Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review: A Madness Most Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

I received a copy of this book with my October Owlcrate subscription.  I began reading it Tuesday and finished it yesterday.

A Madness So Discreet is a YA historical thriller dealing with a victim of rape/incest who has been confined to a mental asylum by her wealthy father in order to hide the evidence of his abuse.  Later, she is rescued by a handsome young doctor who wishes to use her somewhat photographic memory to help him as he researches crime scenes in Holmes-like early detective work.

Here's the short review:
Setting: Fantastic!  McGinnis has claimed she was inspired by visiting a former lunatic asylum in Ohio. She sets the book first in an asylum in Boston and then in the one in Ohio to contrast the two.
The problem here is that the setting takes over the book and contributes to the problems she has with the plot.
Characterization: Both good and bad.  Grace (the protagonist) and most of her supporting cast are really well done and multi-layered.  McGinnis clearly had a good interest in research mental patients and nurses.
The problem is the villains.  They are spoken of, analyzed at a distance, dissected mentally and emotionally.  But McGinnis never lets them speak much.  She TELLS us they're villains, but she really doesn't show them in action.  She seems not to have any idea how to work with them, so she hides them and covers up most of their action scenes.
Pacing: Very good.  The book moves right along.
Plot: The first 3/4 of the plot works very well, but the last 1/4 is grating and contrived.  McGinnis clearly wants a circular plot, to put the main villain into the position where the protagonist began, but getting there is awful and cumbersome.
I will go into detail below.
Messages: Whether they are intentional or not, every author gives messages with a book.  McGinnis' are problematic and sometimes conflicting.  She appears to take a feminist approach, showing how men could have women thrown into asylums for practically no reason and having a strong supporting character be a women's rights activist and having Dr. Thornhollow appreciate Grace's intelligence, but then McGinnis shows her anti-abortion stance by telling the readers that even a D&C to remove a dead fetus endangering the mother's health is wrong, and she clearly puts the blame for one rapist's behavior on the fact that the man has a strong-minded mother, indicating he is acting out his rage on other women because one woman makes him feel emasculated.  Furthermore, McGinnis' anti-abortion stance is very odd when it is contrasted with her pro-vigilante justice one.  In the book, it is wrong to scrape out an already-dead fetus, but it's just fine to murder a man in cold blood because characters don't want to deal with the slow pace of the court system It's also apparently just fine to have another man tried and convicted for the crimes of the first, assuming the punishment for the dead man's crimes will suffice as the punishment for his own.
I found these very conflicting.
Literary Allusions: Misleading.
The title, A Madness So Discreet, is immediately familiar to readers as a corruption of Shakespeare's line in Romeo and Juliet, "a madness most discreet."  The problem is that Romeo is ranting about his unrequited love for Rosaline, and he is identifying and describing love here.  This allusion leads the reader to believe the book has a romantic subplot.  It doesn't.  Thus, the title is a very odd choice.
Age Group Suitability: This book deals with rape, impotence, incest, and sex.  I wouldn't risk putting it in my classroom lest some parent freak out over it.  I suggest that it's more appropriate for about age 15 and older, depending on the teen, of course.

These are the reasons why I cannot give the book five stars.

More in-depth review of the plot problems:

McGinnis' plot problems come from the fact that she was trying too hard to contrast the two asylums and have a circular plot.
Here's a synopsis the plot: Grace has spent several years dealing with her father's sexual abuse of her, hoping to keep her pre-pubescent sister Alice safe from him.  Her mother, knowing the man is raping other women, is insanely jealous and won't help her daughter.  Grace ends up pregnant and her father puts her in a Boston asylum where she is subject to cruel treatment.  He plans to take her back home once she gives birth, and she knows he will go right back to his abuse.  Thus, when Dr. Thornhollow does frontal lobotomies on several violent patients, she begs for one so that her father will not take her back.  Instead, Thornhollow only gives her superficial scars.  She pretends to be a lobotomy patient, and the doctor convinces the official to pretend she's dead and give her father ashes while he (Thornhollow) takes her with him.
Once they are in the much nicer asylum in Ohio, Grace makes friends with a couple of patients, one of whom is called Lizzie.  Thornhollow has Grace help him solve a few murders.  Then a pattern of rape and murder victims arise, and she and Thornhollow are stumped.  In the meantime, Grace has been writing letters (under an alias) to her younger sister, and she is growing extremely worried that her father will soon start abusing her.
Thus far, the plot works, but then things get really weird.
Grace discovers the local rapist and murderer is the town pharmacist.  Thornhollow claims they don't have enough evidence to convince the police of his guilt yet, so while he's out of town, Grace lures the rapist into the woods and slits his throat in cold blood.  She is not sorry over it at all, and Thornhollow is only mildly bothered by this.  He appears not to consider her dangerous.  He tells her she's not insane.  (This might have been believable if he had a sexual interest in Grace, but he appears not to, and it's implied he's satisfying himself with various servants and such.)
If that's not strange enough, Grace then convinces him that they need to frame her father for the rapes and murders committed by the pharmacist because they cannot bring him to trial for the rapes he has actually committed.  Thornhollow is not bothered by bringing a man to trial for rapes and murders when the man is guilty of rapes and incest, but he is worried about his career.
They convince Lizzie to pretend to be a rape victim, and she suddenly becomes a marvelous actress, convincing everyone in the courtroom that Grace's father raped her and threatened to kill her like the other girls (killed by the pharmacist, but no one else knows that).  Thornhollow quails at the last minute and convinces the jury the man is criminally insane (Yes, and so's his freakin' daughter, but this never comes up.), so instead of hanging, he will be confined to the same Boston asylum where Grace began the book.  And little Alice goes to live with her aunt while the evil mother lives in shame and disgrace. (pun!)
The ending is clumsy, contrived, and awful.  The reader has learned to empathize with a protagonist who is suffering PTSD wants to see her heal.  Instead, she slits a man's throat and goes on her merry way as if nothing had happened.  The author condones this behavior in her.
Then the whole trial is TOLD rather than shown, and it's completely unbelievable.  Thornhollow has no real motivation to do what he does.  Lizzie could not possibly act so convincingly.  No one would fall for this.  It's so clunky and such a bad way to get poetic justice.
Since the reader needs to have Alice saved and the villains punished but should really see Grace stay on the path to healing and not go off to be worse than her own father, I propose an alternate ending.  Here's what SHOULD have happened:
Grace discovers the pharmacist is the rapist/murderer.  While she and Thornhollow are working to get the police to solve the crime, he attacks Grace, and she kills him in self-defence.  Meanwhile, Grace's mother, realizing her husband is going to start abusing Alice, kills him in a jealous rage.  She is declared insane and sent to suffer in the asylum, and Alice goes to live with Aunt Beth.  Grace continues to heal and work with Thornhollow, getting a job, as she is too scarred to deal with the ideas of marriage and sex.
My alternate ending brings about poetic justice but leaves out the clunkiness of the real ending.  Plus, Grace would not become a murderer.

Overall, the book is pretty good, but the end is a HUGE mess.  Just be aware of this if you read it.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ooh! I Got Another Review On Amazon!

Format: Paperback
Another fantastic book by Lisa Shafer! Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. An intriguing teen novel with dose of the supernatural in the family tree, this book will delight readers with a humorous take on life as a teen girl trying her best to be noticed. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Creepy Cemetery Writing Prompt Photo

Last year, my blog views skyrocketed when I posted a series of creepy cemetery photos.  Somehow I missed this one, so I thought I'd share it this year.
This was taken in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City.  It's the angel Gabriel, waiting to awaken the dead.

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Halloween Writing Prompt Photo: Thistle House

Last weekend was Fall Break and I traveled south to Cedar City to the Fall Shakespeare Festival by a different route than usual.
One of the small towns I passed through is now a ghost town, destroyed by the Thistle Dam break and mudslide of 1983.  This house sits near the highway, still half-submerged in a scummy pond.  If ever you needed an image of a "haunted house," this one is sad enough to fill that requirement.
Ignore the reality and create the backstory, my writer friends. :)

(Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

First Review For The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay!

Pre-Teen Mom reviewed the book on Amazon:

   Another completely fun read from Lisa Shafer! I loved Nerissa's themed outfits and playlists for every occasion. I felt her thought processes were in line with how a 14-year-old girl thinks. I felt her pain in trying to get the boys to notice her but not getting the attention she wanted. Since Nerissa is really smart, she is two grades ahead of where she should be so the boys just aren't looking her way...unless they need a tutor. While this naturally bothers her she doesn't get whiny, she does things in an effort to solve her problems.

This was the first book in a series and I will definitely be getting #2 when it comes out. I'm dying to know who the maxi-skirt lady is, who else was in Nerissa's room, and why are random articles of clothing being stolen from neighborhood clotheslines?

I recommend this book to all who like YA fiction. I know my daughter will love it as she is a fan of Shafer's work. I didn't tell her I'd bought the book because I wanted to read it first. Not because I was concerned about content, but because I didn't want to have to share. :)Search   

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Review of the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2015 Fall Production of Two Gentlemen Of Verona

Since the new version of hates Safari users and will not allow the use of photos, the above photo came from the Salt Lake Tribune.  For more photos, play information, and to buy tickets, go to, the Utah Shakespeare Festival website.

I loved everything about this production -- except the end.
I loved the costumes, the fact that it was set in 1920, the set, the incredible wandering musicians that tied the scenes together, Tasso Feldman as a believable and sympathetic Proteus, the costumes, the acting, -- and did I mention the costumes?  (Sylvia in a shimmering flapper dress!  To die for!)

But director Robynn Rodriguez chopped the end off an already abrupt ending.  It's awful.  She leaves half the conflicts unsettled and the audience blinking in astonishment.  It's probably the worst editing of a Shakespeare play I've ever seen.

Thus, my recommendation is that if you're a Shakespeare newbie, skip this one, as you'll be confused.
If you're a veteran Shakespeare fan or a lover of the Roaring Twenties or an Italy buff, go see it.  But take a copy of the Bard's original script with you so you can read how the play actually ends.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My Review of Dracula at the 2015 Fall Utah Shakespeare Festival

I really don't like the new website.  It hates Safari users, for one thing.  But one of the worst things is that it will not allow the use of photos, not even when properly credited.  Thus, to find a photo to advertise one of the plays, I had to use one from the Salt Lake Tribune.
To see more photos (which you can't use) and to buy ticket, go to

So, I love the novel Dracula, written by Bram Stoker and published in 1897.  I teach the novel every year to my GT 9th graders, and I know it well.
Naturally, I've seen quite a few vampire movies in my time, but I had never seen a live theatre version of Dracula until this week.  It may have been worth the wait.

Do you love vampires?  Halloween?  Dracula?  You need to see this play!

My one gripe was that the chosen script (Dracula is public domain, so there are plenty of adapted versions out there) changed way too many things about the book.  Yes, I understand the need to shorten the story, but so many things were changed that weren't necessary.  Why, for example, have Lucy refuse Dr. Seward's marriage proposal for no reason because Arthur (the guy she accepts in the book) is cut out of the script?  That made no sense whatsoever.  Also, in the book, Mina marries Jonathan.  But in the play she doesn't.  And there's no reason why.  In fact, the horrid, rape-like scene wherein Dracula hypnotizes Jonathan so he can force Mina to drink his blood had to be changed -- and it lacks quite a bit because of it.
Now, the end of the play changes the end of the book -- but it may be for the better.  The end of the novel Dracula is a bit too much chase and then a way-too-quick end to the vampire.  I almost liked the stage version better.
Also, the script adapter clearly didn't understand that the English were mostly Protestant at the time of this story and that Catholicism and its mysterious rites were all part of the Gothic.  His blunders with that are pretty glaring.
However, the acting is fantastic!  (or fangtastic, if you prefer). Tyler Pierce is a sexy, creepy vampire.  Lucy and Mina are very well done.  Van Helsing is good.  Renfield is convincing.  Seward is very believably in love with Lucy.
The costumes are wonderful.  I especially loved Dracula's look as the "old" count before he comes to England and grows younger with fresh blood.  I'd never pictured him the way he's costumed and wigged for this show, and I really liked it.
The set!  Oh my goodness!
Huge projections make ghostly backdrops!  The spurting blood!  The blood transfusions with blood actually appearing to travel through the tubes!  The fangs!
I would definitely pay to see this again if I had the time.
Seriously, if you're a vampire fan, get tickets and go!  It runs until the end of the month.  Don't waste time deliberating; just plan your trip!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Enter the Goodreads Giveaway For The (Dis)Appearance Of Nerissa MacKay

Are you on Goodreads?  If so, be sure to enter to win a paperback copy of my new novella, The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay by Lisa  Shafer

The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay

by Lisa Shafer

Giveaway ends November 19, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Read A Good Book In The Autumn Sunshine

Julie's picked a perfect porch spot to read The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.  Where would YOU like to read it?

Get your copy right here.
And then send me a photo of yourself reading it.  I'll enter your name into the upcoming prize drawing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Get Your Hands On A Great Book!

Traci's reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.  Wouldn't you like to get your hands on a copy of it?

You can get a copy here.
Don't forget to send me a photo of yourself reading my book so I can enter your name into the big drawing for prizes!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Get Your Nose Into A Good Book.

Angie's reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.  When are you going to read it?

You can get your copy here.
Be sure to send me a photo of yourself reading; those who do will have their names entered into an upcoming contest with lots of books and swag as prizes.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kick Back And Read!

Kevin's reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.
Isn't it time YOU got a copy?

Check it out right here on Amazon.
And once you get a copy, be sure to send me a photo of you with the book!  Everyone who lets me use their photo and/or reviews the book for me, gets her/his name entered into an upcoming contest with LOTS of prizes!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Disappear Into A Good Book

Susan's reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.  How about you?

You can buy your copy here.
And once you get a copy, be sure to send me a photo of you with the book!  Everyone who lets me use their photo and/or reviews the book for me, gets her/his name entered into an upcoming contest with LOTS of prizes!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Get Excited About The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay

Michele and Mary are pretty excited about the book.  Are you?

You can get your copy here.
And once you get a copy, be sure to send me a photo of you with the book!  Everyone who lets me use their photo and/or reviews the book for me, gets her/his name entered into an upcoming contest with LOTS of prizes!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Win An E-Copy Of The (Dis)Appearance Of Nerissa MacKay!

This is the first of several giveaways for this book.  However, what I really want are BOOK REVIEWS. So, for most of the upcoming giveaways, people who've reviewed the book will be more likely to get the big prizes.  This is your chance to win the book so you can read it and review it -- and win MORE STUFF!  (What kind of stuff?  A book bag filled with books and swag, for starters.)

There it is!  This is the cover of the book!
Here's the blurb:

Nerissa MacKay isn’t just anybody.  So she’s fairly positive that a major role in the school play will prove that point -- and maybe attract the hormones of some of the boys who have ignored her for far too long.
But Nerissa’s dressing with a different theme every day for one solid year hasn’t yet convinced the drama teacher of her creativity, and Nerissa gets desperate during the last week of tryouts.  Then, when the local mean girls' clique starts bragging about being visited by a ghost, Nerissa has had all she can take of their upstaging her.
Determined to pull the town's attention toward her and to Aunt Jane's Haunted Zoo, Nerissa plans to find this "ghost" --- right after she does her biology homework.
But the research for biology class leads her to her great-great-great grandmother's commonplace book, which contains several uncommon recipes using local plants.  In the name of research, Nerissa gives one of the concoctions a try.

Ghosts, witchcraft, cliques, boys, her mother, homework, and saving the Haunted Zoo -- Nerissa's in way over her head.  Even when no one can see her...

Want to win an e-copy?
You must be 13 or older.  You must have an Amazon account.  You must be willing to share your e-mail address with me (and I promise not to share it with anyone else).
Enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Go Retro, Or Go Home.

For one solid year, Nerissa MacKay has dressed in a differently-themed outfit with a matching playlist every single day.
This Friday, she will (dis)appear.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Dance Around A Bairn's Grave....

This Friday, Nerissa MacKay will dance in a graveyard near you.
Soon, she will (dis)appear.

Monday, October 5, 2015


This Friday, Nerissa will dive into her witchy past.
This Friday, she will (dis)appear.