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Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

youngadult

curtsiesconspiraciesCurtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger
Published: November 2013 by Hachette Little, Brown & Co
Format: Paper Book
Length: 310 pages
Genre: Steampunk, Spy, Espionage, Paranormal, Young Adult, AU Historical
Goodreads | Amazon

Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?

Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.

Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.

I have no idea why I like Curtsies & Conspiracies so much when nothing really happens. I had the same problem with this book’s predecessor, Etiquette & Espionage. The first book of the Finishing School Series felt like set up with a little bit of action thrown in at the end. The second book, Curtsies & Conspiracies, is a hunt for clues with a little bit of action thrown in at the end. And yet, I enjoyed it a lot. It is cleverly written, quirky, and amusing. It was interesting to watch Sophronia navigate her lessons as an intelligencer, move about the dirigible at night, and piece together a conspiracy plot while taking tea. It’s entertaining and I couldn’t put the book down but I kept waiting for things to come together, for that big climax. Instead, we’re left with a bit of a mess.

It would probably be correct to say that if you like spy novels and steampunk worlds, you’ll like the Finishing School Series. The steampunk setting adds a nice flavor to the book. I really like all the little funny names for the machines. (Like the oddgob.) It’s a little like the Disney Little Mermaid song Part of Your World – “I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty; I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore”. The toys, as they say, are awesome. The world building is vivid. I especially like the mechanical maids and robots and the fact that the school is a huge dirigible. The characters are varied and unique but the cast may suffer from overpopulation. Some of the characters don’t really add anything to the story and just prove to be confusing with an already large cast to keep track of.

But the big draw for the Finishing School Series is that it is funny. There is widespread ridiculousness with everything from the names of objects to the names of people, the lessons the girl’s take, and the tongue in cheek foolery between the visiting Bunson’s evil genius boys and Mademoiselle Geraldine’s young ladies of quality. There is a steam powered metal sausage dog named Bumbersnoot, for heaven’s sake. Curtsies & Conspiracies is hilarious.

It is that humor and absurdity that saves the book. I’ve read both the first and second book of the Finishing School Series and have yet to see a cohesive plot the entire time. We don’t know what the mystery is and there is no plot resolution at the end of the books. Our characters are just mucking about in pretty dresses and being overly clever for 15 year old girls. We are presented with facts and events but with no ability to arrange them into a pattern and very little is really settled or revealed at the end of the books. About 3/4 of Curtsies & Conspiracies is Sophronia going about being ‘very special indeed’ and more than a bit of a Mary Sue perfect girl. Curtsies & Conspiracies was a witty, funny, and quick read. But that’s about it.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

youngadult

AliceAlice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter
Published September 25th 2012 by Harlequin Teen
Format: Paper Book
Length: 404 pages
Genre: Zombies, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Romance, Horror
Reading Level: Young Adult
Goodreads | Amazon

She won’t rest until she’s sent every walking corpse back to its grave. Forever.

Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please. But that’s all it took. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone.

Her father was right. The monsters are real…

To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn’t careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies…

I don’t read a lot of zombie books. (They have a habit of giving me nightmares. Nightmares where I have a Japanese katana sword, speak French, and kick ass but then have to throw myself out of the dream when the zombie munching gets too graphic.) But my obsession with everything and anything to do with Alice in Wonderland won out over my hesitation and so when I was browsing the shelves at my library I picked up Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter. I’m weak. I do believe this is the first zombie book I’ve read in almost a decade. (And no nightmares! Although there was one crazy Wonderland dream…)

Alice in Zombieland was not what I expected. For some reason, the blurb made me think this was going to be an apocalyptic zombie novel and that our Alice character would be in an ‘end of the world’ situation. (Thus, creating some sort of new ‘Wonderland’ for our Alice character to live in.) Maybe I fell for a stereotype but the book couldn’t have been farther from what I envisioned. It’s set in contemporary times (In fact, at one point Alice mentioned reading The Iron Fey series and I had to blink in surprise at the destruction of the fourth wall.) and knowledge of the zombies is afforded to only a few select people. The zombies themselves are untraditional and Showalter had to create a whole new mythology for the creatures in order to explain why only certain people could see and fight them. I’m not sure I like the new mythology Showalter created. It works for the book but at the same time it’s a bit absurd. It sort of squashes zombies and ghosts together and gets a bit messy in the process. Also, to my disappointment, the Alice in Wonderland connection is thin at best. There are some scattered references that really don’t bring anything to the novel and that’s it.

Of course, my biggest beef with Alice in Zombieland is the romance. (Romance is pretty much the bane of my existence in Young Adult books.) Alice is a good girl, Cole is a bad boy, they are both ridiculously hot, and have an ‘Instant Connection of Destiny’. So a good portion of the book is them playing relationship yoyo and sucking face. There is even an ‘Ex-Girlfriend of Doom.’ Oh, and Alice is an extra special snowflake among special snowflakes. The only thing that saves Alice in Zombieland for me is that everyone can kick zombie butt and most of the characters are rather interesting, when they’re not trying to get into each other pants. So, the romance is clichéd, the zombie mythology interesting but a little convoluted, and there are a lot of awesome fight scenes. For me, Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter was a typical teen drama that was okay but not great. Other reviews bring me to believe you either loved this book or hated it. I fall somewhere in the middle.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: Croak by Gina Damico

CroakCroak by Gina Damico
Published March 20th 2012 by Graphia Books
Format: Paper
Length: 311 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Supernatural, Mystery
Reading Level: Age 12 & Up
Goodreads | Amazon

Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex’s parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape.

But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach Lex the family business.

She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can’t stop her desire for justice – or is it vengeance? – whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again.

Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?

I’m sorry I waited so long to read Croak by Gina Damico. So long in fact that the sequel, Scorch, came out last fall. (wince) Talk about dragging my feet! I have only myself and my horrible procrastination to blame. I adore grim reaper characters and the many ways different cultures portray them in myths and also modern popular culture. The character and mythos have moved beyond the grinning skull and long black robe and I find it fascinating when grim reaper or death dealer characters are revamped in today’s media. Croak by Gina Damico is one such novel that overhauls the grim reaper role and turns the protagonist into a relatable and interesting person.

The hardest thing when creating a grim reaper world is the details; the how and the why of the system of reaping souls. Damico creates a great world with Croak and the Grims, those people who fall between the cracks and end up providing an invaluable service to the living. The world of Croak and the mechanics of how the Grims go about reaping souls is wonderful. I mean, come on! There are jellyfish that sense death, black widow spiders that spin soul vessels, and Presidential Greeting Committees who greet the newly dead. What’s not to love? The Junior Grims are the perfect cast of characters and everyone in the town of Croak just adds to the richness of the setting.

I have one disappointment with Croak and that is the ‘bad guy’. For most of the story we don’t know enough details for the conflict to be anything more than a sense of something wrong in the grim world but once we know exactly what is going on I was rather hoping the ‘bad guy’ would surprise me. Going by the overused young adult plot pattern, the identity of the ‘bad guy’ is rather obvious but for a little bit there I was hoping the antagonist would be Lex’s twin, Cordy. Wouldn’t that make sense? Lex and Cordy are twins, what would the odds be that only one of them had grim reaper powers? I was hoping Cordy had somehow found out about the grim world and been manipulated into killing those people or decided to take matters into her own hands without the limitations of those in Croak. Alas, it was not to be and I feel Damico went the path of least resistance on that score.

Croak by Gina Damico was an excellent book with a fresh take on the grim reaper character. It reminds me of a TV show I used to watch all the time called Dead Like Me. I miss that TV show. Croak has the same mix of hilarity and weirdness that made me love that show. There is a bit of eye roll worthy teenage romance in Croak, mostly the fact that Driggs apparently fell in love with Lex through pictures her Uncle Mort had up around the house. I despair of the romance in young adult books, I really do. But Croak has enough creativity and originality that we can overlook that little hiccup.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

ravenboysThe Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Published September 18th 2012 by Scholastic Press
Length: 408
Genre: Paranormal, Young Adult, Romance
Reading Level: Pre-teen
ISBN 0545424925 (ISBN13: 9780545424929)
Goodreads | Amazon

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Maggie Stiefvater is a hot name right now after the book blogs exploded with glowing reviews of The Scorpio Races last year. It didn’t sound quite like my cup of tea but I couldn’t miss the announcement of her newest book, The Raven Boys. Now that was a book that sounded like I could enjoy it. When I realized that there were the four Aglionby boys, Blue, plus her whole wacky family and that all of them seemed to get a fair amount of page time I thought The Raven Boys might suffer from having too many characters. While I would have liked to see more of Blue and a bit more depth for her, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the number of characters. Instead, Stiefvater manages to somehow control what should have been an otherwise out of control story.

I have nicknamed this book ‘the novel where everyone needs therapy’. This is because the boys are all nuts. Blue is the only sane one and she’s part of a clairvoyant family of weirdo women, so that’s saying a lot. Ronan actually disturbs me and we never find out the details of his backstory, which is frustrating. He has the last line in the novel and it promises a new adventure and weirdness in the sequel that I can’t wait for. Adam’s pride is both understandable and his worst trait. I don’t understand why everyone is so sensitive to Gansey. He’s acting perfectly normal and I think both Adam and Blue are just trying to be insulted by what he says because they want to find fault in him. It makes Adam and Blue seem a little childish. Noah seems to be a cardboard cutout and unimportant until he suddenly is. The only disappointing character is the ‘villain’, Whelk. He’s nonexistent for most of the book and I would have liked to see his thought processes a bit more.

The plot is fascinating. The sleeping king legend, of which King Arthur is only the most well-known, is seen many times in history. I made a small study of ley lines when I was a teen and have actually tracked a line using dowsing rods before. I sucked at it, of course, but I can remember it felt like there was a lot of static electricity in the air and if I touched anything I might explode into a star. It was awesome and I find the strange occurrences the teens experienced along the ley line intriguing. It’s like if a person could only step a little sideways, a little out of frame, they might be able to find the same thing.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is a great offering from a fantastic author. I’ll have to give some of her other books a try to see if I love them just as much. Some readers might still be overwhelmed by the number of characters, it is a little hard to know where to focus sometimes, but The Raven Boys is an excellent book that blends reality and the fantastical into a story that grips the reader until the end. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out 5

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Book Review: Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

Girl of Nightmares bigGirl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
Published August 7th 2012 by Tor Teen
Length: 332 pages
Genre: Paranormal, fantasy, Romance, YA
Reading Level: Teen
ISBN 0765328666 (ISBN13: 9780765328663)
Goodreads | Amazon

It’s been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can’t move on.

His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they’re right, but in Cas’s eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.

Now he’s seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong…these aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake was my second favorite book in 2012. I always enjoy paranormal fiction books and Anna and Cas were excellent characters. I often don’t care for the love story in YA books but the unusual and creative pairing managed to avoid being annoying and other literary offenses that frustrate me. I was very excited to read the sequel Girl of Nightmares, even though I dropped the ball and it’s taken me months to get around to writing up the review. Bad blogger! Unfortunately, Girl of Nightmares doesn’t live up to the legacy of the excellent first book.

There is a phenomenon in YA books that I like to call “the sequel syndrome” or “the sequel slump”. (I like alliteration.) This is where the sequel to an awesome book turns out to be just meh. It’s a big letdown. Girl of Nightmares ended up suffering from sequel syndrome. The first half of the book was slow and frustrating to read. It’s basically the characters wondering what to do and I can’t stand that type of stagnate whining in books. Plot needs to keep moving forward to be interesting and that’s just not happening in the first half of the book. Things only pick up once they cross the pond and go to England to find Gideon.

Anna is almost nonexistent for most of the book. Why Blake would choose to write a sequel where the most popular character, the title character and the main driving force in the story, is barely present I don’t understand. The introduction of a new female character feels like the author is trying to fill a gap. This new character’s only saving grace is that she’s not overly irritating and Cas does not appear to be interested in her and continues to be focused on rescuing Anna. My favorite moment in Girl of Nightmares involves a character that I didn’t like very much in Anna Dressed in Blood; Carmel. I found Carmel to be a bit ridiculous and stereotypical in the first book but she does something very human and appropriate in the sequel; she has second thoughts. People aren’t able to handle the prolonged tension of being in constant danger (and seeking that danger out knowingly) and when Cas and Thomas continue to hunt ghosts, Carmel tries to separate herself from them, to return to being normal. Her actions feel very appropriate and real for her character.

I was hoping that Girl of Nightmares would continue the excellent writing I saw in Anna Dressed in Blood but the book fell short. Most of the book was uninteresting and slow and it’s only the last 1/3 that really has any action. The main opposition is that the adults won’t help the teens and I hate that Cas and Thomas are suddenly unable to do anything because the adults won’t help. They lost the competence I saw in them in Anna Dressed in Blood. The ending makes me want to throw things. It’s overly moralistic, saccharine, and tidy. It lacked the grit I saw in the first book and left me feeling unsatisfied.

Rating: 3 out 5

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Book Review: Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe

Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe
Published September 15th 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
Length: 241 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Ghosts, Romance
Reading Level: Pre-Teen & Up
ISBN 0805089306 (ISBN 13: 9780805089301)
Goodreads| Amazon

Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts over “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody…and Cass loves dirt. She’s on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass’s whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim’s life, she’s surprised to realize he’s not so bad—and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it’s time to give the living another chance…

Memories of high school, even 10 years removed, still have the power to make me want to hide in the corner and gibber. Hell is other people and teenagers are just the devil in disguise. I saw another book blog review Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe earlier this year and thought it would make an appropriate read for October and Halloween. There are no real spooks in this book and it’s more about people than the paranormal. Give Up the Ghost is a look at grief and how teens handle death. It’s also a looks at the society of children and high school. The careless cruelty of the teens in this book makes me nauseous.

I had a ‘friend’ in high school much like the character of Danielle. She was sweet as pie until you crossed her and then she was as sharp as a knife. This ‘friend’ was exhausting to be around and I was more than a little glad when college started and I could be rid of her and her drama. Her behavior forced more than one wedge between what had been a good group of friends. Give Up the Ghost shows us the effects of bullying and just how all-encompassing it can be. All it took was some spiteful words from Danielle and Cass’ whole life was upset, isolating her from her peers. We are shown death, grief, and just how unequipped teenagers are to handle it. The loss of his mother and the hope that she was somehow not really gone sent Tim spiraling down into destructive behavior. Finding out that Cass could talk to ghosts only made it worse for Tim, having a connection to his deceased mother but not really being able to reach her himself. Perhaps it would have been better if Tim had never learned of Cass’ abilities.

Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe is short and leaves several questions unanswered. We are never told why Tim’s mother decides to leave him and we never learn why Cass’ sister, Paige, has remained after her death or why she was the first spirit Cass could see and talk to. There are several little plot points left hanging and that’s a bit frustrating for readers. This is a simple story that deals with some hard topics. Death, grief, bullying, and thoughts and even, I’d go so far as to say, attempted suicide is dealt with. Cass’ abilities to see and speak with ghosts offers her one last chance to connect with another person, a person that is hurting just as much as she is. Give Up the Ghost feels unfinished. We are only presented with the limited information Cass has and that leaves several things a mystery. I enjoyed it but feel Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe could have been more complete.

(Also, Cass = Cassandra = I see what you did there, miss author.)

Rating: 3.5 out 5

Book Review: Silence by Michelle Sagara (+ Excerpt)

Silence by Michelle Sagara
Published May 1st 2012 by DAW
Length: 289 pages
Genre: Paranormal, YA, Ghosts, Paranormal Romance
Reading Level: Teen
ISBN 0756407427 (ISBN 13: 9780756407421)
Goodreads | Amazon

It began in the graveyard…

Ever since her boyfriend Nathan had died in a tragic accident, Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night.  During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that’s all it was.  For Emma, life had stopped with Nathan’s death.  But tonight was different.  Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery.  There were two others there—Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags.  And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death…

Emma was not quite like others teenagers. It was true that other girls had experienced grief.  Other girls had also lost their fathers, or had their boyfriends die in a senseless accident. But though she hadn’t known it till that night in the graveyard, unlike those other girls, she could see, touch, and speak with the dead.  In fact, Emma could draw upon the essence of the dead to work magic.  That was what Necromancers did. But Emma had no desire to be a Necromancer. She just wanted to help the ghosts who walked the streets of Toronto, unable to escape from the land of the living.  And that was just as well, because had she chosen the path of the Necromancer, Eric would have had to kill her.

Instead, Eric and his fellow Necromancer hunter Chase found themselves violating every rule they were sworn to follow, becoming part of Emma’s group, helping her to stand against those who preyed upon the dead.  But whether Emma and her friends could survive such a battle was anyone’s guess.  And whether Emma could learn to use the magic of the dead against her enemies without herself falling victim to the lure of such power remained to be seen.  Eric seemed to think she could, and her living friends would never abandon her.  But only time would tell what Emma’s true destiny was…

I was running through the suggestions on Goodreads for books to read in October and ran across Silence by Michelle Sagara. I have a love/hate relationship with paranormal romance. In that I love the paranormal but am not all that fond of the young adult romance pattern. In that it’s often annoying and follows a certain set of clichés that I am quickly becoming tired of. But Silence by Michelle Sagara surprised me. Her romance is a tad different and very refreshing. You see, Emma’s boyfriend is dead and while there is a boy presented as a potential love interest, Eric, Emma’s feeling don’t move that way because she is still morning her boyfriend. There is also the potential for a love triangle with the introduction of another boy, Chase, that fails to develop and makes me so glad. Silence is a YA story without the silly romance angle and it works so flawlessly.

Along with the refreshing take on romance, there is the paranormal angle of the story. Emma can see dead people, which is a common trait in paranormal stories, but on top of that Emma has set of powers beyond just seeing ghosts. She is a necromancer, able to do magic by using the strength of the souls of the dead. The complete mechanics of being a necromancer are not clearly spelled out in Silence. I’ve never seen necromancy used before and I’m looking forward to the sequel and hopefully having the magical system more explained. Emma is, of course, a very special cookie among special cookies. Other necromancers use their powers for evil but Emma seems to be the only one of her kind with empathy and wants nothing to do with her powers over the dead. Which is good, since Eric and Chase would have to kill her if she did. (Let’s pause and cringe over this cliché; because of course Emma is the only necromancer to ever have a good heart and nobody else would ever think using the power of souls for your own purposes would be bad. Cringe, wince. End rant.)

Eric and Chase belong to some sort of shadow organization that hunts the necromancers. Not a lot is known about them, something else that is not fully explained, but we do know that Eric is going against orders in not killing Emma and that Eric himself has a dark past. He has an involvement beyond just being a hunter. I’m just happy that Emma and Eric aren’t suddenly falling all over each other. Emma keeps her head and is much more focused than most teenaged character in YA books. I adore her because while I can accept a young character being inexperienced and naive, I cannot accept somebody being stupid. I often get stupid in YA books. I love the main characters and I’m pleased that there is an autistic character that is well portrayed and deeply involved in the story, not just a throwaway character. Amy annoys me but the “super popular and bossy without really knowing it” character always do. Silence has an exceptional set of characters. Everyone in this book has a secret they are not sharing, dead and living. Eric is somehow connected with the necromancer leader and even Emma’s deceased father knows something about why Emma has her powers that he’s not sharing.

I have to take a moment to talk about the cover. It’s your usual YA cover. There is a young woman in a fancy evening dress in a cemetery with a lantern that is the wrong color. The lantern in the book is described as blue with an orange light. The lantern on the cover is purple. I just thought that was funny. Silence by Michelle Sagara impressed me enough that I chose it as my giveaway book for October. It was a refreshing YA read that managed to miss my biggest pet peeve. I will definitely be reading the sequel, Touch.

Rating: 4.5 out 5

Excerpt from Silence by Michelle Sagara.

An old woman was watching her. An old woman. Emma was accustomed to thinking of half of her teachers as “old”, and probably a handful as “ancient” or “mummified.” Not a single one of them wore age the way this woman did. In fact, given the wreath of sagging wrinkles that was her skin, Emma wasn’t certain that she was a woman. Her cheeks were sunken, and her eyes were set so deep they might as well have just been sockets; her hair, what there was of it, was white tufts, too stringy to suggest down. She had no teeth, or seemed to have no teeth; hell, she didn’t have lips, either.

Emma couldn’t stop herself from taking a step back.

The old woman took a step forward.

She wore rags. Emma had heard that description before. She had even seen it in a movie or two. Neither experience prepared her for this. There wasn’t a single piece of cloth that was bigger than a napkin, although the assembly hung together in the vague shape of a dress. Or a bag. The orange light that the blue lantern emitted caught the edges of different colors, but they were muted, dead things. Like fallen leaves. Like corpses.

“Emma?”

Emma took another step back. “Eric, tell her to stop.” She tried to keep her voice even. She tried to keep it polite. It was hard. If the stranger’s slightly open, sunken mouth had uttered words, she would have been less terrifying. But, in silence, the old woman teetered across graves as if she’d just risen from one and counted it as nothing.

Emma backed up. The old woman kept coming. Everything moved slowly, everything – except for Emma’s breathing – was quiet. The quiet of a graveyard. Emma tried to speak, tried to ask the old woman what she wanted, but her throat was too dry, and all the came out was an alto squeak. She took another step and ran into a headstone; she felt the back of it, cold, against her thighs. Standing against a short, narrow wall, Emma threw her hands out in front of her.

The old woman pressed the lantern into those hands. Emma felt the sides of it collapse slightly as her hands gripped them, changing the shape of the brushstrokes and squiggles. It was cold against her palms. Cold like ice, cold like winter days when you inhaled and the air froze your nostrils.

She cried out in shock and opened her hands, but the lantern clung to her palms, and no amount of shaking would free them. She tried hard, but she couldn’t watch what she was doing because old, wrinkled claws shot out like cobras, sudden, skeletal, and gripped Emma’s cheeks and jaw, the way Emma’s hands now gripped the lantern.

Emma felt her face being pulled down, down toward the old woman’s, and she tried to pull back, tried to straighten her neck. But she couldn’t. All the old stories she’d heard in camp, or in her father’s lap, came to her then, and even though this woman clearly had no teeth, Emma thought of vampires.

But it wasn’t Emma’s neck that the old woman wanted, she pulled Emma’s whole face toward her, and then Emma felt – and smelled – unpleasant, endless breath, dry as dust but somehow rank as dead and rotting flesh, as the old woman opened her mouth. Emma shut her eyes as the face, its nested lines of wrinkles so like a fractal, drew closer and closer.

She felt lips, what might have been lips, press themselves against the thin membranes of her eyelids, and she whimpered. It wasn’t the sound she wanted to make; it was just the only sound she could. And then even that was gone as those same lips, with that same breath, pressed firmly and completely against Emma’s mouth.

Like a night kiss.

She tried to open her eyes, but the night was all black, and there was no moon, and it was so damn cold. And as she felt that cold overwhelm her, she thought it unfair that this would be her last kiss, this unwanted horror; that the memory of Nathans hands and Nathan’s lips were not the ones she would carry to the grave.

Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I love a good spook story. I’m not much into horror and gore, even in a book it just makes me nauseous. But I adore the paranormal genre and love ghost stories. That’s why I had to pick up Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Well, that and people have been raving about the book ever since it came out in the autumn last year. I can certainly see why! I really enjoyed this book and, for now, it is my favorite book of 2012.

Cas Lowood inherited an unusual vocation from his father: he kills the dead. Cas and his kitchen-witch mother travel the country with their spirit-sniffing cat to seek out those unruly ghosts and ghouls that trouble the living. When Cas travels to Thunder Bay, Ontario in search of a local legend said to kill any person who sets foot in the house she once lived in, he thinks it’s going to be a normal hunt. But when he ends up in the path of Anna Dressed in Blood without his mysterious and dangerous athame to protect him, Cas expects to end up dead himself. But Anna, for some reason, spares him. With his newfound friends, Cas will have to unravel the mystery of Anna Dressed in Blood and confront his past, including the death of his father.

Anna Dressed in Blood turned out to be everything people were gushing about in their reviews. It’s an awesome story and blew me away. On the surface it looks like a simple, really well-written ghost story but underneath that we have layers of events that turn this simple ghost story into something truly fantastic. I enjoyed all the characters, even the token defenseless but surprisingly necessary girl character. (Although, I have trouble taking people with ridiculous names seriously and with a name like Carmel, you might as well tattoo ‘hooker’ across her forehead because that was all I could think about when I read her name.) The characters all drive the story.

Anna Dressed in Blood has ghosts and witches and demons woven into a story about love and redemption. It’s complex and well thought-out. I was very surprised with how well the differing elements worked together in this book. The pacing is good and it never slows down. The book never drags and the reader is never bored. I enjoyed how aware Anna was, so unlike the other ghosts Cas had encountered. None of the characters annoy me and nobody suffers from ‘too stupid to live’ syndrome. It’s hard to write reviews for truly good books because I have nothing to nitpick and I’m trying not to sound like I want to marry this book and have its little book babies. (Which I sort of do.)

Anna Dressed in Blood is the best book I’ve read this year so far. Anybody looking for an exceptional paranormal story will love this book. Whenever I read a paranormal story, I always feel as if I’m reading something that is a little silly. I can’t quite believe in it. But with Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake the elements of the book are so well put together and everything just flows in a way that makes this a true treasure to read. The sequel, Girl of Nightmares, comes out on August 7th, 2012.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Published August 30th 2011 by Tor Teen
316 pages
First in a series

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