Fall Reads: Harder Horror

I’m well aware that my favorite reads and subjects are more nuanced than they are all out crap your pants on the edge of being grossed out horror, but I can get into the occasional harder core horror story. It doesn’t always have to been teenagers and women with more power than society deems acceptable that fills my reading brain (although I think it will be teenagers again next week. Possibly demons. I don’t know. I seem to have done some serious binge reading this summer). Today’s post, as you have a coffee and think about all the Sunday fall goodness ahead, shall prove that sometimes I’ll crawl into that emotional space of an edgier horror story.

Should I have waxed poetic about it already becoming later October or would that have taken away from this confession that my dark side has its’ needs too?

Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt

A town in the Hudson Valley is haunted by the spectre of a prosecuted witch from back in the early 1600s.  With her eyes and mouth sewn shut and wrapped in chains, she is an unexploded bomb tolerated by a tiptoeing town.  The curse: once you know about her, you cannot leave the town for any appreciable amount of time or you will be compelled to take your own life.  So she is a carefully constructed,  guarded, quarantined secret. You know that’s a total setup for things to go terribly wrong when some under-supervised teenagers get to blaming her for the strict rules in the town. How she has caused them to lose family and feel confined against long term relationships or external careers.  Inevitably it goes to crap, her whispering into people’s ears compelling them to take their lives, the consequences unbearable if she is able to use her eyes and mouth.

Another TBR long hanger that I picked up the audio to to be able to read it. This is a classic creepy, horrific story.  I can’t imagine having to anticipate a ghost like that, or any ghost really, rando showing up in my path like that.  And it’s a setup for things to go to crap so you’re just waiting for it to, with the animal harbingers and the bored, disturbed and trapped teenagers.  Too much power shared with too many people.  In fact, I am surprised they held it together for as long as they did.  The town is a character more than the individuals in it, as they are all affected similarly.  Goodreads reviewers and I agree that this felt old school Stephen King to me, with people struggling as a whole against a curse, and it all goes to crap at the end in a way that follows with the plot. So if you like old school King, this one is worth a read.

For me personally, I liked that it was snuggled in the Hudson Valley and kept consistent enough for me to miss the place in the year I lived there.  I like reading a book where I have been, and I like the Hudson Valley, still rural enough but so close to the city.  It was a good place to be, but also it gave the book a kind of Legend of Sleepy Hollow effect too, with historical events in early America still affecting the town. 

Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill

An ex rockstar, Judas Coyne, buys a suit at an online auction, knowing full well that it comes with the ghost of the man who used to own it. What starts off as a curiosity for a person whose life has slowed considerably becomes a horror story of revenge when he discovers the auction was a setup to buy the vengeful spirit of the stepfather of an ex girlfriend who committed suicide after the breakup. Not only is this dude an angry stepfather, but in life he was a gifted hypnotist who didn’t use his powers for good.  His ghost is scary, merciless and focused on the ruin of Coyne and anyone who tries to help him.  Whoa.

This was a compulsive horror story.  It was an artful balance between intense action and backstory that slowly unravels as Judas and his current girlfriend, Mary Beth/Georgia, an ex stripper/recovering drug addict, run to survive the ghost.  They rake through Judas’ past in a harrowing drive South to get to the family who sent him the ghost, to get to Mary Beth’s old Ouija board, and ultimately to a face off in the home of his estranged and dying father.  I was hooked on the action and then before the action got to be too much, because I can get lost in too much of it, it would slow back down to the stories and the reasons.  The story itself hung together well through the scary parts, gave them context.  I was impressed that this is a debut novel as well and I have seen other Joe Hill novels like The Fireman get high praise among horror readers.  

It also has a resolution with redemption in it. Throughout the story, Coyne is becoming more human in his interactions and ends up staying with Mary Beth even though he has had a failed marriage, I hope that isn’t a spoiler alert.  I didn’t really have expectations for their relationship past the high drama of the story but I guess the whole surviving a disaster together tends to draw a couple together. Mary Beth is much younger than he is with her own complicated past but Coyne tends to be the kind of guy women fall in love with and she’s no exception.  

My only warning for readers is there is a significant element of child abuse/sexual abuse in this story. Horror has to rake people’s deepest darkest fears and traumas to be effective, to meet the needs that draw people to this genre and I get that but if CSA is a trigger for a reader, they should really avoid this one.  

These were both great. I’ve considered limiting the scope of the books I blog about, but my tastes are so wide I don’t have the heart to limit myself. Because I read these ones and I have the Christmas reads listed out to get read. (But I am not far enough ahead to be on them, I’m still getting through the November posts, and that’s fine, because I’m not ready for Christmas books until we are past Halloween).

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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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Fall Reads: High School Witchery

It’s inevitable that my love of YA and magic will culminate in a love of witchy high school YA. It’s September, and schools are all back in session now, however that looks. High school is innately chaotic and often leaves one feeling powerless, and, witch persecution across time tends to look like how bullying can play out, so this blend is perfect for me. I tend to see more peer drama and bullying in middle school in my work, but, in high school, kids are coming much more into their powers and their identity. Powers are much less believable on a sixth grader than they are in a high school junior.

I also have books I read on witchy teenagers, but the high school context in these plays more of a role than it does in some of the other teen witches I have read about. Interestingly, my witch books this year are so much about persecution at a time where I feel than anything different in this country is persecuted. Hunts for those who are different and who have power that maybe they aren’t “supposed” to.

On a personal note, fall is closing in to my world. Autumn began this week, right before my understated wedding anniversary (I don’t know how I managed the same romantic relationship for ten years rolling, but maybe sharing a child and goals and both having our personal stability helps) and the trees are changing color. I also found an excellent wine from one of my usual Basic White Woman brands that really does taste like apple pie.

I’m sure I’ve already said that I used to love fall before I had to manage my adult responsibilities in winter. In a concerted effort to be more in the moment I am going back to loving fall. I won’t worry about what comes after. I will love the moment.

And I’ll actually review now the books I intended:

How to Hang a Witch, Adriana Mather

Sam moves to Salem, MA, to her father’s family home with her stepmother, after her father falls into an inexplicable coma.  In her new school she meets the descendants of the original hanged witches and knows that her ancestors had a role in persecuting these women.  So, naturally, they bully her, which would be enough, but then she meets a ghost in her home with his own role in the trials.  Bad things immediately start happening to the town, and Sam mentions in the story that she has always felt she was cursed, bad things always happened to children who got near her in the past.  With the help of the ghost they discover and break the curse of the Salem witches, and she also finds out why she has also felt so cursed through her life.

This kind of book is completely my jam, which is probably why I read three books this time about high school and perpetuated witch curses that get broken.  I always like a ghost sidekick to help with the research end of things, and I have to admit that I guessed wrong on who was really behind all the bad events, and clearly I am not going to reveal that here and ruin it.  It draws nice parallels between the events of the witch trials and the modern day hysteria, and how these things happen and perpetuate themselves.  Bullying happens all across history.  And the ending is good and satisfying, things get resolved.  It had also been on my TBR forever so I got the audio.  You’d think my stash of scary reads would be getting thinner but I seem to find more scary/witchy/magical  reads, like all the time, so it never really gets down.

The Graces, Laure Eve

 A girl starting a new school after some unspoken bad events and her father disappearing becomes entranced by three teens at her new school who seem to have powers.  The blurb says they do have powers, but the actual story, in my opinion, does not make this clear. Anyway.  These siblings are from a glamorous, secretive family that are at the heart of many town rumors and of course she is the only kid at school who gets invited into their fold.  Their beautiful home and parties. There is allegedly a curse where anyone who isn’t a witch who falls in love with a Grace is destined to death or madness. The girl is floundering, poor, and desperate to feel special and that she belongs somewhere, and that maybe, too, she has powers. So as with all of these setups, things get out of hand unexpectedly with a dark twist at the end. 

This hung out on the TBR for a few years after one of my usual hunts for witch books.  Because the audio either was not at the library or a price I felt like paying it hung out for a bit, but I needed a book to read while I worked my way through another with listening, and this year’s reading kick is around witches and curses in the high school setting, so this fits right in.  The new girl, who renames herself River, has a palpable desperation that makes her a willing friend to the youngest sister who gets her into the group, and the witchcraft part, in my opinion, takes a backseat to a more typical YA new girl plot.  The motivations and the desire to be a part of a beautiful, mysterious and glamorous family is very relatable and compelling, as well as my love for a drawn out dark secret. I was strung along wanting to know more about River’s past, and if the magic is real, if the curse is real.  The secrets here unravel very slowly, both about River’s past and the Graces.  The ending is only somewhat satisfying and I am debating with myself about reading the next one because of course, after all that bating along, it ends on a damn cliffhanger.  

Briefly as well, I am finding my spirituality shifting away from writing. Writing was my spirituality but I was always told that I would have a chance to reunite with my intuition when the timing was better for me… and now, it’s coming. And if I can keep staying safe with it, I want it. Someone came into my life to help right before the year changed, and then I found myself reading about tarot and writing (which is completely fascinating to mix these). Fall is an interesting time to investigate one’s power, when the veil is purportedly thinner. I have bought some crystals and the full moon this week…yea, it’s time to pay attention to those things.

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Scary Reads! Haunted Houses II

And here we are in the first weekend of October.  My son got my husband to start decorating the house on Tuesday for the holiday.  It started with being allowed to just get out bins to see what we have to those bins being emptied and my husband further outlining his artistic vision for the venture.  Trees are changing too, more than I noticed before.

Like I said last week, the haunted houses reads were meant to scrape out the TBR.  Every year I make a list of books I already have that could get read for that season’s round and I am experiencing a certain extra level of satisfaction about putting checkmarks next to books that keep going on the list because they had not been read yet.

Spoiler alert:  TBR reading will be a big part of the blog next year.

But onto the second haunted house books post!

One of the few things I love more than a scary book that is getting crossed off the TBR is a scary epistolary book!  Piecing together the story behind a haunting lends itself well to many different sources and viewpoints being shared in the course of the novel.  Both of these haunted house books were pieced together through various viewpoints that become apparent as the novel moves forward.   Like I said in my last post, it’s about the story behind the haunting, not just the spirit activity that is enthralling.  

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The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero

A man and his friend move into a mansion that he inherited from an uncle he didn’t know. He starts immediately with the dreams and the intense occurrences, from haunting to break ins.  They have to piece together both what is going on with the house and the secret activity that went on inside it during his uncle’s life. This has a more in depth plot than a re enacted tragedy by a ghost, it also is about a secret society that stumbles upon a wonder of the world and dedicate themselves to a game to discover its secrets and the messages it is trying to give.  Lots of twisty turns in this one to keep you guessing.

So this was on my TBR forever and kept missing the scary reads train, and I have to admit that some of it was due to not being on audio.  Books I can easily get on audio are the ones that get consumed first, especially with a cozy feel to them. But when I realized this was epistolary novel, I got right to it.  Snippets of information from everyone’s perspective is addicting to me, probably because it’s similar to my job as a child therapist that I love. No problems blowing through the backlit pages while nestled in my bed at night.  I also liked that it wasn’t just about ghosts and they find an explanation for the dreams as well as the story behind the haunting. There is a whole game, a whole secret society of the rich, a guarded secret. The characters were interesting and their relationships were ambiguous, the surprising events unfolded at a decent pace.  It was absorbing, and I let it go unread way too long.

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The Ghost Notebooks, Ben Dolnick

Nick and Hannah are recently engaged and move into a museum in upstate New York with a shady past, where Hannah has accepted a job as curator.  They move from the crowds of NYC to the isolation of a made up town near Poughkeepsie. As they live there, the woman is consumed in the house and tragedy strikes.  Her fiance becomes consumed in figuring out the details of how this museum led her to her demise.

Another one that just grabbed me and kept me going, one that I was also ambivalent about until I discovered the information comes in pieces from other sources. I actually had read half of this before having to make a drive and bought the audio with three hours to go because I didn’t want to stop reading it to drive. The mystery is compounded by the secrets that Hannah holds of her psychiatric past, and that the perspective isn’t always hers in the story. The mystery does get resolved, the layers tied up, and I always prefer that in scary stories (although we know based on my love of Ania Ahlborn that I don’t always require it). It was well written and astute.

I lived in and near Poughkeepsie for a year, and I know that it can be strangely country and isolated in some places, while being close to a giant city.  It also has its pockets of urbanity, but that’s not the setting for this story. I liked downstate. I wish I enjoyed it more while I was there, but I was distracted with figuring out the next steps of my life.  It’s an interesting setting for a story with a couple looking to change up their lives from the hustle and bustle of NYC.

The only part of this that was a little off to me was the pacing. A chunk of the action happens in the first half, and it’s not a long book so it goes along at a clip.  I didn’t expect the tragedy as soon as it came along. I knew Hannah was unraveling but she kept it fairly to herself. But then there seems to be a long stretch when Nick is trying to make sense of everything where it slows right down.  Maybe this was intentional; often, when we urgently need answers to something it can feel like moving through jello to answer our questions, especially when people are trying to protect their secrets and not allow us access to the answers we need.  I don’t regret buying an audiobook to listen to half. Love my ghosty reads, especially ones with complicated relationships and reaches into the past. Recommend this too.

Next week I will be reviewing books about supernatural creatures.  Not witches, as this year I didn’t read about them, unless you count my post about Day of the Dead for witches.   I love witches, so much I can connect to about them, but this year it ended up being ghosts and hauntings and creatures, and that deserves some love too.  It can’t  be all witchy reads!

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Scary Reads! Haunted Houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

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

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

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

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BookRiot: A Comic by an LGBTQIA creator

Harvesting the garden bounty is a little consolation for the mornings not being as bright and the sky tucking away into darkness more closely to my bedtime.  But the world still tilts and we are keeping track of the summer weekends we have left to make the most of them.  I realized I only have a week left of summer camp lunches to put together because I am doing my second week of Ward Off Mom Guilt vacation with my son this summer and we are going to visit my sister, which he has been BEGGING to do for, like, 8 months.  I hope the trip is everything that he has been hoping that it will be.  If it isn’t I’m going to blame Strong Museum of Play for running ads all the way out here and reminding him that we haven’t done that in way too long.

So, more graphics this week, as I binged the graphics with better library access during my other week of warding off the mom guilt for putting my kid in camp for most of the summer.  I didn’t try to get fancy with this one and wander outside BookRiot’s recommendations.  As I said at the end of my previous post, I didn’t want to be poking into my author’s proclivities in order to see if they fit the category or not.

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Through the Woods, Emily Carroll

A collection of five dark, nightmarish shorts that have the ability to keep you up at night, all with illustrations on every page.  It was haunting and diverting and I was carried away from my library chair tucked in the stacks reading it for a rainy afternoon.

It has been a month now about since I read it two stories particularly stand out. Two that were longer where she had more of a chance to develop the plot line.  I’m all about flashes and super shorts, they are absolutely their own art form, but the ones I liked best of hers were the longer ones, and some of the reviews I see agreed.  It must have been an amazing amount of work to illustrate five scary stories like that, pictures spread across 200 plus pages.  Three might have been better?  I loved it though.  It would have scared the crap out of me as a teenager.  If I had a a teen to give it to I would due to the excellent macabre feelings it invokes.  A teenager who would read it multiple times as their creepy diversion reading at the end of a long day of reading what everyone else wants them to read.

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Goldie Vance, Vol 1, Hope Larsen

An amateur sleuth gets into tangles at the luxury resort she is working at and finds a promising love match along the way in this first volume of comics.

I read this during a morning in bed.  Those reading mornings don’t happen much in the bustle of summer, they are more a winter thing for me, and usually at the end of the year when it’s a BookRiot demand for something graphic and its a last minute cram in.  This was fun, I can see where graphics have their pull.  Lots of plot lines spun out and Goldie has an assertive, impulsive, get yourself into trouble kind of personality that should make her a fun character to read over a series.  She’s likeable and she does stupid things and has an enemy out of the girls whose father employs her, so perfect right?  Not all the characters are white, Goldie’s parents aren’t together and the love interest is same sex, which is nicely becoming more of a thing.  So a kid who might not be a strong reader who picks this up may have more in common with her than in other comic characters.

I will begrudgingly admit that the graphic requirement for these challenges is becoming significantly less onerous as I get into it more.  Not that I will become a graphic reader for myself.  I don’t see that.

I have one more BookRiot post next week to finish out (!) my August of challenge posts.  The fall I will be a little diverted because my diversion reads piled on and I have been able to categorize them into posts with some seasonal themes to them.  I can think of at least three more posts I have in my head to get out in the fall months, buy me time to do the last three categories of BookRiot as well as obligatory seasonal reads as the year ends in the blink of an eye.  Because you all know it will.

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BookRiot: Self-Published Books

The books reviewed here are far from the first self pubs that I have reviewed on this blog.  Some I was even asked for.

I was pleased to see BookRiot push people to read self published work.  It’s still hard work to self-publish, not by any means the easy way of getting your book out there, even though there are not the gatekeepers that there are for traditional publishing. It doesn’t appear faster, either, to get your book traction on your own, and I think some of the stigma is fading from it.

Also, in case anyone is wondering, I am so pleased that the beauty of summer is here. This weekend I am spending with friends as a Bon Voyage to a friend who is moving to the Netherlands to do a post doc. I usually see my long distance friends over the summer, but later on after the school year is done in New York.  I might have to visit him in the Netherlands whilst he is there.

But on to the self-published books.

A Self-Published Book:

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The Inevitable Fate of E & J, Johanna Randle

A teen boy and girl who used to be best friends but who fell apart through circumstance are brought back together by forces they cannot control:  namely, that their souls are linked via past life experiences and they are warned that being together to figure out the story can be detrimental to them both.  Clearly, this is only the first in a series of indeterminate length.

I actually found this via an indie author community on Twitter and asking one another to comment their books for consideration.  It was hard to determine what books are self-published and which are not, as evidenced by my reading two Ania Ahlborns before I realized that she was picked up by Amazon. (but also not wasted time.  She just came out with a new book that she published herself, Now You See Her, so of course that landed on the TBR).  But I follow Johanna Randle on Twitter and she makes no qualms about having put her own work out there, and I admire her that.

I liked this story, it was completely wholesome and the nice boy is the one who wins, which I always like in YA romance, and the girl is learning through the story to stand up for what she likes and wants, not what others want of her.  The world of what everyone thinks a teenager wants is the life she leaves behind in favor of what her heart says. However, as this is the first in a series, there is a lot of set-up in this one.  There is a lot of uncertainty of the hearts coming back together, a lot of self doubt and wondering over action.   It picked up right in time for setting up for the next book. I’d be interested to see if the second books speeds up with all the initial stuff out of the way.

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A Light Amongst Shadows:  Dark is the Night, Book 1, Kelley York and Rowan Altwood

Two boys meet and fall in love in a sinister, Gothic era/novel reform school.  Ghosts crawl the property and when James’ roommate goes missing, they discover the sinister reason why and free the school of it’s dark secrets.

This was an ambitious novel, Gothic and historical, for something self-published, as well as having a romance/sexual relationship between two males.  I know LGBT is becoming the thing lately in YA, and I can’t say the book I’m sending out doesn’t have that, but I still think a gay relationship is forward in mainstream YA books.   I swiped this one off the list of BookRiot recommends, seeing as I can barely handle finding out what is a self pub on my own.

This one moved along a little more, but it could have used some perking up.  Some more subplots to keep it going.  The curiosity is drawn out with the boys not knowing why the others have been disposed of in reform school, and the reveals do have their effect on the main romantic relationship, as they should.  I loved the ghosts, and the secrets, and there were some very scary parts to this one.  It was deliciously dark, which is why we pick up Gothic stories in the first place.  This one also is the start to a series that would be worth continuing.  I saw in getting the image for this post that there is already a 2 and 2.5 out?  Nice.  I love finding something where  I can keep reading.

Mayhaps I have a summer reading/blogging plan.  It could possibly be forming.  It still looks like weekly posts, but I am thinking about working through some of my short story collections, now that I seem to have a better idea of what makes a short story good or special or stand out.  It might help me form my own shorts better if I read a lot of them, armed with this knowledge.  And I could use a short story read down.

But my next post will be two popular novels by women that have gotten a lot of attention.  Ones that I don’t feel I can miss while still considering myself well-read.

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Wharton and McKay’s Witches in New York

I love my Scary Reads series so much that I read and posted most of the month of October before September was over.  And what a lucky thing that I did.

I got my son’s cough a week before my half marathon, and all the money and time spent training for this event was not going to be wasted on a cough, so I ran it anyway.  I was good for about week until it bloomed into what I am pretty sure was sinusitis, which is bad enough in that it is gunky, but I lost my appetite and my energy plummeted to the point where I did nothing but the bare minimum at home and at work.  I had one more race to run that I didn’t run.  I have a list of house stuff and personal projects I am trying to get through and I have late paperwork at work I have to spend time working on today.  It’s time to make serious holiday plans and prep.  I can’t believe how much energy I normally run on and it’s even harder to believe how fast it disappeared.  I went from putting down 13 mile runs to my chest hurting standing up too long. I might have fallen behind on posting if I had not already been ahead.

But I am on the other side.  I still feel like exercising won’t leave me enough energy to do my day, but I can post on what little reading has gotten done.  I didn’t even have the mental energy to focus on reading.  I binged on Netflix.  I never binge on Netflix.  No offense to people who do so to relax, but I feel it is a waste of time.

I decided to combine these two books that I read for very different reasons into the same post.  As I reflected on them, they were actually about the same thing. They both deal with women grabbing up what power they can inside and outside the confines of their lives and conventions and interestingly have two very different takes on New York City in the late 1800s.  They are both witches in their own right, if we are defining a witch as a woman who influences her world rather than being controlled by it.

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The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

This was for BookRiot’s book you read for school but hated/never finished.  I finished this one and begrudgingly wrote a feminist critique on it for my senior project in high school. It was begrudging for many reasons:  one, I have never found a Wharton novel uplifting (I’m still not sure how I have read three of them) and two, all the seniors not in the advanced class could do their senior project on whatever they wanted.  Anything.  Any senior even in the advanced class had traditionally done whatever they wanted in other years.  My sister did hers on old time movie stars.  My class was given a list of literature to choose from and then we had to do a literary critique on it.  I don’t still have a copy of it.  I don’t remember feeling it to be, even at the time, my magnum opus.

I was still interested to revisit it twenty years later, to see what my new eyes would show me.  And to fully explain my thoughts I have to spoil the end, so if you are thinking of reading it and you don’t want to know, read it and then come back to this post.

I believe in the paper I said that May Welland/Archer was not the innocent that she would like to project, that her moves were also calculated, despite it looking on the outside that she was the innocent victim, nearly getting the short end of the stick by playing by all the rules, the lovely, quintessential affluent female, the crown jewel of NYC’s gilded age high society.

In my second run through, one almost feels badly for May, playing by all the old rules when clearly the context is changing and women are getting more freedoms, and it looks like she could be bested by a woman who personifies the new world and way of thinking.  Newland proposes to an old school version of the desirable bride, but then realizes he wants a woman who isn’t so sheltered who can be more his equal than marriages that he sees in his contemporaries.  May is the old world and Ellen is the new, and the old world, like it does, finds a way to win out.  May makes all the rules work for her when for Ellen, the old rules very much don’t.  May is powerful in her own right.  May keeps her man and Ellen decides to save her pride by returning to Europe but still living on her own terms.  She almost steals Newland in the process, but she doesn’t.  I can’t say that Ellen ends up unhappy, at least she doesn’t go back to her husband, but if the goal is to keep your man and your status, which is clearly what May wants, May wins the day.   Like she meant to all  along.  Even when she offered to release Newland from the engagement before they are married, even if she thinks it is because of feelings toward an ex.  I didn’t know at what point she figures his relationship with Ellen.  Maybe she tries to release him because of Ellen all along.  But it is a beautifully calculating and self sacrificing move.  How could Newland give that up? Guess what.  He never does.  And through her life, she clings to the conventions that worked out for her in her youth.

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The Witches of New York, Ami McKay

I read this one just because I wanted to.  I didn’t intend on a witches post because I did so many last year, but this was too compelling.  It was my dessert. And it was everything I have ever wanted in a magical novel: ghosts, magic, fortune telling, romance, some madness, NYC in the 1880s.  A young woman striking out on her own to discover a magic in herself that she never knew she had.

May Welland Archer lived in the other part of town, playing by all the rules in the center of society, while these women inhabited the fringe.  Growing up half parentless and unconventional themselves, these women are more obviously witches who perform magic and see ghosts and fortunes and help women to take control over their lives in the guise of a tea shop.  They pretend to live in the lines with a respectable business and are patronized by women of means, but they are independent and enjoy being so.

I was intrigued by the world of the very rich when I first read Wharton but I am now more intrigued by the fringes of the world than I am with the circumscribed security of the rich.  I liked the talking bird and the description of how life was lived on Blackwell’s Island, the ghosts who only allude some characters. The darkest of antagonists and more life threatening situations than challenging of the old way of doing things and the possibility of one’s husband absconding to Europe with your scandalous cousin.

We never get a peek into May Welland’s mind but I am assuming that she believed herself to be powerful by being the opposite of these women who also believe themselves to have as much control over their world as possible.  May plays and wins the game from the inside, these witches play from the outside, and even though they have different outcomes, they all are victorious in the way they want to be.   Same time, same place, different witches.  Different definitions of victory and happiness.  I wish I had been able to compare these both feminist texts when I was in high school.

I’m two books away from completing the BookRiot challenge with 8 weeks in the year to go.  The rest of the year is going to sweep right along anyway, with preparing Christmas for a small child.  And then planning my projects in a new year.

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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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