Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaTitle: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Genre(s): YA Paranormal Romantic Fantasy
How to Purchase: Amazon | Kobo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was not a bad book, but it didn’t live up to its hype. Some of the writing was atmospheric, but not enough to move me. The characters were memorable, but I neither loved nor hated them.

The story gets underway when our main character Violet meets River, a boy her age who wants to room in the guest house in her old, rundown mansion. River is mysterious and attractive, and she goes about falling in love with him as quickly as any teenaged girl can fall in love with a mysterious and attractive teenaged boy.

Soon it’s revealed that River has a mysterious power that he uses to manipulate those around him. Is her attraction to him real? Is he manipulating her own emotions for his gain? Does she actually care if it’s not genuine? Those are the questions that made me keep reading, that make me want to read the second book, though the questions aren’t posed in a particularly compelling manner.

The weather–sunbeams, thunderstorms, salty ocean air–is over-used to create atmosphere. Although the usage wasn’t terrible, I feel like it could have been more deftly woven to the story. Each mention seemed a jarring contrast to whatever was going on, an add-on that seemed like Ms. Tucholke chose “because it needs to be there,” rather than to enhance a scene.

The climax was a bit anti-climactic, even though it was well-written. Series(es) have a tendency to do that, I think; I felt the same disappointment at reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater. It’s as though the author says, “I have some choice morsels that I will save for the next book,” without thinking that perhaps I will not read the next book because this one doesn’t live up to its potential. Without giving anything away, a near deus ex machina forms the climax, which I think leads to the feeling of being cheated. The climax is not brought about my our main characters, but something that was lurking outside The Machine, something discovered too late in the story to be emotionally satisfying. Nothing is resolved between Violet and River, and we must read into the second book to find out what comes about.

In the description, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is described as “blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror.” Yes, maybe, OK, I see it if I squint. If you’re looking forward to reading this, I say go ahead and pick it up. I will likely buy the sequel, too… But I’m prepared to be disappointed a second time.

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Review: Scarlette by Davonna Juroe

Title: Scarlette
Author: Davonna Juroe
Genre(s): Adult Historical Paranormal Fairy Tale Re-telling
How To Purchase: Kindle

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ninety years before the Brothers Grimm penned their version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” an historic, gruesome series of events shocked all of Europe. Starting in 1764, an unidentified wolf-like animal ferociously mauled dozens of peasants in the Gévaudan region of France.

Whispered rumors of unnatural creatures blended with age-old superstition to cause mass hysteria. A werewolf was blamed for the carnage. Alarmed, King Louis XV sent his best huntsmen to rid the province of the beastly scourge, but this legendary massacre had only just begun.

Scarlette, a 19-year-old seamstress who is laboring to make ends meet, lives under this dark threat. Although fearful of the nightmarish monster lurking in the surrounding forest, she remains skeptical of the supernatural gossip.

Until her grandmother is attacked.

Scarlette learns that her grandmother has been infected by the animal’s bite. Desperate to save her, Scarlette begins to uncover the dark secrets of her village and finds there are those who wish to keep their pasts hidden. As time grows short, Scarlette is befriended by a local nobleman and a woodcutter who both share an eerie history with the wolf.

Scarlette must unravel the men’s connection and solve a long-forgotten crime. But as she pieces together the clues, Scarlette finds herself torn between the two men. Both of them desire more than friendship and together hold the key to the cure.

Based on both the traditional Grimm fairy-tale and older known French versions of “Little Red Riding Hood,” this dark Young Adult novel is set against the 18th century Beast of Gévaudan attacks and blends fairy-tale with Gothic romance in a modern, accessible prose style. Unique to the genre, the novel revives the fable of the girl-in-the-red-cloak with a new historical angle that blurs the line between folklore and reality.

I’m a sucker for fairy tale re-tellings. The darker, the better. Scarlette doesn’t disappoint, although it wasn’t what I expected.

The story deviates from the fairy tale plot that we all know and love, but it doesn’t disappoint. In this book, the “wolf” is both real and figurative. Scarlette, our protagonist, lives in the mid-1700s France, in a small town that is frightened and shocked by animal attacks on the population. Her mother is terrible to her, her employer is a lecherous old man, and she’s struggling to feed herself and keep a roof over her head. Scarlette’s grandmother is the only light in her life… but poor granny doesn’t last very long.

As the attacks intensify, Scarlette becomes confused and overwrought. She makes friends with a rich nobleman, who isn’t what he seems. Or is he? Good ol’ Marquis de Sade gets a minor role–which is always a great way to solidify a place in my heart.

The woodcutter guild was an interesting aspect that I wish was explored in greater detail. Scarlette’s friendship with a woodcutter who saves her is on shaky ground–especially since the guild kidnapped her previously, adding to her disorientation and confusion. I would have loved to see the story finish on a darker note than it did, but, after all, it is a fairy tale. Happy ever after mandatory?

Scarlette blends paranormal, romance, and historical fiction into an interesting story. I’ve tried to decide if this is Young Adult or Adult, and because of the dark tone and theme, I would consider it Adult. The details of 1700’s France are fascinating. The older I get, the more I appreciate historical fiction, and Ms. Juroe did a great job creating that time period.

If you like fairy tale re-tellings or paranormal historicals, I would suggest this book. A solid four of five stars, and I’m looking forward to more of the author’s books.

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Discussion: Glimpses of the Devil by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

Title: Glimpses of the Devil
Author: M. Scott Peck, M.D.
Genre(s): Paranormal Non-Fiction

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

[Truncated] The legendary bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, whose books have sold over 14 million copies, reveals the amazing true story of his work as an exorcist — kept secret for more than twenty-five years — in two profoundly human stories of satanic possession.

For the first time, Dr. Peck discusses his experience in conducting exorcisms, sharing the spellbinding details of his two major cases: one a moving testament to his healing abilities, and the other a perilous and ultimately unsuccessful struggle against darkness and evil. Twenty-seven-year-old Jersey was of average intelligence; a caring and devoted wife and mother to her husband and two young daughters, she had no history of mental illness. Beccah, in her mid-forties and with a superior intellect, had suffered from profound depression throughout her life, choosing to remain in an abusive relationship with her husband, one dominated by distrust and greed.

I’m deviating from my usual format for a book that is not speculative fiction and for a discussion of what is contained within rather than a review. Glimpses of the Devil is from my non-fiction exorcism research list for my paranormal/horror The Exorcist’s Assistant (working title).

Though some might feel that a book recounting exorcisms is written on shaky foundation, I believe in the supernatural and, more specifically, the existence of evil spirits we call “demons.” I am not, however, a Christian, so I bring my own opinions to the reading of these stories, which is the impetus for this blog entry. I believe that every spiritual explanation–from major religions to individual experiences–is like a blind man trying to describe an elephant. The observation touches on something true about the whole, but the interpretation misses the entire picture.

In Glimpses of the Devil, Dr. Peck, who is a psychiatrist and converted Christian, recounts two experiences where he acted as an exorcist. He holds these two cases up as proof of demonic possession. Enough evidence exists in what he presented that, if he has presented everything factually, I believe these are cases of true demon possession.

However, I disagree with his interpretation of events in two specific areas.

The first rule of exorcisms…

Glimpses of the Devil is described as a factual representation of events; however, it ends up as an autobiographical account of a man who decides, without religious or demonological training, to exorcise two patients. This becomes clear throughout the book as Dr. Peck wrestles with his decision. One of my chief concerns regarding all this is that he never asks, “Should I do further research into exorcisms beyond reading Malachi Martin‘s books?”

Mr. Martin is widely criticized in the exorcist community as writing sensational books full of half-truths and for decidedly un-Christian-like conduct, such as several affairs. Dr. Peck goes so far as to claim that no other handbook for exorcisms exists beyond Mr. Martin’s, which is patently untrue. (See again my reading list, which is far from a compendium on all exorcist non-fiction.) Dr. Peck’s ignorance of the best practices in dealing with demons is evident from the beginning.

The first case is Jersey, a girl who has been possessed since she was twelve. Dr. Peck and his team exorcise her, which goes well. He then spends three weeks with her in psychoanalytic therapy, preparing her for re-entering the world.

After the exorcism, Dr. Peck is in contact with her over the years. During one visit, she explains to him that the demons still talk to her, but she is able to ignore them. In one instance, she told them to “shut the fuck up,” and they did. However, out of curiosity, Dr. Peck asks to hypnotize her, as he did in the past, and to speak to the demons through her. She agrees and the resulting conversation is confusing. Nothing particularly demonic happens; instead, the entity speaking through Jersey identifies itself as a clerk living in Anaheim. He ends the hypnotic session and sees her rarely after that, though she, at press time, is happy, healthy, and no longer possessed.

I am appalled. Shame on you, Dr. Peck, for opening the door to allow a demon to speak through Jersey. I won’t be surprised if the ending to the story is that she ends up possessed again.

Look, I’m no expert, but I have read a few things and I have some common sense. One of the preeminent exorcists of our times, Father Gabriele Amorth, has given extensive precautionary information in An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories. These two books are not pea-soup-spitting horrors but are thoughtfully written tradesman’s books–discussions of the nuts and bolts and challenges facing exorcists. They could be about plumbing or IT development but are instead about exorcisms. At the time that Dr. Peck conducted his exorcisms, the books had not yet been written; however, I would expect a non-fiction published in 2005 to at least acknowledge the existence of Father Amorth’s books.

In his books, Father Amorth advises, quite sensibly, against engaging a demon in conversation. Assuming you believe demons are creatures of inherent evil and you aren’t interested in unleashing evil into the world, you can agree that you shouldn’t talk to them. Why? Because they lie. Even if they’re not lying about whatever you ask, how do you know that? You’re begging to be manipulated. What is there to learn, other than that they’re evil, which you already know?

It’s an exciting, gripping, fascinating world to step into. The lure of talking to something not human is immense. It’s no wonder the Catholic Church refuses to promote its work in the realm of exorcisms.

This deviation from “get the hell out of that woman” to “hey, guy, whatcha doin’ in there?” becomes prominent in the second patient’s exorcism. Dr. Peck is fascinated with the idea that Beccah is possessed by Satan, an evil creature millions of years old. He senses a giant, immoveable snake, as old as the world itself, coiled supernaturally around or inside of his patient. He wonders why it has possessed her. He asks it questions. He hypothesizes why it won’t leave her. He does everything except exorcise it.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know. Maybe it went differently, and his ruminations are for the book only. But the exorcism of Beccah took a subtle shift from the exorcism of Jersey. With Jersey, he very strongly orders the demons to leave for three days straight. With Beccah, he ends up falling to the floor weeping at one point and another team member must step in and complete the exorcism. Is it no wonder that it turned out the way it did?

The moment of possession

I’m also uncomfortable with the conclusions that Dr. Peck has drawn, aided by Malachi Martin, about the reasons behind demonic possession. Both men claim that every possessed person is complicit in their possession, that to become possessed, one must open the door for that possession, even if only a crack.

When the first patient Jersey was twelve, her father molested her. She allowed him to do it because he claimed to be a medical doctor and was “examining” her after her appendix was removed. He held a PhD and was a practicing psychologist but was not a medical doctor.

Dr. Peck claims that at twelve years old, Jersey knew the difference between a psychologist and a medical doctor. Though he doesn’t outright blame her, he explains that in not protesting what her father did to her, she created a kind of cognitive dissonance that allowed the demons to gain a foothold. She willfully believed a lie, and therefore, she opened the door to being possessed.

Are you kidding me, Dr. Peck?

I have no idea why that poor girl was possessed, but the only proof the author had that her demonic interference started at twelve was her word while she was possessed. It could have been one of the demons speaking through her to hide the real timing and cause of the possession. Her bad behavior only starts manifesting in her twenties. Why did the demons wait so long?

And I just don’t agree with the idea of Jersey bringing this on herself because she was molested. “Oh,” Dr. Peck says, “you didn’t bring the molestation on yourself; however, you did bring the possession on yourself.”

In healing psychological trauma, it’s important to identify and acknowledge all feelings. Thus in a rape, a victim might say, “I feel that I brought this on myself.” While this may be a turning point for the victim, the turning point is because he or she is releasing that negative thought. A follow-up might be an acknowledgement that she didn’t bring it on herself or perhaps that she could have taken a different route home but had no way of knowing what would happen. It is not suddenly a fact that the victim brought the horrific tragedy on herself just because she thinks she did. It’s psychologically freeing–which we see in the case of Jersey–but that doesn’t make it true.

This preoccupation becomes even more apparent in Beccah’s case, and Dr. Peck’s search for the moment of her possession may have distracted him from being useful to her. Beccah was found wandering six streets away from her home when she was eighteen months old. Though little is known of her mother beyond that she was seen by Beccah as evil, this is exceedingly atypical behavior by a child in that age range, as asserted by Dr. Peck himself. Non-traumatized children nine months to several years old are afraid of strangers and cling desperately to their mothers. That Beccah ran away from home before she could talk says that she was already maladjusted, due to her circumstances, well before she had a choice in the matter.

While it is important to note that everyone has a choice and that choice is important in defeating a demon, we are all victims of our circumstances. A woman may end up being narcissistic because she was genetically predisposed and her mother modeled that behavior; she may free herself from it by taking responsibility for her actions. Going in is not a choice, but coming out is.

The very definition of a demon is a creature that preys on human victims. Have we forgotten what victims are? They’re victims. And it’s not a far stretch to believe that supernatural creatures intent on anguish and destruction choose innocents. It’s comforting to tell ourselves that we won’t ever be targets because we don’t do anything to invite evil into our lives, but that smacks of untruth.

I admire Dr. Peck’s open discussions, including failings that he freely admits. The books was fascinating, but I’m cautious about naming the elephant. Whenever we delve too far into specifics when it comes to religion, we become distracted and unable to see the entire picture. Though it’s obvious that “invoking “he name of Jesus Christ” holds sway over demons, that doesn’t prove that every piece of Christian dogma is correct. Exorcisms have been performed successfully for thousands of years across all cultures and religions, despite what the Catholic church might want people to believe.

I’m convinced that there’s evil in the world. And sometimes, we can do nothing to stop being swept away by it. Educating ourselves on all aspects of evil and opening ourselves to understanding beyond our own narrow worldview will aid in defeating it in our own lives and as collective humanity.

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Review: The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Title: The Witching Hour
Author: Anne Rice
Genre(s): Adult Paranormal Historical
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo | Paperback (Amazon)

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

On the veranda of a great New Orleans house, now faded, a mute and fragile woman sits rocking. And the witching hour begins…

Demonstrating once again her gift for spellbinding storytelling and the creation of legend, Anne Rice makes real for us a great dynasty of witches – a family given to poetry and incest, to murder and philosophy, a family that over the ages is itself haunted by a powerful, dangerous, and seductive being.

A hypnotic novel of witchcraft and the occult across four centuries, by the spellbinding, bestselling author of The Vampire Chronicles.

Oh, my God, Anne Rice. What were you thinking?

At times this book strays into one star territory and at times it strays into the five star category. It took me months to finish it, and by the time I was done, I felt like I’d run a marathon. “Anne, this is a great story,” Anne’s editor must have said upon first reading the weighty tome placed on his desk, “however, you have to cut the back story and extraneous detail. When we’re done, this thing will be one third the size.”

“I will not!” Anne said. “I’m Anne Rice! I write what I want!”

So that is how we ended up with an intriguing plot line, an engrossing story, and a fascinating concept, splayed across several hundred pages too many. I was confused, I skimmed, and I backtracked, all because the story couldn’t stay focused.

This is the story of a supernatural creature named Lasher–is it a demon? a ghost? an alien? something else?–that harasses generation after generation of Mayfair family members. Each time the newest daughter is born, it latches onto the child and protects her above all else. People die unexpectedly and gruesomely while it bides it time, waiting for the moment to hatch its plot.

Now, the most powerful witch in history has been born. Her family has sent her away to protect her, and she knows nothing about her heritage. But it’s time that she found out.

Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Too bad it’s not.

In the middle of the book is hundreds of pages of back story. One of the characters has gotten his hands on a file that’s been kept by a secret society watching the Mayfair family for thirteen generations. Ms. Rice decided to reveal the entire excruciating contents of that goddamned file to us. Who’s sleeping with whom? Whose baby is whose? Who is Auntie So-in-so in generation 8? I don’t know. And I don’t care.

The Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy taught me a valuable lesson: Even if you’re only spending your Kobo gift card money, buy one book of a series at a time. Unfortunately, I purchased all three of these books without having cracked open a one of them. Fortunately, the story gets better. Lasher is the second book, and its plot, while exceedingly weird and disjointed, is told better and is more engrossing. I haven’t yet moved on to the third book Taltos, but I don’t dread it. Someday I’ll get around to reading it.

If you like this kind of thing (generations of subtlety and twisted family trees), you’ll like The Witching Hour. If you’re like me and you can’t keep any more than four characters straight at a time, you’ll want to give this a pass. The ending I give 4.5 stars. The middle I give 0 stars. And the beginning… Eh. Probably 2. It confused me as well.

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Review: The Haunting Season by Michelle Muto

Title: The Haunting Season
Author: Michelle Muto
Genre(s): Young Adult Paranormal
How To Purchase: Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Be careful what you let in…

Siler House has stood silent beneath Savannah’s moss-draped oaks for decades. Notoriously haunted, it has remained empty until college-bound Jess Perry and three of her peers gather to take part in a month-long study on the paranormal. Jess, who talks to ghosts, quickly bonds with her fellow test subjects. One is a girl possessed. Another just wants to forget. The third is a guy who really knows how to turn up the August heat, not to mention Jess’s heart rate…when he’s not resurrecting the dead.

The study soon turns into something far more sinister when they discover that Siler House and the dark forces within are determined to keep them forever. In order to escape, Jess and the others will have to open themselves up to the true horror of Siler House and channel the very evil that has welcomed them all.

Creepy old mansion I found on PinterestThe Haunting Season is a spooky, fast-paced read. I love getting that “can’t put down, must finish as soon as possible” feeling about a book, and this one grabbed my throat and forced me onto my couch when I should have been doing stuff.

Its four main characters arrive at a haunted house that’s, even at first glance, hiding something. I love old mansions, and this one has sinister personality. I don’t care what was lurking, I’d start combing through the endless rooms of the Siler House as soon as I arrived, which our main character Jess does. Awesome.

Jess soon realizes that her invitation to participate in a science experiment about her paranormal abilities is more than it seems. As she opens doors, she uncovers the secret of the evil child Riley and his dead nieces. This is how I imagined Riley, especially near the end:

Seriously, don’t click on this if you get creeped out easily.

Each chapter is paced well and left me flipping to the next to find out what would happen next. As each secret is revealed, the book leaves you doubting the motives–and sometimes sanity–of Jess’s companions and hosts.

The grammar was clean and the language crisp; however, I felt at times that the writing voice was less mature than it should have been. Jess is eighteen, but the book sounds years younger. Additionally, Ms. Muto included a romantic sub-plot that I felt was unnecessary and jarring against its youthful voice. I would have loved to see it replaced with something more in the vein of the horror and supernatural, perhaps some further back story about our band of heroes.

The Haunting Season kept me on the edge of my seat. If you’re looking for some fun Halloween fare, I’d recommend it.

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