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: the Women in the Walls

When I was reading this book I kept thinking, “I need an adult!”

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics was released September 27, 2016 and I read it December 5-7, 2016. Weirdly enough, I think I can consider this a holiday-appropriate reading choice as the conclusion of the story revolves around a Christmas party. Someone is even wearing a tinsel and ornament dress.


From Amazon:
Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

For those who might need it – trigger warnings for significant self-harm, suicide, mental illness, and general gore and violence.

Things that gave me feelings:

  • Lucy’s father is a bastard.
  • This is another one of those novels that affirms how much people suck, how self-centered we can be, and how we never really know anyone in our lives. There are just too many secrets, too many scattered and errant thoughts that start to change us or eat us alive to ever really say we know someone.
  • This book can get really scary because you doubt what you know, and everyone becomes suspect. It’s made clear very early that the Acosta family is exceptionally secretive and isolated, and that no one comes into their home or interacts with anyone else without motive.

While I agree with Lucy’s eventual realization that she gets caught up in herself and can be a little judgmental, I also think she might be too hard on herself. This poor girl is so clearly abused into submission, and it’s done in partnership by her two parental figures. No one really cares about her – she is just a tool. The interactions between Margaret and Lucy are especially heartbreaking because they are cousins, friends, but the thumb under which they function has twisted even that one good thing in their lives. Margaret is hella sassy though and I enjoyed her. I wish she had been used more to call out the bullshit – Margaret was the Id to Lucy’s Ego, and it would have been fun to see more of that go wild.

Justine Larbalestier recently posted a tweet:

“How to write a novel: create shitty situation for your protag. Make it worse. Worser. Now REALLY make it worse. Resolve that shit. #theEnd”

That is pretty much how things for for Lucy, except true to horror form the resolution may actually be worse than anything else that has happened to her. The end is a big, gaping tunnel of mouth screaming “No!” for eternity. There are so many layers to why the ending is so awful, in general and for Lucy in particular. It was just devastating. But it’s also the source of one of my dislikes with this novel – why? Why did Lucy give in to the ending? Why would she stay?

Everyone is the villain in this story. There’s this sense while reading that there is no safe place – no person, no room, not even in sleep. The tension just builds and builds until all the shit hits the fan and then it gets weirder and weirder. I was less scared of the Big Bad at the end than I expected, and part of it is because…well, some of the shit that happened was justified. The Big Bad might be the only one who was justified to do anything, which is interesting to consider – the primal, ancient dangers that still lurk around us and how their violence can be acceptable.

I still have a lot of questions about why things went the way they did, and I can’t quite say this was a five star read for me. Lucy was clearly intelligent and aware of how dire the situation was and yet…nothing. Maybe it’s commentary on the fact that humans often talk ourselves out of the facts that are smacking us in the face and it’s easy to play them down or talk ourselves out of it, or say if something else happens or waiting for arbitrary reasons, we are punished by life itself.

From a purely technical sense, I was confused by some of the structure and I don’t think it was intentional. Chapters would start with Lucy’s narration as if a lot of time had passed, or as if she’d been bothered by a certain event or feeling for a period of time, and then we would jump from narration to action and I would find zero time had passed between the end of one chapter and the start of the next, or only a handful of hours. The sense of time was not what it needed to be in some chapters, and it kind of broke the feeling of urgency that was built. Luckily, it was built up again in quick fashion, but it still jerked me out of the narrative because I was asking questions about structure rather than plot.

I definitely want to read Lukavics’s first novel, Daughters Unto Devils, and will absolutely pick up her work in the future. She is a fresh, frightening, wickedly macabre and morbid voice and it seems that the women she writes have something to say. Or something to destroy.  The Women in the Walls was 4/5.

Review – The Graces

Where the lies end and the truth begins is more complicated than any magic. The Graces by Laure Eve (4.5/5)

The Graces by Laure Eve was published in the US on September 6, 2016. I finished it October 9, 2016.

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Our narrator is a girl who eventually goes by the name River. After some struggles with her family, she and her mother move to a town on the coast and River meets the Graces – twins Fenrin and Thalia, and their younger sister Summer. The Graces are rumored to be witches, and they flit around the town with beauty, mystery, and the power that comes with both popularity and potentially magic. River is desperate to be in their circle, and to prove that her lifelong belief in magic hasn’t been in vain. And somehow, it happens. River and Summer become best friends, and when you love one Grace you love them all, and vice versa. And then something goes horribly wrong, and what River thought she knew about the Graces and the reality of her world all comes into question.

The book cover is gorgeous and I’ll admit I definitely bought this book for the cover. All the covers I’ve seen for this novel are breathtaking – but oh the tagline on mine is so woefully terrible and not in line with the story: “It takes more than black magic to become a Grace.” It really messed with my expectations and made it take way too long for me to realize what was really going on in this novel. This was a really strong book.

It is a slow burn of a story, and River can be quite irritating in the beginning. Her desperimg_2829ation to be accepted by the Graces and for them to see her as cool, the false front she puts on all the time, and the way she doesn’t see how they are reaching out for connection can be annoying. I almost didn’t want River to get what she wanted. But the more you get to know the Graces alongside River the more you love them too. And the more you begin to see the truth of them that River doesn’t – the more their secrets are revealed and you know she just doesn’t want to see them. It makes it all the more powerful when River’s own secrets are revealed.

The characters in this novel are so wonderfully human – odd, broken, afraid, loving, passionate, and impulsive. The scenes when the teenagers are just hanging out together, having those quiet and giddy moments that you don’t realize matter until they’re past, but River realizes it in the moment, are so beautifully written. It’s hard to capture just friendship – it’s much easier to write about romance – and Eve gives those relationships depth. It’s what makes the events of Part Two so brutal and wonderful and exhilarating.

The book itself is also gorgeous – my hardcover was red with a circle design on the cover, purple paper and drawings inside, as well as purple text on the pages and gorgeous designs on the chapter pages.

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Even if I hadn’t like this book I would have treasured it just for being a beautiful object. The Amulet Books imprint makes gorgeous covers from what I can see – if I’m going to buy a book based on its cover I’m surprised I haven’t purchased more of theirs. I’m definitely going to troll through that site for more to add to my reading list.

 

I’m giving The Graces 4.5/5 – half off for being too vague and flowery in the beginning. Honestly, I almost stopped reading. But it’s worth getting through the difficult beginning to the rich story within.

img_2831I found out recently that there’s going to be another book, and I am a teeny bit disappointed by that. I acknowledge that it’s the publishing landscape we live in, and that Laure Eve probably has lots more of River’s story to tell, but part of me wishes this was just a powerful stand alone novel. I mean, of course I’ll read the next one, but I do treasure this one.

Reviews – Shadow of Night and the Book of Life

A dual review of Shadow of Night (3/5) and the Book of Life (4/5) by Deborah Harkness.

After A Discovery of Witches I was really amped to read the rest of the All Soul’s Trilogy.

all-souls-trilogy

I finished both Shadow of Night (2013) and the Book of Life (2015) by Deborah Harkness this weekend, and as they are the completion of the trilogy I am going to review them together.

Because Shadow of Night drove me crazy (in the bad way,) and I am a little teeny bit disappointed with the ending of the Book of Life.

I should have loved Shadow of Night. Time travel! Elizabethan England! Ruffs!

We find our heroes in 1591, mostly in London, where blossoming witch Diana Bishop has traveled in both time and space to learn to use her unique magic. There is a Matthew in 1591, and we are constantly reminded that he is going to be a very different Matthew from the one we know in the present. This is Diana and Matthew as a couple without hesitation, building their lives in a different time. It’s complicated by the social politics and drama of the Elizabethan age, and the demands of present Matthew inhabiting past Matthew’s place in time. Diana learns more about her magic, embraces the power of the sisterhood/brotherhood of witches, meets famous historical people, changes history, loves her partner, makes her family, and comes back to the present to use her power for its intended purpose. There’s so much that happens in the past that shapes how Diana and Matthew relate to one another…but a lot of it also seems completely unnecessary to the story.

My favorite thing about Shadow of Night was meeting Philippe de Clermont. He wasn’t what I expected him to be, and it’s a killer plot of playing the long game. He came up and had influence on SoN and tBoL in ways I could not have foreseen. He’s just a master stroke of a character and a plot device, and when all the myriad ways he planned ahead are revealed layer by layer I continued to be delighted with him. He’s the only character whose story made me feel deep emotion, and not just the satisfaction of story resolution.

Here’s the thing I hated about Shadow of Night in particular – it was so much about Matthew that sometimes I forgot I  was reading first-person narrator Diana. We lost her. I lost the intellectual, independent woman that I loved in aDoW. Which is really disappointing because I think Harkness did a great job showing how involved and powerful women were back then, how much influence they had on their households and families. We often talk about liberation without understanding context, and what we were asking for liberation from.

Luckily, we get Diana back a bit in the Book of Life. She goes where Matthew cannot follow. With her faith in herself returned, she is once again dynamic and intelligent. She is once again a match for Matthew’s dangerous need to protect her. Her power allows him a certain amount of peace to control his disease. That is a beautiful and balanced partnership.

In the Book of Life the true villain is finally revealed – and he is the worst kind of creature, the worst things we imagine about a villain are in him. We spend the last book figuring him out and hunting him down. There is also a subtle jab I’d like any other readers to look out for regarding our villain and the familial origins of a witch named Janet.

*Highlight below here if you want to see the spoiler…*
the only time he successfully had a living child was during consensual sex, CONSENT BURN! Take that Benjamin!

The message of the Book of Life was a little on the nose for me – I wish there had been room for the reader to make the jump about the origins of creatures and why knowing and proving those origins was world-shattering. It’s an important message, but for something to be truly valued it has to be earned. We didn’t earn the message.

Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy and there are characters I won’t forget any time soon. I also do not recommend binge-reading the trilogy as I did. There’s SO MUCH that happens in each book that trying to remember what happened in which book is difficult. They are almost impossible to summarize because each novel is action-packed and a little insane. It feels like more than three books. But when you are telling an epic tell, there are going to be things that are brushed over or mentioned without delving into them. I didn’t need to see every scene and conversation. These are books that depend on the understanding of the relationships between characters. I would watch the heck out of a TV show based on this trilogy.

Shadow of Night – 3/5

the Book of Life – 4/5

The All Soul’s Trilogy – 3.8/5 (the average of the individual books’ ratings)

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.