Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

anna dressed in bloodgirl of nightmares

4 out of 5 stars.

A Canadian ghost story! I rarely go in for purely horror ghost stories, but I somehow found this one on Goodreads and decided to expand my horizons and give it a go, with the understanding that if it got too scary I could immediately stop and go read something less creepy. It turned out to be not that gory. I mean, people get dismembered, but the descriptions were not worse than a lot of the zombie material I have worked my way through. I was pleased with myself at getting through the whole book. Hooray for ghost stories! I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would.

Cas is a ghost hunter, because his dad had been one. His dad is no longer around (having been killed while on the job), but Cas wants to continue his legacy, so normal teenager-hood gets pushed aside in favour of globetrotting, ghost-killing. Cas gets a tip about a spirit in Ontario, Canada who has ripped apart quite a few people already, and puts her next on his to-do list. Unfortunately, the ghost (Anna), is insanely strong. More disturbingly, she shows signs of lucidity that Cas has never encountered before. She knows she is dead and even shows signs of remorse over having killed. Cas now has to confront some of the ethics of his profession, as well as figure out if it is even possible to stop Anna. He also starts making friends, though, so he will have more of a team than he usually does (there is a male witch. Hooray for gender inclusivity!). The key to Anna might be in her past, so Cas has to get to know her (without getting bloodily ripped apart) and figure out how to stop her from murdering anyone who gets in her way.

This is part ghost story, part love story. Some of the descriptions are a little gross, but if you read dystopian or other horror, you will be fine. The descriptions of magic working, and especially voodoo, are a little insensitive to anyone who might practice Wicca or the actual religion Voodoo, so keep that in mind if you are recommending this book. It relies heavily on cultural perceptions of magic and voodoo, which tend not to be well-researched. Extremely devout Christians might also not enjoy this book (think the type that will not let their kids read Harry Potter).

Anna’s back story is enjoyably creepy, with a twist added to keep it interesting. Watching Anna’s two halves war against each other as she tries to keep her murderous rage under control kept her character empathetic and interesting. Watching Cas put down roots was also sweet and well done. I also really loved the fact that the main protagonist does not end up with the gorgeous girl. That is a nice break from tradition.

The ending went a little too quickly, but there is at least one more novel, so we are not left stranded. For my first pure ghost story, this was a great read. It was a little creepy, a little haunting, and very well written. The characters had a lot of personality, and were all convincing in their motives. I would recommend this one to long-time fans of ghost stories as well as newcomers to the genre. I am easily scared, but was able to sleep well after this one. Very enjoyable!

The second book has a bit of a different feel. While the first one reads a little like a mystery (trying to figure out who killed and cursed Anna), while this second one is pretty much straight up action. The hero (Cas of course) needs to figure out how to get her back from hell, but he is led very quickly to the conclusion, and most of the book is him struggling through the various obstacles, with his friends’ help, to reach his goal.

This book moved very quickly, but not always in a good way. I was hoping to linger a little more over it, since it is the conclusion, but it just raced by. It did not have the suspense of the first, and not as much story, but it was really good to have a satisfying ending to the story. The first left on too much of a cliffhanger for me to just walk away.

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Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near

fairytales for Wilde Girls

4 out of 5 stars.

I thought this was going to be a lot more fairy tale and a lot less horror, but it ended up being really creepy. Enjoyable, but creepy. This is perfect for fans of Holly Black, who like their fairy tales a little gothic and maybe with the occasional death and ghost.

Isola lives half in a fairy world, half in the real world. In our reality she takes care of her mentally ill mother, tries to connect with her detached father and hangs with her best friend Grape. When she is in the woods or alone she is visited by her faerie guardians, her prince brothers from her favourite book of fairy tales that have befriended her over the years. They protect her from supernatural threats and support her emotionally in dealing with her mother.

When Isola finds a murdered girl hanging in a cage in the woods, the forest is changed from the safe fairy kingdom of her childhood to a nightmare. Every night, the ghost of the murdered girl stands on Isola’s lawn and cries and wails. The brother princes try to protect Isola, but one by one they fall, until it is just Isola herself up against a spirit who wants to invade and tear her apart.

The most intriguing relationship is that between Isola and her mother. Her mother seems to struggle with bipolar disorder and, since her father is uninterested, it is Isola that watches and tends to her mother. Isola struggles between love for her mother and anger at her mother’s illness and behaviour. I found it a very compelling and realistic portrayal of the emotions invalid in having to care for someone who is profoundly mentally ill. There is anger at the person’s behaviour mixed in with the dedication to a loved one. Near handled the subject beautifully and with sensitivity.

This novel is almost devoid of romance and focuses more on friendship and familial relations. I found it a most welcome change. This one was spooky and written very well.

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

5 out of 5 stars.

I absolutely adore this trilogy. In a world where the undead can be bound and manipulated, Necromancers can control the dead with musical pitches (pan pipe for learners, handbells for experts). Good necromancers help to calm the dead while evil seek to raise an army of zombies. (Just as a side note, I have often noted that the more ridiculous a premise or explanation sounds when describing a book, the more fantastic it turns out to be. I know controlling zombies with music is a strange one, but it is just done so damn well that you are willing to grant Garth Nix anything later on.) Lirael is a daughter of a tribe of future-seers whose gift has not quite blossomed. Her two friends are a magical creature in the shape of a dog, and a future necromancer who is afraid of the dead. One of the things I adore about these books is you have two protagonists of opposite genders who DO NOT FALL IN LOVE. They are friends. They can rely on each other. They have a relationship. But they do not necessarily have to fall in love.

The afterworld in this series is one of its best features. Souls are sucked through levels of a watery world, and the deeper you go, the more desperate the dead are to escape. Necromancers can venture in to rescue souls or others of their kind, but the further in you go, the more death calls to you and the greater the chance of being killed or overtaken by the vengeful dead.

This series, like all Garth Nix, contains a completely formed world, with surprises everywhere. It was just scary enough to be suspenseful and exciting, without keeping me up at night. The system of magic, like the system of death, is unique and detailed. Garth Nix is able to do what many authors cannot and manages to build worlds robust enough to seem to be able to stand on their own. I have read this series 4 or 5 times and intend to keep on rereading it until I have it memorized or all copies have been erased from this world. Well done Garth Nix! I consider this a must-read for everyone, but if you are especially looking for great high fantasy, or a zombie thriller that involves magic, this is the book for you.

Parasite by Mira Grant

parasite

4 out of 5 stars.

This review will contain spoilers, so stop now if you need to. 

This book is a fantastic combination of zombie horror, Sci-Fi technology and medical mystery. A corporation has figured out how to solve almost every human health problem using genetically modified tapeworms. Something starts to go wrong when people begin acting strangely, however, and it is up to our heroine, who escaped death thanks to her helpful parasite, to figure out what secrets the tapeworms and their creators hold.

The layout of this book is really neat, with in-world quotations and news bits starting each section to give context to the world we are looking at. Sal (the protagonist) is caught between adulthood, biologically being  an adult, and childhood, since her tapeworm-fueled resurrection left her with no memories of her life before, and she is missing crucial physical and social skills. She is an awkward mishmash of naive child, rebellious teenager, and independent adult. It makes for quite an interesting character. I found myself easily sympathizing with her and imagining myself in her place.

The really interesting thing for me, though, is the theoretical ethical dilemmas this book presents. Once we find out the tapeworms are sapient, we have to ask the question of how much human good (complete freedom from illness) can outweigh enslaving another species? Does it matter that we ourselves created the species? And if (or rather when, since this is a Science Fiction novel) they turn against us, how much can we fight back? Usually when fiction presents another sapient species for us to come into contact with, it isn’t something in our gut, solving our problems and keeping us alive. Having a first contact scenario presented in the framework of something created on-planet that we already coexist with, and even in some cases need, is a really neat break from the usual “they come from outer space”.

The details of every day life that are sprinkled in (like Sal’s boyfriend’s passion for carnivorous plants, or her fights with her parents) make the earth-shattering implications of the books’ disasters intimate and real. I would highly recommend this for anyone looking for a neat twist on the zombie genre, or anyone just looking for a really compelling read.