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.

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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.

 

Between the Spark and the Burn

“How can a person be so good and so bad at the same time? How is that possible?”

I couldn’t wait for it to come in the mail so I checked it out of the library.

Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve Tucholke was released in August 2015. I read it October 20-21, 2016. I am just burning through books right now, but it’s also the quiet part of the year for me when I have a lot of free time at home.

First reactions:
Have their ever been two more differently lovable brothers than River and and Neely?
And as much as I personally am drawn to River, I absolutely wanted Violet to push him off a cliff.
Everybody is both Violet. Everybody.

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After River left at the end of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Violet’s life settled a little – her parents, her brother Luke, and their ward Jack paint and exist and Neely comes in and out of the guesthouse after going on River-hunts. Finally, Christmas Day, Violet decides she’s going with Neely to find River. The group have started listening to a radio program – Stranger Than Fiction – and they follow the clues in the program to potential locations of River, his evil brother Brodie, and maybe even other gifted Redding siblings. They journey to Virginia and save another stray – Finch Grieve, the Forest Boy. Then they head to an island off the coast of North Carolina and finally find River, but not as they expected, and pull native-islander Canto into their motley crew. No one is safe, everyone is breaking, and they head to Colorado to confront themselves and their future.

There’s definitely room for more books in this series, but even without them this would be a satisfying conclusion. It’s not always about the resolution of the greater plot as it is about the resolution for the main character – the end of this feels like a shift for Violet, and that’s what this whole story has been about.

Violet is such a true character. People are not all black and white, and this book demonstrates that perfectly. There are so many layers and twists of both beauty and ugliness in them all. You don’t know what side of them you’ll get in a given situation. But Violet is the most true, for a girl her age and temperament. There isn’t an easy decision and everything feels like life and death and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Violet tries to balance the rational with the emotional, and to find a way to do the right thing. I really enjoy reading her, and I will likely visit this world over and over.

I had my suspicions about where Brodie was from the beginning, and I didn’t like being right. However, how that all plays out is bone-chilling. I didn’t even realize what was about to happen and when I did I wanted to shout “no!” but no luck.

In this book I came to pity River as much as I loved him; he’s like a magnet that’s drawn and draws in random and dangerous things. He takes on more than he can handle and it comes back to bite him. He’s still a really compelling mix of hero and villain.

Which leads to my own large complaint about this duo – we never get a resolution to the Redding patriarch. Did I say I wanted River pushed off a cliff? He can go too.

Once again, the sins of the parents become the scars on their children. I don’t think any of those hard-partying kids in the 20s and 30s ever thought about how damaged their children would be, and how that would carry on well beyond their mistakes. Children, especially in families like the Reddings and Whites, pick up the burdens of their family not just themselves. When Violet learns even more of the truth, she feels like once again it is hers to fix. The change here is that instead of trying to be like Freddie, Violet is trying to succeed where she failed. I’d like to think that she does.

This was the heartbreaking, semi-soul crushing, leaving you with questions but somehow conclusive ending to this duology. If Tucholke decides to revisit the Between world I will devour it with relish and pain. Because that’s kind of the point – there can be both.

Review – Gilt Hollow

Girl meets boy. Boy goes to prison. Boy gets out of prison. Boy and girl solve murder. A review of Gilt Hollow by Lorie Langdon.

Gilt Hollow by Lorie Langdon came out September 27, 2016.

Because of Gilt Hollow I get to revise my Spookathon reads – this was published in 2016 so I’m counting it for that, as well as for the original thriller category I chose it for. I expected it to be more of a thriller than it was, but I think it’s because the scary catch the murderer plot is overshadowed by the super hot love story plot. I read Gilt Hollow on 10/17 when I couldn’t sleep because of my joyous dental work. It had been a long time since I read two books in a day, so that tells you how nice and quick of a read this is.

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Willow Lamott’s best friend was sent to prison when he was 14 for murder; a murder that Willow staunchly believes he didn’t commit even as it cost her social standing and options in their small community of Gilt Hollow. Now Ashton Keller is out of jail and back in Willow’s life. Not only does he want to move on with his life, he wants to find out who really murdered his friend Danny, and why. Gilt Hollow has a lot of secrets, lies, and pain. Ashton is going to rip open those wounds to find the truth, and he might just let Willow back into his life.

This review is going to get pretty spoilery, and maybe a little judgmental. I just want to say that right off the bat.

I liked Willow, and not in personality but in story it kind of reminded me of Veronica Mars (which is my all time favorite show.) Willow is experiencing the backlash for disagreeing with popular opinion and perception. Some of the isolation is imposed on her, and some if it is imposed by her. Willow’s friend Lisa starts pulling her out of it, and then Ashton returns. It’s all so polarizing and I like Willow’s loyalty and steadfastness even when it’s a struggle. I appreciated her integrity as a character. I appreciated that she forgave her mom for some of the choices that were made, and she pushed for people to see Ashton as more than a criminal and give him another chance. The chapters from Ashton’s point of view show that he deserves it.

The scenes between Willow and Ashton have such palpable steamy tension. I read the scene where they first kiss in the janitor’s closet at least three times. The struggle against their attraction to one another versus what the is the right thing to do versus the advantageous thing to do was enjoyable to read.

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Ashton has barely contained violence, and I think that violence would have been in him even without going to jail. He’s got a wild streak, and the author does a good job demonstrating that wild doesn’t always mean violent, or violence for the sake of violence. I feel so badly for this poor kid – he was set up to fall long before the murder, and there would have been a crash for him somewhere even without it. He knows he’s walking on a fine edge and that he needs to retrain his instincts after being in a cell; he also knows what  he’s to blame for even if he’s being awfully stubborn about moving on.

The thing I did not like about this book is that the characters so often failed to clearly communicate, or ask the obvious questions. While yes it moved the plot along, I am a person who gets frustrated when things get illogical. There were other ways to move the plot that did not involve the characters being silent or ignoring the obvious. It’s one thing when I know something the characters don’t, its another when they know things and just don’t talk about it. It makes the story feel contrived.

This is where the spoilers begin.

There’s a reason that high school villains are often the cruel jock type – entitlement often leads to violence. There’s a reason it’s easy to see it’s Colin from the beginning – he’s so empty as both a person and a character. I think he’s shallowly written and there’s no feeling of betrayal about him being the bad guy, but it’s also the most logical option. He’s threatening enough to have created a conspiracy around his actions – he commits violence and disguises it in excuses . There could have been other twists to this reveal, but for the story it was trying to be this made sense. The twist on it I did enjoy though was his own parent’s betrayal. That was a nice touch as once again people’s integrity was what led them to their choices – and they as parents make a nice contrast to Ashton’s parents. Same actions, different reasons.

Overall, I’m going 2.5/5 – a quick read, a very steamy romance, but nothing new to the genre. If you’re looking for a good YA love story, this is absolutely your book. If you’re looking for a thriller, not so much.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

When you can’t trust your head, you fight from your heart. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke.

On 10/16/16 I read a A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, but I don’t think there’s anything I can add to the obsession that already exists around that series. Except to firmly say I am Team Tamlin, even though I have not yet read A Court of Mist and Fury. I doubt I will change my mind.

On 10/17/16 I was trapped at home after a visit with my dentist that left me with a severely aching jaw and totally unable to sleep it off. So with the beginning of Spookathon I destroyed my first book. It meets the creepy word and red cover criteria. I read Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke – it was published in July 2013.

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And I am so fictionally in love with River West. I have not been this twitterpated over a book character since Mr. Darcy in 9th grade. In my head he looks like Matt Shively.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is about Violet White and her twin brother Luke, living in their Grey Gardens-esque mansion on the coast, semi-abandoned by their artist parents. Violet puts up a post to rent out the guesthouse to make money and one day River West shows up to do so. There’s something immediate between Violet and River, and Violet also knows that River is a liar. River fits into Violet’s world faster than he should, but dark and violent things start happening. River isn’t like other people. River opens a door into another world for Violet, and it isn’t a good one.

As much as I love River, the end of this book frustrated me so much as a reader. It felt incredibly rushed and unexplained – and even though there were these small moments that were supposed to be hints at how insidious the villain is they all just felt like incomplete sentences. I had no idea how this book was going to end because things kept getting more intertwined and complicated (in the awesome way) and then the ending just kind of splat out like a drop of blood.

This book is really layered – nothing is random. Everyone is connected, everyone has a history, and the children must pay for the sins of their forebears. I loved the mood of impending doom that creeps across the entirety of the novel – it makes the good moments feel so important and fleeting.

Freddie was a fantastic character – when you’re in Violet’s head you miss her too. For a character we never really see alive on the page she is so powerful and complete; I can imagine her so clearly. I love that Violet wears her clothes, and I love that Freddie was passionate and stormy, and probably way ahead of her time. I like that we see hints of the storm inside Violet, she just doesn’t know how to let it out.

Violet is also a great character to follow – she often ignores her own feelings and tries to deal with the situation at hand, and its so tender the way she falls for River. There’s something so nostalgic about remembering the first big crush when they crushed you back. It makes you as forgiving of River as Violet is, and not because of the glow.

All the teenagers in this book – Violet, Luke, Sunshine, River, Neely, and their child companion Jack – make up a kind of group of Lost Boys. They are basically children lacking in supervision just trying to survive and figure out their lives. It’s both amazing to realize that we don’t really need parents to survive, but also painful to read how hollow that can scrape you.

I am really pumped to get Between the Spark and the Burn (and oh how cool that title is once you’ve read the first book) on my next trip to the library. I want to see what becomes of them all.

I’m giving Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and 3.5/5 for a lackluster ending – however, depending on how the next book ends I might revisit that. They are likely two halves of a whole. River ❤

 

Anna Dressed in Blood

What happens when the one boy who can kill ghosts falls in love with one?

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is the kind of book that attaches to you. My blog name has never been more appropriate because this book, Cas and Anna, are taking up residence to haunt my bookish heart.

Shortly after finishing I went down a hashtag rabbit hole and learned they’re making a movie. For the first time in ages I was actually picturing a specific actor while reading.  Tanner Buchanan was the Cas in my head, which ended up being kind of hilarious because every time I would get really anxious I’d say “Charlie Gardner!” like Maya from Girl Meets World – which was often. I am actually really happy with the casting of Cameron Monaghan (I love a talented ginger) and Maddie Hasson (the Finder was so underrated). Either way, I hope the movie is scary as shit and that I cry a little because I’m scared. Is that too high of an expectation for the adaptation of the book that scared me so bad I screamed out loud? That I thought my growling stomach was my attic door opening and I was about to be killed by a ghost? Probably.

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Anna Dressed in Blood is about Cas Lowood, who has inherited a magically imbued athame and a talent for killing spirits. Cas goes after the dead who kill – he leaves benign spirits alone. The thing is, his dad was killed by a spirit, and so Cas picks up the legacy with the hope of one day avenging his father. Cas and his mom move around for his “work” and when they head to Thunder Bay, Ontario so Cas can take out Anna everything feels different. First, Cas makes friends. Second, Cas makes enemies. Third, Cas meets Anna and knows she is unlike any spirit he’s ever faced. Just when he thinks he can save the day…his past comes back to bite him.

It took a bit for Cas to grow on me, mostly because he appeared to be kind of a weenie to his mom. However, the more you learn about them both and understand their dynamic, the more obvious it becomes that they both do this to protect themselves. Cas has to do this, even when they’d rather he didn’t. Cas loves his mom, but it hurts him to show it because it might seem like he doesn’t love her enough to stop.

The tension-building in this book is fantastic. When the start of the third act comes, wooo. Things are happening really quickly and you only have enough information to have suspicions but not enough to understand what that suspicion means and then when the scary things comes you don’t even know what the scary thing IS you just know you’re really effing scared. Blake is masterful at only giving you as much information as you need to keep you reading, so you never have a moment of calm knowing. You are always facing the unknown.

I love that she doesn’t over-explain the mythology – I have a feeling that is one of her trademarks – she assumes her readers are smart enough to make the logical leaps about what things mean. I know enough to understand why the plot proceeds the way that it does and to know when things are not going the way they planned. Exposition is used sparingly – it’s all action.  She is also really talented at getting me to feel super righteous anger at jerkfaces. Take that, Will.

At this point, I have basically become smitten with Kendare Blake. I had checked Anna out of the library and less than 24 hours after reading it I had purchased a copy (hardcovers even!) of it and Girl of Nightmares, and put Antigoddess on hold at the library. I’m sunk, y’all.

Review – Three Dark Crowns

Three sisters must fight to the death to be queen – but is it worth it? A review of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake was released on September 20, 2016 and I finished it on October 10, 2016.

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I have not read a fantasy novel that took place in an imaginary kingdom in a long time. The last one I read, which I will not name, just disappointed me so hard that I stopped reading those kinds of books. It needed to be sideways to our own reality for me to read it – urban fantasy, stuff like that. I have my suspicions that the island of Fennbirn does exist sideways to our reality, but that’s not the point. I had stopped reading a whole sub-genre because one author broke my heart. Kendare Blake opened that door back up for me.

The queendom in Three Dark Crowns exists in a pattern – three triplets are born to the previous queen, each with a gift. On their 16th birthdays the young queens begin a fight to the death to determine who will become THE Queen. This generation’s triplets – Katharine the poisoner, Arsinoe the naturalist, and Mirabella the elemental – are at the dawn of their 16th birthdays and preparing to follow the rituals that will lead to their attempts to murder one another. Obviously, things get crazy. I don’t want to say much more – but it’s all intrigue, conspiracy, and desperation. It’s fantastic.

I loved all three triplets, although like many so far I was pretty fond of Mirabella. However, it’s Arsinoe’s story I am most excited for in the next installment. I must also make a confession – I like to read the last page or last paragraph of books when I’m about halfway through them. DO NOT DO THAT WITH THIS BOOK. Usually those last lines aren’t a huge spoiler. This time, it TOTALLY WAS. I mean, it kept me really, really excited to finish but seeing it coming did dim the revelation a little bit. By the end of the novel you don’t know which triplet to root for or who to trust in their lives.

And you don’t like most of the people in their lives by the end either – you are rooting for all three queens to survive this nonsense. It’s a talented display of the complexity of people – the way we can both care and conquer someone, that we can disregard their humanity if it suits our own purposes, and the reality of loving two people at the same time. I really hate the Arrons. I have to call them out as specifically horrible. I don’t mind Katharine, and I’m excited to see how she changes in the next book, but I feel the most pity and anger on her behalf. For all her belief that she has any sort of control, Natalia either turns a blind eye or is completely ignorant to the cruelty aimed at Katharine. That won’t make a queen, it makes a victim. It’s fitting that the poisoners would be cruel. I want to see the Arron family crash and burn, and I want to see what happens with Katharine and her love interest, Pietyr.

I really loved Mirabella’s friends Bree and Elizabeth – they were not stereotypical sidekicks, and they expanded Mirabella’s agency by encouraging her to take action and make decisions. It’s a contrast to Arsinoe’s dear Jules, Joseph, and Billy – she is so undecided that they end up deciding for her, or taking action in her place. She’s not the character you’d expect that from, and that’s what makes it a delight to read. No one is who I expect them to be – while there are so many hallmarks of a fantasy kingdom in Three Dark Crowns, Blake manages to put just enough of a twist to keep surprising.

I have so many theories about what’s going to happen next and the conspiracies surrounding the sisters. I need someone to talk about this with! I made notes in my journal so when I read the next book a year or more from now I can go back and reference if I was right.

The mythology of the world is really excellent as well – a matriarchal society that worships the goddess; very unique gifts/powers and how they apply to the island and impact the outer world. I liked that it felt that the history of Fennbirn was so deeply established – by the time you’re done you can talk about the Queens of the past, their powers, their importance. And when you start to have your suspicions about how the present situation came to be, you really start to wonder about those Queens – especially the Queen who was mother to our triplets.

I just finished Anna Dressed in Blood and I’m mad I’ve been missing out on Kendare Blake for the last half decade, apparently. Geeze friends, why didn’t you say anything?!

I can’t even rate this book because my personal tastes are too confused with my more objective assessment. It was awesome. Read it.

 

Review – The Graces

Where the lies end and the truth begins is more complicated than any magic. The Graces by Laure Eve (4.5/5)

The Graces by Laure Eve was published in the US on September 6, 2016. I finished it October 9, 2016.

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Our narrator is a girl who eventually goes by the name River. After some struggles with her family, she and her mother move to a town on the coast and River meets the Graces – twins Fenrin and Thalia, and their younger sister Summer. The Graces are rumored to be witches, and they flit around the town with beauty, mystery, and the power that comes with both popularity and potentially magic. River is desperate to be in their circle, and to prove that her lifelong belief in magic hasn’t been in vain. And somehow, it happens. River and Summer become best friends, and when you love one Grace you love them all, and vice versa. And then something goes horribly wrong, and what River thought she knew about the Graces and the reality of her world all comes into question.

The book cover is gorgeous and I’ll admit I definitely bought this book for the cover. All the covers I’ve seen for this novel are breathtaking – but oh the tagline on mine is so woefully terrible and not in line with the story: “It takes more than black magic to become a Grace.” It really messed with my expectations and made it take way too long for me to realize what was really going on in this novel. This was a really strong book.

It is a slow burn of a story, and River can be quite irritating in the beginning. Her desperimg_2829ation to be accepted by the Graces and for them to see her as cool, the false front she puts on all the time, and the way she doesn’t see how they are reaching out for connection can be annoying. I almost didn’t want River to get what she wanted. But the more you get to know the Graces alongside River the more you love them too. And the more you begin to see the truth of them that River doesn’t – the more their secrets are revealed and you know she just doesn’t want to see them. It makes it all the more powerful when River’s own secrets are revealed.

The characters in this novel are so wonderfully human – odd, broken, afraid, loving, passionate, and impulsive. The scenes when the teenagers are just hanging out together, having those quiet and giddy moments that you don’t realize matter until they’re past, but River realizes it in the moment, are so beautifully written. It’s hard to capture just friendship – it’s much easier to write about romance – and Eve gives those relationships depth. It’s what makes the events of Part Two so brutal and wonderful and exhilarating.

The book itself is also gorgeous – my hardcover was red with a circle design on the cover, purple paper and drawings inside, as well as purple text on the pages and gorgeous designs on the chapter pages.

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Even if I hadn’t like this book I would have treasured it just for being a beautiful object. The Amulet Books imprint makes gorgeous covers from what I can see – if I’m going to buy a book based on its cover I’m surprised I haven’t purchased more of theirs. I’m definitely going to troll through that site for more to add to my reading list.

 

I’m giving The Graces 4.5/5 – half off for being too vague and flowery in the beginning. Honestly, I almost stopped reading. But it’s worth getting through the difficult beginning to the rich story within.

img_2831I found out recently that there’s going to be another book, and I am a teeny bit disappointed by that. I acknowledge that it’s the publishing landscape we live in, and that Laure Eve probably has lots more of River’s story to tell, but part of me wishes this was just a powerful stand alone novel. I mean, of course I’ll read the next one, but I do treasure this one.