7 Books to Read (to help keep your spirits up)

Let me be clear, I’m a hardcore introvert. But these days I’m madly in love with people. I’m in awe at the good that so many are showing right now, in the big and small ways. I might like being alone, but in this time of chaos, I’m so grateful to be human. I’m also extremely grateful to the storytellers. In odd, scary, or hard times, I’ve always turn to books. Here’s what I’m currently reading (or re-reading) during this time. Hopefully you’ll find something here that catches your fancy and brings you some joy as well.

The Martian (Andy Wier): This is a love letter to human resilience, intelligence, and the way that people come together. It’s also a love letter to any geek, or any curious person out there. Reading about Mark and his potatoes on Mars always puts things into perspective for me.

Twilight (Stephenie Meyer): I won’t apologize for how much I love this book. Sometimes you just need some tragic, romantic, over the top melodrama in your life. Also, I’m totally in love with the writing style. For me, flaws and all, this book is pure escapism.

Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare): This is a superb story about Tessa who must come to terms with her life being torn apart. The book feels like a love letter to all of us who are a little odd. What’s even better is that you don’t have to be familiar with Clare’s other works to read this. It’s the perfect introduction to the Shadowhunters world.

Abarat (Clive Barker): Where do I start with this book? The paintings by the author are phenomenal, and Candy’s story is powerful. This book has gone so many places with me (literally!), and has helped me expand myself in so many ways. Adventure, resilience, and conquering fears/overwhelming uncertainty make this book an all time favorite of mine.

Job (The Bible): No matter your beliefs, the book of Job is a powerful one. Job is a man who has it all (literally) and loses it then becomes painfully, chronically ill. In a time where so many of us are struggling with health and doing our best to stay healthy, Job’s struggles still resonate deeply today. The themes of friendship and good and evil are also at the forefront. The book might be much older than any of us, but there’s no denying its power. Whenever I’m ill or feeling afraid, this book always comforts me.

The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien): I’m slowly making my way through this tome (after all, the three books are intended to be read as one), but it’s an absolute delight. The struggles Frodo and company face make mine feel much smaller in comparison. I love the extensive travel and world building. I feel much less confined after reading a chapter. For me this book slows me down, forces me to relax and enjoy the details. I’ve come to find that once I start looking for details in a book, it’s much easier to find small delights outside of them.

In the Wake of the Plague (Norman F. Cantor): This might seem a bit too on the nose, reading about the Black Death when we’re going through an epidemic/plague ourselves, but I can’t say how helpful it’s been for me to read about how humanity has overcome world wide illnesses before. This is hard to read simply because it hurts to read about people suffering, but this book has a lot to teach us. Both about the Black Death, and about the spread of modern viruses. It’s given me an even stronger respect for those who are on the front lines pushing towards a cure and for the health of the world.

Hopefully you’ve found a book or two that piques your interest. Whatever sort of thing suits your fancy, I hope you’re able to put aside the world for a little while and enjoy it. As for me, I’ll continue to read through my many books and of course, write. I’d love to hear what things you’re reading during this time (or anything interesting that you might be up to during all of this). May you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe.

Book Review: The Collector (and news!)

Before I get to the review, I have some news: It’s been long overdue, but I’ve started a newsletter. On the second Tuesday of the month, The Ghostly Tome will come to your inbox offering you a plethora of various exclusives including process insights, current projects, and excerpts, among other things.

Alright, enough of that, let’s get to the review shall we?

“As one, every doll along the hallway slowly turned its head to stare at me.” ~ The Collector

Synopsis: It’s not easy for Josie to move to her grandmother’s house in the middle of nowhere and start all over in a new school. Especially when her grandmother isn’t all there anymore, insisting that Josie and her sister follow three weird rules (no dolls, no open windows at night, and no playing near the house in the woods). The nightmares aren’t helping either. But things are made easier when Josie meets Vanessa. Impossibly cool and kind, Josie finally has a friend. Life is starting to feel a little more normal. But when Vanessa invites Josie to her house in the woods, Josie comes to realize that there’s more to her nightmares, her grandmother’s warnings, and to Vanessa. Unfortunately, Josie is short on time, and the woods are deadly and deep.

Thoughts: I work in an elementary school and a highlight of the year is the Schoolastic Book Fair. I love shopping in the book fair. It’s a great way to see what students are reading and support the school. But I had passed over The Collector a few times, even though my dark and morbid heart was drawn to it. I went to purchase two other (spooky) books. One of the parent volunteers asked if I had checked out The Collector. That sealed my fate. I turned around, got it and it became the third book I bought that day.

A couple of days later I started reading this book on my lunch break and nearly cried. Not only is Josie’s voice authentic, the pain she experiences (from being the new girl, and from trying to cope with understanding her grandmother’s Alzheimer) was treated so well. As someone who has been in both situations, I felt seen. To have that in a children’s book portrayed in such a real way was wonderful.

The fear factor of this story, for such a short story and one aimed at kids, was extremely well done. As an adult I was glad that I didn’t have any dolls around. The way the horror is woven into the every day lives of Josie and her family was thrilling. I flew through this book not because it was short (although as a children’s horror book it is on the slim side to be sure), but because the pacing and rising stakes made this an addictive read.

Despite its intended audience and short length, The Collector is a brilliant story about family and trusting in ones self that any horror enthusiast can enjoy. It really is a treat. But if you do decide to read it…you might want to get rid of your dolls first.

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House

“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.”

While moving a couple months back, my thoughts lingered on the types of homes we encounter in fiction. Some are wonderful places we wish we lived in, others are home to terror and pain. But perhaps no fictional home is as iconic as Hill House. I saw the 1963 movie The Haunting on Halloween years ago, and swore to myself I would read the book. Apparently this is a lucky October for me.

Synopsis: Hill House is a blight that holds nothing but terror, or so the legends say. An occult scholar, Dr. Montague, rents the house in hopes of discovering irrefutable evidence of a haunting. With him come three people, the charismatic and colorful Theodora, Luke, the heir to Hill House, and Eleanor, an outcast who sees her time at Hill House as her first real adventure. All are tied to the paranormal, but none have experienced it with such intensity. Hill House is watching them, and it is waiting.

Thoughts: The movie, while iconic, doesn’t hold a candle to the book. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic for a number of reasons. The characters, the writing style, and the setting are iconic. Those coupled with the pacing of the story makes for an intense and memorable read.

Eleanor is actually a shockingly sympathetic character in the book. For those of you familiar with the 1963 version of the film, you’ll no doubt recall that while the main character, Eleanor is hardly sympathetic. In the book her thoughts are fluid and coherent. She has been hurt by the world as many of us have been, and wants a better life for herself. She’s stubborn, whimsical, and curious. Ultimately she wants to be a part of something larger than herself. These things will eventually come back to haunt her (and the others), but that makes her and her relationships with the other characters all the more interesting.

While Luke, Dr. Montague, and Theodora are all interesting characters, aside from Theo, none of them interested me quite as much as Eleanor. Which is precisely the point of the book. Although the book starts from Eleanor’s perspective, and arguably remains from her point of view, as the story progresses we as the reader become more and more aligned with how the house sees Eleanor and her friends. It’s an uncanny experience and the core element that makes this book so frightening.

What makes the book so terrifying is the writing style. The writing style is somehow simplistic and yet beautifully detailed. Jackson has a talent for picking out the right details and weaving them in. Details that crop up at the start of the book find their way deep within the novel. The repetition of some things, and the lack of it for others, helps add suspense. One is never quite sure how something will come into play. The writing style, filled with shockingly long sentences and paragraphs, is unusual, but absolutely brilliant within the book. I don’t think many, if any, other writers could pull it off. In short, the long paragraphs and sentences add on to the suspense, forcing the reader down an odd rabbit hole, trying to absorb each detail.

And finally, the plot itself. I believe the beauty of the plot lies within its simplicity. Four strangers staying in a legendary haunted house. Each of them have some tie to the paranormal or the house itself, and yet each one has their own doubts. There are so, so many things that could go wrong with this scenario, and things do indeed go wrong, but none of it in the way one anticipates. And this is coming from someone who has memorized the 1963 film. The simplicity allows the reader’s imagination to run away with them, and be surprised and frightened over and over again.

This is one of those books where the cliche of “a beautiful and haunting book” is actually quite fitting. If horror is your thing, then you really can’t go wrong with Jackson’s masterpiece. If you’re a fan of classics, again, this is a solid book and worthy of your bookshelves. As a writer I found myself enthralled with the choice of words and the brilliant details. As a reader I was curled at the edge of my sofa, reading, trying to absorb and unravel each mystery presented to me. Jackson is truly a master of horror and has quickly made her way firmly onto my list of favorite authors.

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

“…I wish I had it in me to feel remorse for the dead thing. But this was the forest, and it was winter.” ~Fyere

I have no words for this book. The beauty, depth, darkness and light within it, all deeply moved me. Even so, I’ll do my best to review A Court of Thorns and Roses. After all, I’m the sort of person that when I fall in love with a book, I must talk about it.

A red and black book with silver text on it. On the left side of the book a young woman in a black dress stands, a black flowering tattoo on her arm. The text reads "A Court of Thorns and Roses" by Sarah J. Maas

Synopsis: Fyere is a 19 year old woman who kills a wolf in the woods to help provide food for her family. Her world is shattered when a powerful beast comes to claim her as retribution. Taken to the half of the world where no human has ventured and come back alive from, Fyere discovers her captor is none other than Tamlin, one of the immortal and exceedingly powerful Fae. But Tamlin and his companions hold secrets, secrets of a power that is slowly destroying the world of the Fae, and Fyere’s human world. As Fyere learns more about Tamlin, she starts to realize just how little she knows about her world, the Fae, and how little power she has to stop the rising evil.

Thoughts: I had a number of hesitations coming into this book. For one, while “Beauty and the Beast” is one of my favorite stories, it’s also one of the more popular retellings. Secondly, while Fae mythology has always interested me, I’m quite worn out from the watered down Fae. I was afraid that despite the hype surrounding the book, it wouldn’t appeal to me. So somehow, I began reading with high expectations, but low hopes. By the end of the first chapter I was enamored, and my love only grew as I read.

The first thing that captured me was the narration. Maas made a wonderful choice by telling the story from Fyere’s point of view. Fyere’s practical, stubborn, hurt, and yet she’s deeply loyal, desperately trying to hold on to what little beauty life has to offer. From the start, Fyere knows herself and her motivations are clear. As the story progresses and her world view is challenged, Fyere starts to question her motives. This is one of the driving forces of the plot. I personally loved this element because it lead to a lot of character interactions and each one of those pushed the plot forward, adding depth to the story.

It’s impossible to talk about Fyere without talking about the other characters. To go into detail about each one would make this post quite long, so I’ll simply summarize. As much as I enjoyed seeing Fyere and Tamlin’s growing relationship, I still felt that Tamlin was too distant overall. He was certainly interesting, but I still couldn’t fully get behind him. I have a feeling this is purposeful on Maas’ part. I do appreciate that the depth of his actions (or lack of actions) is clarified as the book continues. This leads to some lovely conflict and plot twists.

But it was Nesta and Rhysand that became out of the blue insta-faves for me. At the start of the book Nesta, the oldest of Fyere’s sisters, is cold, selfish, and yet she shows a shocking amount of love and loyalty to Elain, the middle sister. She mostly remains so, and yet she still shows a delightful amount of growth throughout the book. Her relationship with Fyere broke and mended my heart. And then there’s Rhysand. I was surprised with how quickly I fell in love with his character. Sassy, smart, always thinking a few steps ahead, Rhysand is shrouded in mystery. And for someone who is so mysterious, he still was an extremely fleshed out character, and a delight to read.

Of course, characters cannot exist in a void. The world building that went into A Court of Thorns and Roses is breath taking. It brings to mind the detailed fantasy worlds of Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. Not because this book is anything like them, simply because the magic, the belief system, the politics, and the geography are all so well thought out. Even from the first chapter there is a darkness hovering. I wasn’t expecting a terribly dark book, but this book was darker than I anticipated on a number of levels and I loved it. This book also pulls on a number of fantasy tropes and is a fascinating take on the original “Beauty and the Beast” story. But there are also other faerie tales that are referenced in the book, which I found to be an absolute delight.

For a number of reasons this book broke and mended me. I can’t point to any one thing and say “This is what made me love this book.” All of the elements, the way they were woven together, made me fall in love. The elements all tied into the plot. Nothing was mentioned needlessly, and that will always win me over in a book. A Court of Thorns and Roses hits on everything I want in a fantasy book. It pulls on old troupes and transforms them into something formidable and unique. It has a detailed, character and world based plot, suspenseful plot twists and a plethora of other things. If you haven’t read this series yet and are looking for fantasy with an edge, I highly recommend A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s a deeply immersive book that holds your heart and keeps you in its world long after the book is finished.

Book Review: A Simple Favor

“Your mother is a monster.”

December is a time for companionship of all sorts. Family, friends, significant others, pets, it doesn’t matter. Of course this season can also be extremely trying. So it’s important to do simple, loving things for yourself. Simple favors you might say. I found the book A Simple Favor shortly after I saw the movie by the same name. I adored the movie and had to hunt down the book. The book did not disappoint.

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Synopsis:  Brought together by their young sons, Stephanie and Emily quickly become best friends. Their afternoons are spent bonding over motherhood, work, and love. They tell each other everything, and are more than happy to help each other. One day Emily calls Stephanie to ask for a simple favor: pick up her son from school and she’ll pick him up from Stephanie’s house after work. Midnight comes and goes, a day passes, then two. Suddenly Stephanie wonders how much she knew about Emily, and how much she can rely on Emily’s husband to help. Motherhood is lonely, but now it just became deadly.

Thoughts: If you’ve seen the movie, don’t worry. The movie does the book justice, but the book is a dark and beautiful beast of its own. Even if you’ve seen the movie, you won’t see the ending coming. If you haven’t seen the movie? Read this review, read the book, then hunt down the movie.

A Simple Favor hits on hard topics. That’s what makes the book so fun, yet so disturbing. Normal people are involved in abnormal things. Death, suicide, incest, affairs, abuse. Somehow, the cast is convinced they’re normal, and yet they’re convinced that they’re anything but due to their involvement in these issues. These are hard and ugly issues, yet I felt the book handled them well. After all, as difficult as they are, these issues are deeply real problems.  The dark realism is what makes this book work. But it did lead to a few slow parts at the start. Thankfully the book picked up speed rather quickly once Emily vanished.

At the end of the book I was left wondering who the real victims were. How do we measure the value of life when we can so easily warp it, twist it, and create excuses for the inexcusable, convincing ourselves we’re sane? It’s an odd question to be pondering at the end of a domestic thriller, but weeks after I closed the book, I’m still thinking about it.

There’s no question about it though, life is valuable. How valuable it is, well, maybe that’s up to us. Or in the case of this novel, our dear narrators.

I’ve always been a sucker for unreliable narrators, and this book is a glorious study of them. I loved the narrators. They seemed like horrible people, but at the same time they were deeply relatable. Some were insecure, some thirsted for power and love, and others weren’t quite sure of what they wanted. Bell does a fantastic job of crafting characters that we know are wrong, but we can’t help but root for. There’s just enough redeeming or relatable qualities to each character. As the lines between reality and right and wrong blur for our narrators, those lines blur for the reader as well.

If you’re turned off by the idea of domestic thrillers, thinking them tame, this book will no doubt help you think differently of the genre. This is Bell’s first book, and I surely hope it’s not her last. I’ve found a new author to add to my favorites. I’ll be treating myself with re-reads of this book for many years to come.

TL;DR: If you’ve seen the movie, don’t worry. The book will still hold plenty of surprises for you. The book is a masterful dark domestic thriller, with twists galore. The characters are perhaps unlovable, and yet, they are deeply relatable. The pacing is a little slow out the gate, but when it picks up, the pace is breakneck and brilliant. Get your fuzzy blankets, your favorite hot beverage and treat yourself to A Simple Favor. You can thank me (and yourself) later.

Ghostly Giveaway

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I’ve always been fond of the idea of giving something away to party go-ers as they come to celebrate your birthday. With my birthday occurring this month (this week in fact), I thought it would be fun to celebrate by giving away a book.

Earlier this month, I mentioned The Phantom Coach (edited by Michael Sims), a collection of brilliant Victorian Era ghost stories. Now, you have a chance to own it. If you win, you’ll get a brand new, hardback edition of the book, delivered right to your door!

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Giveaway Details:

When: July 16th, 9 am EST – August 16th, midnight EST 2018.

How to Enter: Make a post on this blog entry or Tweet me @aemoseley using the hashtag #1ghostlygiveaway. Tell me your favorite horror, ghost, or supernatural story and why. For two entries tell me your favorite character from my Secrets of the Lion series and why. Your whys can be as long or as short as you like. If you tell me your favorite story and your favorite character from the series, you’ll get three (3) entries!

How to Win: On August 17th, 2018 I will use a random number generator to select the winner. I’ll then make a blog post announcing the winner and announce the winner on Twitter as well. If you’re the winner, you’ll have 72 hours (aka 3 days) to respond so that I can send you your prize. If the winner doesn’t respond during that time, I’ll take their names out of the pool and draw again.

Conditions and Disclaimers:

+ This giveaway isn’t affiliated with Twitter, WordPress, Michael Sims, or Book Depository in any way.

+ No purchase necessary to enter.

+ A maximum of three (3) entries per person.

+ You must be 18 or older to enter.

+ You must be able to receive books from Book Depository. To see a list of what countries Book Depository serves, please click here.

+ You must comfortable giving me your mailing address so that I can mail you the book. I will not use the mailing address for any other purpose.

Summer Ghost Stories

Darkness is weird. It’s simultaneously comforting and terrifying. Comforting, because the blinding lights and thunderous sounds of the day are softened. Terrifying because do you want to stumble through the dark and step on that Lego you should have picked up earlier?

Exactly.

I tend to get these sorts of thoughts during the summer. While some people feel most alive in the summer sun, I feel most alive when darkness takes over. In the summer, the darkness is my friend. It’s filled with noisy crickets, pensive owls, and whimsical fireflies. But to make summer nights perfect, I need a good ghost story.

I’m always on the hunt for a good ghost collection, and I’m always willing to share them. My current favorite is The Phantom Coach, edited by Michael Sims. The title comes from the short story of the same name. Overall, this collection is brilliant. Many of the stories are in first person, and all are unsettling. They stand the test of time making them perfect to read aloud around the bonfire.

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If you’d like something a bit more modern, try out Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle. It’s a stand alone novel about a young woman reflecting on the time she moved to England and into a very haunted house. While not horror, it has unsettling moments making it a brilliant read. Again a first person story, so it’s great to read aloud. Just keep the tissues handy for the ending.

Of course you can go full on modern with the Asylum series by Madeline Roux. It’s genuine horror in third person. Ghosts come back with a vengeance in this one, and it’s beautifully done. If you decide to check out the Asylum series, note that due to accurate portrayals of what happened in mental institutions and violence, this series can be quite triggering.

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I could go on, leaving ruined shelves in my wake as I give you more recommendations, but I’ll leave it at that.  After all, there’s only so much one can do in a summer night.

Speaking of scary stories, if you’re into horror you should check out Nightmare News. I’m a contributor to the site, and it’s a joy writing articles for them. Nightmare News covers everything from books, to music, to movies. If it’s horror, it’s probably on the site. If you want to take a look at my articles specifically, you can check them out here. But I recommend taking a look around at other articles too. Nightmare News is filled with hidden gems.

While there will no doubt be an overlap in topics (I am a dark fiction author after all), what you see here is exclusive to this site. What’s on Nightmare News will be exclusive to that site. This will keep things fresh for both sites and hopefully allow y’all to get the most variety.