Gleeful Grace Book Review

where a blatant bookworm reviews books


mental illness

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

I have never been so scared by a little girl–a fictional one, no less (except maybe those creepy girls in the Shining)! A few years ago, I went through a phase where psychopathy and sociopaths intrigued me deeply (don’t get me wrong I’m a good noodle I swear!), and I read many books on this topic. A twisted, heartless child psychopath just makes everything so much more exciting, and I couldn’t wait to see what devious acts she could come up with. Continue reading “My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier”


Review: Shift by Em Bailey

I got this book from way back but only recently picked it up from my huge TBR pile (do I smell a trend here. HALP.) For some reason I went into this book with great anticipation. Maybe it’s the premise: humanoid shapeshifter lurking among and attaching themselves to clueless human victims like parasites. How exciting! That cover is also pretty suitable and pretty! #coverlove Continue reading “Review: Shift by Em Bailey”

Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

I started this book a long long time ago but for some reason never progressed beyond chapter 4. Last week, I just said to myself, “see how short, how puny this book is? Of course you can finish it. You can do it.” I read and liked Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, so after I remembered Belzhar is inspired by that book, I got way more interested.

Continue reading “Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer”

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra—Prima Donna Drama

I went through a phase of really, really loving ballet. Books, movies, photography, anything ballet. I remember reading Bunheads, Dance of Shadows, Dancing for Degas, and several others I didn’t finish. I also watched Black Swan (I think it’s the movie that set everything off), several real or televised classic ballet performances like Swan Lake, the Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty, and a TV series that recently came out called Flesh and Bone. Needless to say, when I saw the synopsis of Tiny Pretty Things—Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars—I was elated.

Continue reading “Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra—Prima Donna Drama”

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word is about mental illness and popularity. Sam is one of those popular “Mean Girls” girls in school. She and her friends seem to be having the high school days of their lives. Even though Sam belongs to the clique, she’s uncomfortable with what they’re doing to other people, like mocking them or ostracizing them, but she’s scared she’ll lose her friends if she ever objects to their actions. However our lovely protagonist Sam has a secret. She has Purely-Obsessive OCD and has been seeing a therapist for a long time. She can’t turn off a thought and often latches on to something obsessively. Speaking of OCD, I must say I’m genuinely saddened by the misuse of the term. It’s a legitimate and harrowing illness, not something to boast of when you don’t even have it. We should really reconsider our choice of words when we say we’re “OCD” about something.
Continue reading “Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone”

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

I first came across this book in a list of “chilling, scary books that aren’t strictly horror/thrillers. Whoever put We Have Always Lived in the Castle on that list nailed it. It’s disturbing and bizarre even without a maniacal serial killer on the loose. Shirley Jackson has a knack of forming characters that have no glaring, fatal flaws to them, but are delicately twisted in a way that genuinely “chills” people.

Mary Katherine Blackwood, or Merricat, is an eighteen-year-old who lives with her older sister Constance and their aging uncle Julian. From the start readers can tell Merricat is not quite normal. Even though she’s the only one who goes down to the village for library books and grocery, she hates the villagers, who hate the Blackwood sisters right back. Merricat has a habit of burying things in the grounds of her family’s huge estate, small things like silver coins, ribbons, dolls, and colored pebbles. What’s more, she nails books and watch chains to trees to safeguard the house. All these eccentric things are to protect her and her family from harm against the outside world. Whenever she feels this precarious harmony is being threatened, she shatters something so that everything would go back to normal. Merricat’s behavior smells richly of witchcraft and superstition, one of the major things that creeps readers out. Another disconcerting thing about Merricat is her childish imagination. Anyone at the age of eighteen shouldn’t run around with her cat burying objects in the ground or say things like wanting a winged horse to take them to the moon, where everything would be good.

Merricat’s older sister Constance is a heartbreaking character. Accused (though acquitted) of her family’s murder, she is afraid of stepping outside of even the gate of their house, receiving only several calls from old family friends. A talented cook, Constance prepares the meals for her ailing old uncle who needs “light, delicate food” and tends a garden. Because she cooked the dinner that killed almost everyone in her family, she’s suspected of murder. Arsenic was put into the sugar pot and served with berries, and after everyone except Constance has put sugar on their berries, she watched them writhe and die while she rinsed out and boiled the sugar pot. All these details are incriminating enough for her to go on trial. After Constance is acquitted, she refuses to step outside of their estate. I think her sister Merricat has a subtle but powerful influence over Constance, preventing her from going into the real world. Whenever Constance expresses her slight longing for the world, Merricat is scared and “chilled,” and she always performs some voodoo glass shattering to somehow stop Constance from ever leaving, in addition to telling her she’s not ready:

“We’ll always be here together, won’t we, Constance?”

“Don’t you ever want to leave here, Merricat?”

“Where could we go?” I asked her. “What place would be better for us than this? Who wants us, outside? The world is full of terrible people.” 

During this book, I actually pity Constance because of everything that’s happened to her, i.e. Merricat, her uncle, and the housework. Even so, she’s completely dedicated to what’s remaining of her family, whipping out delicious and extravagant meals for them. Apart from her willingness to sacrifice, she also knows the truth about that fatal dinner and who’s the real murderer and covers for that person anyway. When the book ends, she’s still trapped with Merricat, who says, “we’re so happy.”

What perplexed me most are the villagers. Why do they harbor such garden-variety, kindergarten-level animosity towards the Blackwoods? I live in a city and have never experienced the cloistering atmosphere of the suburbia, so I wonder if the villager’s brand of stupid cruelty only happens in small towns and villages instead of in big cities. The villagers are indeed senseless and childish, with minimal IQ and empathy. They even have a nursery rhyme dedicated to the sisters:

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

Ugh, I hate nursery rhymes so much. They’re all so creepy (remember “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot or Ring a Ring o’Roses?) and fit in nicely into horror stories. In this book, for example, the readers should really question who’s poisoning who. Okay, now back to the stupid villagers. They loot the Blackwoods after their house burns down and surround the sisters and chant this little song at them. I mean, WHO does that?

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is not a horror book, but it’s unsettling in its almost guileless innocence. Shirley Jackson masterfully employs a simple, clear language that further strengthens the macabre of the whole story because it allows readers to focus on the twisted monstrosity of the characters.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley JacksonJonathan Lethem (Introduction)
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiousity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.


Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

This book had me from the very beginning and continued to hold my attention until I finished it in one sitting. It’s intense and dark and quite disturbing at some points. And it should be, since this book deals with a serious topic: suicide. Both Aysel, age sixteen, and Roman, age seventeen, want to kill themselves for different reasons. They find the Suicide Partner they need in each other and decide to end their lives on April 7th. Through their interactions Aysel begins to look at her life from a new angle and question her choices. Continue reading “Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga”

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