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: Witchy October

Welp, now the fall is real. The trees are making their show and the temps are dropping after some last ditch warmer days. I like seeing my friends on social media absorbing all the nature and tranquility they can in the midst of everything else that’s crazy.

And let’s face it, things are crazy. I’m delighted school has been able to complete three weeks of hybrid instruction and should be able to keep going for the time being. That sliver of normalcy has made me crave more though, and I find as it gets colder I am missing being able to take my son to a movie on a weekend. I understand safety measures and I believe my frustration with this is placed where it should be, but it doesn’t change the fact.

So much witchery in this TBR decimating reading season. So much. I can’t help if I relate to powerful women who push against the norms.

The books here are teen witches but less about the high school context. More about a historical context and I’m doing three today because they have this overlap of women from a different time and context impacting worlds they aren’t supposed to be able to impact. Are witches solely because they can.

The Wicked Deep, Shea Ernshaw

Penny Talbot lives in a town in the Pacific Northwest that is haunted by a centuries old curse.  Every year, the spirits of drowned witches return from the sea and exact their revenge on the town by drowning a few of its residents between the first day of June and the summer solstice.  When a newcomer arrives at the island, he gets swept up in its intrigues, unbeknownst to him, he is an integral part of breaking the curse.

This book has looked delicious since its release and I finally got it on audio to read it for this fall’s reads.  It did not disappoint.  Even though it takes place in June the setting makes it atmospheric and dark rather than summery and bright.  Penny’s family is bereft and broken with its own unsolved mysteries when the newcomer gets off the bus and meets Penny at the beginning of summer beach party. The unraveling of the plot and the secrets is lovely and kept me going and it had a decent resolution. I like how the newcomer questions the town’s acceptance of the drownings every summer, the tourist spectacle that it has become, and how his own story is ultimately a part of it all.  How do we even battle the supernatural, even when the curses we brought upon ourselves are devastating?  These stories of cursed towns I have been reading are all about people’s misguided attempts to be in control, only to have them blossom into a bigger and much more unwieldy problem.  I definitely bought her second book, Winterwood, Saturday morning. I made serious progress to my list until I want the new releases too. Signs of an addict.

The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson

Emmanuelle is a young woman whose very origin is a scandal. She lives in a religious settlement, complete with an authoritarian Prophet, polygamy, and strict gender divisions.  She comes from a line of midwives, her own mother being one slated as a prophet’s bride before she chose her own path and ultimately died in ruin.  When Emmanuelle is lured into the Dark Forest she unintentionally ignites a prophecy (complete with a sighting of Lilith herself) and puts it upon herself to save her people from the disasters that follow, with the help of the current Prophet’s son and successor. 

So I still have witchy TBR books, but I can’t tell you I didn’t poke around on my library websites for audiobooks with Witch in the title and move some ahead of the line.  Because I am shameless. This was released summer 2020 AND it is a debut author, and with my fervent wish to be a debut author myself, I am trying to support new authors practically and of course with karma.   So it’s a shameless line jumper, but it’s SO appropriate to the garbage fire that is 2020 (because this book is about a garbage fire year too) and it’s beautifully written, the world building is tight, the pacing appropriate and Emmanuelle is an awesome heroine/accidental unleasher/object of revenge, curses and wrath.  She just wants to fit in but kind of doesn’t and it makes sense to her once she stumbles upon her late mother’s dark secrets.  It’s coming of age times about a million. This is old school biblical women are the root of all evil witching.  Where the stories to keep powerful women down began.  And while I love fun witchy books, witches came from a real fear of women with power, and those dark tales are important too.  Loved it.  Excited to see what else Ms. Henderson comes out with, and I fully understand how this one broke into publishing.  A-mazing.

The Familiars, Stacey Halls

Fleetwood is a pregnant member of the British aristocracy in 1612 when she comes across a letter from a doctor to her husband indicating that her next attempted childbirth will kill her.  She is desperate to carry her fourth pregnancy to term, as the other three have ended in miscarriages and stillbirths, to hold together her marriage and keep her place in her home.  Friendless and desperate, she meets a woman, Alice, who Fleetwood believes is integral in making this pregnancy end successfully, but Alice gets entwined in the witch hunt of the time, merely through trying to help someone. Fleetwood comes to believe that only she can spare Alice the rope, and only Alice can get Fleetwood and her baby safely through the pregnancy and birth.   All through we aren’t sure what powers Alice possesses, if any at all, as Fleetwood learns the nature of the witchcraft accusations of the time.

Interestingly, both of these women are actual historical figures, but the juxtaposition of them is purely fictional.  I find this fascinating, a writer who can take real elements of history and make them her own without deviating too much from the facts. If there’s one thing I love to do is google a historical character and see their pictures and read Wikipedia articles.   The history of persecuting women who have any sort of power in this world is devastating, and makes me really glad I don’t live in a time where I could get hanged for my work as a therapist, but these women’s stories against their historical context is fascinating. I liked Fleetwood as a character very much, her loneliness was palpable in her life story and even in parts of her marriage, despite all her money and title in the world, and you find that women’s plights are similar across time and socioeconomic status.  She was a bit independent for her time, but I find that none of the modern historical fiction stories would be very good if the women always behaved in them.  I like that Fleetwood also is able to take notice of her privilege, of her ready resources of a horse any time she wants one or staff to free up her leisure time, even if she is dangling at the precipice of life and limb herself.   I thought this book was well done.  I was transported into the 1600s and a world that was still mysterious, dark, and cruel. And like I always say, I’m thrilled that my survival and standing never depended on my ability to make a baby.

Loving this atmospheric fall and the reads that go with it. Working on my spirituality amid the crazy and got my own little firepit so I don’t have to have my husband’s participation if I want a cozy little flame back in the trees. Awesome. Looking for the good in the world right now and learning tarot cards. A woman like me who loves stories, healing, helping others and a feeling of magic and awe needs to read cards. I just do.

And trying to move ahead with writing.

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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! Clandestine Magical Creatures

I just took my dog for a walk in the fall mist listening to the end of a Halloween read among the changing leaves.  I’m grateful for the chances in my life I have had to slow down.

Today’s post involves books that are a little more fun, even if they involve nefarious creatures.  I have done a lot of benevolent witches in these posts so I’m figuring that magical creatures that are not all bad is too out of the seasonal reads purview.  And some nefarious creatures but tucked into plots that are lighter.

I like how we can all make our interpretations of magical creatures as writers and project our human needs and desires onto them.  We can make them good or bad and then powers that complicate their relationships with humans.

The Stoker and Holmes series are about the female relatives of Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker fighting secret nefarious plots within the aristocracy and right under the noses of respectable 1800s Londoners.  Mina Holmes is bright, planful and socially awkward and Evaline Stoker is strong, daring, impulsive and charming. Any reader of crime books can see where these two personalities complement each other to fighting crime, but of course, they would need time to actually get along with one another.  The mysteries and intrigues in these books have a touch of the supernatural to them, with vampires being real and the threat of vampires “coming back” to London, but they were not entirely supernatural. Especially since Mina is a skeptic and Evaline is not which is another delicious source of tension between these ladies.  And there is really one main villain that drives Mina Holmes crazy who is very much a real, flesh and blood person. 

I bought all three of these audiobooks before I read a single one of them and then binged all three back to back.  Yup. Such fun stories told from two different points of view to keep it interesting by two women who were already pushing the boundaries of their lives before they were asked to go in secret service to the crown.  They already were trying to work around the confines of their clothing and roles. The confines of the traditional female dress have been emphasized in all these fictionalized historical tales featuring teenaged girls lately.  Both Mina and Evaleen complain that it is hard to run and sit and participate in their lives in the clothes they are forced to wear, and I like that detail to be added and discussed in the books. It’s not like Mina can wear yoga pants while she kills vampires.  And even though they are pushing boundaries, there are still men interested in them. They are not unattractive to men or damaged goods when they show their true selves to them, and I like that, too.  

Out of these three I don’t think I have a clear favorite.  All the plots were complex and kept me guessing and used the strengths of each girl.  And the context of London at that time in history is another level of consideration and interest. 

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Strange Practice, Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing is a doctor to the undead in modern London.  Supernatural creatures are secret from the regular population in this book as with the Stoker and Holmes books, but an evil cult emerges that is killing both the supernatural creatures and humans.  Dr Helsing needs to band up with her supernatural friends to defeat the evil at its source.

I thought from the cover of this that it was not set in modern times, but it was.  Modern conveniences abound. Dr Helsing seems to be at the fringes of human society by dint of her profession, taken over from her father, but her supernatural friends care for her, and even though she doesn’t seem to have a traditional husband and kids, she’s still loved by friends.  Good worldbuilding with the supernatural creatures and their usual medical ailments. You wouldn’t think about how they would need medical help and it was an intriguing way to talk about all the different underground creatures living in London.    

This felt Harry Potterish to me in the way that the characters argue among themselves over whether she should deal with the threat herself and take all the danger alone but her friends insist that they will be going with her and sharing the threat as well.  I remember feeling like a lot of Harry Potter was Hermoine and Ron arguing with Harry not to go it alone, even after years into the books when Harry full well knew they wouldn’t let him go off alone. This was reminiscent. Strong theme of friendship for a woman who is used to her independence.  They do save the day, and I thought the villain was creative in the way it was done. But I won’t give more detail than that because this is not a spoiler blog! 

Stay tuned next week for ghosts chilling out in high schools!

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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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Halloween Reads Kicks Off with YA and Magic

Scary Reads is finally here!!

Well, finally for you.  I have been digging into the scary reads since my camping trip in the middle of August because I could indulge in paper library books for the trip.  It is an indulgence to have the time to read in daylight, on a beach, instead of cramming books into the margins of driving, working out, crafting, doing chores, or relaxing before bed.  Not that I don’t love to do that, I do, but since I have become a parent I have learned the importance of time in the margins.  Over the past 6 years since my son came, I have successfully kept up with a blog, run two half marathons and completed three sprint triathlons and drafted two novels (both are written out but need revisions before I try to get them anywhere).

The two books discussed today are borrowed library paper indulgences, YA in different time periods but with similar themes.  And I get to use my pumpkin patch picture.  Everyone wins.

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House of Furies, Madeline Roux

This stood out to me because of it’s solid Gothic vibe emanating from the library shelves, reaching out to me, playing on my love of the Gothic.  A teen girl with nowhere to go is taken to this mysterious house to work as a servant, but dark, supernatural secrets start to come out of the cracks.  This could be slow in places, because as it is the beginning of a series there is setup, and most of the book she is unraveling secrets and trying to get out, but being ambivalent, even when she is given permission to go by the mysterious house master.  The other servants in the house have their own stories and secrets and shall we say, talents, in a way that reminded me of Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children.  I can’t remember if the book for Miss Peregrine is as dark as the movie was, seeing as I experienced them years apart, but House of Furies is definitely dark.  Both homes are sanctuaries for the unusual, but the protagonist Louisa in House of Furies has to decide if she wants to be a part of the house’s larger, more nefarious purpose, whereas Ms. Peregrine’s home is about survival, not vengeance.  And I still haven’t read Library of Souls.

Louisa’s ambivalence is laudable, however, because she really has nowhere else to go. Teens nowadays are more likely to bristle under the inescapable control of adults, whereas teens in earlier times were literally trying to survive, like Louisa was.  She begins the novel telling sham fortunes as a street pauper and would have to go back to it if she couldn’t manage her role in the House of Furies.  I think sometimes this can be harder for the more typical teen to connect to, the whole here or on the streets thing.

But where teens can relate here, in addition to their interest being piqued by the cool dark creatures chronicled in the book, is the question of identity.  Louisa ultimately discovers the reason why she has never fit in with the larger world and why anyone who has had to care for her is uncomfortable with her for reasons she hasn’t quite worked out and it has to do with her choices in the end.

Similarly, the next book I am posting on today also has to do with surprises/plot twists around identity and collecting the fringe members of society to concentrate them in one space:

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Hex Hall, Rachel Hawkins

A bunch of magical teens are committed to a reformatory for revealing their abilities and true natures to non magical humans in this one.  This one is much closer to the average teen’s experiences than The House of Furies.  Sure, the typical teen isn’t magical (unless they are and I am not allowed to know this due to my sadly non magical status) but they have to worry about insecurities, friendship loyalties, first crushes, and doing what is right, drama, all things included in this book.

The protagonist Sophie already knows that she is magical, that’s what got her here in the first place, but the family secrets have long been kept from her and reveal themselves to change her knowledge of who she really is.  Dark secrets of her family and dark things that her classmates are trying to suck her into, as well as defending her new and first friend against being wrongly accused of assaulting other students.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, especially since the book does resolve its major plot lines but ends in a typical YA series cliffhanger.  That threatened to suck me in, too, even though I want to keep up the variety on the scary/Halloweeny reads month. You know how I hate a spoiler, especially if someone is reading my review to decide if they want to read something.

Scary reads continues with some middle grade that really doesn’t feel so middle grade to me, next week.  Witches this time.

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They Just Don’t Stay Dead

I am doing a ten day writing challenge the beginning of November, actually paying money for instructor feedback on assigned short exercises.  The closest I have come so far to actually doing NaNo which seemed more attainable when my child did not have homework and a strict school schedule.    It is nice to spend time looking over and crafting responses and then combing through the replies to find instructor feedback.

I am also doing 12 short stories in 12 months, that is a free group, but the instructor mostly posts a prompt and a word count and there is no guarantee that she will look yours over.  I am on ten and I have not seen a comment from her yet.  Probably because my writing is untouchable perfection, right?  But I like having a deadline and having to get the wheels turning.  It is still worth my time.

I knew about Day of the Dead though before I knew about November being for writers.  And I am expanding my seasonal reads for books where siblings on both sides of the veil continue to share a relationship.  Day of the Dead is about resurrection of family and those spirits feeling loved and welcomed, and these books deal with conflicted relationships with semi-lost siblings.

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The Bone Witch, Rin Chupeco

I ended up reading two Rin Chupeco books for this season’s descent into fall reads, unintentionally, but I enjoyed them both.  The Bone Witch starts with the protagonist having enough grief to discover her powers by accidentally raising her recently dead brother from his coffin at his funeral service.

Dark magic fits in a regular class system society and a young girl is finding her powers and her place in the world of powers and a complicated and fierce system, with her loyal unintentionally undead brother at her side.  The book, because I think it is going to be a series, spends a lot of time world building but with chapters of her older and a witch comfortable in her powers looking back and telling the story of her youth while also assembling some sort of undead fighting force, which I don’t think is really a spoiler, so forgive me if it is.  So you know there is more plot coming, some kind of grievance.  The line between dead and alive is a lot thinner with the Bone Witch around, and she risks losing herself when she is using her powers.

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White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi

Ms. Oyeyemi is a writer whose works I have bought a few of without actually having read her : Boy Snow Bird, Mr.Fox, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.  She’s hoarded and decorated but unexplored.

White is for Witching was good but I don’t know if it should have been my first foray into this writer. It gave me the same feeling that I had when I read Never Let me Go by Kashuo Ishiguro, as in there is something lurking behind the story that is unclear and I can’t decide if it is nefarious or not.  Of course, in Ishiguro’s it really is something dark, whereas the spirits and the passed down pica feel more neutral, less negative in Oyeyemi.  I will be honest that I looked over other reviews before I was willing to post that I felt I was missing something in the story, that there may have been something unclear or something I was not understanding, but I don’t seem to be alone that it needs more than one pass, there are multiple levels at play here, similarly to Ishiguro.

It is included in this post because there are a pair of twins, Miranda and Eliot, and while they have that intimacy of twins that is passed off as unromantic but also kinda is (I loved her description, asking how possibly you couldn’t love someone of the opposite sex who is separate but so intimately a part of you) Eliot cannot save her from the generations of women that come before.  Not from their genetic anomalies nor their still lingering spirits’ design to consume her into the house. I felt there were times in the novel where Miranda was possessed and times where she was herself, times when I thought she would be saved from herself and move on into long term relationships, and then not.  Not being British I don’t completely understand their social patterns and the weird detachment they seem to have from both family and friends.  Eliot cannot hang on to his first love, this familiar but strange woman who slips away.  Creepy, but not Halloween-y, necessarily.

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When I Cast Your Shadow, Sarah Porter

I bought this one brand new full price.  Almost never happens.  I have books I spied as fresh releases and they are resigned to the wish list so I can spy on prices.  Or they go in my library wish list so I can spy availability there.  I don’t tend to look at lists of new releases, even if they come to my Facebook feed or into my email inbox.

Had to have this one.  And you know, I loved it.  This is the type of novel I would love to be able to pull off successfully myself someday.  It has it’s criticisms, like the plot can get a little tangly, and it can, but it’s a complicated plot.   It’s about a dad and his teenage twins left behind by a drug overdose death of the oldest son and abandoned by their mother.  The dead oldest son Dashiell seduces the girl twin Ruby into allowing him to inhabit her body to carry out some business he has to take care of, even though he is dead.  She allows him to because she loves him and is unbearably devoted to him.  Their skeptical and not so blindly adoring brother, Everett, gets co opted into this to save his sister,  on top of dark spirits who would love to have two bodies to be back into, and who have it out for Dashiell besides.

The supernatural element in this book, and we all know I love some magic, spirits and demons, was well crafted.  It was creepy and dark without being overdone, without being gory.  It was deeply unsettling, lots of intersecting goals and complications of the living and the semi living.  It was a creepy, beautifully spun dream, with well crafted and beautifully crafted descriptions.

The complex dynamics between the characters was psychologically astute.  The drug addicted, completely appealing and dangerous older brother’s pain beneath the flash, the twins who will never be as flashy as he is, one who meets him with skepticism and another with blind devotion, the deep grief of a parent who had to set strong limits against a force more powerful than his son. This book described relationships I see in my work as a psychologist on a daily basis.   Loved it loved it loved it.  Because they were so vivid and believable I cared about what happened to them and what was next.

Pushing myself back into regular writing has been an awful rollercoaster for me and this book was a little dangling incentive…”maybe if you work hard enough and push through your issues enough, you could write something like this…”

I’ll forgive Ms. Porter for coming out with a book similar to something I have wanted to write.  She made it up to me with this one.

As this is already one of my longest posts to date (and it’s not getting done weeks ahead of time, like I usually aim for) I will keep the next piece brief.  I am at a standstill with what to do with my reading/writing/blogging next.  I have two and a quarter books to get through before I finish BookRiot’s Read Harder, and I am dreading those last two, but then….I don’t know.  I don’t have holiday reads planned, I would have to get through like ten books in eight weeks to win PopSugar at this point, and I have frequently thought that if I am really going to make a go of writing I need to break up with fiction novels.

Which sometimes feels as devastating as leaving my nutty but comfortable job of the past nine years or changing the locks on my loving husband who is building me a she-shed.

I would blog about whatever I am reading, fiction novels or no.  This is not a threat to the existence of the blog.  But no promises on where this is headed.

Comments/likes/shares! Pleeeeease