Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I’ve had Anna Dressed in Blood on my TBR list for quite a while now, and with high priority. The only reason it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it is because I’m unforgivably cheap and I haven’t been able to find a copy used. So when I saw a shiny new Barnes and Noble coupon sitting in my inbox a few weeks ago, I knew what book that discount would go toward. I won’t lie; my expectations for Anna were pretty sky-high after reading nearly universal praise from my fellow bloggers. Based on the reviews I had read, I was anticipating this to be a read rather outside of my comfort zone. While I thoroughly enjoy a good Grade B horror movie, the campier the better, horror often has the capacity to freak me out, particularly that of the haunting-ghoul-in-abandoned-house/hospital/mental ward variety. From what I’d read of Anna, it seemed to fit the bill of every story that has me watching the shadows at night, and the first few chapters did nothing to dispel me of this notion. Anna‘s opening is electric, spares no punches, and quite frankly, had me doubting whether it was wise to continue reading it when I knew I’d be going to sleep all by my lonesome that night.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Unfortunately, despite my misgivings, I wish Blake had been able to sustain the sheer creepiness of the novel’s early chapters, but ultimately Anna failed to live up to its hype. I couldn’t help but be let down the further I read, especially when the book had initially promised to deliver a truly unique, mostly unexplored level of scare for the YA genre. Blake had the potential to knock it out of the park, and when Anna first appeared on the page I was sure that she had. The Anna of the early chapters is like no other protagonist I’ve read in the genre, perhaps not quite unapologetic in her wrath, yet utterly frightening nonetheless. What’s more, she had presence on the page; I anticipated her return at the same time that I feared it, and though I wanted to learn about her history that had led her down this path, I didn’t feel that I needed to. It was enough to witness rather than needing to see behind the scenes.

Cas wasn’t quite as successful a character for me, though I appreciate Blake’s contribution to an unfortunately small pool of young adult books narrated from the male perspective. It’s not as if Bake failed to create a believable male teenage voice, but I nevertheless didn’t connect with Cas. It might be due in part to the wealth of backstory that Cas relates to the readers; I tend to have difficulty getting to know a character through anecdote alone rather than by witnessing the events as they occur. Still, I loved Cas’s interactions with Anna and couldn’t wait to see how Blake would justify Cas’s feelings for someone who can be so very inhuman. Sadly, things fell apart for me around the midway point, as the qualities I had loved until this point simply vanished. Anna’s unsettling demeanor, the sense of foreboding, the potential for development of great side characters like Thomas and Carmel take a backseat as, with a bit of magic and a pinch of luck, Anna is transformed from Samara’s long lost cousin into an utterly generic teen queen.

Suffice it to say, the Anna of the book’s second half was not a character to inspire awe in the reader. I’m glad that Blake didn’t completely neuter her main character, as at least Anna retains the ability to turn freaky-eyed and fabulous, but by allowing Anna to achieve her humanity so abruptly, Blake took the easy way out. Compared to reading about Cas’s struggle to come to terms with his feelings for someone with questionable merits and dubious morals, allowing Anna to toggle between murderous wraith and sympathetic victim made the whole affair seem far too sanitized.

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Review: The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee

My capacity for enduring young adult paranormal romance has nearly reached critical mass. It’s ironic and, perhaps, a sad commentary that, in a genre where the possibilities are limitless and the fantastical reach of the author’s imagination should know no bounds, each new release nevertheless seems more derivative than the last. Heroines suffer either from a surfeit of unfounded confidence or a dearth of brain cells. Crucial plot elements are incorporated via deus ex machina or other such insufficient devices. Love interests are interchangeable yet somehow so ineffably brilliant that they

The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee

inspire all-consuming love within days of meeting them, and heroines with apparently insatiable lust draw the attention of every Y-chromosome individual within a 200-yard radius. While it goes without saying that I read fantasy novels to be transported into a fantastical, impossible story, I nevertheless want the story and characters in particular to be grounded in the realm of possiblity. Superpowers and supernatural DNA you might have, but that doesn’t mean I will tolerate an unrealistic portrayal of basic elements of the teenage psyche. Teenagers come in an array of personalities, yet I so often fail to see this simple truth depicted in the young adult genre; don’t even get me started on the unrealistic expectations set for teenage love lives.

With all that being said, I can appreciate Jeannine Garsee’s effort to infuse the YA supernatural genre with a taste of the extraordinary. Rinn might exhibit many of the character traits that reside on my list of “unsympathetic protagonist,” self-indulgenct petulance being foremost in the running, yet she certainly stands out from her literary peers. I’m always a sucker for stories told from the viewpoint of characters suffering some form of mental illness, so I was hopeful that Garsee would really explore the bounds of Rinn’s bipolar disorder. While her illness surely plays an integral role in establishing Rinn’s character, I felt that Garsee could have pushed much further. Particularly, I was let down by what I considered a missed opportunity to unveil the extent of Rinn’s unreliable narration. As suspicious events began to unfold, I was intrigued by the idea that Rinn’s relation of her narrative might not be altogether truthful, either due to purposeful or unintentional misguidance. What was otherwise a straightforward ghost story took on an eerily poignant layer when viewed through the uncertain lens of character perception. All the usual questions- What is really going on? Can I trust what I saw? Is there some logical explanation to all of this?- become that much more critical when the protagonist has reason to doubt her own ability to perceive. Unfortunately, by novel’s end, I got the sense that Garsee intended for her tale to be more literal than speculative. I suppose that readers could potentially read the ending as a representation of Rinn’s mental state rather than as a true confirmation of Annaliese’s existence.

The novel takes a little while to get going, but once it does, Garsee’s take on the classic haunting story breathes new life into an otherwise traditional tale. Unfortunately, while the symptoms of the supernatural presence manifested in interesting ways in the novel’s secondary characters, Garsee failed to follow through on the ghost’s motivation, instead traversing the same tired treads as so many similar stories that came before. Garsee’s imaginative take on the hows of a haunting showed her creative chops, so it was disappointing to see her squander the chance to be equally as imaginative in coming up with the why of Annaliese’s spectral presence.

Still, The Unquiet ultimately succeeds in painting a rather creepy portrait of a small-town haunting, with no small part of its success owing to Garsee’s unorthodox treatment of the romantic subplot. Nate isn’t a particularly compelling character, but his voice rings true, as does the pacing of his developing relationship with Rinn. There are no undying love proclamations here, nor an undeniable urge to propel the progression of the relationship at supersonic speed. It’s refreshing to read of two characters making a conscious decision to spend time together and see how it goes for no other reason than the fact that they take a liking to the other person. It might not make for the most titillating romance, but it feels real in comparison to the love triangles and instalove that proliferate the genre.

Overall, The Unquiet is a solid contribution to the ghost story catalogue, though it fails to live up to its potential. Still, the fact that Garsee managed to create an intriguing and complete storyline in a seeming standalone is itself a cause for celebration. I’ll check out Garsee’s next effort and hope she capitalizes on the talent that was hinted at in this effort.

“Waiting On” Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a meme created at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases that we can’t wait to read.

This week I’m looking forward to Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade.

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

After being sent back from the light, Alona Dare – former homecoming queen,

Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade hardback edition

current Queen of the Dead – finds herself doing something she never expected: working. Instead of spending days perfecting her tan by the pool (her typical summer routine when she was, you know, alive), Alona must now cater to the needs of other lost spirits. By her side for all of this – ugh – “helping of others” is Will Killian: social outcast, seer of the dead, and someone Alona cares about more than she’d like.

Before Alona can make a final ruling on Will’s “friend” or “more” status, though, she discovers trouble at home. Her mom is tossing out Alona’s most valuable possessions, and her dad is expecting a new daughter with his wicked wife. Is it possible her family is already moving on? Hello! She’s only been dead for two months! Thankfully, Alona knows just the guy who can put a stop to this mess.

Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade paperback edition

Unfortunately for Alona, Will has other stuff on his mind, and Mina, a young (and beautiful) seer, is at the top of the list. She’s the first ghost-talker Will’s ever met—aside from his father—and she may hold answers to Will’s troubled past. But can she be trusted? Alona immediately puts a check mark in the “clearly not” column. But Will is – ahem – willing to find out, even if it means leaving a hurt and angry Alona to her own devices, which is never a good idea.

Packed with romance, lovable characters, and a killer cliffhanger, Queen of the Dead is the out-of-this-world sequel to The Ghost and the Goth.

While this title has been out for quite a while now, I’ve been waiting for the release of the paperback. Since the cover has changed from the original hardback, I feel justified in including this as its own release. I have to say, I like the paperback cover better; Will looks more exasperated and less bored out of his mind.

The paperback will be released on May 8, 2012.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish that allows us to list our top ten answers to a different question each week.

This week’s theme is: Top Ten Books To Read During Halloween

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker

No self-respecting book blogger can really leave this one off the list, can she? I’ll always remember my first time reading this book, sitting in the backseat of the car on an afternoon whose sunshine seemed just wrong given the dreary world I was immersed in.

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

It’s always refreshing to be assigned a book for English class that you actually look forward to reading, and I couldn’t tear myself away from this one back. My heart still aches for the monster, so much so that my sympathy stands foremost in my memories despite the rather gruesome imagery Shelley evokes.

3. Amphigorey by Edward Gorey

I stole my mom’s copy of this back in middle school, and it’s high time that I read it again. While everyone loves “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” my favorite remains “The Doubtful Guest.” Also recommended, Amphigorey, Also for “The Utter Zoo.”

4. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Film, The Art, The Vision by Frank Thompson

I borrowed a copy of this from a friend in middle school, and all these years later, still wish I had my own copy. Burton’s artwork is whimsical and creepy and utterly beautiful, capturing what will remain one of my favorite stories for many years to come.

5. Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry

I admit, I have only read the first in Henry’s Amanda Feral series, and a few years ago at that. While my chances of continuing the series at this point aren’t great, I still remember the satisfying style with which Henry melded humor with disgust. For fans of grade B zombie movies and Sex and the City.

6. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

What kid doesn’t love the story of the Headless Horseman? I promise, I am not only including this one because it has been adapted by Burton. Mostly not, in any case.

7. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe

Even discounting “The Raven,” which any former student of high school English has had to dissect and adapt ad nauseam, few can deny the hauntingly morose yet elegant charm of Poe’s words. While “The Tell-Tale Heart” remains my favorite, I’m also partial to “The Cask of Amontillado.”

8. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Everything Gaiman writes is golden. I am starting to believe that I should just include that as a standard disclaimer, since it seems to preface everything I write about him. Don’t let this book’s classification as a children’s novel scare you off, since it actually is quite scary at parts, and overwhelmingly well-told.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

When I read this back in middle school, I was delightfully appalled. So much so that I was surprised to delve a bit deeper into Wilde’s catalogue and realize that all of his work was not equally as twisted.

10. Bad Times for Ghosts by W.J.M. Wippersberg

I don’t remember how or where I got this book. I don’t know who gave it to me, or if I found it myself. All I know is that I was fairly obsessed with it throughout the whole of second grade. For, you see, not only does it tell the story of a quirky family of ghosts in an updated (in the nineties sense) sort of Addams Family, but it is interactive. Recipes, spaces to draw, craft and costume ideas, and many more activities punctuate each chapter. There is a copy at a local used book store that has been sitting on the shelf for several years, unread and pristine. Every time I pass it by, I am tempted to buy it to keep for my own children to scrawl and scribble in, since mine is completely battered.

Review: The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

Initially, I had steered clear of this book. I’m not a fan of cutesy titles (especially those that evoke Hot Topic), and I was actually more reluctant to be seen with this cover in public than with many of the bodice rippers I have been known to tote around. Yet after reading numerous reviews touting it as not the typical teen paranormal, I reluctantly decided to add it to my wish list.

Ultimately, The Ghost and the Goth is exactly what it is marketed to be: a cute story rife with spooks and high school stereotypes. Yet the writing is engaging, and I found myself liking Alona more than I ought to have, since her character growth is decidedly minimal in this installment. The author employs a rather tired device to warn us off judging people based on their appearances (much as I had this novel). Still, the characters are likeable enough to pull the reader through the story, and while none of the characters were really fleshed out except for Alona and Will, I am looking forward to the next in the series, Queen of the Dead. Hopefully, Kade will give us readers more actual growth for Alona and Will, and further explore the rules of the spirit world.