Book Review: Girl of Nightmares

girl of nightmaresGirl of Nightmares
by Kendare Blake
Young Adult / Horror
332 pages
Published 2012

This is the last of my spooky reads; it’s a little late because I had to get it through the statewide lending system instead of my county’s library, so it took a little longer to get to me. It’s the sequel to Anna Dressed In Blood, which I reviewed last week.

It is impossible to begin to discuss this book without a MAJOR SPOILER for the first book, so if you haven’t read Anna Dressed In Blood, and don’t want to be massively spoiled, STOP READING.

****SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK AHEAD****

(and minor spoilers for this one)

I normally hate to spoil earlier books in series, but you can’t talk about this book without knowing that Anna dies – again – sort of – at the end of the first book. In an act of self-sacrifice, she opens a door to hell and dives in. THIS book is about Cas mourning her and deciding to bring her back.

In the course of his quest to get Anna back, we learn about the origins of Cas’s dagger, what really happened to his father, and the mysterious cult behind it all. Like most cultists, they’re dicks.

There’s a lot in this book that could have been expanded on; some things were glossed over for ease of plot, I’m sure, but certain things at the end felt very anti-climactic. More time – ANY time – should have been spent with Cas’s father’s ghost, for instance. There was a lot of build up to it and then – nada. Basically I don’t like the ending of this book at ALL. It was good for most of it – and then I feel like it just fell apart and didn’t deliver on what it had been promising for the entire book.

These are the only two books I’ve read by Kendare Blake, but I have to wonder – does she make a habit of ripping her readers’ hearts out at the ends of her books? Or just this series? Because wow. Both of these books ended in very unexpected ways.

I guess, if you liked the first book, this is probably worthwhile for the history of the dagger alone, but be prepared for a disappointing ending. It’s strong right up until the last couple of chapters, it’s really too bad.

From the cover of Girl of Nightmares:

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, pining for her. 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.

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Book Review: Meddling Kids

meddling kidsMeddling Kids
by Edgar Cantero
Young Adult / Horror
322 pages
Published 2017

Happy Halloween! Today I’m reviewing the spookiest book I’ve read this month. Probably my scariest book since Into The Drowning Deep! I knew I was in trouble with this one when I was sitting up late, reading in the dark on my Kindle, and my cat reached out and touched my bare foot with her toe-pads, and I jumped so hard I almost fell off the couch! I decided at that point that this was clearly a daytime read, and further that I should not be alone in the house while reading! I’m a wimp when it comes to spooky reads, though, so I’m sure this would not be that scary for someone who regularly reads horror.

As it is a horror book, it should probably go without saying that there are some triggering issues discussed – the biggest of which is probably suicide, but there’s also an insane asylum, sexual assault, a fair bit of alcohol, some adventures in VERY tight cave spaces, and Cthulhu-esque horrors. I might be forgetting some, but that’s the main gist.

OH. Andy is a tomboy lesbian, and a good example of being cis but rejecting gender roles, but the villain is coded as trans. I thought it was well done, but a trans person may think otherwise. So that probably deserves a warning as well.

So in Meddling Kids, we have a version of the Scooby gang. In this take, the Blyton Summer Detective Club operated when they were – thirteen-ish. They solved several small mysteries, then got the absolute bejeezus scared out of them on their last case. They “solved” it – but they all think things were unresolved, and they were all haunted with nightmares, flashbacks, and other traumatic symptoms. So thirteen years later, Andy, the tomboy, decides to get the gang back together to go really find out what happened in Blyton Hills. The gang, sans Peter, who killed himself years ago, fairly readily agrees, and back to Blyton Hills they go.

There are so many twists and turns from here on that I can’t say much. The adults in Blyton Hills are surprisingly helpful, in a way that they never would be in real life. We do get a fair amount of “wow this isn’t nearly as large as I remembered it from when I was a kid” which is pretty realistic, and amusing.

The book is very funny. It captures the spirit of Scooby Doo almost exactly, just injected with an extra dose of spooky. Despite being creeped out, I enjoyed it immensely, and would highly recommend it as a spooky read!

From the cover of Meddling Kids:

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

Book Review: Anna Dressed In Blood

anna dressed in bloodAnna Dressed In Blood
by Kendare Blake
Young Adult / Horror
316 pages
Published 2011

Another spooky story for October! On first glance, this one is very similar to Rin Chupeco’s The Girl From The Well, but the plot is actually quite different. It’s still human boy, murderous ghost girl, but here the girl is bound to her house and forced to murder whoever comes inside. Unraveling the WHY is a major part of the plot.

I’d say this one is actually less creepy than The Girl From The Well, though one of the evil things Cas encounters is VERY creepy. Both of these were just about the right amount of spooky for me. I’m actually REALLY disappointed that the sequel is proving very difficult to get my hands on! I had to request it through Marina, my statewide lending program, so I’m not sure when it will arrive. But I NEEEEEEED to know what happens to Cas and Anna after this book ends!

I think I liked the relationship between boy and ghost better in Girl From The Well; you could clearly see the draw for the ghost, and the connection between them. Not so much here; Cas is trying to kill Anna, but then they become fascinated with each other for…some reason? Anna isn’t compelled to kill Cas, and that’s never explained, and seems to be her main source of fascination with the boy.

Another major difference is that while Tark in Girl From The Well is rather isolationist and creeps out his peers, Cas seems to attract his peers, and quickly finds friends wherever he goes. He’s typically used them as contacts in the past, not really valuing them as friends, but that changes with the events of this book, as he actually comes to know a couple of the kids at his new school and value their friendship. He even puts up with their jokes about being Ghostbusters and who would be which character, which is kind of hilarious.

Both stories are great; I’d say this one is slightly more light-hearted than Girl From The Well, but only slightly. There’s still lots of creepy ghosts, life-or-death situations, gory deaths of side characters, and curses. It’s another great spooky October book for scaredy-cats like me!

From the cover of Anna Dressed In Blood:

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story . . . .

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: he kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead – keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. 

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

Duology Review: The Girl From The Well / The Suffering

girl from the wellThe Girl From The Well
The Suffering
by Rin Chupeco
Young Adult / Horror
255 pages / 313 pages
Published 2014 / 2015

This duology claimed a spot in my Spooky October Reads because I ADORE this author’s later work, The Bone Witch trilogy. I’d heard great things about this set, and I’m so glad I finally read it. I don’t care for much horror, generally, and this was just the right amount of iffy morality and spooky ghost stuff.

The books are told from the viewpoint of Okiku, a 300-year-old ghost who drowned in a well but came back to take vengeance on her killer before continuing to hunt down killers of children. The other main characters are Tarquin, a half-Japanese boy with strange, unnerving tattoos, and his older cousin Callie. The mystery of who Tarquin’s mother really is, what happened when he was a toddler, and why she’s tried to kill him every time she’s seen him since, is at the heart of the first book. The pacing and reveals are expertly done, so I won’t say much more about the plot.

the sufferingOkiku is appropriately terrifying, and her backstory is equally tragic. We learn much more about what happened to her in the second half of the first book, and it’s fleshed out even further in the second book. The second book is largely Okiku and Tark having an adventure in Japan, and less about their individual histories. I think it was a great sequel, though, and definitely needed to finish Okiku and Tark’s story. It takes place almost entirely in Aokigahara, Japan’s “suicide forest.” The Suffering is also told from Tark’s point of view instead of Okiku’s, and definitely suffers for that.

Overall, the first book is better than the second, but the second is still good, and finishes the story. Terrifying ghosts, creepy dolls, ancient rituals, and secret societies abound in these two books, and they’re the perfect amount of spooky for a scaredy-cat like me. These definitely cement Rin Chupeco as a must-read author for me. She’s fantastic.

From the cover of The Girl From The Well:

The dead do not always rest . . . 

Okiku knows anger and pain. They are what she last felt before her life was brutally taken from her more than 300 years ago. Now a restless spirit, she wanders, seeking out those who viciously take the lives of children. Okiku always gets her vengeance. She has no remorse for the wicked.

Until she meets seventeen-year-old Tark . . . 

From the cover of The Suffering:

The darkness will find you.

Seventeen-year-old Tark knows what it is to be powerless. But Okiku changed that. A restless spirit who ended life as a victim and started death as an avenger, she’s groomed Tark to destroy the wicked. But when darkness pulls them deep into Aokigahara, known as Japan’s suicide forest, Okiku’s justice becomes blurred, and Tark is the one who will pay the price . . . 

Book Review: His Hideous Heart

his hideous heartHis Hideous Heart
Edited by Dahlia Adler
Young Adult / Retellings / Short Stories / Horror
468 pages
Published September 2019

The first of my spooky reads this month, His Hideous Heart is a collection of thirteen redone tales from Edgar Allan Poe. The timing for this review is perfect, because today is also the International Poe Festival here in Baltimore! I am heading down to the festival today, and should have photos to post tomorrow!

This book was incredibly well done – one of my favorite parts about it is the inclusion of the original versions of the eleven stories and two poems, in the second part of the book. A few of the tales chosen were ones I had never heard of – I’m much more familiar with Poe’s poetry than his prose. So having the originals to read made the experience much richer.

I think my favorite was the retelling of Annabel Lee, one of my favorite poems. Tessa Gratton turned it into a story of two young lesbians and called it Night-Tide, and it beautifully captures the yearning and loss from the poem. A Drop of Stolen Ink, inspired by The Purloined Letter, was another fantastic, futuristic piece. They are all fantastic pieces, though, who am I kidding? I think my least favorite was actually the one built from The Raven – it’s the original poem, but with most of it blacked out so the un-redacted words form a new poem. It’s novel, but just not as good as the rest, in my opinion.

Like much of young adult lit recently, the diversity was on point; The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay includes a trans character, and several of the tales star queer people. The viewpoint character in Happy Days, Sweetheart (The Tell-Tale Heart) is black and Mexican.

Overall, this is a beautifully done modern take on some of Poe’s best tales, and I definitely want to buy a copy for my own shelves. I actually need to re-buy a book of Poe’s tales – somehow, though my husband and I each had a copy when we married, somewhere through our moves we’ve lost both copies! I’ll have to keep an eye out today at the festival, though I think what I really want is one of Barnes & Noble’s pretty collector’s editions.

From the cover of His Hideous Heart:

Edgar Allan Poe may be 170 years beyond this world, but the themes of his terrifying works live on in modern fiction for young adults. And with this collection, a host of some of today’s most beloved authors come together to reimagine Poe’s most terrifying, thrilling tales in new and unexpected ways.

Whether Poe’s stories are already familiar or discovered here for the first time, readers will revel in the terrors and thrills of his classic tales and how they’ve been brought to life in thirteen utterly unforgettable ways.

Book Review: New Suns

new sunsNew Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color
Edited by Nisi Shawl
Short stories / Sci-Fi / Fantasy
279 pages
Published March 2019

This was quite the collection! I disagree with the cover description’s use of “unexpected brilliance” – I think that’s actually slightly insulting, and possibly racist. (Who wrote that line?!) I fully expected the brilliance I got, and was very pleased with it!

From the forward by Levar Burton, through stories by Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Indigenous authors, all the way to the Afterword from Nisi Shawl, this was an amazing, fascinating, mind-blowing book. Rebecca Roanhorse is probably the most well-known of the authors, thanks to Trail of Lightning, but Indrapramit Das wrote The Devourers, which I’ve heard about and have on my Kindle but have not yet read, and Steven Barnes is married to another author I’ve read, Tananarive Due. Silvia Moreno-Garcia wrote the recently released Gods of Jade and Shadow, which I picked up through Book of the Month in July but have again, not yet read. Library books keep taking priority over things I own!

Going through the biographies in the back of the book makes me want to add EVERYTHING to my TBR – with titles like The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, Will Do Magic For Small Change, and The Beast With Nine Billion Feet, how could I not?!

Back to the book itself, though! There are 17 stories in this book, ranging from 5 pages to 20-30 pages. I think my favorite was “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” by Jaymee Goh, about an Asian mermaid, but the one just before it, “Burn the Ships,” about indigenous South Americans fighting back with blood magic against Spaniards, was also amazing. (Written by Alberto Yáñez.) Really all of the stories are spell-binding, though. And the variety is VAST. From a story retelling The Emperor’s New Clothes, in three variations, to Earth becoming a tourist destination for galactics (aliens), to a story imagining what we would be like with computers in our heads to keep us from having destructive emotions, these are wildly imaginative and thought-provoking.

I love reading short story anthologies because they always introduce me to new authors I want to read more of, which this book unequivocally did. I also have more reason to read Gods of Jade and Shadow now!

This should be on the reading list of every spec fic fan. I’m going to leave you with the quote that begins the book and inspired the title, from one of the mothers of modern science fiction, Octavia Butler:

“There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.”

From the cover of New Suns:

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and cliches, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

Unexpected brilliance shines forth from every page.