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: 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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