Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justina Ireland
Series: Dread Nation, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Blazer + Bray
Release Date: April 3rd 2018

      “Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
      But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.”

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“The trick is not to think of them as regular folks. When you do that, your emotions get all tangled up. You start to wonder whether it’s right or wrong and what kind of person that makes you for taking their life, whatever kind of existence it may be. Your brain starts doubting, and those second thoughts can get you killed.”

Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation reimagines the end of the Civil War not with the surrender of the Confederate Army, but with the rising of the dead. Facing its greatest threat, the government passes the Native and Negro Reedcation Act, forcing Native and black children into schools where they train to fight the undead. Jane has grown up in a world where shamblers are a constant threat. As a student at Miss Preston’s School of Combat, she has developed the necessary skills to survive a fight with a shambler. While she should be hoping to be hired as an Attendent for a rich, white family, all she really wants is to return home to her mother whom she hasn’t seen in years. When Jane reluctantly lends a hand to an old friend in finding his sister, she stumbles upon a scheme that will take her even farther from home, to a place where those in charge will do anything to keep their secrets hidden.

Ireland manages to be both creative and realistic in her world-building. Though shamblers have reshaped the country, the fundamentals of white supremacy still ring true. In towns like Baltimore, affluent families enjoy a degree of safety not afforded to others. They would rather pretend that the shambler threat exists elsewhere and that their city couldn’t possibly be overrun. Though slavery has been abolished, it is still black bodies being put on the front lines, valued less for their ability to fight the undead and more for their expendability. While some white folks are willing to move forward and embrace an age where black and white people could work together, there are factions that still believe certain races are inherently superior to others. When you combine this with religious fervor and unchecked power, the results are devastating.

I’d be hard-pressed to decide whether Ireland’s writing shines brightest in her world-building or her creation of a character that feels as real as the paper she’s printed on. Jane’s narration is one of the most genuine that I’ve come across. The more I read, the more I gained an appreciation for the character and Ireland’s ability to make every thought and piece of a dialogue feel both deliberate and authentic. I loved that Jane manages to be delightful both in her negative and positive attributes. Ireland never side-steps the protagonist’s flaws, but rather let’s her be petty and reckless in the moments that make sense for her character. This means Jane feels more real and readers get an honest glimpse at who she is rather than what the author just wants you to see.

There are several minor character who I grew to appreciate. Jane’s schoolmate Katherine starts off as a foil to Jane, but by the end of the novel there is an earned respect and camaraderie between the two. I did want to see more of Jackson, Jane’s once-upon-a-time romantic interest. It’s hard not to see how he might have charmed her and I’m greedily curious to know more about their lawless escapades. Like Jane, I am also very curious about Mr. Gideon, a bright young inventor who also understand what it means to play the long game against a more powerful opponent. 

Ireland’s Dead Nation is like nothing I’ve ever read. It takes a tired zombie trope and gives it a fresh new look. It’s insightful and provocative as it juxtaposes a population who longs for the glory days of a prosperous America with one that has only been used as stepladder for the other’s triumphs.

5/5

★★★★★

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Mini Reviews: Hunting Prince Dracula + And the Trees Crept In

MiniHello, friends fiends (see what I did there?). It’s been a while since I posted a set of mini-reviews. I’ve been busy reading creepy books this month (I’m excited for Halloween, can you tell I’m excited for Halloween?) and so it’s only appropriate to pair these two together for mini-reviews. Hope you enjoy. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Hunting Prince Dracula
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #2
Pages: 434
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Release Date: September 19th 2017 

      “In this New York Times bestselling sequel to Kerri Maniscalco’s haunting #1 debut Stalking Jack the Ripper, bizarre murders are discovered in the castle of Prince Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. Could it be a copycat killer…or has the depraved prince been brought back to life?
      Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper’s true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe’s best schools of forensic medicine…and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

      But her life’s dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school’s forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

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“Chills invaded the cracks of my emotional armor, sliding their icy fingers along my skin. I gave in to their prodding and shivered in the waning morning light.”

Kerri Maniscalco’s Hunting Prince Dracula is an action-packed historical thriller that had me guessing at every turn. Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell are quickly becoming one of my favorite literary pairs. Their relationship continues to evolve in this one and I really liked how the author balances this with both characters learning important lessons about themselves as well. Audrey Rose is still haunted by the events from the first book and isn’t sure she still has what it takes to pursue a career in forensic studies. Thomas is concerned for her well-being and often oversteps, but I love how assertive Audrey Rose is with both him and her new classmates at the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science. Thomas was a bit of an enigma in the first book, so I was happy to see him get backstory as well as becoming acquainted with his sister in this one. The majority of the novel takes place at Bran Castle and I loved the dark and dreary descriptions. The eerie atmosphere and murderous mystery is reminiscent of Gothic literature and made a perfect read for October.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: And the Trees Crept In
Author: Dawn Kurtagich
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 6th 2017

      “Stay away from the woods…
      When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the manor is cursed. The endless creaking of the house at night and the eerie stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too—questions that Silla can’t ignore: Why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer? Who is the beautiful boy who’s appeared from the woods? And who is the tall man with no eyes who Nori plays with in the basement at night… a man no one else can see?

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“The terror is like a foghorn in the darkness. Like a spotlight pointed at me, notifying the monsters of the world exactly where I am: exposed, armorless. ”

Dawn Kurtagich’s And the Trees Crept In is a novel I’ve really been looking forward to this October. Like Kurtagich’s previous novel, The Dead House, Kurtagich’s uses various methods to tell her story. There’s first person narration, diary entries, and flash backs. All these work together to bring the reader into the story and the mystery of La Baume, the home of Silla and Nori’s aunt. The story opens with Silla and Nori arriving at their aunt’s doorstep in search of refuge. We quickly learn that both these girls have been on the receiving end of their father’s violent outbursts and while little Nori’s wounds are very visible, Silla’s injuries are more emotional and psychological. As their aunt’s behavior grows more and more erratic, Silla begins to suspect that there is more to La Baume and the surrounding woods. Her aunt speaks of the Creeper Man, lying in wait for any who may enter Python Wood. I really liked the growing tension in this book and in many ways it’s more of a psychological thriller than a horror novel. Silla is tormented by the isolation of the house, the lack of food for her and her sister, and unexplained behavior of her aunt. And the Trees Crept In isn’t a perfect horror novel. I liked the beginning more than the latter part of the story. At times it felt a little too long and the ending is cliché, but if you’re looking for a novel that might make you think twice before walking down the hall in the dark, then this is one you’ll want to check out.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

ARC Review: Odd & True by Cat Winters

Title: Odd & True
Author: Cat Winters
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: September 12th 2017
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.
      In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

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Cat Winters’s novels are some of the best, but underappreciated historical fiction I’ve ever read. Od and Tru grew up with stories about their mother and her siblings’ bravery. They grew up believing in the paranormal, that monsters exist and it was their family’s responsibility to protect the world from them. But life has taken many things from both Od and Tru. Their father disappeared when they were young and their mother hasn’t been in their life. Even their beloved Uncle Magnus hasn’t been seen for years. After being sent away, Od shows up at her sister’s window, begging her to come away with her and to accept their family’s legacy. But Tru no longer believes in monsters. Still, her love for his sister Odette will take them far from the safe haven of their aunt’s house and into a dangerous, unknown world. Using dual perspectives and shifting timelines, Cat Winters crafts a tale of two sisters whose lives are full of loss, but also perseverance.

At the heart of this story are two sisters who hold very different views of the world. As the oldest, Odette has always felt that she needed to protect her younger sister. Her stories of monsters and the heroes that slay them have been the only way in which she has been able to help shield her sister from the realities of life. What goes unsaid is that Odette is also in need of these stories. Being older has exposed her to the flaws of the adults in her life and it’s been easier to embrace a story about these people than to accept who they really are. Unlike her sister, Tru no longer holds fast to these myths. Ever since her sister was forced to leave her aunt’s home, Tru has grown up to resent these tall tales and the letters from her sister that speak of harrowing travels. While life with her Aunt Viktoria has been stifling, Tru isn’t sure she’s brave enough to step outside into the great unknown. Though she’s suspended any belief in the paranormal, she’s taken to reading tea leaves in secret because a part of her still wants to believe in her sister’s stories.

Odd & True takes its time separating fact from fiction as the girls embark on a hunt for Leeds Devil which has been terrorizing the people of New Jersey. From the cover and synopsis, I expected an action-packed novel about monster hunting, but instead was treated to a slow-paced narrative about a flawed family, two sisters who survive despite injustices done to them, and the power of a story to weave magic if only one takes a leap of faith and believes.

4/5

★★★★

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

stalking-jack-the-ripper-by-kerri-maniscalcoTitle: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1
Pages: 326
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Release Date: September 20th 2016

      “Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.
      Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

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“Everything was most certainly not okay, and this was no mathematical equation; my hands were covered in blood. I frantically wiped them off on my bodice, but it was no use. Blood stained my fingers in a crimson accusation.”

Stalking Jack the Ripper is a nice blend of thrills and mystery. With a likable protagonist and detail-oriented story, this work of historical fiction was really fun to read. Jack the Ripper stories can be really intriguing as they are based on a mystery that’s never been solved and authors can do what they will when it comes to filling in the blanks. Though novels that center around the idea that the forward-thinking protagonist is not like other girls in her time period can be annoying at times, I still enjoyed reading about how Audrey Rose defied societal expectations and appreciated that most of the men in her life helped her instead of hindering her ambitions. I also liked that the author was sure not to put down other females or femininity itself in order to elevate the protagonist.

Aside from a couple of instances where I found it frustrating that Audrey Rose made the foolish mistake of wandering alone at night by herself with a serial killer on the loose, the protagonist was a character I could really get behind. Her interest in science stems from her mother’s passing and her eccentric uncle’s work with the dead, both as a professor and an assistant to the police, help her achieve her goals. Despite Stalking the Ripper‘s commitment to detail, the story does gloss over the fact that Audrey Rose’s grandmother was from India. I think this could have been a really defining and interesting part of the protagonist’s identity, but only a couple of times is this mentioned and I would have liked to have heard more about this part of Audrey Rose’s family.

I really liked the exchanges between Audrey Rose and her uncle’s assistant Thomas. He’s a little too sure of his deductive skills, which may drive the protagonist crazy, but also challenges her to be better herself. There were also times where he was sociably awkward one moment and adeptly flirtatious the next, which could be confusing. Stalking Jack the Ripper‘s mystery wasn’t too hard to unravel, as I had a pretty good idea of who the killer was pretty early on, but it was still entertaining to see the mystery unravel and I’m looking forward to seeing what new mystery Audrey Rose solves in the next book.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysTitle: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Series: N/A
Pages: 393
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: February 2nd 2016

      “Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
      Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
      As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
      Yet not all promises can be kept.
      Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.”

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“The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh.”

Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea is a moving historical fiction novel that takes its time unfolding the mysteries of each character. Not being familiar with this particular historical event, I went into this knowing very little. Told through alternate points of view, each chapter gives a small glimpse into the four main characters: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred. It took some time to get used to the abrupt change in narration, as Sepetys only spends a few pages on each character before moving on. However, once you get acquainted with these characters, they hold your attention to the breathtaking end.

It bears noting that the synopsis for this novel is a little incorrect, as two of the four characters are adults and one specifically is twenty one. It doesn’t make much of a difference, but it put me in a different mindset when trying to get a handle on who these characters were. Joana’s story centers around the guilt she carries around. It isn’t revealed until later what she feels guilty about, but it’s a burden that weighs heavy on her. Her training as a nurse makes her irrevocably valuable to those she is traveling with and also opens doors for her and her companions to escape a terrible fate. When we first meet Florian, he’s standoffish and cold. Much of who he is is kept hidden, but as his journey has him crossing paths with the other characters, he slowly opens up. Florian’s connection to characters like Joana and Emilia is hard fought, he resisting most of all, but it is these relationships that play a vital role in how his journey will end.

Emilia is young and desperate. Trying to hide the fact that she is Polish becomes increasingly difficult, but meeting Florian and then Joana may give her a chance to survive in a world where her people have suffered so much at the hands of by both German and Soviet forces. She is both brave and a little naive, but her resilience defines her above all else. Alfred is the only character that I was confused about. Much of his narrative just felt like a young, confused kid running his mouth, not realizing how truly insignificant he was. It wasn’t until later on in the story that I fully understood his role. Though this was a deliberate technique on the author’s part, there were times when Alfred’s POV came up and I really didn’t feel very interested in his perspective.

Salt to the Sea is full of heartbreak, but also exemplifies the power of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable cruelty and tragedy.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: The Female of the Species + Like a River Glorious

MiniWith the end of the year just around the corner, it’s nice to be able to put together a couple of mini reviews instead of full ones. This week I have a few thoughts to share on two recent releases: Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species and Rae Carson’s Like a River Glorious. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: N/A
Pages: 344
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 20th 2016 

      “Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.
      While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.
      But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.
      So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.
      Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

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      “Sometimes I forget for one second and it hurts.
      It’s a different kind of pain than the constant, the weight that hangs from my heart. It swings from twine embedded so deeply that my aorta has grown around it. Blood pulses past rope in the chambers of my heart, dragging away tiny fibers until my whole body is suffused and pain is all I am and ever can be.

I had really high expectations for Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species after being so impressed with A Madness So Discreet. While the concept itself was really interesting and I found myself rooting for Alex despite her violent tendencies (or maybe because of them), I was hoping for a deeper exploration of this protagonist’s psyche. From the get-go, we learn just what she is capable of and slowly get a bit of backstory to help understand where she inherited these vicious impulses, but I wish the narrative would have slowed down when it came to her backstory. Much of the story focuses on Alex’s growing relationship with both Peekay and Jack. Of the two main relationships highlighted in this novel, Alex’s friendship with Peekay felt more genuine and significant. Jack was a character I wanted to like, but his character development revolved only around Alex and I just wanted more from him. I don’t want to diminish the important subjects this novel touches on like rape culture and gender roles, so if either of those subjects interest you, I’d recommend this one.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Like a River Glorious
Author: Rae Carson
Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy, #2
Pages: 398
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: September 27th 2016

      “Lee Westfall survived the dangerous journey to California. She found a new family in the other outcasts of their wagon train, and Jefferson, her best friend, is beginning to woo her shamelessly. Now they have a real home—one rich in gold, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense the precious metal in the world around her.
      But Lee’s Uncle Hiram has survived his own journey west. He’s already murdered her parents, and he will do anything to have Lee and her talents under his control. No one is safe. When he kidnaps her, she sees firsthand the depths of his depravity.
      Lee’s magic is changing, though. It is growing. The gold no longer simply sings to her—it listens. It obeys her call. Will that alone be enough to destroy her uncle?”

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“A condor soars high above. It’s a giant of a bird, bigger even than an eagle, with magnificent black-and-white wings. Like everything else in this territory, it’s both familiar and odd, and it makes my old home in Georgia seem like a very small, distant place.”

Rae Carson proves once again in the second book in her Gold Seer Trilogy that she is a phenomenal writer. While I do think Like a River Glorious lacked the kind of focus found in Walk on Earth a Stranger, it was really enjoyable to read about Lee coming into her ability in this one. One of my favorite aspects of the first novel was Lee’s relationship with her best friend Jefferson. In this book, we see their relationship progress further, but I would have liked to have seen more of Lee’s feelings transition from friendly to romantic. With the way this Like a River Glorious ended, I’m unsure of Carson’s overall plot to this trilogy, as much of conflict seems resolved by the end of this one.

Rating: 3/5

★★★