The Moon is a wondrous place, please ignore the ash!

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

So one of the prime benefits of GoodReads (that I regularly miss out on ‘cos I mostly ignore the Internet), is that you can see what others are reading, reviewing, and enjoying. While updating my feed for re-reading The Waters of Nyra, I stumbled across the author, my friend Kelly, having listed a novel with a peculiar, eye-catching blurb: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. She recommended I read it, and so I put it in my reading list, right up after finishing Nyra. What followed was a very interesting experience.

Castle is a first-person tale, told from the perspective of Merricat (Mary Katherine), as she lives with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian, six years after the murder of the rest of the Blackwood family. There was arsenic in the sugar, and Constance was acquitted of the crime, and they now live in a very particular existence with self-imposed rules and isolation. It is exceedingly familiar to me, this existence. I myself live in this manner, with my own set of rules, charms, magic, and more. It is the only way to defeat the outside world’s power over me. Throughout the first half of the story, the outside world prickles at her bubble, in a familiar, time-worn fashion. It is frustrating, but it is how the world is. I felt a sense of comradery with Merricat in these times, in her efforts to run her errands in the village. But then he came.

Charles Blackwood is a disagreeable character. Perhaps not to Constance, at first, who seemed intrigued by his presence, but he is a darkness and an obstacle in the rules and charms and magic. He comes into the house as a guest, and acts as though he owns the place, demanding his rules are the rules that govern the house suddenly. That everything Merricat does to protect her and Constance and Uncle Julian in their way of life is wrong. He begins to shift Constance’s thoughts, and this sends a chill through Merricat. In myself, it made me nauseated and sick for the remainder of the night as I tossed and turned in bed. I know what it is like to have someone attempt to override my rules and charms and magic. It is not something I want to go through again, but I was willingly reliving the feeling through the novel, for now, because it’s such a good novel and I wanted to see Charles burn.

Well, it was not Charles that burned, but the house. In the chaos that ensues, the Blackwood women escape the villagers to the woods for a night before regathering themselves. Merricat now has to make new rules, charms, and magic, but this is fine. This is her beloved Moon, where everything is great, and she has finally taken Constance with her. The novel ends with a series of family friends attempting to reestablish contact with the women, and the villagers leaving offerings at their doorstep.

Once the initial nausea left me and I slept on the horrible irritation that was Charles Blackwood, I felt better. The sickness of the outside world wasn’t gone, but they were soon on the Moon, and that was good, that was preferable. Gone were the threats of separation and change. The change had happened, but there were still rules and charms and magic, and this was good, this was preferable. This was the Moon.

Interested in We Have Always Lived in the Castle? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

When dividing loyalties, consider your options…

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

So here we are, at the final story in my Sherlock Holmes collection: The Priory School. I’ve read it before, so bits and pieces came back to me as I read. I was mostly excited to be finishing the book so that I could move on to the next, truth be told! But, as to the matter of this story… it has a fairly good lesson on where loyalties should lie, when dealing with family and scandal and so on. The Duke of Holdernesse has a complicated situation, that is only revealed at the end of the tale. He has an illegitimate son (he had apparently tried to enter a legitimate marriage with his mother, but the woman would have none of it and died) whom he kept as a secretary. A marriage and ensuing legitimate heir however upset the matter greatly. The elder son isn’t on his best behavior, and ultimately the wife leaves for France, and the younger son goes to Dr. Huxtable’s priory school nearby.

The case is, when it comes right down to it, the kidnapping of the younger son by the elder, with an accidental murder in-between. Holmes goes about in his usual methods, scouring the region for clues and keeping Watson mostly in the dark until the ultimate reveal. For once, he gets a hefty sum for his involvement (and his silence). The one thing he does do is make certain the Duke understands just how foolish he’s been to keep James, the elder son, under the same roof as his hated little brother, with his behavior being as it is. The Duke assures him that James will be going to Australia to find himself, and that he’s already in the process of tidying up his relationship with his wife since it was ultimately just James that was the problem, and Holmes is satisfied.

My only real question is, why end on this note? I do not know the rhyme or reason behind the stories included in this collection, honestly. I cast a fresh eye upon the introduction to the book, and it mostly says that, of the 56 stories about Holmes’ adventures, they chose those which stood out (which is funny to me, because this is precisely what Watson is supposedly doing at the introduction to each tale). Finally, for now, my reviews of Sherlock Holmes are at an end, until I pick up with my complete collection on the Kindle or another collection with new selections. For those interested, the pretty hard cover edition with a slip case that my friend Jesus purchased for me can be found here.

Interested in The Priory School? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

Too many dancing men and one too many stalkers.

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

One more down! Last night I read The Dancing Men, a Sherlock Holmes short story that I’ve seen depicted and read many times over the years. It’s a nice, twisted up little tale that involves cryptography (which I love). The dancing men, as they are called, are a written code, hidden behind what appears to be children’s scribbles. Holmes is keen to solve the mystery behind the riddle, but it takes time; he needs more samples of the curious messages. Mr. Hilton Cubitt asks that Holmes solve the mystery so that his mysterious wife can rest at ease. Ever since the messages began, she’s steadily declined in mental health and is just dying before his eyes and he can’t take it!

Sadly, the last message Holmes receives causes him to rush towards Mr. Cubitt’s home in a desire to prevent a tragedy, but when he reaches the station he finds he is too late. Murder has been done, supposedly the loving wife upon the trusting husband. No one is sure who shot first, only that they both suffered injury and he is dead. So, while the first half the of the story was about decoding the messages, the latter half is about solving a murder. The murder isn’t as straight-forwards as the local inspector feels, but he’s more than willing to follow in Holmes’ lead to see the great detective work. Almost immediately, Holmes discovers that there was a third shot, as well as a third person present during the crime. From there, he figures out where the third person has been staying and sends them a letter, written in the dancing men, supposedly from the injured woman’s hand. It is in this fashion that Holmes soon has his man. Once the particulars are ironed out so that the woman will not be shamed with possible guilt of murdering her husband, of which she is not guilty, Holmes quietly puts to rest the dancing men, which soon become immortalized as decor at 221B Baker Street.

It is an iconic piece of decor, really, and, outside of the bullet holes forming letters I can never quite recall, the dancing men are the first piece that always comes to mind for me. This is a brief review, but honestly, the majority of the story that interested me was Holmes’ explaining the finer points of cryptography, and there isn’t much to comment on in that regard! So cheers, I’m so close to done with this collection!

Interested in The Dancing Men? It can be purchased here.

~Lils