I meant to post this up on Halloween. I meant to do several things. I was distracted by a costume party and knitting, in that order. Whoops. And of course, all of the regular things that need doing, such as work and sleep and food. However now I have set of spooky (but not too spooky) book reviews to get to, so let’s get to gettin’. Better late than jolly, I guess.
First up, Haunted Fairs. Who doesn’t love a good "This carousel/amusement park is maybe haunted, that’s probably not good," kind of story? If we’re talking about me, it turns out I only love that kind of story if it doesn’t give me outright nightmares. So I like these stories. (PS Something Wicked This Way Comes, as I recall from childhood, is Too Scary. Too many spiders, for one. But I only saw the movie.)
The first book I shall review today, is actually a series. And it’s less spooky than magic a little altered, and less haunted than well, weirdly possessed. It’s the Archer’s Beach series by Sharon Lee. The first book, Carousel Tides, hooked me quickly and I devoured all the stories I could get my hands on as soon as I knew they existed. Kate Archer has come home to the coastal Maine town of Archer’s Beach, because her grandmother is missing, and they’re about to lose the family carousel. If they lose control of the carousel, then they lose control of the imprisoned souls who are bound into some of the wooden animals. And that would be, in a word, bad. Kate and her family don’t particularly want to imprison those souls, but they haven’t had a choice. And now things are going from bad to worse very quickly.
This series has a very unique magic setup, across dimensions and worlds and times, and a protagonist who ran from magic under a self-imposed exile sentence but has returned and must figure out a way to save herself, her grandmother, the town, and maybe the universe. Not necessarily in that order, but she needs to save herself pretty quick or it’s all going down. The characters in the book spoke to me in a way that guaranteed I would keep reading without pause, and if I find out there are more than the books and short stories I know about, I’m going to get them and devour those, too. Have at. I highly recommend. The second two books are Carousel Sun and Carousel Seas. Magic, mayhem, and a sort-of haunted carousel. Get them get them now. (NOTE it’s not your usual haunting type. So don’t go in expecting ghosties.)
The second book up for review is Wild Ride, by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Yep, this amusement park is haunted. By demons. Ancient demons who are maybe a little mad at the being bound part, and keep trying to get free. Mary Alice Brannigan is restoring the Dreamland Amusement Park to its former glory, with a lot of paint and polish and hard work. But she hasn’t been told the big secret – the park is a demon prison, and the prisoners want out. She’s skeptical but the magic seeping through is too obvious to keep ignoring, and the guardians are going to need her help.
Ethan John Wayne, the park owner’s son, is a soldier who’s come home to die. But maybe not yet – the guardians are going to need him, too.
Honestly, this book isn’t Crusie and Mayer’s best, but it is a lot of fun, and there’s a haunted amusement park, and Mab (Mary Alice) is suspicious and snarky and smart, which I always like in a protag. I think the writing styles of the two writers don't gel as well here as they should, and the way the stories blend is a bit like reading two different books at once at times. But I really love Crusie's turns of phrase, and her ways of turning an antagonist slightly sideways is still definitely here. The main love story(ies) isn’t/aren’t what you suspect, which I like, and the HEA isn’t quite what you think it’s going to be either, and the magic/demons/haunting is pretty different from the usual fare. (Fare/fair, I’m so clever.) ANYHOODLE I like but don’t love this book, but I have read it at least 5 times, so take that as you find it. Of course, I’ve read almost every Crusie book I can get my hands on more than two or three times, so that’s part of it. (The best Crusie/Mayer combo book is Agnes and the Hitman, which is great.) (Crusie’s very best novel, I think, is a toss-up between Bet Me and Faking It, but I love almost all of them.)
MOVING ON, my very favorite spooky fall read does not have a haunted amusement park, although I’m sure the protag would have found that easier to deal with. The last book on my review list for this month is Maybe This Time, also by Jennifer Crusie. It’s a take/homage to The Turn of the Screw, which is an old-timey spooky read/watch. This book is probably the spookiest of my reviewees, but remember it’s me, so while there is a body count, it’s not viscerally bloody and there is an HEA.
This book is a little hard to describe without spoilers, but I shall try. Andie is trying to finally break off final contact with her ex-husband, North. They haven't seen each other in years, but she wants to pay him back his support checks, and finally get him out of her heart. But he asks her for one small favor. Of course, the favor isn’t small at all – would she please be a live-in nanny for a month for his two wards, children of his cousin, who are living in, apparently unable or unwilling to move from, a mansion in the country. The other nannies have fled, saying the place is haunted. The children are orphans, traumatized, and need someone to help and care for them. North will pay Andie a large sum of money to go and assess the situation. And… the Turn of the Screw adaptation goes from there.
This adaptation has spooky ghosts, creepiness, and a lot of snark and heart. The romance is pretty stellar, and the ghosts are creepy, and the children are in terrible danger. I really liked all of it – I like the fallibility of Andie, and her character growth. I like the children, with all of their grit and fire and stubborn ability to cope, if brokenly. I like North, even if he is kind of willfully blind at times, but still willing to try. And I love all of the side characters, who make a screwball comedy out of a ghost story without diminishing too much of the creepy. (And if you’re really thinking about it, especially the ending, it’s pretty dang creepy.)
So there we have it – 3 spooky Fall reads, too late for October, but still Autumn, and this way, if you’re dreading the holly and jolly taking over everything, you can fight it off with another dose of fun but still atmospheric creepy. Happy reading!
The title is from the song "I Am Stretched On Your Grave," which is a translation of a 17th century Irish poem, and recorded by a lot of people. I have Sinead O'Connor and Kate Rusby versions, both excellent.