Not Just Books: October 2022

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

Hulu Movie: “Rosaline”

This is not a particularly vibrant period of time for the romantic comedy. Sure, there have been a few hits here and there, but I grew up in the 90s where you could count out at least 3-5 brand new, very fun romantic comedies every summer, many of which I still re-watch. So my expectations weren’t high when I clicked on this movie (particularly after watching that absolute atrocity that was Netflix’s “Persuasion”…) But I thought this movie worked, especially in ways that “Persuasion” didn’t. There was a really nice mixture of modern language and sensibilities with the classic lines and story of the “Romeo and Juliet.” Much of it probably comes down to the fact that Kaitlyn Dever’s “Rosaline” is incredibly funny and likable. The story was also told in what felt like a very fresh way, from the perspective of a character who doesn’t even appear on the page of the original story. It’s funny, the love story is sweet, and it’s a perfect example of the type of romantic comedy that you just don’t see much of anymore.

TV Show: “Hell’s Kitchen”

My boys are at a rough age (3 and 2) and I spend waaaay too much of my time corralling little crazy-pants tyrants and, more often than I would like, losing my patience with them. So, I find it strangely gratifying to watch a show largely centered around Gordon Ramsey losing his mind over raw chicken and yelling at a bunch of chefs. There’s really not much more to my enjoyment of this show, honestly. I do like reality cooking shows, but this one rates fairly low, it seems, on actual creativity and skills with cooking and focuses more on the dynamics of a restaurant kitchen. Yeaaaah, no, it’s all about the yelling.

Video Game: “The Quarry”

This could technically be a shared one for both Kate and myself since we’re playing it together, but it was my idea so I’ll take the claim! We both like video games (though we also both get to them less often than we used to cuz…you know…toddlers) so it was about time that we joined our powers together! Plus, this one looked like it could be creepy, and I needed external support from my horror-loving friend to get me through it. We may (may!) be on our second play through due to a VERY poorly timed glitch in my controller, but we still haven’t got to the end even once to see how (or if) these poor teens get out of this death camp.

Kate’s Picks

Film: “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”

I really liked the short story “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” in the Stephen King collection “If It Bleeds”, as I found it to be a story that felt like vintage King in its creepiness and its heart. And when I saw that there was a movie adaptation with Donald Sutherland as Mr. Harrigan, well, that was just fantastic news to me. I watched it during a virtual Terror Tuesday movie night with the usual suspects, and oh man. Was it an enjoyable viewing. Craig is a somewhat lonely teenage boy who is hired by local reclusive billionaire Mr. Harrigan to act as a reader to the elderly man during the afternoons after school. They strike up a friendship, which leads to Craig showing Mr. Harrigan how to use a smartphone. After Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig is devastated, and when he has a run in with a bully, he calls Mr. Harrigan’s phone to vent on his voicemail, missing his friend and his advice. When the bully ends up dead, Craig starts to wonder if maybe Mr. Harrigan isn’t really gone. True, it has its scary moments, but it’s really the emotional performances by Sutherland and Jaeden Martell that drive this movie. All of us Terror Tuesday people were crying by the end.

Film: “Halloween Ends”

Back in 2018 I saw the reboot/requel movie “Halloween”, where they erased basically all other “Halloween” canon after the first Carpenter film and started a new trilogy with Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role of Laurie Strode. I really liked “Halloween 2018”. I didn’t really like “Halloween Kills”, the sequel. I was on the fence about “Halloween Ends”, but when I saw people talking about how polarizing it was, I knew that I should give it a go. And I ended up really enjoying it. Laurie is trying to move on from Michael Myers. After he rampaged through Haddonfield and murdered her daughter Karen, his disappeared. Now Laurie and grand daughter Ally are trying to keep moving forward. But when Ally starts to get close to a local misfit named Corey, and Corey starts acting strange, Laurie thinks something is up. And someone is waiting in the sewers of Haddonfield, biding his time… This movie takes a huge shift that is, admittedly, jarring, so I can see why some people are frustrated. But I thought that it was a bold choice, and that it looks more about the traumas of not only one person, but that of a community, and how that trauma can cause a rot. I really enjoyed it.

TV Show: “The Midnight Club”

Okay, so I wasn’t a Christopher Pike reader back when I was a child consuming horror. I was an R.L. Stine girl, man, I had my loyalties! But I am, right now, a Mike Flanagan person, and I knew that I was going to devour his newest mini-series, “The Midnight Club”. Based on Christopher Pike’s YA horror novels from the 1990s, this is the story of Ilonka, a teenager girl who is about to go to Stanford… but is then diagnosed with thyroid cancer. As she researches her condition, she finds out about Brightcliffe Home, a hospice home for teens with cancer, in which a teenage girl in the 1960s attended, and mysteriously went into remission after being lost in the woods. When Ilonka gets there she joins The Midnight Club, where the teens get together late at night to tell ghost stories. And then strange things begin happening. Flanagan once again masters the scares and the emotional aspects of this story, and the cast is great. And while the teen characters are all wonderful (my favorite is Ruth Codd’s angry Anya), the slasher fan in me was more amped about Heather “Nightmare on Elm Street” Langenkamp as the doctor in charge. Also it takes place in the 90s, so NOSTALGIA ALERT!

Serena’s Review: “Poster Girl”

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Book: “Poster Girl” by Veronica Roth

Publishing Info: William Morrow & Company, October 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: WHAT’S RIGHT IS RIGHT.

Sonya Kantor knows this slogan–she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.

Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives.

Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past–and her family’s dark secrets–than she ever wanted to.

With razor sharp prose, “Poster Girl” is a haunting dystopian mystery that explores the expanding role of surveillance on society–an inescapable reality that we welcome all too easily.

Review: While I wasn’t a big “Divergent” fan (I didn’t even finish the trilogy), I’ve really enjoyed the adult/new adult fiction Veronica Roth has written recently. There’s also no denying that, like Margaret Atwood, Roth has a keen eye for producing dystopian works that can feel all too believable. It’s this sort of believability that truly gives dystopian works their chills, and with this book’s focus on technology and the surveillance state, I knew we’d be deep-diving into some uncomfortable ideas. And sure enough, it was uncomfortable and it was great!

For Sonya, time has stopped. After serving as the face of a regime known as the Delegation, after a revolution overturned society, she and other prominent members of the fallen system are now locked in a prison complex with no hope of rejoining society. But when she’s given the change to earn her freedom tracking down a missing girl, Sonya ventures back out into a world very unlike the one she left a decade before. As she digs into her past as well as her present, Sonya discovers dark truths that reorganize everything she once believed.

As I said earlier, in my opinion what makes a great dystopian story is the ability to create a world and society that is believable, thus all the more horrific. Here, with the creation of a society existing beneath an authoritarian regime that monitors and rewards behavior, the path to this destination is obvious. The Aperture, an implant that is placed in the eye that essentially acts like a smart phone that is even more accessible, is very easy to imagine. The story neatly demonstrates how the ease and functionality of a device like this would have a lot of immediate appeal. We see similar choices being made today; the ease and convenience of smart devices already leave many people unaware of how much of their personal information they are giving up for these creature comforts. The turn of this information then being used against the populace is easy to imagine.

Beyond that, it’s also incredibly easy to see this type of authoritarian system of governance grow into existence. What makes it even more compelling is that some of the rationales behind certain “esteemable” behaviors are easy to understand or agree with. Again, a dangerous slippery slope that is very recognizable. I was also impressed by Roth’s ability to side-step current political positions and parties; it was all too easy to go into it trying to paint both the Delegation and the system that came after it onto our current political parties. But neither fits the other perfectly, so there are no easy conclusions to be had.

Sonya was also an interesting character. She grew up as a “success story” to an oppressive system, largely benefiting from a government that hurt countless others. But we are meeting her ten years after the fact, trapped in a prison compound where she and many others expect to live out their days. Through her eyes, we see how various different individuals and groups have dealt with this shift in power and position. As Sonya ventures back into the world, she’s in a unique position to not only reflect on the world that she grew up in, but in the world that replaced it. Like all revolutions, though they may be replacing a great evil, they aren’t often followed with utopias of their own. She also is forced to confront the decisions that she and her family made and benefited from. I really liked her journey, especially the fact that it felt true to character. Nothing is hand-waved away or excused, but it is ultimately a hopeful story for her.

For this world? I’m not so sure. But I think the not knowing is what is important and what forces the reader to reflect on the messages and themes of the story afterwards. This book definitely touched on a lot of current issues we as a society are grappling with. This is just one direction that someone imagines things could go. But through this lens, we’re invited to do our own critical thinking. I know “critical thinking” isn’t the type of fun, exciting endorsement that often gets people galloping to the nearest bookstore. But it’s also a refreshing, unique read that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

Rating 9: Uncomfortably believable, this story asks readers to reflect on the nature of technology, surveillance, what we give up for convenience; that right and wrong are not as easy of concepts as we may wish them to be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Poster Girl” isn’t on any relevant lists but it should be on Adult Dystopia.

Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “Gallows Hill”

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Book: “Gallows Hill” by Darcy Coates

Publishing Info: Poisoned Pen Press, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: The Hull family has owned the Gallows Hill Winery for generations, living and working on the beautiful grounds where they grow their famous grapes. Until the night Mr. and Mrs. Hull settle down for the evening…and are dead by morning.

When their daughter, Margot, inherits the family business, she wants nothing to do with it. The winery is valued for its unparalleled produce, but it’s built on a field where hundreds of convicts were once hanged, and the locals whisper morbid rumors. They say the ground is cursed.

It’s been more than a decade since Margot last saw her childhood home. But now that she’s alone in the sprawling, dilapidated building, she begins to believe the curse is more than real―and that she may be the next victim of the house that never rests…

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me and eARC of this novel and thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me a print ARC of this novel!

I can’t believe that Halloween is almost here. While I love Halloween to death, I always get a bit melancholy around the end of October, as it’s my favorite time of year, and when Halloween happens, then it’s over. But fear not! Just because the season is ending, that doesn’t mean that the scares are going to stop on this blog, and let me tell you do I have a doozy of a haunted house story to close out the month with. “Gallows Hill” by Darcy Coates is the second of her novels that I have read, and I went into it with solid anticipation, as I enjoyed “From Below” a great deal. So going from ghost ship to haunted house seemed like a good transition, and hoo boy, I was NOT prepared for this book. This book was SCARY!

One night in particular as I read was filled with anxiety, and I loved it. (source)

In terms of plot and cast of characters, I thought that “Gallows Hill” was well imagined and well presented. I liked Margot, the woman who left the winery as a child with no explanation from her parents for her exile, and who has now returned for the first time, an adult who is inheriting now that her parents have died strange and premature deaths. Coates takes her time in slowly revealing just what is going on with Gallows Hill and the winery, laying out puzzle pieces bit by bit and letting us investigate along with Margot. Everything that seems strange or farfetched has a well thought out explanation, and every character has a part to play. Margot herself is easy to like and easy to relate to, as she discovers what is going on at the same pace the reader does, and I thought that all the pieces came together well, with some solid surprises along with reveals that are perhaps obvious but still weighted with some mystery. Coates makes it easy to invest in every character, which makes the stakes all the higher when creepy things start to turn into the flat out horrifying. And the Gothic setting of an isolated winery with a new owner who has no idea what she is getting into, and what secrets the people around her are keeping from her, fits the sub genre so well while also being a bit unconventional, which was super satisfying for someone who loves a good Gothic horror story.

And let’s talk about scary. This book is SCARY. I absolutely found myself setting my Kindle down in the middle of one particularly scary moment, and told myself ‘I should probably put this down for the night’. But after I went to brush my teeth and get ready for bed, I crawled back into bed and picked it right back up. So obviously it’s also incredibly addictive. Coates really knows how to create a tense moment, and then to ratchet it up about ten times, and the grotesque imagery uneasy history of the horror points, and the isolated and suffocating setting of a country estate haunted by its history is a perfect horror combination. I am not going to go into specifics as it’s far more effective to be surprised. But holy cow, we absolutely get the sense of being stalked and hunted in this moment that I told myself I was walking away. But along with that, Coates doesn’t feel tempted to leave ambiguity open as the story progresses and comes to a close. The end is definitive, and I appreciate that in a time where sometimes horror stories feel a need to leave things open in an effort for a fear of the unknown. Which, fine, if done well. But there is something to be said about committing to a conclusion, and I love that Coates does that.

You can’t do much better than a classic haunted house tale during Halloween, and “Gallows Hill” is a great example of that. I really enjoyed this book and how freaky it was. Darcy Coates is officially a must read horror author for me now, which means I have a lot of back catalog to explore. And I can’t wait.

And wait, there’s more! Given that this is the end of Horrorpalooza 2022, I thought it would be fun to end with a special treat. So I am running a giveaway of a print ARC of this book, that also has Darcy Coates’s signature in the front (thanks again to Mandy Chahal for providing the book!)! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will end on November 3rd.

Enter The Giveaway HERE

And that is the end of Horrorpalooza 2022! I hope that everyone has a fun, safe, and spooky Halloween!

Rating 9: Scary, entertaining, and the perfect Halloween read. If you haven’t tried Darcy Coates yet, start with “Gallows Hill”.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Gallows Hill” is included on the Goodreads list “2022 Gothic”.

Blog Tour: “Godmersham Park: A Novel of the Austen Family”

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Book: “Godmersham Park: A Novel of the Austen Family” by Gill Hornby

Publishing Info: Pegasus Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publicist!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: On January 21, 1804, Anne Sharpe arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At thirty-one years old, she has no previous experience of either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge—twelve-year-old Fanny Austen—Anne’s arrival is all novelty and excitement.

The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the “upstairs” and “downstairs” members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.

When Mr. Edward Austen’s family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together, and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming, and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent, mistress can hardly fail to notice.

Meanwhile Jane’s brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess. And from now on, Anne’s days at Godmersham Park are numbered.

Review: Thank you so much to Laurel for reaching out to me about participating in this tour! As anyone who is familiar with this blog knows, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. I even did an entire series devoted to re-reading her books and reviewing many of the major adaptions. So it was a no brainer to join this tour that features a book focusing on a woman who knew Jane Austen for only a brief period of time but who clearly made an impression (Austen sent her one of a very few editions of “Emma” that she had been given when the book was first published). Let’s dive in!

The world doesn’t know what to do with a husband-less and family-less woman. Where does she belong? What room can there be for her to create a future for herself? One of the few options remaining is that of a governess, and so this is the path that young Anne Sharpe finds herself on when she joins a newly-landed family. But even here, to be a governess to not have a place, being not a servant of a member of the family. Anne is careful and observant, however, and slowly makes her way through various pitfalls. And, soon enough, she meets the sister of her employer, Jane Austen, and a life-long friendship is born.

There was a lot to love about this story. For one thing, it was a comfortable balance of taking real-life people and histories and playing out their stories in a way that not only felt true to what we know of their lives, but also believable where things had to be embellished. Much of the strength of the story and writing comes in the descriptions of every day life (a very Austen-like quality indeed!). Like many other popular period pieces (think “Downton Abbey”), there is a lot of focus on the goings on in the running of an estate, both the behind-the-scenes lives of the staff as well as the intricate rules that govern the family and any visitors.

In her role as governess, Anne’s existence is perhaps the most uncomfortable of them all. Many governesses were themselves ladies of station before some life event required them to take up this path. As such, they do not fit naturally with the staff of an estate. But governesses are also not a member of the family, often relegated to the back of the room and all but forgotten. I really enjoyed reading about how Anne needed to navigate these various roles and the limits placed on what she could or could not do.

The romance, such that it is, plays into this neatly. This is not a “romance” book, and the dangers of this flirtation are made evident, giving the entire situation a sort of increased danger and worry (not typically what you’re looking for from a love story.) But unlike many novelizations of governesses who fall in love and are suddenly raised to prominence, this story deals with the very real challenges to this sort of situation.

I also very much appreciate the way Jane Austen was handled. Obviously, the entire premise of this story is built around the fact that Anne Sharpe was a close enough friend to Austen to warrant not only particular attention from the author while she was alive, but follow up attention from Austen’s sister after the author passed away. That being the case, however, it would be all too easy for a character like this to dominate the page and distract from Anne’s own story.

I will say, the book did have a melancholy feel to it. Anne has seen struggle and continues to face unique challenges in this book. But if you go into it focused more on the insights it provides into the life and times of the story and less on any real action, you’re likely to enjoy it more. The plotting is slow and steady, without any major conflicts or real excitement. But I think that works for what it is offering, and fans of Jane Austen especially will appreciate a look into a lesser known character in her life.

Rating 8: A lovely blending of fact and fiction, this historical fiction novel shines the light on a lesser known woman whose small touch on Jane Austen’s life left a lasting impression.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Godmersham Park” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Jane Austen Books, Sequels, Bios and more.

Kate’s Review: “After Dark with Roxie Clark”

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Book: “After Dark with Roxie Clark” by Brooke Lauren Davis

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury YA, October 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Roxie Clark has seen more dead bodies than your average seventeen-year-old. As a member of the supposedly-cursed Clark family, most of her ancestors have met tragic ends, including her own mother. Instead of fearing the curse, however, Roxie has combined her flair for performance and her gruesome family history into a successful ghost tour. But her tour never covers the most recent body she’s seen-her sister Skylar’s boyfriend, Colin Riley, found murdered in a cornfield.

A year after the murder, Roxie’s desperate to help Skylar find closure and start to heal. Instead, Skylar becomes fixated on finding the killer. As the sisters dig into what really happened, they discover that more than one person has been lying about that night. And the closer they get to the truth, the more Roxie starts to wonder if some scary stories might be better left untold. Brooke Lauren Davis offers another thought-provoking and eerily satisfying tale, perfect for fans of Kara Thomas and Cruel Summer

Review: Thank you to Bloomsbury YA for giving me an ARC of this book!

It’s been a few months now and I’m getting near the end of my ALAAC22 ARC stack, thinking back fondly of the conference and the massive suitcase sized haul of books I left with. So many end up being books I either grabbed on a whim, or those that were hyped by representatives of the publishing houses. “After Dark with Roxie Clark” by Brooke Lauren Davis was one of the more effective hype moments, as when walking by the table with the ARC, the rep overheard me saying something about horror. And she said ‘would a book about a Goth teenager who runs her own ghost tour business be of interest to you?’ What other possible response could I have had, other than

Between this woman and the woman who gave me the Spike book, the hype people were on point this past year (source).

And what the perfect premise for an October read. Ghost tours, a maudlin teenage girl, a murder mystery, a family curse? Hell yeah. Perfect spooky season reading.

In “After Dark with Roxie Clark” we meet Roxie, the aforementioned Goth girl who has her own ghost tour business, which takes stories from her own tragic family history and turns them into folklore that can help her process the angst around her family tree. Roxie is exactly the kind of character I would have loved as a teenage girl, as her love of all things horror and her spunky attitude would have spoken to me on every level. Even as a grown woman who still has that Goth girl in her I really loved Roxie. Did I need to suspend a little disbelief about her having a successful business? Sure. But independence and autonomy are big pluses in a teenage reader’s mind, so I am more than happy to forgive it. I liked her personality, I liked her wit, I just liked everything about her. I also liked the mystery at hand, about who killed Colin, her older sister Skylar’s boyfriend, and the brother of Roxie’s best friend (and crush) Tristan. I enjoyed how the worries of a Clark family curse enter into Roxie’s anxieties, and I liked how she and grief stricken Skylar team up after being distant to try and solve it (more on Skylar later….). In terms of the mystery itself, sure there were some things that were patently obvious as being red herrings, but there were definitely a few things that took me by surprise, and I mostly liked seeing Roxie grapple with the mystery at hand that is so personal to her, and how she has made a business of family tragedy, even if doing so in a respectful (in her mind) way. All of these things worked wonders for me.

The reason that this doesn’t have a higher rating is mostly because of my own personal struggles with one major aspect. That aspect is Skylar, Roxie’s older sister who is mourning the death of her boyfriend, and who is not coping well. I can’t even tell you why, as from what I can tell she is a pretty good representation of what terrible grief can do to a person when they don’t have the access to help that they need. But I had a very hard time with her as a character, and her actions as they try to figure out what happened to Colin, mostly because in her obsession and grief she does not care who she hurts, even if that person is her younger sister. I am grappling with the fact that I found a mourning and traumatized teenager wholly unlikable, and that may very well be something on my end, as she sure doesn’t have to be likable! But ruminating on it, I think it was more that a lot of it felt a bit overwrought, characterization wise, and with few peaks and valleys to it. Mourning and traumatized or not, I felt she was almost always at the highest level, and that gets a bit tiring.

But again, the mystery was taut, I was caught off guard by a few of the reveals, and Roxie as a character will surely be fun self insertion fantasy for Goth girls everywhere! “After Dark with Roxie Clark” is a great Halloween read for those who want to celebrate the season, but don’t want too much horror to go with it.

Rating 7: A solid YA mystery with a very enjoyable main character, “After Dark with Roxie Clark” is a good Halloween themed book for those who want an appropriate seasonal read without too much horror.

Reader’s Advisory:

“After Dark with Roxie Clark” is included on the Goodreads list “What To Read After Riverdale”.

Diving Into Sub-Genres: Witch Horror

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We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

Halloween is nearly upon us, readers, and while I am still full blown into Halloween mode, I’m also acknowledging that the season is going to end in a little more than a week and I am going to be sad (until I buck up and shift into Winter Holiday gear). So for this new “Diving Into Sub-Genres” post, though I usually switch up my genres that house said sub-genres, I’m sticking to horror, and I am going to focus on one of my favorites: witch horror! You all know how much I love witches of ALL stripes, and while I adore empowering and feminist spellcasters I also love vengeful crones who want to make others suffer. I’m very inclusive when it comes to my witches.

Witch horror can be traced as far back as Greek Mythology when Circe was turning Odysseus’s crew into pigs, or Medea was casting spells and killing her children to get back at Jason for daring leave her. You have a number of witches in fairytales as well, from Snow White’s stepmother to the witch who tried to eat Hansel and Gretel. And lord knows in real life a fear of witches led to a lot of violence and suffering because of a religious based mythology and superstition (the targets usually being women, outsiders, and other Others). Yes, witches have had their place as horror icons for millennia, and now I’m going to share some of my favorite witch tales that, I think, represent the sub-genre of witch horror pretty well.

Now here is a caveat: I’m really going to focus on horror when it comes to witch stories on this list. Even though there are SO MANY AWESOME NON HORROR WITCH BOOKS OUT THERE. But I want to be stringent in the sub-genre definitions, and witch horror is different from witch fantasy or witch historical fiction or what have you. Because I struggled with this decision, I am going to briefly list a few titles that aren’t horror but are still fantastic witch or witch related books that you can also give a go before All Hallow’s Eve next week if you aren’t looking for scares: “Cackle” by Rachel Harrison; “Practical Magic” by Alice Hoffman; “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare; “Akata Witch” by Nnedi Okorafor; “Cemetary Boys” by Aiden Thomas; and “Hour of the Witch” by Chris Bohjalian.

Book: “The Witching Hour” by Anne Rice

Wanting to start with a classic, but not a classic that goes super far back into centuries and centuries, it seemed that Anne Rice’s “The Witching Hour” was a pretty good jumping off point. This book starts off her “Mayfair Witches” series, which follows a New Orleans witch family that has passed magic, and a pretty bad curse, down through the generations. When Rowan Mayfair pulls a drowned man out of the ocean and brings him back to life, she has to face the fact that she has strange powers, powers that her family has had and that she has tried to suppress. But what Rowan doesn’t know is that there is also a mysterious and dangerous spirit that has haunted the Mayfair Family. Known as Lasher, he wishes to possess the Mayfairs, and he now has his sights set on Rowan. This book follows a line of witches and spans over centuries, and brings Rice’s alluring yet horrific aesthetic to witch horror.

Book: “Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Also known as the witch book that scared the ever loving piss out of me, “Hex” is definitely a ‘vengeful witch’ story that is horrifying and filled with dread until the very last page is turned. The first chapter had me saying ‘what the HELL IS GOING ON?’ for basically the entire length, and I can tell you that this was a common occurrence through this book. Black Spring is a sleepy small town in the Hudson River Valley, where people live and raise their families. But it is haunted by the ever wandering Black Rock Witch, whose eyes and mouth have been sewn shut after her execution during Puritan times led to her curse upon the town. The town keeps total surveillance on the wandering witch, and has kept her a secret from the outside world. But then a group of local teens decide to show her off on the Internet. And this sets off a torrent of deadly consequences for the town and all who live there. This book is scary as hell and doesn’t hold back.

Book: “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson

This was my favorite read in 2020, as Alexis Henderson’s “The Year of the Witching” is both scary as well as, in some ways, empowering and severely feminist. It’s a mix of historical fiction and dystopia, a world not ours but in a lot of ways like ours. In the small community of Bethel, the townspeople live a religious patriarchal life, and have banished witches into the Darkwood with violence and rage. Immanuelle Moore is herself a rebellion, the biracial daughter of a woman who ran into the Darkwood to find the witches, and who died in childbirth after her return. Immanuelle is trying to keep in line, but is drawn to the Darkwood by the spirits who live there. They give her her mother’s journal, and as she reads she starts to find out the truth about her mother, and the truth about Bethel. This kind of read will make your blood boil, but will take your breath away.

Book: “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa

Even though the final season of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” was lame lame lame, I still liked it as a whole because it was creepy, witchy, and a great look at witches with power taken from a bubblegum comic origin. But let me tell you, the comic that it is based upon is SO MUCH DARKER, and that is why it makes this list. Yes, we are following Sabrina ‘The Teenage Witch’ Spellman, as she adjusts to being a teenage witch while living with her witch aunts Hilda and Zelda. But this comic is straight up horror, with murder, dark magic, cannibalism, and black masses like whoa. And I LOVE IT SO MUCH, and I am SO SAD IT KIND OF DIED OUT. I love all the scary stuff that Aguirre-Sacassa brings to this story, and how it still manages to have tongue planted in cheek even as people’s faces are being ripped off and teens are being sacrificed for dark spells. I love handing it to unsuspecting people in my life, and it almost always has a positive, if not scandalized, reaction.

Book: “Goddess of Filth” by V. Castro

Sometimes the witches we deal with in these stories are amateurs, or even inadvertent, and then they unleash something a bit beyond their capabilities that has some serious consequences. That is the kind of horror story that “Goddess of Filth” by V. Castro is, and it’s pretty scary AS WELL AS EMPOWERING (yeah okay, I had to have some empowerment on this list as well, as I’m sure you’ve noticed as you’ve gone through it). Five Latina teenagers are doing some lighthearted witchcraft during the summer after their senior year, but they accidentally summon the spirit of an Aztec goddess, who possesses the shy Fernanda. Now her friends have to try and figure out how to get Fernanda back. But the spirit they are dealing with isn’t what she seems. This book about friendship, identity, imperial oppression, and teenage witchery is fun and pushes expectations of the themes at hand.

Book: “The Witches” by Roald Dahl

Why the heck not end this list with a children’s story? After all, “The Witches” by Roald Dahl is not only a classic children’s book, it also has some scary witches at the heart of it! An unnamed young boy learns about the existence of witches while living with his grandmother in Norway, whom he came to live with after his parents deaths. She tells him how to tell a witch from a human woman, as witches sole goals are to snatch up children and turn them into horrifying creatures. When the boy returns to England, he suddenly finds himself surrounded by witches, and has to thwart the Grand High Witch’s plan to run the world’s children into mice! It sounds pretty tame, but as a child this book is pure nightmare fuel! I hope that all the kiddos out trick or treating next week won’t run afoul any witches like this!

What witch horror books are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “Princess of Souls”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Princess of Souls” by Alexandra Christo

Publishing Info: Feiwel Friends, October 2022

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: For sixteen years, Selestra has been trapped in her tower on the Floating Mountain, preparing to take her mother’s place as the King’s Witch, who foretells deaths in the Festival of Predictions. Outrunning your fate earns a wish and the chance to steal the King’s immortality. But die and your soul is forfeit. And though thousands have tried, nobody has ever beaten death.

A soldier in the King’s army, Nox is an unlikely candidate for the Festival, but, driven by revenge, he is determined to steal the King’s immortality and kill the entirety of his court, starting with Selestra.

Yet when Selestra touches Nox in her very first prediction, their fates become entwined, and death seeks to take both their souls. Only by working together can they survive long enough to escape the dark fate and the immortal King that now hunts them.

Review: I’m going to try really hard to resist going on a rant against Macmillan Publishing right now. Long story short, the Macmillan booth at ALA foolishly decided to allot 5…FIVE!!!!…ARCs of each of their books per day of the conference. So unless you were crazy enough to line up at the entrance to the convention center at the crack of dawn, chances were low you were going to get your hands on any books from them. This is truly an insane policy at a convention where you’re entire purpose is promoting your titles to librarians who will hopefully than purchase your books. No, no I will NOT wait in line for an ARC copy of a book I’m not sure I’ll even like. Ok, enough of that. All of that to say, this was the one ARC I was able to snag from Macmillan over the entire conference. And the fact that (spoiler alert) it was a solid “meh” is exactly why I would never get up early to get ARCs, especially by unknown authors. So…change your plan next time Macmillan!

For years, Selestra has remained trapped within the castle walls, standing to the side of her mother learning to one day take her place foretelling death for those foolish enough to bet their souls on the chance of riches. Every year, hundreds take this risk, with only a small few making any gains; and any who risk their lives, always losing. Selestra has always wondered what would make these individuals choose these odds. So when she has a vision of her life tied up alongside one of these foolish risk takers, she is more confused than ever. For his part, Nox has very fixed reasons for why he has entered this tournament. And getting involved with the King’s magical protégé is definitely not part of the plan.

This book was one of those strange reads where I started it up and thought “Wow, I’m really liking this. It’s definitely going to get a solid rating from me.” And then the longer I read, the more and more it began to feel like a chore. Until by the end, I had a very ambivalent feeling towards the entire experience. I can’t even point to very clear reason for this, but we’ll try and tease something out. But, to start with positives, I did enjoy this to start with and I’m sure that for many other people, this positive first impression will last. The writing is entertaining and smooth. The plot moves quickly. And both of our main characters were interesting and had distinct inner voices. Nox, in particular, was the type of witty guy lead that I typically very much enjoy.

But, again, I simply couldn’t sustain interest in this story. For one thing, I thought all of the twists were incredibly predictable, especially as the story continued. I also struggled with the world-building as the plot progressed. Things that had started out as interesting concepts began to stick in my brain and raise continuing questions about how exactly any of this works or how this history/culture really came to be. I understand that this book is set in the world of the author’s previous book, “To Kill a Kingdom,” but the success of a stand-alone book relies on the fact that it is meant to be approachable to readers who may not have read related works.

I also had heard that this book was a re-imaging of “Rapunzel,” part of the reason I was on the look-out for it at all at ALA in the first place. And…I just can’t see it? I mean, sure, she’s a girl stuck in a tower (and even this is highly questionable as she breaks out with ease within the first quarter of the book). But that’s about it. Her hair is kind of a thing, but not at all in the same way as the story. And really, there were no obvious connections to that fairytale at all in the way the story was plotted or paced. I really dislike being sold this type of false premise. If you’re going to try to hook a reader in with a specific reference like this, you better follow through with a story that actually meets that expectation in some way.

So, overall, this was a miss for me. However, I can also see it working for a lot of YA fantasy readers. For one thing, if you liked “To Kill a Kingdom,” this will probably be a nice return to a familiar world. And, like I said, there was a lot of immediate appeal to the characters and style of writing, so for many, this will likely carry them through. But if you’re looking for a tightly plotted story or a complex exploration of character and motivation, this probably won’t be.

That being said, if you’re one of those fans of the first book or are a YA fantasy reader who’s looking for a fast-paced read, don’t forget to check out our giveaway! It is open to U.S. residents only and ends Oct. 26.

Enter to win!

Rating 7: A promising start sadly wasted away over the course of this read, though I still think it will appeal to a lot of YA fantasy fans looking for lighter fare.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Princess of Souls” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Rapunzel Retellings.

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 3)”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “American Vampire (Vol. 3)” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Sean Murphy (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 2012

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: In the Pacific, Pearl’s husband Henry joins a clandestine group on a secret mission to Japan to hunt a new breed of bloodsucker. Meanwhile, Skinner Sweet has plans of his own…

And in Europe, vampire hunters Felicia Book and Cash McCogan go behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Romania in search of a rumored vampire cure. Blood and bullets abound in this new collection from the Eisner Award-winning series!

Review: After being (once again) a bit turned off by the previous volume of this series, I was pretty sure I remembered that “American Vampire (Vol. 3)” got back on track in terms of my ability to ‘gel’ with the story at hand. Which is interesting, because in general military stories aren’t REALLY my cup of tea, and hoo boy does this volume REALLY get into the military themes. After all, as we are traveling through American history with our vampires and vampire hunters, it is now World War II.

We have two story arcs that contend with two of the war fronts during this time. The first is a story surrounding Pearl, her husband Henry, and that fucking asshole Skinner Sweet. Henry, feeling old and a bit left behind by his ageless vampire wife, takes up the Vassal of the Morning Star when they recruit him for a military mission in the Pacific: there is the potential for a new vampire threat on an atoll that the group wants checked out and cleared. What he doesn’t realize is that one of the members of the team is an incognito Skinner Sweet who wants to not only cause chaos, but also to get Pearl all to himself. Side note: we do get a background story with Skinner and his old west girlfriend Kitty, who looks a LOT like Pearl, but honestly I don’t give a shit about him and his man pain.

I DON’T CARE, BUDDY. (source)

This arc was good in the sense that it is basically nonstop action, and it has a lot of new vampire mythology exploration that felt really unique and grotesque. I really love how Snyder is creating subgroups of vampires and how they are all different based upon various factors, and I thought that the cat and mouse game between Henry, Pearl, and Sweet was interesting and tense to watch unfold. Because you know that once Pearl gets a whiff of Skinner potentially threatening the love of her life, maker or not, she is not going to sit by and let it happen.

The other arc is a bit earlier in time, an it involves Felicia Book and Cash McCoogan, together again after the terrible conclusion to their previous mission together: in which Sweet injected Cash’s very pregnant wife Lily with vampire blood directly into her womb, causing her to die in childbirth with a very vampiric baby boy named Gus. Felicia blames herself for hesitating on taking Sweet out, and Cash is desperate to keep his child safe, even if he is a feral monster child. The Vassals of the Morning Star has heard of rumors of a vampire cure in Nazi Occupied Romania, and the two of them are recruited to go undercover and try to see what’s what. They both have their reasons beyond loyalty to the group; Felicia is part vampire herself (as she was conceived when her father was in the throes of turning into a vampire, and it has affected her), and Cash wants Gus to be cured. THIS arc was the one I liked better, as it has some suspenseful moments of espionage, it has some really cool vampire world building, and I loved the tense relationship between Felicia and Cash as they are working together in hostile Nazi circles and contending with unexpected revelations.

But the biggest step up from the past volume is that Pearl finally, FINALLY, gets a bit more to do, and Felicia has her own riveting storyline and character arc that jumps off the page. It’s true that the last volume had a lot of Felicia (who is probably my favorite character in the series), but there was VERY little Pearl, and not only do we get to see her in vampiric action again, we also get to see her kick serious ass and come to aid her husband Henry when he’s in far over his head. I really love both of these women, who are dealing with their various guilts and insecurities and baggage, and I love that they get to take a bit of control over their situations, be it Pearl finally confronting Skinner Sweet, or Felicia seeking out a vampire cure so she can perhaps live a more normal life. And I also love the chemistry between Pearl and Henry, and the chemistry between Felicia and Cash. What can I say? I do love a nice romance, even if some are more tragic than others.

“American Vampire (Vol. 3)” gets the series back on track for me, and it both concludes some story arcs while also opening up the possibilities for others. The vampire lore is still fun and original, and it keeps reminding me of how much I love this series as a whole.

Rating 8: Two solid war time stories and more action for my gals Pearl and Felicia gets our series back on track.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol.3)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Weird War”, and “Vertigo Titles: Must Read Comic Books A-E”.

Previously Reviewed:

Giveaway: “Princess of Souls”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Princess of Souls” by Alexandra Christo

Publishing Info: Feiwel Friends, October 2022

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: For sixteen years, Selestra has been trapped in her tower on the Floating Mountain, preparing to take her mother’s place as the King’s Witch, who foretells deaths in the Festival of Predictions. Outrunning your fate earns a wish and the chance to steal the King’s immortality. But die and your soul is forfeit. And though thousands have tried, nobody has ever beaten death.

A soldier in the King’s army, Nox is an unlikely candidate for the Festival, but, driven by revenge, he is determined to steal the King’s immortality and kill the entirety of his court, starting with Selestra.

Yet when Selestra touches Nox in her very first prediction, their fates become entwined, and death seeks to take both their souls. Only by working together can they survive long enough to escape the dark fate and the immortal King that now hunts them.

Giveaway Details: I love fairytale retellings (obviously). And there are definitely fairytales I’ve read more versions of than others. For fairly obvious reasons, “Rapunzel” is a challenging story to retell. The heroine is literally trapped alone in a tower for the majority of the story. But here we are with two “Rapunzel” inspired stories in the last few months! Though, I will say, this is definitely more of an “inspiration” story than the more closely tied “The House of Gothel.” Honestly, half of my interest in this story is exactly how this ties in with Rapunzel much at all? Reading the book description…I’m not sure? In a lot of ways it seems more closely tied to fantasy novels focused on some sort of deadly magical competitions (like “All of Us Villains” and the ilk). But maybe this is a case of the book description missing out on some key elements. Either way, I’m excited to find out what this book has in store!

Per the usual, my full review will come out this coming Friday. And in the meantime, make sure to enter to win an ARC of this book. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends Oct. 26.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “Jackal”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Jackal” by Erin E. Adams

Publishing Info: Bantam, October 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: It’s watching.

Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward and passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.

It’s taking.

As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: a summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart missing. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.

It’s your turn.

With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.

Review: Thank you to Bantam and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I love it when books I haven’t heard of wind up in my email, as it gives me a reason to expand my horizons a bit AND the potential to find a story I may not have discovered so quickly otherwise. When I opened up the email that described “Jackal” by Erin E. Adams, it had a number of traits that caught my eye. One, it’s described as horror, always a plus. Two, I’m always eager to read horror by authors of color. Three, the missing person thriller is always a subgenre I’m going to be all over. So I went into this book with anticipation, and I am happy to report that I was pretty happy with it!

As mentioned, I love a missing person story, and “Jackal” has that along with some supernatural beats. Adams slowly builds up the suspense and dread by showing us a few of the moments where other Black girls have gone missing and subsequently found with their hearts missing, culminating with our protagonist Liz, whose best friend’s daughter Caroline is the newest missing girl. Liz takes it upon herself to try and find Caroline, as the local police are dragging their feet, and she is considered a suspect due to the fact she was the last person to see Caroline at her mother Mel’s wedding. Though let’s be honest; it’s also because Liz is Black. As Liz tries to piece things together to find Caroline and clear her name, she starts to find a patter of other Black girls who have gone missing and wound up dead. I loved watching Liz find the clues, and was very affected by how the stakes get higher and higher and Liz gets more and more desperate. By the time we got to the supernatural reveal, it didn’t click QUITE as much for me as I had hoped it would, but I think that may be more on my own expectations on what was going on. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just kind of leave it at that. I do think this book is both thriller and horror overall, it’s just that the thriller elements were a bit stronger. It’s still a strong story, suspense wise.

But it’s the real life horrors of this book that really stand out. Adams effectively captures Liz’s experience in this small Rust Belt town, and how much Othering she felt because of her race, just as she captures the inaction taken by the authorities over missing Black girls in the community. Liz left Johnstown and rarely looked back, and when you see what it’s like for her when she returns you completely understand her need to get out. Some of the reasons are less obvious, like microaggressions she experiences from those around her, to the way she felt a need to conform to fit in. Others are more blatant, like the fact that her white best friend’s family is very clearly suspicious or dismissive of her even though they have known her for years and she has given no reason for them to be that way. And there is, of course, the maddening truths of a clear pattern of young Black girls disappearing and then ending up brutally killed, and the community just doesn’t really seem to care, leaving the loved ones left behind to mourn and suffer without any hope of justice. There are other more spoilery examples of this, some of which involve the way that goal posts are shifted by a racist society once Black people are able to find success for themselves, but I’m leaving that as is, once again. Just know these tidbits are far reaching and well conceived.

“Jackal” is suspenseful and eerie, an effective thriller with real life horrors to draw fear from. I am absolutely going to be looking at what Erin E. Adams does next.

Rating 8: A thrilling mystery with supernatural and horror elements, “Jackal” is a missing person story that has larger questions about societal and systemic racism.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jackal” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mystery/Thriller/Detective Books Featuring and Written by Black Women (Part 4)”, and “Anticipated Literary Reads for Readers of Color 2022”.

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