Book Review: The Orphan Choir

The Orphan ChoirCreepy psychological thriller FTW.

I love Sophie Hannah, and while I didn’t inhale The Orphan Choir the way I did, say, Little Face, I did stay up half the night reading it. I love, love, love the fact that the protagonist is so unlikable. She’s unlikable in a very real way; several times while I was reading I found myself making faces at the page and thinking how very much I would hate to be married to someone like that. It’s exhausting to be Louise Beeston. She’s paranoid and neurotic and narcissistic to the point that she can’t imagine how everything could not be about her. She keeps herself awake weeping because she’s sure her neighbor is plotting against her.

But here’s the other part: her neuroses stem from the fact that her seven year old son, a singing prodigy, has been accepted to a prestigious boarding school. I’ve got a seven year old son; I cannot imagine only getting to see him at performances and on holidays. So she’s horrible, yes, but I can sympathize with some of it.

The horror element of the story builds slowly; if you’re looking for something that will plunge you into the action, this is not the book for you. But because Louise is so self-involved, the reader actually starts feeling the horror before she does, which is a lot of fun.

The bottom line: this is a great ghost story, and a nice departure from Hannah’s other thrillers (which are fantastic in their own right).

Book Review: Killer Image

Killer Image by Wendy TysonFile under: don’t judge a book by its cover. The copy I read has a stylized fashion-plate drawing on the cover, so I was expecting a fluffy, frivolous “mystery” in which the burning question is less whodunit and more will she get the guy. Instead, KILLER IMAGE is a relatively dark murder mystery, full of plot twists and secrets.

As a main character, Alison Campbell is interestingly flawed. The secondary characters are nicely fleshed out, although they did seem a bit more like caricatures than actual people at times. Take, for example, the paraplegic brother of Alison’s assistant, who – after years of reading and TV but no actual detective training – manages to not only solve the case but is subsequently hired to consult for the police department. Or the ghost of patients past who has haunted Alison throughout the story who turns out to have (confusingly) died in a car crash (rather than in some sort of brothel-related accident, as Alison had always supposed), leaving behind a doppelgänger daughter with Alison’s name. Such details took away from the story rather than enhancing it, because, even though it would be nice to think so, things rarely end wrapped up with a neat little bow. But the main story arc is satisfying and the conclusion took shape in a strong and believable way. I especially loved the bit at the end where Alison’s abandoned clients swooped in and saved the day. (Okay, that part might not have been so believable…but it was fun.)

Book Review: Sideshow of Merit

Sideshow of MeritYou know that thing where an author interrupts the past tense narrative to say something like “little did I know how important that choice was” or something similar? It’s supposed to pique the reader’s interest, to make you want to know why that choice, which maybe otherwise might have just been logged as a thing that happened, was a Thing That Happened. It’s a useful trope.

When used sparingly, that is.

I’m willing to overlook the random formatting problems (I got my copy of Sideshow of Merit from Netgalley, after all, so I’m sure the final release will actually use paragraph breaks) and a certain amount of stylistic inconsistency, but after the tenth time the narrator broke tense I just started to get annoyed. I get it. Things happened. Choices were made. Some of them will impact things about which I have not yet been told. That’s sort of the point of a story.

Don’t get me wrong: the book wasn’t bad. The pacing was okay, and the plot was interesting enough to keep me reading. I didn’t really like the main character, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mostly I just felt like I’d have liked to be more immersed in the story without the omnipresent author pulling me out of it. In a way, I guess, that’s a compliment to the book.

Really, you guys?

I’m taking some time off to have a baby. I am self-employed, and even if I weren’t, maternity leave is kind of a thing. I made sure to give all my clients plenty of advance notice so that I could wrap up any ongoing projects and they could work out alternate solutions for any problems/updates/edits that may come up while I’m unavailable. Reactions to this have been…interesting:

“…when you get back from your vacation…”
“I know you’re going to be hanging out with your baby, but can you just take this one project at the end of August?” (Note: my due date is August 26.)
“Okay, but you haven’t had the baby yet – why aren’t you taking any new work?”
“Oh of course, you’re going to spend some time doing the mommy thing – but you’ll still be able to do little updates to my site, right?”
“I understand you’re going on sabbatical, but…”

Call me unreasonable, but I am sort of baffled by this. It’s not a “vacation.” I am not taking an extended break to work on my French. I’m going to be giving birth, recovering from giving birth, and caring for a newborn. Even if I have some downtime (in between extended bouts of breastfeeding and the minutiae of parenting a baby and a seven year old) I’ll be severely sleep-deprived. All of which is why I am taking some time off from work.

(I’d assumed that by calling it “maternity leave,” I wouldn’t have to explain any of that.)

I love my day job, and I’m looking forward to jumping back into it when I’m ready. In the US there are no laws or benefits that allow self-employed and freelance folks to go on maternity leave, and I feel lucky to be in a position where I can take time off to recover from childbirth and care for my new baby. I don’t think any of that means I’m suffering from a lack of commitment to my work or a sudden attack of A Woman’s Place Is In The Kitchen. I think it means I’m being realistic, knowing my limits, and choosing the best course of action for my business as well as my family.

And I love that, too.

Book Recs: What I Read in 2011

I read a lot. This is partly due to the fact that I like books, but also because I read fast. Really fast. Crazy-person fast. It typically takes me two hours to get through an average-length novel. That’s as long as it takes to watch a movie, people.

As far as I’m concerned, the invention of the e-reader is probably the most awesome thing that’s ever happened to books, and possibly the worst thing that’s ever happened to my bank account. (Who am I kidding. 6pm.com and Sephora are the worst thing that ever happened to my bank account.) If I’m reading a series, I can finish one book and download the next one right away! If I’m browsing for something new, I can download the first chapter and see if I like it! If I just finished a series and am feeling bereft, I can impulsively purchase EVERY SINGLE THING THE AUTHOR HAS EVER WRITTEN even though it is 3 O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING and I REALLY SHOULD BE SLEEPING. Not…that that’s a thing. That happens. When I finish a series.

Anyway, aside from the fact that these are all YA (okay, with the exception of the Ridley Jones books), here’s what else they have in common:

  • Women authors unite! I’m not saying you have to have ovaries to write books I love with a fervor bordering on obsession; I’m just saying that it doesn’t hurt.
  • You know I really liked a book if I get to the last page and immediately turn to the beginning again to start it all over.  That was the case with every single one of these.
  • Each of these stories hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the very end. (Yes, even the Envelopes books…although I suppose running is less accurate in that case than flying off to London for reasons which will be explained.)

Anyway, behold: my favorite books of 2011.*

The Mortal Instruments Series: City of Bones · City of Ashes · City of Glass · City of Fallen Angels (Cassandra Clare)
City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

These books are like crack.

Wait. That’s not a good way to start a review.

I should say: I literally could not put these down, to the detriment of my ocular health and personal sanity, and I am so invested in Clary’s relationship with Jace that it borders on alarming. That’s…better, right?

Seriously, this series is amazing. Well-written, fast paced, smart, WAY hotter than YA ought to be, intricately plotted and did I mention Jace? Because, yeah.

The first three books conclude the initial plot arc, and City of Fallen Angels continues the story with a new trilogy. If you’re wary of works in progress, you can safely stop after City of Glass. I don’t know why you would, but you can. Maybe to pretend that Cassandra Clare doesn’t enjoy ripping the hearts out of her readers and making them clutch, weeping, at the empty hole in their chests? NOT THAT THE INFERNAL DEVICES ARE NEXT ON THE LIST OR ANYTHING.

The Infernal Devices Series: Clockwork Angel · Clockwork Prince (Cassandra Clare)
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

I stumbled on these books totally by accident. I had just finished Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker (which I loved) and Clockwork Angel was one of the things Barnes and Noble thought I’d like. I’d never heard of Cassandra Clare, but I downloaded the sample chapter for fun and also because I have poor impulse control.

5 minutes later I was frantically clicking the “BUY NOW” button because if I didn’t find out what happened next I would explode. (See poor impulse control, above.)

The Infernal Devices series is a steampunk dream, all Victorian London and secret societies and shape shifters and demons and Tessa and Will and Jem OT3 Forever. Ahem.

You can view these as a prequel of sorts to The Mortal Instruments, or you could view them as a standalone series. Either way works just fine and you’re not going to get spoiled no matter which you read first (though there are lots of cool Easter eggs in both series if you know what to look for).

None of that eclipses the fact that when you get to the end of Clockwork Prince you will probably want to have a very large stack of tissues nearby. Just FYI.

13 Little Blue Envelopes · The Last Little Blue Envelope (Maureen Johnson)
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

I started reading Maureen Johnson because of Twitter.

True story.

Someone (I don’t even know who now…Wil Wheaton? The Bloggess? Someone else entirely?) retweeted some Maureen Johnson tweets and I thought, ha, she’s kind of hilarious. So I followed her, and she is THE BEST THING ANYPLACE EVER. If her tweets are this entertaining, I thought, her books must be fantastic.

I was right. (That’s not unusual.)

I liked 13 Little Blue Envelopes. I would have loved it when I was younger, in that OH MY GOD I AM GINNY sort of way that you love books when you’re sixteen or nineteen or twenty-three. But clearly I am way too grown-up for that now, right? Then came The Last Little Blue Envelope, and it absolutely blew me away. Partly it’s the complexity of the relationships between the primary characters, which are much more fraught than they were in the first book. But mostly it has to do with Oliver.

The 1-800-WHERE-R-U Series: When Lightning Strikes · Code Name Cassandra · Safe House · Sanctuary · Missing You (Meg Cabot)
Meg Cabot's 1-800 Series

Meg Cabot makes me feel like a failure. I mean, seriously, take a look at the number of books she cranks out in the average year. The only possible explanation is that she never sleeps, or is actually comprised of several different people, like Shakespeare. Or Frankenstein.

The 1-800 series isn’t particularly highbrow or literary-minded. It’s fun and fluffy and a little bit dark. Like lots of Meg Cabot books, the heroine is plucky and a little bit unhinged.

For those of us who grew up in the 80s, When Lightning Strikes is a pitch-perfect homage to Escape from Witch Mountain. Which – who didn’t love that movie? But if you take the series as a whole, you realize the story is less about Jess Mastriani’s cool precog powers and more about learning who to trust and figuring out what matters and growing up.

What. I just like them, okay?

The Hunger Games series: The Hunger Games · Catching Fire · Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

(I want to apologize in advance to those of you who click that link. Suzanne Collins is an extraordinary writer, but whoever “designed” her web site should have their internet privileges revoked. Authors: beautiful, functional web sites make the world sing in perfect harmony, just like Coke. Or that weird alien invasion from Torchwood. I DIGRESS.)

There probably isn’t anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard how fabulous The Hunger Games trilogy is. I’m just chiming in to say it’s all true. The books are amazing. I tore through them like my life depended on it.

I also highly recommend giving the books a second go while following the excellent recaps on Mark Reads. Are ‘recaps’ even the right word for those? Basically Mark liveblogs each chapter as he reads it, and it is awesome.

Bumped (Megan McCafferty)
Bumped by Megan McCafferty

THIS COUNTS as a series because the second book (Thumped) will be out SOON. Not SOON ENOUGH, but SOON. I am patiently waiting, see? This is me, being patient.

Megan McCafferty is the woman responsible for the fabulous Jessica Darling series (Sloppy Firsts, etc.), which I loved unreasonably and may still pull off the shelf with alarming regularity. You don’t know.

Bumped has all the snarky teen-speak of McCafferty’s previous series, but also the added bonus of being a dystopian look at a future in which teens are the only members of society able to have babies. Oh no, it’s AWESOME, trust me. It’s like The Handmaid’s Tale meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or…something like that, only good.

(Megan McCafferty’s web site is perfectly acceptable, by the way. See, authors? You do not need Flash intros or SOUNDS or huge, slow-loading graphics or a background that hasn’t been updated since 1998. Web designers are your friends.)

Beautiful Lies · Sliver of Truth (Lisa Unger)
Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

I’m not usually into mysteries – wait. That’s not even true. I thought I wasn’t into mysteries, and then I started reading Lisa Unger and realized that what I’m not into is badly-written mysteries.

Beautiful Lies and Sliver of Truth follow the delightfully-named Ridley Jones through a series of realizations that what she thought of as her life was a series of carefully-crafted lies. How these lies are unraveled – and how much danger Ridley is in – ratchets up the tension, but the real kick comes from the way all the pieces fit together in the end.

And even though there didn’t seem to be any missing pieces at the end of Beautiful Lies, I was amazed to find that Sliver of Truth was able to go back and find the little details I hadn’t even noticed and turn them into a new, even more intricate puzzle.

 

 

*These were not all written in 2011. I just read them in 2011. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m skimping on details here. Also, I was in no way compensated for this or any other post because no one actually reads my blog.

The Vampire Diaries S03E09 Recap

Yes, you caught me: I am totally skipping the recap for Ordinary People because yawn. I mean, whatever, you’ve got emo bad-hair Klaus and bouncy cheerleader Rebekah and an ENORMOUS amount of Original Vamp backstory (which doesn’t correspond with anything actually resembling canon) and, I don’t know, Mikael grabbing Damon’s heart (right there in the bar! Rude) and threatening to rip it out. Oh yeah, and Damon deciding that what Stefan really needs is a boy’s night to get over all that pesky compulsion. But you could learn all that from the previouslies. The only POSSIBLY compelling scene involves like 6 seconds of Damon shimmying on a bar, and there’s YouTube for that. MOVING ON.

This is the midseason finale, which means, of course, that there will be a dance. Isn’t there always a dance?

Continue reading The Vampire Diaries S03E09 Recap

TVD Primer: The Vampire Diaries S01E01 Recap

Wondering what this Vampire Diaries thing is and why you should care? Well…I can answer one of those, at least. Here’s the first in a series of some undetermined number of “primer” recaps that may manage to get you up to speed on the series (and will at least feature entertaining screen caps and the occasional pithy observation on the cast’s general state of undress).

Continue reading TVD Primer: The Vampire Diaries S01E01 Recap

Unsettled

I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel so out of place. It’s not the existential angst I went through during my teenage years (and, let’s be honest here, most of my twenties as well). It’s more a feeling that everything is ever so slightly wrong. (I was going to insert a bullet list of ways things are actually wrong, but that was depressing, so…wheeze.) My point is, shouldn’t I be freaking out about the things that are legitimately ungood and worrying less about the vague sense of malaise hovering over my head?

I feel unsettled, which conjures up the mental image of stalking around in a haunted manner but in reality consists of spending the day working from bed, just like every other day. Fortunately I stopped getting better from my cold, so I’m spending my energy on trying to breathe through my wheezy lungs rather than contemplating creative ways to end myself. So that’s good, right?

Always looking on the bright side, that’s me.

In other news: the NaNo novel is chugging along (don’t ask me how far behind I am on word count), and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to realize that the main character has a much more interesting back story than I’d originally planned. When you’re writing all in a rush like this, you find that things tend to sort of develop on their own, which is awesome and fun and probably a little bit irresponsible but whatever. I’m looking forward to a few solid days of writing once I get some work projects off my plate.

And as soon as my lungs stop sounding like something out of a horror film, I’m going to start doing some goddamned yoga. Because why not? I’m pretty sure I don’t need to get out of bed for that.*

*I do actually get out of bed, just fyi. I am occasionally prone to hyperbole. I KNOW.

The Secret Circle S01E01 Recap

We open to a VO of a woman saying “My sweet Cassie, I didn’t want you to have this life, but destiny’s not easy to run from.”

A girl is driving a car down a dark road. She’s grooving out to some music when suddenly a car passes her on the wrong side of the road, honking like crazy. A second later her tire blows and she skids out. When she gets out of the car to check the damage, she sees the car that honked at her, stopped dead in the road a little way ahead. She tries to wave down the driver, but the car suddenly takes off.

Probably should have called for takeout.
Changing a tire, no problem. Creepy fireball guy? Bigger problem.

The girl calls her mother, who is cooking dinner. “Where are you?” the mother asks. “Are you OK? Did you call AAA?”

“I know how to change a tire, mom,” the girl says, a little amused.

“I’m coming.”

“Oh good idea. Take your car. Oh wait – it has a flat.”

As they’re talking, the car that sped by Cassie before her tire blew pulls up outside the mother’s house.

Suddenly the line goes static-y. Not just static-y; it sounds like running water.

Homicidal maniac is also very wasteful.
Don't play with matches, kids.
A hell of a way to end the night.

Outside the house, a man gets out of the car. We see that he is slowly emptying a water bottle into the street as he walks; the sound matches the sound on the phone line.

As the man drops the bottle, the mother’s kitchen faucet suddenly starts spraying water all over the room.

The mother runs to turn off the water. The man outside strikes a match.

The pan on the stove catches fire.

The mother turns off the burner, but the man lights another match and a different pan goes up in flames. There is water spraying everywhere and the entire stove is on fire. The man light more matches; the kitchen goes up. The mother slips on the wet floor and falls, hitting her head hard. For a moment she’s unconscious, then her eyes fly open.

“Cassie,” she says.

She tries to get out of the house, but the man outside lights more matches and she is surrounded by flames. He lights the rest of the pack and throws it to the ground and the house explodes.

The man slowly walks away.

Title card. Creepy singing. Blackbirds.

Come on, Washington isn't THAT depressing.
At least it's not Forks.

One month later. Cassie is standing outside her car, crying a little and staring at the view. She gets back into her car and drives on, past a sign that says Welcome to Chance Harbor, Washington.

Chance Harbor turns out to be a sleepy little lake town. Cassie drives through the main strip, which seems to consist entirely of quaint little antique shops, to a pretty, tree-lined neighborhood where she parks in front of a big house. She pulls out her suitcase and walks toward the door, looking determined. She’s wearing a weird shirt here. It’s like a baseball shirt, only with…lace? It’s not right, that shirt.

An older woman comes out to greet her, giving her a big hug.

“Hey, grandma,” Cassie says.

“I am really glad you’re here,” the grandmother says, hugging her again. She doesn’t mention the shirt, but you know she’s thinking it.

Inside the house, Cassie looks around like she’s never seen the place before. Turns out, she hasn’t. “So this is where my mom grew up,” she says, musingly.

Grandma shows her to her room, which was her mother’s old room. It’s exactly the way her mom left it, which – I assume – was well before Cassie was born. Cassie looks around, seeming a bit overwhelmed. “How come she never came home?” Cassie asks.

“What did she tell you?” Grandma responds, seeming a little cagey.

“Not much, just the headlines.”

“You’d just been born when your dad had his accident,” Grandma says. “It was hard for her here. I think she wanted to start over.”

Cassie nods. “Yeah. That’s pretty much what she said.”

Starting over is one thing, but not visiting your mother for sixteen years? Although, Cassie seems to know her grandmother, so maybe grandma came out and visited the two of them. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any bad blood.

I get this feeling somebody's watching me

Later, as Cassie’s getting ready for bed, she glances through her bedroom window to see that it’s directly across from the one in the neighboring house, where a shirtless teenage guy looks over at her. He doesn’t seem inclined to look away, so Cassie makes a face and firmly shuts her curtains. When she turns around to change, she catches sight of the window’s reflection in the mirror – and the curtains are wide open again. She turns with a gasp, but there isn’t anyone in the opposite window this time. She shuts the curtains again, looking upset and confused.

As she gets ready for bed, she hums the song her mother was humming, the same song from the creepy creepy title sequence. “Your mom used to hum that,” Grandma says from the door.

“All the time. I stole it from her,” Cassie says. Or from the title sequence. Either way: creepy.

“If you have trouble sleeping,” Grandma says, “your mom used to count the stars.”

Cassie looks confused, but when she turns off the light she sees that the ceiling is covered in glow-in-the-dark star stickers. I guess that’s better than opening the curtains again. She looks at them for a while, smiling, but her smile slowly fades. She picks up her cell phone and looks at pictures of her mother.

Morning. Cassie’s first day at Chance Harbor High School. The principal is welcoming Cassie to the school, saying she used to know Cassie’s mother. “I guess she didn’t talk about me much,” Principal Chamberlin says.

Cassie makes noises about how her mom didn’t talk much about her old life at all, but the principal is all smiles: “Your mother was very special to me,” she says, in a way that seems ever slightly off. “If there’s anything I can do to help you transition here, you let me know.” Is Cassie going to be ‘very special’ to her too? Just how ‘special’ are we talking? And if they were such ‘special friends,’ how come they haven’t spoken in 16 years?

At the lockers, the boy from the window is approached by the boy from Heroes who everyone thought was gay but totally wasn’t, except that he was. “Hey, have you seen her yet?” he asks.

“She got in yesterday,” Window Boy replies.

“And?”

Window Boy shrugs. “She got in yesterday.” No mention of the fun with curtains?

Ever get the feeling that people are staring at you?
Totally not creepy
Believe it or not, that's Faye's friendly look

Window Boy walks away and the other boy catches sight of Cassie in the hall, looking lost and a little overwhelmed. She sees him looking at her, but also sees her locker, which is probably more useful on the first day of school than a strange boy giving you the eye. She struggles with her combination lock, but when she looks up he meets her gaze again, like he can’t look away. At some point he seems to realize this is somewhat stalker-ish behavior and high-tails it to class.

Cassie’s still struggling with her lock when two pretty girls come bopping up. “So you’re the new girl,” the more striking of the two says. “You’re very pretty.” She manages to make it sound like a threat, which is especially impressive seeing as she smiles widely through it. Cassie doesn’t know what to say. The girl glances down at the lock. “Try it again,” she says, as she and her friend breeze off.

Cassie pulls on the lock and it opens in her hand.

“That’s Faye,” says another girl. “Resident bad girl.”

“She’s convincing,” Cassie says.

The new girl introduces herself as Diana, mentioning that she (and presumably everyone else) already knows who Cassie is: “I know your grandmother. It’s a really small town.” She invites Cassie to a place called The Boathouse after school, where everyone hangs out. Diana says she’ll show Cassie around if she stops by. They’re all very friendly in Chance Harbor, aren’t they?

"I was totally obsessed with your mother. Hey, have you met my son?"

The Boathouse is a grill on the waterfront. It looks a little run-down, but maybe I’m confusing run-down with rustic. Inside there are some kids sitting at tables with sodas, but none of them are Diana. Someone notices Cassie right away, though: a man, who says “You’re Amelia’s girl.” He says he can tell just by looking at her. He seems oddly intense. He apologizes shakily about her mother’s accident, like it hurts him to talk about it.

“You knew my mom?”

The man goes to the bar, pours himself a drink. “You bet I did. I loved your mother. Very much.”

Cassie seems to be suppressing a smile. “And how did my father feel about that?”

The man laughs. “He didn’t like it,” he says, taking a drink. “But I was no threat. Your mother chose him.”

To Cassie’s bemusement he goes on to say that he and Cassie’s mother were destined for each other. “Our families are written in the stars,” he says.

“Dad, what are you doing?” says a boy, appearing behind the bar. It’s the same boy who had been giving Cassie the eye from the lockers, but now he’s a little more concerned with his dad: “No drinking before dinner,” he says, taking the (now empty) glass away from him. “A deal’s a deal.”

“This is Cassie, Amelia’s girl,” he tells his son, grinning a dopey grin. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” He walks off and Cassie gives him an incredulous look as he goes.

“I’m Adam,” the boy behind the bar says. He seems embarrassed about his dad’s behavior, but not surprised.

“So this is your dad’s place?”

It is. Adam works there. I like that he’s working. Like, actually working, not just lurking around the restaurant as a plot device. Cassie finds a seat and Adam comes right over with a water, a menu and a too-interested stare. “You know, I saw you at school today,” he says. Yes, Adam, I think she noticed that. “How was your first day?”

“It’s not over yet,” Cassie says. “I’ll get back to you.”

Her eyes trail him as he leaves, but she’s snapped back to the here and now when Resident Bad Girl and her sidekick slide into the booth across from her. “Adam’s a hottie,” Faye says. “You should make a play, you’re totally his type.”

“Stop it, Faye,” the friend says. She introduces herself as Melissa.

“And I’m Faye Chamberlin,” Faye tells her.

“Yeah, we met,” Cassie says.

“Now it’s official,” Faye says, grinning sunnily.

Melissa says she’s sorry to hear about Cassie’s mom, and Faye asks a question about Cassie’s father, which earns her another dirty look from Melissa. Faye mentions that her father’s dead, too, and that it’s just her and her mother, Principal Very Special To Me: “Do not let her smile fool you,” Faye says, smiling wide. “She can be bitchy.”

Cassie does not look as though she needs to be convinced of this. She also does not look as though she’s got any question about who Faye’s really talking about.

Despite a warning look from Melissa, Faye persists: “Adam’s cute, don’t you think? And he really does go for the sad, delicate types.”

Cassie’s had enough. “I’m not feeling all that delicate now, so I think I’m going to go.”

Faye and Melissa watch as Cassie goes to her car. “I don’t think she knows,” Melissa says.

“I think she needs a nudge,” Faye responds.

Setting cars on fire is a great way to make friends
Way to blame the victim, Faye
Adam puts out the fire using his poutyface of doom

As Cassie tries to start her car, smoke begins to pour from the hood. The locks engage and she can’t get out. Suddenly the whole car bursts into flames.

“Come on, Cassie,” Faye says intensely. Beside her, Melissa looks alarmed. “Put it out.”

Cassie – whose mother just died in a fire, let’s not forget – is not putting it out. She’s screaming and beating on the door. Way to make friends, Resident Bad Girl!

Luckily, Prince Written In The Stars is there to save the day. He runs to Cassie’s car and stares at the flames until they go out. Then he pulls open Cassie’s door and carries her off into the sunset – er, away from the charred remains of her vehicle. She coughs and chokes and gazes at him adoringly.

Cassie and Adam sit in the back of Adam’s Jeep while Cassie tries to make sense of what happened. “Thanks for saving me,” she says matter-of-factly. Adam just smiles at her.

Their moment is interrupted by Diana, who comes running up, wanting to know what happened. “I think her engine blew,” Adam says, enunciating carefully.

Diana looks around and sees Faye and Melissa coming out of the Boathouse.

Cassie says she’s going to call her grandmother, and both Adam and Diana quickly tell her not to. “Adam, why don’t you take Cassie home,” Diana says. When Cassie tries to demur, Diana misunderstands her reticence, “No, it’s okay. This is my boyfriend, by the way – he’s cool.” Oh, Diana.

Diana and Adam kiss and Cassie’s face contracts momentarily, but she pulls herself together right away.

Outside her house, Adam and Cassie talk more about what happened to her car. “Maybe it was ready to go kaput. I did just drive it a thousand miles.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s it,” Adam says.

“But, the doors wouldn’t open.”

“Maybe you panicked and you locked them when you meant to unlock them,” Adam says.

“No, the lock’s pretty straightforward, it only does two things.” Neither one of them really believes what they’re saying at this point. “And how did the fire go out?”

“By itself.”

Cassie gives Adam a look. “If you say so.”

He laughs a little, and suddenly he has a hard time looking at her. “So how was your first day?” he asks again.

Definitely just friends. You can tell by the gaze.
Adam also does the gaze, or maybe he's just really tired.

A grin spreads across Cassie’s face. They both start laughing. She nods a little, and their smiles fade as they stare at each other. “So how long have you and Diana been together?” Cassie asks carefully.

“Three years now,” Adam says.

Cassie says Diana seems nice. Adam agrees: very nice. It does not change the look they’re giving each other, although Cassie tries to exit gracefully. Adam stops her: “I heard what my dad told you, about him and your mom and the stars -” he rolls his eyes at the word stars. His dad drinks too much, Adam starts to explain.

“He’s sweet,” Cassie says firmly. “From where I sit, that’s a good thing.”

Adam smiles at her. She gets out of the Jeep and heads into the house. At the gate she stops and looks back; Adam’s still watching her. They wave at each other and she goes inside. She doesn’t see the way Adam lets out his breath once she’s out of sight, like he’s had to hold something back the entire time he’s been looking at her.

Later that night, Diana knocks on Faye’s door. Her mother answers. Faye, coming to the door behind her, sees Diana and says “I’m not here,” but comes outside anyway.

“What did you do to Cassie’s car?” Diana asks right away.

Faye tries to play innocent, but it clearly doesn’t fly and she cuts right to the chase: “I was testing her. We all want to know, Diana.”

Diana makes noises about how Cassie could have been hurt, and Faye says that the car going up in flames was all Cassie, not her. Their energy connected. “Everything you said about the circle is true,” Faye says excitedly. “With her here we have real power now.”

“Which is why we need to be careful,” Diana says, and Faye says that they need to tell her. Diana tells her they agreed to take it slow. “No, you said to take it slow and we all nodded,” Faye tells her. Hee. “I never agreed to anything.”

“We are doing this my way, Faye,” Diana says, trying to sound forceful, but Faye just stalks around her like a big cat.

“Do you want to try that again, because I didn’t quite buy it. Did you?” She goes inside without waiting for an answer.

In her room, Cassie turns out the light and stares at the stars again, but this time they swirl and shine like shifting planets. Cassie gasps and turns on the light but the stars are just stickers again.

"Hey, didn't I just kill your mom? Great to have you in town!"

The next morning Cassie comes downstairs to find Grandma gone for the day. She goes into town looking for her, but runs – literally – into a man. The same man who made mommy dearest go all explodey, although Cassie doesn’t know that. The guy introduces himself as Charles, and creepily offers his sympathies for what happened to Cassie’s mother, who he says was his good friend. Curiouser and curiouser. He is joined by Diana, who chirps “I see you’ve met my dad.”

“You girls have fun,” he says, going on his way. Creepy guy is creepy.

Diana falls into step next to Cassie. She’s trying to get Cassie to open up to her, but having absolutely no luck. Finally she tells Cassie that she thinks she can help. Way to do exactly what Faye wanted you to do in the first place, Diana.

In the meantime, Grandma starts talking to Principal Chamberlin, asking questions about Cassie’s accident. She seems to remember a similar sort of thing happening when the principal (Grandma calls her Dawn) was in high school. We “Are the children practicing?” Grandma asks.

“No, they can’t be. They don’t know anything,” Dawn says.

“They’re teenagers. You better than anyone should know how resourceful they can be.”

Dawn swears none of the kids are practicing, and that she’ll tell Grandma if she finds out any differently. “We can’t let it happen again,” Grandma tells her significantly.

Totally normal to break into a haunted house with your new friends
In an abandoned house full of crazy people. This day just gets better and better.

Help from Diana apparently involves luring Cassie into the woods so they can break in to a huge, creepy abandoned Victorian. Inside, Cassie is alarmed to see Faye, Melissa, Nick (“Also known as the guy in the window”) and Adam. “Okay, what are all of you doing here? What’s going on?” Cassie asks, beginning to seriously freak out.

“We want to explain,” Adam says. For a little hobbit-looking person, he has a very deep voice.

“Look, Cassie, I know this is going to sound crazy,” Diana begins, but Faye cuts her off.

“You’re a witch,” she says. “You’re a full-blooded, hundred-percent witch. We all are.” She looks satisfied. “There,” she flings at Diana. “Done.”

Cassie is not done. Cassie wants to get out of the crazy house. Not even Adam’s throaty explanation of how all of them have witch ancestors dating back to 1692 can make her any less creeped out by the Wiccan cult initiation stuff. Diana pulls out a spell book that belonged to her family – “which explains her air of superiority,” Faye says from the shadows, since Diana’s book is the only one any of them has found – which contains thousands of spells. Melissa explains that even though they’ve been practicing, without a full circle they don’t have any real power and can only do lame spells, like opening curtains or unlocking locks.

“Or setting cars on fire,” Cassie realizes.

Faye apologizes insincerely: “I got carried away,” she says.

“A complete circle is six,” Adam says, trying to diffuse what could have been a perfectly entertaining girl fight. “One from each of the six families.”

“You’re the sixth,” Diana clarifies, in case Cassie is stupid. “You complete the circle.” She explains that there is a ritual that will bind them all together now to control their power so that things like people’s cars getting set on fire (for example, not that anyone would do that, Faye) don’t happen at random.

“You are seriously messed up,” Cassie says. This is a pretty sane reaction. She turns to leave, but Faye blocks her way. Of course. The others beg her to stay and also oh hey can you not tell anyone at all ever? Cassie pretends to reconsider, but fakes Faye out and then takes off running.

“Nicely done, Diana,” Faye says, even though the whole telling Cassie thing had been her idea in the first place.

They all go running after Cassie, but Adam’s the one who finds her, wandering lost in the woods. He tells her they’re not crazy, that their parents all had a circle too, which just freaks Cassie out more. “My mother was not a witch, I would have known,” she says. He tells her that it was all covered up; something went wrong and people were killed, so they abolished witchcraft. “You’re not the only one who’s lost a parent, Cassie.” All the others in the circle have; both of Nick’s parents died.

“There’s no such thing as witches and magic,” Cassie says, doubtful now. “I don’t believe it.”

That tingling isn't magic, kids
Nice job on the cgi, btw
Double rainbow. What does it mean?
I told you the tingle wasn't from the magic

“Let me show you,” Adam says huskily. Adam says everything huskily. He places a water-covered leaf in her hand and tells her to concentrate on the leaf and repeat the words “A drop of water, as light as air.” Cassie dutifully repeats the words, but nothing happens.

Adam puts his hands around hers. “Feel that? That tingling where my hand is touching yours? That’s your energy connecting with mine.” Um. That’s not – well, maybe it is, but the look on Cassie’s face suggests that she’s not exactly thinking about energy. “Now try again.”

They chant the words together, and when they open their eyes a droplet of water is floating between them. Adam smiles.

“Are you doing this?” Cassie whispers.

Adam’s grin fades as he looks around. “We are,” he says, and the grin comes back as they both realize they’re surrounded by floating droplets of water from every leaf in the forest. “This has never happened before,” Adam whispers. Their eyes meet. OH MY GOD THEY’RE TOTALLY GOING TO KISS. Suddenly I ship them like crazy. Adam leans in. Cassie leans in.

Then Cassie pulls away and runs off, and the water falls around them like rain.

Back at the Witch Flophouse, Adam is explaining to a pissed-off Diana that he’d just been trying to help by showing Cassie what she was capable of. His face doesn’t say ‘helping,’ though. I’m also pretty sure he left out bit where he was totally going to make out with her. It was just magic! And tingling! And floating water!

“How romantic,” Faye drawls. You’re not helping either, Faye.

“I lost control,” Adam says.

“Sounds like it,” Faye says.

“I lost control of the magic,” Adam clarifies. Dig the hole a little deeper, Adam. “With Cassie here our power is magnified a hundred times over.”

That’s all Faye needs to hear: “We have real power now. The last thing I want to do is control it.”

For her part, Cassie has gone to find Adam’s dad to get some more information on her mother. He’s getting his drink on at the Boathouse. “Hello, Amelia’s girl,” he says without looking up. Then he does look up, and smiles. He seems ridiculously delighted to see her, or that she’s there at all. It’s sort of heartbreaking, that he could have loved her mother so much that even the fact of Cassie’s existence makes him that happy.

“Why did my mom leave here?” she asks. She wants to know about her father. Instead, he tells her again that he and Amelia were meant for each other. This time he goes on to say that Cassie and Adam are meant for each other, too.

“You don’t want to mess with fate,” he says. Cassie doesn’t want to talk about Adam, but begs him to tell her more about her family. Finally, he says “Your father was a bad man.”

“Hello, Ethan,” says Charles, coming up behind Cassie. “Is he bothering you?”

Both Ethan and Cassie insist that they were talking, but Adam comes over too, and Charles tells him his father’s had too much to drink again. When she sees Adam, Cassie takes off.

Outside, Faye is stalking down the pier, blowing out the lights on the boats as she passes, a wicked grin on her face. When she gets to the end she tells the sky to give her a sign. Lightning flashes. Faye smiles delightedly, drunk on power. Pretty sure this is why Diana is so keen to do the binding thing she keeps talking about. Faye with power is bad news.

Sad Cassie is sad

Diana finds Cassie, who doesn’t want anything to do with her. “I can’t deal with any more of this right now,” she says, her voice choked. “What happened to our parents? Why won’t anyone tell me anything?”

“There was an accident,” Diana tells her. A fire, sixteen years ago. The people who died were all members of the last circle, including Cassie’s father. But Diana doesn’t think it was an accident; she thinks something went wrong and that the ones who survived are trying to keep it from them. She thinks the new circle can use their powers for great things. I think this is an ideal time to check in with Faye, who is using her powers to do great things with the weather.

Surely this won't end badly
Damp blonde girl saves the day

“Please, sky, rain down on me,” she says. Rain starts to fall. “More!” shouts Faye, and a monsoon-like downpour begins.

Diana and Cassie, stuck in the sudden downpour, see Faye at the end of the dock. Diana runs out to her. “You can’t make it rain just because you want to,” she yells.

“Yes we can!” Faye responds. Obviously. And why shouldn’t she do things just because she can?

Just then lightning strikes and Diana is knocked down. Faye runs over to her, startled out of her power trip. “You have to stop it!” she cries.

Faye tries, but whatever ability she was channelling when she started the storm has deserted her.

Cassie comes striding down the dock. She stops, looks up at the sky, and says “Make it stop.” She says it again. And again.

The storm ends. The girls stare at her.

“You did it. You’re one of us,” Faye tells her.

Cassie looks at her. “I don’t want anything to do with this,” she says.

Ethan is drinking in the darkness at the Boathouse when someone opens the door. “We’re closed,” he says, but Charles is more interested in the fact that Ethan said words in Cassie’s direction. Which is so not okay. Unlike barbecuing her mother, which is totally okay.

“You drink too much, which makes you talk too much, and I can’t have that.” Charles starts talking about how Ethan could very easily slip off the end of the dock and fall into the water. “Do you know what drowning’s like?” He begins to explain it, and as he does, Ethan begins gasping for air. He falls off the barstool, vomiting water, hands scrabbling on the floor, until he just lays there in a puddle. Charles stands over him. “This is my one and final warning,” he says. As he leaves, Ethan gasps a breath of air.

Cassie’s grandmother calls her: “You have a visitor. A very late visitor.” Cassie comes down the stairs to see Adam gazing sheepishly up at her. “I’ll be in the kitchen. Right through there,” she says to Adam, pointing.

He totally doesn't want to kiss her right now btw

Adam has come to apologize for earlier. “Which part?” Cassie asks.

“In the woods,” he says, the words falling over themselves. “It should never have happened. I love Diana.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Cassie says sincerely. She does.

“It can’t happen again,” he says. Certainly the way he’s looking at her does not suggest that he’d very much like to snog her senseless right this moment, for example.

“No,” Cassie says. “It can’t.”

Principal Chamberlin is just letting herself into her dark house when the front door flies open. She gasps, then smiles ruefully and turns. “You and your tricks,” she says to Charles. “Ethan?”

“We spoke,” Charles says. If you could call it that.

“You did the right thing bringing her here,” Dawn says. “She’s got the gift.”

“She is her father’s daughter,” Charles agrees.

“Well, unfortunately she’s her mother’s daughter too.”

Charles smiles in a way that suggests he is not actually smiling at all. It’s a talent. “Are you sure you can get Cassie to do what we need?”

“I don’t have to get her to do a thing. The circle will take care of that without even knowing it.”

Secret compartment is secret
Pressed flowers. Excuse me, MAGICAL pressed flowers.
So when did Mommy Dearest write this exactly?

In her room, Cassie turns out the light and stares at the stars. This time when they start to shift and blink, she lets them do their thing. One star gets very bright and Cassie hears a noise. She turns on the light to see what appeared to be a bit of decorative molding suddenly sticking out from her mantel. She goes over to it and pulls it out to find her mother’s book of spells.

Inside is a letter addressed to Cassie. We hear the same words we heard in the voiceover at the beginning of the episode:

“My sweet Cassie, you finding this means I’m gone and for that I’m so sorry. I didn’t want you to have this life, but destiny’s not easy to run from. I hoped that keeping this secret would keep you safe, but all I’ve done is left you unprotected. You have incredible power inside you. People will come for it. They will come for you.”

Another November, another NaNoWriMo

It’s National Novel Writing Month again! I’m crazy excited. I celebrated by totally missing my word count yesterday. Double words today! I will write everything twice! It will be glorious!

(If you’re wondering about all the exclamation points, I had pumpkin pie for breakfast. Take THAT, healthy diet!)

This year’s foray into creative non-nonfiction is a psychological thriller about a girl with false memories who may or may not have committed a murder. That she confessed to. It’s all very confusing. Luckily I know who actually did it! Probably. Anyway who needs outlines, amirite?

I’ve fired up Scrivener on my Mac and I’m creating a kick-ass writing mix on Spotify. Totally ready to go! When I get distracted (I was going to say ‘if’ but we’re all friends here and there is no reason to lie) I’ll post a clever little word-meter in my sidebar because I know you all are just aching to see my incremental progress in bar-graph form.

This is going to be awesome. You guys, I should have pie for breakfast ALL THE TIME.