Kate’s Review: “Ghoster”

31934011Book: “Ghoster” by Jason Arnopp

Publishing Info: Orbit, October 2019

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

Book Description: Jason Arnopp – author of acclaimed cult hit The Last Days of Jack Sparks – returns with a razor-sharp thriller for a social-media obsessed world. Prepare to never look at your phone the same way again . . .

Kate Collins has been ghosted. She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty apartment. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared. Except for his mobile phone. Kate knows she shouldn’t hack into Scott’s phone. She shouldn’t look at his Tinder, his calls, his social media. But she can’t quite help herself. That’s when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn’t recognize. Scratch marks on the walls that she can’t explain. And the growing feeling that she’s being watched. Kate refuses to leave the apartment – she’s not going anywhere until she’s discovered what happened to Scott. But the deeper she dives into Scott’s digital history the more Kate realizes just how little she really knows about the man she loves.

Review: Thanks to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this novel!

Back in 2017 I was flying back from New Zealand and was totally enthralled by “The Last Days of Jack Sparks” by Jason Arnopp. While I am not usually super into nor affected by possession and exorcist stories, the uniqueness and genuine creepiness of this novel completely blew me away and was one of my favorite reads of the year. I waited anxiously for a new book by Arnopp to drop, and when I saw that he had a new book called “Ghoster” coming out, I was ecstatic. I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of “Ghoster”, and once I had finished a couple other books that took precedent, I dove right in. “Ghoster” isn’t a possession story. At least, not in the way that we normally think about them. But it is a story about obsession, and how things can seemingly take you over in unexpected, and dangerous ways. 

Oh, and we once again get some creepy and unsettling imagery that freaked me the hell out.

giphy-8
Sometimes I just had to step away. (source)

Kate, or protagonist, is a bit of a complex and unreliable character. We know that she has had obsessive issues with social media and romance in the past, and after her lover Scott seemingly disappears on the eve of them moving in together, you wonder if her need to find him is based on worry for his safety, or a dark jealousy that is hinted at from her previous relationships and actions. It’s first person, so we get into her mind and how quirky and obsessive it can be. She is convinced that Scott has left her, or has tricked her, and since it isn’t often that she stops to think that maybe something bad happened to him it makes you question a lot about her mental state. Is she a woman with a legitimate beef, or is she a bit more unstable than she’d like us to think?  It sets a tone that is already uneasy and makes it all the more jarring. I felt bad for Kate, but I also wasn’t sure if I could totally trust her and her perceptions, or the story that she was telling us. It’s true that there were a couple of times where I thought that her strangeness was laid on a little thick, but for the most part it was well done and a great way to make the reader question even more about the story than they already may have been. It also makes it so that when the very strange things start happening, we have to wonder what is real and what isn’t. I wouldn’t say that Kate is likable, but she sure doesn’t have to be. It’s not like Jack Sparks was a likable character, after all, so why can’t Kate also be that way? It didn’t make me any less invested in her story.

The creepy elements and plot of this book aren’t as amped as Arnopp’s previous novel, but they are still there and they are still done in a way that left an impression. As Kate slowly tries to trace Scott’s steps and whereabouts, she finds more and more things that suggest something is afoot. She has his cell phone, and is able to see his browsing history, which implies that he may not have been the person he said he is. There is a missing woman that may have a connection to him. And on top of that, as she stays in Scott’s apartment and her obsession with his phone and social media footprint intensifies, she starts to see things that shouldn’t be possible. I don’t want to go into specifics, but I will say this: one of the things that gets me really freaked out in movies and books are the images and descriptions of people and things moving in ways that they shouldn’t be moving. Be it jerky motions or weird contorted moving, it’s going to mess me up every single time. Arnopp does something like that in this book, and boy did it hit all the nerves. Arnopp has always been very good at describing an incredibly visual medium and making it work on the page and within the reader’s imagination. All that said, I did think that the metaphors about technology and social media having a malevolent hold on people are pretty well played out at this point, so that wasn’t as strong as I had hoped it would be, commentary wise.

“Ghoster” was another satisfying and spooky read from Jason Arnopp. It’s a great one to pick up right in time for Halloween, and now that I’ve read it I’m back to square one and not at all patiently waiting to see what he comes out with next! 

Rating 8: A spine tingling and tense horror story about relationships, social media, and obsession.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghoster” is new and isn’t on many relevant/specific Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Fiction Involving The Internet”.

Find “Ghoster” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Institute”

43798285Book: “The Institute” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephen King, the most riveting and unforgettable story of kids confronting evil since It—publishing just as the second part of It, the movie, lands in theaters.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

Review: Whenever a new book I really want to read is about to come out, I try to get myself positioned high on the request list at the library. When this doesn’t work, I will make sure it’s going to be available at my former job on the day it comes out, as copies from that branch don’t go to the request list. And then once it’s publication day, if I can I will rush to that branch before opening, and become that patron that I used to kvetch about: the one who hangs out outside before the doors open and rushes the new wall as soon as they do. This made it so I got a copy of Stephen King’s “The Institute” at the library the day it came out, and yeah, I was a bit of a sore winner when I snagged it off the display. We are kind of in the midst of a King Renaissance right now, from new books to adaptations of his works in movie theaters and on TV and computer screens. I’m always going to be stoked for anything King related, and he has so much content to explore that you have a lot to work with. Unfortunately, on the flip side of that is the fact that not everything is going to be a winner, and “The Institute”, for me, was not a winner.

But like usual, we’ll start with the good. Even in books he’s written that don’t quite click with me, I am almost always happy with the way that King portrays childhood experiences and childhood friendships. From “It” to “The Body”/”Stand By Me”, the way that he can capture the innocence and yet importance of these childhood bonds and put them on the page is almost always incredibly effective. He brings this talent to “The Institute”, as whenever he focuses on Luke Ellis, Kalisha, and the other child prisoners it feels like you’re seeing real kids interacting with each other. I was worried that the innate precociousness of the children, especially super genius Luke, would stunt the dialogue and relationships, but I greatly enjoyed all of them whether they were playing, scheming, or mourning. While I didn’t feel like I got to know all of them as deeply as I got to know The Losers Club or the four boys who went looking for a dead body, I still liked seeing the glimpses into the relationships that we did, as it was always entertaining. With a resurgence in popularity of ‘kids solving mysteries/fighting back against more powerful entities’ because of “Stranger Things”, I definitely get tapping back into that kind of tale. It is also very hard to deny that, given the horrific reality that children are being imprisoned in cages at the Southern Border, some of the themes are all the more resonant in this story. King does a good job of drawing comparisons without treading into distaste, and given that I’m sure this book had already been submitted to the publisher before some of the more recent developments I definitely couldn’t help but connect his story to the horrible things our Government is doing. Especially as the slow reveal of The Institute’s true intentions is carefully peeled back. Plus, the pacing was well done and it never felt slow, so it was mostly entertaining.

The reason that this doesn’t get a higher score from me is because “The Institute”, while being entertaining, didn’t quite evoke the emotions I have come to want from Stephen King novels. Yes, the concept is horrible and scary, and there were certainly thrilling aspects of the plot as we reach the end, but I never felt the actual tension, elation, sadness, and fear. For whatever reason it just didn’t connect with me. I think that part of it was that this felt less like a horror novel and more like a conspiracy thriller, and while that’s fine and I generally like a good conspiracy thriller, this one just didn’t quite click. And I think the other part I already kind of touched on earlier, in that while I liked the characters and the relationships they had with each other (the kids especially), I don’t think that we got to know them well enough for me to really connect with them. And if I’m not as connected, I’m not as invested. I don’t think “The Institute” was a bad read by any definition, but if a book falls into these traps that I’ve mentioned, I’m just not going to enjoy it as much.

I’m so happy that Stephen King is still writing, and that he’s getting all kinds of attention right now. While “The Institute” was a miss, the man is still my favorite horror author of all time. And given that there’s already rumors of this book being adapted into yet another TV series based on King source material, it may be in your interest to give it a go regardless of what I thought!

Rating 6: While “The Institute” was an entertaining read and had its moments and details that I liked, overall it fell a little flat for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Institute”, surprisingly, isn’t included on many relevant or specific Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Conspiracy Fiction”, and “Books like Stranger Things”.

Find “The Institute” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Mooncakes”

44774415._sy475_Book: “Mooncakes” by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Lion Forge, October 2019

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

Book Description: A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

I know that not everyone has the same love and affinity for all things horror that I do. And while I know that for me the month of October is all about the ghosts, ghouls, slashers, and monsters that I want to associate with, for others that may not be as appealing. So for today’s Horrorpalooza book, we’re actually inching away from the horror, and looking at a kinder, gentler kind of book of the season, where witches and werewolves fall in love, and magic can lead to self discovery. Today I’m going to talk about the sweet and romantic graphic novel “Mooncakes” by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, a story about a witch named Nova and a werewolf named Tam and the magic that surrounds their lives, for better or for worse.

“Mooncakes” takes the kinder, gentler witch story and gives it some new and unique twists. Nova’s family life is the familiar matriarchal witch household, as she is living with her grandmothers Quili and Nechama and learning about magic and spells from them. While I do love a vengeful or spiteful witch, or one who has legitimate grievances with society and the patriarchy, I do have to say that I also like the positive stories of witches empowering other witches through education, family, and love. “Mooncakes” really embodies this positive trope, and Quili and Nechama are the perfect supportive and bustling mother figures that fill the void of Nova’s parent’s deaths. Nova herself is a unique main character. She is Chinese American, so her culture influences not only her home life but also her magic. Along with that she also has hearing aids, and after she lost her hearing she began to master the art of nonverbal magical spells, a concept that we may see (as sometimes witches don’t have to say ANYTHING to make magic happen in stories), but is rarely explored. But it’s her romance with Tam that is the center of the story. Tam and Nova were childhood friends, but Tam left town and has been wandering on their own, living as a werewolf and distancing themself from an abusive home life. When Tam and Nova reconnect, their lingering feelings for each other start to re-boot. Their romance is sweet and not terribly complicated, and I liked that Tam’s nonbinary identity wasn’t the focus of the conflict, and that they were easily and readily accepted by the other characters.

The plot and the magical aspects of this story, however, weren’t as strong as I had hoped they would be. We know that Tam is being targeted for some kind of nefarious spells, as when we meet them they are in conflict with a horse demon in the woods. Nova is there for Tam and is determined to figure out what is going on, but I never felt like that aspect of the plot was really focused on. We get hints as to who may be behind it, and while I feel like Walker tried to hide the culprit, it felt pretty obvious as to who it was going to be. While we are told that Tam is in some serious danger, it never feels like the stakes are all that high. And once we got to the big showdown, things resolved themselves rather easily, and threw in some obvious tropes that have been seen many times before for good measure in terms of resolution. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily! I love a ‘the love for the other person is able to fight through a spell’ twist as much as the next person, but when the rest of the magical plot and conflict feels a little haphazard, that doesn’t exactly make the twist seem stronger. I think that had this story paid more attention to building up the conflict and magic issues, it would have worked better. As it was, it felt more like an afterthought.

The art, however, is totally adorable and sweet! I really like Wendy Xu’s style, and I love the details and designs that she brought to the characters.

tumblr_nxl5ltyonv1ubonrfo1_1280
(source)

If you want a sweet romantic story with magical elements, “Mooncakes” could be a good choice. I wouldn’t go in expecting a whole lot of magical system building, but it does have charming characters and some great representation. And if you don’t want something scary this witchy season, it’s a good alternative.

Rating 6: A cute and romantic story about witches, family, and magic, “Mooncakes” is filled with a lot of sweetness, though not much complexity.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Mooncakes” is included on the Goodreads lists “Comics for Witches”, and “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”.

Find “Mooncakes” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “White Tears”

30780283Book: “White Tears” by Hari Kunzru

Publishing Info: Knopf Publishing Group, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From one of the most talented fiction writers at work today: two ambitious young musicians are drawn into the dark underworld of blues record collecting, haunted by the ghosts of a repressive past.

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is glamorous and the heir to one of America’s great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

White Tears is a ghost story, a terrifying murder mystery, a timely meditation on race, and a love letter to all the forgotten geniuses of American music.

Review: There has been a strange narrative that has come out lately that I’ve had a hard time swallowing when it comes to the horror genre, and that is the idea of ‘elevating’ horror. While I think that there has been a healthy respect from creators of newer horror movies that manage to gather more from the story than just jump scares or cliches (Jordan Peele, for example), there are others that seem to think that they can ‘improve’ the genre by being more artistic or surrealistic. For example, while I liked aspects of the new “Suspiria”, I definitely felt like it had a very high opinion of itself, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would because it took itself almost too seriously. It’s not really something you see as much in literature, so I don’t go into horror stories with these worries. But I will say that I was a LITTLE worried about “White Tears” by Hari Kunzru, if only because a few people who I know who really liked it seemed to be saying that this was superior to genre horror specifically because of the literary style. That said, I was definitely interested in the themes of social justice and cultural appropriation and violence, and decided that it was finally time to pick it up. I will admit that the horror elements weren’t very horror based, at least for this fan. But everything else was executed wonderfully.

I will actually start with the weaker points in this review, just to get them out of the way. This is advertised as a horror novel, and while it absolutely has horror themes that involve possession, ghosts, and slow descents into instability, none of these themes or moments really made me feel scared, nor did they instill much dread in me. I think that part of this was the writing style choices that Kunzru made, be it the way the dialog was written or the way that sometimes things would jump around. This made it so that the scares couldn’t build up as much as they might have were the beats written in other ways. I tend to have a harder time with literary horror because of these kinds of things, and while I can appreciate authors experimenting and doing their own thing, it didn’t make the action as exciting or ‘unputdownable’ as I wanted. Even moments that could have felt merely unsettling as opposed to outright scary didn’t quite get to that level.

But honestly, the strengths of this book outweigh those issues, specifically the commentary about cultural appropriation, violence, and racism in American culture and society. Our protagonists are Seth and Carter, two white college students who think that because they study and have a fascination with American Blues that they have ownership over it. Seth isn’t nearly as entitled as Carter, whose wealth and status has really inflated his ego, but Seth definitely shares similar views when it comes to music. It’s an entitlement that is seen in American culture as white audiences consume and repackage facets from Black culture and market it to wider audiences and profit off of it. The idea that these two men think that they create a unique song and performer, only to find out that this person and his music was real, is very reminiscent of this view (even if there is something a bit supernatural about this specific instance within the story). I liked the contrast between Carter and Seth, as while Carter is clearly toxic from the get go, Seth is almost more damaging because he thinks that he is immune to these critiques because he doesn’t think he has the privileges that Carter has. Which is, of course, flagrantly ignoring his White privilege. You see a lot of White entitlement in this story, and when we finally start to see the voices of African American characters, specifically Charlie Shaw, the hypocrisy and scumbaggery of Seth, Carter, and others is highlighted and really punctuates the overall violence that artists like Shaw had to endure. I liked how Kunzru did a good job of applying the ideas of possession and haunting to the idea of cultural appropriation and the damages and injustices that it can foster. This is the kind of ‘horror elevation’ that I greatly enjoy, specifically because horror fiction, be it movies or literature, has always had some political and social commentary elements to it. “White Tears” knows how to weave those messages into this story seamlessly.

While I wish that “White Tears” had done a little bit more to scare me, I really enjoyed it for everything else that it had to offer! I should be more adventurous when it comes to literary horror, because this had some serious chops.

Rating 8: While the story wasn’t as horror centric as I had hoped, the social commentary more than made up for that.

Reader’s Advisory:

“White Tears” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books White People Need To Read”, and “Diversity in Fantasy and Science Fiction”.

Find “White Tears” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Turn of the Screw”

12948._sy475_Book: “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James

Publishing Info: The Macmillan Company, October 1898

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

Review: I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a huge gap in my literature experience when it come to ‘the classics’. I took a rather unconventional load of English and Lit courses in high school and college, and because of that a number of stories have been left behind. The horror genre is no exception, surprisingly enough. I have had “The Turn of the Screw” in the back of my mind since I was a teenager, and it sat on my Kindle for a few years after I purchased a few old school horror reads that then just sat there. My motivation to finally read this book came from two places; I read “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware and knew I was probably missing less known references, and the next Mike Flanagan “Haunting” series is going to be based on this Henry James ghost story. It was obviously time to dive in and read the tale of terror that has influenced so much of the genre.

“The Turn of the Screw” was one of those game changing tales that pushed the ideas of horror and what you could do within the genre itself. There is no denying that Henry James paved the way for modern haunted house tales like “The Haunting of Hill House” and movies like “The Others” when he took ideas of unreliable narrators and unsettling ghosts vs over the top ghosts and put them on the page. Some of the things that I really liked about this book were because of these tweaks and experimentations. “The Turn of the Screw” takes great Gothic elements and completely acknowledges the influence from Gothic stories, be it references to “Jane Eyre” or “The Mysteries of Udolpho”. Bly is isolated and distant, and the unnamed Governess is left there with two strange children, another servant, and no head of house for guidance or direction. As she falls more and more into physical isolation, so too does her mind fall into mental isolation, which is really what you need for a Gothic theme to really have a punch. I also really appreciate how James wrote this story in a way that makes the Governess a completely unreliable narrator, and that we can’t quite figure out whether or not there are actual ghosts and Bly that want to take the children, or if she is slowly descending into madness and she is the actual threat the whole time. It’s left up to interpretation, and arguments can be made for either scenario. I honestly don’t know where I fall on the ‘was it ghosts or insanity’ argument, James was so convincing of both. And frankly, I don’t know which would be the worse answer, given how the story ends. Along with that, in my mild bit of research into the background of this story, James was one of the first people to write ghosts in an unsettling way as opposed to over the top and melodramatic. And that really stands out in this story, as the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel are more inclined to move through the grounds or appear in dark hallways and merely stand there as opposed to rattling chains and wailing. And for me, that’s far more creepy and disturbing. There were moments of imagery in this book that sent chills up my spine.

giphy-2
Was it a mistake to read this book after dark while my husband was out of town? Almost assuredly. (source)

However, the reason that I am giving “The Turn of the Screw” a lower rating than one might expect from my praise is because of the writing style of the time period. This almost always knocks me off my game and distracts me when it comes to ‘classic’ stories, and “The Turn of the Screw” definitely fell into the trap of a lot of flowery language and slogging scenes with not as much action as I would have liked. When comparing it to another classic haunted house story like “The Haunting of Hill House”, I felt like it didn’t have the kind of pacing where the stakes were being repeatedly raised and the dread was building after every incident. I appreciate how this would have been groundbreaking for the time and how much it has done for the ghost stories that came after it. But for me, it was more of a slog to get through than I would have liked.

I think that reading “The Turn of the Screw” was ultimately a good choice, as I see how it works as a foundation for so many stories that I love. But it’s not one that I see myself revisiting as time goes on, as I might with “The Haunting of Hill House” or other classics like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Rating 6: A classic horror story that paved the way for many themes within a genre, “The Turn of the Screw” has moments of dread, but sometimes is held back by the style it was written in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Turn of the Screw” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books With Unreliable Narrators”, and “Quick Books”.

Find “The Turn of the Screw” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Season of the Witch”

43261389Book: “Season of the Witch” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Scholastic Inc, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: It’s the summer before her sixteenth birthday, and Sabrina Spellman knows her world is about to change. She’s always studied magic and spells with her aunts, Hilda and Zelda. But she’s also lived a normal mortal life – attending Baxter High, hanging out with her friends Susie and Roz, and going to the movies with her boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle.

Now time is running out on her every day, normal world, and leaving behind Roz and Susie and Harvey is a lot harder than she thought it would be. Especially because Sabrina isn’t sure how Harvey feels about her. Her cousin Ambrose suggests performing a spell to discover Harvey’s true feelings. But when a mysterious wood spirit interferes, the spell backfires in a big way.

Sabrina has always been attracted to the power of being a witch. But now she can’t help wondering if that power is leading her down the wrong path. Will she choose to forsake the path of light and follow the path of night?

Review: It’s Halloween season, and I had initially thought that that meant that we would be getting the next installment of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to pass. I am always going to be waiting on pins and needles for new content for this show and anything related to it (STILL WAITING ON VOLUME 2 OF THE COMICS!!), so thank goodness we have “Season of the Witch” by Sarah Rees Brennan to tide us over until it comes back!

giphy-1
Couldn’t have said it better myself! (source)

This novel is part of the TV show canon, and serves as a prequel to the series set a few months before the first season. Sabrina Spellman, the teenage half mortal/half witch, is still struggling with her identity as she prepares for her dark baptism. She loves her mortal friends, but knows that if she takes the path of darkness she may have to say goodbye. It’s a conflict that has kind of been left behind on the show, and I’m not sure that I felt the need to revisit it at this point. I totally get why a book would function better as a prequel than occurring at the same time as the show since we don’t know what that canon is going to look like. I did like the overall plot for the most part, however, even if it did feel a little bit regressive, thematically. I liked seeing Sabrina take risks, risks that didn’t always pay off, and I liked how she and her cousin Ambrose interacted within the plot as he helps her with a potential ‘love spell’. Ambrose and Sabrina’s relationship is one that we see bits of on the show, but Brennan puts it at the forefront of the plot, and really lets us see the ups and downs of it and how they perceive each other in positive and negative ways. Ambrose envies Sabrina because of her freedom (which at this point he still does not have, as he’s still under house arrest), while Sabrina is resentful of the fact that he is more favored by Aunts Hilda and Zelda than she is, in her mind. They care about each other, but the tension definitely starts to bubble over, and it made for the most emotional part of the story. The rest of the plot was pretty okay too, though I will say that it doesn’t really add much to the show mythology. But on the other hand, it relies on it enough that I think you really do have to watch the show first in order to fully understand a number of the plot points and implications, even as a prequel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping it would stand on it’s own a little bit more.

However, I really liked the characterizations of this book. The majority of the perspective is, of course, Sabrina’s, but interspersed throughout are vignette chapters that give you insight into the other characters within the series. From Aunt Hilda to Roz to Theo (still Susie at this point) to Harvey, everyone gets a chance to shine. Aunt Hilda is especially well done, as Brennan captures her kindness and quirkiness with ease. But the best ones were the ones I wasn’t expecting as much. The first is the chapter revolving around Prudence, the head of the Weird Sisters and Sabrina’s frenemy. Prudence is complex on the show, but what I liked best about her chapter was that we got to see a deep look into her insecurities about feeling like she doesn’t really belong anywhere, and how Sabrina’s loving family makes Prudence envious, and therefore leads to her lashing out. Prudence is a top three character for me on the show, and I liked seeing her vulnerability really explored. The other chapter was even less expected, and that focused on Harvey’s brother Tommy. All we really know about Tommy on the show is that he is the most supportive person in Harvey’s life, and that he is a great person and a golden boy around town. But in his chapter we really got into his mind and his heart when it comes to Harvey, and why he stayed behind in Greendale when he had other opportunities. This chapter was endearing and rather bittersweet, as we know how things change and shift within the Kinkle family as the show goes on.

Fans of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” will find a fun and entertaining story in “Season of the Witch”. It may not add much to the universe as a whole, but it gives the reader some really good material for the characters that we know and love. It’s a witchy read for this witchy time of year!

Rating 7: A cute and fun side story/prequel to the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Netflix show. It doesn’t add much to the mythology and even reverts a little too much sometimes, but it does explore character motivations of characters who don’t get as much attention on the show.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Season of the Witch” is on some pretty broad Goodreads lists, but I think it would also fit in on “Young Adult Novels with Witches”, and “All Hallows Reads”.

Find “Season of the Witch” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Full Throttle”

43801817Book: “Full Throttle” by Joe Hill

Publishing Info: William Morrow, October 2019

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

Book Description: In this masterful collection of short fiction, Joe Hill dissects timeless human struggles in thirteen relentless tales of supernatural suspense, including “In The Tall Grass,” one of two stories co-written with Stephen King, basis for the terrifying feature film from Netflix.

A little door that opens to a world of fairy tale wonders becomes the blood-drenched stomping ground for a gang of hunters in “Faun.” A grief-stricken librarian climbs behind the wheel of an antique Bookmobile to deliver fresh reads to the dead in “Late Returns.” In “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” two young friends stumble on the corpse of a plesiosaur at the water’s edge, a discovery that forces them to confront the inescapable truth of their own mortality . . . and other horrors that lurk in the water’s shivery depths. And tension shimmers in the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert as a faceless trucker finds himself caught in a sinister dance with a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in “Throttle,” co-written with Stephen King.

Featuring two previously unpublished stories, and a brace of shocking chillers, Full Throttle is a darkly imagined odyssey through the complexities of the human psyche. Hypnotic and disquieting, it mines our tormented secrets, hidden vulnerabilities, and basest fears, and demonstrates this exceptional talent at his very best.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending my an eARC of this book!

Happy Horrorpalooza 2019 everyone! As you may know, in October I try to stick to books that have horror based or Halloween-y themes, as this is absolutely my favorite time of the year and I like to inundate myself with all things scary and spooky. So how lucky are we that we get to kick off the month with a book from one of my favorite horror authors, Joe Hill. Hill is one of those authors that I will always swear my devotion to, and so when I found out that he had a new short stories collection coming out I was stoked as heck. Granted, I had already read a few of the tales in “Full Throttle”, his new collection, as they had been published previously with other collections or in collaboration with his father, Stephen King. But a majority of the tales were new to me, and I couldn’t wait to tackle them all. As per usual with short stories collections, I’ll talk about my favorites, and then give an overall review of the series as a whole. And I have lots to say about my favorites.

“Dark Carousel”

This story is one of the most blatantly horror-centric tales in the collection, and it has a good amount of winking and nudging towards well loved tropes and stories in the genre. With nods towards “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, I took great delight in this creepy tale. Four friends attend a carnival and take a ride on the carousel. After they accuse the carousel operator of wrongdoing, they decide to have some fun and take their revenge on him. But little do they know that they are being watched by non-human eyes, and that their misdeeds will have dire consequences. I really, really loved this story, from the characterizations of our protagonists to the slow build of dread at the carnival and afterwards, and the come down that has ambiguity and a sense of inevitability. The loving references to “Something Wicked This Way Comes” were fun to spot, and the overall wrongness of the carnival and the carousel made for an eerie and unsettling, yet never over the top, scary story. The story isn’t terribly complicated, but it is very effective in what it is trying to achieve. The best horror story in the collection for me, hands down.

“By The Silver Waters of Lake Champlain”

This was one of the stories I had read previously before picking up this book, but given how much I loved it the first time I was excited (and apprehensive) to read it again. But on a second go through, my love for the story only grew, and it is probably my favorite story in the collection. Friends Gail and Joel are visiting Lake Champlain on vacation, and one lazy Sunday morning the two of them find the body of what looks to be a plesiosaur-like reptile. Convinced it’s the famed lake monster Champ, they have dreams that their discovery will make them rich and famous. But instead of fame and glory, they have to confront the hard truths of growing up, loss, and mortality. I first read this story a few years ago, and it blew me away and left me crying. Reading it this time and knowing how it all ends made the experience all the more bittersweet. Hill has the ability to capture tween and teenage voices in authentic ways, and he also knows how to give hints to his characters realities without being explicit. We can surmise that Gail and Joel are both a bit lonely at home, and that their parents, at least during this story, are more focused on nursing vacation hangovers than on their children and what they are getting up to on a foggy morning by the lake. Gail and Joel are probably friends more based on circumstance than anything else, but that doesn’t make their friendship any less valid, nor does it cheapen the ultimate ending this story has. They are connected by interest in the Lake Champlain Monster as well, and honestly anything that shows weird and funny friendship obsessions with cryptids is going to resonate with me, given my past (and present) fascinations with similar topics. But on top of that, for me this is one of the most emotionally charged stories in the bunch (one of the others will be addressed in a moment). Hill is so good at writing grief and trauma, and the last paragraphs are still haunting and incredibly emotional. This is a story that I would LOVE to see expanded into a novel, where Gail goes back to the lake to try to get answers and closure. And even on the second read through I was left a bit emotionally compromised. Nay, extremely emotionally compromised.

tenor
Actual footage of my emotions at the end. (source)

“Late Returns”

I will wholeheartedly own up to the fact that as a librarian I was no doubt going to be biased towards this story. A new librarian, trying to escape his own grief and loss, takes over the Bookmobile job in hopes of spreading the love of reading to people who can’t necessarily make it into the actual library. As he makes the rounds, he starts to encounter people from other times, who may need to read books that were published after their deaths in order to feel complete. This is one of the less creepy or scary stories from the collection, and the unabashed love of reading and the testament to the power of a book is so sublime and wholesome. Hill also tinkers and plays with the idea of time and space continuums in this story in really unique ways. For example, should one of these ‘late returns’ (the name given to the out of time patrons) pick up a book that was published after their death, it may be indecipherable to them if they shouldn’t be reading it. But it will also morph it’s design to fit the design of the era the person was from. It’s little details like these that feel original and incredibly clever. On top of that, we get more emotional moments for some of the characters, from our protagonist processing his own grief to one late return whose son is fighting in Vietnam, and she doesn’t know if she will ever see him again. Again, while I love the scares and thrills that Hill creates, it’s how he taps into the human condition and all its complexities that makes him stand out.

As for the rest of the collection, most if the stories are strong in their own ways. The two collaborations with his Dad show how well they work together, though I will say that “In The Tall Grass” (another I’d read previously) sort of makes me feel like they were trying to one up each other in the shocks department (and I ultimately didn’t really care for it when all was said and done). It is a good balance of a number of genres, and they all fit together even if they aren’t explicitly connected. At the end he has little background notes about how each came to be written, and I thought that gave them even more context which enhanced the reading experience.

“Full Throttle” is a perfectly compiled collection of Hill’s various offerings, and if you want a taste of what he can do, you have a smorgasbord to choose from.

Rating 8: A solid collection of horror, thriller, and dark fantasy, “Full Throttle” has scares and heart and confirms Joe Hill’s prowess as an author of many genres.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Full Throttle” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward To in 2019”.

Find “Full Throttle” at your library using WorldCat!