TBR – What I Plan to Read in October

The things I hope to read by the end of the month! Join in!

This is what I have planned to read in October – in no particular order. Although I will probably save the Joe Hill for the last, as I think it will take the longest.

Shadow of Night and the Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
I’m finishing up the All Soul’s Trilogy. Actually, I took the first nice, rainy weekend in October and finished both because I am always anxious to get to the end. My review of both will be posted soon!

Wink Poppy Midnight – April Genevieve Tucholke
I am very excited to read this book as a read-a-long with the Bookish Gals on Instagram. I have not read Tucholke’s other books (I just ordered Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and didn’t realize it was her.) This has not only an intriguing title, but the tagline has me hooked “A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?”

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Nerve – Jeanne Ryan
I’m not sure why I decided to get this novel. The movie looks intriguing and I think the premise speaks to our obsession with performing for the internet and for others. I’ll get around to seeing the movie, but I have a good feeling about the book.

Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake
I’ll be honest, I am rarely interested in stories about alternative royal realities. There are so many books and series out there about imaginary kingdoms, and if that’s your thing, awesome, but it’s not mine. However, the premise of this reminded me a little bit of Stardust, but most favorite Neil Gaiman book, and I had to give it a change for that alone. The only way to win is to be the last queen standing – that sounds like a battle I’d like to follow.

The Graces – Laura Eve
A family of mysterious and beautiful witches, black magic, and a plot that will inevitably break my heart. This sounds like the Halloween read of my dreams!

The Fireman – Joe Hill
I’ve never actually read Joe Hill, I listened to the audiobook of Heart-Shaped Box over the month of July. I stole this ARC from my friend Ben’s collection and want to read it. I think a disease that causes you to start on fire is a unique take on the inevitable epidemic that will destroy us all.

Strange Times: the Ghost in the Girl – Tom Delonge and Geoff Herbach
It’s got struggling teenagers who try and band together to help a ghost, and most likely each other. I mean, it’s asking me to read it. It does help that I am a Blink 182 and Angels and Airwaves fan and Tom has always been my favorite – his projects always have a whiff of the ethereal that draws me in. Oh, I also know Geoff.

 

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.

 

Review – Fates and Furies

A love/hate review of a novel about the blur between love and hate…Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (3.5/5)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff was published on September 15, 2016 and released in paperback on September 16, 2016.

I loved Groff’s the Monsters of  Templeton. When I finished, I looked into Fates and Furies but wasn’t really interested. As before, I saw it in the library and thought, why not?

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In order to truly review this book I have to treat it as two distinct entities. One is the story within the novel, and the other is the way in which the novel is written.

Because I love one. The other, not so much.

Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage told in two parts: Fates – mostly from Lotto’s perspective, and Furies – from Mathilde’s. It’s how they met, married, their lives, careers, choices, understandings, fights, failures, intrigues, friends, and family. They live in New York – Lotto is a failed actor turned successful playwright, Mathilde is a saintly supportive wife turned business manager. Things are exactly what they seem; things aren’t what they seem.

If you like tense interpersonal drama, a wide-ranging cast, characters you hate to love and love to hate, this is absolutely the novel for you.

Structurally, this book deserves all the praise it’s gotten because it’s dynamic and unique. The writing style, the craftsmanship, the movement of time and place, the lyricism in the language and the asides like a Greek chorus are brilliant. The structure itself is compelling regardless of the story the words are shaping – run on sentences, use of semi-colons, parentheticals. It’s not just the characters’ thoughts, it’s these droplets of an omniscient narrator that provide insight into life in general. If I was going to review just this, 5/5 – one of the most uniquely designed and planned novels I’ve ever read. Groff is a genius.

My struggle to praise to this book to the heavens is the story. I like Mathilde more than Lotto, but I like Mathilde the way I like Claire in House of Cards. She’s a cornered woman who has had to live her life as an incomplete person due to a sense of self-protection; she is ice and fire and secrets. Lotto is the golden child, the one ignorant of the feelings of others but manages to get away with it. Often. There is a goodness in Lotto that means his ignorance is often in line with the needs of others, but he is written to be the worst kind of representation of the benevolent patriarchy. I know that Groff wrote Lotto very intentionally – I know she wrote him to be the person you hate to love, but you also know he’s a deeply problematic person. His arrogant beliefs regarding his wife’s needs and wants, his sense of ownership of her, his belief that love is more important than respect just drove me crazy. When I got to Furies and I was reading Mathilde’s experiences my disgust with Lotto went straight to repulsion. I could not understand why Mathilde wanted to be with him – even if she’d been a whole person she could have been with better than Lotto. And it’s frustrating, because even self-aware Mathilde thinks Lotto is special or deserving and I just don’t see it. I was disgusted with everyone because there are powerful and intelligent women in this novel and they seemed to be reduced to idiocy by Lotto. And there are no good men.

I also believe it’s pretty popular in adult fiction, film, and television right now to have characters who are mostly bad people – we don’t like competent, good people dealing with ordinary struggles. We like knowing about horrible, selfish people dealing with extraordinary struggles. Yes, both characters have redeeming qualities but it’s a very small percentage of who they are on the page. It allows us to live out the worst parts of ourselves. It’s just not my taste. Maybe it’s because most people believe they don’t know a benevolent misogynist like Lotto, or a damaged feral calculator like Mathilde. I see them every day in my work, so it’s hard to be pushed through that experience in my free time. So…3/5.

Anyone would be impressed and compelled reading this book – whether or not you come out of it feeling amazing or depressed is a matter of taste. I can’t say I recommend Fates and Furies, but I am in awe of it. I’ll compromise with 3.5/5.

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 – A Discovery of Witches

Witches, vampires, love, alchemy…it’s got everything. Review of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (4.5/5)

A Discovery of Witches was published February 8, 2011 by Penguin Books. I am upset that I went through 5 years of this book being out in the world and did not read it until now. I’d never even heard of it until this year! If you already read this and enjoyed it, I recommend the River of No Return by Bee Ridgway – there’s a similarity of tone.

I spent an entire Sunday reading this and finished it on Monday, September 19, 2016.

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The blurb does not do this book justice. I immediately loved the cover, but was turned off by the summary. I didn’t buy it when I saw it in the store, but decided to check it out of the library.

Oh my, was I in for a treat.

A Discovery of Witches is the blend of so much of the best stuff in modern fantasy; bear with me because every time I tried to figure out how to summarize this excellent novel it came out sounding like Twilight. Only its a vampire/witch love story. With adults. And depth of emotion. And historical context and obscure references. It’s a novel that takes the cliche of being the Chosen One and makes it interesting again.

Our heroine is Dr. Diana Bishop – the last of the Bishop witches – who spent her life denying and strangling her own magic after the death of her parents as a child. Diana is a science historian with a focus on alchemy; the medieval blend of science and magic that experimented on the transformation of matter. While researching in Oxford’s Bodleian Library she calls up a manuscript for her research: the mysterious Ashmole 782. With her first view of the manuscript she knows its bewitched, and after a brief encounter with the book, sends it back into the bowels of the library in order to keep her life divided from magic. With the finding and returning of Ashmole 782, Diana sends a ripple through the supernatural world: every witch, vampire, and daemon wants Diana and the manuscript. One vampire in particular, Dr. Matthew Clairmont, enters Diana’s world and changes it forever. Diana and Matthew begin fighting a world of magic, segregation, science, and thousands of years of history in order to not only be together, but figure out the blended future of for all the creatures.

Speaking of creatures, there are four types of creatures in this world: humans, witches, vampires, and daemons. I like that witches are distinct creatures, not just humans with magical powers. The vampires are a blend of the traditional myth with Harkness’s own twist, and daemons are manic, creative geniuses – similar to demigods but they are the creature with the most questions in regard to their creation and origin.

This book covers history, literature, philosophy, and science and the way it has shaped the world we live in. There’s so much more to this story than I can possibly summarize – Matthew’s personal history and his family, Diana’s history, her family, and her burgeoning magical powers, not to mention the ramifications of Ashmole 782 on the entire supernatural world. The world is so complete without being over-explained. I know the political landscape of the witches, vampires, daemons, and their fear of being discovered by humans while also adhering to their own strict rules against co-mingling. PLUS, Matthew is a scientist exploring the genetics of the creatures – how they differ and overlap with each other and with humans. If you know nothing about genetics, evolution, and DNA now, you’ll know more afterward. I already put myself on the waiting list for the Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes at the university library.

I could spend an entire post just summarizing all the details of this novel. It is so fantastically fleshed out – the world is dynamic, the threat real, and I am ready for the next book to find out what happens next. I honestly considered not reviewing A Discovery of Witches and instead reviewing the entire trilogy. I feel like I read at least three different books in the span of one anyway.

Most of the novel is spent with Diana coming to terms with the fact the she herself is dangerous – she’s spent most of her life forcing herself to be a human instead of a witch. Diana must embrace her true nature as a creature and all that means – the danger, the violence, and the wonder. Her power is huge, uncontrolled, and unacknowledged and it’s led her to find herself both a risk to those around her and sometimes utterly defenseless. Diana is marvelous – she’s intelligent and decisive, a little stubborn but attempts to be logical when she realizes it, and is aware that she guards her emotions. Diana is fun to read. She was a character I liked following around. Her desire to be her own woman and to make her own way on her merits is admirable and relatable – she demonstrates how easy it would be to get all she wanted with magic, but she’d rather have done the work.

Matthew is a little…predictable. At first. He’s the super-hot vampire who’s lived for a long time and he’s seen everything and knows everyone and is experiencing a new kind of love for the first time, a love which he resisted and brooded about. You see his protectiveness coming from a mile away and the explanation of his predatory instincts is unsurprising if well thought out. What makes Matthew different is that there’s a certain level of self-awareness that his protectiveness is not always welcome or necessary, and that Diana is capable of taking care of herself. Matthew’s violence is also real, not just a threat made or an inference that he can’t control himself around warmbloods. Matthew kills because it’s his nature – not just to feed, but to protect and avenge. Matthew is a real danger, which makes him a dynamic character to follow.

It helps that Deborah Harkness is actually a science historian so her grasp of the background material is deep, and something she’s used to translating and theorizing on. Her ability to simply explain who historical people are, why they matter, and what their work was is done in such a way that someone without any other context can grasp it. It’s interesting because the author is reflected in both Diana and Matthew – the science historian connection is obvious, but the span of knowledge and research needed to write a novel this complete is pure Matthew.

This book is dense – not that it’s difficult to understand – there’s just A LOT going on. It’s a world that is easy and fun to disappear into, and I highly recommend for someone looking for an immersive read that you are going to get excited about. And that you will want the next book, Shadow of Night, immediately.

I give A Discovery of Witches 4.5/5 for being a wild, detailed ride of a novel and for leaving me wanting more. Half-star off because some of it feels oddly placed and improbable; I have full faith however that Harkness will resolve much of my few issues by the end of the trilogy.

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.