Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

When you can’t trust your head, you fight from your heart. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke.

On 10/16/16 I read a A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, but I don’t think there’s anything I can add to the obsession that already exists around that series. Except to firmly say I am Team Tamlin, even though I have not yet read A Court of Mist and Fury. I doubt I will change my mind.

On 10/17/16 I was trapped at home after a visit with my dentist that left me with a severely aching jaw and totally unable to sleep it off. So with the beginning of Spookathon I destroyed my first book. It meets the creepy word and red cover criteria. I read Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke – it was published in July 2013.

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And I am so fictionally in love with River West. I have not been this twitterpated over a book character since Mr. Darcy in 9th grade. In my head he looks like Matt Shively.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is about Violet White and her twin brother Luke, living in their Grey Gardens-esque mansion on the coast, semi-abandoned by their artist parents. Violet puts up a post to rent out the guesthouse to make money and one day River West shows up to do so. There’s something immediate between Violet and River, and Violet also knows that River is a liar. River fits into Violet’s world faster than he should, but dark and violent things start happening. River isn’t like other people. River opens a door into another world for Violet, and it isn’t a good one.

As much as I love River, the end of this book frustrated me so much as a reader. It felt incredibly rushed and unexplained – and even though there were these small moments that were supposed to be hints at how insidious the villain is they all just felt like incomplete sentences. I had no idea how this book was going to end because things kept getting more intertwined and complicated (in the awesome way) and then the ending just kind of splat out like a drop of blood.

This book is really layered – nothing is random. Everyone is connected, everyone has a history, and the children must pay for the sins of their forebears. I loved the mood of impending doom that creeps across the entirety of the novel – it makes the good moments feel so important and fleeting.

Freddie was a fantastic character – when you’re in Violet’s head you miss her too. For a character we never really see alive on the page she is so powerful and complete; I can imagine her so clearly. I love that Violet wears her clothes, and I love that Freddie was passionate and stormy, and probably way ahead of her time. I like that we see hints of the storm inside Violet, she just doesn’t know how to let it out.

Violet is also a great character to follow – she often ignores her own feelings and tries to deal with the situation at hand, and its so tender the way she falls for River. There’s something so nostalgic about remembering the first big crush when they crushed you back. It makes you as forgiving of River as Violet is, and not because of the glow.

All the teenagers in this book – Violet, Luke, Sunshine, River, Neely, and their child companion Jack – make up a kind of group of Lost Boys. They are basically children lacking in supervision just trying to survive and figure out their lives. It’s both amazing to realize that we don’t really need parents to survive, but also painful to read how hollow that can scrape you.

I am really pumped to get Between the Spark and the Burn (and oh how cool that title is once you’ve read the first book) on my next trip to the library. I want to see what becomes of them all.

I’m giving Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and 3.5/5 for a lackluster ending – however, depending on how the next book ends I might revisit that. They are likely two halves of a whole. River ❤

 

Anna Dressed in Blood

What happens when the one boy who can kill ghosts falls in love with one?

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is the kind of book that attaches to you. My blog name has never been more appropriate because this book, Cas and Anna, are taking up residence to haunt my bookish heart.

Shortly after finishing I went down a hashtag rabbit hole and learned they’re making a movie. For the first time in ages I was actually picturing a specific actor while reading.  Tanner Buchanan was the Cas in my head, which ended up being kind of hilarious because every time I would get really anxious I’d say “Charlie Gardner!” like Maya from Girl Meets World – which was often. I am actually really happy with the casting of Cameron Monaghan (I love a talented ginger) and Maddie Hasson (the Finder was so underrated). Either way, I hope the movie is scary as shit and that I cry a little because I’m scared. Is that too high of an expectation for the adaptation of the book that scared me so bad I screamed out loud? That I thought my growling stomach was my attic door opening and I was about to be killed by a ghost? Probably.

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Anna Dressed in Blood is about Cas Lowood, who has inherited a magically imbued athame and a talent for killing spirits. Cas goes after the dead who kill – he leaves benign spirits alone. The thing is, his dad was killed by a spirit, and so Cas picks up the legacy with the hope of one day avenging his father. Cas and his mom move around for his “work” and when they head to Thunder Bay, Ontario so Cas can take out Anna everything feels different. First, Cas makes friends. Second, Cas makes enemies. Third, Cas meets Anna and knows she is unlike any spirit he’s ever faced. Just when he thinks he can save the day…his past comes back to bite him.

It took a bit for Cas to grow on me, mostly because he appeared to be kind of a weenie to his mom. However, the more you learn about them both and understand their dynamic, the more obvious it becomes that they both do this to protect themselves. Cas has to do this, even when they’d rather he didn’t. Cas loves his mom, but it hurts him to show it because it might seem like he doesn’t love her enough to stop.

The tension-building in this book is fantastic. When the start of the third act comes, wooo. Things are happening really quickly and you only have enough information to have suspicions but not enough to understand what that suspicion means and then when the scary things comes you don’t even know what the scary thing IS you just know you’re really effing scared. Blake is masterful at only giving you as much information as you need to keep you reading, so you never have a moment of calm knowing. You are always facing the unknown.

I love that she doesn’t over-explain the mythology – I have a feeling that is one of her trademarks – she assumes her readers are smart enough to make the logical leaps about what things mean. I know enough to understand why the plot proceeds the way that it does and to know when things are not going the way they planned. Exposition is used sparingly – it’s all action.  She is also really talented at getting me to feel super righteous anger at jerkfaces. Take that, Will.

At this point, I have basically become smitten with Kendare Blake. I had checked Anna out of the library and less than 24 hours after reading it I had purchased a copy (hardcovers even!) of it and Girl of Nightmares, and put Antigoddess on hold at the library. I’m sunk, y’all.

Review – Hex

A review of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt – in which you will question, who should you really fear? (5/5)

Hex was first published in Dutch in 2013, and then re-worked and translated into English. It was released in the US in April 2016. Amazon kept recommending it to me and I kept not buying it. So what happened? The library. When I held the book in my hands and read the sleeve, I wanted it.

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For 350 years, the frightening and solid ghost of Katherine van Wyler has haunted the town of Black Spring, NY. Once you become a resident of Black Spring, you can’t leave. If you’re away too long you are overcome with the desire to kill yourself to be free. Parts of Katherine’s existence have a pattern, while in other parts she just appears in homes, in the woods, on the streets, in the stores, carrying the stench of death and the clinking of the chains that bind her body. See, Katherine was killed for being a witch, and somewhere along the way her eyes and mouth were sewn shut. And so she appears around Black Spring, a ghoulish but normalized specter, a sign of their coming doom.

Hex follows Steven Grant, father, doctor, resident of Black Spring – his sons Tyler and Matt, and his wife Jocelyn. Through Dr. Grant we see the town of Black Spring as a resident, and as someone who made the mistake of moving there. The novel also follows Robert Grim – born and raised in Black Spring, its protector, leader of HEX – the organization that keeps the secrets of Black Spring from getting out to the rest of the world. The sanest man in a town of people corrupted by darkness.

Things start changing – the teenagers of the town begin to rebel against the rules that keep them safe and Katherine from public knowledge. They begin a chain of a events that leads to destruction.

This is supposed to be a horror novel – and don’t get me wrong it is incredibly unsettling and has some very frightening moments – but what will haunt me about this novel is not the supernatural horror, but the human kind. The horror of humanity. At the end of this novel I didn’t shiver, I cried.

Because you start to guess the ending. You start to guess the truth. But it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t change the one-two punch to the face of the ending. Somehow, knowing what’s coming and why makes it worse. It is more frightening to see humanity stripped bare and find it wanting than it is to find a supernatural source of the horror. The very best horror novels are not about the supernatural itself, but what that supernatural entity either says about humanity, or become a mirror that we are afraid to look into for too long. Hex does that.

The entire premise of this novel is unique and high-concept. I have never read anything like this before, and I am going to read more work by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. He is a master storyteller, and his acknowledgements section was so enlightening to him as a person and an author. It might just be worth it to learn Dutch, or bribe a Dutch person, to read the original.

A lot of other reviews complain about some of the gendered issues in the novel – particularly regarding breasts and rape. As someone who works every day in the realm of gender-based violence, these moments felt earned and fitting given the concept of human depravity within the novel. It was not placed without genuine narrative purpose, and it wasn’t just a plot device. And except in one more metaphorical occasion, it wasn’t so overly described that it became the blending of violence and pornography either – it was not sexualized violence, just violence. Heuvelt wanted the reader to be appalled, not appealed, and did so successfully.

5/5 for a heart-rending, complex, and fantastically realized work of horror. Read this immediately.

 

Top Five – Horror Novels

A taste of my taste in horror – my top five as of today.

I have been reading horror for a long time, but have finally come to terms with the fact that it’s my favorite genre. Tell me your favorites! Tell me why I’m wrong or right! Or if you want a longer review of any of the books below. I’m happy to talk about any of them more.

5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
house-of-leavesDanielewski describes House of Leaves as a love story, but most who read it would agree there’s a significant horror element. This was the first time I screamed out loud while reading a book from fear – “Look behind you!” Luckily, I lived alone.

House of Leaves is not one story but three – a man named Johnny finds a manuscript written by the old tenant Zampano about a documentary called the Navidson Record. We read an explanation of the documentary and know the Navidson’s story, we read Zampano’s footnotes and his experiences, and the madness of Johnny reading both stories. I find the Navidson Record the most compelling, as that, to me, is where the love story is. It’s also the most fear.

The structure of House of Leaves adds to the overall disorientation, disconnection from reality, claustrophobia, and fear. There are pages with few words, pages where the words are going in a different direction, and it is WORK to read this book. It causes investment in the reader, which makes it so much scarier when the work pays off. While I ultimately think this book has a happy ending, it was a book I had to finish immediately because I could not be alone in my house comfortably without a resolution. I love this for the format, I love this for the work and time it makes you invest, and for the stories contained within it. I advise against the electronic version of the book because there’s something about having it in your hand and being able to move it around.

I will say that when this book is on my shelves I put it spine-in because just noticing it can give me the shivers.

4. Sign of Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts 
sign-of-sevenI know what you’re thinking – Nora Roberts? Horror? But yes, horror. This trilogy by the prolific romance novelist consists of Blood Brothers, the Hollow, and the Pagan Stone. And it is terrifying. I do have to give credence to the fact that I first read this series while delirious with the stomach flu, but I’ve read it again at least twice and every time there are jolts in my stomach at certain moments. The demon at the center of the story is a truly violent creature, and this series delves fully into the dark side of the supernatural. While yes, there is romance and sex scenes and some cheesiness, it’s also a trademark example of positive masculinity common in Roberts’s works. Roberts often covers the supernatural – many of her characters have been witches, gods, and ghosts – but a demon was something new, and she carves out her spot in horror lore with relish. If you like your violent horror with a side of love story, this is absolutely for you.

3. The Elementals by Michael McDowell
elementalsWe all owe a lot to Michael McDowell. McDowell wrote some great novels, but he is also the mind behind the screenplays for Beetlejuice and the Nightmare Before Christmas. I can also say he is so good and so underappreciated, and well-respected enough that his last novel was completed and published by Tabitha King after his death. This man is amazing.

The Elementals is a story that doesn’t give you answers. Most modern supernatural work likes to close the circle – all your questions are answered, the mythology makes sense. That sense of normal that allows us to return to our lives unafraid. Published in 1981, this book gives no such gratification. Set in a fictional trio of vacation houses called Beldame on the Alabama Gulf Coast, you will be there. The work McDowell does on setting and place is incredible. Just thinking about the book makes me feel the heat of peak summer sun that leads to lethargy and the feeling of sweat pooling in the small of my back. There are three houses, and two families (the Savages and the McCrays) and no one goes in the third house. There’s something in the third house, and as it unravels sanity and takes lives, you are terrified by the surreality and absurdism, and will question why you think something was scary but you know that it was. You will  not have answers to your questions, and you will be haunted, forever by the line “Savage mothers eat their children up!

I think about this book all the time.

2. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
I was so unsettled reading this book that I could only read it during daylight hours. There’s something especially scary about reading a horror story told through the point of view of a child who doesn’t understand what’s going on. As adults, there are things she notices that we have context or connection for that a child would not. It makes you see how much your children are exposed to, no matter what you do.

This is a story of possession. Or is it? ghosts

The story of a family in crisis, a beloved and admired older sister who waivers between violence and protectiveness, and the unchecked desire in our society to exploit the pain and tragedy of others.

The brilliance of this book is no matter how you read it – believing or doubting – it is no less terrifying. It has one of the most haunting resolutions I’ve ever read – it is the most disturbing ending that while definitive, leads to more questions that will never be answered. I may have had to strangle a scream. I may have had to eat some chocolate and watch a Disney movie. You might think differently about spaghetti, forever.

1.IT by Stephen King
itI had a hard time choosing which Stephen King book – but if I picked my other two favorites – Salem’s Lot or the Shining – they weren’t number one. The irony is that I don’t even consider IT a horror novel. It is so much more than Pennywise the clown and the monster under the bed, although that has become representative of the story. I’ve never seen a movie version of this book and I’m not sure I ever will.

IT strikes at our core – because what IT brings out of people is their worst fears and their worst behavior. IT lays the world bare in front of IT’s victims and tells them how bad it can be, bad enough that it kills them. Truly, only children could ever face IT. No adult has that kind of hope. In the second part of the story, the main characters must find that child within themselves to once again face IT and save…everyone.

If you like Stranger Things, you will love IT. Don’t go in with pre-conceptions, because its nothing like you think it is. Forget the movie, forget the clown, just read. IT is a masterpiece of fiction, probably one of the best books ever written that has easily withstood the test of time. IT is probably in my top five favorite books ever, not just horror. The size of the book can also be intimidating, but it goes quickly and is worth the read.

Review – How to Hang a Witch

A haunting book about…ghosts! and witches. (rated 4/5)

This is a review of How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather – yes, one of those Mathers. It was released July 26, 2016 by Knopf. I read the whole thing in one night in about 5 hours, which is a kind of review in itself.

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How to Hang a Witch is the story of Samantha Mather, a descendant of Cotton Mather – the man considered to be one of the key instigators in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. By unfortunate circumstance, Samantha is forced to move to Salem with her stepmom – a town she’s never been to despite having an ancestral home and family history there. Samantha has also spent most of her life dogged by bad luck and existing in social isolation. Things don’t change much once she starts school in Salem and meets the Descendants – the children descended from the people hanged in the original trials; on top of that, she’s seeing a ghost and her bad luck is worse than ever. Digging through her family history, her grandmother’s journals, and even finding a way to reach out to the Descendants, Samantha realizes there is more than just a metaphorical curse on the town. The curse is real, and deadly. Samantha knows she needs to break the curse, she just needs to piece together her family’s history to save their future. With the help of actual ghost Elijah, living boy-next-door Jaxon, and Jaxon’s mother, she might just save Salem.

I came by this book in a rather interesting way. And it involves Harry Potter.

On July 31, 2016 I, like many of my fellow Potterheads, was at a store for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When you have an hour and a half to hang out in a bookstore, you have to be judicious in which books you choose to buy or you walk out broke. I actually did not buy HP and the CC in the store that night as I had already pre-ordered it, I was mostly there to hang out with my friend.

I saw How to Hang a Witch and was immediately intrigued, even more so when I saw that the author shared a last name with one of the more infamous people involved in the Salem Witch Trials. I went right to Mather’s bio on the back flap and when I learned she was an actual descendant of Cotton Mather, my interest was piqued before I’d even read the summary. A lot of people can sympathize with feeling like you have to live up to your last name or your family history, but being a Mather is quite a weight. I did not end up buying How to Hang a Witch that night, but the title and the concept followed me. I was haunted by the book before I even read it. I did buy other books that night, but I don’t regret not picking up this one.

Because of How to Hang a Witch and Adriana Mather, I joined the local library in my new town. My husband and I have only been living here a few months, and when I saw the library had this on its shelves, it was the sign I needed that it was time to hit the library. Libraries are amazing resources in our communities and supporting them is essential to increasing literacy, education, and community engagement. If you aren’t a member of your local library, I suggest joining ASAP. There are so many activities going on that allow you to meet new people and fellow book lovers.

So last night I went to the library, got the book, and started reading immediately. I started at about 7:00pm and finished just before midnight. It was worth being sleepy today to read this book in a giant gulp.

First and foremost, Samantha is likable and real. While she acknowledges she’s sarcastic, she’s also sympathetic. Few people in her life are nice to her, she’s been bullied by her peers and adults alike, and her parental support is nil or questionable; she’s hesitant to trust anyone and it’s clear with few flashbacks or much explanation that she has been deeply hurt by the people around her. And in spite of that, she’s hopeful and kind at her core. Samantha wants to do the right thing regardless of what that means for her. Unlike many of the other characters in the story, she’s deeply horrified by the Witch Trials, rather than fascinated or amused. The more she researches the persecution and falsity of the trials themselves, the more her true character is revealed. She sees that not much has changed from 1692 to today. I was a bit concerned when Mather wrote Samantha as klutzy, but was relieved when her lack of coordination did not render her incapable, or constantly in need of saving.

All of the characters are fairly well rounded and layered – except for a few very minor characters, I feel like I know more than just the surface level about the majority of them. I know what makes them tick, why they hurt, and what they are capable of for good or evil. At the start of the story, Samantha’s mother is dead and her father is absent (spoilers!) and yet I feel that I knew them.

The story itself has some genuinely, skin-creeping, spine-tingling scares and I knew it was one of those books I needed to finish in a sitting or I’d have scary dreams (that is definitely a compliment.) It’s not a happy story, and it explores some of the darkest parts of human nature. This is absolutely a story about humanity’s darkness, as well as a story about what it takes to overcome it.

The theme and the resolution gets a little jumbled toward the end – I won’t share any spoilers, but I will say that it got a bit messy when Samantha was trying to figure out messages from her ancestor and what it took to break the curse. I wasn’t sure where the story was going at that point, but I was satisfied in the end. While you see one of the bigger twists coming when you get close – a moment that kind of reminded me of the Beldam in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline – it did not go quite as I expected, and stayed very much true to the core messages of kindness and love in a way not many YA books with this much action would.

There’s a lot of complaining at the moment about the habit of YA love triangles, and I won’t deny How to Hang a Witch has the general shape of a triangle when it comes to romance. However, the love triangle is ultimately a subplot, and it’s not hard to figure out that one side of the triangle isn’t really a side. Samantha spends little page time thinking about her relationships or romantic feelings –  like a true, well-rounded human, she has bigger fish to fry  (or should I say, witches to hang?) than her relationship status.

Ultimately, I give How to Hang a Witch 4/5 for the excellent characters, atmospheric and relevant story, but one star off for the slightly jumbled ending. It’s a scary, emotional ride and would be a PERFECT book for the month of October. This is definitely a new ghost in my mental bookshelf, and I will be recommending it to others.