Review: Freeks by Amanda Hocking

A traveling carnival, a small town in Louisiana, terror in the night, and an unexpected love – Freeks by Amanda Hocking (4.5/5)

After a long break, I have returned! With a review of a very enjoyable book. Freeks was released on January 3, 2017 and is a standalone novel by Amanda Hocking. I read it on January 12, 2017. I feel like I’m always reading series and this was such a self-contained story that felt like a balm for my brain.


From Amazon:
Mara has become used to the extraordinary. Roaming from place to place with Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Carnival, she longs for an ordinary life where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future.

She gets her chance when the struggling sideshow sets up camp in the small town of Caudry, and she meets a gorgeous local guy named Gabe. But before long, Mara realizes there’s a dark presence lurking in the town that’s threatening the lives of her friends. She has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she had in order to save everyone she cares about―and change the future forever.

This is not a great summary, but it’s better than the one I tried writing. This is a fun story in a familiar kind of setting. I recently read the Summer Days and Summer Nights anthology, and the short story “Brand New Attraction” by Cassandra Clare laid out the concept well – “It was a dark carnival. You know the drill.” We do know the drill, and Hocking doesn’t waste time setting up the mysteriousness of the carnival, but rather outlining the supernatural abilities of the members, and establishing their close ties and relationships. I wouldn’t say that the carnival of Mara’s universe is dark, but it has its secrets.

I don’t know why Hocking chose to set this story in 1987, but there’s a little bit of a Star-in-the-Lost-Boys feeling to Mara (appearance and dress mostly,) and god help me I was picturing a buff Steve Harrington from Stranger Things as Gabe (it may have been the mentions of fabulous hair.) I have to say, I love how suddenly we as a pop culture are excited about the ’80s again. Gabe’s house was also a fun setting – antebellum mansion with 1987 decor and art is quite the contrast to picture.

One of the best things about this book was the path of Gabe and Mara’s relationship, particularly physically. It was realistic (not saying it was right or smart, but realistic.) One of the things that pisses me off the most in YA is the lack of kissing. Not because I’m like “Oh squee kisses!” but because teenagers kiss each other. A lot. Before they should. Because they are struggling under an insane hormone cocktail and a lack of impulse control, and physical affection is fun. There’s a tendency to delay first kisses for ages even when the characters have clearly expressed feelings and attraction, and I think that it’s false tension. Not so in Freeks – the first night Mara and Gabe meet they make out, I think it was in less than the first 30 pages, and my first thought was – hell yeah, this is such a relief! It’s also pretty clear that Mara doesn’t trust people or give in to her impulses very often, so I think it also established early on that something with Gabe is different.

While Freeks is not a groundbreaking novel, it definitely has its own spin and flavor on carnival lore, supernatural abilities, and demonology. The characters are believable and sympathetic, and their relationships and histories established without extensive back story, and no flashbacks. There’s enough lore in regard to Mara’s family and the town of Caudry that the breaking point that leads to the final battle is strong, and a little scary.  It was fun to read, and took my mind over and away while I was cozied up on the couch reading it. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, and that doesn’t happen to me very often. I really love my sleep.

There’s one thing that I keep going over in my brain, and I can’t decide if it’s a like or dislike. In a lot of books I’ve read recently, I feel like a lot of time is spent on knowing every single little detail about every character – and when the characters are interesting, it’s fun to fall down that rabbit hole. In Freeks, characters are tantalizing because we are given just a brushstroke of who they are – they aren’t central to the emotional plot, just the big picture resolution, so there really isn’t a narrative justification for knowing them more in-depth. For example, Gabe’s sister Selena. She wasn’t what I expected her to be and I wanted to know more about her, but there was no narrative reason for more to be revealed. Same with Gabe’s parents – I knew what Mara needed to know. There was no giant exposition from Gabe about his family that didn’t have to do with resolving the thing terrorizing the carnival. My curiosity was not sated, but even though I’m still curious, I’m not disappointed. Hocking stayed so tightly true to Mara’s perspective, and it’s just frankly awesome writing, and awesome choices.

And I know I started this saying that I didn’t want a series, but I would read the hell out of a book about Elissar, Mara’s great-grandmother. She sounds like a badass.

Overall, Freeks gets 4.5/5 rating from me – that half off because some things felt a little too rushed, and even the awesome writing choices can’t override the almost step into Chosen One territory. Still, another solid piece of writing from Amanda Hocking and a fun foray into the genre of dark carnivals.

 

 

Review: the Women in the Walls

When I was reading this book I kept thinking, “I need an adult!”

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics was released September 27, 2016 and I read it December 5-7, 2016. Weirdly enough, I think I can consider this a holiday-appropriate reading choice as the conclusion of the story revolves around a Christmas party. Someone is even wearing a tinsel and ornament dress.


From Amazon:
Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

For those who might need it – trigger warnings for significant self-harm, suicide, mental illness, and general gore and violence.

Things that gave me feelings:

  • Lucy’s father is a bastard.
  • This is another one of those novels that affirms how much people suck, how self-centered we can be, and how we never really know anyone in our lives. There are just too many secrets, too many scattered and errant thoughts that start to change us or eat us alive to ever really say we know someone.
  • This book can get really scary because you doubt what you know, and everyone becomes suspect. It’s made clear very early that the Acosta family is exceptionally secretive and isolated, and that no one comes into their home or interacts with anyone else without motive.

While I agree with Lucy’s eventual realization that she gets caught up in herself and can be a little judgmental, I also think she might be too hard on herself. This poor girl is so clearly abused into submission, and it’s done in partnership by her two parental figures. No one really cares about her – she is just a tool. The interactions between Margaret and Lucy are especially heartbreaking because they are cousins, friends, but the thumb under which they function has twisted even that one good thing in their lives. Margaret is hella sassy though and I enjoyed her. I wish she had been used more to call out the bullshit – Margaret was the Id to Lucy’s Ego, and it would have been fun to see more of that go wild.

Justine Larbalestier recently posted a tweet:

“How to write a novel: create shitty situation for your protag. Make it worse. Worser. Now REALLY make it worse. Resolve that shit. #theEnd”

That is pretty much how things for for Lucy, except true to horror form the resolution may actually be worse than anything else that has happened to her. The end is a big, gaping tunnel of mouth screaming “No!” for eternity. There are so many layers to why the ending is so awful, in general and for Lucy in particular. It was just devastating. But it’s also the source of one of my dislikes with this novel – why? Why did Lucy give in to the ending? Why would she stay?

Everyone is the villain in this story. There’s this sense while reading that there is no safe place – no person, no room, not even in sleep. The tension just builds and builds until all the shit hits the fan and then it gets weirder and weirder. I was less scared of the Big Bad at the end than I expected, and part of it is because…well, some of the shit that happened was justified. The Big Bad might be the only one who was justified to do anything, which is interesting to consider – the primal, ancient dangers that still lurk around us and how their violence can be acceptable.

I still have a lot of questions about why things went the way they did, and I can’t quite say this was a five star read for me. Lucy was clearly intelligent and aware of how dire the situation was and yet…nothing. Maybe it’s commentary on the fact that humans often talk ourselves out of the facts that are smacking us in the face and it’s easy to play them down or talk ourselves out of it, or say if something else happens or waiting for arbitrary reasons, we are punished by life itself.

From a purely technical sense, I was confused by some of the structure and I don’t think it was intentional. Chapters would start with Lucy’s narration as if a lot of time had passed, or as if she’d been bothered by a certain event or feeling for a period of time, and then we would jump from narration to action and I would find zero time had passed between the end of one chapter and the start of the next, or only a handful of hours. The sense of time was not what it needed to be in some chapters, and it kind of broke the feeling of urgency that was built. Luckily, it was built up again in quick fashion, but it still jerked me out of the narrative because I was asking questions about structure rather than plot.

I definitely want to read Lukavics’s first novel, Daughters Unto Devils, and will absolutely pick up her work in the future. She is a fresh, frightening, wickedly macabre and morbid voice and it seems that the women she writes have something to say. Or something to destroy.  The Women in the Walls was 4/5.

Review: the Mara Dyer trilogy

An addictive story of girl meets boy, girl kills people with her brain. The Mara Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin (5/5)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the Evolution of Mara Dyer, and the Retribution of Mara Dyer are written by Michelle Hodkin and published in 2011, 2012, and 2014 respectively. I read Unbecoming on November 27, Evolution on November 28, and Retribution on November 29-30, 2016.

I had Unbecoming and Evolution, and halfway through Evolution I bought Retribution and even paid for one-day shipping. I have literally never done that before in my life. I could not wait for the resolution to this trilogy. This post is a wee bit spoilery but only for the first book.

This post should potentially be called “We Need to Talk About Noah Shaw” but it could also be called “Mara Dyer: Badass Heroine Extraordinare” because Noah is a character begging to be quoted for all the romantic shit he says that makes your goddamn toes curl, and Mara is so badass that I’m both terrified and kind of want to join her army. I’d follow Mara into battle, no question.

I also want to note that despite the fact I have been totally sunk by Noah Shaw, my fictional boyfriend remains Richard Campbell Gansey III.


From the Amazon summary for the Unbecoming of Mara Dyer:

After Mara survives the traumatizing accident at the old asylum, it makes sense that she has issues. She lost her best friend, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s sister, and as if that weren’t enough to cope with, her family moves to a new state in order to give her a fresh start. But that fresh start is quickly filled with hallucinations—or are they premonitions?—and then corpses, and the boundary between reality and nightmare is wavering. At school, there’s Noah, a devastatingly handsome charmer who seems determined to help Mara piece together what’s real, what’s imagined—and what’s very, very dangerous.

The course of the trilogy is discovering the truth – not just about Mara, or Noah, their personal histories – but about something happening on a global, even historical level. When I finished the trilogy I scoured Michelle Hodkin’s website for her perspective on the trilogy and was so happy to see that she’s writing more (the Shaw Confessions – due sometime in 2017), and described the original trilogy as “an origin story.” That’s how this feels – what Mara experiences is the start of something, and she’s not alone. I cannot wait to read about more Carriers, and see how the world changes because of Mara and Noah.

Reasons they are awesome:

  • You don’t have to suspend your disbelief that much to buy into the science.
  • You can’t decide if you have a bigger crush on Mara or Noah.
  • But, just to put it out there: Noah. F***ing. Shaw.
  • Representation! Diversity!
  • Did I mention Noah Shaw?

The science in the Mara Dyer books is really cool, even if you have only a passing interest in genetics and mutation, and especially if you’ve ever thought about the possibility of genetic memory. It doesn’t go so far down the sci-fi road that what’s happening seems impossible. The fact that it’s so close to the realm of possibility makes it exciting. The fact that the big picture is revealed and doesn’t feel too ridiculous or like too much of a stretch makes the danger feel real, and the potential for more to be exhilarating.

Mara is amazing. I loved being in her head, her reactions and responses. I liked that sometimes Mara was a coward, and her fear stopped her. She’s snarky, dark-hundred, and doesn’t take any shit. It was kind of refreshing to be inside the mind of someone who was so angry but wasn’t shouting (looking at you, Harry) and that took that fury and channeled it into something else. Mara is the villain and the hero, it all depends on perspective. That ambiguity is what makes the trilogy especially compelling – sure we could read a narrative from the perspective of an obvious villain, but it’s far more complicated than that. We root for Mara because she’s our eyes into the story; we get so wrapped up in her experience and her justification that it’s only when we encounter another character that we have to decide, as a reader, if we think Mara was right. It’s an excellent moral dilemma. For me, I do think that Mara is the villain, but I don’t think that she’s evil.

Noah Shaw says the most sexy, cheesy, romantic things. It’s terrible. In fact, its borderline pornographic. For example:

“I’m not sure you can appreciate how much I want to lay you out before me and make you scream my name.” (Evolution)

What. even.

But then he says stuff like this:

“If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.” (Evolution)

If a tiny part of you didn’t swoon at that, you might want to go to a doctor and check that your heart is still beating. And these quotes are just a tiny fraction of the searing love story between Noah and Mara.  It’s weird because the best way I can describe Noah is kind of Edward Cullen with fewer control issues and a death wish. The common thread is that both Edward and Noah blame themselves for what happens to the people they care about, and think they’ll never fall in love. The difference is that Noah doesn’t try to interfere or control every single aspect of Mara’s life, and only offers what he can to protect her with her permission. He helps her because she asks him to, and all he wants is for her to be free. He might blame himself initially if something bad happens, but a lot of the time he comes around. Noah is meant to be the hero. I still haven’t decided if that’s the actuality.

I won’t say much regarding representation, other than to say it is there in a way that’s seamless – there’s no giant sign saying “look, a POC! oh, someone LGBT!” Good representation doesn’t pat itself on the back or tokenize.

I must also add that the fanart as inspired by this series is fantastic. I’ve pinned enough already that it might get it’s own board.

Things that are bothering me:

  • Noah’s sister, Katie. She just falls off the face of the planet. She has the same parents, the risk, the same ability to pass on what they’ve discovered. And then…nothing. Obviously, with the next books being the Shaw Confessions, the chances of Katie reappearing and her role being further addressed is highly likely. The first two books cover the family stuff well, but given the plot of Retribution, some of the family/school/still being teenagers what the hell is happening things go way off the rails. It got more adult than I think most teenagers could handle, but the internal logic of the world held, so I let it go.
  • The change in Mara’s parents in the last book. They went from being super over-protective, kind of annoying, and definitely invasive to…nothing. Even with some of the other context going on when we see them in the last book, something just wasn’t right. Hodkins starts to go down that path when talking about Daniel, but then it just stops like it doesn’t matter. That was really frustrating.
  • I will admit that Retribution feels a bit rushed, like halfway through she changed her mind about how they got to the end. The last third of the book feels completely different, and more in-line with the rest of the trilogy. I think it made up for the odd feeling of the first two thirds. As long as the ending comes back, I’m still hanging in there.

Regardless, M.A.D./N.E.S.S. is so damn shippable.

Also, I noticed because of the way the annoying Spanish teacher says her name that “Mara Dyer” kind of sounds like “murderer.” Coincidence?

But “Noah Shaw” sounds like “no show” and the doesn’t seem to mean anything.

The last intriguing thing for me is that there is no guarantee of happily ever after for Mara and Noah. It’s actually pretty much guaranteed that things are going to end very badly between them, someday, in some future. That future will end the whole damn world, I just know it.

These books are like a drug. Or maybe like an ocean, and I’m desperate to drown.

Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper

While learning forensic science in Victorian London, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has the chance to investigate Jack the Ripper only to realize the famous killer’s identity might be a little too close for comfort. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco (3.5/5)

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco came out in September 2016, and I read it on November 23, 2016. It was a quick, fun read.


Audrey Rose Wadsworth is a woman ahead of her time. We meet Wadsworth in Victorian London just as the Jack the Ripper murders begin. After the loss of her mother turns her father into a bit of a despot, Wadsworth chooses to skirt convention and learn forensic sciences and is apprenticing under her doctor uncle. Here Wadsworth meets Thomas Cresswell – sarcastic, arrogant, brilliant, handsome – and who clearly delights in picking at Wadsworth. When the murders begin, Wadsworth, Cresswell, and her uncle are allowed to forensically examine the victims and as they investigate Wadsworth realizes that many of the victims have ties to her family. Wadsworth is connected to Jack the Ripper – the struggle is that there are too many suspects, and no way to stop the murders. AND she has to keep her good name, attend teas, and try not to get disowned by her father in the process.

This is weirdly a blend of Jack the Ripper mythology, a little bit Sherlock Holmes, and the story of Frankenstein all rolled into one. It’s curious that at the end of the novel, Wadsworth is headed to Romania. I’m hoping we get a unique telling of the Dracula story in the next book.

This is going to be difficult to review because it’s EXACTLY the kind of stuff I love, but 90% of it has been done before – an intrepid or unexpected investigator solving the Jack the Ripper murders, a Victorian woman bucking societal expectations. Everything felt familiar while I was reading it – like I was somehow reading many books at once that I’d read before and also watching Penny Dreadful. I don’t intend this as an insult – it was all the best parts of the best books, woven perfectly together into a ferocious story (I totally almost made a Frankenstein’s monster joke there about stitching together parts and restrained myself; you should appreciate that.) It’s familiar territory with some new landmarks. And Wadsworth and Cresswell are an addicting couple to follow.

Maniscalco’s biggest skill is her sensory detail – touch and scent particularly play a large role in setting her scenes well. I can’t always clearly envision what things look like, but her level of detail let’s me imagine how they feel, and how I would feel if I was there.

There’s somewhat of an attempt by other readers to make Cresswell a Sherlock – extraordinarily honed observations kills, a sociopath who struggles with emotions, who is cold and unfeeling excepting his attachment to his partner. I think that is such an inaccurate and incomplete vision of Cresswell. On the page, he is more than that, he is emotional and attached and shares his feelings. He is absolutely arrogant but it feels like a cover-up. It’s his shield in order to survive and that is very different than Sherlock. Sherlock doesn’t care what is  conventional, where Cresswell overtly bucks it and knows he’s doing it. Knowing the rules of courting and interactions between men and women, every time Cresswell ignores this to flirt with or touch Wadsworth is exciting because it’s a blend of his innate reaction to her and his desire to flout the rules.

I saw the ending coming from about halfway through the book and spent a lot of time yelling (internally and out loud) at Wadsworth and Cresswell to figure it out sooner. Cresswell especially should have seen it long before he did in the novel, or at least suspected. I think he did, and if that’s the case then I’m really mad he didn’t even bother to tell Wadsworth his suspicions. The two made a deal not to lie, and I think he lied by omission. I honestly can’t tell if the intention was for the reader to figure it out before the characters, or if I just understand this genre so well that the pieces fell into place for me well ahead of the reveal.

This book is an adventure, and while it seems like a relatively slim novel, A LOT happens but it doesn’t feel rushed. I enjoyed following Wadsworth and seeing her struggle with finding a femininity that made her feel strong, while also not letting herself be diminished by the societal expectations on her gender. There is a heck of a lot of sass in Wadsworth – the best part of her character is that it’s not just responses in her head. What makes her different than similar protagonists is that while some things are done in secret, she tries to make changes and be different out in the open. She toes the line to a certain extent, but for the most part she’s forthright and forceful in disagreement. Wadsworth does not seethe quietly, she talks back and demands, or chooses to ignore.

My few real complaints unique to this novel (and not just the genre): I still don’t totally understand the character of Blackburn and Wadsworth’s response to him, and I find that very frustrating. While I don’t necessarily believe him to be trustworthy, I think it’s the one time Wadsworth was lying to herself or being dishonest about her perceptions and responses, even in her head, and it felt very un-Wadsworth to me. The sections with him read in a very clunky way. Second, I wish we’d gotten to see Cresswell’s family and not just heard about them, because I think it’s an important part of his story that will feel like a big old plot hole in the next book.

I am totally fan-girling the cuteness of Wadsworth and Cresswell. Which, because I am who I am, will override a lot for me. I didn’t need the plot to be groundbreaking because I could invest deeply in character rather than story, and I think these two DO have the potential to be something unique as their stories continue.

I’m giving Stalking Jack the Ripper a 3.5/5 for fun characters in an already known world, for pulling in Frankenstein mythology, and because I will definitely be buying the next book on release day.

Review: Be Not Afraid

Marin can see people’s pain, but looking inside a classmate’s head she sees a blackness inside that might be something…else. Be Not Afraid by Cecilia Galante (4/5)

Be Not Afraid by Cecilia Galante was published in 2015; I read it November 24, 2016.

This book is definitely scary, and I think very different from Galante’s other writing. In her author bio it’s indicated that this is her first YA/Horror novel, and I am curious if she will return to the genre.


Be Not Afraid is the story of a teen girl named Marin who develops the ability to see people’s pain inside their bodies after a personal tragedy. In a new town and a new school she is tricked into completing a ritual with her classmate Cassie that leads to scarier consequences than either could have foreseen. Now everyone is in danger, Marin must face her past and her present, and along with Cassie’s brother Dominic she needs to find a way to use her ability to save lives.

I do want to give potential readers trigger warnings for eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide. This book, even with a happy-ish ending, is incredibly dark. It’s also very real – I don’t think the pain is put in this novel for sadistic purposes, but to reflect real life.

If you are not into possession stories, this is not the book for you. It also relies heavily on Catholic doctrine and theology in regard to possession and exorcism, but isn’t so specific that someone unfamiliar with the religion would be confused about what’s going on. It is both a classic possession story, and one with it’s own spin given the fact that Marin’s ability allows her to not only see the demon inside, but see the physical injury the demon has inflicted.There is also a lot of contemplation about belief, blessings, and purpose. It doesn’t feel overly preachy, but like the thought and growth process someone who has been raised in a mostly devout household might experience as they grow up.

Marin’s ability to see pain is unique, and I enjoy that it’s source is only theorized and never definitively explained. Marin’s family is struggling and grieving, and is such an accurate depiction of loss that it kind of hurts to read. When people are grieving, they often blame themselves even when it doesn’t make sense, and when we’re struggling we sometimes shirk responsibilities that we shouldn’t have. I could have read a book just about Marin and her family, minus the pain-seeing and possession, because it’s compelling, and very, very real for so many people.

I was honestly scared in parts because as a person who was raised a certain kind of Catholic (I now consider myself lapsed), possession was taught to you as a real thing, and something that especially afflicted children. Even without that, some of this is just scary because the possessed character is so unpredictable, and we have a protagonist who often gives into her fear and panic and runs away, damn the consequences.

The thing I didn’t like is kind of oddly specific. I didn’t like that Marin had a crush on Dominic before all of this started. While I enjoyed their relationship, I think it would have been more powerful to me had they found romantic feelings for each other during the kind of crazy journey of this novel (because it’s about so much more than the possession.) Before the present events, Dominic was there for a really humiliating moment in Marin’s life and I just don’t see a crush being developed or sustained from that. It was nice to see how much both characters changed and learned and felt for each other, but Marin’s struggle right from the beginning about saying no to him didn’t feel totally in-sync with the rest of her characterization.

Lucy was also under-utilized. It’s a little…stereotypical for the introvert/shut off main character, and it can get frustrating to read someone who is so open and caring being denied for almost no reason.

Overall, this was a creepy read that wasn’t like other possession novels I’ve read. It’s not so scary you’re going to be afraid after, but it was a book that I wanted to read in one sitting so I had a resolution right away to process. I’m rating Be Not Afraid a 4/5, with the note to self that I would read another Galante horror novel.

 

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom

Listen, you’re going to like these, so no quip is needed. Read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.

I read Six of Crows on October 22-24, 2016. I read Crooked Kingdom on October 26-27, 2016.

I have so much to say.

I was never really interested in reading the Grisha trilogy (I have rethought this decision,) but something about the gritty sass that was apparent in Six of Crows drew me in. This duo has been so hyped on Instagram that my expectations were really high and I must say I was not disappointed.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom start in the city of Ketterdam on the island nation of Kerch – a place where trade is both God and good; where economics and capitalism are the work of both the wealthy merchant class and the illegally wealthy underbelly of the Barrel. The Dregs are one of the many gangs that control the gambling in the Barrel, and Kaz Brekker is their leader in everything but title. Kaz is offered the heist of a lifetime with a payoff big enough to do whatever he wants. Through various means, Kaz recruits five more members to create the titled Six: Inej (the wraith/spy/acrobat), Jesper (the sharpshooter), Wylan (the bomb maker/hostage?), Nina (the Heartrender, rogue member of the Grisha Second Army), and Matthias (rogue druskelle, large blonde man.)

Obviously, all does not go entirely according to plan. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things about these books is that pretty much nothing goes to plan but you have no idea how it’s going to go wrong, so you think maybe everything will be okay and then it’s totally not but not in the way you expected. Or Kaz is so smart that he sees how it will go wrong so many layers deep that the wrong becomes the actual plan all along.

It’s a world of racism, human trafficking, violence, and magic. It’s a world where everyone is a little bit broken in their own way but you love them anyway. A world where someone can recover from brainwashing, from intolerance and ignorance, and where people are kind of horrible but you can still find the good ones if you look.

img_3139

Perhaps the most interesting relationship is that between Inej and Kaz. And some of the things that happen make me really frustrated with Inej – and it’s a frustration that I think Bardugo chose to create.

There’s a line in Six of Crows that people love in which Kaz is sort of starting to tell Inej that he has feelings for her and Inej responds: “I will have you without armor Kaz Brekker, or not at all.” So either lay yourself open for me physically and emotionally, or it ain’t happening.

This is problematic because both Kaz and Inej are struggling with major PTSD. Kaz wears gloves and cannot stand the touch of human skin; the reader learns why and completely understands this feeling. The other thing is that Inej is someone who was sold into sex trafficking and was repeatedly hurt and raped; she’s only been free for a year. Does Inej really think that she can expect to be touched by Kaz in a romantic or sexual way without also feeling panic? Does she not sympathize with Kaz’s aversion? While she doesn’t know the reason Kaz wears gloves, she knows it’s not just an affectation – if it was that would be armor I can accept her asking him to remove.

And yes, she’s asking him to remove his emotional armor as well – and that’s something she absolutely should be asking of him. But the gloves? That’s removal that takes time and trust – time she doesn’t seem to be willing to give him. Just as Kaz touching Inej in a way that she can respond to from a place of love and attraction will take time.

In the end I think there’s a better understanding between the two of what they really need to let go of in order to be together, truly together, and not just broken people who don’t know how to love. Ultimately I appreciate the damage of those two characters because it demonstrates that you can recover from trauma – you can move on to the next thing when you find a reason to make yourself heal. So, I forgive Inej for saying something wildly insensitive.

I was blown away by this duology, and it is absolutely deserving of the hype and craze it gets on Bookstagram and everywhere else. I hope it never gets made into a movie because the cast in my head is so weird and specific and has aged out of their ability to play some of the roles they have in my head, and no one can ever be Kaz for me except Reeve Carney.

Anyway, back to why the story is amazing. It’s so complex and complete and has crazy specific details and plotting. I would definitely walk around inside Leigh Bardugo’s head if it meant I could wander around Ketterdam. I might even be willing to gamble a little, which is something I kind of despise. This world feels so real you could touch it, you can smell it, and sometimes even taste it.

The characters are your new best friends by the time you’re done. You want for them to get what they were after, and to feel safe to try and to dream. You want them to be happy, whatever that means.

My favorite running gag is when Kaz asks a question and they all reply with a different answer (always the wrong answer). My most favorite is the first time this happens and Matthias responds with “you’re all horrible.” I crowed with laughter because it was true, but also displayed how disgruntled and stubborn he is.

My first instinct is that Nina is my favorite character, followed closely by Kaz and Matthias, but then I’m like, wait – Inej, and Jesper, and Wylan. It’s like choosing a favorite finger.

If I keep talking, I’ll ramble. Six of Crows 5/5 and Crooked Kingdom 4.5/5 because, listen Leigh, you did NOT have to kill that one character and even plotlistically I cannot find good enough justification for it. READ THESE NOW.

Girl of Nightmares

What price would you pay to save the one you love? Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake.

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake was released in 2012 – I read it October 21-22, 2016.

My initial thoughts:

  • Anyone who thinks this should be more than a duology is crazy. The only justification I can see is that the third book’s cover would have Anna facing full forward. I have imagined the third image in my mind and it looks badass, but alas, this has ended exactly as it should.
  • If the first book made me scream, this one made me cry.
  • I’m kind of okay with this version of the afterlife.

dscn2135

Girl of Nightmares picks up almost 6 months after Anna Dressed in Blood. Cas can’t let Anna go. He starts seeing her and the visions are awful and violent enough that he begins to believe she’s calling to him from the other side. Anna is not safe, and this time it’s Cas’s turn to do the rescuing. Girl of Nightmares takes the gang to London and then the Scottish Highlands where the true history of Cas, his powers, and the athame are revealed.

This book is a bit more gore over creep factor than Anna, but it was always justified and further created the power and the tension in the story. The tension creates intentional frustration – the reader feels what Cas is feeling about the lack of straight answers and information, or even truly understanding what the athame and the other side are. Cas is his usual reckless self, and everybody else seems a little bit more at peace with that, if a little less tolerant of it. I liked him even more in this book because I felt like his journey was more internal – there were things he had to figure out about himself, revisiting his knowledge of his identity and his place in the world, and I liked knowing that I could trust who he is at his core.

Like all good horror, we explore regular life via the supernatural – love, loss, and change. It had to end the way that it did – it was the realistic and the powerful way to end it. If it had ended differently, it would have really ruined both books for me and I would have felt that it was very unhealthy. The reality of life is that things don’t always work out and we lose people – sometimes to change and sometimes to death. The power is in letting go. There are so many specific tiny moments that would be total spoilers during the final battle that I find so powerful.

Most important line, from new and dynamic character Jestine:

“Your morality isn’t the only morality in the world. Just because it’s yours doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Also, I think Cas totally should have yelled at Carmel. And I was frustrated by that storyline in general – maybe because it was what an unsure teenage girl would do and I expected more of Carmel, or maybe because it felt pushed in to create extra conflict. However, I did enjoy that we see Cas-as-third-wheel to Thomas and Carmel. I don’t think we get the perspective of the third wheel who is also the narrator very often in a way that isn’t whining or pining after one half of the couple, and his frustration over Carmel but holding back is something I think everyone has experienced at some point. It points out in a subtle way why it’s hard when your friends date. When they hurt it hurts you too.

Blake is an excellent writer and a craftsman of story – there’s just no overloaded exposition – you discover things instead of being told them, you inhabit Cas very completely and feel what he feels, and she trusts her reader to take leaps. On that level alone Blake has earned a fan for life – a pre-order, book signing, tell-everyone-to-read-this fan.

On a personal level, this book spoke to me the way Blake’s other books have because of my own loss. One of my best friends died unexpectedly in February – it’s part of the reason I started this blog – and I have been using books (and Criminal Minds for some reason) to help me move forward. Anna and Girl did that because while I am a religious person, the view of the afterlife presented felt very grounded and unattached to any school of thought and that was comforting. Three Dark Crowns did that for me because I can just feel it would be a book that we would have obsessed over together (she would be Team Arsinoe, I have embraced being Team Katharine) and it makes me feel connected to her again.

Anyway, read. Go to your library, get tons of books, and read! But especially read Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares.