[Book Review] Anya’s Ghost

Book Cover for Anya’s Ghost

Title: Anya’s Ghost
Author: Vera Brosgol
Genre: graphic novel; ya fiction; mystery; horror; paranormal
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part.

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks. Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya’s Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

Review: 4 stars

One of my students told me to read this because I’d really like it. When I started reading it, I understood why. It’s dark, it’s sarcastic, and it’s full of horror-adjacent content. I didn’t think it was scaryscary, but the concepts within it (falling in a deep hole with no one around to save you or hear you scream, becoming haunted by a ghost, and then being chased by one) are all in there.

The student who told me to read it is a first generation immigrant from Russia. This book hit home for him, because Anya goes out of her way to get rid of her FOB status and become “American.” My kiddo recognized that in himself. The way Anya develops over the course of the book, from trying to be cool by smoking and thinking everything is lame, changes when she’s confronted with “everything she’s ever wanted.” She realizes that sometimes appearances are deceiving and not everything is as it seems.

What struck me the most is Anya’s crush, and how that storyline plays out. I was not expecting him to be a player and for his uber popular girlfriend to literally be standing outside the bedroom door while he hooks up with another girl. That was rough. But that’s really what turned everything around for Anya, a really cold bucket of water over her head.

I loved the way things got out of control. It was a slow spiral that ended up being almost fatal to her family. But that’s when she takes back the control and does what she needs to in order to protect herself, her family, and kind of everyone else at high school.

My student really liked it, but the one thing he really hated was that Anya smoked. “That’s gross.”

[Book Review] House of Sky and Breath (2/? of Crescent City)

Book Cover for House of Sky and Breath

Title: House of Sky and Breath
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: new adult fiction; fantasy; romance; paranormal; magic
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal―they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.

The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

In this sexy, action-packed sequel to the #1 bestseller House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J. Maas weaves a captivating story of a world about to explode―and the people who will do anything to save it. 

Review: 4 stars

(If you’d like to review my review for book 1, click here.)

This is book 2 of a SJM series, so I walked in with some expectations – first and foremost that the ones we see the most of in Book 1 change their spots and we don’t like them as much in Book 2. That’s what I was hoping for with the Bryce and Hunt dynamic. I was a cynical reader for every passage involving the two, and was overly annoyed at Hunt the whole book. I wanted what happened in (SPOILER) ACOTAR to happen with Hunt. And then it didn’t, and I was supremely let down.

I couldn’t get over Bryce trying to sell herself to Sandriel for Hunt after he’d spent the whole Book 1 with her, letting her tell him her deepest darkest secrets. After she was so anti-alphahole but still fell for it (and so did we, despite the dual POV, another annoying plot point in Book 1), and wanted to sell herself into slavery. And so walking into Book 2, I was hoping for a deeper fallout, when all the adrenaline of the moment dissipated. NOPE. The two of them joke about it instead, on more than one occasion. This upset me.

But thankfully, Book 2 is about so much more than Bryce and Hunt. It’s also about some new additions and old favorites. I was so glad to see some of the familiar faces come back and get a deeper storyline – particularly Tharion and Ruhn. Tharion’s entire character is developed in such a strong and interesting way. For a lot of the book, you’re hoping he’ll be loyal to Bryce and the gang, but there’s a part of you thinking he might sell them out to his Queen. I also spent a lot of the second half wishing he’d make different choices, but that’s probably just me.

Ruhn’s glow up was impressive. He went from plot point half-brother to bestie and I REALLY enjoyed this. His own crew was fantastic, and when Ithan comes into it, I particularly liked how Ruhn went big-brother to protect Ithan, even from his own feelings. Ruhn’s humility and protection are his best traits. He’s talked up as this bad boy, full of tattoos and an “I don’t care” attitude, but in the end he wants what’s best for everyone, and it’s clear all the way through that he’s going to fight with Bryce. I love his own personal growth outside of Bryce too, with Agent Day, we see a really amazing side of him that I hope is expanded on in Book 3.

The new faces were fun. I really enjoyed following the mystery and meeting new people who pushed that mystery plot point along. The Hind and Cormac were my favorite. Cormac comes in hot, (descriptive and action wise) and reminded me a lot of Rhysand in the dark and broody fae type way. I thought for a long time that we’d see another Tamlin/Rhys style fight with Hunt and Cormac, but that was not to be. Sad.

I loved that we didn’t know if we could trust Cormac from literally his introduction until the ocean. He was crucial to Bryce’s character (and power) development but at what cost? What a good character!

I’m interested in seeing where this story goes, especially with the last few pages. Very, very interested. Overall, I liked this book more than the first, I didn’t need to wait 100 pages to really get into this one like Book 1, but I’m still salty about Bryce and Hunt.

[Book Review] Between Wild & Ruin

Between Wild & Ruin book cover

Title: Between Wild & Ruin

Author: Jennifer G. Edelson

Genre: YA; paranormal; mystery; fantasy; romance; mythology

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Ruby Brooks has never had a boyfriend. After moving to small-town La Luna, New Mexico following her mother’s untimely death, boys aren’t even on her radar. Ruby just wants to forget the last horrible year and blend in. But when she discovers an ancient pueblo ruin in the forest behind her house, and meets Ezra, a bitter recluse whose once-perfect face was destroyed in an accident he won’t talk about; Angel, La Luna’s handsome sheriff’s deputy, and Leo, a stranger who only appears near the ruin, Ruby finds herself teetering between love, mystery, and other worlds. What happened to Ezra’s face? And why is she so attracted to the one boy in town everyone despises? As Ruby unravels her own connections to both Ezra and the pueblo ruin, she’ll learn surfaces are deceiving. Especially in the heart of New Mexico, where spirits and legends aren’t always just campfire stories.

Review: 3 Stars

I enjoyed this book quite a bit! I loved the mythology and mystery behind the plot and how it unraveled over time. I thought the author did a great job keeping the main plot points a secret until just the right moment. There was a fine line between providing just the right amount of detail to keep me reading to see what would happen next.

I liked the way Ruby explained her motivations over the course of the book. She didn’t seem to grow much, so I’m hoping to see more development here in boom 2, but the way she seemed to see things differently from the rest of La Luna was unique. It was a little Bella Swan vibes, but overall, I enjoyed the “I see beneath the surface” stuff.

There were points where I thought her character went a little too far with the anti-vanity plot line, almost to the point where it got into fetishization with Ezra’s facial scarring, and that weirded me out. Almost like she had a point to prove. (Kind of like, “I don’t care about looks SO much that I’m not sure I like you if you don’t have a scar” if you understand what I’m saying.)

That said, all characters are flawed in this novel (in all novels in some way?) from the aunt to the side character friends. But overall, they’re developed just enough to make them relatively relatable in some way.

Angel vs Ezra vs Leo is a plot device I generally just do not like, and it’s no different here. Ruby doesn’t handle the multiple crushes well, and it still somehow turns out okay? In what world??? Anyway; lucky girl I guess!

All of the interpersonal stuff aside, I truly enjoyed reading about the Ancients, the True of Heart, and the Watchers, and would definitely read book 2 in order to learn more.

I got an ARC of this from BookSirens for an honest review.

[Book Review] Dead Djinn Universe Series (0.5 & 0.7)

Book Covers for A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Titles: 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo & 0.7 — The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Author: P Djèlí Clark

Genre: fantasy; short stories; steam punk; mystery; historical fiction; novella; sci fi

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine.

Entries in this series can be read as standalones in any order.

Review: 4 Stars

Around the end of 2020 I was looking for shorter texts to reach my goodreads challenge for the year and I stumbled on P. Djèlí Clark’s work and started reading it all as quick as I could. I am INTO it. In this series, he’s created this very realistic version of 1910’s Cairo with a twist… it’s kinda magical.

In 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo, he goes into the background a little, there or magical beings of all sorts in the world, both good and bad, and a group meant to help sort one from the other. This group is the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. In both 0.5 and 0.7, the main characters are investigators in the Ministry and have a mystery to solve that is more than meets the eye.

In 0.5, the lead investigator is a woman, a badass woman who wears trousers and sleek coat and takes no shit from men who are still afraid of women with a brain.

In 0.7, the investigators are men, and work to solve the mystery together (but need help from women all along the way). Along the way, a women’s liberation movement is going on, fighting for women’s rights. It’s pretty cool.

My favorite parts of these stories are how seamless the integration of magic is in the mundane. Every single element has been thought of, but it all feels authentic. I think that’s a major credit to the fact that the author is a historian and does ample research before writing.

There are two more books in this series and I’m looking forward to getting into both!

[Book Review] The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Title: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek

Authors: Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal

Genre: YA; fiction; mystery; horror/ thriller; paranormal fantasy

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

Review: 4 stars

As far as mysteries go, this one had me until the end. I wasn’t expecting some of the twists that came about and I was genuinely surprised at some of the more paranormal elements that McLaughlin and Neal incorporated into their storytelling.

That said, I enjoyed the mystery and storytelling overall but some of the writing was clunky. Pieces of the story could have gotten a little more developed (Janine for instance, considering she’s part of the storytelling instrument), but for a debut into YA and into this genre, it was fun.

Rex and Leif are really cute characters. They’re boys going through the heat of summer, puppy love and also a paranormal mystery in an ultra conservative small town where everyone knows everyone. What could go wrong? I love the way the friendship builds and grows over the course of the book too. Their boundaries are tested but in the end, they know they can rely on each other.

As I was reading this, honestly, the townsfolk just gave me the creeps. No small towns for me… thanks Bleak Creek.