5 Horror(ish) Books to Get Through Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite holiday. I mean, I like chocolate as much as the next person, but it’s this holiday that comes with a lot of pressure if you’re in a relationship and can make people feel a little self-conscious if they’re not. I’m sure there will be many lovey-dovey posts today, but I wanted to do something a little different by posting a few horror(ish) recs.

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None of the following books are¬†super¬†scary. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat so I don’t usually read books that are too scary.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Another plug for a great author, Cat Winters. This book is set during World War I, which is scary in and of itself, but it’s also during the Spanish Flu. People are dying left and right and that creates this really creepy atmosphere. Add to that some spirit photography and maybe some ghosts? I love the main character in this book because she’s tough and smart in a time when it girls were consistently underestimated.

eBook | Hardcover | Paperback

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

Spill ZoneThis is a two book series of graphic novels by Scott Westerfeld. I don’t know if I’ve read anything else by him besides the Pretties series, but I really enjoyed these graphic novels. They’re so eerie and the artwork only amplifies that feeling. Especially when the main character goes into the spill zone, the colors are absolutely electric. It’s got a post-apocalyptic feel, a mute little girl, and a creepy doll.

eBook | Hardcover | Paperback

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

The Madman's DaughterI’ve definitely talked about this book on here before. This entire series is amazingly gothic and unsettling. The first book is based off of The Island of Dr. Moreau, the second is based off of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the third is based off of Frankenstein. Each of those would also be a good candidate for this list if you’re interested in a classic horror read. (The eBook for The Madman’s Daughter is only $2.99 right now!)

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The Diviners by Libba Bray

The DivinersI’ve read this book most recently of the ones on this list. It’s a long book, so be ready for that, but I really loved the setting. It’s set in the 20’s in New York which proves to be the perfect setting for this ghost story. The main characters are fun and Evie is especially full of life. The last warning I have for this book is that it’s obviously setting up for a series. There are some story lines that don’t quite resolve and characters that don’t seem super important by the end of this book. If that’s your jam, though, I highly recommend.

eBook | Paperback 

Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Blue is for NightmaresI read this series when I was in high school and it was my first real foray into horror. It’s about a girl who is away at a boarding school (I’ve always been a fan of boarding school books) and she’s having these vivid dreams. At the end of each dream, she wakes up having wet the bed. She’s not sure why this is happening, but she’s had these types of dreams before. Last time, she didn’t listen to them and someone ended up dead. I like that these books have a slight supernatural element to it, but it’s not too heavy.

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What do you plan on reading this Valentine’s Day?

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This book was so Jake | The Diviners by Libba Bray

The DivinersAfter a careless night of drinking and partying, Evie is being sent to live with her uncle in New York. New York of the 1920s doesn’t seem like such a punishment to Evie especially when she gets there and finds out that her uncle runs a museum based on the occult and all things supernatural. Her uncle seems pretty cool but his assistant, Jericho, is a total wet blanket. Evie plans to just have a good time in the big city with her friend Mabel and her new friend Theta but that’s brought to a screeching halt when a serial killer is discovered. That alone is scary enough, but this killer seems to have ties with the occult and Evie, her uncle, and Jericho soon find themselves in the middle of the investigation.

If you liked this, you should also read: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

TL;DR – A great setting and murder mystery were hampered by a slow pace and multiple subplots that don’t add to the main plot (but will probably come into play later in the series).

I LOVE the 1920s as a time period. Not that I would have wanted to be alive back then, but looking back at that decade is always fun. There’s just so much glitz and glamour. Every day is a party. I know that this is incredibly romanticized, but I can’t help it. This book does a great job of evoking all of those feelings but also showing some of the rougher sides of the 1920s. I especially appreciate the frank depiction of Theta and Memphis’ relationship as an interracial couple. I also feel like Bray did a good job of showing a little bit of what every day life was like in the 1920s–not just the speakeasies. The language seemed super authentic to me and that was something I really enjoyed.

The plot of this book was pretty fantastic but it started off SO SLOW. Honestly, the only reason I kept with it past the first 200 pages is because I know how many people really love this book and series. There was nothing inherently wrong with the beginning of the book, but there wasn’t much that made me want to get back into it after I set it down. Not much was happening and I didn’t find Evie to be a very likable character.

Speaking of Evie…she just wasn’t my favorite. She was immature, selfish, and impulsive. While she did show some growth throughout the book, it wasn’t much (especially not 600 pages worth). She’s pretty much the same character at the end as she is in the beginning. She just doesn’t think things through or think about other people! The rest of the characters were fine and I felt like there was a lot to be explored with them, which will probably happen in future books.

Another issue I had was just with how LONG this book is. I don’t necessarily mind a 600 page book, but not all of the characters and subplots were essential to the story. Obviously the author is setting up the rest of the series, but I just don’t feel like that was necessary to do in the first book. If she had cutout all the extra things about Theta, Memphis, and Henry, then the book probably would have been a much more manageable 300 pages. The whole time, I was expecting a bunch of characters to come together in the end with their special skills to take down the bad guy but…that never happened. So then here I am at the end of the book feeling unfulfilled and not really caring about Theta or Sam Lloyd or Henry DuBois (or the girl from the Chinese restaurant–what does she have to do with anything???).

Overall, I actually did like this book (despite my critiques). I thought the murders were creative and the way the characters solved the mystery seemed logical and was fairly easy to follow. However, while I think I would probably enjoy the rest of the series, I have no drive to actually pick up the next book. I would recommend this book for those who don’t mind a slower pace and are willing to invest for the long haul.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Heavy (slightly graphic but not too descriptive)
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy
Sexual Content: Moderate

A timely book about racism | Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham [ARC]

Dreamland BurningRowan Chase has a dead body on her family’s property.¬†A brief investigation shows that the body was likely dumped there sometime in the 1920’s (almost 100 years ago) and Rowan is determined to figure out the story behind it. William Tillman is just another white teenage boy growing up in Tulsa during the Prohibition. After getting a black man killed for touching a white girl’s hand, Will starts to rethink how he feels about black people. On a Summer night in 1921 all of his new-found convictions are put to the test. While these two characters live in different times, their stories are unquestionably intertwined.

I have some mixed feelings about this book. As a minority myself, I have given a lot of thought about the representation of minorities and race in books (especially YA). I, personally, have a hard time sometimes when¬†white authors write about these subjects as they don’t have the same personal experiences that a non-white person has had (regardless of how much research they’ve put into their book). Instead, I feel that we need more diverse authors to write about the experiences of diverse characters (you can read my whole post here). As far as I can tell from some Googling and website/blog reading, Ms. Latham is white (and I apologize profusely if this is not the case, but I haven’t been able to find anything that would indicate otherwise) so I’m not sure how authentically she can tell the story despite the large amount of research she put into the book. There was one part in particular that had me scratching my head a little. Geneva, the forensic anthropologist, tells Rowan (who is half-black, half-white) that she can tell that the body is most likely black due to facial structure. Rowan then has this internal debate about whether or not she’s offended at these “racist remarks”. Mmmm…maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find that offensive at all. It actually makes sense to me that different races would have different bone structure. My eyes are shaped differently than white people, so why wouldn’t my eye sockets be shaped differently as well? Other than a couple of other things like that, I felt that the author did a good job dealing with such a heavy topic.

So let’s actually get into the book. I thought Latham did a great job creating our two main characters.They were both likable and I think that’s impressive especially for Will as he has some racist tendencies due to the environment that he grew up in. You kind of want to hate him because of what happens in the beginning of the book, but then you just start to feel really sorry for him. He becomes really conflicted and his internal battle seemed pretty genuine to me. Rowan was a firecracker and a fun character as well. Her best friend was interesting but I do question why Latham chose to make him asexual as it didn’t really feel like it had an effect on who he was as a character–it felt more to me like diversity for diversity’s sake (which, again, I’m not a fan of).

I liked that the book had a bit of mystery to it. The book alternates between Rowan and Will so the reader ends up with quite a bit more information than Rowan as she’s trying to figure out whose body is in her backyard. It was fun and interesting for me to see Rowan making incorrect assumptions. Based on the information she has her deductions are quite logical, but we know that she doesn’t have the whole story. The reader is given clues from both the past and the present so I was able to figure out who the body was maybe around the 70% mark–but I think the author meant for us to figure it out at that point. The way the two story lines came together was also interesting and (for the most part) felt natural.

I can’t speak for black people, but as a minority I do appreciate that Latham has chosen to tackle this big topic of race and racism in America. While I think the book would have felt more meaningful if it had been written by a black author, it is apparent that Latham had done an extensive amount of research while she was writing. She doesn’t shy away from painting things as ugly as they were–she’s not pulling any punches here. This book has frank depictions of racism and the kind of cruelty that humans will inflict upon each other. Latham also illustrates the small types of racism that are still around today. Overall, I thought this book was well-done and I would recommend it for mid to older teens.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate. Specifically the n-word is used several times (along with other language), but I did not feel that the author used it excessively in the context of the book.
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild. One brief, non-descriptive scene of attempted rape.

Note: I received this book free from The NOVL in exchange for an honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Historical Settings

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. ¬†Each week there is a new topic and this week‚Äôs topic is: Top Ten Historical Settings You Love/ Ten Historical Settings You’d Love To See or Top Futuristic Books You Love/Ten Futuristic Societies I’d Love To Read in Books — basically this week is all about the past or the future….spin it however you choose!

For this post I’ve decided to focus on the past. I like reading futuristic books, but it’s really hard for me to pinpoint what about them I like. Unlike most of my Top Ten Tuesdays, this list is actually in order of preference.

10) The French Revolution – I can’t actually think of any books that I’ve read in this time period, but it definitely appeals to me. I learned a bit about this time period in high school and it seems like a time when paranoia was high and spies were everywhere.
9) 1980s High School – Not really that long ago, but they didn’t have internet or cell phones or Spotify…how did people even live back then?
8) The Middle Ages РKnights and jousting and a lot of horse riding. Sometimes includes a damsel-in-distress, but more likely a damsel dressed as a knight.
7) 1950s America – It seems like life was so much simpler in a lot of ways back then. The country was in a rebuilding stage after WWII and the Great Depression.
6) Elizabethan England – The courts and the opulence. Politics and intrigue. Every book I’ve read from this time period has had so. much. drama.
5) The Victorian Era¬†– Specifically the late 1800s. Think Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices series or The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. This is really similar to the Regency Era, but there are some subtle differences. I feel like women have more of a role in society in this era. And if you want to throw some steampunk in there? By all means, go for it.
4) World War I – I’ve only read one book in this time period (In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters) but I loved it and I was so interested to learn more about WWI and the Spanish Flu and everything that was going on at this time.
3) The Roaring Twenties – Flappers and mobsters and prohibition and speakeasies. When I think about the 1920s I just picture a ton of glitz and glam and wild parties. Basically old-timey Gossip Girl.
2) Regency Era/Jane Austen – This is approximately the early 1800s. I love reading about the balls and the politics and the romance of this era.
1) World War II – What is it about this time period? It’s not too far in the past, but far enough that it feels like it was a lifetime ago. There was so much going on in the world at this time. So much possibility for drama.