2021 is the year that I read outside my comfort zone. This means reading more horror and science fiction. My latest read is a mix of fantasy, occult, and paranormal fiction called The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. This book lays a solid foundation as the first book in the Bethel series.
In The Year of the Witching, Henderson indulges in her love of witchcraft, dark fantasy, cosmic horror, and ghost stories by telling the story of a rigid puritanical society that shuns and abhors dark powers and the witches that tried to ruin the town.
The Prophet’s word is law in Bethel. Immanuelle Moore struggles with this proclamation, despite being raised in the faith. Her mother conceived her out of wedlock with a Bethel outsider of a different race. Immanuelle’s once proud and highly revered family was cast into disgrace when she was born. Her very existence is blasphemy to the Prophet and his followers. Despite of, and perhaps because of, the disgrace her family is in, Immanuelle works hard to follow Holy Protocol, worship in the faith, and lead a life of conformity, devotion, and utter submission. All the other women in the settlement follow these rules, so Immanuelle shouldn’t have a hard time doing so.
Out one day, Immanuelle is lured into the Darkwood that surrounds Bethel. The Darkwood is forbidden as it is the place where the first prophet had chased and killed four powerful witches many years ago. The Darkwood is haunted by the spirits of the witches and people who stumble in are never seen again. This forbidden place gives Immanuelle an extraordinary gift: the diary of her dead mother.
The diary holds the secrets of her mother’s life as well as the history of the Prophets and the Church. The more Immanuelle reads and digs into the mysteries, the more she understands what she has to do. Immanuelle has always known that there is something extra inside her. Both fascinated and fearful of what she finds out, Immanuelle discovers why her mother once worked with the witches. She must do something to save Bethel from its own darkness. Bethel must change.
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Do you have authors whose new books you anxiously await? I’m sure you do. One of the newest authors I have added to this list is Stuart Turton. Turton wrote The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which was published in 2018. That book is a mix of an Agatha Christie novel and the movie Groundhog Day as readers learn that Evelyn Hardcastle keeps dying and Aiden must solve her murder or relive the day over and over. It kept me engaged from start to finish, so when I learned that Turton had a new book coming out at the end of 2020, I knew I wanted to read it.
The Devil in the Dark Water is Turton’s latest novel and it’s a gloriously written complex historical mystery telling the story of people trapped on a ship traveling across the high seas to Amsterdam. Stuck on a ship means that there has to be a bad guy and, OH BOY, are they bad! It’s a bit of a closed room mystery mixed with Sherlock Holmes and a strong dab of history. Read it and let me know what you think. Let’s get into this review!
It’s 1634. Samuel Pipps is the world’s greatest detective, traveling the world with his bodyguard Arent Hayes solving cases that no one can solve. He sees things others miss and can easily figure out the answer to whatever is plaguing him in a case. Arent believes Sammy is gifted and can solve anything. When Sammy ends up being arrested for a crime he may not have committed, Arent is devastated. The two end up boarding a ship to Amsterdam where Sammy is locked away in a small dark and musty cell. He is being transported to Amsterdam to stand trial for his crimes and Arent’s job to keep him safe becomes immensely harder.
As soon as they head out to sea, issues start to plague the ship. Devilry wreaks havoc on the ship and passengers and crew alike are scared. Pipps is shackled inside his cell, leaving Arent to solve the mystery without him. A leper who should have been dead is stalking the ship. Livestock is brutally killed. A strange symbol connected to Arent’s past starts showing up all over the ship.
When the deaths start, panic reaches a fever pitch. Could a demon be responsible for everything happening on board the ship? Voices whisper to people promising their heart’s desire for a small price. Arent needs help solving this mystery and reaches out to other passengers he deems safe. Multiple passengers are connected to this mystery with past secrets and hidden questions that threaten to sink the ship, killing everyone onboard.
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Maggie Holt was too young to remember the terrifying time she spent at Baneberry Hall, the expansive Victorian mansion her parents purchased in rural Vermont nearly 25 years earlier. Maggie, along with her parents Ewan and Jess, lived at Baneberry Hall for only three weeks before sheer terror drove them to flee in the middle of the night. Now nearly 30, Maggie has to face the reality of not only the recent death of her father, but yet again she has to face the skepticism and criticism regarding his best selling book, House of Horrors. Her father’s book detailed the paranormal activity and deep secrets of the home’s history. Author Riley Sager merges the past and present as well as the suspenseful and supernatural in Home Before Dark.
On her father’s deathbed she learns that she is the new owner of Baneberry Hall. As a restorer of old homes, Maggie’s goal is to make the needed updates and sell the home as quickly as possible. Upon moving into the house temporarily, Maggie begins to doubt that her father invented many of the stories detailed in House of Horrors. She begins to meet many of the townspeople portrayed in his book. They have long memories and still harbor mixed emotions toward her family and the book. As odd occurrences begin to spook Maggie, she begins to question everything that she has doubted her entire life – are there sinister evil spirits in Baneberry Hall or did her father invent the phenomenons that he claimed were true?
Home Before Dark is the second Riley Sager book that I have read and have thoroughly enjoyed both titles. I would highly recommend his books if you enjoy the psychological suspense genre peppered with a little horror and supernatural elements. In addition to the print book, Home Before Dark is also available as an eBook through Overdrive.
The Virtual Book Club is meeting next Wednesday, August 12th, at 2pm central to discuss The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. We are using GoTo Meeting which will allow patrons to video chat with others about the book. Information about how to join is below!
Curious what the book is about? Check out the following description from the publisher.
The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts adds an inventive twist to the home invasion horror story in a heart-palpitating novel of psychological suspense. Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road. One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.” Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.
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Virtual Book Club
Wed, Aug 12, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)
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The first thing that drew me to Wytches by Scott Snyder was the cover, it did such a great job of grabbing my attention while also letting me know what the tone of the novel was going to be before I even opened the book. Dark, stylized art that was personal and small in scope. No world-ending apocalypse in this horror novel, just a family struggling to cope with their past and trying to accommodate to a new home. Little do they know that the woods that surround them holds an evil more sinister then they could imagine.
The horror in this novel comes from how little we see. As a fan of horror I always appreciate when a writer is able to show restraint in showing too much of the monster. Snyder does a fantastic job of only showing the wytches in little chunks throughout the story. It helps to preserve the mystery of the monster and horror is largely anchored in fear of the unknown, once the monster is explained to us, it ceases being as scary. Snyder knows this and does a fantastic job of showing the reader just enough of the wytches so that the reader knows to fear them.
Jock’s art is stylized, chaotic, yet also clearly defined. Some artists that draw in a similar style to Jock border on abstract art but Jock is able to draw these fantastically beautiful and dark settings and characters while grounding them as well. Jock is able to take the extremes of this chaotic art style, with bright and dark colors contrasting all across the frames with paint splatter and exaggerated figures and balance that style with a more grounded style and the two styles mesh wonderfully throughout the story and add to the tone and presentation of the work as a whole. Typically, the extreme exaggerated borderline abstract art is used when the supernatural is occurring, and this contrasts with the clearer more-traditional sections of the work where the protagonists aren’t being confronted by tree-wytches.
Overall, Wytches doesn’t go out and do anything that transcends the trappings of the horror genre, but it isn’t trying to. It is a very well-executed horror story about a family coming to terms their traumatic past, and in the process having to fight off supernatural wytches. It is a spooky story that nails it all where it counts. Atmosphere, art, writing and scares.
For other spooky scary stories, look no further than the Davenport Public Library’s Halloween Libguide! If you are looking for more graphic novels to dive into, our Comics Libguide is the one for you!
I read a lot about The Bone Season before I started reading the book, which means that I read a lot about the book’s author, Samantha Shannon. A twenty-one year old recent graduate from Oxford University, Shannon has been marketed as a literary wunderkind. Every interview and review mentions her age or her status as a “young writer”. As a first-time published author, that is to be expected (here I am doing the same), and I would be lying if I didn’t say that influenced my decision to pick it up.
But this novel stands on its own (well, at least until the next six books in the series are released.) Shannon has created a fascinating near-future paranormal fantasy novel that includes elements of revisionist history and dystopian science fiction. Set in Scion controlled London in 2059, this fast-paced novel introduces readers to Paige Mahoney, a member of the clairvoyant criminal underworld. Scion was formed to find and eliminate clairvoyants like Paige, so being a member of Jaxon Hall’s Seven Dials based gang keeps her a protected and fed member of a family. But when Paige commits a crime that leads to her arrest and capture, she finds herself in Sheol I, a penal colony for voyants run by Rephaim, a race of non-human clairvoyants. While in Sheol I, Paige is assigned to the Warden for training and care and she has to decide if she can trust him, as she tries to find a way to save herself and the other humans imprisoned for life in Sheol I.
Shannon has been called the next J.K. Rowling (pressure anyone?) and The Bone Season has been compared to the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games series. I understand why, and I would recommend that fans of both series check out The Bone Season. But I think that while there are elements of each in this book (magical powers, dystopian future, strong female protagonist), Shannon has created something different. She has said that she was influenced by Margaret Atwood, and this is apparent in her intelligent, literary take on urban fantasy. This might be my favorite read this year (but there are two more months to go, so don’t hold me to that.)