Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

12507214Girl of Nightmares is Kendare Blake’s follow up to Anna Dressed in Blood. Anna was a decent YA read for me, but had some flaws I had a hard time over looking. I had heard mixed things about the sequel in this duology, but hoped for the best. When the BookTube-a-Thon came along I decided to meet one of the challenges (finish a series) with this book and it was a perfect addition to my reading list.

(There will be Anna spoilers ahead so beware.)

When we left Cass and his friends, Anna had just been swept away to God knows where. Her Victorian mansion had collapsed, but everyone else had survived to journey on into Girl of Nightmares. This time around, Cass is seriously missing his ghostly honey, hating that he doesn’t know what actually ended up happening to her. Things turn rather strange when he begins having visions of Anna that at first seem harmless and just slightly crazy, but then he begins to suspect that Anna is actually contacting him from the hell she’s been living in during the past few months. Cass and company now must figure out if helping Anna is the right thing to do and whether or not it’s even possible.

You guys, Girl of Nightmares was so much more enjoyable than Anna Dressed in Blood. I’ve been trying to nail down why that is since I finished reading. Partially, I was aware of some of the book’s previous pitfalls and so didn’t let those things bother me as much in the second book. When Cass’s mother just sort of benignly accepts his job of choice, death be damned, I let it go. Mostly, however, I was so pleasantly surprised at how genuinely creepy this book turned out to be. At moments, I actually shuddered at some of Anna’s ghostly visits. The spookiness of Blake’s second outing was a wonderful improvement. Horror novels should incite fear – duh.

The new characters and the new London setting for the book’s second half were also a huge win! I loved that Gideon wasn’t all he seemed and that Cass’s job was on the table now that a kickass new female protagonist has been introduced. I say protagonist because I would totally love a novel from Jestine’s perspective. Plus, the hell world Anna’s living in with the Obeahman was so perfectly rendered and imaginative. I finally feel like Kendare Blake has transcended the multitude of other YA novelists into an elite group of talented super writers.

Yes, I liked Girl of Nightmares just that much.

Bonus:

I love that the girl on the cover doesn’t appear to be white – but rather looks Asian. At least to me. You can’t really tell in the above picture. She looks a lot like Kendare Blake, actually.

Tooth & Claw by T.C. Boyle

24725T.C. Boyle is another one of those author’s I’ve heard a ton about but never explored. To me, he seems sort of like a ‘gentleman’s club’ writer – someone meant specifically for male readers which is probably absurd. But something just felt so nebulously masculine in a way that put me off. Enter the library where you can borrow books for free! Or you can just check out the New Yorker online for the title story!

Tooth and Claw borrows its title from a Tennyson poem wherein nature is described as:

Who trusted God was love indeed

And love Creation’s final law—

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—

(In Memoriam)

Boyle’s 14 shorts all link to nature in some way – great or small. At times nature is a force to be reckoned with and at others a quiet mention providing background scenery. I think the ‘nature’ even doubles as human nature more often than not. Sometimes the stories work and sometimes they bore you to death.

That’s not to say that the collection isn’t worth reading because I believe it is. A couple of the stories actually won me over enough that I bought a hardcover edition to add to my other short story collections. The first winner was ‘Dogology’ where a woman endeavors to study dog behavior in the most natural of ways, eventually losing her ‘humanness’. The second was ‘Swept Away’ where a love story is put to its conclusion when a violent wind storm literally sweeps away a visiting ornithologist. I’m fairly certain she didn’t end up in Oz.

However, more often than not Boyle’s narratives follow some average joe dude who’s content drinking himself or drugging himself into a sort of oblivion (enter that gentleman’s club theme I mentioned above). These shorts are rarely compelling enough to warrant reading, let alone rereading.

What I particularly appreciate with short stories is that you don’t have to read the ones you don’t enjoy! You can skip whole chunks of blathering nonsense and cherish the brilliance in-between. There’s no doubt that Boyle is talented, but perhaps next time I’ll seek out works that aren’t quite as bogged down in his own past history with the drinking and drugging. For all the time he spends on down and out males, I actually think he writes fairly interesting women. So there will be a next meeting, Mr. Boyle. Perhaps a novel, yes?

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

15954464Oh, James Bond. How I love thee. At least when you are brought to life by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale and Skyfall are two of my favorite movies of all time so I decided to give the source material a read. I worried the books wouldn’t live up to my love of the films and that the woman-hate would be too hard to overcome.

The first Bond novel, Casino Royale, is at first about a high stakes baccarat game between a British Secret Services operative, our handsome Bond, and the soviet scumbag, Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre has lost millions of dollars that belong to a high terrorist conglomerate, SMERSH, and he needs to win this showdown if he’s to save his own life. But pesky James is always in the way. Interrupting Bond’s game playing is that beguiling minx, Vesper Lynd. She’s been assigned to work with Bond in the field and becomes quite the player in Bond’s work and surprisingly, his heart.

Gotta say – a great overall reading experience. I loved Fleming’s writing. His novel reads like a literary page-turner that manages to feel far less dated than I would have thought. The sexism is there, but I think Vesper’s character is far more interesting than just some piece of meat for Bond to bed. She’s extremely important to this novel and the rest of Bond’s life. I could get annoyed that she ultimately ends up being a boobed villain without much depth, but I like when a woman manages to sneak up on a world renowned master spy – so sue me.

The book is different enough from the movie to be a worthwhile read. I’m also convinced that Bond’s character in the books is far less campy playboy, and much more brooding, clever lone wolf with a sharp tongue and sense of humor. For this reason, I really appreciate the newer films even more and believe Daniel Craig’s Bond to be very faithful to the source material. Reading the novel allows one to get inside James’s mind and see that there’s a lot going on there – at least in this initial offering. He philosophizes ideas of good and evil. He also weighs his role of hired killer in a far more moral and intriguing way than one might expect.  Bond is blunt about the world he sees and how he sees himself.

So I definitely recommend Casino Royale to anyone with even the slightest interest in 007. It’s a great companion to the movie and a wonderful addition to any readathon TBR. I’ll definitely be continuing on with Fleming’s next Bond installment!

TSS: Really Old Books, Libraries, and Giveaways

TSSbadge2Hello my bookish internet friends! Hope everyone is relaxing and enjoying this peaceful Sunday. I have quite an intense work week ahead of me and some work travel on the horizon.  The weekend has been lovely. We took a huge (over 5 ft. huge) Chinese fan to a custom framing shop to finally get that on the wall. Can’t wait to see the finished product in a couple of weeks, but damn that was one expensive home project.

Thursday was our 4th wedding anniversary so we went out to a steak dinner at Parker’s on Ponce down in Decatur. Had a lovely evening. Then Jimmy surprised me with a first edition Edith Wharton! What a spectacular gift. He did so good, y’all. Now, it’s an unsigned, 6th printing without a dust jacket so it wasn’t terrible expensive. I’ve resigned myself to never owning the $35K signed first edition, first printing…haha.

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I also visited the library to return a book and pick up my first book on hold. Totally nerded out over these little things. Plus, I did self-check out like at the grocery store. Libraries have gotten all fancy and 21st Century on me. I’m impressed. Check out my haul below:

Finally, my giveaway for a copy of Allison Lynn’s The Exiles is still taking entries! Go to the sign up post to win! This week I’m hoping to read Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James and The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hanson. Look for reviews of Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, Tooth & Claw by T.C. Boyle, and The Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (Audio)

imagesThe End of the Affair was a random audiobook buy. I had credits to spare and saw Colin Firth’s name as narrator and clicked purchase without thinking. Because Colin Firth. Obviously. Mr. Darcy aside, Graham Greene is one of those author’s I’ve been meaning to read but just haven’t found the time until Colin Firth pushed him in my direction.

Greene’s novel is about the end of an affair. How’s that for a summary? Maurice Bendricks is a bitter ex-lover to a woman named Sarah. Their affair took place during WWII until it abruptly ended after a particularly deadly air raid in London. Sarah ends their relationship and Maurice is left with what he describes as ‘hate’ rather than love. God, faith, and Catholicism now enter the picture.

Honestly, I should have read this one in print. Not because Colin wasn’t great – he was terrific and had such nuanced character changes in his voice that amazed me – but because Graham’s writing really deserves to be read. Each and every word seems so precisely chosen and his turns of phrase are so powerful. I can’t wait to reread this one day.

The story itself is rather hit and miss with me. Bendricks is hardly a lovable character and the religious undertones of the novel are not of any particular interest to me. However, the actual unraveling of the love affair between Bendricks and Sarah feels very visceral and poignant. And in contrast, his growing friendship and connection with cuckolded husband, Henry, is endearing. The humanity of this short novel is what truly wins me over.

Going back to the Catholicism, while I’m not particularly religious, I did appreciate that Bendricks’s final relationship with God is strained, troubled, and filled with questions you’re not sure will ever be answered. I like that he’s not just some enchanted new believer and still struggles in spite of, perhaps because of, his new beliefs.

Oddly, I can’t say I would recommend this story to most readers. To Graham Greene fans, yes. To those who just want to listen to Colin Firth’s yummy voice, yes. Or to those readers who will read anything as long as the writing is beyond gorgeous.

Have you read anything by Graham Greene? Does his overt Catholicism bother or enhance your reading?

The Exiles by Allison Lynn + A Giveaway! (Closed)

THE-EXILES-Final-Cover-Hi-Res-199x300The Exiles intrigued me initially due to the modern day Fitzgerald comparisons. Since most of these comparisons never live up to their promise, I mostly had low expectations when I began Lynn’s newest novel. It felt like I was daring the book to impress me.

The story centers around a thirty-something couple, Nate and Emily, who have been priced out of Manhattan. As a mediocre investment banker, Nate can no longer afford the lavish lifestyle of his more successful friends. With a new mouth to feed, Emily and Nate pack their bags and move their small family to Newport, Rhode Island where a new job awaits and the promise of normalcy beckons. When they arrive in Newport, their jeep and immediately essential possessions are stolen. Over the next three days, they shack up in a hotel they can’t afford and are forced to face the secrets and denials they’ve been keeping from each other and themselves. Also, art theft!

Allison Lynn’s novel quietly sneaked up on me. At first, the story feels fairly humdrum with extremely unlikable characters. But slowly, the secrets Nate and Emily have been keeping start to unfold and the pages begin turning at a tremendous pace. The two never become likable, but they do become completely engaging and compelling. Their web of lies and denials is absolutely astounding at times, but also gritty and realistic.

The Exiles is essentially about two people running from themselves and from each other who collide dramatically over one long weekend. The book progresses through such topics as hereditary disease, art thievery, parenthood, and deception. It’s a world where you’re asked to sympathize with a family that makes $150K+ a year, but due to their environment feel ‘poor’. Allison Lynn has done a superb job of making a mundane story thrive with energy and flow with seamless writing.

Honestly, I can’t believe this book hasn’t gotten more attention. It’s better than a lot of popular novels I’ve read recently and a title I recommended to my bookclub on Sunday. Do yourself a favor and give it a read. To help you out on that front, you can enter to win your very own copy by filling out this form!! Only US/Canada addresses eligible. No P.O. Boxes. Winner will be drawn next Tuesday, July 30. Good luck! (closed – winner selected)

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing a copy of The Exiles in exchange for my honest review. You can check out other stops on the tour here.

About the Author:

Lynn-cKelley-Jordan-Photography-high-res-220x300Allison Lynn is the author of the novel Now You See It, which won awards from both the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society and the Bronx Council on the Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, People,  and elsewhere. She teaches at Butler University in Indianapolis, where she lives with her husband, the writer Michael Dahlie, and their son.

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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (July Meetup)

13339004Another bookclub meetup is in the books! We met on Sunday afternoon to discuss Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility. And even though there were only four of us in attendance, I still think we had a very interesting and in depth discussion. Several members who were unable to attend emailed me to let me know how much they really enjoyed this story of a girl in 1930s NYC.

Book Jacket: (because I’m having the hardest time summarizing)

“On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel her on a yearlong journey toward the upper echelons of New York society – where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.”

Amor Towles has never written a book before. He also spent his career on Wall Street. The fact that he was able to pen this gem of a story really surprises and impresses me. And while the story isn’t perfect by any means and suffers from several ‘first novel’ weaknesses, I was really able to forgive all of those bits for the sheer quality of his writing – the emotions he was able to evoke and the imagery he created. In short, I’m thrilled the Litwits selected this novel and even more thrilled that Towles just recently released a novella following Eve, another central character to the plot of Rules of Civility.

While there was an overwhelming sense of appreciation and enjoyment from the ladies, the conversation wasn’t entirely positive. Some members felt that the dialog lacked a true 1930s feel and that some of the details weren’t historically accurate. These inaccuracies distracted them and affected their reading of the book. We also wished that Tinker and Eve’s characters had been more fleshed-out, but enjoyed Katey’s character development quite a bit. With the publication of his short novella centered on Eve, I think Towles himself actually believed Eve needed more depth and exploration. We talked in great detail about whether or not Towles’s decision to write from the female perspective worked – whether he was able to write convincingly female characters –  and were ultimately torn.

For me, Rules of Civility is a novel that wonderfully evokes 1930s noir novels. I felt that darker, grittier atmosphere come alive and enjoyed Katey’s story immensely. I especially loved the lyrical writing and the many literary references tossed throughout – particularly Katey’s love of Great Expectations. If I had to sum up my reading, I’d stay Towles’s first novel is a debut with moments of brilliance. Those moments have me earnestly awaiting his next novel as I think he’s going to only improve with time and experience.