The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen

The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen by Katherine HoweFirst Lines: The cafe in the basement of Tisch, the art and film school at New York University, was redecorated this year.

Do you ever have those books that you buy on a whim and then never read?  This was one of those.  I bought it cheap once because I love a good ghost story, but then I saw the Goodreads rating was kinda low (3.5/5) and I just…lost the drive to read it.  But in isolation now, I’m running out of excuses.

Wes, an aspiring film student, is bored.  The last thing he wants to be doing right now is doing sound for a stupid seance for his friend’s film.  But even he’ll admit the upside when he meets the beautiful and mysterious girl named Annie.  As they begin spending time together, Wes starts to notice strange things about Annie.  She seems lost in a city she grew up in.  Her slang is different.  But all the same, Wes feels pulled toward her and her quest to find a missing ring.  Annie’s running out of time and Wes feels compelled to help her.  But they’re not going to like the secrets they uncover along the way…

I found it to be really enjoyable.

When we meet Wes, he’s doing sound for a recording of a seance in this tiny apartment above a pizzeria in New York City. He wants to make the move officially to NYC to pursue film, but he’s afraid his parents, who live in Wisconsin, aren’t going to be ok with that. Wes has a soft heart and is something of a pushover, but I liked that flaw for him. He just doesn’t know how to tell people no.

Annie is a very different character. She has been coddled her life and living richly is starting to feel more like a cage than anything else. She wants more to life than she can currently access. Her fear and wonder of the new world she experiences were very realistic and interesting.

I know it’s a ghost story, but in a lot of ways, it also sort of felt like a time travel story. Annie had to adjust to new slang she wasn’t familiar with. (As an English major who adores linguistics, that was a lot of fun.) The layering of old-New York City on top of modern-NYC was also a lot of fun (the history buff in me loved that). I just thought the story was a fun mix of interesting characters and history bits.

Were parts of it cliche? Yes. But I also kind of liked that? And yeah, I thought there were parts that didn’t really get enough attention. There were some things that were left ambiguous and I wanted more or things I still don’t fully understand, but it really didn’t impact my enjoyment too much.  The only thing that did seem a little strange was this one thing about the ending.  It’s the one consistent complaint I see in reviews and I get it.  That was a little weird.

Oh, and the story is told in a somewhat nonlinear fashion. It’s broken into three parts: Part 1 has Wes as the narrator, Part 2 has Annie as the narrator, and Part 3 flips infrequently between Wes and Annie. I actually really liked the way this unfolded. I thought it was fun.

So yeah. I’m happy to say I enjoyed this.

Bad Girls Don’t Die (Bad Girls Don’t Die, #1)

Image result for bad girls don't dieFirst Lines: I stood perfectly still, looking up at the house and the dark sky beyond it.  A band of mist drifted away from the moon, making way for the next set of clouds–what I hoped would be the picturesque backdrop I’d been waiting for.

Let me start by apologizing for dropping off the map there for a week or two (more about that will come later).  I know I am super late to this party, but this was a book I saw everyone reading for years and if something is that mainstream, I tend to not like it.  So I kept putting it off.

Alexis is a loner and you know what, she doesn’t really care.  Dealing with her dysfunctional family, high school, and a sister obsessed with dolls means Alexis already has a lot on her plate.  Another moment of family drama should have been almost routine for Alexis, but she suddenly realizes how different her sister Kasey is acting.  Her blue eyes sometimes go green, she’s speaking differently, and she’s forgetting large chunks of time.  Even their house is changing: doors open and close on their own, the stove lights itself, and the unplugged AC unit continues to run.  Alexis thinks a lot of this is only happening in her head, but when it changes from tricks to life-threatening situations, Alexis knows she has to do something.  But what if Kasey isn’t Kasey anymore?

It’s been a while since I’ve read a good paranormal/horror novel. Right from the beginning, the suspense and creepy events kept my attention. It wasn’t about being predictable (which it wasn’t anyway) or being about jump scares like most horror movies. Instead, we focused on the unease of the entire situation and the weird things that continued to happen as Alexis put the pieces together. I liked that.

The characters are kind of an eclectic mix, as many books from the 2000s were. Alexis is a Loner. She prefers to be by herself and tends to think of herself as having no friends. If she does have friends, they’re probably from what she refers to as the Doom Squad, otherwise known as the Goths. She then befriends the preppy Class President with a dark past and a Cheerleader. On the surface, they should not all be friends. However, the moral of the story is that we’re more alike than we are different.

I just found the whole book to be exciting and interesting. It was a fast read with events I thought were sometimes pretty intense. It was just a lot of fun and I’m glad I was able to read it all very quickly.

Top Ten Favorite Ghost Stories

Hey guys!  So this week’s actual Top Ten topic is…books with numbers in the title.  Personally, I’m not feeling it.  It just seems boring.  I figured, instead, I’d talk about ghost stories since we’re getting close to Halloween.  But let’s be real, is it ever a bad time to talk about ghost stories?

Some of these might be sweet, some might be scary, but let’s see what shows up!

Top Ten Favorite Ghost Stories

1. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Oh, this is definitely at the top of the list.  Maureen has always been a favorite of mine and this was one of the books that solidified that.  These ghosts are dangerous and have the ability to kill people and Rory and her new friends might be the only ones who can stop them. Sooooo gooooood.

2. Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready

I dug back in the archives for this one, but it truly was fascinating.  In this series, there was a spiritual Shift that happened and now anyone born after a certain point can see ghosts.  And they are everywhere, usually trying to pass messages on to their loved ones.  And Aura is so over it, after hearing them her whole life.  But questions arise about what caused the Shift and Aura needs to figure it out.

3. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Classic.  Dark, sometimes terrifying and sometimes funny, this will keep you on your toes.  I love this one.  I may have to move it up on my to-read list for this Halloween.  In this, Cas has inherited his father’s job of hunting and killing ghosts.  But when he comes to town to kill the ghost known as Anna Dressed in Blood, he finds a ghost unlike anything he’s seen before.  Anna kills anyone who invades what was her home…but she spares Cas.

4. In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

This is an interesting read that looks at ghosts in the context of history.  Set in 1918 as the Spanish Influenza rages through the country and World War I winds to a close, this tells the story of Mary, who lost her sweetheart in the war.  Everyone around her has lost someone and, while she doesn’t believe in ghosts, some people are capitalizing on all the deaths by promising ghost photography of them and their loved ones.  And when Mary sees her sweetheart’s ghost, everything changes.

5. Hereafter by Tara Hudson

Ok, this is one of the cute stories I mentioned.  They’re not all dark!  It’s a ghost-human romance, which was really big about 8-10 years ago, if you remember.  I always liked this one.  Amelia is dead, but she doesn’t remember what happened.  When she manages to save Joshua from drowning.  They form a bond and, with Joshua’s help, Amelia starts to learn what happened to her.  Of course, it’s not that easy, though.

6. Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach

This is kind of a combination of the last two: historical by turns and romantic.  Caitlyn has earned a scholarship to a French boarding school–in a castle!  But there’s a ghost visiting her each night.  Raphael was killed centuries ago, and it’s up to Caitlyn to figure out what happened to him.  When Caitlyn starts having feelings for a ghost, though, things get complicated.  Is this story cheesy?  Yes.  But that doesn’t make it any less cute.

7. Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder

This book goes in a different direction.  First of all, it’s a lyrical story.  Brooklyn is dealing with the death of her boyfriend, Lucca, and the overdose of her friend Gabe.  She’s falling to pieces, and every time she closes her eyes, she sees Gabe.  Nico, Lucca’s brother, starts receiving messages from Lucca telling him to check on Brooklyn.  Neither Brooklyn nor Nico knows the other is being haunted…

8. Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Ok, straight up truth, this is probably the scariest book on this list.  I haven’t read this book in like 8 or 9 years and I still remember it like I read it last week.  (Actually, I probably remember it better than the book I read last week.)  To gain some fame, a group of teenagers breaks into the Danvers State Hospital, the birthplace of the lobotomy, to spend the night and film their experience.  But what starts as a dare ends as a nightmare as the Hospital is filled with dark secrets of the past and ghosts that never left…

9. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I’m totally counting this!  I mean, Mia’s a ghost for like half the story, so I’m absolutely putting this on the list.  It’s all about the internal conflict, after all, that question of if she should stay or not.  I do enjoy that.

10. City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

This story is more Middle Grade, but it’s got the right mix of history, scary ghosts, and interesting plot.  Cassidy’s parents are TV ghost hunters, but they have no clue their own daughter can actually see ghosts.  As part of their show, the family is traveling around the world to some of the most haunted locations to film, with their first stop being Edinburgh, Scotland.  And these ghosts are not going to leave Cassidy alone…

Now Entering Addamsville

Image result for now entering addamsvilleFirst Lines: George Masrell’s house went up in flames at 2:59 a.m. on a frost-tipped october morning.  Masrell was eighty, lived alone on the northeast side of town, and spent his days cleaning the bathrooms at Addamsville High.  He was liked in the way outdoor art installations are liked: for his quirks and his reliable permanence.

When I saw Zappia had a new book coming out, I was super excited.  And the fact that it’s set in my home state of Indiana and the title reminded me of the Addams Family was an added bonus.  Really, she could have written the phone book and I still would have read it.  Getting the ARC was a big win for me.  (Book officially drops October 1st!)

Here’s the official synopsis: Zora Novak has been framed.

When someone burns down the home of the school janitor and he dies in the blaze, everyone in Addamsville, Indiana, points a finger at Zora. Never mind that Zora has been on the straight and narrow since her father was thrown in jail. With everyone looking for evidence against her, her only choice is to uncover the identity of the real killer. There’s one big problem—Zora has no leads. No one does. Addamsville has a history of tragedy, and thirty years ago a similar string of fires left several townspeople dead. The arsonist was never caught.

Now, Zora must team up with her cousin Artemis—an annoying self-proclaimed Addamsville historian—to clear her name. But with a popular ghost-hunting television show riling up the townspeople, almost no support from her family and friends, and rumors spinning out of control, things aren’t looking good. Zora will have to read between the lines of Addamsville’s ghost stories before she becomes one herself.

It’s Zappia’s first book that doesn’t deal with mental illness. Instead, this is more of an urban fantasy (kind of a curve ball, right?). Zora can see ghosts in her small town, a town where you never leave even after you die. But not only are there ghosts, we also have lovely little demons running around. The paranormal edge was slightly unexpected, but it worked out pretty well throughout the story.

However, if you’re still expecting something deeper, you’ll get it. There are serious issues like grief, poverty, and bullying (not in the way you’ll expect) here. And they’re handled with extreme care, in a way that you get it when you’re done.

Zappia’s writing style is immersive. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately where it seems like nothing has pulled me in, but this had no problem doing it. It didn’t matter where I stopped or started, I was all in in just a few pages. It’s just so smart.

Zora is an interesting character. She’s very angry about pretty much everything. She’s got a short fuse and it’s easy to set her off. She’s got a bad reputation and she’s working on picking up the pieces of her life as everyone turns against her. She’s not your typical heroine. She’s impulsive and troubled, but she’s got a good heart to her. There were times when I had to put the book down for a while, though, because Zora’s intense and I can’t handle a lot of that at one time. There’s only so much rage I can absorb before I need to get away from it. But that doesn’t make her a bad character by any means.

I was a little disappointed with the ending, though. The story had been so creative, so engaging the whole time, and then I felt like the ending kind of missed the mark. It still (mostly) wrapped everything up, but it felt too abrupt.

However, as a Hoosier, I appreciated the Indiana jokes. Mentions of Conner Prairie and the Colts were very much appreciated.

It was intense, but it was a good read. Definitely worth checking out.  (Though sometimes reading this before bed is not a good idea.  I did that one night and I got to a super creepy part right before I hit the hay…it was not good.)

Walk of the Spirits (Walk, #1)

Image result for walk of the spiritsFirst Lines: She was tired today because of the screaming.  That horrible screaming that had woken her up last night, just like it had the night before.

I’m very deliberately trying to read some of the books that have been on my to-read list for about a decade at this point and this was one of those.  I have a hard time passing up a good ghost story and this one, set in Louisiana, sounded promising.

The town of St. Yvette, Louisiana, is not Miranda’s home.  With her mother, Miranda is forced to move to St. Yvette to live with her grandfather after a hurricane destroyed her home.  The town is idyllic–moss-covered trees, beautiful historic homes, winding lanes.  But the town is hiding secrets.  There’s something lonely and sad about this town, a feeling Miranda can’t shake anywhere she goes, even at school when she’s working on a group project with new friends.  Miranda hears whispers no one else hears, screams no one else reacts to, shadows that no one else sees.  Her new friends can see Miranda is struggling with something, and Miranda’s starting to learn that she shares her grandfather’s ability to speak to the dead…and she wants to help them.

I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped to be.

The story started off promising enough. Miranda is new to St. Yvette and it’s there that she starts experiencing things she can’t explain. Soon there’s some stuff about ghosts, local history, and lots of humor with her new friends.

My biggest beef was that I felt like the story wasn’t told well. The pacing felt off, for one thing. Like, Miranda finds friends pretty quickly, which is fine, but they’re ride-or-die with her in about two days. That didn’t seem realistic to me. And the way certain parts of the story are told (specifically relating to the ghosts) was confusing. There were parts where I literally couldn’t tell what just happened despite going back and rereading that section.

It also felt a lot like The Breakfast Club. Each person seemed to fit into a different stereotype. Ashley’s the cheerleader, Parker’s the football player, Roo’s the goth chick, Gage is the sweetheart, Etienne is the dark horse with a tragic backstory, and Miranda’s the seemingly “crazy” one. While I understand how they all came to be friends (there are some family links between some of them), it just seemed weird, especially given the animosity between two of them.

The ghost angle also wasn’t what I thought it would be. There was so much going on in the story as we kept jumping between school, the project, friend drama, family drama, and ghosts that nothing felt like it was being focused on long enough to get into it.

I will say that the feeling of suspense was pretty well done. There was one night, after reading a lot, that I went to bed somewhat paranoid just from reading this. So, there’s that.

It wasn’t all bad. The humor, as i mentioned a little before, was pretty good. The banter between the characters was really where it was. That was fun. I just felt like I was lacking something while reading this.

City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake, #1)

Image result for city of ghostsFirst Lines: People think that ghosts only come out at night, or on Halloween, when the world is dark and the walls are thin.  But the truth is, ghosts are everywhere.  In the bread aisle at your grocery store, in the middle of your grandmother’s garden, in the front seat of your bus.  Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

I’m pretty sure I got this free from Scholastic a few years back as part of an order.  It’s more of a middle grade read than YA, but it’s Victoria Schwab.  And ghosts.  And Scotland.  I was going to read it.

Ever since Cassidy nearly drowned, she’s been able to pull back the Veil between the real world and the world of ghosts.  Her best friend is even a ghost.  As if her life wasn’t already bizarre enough, her parents are hosting a show about the most haunted places in the world, starting with Edinburgh, Scotland.  Graveyards, alleys, and castles are all on the list.  When Cassidy meets a girl with powers like herself, she realizes there’s more to this than she knew.  And she’d better learn fast because these ghosts are not to be trifled with.

It was a fun little adventure. Cassidy can see ghosts and her parents, who are filming a ghost hunting show, have no idea. It was the kind of irony I appreciate and it made it all very interesting.

Cassidy and her best friend Jake were a fun combination–sarcastic, but always there for each other. I liked that too.

And the ghosts were pretty interesting, too. I mean, as Americans, I don’t think we ever feel history the same way Europe does. Cassidy being in Scotland means she’s seeing the dark underbelly of what happened during the last few hundred years in one location–from plague to accidents to murder to executions. I mean, it’s all something Edinburgh experienced. It was scary at times but very cool to read.  In America, a few hundred years ago, most of the country was still farmland.  We didn’t have too many cramped and troubled cities and certainly no castles.  That last one is unfortunate.

The lower lexile took a tiny bit getting used to, but it was fine. It just meant most that the story was clean and focused on the main few plot points rather than being distracted by other things.

This was a fun read.  It definitely feels spooky at times, so that was a perk.