City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

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(Image from goodreads.com)


Publish Date: August 28, 2018

Summary (from goodreads.com): Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

Review: This is exactly the kind of book I would have loved to read as a kid. International travel, ghosts both friendly and malignant, and a snarky best friend make it the kind of story that is both familiar and foreign, comforting and unsettling. For anyone already in love with Scotland–as Schwab clearly is–the descriptions of Edinburgh and its lore are like delicious, creepy candy. And those who are new to the area–like Cass–will be enchanted and intrigued by the vivid descriptions and centuries of history that not only provide an immersive setting for the novel but also weave inextricably throughout its plot and characterization.

This is an eerie–even scary–story, depending on the reader’s tolerance for the genre, but it is much more about humanity than horror. The main character, Cassidy, has been dead before, but she doesn’t take death lightly. Her best friend, Jacob, is still dead, but would risk his life for her if necessary. Cassidy’s parents are as loving as they are eccentric, and even new acquaintances thread their way into the network of support that gets her through tough times.

As the first book in a series, City of Ghosts takes some time to set the stage, so to speak. Schwab has invented a unique, truly creepy kind of in-between world where those with unfinished business get caught reliving their own death in a never-ending cycle. The first few chapters are dedicated to the setup for this world, as well as the backstory explaining Cassidy’s special ability to enter it. It isn’t until about sixty pages in that we actually arrive at the titular Edinburgh. Though all of this exposition is incredibly well-done and enjoyable to read, it pushes the arc of the story back a little bit. I don’t know how many books will be in the completed series (hopefully a lot!), but I imagine that now that the world has been built, the rest of the books will move more quickly from the start.

Schwab has set up a charming concept for her series–a girl who can actually see ghosts traveling around the world with itinerant ghost-hunting parents who can only dream of having her ability–and she follows through with a first adventure that is both haunting and heartwarming. Middle grade readers will love the smart but goofy characters and the creepy locations, and they will eagerly await the sequel as questions surrounding Cassidy’s ability and what it will mean for her friendship with Jacob are only beginning to surface. City of Ghosts introduces an intriguing story and likeable characters, both of which only become more eerie and enigmatic as the book progresses, leaving the reader with chills up their spine and eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Favorite Line: Favorite Line to come after publish date.

Rating: 4/5

Mission End The Slump

Ugh same. Realized I was trying to read books I just didn’t like. Time to get th joy back!

She Who Reads

My mission if I choose to accept it is to start and finish the following four books:

  1. Four Dead Queens By Astrid Scholte (pg. 170)
  2. The Return By Jennifer L Armentrout
  3. BloodLines By Richelle Mead
  4. Queen of Shadows By Sarah J Maas

I’m giving myself two weeks to finish all four books. I choose to reread The Return, Bloodlines, and Queen of Shadows because they are apart of three series that I love.  With everything that has been going on in my life, one of the many things that makes me happy I have been able to read or blog and I miss it. So wish me luck on this and let’s hope I find my rhythm with reading again.

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Parasite Life by Victoria Dalpe

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(Image from goodreads.com)


Summary (from goodreads.com): Jane lives alone in a strange old house with her invalid mother who has been catatonic for years, afflicted by a strange wasting disease. But the friendship of a new girl in town, Sabrina, will push Jane to unearth the mysteries of her mother’s past and the dark history of her missing father, forcing her to face a monstrous lineage and the cost of her dark life.

 

Full disclosure: horror is not my genre. In fact, I haven’t read much in that line since my high school days of Frankenstein, Dracula, and Edgar Allan Poe. When it comes to movies, I don’t usually sit through anything gorier than Scream and its sequels. Anyone who knows me would laugh in my face if I claimed that I didn’t get pretty squeamish at several times while reading Parasite Life, and I can’t say how it stacks up within the genre with regard to the “ick” factor. I can say, however, that as a story of self-discovery, of family, and of independence, this book presents some very real and well-developed issues that ring true with all readers, whether they are horror junkies or not.

As a fan of young adult fiction, I value works that transport the reader to a different place while showing them something important about the real world, too. Ms. Dalpe has done this by drawing a dark, mysterious, and gruesome tale about monsters that makes us question the monster inside each of us. She provides a heroine who may also be the villain, a teenager approaching adulthood who realizes she never had a childhood, and an innocent, lonely girl who must learn more quickly than most the joys and pitfalls of human relationships.

Dalpe’s writing is straightforward and honest, yet couched in the classic darkness of Poe and Shelley. Her use of setting provides a realistic, recognizable background to the story while her prose uncovers the sinister and the unknown in our ordinary world. The structure of the narrative, which interrupts the first person point of view with a Frankenstein-esque epistolary second act, is effective in revealing the dark secrets of Jane’s past at a tantalizing yet curiosity-inducing pace. However, the journal section lasts longer than I expected, and there was a point where I had to stop myself from flipping forward to see how much was left before it switched back to Jane’s perspective. By the end of the journal, though, I was devouring the words, eager and horrified to learn what happened next.  

My favorite thing about Parasite Life is that, even though on the surface it is about the solitary life of a monster, it deeply explores the convoluted nature of human relationships. It points out the selfish aspects of love that can be hard to face, and it prompts the reader to examine their own motives when interacting with others. Family, dating, love, sex, and so many other kinds of relationships are complicated and confusing, and this novel takes them seriously and encourages readers to do so, too.     

Favorite Line: “I hadn’t been very good at being a person, but maybe I was good at being a monster.”

Rating: 4/5

Windwitch by Susan Dennard

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Summary (from goodreads.com): After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

SPOILERS FOR TRUTHWITCH ONLY
Having only finished the first book in this series, Truthwitch, a couple of weeks ago, I started this second installment already fully invested in the characters. At the end of Truthwitch, all of its leading players have found themselves split up, and Windwitch sends them out on their own personal journeys, whether they be to seek revenge, escape the law, or find that which has been lost. In the first book, we were introduced to characters bound to each other by lifelong relationships, but now they have been split up and forced to ally with strangers at best and enemies at worst. Now, three pairs of “odd couples” roam the Witchlands, unsure of whom they can trust and whom they should fear.

The great thing about a second book in a series is that a lot of the groundwork has already been laid. We’ve already gotten to know the landscape, the politics, and a lot of the characters. In the case of the Witchlands series, we know a good bit about how the magic works and what the legends of this place are. Still, Dennard continues to build her world in Windwitch, adding depth and history, along with a growing sense of awe at just how far-reaching and dangerous the magic of the Witchlands may really be.

Besides delving into the mythology and cultural heritage of the Witchlands world, Dennard also takes the time to reveal new layers of complexity in her characters. The stars of Truthwitch are now tested until they begin to question everything they think they know, even about themselves. Previously minor characters step forward, challenging the reader to consider how exactly someone becomes an enemy and who decides which of us are the “good guys.” Adding to an already racially, ethnically, and culturally varied cast, Dennard introduces in Windwitch even more relatable characters, not as stock “diversity” quota fillers, but as well-developed, complicated humans with stories that cannot be read in a single glance.

To really describe all the things I loved about Windwitch would be to give too much away. So please, read this beautiful thing for yourself, and then hit me up on any of the platforms below so we can really get into the details of what makes it shine.

Favorite Line: “No more tiptoeing around a room because women oughtn’t to run. To shout. To rule.”

Rating: 5/5

The Graces by Laure Eve

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(Photo from goodreads.com)



Summary (from goodreads.com):
Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and apparent ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? And are they more dangerous than they let on?

 

Ephemeral and mysterious–just like magic–The Graces fuels that simultaneously exciting and nauseating feeling that we can never fully understand our own world. The story’s landscape, dotted with ancient standing stones and beat upon by a relentless and violent sea, is especially effective in casting doubt as to humanity’s place in nature and in history. Meanwhile, the protagonist looks for a sense of belonging on a smaller scale, struggling with more immediate problems such as social isolation and self-confidence. For River, the Graces represent a chance to discover the secrets not only of magic, but of her own self-worth, and the intricacy with which these concepts are tied into her identity elevates Eve’s novel from “interesting” to “important.” In this article, Eve discusses the function of witchcraft as feminine power, a prevalent theme in The Graces. River’s growth from observer to reactor to agent is shrouded under the guise of the power conferred on her by magic, but in reality it is the development of self-awareness and the recognition of her own individuality that gives her real power–along with the ability to control it.

I will grant that this book has quite a long build-up. In my opinion, though, the payoff is well worth the wait. And Eve uses the time well, creating a mystique around the titular family while ramping up a sense of unease with regard to the narrator. River’s caginess in revealing details about herself (she won’t even tell the reader her birth name) is amplified by the tension between her and the surrounding characters, until the reader begins to doubt her reliability. And in my mind, a subversive narrator is one of the best kinds.

Finally, I cannot close without praising Ms. Eve’s writing style. Her prose is straightforward and grounded–except when it isn’t. Glimmers of poetic, ethereal language elicit the thrill of incantation, weaving magic over the reader in subtle moments that catch us by surprise. The mixture of realism and otherworldliness is confusing and tantalizing, and it draws the reader–you guessed it–under its spell.

Favorite Line: “Inside, buried deep down where no one could see it, was the core of me, burning endlessly, coal black and coal bright.”

Rating: 5/5

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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Summary (from goodreads.com): This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.
The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.
That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Let me start by listing the things I loved about this book:

  • Political intrigue
  • Class struggle
  • Rebellion (the life-and-death kind, not the staying-out-past-curfew kind)
  • SUPERPOWERS
  • Military strategy
  • Crazy fashions
  • Bitch-Queen/Mother-in-law
  • Oedipus complex
  • Am I the only one who saw bits of Hamlet?
  • Arena fighting (magic gladiators?)
  • There’s so much more, but I’m trying not to be too spoilery!

Okay, now the characters. Mare is a great protagonist. She’s snarky, but in a self-deprecating way. She’s resilient, creative, stubborn, and like most people, she has a strong sense of right and wrong, which she has to tweak as she learns more about the world. She loves her family, but her relationship with them isn’t perfect. Also—and this might just be me—whenever she uses her ability, I picture her as the Emperor from Return of the Jedi (but, you know, not old and creepy). The supporting characters are just as intriguing and three-dimensional, each with their own complexities and motivations. The love interests all have their pros and cons, and while Mare is subject to the same cocktail of hormones and emotions as any other teenage girl, she does her best to make logical, objective decisions. I also appreciate that her romantic situation is more of a complication than a main plot point, but of course we’ll see how that develops throughout the subsequent books in the series.

Besides the characters, another of my favorite things about Red Queen is that there are so many wonderfully visual aspects to it. The red blood versus silver blood thing, obviously; the vivid colors of the noble houses; the violent and fantastical fight scenes; the variety of settings—metropolis, slums, the Stilts, the river, forests, gardens, etc.; the way the building structures literally shift like Transformer pieces; the sparkling glass and the shining metal armor. I can’t wait to see this adapted into a movie (which I understand is in the works), but it does bring up the question of casting. While reading Red Queen, I didn’t notice very much emphasis on skin tone other than the difference between the pallor of the Silvers and the flush of the Reds. (I will admit that one of my weaknesses as a reader is my limited ability to fully visualize characters in my head.) Upon further review, I found that two so far minor characters, Ara “the Panther” Iral and her granddaughter Sonya, are specifically described as having a “coffee-colored” complexion (pg. 123, paperback edition). However, Aveyard has discussed the racial landscape of the Red Queen world, and it seems that racial diversity is both prevalent and, in this future, a nonissue:

“Being set so far in the future, particularly a future where the divisions of race aren’t really a social construct anymore, it would be almost impossible to realistically have an all-white cast.”

Of course, the big division is between blood color, so we still get a struggle reflective of current issues in society while allowing for representation of many and diverse people of color. I think this would be great to see played out on the big screen, and I hope the film’s creators will take great care with it. I also look forward to further explicit representation of POC in Glass Sword and beyond, as I understand is the case.

Overall, this book was delightful, exciting, and thoughtful. Reminiscent of The Hunger Games in its political scope, Red Queen thrusts readers straight into the middle of the ruling class and asks us whose life is worth risking in order to fight its oppression. It also begs the question of what crosses the line from political protest to terrorism, another highly relevant issue in the world today. I am excited to read the follow-up books and to meet Victoria Aveyard in Charleston this November.

Favorite line: “This world is Silver, but it is also gray. There is no black-and-white.”

Rating: 5/5


Victoria Aveyard quote from victoriaaveyard.com

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

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Summary (from goodreads.com): In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the “monster,” the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or “crank.”

I am going to start by saying: this wasn’t as hard to get through as I thought it would be. I have a friend who is a big fan of Ellen Hopkins, and she warned me that none of the books in this series could exactly be called “happy.” I actually ended up finishing it in a single day–partly because I was on a deadline for school, and partly because each poem had me eager to read the next one. This is only the second novel in verse that I have read (the first was Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson), but I think it was really well done. I do have a lot of experience in reading poetry (I was an English lit major in undergrad), and I found Hopkins’s writing to be artful without sacrificing directness. She uses metaphor and other figurative language to enhance the experience of the reader, but she doesn’t hide behind these techniques to avoid brutal truths.

Hopkins also uses structure to great effect. One of my favorite things about this book is that the “title” of each poem is also usually the opening line. This basically prevents the reader from simply skimming over the titles while also helping to maintain the flow of the overall book. Hopkins also toys with the arrangement of the stanzas and lines on the page, allowing her words to convey multiple meanings simultaneously. I will say that the compact size of the book means that some of the poems are interrupted in inopportune places. This is especially unfortunate when the “shape” of the poem is relevant to its message. The reader has to sort of “cut and paste” it back together in their head in order to visualize the completed form.

With regard to characterization, I though the duality of Kristina/Bree was a very interesting approach. I have to admit that she (Hopkins or the protagonist, however you want to look at it) got me with the fifth poem (“More on Bree”). I was halfway to my psychoanalysis when she shut me right up. Bree, who is Kristina’s expression of her wilder side, did seem a bit extreme to me, but I suppose that is because my own wild side has never involved anything more exciting than that time I smoked cigarettes for like a week. So I had a little trouble relating to Bree, but I think everyone can understand that itch to let go of your inhibitions. I also deeply respect Hopkins’s portrayal of addiction and the domino effect it can have. She made me see Kristina as a very sympathetic character even while I thanked my stars that I have never found myself in her position.

Finally, although I really liked the direction Hopkins took the conclusion of the novel, it felt quite rushed to me. I would have liked to see at least one detailed instance of Kristina’s relapses so that the ending didn’t feel so much like an abrupt shift to a wrap-up montage.

Favorite line: “I could always say ‘no.’ / Couldn’t I?”

Rating: 4.5/5