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review 2018-09-24 20:17
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys - Jay Kristoff,Carrie Ryan,McCormick Templeton,Stefan Bachmann,Cat Winters,April Genevieve Tucholke,A.G. Howard,Megan Shepherd,Leigh Bardugo,Kendare Blake,Marie Lu,Nova Ren Suma,Kami Garcia

A host of the sharpest young adult authors come together in this collection of terrifying tales and psychological thrillers. Each story draws from a mix of literature, film, television, or even music to offer something new and fresh and unsettling. Even better? After you’ve teased out each tale’s references, satisfy your curiosity at the end, where the inspiration is revealed. There are no superficial scares here. These are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror, to the supernatural, to unnerving, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for anyone looking for an absolute thrill.


I read this book to fill the Slasher square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I found this to be a strong collection of YA short fiction. Particular favourites of mine were The birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma and The dark, scary parts and all by Danielle Paige.

It was interesting to read at the end of each story which works of fiction or film had provided inspiration for the author. Despite reaching to the past for inspiration, the stories were very up-to-date in theme, including several where young women are reaching out from the grave to correct the wrongs of patriarchal society.

Although I’m usually a bit leery of horror fiction, I found all of these stories quite engaging. A most pleasurable way to fulfill my Halloween commitment.

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review 2018-09-24 19:22
Only Really Liked Four Stories (ETA: Meant Four!)
Toil & Trouble: 16 Tales of Women & Witchcraft - Tehlor Kay Mejia,Tristina Wright,Emery Lord,Andrea Cremer,Tess Sharpe,Jessica Spotswood,Brandy Colbert,Robin Talley,Anna-Marie McLemore,Zoraida Córdova,Brenna Yovanoff,Nova Ren Suma,Shveta Thakrar,Kate Hart,Lindsay Smith

Please note that I received this book via NetGalley. This did not affect my review or rating. 


Instead of doing a review of all of the stories (15 of them) I am only going to review the four that I really enjoyed and gave 5 stars to. Everything else was a case of me going what did I just read, or feeling as if the story in question had too many holes or was incomplete in some way. All together I gave a collection a solid three stars. That is usually the way with anthologies unless the majority of the stories area  home run. 


Here is a list of the stories in this collection:


Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia 


Afterbirth by Andrea Cremer


The Heart in Her Hands by Tess Sharpe


Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith


The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert


The Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thakrar


The Legend of Stone Mary by Robin Talley


The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma


Divine Are the Stars by Zoraida Córdova 


Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff


 The Well Witch by Kate Hart


Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood


Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore


The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord


 The Only Way Back by Tristina Wright


Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May

My four favorites are:

Afterbirth by Andrea Cremer. This takes place in the 1600s in New England. An apprentice to a midwife is witnessed to a strange birth with a lot of details leaking out that this birth was not a result of the woman in question having sex with the devil, but more like with the master of the house. This is a great callback to the Salem Witch trials and since I just read a book about Salem, this story was uppermost in my mind while reading it. 


The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert. Ugh. I wanted more. I was so ready to slap the dude in this story. So we have a story about a family of witches who are African American. The main character, is dealing with a lot of guilt we find because she believes (and is probably right) she threw a hex on a former friend who was bullying the love interest in this story. We also have her dealing with the fact that the boy in question is in love with someone else. When someone needs healing, he comes to her and asks for her help. 


The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord. Touches not only upon magic, but about mental and physical abuse. Reading about this family who love each other and won't let one of the daughters/sister disappear with a man that they know can and will hurt her. It was lovely. 


Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May. You will cry. You will rage. This is a great short story that feels like it was written in response to the Women's March as well as kind of companion to "A Handmaid's Tale". Considering what is in the news cycle right now you will think that Elizabeth May has a damn crystal ball. Going into why men would want to lock these teen girls up and not allow them to live is soul shaking. That all of the girls are punished for using their real names and then whisper them to each other at night. 


“Here’s how to fulfill a prophecy: you are a woman, you speak the truth, and the world makes you into a liar.”

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review 2018-09-23 02:44
The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
The Solace of Water - Elizabeth Byler Younts

After leaving her son’s grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband’s hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start. Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways. Delilah’s eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother’s pain, never allowed for a moment to forget she is responsible for her brother’s death. When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma’s house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation. But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions. Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness. Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, and custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.







POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topic of self harm.



After the death of their young son, Carver, African American couple Delilah Evans and her preacher husband, Malachi, decide to move the family from Montgomery, Alabama back to the small town community of Sinking Creek, PA near where Malachi grew up. Malachi gets to work settling in as the new preacher of a local church in the area, but he finds resistance in his congregation. When he sits down with a family member for perspective on the problem, it's explained to him that he's simply been gone from the community too long and people need their trust with him restored. 


Delilah blames Carver's death on her daughter, Sparrow, who was supposed to be watching Carver when tragedy struck. Right from the beginning of the story, it's obvious that Delilah takes out her grieving on Sparrow in cruel ways. Struggling with feelings of guilt and abandonment by her mother, Sparrow, over the course of the novel, turns to self harm to alleviate her inner pain, turning to things such as stinging nettles, glass, even a clothes wringer to leave marks on her physical body as a way to let off steam from inner turmoil. Sparrow comes to find comfort in the presence of Emma, a local Amish woman who knows a thing or two about loss herself.


She had this warm milk sort of way about her. A body just couldn't walk away from somebody like that. You just want to drink it in 'cause you don't know if you ever gonna meet anyone like that again.

>> Sparrow, on getting to know Emma



But once the interactions come to the attention of Delilah, both she and Malachi warn Sparrow that she should probably keep her distance. This novel is set in the racially tense times of the 1950s and interracial friendships (and relationships otherwise) play a big part in the novel's dramatic moments. Emma hears similar warnings from her Amish neighbors and even her husband, a head deacon within the Amish community. It doesn't concern them so much that their new neighbors are black, but simply that they are "Englishers", or non-Amish. In their own ways, both the African-American and Amish communities push on these characters the damaging idea that "we'll all do a lot better if we just stick to our own kind." But as we the readers know, the world doesn't really work like that. We either cultivate love, kindness and appreciation for a multi-cultural world, or our lives face potential implosion, just as the characters in The Solace of Water learn for themselves.


"Since when do you know them?" John asked (after he discovers Emma knows the Evans family)


"I met them when they moved in. They're a nice family."


"The bishop said to leave them all alone because there always seems to be trouble between them and the white Englishers. We aren't like either of them and need to keep to ourselves."


Within Emma, we see a vessel for change. She has a poet's soul, full of curiosity in the stories of others, a love of words and a desire for knowledge. But she struggles against the darker corners of her life that threaten to tamp out her light. Her husband's secret struggle with alcoholism, his dislike of her "fancy lines" (her habit of crafting her own bits of poetry) that he sees as a form of vanity, quite the sin in Amish culture. Emma is weighted down with heavy guilt from being an enabler for her husband's drinking. She knows it's not only wrong but dangerous as well. It's not addressed directly, but parts of Emma's story suggest that perhaps John turned to drinking as a way to cope with crippling social anxiety, but over the years his bouts of aggression seem to have escalated along with the amount of alcohol he needs to consume to feel able to function. 


Emma's teenage son, Johnny, has had years of spoiling from his father and is progressively drawing more and more toward English ways -- drinking, late night carousing, sneaking pornographic magazines, even befriending an out-and-out racist! What changes Johnny is the first sight of Sparrow, whom he describes as the prettiest, most interesting and different girl he's ever met. You can imagine the firestorm that develops for a man who simultaneously maintains a friendship with a racist AND secretly tries to court a black teenage girl!


**Sidenote: I wasn't all that impressed with Johnny as a character. I couldn't help but feel that he saw Sparrow as something exotic and interesting in his Amish life rather than someone he honestly wanted to have a deep loving friendship with... even if he does talk about running away together (I think that was more about "young man caught up in the moment" than anything) and tells his mother that "Sparrow taught me things I never knew before"... What? WHEN? Their interaction throughout the whole book added up to only a handful of rushed conversations in secret! I just didn't buy that his feelings ran as deep as he claimed.**


The novel is presented in alternating POVs, rotating between Delilah, daughter Sparrow, and Amish neighbor Emma. To date, the novel seems to have gotten solid 4-5 star ratings across the board but I just did not have the same reaction as so many others. To be honest, I actually struggled to get to the end of this book. I DID finish it but for a book this size (under 400 pages), it took me WEEKS to get there. Highly unusual for me, especially for a historical fiction novel -- one of my favorite genres! The pace felt molasses-slow... which is sometimes nice in a novel if the writer brings the right tone... but when you combine slow with a deeply depressing plot for most of the novel... that alone left me exhausted enough.


But then add in Delilah as a character. That woman had a personality that just came off as almost straight vinegar. Yes, it is explained later (through her conversations with Malachi and later, Emma) that much of her acidic demeanor is driven by a combination of fear and grieving, even fear that letting go of the grieving will somehow dishonor the memory of Carver. Full disclosure: I do not have children, have never personally experienced the loss of my own child. BUT, in my own circle of family and friends, there are a number of women who have had that experience in one form or another, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or tragedy. With that, I can say that none of the women in my circle have ever come anywhere near the unpleasantness of Delilah. They've known the sadness for sure, but they went on to live the best lives they could, full of love and appreciation for the people they still had around them. Delilah was just EXHAUSTING in the way she never gave anyone or anything a chance, she just assumed everything was more misery in disguise ... at least for a large part of the story.


So what kept me reading? Well, this is one of those stories that does have its important, moving moments, even if they are few and far between for some readers. But as I said, I stuck with it, and the plot's pace FINALLY picked up for me around the 250 page mark. But remember, the entire book is less than 400 pages. That's a long wait to a payoff. But readers who choose to stay with it do witness revelatory conversations, where women ask the important questions such as "Is that what you want --- to be separate?" and we come to realize that though the details and the POVs may differ, one commonality bonds these women together: they are all desperate for unconditional love and affectionate touch, something to remind them they are still important to others... yet their actions show just how scared all of them are to voice that need.


Aaron believed his arrival was a surprise, but I knew better. John's forgetfulness was getting worse the more he drank. His gentleness toward me was diminishing like dampness whisked away in a May breeze. And anytime he was gentle, I was filled with my own regrets and in my guilt I pushed him away. 

>> Emma


Good concepts for a novel, the problem for me mainly fell on the characters not having enough dimension for me to have much emotional investment in them.



FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 



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review 2018-09-17 15:22
Good YA Ghost Story
Anna Dressed in Blood - Kendare Blake

Honestly not a lot to say besides I enjoyed this one a lot. It was a nice break from the doom and gloom of Stephen King. This book reminds me of a hybrid of "Supernatural" with a little "Charmed" mixed in for good measure. 

"Anna Dressed in Blood" follows teen Cas who has the ability to sense ghosts and also send them away if he manages to kill them (how do you kill something already dead?) with his father's enchanted athame. Ca's father was also a ghost hunter until he met a tragic end. Cas's sole mission is to get strong enough to go back one day and put to end the ghost that killed his father. When he and his mother are on the move again for him to track down and put down another ghost, Cas starts to realize that this trip is different. 


Cas reminds me a bit of Dean and Sam from Supernatural. Cas would be the perfect hybrid of these two characters. Cas apparently is good at research, but can also protect himself when going up against ghosts. One wonders though after what is revealed in the end, was that all him though or something else?


Due to the nomadic life he has lived, Cas hasn't really thought about friends or girls. However, after coming to Thunder Bay, Ontario, he starts to develop friendships with Thomas and Carmel. Thomas has some telepathic ability and Carmel is the queen bee of the school. You don't see these friendships coming, but Blake does a good job of fleshing out this threesome. You have Cas's mom who is hoping for something more with Carmel and Thomas who is hoping for something more. I kind of wanted Carmel to pop up and say I am good and keep on keeping on. That was the only part of the book I didn't care for, Carmel was not a prize to be won by Thomas or Cas. Thank God though there is no dumb love triangle in this book. Cas sees Carmel as a really cool and strong friend and I was delighted with that. 


We get some other characters who get a bad end. We do have some gruesome scenes here and there, but nothing too scary. We do find out eventually what happened to Anna and how she became an uber ghost. I think that the book could have easily been cut in half, but we continue on and we get some more to do with Cas's father and his legacy. I was worried there was too much going on int his book, but Blake manages to walk the line. 


The flow works in this one though I did want to yell at Cas for being dumb sometimes. The action slows down a bit when Cas and Anna talk. I know why Blake set it up that way (for us and Cas to get to know her) but I had a hard time with her not being that scary really. 

The ending leaves things with a slight cliffhanger. I know there's a second book in this series, but the reviews have been mixed. I may just leave things here since I really enjoyed Cas and his ghost hunting. 


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review 2018-09-17 14:41
Honestly, it's a 3.5 Star Read
Thinner - Stephen King

It's weird. I think I may have read this book before, but now after finishing it this weekend, I have doubts. I maybe just watched the movie and that's where I was recalling most of my information from. I honestly don't like the Bachman books that much that Stephen King wrote. I recall "The Long Walk" and thought how it made no sense to me and how impossible it would be for teenagers to walk 4 miles an hour. I tried that one day at the gym and had to lightly jog. I also remember reading "The Running Man" and went, eh liked the movie better. So now with "Thinner" I have to say that neither the movie or book impressed me much. You have one man dealing with a curse that is slowly killing him. He blames his wife. A lot. Most of the book slows down in the last 1/3 and I was just bored until the ending.


"Thinner" deals with the after effects of Billy Halleck (Bill or William depending on who is speaking to him) running over and killing a Romani woman. FYI, be prepared for King to refer to them as Gypsies. I have learned since I got older that's a derogatory term for Romani people, so I am not using it here in my review besides the first occurrence. Due to the people he knows and a lot of the towns people hating the Romani people, Billy isn't tried for hit and run, instead the case is dismissed. An older man who is the head of the group of Romani people comes up to Bill and touches his cheek and says "thinner." From there Bill starts to lose weight and struggles to push out of his mind hitting and killing the older woman and the man who touched him.


Most of the book is Billy justifying what happened and saying how it's not really his fault. Instead it's mostly his wife and the older woman's fault. His wife's fault since she started trying to (makes hand motion) while he was driving and the older woman for not looking both ways. What made me laugh and sigh about though was Billy doesn't take any ownership of the fact that the judge and police officer who helped with things would not have done so if not for him. So you have all three of these men being punished, but it seems as if Billy is the one that got off the lightest. 


King does take some time developing the characters. You understand Billy's relationship with his wife and daughter a lot. You also get a look at the secrets a town holds that get revealed when Billy starts going after answers with his doctor, the judge's wife, and the police man. Eventually the book goes sideways when King introduces a friend of Billy's who is going to take care of getting the curse off of him, Ginelli. 

Ginelli is shown to be a bit off. He goes after the Romani people with a laser eyed focus. However, it made no sense to me. He's supposed to be a pretty big crime boss. So why in the world didn't he send forth some underlings? And if they popped up dead then go after them? I don't know. The motivations of him to go toe to toe with the Romani didn't work for me at all. Most of the book slowed down after he showed up and when he was retelling his story to Billy I just didn't care. 


The writing is more crude than King's works. There are a lot of racial slurs used in this one that put me off a bit. The flow as I said earlier got really bad when Ginelli gets introduced. The book just drags it seems until we get to the ending.


The ending leaves us with Billy as a pale shadow of his former self. He manages to justify to himself what he is about to do and I really ended up loathing him. Of course this being a King book the joke's on him and he has a horrified realization about what his actions have wrought. 



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