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Review: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Halloween Tree
Ray Bradbury

Genre: FantasySupernatural
Paperback: 145 Pages
Publication: September 7, 1999 (originally 1972)
by Yearling

Eight costumed boys running to meet their friend Pipkin at the haunted house outside town encounter instead the huge and cadaverous Mr. Moundshroud. As Pipkin scrambles to join them, he is swept away by a dark Something, and Moundshroud leads the boys on the tail of a kite through time and space to search the past for their friend and the meaning of Halloween. 


Happy Halloween, readers! When I saw that my review for this week would fall on the best day of the year, there was no other thought on my mind. I HAD to read this book; the occasion was JUST right for it. Not to mention the fact that I also started the month with another Bradbury review, so it only made sense to close it with one.

I loved Bradbury's prose in this book. Since it's for a younger audience than the last book of his I read, the words were somewhat simpler, certainly easy enough for a kid but still at a level to where an adult can read the book. The descriptions were fantastic, especially of Mr. Moundshroud and his varying appearances, as well as the Halloween Tree itself. All of the places the boys travel to and the sights they see were very well painted and easy to picture. The fact that the boys travel through space and time to see how Halloween traditions got their starts was really great, especially because they went to places that tied in with the costumes they were wearing. The sequences where the boys see the traditions in motion were incredibly well done also and could make for interesting discussion, especially with kids, about how Halloween is celebrated in different cultures.

Of the characters, I really liked Mr. Moundshroud. For any Are You Afraid of the Dark? fans reading this, he kind of reminded me of Sardo, the owner of the magic shop who sold magical objects to the protagonists of the stories. Moundshroud serves as a guide to the boys on their journey and changes his appearance according to where they end up, which I really liked. He's not an antagonist, but there is a secret revealed about him towards the end that really makes sense when you think about it.

While this may not be much of a problem for younger readers, I had a little trouble keeping track of the characters. The number of them wasn't so much the issue as was the lack of real characterization. It also got confusing about halfway through the book when the narrative started to call the boys by their names; before that, they were called by the costumes they wore (beggar, mummy, ghost, etc.). I also would've liked a little more on the friendship among the nine boys, especially on the main eight's relationship with Pipkin. We're told that he's pretty the best friend these kids could ask for, but I wanted more justification for those feelings.

Like the last Bradbury book I reviewed, there was an interesting message lying under the events of this story. Here, we get the question of just how much you would do for a friend, in particular a friend who is very dear to you. Though the boys are only eleven or twelve years old, they make a decision that would even be difficult for a group of adults to make. I think their ability to do this so easily also serves as a comment on their innocence; since they're such young boys, they don't know about the craziness that can come about with grudges and petty arguments. Since these are things they don't seem to be familiar with, they don't hesitate to pay the price for Pipkin's safe return.

Overall, this is definitely a book I would recommend for kids or for anyone with that childlike sense of imagination and wonder. The adventure the characters go on is great fun to follow along, and the underlying thought behind the story is touching, but not in a cheesy way. And it all takes place on the best night of all, Halloween! Seriously, check this book out. Again, happy Halloween, readers! Have fun and stay spooky.

Rating: 4.5 stars

  • N/A

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Review: The Crow: Quoth the Crow by David Bischoff

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Crow: Quoth the Crow
David Bischoff

Genre: Urban FantasyHorror
Paperback: 277 Pages
Publication: January 1998
by HarperPrism

William Blessing is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. Like Poe, he is a writer of dark fantasy. And like Poe, he has powerful enemies. One of them pretends to be a friend, even as he plots to murder William and steal his wife. Blessing's only hope is to learn the truth about his "friend" before -- But this is the realm of the Crow, where the grave is the doorway to the truth. William must walk through it to discover Poe's final secret. Then, and only then, with the help of a dark-winged "Raven," can he return to feed on the human carrion who raped his wife and slaughtered his soul. 


I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this in another review, but I'll go ahead and say it again: I am a HUGE fan of The Crow. Any cult film enthusiast is probably familiar with this film, but for those of you who haven't seen this wonderful piece of cinema, do yourself a favor and watch it. I first saw the movie when I was twelve and instantly loved it, so you can probably imagine how much I shrieked with glee when I found out that there was a whole Crow franchise, including novels. I'd already read one of these novels before picking this one up a while back, so I was more than excited for this book.

For those of you who are new to the Crow universe, the basic gist of the original and all its spinoffs is this: a person unjustly killed is resurrected by an unknown force, given a crow as a guide, and has to go out and set the wrong things right, usually getting revenge on those who killed them. In this particular instance, we get Dr. William Blessing, a Poe scholar and collector, who is brutally murdered in a botched plan that has gone horribly awry.

This novel confused me in the first few chapters but I later realized why I was so thrown off. In previous Crow stories I've read and seen, the whole thing starts when the person (referred to as the Crow with a capital C) is brought back to life by the bird and figures out that they're back and why, with memories of the past being thrown in during flashbacks. Though the prologue takes place during the revenge part of the plot, the first half of this novel sets up the unfortunate circumstances for Dr. Blessing that lead to his being brought back to life as a Crow. Maybe it's because I'm so used to the standard formula, but I struggled a little with reading the first half of this novel.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about some of the characters. I don't have a problem with Dr. Blessing and his wife Amy as characters; they're fairly well developed, and we're given good details on their relationship. I also have to give the author bonus points for the Poe reference in their relationship (Amy is essentially a child bride, as was Poe's own wife, Virginia). However, when it comes to the antagonists, I have very mixed feelings. They're actually somewhat smart and come up with plans that sound like they could work, but I feel like we're not given enough information on them. Two didn't really feel like antagonists so much as they did just random accomplices who really didn't realize what they were getting themselves into. I seriously thought that one of them was suffering from some sort of delusion, but because this was never confirmed, the doubt remained. I'm not sure if that makes him a stronger antagonist or a scarier one, but he was still a genuinely creepy character either way.

This book did something that no other Crow story I've read has done besides the original: it gave the bird itself a personality. In James O'Barr's original comic, the crow makes appearances throughout the book, usually chastising the protagonist for getting caught up in his feelings and forgetting about his mission. In the films and the other books I've read, the bird is just a familiar, the one who silently guides the resurrected Crow and helps them in tracking down their enemies. Here, the bird appears from the beginning and is even described as having a Brooklyn accent, which gave me a good laugh. It talks to Blessing, presumably telepathically, and its "voice" comes across as very wisecracking, but in a funny way and not annoying.

As you can probably guess by the title, there are a lot of Poe references throughout this book. Every chapter started with a quote from famous Poe works such as "The Black Cat," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Raven," among several others. Morbid as it may sound, I loved the fact that Blessing takes inspiration from Poe stories when he gets revenge, quoting the stories when taking out each of his assailants and their accomplices. The ways in which he kills them got some graphic descriptions, but the way he ties the deaths in with Poe was just really clever, so I feel like that aspect of the revenge plot deserves some praise.

Going off of that, I liked how the Poe theme was tied into the mythos of the Crow universe. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to find that Blessing was the Crow in this book, mostly because, at forty-seven years old, he is the oldest character I've encountered to have taken on the role. This isn't a bad thing, and it was a nice personal touch on the part of the author. Each Crow varies slightly from author to author, and I thought it was interesting that the author of this book chose not to give Blessing the iconic Crow makeup (which has also been incarnated in masks or facial scarring). I also have to give big kudos on Blessing's strengths and weaknesses as the Crow, particularly in how he starts to decompose if he drifts away from his mission and how his thirst for revenge and love for his wife can heal him.

And then there was the ending. My Goth, that ending. Like in the beginning of the book, the first few pages of the epilogue felt a little off, but then the last pages brought everything together and made for a grimly satisfying ending. It tied up some minor details that were mentioned in passing with two chapters that initially felt really out of place with the rest of the narrative, bringing them together with the rest of the story really well. This ending had a strong Tales From the Crypt feel to it, and I just loved it.

This book gave me a great and very pleasant surprise. The beginning was a little slow and kind of clunky for my liking, but once the revenge plot was set into motion, it really picked up the pace of the narrative. There were some decent characters, and all of the Poe references were great. The plot was relatively solid, and the ending was probably the best thing overall of the novel. If you want a good revenge story with some great references to classic literature, this is the book for you.

Rating: 4.5 stars


  1. The Crow: Quoth the Crow
  2. The Crow: The Lazarus Heart
  3. The Crow: Clash By Night
  4. The Crow: Temple of Night
  5. The Crow: Wicked Prayer
  6. The Crow: Hellbound

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  • Some language
  • Some drug references
  • Strong violence
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  • Graphic depictions of murder
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Review: Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

Friday, October 17, 2014

Drawing Blood
Poppy Z. Brite

Genre: LGBQTHorror
Paperback: 403 Pages
Publication: October 1994
by Dell

Robert McGee is a man living under a dark cloud. Acclaimed cartoonist of the underground comic book Birdland, he has moved his family from Texas to New Orleans and finally to Missing Mile, North Carolina. But Robert is unable to escape the drinking and the violence that have become as natural to him as breathing. Soon after he and his family settle into a decrepit farmhouse, Robert kills his wife, his younger son, and then himself. Only his five-year-old son, Trevor, is left alive. 
Twenty years later Trevor McGee, also a cartoonist, returns to Missing Mile to the house in which his family once lived. He has been running from the truth for years, and finally realizes he must face his demons. He fears that what happened to his father will happen to him. But if it does, Trevor thinks, at least I won't have anyone to kill. Then he befriends Zachary Bosch, a computer hacker from New Orleans running from the law. In the house, which Trevor calls Birdland, they must confront much more than bad memories. For the house itself carries its own dark force, which threatens to envelop Trevor in the past and destroy him.


After falling in love with his short stories my freshman year of college, I knew that I had to have more Poppy Z. Brite on my bookshelves. I'd actually seen this book at my local used bookstore a few times before deciding to actually buy it. Even though the title threw me for a bit of a loop, the book didn't disappoint at all.

Brite never ceases to amaze with his attention to detail, in particular to settings. The places we visit in New Orleans come across as exotic and fascinating, ranging from a shady strip club to the French Market, the latter of which contained the most beautiful description of produce I've ever read and made me crave some sugar cane. Brite's hardcore fans will immediately recognize the kudzu and small-town feel of Missing Mile, and it was great to explore more parts of the small town. Even if this is your first time rolling into the town, there are plenty of details given for you to remember it in the future, and some of these even expand knowledge of the town for those who have read Brite before.

Once again, we follow four characters (for the most part) in alternating chapters; besides Trevor and Zach, we see bar owner Kinsey Hummingbird and Zach's best friend, stripper Eddy Sung. Even though Brite's Steve and Ghost are my favorite duo to read about, I really loved Zach and Trevor. They serve as great complements to each other and stand incredibly well individually. Kinsey, a character previously introduced in the novel Lost Souls, gets a considerably bigger role in this book and is one of my favorite secondary characters in the Brite universe. Sassy and the only woman for most of the story, Eddy is a strong female character; her relationship with Zach was portrayed as strong and showed how much mutual respect and caring there was between them, though more in a platonic light.

When it comes to horror stories, I'm usually not a big fan of haunted house stories and tend to be more of a creature-feature girl. That being said, I genuinely liked the atmosphere of the house on Violin Road. Since we see the events leading up to the McGee murder-suicide, there is no denying what will become of the house. The things that happen when Trevor and Zach live there are way beyond anything you would see in one of the Paranormal Activity movies, including terrifying hallucinations that regularly made them question their sanity. As I once heard said about haunted house stories, the question on all our minds is "Why don't the characters leave?". The answer is pretty straightforward in this book: they have nowhere else to go. Trevor wants to know why his father let him live, and Zach is on the run. These two really have no other place they can go but the house on Violin Road.

What I really loved about this book was how it raised questions that could lead to some really interesting discussions. Little events sprinkled throughout the novel make you wonder about the nature of relationships, not just between romantic partners but also between friends and family members. One of my favorite moments that poses such a question is when Trevor thinks he can count Zach and Kinsey as his family because of what they have done for him. The purpose of life, what things are worth their risk, and how much a person can mean to you are some of the other big themes brought up in the story, and how they manage to come up in a story such as this honestly amazes me (in a good way, of course).

Since I've been a Brite fan for a few years now, I had a lot of fun spotting all of the references to some of his other works. The ever-popular Steve and Ghost are mentioned a few times; we are told that they have gone on tour after a gig they played in New York (which is the basis of the short story "How To Get Ahead in New York," printed in the collection Wormwood, which those of you curious enough can check out here). Kinsey and his bar, the Sacred Yew, were already familiar from Lost Souls, as were Terry Buckett, his best friend R.J. Miller, and Terry's record store, the Whirling Disc. Fun fact: Brite's original title for this book was Birdland, but the publishers told him to change it because of the references to places and characters mentioned in Lost Souls (you can check out my review on it here). I think Birdland made more sense as a title but I'll give the publishers points for wanting to tie the books together. You don't have to read one to get the other but doing so lets you in on more of the references.

This is one of the few of Poppy Brite's stories that actually has a somewhat happy ending. The tale of Trevor and Zach came to what I thought was a good close, but they happened to pop up in another short story titled "Vine of the Soul" (printed in the collection Are You Loathsome Tonight?, which you can check out here). It takes place seven years after the events of Drawing Blood, and they seem to still be as happy in the short story as they come to be in the novel.

There's no other way for me to put it: this book was a real pleasure to read (or re-read, in my case). Brite's writing is always a welcome sight for me, and these characters were fun to meet and, in some cases, reconnect with. The relationships between characters were rendered really well, and the romance that develops has a good end. The scares were great, but ultimately the questions the book makes you ponder are even better.

Rating: 5 stars

  • N/A

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  • Strong language
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Review: The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Fiery Heart
Richelle Mead

Series: Bloodlines #4
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Hardback: 420 Pages
Publication: November 19, 2013
by Razorbill

Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives.

In The Indigo Spell, Sydney was torn between the Alchemist way of life and what her heart and gut were telling her to do. And in one breathtaking moment that Richelle Mead fans will never forget, she made a decision that shocked even her. . . .

But the struggle isn't over for Sydney. As she navigates the aftermath of her life-changing decision, she still finds herself pulled in too many directions at once. Her sister Zoe has arrived, and while Sydney longs to grow closer to her, there's still so much she must keep secret. Working with Marcus has changed the way she views the Alchemists, and Sydney must tread a careful path as she harnesses her profound magical ability to undermine the way of life she was raised to defend. Consumed by passion and vengeance, Sydney struggles to keep her secret life under wraps as the threat of exposure — and re-education — looms larger than ever.


I love Vampire Academy, and I love book one of this series. There's also the small part of me that loves an epic romance that sweeps me off my feet. However, with each book in this series, the plot and world has continued to be unraveled more and more to the point that I feel like the only reason I'm continuing this series is because I have this burning desire to see what happens to Sydney and Adrian. While that may be one reason to read a book, if you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know that I love a good plot. One of my favorite things about the VA series is that it has both an epic romance AND maintained a strong plot, so it's disappointing that the Bloodlines series is lacking in this.

Now, that isn't to say that things aren't going down in The Fiery Heart. With Zoe coming into the picture just as Sydney has finally made the decision to follow her heart, there is a constant sense of added danger. Will Zoe catch onto things? How will Sydney continue her magic studies with her little sister around? More importantly, how will she and Adrian see each other? The problem here is that the romance plot overpowers the other plot angles. Everything else comes and goes with no apparent order or purpose to them. For example, in the beginning you see Sydney being initiated into a coven of witches. However, this doesn't really influence what happens later in the book except in a little minor incident. If I were to name a predominating order to the book, it's that everything happens to further the romance, and this causes the order to the other plotlines to fall apart.

Sydney becomes just another YA paranormal romance heroine in The Fiery Heart. One of the reasons I love Sydney is because she's intelligent, capable, and resourceful. These are traits that you don't often see in YA heroines. At least to the degree that you see them in Sydney. These traits are so defining of her that you see them in her every word, thought, and behavior. At least until The Fiery Heart came along. It felt like everything Sydney did was to ensure her and Adrian's safety even as she makes stupid decisions out of a false sense of security. She's a perfectionist and has always been able to do the right thing. You'd think that this would cause her to err on the side of caution; instead, she's driven to give into some of her and Adrian's more dangerous desires, presumably because she believes, or wants to believe, that they'll be able to get away with it.

Another awkward element to this book is how Adrian's narrative comes into play. While I love Adrian and would have been excited to get a peek into his point of view in another situation, I've already been saying that there are too many plot elements competing for attention in the Bloodlines series since book two (The Golden Lily). The addition of his point of view in this book lends another element of complexity that this series does not need. Even if he gives us insight into plot elements that Sydney could not give us, I believe the novel could have been stronger as a whole if it stuck with Sydney's perspective, which would have given it more of a much-needed focus to the story development.

Bloodlines promised to further develop the world of Vampire Academy. I entered this series expecting to find out what happens to the order of the vampire world following Lissa's reign. That the central characters in this series were some favorite minor characters from the first series was a bonus. Given how these last few books have been disappointingly lacking in organized plot development, I really feel like I'm now reading the series to find out what happens and not because I'm looking forward to a spectacular, plot-driven novel that has me itching to turn the pages to see where it takes me next.

Rating: 2.5 stars

  1. Bloodlines
  2. The Golden Lily
  3. The Indigo Spell
  4. The Fiery Heart
  5. Silver Shadows
  6. The Ruby Circle

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  • Kissing, making out
  • Sex
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Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Jane Austen & Ben H. Winters

Genre: HorrorParody
Paperback: 344 Pages
Publication: September 15, 2009
by Quirk Books

As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest—and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!


Sense and Sensibility is my favorite Jane Austen novel, so when I heard about these horror parodies published by Quirk, I had to see if there was one of it. I happened to find this during a trip to my local used bookstore and managed to snag it for only two or three dollars. I'd heard all the hype about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which I plan to review at some point in the future), so I was really looking forward to this book, and it didn't disappoint me too much.

For those of you not familiar with Sense and Sensibility, it mainly revolves around the love triangles the oldest Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, find themselves in after leaving their home following the death of their father. Something I appreciated about this book was that it gave Marianne a more justified reason to dislike Colonel Brandon when she first meets him. As you can tell by the cover, he has tentacles on his face like Lovecraft's famous Cthulhu, and these tentacles are always mentioned whenever he is on screen, reminding us of the grossness of them. Because of this physical defect, we really have to consider Brandon's virtues as a person and, at least in my case, those virtues were what made him important as a character.

I loved that we got more screen time with characters who hadn't really been explored in the original novel. I felt like there was more to be seen with Mrs. Dashwood, and there was even a little subplot concerning the youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret. Since the whole story takes place around the ocean, there are pirates (you have to have them), and their presence was woven in surprisingly well into the narrative. The antagonists, as well as unlikable characters who weren't necessarily the villains of the story, get their comeuppances, and I liked how a lot of their fates were executed (seriously, these guys had what was coming to them).

Overall, I thought a lot of the sea-related elements were implemented well. From Elinor's hobby of driftwood whittling to Marianne's love for reading shipwreck survival journals and the presence of the pirates, the nautical references were good. I loved that the time spent with characters was predominantly somewhere surrounded by water, whether on the islands where the Dashwood women lived or in the sub-marine station the girls visit. The descriptions of places were fairly well done, the sub-marine station probably best of all, but the same can't be said for the technology. I felt like the descriptions of the things they used in the station were clunky and made the reading drag a bit.

Something I hadn't noticed about this book until after I had bought it was that it has some illustrations. Almost all of them are based on events in the novel, usually on the preceding page, but my favorite probably goes to the map, which we are given before the story even starts. This really helped me visualize where the characters were going and how far away certain characters were from each other. I think this may have also been a small nod to the original book, which also contains a map of England at the time.

The main reason I decided to check this book out, besides being based on my favorite Austen novel, was that it featured sea monsters. I feel like there aren't enough really popular monsters from the deep we could name off the tops of our heads, besides the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Moby Dick, the Kraken, and the squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Most of the creatures featured in this book were normal sea animals that were bigger and more aggressive towards humans, with one or two exceptions. This change in them comes from an event called the Alteration, and because we're never given exact details on it, that makes the nature of the creatures comes across as scarier. They're not really scary (at least according to my threshold of fear), but they may seem more so against the more lighthearted background of the rest of the novel.

The main problem I had with this book was that it didn't wow me. It was really good, but not amazing to my mind. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but I felt like there was something missing to make this book great. I loved the general adaptation of the novel into a nautical world, and the horrific elements were more campy than really scary. Again, it's a parody, so don't expect it to be some heavy-hitting horror read with terrifying monsters and the ultimate race for survival. It's silly, a bit cheesy at times, but still a fun read and a funny take on a classic, so I suggest you check it out, even if you end up laughing for the most part.

Rating: 4 stars

  • N/A

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Review: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Girl from the Well
Rin Chupeco

Genre: YA FantasyHorrorMystery
Hardback: 267 Pages
Publication: August 5, 2014
by Sourcebooks Fire

A dead girl walks the streets.

She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.

And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.

Because the boy has a terrifying secret - one that would just kill to get out.


Okiku was brutally murdered 300 years ago at the age of sixteen. Since then, she has preyed on people who hurt children and sent them to painful and horrific deaths. While Okiku is chasing down a serial killer, she encounters Tark Halloway, who is covered with mysterious tattoos that seal demon on his back. For the first time in 300 years, she is compelled by the desire to help somebody, and she seeks to help Tark before the seals on his body fail and to protect him from the evil that wishes him dead.

The story is told from the perspectives of three characters: Okiku, Tark, and Callie. This is made more complex with how the plotlines are interwoven with Okiku's past and the present. I like the author’s intriguing writing style and how the story shifts point of view narration not just from Callie to Tark to Okikubut also with a pronoun shift within Okiku’s own narrative.

Okiku is a very interesting character. She is a terribly vengeful ghost. Instead of wrecking havoc on the general world, however, she only punishes those who deserve it. Okiku is a child protector who takes down the evil children killers to set free the souls of all the children that these killers have victimized. I like how Okiku upholds a set of moral standards instead of wrecking havoc on the general world.

I feel for Tark. His mother tattooed the markings on his body to bind a demon to him. Since then, his mother has tried to kill him many times and has been institutionalized. Though Tark is sad, lonely, and yearns for his mother’s love despite everything she has done to him., he does not wallow self-pity. I like to see how he tries to stay strong through the rough situation he's been put in. His friend Callie, the third narrator, is sweet and so protective of Tark. I love her determination to protect and help Tark adjust to school and friends, and also to help him survive the demon that threatens his existence.

Chupeco bases her modern horror story on integrating Japanese folklore, culture, and horror elements. This is made darker through the mystery behind Tark's dark spirit and the man who stalks him. Some scenes are so terrifying and vivid that I had to sleep with the lights on. This entire book has been a rollercoaster of fear and excitement. I highly recommend The Girl from the Well to horror fans looking for a good scare.

An ARC was provided by Sourcebooks for review

Rating: 4 stars

  • N/A

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  • Some profanity
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DNF Reviews: Winterspell, The Iron Trial, and The Child Returns

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
by Claire Legrand

Genre: YA Fantasy   Hardback: 464 Pages
Publication: September 30, 2014 by Simon & Schuster BFYR

The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor's ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother's murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted--by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they're to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets--and a need she can't define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won't leave Cane unscathed--if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.

The beginning of the story sets the stage pretty well. The words of the Prologue are magical and spin a fantastical tale that has me curious about the world. I will admit that they are confusing and leave me at a lost for what will come next; nevertheless, they're interwoven so beautifully that I was willing to accept them as they are. However, the novel continued to be all over the place and made it hard for me to follow events and get invested in the novel.

Furthermore, I couldn't connect with Clara. I like how Clara is introduced at a public event, showing us a contrast between her public face and her private (inner) self. However, her later behavior proves hopelessly naïve and manipulative. A prime example is how, after finding out a shocking truth, she acts out against Godfather, who she claims to have deeply trusted and cared about and who she claims cares about her. I can understand her wanting to ask questions, but to hurt him and then claim that she deserves answers. . . that was shocking. And it just isn't with Godfather. The relationships of the different characters with each other are poorly developed and hard to figure out.

I had zero interest in following the characters and seeing what happened to them.

DNF 27% into the novel

Content: some nudity, some gore and violence

A copy was provided by Simon & Schuster for review

The Iron Trial
by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Genre: MG AdventureFantasyMagic   Hardback: 304 Pages
Publication: September 9, 2014 by Scholastic Press

From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic.

From two bestselling superstars, a dazzling and magical middle-grade collaboration centering on the students of the Magisterium, an academy for those with a propensity toward magic. In this first book, a new student comes to the Magisterium against his will -- is it because he is destined to be a powerful magician, or is the truth more twisted than that? It's a journey that will thrill you, surprise you, and make you wonder about the clear-cut distinction usually made between good and evil.

I found it intriguing that The Iron Trial was about a child who didn't want to become a magician. Generally, while it's not uncommon to find a reluctant hero in an MG fantasy read, they don't have a great aversion to magic. However, Callum has been taught by his father from a young age to fear magic, and I found myself drawn to his story. This may be why I kept reading as long as I did even though his voice, quite frankly, bored me from the beginning. I understand that Callum's father has kept a lot from Callum, so the world building is spotty at best. However, I just couldn't feel a connection to Callum and his story.

The Iron Trial reminds me of Melissa Marr and Kelly Armstrong's The Black Well Pages series (read my reviews of the first two books here and here). The story is interesting, and the characters have distinct personalities. However, there isn't much substance to either the characters or the plot.

DNF 25% into the novel

Content: some violence

A copy was provided by Scholastic for review

The Child Returns
Ærenden #1, by Kristen Taber

Genre: YA Fantasy   Paperback: 382 Pages
Publication: May 21, 2012 by Sean Tigh Press

Seventeen-year-old Meaghan has no idea her perfect life has been a lie — until she witnesses her parents’ brutal murders at the hands of red-eyed creatures.

After nearly sharing their fate, she escapes with her best friend, Nick, who tells her the creatures are called Mardróch. They come from another world, and so does she. Now that the Mardróch have found her, she must return to her homeland of Ærenden or face death.

Left with little choice, she follows Nick into a strange world both similar to Earth and drastically different. Vines have the ability to attack. Monkeys freeze their victims with a glare. Men create bombs from thin air. Even Meaghan’s newly discovered empath power turns into a danger she cannot control.

But control becomes the least of her worries once the Mardróch begin targeting her. When Nick confesses he knows the reason they want her, she learns the truth behind the kingdom's fifteen-year civil war — a long-buried secret that could cost Meaghan her life.

I've been interested in reading this book since I saw Candace's rave review on her blog. It sounded like just the epic fantasy read that I've been wanting to read, and Candace and I generally have similar taste in books. Unfortunately, this is one book where our opinions diverge completely.

I agree with Candace that this is more on the high fantasy end of the spectrum with Meaghan and Nick traveling to another world almost as soon as the book begins. The initial premise seems promising with Meaghan returning to her birth world with almost no memory of it and needing to be caught up to speed. As she's pretty much learning everything on the spot, it provides a good opportunity for us to learn about the world along with her. Unfortunately, Nick (for whatever reason) seems to think it's a bad idea to tell Meaghan everything at once, and she reacts pretty poorly to being kept in the dark. While I'd also be demanding answers were I to be in her position, she could have handled the situation much better, especially as Nick is kind of her only hope of survival here. And he's been pretty good to her so far. She's pretty much your typical stubborn YA protagonist who feels entitled to things without giving in return, and Nick is the tagalong guardian who refuses to give answers despite being in the know (thus further antagaonizing the protagonist). Overall, the characters fell flat for me. I didn't feel a connection with them.

On top of this, the beginning of the novel feels rushed. We've barely been introduced to Meaghan and Nick before they're on the run and a bunch of information about their home world is being dumped on us. I was almost a quarter into the novel when I realized that I still didn't have an idea what the point of their mission was beyond returning to Nick's home village. Why are the creatures after Meaghan, and what role will she play in this novel? With the stories told in third person and alternating between Meaghan and Nick's perspectives, there's plenty of potential to feed us information through internal dialogue. However, the characters feed us a little tidbit without further elaboration, resulting in a lot of missed chances to really build the world and character. A good example of this is where Meaghan comments (in her mind) that things have been awkward between her and Nick since this incident, and then she moves on without going into detail, which could have helped give us a better idea of how their relationship has been in the past and how it currently is in the present.

DNF 21% into the novel - poor story execution, couldn't connect with characters

Content: Mention of kissing, Some violence

A copy was provided by the author for review

** Content warnings are from the parts of the novel that I read and may not reflect the entirety of the novel **

Updates to Imaginary Reads

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hey everyone! Kris here.

As you may have noticed in the past couple of days, we've played around with the blog design. A group of us met up this past week to hang out, and we talked about what we want to do with the blog. Roxanne and I are English majors, and Kalen was an English minor. We all took creative writing classes as part of our undergraduate studies. Our various experiences with the written word have influenced the way we read books. We look for hidden themes and meanings, and we're used to critiquing each other's writings during workshops.

So, even though our reviews have always reflected our educational backgrounds, we decided to make it official: we'll be reviewing from a literary and critical approach. There will be little to no change in our reviews, so no need to worry about that. What may happen is that every now and then one of us may find a common thread in some books that we want to research / ponder over, and we might post make a blog post on that topic. For example, we suggested to Roxanne that she might explore vampires in literature, an endlessly fascinating topic for her. We've also talked about making some videos in which some of us have a debate / discussion, which we'll post to YouTube. (Not sure yet how that'll work and what we'll talk about. Suggestions are welcome!)

Other news:
I'll only be posting once a week on the blog now. With each year in college, classes have gotten more intense, and I also constantly find myself sucked into participating in more and more organizations. Because I'm crazy like that and always wanting to participate in more activities than I have time for. It's gotten to the point where I'll read too much over break just to get posts scheduled months ahead of time, and yet I never can quite read enough to cover the entire semester. This new schedule will help me stay on top of things and write the quality posts that y'all deserve. Plus, I might actually feel like I have the time to return comments :)

The private email I've been using to post to this blog has been increasingly receiving a lot of spam. It's gotten to the point that it's pretty annoying, so I've decided to use a different account to post on the blog. Along with the change, I've decided to go ahead and use my full name on the blog. (Ulterior motives: the signature for Crystal is much pretty than Kris. If I'd realized that earlier, I would have done this from the start!)

I've started a couple other blogs to cover topics that I've been interested in for a while. I know, I'm already too busy but writing is a great way for me to explore my thoughts, and I love blogging as an outlet.

First, Reading in Faith is another book blog. For several months now, I've been thinking about how to approach books from a faith perspective. As Imaginary Reads already has its specific approach to books, and I decided to create a new blog to discuss this. I'm not entirely sure yet what I'll be doing on the blog but hope to get it started soon. If you have any interest in this, you're more than welcome to follow the blog!

Write, Crystal is similar to Reading in Faith in that I'm blogging from a faith perspective. It's different in that it's the outlet from which I'll be exploring topics that come up in life and which aren't always covered deeply enough (if ever) in the classroom. It's a personal blog, so please respect that!

I've changed my Twitter username (which used to be @ImaginaryReads and is now @writecrystal) since it's not my only blog anymore. You can follow Imaginary Read's new Twitter account here! I won't be the only one tweeting from it anymore, so look forward to seeing what all our members have to say on Twitter!

Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Friday, October 3, 2014

Something Wicked This Way Comes
Ray Bradbury

Genre: FantasyHorror
Paperback: 263 Pages
Publication: 2008 (originally 1962)
by Gollancz

It's the week before Hallowe'en, and Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois. The siren song of the calliope entices all with promises of youth regained and dreams fulfilled... And as two boys trembling on the brink of manhood set out to explore the mysteries of the dark carnival's smoke, mazes and mirrors, they will also discover the true price of innermost wishes...


October is one of my favorite months of the year (Halloween being my favorite holiday), so I figured this book would be a great way to start off the month. This was my first time reading a Ray Bradbury novel, and needless to say, I was amazed.

I absolutely loved our protagonists, lifelong best friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. They serve as wonderful complements to each other, Jim being the brash one of the duo while Will is more passive. What makes them so relatable is the fact that they're at an interesting point in their lives, a few days before turning fourteen. As I once heard in sixth grade, they're at the age where they're too old to play with toy cars and too young to play with real ones. Being at this point in their lives is what makes them the most vulnerable to what the newly arrived carnival has to offer. Their conflicted feelings about the carnival and the questions that come up concerning their friendship serve to test the relationship between the boys and highlight their differences.

Another thing I really loved was the contrast between the two boys and Will's father. Just as the boys serve as foils to each other, so does Mr. Halloway serve as a foil to the two of them. Where the boys have opposing personalities, Mr. Halloway is their opposite age-wise; he states that he is fifty-four, and often feels that he is too old to be the father of a teenage boy Will's age. When the carnival rolls into town and Mr. Dark tells him what it has to offer, Mr. Halloway becomes part of the conflict Jim and Will are already a part of, leaving Will in a position where he has to save not just his best friend, but also his father. This leads Will to becoming more active in the story, thus providing him with great growth as a character.

Every great horror story should have a great antagonist, and Mr. Dark, the proprietor of the carnival, is a great antagonist. Though there are other characters featured in the carnival, particularly Mr. Dark's partner Mr. Cooger and the Dust Witch, he is the one who interacts the most with the protagonists. I think what's most scary about him is the fact that we don't know anything about him, other than that he is the owner of the carnival and a member of the freak show. Just like the mist from the Stephen King novella of the same name, this lack of information about Mr. Dark just makes him a great boogie man, an idea that comes up within the story. How do you fight something you know nothing about?

The only Bradbury work I had read prior to this book was the short story "The Veldt." Just like in the story, this novel had great suspenseful moments. Though most of these involved Mr. Dark, many of them revolved around the carnival itself, specifically the carousel. Even though we also get moments in the freak show and house of mirrors, the carousel itself is pretty much the centerpiece of the whole carnival and the thing that causes the most friction between Will and Jim. Again, Mr. Dark is characterized as an amazing monster, and the eerie details given about the carnival just make you feel really tense whenever the protagonists are there.

A slight problem I had with this book was the prose. Before anyone jumps on me, let me say that the prose in general was really great, but there were a few moments when it got a little dense, But besides these moments, the rest of it is really, really well done. The characters were painted well, and I especially loved all of the details paid to Mr. Dark and the carousel. I still find it amazing that there isn't a huge horror franchise revolving around a spooky carnival, but if one were to come up at some point, it should definitely take a few pointers from the portrayal of Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.

Ray Bradbury himself once said that life is too serious to be taken seriously, and that idea is reflected in this book. The way to defeat the horrors of the carnival is so simple, so outrageously simple, that it almost makes sense. The whole temptation that the carnival offers is the ability to shed or gain years, to get a head start or go back and start over, but at an incredibly high cost (this revelation also increases the scariness of Mr. Dark). It raises what I think would be a great topic for discussion, which would be the question of what would you do to grow up faster or relive the glory years, and could the price the carnival asks be considered too much?

This novel has a great message that I think a lot of people can relate to. It would be a great read for teenagers, since they can relate to the fact that adolescence is a crazy and confusing time, just as it is for Jim and Will. But I also think this is a great read for adults, especially when viewed from the perspective of Mr. Halloway. The prose is very good for the most part, the descriptions were well done, the scares well executed, and the characters were overall incredibly well developed and a pleasure to see, protagonists and antagonists alike. I highly recommend you add this book to your collection. We may be a few days in already, but Happy October, readers. The wicked time of the year is upon us.

Rating: 5 stars

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