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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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: Ever and Evade by Jessa Russo

Ever by Jessa RussoEvade by Jessa Russo

Title: Ever (Book 1), Evade (Book 2) in the EVER Trilogy
Author: Jessa Russo
Genre(s): Young Adult Paranormal Romance
How To Purchase Ever: Paperback (Amazon) | Kindle |
How to Purchase Evade: Kindle | Kobo
Author Website: Jessa Russo

My rating for Ever: 3.5 out of 5 stars
My rating for Evade: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Evade in exchange for an honest review; however, I purchased my own copy of Ever.

Ever, Book One

Seventeen-year-old Ever’s love life has been on hold for the past two years. She’s secretly in love with her best friend Frankie, and he’s completely oblivious.

Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s dead, and waking up to his ghost every day has made moving on nearly impossible.

Frustrated and desperate for something real, Ever finds herself falling for her hot new neighbor Toby. His relaxed confidence is irresistible, and not just Ever knows it. But falling for Toby comes with a price that throws Ever’s life into a whirlwind of chaos and drama. More than hearts are on the line, and more than Ever will suffer.

Some girls lose their hearts to love.

Some girls lose their minds.

Ever Van Ruysdael could lose her soul.

Evade, Book Two

**Note: Book blurb contains spoilers for Book One**

In this thrilling sequel, Ever Van Ruysdael’s race to beat the odds—and the clock—begins with the introduction of an integral part of her past. As secrets are revealed, and truths uncovered, she learns her imminent death is the least of her problems: Ariadne did more than just put an expiration date on her life; she marked Ever’s soul by upping its value for greedy collectors looking to buy their freedom.

Condemned by the countdown on her life, and hunted by hired Seekers, Ever’s journey leads her to question everything she’s known and everyone she’s trusted, while growing closer to the one person from her past she was determined to avoid—and the one guy she never could—Toby James.

With her ex-boyfriend by her side, and the countdown clock rapidly ticking away, Ever tries thwarting fate’s plans. But as her nineteenth birthday approaches, and desperate Seekers follow her every move, she may be too late.

A marked soul is hard to come by … and even harder to escape.

**End Book One spoilers**

The EVER trilogy so far has a solid premise and interesting characters, but the plot pacing never allows it to rise from “I liked it” territory to “I loved it.” Ever, Book One, was faster paced with more plot twists, but Evade, Book Two, lagged a bit and disappointed me.

Ever, Book One

The premise of the books is fantastic: Ever, real name Eleanor, becomes ensnared in a supernatural world that, so far in both books, seems unique and interesting. Her boyfriend Frankie died in a car accident, and he’s haunting her house. Not in a “I don’t know I’m dead” way, but in “I’m moping and creepy because I don’t like being dead” way. I don’t know about you guys, but I love it.

Another boy, Toby, moves into the neighborhood, and Ever must work through letting go of Frankie. And, of course, Toby isn’t just any boy: He’s got his sights on Frankie. What does it mean? What’s he going to do? Why is he here? Love it, love it, love it.

As the story progresses, the plot picks up speed. We find out that Toby is, of course, not just the pretty face he seems. Ever’s family has a past. Toby has a past. His dad Ted has a past.

Toward the end, the book goes off the rails. The ending is a cliffhanger, but not in a good way. (Disclaimer: I loathe cliffhangers, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.) I feel as though a good portion of the beginning of Evade, Book Two, should have been the denouement of this book, which would have resolved the disquiet I felt about Book One.

The only part I struggled with was the relationship that Ever had with Toby versus the one she had with Frankie. Toby’s relationship sparked, but Frankie’s seemed non-existent. I understand that Frankie was her first love and best friend since birth, and the nature of that is different than a lusty teenaged love affair; however, I felt as though I was being told that he was her best friend. I didn’t feel the comfortable love that was between them. Quite frankly, Frankie was flat.

Evade, Book Two

Here’s the non-spoiler part: While Ever was more urban fantasy than paranormal romance, Evade was more paranormal romance than urban fantasy. I liked both Ever and Evade for their plots, but I wished for more, sooner, in Evade. It doesn’t pick up speed until about three-quarters of the way into the book, and by that point, I was wondering if anything unexpected was going to happen. It does: The stakes raised and I got excited, but the book was over all too soon.

**Note: Contains spoilers for Book One**

Evade picks up where Ever left off: Ever now has less than a year left to live. Trying to make the best of it, she heads to a vacation in Mexico and is plunged into more chaos. She discovers that Ariadne’s mark attracted all manner of unsavory dead folk, and she must run for her life.

I struggled with this premise because it didn’t make sense. If I were Ever, I’d be demanding answers–real ones–especially when her bitch-face nemesis and ex-boyfriend show up again to make her life difficult. Sometimes Ever seems to be going along for a ride, allowing all these things to happen to her. As I mentioned before, it’s only in the last quarter of the book that she starts taking charge.

Something about the world-building was missing from both Ever and Evade: We never get a glimpse into the Soul Collector life. I’m reminded of that part in Men In Black where J first goes down the elevator and sees all the aliens wandering amongst the humans. Neither Ever nor Evade has a “reveal” moment where we see what it is that Toby, Ted, and Ariadne do. It’s a fabulous premise. It’s lacking in delivery.

**End Book One spoilers**

What I liked most about both books was the bonus material. After Ever‘s ending, it contained the opening chapters from Toby’s perspective, and Evade‘s epilogue was also written from Toby’s point of view. For whatever reason, those parts scintillated. Also, I was nearly in tears (in the waiting room of a doctor’s office–nope, not embarrassed, I own my emotions) reading Ms. Russo’s afterward. It gave me insight into some things about the plot that I loved / hated. But I’m a sap and a writer, so I identified with her struggles.

If you enjoy Young Adult, romance, and characters with real struggles, I recommend this book. I’m looking forward to Book Three and hope that Ms. Russo rediscovers her enjoyment of writing this series.

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Review: Running Home by Julie Hutchings

Running Home by Julie HutchingsTitle: Running Home
Author: Julie Hutchings
Genre(s): New Adult Paranormal Romance with glimmers of Horror
How To Purchase: Kindle (Amazon) |
Author Website: deadlyeverafter

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Death hovers around Ellie Morgan like the friend nobody wants. She doesn’t belong in snowswept Ossipee, New Hampshire; she doesn’t belong in the frigging gift shop she works at, she doesn’t belong with people that death will always take from her, and she definitely does not belong at this black tie party with Kat. But that is where she is, and where he is. Nicholas French, the man who mystifies her with a feeling of home she’s been missing, and impossible knowledge of her troubled soul.

Nicholas followed an abomination that is one of his own, but soon finds fate has driven him to New Hampshire as more than a bystander. He reveals himself to Ellie as being of the Shinigami, a heroic vampire order that “save” their victims from more tragic ends. He knows why Ellie is human repellent, and why physical agony grips them when apart. The Shinigami are cornered into isolated human lives, plucked out when they have no one left to be created for their higher purpose. Ellie is destined to be a legendary Shinigami, and Nicholas her creator.

Nicholas and Ellie’s fates intertwine closer when his latest victim in waiting turns out to be the only person who tethers her to this world, Kat. Fate will not be ignored, and in the only real choice Ellie has made in her life, she must determine a horrifying path; let the vampire who would make her a hero wither to shreds or sacrifice the life of her closest companion.

As a paranormal romance, this book has a sexy love interest and a believable struggle. As a horror, it disappointingly picks up steam only at the end.

This is a story about Ellie, a woman who has lost nearly all of the important people in her life, save one. As she drifts, she’s drawn into a dark world of vampires–not the sparkly, gentle kind, but the ones who operate under fate’s command. The further in Ellie slips, the more macabre her story becomes. I loved the twists and turns, and as soon as I thought I’d figured out where the plot was going, it jolted me another way. The ending itself left me breathless. Simultaneously, I wanted to throw my Kobo at the wall and drive to Ms. Hutching’s house and sit on her until she finishes the sequel.

Part of the reason I gave this book three stars was my own preference for horror and the paranormal over romance and tingly love. The beginning drags, and the plot takes too long to get to the juicy parts. Running Home‘s strength lies in the chilly nighttime, but it spends too much time in the lazy afternoon. When the darkness hits, it’s too late and too short, and I found myself craving more.

As for the nuts and bolts of the writing, I’m disappointed in the publisher, Books of the Dead Press. Though Ms. Hutchings is a strong writer, the book could have used a more thorough developmental and copy-editing pass. Her descriptions were unique and interesting, but some of the sentence constructions and a few grammatical errors pulled me out of the writing. I’m critical of all published work, but especially small presses because of their responsibility to their writers. If self-publishers are hiring professional editors, small publishers must compete. Otherwise, why would us authors go with a small press?

I recommend Running Home, especially for those looking for solid paranormal romance fare. I can’t wait to see more from Ms. Hutchings and hope that its follow-ups descend deeper into the midnight that lurks at the end of this one.

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Update 10/14/13 afternoon: This week only, Running Home is $0.99 on amazon. Better snap up your copy.