Gho- Gho- Ghostland!

Books on hauntings, folklore, spooky stories are my jam. I can't get enough of them when the fall comes round.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places is a bit different than your average "scary stories that are true" book. Colin Dickey gets deep into the psychology of some of the most popular ghost stories in American history. He takes readers on a haunted tour of his own, moving from state to state, from private home, to public building, park, graveyard, prison, and other important structures. He explores the cultural and historical context of the era these stories appeared and looks at why we still tell them today. Often these tales are born of guilt, are reminders of injustice, or provide a lesson.

The stories he features are about real people and events; it's important to keep that in mind. These were the real sufferings of human beings. Colin Dickey reaches into the darkest parts in the past to put these tales into perspective. It was sometimes a bummer to read. Reading about slavery, war, and tragic death usually isn't a happy experience anyway. I feel that I learned a lot, and was even surprised by the truth behind the stories. Take, for example, the Winchester House in California. I believed it was a story about a superstitious old woman. The truth reveals more about the economic and misogynistic values at that time.

Colin Dickey doesn't set out to debunk the stories he highlights, but to lay them out for the reader within the historical context. He does ask questions about how we tell these stories. When is it okay to embellish a story for effect? Is it okay to profit off the suffering of others even long after their deaths? (He has a lot to say about dark tourism and reality TV ghost hunters.)

Finally, he looks to the future of hauntings and ghost stories. Will the Internet of Things play a part? Is the appearance of a deceased person's Facebook page a type of haunting? I thought that was an interesting question!

If you are a reader who enjoys history, folklore, and a bit of creepiness, then you should pick up Ghostland. Plus, there are a number of literary references, just to put the cherry on the top! (also, that cover is awesome!)

About the Audio: Jon Lindstrom narrates. He had an authoritative voice. I almost felt he had done the research!
Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Knock! Knock! It's...The Couple Next Door

New parents, Anne and Marco Conti, attend a dinner party at the neighbour's house. Anne nervously watches the clock. She's not having a great time. Her husband is shamelessly flirting with with their host Cynthia, while their baby sleeps in her crib next door. Even though their babysitter cancelled, they decided to go to the party anyway. It would be rude to cancel. Instead, they take their baby monitor with them and check Cora every half hour.

When they finally return home for the night, they find Cora gone. Frantically, they call the police, but instead of finding help, they find themselves under suspicion.

Detective Rasbach knows how these things go. They won't find the baby alive, and more than likely the parents are her killer. All he has to do is wait. Before long he starts to unravel the Conti's secrets: their family, personal, and business secrets.

Between the media attention, and the detective's questioning, the Conti's perfect facade starts to crack. There are secrets and lies they've been keeping from each other for years.

The Couple Next Door is a crime thriller, but the mystery of who took Baby Cora is solved about halfway through. At this point, things become much more complicated. The question then becomes: is Cora still alive?

Although I thought The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena was an entertaining read, it requires some suspension of disbelief. The characters do some dumbfoundingly ridiculous things. At one point, I said aloud, "What a dumbass!" Like, come on!

The writing was also somewhat of an issue for me. It felt robotic. I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for anyone in this book. When I did, it was fleeting.

Still, there were enough twists and turns to keep me interested. Just when you think things are over, well, hold onto your butt, because that ending... well, that's an ending!

About the Audio: Kirsten Potter narrates The Couple Next Door. I don't think I've listened to her before. I never really warmed up to her, but that might have been a result of the writing. 

Thanks to Penguin Audiobooks for the review copy, via Volumes. All opinions are my own.

The Couple Next Door

A Tinge of Sadness: All the Things We Leave Behind

Seventeen year old Violet is on her own in the summer of 1977. Her parents are on a road trip, following the trail her older brother, Bliss, took after he left home shortly after his graduation. Violet is responsible for the running of the family business, an antique shop in a big, purple barn, until they return.

The day to day running of the shop isn't too difficult. She has a reliable staff, including her own boyfriend. There is a steady stream of tourist traffic; no one can resist stopping at a purple barn. She has work to keep her busy, her boyfriend, and best friend Jill to occupy her free time. Still, she can't keep her thoughts from straying to Bliss, his depression, and why he left them so suddenly.

Violet remembers her childhood with Bliss. What was the cause of his sadness? She can't help but think it started after they found the boneyard when they were kids. The boneyard was a pit hidden deep in the woods, where the transportation department dumped the bodies of animals struck by cars on the highway. The boneyard affected Bliss deeply. During his darkest moments, he would talk about the pit and how it made him feel. Throughout her childhood she found ways to keep Bliss from thinking of the boneyard, but his mind would always return to it.

In the present time, Violet's parents receive a once in a lifetime opportunity: the sale of the contents of the legendary Vaughan summer house, a house abandoned decades ago after a family tragedy. It's a house frozen in time. With her parents away, it's up to Violet to seal the deal.

All the Things We Leave Behind is a quiet, coming of age novel. Violet has adult responsibilities, while still trying to live the life of a teenager- making out with her boyfriend, and hanging out with friends. Underneath it all is her concern for her brother and what responsibility, if any, she had for his leaving. It's a long journey for Violet to realize that people are going to do what they're going to do.

In the 1970s depression wasn't as understood as it is now. There wasn't an awareness of the disease or much of a treatment. Bliss struggles with his own understanding of it:
"It just, I- I feel sad, like something sad happened. I don't know- I just- maybe it's something I should have felt bad about before, but forgot to?"
Violet's family doesn't understand it either. They love and support him and realize that it's a part of him, but it's beyond them. His leaving to "go exploring" frightens them, because as his mom puts it, "It's Bliss."

If the boneyard is a metaphor for Bliss's unhappiness, then the antithesis is Speckles, the albino deer. Speckles is "Bliss's deer," the deer Bliss spotted in the woods, an animal he has a connection with. Late at night, Violet spots a mysterious glowing deer. Speckles? As long as Violet knows Speckles is okay, then Bliss is okay too.

But Violet knows that people give meaning to things that aren't always there. Violet's family deals with the belongings of the dead. These items once occupied a place in their lives and after their passing bring joy to new people. The new owners imbue these items with meaning without truly knowing what these trinkets meant to the past owners. A candy dish might have just been something unwanted hidden in a cupboard. But if believing in a fantasy brings someone happiness, what's the harm? Bliss himself was interested in what made others happy. What was the secret and why was it so elusive?

The events leading up to Bliss's disappearance, her parents' search, and how Violet came to be left alone all summer are revealed piece by piece throughout the novel. There were questions that kept creeping into my mind that were eventually answered. It's a slow journey, but one that's worth it. This is definitely a novel that sneaks up on you.


Thanks to Goose Lane for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

All the Things We Leave Behind

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Mastering the Margarita

First things first, I'm joining Alice's The Master and Margarita Readalong. I know there are no margaritas in this book, but I won't be happy until I make one during this readalong. (Alice thought there were ships involved so we're all confused.)

My copy has a sinister looking cat on the cover. Also Goodreads says there are witches in this book, so it meets my Witches for October criteria.

Oh, haven't I mentioned this? I have made myself promise to read "happy" witch books this October. No sad Salem witches, or European witches being burned at the stake, please. Good time witches only. I'm hoping The Witches of New York by Ami McKay makes the grade, as will Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Fingers crossed!

Today I wrote two reviews! WHO AM I? I don't know what came over me. My blog will have content this week! Yay! Stay tuned for thoughts of All the Things We Leave Behind and The Couple Next Door.

I'm in the middle of reading (listening to) Ghostland by Colin Dickey. I have a Volumes copy. No thanks to Netgalley. Lately, my Netgalley requests linger in pending purgatory forever. I don't know what's going on over there. At least I still have other avenues to snag books, and as always I can either buy or borrow books. No biggie. Anyway, I'm preferring to listen to books these days.

Not much else to report. I'm trying to cram as much as I can into my weekends now. There are so many books to read though. I'm trying!

Behold the Review! Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers asks: what would you do to obtain the American Dream? Compromise your values? Your health? Your family and your marriage?

The future looks bright for the Jonga family. Jende Jonga came to New York with a dream to make it in America. Back in Cameroon, his prospects were low and after marrying the mother of his child, he knew he had to provide more for them than he could there. His luck improved once he reached New York City. His cousin fixed him up with a job for a rich New York executive, Clark Edwards. With a good paying job, he sends for his wife, Neni and their son, Liomi, so they can start their lives together.

Neni wishes to become a pharmacist, and in New York she studies hard to reach her goal. She dreams of driving to her job in a big SUV and of having a luxurious American life. Life in Cameroon was difficult for her. Her father wouldn't let her marry her poor boyfriend. She was dependent on her father, who never let her forget it. She was stuck in her father's house, unable to start her real life with the man she loved. Now that she's in New York, she's determined to never go back to her old life and will do whatever it takes to stay in the US.

Jende becomes indispensable to Mr Edwards. Driving the man and his family around all day, he is privy to personal and company secrets, and he learns a lot about his employer. The Edwards life seems glamorous, but it doesn't take Jende long to realize appearances are deceiving. Soon the Edwards's are unable to keep up the facade as financial ruin comes to the US. With it, Jende's dream becomes a nightmare.

Behold the Dreamers is a twisty tale. Imbolo Mbue kept me wondering where this story was going to go. It had an almost Choose Your Own Adventure quality to it. Will Character X do this and what will be the consequences? The story could have gone in many directions. After the financial crash, the lives of the Jonga family take an almost Hardyesque turn. It seems like disaster upon disaster falls upon them. How they choose to respond to these hardships will determine whether or not they succeed in reaching their goals.

In the end, I was left pondering: is the American Dream really attainable for everyone? Imbolo Mbue doesn't answer that question. There are successes and failures throughout the novel. Just wanting it won't be enough. Optimism can quickly turn to pessimism. Circumstance, timing, luck, and privilege all have a hand in that success. The ending is rather open ended, but I liked that about it. Life is open ended. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
About the Audio: Prentice Onayemi narrates the audiobook. It was delightful to listen to him. I enjoyed his take on the accents. The Cameroonian characters were especially lovely to listen to. 
Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Behold the Dreamers

So Long August, Hello September

Another September. I'm glad to see August go. August had some not great moments. I'm hoping September will be better.

I'm looking forward to Pumpkin Spiced Everything. I already had a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks. I can cross that off my Autumn To Do list. I love Fall so much! The weather is getting cooler and I can smell that rotten leaves scent it the air already. Can't wait to wear my flannel and high boots. Yes, I'm that girl. I don't care!

My vegetable garden is almost done. I have some tomatoes left. It's been a great year for tomatoes. I had a ton! Usually I get a few, enough for a salad, but this year was a bumper crop.

I'm employed again. I have somewhere to go everyday and I'll get paid to be there. I'm grateful for that. It might mean less time for reading, but I'll make the time anyway.

I'm reading All The Things We Leave Behind by Riel Nason. It's pretty good so far. It's very summery so I hope to finish it soon so I can start on my RIP Challenge books. I'm looking for "happy" witch books this year. Books with witches and maybe not a lot of death. Those are hard to come by.

I finished Stranger Things last night. What a spooky show. I'm amazed by what Netflix can do.

That's the latest from me. How is your September going so far?

The Most Spooky Time of the Year: RIP XI Challenge

Yay! It's back! Carl's R(eaders) I(mbibing) P(eril) Challenge XI. If you have no idea what I'm referring to, check out the sign up page.

I'll be signing up for Peril the Third, just because I haven't been reading as much as I have been the previous years.

We all have a seemingly never-ending set of demands on our time. If you want to participate but cannot commit to anything time-consuming, this is the one-book-only option for participation. This event isn’t meant to be a burden…remember the “have fun” part…so if you want to join the fun in the least burdensome way possible, Peril the Third is just for you.

I'll also be participating in Peril in the Short Story, and hunting down some classic scary stories to read.

Peril on the Screen is one I'll be doing too. I'm diving into Stranger Things this weekend.

 So, what's on my reading list this year? Well, a lot of books I didn't get to in previous years for one.

  • Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (new)
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (readalong)
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Austen and Graham-Smith
  • The House on the Borderlands by William Hope Hodgson
Not shown (The ??? is for books I haven't got yet):
  • She Walks in Shadows- Anthology 
  • Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer (new)
  • Jezebel's Daughter by Wilkie Collins
  • Witches of New York by Ami McKay (???)
  • Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky (???)
  • The Haunted and the Haunters (???)
That's what this Season of the RIP looks like this year. What's on your list?