The Year of the Witching by Alexis Hendersen

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her. (taken from Amazon)

This is going to be a very odd, convoluted review. I have very mixed thoughts on this one, so of course I’ll be unable to do much but blather. You have been warned.

The Year of the Witching felt like a mash-up of The Crucible and M. Night’s The Village, with some Anne Rice thrown in for good measure. It was haunting and I won’t forget it in a hurry.

The first thing I noticed was the author’s incredible ability to make a small, simple setting seem ominous and fraught with peril. The book takes place in a small, puritanical village. Women are seen as secondary to men and the Prophet controls everything. He uses fear and years of tradition to keep his cult in line. It was uncomfortable to read, but also fascinating. It got me mulling over the differences between obedience through faith and obedience through fear.

The book follows Immanuel, an illegitimate child of a woman who cheated on her betrothed with an Outskirter, a man of a different race and religion. That union does not end well, and Immanuel is raised by the family her mother was supposed to marry into. Immanuel tries to be subservient, the way women are supposed to be in this society, but instead is drawn in the Darkwood, a place of witches and curses. Something is started that only she can stop, if anyone can.

The characters themselves were interesting. The Prophet gave me major ick vibes (he’s supposed to), and at times it became too much. He legitimately scared me because he was utterly believable. In fact, the entire book got under my skin. It borrowed in deep and ended up really unsettling me.

I’m not sure entirely what was so disturbing about this book. I definitely think the overcontrolling patriarchy was part of it, as were the witches themselves. Nothing was overdone; Hendersen kept a balance between the “everyday life” of the book, and the creepiness that slowly bled into that. The curses themselves were set in motion in a way that just really bothered me.

That being said, the book is absolutely engrossing. The slower buildup complimented the claustrophobic feel of the town, and Immanuel’s discontent with the religion and fear of her disobedience being discovered just added to that. Despite being incredibly unsettled, I wanted to know how it ended. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book to every horror reader, but if you like subtle atmospheric horror, this will suit you.

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

Hallotober Book Tag

Image credit: unknown

Thank you to Leah at Leah’s Books for inviting me to do this fun tag! If you don’t follow her blog, you really should: it’s fantastic.

Hallotober Rules

  1. Thank the person who tagged you and link to their post 
  2. Put the rules at the beginning or after introduction
  3. Answer the 13 questions 
  4. Tag 13 people to do the tag 
  5. Delete Question 13, add a new number one question of your own
  6. You are free to use the tag image somewhere in the post

Questions:

1.What is your favorite horror novel or short story?

I am not sure if this even falls on the “horror” spectrum anymore, or if it’s just gothic fiction, but I love The Vampire Lestat. Interview With the Vampire, The Queen of the Damned, and The Vampire Lestat are all fabulous, actually, but Lestat is my favorite of the three books.

2.What was the last Halloween costume you wore?

I went as a rêveur from The Night Circus a few years back. It was a last-minute costume, but it worked out okay.

3. What is your favorite fall snack?

I don’t have a favorite snack (I do like candy corn, though). In fall, I like to drink chai with an espresso shot added. Yum!

Do you carve pumpkins?

Ohhh, no. I have a toddler tornado, and there is no way he should be allowed anywhere near any sharp object. Plus, my oldest would loathe the feel of pumpkin guts, so we choose to paint pumpkins instead. When my oldest was a little guy, he said he wanted to paint his orange.

Do you prefer horror movies or stories?

I don’t really have a preference. I like eerie over gory, so I tend to stick to the more gothic ghostly side of things. If it’s creepy, I don’t really care what the medium is.

What is your favorite Halloween memory?

I dressed up as my husband one year. It was really last minute. I actually drew a beard on with eyeliner in the car. People loved it. Huzzah for last minute costumes!

Do you prefer to give our candy or get candy?

Neither. I like taking my kids out to get the candy.

Do you decorate for Halloween or Fall?

I’ve been a homeschool mom for years, so there’s usually a kid-created seasonal decoration up somewhere. We’ve dropped the ball this year, but seriously: it’s 2020.

Do you have a favorite urban legend? If so, what is it?


I’m partial to the legend of the mombie. You know, the scary, sleep-deprived mother who stumbles around moaning, searching for coffee. You can find her hiding in any home with young children.

Would you rather spend a night in a grave yard or a haunted house?

Hmm…that depends. Is the grave yard haunted?

What is your favorite spooky movie?


This isn’t a horror, but I absolutely love Fallen, starring Denzel Washington. It definitely needs more appreciation. Give it a watch (rated R, so do your homework first).

What is your favorite character from a horror movie or book?


If Bunnicula doesn’t count (ha!), I’ll have to go with Lestat. I like how he’s a bundle of contradictions.

What kinds of books always put you in the Halloween/Fall mood?


Ghost stories or mysteries make me feel Halloweeny (is that a word?) and I reread Dragons of Autumn Twilight every Fall.

This was fun! Here are my questions:

1.What is your favorite horror novel or short story?

2.What was the last Halloween costume you wore?

3. What is your favorite fall snack?

4.Do you carve pumpkins?

5.Do you prefer horror movies or stories?

6.What is your favorite Halloween memory?

7.Do you prefer to give out candy or get candy?

8.Do you decorate for Halloween or fall?

9.Do you have a favorite urban legend? If so what is it?

10.Would you rather spend a night in a grave yard or a haunted house?

11.What is your favorite spooky movie?

12.Who is your favorite character from a horror movie or book?

13.Which is your favorite Universal Monster?


I’m not tagging anyone, but feel free to join the fun! Please link me, so I don’t miss your answers. Happy Halloween!

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

As soon as I started this book, I was presented with a problem: do I read it as quickly as possible to see what happens next? Or do I drag it out as long as I can, enjoying Stephen Chbosky’s fantastic writing? Ultimately, the choice was made for me; I couldn’t put it down.


I’ll start with the characters. They were wonderfully three-dimensional, every one of them. Christopher was such a sweet little boy and I absolutely loved his mom. She was a fighter in every sense of the world. With the many characters this book had, the fact that they were all well developed and had distinct personalities was impressive, to say the least.

In this book, Christopher goes missing for several days. He shows up again, thanks to the “nice man”, whom no-one else has seen. He’s not the same, though. He has a friend that no one else can see. Thanks to this friendship, Christopher learns that he has a very important job that only he can complete. It he doesn’t finish by Christmas, all hell will break loose.

Normally at this point in a horror review, an excellent writer will be called “the next Stephen King”, or some such thing. I can’t do that, though. Chbosky’s writing is so unique that there’s no comparing it to anyone else. His book was very cerebral. To be honest, it got under my skin. He has a knack for knowing exactly what wigs me out. There are layers upon layers in this book, and it kept me fascinated from start to finish.

I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say this: this is a horror book and some people do horrific things. There might be things that would trigger some, so be aware of that as you read. Normally, some of the things touched upon would really bother me, but it was written in a way that I was able to handle.

For those who haven’t recognized the name, Stephen Chbosky is the author of the absolutely incredible The Perks of Being a Wallflower (if you haven’t read it yet, you really need to rectify that problem. I’ll wait). The fact that he is able to write such disparate genres speaks highly of his ability to weave a tale. He also somehow managed to make me tear up at parts, then scare the living daylights out of me a chapter later. Chbosky is a master in his craft.

Read this book.








The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter

In Victorian England, a savvy spiritual medium must outsmart the most important client of her career: a scientist determined to expose frauds like her.

But their game of wits has fatal consequences when a vengeful spirit answers their summons. If they cannot put aside their prejudices—and growing passion—and find a way to banish the ghost together, one of them could be its next victim.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by bestselling authors Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene has many of the trappings of good horror: an old manor with a violent history, a medium (albeit a skeptical one), and plenty of things that go bump in the night. There were things that worked well, and things that didn’t.

This book followed Beatrix Greene, a spiritualist by profession, but not in actuality. She doesn’t believe in that stuff, thank you very much, but a job is a job. However, if she is exposed as a fraud, there goes her livelihood. So when she meets James Walker, a scientist who makes a habit of debunking fake mediums, Beatrix is justifiably nervous. Instead of trying to expose Beatrix, James hires her to spend a night in an old manor to decide if it is truly haunted. Joining them are: Harry, Beatrix’s friend and a rather lousy actor; Amanda, a hired photographer; and Stanhope, a friend of James. Hijinks ensue.

The bones of the story (pun intended) were interesting and it’s obvious that the authors have a love of the eerie. I loved the atmosphere of the book- at least, I loved the first bit. Later on, it went from creeptastic to gory, which kind of bummed me out. It was an abrupt shift that didn’t really work for me.

There were mysteries to solve, and spooks aplenty. My biggest issue with the book was that it felt rushed. The pacing was off. I felt that it could have benefitted from a few extra chapters and a slower buildup to give the creep factor time to set in. It was almost too quick to really appreciate, honestly. There was so much happening that deserved more attention than it was given.

If I look at this book as more of a campfire tale than a horror novel, I’d say it delivers some fun spook. I didn’t love it, but I certainly didn’t hate it. My final takeaway is that, while there were some thrills, there weren’t any chills.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic' Review: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Reinvigorates A ...

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.   
 
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
 
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. 
 
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t usually give trigger warnings in my posts. However, I’m going to give one here because I really wish I’d been given one. This book contains more than one instance of sexual assault. If I had been aware of that going in, I would not have read this book. So. There’s that.

In many aspects, this is a typical gothic novel. It contains many of the things often found in creeptastic books. Isolated rundown mansion? Check. Help staff that has been there forever and is eerily silent? Check. Possible mental illness? Check. Tragic, violent past? Check. Hallucinations-or are they hauntings? Check.

However, Noemi is a fresh take on the heroine. She’s a little spoiled and quite used to getting her way. Being thwarted at every turn only serves to increase her determination to figure out what’s going on. I liked that it explained why she wouldn’t cut and run when it became clear that something wasn’t right.

The other cast of characters were original spins on the usual tropes. There’s Virgil, who personifies the word “vile”; Florence, a strict woman who really dislikes Noemi; Howard, the old and wizened patriarch; Frances, the pale tortured young man; and Constance, the cousin who might be having a nervous breakdown.

In case you haven’t realized it by now, I didn’t care for this book. I was disgusted by the sexual aspects in this book, I was not surprised by any of the “twists,” and the final reveal bordered on the ridiculous. That being said, the descriptions were well done. The author made sure to use all the sense when describing the setting, which made it feel much more real.

If you can handle harsher content, you might enjoy this book. As for me, I was underwhelmed.

 

The Netflix Book Tag

I saw this great tag on Reader Gal’s blog. Her blog is awesome, so make sure to check it out. Original credit for this tag goes to A Book Lovers Playlist. Since we all sometimes put our books on hold to binge a show on Netflix, I think this makes for a fun tag. Here goes nothing:Recently Finished- the last book you finishedIt was either Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls or Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan (my review). I actually think I finished them both on the same day. I really need to make more of an effort to mark my books “read” on Goodreads the day I finish them.Top Picks- A book that was recommended to you based on books you have previously readDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style was suggested to me by Irresponsible Reader (follow his blog!) based on my review of A World Without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age (review here).Recently Added- the last book you boughtI grabbed The Library of the Unwritten, which I’m dying to read. Have I started it yet? Um…Popular on Netflix- Books that everyone knows about (2 you’ve read and 2 you have no interest in )I read and loved both The Ten Thousand Doors of January and Daisy Jones and the Six. I think both of those are ubiquitous at this point. I have absolutely no interest in The Gilded Wolves or Gideon the Ninth.Comedies- a funny bookFowl Language: Winging It had me in stitches. That little duck really understands parenting.Dramas- a character who is a drama king/queenCity of Bones. Both Clary and Jace rate pretty stinking high on the drama-o-meter.Animated- a book with cartoons on the coverI’m not sure if this counts, but I’m going with Thornhill (click on book name to get review).Watch It Again- a book/series you want to rereadI reread both The Night Circus and The Dragonlance Chronicles every year.Documentaries- a non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyoneI loved For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and More . Okay, the name is a bit much. Actually, it’s way too much. The book is excellent, though.Action and Adventure- and action-packed bookKings of the Wyld is chock-full of action. It also has amazing writing, and a sense of fun that it seems a lot of fantasy has been missing lately. I highly recommend it.Well, there it is. What do you think of my answers? I’m not going to tag anyone here, but I’ll probably bug a few people on Twitter. Ha ha! If you do participate, please tag me,so I can see your answers.

The Dark Stalkers by Henry Bassett

I: The Dark Stalkers (The Dead Chronicles of Martha Railer Book #1)In a town not too dissimilar to yours lived Martha Railer; a solitary individual who lived by herself, yet enjoyed the company of her close friends whom she spent time with on days out. In a realm outside of human perception, something sinister had been put into motion, and inhuman dark figures arrived in her town. They stalked Martha on her day to day activities, but was she chosen or was it chance or, perhaps, even fate? However, a simple choice of a short cut home would change everything for her…& them. (taken from Amazon)

                               Have you ever seen one of those artsy films? You know, the ones where the story-telling is so different, and the camera shots are so distinct, that you know there will never be another movie like that made, no matter how many other people try to mimic the style? This felt a bit like that.

The story itself is a simple one, but the execution is so unique that the story-line in and of itself really doesn’t matter. I’m used to books that attempt to make the reader a part of the world. This one deliberately keeps the reader at arms’ length, allowing a glimpse into what’s happening, but never opening the door all the way. It lent the book a sinister vibe, like there was a secret being held which added a sense of urgency.

The point of view switches back and forth from that of Martha and the stalkers. Martha never really reveals much personality at all. Because of that, certain things that happened in the book didn’t hit me the way I think they were supposed to. This is one of six novellas and I wonder if possibly combining them all into one full-length novel might help the characters come to life a bit more.

I can’t sum up my opinion of this book in a neat “I liked it” or “I didn’t”. I’ll settle for this: the book is intriguing and will stick with me for quite a while.

Blood of the Fae by Tom Mohan

Image result for blood of the fae by tom mohan                                Liza McCarthy has never known the love she so desperately craves. The illegitimate child of a broken marriage, the identity of her father and her heritage are a well-kept secret. When she receives a call from a mysterious woman claiming her life is in danger, she manages to flee just before two men break into her home.

She soon finds herself in the tiny midwestern town of Halden’s Mill. There she is taken in by the Finns, a mysterious family who claim to guard the entrance to the fabled land of the faerie.

Liza is slowly drawn into a world of monsters, dark magic and a host of peculiar townsfolk. Now she must rethink everything she’s ever known and seek her destiny before two worlds collide with a force that could mean the end of the human race. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

I’m rather apathetic about this book, to be honest. The description immediately interested me: weird doings in a weird town? Talk of the fae? I’m down. However, the book didn’t really go anywhere.

I spent this first third of the book really confused. Things seemed very choppy to me. I couldn’t connect with Liza at all. For example: at the beginning she gets a call to an unplugged landline phone where a stranger predicts a break-in and leads her out of the house safely. It’s all very Matrix. But Liza spends much less time being completely weirded out than I could believe. Another thing that felt odd, is that there didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency at all. I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters or what happened to them.

That’s not to say the book didn’t have its strengths. I liked the darker tones throughout the book, and it seemed that the storyline was always on the verge of going somewhere really cool. Unfortunately, it just didn’t seem to get there.

Ultimately, this book wasn’t for me.

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Image result for thornhill by pam smyParallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines—Mary’s through intimate diary entries and Ella’s in bold, striking art—Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, filled with suspense. (taken from Amazon)

I am so proud of myself! I struggle with reading anything that could be even remotely considered a graphic novel. I think it’s because of my epilepsy; my brain just doesn’t process that setup well. However, I was able to read this book no problem. Yay!

This book was interesting in that two stories were being melded into each other. One was told through a diary; the other, in pictures. The story told through diary entries is that of Mary, a lonely orphan who lives in Thornhill Institute in the early 80’s, right as it is closing its doors. She doesn’t speak, and has no friends, but she is extremely talented in making dolls and puppets. Because of her quirks, she’s horribly bullied by the other residents in the institute, and by one girl in particular.

As her story continues, we see illustrated pages scattered throughout. The illustrations tell the story of Ella, who has moved in next door. Ella’s story takes place in 2017, and seeing the two tales meet was pretty cool. They begin to merge slowly, as Ella finds some damaged dolls that belonged to Mary years ago. From there, a mystery unfolds: what happened to Mary? And how will it relate to Ella?

The prose was striking in its simplicity, and the illustrations were evocative of isolation and the need for human connection. While at its heart this short story is eerie, it’s also very sad.

This book is very short and I was able to read it in about an hour. That doesn’t lessen its effect though; this one will stay with me. It’s very thought-provoking (plus-those dolls are creepy!)

I recommend this book to those who like their (light) horror stories with a bit of mystery thrown in.