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

Halloween Reads: Not so Cozy Houses

There are so many haunted houses stories out there that I could do this kind of post every Halloween for a hundred more years and not run out of books to read.  And despite all the ones I have read, I am always up to hear how someone else managed the haunted house trope into something different than the one I read before.

Both of the books I review today possess my least favorite facet of some horror fiction: they don’t really resolve.  The scary cycle is doomed to continue itself and people in the future next round are doomed to the same fate that the characters that you cared about were subject to this time. When I was newer to horror it bothered me more than it does now, but it still does, a little, that these stories don’t end with a resolution of the greater issue.

Needless to say I have wandered away from the cozier Halloween reads, but I have some unread ones on my kindle telling me that I really need to come back.

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Within These Walls, Ania Ahlborn

Okay, so I love Ania Ahlborn’s books.  This is the third one of hers I have read, and I did not realize that when I started to read her she was self pub.  She was that good.  A lot of the self pub I read earlier on did not have the polish and engagement I found in her stories.  She has since been picked up by Simon and Schuster, inevitably.

Within These Walls brilliantly combined the haunted house trope with the cult trope.  And being a Psychologist she does well with the both:  the mentality of getting pulled into the cult and the haunted house that makes you severely question your grip on reality.  She weaves them in a manner reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Shining, which is a compliment.  The struggling writer with a failing marriage taking a chance on moving to a new place to revive both, under the ruse of being granted an exclusive interview by a killer in prison.  The fun really begins when he brings his neglected and misunderstood 12 year old daughter with him and leaves his wife back in New Jersey. Two plot lines weaving and knotting and twisting into one another with surprises and brilliance and interest.

I have read Seed and The Bird Eater and I think this one showed more sophistication on her part. I want to read The Neighbors and The Shuddering and the rest of the books she has put out, whether before the big five pickup or not.  She’s great and I follow her on Facebook and Twitter and I wish I had the investment in writing to take her horror writing course.

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77 Shadow Street, Dean Koontz

Another personal reading challenge for myself is to read authors who I have stayed away from due to their huge popularity.  I picked this one out for last year’s round of Halloween reads that I never made it to, which also happened with a book I am reading right now for the next posts on Halloween books.

So, this one was harder for me to make it through than Within These Walls.  It is a house built on the one space time fault in the world and every 38 years the fault opens and punishes and terrorizes its residents, which are extremely wealthy condo owners. Also, there is someone involved in a bioterrorism of sorts aimed at eternal life and conquering of disease, I was not sure.  Then there was an assassin? I say assassin because he is hired to kill people as well as having killed people for his own purposes. I felt like a lot of elements were just thrown in to reach out to everyone’s conception of scary.  I think that is a huge undertaking to want to add enough variation in the scary elements to be scary to a wide audience.  And lots of people get killed.  And like in Ahlborn there is no sign that the cycle was really going to stop, that hell wasn’t going to bust loose again after 38 years passed.

The characters I cared most about were an autistic girl and a boy estranged from his father, bookish and not like typical boys but determined not to be a sissy.  I cared about his saving her and Koontz did a great job of describing her. There were a lot of characters living in the house, mainly adults that were difficult to care anything about.

But I felt like I was slogging through this book and some of it felt pointless.  It did not feel as tidy as Ahlborn’s weaving between times, characters and their overlapping vulnerabilities.  I just wasn’t impressed.  I am open to someone helping me see the point better.  I can’t tell you my attention did not wander from some of the times I was listening to it and pushing to finish so I could start on something else.  I am not going to pick up another Koontz anytime soon.

And I need to read some of the horror early masters, like listening to my Necronomicon and picking up that Lovecraft omnibus with the tiny thin pages off my shelf.

Next week…might have a less unified theme.  I am working on some scary books that I have to think about how I will pull them together but I might not pull them together at all.  And it will be the peak of Halloween festivities! And my beautiful son will have turned five years old on the 27th and I am loving this age best of all….

comments/likes/shares are awesome!

Halloween Reads: Cozy Mediums

Halloween is all about the spirits coming out…which is my excuse for tossing in books with spirits and mediums for this year’s Halloween Reads series.

The season is in full swing!

In these books I review here, ghosts are characters, rather than just replayed tapes of past events.  Ghosts provide a lot of literary latitude in that there is no agreement what they are or if they actually exist, so I like the different ways writers use ghosts as characters.

Like the witchy cozies, the covers are cartoony and clearly marketed at women, and the main characters are gorgeous and single.   Of course, they were all single in my witchy books too, to provide room for the sexy mysterious guys to move onto the scene.  Again I break my usual rule of no books with references/pictures of shoes, drinks, rings, or handbags on the cover but maybe I am becoming a little more flexible in my old age.  Actually, I think I would have been able to read for pleasure more when my brain was being stretched all the time in graduate school if I had something like this that was lighter to enjoy.  I should have cut these books a break long ago.

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Spirits, Stilettos, and a Silver Bustier, Deanna Chase

You can’t really beat New Orleans for the setting of a ghostly story.  I went there the summer I turned 21 and I was struck by what a really cool place it was.  Of course, it is the only place in the South I have really ever been, but it felt so different from where I lived, and with the darkness and the voodoo…yeah.  Really cool.  I went on a ghost tour of the city, some of the stories I was told there having been debunked/de sensationalized in Ghostland, but the place still feels magical and mysterious.  Also, I went pre-Katrina.  I don’t know what it is now.

A single woman pursuing her art while owning a successful coffee shop in New Orleans with friends, both alive and dead, certainly counts as wish fulfillment for me.  I was not sure if the author could pull off the boyfriend thing without being totally weird, but she did.  Interestingly, the main male ghost figure in this story and in the other one I discuss in this post are dead rum running gangsters from Prohibition, except this ghost is kinder and a romantic partner, while the one in the second book I review is a rascal and a pain in the butt still dedicated to his glory days in his death.  Interesting both authors chose rum runners for their bad boy ghosts, even if one is kind and gentle and one is a pain.

Also, the killers in this one had the same motive as the killer in Any Witch Way You Can. I like seeing how the idea was handled differently between the books.  I would read more in this series too.  I know I say that about all of them, but that is okay.  Just means that cozy mysteries with paranormal themes are a complete and total rabbit hole for me.  We all have to accept our various rabbit holes.  Embrace them.

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Deader Homes and Gardens (Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries Book 4), Angie Fox

Audible knows how to take my money.  They have this team of marketers that must sit in meetings with their basic white bitch crystal ball that reads my mind.  They had a 4.95 sale and this book was on it, which is how I read the fourth in the series before I read the first.  I actually bought the first book after I read this one, because I wanted to know the backstory that the characters reference.  And it’s okay that I know a few other things.  Usually Audible is all tricksy about having a sale on the first in the series, not the fourth one in.  Seems random, but the BWB (basic white bitch) crystal ball must have said it’s cool because it was.

Anyway, this was a haunted house mystery with a troubled family, one of those rambling abandoned old Southern plantations. Again with the setting. It was a little freaky in parts, and the heroine almost gives up because it gets too scary for her and I like that added touch of realism.  I would be scared crapless dealing with ghosts and it sometimes seems unlikely in books how cool people are about chatting with the dead.  Like it’s nothing.

I am wending my way through darker reads for more of my Halloween-y posts, reading my favorite self pub/horror writer, and a more popular writer whose work I am dabbling into the first time.  I think we need some haunted houses up in here, even though I already did some castles.

Comments/shares/likes!  Are you ready for some slightly darker seasonal reads?

Halloween Cozies: Witches

Cozy Halloween mysteries are a rabbit hole.  If you look up witch cozy on Amazon there are tons of cartoony covered books with the inevitable sexy heroines with their witchy powers solving murders.  And the prices are great for the first books, even the audio, because they are trying to hook you with their magic and other forms of wish fulfillment.  I want to follow every little hook you into the book series thread and be lost forever, but alas, I have a day job and a a sweet boy.

You will find in these posts I am unable to commit between lighter and darker reads. These books do involve black magic and nefarious characters, but they are decidedly lighter than other books I am reading on Halloweeny topics for this series of posts.

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Hex on the Beach (The Magic and Mixology Series Book 1), Gina LaManna

This book violates one of my usual rules of reading, which is that I don’t read books with shoes, handbags, wedding rings, or mixed drinks on the cover.  But if you want to combine mixing drinks with magic, well, I can make an exception.  I will try many books  if I think they might have some good magic in it.  (I was like this before Harry Potter, btw).

This book is less mystery than it is world building and building into the rest of the series, of which there appear to be four at this point, all named after drinks.  I think it is a very cool idea to combine potions with making drinks in the magical world. There is a mystery, but the book is more about her finding her powers and her family, which seems to be how many witchy cozies open…finding the power, finding the family and/or the new life, rolling in a sweet looking beau that you root for the whole time and know they will end up together but it is fun to see how the author builds tension in the meantime.  And there is a big reason why she is being co opted back into the place that she belongs now after years in the regular world, a reason that they hint at but you will have to pick up the rest of the books to find out.  Something about the conflict between the human and the magical factions.  This is more world building, in my mind, than I usually read in these cozies.  I don’t mean setting.  They all do well with that, but the actual magical world building.  A tropical island in this case.  No wish fulfillment there.

My more serious beefs with chick lit, as these unabashedly are, is that the women don’t always have ‘real’ careers and if they do are pathetic in other ways, like they can’t cook or they are ten pounds overweight or something.  These women all were competent.  This particular heroine was busting to make it in the corporate world.   No one really complained about being fat, either.  Another plus.  And I like the covers. Win.

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Any Witch Way You Can (Wicked Witches of the Midwest Part 1), Amanda M Lee

This one is straight up Halloween themed.  There are witches, a solstice and a corn maze, all rolled into a town that is intentionally touristy and Halloweeny in the midwest.  I admire the author for spinning the setting into the midwest, as setting is so key in these books and the midwest usually does not have the ghostly history or the wish fulfillment element of the other settings, like New England or New Orleans.

This one involves an established family group of witches, mothers and daughters who are enmeshed with grating arguments they have throughout the story, which could get to the point of distracting.  There is less finding the power and more worry about what the non magical people in the town will think, which is a different conflict than the books I read for this post.   If you like the family sniping and the matriarch that makes you crazy, this is for you.  I like that she is also a medium, because ghosts are on the list of my must reads too.    Everyone in this family has different powers so they have to work together and I like that.

Interestingly, the motives for the magic and the murder are the same as the motives in a book in the next post I am doing with cozy mysteries with mediums, rather than witches.  I don’t mind that.  I have read something like 37 Nero Wolfe novels and someday I will post on how this happened, but if I want a mystery where I don’t have everything figured out by the end, I will turn to them.  I read these to be entertained, transported, diverted. And these are perfect.

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Wisteria Witches, Angela Pepper

Now, I don’t know why a book intended for women needs such intense cleavage/sexuality on the cover.  All of them are like this, and it nearly prevented me from buying the book that Amazon led me to from the Facebook ad, but the price was right and I was looking for the third witch cozy in my group.   And I didn’t regret it.  Facebook has been plopping ads on my feed for Halloween themed books because it works out for them.

This one is a mother and daughter combination who are discovering their witchy family heritage together and getting a fresh start.  The conflicts were less grating and more amusing than in Any Witch Way You Can.  The possible love interest is mysterious and hunky but not so much as they usually are in these books. He is more, literally and figuratively, the guy next door, and although he reveals his own powers, he is shady about his job.  I also like that she is a librarian as her chosen profession, something decidedly un-sexy (with all that boob on the cover, weird).  And there is a mysterious reason that she is brought here to be in this town and reconnect with her long lost aunt and experience her manifesting powers.

These are all first in the series books and they all set the stage for one to pick up the next read.  I loved them and I will be posting on more cozies as the truly seasonable weather kicks in.  As I am writing these I am watching the Canada geese on their bi annual layover on their migration, taking over my lake and my yard in the mist and my son is talking to them as he has breakfast (toaster waffles and a sausage link…I like my kid having the occasional weekday hot breakfast at home) before he gets on the bus.

Briefly, I really do want to read and review The Witches of Eastwick but I have not made it yet.  It did not make it last year and it seems like a gross oversight, given my love of John Updike, even if I do get tired of his themes of white affluent couples in New England getting divorced.  I don’t know how it will fit in, but I suppose that is part of the fun of reading books to post.

Next week is more cozies, but this time with mediums!


High School is Hell: YA and Demons

Friendships, alliances and rivalries have been a major component of high school since the history of high schools.  There are actually processes in the brain in pre teenager hood to focus the developing brain on friendships by making them rewarding in a way that they had not been before.  Most teens would do anything for their close, enduring, or identity providing friendships.

And that’s what the three books I am reviewing here that deal with the demonic in high school, are really about.  Yes, dark forces, but mainly the links that we make with one another as kids that feel like the most important things in the world.

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The Merciless, Danielle Vega

This one is pretty messed up.  YA meets Stephen King.  And I guess it has been a movie for at least two years, which is further proof that I live under a rock somewhere.  I concede it is perfect movie material.  Scary, dark, out of control, seemingly perfect teen girls with dark and twisted confessions of their misdeeds pouring out of them.  The reader is not sure who is evil in this story of girls who tie up one in their basement to perform an exorcism, saying that the one tied up is evil, because that one allegedly slept with one of their boyfriends.  The exorcism scene in the house got pretty dragged out, but it was supposed to be hours of torture and I suppose someone more into the horror genre would like that more than I did.  This one less follows the ideas of genuine possession by demons and is more a gray area about if there is any real demonic forces here or just an excuse to seriously harm and torture someone who did something you did not like.  Almost gratuitous violence and bullying.  Drama gone completely off the deep end, with seemingly perfect Southern girls with scary secrets and empty hearts and souls. Which is likely why it is a movie, with sequels to this book.  It was all right.

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Evil Librarian, Michelle Knudsen

This one is more in the middle between something more lighthearted versus something more seriously and closely demonic, insidious and creeping like the final book that I am putting in this series of reviews.  Yes, there is a librarian who clearly is on the dark side pretty early on.  There is not a ton of buildup of figuring out what is going on because defeating the demon is really more the focus of the story.  A girl is saving her best friend from the throes of a demon who wants to draw on her to win a battle for the demon throne, and in her efforts to vanquish him that go wrong a passage for other demons to enter the school and suck the life force out of the kids is opened.  I mean, what kid never wonders if the adults in their lives are all entirely human? The main characters are still living their somewhat normal lives when all of this is going on, putting on a fall musical no less, and they are trying to pry their school back from the talons of evil. The talons that are holding off until after they see the musical because they love it.  So, demons and scary but some lighthearted this is really about high school too. The protagonist grows up as a result of putting herself in mortal danger to save her friend and her high school. Learns her power and is more confident in going after what she wants.  You know, like you do.

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Grady Hendrix

Other BookRiot reviewers have agreed with me that this is a pretty good book.  It is the closest to the information I have read about how a possession really comes about and it is creepy, and scary, and insidious, and about friends saving friends.  This is abundantly clear despite the copious 80s references that the author does well in carrying throughout.  The friendship builds from when the girls are ten into a night where her friend wanders off one night when they are supposed to be tripping and she comes back a different girl.  No one will listen, nearly every adult her best friend tries to access does not believe her and it actually gets her in more trouble with the adults, especially when she admits that hallucinogens were involved.  She is even abandoned when she gets to the point of actually doing the exorcism with the one adult she does find.  This was scary, gripping and altogether high school halloween-y.  I wonder if the 80s references are meant to lighten the darkness of the entire book and make it still appealing to its intended YA audience, even though oldies like me are more likely to relate to and remember bits of that time period.  Like I remember seeing genuine VHS cases in this era with the black cover with the rainbow stripes down the sides, like this one.  And I always rewound them before I returned them to the sweet video rental places that were real stores and not red boxes that my son wants to stand in front of to look at all the pictures.

High school can be drama enough without demons!  But it is a good setting for an evil theme because friendships are so important and friends are the ones who pull us out of the muck, anyway.

Halloween posts continue!


Halloween Reads Kickoff: Castles

It’s time for this season’s round of Halloween-y books, as promised.

The weather as of late has actually helped me accept the realities of fall. It was cold and dark a few weeks, which I felt was too soon, and then the hurricanes blew up all kinds of hot air, which while I have enjoyed one more round of wearing summer dresses, I want it to be cool and Fall like.  I have apples I picked with my son that it’s not cool enough to bake into my favorite apple pie recipe on Pinterest.   Soccer games and practices are downright hot to sit in.

I have still been marking this wonky weather season with books about my favorite topics of magic and a little scary and witches and dark.  Even if it doesn’t feel right out to bake a pie.

When I was little I thought that living in a castle was the ultimate high life and there was a point when at least the Western world would have been in agreement with me on this.  Top of the food chain.

And indeed the first book I talk about here is that kind of castle mentality where it’s mostly money and magic and enchantment and where you want to be if you can get there.  All very British.

But then I grew up and realized the realities of castles. Even when they were the luxury they were still cold and drafty, despite being spacious and being able to house many nobles at a time.  Any modern story of people living in castles before they were given up on are stories that do not renew my desire to live in a castle.  They get too expensive to maintain, built in a time with different society structure, and are altogether impractical, even if people want to live on in them like they are maintaining their stately families of old. There may be one more castle book that feeds some childlike wonder, but even the adults in that one can’t take care of the rambling thing.

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The Enchanted Castle, Edith Nesbit

These are miniature British adults looking for and finding adventure on a holiday meant for them to spend time together away from their respective schools.  No adults who are truly in charge or supervising are part of this adventure where they find a castle with a little girl who lives there as a relative of the help and get themselves into debacles with magic. This book is very much about a magic ring, almost more than it is about the actual castle.  And the castle is rambling and beautiful but it is not old and dark and gloomy.  The creepier parts come through when the magic goes all wrong and gets away from the control of the children and they are trying to figure out how to make things right again.  The castle is enchanted, certain other magical things happen there as well, but it is mostly light and harmless magic.  Only maybe a tiny shade of Halloween-y. But a good read for kids and a little fun.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

I see this one all over the internets as something really great.  I had to read Wikipedia halfway through to orient myself to what was really supposed to be going on in this story.  I couldn’t decide if the narrator was supposed to be a child, or a little crazy.  or dead.  Or something.  It starts out a little creepy in the beginning with the agoraphobic sister and the very childlike narrator and the not immediately clear reasons why they are shunned by the town.   It gets creepier as the story is revealed and why there is the degree to being shut in, and then ending with how the women subsist in the end.  And I really wanted to punch the interloping cousin who tries to take over the estate. I was kind of hoping we would find out some of the family that was talking and participating in the story was actually a ghost.

I may have reached the conclusion that Shirley Jackson is underwhelming, and it’s not just because she is subtle.  I like Algernon Blackwood’s subtle horror quite a bit.  It stirs up fear inside me without having to be heavy handed.  I read The Lottery in high school and then The Haunting of Hill House last year for my last round of seasonal Halloween reads and maybe I liked them better.  I don’t know.  I just expected more from this one. I have now done all her most popular stuff, maybe I would like something lesser known even more.  I am open to others commenting on what I may have missed to help me see what others really like in this one.

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I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

This one is lighter than Shirley Jackson, but it has its darker bits too.  I was anxious to read another Dodie Smith after 101 Dalmatians and how blatantly misogynistic that one was.  This one, thankfully, was much better on that count.  A family is struggling in genteel poverty in this coming of age story of a girl who is trying to help pull her family back together, her sister make a good marriage with the people who own the castle, and get her father back on track with writing.  It is stressful with how poor they are but it is still a charming and enjoyable book.

This book is not misogynistic but it reminds me how absolutely powerless women in genteel poverty were.  They are criticized for being ‘gold diggers’ but they don’t have a way of elevating themselves while keeping within their social class.  The only way up if their father is not taking care of them is to find a husband to do so.  She also finds her feelings about men changing and becoming more confusing.  I think the real strength of this novel is the likability of the narrator.  She is funny and smart, honest, and sweet.  She tries to make things okay for everyone but does not rush into her own happiness, but rather tries to be measured and planful at the end, not the heedless girl that she starts off with in the beginning.  Again, not as Halloween-y, but the castle is a major player of this story.

So, this was more of a gentle slide into the Halloween books season.  Next week is demons, so if you want something scarier, stay tuned!


Halloween Weekend: Spirits and Legends

I am writing this right now with the Harry Potter Gryffindor common room ambient sounds playing . It sounds like the dead of winter before a crackling fire.  The crackling fire especially gets me into the Halloween writing mode.  Not thinking about the dead of winter we are boldly hurtling toward.  Binge reading to finish up the year has been helping me to ignore that.

So it’s Halloween weekend. You might be Halloweened out by this point in the game.  Where I am, the leaves have usually peaked and drifted away and we are looking at the stark outlines of bare branches until April. My holiday countdown friends on Facebook are letting me know that it could be time to move on to thoughts of feasting. In truth, I have long since ordered my organic free range turkey.

But in case you are looking for maybe just one or two before the holiday season comes, I have two more this week:

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The Good House, Tananarive Due

This one actually counts under my over 500 list for the year.  At nearly 600 pages, this story weaves a saga of a family spirit who, like all evil spirits, wants to wreak havoc for the sake of wreaking havoc.  This one really wants to kill people off.  But, in the tradition of Stephen King, there is a family story here too, a real background of how the spirit was able to break out into our world.  A truly good scary story does not happen in a vacuum.  Scary events leak into lives where there are already growing fissures: addictions, untreated mental health issues, contentious and struggling family relationships.  This book has all of these. It reminds me to continue to keep tabs on my son emotionally when he is older, as the son is where the spirit first finds its way in. He’s just a curious kid, separated from his school friends, who finds his magic practicing grandmother’s things just to see magic, and a spiritual family history that grandma left unexplained. The characters here are real, and saucy.  The mother is a high powered professional, the father a temperamental professional sports manager battling a cocaine addiction, the son an intelligent African American boy who wants to live up to Mom’s expectations as well as fit in with friends and be a kid, too, who is figuring out what being African American will mean to him.  The fissures are relatable:  a mother is not paying as much attention to her son because she is figuring out if she could reconcile with his father, a father who is permissive in the interest of not creating conflict and being the preferred parent.  A bored kid finding Grandma’s voodou spell book.  Your basic recipe for disaster.

My only issue with this book was sometimes it got slow.  It did multiple POVs well, I never got caught in forgetting whose perspective we were in, but there seemed a lot of detail to get the story told, especially near the end.  Some of it could be cut to pick up the pace, especially when they are back at the house and trying to battle an already powerful force.  But, unlike many horror novels (Ahem, Ania Ahlborn) there is resolution here.  The supernatural powers that allowed for the mess also allow it to be resolved, and it is not a simple resolution but the mother demonstrates that she has learned through all these events.  She gets a chance to make things right with what she has learned, and that to me is the most satisfying conclusion to a horror story.  This book would appeal to Stephen King fans, at least the style he has presented in the few of his books I have read: It, Carrie, The Shining.   It reminded me the most of The Shining.

Classics featured in many of the moody book lists I perused this fall.  It usually is more my style to get to them and I feel inept that I did not make it to any Edgar Allan Poe for this, but I did get to revisit

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving

I did this on audio this time, as when I read it the first time I was on my classics, but not on my audio, kick. This is a quintessential Halloween story, in the late fall in upstate New York, with a love triangle.  I don’t need to review the story here, just that it was a nice dollar audiobook for a little over an hour of listening on a fall drive.  It can be included on a short list of classics that can make on well read in a short period of time.  I need to visit the rest of the stories of scary in the volume.  Maybe I will share this story with my son when he is a little older.  I have all sorts of reading torture lined up for him, torture because he’s an action, on the go, ride bikes and kick balls and run kind of kid, not a sit down and draw and read kind of kid. I was a read and write and draw kid, his father was a sports, jobs,cars and parties kind of guy.

I had many on the ambitious list for my month of scary reads.  The ones that did not make it was really more about not already having them and not having audio to go with them to get read and posted about in a short amount of time, not that they were not good:

Within these Walls, Ania Ahlborn (FINALLY came out on some audio, but really she is a different post as she’s an indie in her own class)

Black Valley, Charlotte Williams

The Grownup, Gillian Flynn

The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe

The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero

Blood and Salt, Kim Liggett

Uncle Silas, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

As usual, I grow ambitious.

Maybe next year. Anything I should make sure to visit if I do another Halloween Reads October?

There is a holiday season, a finish your challenge list deadline, and the proliferation of end of the year and award lists that kill any confidence I may have garnered about conquering my TBR list coming in the next eight weeks.

Are seasonally related posts fun and appealing or overkill? I am planning on getting to some Christmas books in a few weeks. As they tend to be lighter it will be a branch out for me.  No Christmas tree pun intended.