Commentary: IT by Stephen King

This is not a review because how do you review something so epic? This is an expanded version of my thoughts and comments on one of my all-time favorite novels. Beyond top 5, this is top 3.

I re-read IT for the second time during January 2019 as part of a readalong hosted on instagram by Luke (luke.at.what.im.reading) and I decided to annotate my copy. Currently, that consists of a few hundred tabs. Eventually, it will also be notes in the margins. I have my pristine hardback, and I’ll have my well-loved and destroyed paperback to remind myself what I loved.

The tabs: hot pink was general quotes I liked, usually those from the narrator not a specific character; orange was Bev moments/quotes (of course); yellow was Bill moments/quotes; green was Ben moments/quotes; blue was Mike moments/quotes; light purple was things about IT and the other entities as well as the plot moments that paid off later; and dark purple was anything the other characters did. Looking back if I had another color I probably would have done one for Richie too – I’ll explain why later.

The Losers…the first time you read this book I think it’s the love triangle of Bev, Bill, and Ben that stays in your mind. Bill is an overwhelming character and this is mostly his story so when you step away that’s what you remember. The second time around I assigned a specific color to Mike because of the role he played, not because I remembered the Interludes or how much of the voice of the story belongs to him. Mike gets so under-utilized in the adaptations and it made me feel brand new disappointment with the new one. They stole his story and I’m just going to say that I think there was a racial element to that decision, unconscious or otherwise. Why would they take this amazing representation of a young black male in the 60’s who had a strong, supportive nuclear family and make him an orphan being raised by a toxic family member? That just makes my skin crawl. Mike’s story deserved better, and I am hoping the second movie does better by him.

Richie is also so much more than I remembered. He was the funny guy, the mouth, but I forgot how much heart he has too. The adventures that are just Richie and Bill, and how much Richie loves him, are lovely. Richie also plays a lot bigger role in the defeat of IT than he gets credit for in the 60s, and he basically saves all their butts in the 80s. Of all the Losers, I think Richie is one of the most self-aware. He knows who he is and that he struggles to control parts of himself – but also knows those parts will develop into something more. And damn does he love his friends.

One of the things I was seeing during the readalong was people’s discomfort with the racism and violence toward gay men, specifically, and discussing whether or not those scenes and how they were written was necessary. Horror, and most especially Stephen King, hold up a mirror to the monsters we really are. The racial and homophobic violence are written to be taking place 60 and 30 years ago – but how familiar did those scenarios sound? The violence, vitriol, and hatred experienced by Mike and his family, experienced by Adrian, are things that still happen to this day. Are you uncomfortable with those scenes? GOOD. It means you are experiencing cognitive dissonance that the world is not different, and that we are uncomfortable because these things are still happening. This kind of violence is still in King’s recent books because we haven’t fixed anything. My discomfort with those scenes came from a place of fear and pain because it reminds me the world is not much better, and that there’s still work I can be doing to improve it.

It’s also why I love the tiny glimpses we get into Victor Criss. We want to believe we’d be Bill and stand up, but a lot of times – we’re Victor. Something feels wrong and we know things might have gone too far, but we don’t know how to break out of our pattern and confront the Henry Bowers that we meet in our lives. We don’t know how to confront, change, or break away from toxic people. If only he had, eh?

Since the first time I read this book, I have become a lot more informed, maybe even an expert, at issues related to socio-sexual power dynamics, abuse, trauma, and relationship violence. All of that information changed the way I saw Bev’s journey in IT and The Scene.

Listen, it is weird. I can also have the conversation about whether or not it was necessary as a way to reconnect the Losers. It definitely makes me uncomfortable and it’s not because of cognitive dissonance, it’s because we have to think about what sex means, and what sex means to an uninformed young person running on fear and instinct.

Bev’s journey is about the way we prematurely sexualize young girls – the second their body develops, even though their brain has not, they stop being a child and become an object. Bev is treated like a sexual being and doesn’t even realize that’s what’s happening – people make assumptions about her actions and emotions based on her body. Think about the way Bev loved Bill – it was innocent, it wasn’t physical – and the ability of the group to be friends with each other without complications. There was an awareness that Bev was a girl, and different, and a potential object for EMOTIONAL affection – but none of them thought about sex because that’s not where the brains of children go. They go to a totally different kind of love.

Controlling the sexuality of a young girl was also clearly there when it comes to the way Bev’s father treats her. He exerted fairly total control over his family, and there is always something about a maturing girl that is a little bit wild. I like to believe it’s because we are suddenly filled with the potential for creation (which is not necessarily sexual) and it scares people who are obsessed with power and control. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that he also exercised power and control over his wife – I think she could see what was coming for Bev and was going to try and do what she could to protect her, or stop it before too much happened. Bev is raw power and potential, growing into something beautiful. It’s so easy to knock that down, and when you look at the rest of her life’s journey – they succeeded. She dated and married men who only wanted to suffocate her because that was what she knew.

So when we go back to her childhood and her confusion over her father’s obsession with something that is not even on her mind, it makes Bev contemplate physical love and it’s ties to emotional love. When the Scene happens, it is Bev taking absolute control of her body and her power. In that moment, the only person influencing her decision was her. To her, the physical act was only an act of love and connection, not this dark, furtive thing it would become. The person with the power was Bev, and she made the choice to use it. It’s still extremely weird, but it’s ultimately empowering. It was an act of love.

Still unnecessary, but from a narrative standpoint it is in line with the rest of her journey.

This second time around also reminded me of one of the best quotes, and my friend Brad was nice enough to make an image of it for me.

Chances are that “people who build their houses in your heart” is going to end up tattooed on my body.

Anyway, IT is always a 5 star read for me, and this second time around it blew me away all over again how staggeringly good it is. I was an emotional wreck. I can barely even think of IT as a horror novel. People who are focused on Pennywise the Clown without understanding what the clown is, or that the story is SO MUCH BIGGER than that drive me crazy. It’s about love and friendship, and the things that make the world worth surviving in. I’ll probably wait a few years before I read it again, so I’ll have forgotten just enough for the journey to feel fresh again.

Review: The Curses by Laure Eve

Continuing the story of the intriguing, mysterious Grace family…4/5

I eagerly read the sequel to the Graces on January 25-31, 2019 and my waiting was rewarded. The Curses was released in the beginning of this year and I waited for it to be my last read of the month sort of to pleasurably torture myself. And because I know the clock resets to waiting for the next book.

From GoodReads:

Picking up the pieces after the chilling events of the previous year isn’t easy, but the Graces are determined to do it. Wolf is back after a mysterious disappearance, and everyone’s eager to return to normal. Except for Summer, the youngest Grace. Summer has a knack for discovering the truth—and something is troubling her. After a trail of clues leads her to what could be the key to both her family’s mysterious past and the secret of Wolf, she’s determined to vanquish yet another curse. But exposing secrets is a dangerous game, and it’s not one Summer can win alone.

At Summer’s behest, the coven comes back together, reluctantly drawing their erstwhile friend River back into the fold. But Wolf’s behavior becomes unpredictable even as Fenrin’s strength fades, and Summer must ask herself whether the friend she so loves is also planning her family’s ultimate, cursed demise.

This riveting sequel to The Graces is saturated with magic, the destructive cost of power, the complications of family, and the nature of forgiveness.

I loved being in Summer’s head. As much as I enjoyed River in the first book she was seeing everything from a place of disbelief and the unknown. Summer has just as much of the unknown to face, but the unknown isn’t magic – it’s herself and other people. In the first book I never entirely understood why the Graces were drawn to River, and it seemed that River needed them so much more than they needed her. It can feel like that when you’re in a friendship that is deep and powerful – that you’re the needy one. It was interesting to see the same friendship from Summer’s side and find that she felt the same about River. What you don’t see about Summer in the first book is that she is so damn lonely. Some of it is her age and position within her family, and some of it is the nature of her power isolating her from others. By the end of the book the relationship between Summer and River isn’t repaired, but it’s starting to be fixed.

The theme of this book is definitely desire, and the things desire can drive us to do both for good and for bad. I like that it doesn’t treat desire as a negative thing, because so much does. Desire is a motivation to focus intention, and tracing desire revealed how the magic within the Graces universe works. While some of the language on that gets a little gray and confusing, it’s in line with the fact that despite how confident they seem to outsiders, the Graces are still just barely getting a grip on magic themselves. This book was definitely a reminder that they are still kids – full of dreams, imagination, immaturity, and without restraint when it comes to some of their emotions. When you’re a frustrated, confused teenager and then you add powerful magic to the mix there’s no way things will always go right.

The ending of the book was tense, heartbreaking, and super dark. The first book was dark and broody but the Curses crossed even further into that territory. Magic has a dark side more than a light one in this universe, and it is so easy for that power to corrupt people. It’s also a sign that parents need to be open with their children because that definitely led to some of the drama in this book. There was one point during the height of the tension when I actually said, “noooo” out loud because part of me wanted the happy ending. You don’t really get a happy ending to the Curses, but you get a much less miserable one than the end of the Graces.

I’m left with a lot of questions and I’ll be interested to see how they evolve as more of the Graces story is told. Are the Graces actually cursed? Can people be cured from magic?  Are Thalia and Marcus going to be a thing again? What kinds of love trigger the curse? WHEN WILL I GET ANOTHER BOOK!?

This was 4/5 stars from me – I loved the continuation of these characters and I think it was even stronger than the first. The first was a mystery, the second was an emotional flaying that tested the bonds of these characters and gave them space to grow.

Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

Back in the Buffyverse – 4/5 stars!

I read Slayer by Kiersten White on January 20-24, 2019. The year is already turning into a KW heavy year and I am totally fine with that.

Slayer is complicated to talk about, considering it’s place in a much wider universe. While I’ve watched all of the series, I have not kept up with the expanded universe of graphic novels and comics. The good news is that you don’t have to – the question is if this satisfies your further Buffy needs.

From GoodReads:

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.” [emphasis mine]

This was a fun dip into the world of the Watchers. They are somehow stuffy, endearing, infuriating, and fascinating. Their numbers were destroyed, so a handful of people of a variety of ages are all that remains of a society that lasted millennia. They are keepers of knowledge and some of it’s totally useless now. Magic is gone, but the evil remains. They are a people without a purpose now that Slayers have rejected their oversight. The novel does a fascinating and thorough job of interrogating the power dynamic between Watchers and Slayers. Slayers are imbued with immense power, but they were also young women basically sacrificed to save the world in a decision made by a bunch of dudes. The idea that Slayers only get out of their job by dying is repeated. The Watchers’ power is knowledge and magic – but when those things are mostly irrelevant…who are they?

Oh Nina and Artemis. Ultimately, Artemis is the kind of character who drives me insane – she’s strong and powerful and dead effing silent. If you put the whole world on your shoulders, and refuse to give it up even though it hurts and others try and take on some of the burden but you won’t let them, well I don’t have a lot of sympathy for you. I am excited to see how she turns out for the rest of the series, because currently I want to grab her and shake her. She’s being bad to herself, and ultimately bad to everyone around her.

Nina. Athena. Precious little Watcher-Slayer. It was enjoyable to see her get more confident and powerful as the book went on. Being inside her head provided perspective to the reader – she was so much more than she could see. Nina was so negative about herself not just because that’s being a teenage girl, but because until shit started hitting the fan no one took a moment to tell her she had value just being herself. It’s the lesson she starts to learn in the events of the novel, and it was so poignant.

Now, one of the most important themes in the Buffyverse is friendship. Slayer definitely tackles the subject and honestly, there’s a moment between Cillian and Nina where he is just a great friend, and knows exactly what to say to Nina even though he has no idea that’s what he’s doing. I loved it so much. It was fun in those moments to see how themes and work I associate specifically with Kiersten also fit into a pre-existing universe. It was moments like that which showed me how well-chosen Kiersten was to write this series. A lot of the things that matter in Buffy are things I know already matter to her, and can be woven sincerely into the work. It’s not an effort, she’s not told to add those things, it’s things she would write about anyway.

There’s also some really interesting things going on about motherhood in Slayer as well. There’s a trinity of moms that on the surface appear very different from one another – Helen Jamison-Smythe (the girls’ mom), Wanda Wyndam-Price (Honora and Wesley’s mom), and Eve Silvera (Leo’s mom. We aren’t even going to talk about Leo.) Helen comes off as cold, Wanda comes off as a helicopter, and Eve comes off as the perfect parent. All of them are different than they appear on the surface, and all of them have different expectations for their kids. And frankly, different expectations of themselves as parents. Having just become a parent myself it was interesting to see how what they wanted for their kids overshadowed what the kids wanted for themselves, and the myriad ways in which that dynamic damaged all of them.

From reading other reviews I think this book is getting the short end, probably because there’s too much comparison. And a lot of people are forgetting that the characters are TEENAGERS. So let’s keep that in perspective.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. It was life or death for a teenage brain and literally life or death for the Watchers. I can’t want to see Nina continue to embrace her identities and become who she’s meant to be. With lots of chaos and heartbreak along the way. It was 4/5 stars for me!

Review: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

4 stars!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White was my first read of 2019! It was a birthday gift from BG friends and I dove in immediately.

From GoodReads:

“Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.”

To start, this book is fucked up.

The concept is what is the story of the sidekick – we know Victor and his story told different ways over and over – but what about the people who facilitated his madness? In that context, Elizabeth is insanely frustrating. You can nearly feel the constraints of society and her position holding back this brilliant, almost cruel, young woman. What she would be in that time if she were a man is heartbreaking. Still, you see her manipulate the expectations of her position to find her own kind of power. There are parts that are meant to make you feel an aversion to Elizabeth – the way she has of looking at and evaluating people for their usefulness to her – but that same trait makes it even more devastating when the things she does care about are hurt or damaged. Elizabeth is complicated – and she’s also very young. Some of the things she does betray a kind of naivete that makes her lovable, even at her most terrible.

Victor is a total dickwad. He is an amalgam of all the worst kinds of abusive men in this world and honestly, doesn’t get what he deserved in the end. That might be my own bloodthirst talking though. Actually most of the human men in this book are total dickwads, and some meet fairly grisly ends. It’s kind of satisfying even if that also makes me a monster. The women in the book are treated accurately for the time period – as objects and achievements. It’s fun to see the many different ways in which that expectation can be ignored from Elizabeth, Justine, and Mary. All three have been hurt by the world they were born into, and all three found ways to be happy even if the happiness was short-lived or intermittent.

This book is relatively short, which is, I think, one of it’s few frustrations. The ending felt a little rushed and I didn’t get time to settle with certain events or characters before it was quite suddenly over. Hints are dropped in the last few chapters that make the twist a little more obvious, but I wanted more time.

If you already like Kiersten White, you’re going to like this book. If you like books with complicated, dynamic women, you’re going to like this book. If you really deeply love the original Frankenstein, I don’t know if you’ll like this book. The book is well-written, sharp, cruel, and accusatory. It’s also a little bit gross so if you have issues with body horror or really accurately described gross smells, this maybe isn’t for you.

This was a 4 star read for me – something felt like it was missing even though I enjoyed myself. But honestly a 4 star read for White is basically a 5 star for any other author, so you know it’s a good book.

Review: Daughters of Eve

My favorite podcast is Teen Creeps – a podcast that reads classic YA pulp fiction like Christopher Pike, LJ Smith, and a host of other stories that we definitely found in our school libraries. The hosts, Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai, are hilarious and have definitely gotten me excited to go back and read some old favorites. They have covered multiple books by Lois Duncan, who I read a ton of back in the day, but they didn’t inspire me to pick LoDunc back up until they did Daughters of Eve.

I was OBSESSED with this book in 8th grade. I thought there was something supernatural about the bond between the girls in the club, and liked the idea of invoking powerful words to create an unbreakable circle of secrets. Like any teenager, of course.

From GoodReads:

The girls at Modesta High School feel like they’re stuck in some anti-feminist time warp-they’re faced with sexism at every turn, and they’ve had enough. Sponsored by their new art teacher, Ms. Stark, they band together to form the Daughters of Eve. It’s more than a school club-it’s a secret society, a sisterhood. At first, it seems like they are actually changing the way guys at school treat them. But Ms. Stark urges them to take more vindictive action, and it starts to feel more like revenge-brutal revenge. Blinded by their oath of loyalty, the Daughters of Eve become instruments of vengeance. Can one of them break the spell before real tragedy strikes?

Now, I had a copy with the original text but I have no idea what happened to it. My current copy that I read is updated to match the times and I can’t help but be disappointed by that. The context of the struggle between the sexes from the late 70s did not entirely ring true now. It made every male in the book infinitely worse if the entire town was still treating women the way they did. There was barely a redeeming male in the books purely because of the modern context. It makes the men evil and the women psychotic. No joke. In the original context, they are all much more sympathetic.

Part of what makes this story so good though is focusing on who the real enemy is – the system. The girls, led by a very fucked up teacher, begin to focus on individuals. That’s when things go off the rails and it becomes a thriller. How far will they go? Will they hurt someone else because they are also hurt? What is too far, and will they keep secrets?

This is a fantastically campy read and a classic LoDunc novel. I enjoyed it again as an adult, having experienced both the deep bonds of female friendship and desire to fight for one another, as well as the wonderful worlds of both casual and violent sexism. It’s both a critique of fake feminism as well as a fantasy of vengeance. I remember not liking Ms. Stark the first time around because I felt that I could not trust her – Tammy had been my favorite character and I trusted Tammy’s instincts. This time around, Ms. Stark made me actively angry. The kind of person that I would actively fight against in the real world for hurting progress, and would basically renounce as the worst kind of white feminism, especially when she talks about the school she worked at in Chicago (for all her updating, LoDunc is the WORST about race – it is a legitimate critique of her work.)

For me it’s 4 stars when viewed from it’s original publication time because it’s a time warp, and a lesson. It’s one of her best books though, and I recommend it to any YA pulp fan.

Also, please please please, listen to Teen Creeps. Or join their Patreon. They are the BEST.

Review: the Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

So, I took a break from reviews for all of 2018 – a lot was happening. I got pregnant, got a new job, moved to a new state, and then had a baby a whole month early. Everyone is happy and healthy, but it means some things take a pause. However, in 2019 I am back on the review train. I’ll be posting smaller version to GoodReads, and longer reviews here. Add me there if we aren’t friends!

First review of the year – the Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. I blasted through this December 1-3, 2018 as part of a @kingbuddyreads readalong. It is definitely in my top 10, maybe even my top 5, books by King.

From GoodReads:

Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland strays from the path while she and her recently divorced mother and brother take a hike along a branch of the Appalachian Trail. Lost for days, wandering farther and farther astray, Trisha has only her portable radio for comfort. A huge fan of Tom Gordon, a Boston Red Sox relief pitcher, she listens to baseball games and fantasizes that her hero will save her. Nature isn’t her only adversary, though – something dangerous may be tracking Trisha through the dark woods.

First, the language here is gorgeous. King dips more into the poetic than usual, which I think is easier to do when you’re talking about nature. There were so many vivid lines that made me feel like I was there which was thrilling, even if claustrophobic and terrifying at times.

Trisha is also well-rendered, and we don’t see King do vulnerable tween girls as often as we get younger boys. She’s so tough and doesn’t know it, which is probably why she survives the way that she does out in the woods. I also appreciated the moment when she was emotionally okay with being out and alone, and she was proud of herself for surviving at all. I think it’s good to see characters recognize that they are whole on their own, and Trisha has that moment in the woods.

Second, back to language – there is a rare efficiency of language in TGWLTG that we don’t get from our loquacious King very often. I think the book was almost geared toward a YA audience which might have led to the shorter novel, but there are times in other novels where you kind of wish King had a pickier editor because as much as I love his works they get a bit bloated. Probably because he is who he is and people will read it anyway, but the tightness of the writing and storytelling in fewer words in this book appealed to me. It was as if I got to see another side to this author who is so prolific you think you know what to expect. I was surprised here, and I loved that.

The enemy – and I say enemy, not necessarily villain – is also excellent. I understand enough at the end to get why things ended the way they did, but I am also left with questions that I can live with going unanswered. It’s a very primal story. Trisha’s fight to survive with no enemy would have been strong enough on it’s own, and I thought that’s where it was going for the first half of the story, but it was this extra piece that upped the tension. At the end, you’d understand if the enemy wins. Not because evil triumphs, but because it’s how nature works. The fight between Trisha and the thing that watches is ultimately fundamental. That was fun to read. I’m being vague on the enemy because spoilers would really spoil this book.

This was a 5 star read for me, obviously, and probably one of the more accessible books for non-King or vague-King fans. It was one I actually thought to myself – my father-in-law would like this. He’s generally not a horror person, there’s just something about it I think he’d appreciate. A definite recommended read.

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.