Review: Within These Walls

When you move into a house where a cult murder occurred to write about the murder, it can’t end well. A review of Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn. (4/5)

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn was released in April 2015, and I read it December 8, 2017. I basically ignored all other responsibilities I had on Friday to finish this book. Particularly with horror/thriller novels I am not good at reading them in pieces as the tension doesn’t dissipate for me when I close the book to go do other things. Anyway, I binged this and it was great.

A summary from Amazon:

How far would you go for success? What would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.

Warning, this is going to be slightly spoilery.

One of the strongest parts of the novel for me was Vee – she’s normal. Normal in the sense that she’s struggling, angsty, a bit morbid, and trying find where she fits in. I was especially disturbed at the role she played in the novel because she is so much younger than the people Halcomb recruited and influenced at only 12. It made sense because it meant it would be even easier to manipulate a child on the cusp of adolescence who had no life experience to give her any doubts at all. At first, I was actually disappointed in her. About 3/4 through the book I was just thinking “ugh, why? This does not seem in character.” But then when I thought about the way living in that house and the influences within it were impacting both Vee and Lucas, it made sense that Vee would not take a minute to second guess what was happening to her. Sometimes I forgot Vee was only 12, but I don’t think others in the novel did which also led to the authenticity of her voice and responses – I too, would have loved to be left alone all the time when I was 12 and was not allowed to do so.

Lucas made me feel all sorts of ways. I understood what it felt like to disappear inside writing and time passes and you don’t notice it or forget to eat or break promises. But he was so aware of it and kept doing it anyway – he knew that things weren’t right in that house, that something was wrong, and opened himself up to being taken over. While It’s clear Halcomb still had influence and was dangerous, Lucas is at fault, in the long run. He lies, he hedges, he procrastinates, and he acts selfishly. On a spectrum of good father to bad father, he lands on the bad father end of the spectrum.

The atmosphere is SO FANTASTIC. I feel a little bit shamed for my immediate love of the old school retro house with conversation pit living room that everyone made fun of, but I also felt like I could picture the house really well. I could picture why the shadows were creepy. The atmosphere was just right in terms of the house being isolated, the house being a special location that caused the characters would question if something was real or not, and the way each character’s own specific fears were well articulated. Ahlborn describes their fears in a multi-sensation way that it’s easier for the fear to come off the page, and reminds the reader that the characters are always being watched. If they are in that house, they are never alone. It’s very creepy.

Any fan of horror, who has even a passing interest in cults, will enjoy this book. I appreciated the point that people aren’t aware they are joining a cult when they do. That’s kind of the point – you don’t know what’s happening until you’re too stuck to get out.

I would also love to read about young Jeffrey Halcomb and his time in Veldt, KS. I have so many questions, and the origins of the cult leader was one of the parts of the book that intrigued me the most. I’m often more interested in the origins of the criminal than in the crimes themselves.

Overall, I give Within These Walls 4/5 for being eerie and dark and making me say “Oh no!” to the ending. And that there was an extra twist at the that I wasn’t expecting. Abandon hope, anyone who reads this, and prepare to walk into darkness. This was my first Ania Ahlborn that I got from the library, and I will be checking out the others on the shelves.

Thoughts On: Timekeeper by Tara Sim

A damaged clock can fracture time, it’s Danny Hart’s job to prevent that from happening. A review of Timekeeper by Tara Sim (4/5)

Timekeeper by Tara Sim was published on November 8, 2016 and I read it on December 3-4, 2017. There’s emotions.

A summary, from Amazon:

“In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny’s new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower’s clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield’s time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he’s fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he’ll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever.”

Reading is powerful because it allows us to experience lives that are different than our own, or experience a resonance because we realize that we are not alone. That’s kind of how I felt about Timekeeper, but it was unexpected.

All through the book the narration and other characters talk about Danny as “weird” because he’s quiet or reserved; he doesn’t see the need to make small talk, or even necessarily to form bonds, with the people he works with. Danny is mostly okay inside his own head, and focuses on the things he cares about rather than the things people tell him to care about. I think it’s what gives him a cool head in the crisis that comes from falling for a clock spirit. I identified with this – keeping work and non-work life separated. I’ve been…criticized [this is the nice word] because I don’t tend to become besties with co-workers and like to run circles in my brain on my work before talking to other people about it. Danny is just outwardly chill with a chaos brain and I related to that HARD.

To start, I thought the concept of Time in the book would bother me, but the blend of religion and science helped. I also appreciated that there wasn’t an exhaustive amount of exposition explaining the way the world functioned. If there was too much detail I think it would make more holes and pieces to pick at than telling the bare minimum. Sim makes some excellent authorial choices in how she has the mythology develop across the book and what she spends page time on. I think it’s way more important to understand how the fibers of time work for Danny than it is to understand how the fibers of time work in general. I have a vague notion of the magic that runs the world, but at it’s heart I need to know how the world impacts Danny. That’s who I’m invested in.

I’m hoping in the next book, Chainbreaker, we get more of Cass and Daphne (especially Daphne – I have SO MANY QUESTIONS.) They are both intriguing and fiery and could probably beat Danny up really easily. I like that the more masculine/physically fierce characters in the story are the women. It was fun to see how Victorian London was bent to Sim’s vision, and how that opened up fun explorations of sexuality and gender roles.

I gave this book 4 stars because I think there’s more here, and I think I’ll get it in the next one. If you like alternative worlds, sad boys, angry boys, a LOT of justifiable drama, big scary moral dilemmas, and crazy tension leading to resolution – this is definitely the book for you.

Chainbreaker comes out January 2, 2018 – consider reading Timekeeper and picking it up!

Review – Every Heart a Doorway

What happens when children come back through the door from a magical world to this one? Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (5/5)

I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging and doing reviews because I was dreading doing them. It made the reading less fun, and that’s always going to be a priority.

That should also tell how much I loved this book that I am breaking my break to write about it. Be warned that this is going to be a semi-spoilery review so if you haven’t read this or have an interest in reading it, gimme a like and get outta here!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire was published in 2016 – I read it on the night of November 4, 2017 in about 2 hours. 1) I read very quickly, and 2) it is very compelling. It was the way I gave my brain a break after finishing Stephen King’s 11/22/63 both of which are sort of portal fantasies, ha! (I would argue that going down a staircase that leads to the past and the possibility of an alternate time stream is both portal and time travel)

A summary, from Amazon:
“Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.”


I’m just going to tell you that this book is a murder mystery. And it’s a good one. One of the biggest struggles I have with murder mysteries, especially the whole – it’s one of us in this isolated group murder mysteries – is that they take too damn long. It’s not that hard! There’s obvious things everywhere! This book is so small but you get so much out of it, and part of it is that once you are fully introduced to the existential horror of these young people’s lives, you are then smacked in the face with the fact that there are still real horrors on this side of the doorway, and that people are selfish dickwads and just because they are chosen does not mean they are good.

The book lays out the concepts of the worlds on the other sides of the door, and it leaves you with a lot of questions (is each world unique to each child? why do some children go to the same world and some never do?) but at the same time the labels for the worlds are so much more helpful than coming up with names – Nonsense v. Logic, Wicked v. Virtue, etc. I loved the idea of identifying the worlds by “directions” versus trying to figure out what they were like based on names, or having to hear too much description. It’s not really the worlds that matter in the story, it’s what the worlds did to the children.

Also, I am in love with Kade as a character that exists. If Seanan does not write his story at some point in the fullness that it deserves, we’re gonna have words. And she’s one of my favorite people this year because 1) this book is very good and 2) a post of hers that I saw got me to read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan which is the last book I broke hiatus for and one of my favorite reads of the year.

Back to the story.

Nancy is a good character because she’s different, and not easily labelled. Nancy likes people and she’s good and kind and wants to do the right things, she just needs stillness. Sometimes we all do. I also loved that in Nancy’s world, compared to some of the other kids especially, she’s not the savior or the princess or whatever. She’s working to earn her spot, and she has to make choices. There’s no Nancy the Chosen, there’s Nancy the person who belongs in the world that she found through the door. It was important to follow a character in that position rather than one of the “special” kids because her choices were what mattered – it wasn’t about understanding her position in the world, it was about understanding herself. Which is the coming of age aspect of the novel.

I cannot say enough about the efficiency of story in this novel. It’s short but it is PACKED, and I felt like I understood things quickly. Some books rely on the reader to take leaps of understanding, or rely on prior knowledge the reader may have, and I think EHaD does that in the best way. There is shorthand to understand the worlds that allows the reader to take the leap to understand why each character is the way they are and why they were meant for that world.

I did not know much about this book going in, and had vaguely heard that there were more books connected to this one. About halfway through I paused and looked that up. I am hoping to acquire the next book as soon as possible because I have so many questions, and I am excited that this time we are going to be on the other side of the door. The third book comes out in January 2018 and I am sure I’ll end up pre-ordering.

This was a five star read for me on both a plot and technical execution level. It’s not a happy book for the most part, and it’s hella violent and gory in some parts, as well as a reminder that people are shitty. Definitely read it.

 

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

Sarcastic Elliot crosses the wall to the Borderlands, but it’s not like the stories he’s heard before. IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan (5/5)

You don’t even need to read this review, you can stop right now and get your hands on IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan as soon as possible.

IN OTHER LANDS was published on August 15, 2017 and I read it August 23-24, 2017 after reading a Twitter thread posted by Seanan McGuire that fully convinced me I needed to read this book.

Tell me you wouldn’t be totally curious – and the rest of the thread further justifies my feelings. I bought the book based on the thread and tried to put off reading it until I was done with my library books, but I was too intrigued and I totally disappeared into the book. I stayed up until almost midnight on the 23rd to finish it, and actually got up when my alarm went off on the 24th so I could read for a bit before work. I would have picked reading this book over eating food. Luckily, I could do both at the same time.


From Amazon, another (modified) summary:

Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands. 
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world. 

Random things I liked:

-I laughed. A lot. Loudly, awkwardly. I disconcerted people. Elliot is so fantastically sarcastic and snarky, so you definitely laugh with him. However, being inside Elliot’s head you know what he’s not seeing or realizing as he goes through his life that sometimes, you are definitely laughing AT him. IOL also handles the way some portal fantasy ignores technology and the advancement beyond it’s borders to hilarity and explosiveness (literally) – but the native Borderlanders trying to understand Elliot is hilarious. When you get to the scene when Luke tries to describe what computers are, it’s somehow the most incorrect and most accurate description of the internet, possibly ever.

-I pretty much could not stop myself from reacting out loud in general. There was gasping and “oh no!” and some annoyed snorting because in both patriarchal and matriarchal societies, people can be extremely stupid. Xenophobia and cultural difference are the big, obvious themes of this novel right from the beginning. It provides a gentle reminder in the safer context of a fantasy world that it is okay to challenge norms and prejudices, and that it is easier than you think to stand up to them. The kids in this book aren’t just brave because they fight in battle. They are brave because they refuse to let prejudice define their relationships.

-But the relationships and interactions between the teenagers are the most real I’ve ever read, that were tense and emotional without being melodramatic. The tangled webs and impulsive decisions felt so true to high school. Sometimes you kiss someone because you like them. Sometimes you kiss someone because the person you want to kiss does not want to kiss you. Sometimes you kiss people because you know it will hurt someone else. I was simultaneously annoyed with Elliot and also completely sympathetic to some of the decisions he made.

-The world of the Borderlands is big enough to be dangerous, but not so big as to be confusing. And I like that there’s history to the creation of the Border Guard but not a million pages spent trying to explain the existence of the Borderlands. The point of this story is that there is not one Big Bad, one chosen kid who will fix the whole world to exist in peace forever; so ultimately, how the Borderlands were created is irrelevant. The story is about how then got them to NOW, and dealing with the bad things that are happening in the now. I also appreciate the message that peace is delicate, and it takes constant upkeep.

-I was genuinely surprised that someone as verbally brutal as Elliot was a pacifist, but I also think his reasons for being so are clear without him actually explaining how he came to that stance on things. We are given the pieces and can put them together.

-Nothing is perfect. This sometimes gritty world felt more real than some contemporaries I’ve read because even in the best circumstances there are failures, stupid things said, people who don’t care or don’t love, people who do worship violence and do not want peace. People lie and cheat and take things they have not earned. And it questions the most irritating of all occurrences in novels where kids are whisked away to magic school: WHY DOES NO ONE USE PENS?!!?!?! Because honestly, Harry Potter was too damn lazy to be that excited about quills, color-changing ink be damned, and Ron would have adopted that Muggle tool in a hot minute. I defy you that anyone as bookish as Hermione didn’t have a freaking pen and stationery collection. In this instance, Elliot is better than Hermione by a long shot. You heard me.

-This is definitely a book for the people who found themselves agreeing a little bit with Eustace Scrubb. Who found his “WTH?!” reaction perfectly rational. We want to believe we’d be a Lucy, but face it – more of us are Eustaces.

There are so many more things that I liked but I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll just say…Sisters, the first Break Up, Being that Person that Is Oblivious to Others Crushing on Them So Often Its Embarrassing.

Anyway, IN OTHER LANDS is absolutely a 5/5 read for me. Get this book, fall in love with it, buy it for everyone you know.

Back to back 5/5 reads for me recently, as I started reading it right after finishing The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. These were excellent books to read back to back as both deal extensively with cultural differences and basically not being a disrespectful boob.

 

Book Talk – the Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee

The Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee came out on April 1, 2016 and I read it August 15-16, 2017.

A synopsis, from Amazon:

In a house built on truth something lays hidden. Beth and Stu Davenport moved to the English hillside town of Meadowford Bridge to give their young son, Gabriel, an idyllic, rural childhood. But in a single evening, the Davenports’ dream is shattered by a hidden, ancient darkness– and their lives are forever changed. Years later, Gabriel Davenport, now a capable, curious young man, makes the ill-fated decision to go looking for answers about his mysterious past. As soon as he begins his quest, his life becomes a place of shadows. The people he loves and trusts are acting abnormally. The strange woman who lives upstairs is even more haunted than usual. Even his most trusted friend seems to be hiding something. As one fateful night deepens, and the line blurs between darkness and light, Gabriel must confront the terrible events that destroyed his family all those years ago. He is faced with a choice: continue living the life that was never his to begin with, or give himself over to a terrifying new reality more sinister than anything he’s ever known. The darkness is watching.


This book is part ghost/haunted house, part demonic threat, and part vampire stories. It makes for a satisfying read because if you like the horror genre, a lot of boxes are ticked by this novel. I have still been itching for a good haunted house story and the almost haunted houseness of this book made that itch even worse.

But it brings me to one of my favorite things about this book: the setting. Setting is one of my own biggest weaknesses, so I pay close attention to the people who do it well. Lee does it very well. It starts with the Davenport house, but it’s also capturing the spirit of the village, of the shape of the roads, and the distance between neighbors. The real success is the Manor though; the house is a character in itself as much as it is a setting – the house itself is almost as possessed, as manipulated, and as broken as any of the people who inhabit it during the course of the story. Houses, dwellings, are always safer than we think they are, and the Manor learns that it is not invulnerable, and that secrets rarely stay buried. The Manor is also part of the character of Edward Carver, and the secrets the house reveals are either Carver’s own, or hurt him the most. This is definitely a story about secrets – the real and the supernatural kind – and the consequences for thinking keeping them is the best course of action.

The other thing I loved about this book was the eponymous Gabriel Davenport. He is a perfect depiction of that liminal space between child and young adult – he believes that he is ready to know the truth about what happened when he was a baby and that he can handle it, while simultaneously being terrified that he cannot. He’s also young enough and has lived such a life that he is aware of his emotions, aware of his fear, and sometimes he even finds the strength to overcome it and do the right thing. I enjoyed the chapters that were in his perspective the most because he was the least damaged in traditional ways (the damage we acquire upon growing up, and the loss of innocence) – Gabriel is ultimately still innocent, but has also been carrying an enormous burden and sense of blame his entire life which is a unique kind of damage. It made him easy to care for, and easy to empathize with.

The only character that ultimately frustrated me was Noah Isaacs, but I wonder what will be resolved with him in the next book, A Shining in the Shadows. One of the subtle questions that Making asks is what power faith has – and not just the religious kind, but the faith we place in other people. Noah’s religious faith is tested, even fails, and that effects the faith the other characters have in him. It’s about the faith the Gabriel has in Carver and Noah to “solve the problem” and save him, and when he begins to doubt that they can, he trusts someone that maybe he shouldn’t.

It’s a book with a very unique family unit, and it is both their strength and their vulnerability. It’s hard to see anything coming in this story, and I liked that a lot. I am definitely curious about what happens next.

If you like moody, scary, semi-violent horror novels then the Making of Gabriel Davenport is definitely for you.

 

Review – Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. And that’s just the beginning. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (4/5)

I read Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson was released on January 24, 2017 and I read it on July 8, 2017 – in a single day. I stayed up late to finish it, and it’s taken me a week and a half to try and review/react.

The number one thing I need you to remember when reading this book is the evergreen wisdom of Dr. Gregory House:

EVERYBODY LIES.

Every person in this story is broken and/or jaded and/or unwell and no one is honest about anything, either with others or with themselves.

A synopsis from Amazon:

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

Part of what drives the tension of this novel is that you don’t know the truth, and you gradually become aware that Mary is not a reliable narrator; even less reliable than your average teenager due to both who she is as a person and the trauma that she has experienced. This book is full of awkward, painful encounters and conversations, and relationship dynamics that are more about the benefit to the parties rather than actual emotion or connection. It’s hard because you want Mary to connect or have the opportunity to connect so badly, but at the same time her walls are justifiable. Mary has lived a ridiculous life – and I don’t mean that in the pejorative, I mean absurd. Darkly, darkly absurd. Like a clown car of terrible things and sometimes you’re not sure which parts are true.

The thing I want you to believe is true: this is the worst case of how the system works, but it is in fact accurate to the system. Jackson mentions in her acknowledgments the young women that she interviewed – please remember that when you read this book. This is not an example of the extremes used for drama in a novel – it’s part and parcel normal. The craziness is the individual case, not that the system has so catastrophically failed the young men and women in this novel – it’s the most realistic piece. Also, next time there’s a wild story I want you to consider how media affects court cases and the opportunity to have a fair trial. None of Mary’s experience with the system surprised me, and almost further justified her behavior while I was reading.

I saw some of the twists coming, and I’m not sure how intentional that was for some of them. However, it didn’t effect my engagement with the story because it made me wonder more how the revelations or changes would change the course of events, or if Mary would get what she wanted. It also makes you question if you want Mary to get what she wants. I’d be curious to talk to people who have a positive impression of literally any character by the end of this book. You don’t hate all of the characters by any means, but if you finish the book and aren’t upset, uncomfortable, or full of pity or empathy for these characters you need to read it again.

There is a pretty big revelation in the last pages of the novel. This is not surprising. What was surprising is that the reader spends the entire novel inside Mary’s head – some of the things revealed feel totally out of nowhere, or not setup as much as I would like them to be earlier in the story. However, given that Mary is unreliable and we are simply another audience that Mary is performing to, maybe I am just struggling with being caught off guard so currently it’s not a negative comment so much as my brain is still going “WTF?!?!?!” It felt like there were two Mary’s at the end, and I am still sorting through the pieces of the story in my brain and resolving them into a coherent picture.

I had some really fun conversations with my mother-in-law when I finished as well – she’s a court reporter so she’s definitely seen some shit, and I work in Title IX so I’ve seen plenty myself.

In conclusion, this book will scare the shit out of you and I highly recommend it. I enjoyed Mary’s voice as well as the tension and frustration I felt while reading. It was a new emotional experience for me – I think a lot of books lean toward heartbreak and make me cry – and this was not that kind of emotional experience. I was definitely emotional, but I was almost…furious? exhausted? I’m not sure, but I wish more books would do this. 4/5 stars for me, and definitely adding Tiffany D. Jackson as someone to track their next release.

 

Review – The Archived/The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

A review of The Archived and the Unbound by Victoria Schwab (4/5)

So. I read the Archived on May 14, 2017, and the Unbound on May 14-15, 2017.

According to GoodReads there is a third book, the Returned, but I know that sometimes what’s planned doesn’t happen and Google hasn’t revealed to me the status of this third book (as in, going to happen, or been cancelled.)

Regardless, read these books. Particularly if you are already a fan of Victoria/V.E. Schwab because her imagination and ability to create internally consistent worlds is awesome, and just to see how her writing style and approach have changed and not that much time has passed.

From Amazon with some small edits from me:

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive. Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive.  Mackenzie and her family have just moved into the city into an old hotel-turned-apartments the Coronado to run away from their past and the death of Mackenzie’s younger brother. Mackenzie has a new territory to learn, and soon, a mystery to unravel that puts both the world of the Archive and the world of the Outer, our world, at risk.


I’ll admit that in the last year I’ve developed a tendency to be triggered by deaths or incidents that involve car accidents after my friend died in one. It took me a few deep breaths when I first encountered that detail, but I made it through. The loss of Ben, the youngest Bishop, is central to the plot of the Archived, and I appreciate so much the way Schwab writes about the different kinds of grief we experience, and the different ways they can affect us. By the start of the story Mackenzie’s grandfather (Da), who she inherited her Keeper duties from, is also gone. Both those losses were traumatic for Mackenzie and for her family, and watching her process those things and figure out when to let go and when to hold on was really cathartic. The way each member of the Bishop family grieves is also varied, and also, irritating. It’s not hard to side with Mackenzie against her mom, even when you don’t like what Mackenzie is doing either.

The aura of spookiness in both books was a definite favorite feature. Between our world, the Outer, and the Archive, is a realm called the Narrows. Remember that creepy hallway in Beetlejuice with all the doors to the different places and houses? I imagine that it’s kind of like that only maybe less weird shapes to things and less weird glowing green light. Just a dark, dusty hallway full of doors. Where small, violent, reawakened dead children are slowly losing their minds and you have to find them before they do. If that doesn’t give you the creeps, I don’t know what will.

If Schwab needs to brainstorm an idea for another project, I would love for her to write a straight up horror novel. She throws in bits of horror/thriller/morbid/macabre in everything I’ve read by her so far, but I would read the fuck out of a haunted house story written by her. My struggle with a lot of contemporary horror is that it’s gotten gory, and plays a lot more on violence. I want a psychological thriller that’s also firmly a horror story…that’s a lot to ask, but I also think Schwab would totally blow my mind.

I have a weakness for characters named Owen. Ever since Maureen Johnson’s Devilish. It can’t be helped. This Owen is…delicious, on many levels. I can say without spoilers that he is very dynamic, and that dreams are very, very different from reality.

The jury is out on my feelings about Wesley, and will likely stay that way unless there’s a third book. I will say though that summer Wesley, of the spikes, guyliner, and black nails, sounds like my cup of tea. Actually because two things meshed in my brain at once he kind of looks like Dan Howell in my head (danisnotonfire on YouTube. My new crush.) Also soccer player. I mean, Wesley ticks a lot of boxes for me, but I don’t like how secretive he is while also being mad at Mackenzie for being secretive. Like, bro, that’s hella controlling. But given everything Mackenzie has been through, he’s also awesome for her healing process and I know what that’s like. Some people fix what’s broken, even if it’s not forever. Their effect is.

Another recurring Schwab theme that is also present here is younger people “sticking it to the Man” so to speak. There’s a rebellion. A revolution, maybe? And that’s something that comes up in all of her novels – the way things are isn’t good enough, and the individual character is always asking what they can do to change it. Sometimes for selfish reasons, sometimes for altruistic ones, and sometimes killing two birds with one stone. All I will say to that plot in these books is GIVE ‘EM HELL KENZIE.

I rated both of these books a 4/5 on GoodReads – I was totally hooked, loved the main character, loved the concept and the specificity of the rules, and um, good kissing scenes? Haha. Even the most awkward kiss I’ve ever read in a book but also the most realistic to actual teenagers ever.