A book I had to take a break from…but just had to finish

Maybe the holiday season is creeping into my soul. Just maybe. It still refuses to snow a decent amount, even though there was a hint we’d get a round on Wednesday, even that is retreating into nothing. Figures on a year where I genuinely have nowhere to be, as my son’s school is now completely remote until Jan 4, there are no massive disruptive snow dumps. Facebook is sending me flashback photos of my son sledding on a snow covered yard and right now I’m looking on a muddy hill.

But one of the few things COVID hasn’t taken away from me really is holiday baking and that’s helped. I made a peppermint oreo bark that really needs more chocolate base. Info for next year’s baking, for sure. Peppermint is my definitive seasonal flavor, in no small part because it suits in hot drinks so I can like caffeinate with peppermint alcohol simultaneously!

But you lovely readers are probably not here to get a glimpse into how red and green my soul is becoming. You might want to know what book I recently finished that brought me to a screeching halt before starting back up again.

Tidelands, Philippa Gregory

It’s the mid 1600s on the tidelands of England, and Alinor is a lovely, deserted wife, the object of much speculation by her neighbors.  She is on the fringes of society as a deserted pauper, but has made herself also essential to its functioning with her herbs and poultices and skill as a midwife. She becomes entangled in a love affair with a rich seminary student on an errand to free the doomed king.  Combined with her daughter’s desperation to marry her love, a boy above her station who nevertheless loves her, the women are brought back down to where society feels they belong.

Philippa’s historical fiction always centers on women who sink their tenterhooks into my empathic skin.  Always always.  When I read her historical fiction I get so bent about her characters that I creep on wikipedia so I can know how it turns out so I can brace myself for ruin.  Because we know women in power in history often were punished by ruin, and if they weren’t, they often skirted it.  I came to like a screeching halt for weeks on this one because I knew it was going to end badly after pages and pages illuminating the precariousness of her position.  How one major setback could be the end of her and then like three possible bad ends for her not only pop up but she kind of barrels toward them.  So on one hand I was annoyed with her and her daughter, but on the other hand, I couldn’t expect them as characters not to follow their hearts.  I’ve done it in the past too, it just didn’t have the same sort of consequences for me. Novels are not written about boring women, I just wish that they weren’t so relatable.  Well, maybe I like her characters just fine because I’ve read like 14 of her novels now and I suppose I should know better.  It was just hard.  I was immediately interested in this book and I don’t know why I didn’t expect it to break me apart. It was one of the new releases from my go to authors that I’m sure not to miss, even though it wasn’t following a Tudor.   Maybe because I thought I was safe with it not based on a Tudor. I don’t know, but I had to take a break from the book and get to a better emotional space before it all went to crap like I knew it would.

I am glad I read it, I am glad I finished it. I did skulk on the next of the series to get some idea of how it would play out.  And my dad read it and I asked him for some faith to press on.  And I might possibly read the next in the series and I do want to read the only two Tudor novels I have left on the TBR. Yup.  Because these are my problems, along with my soul that’s slowly coming around to Christmas. With the help of peppermint flavored, like, everything.

Next week I should actually have a Christmas read on deck, compliments of Audible’s premium plan. Not that I don’t have a ton of Christmas audiobooks, because I do. Again, problems.

Forming my plans for the New Year, too, so stay tuned.

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November was about Portals.

As a Psychologist I cannot ignore the symbolism of my need for transport into other worlds right now.

I can’t believe I’m saying that it needs to snow, but it does.

My son is on quarantine for another week which changed my Christmas shopping plans, and even though like 90% of it is done AND I have made Christmas treats AND my halls are decked, I still need a decent snow to get in the spirit. My house even smells like pine trees from a delicious three wick candle that I waited all year to burn. Nope. No Christmas for me. We couldn’t decorate the village tree from being on quarantine and there is no Santa Breakfast. So please, Mother Nature, come through for me on this, the winter where I really can’t and shouldn’t go anywhere. Breathe a little wintry Christmas spirit into this soul.

So no one will be shocked that I don’t have a Christmas read planned until at least the very week of the holiday.

But what I have read is delicious so you should keep reading and see what I have next week. 😉

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix Harrow

January Scaller is a brown skinned, half orphaned child living in privilege in the white world of 1800s America, in the home of a rich businessman who collects artifacts. Quickly into her young life she discovers a portal to another world, which she makes the mistake of talking about to the adults, who cut her off from anything whimsical.  But when she is a little older and finds a mysterious book, she can’t avoid finding out the truth about the existence of other worlds and of herself.

So if I was as prescient as I occasionally fancy myself to be I’d have admitted in November that it would be my month of portal reads.  I know this is a post on the first Sunday of December but I spent my Thanksgiving week in the thrall of this story.  It is an ode to stories, just like in The Starless Sea with the interwoven stories and the blurred lines between dimensions and worlds.  It is utterly magical and mysterious.  January is an outsider, living between worlds herself, a dressed up collector’s item, who finds her place in the world, which is such an important and hopeful lesson in YA literature.  I loved the other worlds, the characters, and the twists just kept on coming.  I was getting near the end and I am like why is there still this amount left? What left is there to happen?  And then things!  

Love interest was decent too.  Not too much of a rake or unbelievably sappy. And Ms. Harrow was excellent about tying up all the ends.  The story was a delicious, satisfying whole. And the cover, ermagherd.

This was her debut novel and she has since come out with Once and Future Witches, which I already felt interested in, and now having read her ability to write a witch and headstrong women, I am all about that.  I’ll definitely get back to her next book because I love her powerful characters. 

So, I said it. Wishing for snow so I can get my spirit rolling. Reading women’s fiction instead. I mean not that Christmas books aren’t women’s fiction, because they are.

Plus I have not talked about my writing in awhile but I think I have made some decisions about how I’m going to use that January to April creativity sprint when it sucks outside.

I do wish the Christmas spirit on anyone that can find it!

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This is not a Christmas Post

I decided I wasn’t ready.

As I am writing this post my tree is not up yet because it’s pre-Thanksgiving, but when you read this, it will be up and my house will be decorated for Christmas. Not by me. If you need a chat about a tasty Christmas read, this is not your post.

Not saying I don’t have Christmas reads lined up, because I do, but you’ll have to stay tuned for them. Maybe the tree being up will help but I find that a good snow helps with the spirit to come along. I’ve even eaten chex mix and sent out gifts and nope, when I screeched to a halt on a book I’m trying to get through and I needed something else to post on this week, I didn’t pick up any Christmas.

But I do hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was lovely.

Today it is magic! But not happy Hogwarts magic, that’s for sure.

An Unkindness of Magicians, Kat Howard

A world of magicians (the Unseen World) overlaid with ours (the Mundane World) participates every few years in bloodthirsty battles to see whose family is going to come out on top. Enter a woman, Sydney who has escaped from the House of Shadows to turn everything on it’s head. She has power like no one has seen, and, to boot, magic is failing. Sydney wants to see magic fail, based on the sacrifices that she and others have been forced to make to uphold it.

This is a dark, ruthless, bloodthirsty worldbuilding of magic. It’s about power and privilege and abuse of power. It’s not fun times at Hogwarts, not that Harry Potter doesn’t have a dark element to it but this book is brutal. The powerful magicians in it are notably old white men and the main source of magic is the exploitation of other’s magic. This book is about an underdog, absolutely, cold and calculating after years of abuse, but you still like her, and you still want her to come out on top. She’s relatable even if deeply damaged, maybe because we have all had the urge to watch it all burn. Some have been hurt in ways it’s difficult to come back from, which makes the return all the better.

Because I don’t connect as much with the deep trauma, even though well written and constructed, this book could be an interesting, diverting book of alliances and systems and power plays, and it wasn’t exhaustively long with most of the action being in the last, like 15% of the book. Sometimes books with complex systems are exhaustive/exhausting but this wasn’t, the pace clipped right along and even though it looks like it will be a series of some sort there is resolution on it’s own. And I like books about magic and magical worlds in November. I just do.

So, right? Not the loving light of Christmas. I’m okay though. Foisting my treats on different people than usual this year because I usually travel to see my people who get treats but I won’t be doing that.

2020 dumpster fire.

No promises about next week. I just started another portal-y magic book.

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I’m grateful for cozies

We have made it to the holiday week of gratitude!

I have slowed down this week in honor of the holiday and because I’m finding a serious adult life lesson for me is knowing when to slow down and not to listen to all my crazy issues around being productive all the time. And because I think I need to make space for my grief for this skewed holiday season without the usual trimmings. Even if I wasn’t focused on being safe, the world here is shut down and will likely be more so as COVID cases bloom again all over the state. I could get into politics over this, but I won’t.

I intended to have a different book finished for today’s post, but it’s stressful right now and it blows my empathy apart and I had to take a break from it and then I didn’t get back to it on time to post. So space has been made to talk about a book series I am super grateful for in this week of gratitude.

Also I am grateful to my readers!!! My stats are slowly but surely improving. I am grateful to everyone who peeks over here to see my Sunday bookish goodnesses.

Southern Spirits by Angie Fox

Main cozy mystery elements: Verity, our lovable protagonist belle who is a little too outspoken for polite Southern society, who can’t help but help those in need with a definite headstrong streak. She has not been able to get consistent employment after having to sell everything off to pay for the wedding she ditched. The ghost hunting also makes her weird to some of the town’s residents.

Frankie, her sidekick ghost who sometimes gives her the power to see the other side as it overlaps on current reality and has it’s own distinct worldbuilding rules that up the stakes when needed. For example, ghosts can hurt her when she is in their world but not when they aren’t. She and Frankie have nicely conflicting personalities as well as Frankie getting his own storylines. Also, her reliance on Frankie and his reluctance to help is an effective driver of tension.

Virginia Wydell, her antagonist, the woman of the fiancee (Beau) that she dumped on their wedding day because he tried to hit on her sister the night before the wedding. Virginia is old school Southern high society and is determined to make Verity suffer for the embarrassment the caused the family.

Ellis Wydell, the sexy, skeptical cop love interest who just happens to be another son of Virginias.

Lucy, a pet skunk that she rescued as a baby.

Sugarland, Tennessee: A quaint Southern town full of gossips and old money and old families and all kinds of interpersonal conflict and drama.

There are nine books in the series and I have read them all, plus most, if not all of the shorts. I love that she helps ghosts and the different ways the author creates tension in her immediate world and juxtaposes it with the spirit world. I love the audio narration, although it’s not out with the newest book that I finished weeks ago. I couldn’t wait for it. I don’t care that the covers are cartoony. I used to have a thing against that but life is too short to only read intense books.

As the books go on they get decidedly darker. The spirit world mysteries are not exactly light hearted, as that wouldn’t make sense, but the stories behind the hauntings get creepier as it goes. But it’s all great. The shorts are great, the audio is great, the slow burn romance and the character arcs. I get completely absorbed. It’s too long before the next one, and I’m not huge on book series.

I wish everyone the best holiday week and that we stay safe as we plunge into the cold months during a world changing pandemic. The next two months will be interesting for my country and all I can do is spread love, be grateful and optimistic. Books are a big way I can get that feeling.

I don’t know if it’s Christmas reads next week. No promises.

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November Diversion: A Peculiar Peril

It’s Sunday morning and I know the rest of the world continues to spin off its axis in chaos around me.

I thought I’d barrel into this holiday season but after buying my sister’s gifts, which I wanted to buy the most, I feel like I’ve had to make myself focus on the rest. I just tossed my mother’s gift onto my knitting needles when holiday knitting usually started weeks ago. Everything is just out of whack. I blame the dragged out election and the lack of my usual external markers of my life, like sports seasons.

I have managed to purchase materials for Thanksgiving pies and chex mix, my holiday cooking bastions, so there is that. I would be planning cookies if I was going to see my family but COVID says no.

I do think it’s important to be safe, however. My boss has sent us all back to remote sessions as of this week and I’m wondering how much longer my child will be able to do his two in person days. I know school closing will be inevitable and I am grateful that he’s had the number of in person days as he has had. He’s gotten back into the swing of school, which for me is the most crucial component.

I mean so it’s a good time to delve more into portal fiction. I said last week that November is just such a portal appropriate month for me and I have to say that the bizarre nature of this one was a good diversion from the election craziness last week.

A Peculiar Peril, Jeff VanderMeer

Jonathan Lambshead inherits his grandfather’s estate on the pretense that he needs to catalog and manage the vast amounts of items accumulated. This quickly dissolves into a larger theme involving Aurora, another dimension under siege by a magician, his mutinous familiar, and a collection of constructed war machines. Jonathan discovers his true inheritance, his legacy, in which was to protect Earth from the nefarious powers taking over Aurora. Of course he uncovers his own family secrets in the process. And this is a duology so the resolution is only partly and not just my usual avoidance of spoilers.

So this plot summary is super reductive. This novel spirals into the weird at warp speed. The second chapter brings in the magician, his familiar, the disembodied head of Napoleon providing battle strategies living in Notre Dame repainted on the inside to more closely resemble the flames of Hell. I anticipated this, as I follow the author on Facebook purely for my own entertainment. Usually he writes sci fi/cli fi which is too intense for me to enjoy but I thought I’d try this one because it’s marketed as a YA novel. I have no idea who thought that would be a good idea, because I can’t imagine getting involved in this book as a teenager. This is what I get for reading someone’s book because they put up trailcam footage and pictures of themselves in costume holding a jackfruit on Facebook when the world, for all intents and purposes, is going to crap.

This is good if you like the super ass weird and out there. If you are looking for talking vegetables, hedgehogs riding roosters, a monster made to look like a school marm and a talking inanimate object that is the secret to dominating the universe, this is it. I needed brain space for it but I didn’t get too emotionally involved and that is a plus. Also the bathroom and tongue in cheek humor is really top shelf. Yeah, it’s toilet humor but VanderMeer brings it to a new level of hilarity without being gross in a way that keeps me following his Facebook posts. And I can’t confidently say I caught every iota of the layers and subtlety. I always love some resolution to family mysteries too and when the MC ends up more connected in the end that they were in the beginning. I’d find new things if I read it again. It’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone, so I’m trying to be open about the kind of book it is so my readers can decide for themselves if it’s a good outlet for their brain space.

At the moment I think I’ll read the next installment but it isn’t coming out until 2022. A lot can happen by then, if 2020 has taught us anything.

Not Christmas yet next week. More stuff I meant to get to, maybe some more magic, because I realized that I read the Magicians trilogy at this time of year and it was also that other dimension portal absorption goodness.

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Review: The Starless Sea

I admit it’s difficult to focus on posting today, as much as I want to share my thoughts about The Starless Sea. I have been trying to be more conscious of my screen time and that’s all been blown to bits this week with election coverage and stress about the outcomes of either side claiming victory. Debunking conspiracies, keeping hope, still being a therapist and a mom, making progress on my reading and other personal projects.

I let my kid have a friend over today to have a break from all the stress talk going on between his parents.

Somehow I have ended up reading two involved portal books this November, which I didn’t expect, because agents looking for manuscripts have mostly said no portal fiction. But since neither of those books are debut novels, apparently you can write about slipping through magical doors all that you want. Do I sound jealous? Because I so am.

But I digress.

The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern

Zachary Ezra Rawlins, and yes, all three names are used copiously, is a graduate student who finds a book in the library about his life. Intrigued and creeped out but also with the distinct sense he is meant for something different, he embarks upon an adventure into a bizarre parallel world and assumes a role in a story he was always meant to assume. Labyrinths, symbolism, folktales that all eventually weave together and characters with unclear motives flank the shores of the starless sea.

November is a good time to read Morgenstern, first of all because she is a NaNo winner with The Night Circus, and because November/late fall, before it really starts to snow, holds a thin veil magic for me. I loved this time as a kid without understanding why and as an adult there’s a certain magic to it. Adulthood needs magic. Needs infinite possibilities. Both of her books now are a perfect foreground to a magical, anything’s possible time of the year. I also love that this is the time of year that Harry Potter movies make their way back to TV. Thanksgiving weekend I usually tune in and hit The Half Blood Prince.

It’s lucky I set the expectation at the beginning of this post that I’m struggling to focus today.

That said, I think this book is for people with certain book tastes. It is a more literary, atmospheric book for someone who just loves stories for the sake of stories. The smaller stories that weave together kept my interest going when at times it flagged a little bit, when Zachary was really in the bowels of this strange world I didn’t yet have a framework for understanding. My brain got impatient at times, but if I read this book at a time where I had more brain bandwidth I may have felt differently. I cannot promise that if you loved The Night Circus that you will love this too. But if atmospheric stories for the sake of stories and maybe some wish fulfillment for those of us who have always wanted to be spirited to another dimension are for you, or maybe for you, it’s worth picking up. And remembering that even when it gets weird, there is resolution in the end that pulls it together.

I had this pipe dream that I was going to have a second intense portal book (because isn’t early November kinda about portals?) ready for you today, and I’m like, 60% through, but this week has been too emotional to plough through like 250 more pages of a book that needs my attention. But Morgenstern easily deserves her own post, as she is my November magic twice over. I look forward to more of her magic.

More books I missed this month before the Christmas reads.

And I’d love for this country to come together again, once I am done with my petty anger. Yes, I must acknowledge my petty anger. I tell my kids to do it all the time.

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Happy Halloween!

So, the night when the veil is at it’s thinnest complete with a full moon is over. I’ll take that over the big storm we had last year that thankfully held off for the festivities.

I selected this image because there is something so eerie and poetic about the deep gold of later fall. I love an atmospheric misty fall morning. It begs to be breathed in.

Who is surprised that my son finally gave up the Jack Skellington costume for a Harry Potter, after Harry Potter audiobooks were a clear head and shoulders pandemic win for us? I haven’t minded the world slowing down a little for the pandemic, either. That was a win for me.

I think I have warned my fair readers that I binged on so much creepy book goodness this summer that even though I’m turning back my clocks and looking ahead to the holiday season, I’m posting on a last bunch of not to be missed Halloween reads today. Because this holiday is good enough to last the whole weekend when I got two demon books and two haunted house books on deck.

The Good Demon, Jimmy Cajoleas

Claire is unmoored and empty inside following her exorcism.  Her demon, called Her, was a support and companionship in a cold world with preoccupied adults.  Claire steals a journal (for a thousand dollars) that she discovers may hold the secret to getting her demon back and embarks on an adventure, complete with the son of the preacher who exorcised her, that uncovers something much bigger in her sleepy Southern town. Totally deliciously Gothic.

I was really looking forward to this book and it didn’t let me down.  I was intrigued by a positive depiction of a demon having a relationship with their person.  The relationship between them makes total sense and it’s completely understandable why she would go on a quest to get her back and I loved how deep the rabbit hole went. I was impressed by how well a male author could write a wayward teenaged girl and her falling in love with a boy totally unlike her.  The supernatural element was awesome, the darkness, the story behind how the demon was paired up with Claire in the first place and…you kinda root for Her, too.  Definitely makes you think about the lines of good and evil.  And I love books that make everything into a gray area.  Yes.  Worth the read.

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemi Taboada, a rich young woman enjoying the high life in 1950’s Mexico is summoned to a creepy old mansion to assist her newlywed cousin, Catalina.  Catalina has made a hasty and mysterious marriage and now seems to be sinking into a psychiatric condition.  Noemi is better suited to parties than she is rescuing cousins and sleuthing, but she discovers something far more nefarious than a psychiatric disorder plaguing the family and the crumbling mansion.  Something that she ends up having to escape to keep her life her own.

This just came out and is highly praised.  It is exactly what a Gothic tale is meant to be:  dark, long family curses, mysterious, dark, and full of slowly unraveling secrets. It easily could have been set in Europe, in my opinion, because it is so much in the tradition of a Gothic horror, right down to it not being too horror-y.  Definitely more Gothic, definitely more slow unfolding legacy and family secrets and having to find out the good bits from the people outside the house than it is about bloody guts and death.  Character driven. Certainly not like the hardcore Joe Hill book from last week.   It is a slow burn with a big weird secret that takes off in the last 50-100 pages.

I like the love interest.  I like that he isn’t a rake and that it’s believable that there is some attraction because the story mentions that she is a little bored of men, bored of the playboys and the rakes in her society scene. I like that she has to slow down the game playing and becomes more genuine with him, rather than flirting and trying to get him going.  I didn’t mind her cousin’s husband being enigmatic and there being some sort of supernatural attraction there because she was being real, and experiencing something real, with the other guy.

I shall take this moment to give myself props for including a new and hot book in this post.

Amityville Horror, Jay Anson

This is a famous one for whomever is interested in American ghost stories:  The Lutz family moves into a home where a brutal murder (Ronald DeFeo having murdered his four siblings and parents in cold blood) was committed and are driven out by dark, unseen forces within a month. 

Now, I love me a demonic haunting, and I seem to read one in every scary reads series I do. Audible recently expanded its catalog to certain members and when this became available on audio I wasted no time. I find the acceleration of weird and scary phenomena fascinating, as long as they are not happening to me.  I like to know the famous American ghost stories, which are always controversial in themselves. I don’t completely understand it though, as it is rarely truly resolved, or resolvable, and it is subtle.  I’m currently reading a different horror book, and I’m finding I prefer the subtlety to the gore.  In this one, we never know the whole story.  Ronald hasn’t come out with a consistent story as to how he ended up killing his family, if the demonic creatures already were there when the house was built, or he or someone had a role in inviting them in.  Hearing voices isn’t enough to explain how it happened. Certainly the Lutz family was just a typical white upper middle class family of the day looking to have a nice life and raise their kids, not dabble in anything so dark and scary.  They were hapless victims. I find myself wondering what happened to the house after the Lutz family left, if the number of other families since have had similar events. I googled it to see the actual home. I wouldn’t move into a house with a past like that or one that didn’t feel right. But I’m glad I finally got to it, to know this iconic story as well as my odd fascination with demonic hauntings.  It is definitely a fall read, even though the events take place during a holiday season, one that was supposed to be joyful for the family. 

I hope this freaky weekend treats everyone well and you can all look forward to no more spooky books for the rest of the year. I don’t think. I am in the middle of my November reads so I need to do that as well as make sure I get another Full Moon meditation in this weekend. Because you have to catch the energy as it avails itself.

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Fall Reads: YA Goodness

The days have been increasing in their fall atmospheric goodness. Perfect for hot drinks and the kind of read you need for fall, whether that’s cozy, or scary, or creepy.

My son is going to be eight years old on Tuesday and I don’t miss the whirlwind of activity this weekend may have been save for the pandemic slowing everything down. It’s somewhat of an experiment to see how much he will feel is amiss once the birthday is over, and I’m guessing it won’t be much. He has gifts coming and his special birthday rituals and I am going to do something special with him on the day and we all might find that keeping it simple was really just fine. Although I just did a sweep and I think I’m missing birthday wrapping paper. I would usually have his gifts done by now…eek!

As for the reads! I’ll do the YA creepy stuff today. I have demons lined up for the day after Halloween as that is a day with a thinner veil and maybe people want something darker to go with the holiday weekend. Right before we shift into end of the year mode (I won’t use the C word yet. I am not even on my C reads).

The Women in the Walls, Amy Lukavics

Lucy’s mother died when she was a toddler and ever since she has been stranded with her father, aunt Penelope and cousin in a rambling Victorian house in the middle of the woods.  When her aunt disappears in the woods a creepy mystery spirals out of control.   Her cousin starts saying that she can hear Penelope speaking to her through the walls of the mansion.  Lucy starts to hear voices too, only to discover her mother’s and aunt’s roles in a deadly legacy.

This one was on my Amazon wish list forever, to be listened to when I found that NYPL had it on ebook. This year has been good for getting through wishlisted scary reads titles, bought or borrowed, which still count as TBRs.  This book was terrifying and haunting in parts, a perfect example of dark YA horror. The voices, her discoveries in the house, the way her cousin’s sanity slipped away and she had no one to help her with it.  The mysterious graveyard on the property that she never knew about, and the random disappearance of her aunt with her father seeming to be too focused on his socializing to do too much about, so you wonder what his secrets are.  It definitely kept me guessing. 

I also thought the author did well reporting on Lucy’s self harm habit and what it meant to her.  So many teens struggle with self harm I think it is helpful for them to see themselves in book characters who understand it, struggle with it, and overcome it.

However I agree with many reviews that some aspects of this book were terrifying and haunting, really worked, but some parts of it fell short of the mark. I struggled with the book being set in modern day when its overtones are decidedly Gothic:  an isolated old mansion in the woods, the girls don’t really have a good reason for not attending public school and just going along with being shut up and bored all day in the house, long standing family secrets.  I feel this would have been better set in an earlier time when people still had grand dinner parties as entertainment and feasibly did spend their days shut up in a mansion if they were rich. I also thought that the reveal came in a rush at the end, where it could have been sprinkled more throughout.  Lucy could have been making discoveries about this mystery all along rather than just at the end.  But do I still recommend it?  I do. If there’s a reluctant teen reader that could potentially get absorbed in a horror book, this would be the one. The inconsistencies I find with it as an adult may not be the same to a teenage reader who gets swept up in this atmospheric novel.  I’d be willing to bet it would have worked even better on my teenage self than my adult, classic Gothic novel reading self.

Toil and Trouble: Fifteen Tales of Women and Witchcraft, Tessa Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood

Fifteen short stories involving teen girls through varying contexts dealing with their power.  Most of these witches are women of color, some of them gay, and are dealing with legacies of prejudice on a number of levels, and of course, rising above.

These stories were fun, varied, well crafted, and thought provoking. Many uplifting and empowering for teen girls to believe in their own powers. Another one that spent way too much time chilling on my TBR.  The diversity was especially appreciated, the women coming out of all walks of life and situations, but similar to all other women in the stories through their undeniable power.

The stories that stood out to me the most were Afterbirth, where a midwife apprentice covers for some midwifery that the Bible wouldn’t condone; Death in the Sawtooths, where a marginalized woman who deals with deities no one else wants to is called on for a favor; and Gherin Girls, where a trio of sisters are trying to hold it together through the challenges that threaten them.  

Awesome young adult reading!

Blood and Salt, Kim Liggett

Ash would be your normal teenager, save that her mother escaped from a spiritual commune and is pulled back…or save the fact that she often sees a dead ancestor hanging above her.  When she and her twin brother find the commune tucked into a ravenous field of Kansas cornstalks, they find a community preparing for resurrection and she finds a boy with secrets of his own that she can’t resist. She has to save her mother before her mother is sacrificed as a vessel in this immortality ritual.

So, I think the title made me think this book would be harder core than it was, or less romance, which is dumb of me because the pitch is Romeo and Juliet meets Children of the Corn.  It has been on my wishlist forever and I scammed the audio off the NYPL website.  I found it hard to get my brain into the revelations and the secrets behind the cult.  All cults have secrets, and this book is like an onion in its layers of revealed secrets.  The ritual and the love that started it all, the abilities that come out of the twins and the story behind a mother’s protection.  It’s an original story, there’s lots of drama around the lovers and obstacles.  As I said, I was surprised with the amount of romance in it, considering all the suspense and horror too.  If a significant romance aspect works for you in an otherwise dark scenario works for you, then it would be a fitting book.  Plus all the corn.

So some YA reads as the fall turns into winter, as we slide into the week of Halloween, however that looks for everyone this year. Full disclosure I don’t miss doing four Halloween activities with my son. I like that it will be two this year. Next weekend, although it will already be Nov 1, I will wrap up my favorite post series of the year with one more clutch of fall reads. I guess life being slower has been good for my TBR after all.

I find that November posts pre-Thanksgiving tend to be a good time to get in any newer books I haven’t made it to with my other reads. I say newer because I don’t always get to what was published this year, but books that caught me when they were new that I made sure to get but other blog themes or writing projects got in the way. If an author I like comes out with something new it tends to be the time I get to it. For me it is a good end of year wrapping up thing.

I wish everyone a happy and safe Halloween week!

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Fall Reads: Harder Horror

I’m well aware that my favorite reads and subjects are more nuanced than they are all out crap your pants on the edge of being grossed out horror, but I can get into the occasional harder core horror story. It doesn’t always have to been teenagers and women with more power than society deems acceptable that fills my reading brain (although I think it will be teenagers again next week. Possibly demons. I don’t know. I seem to have done some serious binge reading this summer). Today’s post, as you have a coffee and think about all the Sunday fall goodness ahead, shall prove that sometimes I’ll crawl into that emotional space of an edgier horror story.

Should I have waxed poetic about it already becoming later October or would that have taken away from this confession that my dark side has its’ needs too?

Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt

A town in the Hudson Valley is haunted by the spectre of a prosecuted witch from back in the early 1600s.  With her eyes and mouth sewn shut and wrapped in chains, she is an unexploded bomb tolerated by a tiptoeing town.  The curse: once you know about her, you cannot leave the town for any appreciable amount of time or you will be compelled to take your own life.  So she is a carefully constructed,  guarded, quarantined secret. You know that’s a total setup for things to go terribly wrong when some under-supervised teenagers get to blaming her for the strict rules in the town. How she has caused them to lose family and feel confined against long term relationships or external careers.  Inevitably it goes to crap, her whispering into people’s ears compelling them to take their lives, the consequences unbearable if she is able to use her eyes and mouth.

Another TBR long hanger that I picked up the audio to to be able to read it. This is a classic creepy, horrific story.  I can’t imagine having to anticipate a ghost like that, or any ghost really, rando showing up in my path like that.  And it’s a setup for things to go to crap so you’re just waiting for it to, with the animal harbingers and the bored, disturbed and trapped teenagers.  Too much power shared with too many people.  In fact, I am surprised they held it together for as long as they did.  The town is a character more than the individuals in it, as they are all affected similarly.  Goodreads reviewers and I agree that this felt old school Stephen King to me, with people struggling as a whole against a curse, and it all goes to crap at the end in a way that follows with the plot. So if you like old school King, this one is worth a read.

For me personally, I liked that it was snuggled in the Hudson Valley and kept consistent enough for me to miss the place in the year I lived there.  I like reading a book where I have been, and I like the Hudson Valley, still rural enough but so close to the city.  It was a good place to be, but also it gave the book a kind of Legend of Sleepy Hollow effect too, with historical events in early America still affecting the town. 

Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill

An ex rockstar, Judas Coyne, buys a suit at an online auction, knowing full well that it comes with the ghost of the man who used to own it. What starts off as a curiosity for a person whose life has slowed considerably becomes a horror story of revenge when he discovers the auction was a setup to buy the vengeful spirit of the stepfather of an ex girlfriend who committed suicide after the breakup. Not only is this dude an angry stepfather, but in life he was a gifted hypnotist who didn’t use his powers for good.  His ghost is scary, merciless and focused on the ruin of Coyne and anyone who tries to help him.  Whoa.

This was a compulsive horror story.  It was an artful balance between intense action and backstory that slowly unravels as Judas and his current girlfriend, Mary Beth/Georgia, an ex stripper/recovering drug addict, run to survive the ghost.  They rake through Judas’ past in a harrowing drive South to get to the family who sent him the ghost, to get to Mary Beth’s old Ouija board, and ultimately to a face off in the home of his estranged and dying father.  I was hooked on the action and then before the action got to be too much, because I can get lost in too much of it, it would slow back down to the stories and the reasons.  The story itself hung together well through the scary parts, gave them context.  I was impressed that this is a debut novel as well and I have seen other Joe Hill novels like The Fireman get high praise among horror readers.  

It also has a resolution with redemption in it. Throughout the story, Coyne is becoming more human in his interactions and ends up staying with Mary Beth even though he has had a failed marriage, I hope that isn’t a spoiler alert.  I didn’t really have expectations for their relationship past the high drama of the story but I guess the whole surviving a disaster together tends to draw a couple together. Mary Beth is much younger than he is with her own complicated past but Coyne tends to be the kind of guy women fall in love with and she’s no exception.  

My only warning for readers is there is a significant element of child abuse/sexual abuse in this story. Horror has to rake people’s deepest darkest fears and traumas to be effective, to meet the needs that draw people to this genre and I get that but if CSA is a trigger for a reader, they should really avoid this one.  

These were both great. I’ve considered limiting the scope of the books I blog about, but my tastes are so wide I don’t have the heart to limit myself. Because I read these ones and I have the Christmas reads listed out to get read. (But I am not far enough ahead to be on them, I’m still getting through the November posts, and that’s fine, because I’m not ready for Christmas books until we are past Halloween).

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Fall Reads: The Magic of Hester Fox

So the post today is about the three books by Hester Fox that I’ve had the luck to come across but the profile picture is a puffball mushroom. Puffball mushrooms were magical and rare as a child growing up in city limits and seeing them reminds me of how I felt when I saw little natural magics in my world. Living in the country as an adult has been a wonderful way to remember the magic as an adult, especially in the change of seasons.The leaves are moving past peak here and we are starting to have those occasional epic fall thunderstorms to bring in another season. I’m absorbing all the beauty I see before it’s snatched away in the cold snowy winter.

Fall is a perfect time to absorb Hester Fox books, historical fiction featuring magical women surviving their worlds. I shall delay no longer.

The Witch of Willow Hall, Hester Fox

Lydia, caught between a prettier older sister and a fiery, imaginative younger sister, and her parents, move to New Oldbury in the wake of an unnamed scandal away from Boston society in 1821. On the surface, the move seems like a good idea:  a place to start fresh in a home built with no expense spared.  Except there’s the conspicuous absence of an older brother and Lydia lost an engagement in the aftermath (which she isn’t that sad about, thankfully).  Their mother is defeated and aloof, their father is focused on his booming business. Lydia’s burgeoning powers as a witch are pulled out of her by the secrets and haunting of the house and land from a previous tragedy.  She doesn’t understand the powers because her mother has never explained them to her, even though her mother recognizes, from an incident in Lydia’s childhood where she harmed another child, that Lydia has inherited the family abilities.  Enter her older sister’s Catherine’s desperation to get married and sets her eyes on a man Lydia is falling in love with, and a family tragedy…

Okay, so this was a debut author and novel last year so it definitely was not on the TBR for years.  Whatever Amazon algorithm out there designed to find me understands me on a disturbing level, as this novel was my jam.  My absolute jam. This is a supernatural Gothic witchy haunted house story at its very finest. Mysteries akin to Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. Ghosts and untold tales, magic.  Absorbing and transporting.

I was glued to the story, the slow discovery of mysteries and intrigue, the understated narrator who seems to be the only one who can see past her own nose in her family.    The characters were all well done and believable in their role in the story. I was rooting for Lydia from the first page and I had to know what happened to her.  And it does end well and happily.  The narrator was so good at layering on the tragedy I found myself wondering if there was enough space left in the book for something else bad to happen to her because I wanted her to be happy and okay.

I wasn’t sure that the narrator was my favorite but I can’t explain why. Maybe she seemed like there was an element of whiny-ness?  I went back and forth between reading and narration and that helped to break it up. 

But, this is a perfect fall, Halloween read.  I immediately took her next book out of the library.  I think I will be a devotee of Hester Fox.

The Widow of Pale Harbor, Hester Fox

Sophronia Carver is a pretty young widow living in a mansion overlooking the small town of Pale Harbor in 1800s Maine. The superstitious town believes her to have killed her abusive husband (although they didn’t know he was abusive) and as a result of her PTSD from that relationship keeps to herself and her home with a faithful servant, Helen, caring for her.  She spends her days reviewing submissions for her late husband’s literary magazine. Gabriel Stone comes to town as a new minister with no real inclination or gift for being one, but to honor the memory of his late wife, who loved the school of thought he tries to spread.  There are a series of strange events in the town with dead animals, dead people, and eventually a murder that they need to solve, as well as falling in love, being truthful to one another and themselves. 

This one felt more like a mystery story than The Witch of Willow Hall, and more like a romance, as the narrator is third person omniscient, instead of first person, so we aren’t left wondering if the attraction is mutual.  And because they are trying to piece together a puzzle that ultimately leads to a threat on the widow’s life. I didn’t find it as Gothic or as intriguing, but I was still turning the pages right along.  I think also that plotlines that involve coming into power are more intriguing for me than a romance, and this felt more like a romance than fantasy, although it was classified as both.  Helen dabbles in charms and spells but there isn’t really any evidence that anyone has magic or the protection spell that Helen feels she cast was doing anything. No ghosts, no ancestors showing up, no untimely deaths of main characters.  No unexplained events.  So it was decidedly more grounded in real life than the fantasy realm and that may be why I didn’t feel as drawn in.  The writing continues to be lovely, the characters intriguing, the setting a well defined entity unto itself.  I was transported to the past. But the draw was different.

Also, same narrator on the audio.  Still don’t like her.  Definitely read this one too for breaks.

The Orphan of Cemetery Hill, Hester Fox

Tabby Cooke was orphaned at a young age and ran away from her cruel, exploitative guardians, becoming separated from her dear sister.  Her whole life she’s been able to talk to the dead, so living in a cemetery with a caretaker who took her in isn’t the worst of fates, until she meets a dashing rake and gets twisted up into a murder plot and the dark secrets of powerful men in 1840s Boston.  She ultimately needs to learn to work with, rather than against her powers to help others and save herself.

This one has all the Gothic goodness ingredients: orphans, spiritual powers, nefarious people in power with dark secrets, handsome rakes that seem unattainable.  It doesn’t have a prophecy or a curse but I feel that would have been overdoing it.  All my favorite things, but I didn’t quite connect with this one like I did the other two.  Admittedly, The Witch of Willow Hall is an incredibly hard act to follow, and I kinda knew that when I read Widow and then pre ordered this one for some author love karma.  This one hasn’t even been on the shelves for a month!  And it’s on this blog!  Anyway.  

I didn’t completely enjoy the rake but I have a hard time enjoying them because I have read too many victorian novels to feel like they are anything but a means of destruction for a virtuous young lady of no means.  I wanted a guy who was more believable and less wish fulfillment, even though he does have a decent character arc that makes him more deserving. And there wasn’t really time in the plot for the change in her power to go from overwhelming and scary to manageable.  Managing your powers in my opinion is like a life struggle, not something you get to in like a year because you can see that it helps people.  How does she set boundaries with it with no one to help her manage that?  So many good elements here and a great setting, and I hate to say I didn’t connect with it as well because it’s damn hard to be an author, and so much goes in to writing a book and I don’t want to dismiss all that went into it by being like, eh.  And let’s be real, it’s not like I’ve broken into publishing myself.

I still have love for this author and her work.

Still not a huge fan of the narrator.  I forgot I didn’t like her in the other two books because I ready them months ago and pre ordered this beast that came out in September and wanted to read it and then combine all three into one post.  Ugh.  I hate not liking narrators either. 

So there you have it. One of the most perfect authors for the changing of seasons! Check her out if you haven’t already!

I’m slugging along trying to find an agent for my book. I have slowed considerably the search and harassment of agents but still working on my shorts. I continue to wait on responses for some short things I sent in at the end of August. My attention is being fulfilled in other directions but I haven’t worked on writing my whole life and since my child was little to give up once some spiritual stuff resurfaces!

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