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.

Comments/Likes/Shares!!

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For the Love of Epistolary Novels

I forgot to mention that January went okay.  It went better emotionally than it can sometimes.  I’m not really sure why. I have been making more of an effort to look at calls for submissions and actually writing something and crossing my fingers.  I figure even if the writing is rejected I can find other homes for it. As long as the writing is happening right now, that’s what I need.  And I need to focus on showing up when all the crippling doubt sets in.  Especially because I have committed myself to writing poetry again which is a total mind-f.  But you’re here for my scintillating perspectives on my reading problem.

Reading Problem #1000: It seems that epistolary novels especially are some sort of drug to me because I binged on them even harder than usual.  I think I have determined their especial binge-tastic appeal.

  1. They have short chapters, which really keep me going into the night. Just two minutes?  Kindle underestimates my reading speed so that’s only like 30 seconds and I definitely could put off sleep for 30 more seconds.  ooh this chapter is a picture.  Only like a page of IM conversation?
  2. Also, conversations are probably my favorite part of books.  Interactions between people over descriptions and long inner monologues.  And when you are doing letters and IMs, which were the main way I held my far away friends and a long distance boyfriend close in college, I think they bring back for me the joy I have had in my own interactions like that in my life.  I had those IMs while falling in love as a young adult.  And while those fallings in love didn’t pan out, they were the stuff of joy when they were happening. Flooded my brain with the happy chemicals. I have stopped liking phone conversations and it’s rare to get one out of me, unless you’re my client.  Or my parents.
  3. Both of these books I review on this post have the slow reveal that I have been hammering out in my own novel and I was reading to see how these authors did it.

I might not have binged as much if I read the novels I had originally intended, but then BookRiot listed out these great modern ones that had been on the TBR forever and that was it.

An Epistolary Novel:

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Love Letters to the Dead,  Ava Dellaira

This book is really relevant. It’s about broken families and childhood dreams, trauma and healing as universal experiences.  First loves and relationships moving from childlike idealizing to knowing our most loved people as they really were, flaws and pain and all.

The protagonist is picking up the shards of her life following a family tragedy in the form of letters to tragically deceased famous people.  People who lived their versions of her pain and trauma.  People to whom she never met but could relate.  The answers to the mysteries come at a good pace, the blanks filled in in a satisfying way, and everyone heals.  Slowly and sometimes subtly, but they do.  Not just the broken family but other characters dealing with teenage relationship themes and issues.  She talks about the details of the star’s life that she can relate to and emphasize with.

I thought the incorporating of the celebrities was well done.  It could have been either too loosely connected/relevant or too many details of the celebrities to whom she was writing, but it was neither.    And she gets a chance to heal while many, if not all of the dead celebrities, never got or took that chance.  She gets to grow.  And I love the pure magic of healing wherever I find it.

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Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon

I was almost embarrassed that I am trying to write YA without having read this, especially since it became a movie. A-mazing.

One of my kids accidentally spoiled this on me, but she didn’t really spoil it, because once I knew how the main situation was going to change I focused on how it was revealed.  How did the big twist come about. How did she change as a result?  How did her change make others change?  The whole time I wanted to know how Yoon was going to pull it off.

Other that the writerly part, this is just like YA classic good stuff. A first love.  How people learn to be together and share their vulnerabilities.  All that stuff you cut your serious relationship teeth on.  I don’t want to say too much because any reader of mine knows my attempts at avoiding spoilers.  If there’s like, any other YA aficionado out there who hasn’t read this.  Which there really might not be, especially since it became a movie in 2017.  And I forget it’s not 2018 anymore, other than when I realize I didn’t read any 2018 but I’m getting there.

Next week is two other epistolaries. And they aren’t Pamela and Possession, which is what I originally wanted to do for this post, Possession because I have tried to read it twice and finally got the audio to best the thing (many people whose opinions I respect like this book so I need to win) and I shamefully don’t feel like investing in an old novel right now with Pamela.  I mean, it’s about her trying to avoid getting raped at work.  I just want something less depressing than that right now.  It’s been on the TBR forever because I want to someday read the authors that influenced Jane Austen with Austen in mind.  But there are young adults falling in love in ways I fell in love as a young adult and all that dopamine gets coursing around when I read these.   And I read four books from one BookRiot category before I know it and lose sleep because of it’s appeal.  TBR tackling at its finest.

Comments/likes/shares!

 

 

Halloween Reads Kicks Off with YA and Magic

Scary Reads is finally here!!

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

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

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House of Furies, Madeline Roux

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

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

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

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

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Hex Hall, Rachel Hawkins

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

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

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

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

Comments/Likes/Shares!!!

 

 

The YA choice for BookRiot

My hope is that when this entry is posted that it will be an unarguable Spring in the Northeast. I can’t anymore with the freezing temperatures in the morning, having to defrost my car when I get in so I can see out the windshield,  getting into the warm weather clothing stash in my closet just to see if it’s worth wearing with leggings and cardigans. The geese coming through seem to be making the best of it, although I can’t imagine dealing with this if I had gotten a break from the cold this year.  I saw them trying to expand their ice holes the other morning, kicking along the fragile sheets of ice.  I am kind of scared of geese and I think if my son ever approached one while it was eating my yard the goose would probably eat him, but I have to respect their attempts to make use of and expand the paltry amount of open water there is.

“No, geese don’t like to be petted.”

I think it’s clear to any reader of this blog that I love YA.  I will always tackle that category with relish when given the chance.   So this one required little motivation but a lot of decision making. If I was in my usual constant state of binge reading there would be fewer decisions required but when you are cherry picking books for the sliver of time you have left for them with your fervent noveling you have to be choosy.  Something you can eat alive and enjoy every moment.

The first book in a new to you YA or Middle Grade series:

 

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han

So the cover of this suggests something a little lighter than what this actually ended up being.  The cursive lettering, the dreamy girl writing on her bed. Not that this was a heavy read, but in a pleasant twist of events, this book really isn’t about the boys. Not at its heart.  It is about the changes when sisters grow up and their relationships change, especially when the sisters relationship is complicated by a dead mother and a smaller sister that the older two are committed to caring for in her stead.  They are sisters, they are mother and daughter, they are like coparents. There is a father but he is a physician so he is there for them when he can be. He worries about them and sometimes cooks, but he’s around enough not to make the novel’s family dysfunctional.

I am close with my sister and it was hard for me when she left to college, and she had a boyfriend who practically lived at our house at the end of her high school career, so it struck me too, although my sister didn’t try to control and parent me the way the oldest does when she goes away over the ocean (which I was completely annoyed at her for doing, given how dedicated she was to keeping her home running and how her younger sister, while capable, was hardly prepared to fill her shoes).  The twist there was though that I never had any attraction to her boyfriend and in this story the sisters are so close in age that there was some of that after she left. The boys who liked my sister were usually about four years older than I was and to a child/tween that seems eons older.  Worlds apart. Full decades, when in my thirties I married a man eleven years my senior. So that part thankfully I never had to deal with. But I liked this. It was character driven more than it was plot driven. It was about the main character Lara Jean growing up over the course of a few months and facing some of her own fears of being in a  real relationship with a boy. She kind of wants to be a kid forever, but that’s hard to do when you notice boys and they notice you.

So this is fun, I can see where it would resonate with a teenaged girl without being too fluffy or boy focused.  There are two more books that I do have some interest in reading, especially since the author leaves off with the main romance unresolved. The sister stuff has come to a resolution but you are left wondering what happens with her and the boy.  More proof to me that this book isn’t at its core about the boys. And although adults like to criticize teen girls for being ‘all about the boys’ they are usually only so when they don’t have a strong base at home and they are looking for basic emotional needs to be met instead of having fun.  Teen girls are usually still closely tied to their home. And these girls are too.

Noveling is working in its fits and starts.  I am finishing the first draft of scenes and will be getting to go back through again and revise based on the story I have found within.  Still hard, still need to be sure I make time for it this weekend, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as first draft set of scenes is concerned. Although the next draft might feel more like draft one and a half instead of a second draft because I started it ⅔ in and I am figuring out the first third of setup now.  Which wasn’t intentional, I just went with what I knew I wanted to happen and then when holes came up I backed up and added some bigger plot pieces to pull it all together. You know, brain stuff.  All of the brain stuff.

Comments/likes/shares!  Come on spring!

 

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

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!

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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!

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