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.

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 – 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.