Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, by Lish McBride

Author: Lish McBride
Genre: YA Paranormal (Horror-Comedy)
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Call number: Y McBride

Summary (from Goodreads): Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?

My thoughts: This is a hysterical, scary, offbeat story about a slacker discovering his necromancer powers. It contains: a talking head, a (benign) zombie panda, a talking cat (who is actually a mini-dragon), homicidal lawn ornaments, sassy ghosts who love waffles, witches, weres, and an evil necromancer who makes his revenants do calisthenics just to prove a point. The book could have been a disaster, with too many quirky elements to succeed, but it has such heart that it works. It’s so good it was a finalist for the Morris Award in 2010.

I know this is terrible, but I often think of books in relation to television and movies. Probably because the only thing I do more than read is watch stuff. I think this is a mix of other witty but frightening and surprisingly touching horror-comedies, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Reaper, and Dead Like Me. I’m sure I could come up with more, but you get the point.

One minute Sam is deep-frying inappropriate things at Plumpy’s, the fast food joint where he works, and playing potato hockey with his co-workers and friends Ramon, Brooke, and Frank; the next, he’s being called out by a necromancer (Douglas, who Sam calls a “madman in pressed jeans”) and forced to deal with the fact that his mother has lied to him for years about his powers as a “death wrangler”.

Right from the outset, Sam was my kind of guy, when he wondered at how humankind spent thousands of years developing complex language systems only to create a cash register with pictures on it, “just in case the cashier didn’t finish second grade”. My feelings of love were cemented when he meets Douglas at the zoo to discuss necromancy, when Sam mentions that he never watches the news because “they just don’t make very good episodes of it anymore”. His deadpan, wise guy humor and pop culture references is what makes him so fun to read, but his underlying sweetness – his love for his friends and family – and his “why me?” plaintiveness is what makes him relatable. The other characters — Sam’s friends, his mother and sister, and a were-hybrid named Brid — are all equally developed and interesting.

The ending makes it clear that there will be (or at least, should be) sequels, which fills my heart with glee. This is a highly recommended book for lovers of paranormal thrillers and who are looking from something different from the standard formula.


White Cat, by Holly Black

Author: Holly Black
Genre: YA Paranormal Thriller
Pages: 310
Rating: 5 stars
Call number: Y Black

First line: “I wake up barefoot, standing on cold slate tiles. Looking dizzily down.”

Summary (ganked from Goodreads): Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

What I thought: I’ve never read one of Holly Black’s novels before, but I’ve read her graphic novel series, The Good Neighbors, and a lot of her short stories, and one thing that’s always impressed me about her is that she’s not afraid to take risks. To do the unexpected and uncomfortable. To create a sympathetic character, one you can identify with, and have him or her do something terrible. To take readers to a truly dark place.

This is not a book for everyone, because it’s not a happy story or a fast-paced one. It’s dark and subtle and you get the wool pulled over your eyes several times. You’re kept distant from most of the characters because Cassel is distant (though I think that Cassel is likable, but I don’t think everyone would agree with me.) There’s not a ton of action until the end; in fact, the plot develops slowly and you have to have patience that it’s all going to come together. The meticulous pacing allows the faint, nagging sense that something is wrong to develop, until the foreboding gets so thick that it makes up for the lack of action. In this kind of book, just when you have an emotional payoff and you’re letting out your breath in relief, something happens to stop it entirely. It’s a horror story and a heist story rolled up into one, and one of the more impressive books I’ve read this year. I have no idea where the next one in the series will go but I can’t wait.

The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey

Publisher: Simon & Schuster’s Children’s
Genre: YA Horror
Pages: 448
Call Number: Y Yancey

“These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me…and the one who cursed me.”

So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet. [summary from Goodreads]

The case starts out simple enough – the grave robber brings to Warthrop the corpse of a young girl inexplicably entwined with the dead body of a monstrous creature – but their search for what the creature is and how it got into the grave quickly becomes complicated. After a deadly trip to the local cemetery and some late-night dissections, Dr. Warthrop becomes convinced that the monster is an Anthropophagi, a hellish species his father had studied, and that the cemetery is their breeding ground. Their search to uncover more about creatures leads them from the graveyard to the mad house and into the past of both Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop.

The setting – New England in the late 19th century – is gloomy and bleak, perfect for such a dark story, and the haunted, driven characters fit the world perfectly. The Anthropophagi, far from being supernatural creatures, are wholly of the real world and are much scarier because of it – think about your local community being overrun by violent, man-eating animals at the top of the food chain and you’ll get the idea.

While the story has plenty of nail-biting suspense, hair-raising scares, and festivals of gore, it’s also a story about relationships, particularly of sons and their fathers: the son’s eternal striving to either live up to his father’s deeds, surpass them, or atone for them. Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop’s relationship is dysfunctional at best, shades of father/son and mentor/apprentice but not quite living up to either, but at the same time they need each other, if only because no one else needs them.

This is not a silly kid’s book about monsters that nobody would find scary. It’s not a B-movie. It’s not for the easily frightened or squeamish. What it is, is one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read (and I’m including adult books here, too), genuinely scary, fascinatingly gross, and psychologically complex.

If you like horror novels, this is the one to read.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

the forest of hands and teethPublisher: Delacorte
Genre: YA Horror
Call number: Y Ryan

For those of you sick of vampires, how about zombies? Who doesn’t love the moaning, shuffling undead these days? Unlike vampires, zombies are rarely romanticized (at least not yet – I am still waiting for someone to write the ultimate zombie romance novel, from the perspective of the zombies, of course), and the zombies in this novel are gloriously frightening. And that’s just one of the reasons I love this book. (One of the others is the evocative title.)

Mary feels like she’s growing up in a cage. Her village, surrounded by fences, lies in a clearing in a dense forest. The fences protect the villagers from the Unconsecrated, the ravenous horde of undead littering the forest, but the protection comes with a cost –stagnation. The villagers have long forgotten whatever cataclysmic event caused the Change, and they exist with simple, structured dreams of marriage and progeny, controlled by the religious Sisterhood. Mary, not content with the simple life, dreams of the ocean her mother told stories about before she too became Unconsecrated, dreams of escape from her arranged marriage, her love for her fiancé’s brother, her own brother’s abandonment, and the yoke of the Sisterhood. When the Unconsecrated finally breach the fence, Mary has her chance, but will she find what she seeks, or is there no place free of the Unconsecrated?

Click here to continue the spoiler-free review

The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire

eternal_kissEditor: Tricia Telep
Authors: Karen Majoney; Melissa de la Cruz; Maria V. Snyder; Holly Black; Sarah Rees Brennan; Kelley Armstrong; Libba Bray; Rachel Caine; Cecil Castellucci; Cassandra Clare; Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie; Lili St. Crow; Dina James
Publisher: Running Press/teens
Genre: YA Short stories/Horror/Romance
Call number: YPB Eternal (in the new teen paperbacks)

Overall, this is a decent anthology of vampire stories that will easily find an audience among the vampire-crazed. It’s got a stellar line-up of A-list teen authors, many who write urban fantasy/paranormal romance. However, there were enough stories in this anthology that I either didn’t like or felt “meh” about that I can’t say it’s a wholly successful collection. Yes, the vampires in the stories are diverse, ranging from terrifying to romantic to just plain folks, and the lore (whether they combust in sunshine, look beautiful or hideous, can or can not turn into bats, etc.) varies from story to story as well, but that’s not enough to make this whole collection a stand-out.

Click here to see the rest of the review

Eternal, by Cynthia Leitich Smith

eternalAuthor: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy/Horror
Pages: 320
Call number: Y Smith (available soon!)

A twist on the boy meets girl story: Guardian angel watches over teenage girl and falls in love. Girl is marked for death according to the laws of Heaven. Guardian angel makes big, big mistake in saving girl from her appointed death and loses his wings as punishment. Meanwhile, because of guardian angel’s screw-up, girl is captured and made into vampire. Fast forward a year. Girl is a vicious, blood-sucking fiend, the daughter of the vampire king, and ex-angel is sent to their estate to save her soul and earn back his wings. Bloody hijinks ensue.

I haven’t read Tantalize, the first book set in this alternate world, so I can’t compare the two, but Smith’s marriage of dark humor and true horror is sometimes jarring but always compelling (and sometimes very funny, though you may cringe at the same time). Heaven appears to be a stuffy bureaucratic organization (a memo from the angel Gabriel to another angel, including a request to fill out forms, is very amusing), while the vampire world is reminiscent of excruciatingly polite high-society on the surface, with goth decadence and callus displays of cruelty underneath. That alone make this book worth reading, but Zachary and Miranda, the boy and girl in question, are also intriguing characters throughout. In a triumph of characterization, Miranda remains sympathetic despite her descent into monster-hood. The ending to the love story (because it does become one, though a twisted one) is moving and hopeful in a way you don’t expect, as well.

*Want to see your own book reviews published on this blog? Want to win prizes for writing book reviews? Go here to see how!

Bonechiller, by Graham McNamee

bonechillerAuthor: Graham McNamee
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House)
Genre: Horror
Pages: 294
Call number: Y McNamee

Don’t look for it on the map. The place is so small it doesn’t even get a dot. Once a year they get a new WELCOME TO sign put up, but it doesn’t last a week before it’s so full of buckshot holes you can’t even tell the name of the place, and you sure don’t seem welcome.

Nowhere–officially known as Harvest Cove. Tucked away in the Big Empty that makes up most of Canada . . . .

If you’re looking for somewhere to hide, this is it.

Harvest Cove is a tiny, out-of-the-way community trying hard to be a summer cottage location, with not much success, and in the winter the population dwindles. Perfect for Danny and his dad, who are drifting from place to place on the run from the past. His dad takes a temp job as the winter caretaker of the marina, and Danny goes to school with army brats from Base Borden. His core group is Pike, loyal but psycho and obsessed with explosives; his anxiety-ridden brother Howie; and Ash, a fierce, half-Ojibwa boxer that he has a mad crush on. It’s a cold, bleak winter, and late one night on his way home, Danny is attacked by a huge white beast that blends into the ice and snow until it is nearly invisible. Still, he manages to see enough to terrify him, and the speed of its attack makes it nearly impossible for him to escape. But escape he does, after the beast stings him on the hand with its sharp tongue. That’s when the nightmare really begins. Because that’s when Danny realizes he didn’t get away after all. It’s still hunting him night after night, toying with him, and soon his friends are in danger too.

This had a good, monster movie feeling to it and is one of those books in which the title works on several levels. Because it’s written in present tense, with short, fragmented sentences, it feels like Danny is actually telling you the story as it happens. There aren’t a ton of books written in present tense, and it’s interesting to see what a different reading experience that is. It’s very cinematic, and it works well to convey Danny’s panicky frantic scrambling during the beast attacks. The descriptions of this tiny town during a freezing winter is excellent — much of the action happens at night out in the below-freezing wasteland of ice and snow, and the sense of isolation, of there being nowhere to run and no-one to help, is terrifying.

The descriptions of the monster are cool, very vivid and scary and menacing. But I don’t feel the Wendigo-ish mythology was really put to use, so the monster wasn’t nearly as effective as it could have been. There were some cool variations and extrapolations on Wendigo lore, and it’s not like I expected the characters to snap their fingers and go “A-ha! Wendigo! We know this for sure because it is exactly like the Wikipedia entry!” but I was annoyed by how vague the author left it. It’s clear he did his research. Did he have to leave it all out?

That might just be me over thinking things, however. Overall, this is a good, scary, tension-filled story, and with such an amazing cover, I think it’s definitely one to pick up. If you read this one, let me know in the comments what you thought about the monster, and if I really am just super picky.

*Want to see your own book reviews published on this blog? Want to win prizes for writing book reviews? Go here to see how!