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review 2018-11-03 23:18
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Anna Dressed in Blood - Kendare Blake

After Cas's father died, killed by one of the ghosts he hunted, Cas inherited his athame and began following in his footsteps. Although his mother knows what he does and does her best to help him with any protective magic she has at her disposal, Cas has never told her his ultimate goal: he wants to become skilled enough to find and kill his father's murderer.

The ghost known as Anna Dressed in Blood will be his final one before confronting the ghost that killed his father. She's powerful - if Cas can beat her, he should be able to handle anything. But Anna isn't like other ghosts Cas has gone up against, and there are things going on in Cas's new city that he is unprepared for.

I was flying through this book when I suddenly hit a reading slump. Nothing except audiobooks could even vaguely hold my attention, and I went several weeks before diving back into this. It's a shame, because it badly interrupted the story's flow. It would have been best if I could have read this in a few big chunks over the course of a week.

Although the book is written in first-person present tense, which generally irks me, I barely noticed it here. It helped that I liked Cas's "voice." He reminded me a bit of the Winchester brothers in the show Supernatural, and the dry humor fit as well. If you're a fan of that show, I'd definitely recommend giving this book a shot.

Cas was a loner by choice who, upon moving to Anna's town, soon found himself reluctantly saddled with a couple people he eventually came to consider friends: a slightly telepathic witch named Thomas and Carmel, one of the popular girls. I liked that they both turned out to be useful in the big climactic battle, in ways that made sense. I'm hoping that Carmel gets more of a chance to shine in the next book. I liked that she didn't fit into the usual "popular girl = awful person" stereotype, although I disliked the potential romance between Thomas and Carmel.

Carmel was a little interested in Cas, but Cas only had eyes for Anna. Since he was out of the picture, Thomas, who had a huge crush on Carmel, seemed like a possibility, except she didn't show the slightest bit of interest in him. There was a line in the book that said something to the effect that Carmel could either end up with Thomas or be a shallow stereotypical popular girl and go back to dating jocks. It bugged me, because not wanting to date Thomas wouldn't be shallow of her - it'd just mean that she wasn't interested in him that way. It's possible to be both a decent person and not be interested in dating the main character's unpopular friend.

I liked Anna and the budding romance between her and Cas, although I dreaded the other characters' very valid reactions once Cas's feelings became more obvious. Even if she hadn't killed someone in front of them, romance between a ghost and a ghost hunter didn't seem like a good idea. But Anna was a pretty awesome ghost, and I liked that Cas admired her strength rather than felt intimidated by it. I did snort a bit at Anna's collection of YA stereotypes. Not only was she the most powerful and unusual ghost Cas had ever met, she also had violet eyes.

Cas had a few moments of stupidity - proving the existence of ghosts and his ghost-hunting prowess by taking untrained newbies on a hunt for a ghost he hadn't even researched, for example - but for the most part he was an enjoyable character. I look forward to eventually reading Girl of Nightmares.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-10-31 12:36
A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel about what it means to be whole
House of Glass - Susan Fletcher

Thanks to NetGalley and to Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book. I was later contacted by Kimberley Nyamhondera suggesting I take part in the blog tour for the launch of the book, and as I knew the author I immediately agreed.

I had read and reviewed another one of Susan Fletcher’s books (Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew, you can read my review here) a couple of years ago and loved it. When I checked my review, to remind myself what I had thought about it in more detail, I realised I could use almost word by word the same title for my review, although the subject of the novel is quite different. “A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel.” Yes, this definitely applies to House of Glass as well. This time the story is set in the UK right before the breaking of the First World War, and in fact, there are rumours spreading about its likelihood already when the novel starts. It is a fascinating time, and the life of the protagonist, Clara Waterfield, is deeply affected by the historical period she has to live in, from her birth in very late Victorian times, to what would be a very changed world after the Great War, with the social upheaval, the rapid spread of industrialization, the changing role of women, and the all-too-brief peace.

Clara, who tells the story in the first person, is a great creation, who becomes dearer and dearer to us as we read the book. This is not a novel about a protagonist who is fully-formed, recognisable and unchanging, and runs across the pages from one action scene to the next hardly pausing to take a breather. Clara reflects upon her past (although she is very young, she has suffered greatly, but not lived much), her condition (she suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bones, and that meant that she was kept indoors and not exposed to the risks and dangers of the outside world, the London streets in her case throughout her childhood), her family, and life experiences or her lack of them. No matter what she looks like, her short stature, her difficulty walking, her limitations in physical activity, this is a determined woman, make no mistake. She has learned most of what she knows through books (non-fiction mostly, although she enjoyed the Indian tales her mother used to read her), she has experienced not only pain, but other kinds of loses, and there are secrets and mysteries surrounding her, but despite all that, she is all practical and logical when we meet her. Her lack of exposure to the real world makes her a fascinating narrator, one who looks at everything with the eyes of a new-born or an alien suddenly landed in our society, who might have theoretical knowledge but knows nothing of how things truly work, while her personality, determined and stubborn, and her enquiring nature make her perfect to probe into the mystery at the heart of Shadowbrook.

Readers might not find Clara particularly warm and engaging to begin with (despite the sympathy they might feel for her suffering, something she would hate), as she dispenses with the niceties of the period, is headstrong and can be seen as rude and unsympathetic. At some point, I wondered if there might have been more to her peculiar personality than the way she was brought up (she can be obsessive with the things she likes, as proven by her continuous visits to Kew Gardens once she discovers them, and her lack of understanding of social mores and her difficulty in reading people’s motivations and feelings seemed extreme), but she quickly adapts to the new environment, she thrives on change and challenges, she shows a great, if somewhat twisted, sense of humour at times, and she evolves and grows into her own self during the novel, so please, readers, stick with the book even if you don’t connect with her straightaway or find her weird and annoying at times.  It will be worth your while.

Her point of view might be peculiar, but Clara is a great observer of people and of the natural world. She loves her work and she is careful and meticulous, feeling an affinity for the exotic plants of the glass house, that, like her until recently, also have to live enclosed in an artificial environment for their own safety. That is partly what enhances their beauty and their rarity in our eyes. By contrast, Clara knows that she is seen as weird, lacking, less-able, and hates it. She is a deep thinker and reflects upon what she sees, other people’s behaviours, she imagines what others might be talking about, and dreams of her dead mother and soon also of the mystery behind the strange happenings at the house.

The novel has been described as gothic, and that is a very apt description, even though it is not always dark and claustrophobic. There are plenty of scenes that take place in the garden, in the fields, and in the open air, but we do have the required strange happenings, creaks and noises, scratches on doors, objects and flowers behaving in unpredictable fashion, previous owners of the house with a troublesome and tragic past, a mysterious current owner who hides something, violence, murder, and plenty of rumours. We have a priest who is conflicted by something, a loyal gardener who knows more than he says, a neighbouring farmer who has plenty of skeletons in his closet, and a housekeeper who can’t sleep and is terrified. But there is much more to the novel than the usual tropes we have come to expect and love in the genre. There is social commentary; there are issues of diversity and physical disability, discussions about religious belief and spirituality, and also about mental health, women’s rights, and the destructive nature of rumours and gossip, and some others that I won’t go into to avoid spoilers.

I don’t want to give anything away, and although the story moves at a steady and contemplative pace, this in no way makes it less gripping. If anything, the beauty of the language and the slow build up work in its favour, giving us a chance to get fully immersed in the mood and the atmosphere of the place.

I marked a lot of passages, and I don’t think any of them make it full justice, but I’ve decided to share some, nonetheless:

She’d also said that there was no human perfection; that if the flaw could not be seen physically, then the person carried it inside them, which made it far worse, and I’d believed this part, at least.

For my mother had never spoken well of the Church. Patrick had said nothing at all of it. And my own understanding had been that imperfect bodies were forms of godly punishment; that imperfect meant I was worth less somehow. I’d disliked this notion intensely. Also, I was not a spare rib.

I could not taste fruit from studying a sketch of it, cut in half. What use was only reading of acts and not doing them? Knowing the route of the Ganges was not the same as standing in it.

 

The ending… We find the solution to the mystery, (which I enjoyed, and at the time I wondered why the book did not finish at that point) but the novel does not end there, and we get to hear what happened in the aftermath of the story. And yes, although at first, I wasn’t sure that part was necessary, by the end of the book proper I was crying and felt as if I was leaving a close friend in Clara, one that I was convinced would go on to lead a happy life.

Another fantastic novel by Susan Fletcher, one I recommend to fans of gothic novels, of Daphne du  Maurier’s Rebecca and her other novels, of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, and of inspiringly gorgeous writing. I do not recommend it to readers who prefer an action-laden plot with little space for thought or reflexion, although why not check a sample of the book and see for yourselves? I must catch up on the rest of the author’s novels and I hope there will be many more to come.

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review 2018-10-30 17:51
Ghosts by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
Ghosts - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

With the way Book 1 ended, I had to jump right into Book 2. Set 10 years later, the book keeps us in suspense as to what ultimately happened to X from Book 1. While that question was in the back of my mind, I got caught up with Tin, who’s real name is Michael Everhart. He’s now a young man, considered a full experienced adult in this post-apocalyptic society. The Hive airship is still flying. Yet things haven’t been all rosy these past years. It’s been one emergency after another. Captain Leon Jordan handles some of these emergencies well and others not so much. As the pressure builds, he makes more and more mistakes.

Once again, the action keeps this book moving along at a swift clip. I worried over this character or that one and was on the edge of my seat for the entire book. Michael is a great character to follow. He’s become a Hell Diver (like his dad and like X).  I was glad to see that Layla was still a significant part of Michael’s life. I love that they work as a team and there’s no ridiculous chauvinistic chivalry from Michael and no fainting flower silliness from Layla. These two are a great hero duo.

There’s a canine companion, Miles, in this book which makes life bearable for a certain character. Yay! Of course, there were several times where I worried about the dog’s safety. No fears! The dog makes it through this book.

Captain Jordan is not a good person. I think he once was, but the constant pressure since he assumed control (after Cpt. Ash succumbed to cancer) has brought out the worst traits in the man. I think Katrina, who was once X’s lover, has tried her best to keep Jordan level-headed. I knew Jordan had gone to the dark side when he removed the ship’s historical artwork from the hallways. Bad move!

Hell Diver Magnolia is back in this book but early on I worried if she would make it through this book alive! Her accident acts as a catalyst for Michael and his Hell Divers to break some rules. She’s got some of the best lines in the book.

All told, this is a worthy sequel to Book 1. I found it just as enthralling. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: R. C. Bray continues to do this series justice. I liked his grown up voices for Tin (Michael) and Layla, who were kids in Book 1. He had the perfect voice for jerk captain Jordan as well. His female characters sounded feminine and each character had a unique voice. The pacing was perfect as well. 5/5 stars.

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review 2018-10-27 18:25
Since I'm not reading for spirituality's sake
The Divine Comedy - Eugenio Montale,Sandro Botticelli,Peter Armour,Dante Alighieri,Allen Mandelbaum

Done! *cheers* (and an abrupt end it was)

 

I confess I started to loose my enthusiasm by Purgatory, and Paradiso veritably dragged for me.

 

Inferno is indeed the most interesting, likely because it concentrates more on describing the poetic (and in many cases gruesome) justice inflicted there.

 

Purgatory gets a bit wishy washy because we are even more deluged with contemporary examples, which was exhausting from a "pausing to research WTF" whenever I needed context to understand the grade, and felt like self indulgent page bloating when I didn't. And then we get to Eden, pretty cavalcade of symbolism lead by the still much discussed mystery that is Matilda, and meet Beatriz. Ahhhh, the lady herself, that symbolizes theology. Maybe it is no wonder I found her supercilious and overly jealous.

 

I have to praise Dante's balls: first he aligns himself equal among Homer, Ovid and Virgil in that Limbo chat, and here he places his lady love highly enthroned in the Empireum, representing the Dogma by which he knows God.

 

If I could leave Paradiso just taking away that love has been his salvation and his way to heaven, we'd be good. But no, he had to insist on hammering until rigid conformity to scripture was reached. Thorough what felt like endless proselytizing (hey, I know it is my fault, because what was I expecting, right?) and pointing fingers of doom everywhere (the amount of eggs thrown the church's way! And his political enemies... you bet this got him the exile prophesied to him here).

 

Also, even considering some pretty descriptions, the spheres felt lame and boring reward (and here I'm reminded of Huxley calling happiness undramatic and boring, and Le Guin criticizing those that think "Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting"). Where is the imaginative poetic justice of the first third? Methinks Dante got too tangled in the discussion of virtues and splitting hairs on their display levels. So yeah, I get the whole "watching god and feeling his light is rapture beyond comprehension", I'm still contending that the theological got in the way of the literary, and there goes one star. Sue me.

 

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review 2018-10-23 21:44
Lend (Flyte) by Angie Sage
Lend (Septimus Heap #2) - Angie Sage,Merlin Laansoo

I really like this series. Yes, it's predictable but in a good way. The cover and illustrations are gorgeous and there is a map. The story is well written, characters likeable and the world interesting. 
Great fantasy book for children.

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