story that everyone reads in high school, “The Lottery.” )

((If you haven’t read it, do so.))

I just purchased the audio version of “The Haunting of Hill House” written by Shirley Jackson and read aloud by Bernadette Dunne.

Now I remember. I remember writing so skillfully done that it is like being cut with a blade so intensely sharp that until you see blood dripping you don’t realize you’ve been cut. Jackson is a wordsmith who gives us these empathetic innocent characters who invite you into the dark recesses of their horror and when you want desperately to look away, you can’t because you just have to find out what the hell happens.  

Here is the opening to “The Haunting of Hill House”

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

It still gives me shudders.

The book gives us the first character, Eleanor Vance, a 32-year-old single woman who for most of her adult life took care of a spiteful, ungrateful ailing mother. Now, without a job, without means, Eleanor is offered a chance to do something exciting. She’s offered the chance to help with a scientific experiment at a place called Hill House. When her sister and brother-in-law tell her she cannot take the car (which is half Eleanor’s), Eleanor, in a burst of bravery, sneaks into the garage and takes it.

Now I give you a sample of the evil of innocence, because here you will be spun into the web of one of Eleanor’s day dreams…and you will find yourself understanding it, delighting in it, and you will be captured by Eleanor’s innocence.

“On the main street of one village she passed a vast house, pillared and walled, with shutters over the windows and a pair of stone lions guarding the steps, and she thought that perhaps she might live there, dusting the lions each morning and patting their heads good night. Time is beginning this morning in June, she assured herself, but it is a time that is strangely new and of itself, in these few seconds I have lived a lifetime in a house with two lions in front. Every morning I swept the porch and dusted the lions, and every evening I patted their heads good night and once a week I washed their faces and manes and paws with warm water and soda and cleaned between their teeth with a swab. Inside the house the rooms were tall and clear with shining floors and polished windows. A little dainty old lady took care of me, moving starchily with a sliver tea service on a tray and bringing me a glass of elderberry wine each evening for my health’s sake. I took my dinner alone in the long, quiet dining room at the gleaming table, and between the tall windows the white paneling of the walls shone in the candlelight; I dined upon a bird, and radishes from the garden, and homemade plum jam. When I slept it was under a canopy of white organdy, and a nightlight guarded me from the hall. People bowed to me on the streets because everyone was very proud of my lions. When I died…”

Do you see how easily we moved into Eleanor’s daydream? So smoothly. I can feel the stone lions. I can imagine washing them, cleaning them. Those utterly delicate details that attach you to both character and story!

And just as smoothly Jackson begins to reveal the horror of Hill House. Not with a headless horseman ghost dashing through the dining room, but with doors and windows that close by themselves. Doors and windows shutting out fresh air, keeping what’s outside out and what’s inside in.

And just when you think you know or you understand what is going on in Hill House, Jackson shuts that window and slams that door and takes your breath away.

It is a work of horror done with such delicate skill that makes this story a classic.

The reading by Bernadette Dunne is just as exquisite. She changes her voice just enough for each character. Her calm, resonant voice pulls you in with the same surgical skill as Jackson’s writing so that when it’s time to be terrified, you really are.

Black Cat on Chincoteague Island, VA by K. Griffin

Monday, August 4, 2014

First Friday-Five Favorite Things - Far From You

Tes BridgeFAR-FROM-YOU-final-coverbig

by Tess Sharpe

This past Friday, August 1, Marcy and I posted our answers to Tess's debut novel, Far From You. Today, you get to read Tess's favorite's. She's obviously given a lot of thought to her answers, which isn't surprising since the novel addresses so many thought-provoking topics.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Near the end of the book, Trev and Sophie burn Mina’s diary along the shore of the lake, and it includes a paragraph about how Sophie views love and her heart that I’ve always been very fond of:

“But my heart isn’t simple or straightforward. It’s a complicated mess of wants and needs, boys and girls: soft, rough and everything in between, an ever-shifting precipice from which to fall.”

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

“No help comes.
It’s just her and me.
Mina’s skin gets colder by the minute.
I still don’t let her go.”

As you can tell, I’m kind of into misery.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

I really love Aunt Macy. If I ever write the girl detective books I have in the back of my head, Macy will definitely be making some guest appearances in them.

I’m a big fan of including extended family into my teen character’s lives, because I had a lot of official and unofficial aunts and uncles growing up, and they had such a great influence on me.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

It’s actually one that is not in the book anymore! Harper’s Bluff, where the book takes place, is based on a town in my home county. And the downtown setup is super weird. We have the county jail and the police station on one side of the main street, and directly across the street, a liquor store and a smoke shop. When I described this in the book, my copy editor asked, “Maybe we should change this? This seems a little unrealistic.” I changed it, but little did she know, it was based on real life!

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Sophie and Mina’s confrontation in the girl’s bathroom, after Mina has tried to set Sophie up with Trev is one of my favorite scenes in the book, but also contains my favorite piece of dialogue, which is:

“I’ll choose you. No matter how hard it is. No matter what people say. I’ll choose you. It’s up to you to choose me back.”

I love this not only because it sums their relationship up very well, but it’s the first time Sophie has really stood up for herself in a very overt way.

Congratulations Tess on your debut novel. We can't wait to read your next book!

To read more about Tess Sharpe’s debut YA novel Far From You please go to:

Friday, August 1, 2014

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

US book cover for "Far from You"

by Dave Amaditz and
Marcy Collier

As summer is winding down, Marcy and I still have a lot more on our reading list. If you’re looking for a terrific debut novel, check out our post today for a book we couldn’t put down.

Welcome to August’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Tess Sharpe and her novel, Far From You. To describe the story in one word… Wow! To describe the story in a few sentences… It’s a love story, a murder mystery, and the quest for a young girl, Sophie, to begin the search for who she is - - without the help of her best friend, who has been murdered.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave – As with Marcy (see her answer below) I chose a mantra that is repeated throughout the novel. To me, this is another thing that helped define Sophie… who she is and what motivates her.

This section comes from early in the novel when Sophie is riding with her aunt, Macy, a bounty hunter. Mina is the name of Sophie’s best friend who was murdered.

Macy taps her fingers against the steering wheel. She’s itching to get going, to chase down that guy and put him in jail where he belongs.

I know that feeling, that drive for justice. All the women in my family have it. Macy’s is wrapped up in the chase, in the hard and fast and brutal judgment, and Mom’s is wrapped up in rules and laws and juries, the courtroom her chosen battlefield.

Mine is wrapped up in Mina, magnified by her, defined by her, existing because of her.

Marcy – This mantra is repeated over and over (days and months changing and increasing) throughout the novel. For me, this helped carry Sophie and her story through the book. If she focused on how long she had been drug-free and stayed clean, she might be able to get through all of the awful things that were happening in her life.

Six months. Five days. Ten hours.

That’s how long I’ve been clean, and I repeat it over and over to myself. As long as I focus on that, as long as I’m committed to making that number rise, minute by minute, day by day, I’m going to be okay. I have to be.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Dave - I think I could’ve listed every chapter ending because they were all so tense and they all made me want to keep reading. Plus, there were so many cliffhangers throughout the story that made me sit on the edge of my seat. And yes, I had on my list the one Marcy picked below, so I won’t list that. And I won’t list the one that was my very favorite because it’s at the end of the book and will give away the story. So I’ll pick another. I think you’ll like it, too.

A click. It’s familiar. Dread surges through me. I’m blocking Trev. Maybe I can save him, like I should’ve saved her. I spin around, instinctually, toward the noise, and for the second time in my life, I’m looking down the barrel of a gun.

Marcy – Usually I go for the cliffhanger ending, but this time, I chose the tearjerker. I won’t go into details. You’ll have to read the novel to find out!

I curl my fingers around the ring so tightly, I’m surprised the word stamped into the silver doesn’t carve its way into me the way she did.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave – There are so many great secondary characters in this story. All have such strong personalities. All are so believable in everything they do. I went back and forth between picking Mina and Trev (as well as Rachael for a while, too). In the end, however, I settled on Mina. I hope this short passage helps to explain why.

“Oh, Soph.” Mina practically deflates. She sits down next to me. “What happened to you was horrible,” she says. “Beyond horrible. And it isn’t fair or right that Trev and I came out of it fine and you…” She trails off. “But gross?” She presses her hand against my heart. Her thumb brushes up against the edge of the scar on my chest. “This isn’t gross. You know what I think when I see this?”

I shake my head.

Her voice drops. She’s whispering, a secret for just the two of us: “I think about how strong you are. You didn’t stop fighting, even when your heart stopped. You came back.”

Marcy – I chose Rachael as my favorite secondary character. Rachael is the one who finds Sophie after she witnesses the murder of her best friend Mina. Rachael is an offbeat character who genuinely wants to help Sophie. She always believes her new friend and is never judgmental. This scene takes place when Sophie comes to Rachel’s house and asks for help in solving Mina’s murder. These two paragraphs show how Sophie sees Rachael.

She smiles, a big stretch that shows all of her teeth, so genuine it almost hurts. I don’t think I can even remember how to smile like that.

There’s a determination in Rachael that I’ve never seen before. She has conviction. In herself, in what she wants, in what she believes. I want to be like that. To be sure of myself. Rachel had stuck around when she didn’t have to. When everyone else, everyone who’s know me forever, had turned their backs. That means more to me than anything.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Dave – Again, there are so many to choose from, but I picked this particular passage from early in the novel because it says so much about the conflicted feelings Sophie experienced. And for me, anyhow, and without giving too much away, was a much more powerful passage once I read further into the story. (Sophie is with Trev, Mina’s brother and close friend since early childhood.)

I let myself be touched. Kissed. Undressed and eased back onto the wooden floor scarred with the remnants of our childhood.

I let myself feel it. Allow his skin to sink into mine.

I let myself because this is exactly what I need: this terrible idea, this beautiful, messy distraction.

And if somewhere in the middle both of our faces are wet with tears, it doesn’t matter so much. We’re doing this for all the wrong reasons, anyway.

Later, I stare at his face in the moonlight and wonder if he can tell that I kissed him like I already know the shape of his lips. Like I’ve mapped them in my mind, in another life. Learned them from another person who shared his eyes and nose and mouth, but who is never coming back.

Marcy – This powerful paragraph left a punch and a strong image in my mind that haunted me until the end of the story.

The second time, I remember everything. The beam of the car’s brights. The shooter’s eyes shining at us through his mask. How steady his finger is on the trigger. Mina’s hand clutching mine, our nails digging into each other’s flesh.

After, I’ll trace my fingers over those bloody half-moon marks and realize they’re all I have left of her.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave – This line, well, actually two lines, are from the end of the novel. A short discourse between Sophie and her mom.

“That can’t be an excuse,” I say. “There can’t be any excuses. Every single therapist you’ve sent me to will tell you that. I’m an addict. I’ll always be an addict. Just like I’ll always be crippled. And you’ve never been okay with either. I am. It took me a long time, but I am. You need to be, too.”

“I’m okay with who you are, Sophie,” she says. “I love who you are. I love you no matter what.”

Marcy – Sophie has a strained relationship with her mother and isn’t afraid to be blunt sometimes when talking with her.

“You want me to play the gimp card?” I cut in, and she flinches like I’ve slapped her.

To read more about Tess Sharpe’s debut YA novel Far From You please go to:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Audiobook reviews: 5-star MG novels for family listening

by Susan Chapek

Today I'll piggyback on the recent post in which Kitty Griffin suggests two "musts" for selecting audiobooks.

The audiobooks on this list meet both of her criteria, and I found them all on my neighborhood library shelf. 

I'd recommend any of them for a family car trip with middle graders as the youngest passengers. I chose novels I consider new classics—honored books that some kids might postpone reading on the page ("too serious; too long; too literary"). But for a read-aloud? They're the audio equivalent of page-turners. And that would go for most adult listeners, too. 

I list them in order of original print edition publication date.

The versions I recommend are performed by narrators on my personal 5-star list. 

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Mildred Taylor; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by Lynne Thigpen) 

The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin; Recorded Books edition narrated by Jeff Woodman) 

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (Christopher Paul Curtis; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by LeVar Burton) 

When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by Cynthia Holloway)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Story Starts From Images

by Cynthia Light Brown


I'm vacationing on Bald Head Island, NC (a truly lovely place). There's a golf course on the island, weaving between the maritime forest here and ponds. At one pond there's always a large alligator, above. Couple of days ago, there was a smaller one - about 4' long, swam out to the center, and this guy swam after him and attacked. There was a ferocious rolling....and then there was one. I didn't actually see it - arrived that evening - but talked to a guy who saw it.

The alligators sometimes stroll on the greens, so maybe your mc is out for a round of golf, and....
Or your mc is fishing...
Or in your picture book, an alligator waits perfectly still, only his nostrils flaring.

Or how about this? Two friends:

This is a snowy egret and an ibis, although it's hard to tell. Someone walked by and they both flew off....to the same tree a hundred yards away.

Or put all 3 together for an interesting tale.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What Happens on the Playground Stays on the Playground by Andrea Perry

Are any of you familiar with Iona and Peter Opie's The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren?
Taken directly from the oral tradition of British schoolchildren, 5000(!) of them during the 1950's, the Opies compiled a unique anthology of children's games, punishments, wishes, beliefs, and regulation.  From 70 varied schools in cities as well as remote rural areas, Iona and Peter worked independently with no grants, no funding, and no publishing advances to provide an amazing view of the "unadulterated" lore of the schoolchild.  This encyclopedic text is exhaustively indexed by general category, contributing schools, geography, and first lines. I have had this book for months and still am only about a quarter of the way through it, delighting in every detail.
The chapters of the book include  Riddles, Topical Rhymes, Nicknames and Epithets, Children's Calendar, Pranks, and Unpopular Children: Jeers and Torments to  name but a few.
Though nursery rhymes pass from mother to child, school rhymes circulate from child to child and are not intended for adult ears.. All of the rhymes were generated by and for children only.  I doubt there is anyone who would read this treasure and not recognize something:

In Pranks:  Bell Ringing
"Me don't know, me can't tell,
 Me press a button and run like hell"

Children's Calendar:  Pancake Day ( Shrove Tuesday)
"Tippety, tippety tin
 Give me a pancake and I will come in
 Tippety tippety toe
 Give me a pancake and I will go"

Nicknames and Epithets:  School Food
"Say what you will,
 school dinners make you ill
 And Shepherd's Pie
 Makes Davy Crockett cry:
 All school din-dins
 come from pigs' bins
    -that's no lie"

 Unpopulare Children: Lament
"Nobody loves me
 everybody hates me,
 Going in the garden to eat worms.
 Big fat juicy ones
  little squiggly, niggly ones
 going in the garden to eat worms."

Skipping Rope Rhynes:
"I like coffee
 I like tea
 I like radio and tv"

"Marilyn Monroe
 Fell in the snow
 Her skirt blew up
 and the boy said, "Oh!"

Though the topics and terminology have changed with the times, there is much here that we all remember.  As a matter of fact, some of the rhymes used for counting-out or skipping are practically identical to rhymes known 130 years ago. 
Even if you are not a hopeless rhymeaholic like I am, you will find something to love in this encyclopedia of childhood.
I will leave you with a favorite tongue twister:

"A woman to her son did utter
  Go, my son, and shut the shutter
  The shutter's shut, the son did utter
  I cannot shut it any shutter."

Submitted by Andrea Perry

Friday, July 11, 2014

Building Balance

The Good, the Bad, and the Clunky  Audiobook Reviews
 By Kitty Griffin 


I’ve become infected. I’ve always enjoyed hearing stories read aloud, so this isn’t a new infection. It’s just an old one reestablishing itself.

I’ve just joined Audible.

(And it’s good. Not as comfy as my dear Grampy’s big lap. I don’t smell Old Spice. I can’t feel his whiskers, but I’ve found comfort.)

When teaching, I often encouraged my students to look at a story from as many angles as they could. In fact, the mid-term was to take a beloved book, one that had been turned into a movie, and compare every creative aspect of it, determining what worked and what didn’t.

It’s wonderful to read stories.
It’s wonderful to listen to stories.
It’s wonderful to see them (unless Hollywood does what they did to Ella Enchanted then it’s not wonderful, it’s sickening—but that’s another review).

Let’s start with what makes an audiobook work.


There are two voices in an audiobook. The voice of the main character and the voice of the reader. Those two voices have to be in harmony for things to work well. They need to balance, with one side not heavier/lighter than the other.

So I’ll give you a story that became C, or CLUNKY for me. A story that didn't balance.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.
Reviews of the book are quite good. Folks loved it. I had the chance to get the book and the audio version for a very decent price (like two bucks).

I didn’t listen to the sample. BIG BOO BOO.

So, I get to the gym, turn on my player and
Thunk. Clunk.

The voice I heard was so harsh it was like fingernails on a chalkboard to my ears.
It made me hate the main character, Celaena Sardothien. I mean hate her so much that after an hour of listening I was done. Later, I tried to read the story but that harsh voice scraped my brain and that was that. My money was wasted.

Go and listen to the free sample on Amazon. See what you think. The narrator, Elizabeth Evans, has read quite a few books. I find it interesting that in the review for a book called “Jesus Land” the writer said this: “She afforded the mother a sharp, intolerant voice that I may not have been as affected by.”

Exactly. A sharp voice.

Even a soothing, mellow voice of Scott Holst couldn’t help Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for me.

When you keep saying to yourself, “Is he serious?” until that phrase separates you from the story, it’s time to give up.
So, good voice, story stretched beyond my very pliable “suspension of disbelief” boundary.
(I know, a lot of folks loved this book. Shrug. It’s all personal taste and this one just didn’t work for me.)

So that’s an audiobook that got a B. Bad story didn't work for me. 

Now we come to G for good.  

We’ll start these reviews with A FOR ADVENTURE!

Airman by Eoin Colfer

This is ADVENTURE ADVENTURE! Yes. I’m shouting that. Fourteen year-old Conor Broekhart dreams of flying, for these are the early days, before man has figured out how to do it. After a horrible series of horrible events (warning: if you have a sensitive child, you may want to read this book first, Colfer doesn’t hold back with violence). Conor ends up in prison where he must find a way to break out if he is to save the princess and keep his beloved country from being ruled by a madman.
(I told you it was an adventure!)
The reader, John Keating (who also reads many of the Ranger’s Apprentice series) is very skilled at changing his voice. The prison guard has a whine, the old magician’s voice is thin and scratchy, the tutor has a French accent, and Conor speaks with a wonderful Irish brogue, the timbre of his voice is like a lovely Irish tenor, smooth and so delightful to listen to.
G for good, yes, very good.

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima is part of a quartet calld the Seven Realms.

The Exiled Queen
The Gray Wolf Throne
The Crimson Crown

If you go to Good Reads you’ll see that this book has 24,894 ratings and it’s earned a 4.22 out of 5.
Seriously superior, and it has the awards to prove it.

This is a YA, Young Adult book, but easily readable for younger readers who are skilled. 

This series involves a number of characters and the story switches between them.

The two main characters are Princess Raisa and Han Allister.
It is adventure, it’s fantasy, and it’s romance. More of a girl’s book, but it wouldn’t surprise me if boys might not secretly enjoy it, too. After all, there’s plenty of adventure, battles, one on one combat.

I really enjoyed the series. I’m not sure I would’ve been caught up with the stories had I chosen to read the books.

The reader, Carol Monda has a smooth, wonderful tone. She changes into various characters with ease. She makes these changes with accents or adding gruffness, whatever the changes are so believable that without a doubt she adds to the story.

I loved listening to these books and I forgave the over-writing and story stretches. 
G for good, wonderfully good.

Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

Trickster’s Queen

Again, adventure and fantasy, this pair of books by the fantasy master, Tamora Pierce.
With nearly 30,000 ratings on Good Reads, this book has a 4.24.

It's considered YA, Young Adult. It's adventure and coming of age, and there's romance that buds and leads to marriage and kissing that leads to a bit more. It's high fantasy on a world that has gods and magic and mystery, which all leads to mayhem! 

This story dances with one of Pierce’s liveliest and fiercest girls, Alianne, the daughter of the Lioness and the Trickster. At the start of the story, Ali is bored. She seeks adventure, and it’s what she finds when she takes a little boat planning to prove to her parents…well, whatever she wanted to prove is lost when the pirates grab her.

The reader for this set is Trini Alvarado. Again we have a voice that is flowing, charming and inviting. She makes changes with such subtlety that it becomes musical.

I was really quite enchanted with the fantasy, the mystery, and the excitement.

G for good, great, glorious!