Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Reads: Books that Scared Me Silly

Well I didn't get through my whole list of Halloween reads, but I made a good dent.  My posts got me thinking about other books I've read over the years that creeped me out and left a lasting impression on me.  I can say each of the books I've listed below still resonate in my memory and send shivers down my spine.  What spooky books have you read and loved?

A serial killer travels through time in Chicago.  Seriously had me checking the locks on my doors and windows.  An excellent read!

I read this during my teen "Stephen King" years and  was completely scared out of my mind.  One of the first books I read where bad things happen to good people. 

A pilot is haunted by passengers who died during a plane crash.  Will they drive him to do the unthinkable?
This teen novel about zombies taking over the world is the first in a series.  Very well done --you'll read it  and be on the edge of your seat.  

I read this non-fiction book over 15 years ago and, along with my friends,  had the bejesus scared out of me!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Read: The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston

My spooky reads for the month continues with one of my favorite authors, Paula Brackston.  

But, I'm sad to say, I wasn't bewitched by this novel.  Trying to let the disappointment go and move on, but it is hard when an author you enjoy doesn't hit it out of the park every single time.  

Paula Brackston still remains true to her theme of witchcraft in this, her third novel. I read The Silver Witch earlier this year and just gobbled it up (much like the Brach's pumpkin cremes I inhale every October).  The Midnight Witch was already sitting on my bookshelf, but was set aside while I was in the throes of grad school.  Now, finally, I had the chance to read it.  Fully expected to love it.  Didn't. 

This novel takes place before and after World War I.  In 1913, Lady Lilith Montgomery is mourning the death of her father.  Rich, beautiful, and engaged, Lilith seems to have it all, and then some:  her father was the head witch of the Lazarus Coven, and Lilith is the heir. The Lazarus Coven is very old, and very secret.  They exist to protect England from dark forces, especially the Sentinels, a group of nasty sorcerers  bent on reclaiming the "elixir" the Lazarus Coven keeps under wraps.  The Sentinels see an opportunity to strike with the death of Lilith's father and her ascent as head witch.  

Lilith has been trained since childhood in the arts of witchcraft, and she's pretty powerful and up to the task of head witch.  But the nasty spirit whispering in her ear, and the knowledge that there is a spy in the Lazarus Coven make her position tenuous. The gathering clouds of war are always in the background, making what should be a happy time in Lilith's life pretty stressful and gloomy.  

Oh, there's also that love interest:  not her fiance, but a poor starving artist.  He's talented, and drop dead gorgeous, but not a witch, and completely out of Lilith's social circle.  Not husband material for her at all.  Lilith must keep her other life--that of a witch--a secret to everyone who is not in the coven (her mother still doesn't know her husband was a witch and her daughter is as well).  How can she possibly find a way out of this mess?

I've been trying to figure out just what I didn't like about this novel.  I kept finding myself thinking it was set earlier than 1913-1914 and that was frustrating.  There wasn't a lack of social clues; the fashion was discussed quite frequently, as well as mentions of cars and women's attitudes.  And World War I was certainly a big part of it.  Somehow I kept getting lost even with all of those reference points to keep me straight.  I also didn't care for the romance between Lilith and Bram.  I didn't feel any chemistry between the two at all.  

The novel does jump ahead 5 years, to after the war.  I found this plot device hard to swallow.  Lilith has so much trouble in 1913-1914; I have a hard time believing the Sentinels wouldn't take advantage of England being in a major war to take control of the Lazarus Coven during such chaos.  They do try, but not very hard.  I felt like the author was very ambitious in the story she wanted to tell, but it fell short somehow.  Too much "stuff" going on that cluttered up the plot.  And I have to say I wasn't entirely crazy about Lilith either.  Something was missing from her personality that would have made me really invested in her issues and struggles.  

Arrgh!  So disappointed in this one.  I always applaud an author who stretches their usual storytelling in another direction.  This one just wasn't the best.  And my golly it seemed way too long.  

Rating:  4/10 for a plot that seemed clunky, a romance that didn't click, and a heroine that unfortunately fell short for me.  

Available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Halloween Read: The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

This novel originally came out in March of 2013, and I've had an advance reader's copy on my shelves since probably 2012.  Just goes to show eventually I do get to books on my bookcases!  

I haven't read a really creepy book in quite some time and I'm glad I chose this for a Halloween read.  It did creep me out.  I actually went down to my basement last night to toss clothes in the dryer and felt a little uneasy looking into the dark corners.  Thank you Andrew Pyper for that.  

This novel is about a man, Professor David Ullman, and his unbreakable bond with his daughter Tess.  David is an expert on Milton's Paradise Lost, and has built his career out of his scholarly work, but secretly doesn't believe in God or the devil.  His marriage is in shambles, his wife is having an affair, and his daughter seems to inherited what he calls the "melancholy" he himself struggles to keep at bay.  A visit from a strange woman inviting him to Venice (all expenses paid) to witness a phenomenon sets David on a journey that will test his beliefs, his courage, and his unshakable belief that he can save his daughter. 

What?! David's daughter disappears in Venice (everyone says she commits suicide), but David knows what happened:  a demon has her.  And he's going to keep her unless David becomes his disciple and shows the world the proof he has locked up in a bank vault:  that demons exist, and God is not good.  Demonic possession caught on video.  Proof positive that "they" are coming.  This sends David on a cross-country odyssey to find the clues that will lead him to his final destination and showdown with the demon.  And he's under a time constraint:  He only has a few days until his daughter is lost to him forever.  

This is a short novel, but the uneasiness is pretty big.  There are a few scenes that quite frankly creeped me out!  Imagine being scared witless, and moving forward anyway.  That's pretty much what David does.  A father's love for his daughter is supremely powerful.  You don't need to have read Paradise Lost or even have an inkling about it, because you get enough of it in the story to follow along.  Lots of dead people, demonic possession, and horrible visions keep up the horror factor in this story.  I found myself racing towards the end, as David races towards his fate.  

I actually really enjoyed this novel.  The tension is high, the anticipation builds, and it will make you turn on all the lights.  Something completely different from my usual read!

Rating:  7/10 for a well-executed horror novel that makes your heart race and a main character who struggles with his demons--both literally and figuratively in order to save his daughter.  Can love conquer supreme evil?

Available in paperback, hardcover, audio, and e-book.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fun Friday Post: Books I'd Love to Have on My Bookcase

I was contacted by invaluable.com and asked if I would be interested in writing a blog post about books I'd love to have on my bookshelves. It got me thinking a bit about what I'd love to have, and here are a few that would put a smile on my face:

Beatrix Potter!  Amazing to realize these books are still issued in this size, with these illustrations.  I'd love editions from 1917.  

1917 Frederick Warne & Co., NY
Jane Austen.  Need I say more???

Description: All published in London by Richard Bentley & Son. *Pride and Prejudice (1885) New Edition. *A Memoir of Jane Austen by Her Nephew J. E. Austen Leigh (1883) Fifth Edition. *Mansfield Park, A Novel (1885) New Edition. *Emma, A Novel (1882) New Edition. *Sense and Sensibility, A Novel (1882) New Edition. *Northanger Abbey, A Novel (1885) New Edition. Uniformly bound in blind stamped dark green cloth. 
Description: R.M.S. TITANIC: "Story of the Wreck of the Titanic", first edition 1912.

I've always been obsessed with the Titanic, and this gem from 1912 would be pretty fantastic to have at home.  

Take a look at what invaluable.com has to offer in their books section--make your wish list, and keep checking for more enticing books.  Who knows?  You just may find that one you can't live without. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

The Courtesan is a first novel from author Alexandra Curry, and she doesn't hesitate to tackle a historical figure that has fascinated historians, filmmakers, and biographers for decades.  

Sai Jinhua was a pampered little girl in 1881 when her life changed dramatically following the public execution of her father for "telling the truth".  The daughter of a beloved concubine, Jinhua is despised by her father's first wife, and she's quickly sold to a brothel--at the tender age of 7.  Your heart aches for this little girl who doesn't understand why her father never returned home.  This is truly a tale of a young girl, and later a young woman, who is oftentimes at the mercy of everyone else, with little choice of her own.  
 This novel is based on an actual person--Sai Jinhua is legendary in China as a famous courtesan who traveled to Europe in the late 1800's and as mistress to a Chinese emissary to Europe, finds herself in the midst of the political issues of the time.  She's a pretty courageous woman, living in a time of great upheaval not only for China, but for the world.  How does a woman survive with no family, no education, and nothing but her own smarts?  

Alexandra Curry moves the reader through Jinhua's life and all of her successes and failures, as well as a deep friendship with Suyin, a maid she befriends who ultimately makes a huge sacrifice in the name of loyalty and love.  

If you're a fan of historical fiction, step out of your usual fare and read about a completely different character--one who has left many unanswered questions that continue to intrigue people to this day.  Alexandra Curry attempts to recreate what might have been and make sense of Jinhua's mysterious life as a famous courtesan and political character, as well as a woman seeking happiness and peace.  

Sai Jinhua in 1887
 Rating:  7/10 for a completely different historical fiction novel.  Alexandra Curry writes an intriguing novel about a woman concubine swept up in the upheaval of Chinese and European politics while struggling to escape the whims of those around her.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for a review copy!  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sweet Unrest by Lisa Maxwell

It's been awhile since I've read a teen book.  I thoroughly enjoy teen reads and have read some amazing tales over the years.  Sweet Unrest was a great one to pick off my bookshelves and dive into this Halloween season.  

Sweet Unrest has a few things in it that always grab my interest:  New Orleans, plantation house, ghost, and evil.  Yes, this novel does have the usual teen love interest, but here's the kicker:  it involves reincarnation and a ghost.  What do you do when the person you love with all your heart is a ghost and you're alive?  I don't think I'm giving anything away about the plot.  It's pretty easy to figure out--right away.  

Plot:  Lucy Aimes reluctantly moves to New Orleans with her parents and younger brother.  Her father is a history professor who's taken a position as curator of Le Ciel Doux, an antebellum sugar plantation just outside of New Orleans.  It's now a tourist stop, complete with costumed guides and outbuildings.  Lucy is not happy to be here, and hopes to go back to Chicago at the end of the summer to finish her senior year of high school.  She's a gifted photographer, and has agreed to help her dad document the plantation.  She's also been experiencing the same unsettling dream over and over again growing up, and it's just become more ominous and frequent:  she's drowning, and can't save herself.  

Cue spooky atmosphere at the plantation.  The house itself is gorgeous, but has an air of nastiness around it.  Lucy and her family live in a small cottage near the plantation, so she's spared living in the main house itself.  Soon after moving in, Lucy notices a gorgeous young man standing at the back of a crowd of employees who are at their first meeting with her father.  She's pretty struck by his looks and intensity.  And of course he lasers in on her.  Soon after, she finds him at a nearby pond, and learns his name is Alex.  He's got a bit of a French accent, and seems pretty focused on her.  She's drawn to him and can't explain why. 

And then the dreams begin.  Lucy dreams of Alex, and a young woman named Armantine.  Forbidden love due to Armantine's mixed blood doom the two.  She's torn between wanting to believe Alex loves her, and wary of losing her heart to a man who may not keep his promise to marry her and instead make her his mistress, as most beautiful quadroons in New Orleans end up.  Dark forces swirl around the two in the shape of Thisbe, a local voodoo woman (who scares the bejesus out of everyone around her).  What happens to Alex and Armantine?  How are they tied to Lucy in today's world?  

Lucy has a mystery to solve before it's too late.  Evil from the plantation is still wandering around in Lucy's time, and Lucy must learn to trust both Alex and Mama Legba.  Who's Mama Legba?  She's a strong and powerful priestess who can help Lucy navigate the world of light and dark, goodness and evil.  And she is Lucy's strongest ally to discover what really happened to Alex and Armantine in 1841.  

This was an enjoyable stroll through the mystery that is New Orleans.  I've always loved reading this kind of novel, and for a teen story it has enough history and thorough research into voodoo to keep it interesting.  I'll admit the plot involving Alex is certainly a unique one that I haven't seen elsewhere.  Lucy does seem a bit lost at first, but she quickly clicks into what's going on and becomes determined to figure things out.  She's not afraid to do what she has to, and it's refreshing to see a strong teen female lead carry a story.  This is a trend in teen fiction that has had a long life, and only seems to be growing.  Girl power!

Rating:  7/10 for the history and unique love story between what was, and what is.  A strong female lead who doesn't have all the answers but isn't afraid to keep digging.  A good ghost story that won't keep you up at night. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

October is Here and Spooky Reads are on Tap

I rarely have a themed book blog, but since it's October and I love Halloween I decided now is a good time to read some of the spooky tales I have on my bookshelves.  While I will still be reading and reviewing my usual historical and contemporary fiction, I'll be sprinkling in tales of witches, demons, and strange phenomenon, as well as some interesting non-fiction finds.  So to whet your appetite for all things creepy and spooky, here are some of the books I'll be reading and reviewing this month:

I can't wait to dig in!  Stay tuned for reviews and don't forget to keep the lights on and the door locked....