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!

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 – 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.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

A review of Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay (5/5)

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay was released June 21, 2016. I read it November 20-21, 2016.

One night in the heat of August, Tommy Sanderson disappears. He was with his friends in the Borderlands State Park at a place they called Devil’s Rock when he ran into the woods and didn’t come back out.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that.

Tremblay books are really hard to summarize.


This is the story of his mother, Elizabeth, and his little sister, Kate, as they try and figure out why Tommy and his friends went into the woods in the first place, and why Tommy didn’t come out. It’s a story of growing up and growing away, and the moments that take away innocence and thrust children into adulthood. It’s the story of the particular kind of loneliness that comes from losing a parent, from death or from leaving, and the way you might choose to fill that space. The story of what can happen not when we dream too big, but when we think our dreams are too big for us. It’s a story that asks you to believe in the maybe – maybe there’s something more out there, maybe there is a darker shadow in the shadows, and maybe sometimes we can see what’s coming and we can’t stop it.

One of my favorite things about this novel was how much I loved Tommy. Maybe it’s because the story is mostly told from the perspective of people who loved him, but I finished the story with such a sense of attachment to him. It’s also good to see myself reflected in a character – I too spend a lot of time discussing zombie contingent plans when there is a lull in the conversation. I have made note of some of the thoughts shared in these pages to bring to my next discussion with my husband.

I cannot help but compare this to A Head Full of Ghosts. Tremblay’s voice in both works is so strong – his talent for tiny details that make the scene brutally clear, the code in which children speak to each other, and the constant existential crisis of the cusp of puberty and what it means to grow up. Those are all there in both. The difference I enjoyed is that while Merry as unreliable narrator makes Ghosts terrifying, Elizabeth is a very reliable narrator and that makes what happens, the supernatural and the natural, all the more devastating. Her certainty makes me believe. And that’s what makes it scary. That’s what made me get the chills in the end of the book, reading her understanding of events, when I both knew and had no explanation for what happened.

Some might feel that the pace of Disappearance is a bit slow, but I think this was done very intentionally. We experience the waiting and the discovery in almost real time with Elizabeth and Kate. We live through those excruciating days of invasion and the unknown right along with them. We do not get a montage of their pain. We do not get to skip to the revelations. We read their pain, and we earn the revelation. I felt like I was learning teeny bits of information at a time and then when I stopped to look I found myself halfway through the book.

Another excellent book from an excellent writer – 5/5 from me, easily. It is a tight, well-crafted, makes you doubt your own mind kind of story and I would definitely recommend it.

I also want to share a last, slightly controversial, thought. I love the way Tremblay writes women. The controversial part is not that Tremblay writes women well, it is the obvious opposite that some male-identifying authors do not. In both books I have read by him, the women feel very real, like myself or women I know, and a lot of the thoughts and actions that occur could just as easily be a male character too because what they are doing and reacting to is not inherently gendered (for the most part; Marjorie is a bit but it makes sense within the story.) Tremblay writes women as complete people and I think sometimes that doesn’t occur, and is the struggle some women feel in the world of adult fiction. Women are not plot devices, metaphors, or achievements. Tremblay’s work crafts complex and detailed people – his work excellently captures essential humanness, and I think there’s something to be said for that. Both novels easily pass the Bechdel test, and in fact both novels highlight the bonds between women in a way that shapes the narrative. I think that’s awesome.

Girl of Nightmares

What price would you pay to save the one you love? Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake.

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake was released in 2012 – I read it October 21-22, 2016.

My initial thoughts:

  • Anyone who thinks this should be more than a duology is crazy. The only justification I can see is that the third book’s cover would have Anna facing full forward. I have imagined the third image in my mind and it looks badass, but alas, this has ended exactly as it should.
  • If the first book made me scream, this one made me cry.
  • I’m kind of okay with this version of the afterlife.

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Girl of Nightmares picks up almost 6 months after Anna Dressed in Blood. Cas can’t let Anna go. He starts seeing her and the visions are awful and violent enough that he begins to believe she’s calling to him from the other side. Anna is not safe, and this time it’s Cas’s turn to do the rescuing. Girl of Nightmares takes the gang to London and then the Scottish Highlands where the true history of Cas, his powers, and the athame are revealed.

This book is a bit more gore over creep factor than Anna, but it was always justified and further created the power and the tension in the story. The tension creates intentional frustration – the reader feels what Cas is feeling about the lack of straight answers and information, or even truly understanding what the athame and the other side are. Cas is his usual reckless self, and everybody else seems a little bit more at peace with that, if a little less tolerant of it. I liked him even more in this book because I felt like his journey was more internal – there were things he had to figure out about himself, revisiting his knowledge of his identity and his place in the world, and I liked knowing that I could trust who he is at his core.

Like all good horror, we explore regular life via the supernatural – love, loss, and change. It had to end the way that it did – it was the realistic and the powerful way to end it. If it had ended differently, it would have really ruined both books for me and I would have felt that it was very unhealthy. The reality of life is that things don’t always work out and we lose people – sometimes to change and sometimes to death. The power is in letting go. There are so many specific tiny moments that would be total spoilers during the final battle that I find so powerful.

Most important line, from new and dynamic character Jestine:

“Your morality isn’t the only morality in the world. Just because it’s yours doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Also, I think Cas totally should have yelled at Carmel. And I was frustrated by that storyline in general – maybe because it was what an unsure teenage girl would do and I expected more of Carmel, or maybe because it felt pushed in to create extra conflict. However, I did enjoy that we see Cas-as-third-wheel to Thomas and Carmel. I don’t think we get the perspective of the third wheel who is also the narrator very often in a way that isn’t whining or pining after one half of the couple, and his frustration over Carmel but holding back is something I think everyone has experienced at some point. It points out in a subtle way why it’s hard when your friends date. When they hurt it hurts you too.

Blake is an excellent writer and a craftsman of story – there’s just no overloaded exposition – you discover things instead of being told them, you inhabit Cas very completely and feel what he feels, and she trusts her reader to take leaps. On that level alone Blake has earned a fan for life – a pre-order, book signing, tell-everyone-to-read-this fan.

On a personal level, this book spoke to me the way Blake’s other books have because of my own loss. One of my best friends died unexpectedly in February – it’s part of the reason I started this blog – and I have been using books (and Criminal Minds for some reason) to help me move forward. Anna and Girl did that because while I am a religious person, the view of the afterlife presented felt very grounded and unattached to any school of thought and that was comforting. Three Dark Crowns did that for me because I can just feel it would be a book that we would have obsessed over together (she would be Team Arsinoe, I have embraced being Team Katharine) and it makes me feel connected to her again.

Anyway, read. Go to your library, get tons of books, and read! But especially read Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares.

 

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.