Oops, I Am Addicted To Witches of East End

A review of Witches of East End, based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz

Lifetime, 2013

Witches of East End

by REBECCA, August 20, 2014

witches of eastwickWhoopsiedoodle! My sister and I just accidentally scarfed the first half of a season of Witches of East End. I won’t lie: I took one look at the fact that it’s on Lifetime and the fact that it’s set in North Hampton and thought, “this will be terrible; I must watch this.” But, while I was expecting the show to be a kind of Revenge + witches, with lots of conspicuous consumption, low-cut dresses, and people having incredibly strong opinions about canapés while they ruin people’s lives, it’s actually . . . so funny. No, really. Within five minutes of the pilot, my sister and I were hitting each other and shamefacedly saying, “OmigodIlovethisshow.”

witches of east endWitches of East End is based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz, best known for her YA series, Blue BloodsNow, I’ve never read anything by Melissa de la Cruz, but I am totally not surprised that it’s based on the work of a YA author because what Witches of East End is totally winning at is not taking itself too seriously. Witches of East End could easily seem like a seen-it-all-before show about thin, pretty, white women who can do magic—and let’s face it, do we need more when we have Practical Magic?—but instead, it’s a really fun, funny family drama with a little romance and a few thrills thrown in.

Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) is an immortal witch. Her daughters, Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum of Step Up pedigree) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) don’t know that they have any special powers (a change from the books, it seems). Joanna is cursed to see Freya and Ingrid die over and over and be born again—she’s lived through their lives in every century and seen them die in every way imaginable. So, this incarnation, she’s decided that she’ll keep their magic a secret, hoping to protect them from themselves. This has worked fine for the last thirty years, and the Beauchamps have been happy in North Hampton. Freya is engaged to marry rich doctor, Dash (Eric Winter), and Ingrid is pretty happy with her job at the local library.

Witches of East End

don’t mind me; i’m just smelling your face now

BUT, before you go thinking that everything is fine, dunh duh duh duh, there is a CAT. A black cat. And is not JUST a cat. It is Wendy (Mädchen Amick from Twin Peaks!), Joanna’s sister, who is a cat shifter (avec proverbial nine lives). Joanna and Wendy haven’t spoken in a century, but now Wendy has had a VISION: someone is after Joanna and they have to stop them. And with Wendy around, there’s no way that Freya and Ingrid will remain in the dark about their magic because SHENANIGANS ensue. Not only can the person who’s after Joanna shift into any form, but Dash’s estranged brother is back . . . and Freya might also be in love with him. WHAT? YOU GUYS. No, seriously, though, it’s so FUNNY. Ingrid is hilarious and so, so nerdy.

Okay, so Julia Ormond is kind of terrible (but I have fond feelings about her from Legends of the Fall and Smilla’s Sense of Snow . . .) because she just seems like a very cold person (and also her accent, which is apparently her real Britamerican accent, is whackadoo), BUT Aunt Wendy totally makes up for it. And did I mention INGRID! Best thing: it’s two sets of sisters!

Are you watching Witches of East End? What do you think?

Advertisements

Summer Reads Pt. 2: Sisters and The Book of Bad Things

by Tessa

It’s part 2 of my “books I’ve read this summer about summer” posts! Today I’m covering 2 dece reads for middle schoolers (and other people who read and like books). Unfortunately, both of them won’t be published until the end of August. Which is a great time to read books about summer in order to hold on to that summer feeling.

[Disclaimer: I’m reviewing Advance Review Copies of these books, so between now and when they’re actually published, things could have changed in the book.]

Sisters

Raina Telgemeier

Graphix, 2014

sisterstelgemeier

 

Raina Telgemeier is a godsend for realistic comics lovers who want to read stories about the middle school years. This is her follow up to her first book, Smile, which was about her totally falling on her face/mouth and having to deal with the messy dental aftermath of it for a long time, during her most awkward years.

This one’s about her sister. Actually, spoiler alert, it’s still about Raina and her feelings about her sister Amara. The framing is a road trip that she, her mom, her sister, and her little brother take, going from California to Colorado to visit family, and is punctuated by flashbacks that explain more about how the sisters grew to have their tense relationship, and why Raina won’t sit in the front seat of the van.

The flashbacks have a neat yellow filter on the pages, making it clear that the story is in the past. I wish all of the ARC I saw was in color, but that would be crazy expensive and I understand why it switched to black and white, but I’m glad I got a preview of what the coloring will be like (done by Braden Lamb, who does stuff for the Adventure Time comics!). The past sequences, with the filter, look like yellowed color photos, while the present sequences, and the present sequences capture the color of the late 80s, which is when I think this was set (maybe early 90s?), as does the fashion, of course.

Telgemeier’s writing and drawing makes me feel comfortable, like I’m reading a surprisingly interesting (and long) cartoon in a newspaper. Her family stories have the rhythm of a good sitcom, replete with punchlines and realistically wacky situations. I was so happy to slip back into those rhythms that I wasn’t bothered at first by the arc of the story. There is one scene at the end, though, that packed a big emotional punch, and it’s delivered by Amara. That made me realize that I didn’t know much about her. It’s a function of Raina not being allowed/distancing herself from Amara, so she doesn’t know what her sister is like. But it also leaves much of the book’s story obscuring half of what the book is about. It’s Sisters, not Sister, and it would have been a more powerful book for me if the big realization weren’t related to one sister not really being present in the story except as a mystery and antagonist to the other. This misstep in plotting won’t hurt the book with its core audience, though, and there are many solid scenes in there for fans to savor.

 

The Book of Bad Things

Dan Poblocki

Scholastic, 2014

bookofbadthingspoblocki

A colleague of mine brought this back from… BEA? And when I saw that it was middle grade horror and that SLJ compared it to R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and John Bellairs, I gladly took it off of her hands.

I’ve never heard of Dan Poblocki before, but he has written a lot of MG horror. Thanks for keeping the torch alight, Dan Poblocki. But you need to work on your tumblr.

The Book of Bad Things is about Cassidy Bean. She’s part of an exchange program in New York City, possibly part of a social work program, that lets her go and live with rich people in upstate New York during the summer. She’s visited one family, the Tremonts, for a couple summers, but this summer she’s arriving late to Whitechapel because the Tremonts took a while to say that Cassidy was welcome to come.

Something happened last summer to Cassidy and the Tremont’s son, Joey. They went out to the big house where Ursula Chambers, the town hermit lived. She yelled at them, and then later, Joey’s dog died, and for some reason, those two things became connected for Cassidy and Joey. Cassidy blamed herself for having the idea in the first place, and the summer seemed ruined.

Now she’s back with a new journal: The Book of Bad Things, where she writes down her fears and anxieties. Joey isn’t talking to her, and Ursula is dead. All her belongings are being raided by the townspeople, because Ursula didn’t have a family. Then, the people who took Ursula’s things start seeing her. And they start dying.

What I liked most about this book was that it wasn’t afraid to be scary and gruesome. It makes its characters question the line between reality and what they’ve seen in horror movies that feels more sophisticated to me than most horror setups in books for the younger set. Poblocki plays with the ideas of ghosts, zombies, psychic/emotional manifestations, and curses, and the real life scariness of hoarding, anxiety and hurt friendship. Sure, Cassidy’s narration is a bit stiff at times, but she’s a very serious girl, so it fits her. It also never states what race Cassidy is, so it’s possible to read her as black, which is important for many kids.

As an adult reader, I wasn’t terrified, but I can tell that if I had read this when I was a tween, it would have firmly lodged itself in my psyche.

 

 

 

 

Gone Home: a chat.

In which Evan and Tessa discuss a new video game that they played together and really liked. (So did other people – it is a 2013 Finalist for Excellence in Narrative from the Independent Games Festival as well as getting an Honorable Mention for Excellence in Audio and Seumas McNally Grand Prize!)

screenshot from Varewulf.wordpress.com

screenshot from Varewulf.wordpress.com

Tessa: So, Evan. I learned about Gone Home via a Rookie Mag Saturday Links list in March. I think I talked to you about it, or you noticed that I liked its Facebook entity, or something. Did you hear about it somewhere else, or did you hear about it through me?

Evan: I heard about the game through you mentioning it to me. I remember us talking about a video game to play together while I was playing Bioshock: Infinite and you brought up Gone Home. I don’t really follow video game news or play many games these days so I’m pretty blind when it comes to 99% of new releases. After you mentioned it I watched a trailer and the game started to intrigue. I love adventure games and the idea of interactive stories. As somebody that doesn’t really play video games, what made you interested in Gone Home?

Tessa: It was the whole atmosphere of the game – the 90s riot grrrl bands, an empty house, the sound of rain on the roof and windows. Although I grew up during the riot grrrl phase, I never got to be one (instead, I described myself as a riot nrrrd), so I felt like this could be my chance to play one in a video game.
from Jenny Woolworth's Riot Grrrl Diary

from Jenny Woolworth’s Riot Grrrl Diary

As it turns out, you get to play the sister of someone who becomes part of the scene, so I still didn’t get to fulfill my fantasy. Maybe there will be a game based on Blake Nelson’s Girl in the future. One can hope.

Also, we’d been talking about finding a video game to play together and this one looked like it wouldn’t require so many hand-eye coordination skills. I’m not a huge gamer because I kind of suck at using video game controls. Even when I did play NES during my youth, I would get too into the game and hobble myself with a combination of physical enthusiasm (jumping when my character should jump) and mental terror (what if my character does not make it across that chasm?), so the experience was exciting but terminally frustrating.

So I spend my free time doing things at which I can improve.

What I’m saying is I’m glad you’re into board games.

Is this the time that we declare that this discussion might get spoilery? And do you want to describe your first impressions of the game/the basic plot?

the last game system Tessa seriously played, a.k.a. the point at which you can stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers

the last game system Tessa seriously played, a.k.a. the point at which you can stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers

Evan: Definitely. What makes Gone Home special is the story and it’s pretty impossible to discuss the game meaningfully without discussing what happens in it. Despite my desire for blogging fame I’m going to make an impassioned plea that if you are interested in Gone Home that you should navigate away from this page, log in to Steam, download Gone Home and play it. Then come back here and read.

How to know if this is something for you? If you’re interested in interactive storytelling, video games with rich atmosphere and expertly crafted characters, if you’re interested in exploring a creepy house and looking for the clues to a mystery then you’ll probably dig Gone Home. You will not be killing anything or solving complex puzzles, you will be experiencing a story. Go play it.

With that out of the way, in Gone Home you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 21 year old woman returning home from a European trip in 1995. While she was away her family moved to a large mansion outside Seattle. She arrives home on a dark, rainy night to find a note on the front door from her younger sister and nobody home. As Kaitlin you’re trying to find out what happened to your family by exploring the mansion.

I fell in love with this game almost instantly. The set-up is really juicy. The game tosses you into this scenario with almost no background and plays on your lack of knowledge rather effectively. Mechanically the game is really simple. All you can really do is walk around, pick up objects, rotate them, and read various notes and letters left behind. There are lots of details to dig into in the house. It was fun to just go slow and search for a little tidbit of information that would reveal more of the story.

What are your feelings about the very beginning of the game? Did you have any expectations for how the game would play or what it was about beyond the basic premise?

Tessa: I was really into the game from the beginning, too. From the menu, actually, which I found out was done by Emily Carroll, an artist whose work I’d previously admired in comics form (especially in a creepy story in the Explorer: The Mystery Boxes collection). It turns out her wife (Kate Craig) is one of the game designers, so Emily illustrated the start page,along with in-game maps, and the font is based on her handwriting (more info here):

How great is that? The dusky sky lit by some illumination – the setting sun? The one light on in the whole rambling house emerging from the trees, with the door left slightly open – it’s not clear whether in neglect or invitation. The image works against the usual connotations of the word “home”, and then “gone” takes a double meaning. So the atmosphere is apparent immediately.

The game itself opens with Kaitlin seeing her family’s new house for the first time. It’s raining. The enclosed front porch is lit by a lonely lamp, and she has to find the key (our first task as players).

I personally find it difficult to imagine that anyone in the world doesn’t like the idea of exploring a big old empty house, so I was already into it. And then when she finds a Christmas themed duck, and a text box proclaims “Good ol’ Christmas Duck”, I was delighted.  There was humor, familiarity, character, history.

As you can see from the screenshot below, the graphics in Gone Home aren’t trying to fool you into thinking that it’s anything but a video game. It isn’t Final Fantasy-level…rendering? I don’t know what the word is.

Not to say that creating a game didn’t take lots of love and work, but they don’t have to, because the strength is in the story. Your brain attaches to the story that you’re building through exploration and smoothes out the edges of what you’re seeing, so it doesn’t end up mattering. It feels real.

I didn’t have any expectations about how the game would play, but I did somehow expect that it would have a creepy angle.  And there are some moments in there that pander to that expectation – but this isn’t a murder mystery or a tragic story.

As much as I want to play a video game where I explore a haunted house, I’m glad that my expectations weren’t met, and impressed that they were fooled with by the game designers – not just the stories of the parents, which I thought could go in a couple different directions, but the back story of the house’s original owner, especially a blown light bulb in particular.

That story I hope requires some further digging. I’d like more than the hints we have now.

What did you think of the game experience compared to your other video gaming experiences? Do you think it lends itself to more than one play?

Evan: The title screen is super impressive. It feels like the cover to a book, which is appropriate because Gone Home feels like an interactive book. I’m glad you mentioned the Christmas Duck and the textbox joke. There were lots of great little moments like that in the game. I especially liked when you find a condom in your parents bedroom and the text description of it is just “Eww.” I loved all the items you could interact with. I liked finding tapes to put in stereos or playing records that you find. All those little things add to the character of the house.

Good point on the “horror” elements of the game. They are definitely there to subvert the expectations of the player. Gone Home is a game that is boldly about ordinary people. I listened to a great extended interview with one of the game’s creators (Steve Gaynor) on the Qt3 Games Podcast, and he explained that those moments are in the game to help ground it in reality. For example if you find a teenage girl’s ghosthunting journal in a video game the expectation is that at some point of the game you’ll be seeing ghosts, but if you found one in somebody’s house in the real world you would just think it was the result of kids having fun and not assume that the house is haunted.

As you begin to piece together more and more information from exploring the house you begin to realize that your younger sister Sam has met Lonnie, a young woman at her new high school. As the two girls bond and become friends they realize they are in love with each other. The moments that build up to this realization are beautifully detailed. When you find a key piece of information you hear Sam’s voice reading her diary. These were some of the most moving portions of the game. The voice actress playing Sam was great. The V.O. diary filled in big pieces of the story, but there’s a ton of details to be found by looking at items, reading notes, and rifling through drawers. You get to see a lot of items that Sam and Lonnie bonded over: riot grrl cassette tapes, a ticket stub to pulp fiction, SNES game cartridges, VHS recorded episodes of the X-Files. I loved finding all those details. It gave me a real sense of who all of the characters were without even interacting with them once.

I really have to applaud how this game features a real, loving lesbian relationship that wasn’t sensationalized or sophomoric or all about sex. Maybe this is my lack of current videogame playing speaking, but I can’t think of another game that approaches love with this level of maturity and believability. You develop a very strong emotional bond with Sam and her struggles to hide her relationship from her parents, or her struggling to find herself and realize who she is.

Sam is the heart of the the story and is the main character of the game, but there are great story arcs for the parents as well and you get to know them to a great level of detail. You get the sense that real people live in the house and they are just away. Ironically Kaitlin (the character you are controlling) is probably the least developed character in the game. I think that’s an asset of the game because it lets you insert yourself emotionally into the story with a greater ease.

I’ve never played a video game like Gone Home before. Genuinely. I think most games emphasize thrills and intensity over quieter story moments. I think there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but Gone Home feels like a gigantic leap forward in what a video game can do with narrative.

The replayability of the game is an interesting discussion to have. It has been one of games aspects that has drawn some criticism. There’s nothing variable about the game other than the order you find items, so once you find everything in the house it won’t change on subsequent plays. So if you want to come back to Gone Home and have a different experience you probably won’t play the game more than once.. But I could certainly envisions people playing the game again to revisit the story. I think the reason replayability has been so hotly contested is because of the video game medium. People don’t criticize books or movies because they don’t inherently offer different experiences when you revisit them. Yet people do read certain books and watch certain movies more than once. That said there is a lot to discover in the game. I’m positive there are still details we haven’t found yet, so there is a reason to come back until you’re sure you’ve explored every nook and cranny of the house.

What are your thoughts about the story? Were there any specific moments of the game that you found especially moving or fascinating?

Tessa: I like your comments about replayability in games vs. in books or movies. If you’re measuring Gone Home by the standards of an adventuring, quest type game, it will fail. Because it doesn’t belong in the genre. It’s definitely a storytelling experience. But while Gone Home has a rich world, I’m not sure it can be judged yet on the level of things like a book, as far as equating replaying and re-reading.

Sam’s and Lonnie’s relationship isn’t played as a huge twist, and I like that. Gone Home is really mining the theme of discovery and self-discovery. You can see it not just with Sam, but also with the parents, and to a superficial extent with Kaitlin, coming back from time abroad.

And I love the way it plays with the idea of home – not just the house space, but the idea of the people that give us the feeling of being home. Home is a deceptively simple idea, but one that carries different experiences for everyone and can be counted on to hit some emotional chord. I can’t praise the game designers/creators enough for the way they created both a home and an unknown space. As Edgar Albert Guest so colloquially says,

“Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;

Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it”

So I do think the game succeeds in atmosphere and thematic elements, and I believe you when you say it is a giant leap forward in depicting  a realistic first love between two teenage girls. But I’m not sure if it has enough meat in the story to draw me back again once I discovered everything in the game. Sam & Lonnie’s story is sweet, and open-ended. I’d probably end up yearning for more instead of re-enjoying it ,although it might be something that I pulled out from time to time to revisit the environment, though, or to play with a new person.

I also hope its success paves the way for more games like this.

 

 

Happy Anniversary, Little Women!

Little Women Crunchings and Munchings

by REBECCA, September 30, 2013

On this day in 1868 Louisa May Alcott published the first volume of Little Women! Now, Little Women certainly can be a frustrating read nearly 150 years after its publication, in terms of the limits to women’s freedom and opportunities. Still, whether your Little Women of choice is the book or one of the many film adaptations, there are some legitimately kickass things about it.

1. Jo March! The Jo I picture is Katharine Hepburn from the 1933 movie version, because it was the first one I ever saw. Jo is a badass independent woman. She works to help support her family, she reads voraciously, she stands up to people who try and tell her or her sisters that they can’t do things because they’re women. She writes stories and plays for her sisters to read and act out. She befriends (rescues) poor Laurie from next door and makes him part of the family. She sells her hair so she can buy Marmee a train ticket to go visit their father when he’s been wounded. She moves to New York by herself and starts publishing her stories in the newspaper, then she writes Little Women, one of the most famous YA novels of all time!

Little Women2. Marmee! Marmee models feminism inflected with a strong message of charity. She teaches her daughters about generosity—to each other as well as to those less fortunate than themselves—and how they are strong and must, therefore, always help those who are weaker. In real life, of course, the character of Marmee is modeled on Louisa May Alcott’s own mother, Abigail May. May and her husband, Amos Branson Alcott, were well known transcendentalists. Transcendentalism (perhaps most often associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson) is the philosophy that the individual must be self-reliant, looking to herself for what is right and what is wrong, and that institutions (organized religion, institutions of higher learning) merely got in the way of finding that truth inside herself. It’s no wonder, then, that Marmee teaches Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy to think for themselves.

Sidebar: I saw Mark Adamo’s 1998 opera version of Little Women performed a few years ago. I didn’t like it, ultimately, but it was really interesting to see the philosophical underpinnings of the book translated into an operatic interpretation. It is a modernist opera, mostly tonal, so the music has the very spare, clean feeling that I imagine transcendentalists like Marmee would approve of. There is nothing extravagant or decorative, so the sisters’ lives seem stripped down to a pretty (to me) depressing baseline of boredom and charity, which was further emphasized by the costumes—plain dresses with smocks. I found the whole thing quite unpleasant, with none of the warmth of the book or the complexity of coming of age. Still, it’s not often one gets to see a YA novel become an opera, so that was kind of cool.

Little Women3. Sisters! There really is no better sister book than Little Women (well, except Practical Magic, which I gush about HERE!). Sure, there are moments when these sisters want to kill each other—I mean, if my sister had burned the only manuscript of my novel in the fire I sure as hell would let the sun go down on my goddamned anger, just like Jo does. But, then, if she fell through the ice while skating after me, I’d totally save her and forgive her. Even though Little Women does a lot of moralizing, it also does a great job of portraying the ups and downs of sisterhood! Indeed, I think most of us who have sisters have played the game where we decide which March sister we are and which ours sisters are, amiright?

Little Women4. Winter Wonderland! I know it’s not winter during the whole book, but Little Women always feels very Christmas-y to me. There’s the great stuff in the beginning about buying Christmas presents, and I love how Laurie’s grandfather gives Beth his piano and they sing Christmas carols around it, and how they take their food over to the Hummels’ house (though I guess that’s a big check in the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished column for poor Beth). All the scenes in the movies of the sisters ice skating and sledding in the New England snow . . . I just love it.

Little Women5. The Power of Imagination! Jo’s writing is the most talked about act of imagination in the book. But there are other imaginative inspirations in Little Women, too. Amy pursues her passion for art all the way to Paris and Beth loves music, even if it’s just her family as the audience. All the sisters act out the plays that Jo writes, repurposing things around the house for their sets and costumes. And my favorite is Jo’s decision to turn Aunt March’s mansion into a school that will allow any child to get an education. Jo turns a traditional act of private inheritance into a radical act of public service. You go, Jo!

Do you have a favorite version of Little Women? A favorite little woman? Tell me in the comments!

Birthday Booklist! My Sister’s Fave YA

by REBECCA, August 8, 2013

Today is my sister’s birthday! One of the best things about sisters is that sometimes you share a taste in books and can force them to buy things and let you borrow them. Or, in the case of my sister, she can assume (correctly) that I have all the books and she can pop in and borrow them whenever she wants. But that’s cool, because reading is a main tenet of sisterhood! In honor of my sister, then, here is a list of a few of her favorite YA books (she has pretty good taste)! Happy Birthday, sister! And, yes, you can come steal these books from me whenever you want.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (1964).

Harriet is the ultimate superscamp (just like my sister)—she hides in people’s dumbwaiters, rides in the baskets of bicycles, and gets people to make her sandwiches, all in the aid of finding out the truth!

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)

An anti-establishment band of brothers (three of whom are actually brothers) who are just trying to live their goddamned lives even though the world is kind of against them? Hell yes. I take full credit for my sister having the good taste to like S.E. Hinton’s novels—if I hadn’t convinced her I carried a switchblade when we were kids, who knows where we’d be?

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007)

My parents and my sister and I tried to read the first Harry Potter book aloud the year it came out. I totally fell asleep in front of the fire because I was in high school and stayed up all night doing . . . stuff. But, then, we got back to it the next year and were totally hooked. Actually, we read the first three or four as a family and they are some of my fondest memories.

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey (2009)

I had read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series (well, okay, like 2.25 of them) and enjoyedish them, but never heard of Santa Olivia until my sister recommended it. It’s awesome, y’all. In fact, she’s promised to write a review of it for Crunchings & Munchings for, like, a year. Hmm, maybe if I shame her about it on her birthday it’ll get some results? No, I couldn’t do that—it’s too, too mean.

The Secret Circle by L.J. Smith The Secret Circle by L.J. Smith The Secret Circle by L.J. Smith

The Secret Circle trilogy by L.J. Smith (1992)

A coven of friends fighting (slash calling up) evil on an East Coast island while rocking nineties fashion? Of course I was obsessed with it as a teenager (slash now). I remain convinced that my sister must have stolen these out of my bedroom at some point during middle school; fortunately, she saw them for the TOTAL AWESOMENESS that they are rather than judging me. SO MAGICAL, despite the terrible work of the demon network The CW!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)

A smart, hyper-literate girl surrounded by witless fiends uses her intelligence to outwit and punish them! Of course you love this book, sister: it must be like reading a biography about ME! Kidding. Kind of. We heart Matilda, and in honor of Bruce Bogtrotter, I made my sister a chocolate birthday cake and forced her to eat the entire thing.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995)

You guys, it’s so good. So good that I wrote a whole post about it HERE.

Happy Birthday to my sister and sisters everywhere!

We Don’t Need No Thought Control: Deviant

A Review of Deviant by Helen FitzGerald

Soho Teen, 2013

Deviant by Helen Fitzgerald

by REBECCA, June 10, 2013

Abigail Thom has been living in foster homes and dodging trouble in Glasgow nearly her whole life. When her mother dies, leaving Abigail a mysterious letter, a wad of cash, and a plane ticket to L.A. to go see a father and sister she never knew existed, Abigail thinks that a ticket out of Glasgow may be the only good thing her mother ever did for her. GlasgowWhen she arrives in L.A., though, Abigail quickly realizes that things are more complicated than she could have imagined. In addition to trying to find her place in a new country and a new family, Abigail soon realizes that her new-found sister is has discovered something—something people are willing to kill to keep secret. And now Abigail is right in the middle of it.

L.A.When we first meet Abigail, all she wants is to get the hell out of Glasgow. She’s organized, smart, savvy, and has perfected her “robot mode” over the years—a detached affect that accompanies all stressful or emotional situations. When she gets news that her mother has died, all she really feels is a slight pang of regret for a life she might have led. She’s grateful for the chance to go to America and start over, and excited to meet Becky, the older sister she never knew she had. Becky is rich, privileged, beautiful, and full of life, and from the moment Abigail meets her she realizes how much she’s longed for someone she can feel a connection to.

This first third-or-so of Deviant reads like a gritty contemporary YA. Abigail is a sympathetic character who combines the appeal of a street-smart badass with the vulnerability of someone who has longed for a family and is, therefore, willing to do almost anything to fit in. Her contrast with Becky is particularly poignant, and Helen FitzGerald does a subtle job of showing moments where Abigail sees who she might have been had she lived her sister’s life.

Deviant by Helen FitzGeraldBut then Becky takes Abigail along with a few of her friends as they graffiti the back of a freeway sign, and Abigail realizes that Becky is part of a group that the L.A. media has called vicious vandals. Their stencil is of a group of zombielike teenagers (on the cover), and each time they do it, they tag it with a letter. Abigail is furious, thinking about the trouble she could get in if they were caught, whereas Becky and her friends have powerful parents who can set things right for them. But . . . something seems a bit off about one of Becky’s friends, and Becky is so secretive about what the letters might mean. Abigail is happy to ignore the weirdness around her, though, because she’s so happy to be getting to know her sister. This second third of Deviant starts the mystery percolating.

Finally (no spoilers), things escalate, and Abigail realizes that what Becky and her friends are pointing to with their graffitied letters is larger than she could have imagined, and has the possibility of harming not only her newfound friends but millions of teenagers around the world. Shit gets serious, y’all, and the final third of the book is action-packed and tightly plotted. It also takes on a science fiction shade, but it’s subtle enough that it could be real, which is awesome.

Deviant is a book that’s doing several things simultaneously, and it’s doing them all well! This is a well-plotted mystery that is actually a mystery. Not that I only like books where I can’t figure out the mystery, but many YA mysteries are bit light on the mystery, if you know what I mean. Deviant, by virtue of beginning with a solid, character-driven family story, backs into its mystery, and it’s the better for it. Details from the first part of the book become important to the mystery later, and though the plot is tight, there is a lot of room for things to be filled in later, or for the reader to imagine. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be the first in a series, even though it read like it was winding up for one. The ending is wide open in a way that seems to set up a sequel, but it isn’t unsatisfying as a standalone, either.

I really enjoyed Deviant and, more than anything, it read like an extremely confident novel. Helen FitzGerald doesn’t overdo any one element, be it character, explanation, or prose style. And, bonus, it’s a really wicked class critique. It unfolds quickly and with panache, and I was definitely left wanting more—I’ll let you decide if that’s a strength or a weakness.

procured from: I received a copy of this book from the publisher (thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. Deviant, by Helen FitzGerald, will be available tomorrow.

Heck Yeah, Covens! Moonset #1

A Review of Moonset (Legacy of Moonset #1) by Scott Tracey

Flux, 2013

Moonset Scott Tracey

by REBECCA, April 1, 2013

characters

Justin: our protag, he is a bit awkward and a bit sweet and mostly goes with the flow

Jenna: Justin’s twin, as confident and demanding as he is chill, she is desperate to learn magic so they can protect themselves

Malcolm: the eldest brother in this motley crew, he’s buff and pretty uninterested in the whole magic thing

Cole: the hyper, jokey brother

Bailey: the youngest, she is sensitive but powerful

Quinn: a Witcher, the green berets of magic, he is a protector and possibly an ally?

Ash: the brash, entitled girl in their new town who takes Justin under her control wing

hook

Justin, Jenna, Malcolm, Cole, and Bailey are the children of the Moonset coven, the most infamous terrorists in the magical world. As the children of treasonous criminals they are suspected by other witches and the magic they’re taught is limited. But now they have been attacked and moved to a small town in New York where things keep trying to tear them apart, but they don’t have the knowledge to defend themselves. What happens when the power you need to defend your family might just be the power that turned your parents to the dark side?

worldview

The setting of Moonset is one in which the magical world keeps itself secret from the rest of the world. Witches are taught magic in school, and covens are highly controlled by bureaucracy. It is a setup similar to Harry Potter only instead of the boy who lived, Justin and his siblings are the kids of the coven that killed. The word “moonset” is synonymous with terrorism, treason, and evil, so when Justin and his siblings find Moonset’s symbol popping up all over the new town where they’ve been relocated they know that nothing good is coming. After being attacked by a wraith as they were moved from their last school, they sense that there is something in play that they (and the people who are supposed to be looking out for them) know nothing about. And, since people are too scared that they’ll go dark side if they learn magic, they can’t exactly protect themselves. What is clear, however, is that Justin and his siblings are not their parents . . . and maybe their parents weren’t exactly what they thought either.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

Scott Tracey Witch EyesMoonset is a fun read. I love Scott Tracey’s other series, Witch Eyes, which I review HERE and HERE. As I mention in these reviews, Tracey writes books that, to me, read cinematically—or, I should say, televisually—and Moonset is no different. This means, really, that reading Moonset is kind of like watching a CW show, in the best possible way (I love the CW, as I’m sure you know!), and this book is the first eight episodes of the season. You know, the first episode starts with the siblings walking trepidatiously into their new school and we see how they left their old school in brief flashbacks; then we get one episode that fills in the back story of each of the siblings and teases some stuff about their history together; then, just as we think we know what the main conflict is, the scale of things changes. Like, good tv, is what I’m saying.

But I think that, like a juicy tv show, which is better watched all at once, Moonset, the first in Tracey’s new series, might be more satisfying if I could read the whole series at once. That isn’t to say that Moonset isn’t an enjoyable read—it absolutely is. It’s just that this first volume feels introductory, especially in terms of character, even though the plot is definitely complete. Tracey has a knack for making me love or hate characters immediately upon meeting them (well, ok, maybe I do that with people in real life too . . . ). I liked Malcolm immediately—he’s the sturdy, a bit removed from it all, oldest brother—and hated Ash the first moment she opened her mouth. I think I’m supposed to like Malcolm, and I think maybe Ash is supposed to be polarizing, but in a way that’s realistic; we’ve all seen the nice people who are really attracted to the Ashes of the world, who are flippant, over-confident, demanding, and expectant in a way that (I guess?) seems intriguing and exciting. I found her obnoxious and mean, but I suspect others will be charmed by her version of I-don’t-mind-making-you-feel-uncomfortable-because-we-both-know-you’re-attracted-to-me. But again, I enjoyed my dislike of her because it was very realistically evoked.

The Secret Circle L.J. SmithJustin is sweet and, for the most part, even-tempered, a counterpart to his twin, Jenna (my sister’s name!). Jenna reminded me a bit of a Faye from The Secret Circle (the books, not the show, fortheloveofgod) type; she is fierce and will do whatever it takes to feel like she and her family are safe. Justin, though, seems to be the one that is being targeted by whatever force is messing with the siblings. And, as the threat grows, Justin begins to see that Jenna might be right—maybe they do need to find a way to learn magic so that they can protect themselves. But, as Justin begins to walk down that path, he finds himself wondering where the line is between power and corruption, and questioning whether he trusts himself not to follow in Moonset’s footsteps. This is a plot that is always interesting to me: the temptation of a power you know could turn you evil weighed against the necessity to gain that power for a good reason.

Moonset definitely follows hallmarks of the genre, but Tracey isn’t trying to hide those predictabilities—rather, he seems absolutely comfortable with them, using them to structure the plot and then getting out of the way as his characters take it home. His writing, as always, is fast-paced and at times quite amusing:

“Jenna could take a perfectly simple math problem like 2+2 and wind up with an answer equaling the square root of paranoid.”

“‘Figures she’s a Meghan,’ Jenna muttered . . . ‘I’ve never met one that wasn’t a raging bitch.'”

“Christmas had come to Carrow Mill, and it had vomited all over our house.”

But he also has moments of understated beauty and insight:

“Ash buried her head against my chest, and that moment of comfort sparked a lifetime of habits.”

I didn’t love Moonset as much as I love the Witch Eyes series, but I’ll definitely keep my eye out for the next in the series.

readalikes

Scott Tracey Witch Eyes Demon Eyes Scott Tracey

Witch Eyes and Demon Eyes by Scott Tracey (2011 & 2012), of course. Braden flees rural Montana to the small town of Belle Dam, Washington. Once there, he attends high school for the first time, gets caught up in a feud between witch dynasties, accidentally releases some hellhounds, and starts falling for a compelling and infuriating boy . . . whom he might have to kill.

The Secret Circle L.J. Smith The Secret Circle L.J. Smith The Secret Circle L.J. Smith

The Secret Circle series by L.J. Smith (1992). Ok, so the CW failed us on this one, not that I still didn’t watch the whole thing, obvsly, but Smith’s series is one of my all-time faves (check out my review HERE). Similar feeling: new town, new school, witchy powers, and the threat of coven infiltration. Delightful!

procured from: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher (thanks!) with no compensation on either side. Moonset by Scott Tracey will be out next week.

First Loves = Wicked Hard: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

A Review of Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Simon Pulse, 2010

Forbidden Tabitha Suzuma

by REBECCA, March 25, 2013

characters

Lochan: between his crippling social anxiety, the responsibility of caring for his siblings, and the late-night studying he does to keep his grades up, Lochan is kind of a mess, and the only one he can count on is Maya.

Maya: Maya is friendly and upbeat, generally taking her family responsibility in stride, and she would do anything to protect Lochan.

Kit, Tiffin, & Willa: teen Kit has started to rebel and challenge Maya and Lochan’s authority, Tiffin only cares about playing soccer, and Willa knows more about secrets and lies than any five year old should have to.

note: I like this cover, especially the red background, which is an uneven wash, like red paint swiped over black, but . . . am I the only one who automatically assumes that any shape (here, a heart) that is made out of barbed wire automatically indicates that a book will be set during the Holocaust? Just me, then? . . .

hook

Lochan and Maya have been acting like parents to their younger sibs, Kit, Tiffin, and Willa, since their father left five years ago, working hard to keep their family from being split up. Only a year apart, they have always been best friends, partners.  Their mother, an alcoholic, has always been irresponsible and capricious, but now things are getting really bad. She is holed up across town with a younger man, trying to pretend she doesn’t have children, and has begun disappearing for weeks at a time without leaving any money for groceries or school uniforms. As their family spirals out of control, Lochan and Maya turn to each other for support and care, and begin to realize that their feelings of love are romantic as well as familial. Can they keep their family together and still have a chance to be together when everything seems to be against them?

worldview

Forbidden is set in contemporary, real-world London, and for Lochan, Maya, Kit, Tiffin, and Willa, that’s a world full of real-world material concerns: can they convince their mother to give them enough money for groceries before she spends it all on booze? whose turn it is to cook, clean, do laundry? will Lochan and Maya be able to convince Tiffin and Willa’s teachers to call them if there’s trouble, instead of their mom? how can they possibly find time to care for their siblings and still excel in school? and, perhaps most dire, how will Lochan and Maya ever be able to make others accept their relationship when half the time they can’t accept it themselves?

Forbidden Tabitha SuzumaTabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden is a beautifully-written excavation of family and romantic relationships and the ways they cannot help but impact one another. The character development is particularly well-done and Suzuma uses the length of the novel (about 450 pages) to show the intricacies of their relationships. Bit by bit, as their material conditions worsen, Lochan and Maya’s stress amps up, fraying their relationships with their siblings and drawing attention to them in ways that could be dangerous.  “I wonder how it is possible to hurt so much when nothing is wrong,” Lochan wonders (160). Suzuma is particularly deft in her use of these practical stressors to build suspense. Lochan, for example, has such social anxiety that he is unable to speak in school. The scenes in which he must do so are gutting reminders of his inability to express himself or communicate with people outside his family. Such scenes track Lochan’s relationship with Maya—the more he is able to express his feelings for her, the better able he is interface with the world, and vice versa.

Although there is suspense, and certainly dread—will the siblings be able to stay together? will anyone find out about Lochan and Maya’s relationship?—in terms of genre, Forbidden is strictly a realist novel. For all that it has the potential makings for a sprawling, gothic tale of incestuous siblings rioting in a rambling, run-down house, it doesn’t set even a toe in that genre.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

My friend A— told me she finds that there are books about incest that are trying to show how awful it is and books about incest that are trying to show that it can be ok, and that Forbidden is the latter. I absolutely agree. Between Lochan and Maya, they go through just about every feeling you can imagine on the subject: I am disgusting for feeling this way; I can’t help feeling this way; why shouldn’t I feel this way; people won’t understand; maybe there’s something truly wrong with me, etc. Indeed, upon occasion, their rehearsals of these arguments feel a bit more for the readers’ benefit than their own. Still, while Forbidden is the story of a deeply loving and caring consensual sibling relationship, it never attempts to suggest that there are not problems with Lochan and Maya’s relationships, even for them.

Forbidden Tabitha SuzumaOverall, I found Forbidden a deeply satisfying and beautiful novel that did everything I want contemporary realist YA to do. I think Forbidden dragged a tad in the last quarter and might benefit from losing a few repetitive scenes. I have only one real reservation, though—more of a suspicion, really. The narrative alternates between chapters from Lochan’s perspective and chapters from Maya’s and, while Lochan is a very specific, nuanced, unique character, Maya is significantly less so. As such, the chapters from Lochan’s perspective utterly captivated me, while those from Maya’s served more to move the story forward or, in their best moments, to give us more of a window on Lochan. Because of this marked difference, I found myself wondering whether Suzuma felt anxious about (or was advised against) telling the story from Lochan’s perspective alone because it could have had the possibility of making him seem predatory, or of causing the reader to doubt that Maya was truly a consensual partner in their romantic and sexual relationship. Lochan explains to Maya that people would always look at them and see that he is older and male and assume that he was taking advantage of her (“Maya, come on, think about it. I’d be automatically seen as the abuser and you as the victim” (361)). I got the sense from the uneven characterization of Lochan and Maya that perhaps Suzuma was concerned about just this issue. The dual perspective made the narrative a bit less effective for me, especially since, in the final quarter of the book (excepting the end), the alternation of perspective seems arbitrary, as if the story were just being split up evenly. That decrease in effectiveness added to my sense that perhaps there was a motivation for the decision beyond the formal. If anyone who has read Forbidden has thoughts on this, I would love to hear them in the comments.

readalikes

Hushed Kelley York

Hushed by Kelley York (2011). While the stories don’t have anything in common, Hushed is also the tale of the intense (and sometimes disturbing) power that relationships can have over us. Antisocial Archer’s childhood best friend, Vivian, manipulates him in more ways than even he is aware of. When Archer meets Evan, who seems to like him just for himself, he is torn between the draw of two powerful relationships. My full review is HERE.

The Brothers Bishop Bart Yates

The Brothers Bishop by Bart Yates (2005). I love Bart Yates (my review of his YA novel, Leave Myself Behind is HERE). The Brothers Bishop is about two brothers who are very close but total opposites, forever connected by growing up under the thumb of their terrifying and infuriating father. Serious, misanthropic Nathan likes his privacy in the beach house he inherited. Outgoing golden boy, Tommy, draws people to him without even trying. When Tommy shows up for a weekend visit with his boyfriend and two friends, the brothers revisit family secrets and make catastrophic mistakes, all against the backdrop of the ocean that laps the nearby sand.

procured from: the library

Sister Magic IS Practical Magic!

In Which I Discuss Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995) & How I Came to Love Practical Magic, directed by Griffin Dunne (1998)

Practical Magic Alice Hoffman   Practical Magic Sandra Bullock Nicole Kidman

by REBECCA, November 12, 2012

Many moons ago, I’m thirteen or fourteen, and I get this book called Practical Magic from the Saturday morning library book sale for twenty-five cents because the first sentence of the blurb reads, “For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town.” Magic, witches, persecution, stuff going wrong: sounds great! And it is great. The writing is beautiful, the multi-generational family drama well-wrought, the characters interesting, and the atmosphere exquisitely . . . well, atmospheric.

Fast forward a couple of years: I’m sixteen, and the movie version of Practical Magic comes out, starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I see it; it’s awful; I forget about it.

Fast forward a few more years: I’m nineteen or so, in college, and home visiting my parents over the holidays. My sister and I have recently grown into being friends, since I left the house and she’s grown up a bit, and Practical Magic comes on TV during a lazy afternoon when my parents are at work and my sister and I are slobbing around in our pajamas. She thinks the movie looks good; I tell her that I’ve seen it and it’s terrible, but that the book is good and she should read it. We watch it anyway.

And we love it. It’s funny! It’s sad! It’s magical! It’s a love letter to everything about being sisters! And I couldn’t have really appreciated it until my sister and I became best friends.

Practical Magic houseAfter realizing that my sister was actually the magic ingredient in my enjoyment of the movie Practical Magic, I went back and re-read the book. And, actually, the sister-magic is far less pronounced in the book than in the movie—perhaps that’s why my enjoyment of the book didn’t hinge on that relationship. But it was just as good as I remembered it being; and rarely has the title of a book quite so aptly described what was inside.

Since watching Practical Magic with my sister ten years or so ago, it’s become something of a favorite sister-movie for us, and so I don’t watch it critically any more—sure, I can still see why it’s not a very good movie, but it’s got just the right mix of feel-good stuff to make it a win. Especially the actors, who are pretty perfectly cast (except Aidan Quinn). Yeah, I’m talking to you, Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest!

Alice Hoffman’s novel, however, is a legitimately good book. I think it often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, because it gets lumped in with the rest of the Alice-Hoffman oeuvre (many of which I know I’ve read, but can’t tell apart from one another) as well as with a sub-sub-genre of women-oriented, garden-magic-y books that spiked in the mid-nineties. And that’s a real shame, because Practical Magic is definitely Hoffman at her best. Themes and characters that are teased or made precious in her other novels are perfectly modulated here. That isn’t to say that I don’t like other of Hoffman’s books—there are several that I enjoy a lot. But Practical Magic reads to me as if it were the one book she most wanted to write, so when she did, it all came together perfectly.

House from Practical MagicFor those of you who have seen the movie (whether you loved or hated it), the book is significantly different. The biggest difference is that the film cuts out most of the second half of the book, in which Sally’s kids are teenagers and Gillian comes back to live with them, which is some of the best stuff in the book. Sally and Gillian’s response to the girls growing up is the centerpiece of the second half of the book, and really emphasizes the story of three generations of sisters: the aunts, Sally & Gillian, and Antonia & Kylie.

Hoffman’s storytelling is the perfect combination of practical and magic itself, beautifully crafting gems that reveal each character:

“One beautiful April day, when Sally was in sixth grade, all of the aunts’ cats followed her to school . . . There was Cardinal and Crow and Raven and Goose. There was a gawky kitten named Dove, and an ill-tempered tom called Magpie, who hissed at the others and kept them at bay. It would be difficult to believe that such a mangy bunch of creatures had come up with a plan to shame Sally, but that is what seemed to have happened, although they may have followed her on that day simply because she’d fixed a tunafish sandwich for lunch . . .

On this morning, Sally didn’t even know the cats were behind her, until she sat down at her desk. . . . Sally shooed them away, but the cats just came closer. They paced back and forth in front of her, their tails in the air, meowing with voices so horrible the sound could have curdled milk in the cup. ‘Scat,’ Sally whispered when Magpie jumped into her lap and began kneading his claws into her nicest blue dress. ‘Go away,’ she begged him. . . . A panic had spread and the more high-strung of Sally’s classmates were already whispering witchery. . . .

A boy in the rear of the room, who had stolen a pack of matches from his father just that morning, now made use of the chaos in the classroom and took the opportunity to set Magpie’s tail on fire. The scent of burning fur quickly filled the room, even before Magpie began to scream. Sally ran to the cat; without stopping to think, she knelt and smothered the flames with her favorite blue dress. . . . Sally stood up, the cat cradled in her arms like a baby, her face and dress dirty with soot. . . .

Sally cried for two hours straight. She loved the cats, that was the thing. She sneaked them saucers of milk and carried them to the vet on Endicott Street in a knitting bag when they fought and tore at each other and their scars became infected. She adored those horrible cats, especially Magpie, and yet sitting in her classroom, embarrassed beyond belief, she would have gladly watched each one be drowned in a bucket of icy water or shot with a BB gun. Even though she went out to care for Magpie as soon as she’d collected herself, cleaning his tail and wrapping it in cotton gauze, she knew she’d betrayed him in her heart. From that day on, Sally thought less of herself. . . . Sally could not have had a more intractable and uncompromising judge; she had found herself lacking, in compassion and fortitude, and the punishment was self-denial, from that moment on” (9-13)

So, whether you read it for the sister-magic, the cats, the eccentric aunts, the glorious descriptions of food, the New England architecture, the small town life, the gorgeous old house, the romance, the coming-of-age, the actual magic, or the lovely prose, I have no doubt you’ll find something in Practical Magic to tickle your fancy.

What are your favorite sister-magic books? Tell me in the comments!

Slinging Lattes On Demon Wings

A Review of On Demon Wings: Experiment in Terror #5 by Karina Halle

Metal Blonde Books, 2012

By REBECCA, October 22, 2012

On Demon Wings Experiment in Terror Karina Halle

NOTE: On Demon Wings is the 5th book in the Experiment in Terror Series and this review contains spoilers for previous books in the series. If you haven’t already done so, check out my reviews of Darkhouse, Red FoxDead Sky Morning, and Lying Season before reading.

characters

Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart and a yen for adventure

Ada Palomino: Perry’s fashionista little sister who quickly becomes MVP

Maximus: An old friend of Dex’s who sweeps in claiming some ghost-y know-how

Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma

the hook

How can you escape the things that haunt you . . . if they’re inside you to begin with BWAH HA HAH!?!

worldview

Aaaaaaah! In On Demon Wings, Karina Halle’s fifth chilling installment of the Experiment in Terror series, fear moves from the outside in. In the first three books, Dex and Perry were filming episodes of their web ghost hunting show and were plagued by various ghosts, spirits, and unsavory beasties. In the fourth book, The Lying Season, shit got really personal, and ghosts from Dex’s past (and a girlfriend from his present) wreaked havoc on Dex and Perry’s fledgling relationship.

Cthulhu latte!

Cthulhu latte!

Now, several months after fleeing Seattle and strife with Dex, Perry has given up ghost hunting and taken a job at a coffee shop, trying to make normal (read: non-haunted) friends, hanging out with her sister, and whipping milk into a variety of concoctions for exacting customers. She’s messed up by the whole ordeal in Seattle, but she’s trying her damnedest to pick up the pieces. But, as always happens when we’re trying to scrape together the fragments of our shattered psyches, Perry begins feeling extremely ill, and seeing things, like girls at concerts with shark smiles.

Into this mess walks our good friend, Maximus, from Red Fox, Dex’s college buddy and former bandmate who took quite a shine to Perry. He’s just moved to Portland and wants to convince Perry to return to the show, with him instead of with Dex. Perry begins to feel worse and worse,  she is convinced that her house is haunted, and whatever is there is slowly driving her crazy.

what were this book’s expectations? did it live up to them?

On Demon Wings is the best kind of horror story: one where both the characters and the reader are, for most of the book, unsure whether the supernatural occurrences are real or not. But it’s with On Demon Wings that readers can be sure of one thing—that the Experiment in Terror series is one of most unique, spooky, and entertaining rides out there. Where The Lying Season shifted the plot arc that the first three books used, On Demon Wings breaks from it completely, and it is a perfectly calculated move. Instead of the controlled chaos we found in the first three books, and the high-energy, romantic chaos in book four, book five is mired deep in Perry’s psyche. Here is a dark, crawling pit of despair and fear into which Perry has fallen and she can’t get up.

Perry Palomino has fallen and she can't get up

Halle has taken her recipe of sexual tension + terror, added a heaping cup of heartbreak, a sprinkle of neuroses, and stirred it to a boil. In Dex’s absence, Maximus is the perfect leading man: comforting and take-charge (in a Southern kind of way), Maximus takes the pressure off Perry and worms his way into her confidence. It was sad to have an Experiment in Terror book where Dex was mostly absent, but it was a much-needed absence. In addition to feeling realistic in the scope of the series (which is gloriously long enough to leave room for a little leavening), Dex’s absence makes the reader feel as abandoned and at sea as Perry does, heightening the relief we feel when he arrives late in the book.

Practical Magic Alice HoffmanThe pleasantest surprise of On Demon Wings is that Ada finally gets a chance to live up to the promises of awesomeness the first four books made on her behalf. Even as their parents think that Perry is cracking up and Maximus proves that sometimes tall, handsome, Southern redheads aren’t all that they seem, Ada keeps a level head and refuses to give up on Perry. I love a good sisters-battling-evil-book, and Ada totally pulls her weight and looks out for Perry. Sisters!

Don’t worry your pretty little heads, though, Dex isn’t gone from On Demon Wings completely. He shows up, as Dex is wont to do, at a dramatic moment and, well, makes it more dramatic. And, of course, it ends on what we in the business would call a cliffhanger. Pfew, Perry really needs a vacation.

Old Blood Experiment in Terror Karina HalleSo, now you’re all caught up with the main books in the series. The sixth Experiment in Terror book—Into the Hollow—will be released this year (publication has been pushed back a bit). You can check out the cover reveal for Into the Hollow HERE. But, lest you fall over the cliff before it’s released, you should also check out Old Blood (EIT 5.5), the novella about Pippa, the “crazy clown lady,” and The Dex-Files (EIT 5.7), a novel composed of scenes from the series told from Dex’s perspective.

What has been your favorite Experiment in Terror book so far?

%d bloggers like this: