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 – Lock and Mori: Mind Games

Mori isn’t sure she can trust Lock, but Lock might be the only person who can help her stay safe. Mind Games: Lock and Mori Book 2 by Heather W. Petty (5/5)

Mind Games: Lock and Mori Book 2 by Heather W. Petty was released December 6, 2016 – I read it December 8, 2016.

From Amazon:
Sherlock Holmes and Miss James “Mori” Moriarty may have closed their first case, but the mystery is far from over in the thrilling sequel to Lock & Mori, perfect for fans of Maureen Johnson and Sherlock.

You know their names. Now discover their beginnings.

Mori’s abusive father is behind bars…and she has never felt less safe. Threatening letters have started appearing on her doorstep, and the police are receiving anonymous tips suggesting that Mori—not her father—is the Regent’s Park killer. To make matters worse, the police are beginning to believe them.

Through it all, Lock—frustrating, brilliant, gorgeous Lock—is by her side. The two of them set out to discover who is framing Mori, but in a city full of suspects, the task is easier said than done. With the clock ticking, Mori will discover just how far she is willing to go to make sure that justice is served, and no one—not even Lock—will be able to stop her.

I really enjoyed the first book. There’s moments of humor alongside the usual Sherlock Holmes related detective-fare, but it’s also a very dark world for our young protagonists. What set Lock and Mori apart for me is that it’s usually the Sherlock/Watson relationship that is changed, or the push and pull between Sherlock and Moriarty (of any gender) is never fully explored. In the world of this Sherlock and this Moriarty, Watson isn’t even relevant yet. This is how a fraught, inescapable relationship is formed, and how that relationship will explode upon the world to create one of the best nemesis relationships in literature.

It’s kind of liking finding out Dumbledore and Grindelwald were a thing. A sexy thing.

There’s also the possibility that it is the destruction of this relationship that turns Sherlock into the consultant detective of the future – utterly objective, unemotional, even dismissive. Cold to the point of burning. A once burned, twice shy kind of damage.

Because Lock is my little cinnamon roll and I am waiting for Mori to burn him. I made so much quote art from Lock this time around. His lines were great practice for me.

Mori is wonderfully dynamic – sharp, intelligent, fiercely loving and protective, at war with her mind over her heart. In short – a typical teenage girl. And the kind of sad part is that while her circumstances might seem extreme, that’s only partially true. Many teenagers, probably many who would read this book, experience the kind of violence Mori survived in their own homes. Mori’s dad being a cop who got arrested as a serial killer and multiple people closing in on her for their own nefarious purposes is probably a little unusual though. I hope? I appreciate her fierceness and her ventures into the moral gray area.

I appreciated that Petty does not pull any punches, and uses this platform to discuss the dangers of the blue wall of silence. The phrase that when one officer does something wrong it stains them all is so powerful and accurate. It’s used like a knife, but it’s the line most activists have been screaming for a long time. There are good cops, there are cops who know they can be better, and then there are those who hide behind the shield. DS Moriarty is a monster with a shield – and after many, many officers turned away from injuries to his own children’s bodies – finally, someone is fighting for them and believing them. DS Mallory is definitely on the road to redemption by the end of Mind Games.

In the first book, the villain was obvious fairly quickly; there are too many villains for that to be possible in the second installment. It doesn’t feel cluttered or slapstick though; it plays both the political and personal landscapes. The obvious villains reveal themselves, but it’s the true mastermind behind what’s happening to Mori and sets up the next book that is surprising. All I’m going to say is that when Lock begins hunting the person trying to hurt Mori, boy is going to bring the pain.

The evolving love story between Lock and Mori is frustrating but in a realistic way. Mori starts the story still in love with Lock, but unable to trust him. Lock knows he’s done something to upset her, but doesn’t believe what he did was wrong. Mori tries to pull away, and thinks she can justify those decisions – like anyone who is hurting and has been betrayed on so many levels, she believes that isolating herself will both protect her and protect others. Lock makes the mistake of thinking that he can logic her into love. He can’t. It’s only in the moments when he lets go and lets his emotions reign that he begins to heal the divide between them. I want to shout at Mori to say what’s on her mind because I know Lock won’t turn away; but that would be fighting the universal truth of relationships: you are always afraid that if people know you, they won’t like what they see. We fear rejection in any relationship and Mori knows this rejection would be too much for her. For the first time, Mori allows herself to need someone.


Then, of course, life explodes around them.

As with the last book, I turned to the last page like, “what!? that’s the end?!”

The further the story goes, the more I can support Mori becoming a criminal mastermind.

5/5 all the way from me – it was exactly what I wanted in the this book. Um…when’s the next one?

 

 

 

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 Winter People

When Ruthie’s mother goes missing, she is pulled into a mystery and a horror more far-reaching than she can imagine. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (5/5)

“If snow melts down to water does it still remember being snow?”

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon was published in 2014 – I read it December 4-5, 2016.
As summarized on Amazon:

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
 
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

It’s a mystery about grief and letting go – about magic – about ghosts – and maybe even…zombies? I definitely fall into the camp of people who would call this a zombie novel, albeit an elegant and delicately crafted one.

The novel switches between times and points of view: in 1908 we are with Sara and Martin, and in the present time we are with Ruthie, and a woman named Katherine who is pulled into the mystery through trying to understand the source of her own loss.

How things tie together is so immensely layered – all these little pieces come together to form a picture that is multi-dimensional. Things from the past effect the future of course, but things from the present shed a lot of light on the past. It really asks you to consider – how far would you go to see a loved one again? What price would be too high?

It’s interesting as well that the relationships mothers have to daughters and the bonds we form with our families play such an important role – even the peripheral characters have important roles in the plot, and in the survival of the mystery so that it stretches all the way to the present.

I cannot say enough that this novel is just expertly crafted – there are no wasted words or scenes, there’s very little exposition for its own sake, and it makes you question. Art is supposed to make you feel something, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable or wonder or doubt. I hope that anyone who reads this novel feels uncomfortable. It makes us confront the cost of our choices.

Also, it manages to be totally supernatural in a way that seems completely plausible. It plays on the unknown – just enough is revealed or explained to make you keep your disbelief suspended, but in the end you still don’t entirely understand how the magic works. You even get the feeling that you don’t want to – and I love that.

“Oh what power the dead have over the living!”

I give the Winter People 5/5 – it’s an excellent read.

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.