My Best Friend’s Exorcism

There’s nothing quite like a childhood friend. They’ve seen you puke weird blue stuff while getting off the school bus, they’ve watched you go through that weird religious phase you went through when you were ten and spent the summer with a very Catholic grandma (spoiler alert: the religious mania didn’t hit me when I was 10. We all know that if I step inside a church I will immediately burst into flames). And if you’re fortunate enough to keep your childhood friend through your teens, they even help exorcise a demon from your body.

Because that’s what best friends do.

In My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix, Abby and Gretchen meet when they’re in the fifth grade and they become inseparable. When they get to high school it seems like nothing can stop the duo from graduating high school and getting out of town to do bigger and better things. But something happens to Gretchen one night when a group of girls goes exploring.

Gretchen goes into a dilapidated house in the woods and disappears for hours. The person who returns is not Gretchen and Abby seems to be the only one who realizes it. Gone is her perky sweet friend and in her place is a cruel girl, a faded ghost who seems to get pleasure from cruel jokes that have life altering outcomes. Not only will no one believe Abby, but since she comes from a poor(ish) family, teachers and parents decide that she’s pulling pranks to get attention.

Gretchen’s family forbids her from being friends with Abby. Whatever the demon is inside Gretchen, it shows itself to Abby and tells her there’s nothing she can do to stop her. The demon’s objective is to use up Gretchen’s body until there’s nothing left and to wreck so much havoc that it can bathe in the river of horror and sorrow it leaves behind.

What’s a girl who wants to save her best friend’s life to do?

Abby recruits the help of a religious zealot body builder who has watched his preacher father do many exorcisms and believes he can exorcise the demon from Gretchen’s body and save her soul. What follows is a sort of a dark night of the soul for both Abby and Gretchen. Will Abby lose her best friend to the demon or will the power of friendship save Gretchen?

True to form, Grady Hendrix has written a hilariously moving novel about what good human beings are capable of and the lengths friends will go to to save one another’s souls. If you like your horror novels to be on the comical (and yet still terrifying) side, pick up this book right now or I swear to God I will cross the threshold of a Catholic church and become engulfed in flames. Or, you know, I’ll read another Grady Hendrix book. Depends on my mood.

Falling by T.J. Newman

First, a piece of advice: do not read Falling by T.J. Newman if you’re planning to fly soon. Unless you have nerves of steel!

Carrie and Bill are your average couple with two kids, son Scott and baby Elise. Bill is a pilot who ended up pressured by his boss to pick up an extra flight. They are happily married except Carrie is not so happy with him right now because he will miss Scott’s last ball game and pizza party that he had promised to attend.

Bill goes off and catches his flight. Everything goes according to plan: preflight checks, boarding and take-off. Meanwhile at home, the internet has been acting up and Carrie has Sam, an internet repairman, there to work on it. Suddenly, Sam has a gun out and Carrie and the children are captives.

In the cockpit, Bill’s laptop pings and he opens it to see a facetime call. He sees Carrie and Scott wearing black hoods and vests with explosives, as Sam holds a detonator in the background. He is told that the only way to save his family is to gas the passengers and crash the plane when they tell him to, or they will be killed. He is directed not to tell anyone what is going on or they will be instantly disintegrated.

Bill takes a chance and tells the head flight attendant, Jo, the situation so she can prepare the cabin. She texts her nephew who works for the FBI, but they don’t believe him. THIS is where the story got really interesting! At this point you think “there is no way this can get worse.” But it can, and it does. Then it gets even worse still.

I was on pins and needles with the suspense of what was going on. I couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter and then the next as events kept unfolding. In the beginning Bill had told Sam “I’m not going to crash this plane, and you’re not going to kill my family.” Keep turning those pages to find out how it all plays out. I’m sure you’ll be as surprised as I was!

This is a new book by this author, and she did an excellent job. I look forward to seeing what she’ll write next!

Who Writes Those TV Shows, Anyway?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to actually write a TV show? We have an excellent book on the subject at the library!

Just the Funny Parts by Nell Scovell talks about how the author went from college to a few years in New York and then began a career writing for television in Los Angeles. The highlight of her career (so far!) was being the showrunner (head writer and all around show boss) of Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

It’s not exactly an “anyone can do it” type of story. She went to college at Harvard and freely admits that the connections she made there had a lot to do with her success. I still found it fascinating to read about how writing for a television show actually works and to follow her personal journey, especially since she is a woman in a very male-dominated business.

She says the career of a television writer has four stages:

  1. Who is Nell Scovell?
  2. Get me Nell Scovell!
  3. Get me a younger, cheaper Nell Scovell!
  4. Who is Nell Scovell?

There’s some fun name-dropping in the book as well (she’s been close friends with magicians Penn and Teller since she was young).

Coming of Age

I guess I like to read coming-of-age novels because they describe a process that is something painfully beautiful and life changing and totally unlike my coming of age event. I don’t think I had a coming-of-age moment, at least not the kind you see in movies (Ahem, I’m looking at you, John Hughes.) And that’s why I love novels that do have wonderous coming of age stories.

In Ellie Eaton’s The Divines, we are thrown between the present day and a run-down all-girls school in England in the 1990’s. Josephine is newly married and on her honeymoon with her husband Jurgen. As they’re driving to their honeymoon destination, Jo decides to make a detour to her old school. The school did not survive a scandal in Jo’s last year there and went on to become a dentist’s office while other buildings on the grounds were torn down.

Jo is thrown back into memories of her days at the girls’ school and how the townies used to bully them, beat them up for being “posh” girls who went to a fancy school. But Jo’s memories begin to lead her down a dark path, many of the memories involving an unliked and unwanted classmate by the name of Daphne who had an unfortunate accident falling out of a window.

Told in turn by the Jo of now (married and with a child) and the Jo of the mid 90’s (first loves, first times, finding a best friend in a townie girl who adopted her) The Divines is a novel about who you think you were, versus how you really were at a certain age. It’s also about realizing how others saw you at a certain point in your life and how you saw yourself and reconciling the two halves.

Make no mistake, this is no ‘frilly girly’ coming of age story. The Divines has sharp teeth and will dig into the deepest part of you, searching for any and everything you’re feeling only to suck that part out of you. This was one of those rare books that when I finished the last page, I had to put the book down and stare at the wall for a few minutes and sort myself out.

Enjoy The Divines and stare at the wall for an hour afterward. I swear you won’t regret it.

Whisper Down The Lane

How many times does a lie need to be told before it becomes the truth? If more than one person tells it then it must be true, right? If it is a child and the lie is outrageous then it is has to be true because a child could never make something up like that would they?

Imagine a fib you told as a child. A little white lie. Now imagine it taking on a life of its own and you have no control over it. It consumes everyone around you.

This is what happened to Sean as a young boy in Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman. He told his mom a fib, she told the authorities, who then told the school, who then told the other parents. The parents then asked their kids questions in such a way that the fib was planted in their minds and confirmed. Kids being kids, they wanted to please adults and tell them what they think they wanted to hear. The next thing you know people believed the lie and lives were ruined!

Fast forward many years. Richard starts working at an elementary school. The kids in his class are great. They have a classroom routine. Study, read a story and after lunch they have “circle time” and everyone naps. The children are happy and all are doing well.

It isn’t long before the routine gets broken and things take a turn for the worse. Richard finds a threatening note written in a child’s scrawl. The schools pet rabbit is killed. There are rumors around town and in the school about “devil worship.”

Soon Richard is under suspicion for something so terrible he can’t believe anyone would think of him, or anyone, doing such things. He especially can’t believe that the rest of the school staff are even considering he could have any part in it.

This book is a gripping story that could have been torn from the headlines. It filled me with fear to see how easily lies could be spread and that any one of us could bear the brunt of it. You’ll be reading late into the night to see what happens and how it will all end. Get your fingers in shape to turn these pages as fast as you can!

All in All it’s Just Another Body in the Wall

At first, I thought Riley Sager’s Home Before Dark might end up being another cliched hum-drum ghost story. My mind was already made up not to feel guilty if I decided to put it down and pick up another book to read. But some little voice (call it Jiminy Cricket, the ghost of the still living Stephen King, or hell, even Leonard Cohen whom I was listening to when I picked the book up) told me to keep going. So kept going I did and this book knocked my socks off. Well, they were already half off because my puppy was tugging on them so he could run around with them in his mouth, but you get what I’m saying.

As the book opens, an abandoned, possibly haunted, house still clings to the family who left it with just the clothes on their backs twenty-five years ago never to return. Ewan, his wife Jess, and their young daughter Maggie moved into the massive mansion for a fresh start. Ewan is a writer and his freelance jobs are drying up. He thinks the move into an old home with a colorful history will give him the push he needs to write a novel.

The house has its eccentricities: a chandelier that turns itself on, a record player in the den that plays a song from the album The Sound of Music. But all old houses have their own personalities, so the Holt family isn’t too worried about it. Jess made Ewan swear he wouldn’t get lost digging into the house’s past and although he makes the promise, he breaks it and finds out some disturbing things about the past owners of the home.

A father killed himself and then his daughter a few years before the Holts moved in. Before that, a 16-year-old girl had killed herself when her father forbade her from seeing a man she fell in love with. Many other inexplicable deaths occurred in the home when it was a bed and breakfast as well.

Ewan is awoken at the same time in the middle of the night to a thump and the record player starting up on its own and a strange tapping noise coming from the hallway. Meanwhile, their daughter Maggie complains about Mister Shadow and Miss Penny Face, two entities who seem to haunt her at night, watching her from the giant armoire in her bedroom. The haunting comes to a head two weeks after they move in and they flee in the night without any of their belongings.

Time shifts to 25 years later and Maggie is all grown up with a home restoration business of her own. Her father Ewan has just died. She remembers nothing from their stay in that house. But after running away in the night her father wrote a bestseller called House of Horrors that made the family a lot of money and pretty much ruined Maggie’s life. She was always “that girl who lived in a haunted house.”

At the reading of Ewan’s will, Maggie discovers that her parents never sold Baneberry Hall and her father left it to her. She decides it’s the perfect time to go there, renovate the house and finally find out what happened all those years ago, believing that both of her parents have spent the past 25 years telling her lies about it. Maggie goes to Baneberry Hall and shrugs off the feeling that the house is haunted by saying it’s such an old house of course it’s going to be odd.

But finding answers and the truth isn’t as easy as Maggie thought it’d be. The Ditmers, who used to look after and clean the house still live in a small house on the property. Mrs. Ditmer is old and has dementia and her daughter Hannah takes care or her. Hannah’s older sister Petra disappeared the same night that the Holt family ran away, and she hasn’t been seen since. Some of the talk is that Ewan must have had something to do with it, especially when her bones show up in the house.

Primarily a spooky mystery about the redemption of family and the need to heal the past, Home Before Dark is a damn fine read. Just spooky enough to pull the blankets around my shoulders and take a glimpse under the bed for any, you know, ghosts or dead folk and mysterious enough to have me wanting to hang around until it was solved, Home Before Dark is a book you can lose yourself in for a couple of hours. But make sure you keep that armoire closed and maybe put a two by four in the handles so Mister Shadow and Miss Penny Face can’t get out and watch you sleep.

The A’s Have it

I don’t know you guys. The idea of having to be an initiate to get into an ultra-elite “it” group in high school just sounds exhausting. Maybe that’s because I’m 43 and at this age I’d be like: “You want me to steal the answers to the trigonometry final, so I qualify to get into this elitist snob factory? Nah. I’m good. I’m going to sit on the couch and eat this family sized bag of Cheetos while I watch The Office for the 800th time.”

In Elizabeth Klehfoth’s debut novel All These Beautiful Strangers, Charlie Calloway is a junior at the prestigious Knollwood Academy, a school her father attended, and his father before him, and so on and so on. She’s got a huge academic load to worry about and now at the beginning of her junior year she gets a letter saying a secret society known as the A’s wants her to join the group. But there’s a catch (isn’t there always?): she must pass three tests to become a member.

This is kind of a back story to the main story which is the disappearance of Charlie’s mother ten years before when she was seven. She doesn’t have much contact with her mother’s family because her father’s family kind of trash talked them because they weren’t rich. But Hank, Charlie’s mother’s brother finds Charlie and has her look at some photographs he found beneath the floorboards at the Calloway Family summer home on Langley Lake.

Charlie’s family believes that Grace, Charlie’s mother, just packed her bags one day and left, tired of being a wife and mother to her two daughters. For ten years Charlie has lived with the feeling that her mother didn’t love her and that it was very easy for her to leave and never contact her children. Questions begin to swirl around in Charlie’s mind, things she remembers as a seven-year-old: the fights her mother and father would have, her mother yelling at her father “Get your hands off of me!” Was her mother and father’s relationship that strained?

Charlie’s father was also a member of the A’s but since it’s a secret society, it was never talked about. Charlie thinks of them as a powerful, king of the mountain type of group that will open the gates to the best universities and careers imaginable for their members. Once an A, always an A for life. I’m thinking the A’s would do everything to help their members get away with anything. Even murder.

Take the case of Jake Griffin, Grace’s first love. He attended Knollwood along with Charlie’s father Alastair but when asked about Jake, Alastair pretends they were never close and just classroom acquaintances which is weird since Charlie found a picture of them in an old year book with their arms around each other and smiling into the camera. It turns out that Jake was being initiated into the A’s along with Alastair.

Jake was found dead in the river, having jumped from the ledge that was where Knollwood’s elite hung out. He got caught stealing the answers to a test and felt so horrible about it that he took his own life, something that Grace never believed. They’d know each other since they were children. She knew Jake inside and out. He never would have killed himself. But then she goes on to meet and fall in love with Alastair and they marry and fall in love. Seven years into her marriage, suspicions started popping up about the man she married and who he really was.

Told in the alternating voices of Charlie, Grace, and Alastair, this book has mysteries inside of mysteries. It’s a damn inception of a book and I couldn’t write all that I wanted to write about it without giving too much away. I will say that Charlie finds out more than she bargained for about the A’s. She begins to realize that they’re a more self-serving group, punishing those who displease them: even punishing a teacher who rebuked the amorous advances of a student. And if an initiate fails a test, they are set up to be kicked out of school. Charlie also realizes the kind of person she wants to be.

Filled with enough twists and turns to give you motion sickness, All These Beautiful Strangers tells the story of a broken family and its past, of a young woman searching for answers while searching for herself, and is a reminder of how nothing is as it seems. Go on, read it. Devour it like I’m devouring this family sized bag of Cheetos.

Anxious People

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman is a story about – – a LOT of different things! All throughout the book you are told that this is a story about a bank robber, or a real estate agent, or a bridge, or a police officer, or a pregnant woman, or a hostage situation. Or a list of other things. Indeed, this was a great story about all of those things, but really, it wasn’t about any one of these people.

It is so interesting in life how no single item is the same for everyone. What may be my favorite aspect of something could very well be the part you hate the most about it. Things that are no big deal for me could be the most tragic thing to you. I guess what I’m saying is that everyone’s threshold for being anxious is different, and we must all remember to be patient with others.

Basically, in this book a bank gets robbed and the robber flees. In trying to escape, they run into an open house for an apartment that is up for sale and everyone attending gets held hostage. UNbasically, there are twists and turns to what should be a straightforward story.

I very much enjoyed this book! I adored the characters and their interactions with each other. I loved how there could still be a happy ending after such a traumatic event. Anyone who is a Fredrik Backman fan is sure to love it as well.

Side Effects May Include but Aren’t Limited To…

Even though I have a better paying job I still find myself short on cash, enough so that I’ve taken a shallow peek into those medical studies programs. You know the ones: they’ll pay you $1500 to see if a diabetic pill will make your foot rot and fall off or a high blood pressure medication will make your eyes pop out. But hey, at least I’d be compensated for a rotten foot and buggy eyes. One of my favorite sayings is “Why does it cost so much to be alive? I’m not even having a good time.”

In Megan Giddings Lakewood, Lena Johnson knows what I’m talking about. After her beloved grandmother’s funeral, her family finds itself under a mountain of debt due to unpaid hospital bills. Lena’s in college and her own mother is poorly and can’t work, so it’s up to her to find a way to get cash to start paying bills off before they all go under. Lena drops out of college to take care of her mother and the mounting bills. She decides to take a job in the town of Lakewood, Michigan.

The job seems sweet as advertised on paper: high paying, all medical care and prescriptions paid for, free rent while she’s living in the small town. But the real job is being put through the paces of both medical and physical experimentation. She must lie to her family and friends about what she’s doing, sign an NDA stating that there will definitely be criminal and financial penalties for leaving the study early and for divulging just what goes on.

The experiments could be anything: eye drops to turn brown eyes blue (ahem, paging Auschwitz’s Dr. Mengele) or a pill that might cure dementia and chase depression away for good. Lena is given the usual medical spiel about her service in the experiments changing the world (and really, who doesn’t want to hear that they might be involved with something that could potentially change the world for the better?). But what Lena actually participates in is much darker in nature.

What follows is a dreamy novel where life becomes blurry, everything moves at a dreamlike speed, and a history laden with medical experiments on African Americans comes to the surface. The entire time I was reading this book (I seriously couldn’t put it down and would sneak a few pages in between answering work calls) I felt like I was floating through dark clouds, my body rotating as if in molasses, and looking down at a world scattered with unscrupulous monsters saying that the way to save humanity is by brainwashing children into killing their entire families and then writing a paper on it. Boom. That’s how you save the world.

If you want to read a novel where you have absolutely no idea where it’s going the entire time, Lakewood is the one. Even the ending has a dream-like quality that leaves you wondering what happened to this character who took a blue pill, had some kind of fit at her desk, and was whisked away never to be seen again. Lakewood is a thoroughly creepy book. But in a good way. Good creepiness and a terrible uneasiness abound in this novel. Go get it. And I don’t care how hard up for money you are, maybe you should stick to donating plasma and leave the “We can help you lose 80 pounds in 24 hours” experiments alone.

Two New Book Reviews for You

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

A pensioner by the sea. What a way to spend retirement! It is something I know many of us long for.

Peggy is a happy retiree and spends her time watching everything that goes on – – and writing notes about it in her little journal: 7 people walking the beach (3 couples and a single) 4 people with dogs, how many cyclists, joggers etc.

She has a number of friends and neighbors that call on her to visit and they are murder mystery buffs. And I mean really, who doesn’t enjoy sitting around thinking of ways to bump people off? Peggy is even acquainted with a few authors that ask her for advice on killing people for their books, and they always give her an acknowledgement ‘This is for Peggy.’ Peggy also suspects she is being watched.

There is a dark spot in her history that not many people know about, however. Her friends Edwin, Natalka, and Benedict have all heard some stories about her time in Russia, but never realized they could be true.

So, when Peggy is found dead of natural causes, it is only understandable that her friends suspect foul play even though the police do not. When a postcard falls out of one of Peggy’s book that says “We are coming for you,” DS Harbinder Kaur from CID gets involved. Then an author Peggy had helped ends up murdered so DS Kaur decides to question the trio of friends. With an author’s event coming up, the trio decides to go and follow up on some clues.

I absolutely adored the bumbling investigation techniques in this book where everything gets solved and tied up in a big bow almost by accident! I also enjoyed the subtle clues and connections and trying to solve it myself before the characters (I did NOT solve this one). This was a fun book and a pretty fast read. I highly recommend it!

One Step to You by Federico Moccia

Babi is a popular girl from a well-to-do family. Step is your typical ‘bad boy’ on a motorcycle. Step first sees Babi when he pulls up next to her car while Babi’s dad drives her to high school. You can almost hear the zap as Step is instantly hit by Cupid’s arrow.

Babi has always been a well behaved, proper young woman….  Until Step convinces her to just go for one ride with him on his motorbike. She falls for him but doesn’t want to admit it to herself or anyone else.

There are no parents screaming at her to “keep away from that boy” because they have no idea the things she has been doing. Skipping school and sneaking out. Babi knows what she’s doing is wrong, and that being with Step is dangerous, but it’s LOVE! What can you do?

You have to read all the way to the last page to find out what they do…  you’ll never guess!