A #SpooktasticReads Book Review | “Ghastly and Good” (Merry Hanukkah series, Halloween short) by Debby Caruso

Posted Monday, 19 October, 2020 by jorielov , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: In 2018, I was approached by the author to read the first story in her Merry Hanukkah series – whilst in 2019, I had the delightful joy of having her as a featured guest during my @SatBookChat! In June, 2020 I was able to read the sequel to ‘Merry Hanukkah’ which was ‘Happy Everything’. Wickedly ahead of sorting out which spooky reads I wanted to be reading this #SpooktasticReads, I was contacted by the author about this lovely Halloween short story she had written into the series. I was quite chuffed I could receive a print copy and thus, this delightful short became the story which kicked off my readathon of #SpooktasticReads! (a mini-event for @WyrdAndWonder)

I received a complimentary copy of “Ghastly and Good” direct from the author Debby Caruso in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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On why I love #SpooktasticReads:

Quite humbly, I attempted to host #SpooktasticReads as a book blogger years ago – however, the better incantation of the event I envisioned wasn’t fully realised until I pitched the idea as a mini-event attached to Wyrd And Wonder to Lisa and Imyril. As we co-founded @WyrdAndWonder together as a celebration of Fantasy. #SpooktasticReads picks up where Wyrd and Wonder leaves off – wherein, each Autumn we get hankerings to be reading a spookier side of Fantasy and/or any story which allows us to get our spook on – in whichever capacity which inspires us to read.

Some of us like the cosier side of Horror (ie. my own personal declaration of reading #CosyHorror notwithstanding!) whilst others like to seek out ghost stories, Urban Fantasy, Gothic Lit or Gothic Romance or any route betwixt and between which seeks to give us a slight chill to our readerly lives this October. For me personally, I love reading selections which run the full gambit of choices – from stories of Suspense & Thrillers which give me a chilling read through a Mystery I cannot predict how it will end to an epic Ghost Story which might leave me rattling my funnybone or contemplating the layers of how authors write such believable ghost stories within a witchy setting! I love stories involving witches and ghouls as much as I appreciate a delightful Urban Fantasy.

Ergo, to get myself into the festive mood of the next 13 days where you will find me on a bit of a binge of all the spooktacular reads I have on hand to be read – I decided to dial it back a bit and selected a story I hadn’t even realised was available to read this #SpooktasticReads as it was a surprise from the author! I love light Halloweeny tales as much as the grip your heart ones and this one is right in the middle of a series I have loved reading since the first novel released.

I felt this lighter read was the best way to start my readathon and find the festive spirit within the story itself! I can’t wait to see what everyone else is reading and I can’t wait to dive into stories and audiobooks in the thirteen days leading into Halloween!

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On what I enjoyed about “Happy Everything”:

Caruso also spends a wonderful amount of time tucking you closer into Rhonda’s marriage – how she feels as distant as her husband does to the celebratory coupling moments they loved sharing – wherein once life starts to pick up its pacing after you’ve dated and married, those more intimate and special moments can feel as if they’ve gone by the wayside. You can feel how much he misses their romance – the little nuanced moments they used to share vs how rushed they feel now going to family meetings and doing what they might consider out of duty for friends and family alike. In essence, reality has truly hit and hit hard as these two try to navigate their ‘new world’ as a married couple who barely have enough time to spend on each other. It drives home the realism once the afterglow of the honeymoon stage waxes off and the truer moments of marriage are observed with a humbled honesty only Caruso can tell.

One new character I liked as much as Rhonda was Diana – she seemed like the kind of person who could consistently surprise people for how much she understands about this dynamic family and how to show a different side to a person even Rhonda felt she knew everything about. It just shows you that sometimes you can have the complete wrong impression about someone until a new person shows up and starts to show you a new side of their personality which had remain hidden until now! Diana is a charming character who has a tough-as-nails job to do but one that is truly important in a world where not everyone cares about their companions in fur, feather or scales.

If I could have transported myself into Mimosa alongside Rhonda, her and I would have spilt a second salted caramel brownie!! Sometimes you just have to go with what soothes your soul and in that moment, where Rhonda knew the best response was to show kindness and grace, the better part of her mind knew that if she didn’t comfort herself with some much needed chocolate, she might have spoken out of turn which would have done nothing to savage the lunch. It was the kind of scene you’d find yourself living inside but without the right set of reactions – I agreed with Rhonda about how her father blindsided her with news and the kind of news that he seemed to have taken in stride – expecting her to do the same and let nothing be said about it either. I felt that was a bit over the top as how could Rhonda not have a reaction? She played her cards well!

Caruso allows Rhonda to show the portions of herself and her emotional internal life that might not always be disclosed in other stories. The ways in which she lets the reader see Rhonda’s heightened emotional states and reactions to different life moments in the heat of Rhonda being unable to sort through them properly and chooses to explode instead. Seeing how she becomes vocal and then remorseful – how she uses exercise to find a centre of calm and how like for most of us in those instances, nothing truly changes immediately after an experience like that but we each know of a route to find our balance and re-centre ourselves to continue moving forward. I liked how Caruso showed this area of Rhonda’s life and how emotionally Rhonda was at her tipping point.

Through everything Rhonda and Dez rise to the occasion. Their lives are chaotic and sometimes they have family members who drive their very last nerve out of their bones but overall, they share a sisterhood friendship with has such a strong bond that nothing can shatter it. Not even all the little fires which creep up in our lives which seek to cut us down to the quick. I love how Caruso shows through faith, family and friendship you can tackle anything which crosses your path in life but without the addition of humour, coffee and some wicked sweet Italian foods – you might not get through it quite as well as those who do!

I love this series – I am hoping for a third if not fourth installment – as I can’t leave this family where we last find them. Plus, I was so overjoyed I could handle the journey through Cancer with Aunt Bunny as that is one of my issues with most Contemporaries which feature the illness; either the details or the descriptions weigh heavy on my heart. Caruso thankfully focused on other bits of her journey and mostly focused on the recovery and bolstering of having loved ones have your back when a medical crisis arises. Best of all though is the comfortable pace and the realistic marriage you get to tuck inside between Rhonda and James. Theirs is a marriage which is equally strong to Kay Hunter and Adam (from the Kay Hunter series by Rachael Amphlett). You truly will find yourself snorting into laughter, getting emotional about the tides which keep turning and eager to get to the conclusion to find out if Rhonda can breathe a bit easier again!

-quoted from my book review for Happy Everything

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A #SpooktasticReads Book Review | “Ghastly and Good” (Merry Hanukkah series, Halloween short) by Debby CarusoGhastly and Good
by Debby Caruso
Source: Direct from Author

Join Rhonda, Dez, and the Merry Hanukkah crew as they try to pull off yet another holiday feat in this Halloween Short that’s sure to leave you laughing.

In an attempt to treat the kids at the local shelter to a Halloween party like no other, Rhonda finds herself running out of time, battling a hurricane, and wrestling with ghosts. In true Rhonda fashion, she has a few tricks up her sleeve, and the end result is anything but ghastly.

Grab a hot apple cider—or pumpkin spice anything—snuggle up, and enjoy a short story that will bring you back to a time when Halloween was filled with all the good things life has to offer.

Genres: Contemporary (Modern) Fiction (post 1945), Contemporary Romance, Romantic Comedy (Rom Com), Spooky Reads for Halloween, Women's Fiction


Places to find the book:

Add to LibraryThing

ASIN: B08GJBCYFL

Also by this author: Merry Hanukkah, Happy Everything

Also in this series: Merry Hanukkah, Happy Everything


Published by Self Published

on 9th September, 2020

Format: Personal Copy provided by Author

Pages: 37

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The Merry Hanukkah series:

Merry Hanukkah by Debby CarusoHappy Everything by Debby CarusoGhastly and Good by Debby Caruso

Merry Hanukkah (book one) | see also Review

Happy Everything (book two) | see also Review

Converse via: #SpooktasticReads + #WomensFiction or #Halloween #shortstory

This is a Digital First Release (ebook only!)

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my review of ghastly and good:

I agree with Rhonda, the most infuriating aspect of our lives is how we have ZERO control over the WEATHER. In particular, we seem to have a natural disaster walking up our sidewalk the exact moment we’re busy with other things and do not have time nor inclination to give the weather an ounce of our time nor do we desire to deal with the aftermath of what could effectively wreck chaos into our lives simply by how weather can change the course of our hours within mere moments of arriving outside our door! I understood her pain and her grievances – who wants to deal with the maddening wreck of a hurricane? (or tornado, earthquake, flash food, volcanic eruption – you gather the gist, its one of those [insert your worst weather nightmares] moments of angst)

I was not surprised James was trying to pacify Rhonda with coffee (smirks) as that was her go-to cuppa whenever she was happy, sad or stressed. Sometimes you need someone in your corner who can redirect your attention and also read your moods as well as James could read Rhonda. Rhonda is in her seasonal mode wherein she cannot function properly without commandeering control over a festive holiday’s planning committee! In this instance, it is her bestie’s Dez whose giving her the most grief because she’s a week out from a Halloween party which has barely and I mean barely been given a second thought! I had to smirk into a lot of laughter envisioning Rhonda over on her Amazon app clicking her cart full of costumes and realising she could return the order if Dez managed to come through with her Plan A! Laughs. You have to give Rhonda credit – she was a multi-tasker with the best of them (cradling the phone, zipping through Amazon’s stock like a pro) – yet, she was not one to rest on her laurels (or anyone else’s) when it came time to planning a party!

As we hug close to Rhonda – we start to entreat on her Halloween plans which includes stepping out to a Halloween costume ball at a club wherein everyone is delighted by each others’ costumes and wherein even her father and his new gal surprise Rhonda for how kinetic they are knowing what suits each other best. For Rhonda, she finally sorted out a way to be a bit more carefree and a bit less convinced that Halloween would be ruined with the lack of a solid plan. Seeing her cut loose and just embrace the spontaneity of the moment she was out with friends and fam was quite a fresh change for her as she (at times) lets her anxieties rule her roost.

I think Halloween was always meant to be the one holiday Rhonda would thrive in without all the angst of her familial commitments because it was one season which was wholly independent of all of the holidays she had to juggle with her family. Halloween was the holiday she could fully embrace without feeling as if she were stepping on toes one way or the other and just get lost in the glee of it all. I think that’s partially why she likes the candy best – a small gesture of random joy to randomly give out to children the one night everyone binge eats their favourite delights! You can just see this glow about Rhonda – Halloween is her jam, that much is for certain! Dez meanwhile doesn’t quite take it all too seriously, as she’s much more nonchalant for Rhonda who wants to pin down what their doing and ensure it all gets done.

Hmm,.. it wouldn’t be right not to have Rhonda side-step some drama in her life but I was as curiously surprised by the throwaway comment James gave her about celebrating Halloween as she was herself. So much in fact, I was looking forward to seeing that thread of thought continue to reveal itself as it was such a stark switch-up from how they usually are truly in sync with each other and this time round, it felt like Rhonda was more into the holiday than James which seemed a bit odd to me as generally speaking they were quite the partnered team.

Whilst Rhonda was sorting out her nostalgia I have to admit, Halloween has never wavered in my affection over the years – even when I can’t always celebrate it the way I’d love to there is just something about the holiday itself which gives me a burst of joy. I think in part that is why I am thankful #SpooktasticReads is taking off in recent years as I wanted to share my joy of Halloween in a new way with fellow socially bookish mates who love to share their readerly discoveries because Halloween isn’t just about candy and making fun memories anymore – it is also about the ways in which we let the spooky stories light up our lives with random joys. I even started early this year and watched The Canterville Ghost from (1996) when Neve Campbell and Patrick Stewart starred in the film I used to watch every year when it aired in syndication. Reading spookified stories was always in the background of what I attempted to do over the years but I really hit my stride circa 2017 and then, onwards into co-hosting this mini-event for Wyrd And Wonder. Which just proves however you find yourself celebrating a holiday you have to embrace what gives you the most joy within the holiday itself and be bold knowing that however which way you celebrate it is the right path for you to embrace it.

It was such a heartfelt reason behind the anxiety of Rhonda’s vexation with perfecting Halloween; she is intricately tied to her emotions (same as everyone else) and it is through a conversation with her father she realised what was triggering this newfound reaction to Halloween. Whilst I a small smirk over her need for clear nail polish as wasn’t that the go to solution to a run in your hose? It is definitely a mad dash worse than the rabbit’s to get everything in order on time for the party! Rhonda has truly outdone herself for this holiday fest and what I loved most is everyone is just as you last left them – from Dez at the office and James the supportive partner at home – Rhonda is blessed by her support system and the healthy work life she can maintain, too.

My favourite bit though is where the title was inspired into referencing a particular scene in the plot – of how something be both ghastly and good at the same time! I shan’t give it away dear hearts but let’s just say if you saw my social feeds recently, you might surmise what it is referring too! I’d love to sort out how to pull off the same effects myself one day as I love stuff like that! You can get so dearly creative and gosh I love learning how you can flip the script on your favourite holidays by how you can choose what you’re doing to bring them bursting to life in your celebrations.

Ooh! Apparently the actual point of reference to the title wasn’t the scene I was describing at all – as its revealled one chapter lateron! Laughs. Wells, for me personally the title works both ways – I mean, I love a wicked good play on words and for me ‘ghastly and good’ could also infer something sinfully delish in as much as wickedly atmospheric!

I positively loved the positive vibes running through the background of this lovely short story which puts you into the mood for #HalloweenReads because of how cheeky it is written in the world of Merry Hanukkah! Rhonda is up to her old tricks trying to make the best holiday everyone has ever experienced (in their lives!) and everyone round her is trying to get her to slow down and just enjoy the ambiance of what she’s been creating too. This is a short which strives to remind us all about the little gestures and the little moments which enrich our lives with the most joy. There is a bigger life lesson to be had as well but I won’t spoilt the thunder of the author who has graciously included such a wicked wonderful note at the conclusion of the story which seeks to re-spin how we can have equal parts of ghastly and good moments in all our lives.

If you’re seeking out a spookified list of reads this Halloween, tuck into Ghastly and Good to revive your memories of Halloween past and to soak inside Rhonda’s life as we follow her into the chaos of planning Halloween and then realising that some things cannot be planned – they simply have to be lived. However, my favourite part is discovering what the fourth story will be revolving round: Thanksgiving! Amen, to this as I was wondering if Thanksgiving might have been overlooked on the plausible future stories for the series and knowing its on Rhonda’s radar makes it on Ms Caruso’s!

Ahh,… you have such a full heart after reading this and such a burst of random joy to satisfy you until the next time Rhonda graces our life, too! I didn’t want to reveal where this Halloween party takes place either because it is such a beautiful part of the story – it anchours Dez and Rhonda together in a way that celebrates their individual pasts with the future they’ve been walking together through an enduring friendship which withstands all that comes their way. It is just a wickedly delightful short that makes you feel grateful its October!

on the ghastly and spookified styling of debby caruso:

I loved how Caruso taps into Rhonda’s extreme Type-A personality when it comes to organisation – not just for the sake of Dez’s party but for the sake of her plastic keepaway sets when it comes to food – as most of us do not own official Tupperware items but we all refer to those now very PC BPA-free plastic organisers which save us time and keep our leftovers fresh longer than previous incantations of the containers. It was a very impromptu point of reference and Caruso nailed how important it became to have this part of Rhonda’s life front and centre as we’re just adjusting into her seasonal plans for Halloween. It showcased a way Rhonda finds herself re-balancing after a point of stress and how sometimes, despite your best efforts you have to find the things which can re-centre you after you feel stress creeping up on you like a hurricane off the coast of your state.

Caruso is never short on pop cultural references – whether she’s broaching a reference to Scrabble or to Grease – she ensures you are firmly in the grip of the 21st Century as you read her Contemporary Women’s Fiction series. Part of her charm is how she brings her characters fully into view of the story – allowing each of them their own turn to shine and allowing the face of developing their own sense of growth per each new story we’re reading about them.

I loved during a heart to heart conversation between Rhonda and Dez they each shared how they have different memories of Halloween; for Rhonda it is harder for her to reconcile her memories against those of Dez but each of them recognise the validity in having different memories and of having different experiences. There is never a right or wrong way to celebrate Halloween (or any holiday) as long as you’re embracing the spirit of the holiday and finding a lot of joy in celebrating it along the way. It was a great moment between the two friends and a kind reminder to others to not forget the reason why we all choose to celebrate a holiday which means a lot to us personally.

As an aside my favourite Halloween memories are similar to Rhonda’s – none of this silly trunk or treat for us growing up – we were able to go through our neighbourhoods and/or attend a community trick or treat gathering in a local park whilst celebrating our costumes with contests and other fun competitions where you could win prizes to local businesses. It was a lovely time to grow up in the 1980s and early 1990s because there was still a bit of innocence in how Halloween was celebrated and it wasn’t all focused on the Horror side of it.

Caruso brings back a homespun Halloween celebration which isn’t quite spooky in regards to giving your spine a bit of chill as its much more intuitive than that kind of Halloween story – it is rather a wonderful reprisal about seeking to understand what is important in life and how what we celebrate becomes the cornerstones of our memories as we seek to continue to observe the holidays which give us such a heart pulse of pleasure to embrace every year. I love how she’s crafting this series one holiday at a time and one beautiful story of uplifting joy to be savoured one installment at a time.

Let’s bring on Thanksgiving, shall we?!

On a personal note: I was blessed with matching bookmarks for this series – I definitely had a kick out of using my “Ghastly and Good” bookmark to mark where I was in the novel and to happily see the motif from the cover smiling at me as I read. I love when writers enclose bookmarks as for whichever reason, I am definitely one of those readers who never seems to have quite enough? lol They’re constantly stuck on different pages in multiple books and sometimes I place them elsewhere once a book is read and I lose sight of it for longer than I ought to admit! lol Very lovely of her to enclose this one and I happily used it! Plus, I will be re-using this lovely when I go to read more #SpooktasticReads!

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To help get myself into the mindset of #SpooktasticReads, I found two Playlists via #Spotify which are definitely helping with the atmosphere of reading stories which put you in the Halloween spirit! Thus, if you’d like to discover them yourself – the two I am favouring right now are Haunted and Classical Halloween. Spooky sounds for #SpookyReads!

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This book review is courtesy of the author:

Debby Caruso

#SatBookChat logo badge created by Jorie in Canva.

This series was part of a #SatBookChat discussion in November, 2019.

Be sure to read my thoughts on the first novel “Merry Hanukkah”

As well as the #SatBookChat Spotlight for “Happy Everything” & my review for “Happy Everything” which followed in June, 2020.

About Debby Caruso

Debby Caruso is a Native New Yorker who is also a proud Italian-American. She is the creator of novels, screenplays, short stories, poems, and no less than a million grocery lists. She can be found drinking vanilla tea or white wine on a fairly regular basis.

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 I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!
Do you enjoy reading holiday stories like this one or others like it? Which ones stand out to you over the years that bring families & the holidays together in the central thread of plot?

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#SpooktasticReads banner created by Jorie in Canva.

This happily kicks-off my #SpooktasticReads readathon, wherein I am going to be selecting stories off my bookshelves which are either spooky & ghoulish or delightfully ghastly in a quirky sort of way which makes you feel a slight chill but won’t leave you wanting to light a lantern at night to keep the darkness away! This #SpooktasticReads I am happily delving back into stories about *ghosts, witches, paranormal suspense & the lighter side of Cosy Horror* as I make my route through #SpooktasticReads one story at a time whilst finding myself on a lovely literary holiday! Join me!?

This lovely event is via @WyrdAndWonder | with my co-hosts @imyril & @deargeekplace

Full details on #SpooktasticReads via Always Room for One More (Imyril’s blog)

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{SOURCES: Book covers for “Merry Hanukkah”, “Happy Everything” and “Ghastly and Good”, book synopsis and author biography were all provided by Debby Caruso and used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: #SpooktasticReads Review banner, #SpooktasticReads badge and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2020.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Monday, 19 October, 2020 by jorielov in #SpooktasticReads, 21st Century, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Blogosphere Events & Happenings, Contemporary Romance, Family Drama, Family Life, Indie Author, Modern Day, Romance Fiction, Twitterland & Twitterverse Event, Women's Fiction




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