Review – Ink and Bone

A haunting is a two way street. A review of Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger. (3/5)

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger was released June 7, 2016 – I finished it October 12, 2016.

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Ink and Bone is part detective story, part supernatural thriller, all heartbreak.

Finley Montgomery is some kind of psychic, a Dreamer or Listener depending on who you ask, and she’s come back to the Hollows, NY to learn from her grandmother. Finley was born with her gifts, Eloise got them after a car accident that killed one of her children and her husband. Eloise collaborates with a private detective, Cooper Jones, to solve cases as well as comfort the living left behind. But the Hollows gets what it wants, and it’s reaching out for Finley. Cooper Jones gets a case where all psychic roads point to Finley – and she begins to embrace and explore her gift in order to rescue a kidnapped child from a family of monsters.

As someone who is still moving through grief over the loss of a friend, I found this book oddly comforting. In the world of Ink and Bone, a haunting is a two way street – sometimes the spirit chooses, but sometimes the living haunt the dead and don’t let them go. The sense of peace and awareness of something beyond was also positive without being preachy, without ascribing to any religious belief, and managed to ring true. There are spirits who are recently lost, as well as ones who’ve been haunting Finley’s family for a long time. She can be led astray, or led to the truth. Finley needs a little leading in this book.

This is really a book about exploring the connections we have with one another, and that some of those connections can’t be rationally explained. A lot of Carl Jung is pulled in and the concept that psychic abilities are just a part of the human brain and psyche that we don’t yet understand. Finley and Eloise explain abilities like a spectrum – everyone has a little bit of something, all they have to do is explore it and honor it.

I liked the relationships between Finley and her family members – they were complicated, sometimes negative, but ultimately loving. People don’t always understand each other or get along, and that’s especially frustrating when they’re related. Some of the descriptions or attributes of characters start out very shallow or stereotypical, but Unger always goes deeper. Even the mistress is more than meets the eye, when so much of the initial description is meant to make her seem like nothing. What we learn about some of the side characters almost says more about the narrating character than it does about the people they’re describing. Everyone has something you should recoil from, but they all have something redemptive – hope is a thread that pulls this novel together.

It was a quick, emotional read that I enjoyed getting lost in. It was a good book to cozy up with on a really rainy fall day. It pulls you in to a very vivid world. I give Ink and Bone a 3/5 for giving me a sense of peace, and an intriguing mystery.

Review – Strange Times: The Ghost in the Girl

Get reading, pals. The Strange Times crew is battling ghosts. (4/5)

Strange Times: the Ghost in the Girl by Tom DeLonge and Geoff Herbach was released October 4, 2016 – it’s the prologue to the Strange Times graphic novel, also by DeLonge. I finished it on October 7, 2016 while eating nachos. This was inspired by the tacos in the book, but I didn’t have the stuff to make tacos.

Despite the swearing, this is definitely a mid-level reader book – middle school or early high school. As long as the parents of the reader are chill, and acknowledge that their kids totally talk like this when they aren’t around. If you weren’t swearing in secret in 8th grade you’re a liar.

I should say that I know Geoff personally – he was one of my professors in grad school. I have not been asked to and I am not receiving anything for reviewing this book. I probably would have read it without knowing Geoff because of the nostalgia of my middle school crush on Tom DeLonge, and that he creates some pretty cool stuff. Geoff is an awesome person and a great writer, and if you ever get the chance to hear him read I recommend it. It was hard not to hear some of the passages in his public reading voice.But I digress.

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The Strange Times crew are five teenage boys who get occasional help from an aging hippie named Cortez. Our narrator is Charlie Wilkins. He and the crew – smart guy Wiz, new kid Riley, and skaters Mouse and Mattheson, were thrown together for a science project, discovered the truth about ghosts, shreds, and shadows, and stuck together to take them down. The book follows their initial gathering in school – Charlie’s struggling because his Air Force father has disappeared and they can’t tell anyone, Wiz is being threatened with military school if he doesn’t get “normal friends,” Riley is the new kid in town living with grandparents who don’t love him, and Mouse and Mattheson have the first encounter with the Ghost Girl herself, Paula. It’s actually really hard to provide a summary of this book – but it’s the adventures of the Crew and their first battle with evil ghost Yankee Jim Robinson.

If you want to really enjoy this book, make sure you’re not too caught up in being an adult. Because if you aren’t in the state of mind to laugh at moose farts, purple flames coming out of buttholes, or pants being burned off by a Pinto, then this is the wrong book for you. I really love when there’s supernaturally-induced farting and indigestion because it adds hysteria to the scare – it reminded me of Dreamcatcher.

I already want more of the Strange Times crew – which is good because the graphic novel takes place after the book, but I want to know when I’ll get even more adventures. What happened to Charlie’s dad? What happened to Gramps in Vietnam? Do they use ghosts to punish Wiz’s dad for being a douche? Will they ever defeat Yankee Jim? I also love the supernatural mythology – how ghosts and souls work, what can happen, how they can manifest, was all fleshed out well but didn’t tell everything.

It’s no secret that keeping teenage boys engaged in literature and reading is an uphill battle – this is definitely a work that would keep a young male reader entertained and interested. He’d recognize these boys in himself, and that just doesn’t happen enough. I loved these characters because I knew them too – especially Mouse and Mattheson. Those were my friends, things we would have said, and probably the way we would have responded to ghosts being real and friends being in danger. My friends would have also absolutely tried to build a papier-mache asscano.

I also really loved the message of self-love that was sprinkled throughout. Charlie needed a dose of confidence and learning to love himself – and he learned it from Mouse and Mattheson and Wiz. While there’s too much fat-shaming in general in the book, when Riley has his revelation about himself and his body it was a pretty beautiful moment. We put a lot of pressure on boys and girls these days to look a certain way, and the recognition that your body is beautiful because it is capable and you are living is so needed.

Teenage me would’ve given this a 5/5 all the way – cute vulnerable boys, ghosts, adventures, so much swearing, hilarious fart scenes. Adult me is going with 4/5 – I wish it had been longer because some of it felt rushed or unexplained, and too!many!exclamation!points! Which feels kind of hypocritical because people really talk like that, but it kept snagging my eyes while reading.

I recommend this book for a quick, funny read, or for the young person in your life who needs an adventure.

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.

 

Top Five – Horror Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think about this book all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review – How to Hang a Witch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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