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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Scary Reads October: Poe novels

I actually have to turn a light on to write in the morning again when I am getting it in before work!  Fall, what do you do to me after you lure me in with changing leaves, cool air, pumpkin patch trips and hoodies is you bundle me back up into the cold darkness of what is going to be a long cold season where I live.

Also, my son reached his sixth birthday yesterday so the weekends have been birthday and Halloween shenanigans.  He chose a Jack Skellington costume due to his being my child and loving the small bits of macabre that I allow to him.  I couldn’t believe Wal Mart had a Jack Skellington costume, and there was only one, but another excellent thing about my child is he doesn’t hem and haw about what to be for Halloween.  He chooses something and sticks to it, and the last two years he has truly had a choice, I have agreed with it wholeheartedly.  So that Jack costume launched itself into my cart with alacrity.  And like every mother it is hard to believe that they pulled him out of me and he changed me as a person six years ago already.

For this post, I read two books that have been camping out on my TBR forever featuring Edgar Allan Poe as protagonists.  And yes, I realize that this post may have been better earlier in the month, closer to the anniversary of his mysterious death. Anything to do with EAP is sure to be dark.  He is the 8th grade student’s hero with his brooding darkness and his tales that make kids realize that maybe all old literature isn’t terrible and boring and unrelateable.  Like, a guy who seals someone in a wall for revenge?  Someone who thinks they can hear the beating heart of someone they murdered coming from the floor panels?  Sweet!  And if kids read up on his life a little I think he is even more fit to be a broody, morbid and dark young teenager’s hero:  he struggles for a place in the world, is very smart, very moody, with a razor sharp sarcasm that he used even on his supposed ‘betters’ as a staunch literary critic.  These elements also make it unsurprising that multiple authors have chosen him for their historical fiction novels, combined with the fact that these are both mysteries and Poe himself was one of the first writers of detective fiction.  In this blog I review two:

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Poe Must Die, Marc Olden

This one was actually written in the 1970s and I had no idea it was that old when I downloaded it to read.  In this one, a prizefighter in England comes to 1830’s NYC to seek revenge on a man who was responsible for the death of his wife and son, and he is referred to EA Poe by Charles Dickens as someone who can help.  They start off as an unlikely pair but of course get to appreciate and look out for one another.  By the 1830’s, Poe’s young wife had died of TB and he was untethered and despairing, having given himself over to grief and substance use, the fame of The Raven still present but waning.  He has investment in stopping the same antagonist, a powerful man who is also setting to find supernatural secrets and have dark and demonic supernatural powers, and has chosen a young beautiful widow that Poe has some interest in to dupe into helping him reach his goal of complete power and takeover.  Both men have nothing to lose by seeking to stop and kill him.  Most men in this novel have a reason they could want Poe dead, and some of them try to kill him off and some of them don’t.  The antagonist instead chooses to try to drive him mad by convincing him the ghost of his dead wife is outside his home at night.

Both of these books deal with NYC in the early 1800s, back when it was all muddy streets and the usual combination of extreme haves and extreme have nots.  I love the history of NYC, and in these books it is so new that it is even still forested, especially in the next book I talk about, which takes place years earlier than this one.  They involve the same infamous slums that Poe frequented and both talk about the same event where Poe was face down in an animal fighting ring, although one book says that he willingly drank himself there and the second book suggests that he was drugged against his will.  It is a completely plausible setting for a plot of someone seeking supernatural dark power and doing everything to get it.

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On Night’s Shore, Randall Silvis

This one takes place a little earlier in time, so NYC is still even more muddy and wooded, although the decaying Brewery and Five Points are still featured settings in the city, and Poe’s wife Virginia is still alive as a convalescent.  And although he is writing, he hasn’t hit his fame yet with The Raven.  He is still trying to make it as a freelance writer and sell his work when he is low on money.

This one is also lighter.  There is no antagonist looking to raise power to be equal to the dark forces or baiting people Poe loves into death, no resurrection, no hostage taking of dead bodies.  It is told from the perspective of a ten year old street urchin who, as one might expect, is also trying to find his place in the world, and befriends Poe to help solve the mysterious death of a young woman.  He also falls in love with Poe’s little corner of domesticity with his mother in law and his wife, a loving and cozy life that the boy has never known in his ten years.

There are some dark and terrible things that happen, but the villains involved are the usual power drunk white men who are looking to have fun with no consequence and amass as much wealth and influence as possible.  More run of the mill reasons for murder, not, like, trying to find immortality, although in some of the cozies I read last year immortality was a more typical antagonist goal than in other books.

At least I posted on Poe books in the same month of his mysterious disappearance and death, even if it wasn’t earlier in the month.  If Poe was truly a sleuth in his life, equipped with his razor tongue and wit, a mysterious death of his own and a tragically short life himself doesn’t surprise me.  Also I have downloaded some of Poe’s detective novels, hailed as some of the first in the genre, because these fictionalized, although holding true to basic facts stories, intrigue me to look into more of his writing.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Halloween season!  Two more Halloween reads to post on, so stay tuned if you are enjoying scary reads October.

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Scary Reads: Demon Possession

I noted in last week’s post that the reads will be darker for the remainder of the scary reads posts.  Some of the books are dark because of the supernatural element and others also take place in a dark time and place in human history.  This week will be the darkest of the supernatural, in my humble opinion:  demon possession.

Briefly, please excuse any post oddities you might come across.  My computer crapped out and I am writing this post on the app with a bluetooth keyboard.  Still learning how to make a post through the app.


The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty

Now, this is far from my first demon possession read that I have posted on here.  Just off the top of my head I can think of three that I read before I read this foundational demon story tome.  I don’t know why it took me so long to loop back around to fit in this basic, but here it is.  And it’s place on my reading list had a definite effect on how scary I found this one.

Demons, or the idea of demons, frightens me to my core.  Don’t get me wrong.  Many of my contemporaries talk about how this was the first horror movie/book they encountered and how it was life alteringly scary.  Since this came out, however, other demon lore has been released that is scarier than this.  By far. I think the next book I will be talking about is an example.

What The Exorcist brings, however, that other books don’t do as much of, is question how real demon possession is in the first place. It takes place in the seventies, which I very much picked up on when reading this book.  Everyone smoked and the prevailing psycholological framework at the time was psychoanalytic. A priest goes to long lengths to get the Vatican’s permission to perform one, trying to prove that the symptoms of the possessed little girl, Regan, cannot be explained away by schizophrenia, while considering for himself if possession could be real.  If this could really be a demon inside this little girl.  He’s not even sure himself.  I can tell you from my own work with people struggling with schizophrenia that the symptoms this girl has deviate significantly from theirs. And while psychoanalysis has its effects on how we do therapy today, I don’t use it, and listening to them talk in those terms in the story it’s amazing how it’s really just the psychology of white people of European descent.  I talk about psychotic symptoms on a near daily basis and I don’t talk about them arising from guilt. And multiple personalities isn’t really a thing.  If someone is having noticeable personality changes and losing time, that’s usually a trauma response and can be helped by working on the underlying trauma. But I digress.

It’s about faith and spirituality as much as it is about getting the demon out of her, and it has that classic insidious nature of possession with the things you notice that are subtle enough to be explained away and then grow to unwieldiness because you didn’t catch them in time. That never gets old for me.  I don’t know why.  I always know where it’s headed and I read with bated breath as it gets there.
So I am going to be critical of a well liked and read book for a moment.  It could get rambly.  I felt it started off rambly and I almost had to put it on audio for it to get its hooks in me, which I didn’t expect with such a highly rated book.  It picked up quickly enough for me, but not before I scanned Goodreads to see if anyone had the same complaint, and they really didn’t, so I pressed on.  I felt like there was too much superfluous detail. Then there was a super rambly character, the police inspector, and it got to the point where I rolled my eyes when he got into the narrative because I knew it would be awhile before we got to the point of what he wanted.  I watched the movie in another lifetime and I didn’t need to watch it again after reading this.  But it was good.  It was scarier in its day than it is now, but it’s also a spiritual work as much as an entertaining one. The other books take the existence of darkness for granted and leap in from there, but this one begs the spiritual question in the first place.

The Demonists, Thomas Sniegoski

This one leaps right in with demons exist and spiral down a dark hole from there.  There is a little bit of skepticism about if mediums are real in the prologue, but the author is sure to kill that. It is fantastic, intense and gory, just as I expected it to be.

I put this one on for a long run because I need to get out of my head when I am running sometimes.  I need to think of something other than how much I’d really just like to stop running.  I wanted something with a promise of being engrossing, diverting and fantastical.  It worked.  I remember one part of my run where it was spooling out one of the narratives to be woven back up at the end and being able to visualize the setting more than worrying about my pace and turning around early.

This was written to be action packed, absorbing and surprising.  Purely entertaining. No long narratives over the requirements to prove a true possession and conversations with experts and long winded police inspectors and other members of the cloth.  No internal battles over spiritual matters and what it means to be spiritual. No, intestines were being torn out, men were killing their own mothers, and a woman has to go to lengths to keep under control a legion of demons within her belly. Demons that she put there in the first place. I don’t mind a bit of a refresh from a pure entertainment read after some of the things I read laden with larger implications.  Even if it haunts me a little.

So any true reader knows that we read for different reasons. Two books dealing with similar material but with different purposes.  Both scary and Halloween-y.

Next week I am blogging on books where Edgar Allan Poe is a character.  Does this qualify it as revisionist history?  I don’t know.  Probably doesn’t matter. But if you’d be interested in catching that post,  I can hint that the Poes in these books are true to the facts I gathered on the realities of his life.  That continue to qualify him as everyone’s eigth grade literary hero.

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Halloween Reads Week 2: Middle Grade Magic

Scary Reads Week 2!

And let me tell you, this is the least dark post of the four posts I have been reading for.  This is as bright and as shiny as it gets for scary/magic/dark/Halloween/entirely seasonal reads month here on the blog.

The two books today are both designated as middle grade, but they both dealt with being tossed out into the world to figure out their own competence.  And while competence is is a big part of the 8-12 years, it tends to be competence as compared to other children and themselves, not the adults in the larger world and where they fit in.  I think I would have enjoyed both of these when I was reading middle grade but there were ways I related to them as an adult that I wouldn’t have as a kid.  I’m interested if any of my readers have read these and felt the same way.  I mean, maybe I’ve just been a middle schooler my entire life and I need someone to break me that terrible news.

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The Apprentice Witch, James Nichol

My brain was craving this listen after I listened to The Master and Margarita, which as I said I enjoyed, but could have used more context for to truly get more out of it.  I needed something that felt simpler to me, and this fit the bill.

A young girl, Arianwyn, graduates from witching school with dubious honors, getting a test score that the adults aren’t quite sure what it means other than she didn’t get the same mark as everyone who has considered to have passed in the generations before.  This felt what I imagine to be in the British tradition, where old established schools of good repute teach generations of children from the same families, except here they share the genetic treasure trove of being magical.  And being from a magical family is really important.  Anyway, so she feels half competent and then gets tossed into a far reaching land that is having some trouble with tears in the veil between the darker world and some creatures are getting through and causing a stir for her first job assignment.  She might not ever get to be considered as a full witch and this is a trial of sorts so she can retake the assessment.  Like when you walk across the stage to graduate high school but still have to pass Health or take that last state test again in August.  But I think altogether worse and more confidence altering.

This reminded me of how hard it was to become a therapist at 23 years old.  In grad school itself, even though I had all kinds of psychology knowledge and things to guide me, I wished I had just a little more life experience before I was sat down before clients on camera to try to help them figure things out. This is the anxiety that got stirred inside me, that old fear of in over my head I am supposed to be grown but I am so not, when Arianwyn went on her trials.  Thankfully she ended up being less clueless than the adults around her and leading the way, and finding out some satisfying things about her main school rival, and I was very interested in how it was all going to turn out, but it resonated with a 37 year old Mom with a husband and is ten years into a professional job.  All the trappings of stability that I spent a long time wishing for.

But I liked it. And there are dark things but like more gray than black.  Like the other books I have been reviewing there is a sequel that is tempting me to see how she continues to do in her world.

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Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

This one was pulled into my awareness because it was made into a Studio Ghibli film, and everything made by them is a magical fantastic ride that I want every part of and I wonder who these people are who understand exactly the sort of thing that I have found entertaining for my entire life.  Like how do these people know  how to get into my imagination?   I know how I am predictable in other ways due to other parts of my identity but I feel like a smaller section of the world feels the same way I do about those movies.  Anyway.

Again I had the feeling with this one that the themes were more grown up than I would expect, but also again, it doesn’t mean a younger child couldn’t enjoy the story for different reasons.  I also felt a little vindicated by school library journal when they reviewed it also as being complex in parts.  I felt it was too, even though as I said, I definitely enjoyed it.

A girl, Sophie, trying to make her way in the world becomes cursed to become an old woman and can only break the curse by being part of Howl’s entourage and her deal with a fire demon.  Again, a young girl is tossed out into the world to figure things out, this time by a curse rather that something like finishing school.  There is some dark magic going on with the Witch of the Waste and Howl’s own curse he is trying to avoid, but nothing too dark, and her sisters are engaged in schemes to get themselves married in the world while their sister is trying to get out of her 90 year old body.  The other element that seemed very grown up to me was how Howl is entirely emotionally unavailable.  Yes, his immature tantrums can probably be related to by readers of all ages, but his quality where he doesn’t answer questions and commits to nothing makes me worry about Sophie or anyone with an interest in being close to him.

I also see that the movie is completely different, but I can’t get to it right now.  I do want to see it, even though it might not make things simpler.

So there it was.  The lightest post for the month.  Like I have in other years, four posts doesn’t seem to be enough to cover all the scary reads that I want to do.  I have books I have wanted to get to for scary reads other years that won’t make it this year.  Maybe I will have to do another scary series at a different point in the year too.  I only bought one book that I can think of recently in hopes of reviewing it for this round and it’s going to miss the bus.  The bus is too packed.  Or, I can sneak in a fifth post the first Sunday of November, as Halloween is in the middle of the week this year!

It will get darker, my friends.

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Two takes on a classic Russian tale

It is quite a coincidence that both of the books in this post involve snow that doesn’t belong.  Halfway through April we get a sheet of ice where I live, where other people not that far from me are posting warm days outside with small children.

It could be why I feel like I am hosting Sunday brunch with all the tiny birds in the neighborhood.  Even a pair of ducks. The weather just won’t cooperate to feed them.

I sometimes listen to the Myths and Legends podcast on my way home on Wednesdays when my evening commute is at its longest.  I do it to fresh up on basic available plot elements, just to help them be more available when my writing brain needs them. He did  Vasilisa the Beautiful and I was like oh!  I should write that in modern times! I could make the nefarious Baba Yaga sooo cool!

And then The Bear and the Nightingale and Vassa in the Night came to my attention, so my idea was already long taken.  What do you do in such irritation?  Buy them both, of course!  And then read your face off in a weekend to be able to review them in the same post!  Living the dream, people.

I wish I had written either one of these.  I’d be happy with that.

While they share the same fairy tale as a starting point, these are two very different books.

A book set in or about one of the five BRICs countries:

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The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden

This was almost scooped by my recent purchase of An Association of Small Bombs, but this one is YA and not quite so real life.  And it waited and pined for me longer.

While the plot line diverges from the original, I think the atmosphere reflects the intention of the original fairy tale. There is still Vasilisa, who is somewhat beautiful, a wicked stepmother, and some supernatural gifts.  A bird that cannot be caged by the lot of women in that day and time.

It evokes the cold and dark, the people living on the edge of survival in a severe climate of months of winter (sounds familiar lately!), which I think is in the spirit of the original.  And I suppose I can get over my ire with Katherine Arden because she actually lived in Russia a year before creating her own retelling of the tale, so she was better suited. But while there is the frost king, there is only a hint of mention of Baba Yaga.  The magic/spiritualism lies in a man, Konstantin, coming to their town telling them to turn away from the nature and demon worship they engage in to stay alive and keep the nefarious forces bound and at bay, in favor of the one Christian God.  This wreaks havoc, of course, and Vasilisa, who shares her ability to see the demons with her stepmother in a delicious plot element, helps to save her people from the damage caused by people turning away from their nature worship.  While her stepmother is afraid of the demons she sees, Vasilisa communicates with them and befriends them, and is simultaneously hated by her stepmother for it.  And I do like that the relationship between Vasilisa and her half sister Irina is close and loving instead of spoiled, like it was in the original.

Even though the plot diverges more from the story that I know, it was atmospheric and beautiful, and I liked that Vasilisa finds a way out of the typical entrapments available to adult women to continue on the story of her being in her power and being herself.  I love love love a witch and I love an unexpected and retold tale.  Even if I did want it to be my story, I can concede that she pulled it off. And of course there is a sequel, so this also counts for the first book in a new to you YA or middle grade series.

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Vassa in the Night, Sarah Porter

So, I loved When I Cast Your Shadow, so Vassa in the Night, although published sooner, had somewhat of a bar to reach.  A standard.  A high standard that I would need a step stool to reach myself.  I didn’t like it as much as When I Cast Your Shadow, but I don’t love Porter’s work any less than I did.

Vassa sticks more closely to the original story of Vasilisa the beautiful, but set in modern day Brooklyn. I am glad I wasn’t peeking at this one There is Baba Yaga, the wooden doll, the hateful part sister, and the journey to bring light back to her house.  The prologue is gorgeous and made me excited that I was digging into another Porter novel, when the night is trapped by Baba Yaga.

You can’t love Sarah Porter unless you are okay with things becoming completely weird and gruesome.   Unless you crave it. I don’t know how it is with her Lost Voices trilogy,  but in this one and When I Cast Your Shadow, people have bloody deaths, maybe a resurrection, and things completely spinning off their axes in the lives of the characters.  Weird creepy horror times a million.  Maybe some body parts animated past the times of their deaths.  That sort of thing.

She better develops the relationship between Vassa and her late mother and the doll.  It is really its own subplot in the middle of the main plot madness other than just Vassa’s help like it is in the original.   There was a better  reason for her stepmother to despise her, other than in that possessive of your man, fairy tale way.  Vassa is stronger in herself and her sense of family after the twisty and strange debacle, much like Arden’s Vasilisa.

Of course I love Vassa and want to write her, she doesn’t take any crap.

And I think the reason I liked her other book better was I loved how she perfectly wrote the ambivalence of family members toward someone who is using.  How you can love and hate them and those feelings can polarize whole families.  Members who are pulled in and duped and still love fiercely, those who stand back for self preservation and are painted as enemies because their refusal to enable is cast as ‘not understanding’.  Vassa had its relationship depth, but not the artfulness of how she wrote that family dynamic.

Both of these books feature beautiful writing and those statements about life you didn’t know were true until you read them and you knew they were true all along.  You love the dark, the minor demons who aren’t the real antagonists, the magical twists and how Vasilisa is magical in her own.

I feel like fairy tales lend themselves well to re-tellings because the characters are flat.  You already know what they have to do but you can color in your own motives and backstories. You can make a classic plot that already has its staying power your own.

I am at a point with my novel where I am not in the heat of drafting and I am meeting with my teacher before I spiral into the passion of the revision.  So I used that tiny bit of space to read a second book and get in one of them on audio!  (Vassa.  It didn’t have whispersync and I have used my audible credits a full month before they refresh.) The luxury.  Maybe I should have split this into two posts so when I am back into the fervent novel work I still have another post on deck to buy me time.  But I am glad I didn’t put this on hold to novel.  This is a welcome change of pace.  A break from the anxiety when I am stalled.

Comments/likes/shares!  Pls.