Scary Reads! Day of the Dead

I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but many towns where I live moved Trick or Treating to nights where it wouldn’t be so rainy.  Not where I live.  They declared a week back that Trick or Treating should always be Halloween, which is fine, easier to plan, but with the multitudes of Halloween activities that are had now, it’s not as if kids are living the Halloween of my day, even if they are out there in the rain.  In my day there was a parade, a Trick or Treat night,  and a bunch of ugly plastic costumes that my mother refused to buy, so we would scrap together old dance costumes and hope we didn’t have to ruin the look with wearing coats over them.  Or we dug through our parent’s old clothes and were gypsies or hippies. There weren’t the variety of nice costumes, or a hundred Trunk or Treats in daylight, or publicly hosted parties.  My son wears his costume about five times every year now to different Halloween events, and there are more I could take him to.  It’s no longer the past.  The 80s had very few things right in terms of raising kids.  It’s not the same world. If someone wants to make it so kids don’t have to tromp through the rain for candy in the dark, so be it.

I hope everyone’s Halloween was lovely.

But really what I wanted to post about was a book that made me think about the Day of the Dead, and honoring ancestors, as that holiday also passed this week on Friday.  This is the last of my Scary Reads series, which is sad, as I’ve spent weeks enjoying these books.

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Labyrinth Lost,  Zoraida Cordova

Alex, a young witch born into a Latinx family of witches (brujas and brujos) is afraid of her powers and how they have ruined her family, so when they start to manifest in earnest, she decides to do something about that.  She ends up banishing her family to the afterlife, where she needs to travel to rescue them for her mistake and accept her powers and her crazy family in the meantime. The afterlife of course has its own troubles, and then there’s the handsome mysterious boy who helps her for unclear reasons, and then the best friend who finds her way along for the ride.

This is the closest to a witch book that I get in my Scary Reads posts this year, and I didn’t read it for the witch aspect, I read it because it fit with something to honor the Day of the Dead. Her magic ceremony doesn’t happen on the day of the dead, but it has to do with family on the other side of the veil and had the feel of Latin/South American culture to give it that flavor.  She is a teen with a big family with unsolved mysteries, and she’s just a normal teen considering her impact on the world as she gets older and comes into herself. Like so many teens, she has no idea the extent of the influence she will be able to have on the world. I liked that even though she was magic she had so many normal things about her. Even her magic was a normal thing in her family, with her other two sisters having already accepted and using their powers.  I liked that, how normal she was, even though she felt that she didn’t fit in anywhere. But fitting in more becomes part of her journey. Being a teen is a teen, no matter where you are and if you are magical. The next story in the series focuses on her older sister Lula.

So, just one book this week and a good amount of my griping about people who are glorifying the way kids were raised in the 80s.

The next two months I’ll have Christmas reads, but not too early, I promise, because I haven’t even started reading those yet.  I love Christmas but I can get burned out on it.  I caught up on some reads I missed in 2018 as well as I still have a category left for Book Riot and it’s nothing graphic!  I have been binge reading a paranormal mystery series just because and I don’t know if I’ll have space to post on that.  Stuff.  Good thing I’ve had reading to get me through this year.

I’ve needed it.

Onto November!

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It’s Halloween!

Yes, the day I use to justify supernatural reading in the summer is here!  I’ll be following a Jack Skellington around my town tonight and feeling that Halloween feeling 🙂

Taking my son trick or treating is something I love about being a mom.

What I don’t always love about being a mom is trying to share a book with my son that’s a little advanced but he’s getting help from me, and he still doesn’t want to do it.  I have to work hard to make a reader.  Slowly trying to make one.

I put this on audio for us on a car ride and he picked up the comic book I said he could read after trying it for an hour and I devoured it myself, on a full cast audio production.

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The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

A boy is raised in a cemetery by ghost and other supernatural creatures to keep him safe after his family is murdered.  Of course there’s a Neil Gaiman style conspiracy plot behind the reason why the family is murdered and the boy is significant, but that’s revealed later, as his supernatural experiences growing up with creepies is more the emphasis here.  It’s a fun story, a kids book about being a kid in an unusual circumstance, with more of the plot and the larger picture revealed as, as happens in our own experiences growing up, he becomes older and learns more of the world.

Neil comments in his book that he had to have his own children grow up to really get a look at what it’s like to send a grown child out in the world, to talk about what it is like for the creatures he is leaving behind.  I loved how he worked out the details of how these childhood issues could still be addressed with undead parents, keeping him sequestered in a cemetery, and how he also takes on some of the abilities of the creatures, to be able to ‘disappear’ even though being of flesh he technically can’t do so.  To be able to see them when he is living with them and losing the ability as he gets older, as we all do.  It’s really about growing up in a family, even if it’s in a supernatural setting, as NG is wont to do.

Last year I reviewed Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree for my special post, and it was more specific to the actual holiday, but I believe a child on both sides of the veil and engaging in a supernatural childhood fits the bill for a Halloween post well enough.

There’s one supernatural read post left for the season of scary and the thin veil.  November is a bit of  a mish mash because Thanksgiving is so late I don’t want to dive into the Christmas reads too early, and there are other books I wanted to catch up on.  Still one BookRiot book left to do and I’m on it, has to be posted somewhere.

I thought about NaNo, even revising a novel I am still working on for some new fun parts, but I have barely been able to keep up with my monthly writing and work is, well, still exhausting and this time of year I’m shuttling my child to all sorts of events.  So as much as I want to do NaNo, I need it to be in January or something when everything slows way down and I shift into survive the depressing winter mode.

Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

Scary Reads! Traversing the Veil

My son is seven today!  Happy Birthday baby boy!  Today is family stuff, presents and brownies instead of a chocolate birthday cake.  Brownies without nuts!  Because that’s how Daddy likes them and it is decidedly not Daddy’s day!  I love how being a mom has changed my heart and added dimension to my personhood.

As Halloween looms near, I think the stories that talk about when the veil between our world and the next thins out become especially relevant.   Never mind these are two books that have camped on the TBR forever and were read in the middle of the summer when I needed distraction (I read a ton this summer), but they were saved for the post that is up when the Halloween festivities begin to pick up in speed.  This week will be parties and Trick or Treat.  I already went to the big party that the YMCA has with my son every year, where you can smell other people’s bodies, scroll your phone while your kid takes a million trips through the bounce house, and get candy you’ll probably have to throw out.  Excellent.  (PS I was sarcastic long before I got pregnant).

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City of Ghosts, VE Schwab 

A young girl and her ghost best friend with experience on both sides of the veil travel to Scotland with her parents, where she encounters and has to defeat a dark supernatural force/antagonist/villain and get back to her side of the veil while she still can, all the while trying to understand her gifts and the relationship with her companion.

VE Schwab is one of my hoarded authors, where I buy numerous books before having actually read them.  This one broke the seal because it was sitting in plain view of the YA section of the library and needed me to disregard the usual reading plan I am following for blogging.  I took it home and it swept me away for two nights in the dead of winter. Yes. Perfect. As compelling as the dark antagonist was to the protagonist, Cassidy Blake. It was a quick read, being YA, and although you worried for her getting back in time and felt for the ghosts trapped in one of my favorite settings, Scotland, it didn’t get too tangled up and you knew she was going to be okay. I bet it would have scared the pants off me, though, if I was the intended age of the audience.  It was a nice taste of the author’s world building and the next one is in Paris! I’m all about ghosting in European cities that I am too anxious and busy to visit myself.  It looks like it has something to do with the catacombs, which I have been in and have always thought would be the perfect setting for a story.

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Ghost Bride, Yangsee Choo

A middle class Malay woman in the early 1900s is asked by an influential family to marry the recently dead first son.  The son who wants to marry her begins to haunt her dreams, and in an effort to get away from him ends up entering the land of the dead herself and becoming privy to the family’s tangled scandals on both sides of the grave.  Not to mention that along the way she wants to marry the nephew that will now inherit, a man she was interested in before she knew who he was.  

Full of intrigue, I kept thinking I knew where the book was going, but it always surprised me.  So much happens, especially in the beginning that I kept thinking, why is this being revealed this early on? What’s she going to do with the rest?  But the author fills the page with more and more tangles and depth to the story. For example, she meets the guy she likes but thinks he’s not of her class and can’t marry him, but then finds out that not only is he of her class, but he had been intended for her once, and she likes him and he likes her, and it’s not that far in and I’m like, well, what’s getting in the way now?  Oh, plenty got in the way. It all had to come out fast because there were so many more events based on it. In my own writing I have been trying to work on deepening my plots and fleshing them out, and I admired the way she did this.  

I have wanted to read this for years and I had been hoping that it was a book in translation, but it didn’t look like it was, but I never took it back off my kindle.  Then in a bout of BookRiot reads that got intense on me, it reached out to me from my downloaded books list. I wanted a story. I wanted to be diverted from intense themes and brought into another world.  Yes. And as I said, I kept thinking back to the similar ideas in City of Ghosts but done so differently overall, apart from the fact that one is for adults and one is YA. The afterlife lends itself to so many juicy interpretations.

She has just released The Night Tiger and it might end up jumping my reading plan because it looks at me from the library.  Don’t ask me why I still check out the library when I already have a reading plan in place. It’s led to a lot of line jumpers this year.  Shameful or shameless, I can’t decide.  

This week will feature a bonus Halloween post, as yet again I have a fitting story for the day.  Stay tuned!

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Scary Reads! Ghosts in High School

Is it obvious that I work with children?  I would miss the rhythm of the school year if I only worked with adults.  I like the traditions and structure involved with children. I think I enjoy trick or treating more with my son than I did as I got older as a child. I certainly decorate more for Halloween and Christmas than my childless self did.  I like talking with kids about school events, holidays, and breaks.

This post is about ghosts in high school, but it deals with the settings in different ways.  In one, the protagonists/main characters are teens, and in the other, they are not.  This presents two different stories of going in between the veil in a school setting.

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Absent, Katie Williams

Paige finds herself dead after a fall from the roof of her high school.  When she dies she starts hanging out with two other ghosts bound to the school:  one a girl who also died recently at the school and another who died years ago, but also in his teen years.  Right away she finds out that students in the school believe her death to have been a suicide rather than the accident she believes it to be. She sets out to dispel this rumor by temporarily possessing friends, influencing their statements and behaviors toward this end.  Of course the story of her death is more complicated than initially believed.

Another one that I couldn’t put down.  I know I say that often, but this is the scary books part of the year and there’s a reason I got everything read before the end of August, and it’s YA and I’m shameless in my love of YA.  I love that Paige is trying to work on an age typical goal and is so believable. She still cares about her crush, a guy that liked her but didn’t want to be an official couple with her because she wasn’t cool enough just before the fateful accident. She hasn’t changed as she crossed the veil, continuing to be a sarcastic teenager who cares what people think about her and the knowledge that she will be irrelevant soon enough as they move on with their lives. Her best friend, the popular girl, her crush, and the burner are all believable players.  And she continues to learn and grow from her interactions with them, even as she is a ghost.

Other than being engaging and believable, the story has good twists and turns and I feel it deals well with the issues of teen death, particularly suicide. Lots of teens think about taking their lives, even if just in passing, and this book is frank about the implications of that and the permanence of a choice like that.  How that choice affects the survivors. Why it’s important to Paige to dispel that rumor, which ultimately leads to her discovering the truth.

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A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb

Helen is a ghost caught in this world for reasons unbeknownst to her, her most recent host being a high school English teacher.  She finds a student suddenly noticing her in class, a student she finds out is another spirit like her (James) that has found the empty shell of a living body to be alive again. They fall in love and to be able to be together, she finds an empty teenage girl walking around to get into.  They learn about who they were as humans as well as the lives of the hapless teenagers whose bodies they have gotten into and use.

So, like I said, this ghost hangs out with a teacher but is not a teenager.  She gets into a teen body but she did not die as one, and talks about her time on this earth, cleaving to hosts, relying on living humans who don’t know she is there, people whose lives she watches but cannot participate in.  It sets her up to fall in love with the other spirit that she finds the way that she does; it’s a way to be fully alive after at least a hundred years of a strange half existence. It somewhat excuses the terrible recklessness of the spirits that affects their hosts so pervasively, but in that sense, it got a little intense in places.  I felt for the teenage hosts (Jenny and Billy), wherever their spirits were, as Helen and James turn their lives upside down without their knowledge or consent. It balanced out the places where this story was slower and sadder, and it couldn’t have just been too intense or too slow or I wouldn’t have been able to hang in there. But it was still deeply unsettling.  

It was decidedly more literary than YA in its writing and tone, and in the fact that the protagonist isn’t a teenager but an ancient being, and that I wouldn’t have been able to grasp it all as a teenager.  Certainly not in the way I could as an adult, looking at the implications of the story as much as the poetic writing. I still liked it, but because of her finding her love in a high school class, I thought the boy was mortal and I was getting into something else altogether.

While poking around Goodreads for the cover and to look at reviews I saw there is a sequel and some of the reviews have encouraged me to pick it up.  I’d like to know where Jenny and Billy’s spirits were as Helen and James drove their bodies around like stolen cars and the story speaks to that. Yes.

Next week, as we plunge deeper into fall, my posts will be about darting on the other side of the veil.  Because Halloween is about that veil thinning out, easier to slip through.  There are reads for that!!

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Scary Reads! Haunted Houses

I mean, October starts this week, so it’s totally time.  My husband will allow my son to drag out the Halloween decorations on Tuesday that he has been begging to do, and he wanted to get a pumpkin at the Farmer’s Market instead of homemade baked goods, so, it’s time. The fall loving child I inadvertently grew.

Although it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a child who loves all things creepy (to a point.  He’s not allowed adult level scary things) when I have been beefing up big time on scary books to present on here for the next few weeks.  When in August the reads begin!

The scary reads series 2019 this year will begin with two posts on haunted house books. There are too many good haunted house books that have had to miss my Scary Reads lineup in the past, and this year I tried to read more of what has been waiting on the TBR, rather than getting too far into the new stuff.   Two of the books in these posts have been waiting altogether too long to be read and discussed on the annual Scary Reads series.

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A Haunted Love Story:  Ghosts of Allen House, Mark Spencer

This is a true ghost story of a family who willingly buy (wrangle from the previous owner) a home that is well known to be haunted.  There is ghostly activity, like doppelganger spirits, but it’s mostly about the story of the family that would lead to such curious imprinting and activity.  The family chooses to open its doors to tourism because the house is so well known in its legend and the previous owner had closed it off to the public. Underneath everything is a tragic story.

I think I love haunted house stories because who doesn’t love a good story?  I can watch hours of ghost hunting television because it’s always about the story.  If you’re someone that’s in it for the story more than the creeps and chills, then this is for you.  I took it right in. If you need a lot of horror and scare, this might not be for you. Maybe it’s the same for ghost shows versus horror films, where people walk around with EVP readers for little whispers rather than like, scary crap shutting you in the cellar and trying to eat you alive or something.  The drama comes from the story, not from the haunting. And the story is only truly figured out at the very end, when the narrator finds a hidden packet of letters.

The weirdest part to me of the whole thing, actually, was the behavior of the woman they bought the house from.  She was strangely over attached to the house and was gamey about letting it go and she lived there alone, albeit filled with Christian religious items, like pictures of Jesus. I wondered how she interacted with or felt about the spirits in her home.  They were legendary and acted up when the new family came in, but what about with her? I was so curious as to her attachment and experiences with the house, but we never get them. So strange.  It’s a good cheap kindle read.

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The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

A Gothic novel about a haunted house, deserted on the moors, a spectre motivated to haunt a town and a home by a tragic life. A lawyer travels out to the house to get papers in order following the house mistress’ death and finds a town unwilling to tell him the truth about the place. He goes about his business the best he can, but not without unraveling the mystery while getting in on some of the action on the curse of the town.

This is so well written in the Gothic tradition that I didn’t know it was only written as recently as 1983. I thought it was old enough to be in the public domain.  So well done. The scary old house isolated by a marsh, a terrible, unpredictable mist, a ghost that doesn’t waste any time making herself known to the newbie. Totes my thing.  Victorian tragedy, insidious haunting activity, a tragic story revealed. It wasn’t all that long, either, so I finished it in about 24 hours. Of the second week vacation of my summer, of course.  Not really in the throes of my job that decided to notch up the crazy this summer. Also worth a read, even though fictionalized, not a true story like the Allen House book.  I hope I remember to look into the movie and try to see the main character not as a wand wielding eleven year old.  I’m sometimes awful at getting to movies/shows based on books.

Next week will be the second haunted houses post for Scary reads. Seasonal creeptasticness.

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Backlist of a Hoarded Author

In a full disclosure moment, I’m still eating down the Easter candy that I bought too much of.  Not as much as last year, but my son doesn’t care about jellybeans in enough proportion to the amount that I buy.

I’m going to justify this with the amount of darkness that I seem to have read since finishing my sweet two little cozies. Yeah, people died and disappeared, etc but it wasn’t like, carnage.

I decided to read some of Ania Ahlborn’s backlist for that.

I thought she was self-published.  I swear that Seed, her first book, was self published before Amazon picked her up.  I didn’t realize the remainder of her books were Amazon’s presses, that dance low priced delicious books before our eyes.

Self-published can be difficult to determine, especially with all the author services nowadays that you can pay for yourself rather than a publishing house.  I’ve had some bad experiences with some self published stuff, but that’s not the norm for me anymore.  I discovered her through Amazon’s marketing and I’ve loved her since.

I’m currently reading the actual self-published books that qualify for the BookRiot category.  Also not disappointing so far, but decidedly lighter than my decision to spend a week reading/listening to two of her horror stories back to back, as well as sneaking in a line jumper that hurtled itself into my arms at the library which is also depressing.

See?  I need all the jellybeans.  All of them.

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The Shuddering, Ania Ahlborn

A bunch of friends get together for a last hurrah weekend in a family chateau before the chateau officially changes hands.  Before the brother of a twin pair is taking off on a new adventure that will pull him away from his sweet, do the right thing second grade teacher sister in the throes of a divorce.  Before his best friend and her ex boyfriend moves forward into a new life, sealing their long ago but still raw breakup against a reunion.  And the forest is full of intelligent, never before seen, people eating nightmare monsters.

I don’t know how I forgot that she never has happy endings.  I won’t spoil it more than that, but it’s not that much of a spoiler when it’s a hallmark of her books.  This is gory and gruesome, grosser I think than the other four of her books I have read (although I read The Bird Eater and Seed quite a time ago), I can’t be sure.  I liked the rhythm.  It moved right along between horror and the story, the characters making close calls against the monsters before actually coming in contact with them, but she already described other people’s encounters with them so you knew what they did before the characters you truly came to care about came in contact with them.  I found myself sitting in the parking lot at work, listening when I should have been going in, bingeing because I wanted to know how it was going to turn out.

I just took an online course in looking at horror in more depth, (I’ve been learning about all genres in internet course I have been buying lately, but that can’t be a bad thing) and I was looking at how the motives of the characters intertwined with the monsters.  And how the monsters devastated the characters.  Her horror (good horror) sets up achingly vulnerable people against scary and impossible odds and yet you root for them the whole time.  I definitely enjoyed this.  Even though it wrecked me.  Because I have not read a single book of hers that resolves the horror.  Not a one.

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The Neighbors, Ania Ahlborn

A man moves in with a roommate to escape the oppressive and dead end life he was living with his alcoholic, agoraphobic mother, and finds a much scarier secret in the neighbors next door, who fix to entrap him in their nefarious ends.

This is the only one of hers I have read without a supernatural element.  Through the beginning I was waiting to see what these neighbors truly were.  Nefarious neighbors scheming under the veil of perfection made me think they were probably the devil, as he tends to show up dressed as everything you could ever wish for, and these people were certainly that. But they are human.  They became dark from the disappointments/hurts/traumas in their own lives.

This is not the entire reason why I felt this one missed the mark.  Not as spot on as her others. I thought the character’s motivations could be a little stronger, but I know that’s a hard element to hammer out. It’s not as gory, not as visceral (meant both ways there haha) as her other books.  It even resolved more, to me at least, than her other books tended to, and that didn’t even make up for it. It didn’t grab me and hang on the same way.  Maybe a more supernatural element would have helped up the ante.  I don’t know.

I am also starting to notice she’s a real music lover.  That part of her personality is seeping into her books.  She writes intelligently about music and what it means to her characters.  Very cool.

I still need to read Brother, The Pretty Ones, The Devil Crept In, I Call Upon Thee, and Apart in the Dark.  And the one she has coming out in the fall.  She’s talented and she knows how to sink her story talons into my brain.

I’ll make sure I have an abundance of some kind of comfort food if I do this to myself again.

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Special Post: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

If you’re not part of the frenzy of trick or treating tonight and you need a book to curl up with against the cold, this is the one.  If you got a hold of it on audio when Audible had it on special, even better!

This book is middle grade in that it features a tight band of ten year old boys who are looking to up the ante on their usual Halloween night.  This year turns out to be different for them: their ringleader, who Bradbury writes in one of the best descriptions I have ever read of a young boy, is home sick.

They meet up with a mysterious figure who takes them on a dark tour of Halloweens through place and time.  Each child is dressed as a Halloween figure whose place and time is visited over the course of the story.

Although this is middle grade, the tour through history done in the mysterious and dark way it is done appeals to all ages older. It was fascinating.  Through every iteration of Halloween they also have to save their ringleader friend who is home sick.  Not only do they have to save him, it is through giving pieces of themselves.  It’s not a chipper and cartoony history of Halloween, it is the true nature of the holiday and all the scary things that it comes from.

It took me a bit into the story to understand what they were doing, but I loved it and I can’t wait to share it with my son.  He wouldn’t have the context for it yet.  We have been reading Pete the Cat Halloween books, the one about the woman who swallowed the bat, etc.  He’s reading them to me. We wil get to the scary things together in due time and as much as I love scary and I think he will too, I am happy to hang onto his innocent a little longer.

He’s going around tonight dressed as Jack Skellington.   I couldn’t be more in love.

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