Anna Dressed in Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review – Three Dark Crowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review – The Graces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Review – Strange Times: The Ghost in the Girl

Get reading, pals. The Strange Times crew is battling ghosts. (4/5)

Strange Times: the Ghost in the Girl by Tom DeLonge and Geoff Herbach was released October 4, 2016 – it’s the prologue to the Strange Times graphic novel, also by DeLonge. I finished it on October 7, 2016 while eating nachos. This was inspired by the tacos in the book, but I didn’t have the stuff to make tacos.

Despite the swearing, this is definitely a mid-level reader book – middle school or early high school. As long as the parents of the reader are chill, and acknowledge that their kids totally talk like this when they aren’t around. If you weren’t swearing in secret in 8th grade you’re a liar.

I should say that I know Geoff personally – he was one of my professors in grad school. I have not been asked to and I am not receiving anything for reviewing this book. I probably would have read it without knowing Geoff because of the nostalgia of my middle school crush on Tom DeLonge, and that he creates some pretty cool stuff. Geoff is an awesome person and a great writer, and if you ever get the chance to hear him read I recommend it. It was hard not to hear some of the passages in his public reading voice.But I digress.

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The Strange Times crew are five teenage boys who get occasional help from an aging hippie named Cortez. Our narrator is Charlie Wilkins. He and the crew – smart guy Wiz, new kid Riley, and skaters Mouse and Mattheson, were thrown together for a science project, discovered the truth about ghosts, shreds, and shadows, and stuck together to take them down. The book follows their initial gathering in school – Charlie’s struggling because his Air Force father has disappeared and they can’t tell anyone, Wiz is being threatened with military school if he doesn’t get “normal friends,” Riley is the new kid in town living with grandparents who don’t love him, and Mouse and Mattheson have the first encounter with the Ghost Girl herself, Paula. It’s actually really hard to provide a summary of this book – but it’s the adventures of the Crew and their first battle with evil ghost Yankee Jim Robinson.

If you want to really enjoy this book, make sure you’re not too caught up in being an adult. Because if you aren’t in the state of mind to laugh at moose farts, purple flames coming out of buttholes, or pants being burned off by a Pinto, then this is the wrong book for you. I really love when there’s supernaturally-induced farting and indigestion because it adds hysteria to the scare – it reminded me of Dreamcatcher.

I already want more of the Strange Times crew – which is good because the graphic novel takes place after the book, but I want to know when I’ll get even more adventures. What happened to Charlie’s dad? What happened to Gramps in Vietnam? Do they use ghosts to punish Wiz’s dad for being a douche? Will they ever defeat Yankee Jim? I also love the supernatural mythology – how ghosts and souls work, what can happen, how they can manifest, was all fleshed out well but didn’t tell everything.

It’s no secret that keeping teenage boys engaged in literature and reading is an uphill battle – this is definitely a work that would keep a young male reader entertained and interested. He’d recognize these boys in himself, and that just doesn’t happen enough. I loved these characters because I knew them too – especially Mouse and Mattheson. Those were my friends, things we would have said, and probably the way we would have responded to ghosts being real and friends being in danger. My friends would have also absolutely tried to build a papier-mache asscano.

I also really loved the message of self-love that was sprinkled throughout. Charlie needed a dose of confidence and learning to love himself – and he learned it from Mouse and Mattheson and Wiz. While there’s too much fat-shaming in general in the book, when Riley has his revelation about himself and his body it was a pretty beautiful moment. We put a lot of pressure on boys and girls these days to look a certain way, and the recognition that your body is beautiful because it is capable and you are living is so needed.

Teenage me would’ve given this a 5/5 all the way – cute vulnerable boys, ghosts, adventures, so much swearing, hilarious fart scenes. Adult me is going with 4/5 – I wish it had been longer because some of it felt rushed or unexplained, and too!many!exclamation!points! Which feels kind of hypocritical because people really talk like that, but it kept snagging my eyes while reading.

I recommend this book for a quick, funny read, or for the young person in your life who needs an adventure.

Review – Wink Poppy Midnight

A hero.A villain.A liar. – A review of Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke (5/5)

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke was released March 22, 2016 – I read it in one thrilling sitting on October 4, 2016. I read this as part of a read-a-long with @BookishGals on Instagram.

A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?

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We start the story with Midnight moving to a new house. He now lives next door to Wink – petite, redheaded, unique, from a big and free spirited family. He used to live next door to Poppy – ultimate cool girl, icy blonde hair and ice in her heart, the girl Midnight doesn’t want to love anymore.

The characters are full, complicated, at turns sympathetic and exhausting. We are inside their heads and seeing things in their hearts that they don’t. I can’t tell if I saw the twist coming because I’m a cynical weenie or because Tucholke wanted the reader to know. It’s a good twist. It’s a twist that fixed my one reservation during my reading.

I was concerned we had a pair of dueling Manic Pixie Dream Girls because despite being in all three characters’ perspectives it feels most like Midnight’s story. His story was about getting over love – and the way he described both Wink and Poppy led me to be concerned he didn’t see them as people. I was relieved to be wrong. Wink Poppy Midnight goes beneath the surface so that not only do we the reader know each character, but by the end of the novel they all know each other on that better level too. Midnight borders on MPDG most with Wink, but I think in the end they connect on a level only the two of them can understand.

This is a love story.
This isn’t happily ever after.

There are heroes and villains.
Sometimes they are both at once.

Everyone is a liar.

It’s a bit of a ghost story, a bit of a fairy tale, and a little bit mystery thriller.

It reminds you how much it sucks to be a teenager – that life is bigger and harder and truer well before people consider you an adult, or believe that “the real world” is an arbitrary label. The real world is now. This novel highlights that it matters to learn to ask for the truth, to give it, and to say what you need instead of hoping life will give it to you.

The voice of each character, the style and structure are flawless in their execution and you can follow the story and keep the threads separate without confusion or blurring of roles.

5/5 – I loved this.

I am really happy that I recently ordered Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – I hadn’t put together that it was the same author.

TBR – What I Plan to Read in October

The things I hope to read by the end of the month! Join in!

This is what I have planned to read in October – in no particular order. Although I will probably save the Joe Hill for the last, as I think it will take the longest.

Shadow of Night and the Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
I’m finishing up the All Soul’s Trilogy. Actually, I took the first nice, rainy weekend in October and finished both because I am always anxious to get to the end. My review of both will be posted soon!

Wink Poppy Midnight – April Genevieve Tucholke
I am very excited to read this book as a read-a-long with the Bookish Gals on Instagram. I have not read Tucholke’s other books (I just ordered Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and didn’t realize it was her.) This has not only an intriguing title, but the tagline has me hooked “A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?”

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Nerve – Jeanne Ryan
I’m not sure why I decided to get this novel. The movie looks intriguing and I think the premise speaks to our obsession with performing for the internet and for others. I’ll get around to seeing the movie, but I have a good feeling about the book.

Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake
I’ll be honest, I am rarely interested in stories about alternative royal realities. There are so many books and series out there about imaginary kingdoms, and if that’s your thing, awesome, but it’s not mine. However, the premise of this reminded me a little bit of Stardust, but most favorite Neil Gaiman book, and I had to give it a change for that alone. The only way to win is to be the last queen standing – that sounds like a battle I’d like to follow.

The Graces – Laura Eve
A family of mysterious and beautiful witches, black magic, and a plot that will inevitably break my heart. This sounds like the Halloween read of my dreams!

The Fireman – Joe Hill
I’ve never actually read Joe Hill, I listened to the audiobook of Heart-Shaped Box over the month of July. I stole this ARC from my friend Ben’s collection and want to read it. I think a disease that causes you to start on fire is a unique take on the inevitable epidemic that will destroy us all.

Strange Times: the Ghost in the Girl – Tom Delonge and Geoff Herbach
It’s got struggling teenagers who try and band together to help a ghost, and most likely each other. I mean, it’s asking me to read it. It does help that I am a Blink 182 and Angels and Airwaves fan and Tom has always been my favorite – his projects always have a whiff of the ethereal that draws me in. Oh, I also know Geoff.

 

Review – How to Hang a Witch

A haunting book about…ghosts! and witches. (rated 4/5)

This is a review of How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather – yes, one of those Mathers. It was released July 26, 2016 by Knopf. I read the whole thing in one night in about 5 hours, which is a kind of review in itself.

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How to Hang a Witch is the story of Samantha Mather, a descendant of Cotton Mather – the man considered to be one of the key instigators in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. By unfortunate circumstance, Samantha is forced to move to Salem with her stepmom – a town she’s never been to despite having an ancestral home and family history there. Samantha has also spent most of her life dogged by bad luck and existing in social isolation. Things don’t change much once she starts school in Salem and meets the Descendants – the children descended from the people hanged in the original trials; on top of that, she’s seeing a ghost and her bad luck is worse than ever. Digging through her family history, her grandmother’s journals, and even finding a way to reach out to the Descendants, Samantha realizes there is more than just a metaphorical curse on the town. The curse is real, and deadly. Samantha knows she needs to break the curse, she just needs to piece together her family’s history to save their future. With the help of actual ghost Elijah, living boy-next-door Jaxon, and Jaxon’s mother, she might just save Salem.

I came by this book in a rather interesting way. And it involves Harry Potter.

On July 31, 2016 I, like many of my fellow Potterheads, was at a store for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When you have an hour and a half to hang out in a bookstore, you have to be judicious in which books you choose to buy or you walk out broke. I actually did not buy HP and the CC in the store that night as I had already pre-ordered it, I was mostly there to hang out with my friend.

I saw How to Hang a Witch and was immediately intrigued, even more so when I saw that the author shared a last name with one of the more infamous people involved in the Salem Witch Trials. I went right to Mather’s bio on the back flap and when I learned she was an actual descendant of Cotton Mather, my interest was piqued before I’d even read the summary. A lot of people can sympathize with feeling like you have to live up to your last name or your family history, but being a Mather is quite a weight. I did not end up buying How to Hang a Witch that night, but the title and the concept followed me. I was haunted by the book before I even read it. I did buy other books that night, but I don’t regret not picking up this one.

Because of How to Hang a Witch and Adriana Mather, I joined the local library in my new town. My husband and I have only been living here a few months, and when I saw the library had this on its shelves, it was the sign I needed that it was time to hit the library. Libraries are amazing resources in our communities and supporting them is essential to increasing literacy, education, and community engagement. If you aren’t a member of your local library, I suggest joining ASAP. There are so many activities going on that allow you to meet new people and fellow book lovers.

So last night I went to the library, got the book, and started reading immediately. I started at about 7:00pm and finished just before midnight. It was worth being sleepy today to read this book in a giant gulp.

First and foremost, Samantha is likable and real. While she acknowledges she’s sarcastic, she’s also sympathetic. Few people in her life are nice to her, she’s been bullied by her peers and adults alike, and her parental support is nil or questionable; she’s hesitant to trust anyone and it’s clear with few flashbacks or much explanation that she has been deeply hurt by the people around her. And in spite of that, she’s hopeful and kind at her core. Samantha wants to do the right thing regardless of what that means for her. Unlike many of the other characters in the story, she’s deeply horrified by the Witch Trials, rather than fascinated or amused. The more she researches the persecution and falsity of the trials themselves, the more her true character is revealed. She sees that not much has changed from 1692 to today. I was a bit concerned when Mather wrote Samantha as klutzy, but was relieved when her lack of coordination did not render her incapable, or constantly in need of saving.

All of the characters are fairly well rounded and layered – except for a few very minor characters, I feel like I know more than just the surface level about the majority of them. I know what makes them tick, why they hurt, and what they are capable of for good or evil. At the start of the story, Samantha’s mother is dead and her father is absent (spoilers!) and yet I feel that I knew them.

The story itself has some genuinely, skin-creeping, spine-tingling scares and I knew it was one of those books I needed to finish in a sitting or I’d have scary dreams (that is definitely a compliment.) It’s not a happy story, and it explores some of the darkest parts of human nature. This is absolutely a story about humanity’s darkness, as well as a story about what it takes to overcome it.

The theme and the resolution gets a little jumbled toward the end – I won’t share any spoilers, but I will say that it got a bit messy when Samantha was trying to figure out messages from her ancestor and what it took to break the curse. I wasn’t sure where the story was going at that point, but I was satisfied in the end. While you see one of the bigger twists coming when you get close – a moment that kind of reminded me of the Beldam in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline – it did not go quite as I expected, and stayed very much true to the core messages of kindness and love in a way not many YA books with this much action would.

There’s a lot of complaining at the moment about the habit of YA love triangles, and I won’t deny How to Hang a Witch has the general shape of a triangle when it comes to romance. However, the love triangle is ultimately a subplot, and it’s not hard to figure out that one side of the triangle isn’t really a side. Samantha spends little page time thinking about her relationships or romantic feelings –  like a true, well-rounded human, she has bigger fish to fry  (or should I say, witches to hang?) than her relationship status.

Ultimately, I give How to Hang a Witch 4/5 for the excellent characters, atmospheric and relevant story, but one star off for the slightly jumbled ending. It’s a scary, emotional ride and would be a PERFECT book for the month of October. This is definitely a new ghost in my mental bookshelf, and I will be recommending it to others.