Tag Archives: ghosts

Shadowshaper

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OH. This cover. Possibly the most beautiful I have seen in forever, and a perfect representation of what you will find inside.

Brooklyn teen Sierra Santiago is a talented artist and is looking forward to a great summer. The first party of the season is tonight, and then she’ll spend her months off hanging with friends and painting a huge dragon mural on the wall of the abandoned eye-sore of a  building next to the junklot. But everything starts to change when she sees the colours of one mural, a tribute to a friend’s brother who was shot by the police, start to fade, and a tear slide down the face of another. To top it off, the night of the party she is chased down the street by a dead body. Things you don’t tend to see day-to-day, normally.

These fantastical occurrences lead Sierra to the world of shadowshapers – people who call the spirits forth through art and storytelling and music. Sierra had not been aware of her family’s connection to the spirit world, but her brush with danger leads her to question and start digging into the world of the shadowshapers. She find out that not only does her family have a powerful connection to them, but also that someone is using the shadowshaper power for evil, trying to take all their spiritual force, and destroying the ‘shapers and the link to their ancestors.

I am in love. With this story, with Sierra, with Robbie, and with Tee and Izzy and Big Jerome and Manny and the whole cast of characters that make the novel come alive. And maybe a touch with Daniel José Older too, because the magic flowed through his pen.

Older weaves the experiences a person of colour would have in a white dominated society throughout the story, but within the context of an urban fantasy. I am in awe. Police brutality, misogyny, racism, spirituality, diverse culture, as well as the small, not unimportant, everyday bigotries and judgments that all people exhibit. Sierra’s own aunt passes judgment on her niece’s natural afro and Robbie’s darker skin. And while none of these experiences are the main focus of the novel, they serve to enhance the plot and develop the characters.

And Sierra is the type of female main character you want to find in a YA novel. She is strong, self-aware, has a great sense of her history and culture, and adds humour and  humility, and a touch of teenage angst. In short, she is authentic.

Sierra’s friends are also such a wonderful cross-section. Older writes these characters effortlessly, almost as if he picked teens off the street and had them describe themselves and their friends. Sierra has lesbian best friends, she has friends with African, Haitian, Caribbean, and Puerto Rican heritage, and all stand out as individuals while mixing together in a great representation of Brooklyn youth. And their dialogue is fresh and hilarious, and the use of slang throughout is perfect. (Well, I assume it is. I’m old, so it definitely isn’t MY vernacular.)

I love that while Sierra is interested in Robbie, she doesn’t let that get in her way. Too many times in YA the romance is made the most important aspect of the heroine’s life. Not here. Sierra finds Robbie hot, but she has other things to do first, like save her family, her heritage, the world.

I think my only complaint is the length of the novel. I wanted to learn more about Sierra and the shadowshapers and magic and the different cultures that were all touched upon, but could have taught me so much more.

This is a must-read for anyone of any age.

Shadowshaper was published June 30th, 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books.

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The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall

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After the death of her great-aunt Cordelia, the Piven family house now belongs to 17-year-old Delia. She and her family plan to spend the summer at the house, readying it for sale. Except when they arrive, they discover it isn’t just a house. It is the former Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females, known locally as “Hysteria Hall.”

And the house has plans of its own. It has a mission, a purpose: to keep troubled girls, some insane but some just strong-willed, locked away, even in death. And Delia has had a few troubles. The house wants her to stay. It goes to great lengths to keep her. Now Delia must find a way to make sure her little sister doesn’t get trapped as well.

I am on the fence about this one. It is very well written and entertaining, and there is a great twist just a few chapters in that I did not see coming, but I could never get emotionally involved in the story.

Main character Delia is real. She is a fabulous narrator for the story; neither bratty nor spoiled, she is funny and charming and still unsure of herself. Her voice made me laugh out loud throughout the novel. She has a touch of teenage defiance, just enough to get her into trouble and attract unwanted attention.

Her parents’ reaction to her defiance is a bit over the top for what she did. She was stupid, yes, but not exactly criminal. Delia’s reaction to her parents’ flip out, on the other hand, seems very realistic.

With that one exception, her parents seem genuine, and along with all the other characters in the novel, distinct and fun to read. The relationship between Delia and Janie, her five years younger sister, alternates between love and hatred. Your typical older-younger sister stuff. Her friendship with Nicole and relationship with ex-boyfriend Landon strike true. The ghosts, all of whom are from different decades of the institution’s history, cover the scale from happy and friendly to scared and shy to terrifying.

The setting is awesome. A haunted house? Love it. There is very little in this world creepier than an abandoned asylum. Filled with the ghosts of former residents who died there, Hysteria Hall has more than its share of both evil spirits and benevolent apparitions.

It is difficult to write a balance of humour and darkness without it feeling forced and false, but author Katie Alender somehow achieves that balance perfectly. And the ending could not be better.

Although it nicely fills the quota of creepiness and suspense, this is not a scary story. In the end, for all that I enjoyed reading it, I do want more. Maybe I am just heartless, but for a story with such great potential it needs more to suck me in. More horror. More emotion. There are places in the novel where I knew I should be in tears, be heartbroken, be terrified. It just didn’t happen. This is a like, not a love.

If you are easily scared, don’t read this one at night, when things go thump and bump. Just in case. But it is a nice daytime read for anyone.

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall was published August 25th, 2015 by Point.

The Casquette Girls

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Book one of the The Casquette Girls series is AWESOME. Magic and mystery and history and romance and vampires (NOT sparkly ones) and fire and voodoo and the French Quarter all combine into an action-packed, semi-romantic, paranormal whirlwind of a story.

In the wake of The Storm, a hurricane so destructive that there is no need to name it, New Orleans lies decimated. 16 year old Adele Le Moyne is banished by her father to stay with her absentee mother in Paris while the city is rebuilt, but it has been months now. Born and raised in the French Quarter of the historic city, Adele wants to come home. So she puts her foot down and informs her dad she is on her way.

But home isn’t what she left behind. Her re-entry to the city is heart-breaking. Vast destruction, unsalvageable homes and businesses, parish-wide curfews, missing friends and mysterious murders turn the once vibrant city into a ghost town in more ways than one.  And Adele finds herself enmeshed in mysteries and magic that have their roots in the early 18th century, just as New Orleans was establishing itself. Myths have a way of being based in past truths.

I. Loved. This. Book. The characters, the plot, the world building, the pace. I would love to find something to pick apart about it, but I can’t. It’s good. Even the romance/love triangle wasn’t enough to make me knock it down a bit. Teenage love is so angst-ridden and fickle and overwhelming, and author Alys Arden handles it SO well.

Nothing is random.

Characters are well developed, distinct, believable. Adele is a kick-ass teen, homesick for a city she loves, confused about normal and abnormal teen stuff, and caught up in a spell that is not of her own making. Desiree is her perfect counterpart, Nicco brooding and tormented, Isaac a bit pathetically smitten, but in a cute-tortured-artist sort of way, the triplets from another time just leap off the page, Emile and Gabe are flat-out bastards (although I still found Gabe likeable (my weakness for the bad boy)), and Ren is AMAZING. The list goes on.

I have never been to New Orleans. I now feel I could find my way around blind-folded. Arden’s vision of the city, seen through the eyes of a teen who passionately loves every inch of it, makes me want to travel there. SO well done. You can feel the magic and history lifting from the pages. The entire book reads like a loving tribute to a city struggling to rebuild, and refusing to have its spirit crushed.

The plot and pace are impeccable. What a GREAT story. Vampires and magic that have roots in France, travel to New Orleans, and shape the history of the city. The diary entries throughout the story, something I normally can take or leave, kept me on the edge of my seat as much as the main story. And the twist in the attic! Unexpected, yet not. What else do you need?

There is some violence (there are vampires and death, after all), but it is by no means gratuitous or overdone. Anyone who enjoys mystery and magic can read this novel.

The Casquette Girls (series) is published by Skyscape.

Ruby Red (series)

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Take a time-travelling teen, add in mystery and romance and high school and a few socially prominent (in the 18th century, anyway) ghosts and demons, and you have the Ruby Red trilogy. It is flat out fun to read.

16 year old Charlotte has spent her entire life preparing to time travel. She comes from a long line of female time travellers, was born on the predicted day, and has been feeling dizzy lately. She is foretold to be the Ruby of prophesy, to close the Circle of Twelve. Except she isn’t, and so doesn’t.

Gwyneth, Charlotte’s one-day younger and far less prepared cousin, is walking home from school one day when she feels overcome with dizziness and ends up a few decades (give or take) in the past.  But only for a moment or two. This was unexpected. She returns to her time, doesn’t tell a soul, freaks out and travels two more times before she realizes that MAYBE her mum could help. She does come from a long line of travellers, after all. She might be believed.

But it does end up being more trouble than it is worth. Not only is she used by the Guardians to solve a mystery, the travelling opens up even more puzzles. Together, she and Gideon, a fellow traveller from a male line, journey through time to discover who they can trust, in the past and the present.

Gwyneth is a fun character. She’s totally unprepared for her new life, and totally unprepared for Gideon. Yes, she got on my nerves a few times, was a bit weak and whiny, but I can forgive her that, given the path her life suddenly took. Her ability to talk to and interact with ghosts is hilarious, and leads to some interesting exchanges with other people who don’t know about her odd talent. She is friendly and generally up for an adventure. Cries a lot, though.

Gideon bugs me. He is totally not my type. (Which is good, as given the difference in our ages, I could get arrested…) But who said teens make good choices? I’m sure he’s hot and a great kisser, but a bit superior. That said, their relationship made for some fun moments.

Lesley is hilarious, Charlotte is the PERFECT snob cousin that you just itch to put in her place, Grace and Glenda and Arista and Louis and Mr. Squirrel and the Count and James and Xemerius and the rest are all well written characters that move the story along so well.

I loved that the whole idea of time travel wasn’t overthought. It’s just something that can happen to certain members of certain families when they reach a certain age. No other explanation needed. The whole idea of time travel gives me a headache anyway.

The story moves along nicely through the three books. The writing is good. The ideas are fun, it doesn’t lag at all. I liked that I did not know who to trust until the very end of the third book. The traitor was hidden beneath my very nose the whole time.

In the end, I liked, not loved, this trilogy, but that is not a criticism. If you are expecting Shakespeare, Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green are not for you. If you want a fast-paced fantasy with an original plot and a cute romance, read this series. It is fun and appropriate for all ages.

The Ruby Red trilogy is published by Henry Holt.

The Graveyard Book

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For my final Hallowe’en-esque post, I chose The Graveyard Book. As with Riordan and Oppel, Neil Gaiman can do no wrong, in my humble opinion. His writing is smart and witty and original. (Oh! Good Omens! Now there’s a Hallowe’en read! Witches, the Anti-Christ, the Four Horsemen, and a hellhound that likes to chase sticks, get his ears scratched, and sniff his own butt. What’s not to love? But I digress…)

Gaiman’s story of a young boy raised by ghosts is a fabulous Hallowe’en tale, without the terror of a horror story. There are grisly and creepy elements, including the opening scene multiple murder and the constant shadowy threat, but it is also sweet and gentle and shows the kindness of strangers. Dead ones.

After a horrible night when his entire family is murdered, a young toddler miraculously escapes the carnage and wanders into the nearby graveyard. Unsure of how to deal with the sudden young life, the ghosts of the graveyard decide to raise and educate the boy themselves, and protect him from the still-present threat. Dead 300 years, Mr and Mrs Owens take him as their own, into their crypt, and name him. Nobody Owens.

Bod is given Freedom of the Graveyard, so he can see in the dark, and communicate and see the ghosts, and also learn their ways of fading into the mists and darkness. Bod has wondrous adventures in the graveyard, learns about himself, learns how to make friends, and learns what it will be like to live away from death one day.

Silas is a great protector and teacher, his ghostly guardians, the graveyard itself are all so beautifully developed and so relevant to Bod and his story. Under their care, the young boy becomes an independent man with a good head and a loving heart, able to look after himself in a world where evil still lurks.

In the end, The Graveyard Book is about family. Family that you are born into, and family that is created. Although haunted and eerie, it paradoxically never loses the optimism and joy of a young man growing up and learning to how to live. A tribute to Kipling’s The Jungle Book, “It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will take a graveyard.”

Gaiman’s writing is poetic and visual and imaginative, humorous and mystical and riveting. Every word adds to the images, done effortlessly.

The story is appropriate for any age, but there is a murder, so may not be for everyone.

Happy Hallowe’en, everyone!!

The Graveyard Book is published by Harper Collins.

Doll Bones

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Dolls are creepy. Porcelain dolls are really creepy. One possessed by a ghost goes to the top of the list of creepy. If that still isn’t enough for you, add in a graveyard, ghost-invaded dreams, and various inexplicable noises, winds and odd people. Now are you creeped out?

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been best friends for years, years counted by the imaginative games they have played throughout, with pirates and queens and thieves and mermaids. The Great Queen has been their ruler, a vintage bone china doll that Poppy’s mom keeps behind glass doors.

But middle school brings changes.  Zach has suddenly grown, and not only is he one of the team’s better basketball players, girls are starting to giggle when he walks by. He finds that a bit odd and disconcerting. But the games remain the same with Poppy and Alice, even though he feels he has to hide his participation in them when “the guys” are around. And his somewhat distant father, in an attempt to man him up, trashes his action figures while Zach sleeps.

Zach is 12. So of course he doesn’t want his best friends to know why he won’t play with them any more. Rational? Of course not. But who knows what goes on in the mind of a pre-teen boy? (I have two living in my house right now, and I am scared to venture a guess.) Poppy and Alice sense the change that is going on, and both fight against it in their own distinct way: Poppy tries to cling to childhood, and Alice just wants everything to be over.

The middle school years are the worst. You’re not a teen yet, you’re too old to be a kid, things are changing, there is drama in everything. Life blows. But seriously, if you have a creepy doll that is made from the body of a murdered girl, and possessed by her spirit, wouldn’t that change things? For the better? No?

Doll Bones follows the three friends as they go on what they hope will be an epic quest to free the doll’s soul. (Which is actually boring, ’cause there are no terrible monsters to battle, valiant horses to ride, Olympian food to eat, or even water to drink. There is a lot of boring bus rides and walking. The need for sunscreen is never mentioned when the Hobbits quest.) Along the way they discover things they didn’t know about each other, and get to the heart of the changes they are all experiencing.

Holly Black has written what is truly a coming-of-age story. The creepy doll and the ghost story are a fabulous background and framework for the absolute suckage it is to grow up and change sometimes. And it has the requisite road trip, so what else can you ask for?

When really scary is too much, this book is entertaining. A quick read with the right balance of creepiness and fun to capitvate any middle grade reader, and the parents.

Doll Bones is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books.

The Girl From the Well

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THIS is horror. I take back everything I ever said about not liking horror books. The Girl From the Well is amazing. Talk about spine-chilling psychological drama.

We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night.

A dead girl walks the streets. Okiko hunts those who hurt children, much like the man who threw her own body down a well, 300 years ago. She punishes them horrifically, as her ghost seeks to free the souls of the children who have been harmed. Only when their death and pain is avenged, and their souls released, can she feel warmth and love, for a scant moment.

A re-telling of a traditional Japanese ghost story, The Girl From the Well keeps the classic elements of empty eyes, white clothing and dangling hands and feet of the yūrei, (the ghost of one who has died in a sudden or violent manner, and has not received proper funeral rites to release the soul),  but expands Okiko’s role into that of a hunter. She is able to leave Japan in order to exact retribution.

Okiko is drawn to Tark, a tormented 15 year old boy, scarred not only by his mother’s mental illness, but also by the mystical tattoos that cover his body. He can see the ghost, but he can also see the dark figure that sometimes looks back at him in the mirror, and he lives his life on the edge of anger and pain.

The mystery of the dark woman is what keeps Okiko close to Tark. She knows he will require her help in order to escape the curse he carries. It is not a romance, but there is love and sacrifice.

This story is told from Okiko’s perspective, in both her voice, and in the third person.  She is a gentle killer, if such a paradox can exist.

Rin Chupeco is a master at building tension. Each scene is carefully crafted to maximize brain stress. Her writing is gorgeous, poetic in places, edgy in others. Words are not wasted; each serves to build the story, and terror and horrific danger hit in the most unexpected places.

The characters are well written. Tark is a troubled teen, his dad remote and somewhat lost. His cousin Callie, open to helping him, believes his stories of the white and dark women that haunt him.

And once again, the cover got me. It is stark and stunning, and evokes the same emotion as reading the novel.

The Girl From the Well is the first of a two book series. I will read the second, The Suffering, when I can stop checking under my bed at night and can turn off the lights. Locking the doors won’t help you with this one.

It is graphic and gory and is probably best suited for an older teen, or you, if you are brave enough…

The Girl From the Well is published by Sourcebooks Fire.