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.

Come Closer or How I Choose What to Read

There’s an itch.

I don’t want to do a review of Come Closer by Sara Gran because there’s no way to talk about this book without giving away too much. The short version: Amanda might be possessed by a demon. I got this from the library and returned it in the same day (10/20) because it only took two hours to read and I didn’t feel safe having it in my house. It’s that good/scary. So yeah, it’s 5/5.

I don’t know if other people are like this, but when I find the book I want to read it’s a feeling – like a tug from my brain to the title, the cover, or the synopsis. I go from mood to mood but I try and follow where it takes me. I can’t do TBR jars like some people because I know as soon as I would pick the piece of paper it would make clear to me what I actually wanted to read. I need that feeling or I can’t finish the book. I put it away and wait for the feeling to come.

For example, this past summer I wanted a book like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves but didn’t want to do the mental gymnastics of reading House of Leaves again. (I also want to note that for a time I was so spooked by HoL that I turned it spine-in on my bookshelf. I’d get a shiver just seeing the title.) This caused me to start googling for best haunted house books.

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My book seance.

And that’s how I found the Elementals by Michael McDowell which has become one of my favorite books ever. It was everything I was looking for when I started that google search, and it satisfied the itch in my brain for a scary story about a scary house and all I can hear is “Savage mothers eat their children up!” and it’s wonderful.

Then I just wanted to read more horror – it’s a genre I explore more in film than in reading although I do love reading scary stories. So I followed recommendations based on the Elementals which got me to Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix and then A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. After A Head Full of Ghosts my need for horror was slightly abated because sweet jesus it ruins you at the end. I read a few more cheerful things after that.

But the cool thing was that Paul Tremblay included a little appendix at the end of the book with reading and viewing recommendations and sharing the works that shaped his book.

One of those books was Come Closer by Sara Gran. It was one of the things on the list I thought was interesting, made a note of it, and moved on.

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In the last week, somehow that book has come up twice on another blog about books, and then in a movie review. And I took that as the sign that I needed to read this book. The itch was light, but I knew that if I could find it I would want to read it right away. It was in the library, I had extra time during my lunch break, I checked it out immediately. I got home from work and in a trance-like burst read the whole thing, took a picture, and then took it back to the library. I had other itches to scratch.

But that’s how I choose what to read, and what to read next. I never make myself stick to a plan because the books all tie together somehow, even if it doesn’t always seem obvious. Even to me.

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.

Review – Ink and Bone

A haunting is a two way street. A review of Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger. (3/5)

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger was released June 7, 2016 – I finished it October 12, 2016.

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Ink and Bone is part detective story, part supernatural thriller, all heartbreak.

Finley Montgomery is some kind of psychic, a Dreamer or Listener depending on who you ask, and she’s come back to the Hollows, NY to learn from her grandmother. Finley was born with her gifts, Eloise got them after a car accident that killed one of her children and her husband. Eloise collaborates with a private detective, Cooper Jones, to solve cases as well as comfort the living left behind. But the Hollows gets what it wants, and it’s reaching out for Finley. Cooper Jones gets a case where all psychic roads point to Finley – and she begins to embrace and explore her gift in order to rescue a kidnapped child from a family of monsters.

As someone who is still moving through grief over the loss of a friend, I found this book oddly comforting. In the world of Ink and Bone, a haunting is a two way street – sometimes the spirit chooses, but sometimes the living haunt the dead and don’t let them go. The sense of peace and awareness of something beyond was also positive without being preachy, without ascribing to any religious belief, and managed to ring true. There are spirits who are recently lost, as well as ones who’ve been haunting Finley’s family for a long time. She can be led astray, or led to the truth. Finley needs a little leading in this book.

This is really a book about exploring the connections we have with one another, and that some of those connections can’t be rationally explained. A lot of Carl Jung is pulled in and the concept that psychic abilities are just a part of the human brain and psyche that we don’t yet understand. Finley and Eloise explain abilities like a spectrum – everyone has a little bit of something, all they have to do is explore it and honor it.

I liked the relationships between Finley and her family members – they were complicated, sometimes negative, but ultimately loving. People don’t always understand each other or get along, and that’s especially frustrating when they’re related. Some of the descriptions or attributes of characters start out very shallow or stereotypical, but Unger always goes deeper. Even the mistress is more than meets the eye, when so much of the initial description is meant to make her seem like nothing. What we learn about some of the side characters almost says more about the narrating character than it does about the people they’re describing. Everyone has something you should recoil from, but they all have something redemptive – hope is a thread that pulls this novel together.

It was a quick, emotional read that I enjoyed getting lost in. It was a good book to cozy up with on a really rainy fall day. It pulls you in to a very vivid world. I give Ink and Bone a 3/5 for giving me a sense of peace, and an intriguing mystery.

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.