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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Witch Craft (Halloween craft book) by Alicia Kachmar and Margaret McGuire

Open this little book of "Witch Craft" for a spellbinding collection of dark arts and crafts! Full-color photos of 25+ completed projects are accompanied by simple illustrated instructions for crafting scraps, found objects, and everyday items into wonderfully witchy treats: turn a handful of old trinkets into a truly wicked charm bracelet. Trap your beloved's locks in a heart-shaped locket. Stitch up a midnight black tutu in minutes. Make satin flowers into a bewitching headband. Fashion an average plushie into a wicked little poison apple. Sew a faux puppy-fur coat (a la Cruella DeVille!) out of your old stuffed animals. And much, much more! 

First off, I have to thank Tiffany and Eric (both of Quirk books), the former for suggesting this one to me, and the latter for sending it.  Thanks, guys!

This little craft book is absolutely delightful!  It's compiled from a wide variety of sources, so there's a little something for everybody, no matter your aesthetic or crafting skill level.  Nearly every page I turned elicited an "Ooh, I wanna make that!" or an "Oh, that's just awesome!"  There are decorative ideas, costume ideas, gift ideas, party snacks -- it's sort of limitless.  Especially when you consider the inspiration factor.  An idea you see in the book may spur another idea, which dominoes into something all its own. 

The design is really nice, too.  It's not a huge bulky book, and it has nice-sized full-color photos of all of the crafts.  There's also a section in the back that has info on where to get some of the products used, as well as an extensive list of independent sellers from etsy and the like (many of whom were contributors on the book.)

I fully intend to make some of these and (just sayin') the winner of the Helluva Halloween Tricks and Treats Grab bag may end up with a little something from one of my favorite ideas in here...

Basically, if you're crafty, or you're looking for a fun project to do with your kids or girl scouts troup or mom's club or whatever gets you to get your craft on, I'd pick this one up. It's worth it.

All Hallow's Read

Neil Gaiman is starting a new holiday tradition (because he's effing Neil Gaiman, and he can).  He wants people to start giving scary books as gifts on Halloween.  And I'm all for it!  Check it out:

"They'll thank you for it. After they stop shivering."


In Dreams Begin by Skyler White

In Dreams Begin
by Skyler White 

 from Goodreads:  
From a Victorian Ireland of magic, poetry and rebellion, Ida Jameson, an amateur occultist, reaches out for power, but captures Laura Armstrong, a modern-day graphic artist instead. Now, for the man or demon she loves, each woman must span a bridge through Hell and across history . . . or destroy it.
“Every passionate man is linked with another age, historical or imaginary, where alone he finds images that rouse his energy.” W. B. Yeats
Anchored in fact on both sides of history, Laura and Ida, modern rationalist and fin de siècle occultist, are linked from the moment Ida channels Laura into the body of celebrated beauty and Irish freedom-fighter Maud Gonne. When Laura falls—from an ocean and a hundred years away—passionately, Victorianly in love with the young poet W. B. Yeats, their love affair entwines with Irish history and weaves through Yeats’s poetry until Ida discovers something she wants more than magic in the subterranean spaces in between.
With her Irish past threatening her orderly present and the man she loves in it, Laura and Yeats—the practical materialist and the poet magus—must find a way to make love last over time, in changing bodies, through modern damnation, and into the mythic past to link their pilgrim souls . . . or lose them forever.

~  ~  ~  ~ 

In Dreams Begin is such interesting for me, in concept and execution.  Though I think there are a lot of people out there that are like "W B who?" and who would hate a storyline that bounces back and forth between past and present (and between different characters bodies), these things really attracted me to it.  I'm not going to lie, I like me some poetry, Yeats included.  And I also am a fan of stories that strive to recreate or even rewrite the life of a real person, not in a biographical way, but as a work of fictitious art.  It fascinates me.  I also like stories that shift back and forth, so long as I don't feel like it's a cheap device used to build suspense and keep me on edge in an otherwise laaame story (I'm talking to you, Dan Brown).  Skyler White does it well.  When the story shifts -- even frustratingly in the middle of something -- it feels natural and real, not gimmicky.  I liked both worlds that were created, and I like who Laura is in both.

The romance, too, worked for me.  Things come quick, and you know I'm normally not a fan of that, but in this, again, it felt right.  It worked for the story and the fantastical aspects of it.  All of this -- the time-shifting, the body-switching, the revolutionary ideals, all of it work together in this grand way to create a sense of destiny, in which case the romance between Laura and Yeats doesn't seem at all far-fetched: it seems fated.  I feel a little differently about Ida, the little nutjob, and her 'romance' but the fact is, I liked her, too, and it worked on its own level.  And there was sexytime.  Boy, was there sexytime.  Occasionally in crypts, but who's counting?

I talked a bit in my review for White's debut and Falling, Fly about her poetic style.  There, it didn't always do the story justice, but here it almost always works very nicely.  There are times when it's a little overwrought or confusing, but for the most part, White has a knack for phrasing something just so.  Things will be going along as normal and then she'll describe something in a certain way, or say such and such of the characters, and it just kind of stops you in your tracks.  You can see it.  As strange a turn of phrase as it may be, you absolutely know what she means, and your understanding of the situation is expanded.  The woman can write a metaphor.

I do have similar warnings as I did in and Falling, Fly, though.  This book is not for everybody.  Because of the time- and body-switching, it probably could get very confusing for some people, and it definitely takes it out of the 'light read' category; you do have to pay attention.  Also, the poetic prose will turn some off and confuse others, without a doubt.  And of course, there is AFF's steamy test*.  But all in all, I think In Dreams Begin is an improvement over AFF.  White has found her niche and created something pretty compelling here.  And she made me want to read about the real lives of Maud and Yeats.  And that's saying something.

This is Maud Gonne --->

<--- And this is W.B. Yeats.  Sexy bastard.

*Quick 'steamy' test: how do you feel about the word 'cock'?  If you just cringed, skip this.  If you sat up straighter and said 'where?' go out and grab a copy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Short Story Saturday: "Fearless" by Rachel Vincent


In Rachel Vincent's "Fearless" Sabine Campbell is a 15 year old girl who has ended up on the wrong side of the law too many times, and is being sent to Holser House for Girls as a last resort before a state correctional facility.  She insists she's not a danger, that she's not really violent, but her record of attacking those who try to take advantage of her speaks against her.  But more so, Sabine makes people uncomfortable, though they don't know why.  Because Sabine has a secret: she's a mara, a living "nightmare" -- she feeds off of the bad dreams of those around her.  Holser House seems like the perfect place for Sabine to thrive: an entire building full of girl's with troubled pasts acting as an unwitting buffet for Sabine.  But all is not as it seems at Holser House, and Sabine may be in over her head...

I chose Fearless to read because I'd never read anything by Rachel Vincent and I was curious.  Though I wasn't head over heels for this story, I did like it, much more than other stories I've read from this anthology (Kiss Me Deadly).  There was a great set up for an antihero story, and an interesting one, because it's a sort of rootforable antihero; it's not like Sabine can help what she is.  There are some really dark elements and an unflinchingness to the story that I enjoyed.  The first time Sabine feeds off a girl in Holser House, it sort of made my skin crawl.  And when Sabine meets her match in Holser, there are some interesting issues raised that are completely spoilery, so I can't really get into them.  Let's just say, it was really sort of weird, what it came down to, and it was hard to know who to root for because both people were doing bad, but in an odd way that was hard to purely condemn.  I wasn't completely sure who I wanted to win.

The inevitable romance in this story (it is "13 tales of paranormal romance," after all...) was one of the better ones.  Sabine is in love with Nash, a male bean sidhe with the ability to Influence people with his voice.  I actually really did like the relationship between them, and felt the power and the connection, which is impressive in such a short work.  Vincent was wise in making the romance an established thing, rather than having them meet during the story and rushing a romance.  They seemed authentically dedicated to each other, too, and could relate to each other because of their dubious abilities, but they both have things they need to overcome, and it added nicely to the dynamic.

The only real drawback for me was that I felt it would have been better as a full-length work.  I liked Sabine and her story, but it would have been more powerful if had the luxury of length to really layer it and develop everything, especially the ending.  I feel like there's so much backstory, too, that's hinted at, and Sabine's feeding on nightmares is actually pretty symbolic, and it would have been interesting to watch her confront some of her past, or have more extensive flashbacks.  It was a nice story as it was, but I think it could have been even better as a full length work.

"Fearless" is found in Kiss Me Deadly; my version of Kiss Me Deadly is an ARC, so the story could have changed dramatically, just so you know.

Rachel Vincent is the author of the popular Shifters and Soul Screamers series.
StrayMy Soul to Take

Excerpt: In Dreams Begin by Skyler White

Excerpt from In Dreams Begin
In Paris, Halloween festivities would be mocking the rites and devils Ida and Maud hoped to make real tonight, in the little village of Samois. Through the provincial streets to its tiny cemetery, Maud had walked, a priestess or a secret witch cloaked and hooded with Ida, her familiar bird, wing-in-elbow beside her. But inside Georges’s little burial chapel, Maud shrunk to an Irish crone, her ritual robes a weathered shawl wrapped over curling shoulders and the hollowed-out hole where her heart had been, and Ida, her carrion bird behind her.
Maud took glasses from the wooden crate they had provisioned over several trips to the little mausoleum. Ida lit the candles, humming to herself. Maud already had a reputation for pleasant evening gatherings, but Ida would raise the tone of the soirées. She and Maud would talk Art and God with their guests, not only politics. The tomb’s rich, under-earth smell of graveworms and mushrooms crept over Ida. Maud had been too frightened of tonight to eat, but when they entertained together, Cook would serve duck in whiskey sauce, or salmon with morels.
Ida plucked the pins from Maud’s hair.  Lucien was on his way. Soon, he would take the robes and wraps from Maud, and place her on the pelts and petals Ida would spread upon the grave. He would open her legs, position himself upon the brown and pink, and dig and grunt his seed between them.
Maud did not move while Ida’s pecking fingers unwound the braided skeins of rust and shadow. It slithered free over Maud’s shoulders, and she absently pushed back the strands snaking into her face. She caught Ida’s hand in an icy grip. “Ida, I’m frightened.”
“I will stay here with you,” Ida lied. She touched her cautious finger to a tear’s path down Maud’s cheek. “You will feel nothing. I will make certain all your awareness and sensation have fled before Lucien proceeds.” Ida would not let Maud’s spirit suffer, although she would not vouchsafe the same for Laura’s soul. But Ida no longer needed Laura. All she needed was a ride to Hell.
“Do you swear it?” Maud whispered.
“I will make the trance so deep you will know nothing of what occurs, the way I did the last time, at the Matherses’ house, remember?”
Maud’s lashes quivered and more honey tears slicked her eyes.
“Yes,” she said at last. “I was initiated into the Golden Dawn that night, and I still remember not one thing about it.”
Another gift stolen from another humiliation. Ida would have nothing at all without her knack for grubbing through the wastes of hope. “I can command the magic we need tonight, because of that, to reincarnate your son.”
“I know, and oh Ida, I’m more grateful than I can say. I don’t know what I would ever have done without you!” Maud cried, but before the kiss might come, metal tore over stone, the small gate groaned open, and Lucien Millevoye ascended to Ida’s private paradise.
Maud, a hopeless pupil of Irish despite the earnest efforts of Douglas Hyde, spewed French like a drunkard pissed. Ida stayed kneeling while Maud poured her wine-sopped words all over Lucien—the ridiculous, married, minor revolutionary with his silly twisted-up mustache—with the same unstinting generosity she had given him her love. He was unworthy of her, and should die wretched and alone.
Maud’s fluid French explained she must be mesmerized and passive during the ritual act. The spirits themselves required it. But Millevoye was not unwilling to fuck his darling out cold as Maud had worried he might be. Ida listened to his barking, and translated clumsily in her head:
“And must this ugly chicken—maybe duckling?—remain while I make love to my white swan?”
“She is the priestess.”
“And will you, poor darling, feel nothing of your huntsman’s amorous caress?”
“You will be rendered quite insensate?”
“As if asleep, or even dead?” He made a moue of pity with his dishonest face, but his distended trousers spoke more honestly.
“It is almost time,” Ida said.
“C’est l’heur,” Maud translated for Lucien and turned to Ida, her face the stone of angels carved for children’s graves. Maud’s cold, unwilling fingers fumbled with the cloak ties, useless in the slick black satin. All her strength collected in the hollow of her slender throat where Ida saw the sobs shove and batter for release. Her eyes pleaded with Ida to say this was all a dream. Or unnecessary. A test—like Abraham, called to place his beloved son upon the cold rock altar of his god. But Maud’s child was sacrificed already, and underneath the stone.
They knelt before it: Ida, Maud, and Lucien. In the glassless window over the altar, the pregnant curve of moon hid for shame behind low clouds. The candles smoked black and flickered, but Maud and Lucien held their eyes to the little portrait of the dead child on the stone shelf.
Maud prayed. Her actress’s voice echoed in the closed stone and metal of Georges’s patrician tomb. How British, Ida noted, Maud had been in her architecture and grief. No banshee wail, no carved stone icon, only massive square blocks piled up in sorrow, and now the pitiful words of supplication.
All they had rehearsed was over. Kneeling before the shallow altar, their feet and shins rested on the metal doors they now must pull wide and descend. If Ida had not stood and gestured, would they ever have moved? Lucien helped Maud to her feet and Ida led her away from the grunting man and grinding hinges of the doors in the floor.
The sound of the tomb opening almost undid Maud, but Ida pulled the ribbons of her cloak and watched their bow collapse. Hanging in sad streamers down either sides of an unbreachable divide of visible flesh, they tied all Maud’s attention. Ida’s warm fingers pushed the halves apart, and the cloak fell with an expensive murmur in a pool of deeper black against the darkness of the hollow floor. Millevoye coughed. Maud’s bare bottom faced him. He could content himself with that and wait. Ida would not rush this moment. She had earned it with a patience he would not attain until his death. She took Maud’s hand in her own then, gold ring to gold ring, and turned Maud’s body toward the grave.
They climbed the ladder down.
Naked now, and shivering, Maud only must not faint.  Ida glared up at Mr. Millevoye, and he turned away to fumble with his waistcoat and trouser buttons. He dropped his hat, picked it up, and dropped it once again. He believed he had the most to lose. A wife. A political career. And yes, his enemies would love to find him here. They could ruin him with Maud, like Parnell and Kitty O’Shea. His thoughts must touch his enemies every time he fondled Maud. How exciting that must be.
Ida spread the lap rugs on the ground and eased Maud to the furs and flower petals folded into them. She placed her hand in Maud’s unbound hair. “Close your eyes,” she whispered.
Maud’s terror shot up through Ida’s finger tips. Above them, Millevoye tripped over his shoes. Ida would say the phrase three times, and they both recognized the signal. After the third recitation, Lucien was to descend and approach.
“Close your eyes,” Ida said again. She looked up to find Lucien watching with eyes that mirrored her desire. She tasted it on the fetid air between them.
“Excité?” she asked and winked at him. He dropped his shoe onto his hat, his fish mouth gaping.
Ida smiled. Yes, she spoke French. Yes, they were both excited.
“Close your eyes,” she said the final time, and knew Maud had slipped away. “Excitement is the pleasure we feel from danger,” she told Millevoye.
No, he spoke no English. He cursed stupidly and stumbled in his naked ass-first descent. Let Laura deal with him; Ida had other fish to catch. The salmon of knowledge was slippery, but tasty with a thick mushroom sauce.
Millevoye gripped his rigid cock in his hand. Yes, Ida would follow Maud, down into the red quiet. Yes, Laura was already slipping in, eager, groping through Maud’s mind like Lucien across her belly.
Ida stretched herself on the ground beside Maud, but kept their rings aligned. Here, her spirit whispered. Here, fishy, fishy.

Skyler White is the nationally bestselling author of dark fantasy novels ‘and Falling, Fly’ (Berkley, March 2010) and ‘In Dreams Begin’ (Berkley, November 2010). She lives in Austin, TX. Visit her on the web at http://www.skylerwhite.com.

Make sure to check out my teaser of In Dreams Begin and my review!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Face Off: Villains

Well, kittens, it's the last Friday Face Off for Helluva Halloween, and after reading through some of the villainous Character Connection posts for The Introverted Reader's giveaway, I'm curious: who's your favorite villain?  Whether it's an Other Mother with black button eyes or a man with blades on his fingers, terrorizing the inhabitants of Elm street, what one villain, from a book or a movie, gives you delicious little thrills of creepy awesome?

Remember, a comment on this or any other Helluva Halloween post counts as an entry for the Helluva Halloween Tricks and Treats Grab Bag!

Breathers: a Zombie's Lament by SG Browne

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament
by S.G. Browne

from Goodreads:
Meet Andy Warner, a recently deceased everyman and newly minted zombie. Resented by his parents, abandoned by his friends, and reviled by a society that no longer considers him human, Andy is having a bit of trouble adjusting to his new existence. But all that changes when he goes to an Undead Anonymous meeting and finds kindred souls in Rita, an impossibly sexy recent suicide with a taste for the formaldehyde in cosmetic products, and Jerry, a twenty-one-year-old car-crash victim with an exposed brain and a penchant for Renaissance pornography. When the group meets a rogue zombie who teaches them the joys of human flesh, things start to get messy, and Andy embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will take him from his casket to the SPCA to a media-driven class-action lawsuit on behalf of the rights of zombies everywhere.
Darkly funny, surprisingly touching, and gory enough to satisfy even the most discerning reader, Breathers is a romantic zombie comedy (rom-zom-com, for short) that will leave you laughing, squirming, and clamoring for more.

~  ~  ~  ~   

I was hoping for some funny slapstick when I picked this up (which I got), but it's so much more than that.  Breathers is a satire lampooning prejudice and civil rights, starring everyman Andy, who wakes up to realize he's dead and unwanted by the world.  Browne creates a zombie that makes sense to me: it's not needlessly shuffling and moaning for brains, it's just a normal guy (or gal) who just didn't die after they, well, died, and now are dealing with the social ramifications of not doing what you're ultimately supposed to do -- and slowly rotting while you're at it.  His zombies are sad little things, unable to feel physical pain, but feeling emotional pain acutely, as they slowly decompose into oblivion, or have their demise sped up by being donated to science.  They are the constant targets of humans (which is funny and creepy at the same time.  It's ridiculous and funny when frat boys attack a zombie by ripping off his arm and beating him with it.  But at the same time, it's a horror show, and though I'm sure people would protest, I don't think it's that far-fetched of one.  Humans are not the most tolerant of beings for sure, and we all seem to forget that the Civil Rights Movement was a) not that long ago, and b) a counter to some pretty horrific -- and sadly common -- things.  Like beatings and lynchings.  That were public events.  That went unpunished.  I'm just saying.) 

It makes sense that humans, who don't have a great track record to start, would react with so much animosity to zombies: they're unnatural, and religious extremists would have a field day, but more than that, they would cause us to confront what most people spend their lives avoiding: death.  To mourn your loved one, only to have them come back and sit, rotting in your basement, is unsettling to say the least.  But you'd probably tolerate them, since they are your loved one.  But what if it's some nameless not-person that you don't know, making you feel uncomfortable and think about things you avoid at all costs?  There's bound to be tension there, and as that builds and becomes more and more uncomfortable, it makes sense that people would lash out.  Creepy, but sadly believable.  Of course, the open animosity may be exaggerated and a bit unrealistic in its scope, but with satire, that's sort of the point.

Meanwhile, zombies are just not-dead dead guys.  They haven't changed all that much, only to discover that their world has.  They're not welcome, they're not considered human; they can't vote, or raise the children they've left behind.  If they cause a disturbance in public (basically just be being in public), they are sent to the pound, where they are held until someone claims them or three days is up, at which mark they are donated to science.  Andy and his zombie friends cope with this stress by attending Undead Anonymous meetings and consuming products with preservatives (like formaldehyde) in them, to slow the rotting, all the while trying to feel some kind of normalcy.  What's a zombie to do?  Fight the power, of course.

Oh, that and maybe find out if there's anything to that whole eating braaaaaaaaaaains thing...

I really didn't mean for this review to turn into what it did...Simply put, I got what I wanted out of Breathers, only more so.  I cared about Andy and was willing to go along with his fight, seeing the zombies as the good guys, and us humans as bad.  On top of that, Breathers is genuinely funny; even when I was cringing, I was laughing.  The story, and Browne's writing, work on so many levels. It's a touch of Chuck Palahnuik and a touch of Christopher Moore, but in the end, it really is Browne's own.  If you're looking for a non-traditional zombie story to kick back and enjoy, this is the one.

Here's my "zombie teaser" of the beginning of Breathers:

Or check out these "NecroBufrin" ads:

(this is funny, too)

Also, check out Undead Anonymous, where you can read Andy'y diary, or even Ask Andy those burning questions you have about zombie life...whatever.

And make sure to enter to win signed copies of Breathers and Fated, SG's new book!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Nightshade (Nightshade, #1)
by Andrea Cremer

 from Goodreads:
Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she'll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters' laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything--including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

Like many, many others, I've fallen in love with this cover.  A little less so with the story it contains -- I like it, sometimes a lot, but I don't love it.   Though I hate to compare things to Twilight (it seems like nearly every YA book these days gets the comparison in some way...), Nightshade has the same addictive readability, so that even when you're rolling your eyes, you keep right on reading.

I really did like the core characters, especially Calla -- I questioned her "alpha-ness" at times, but I was willing to set that aside and go with it, and like her despite some pet peeves (which others have gone into, so I'll just let them take it and run with it, and move on myself).  I was (pleasantly) surprised to like Ren, as their was a definite dick aspect to him, as he's uber-alpha male.  But Cremer chose not to make it a clear cut thing -- Calla is set to marry Ren, as they are both alphas and expected to form a pack, but she finds herself drawn to new (human) boy, Shay.  It would have been very easy to make the reader hate Ren and love Shay, and feel pity for Calla for the situation she's in, but instead, you see that there are good and bad things about all three characters, and it makes it much more appealing and believable with this complexity and gray area.

Another thing I really liked about Nightshade was the mythology Cremer created to back her story.  There are legends passed down, and a secret "history" that shadows real human history.  It's all layered with real-world philosophy and actual thought, and it just adds so much to the story and the believability of the more fantastic elements.

There were some drawbacks for me, though.  There were a few things -- key things -- that happened very, very quickly, and it sort of shocked me out of the whole "willing suspension of disbelief" thing.  If something book-changing is going to happen, I can get it being fast-paced.  Things happen quickly sometimes, and maybe it's necessary.  Without giving away something critical, there was one instance in particular that I have a feeling the rest of the series hinges on, and it just failed for me.  It felt rushed and forced, and the entire set up was just...weird and I didn't buy it.  As soon as there is that disconnect, you start to doubt everything, and I just wasn't pleased.  I felt like a lot of the work Cremer had done to build veracity was just tossed out the window*.

But all in all, even when I doubted or rolled my eyes, I enjoyed myself reading this.  I fully intend to read the next book, and even will go so far as to say I have high hopes for it; I see this series having a big following, and though I'm not unreservedly gaga over it, I certainly recommend it.

*Please keep in mind, I read an ARC, so this could have changed for the better...

Make sure to check out my interview with Andrea Cremer, in which she talks a bit about creating the mythology I talked about, or read my teaser of the book.

And while you're hopping around Book Rat, stop by and enter to win a finished copy of Nightshade, one of the many Helluva Halloween giveaways!

Character Connection: The Other Mother

Character Connection

Every Thursday, The Introverted Reader hosts a meme called Character Connection, where she asks people to post about a character that has really grabbed hold of their imagination and carved out a spot in their little literary hearts.

For the month of October, Ms. Introverted herself is hosting a Helluva Halloween-inspired challenge: post a Character Connection that is Helluva Halloween appropriate and win some pretty neat things...

This week we're going back to Neil Gaiman for one of the creepiest characters I've ever read -- ever -- and she's from a kid's book.
I'm talking about the skin-crawlingly delightful Other Mother from Coraline:

A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline's mother. Only...
Only her skin was white as paper.
Only she was taller and thinner.
Only her fingers were too long, and they never stopped moving, and her dark red fingernails were cruved and sharp.
...Her eyes were big black buttons...
At first the other mother seems good to Coraline; she is attentive and listens to Coraline, feeds her delicious things, and seems to care only for Coraline.  But Coraline knows there is something off.  When she meets the other mother's other victims, they tell her:
She left us here. She stole our hearts, and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot about us in the dark.
The other mother feeds on children and leaves them nothing of themselves, only "snakeskins and spider husks."  I found her so perfectly unsettling, especially for a kids book -- infact, I think that's part of what makes her so perfect.  You don't expect something so twisted, human but not, in a kids book, and it just ups the creepy factor deliciously.

If you haven't read Coraline, or you want to freak out your kids for Halloween, this is a perfect one to pick up.  And read it, don't just watch the movie.  Trust me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

TBR Tuesday (4)

I have a lot of books I've bought or received in a fury of excitement, only to have them languish on the shelves.  This is one of those books.

Well, this is a day late; I was posting my Wishlist Wednesday post on John Connolly's book of short stories, Nocturnes, and I realized that a) I hadn't posted my TBR Tuesday this week, and b) I just recently bought another book of Connolly's, the very Halloween-appropriate The Gates:

 A strange novel for strange young people. Young Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell are trying to show initiative by trick-or-treating a full three days before Hallowe'en. Which is how they come to witness strange goings-on at 666 Crowley Avenue. The Abernathys don't mean any harm by their flirtation with Satanism. But it just happens to coincide with a malfunction in the Large Hadron Collider that creates a gap in the universe. A gap in which there is a pair of enormous gates. The gates to Hell. And there are some pretty terrifying beings just itching to get out ...Can Samuel persuade anyone to take this seriously? Can he harness the power of science to save the world as we know it?

Wishlist Wednesday: Helluva Halloween (4)

Bestselling author John Connolly's first collection of short fiction, Nocturnes, now features five additional stories -- never-before published for an American audience -- in a dark, daring, utterly haunting anthology of lost lovers and missing children, predatory demons, and vengeful ghosts. In "The New Daughter," a father comes to suspect that a burial mound on his land hides something very ancient, and very much alive; in "The Underbury Witches," two London detectives find themselves battling a particularly female evil in a town culled of its menfolk. And finally, private detective Charlie Parker returns in the long novella "The Reflecting Eye," in which the photograph of an unknown girl turns up in the mailbox of an abandoned house once occupied by an infamous killer. This discovery forces Parker to confront the possibility that the house is not as empty as it appears, and that something has been waiting in the darkness for its chance to kill again.

I loved Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, and I've been getting more into short stories lately, so I'm looking forward to getting this one.  Plus the cover would complement my copy of TBoLT so well...
What's on your wishlist?

Hater by David Moody

Hater (Hater, #1)
by David Moody 

from Goodreads:
Society is rocked by a sudden increase in the number of violent assaults on individuals. Christened 'Haters' by the media, the attackers strike without warning, killing all who cross their path. The assaults are brutal, remorseless and extreme: within seconds, normally rational, self-controlled people become frenzied, vicious killers.
There are no apparent links as a hundred random attacks become a thousand, then hundreds of thousands. Everyone, irrespective of gender, age, race or any other difference, has the potential to become a victim - or a Hater. People are afraid to go to work, afraid to leave their homes and, increasingly, afraid that at any moment their friends, even their closest family, could turn on them with ultra violent intent.
Waking up each morning, no matter how well defended, everyone must now consider the fact that by the end of the day, they might be dead. Or perhaps worse, become a killer themselves.
As the status quo shifts, ATTACK FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER becomes the order of the day... only, the answers might be much different than what you expect.... 

~  ~  ~  ~  

It's difficult for me to explain this book without giving away something vital.  Hater is almost a modern take on a zombie tale, but not quite -- it's more than that, a not-zombie book: there are no undead, rotting and roaming the streets, but the atmosphere is the same.  There's the same Us vs. Them mentality, and the same mindless brutality, but for all its similarities, Hater is also worlds apart.  In straightforward zombie stories, you just have this unknown motivation (brains?  why brains?) or no real reasoning, but just a plodding force that won't give up and will come for you, and you have no idea why.  In Hater, there is a similar confusing terror of the why is this happening, why me? sort, but you also get to experience things from a Haters perspective, like being in the zombie hoarde and knowing you must kill.  And it doesn't matter why.  This is done so well in Hater, and creeps up on you so perfectly that it works its way under your skin in a truly disturbing way.

It's a truly frightening scenario that has you questioning what you would be like.  Haters are full of an unexplained paranoia that everyone else is out to get them, and so they brutally attack those who they believe will attack them: kill or be killed.  As it progresses, this means that whether you are a Hater or a "normal" human being, the worst is bound to come out in you, because you can trust no one.  It's like those ridiculous stories anti-drug groups act out in middle schools, about acid trips gone really wrong* -- only on a global scale.  It's mass paranoia and distrust, and it's inescapable, and to me, that's something that's far more terrifying than, I don't know, killer clowns** or masked mad men.  Much scarier than knowing there's a monster out there is realizing that you are the monster.

And I think that's where the power of this stories lies.  We live all of this mess through Danny, including all of his (comparatively) trivial frustration and "everyday" misery.  We can relate to him, and as the story slams back and forth between Danny's life and hater attacks, building tension of two different but palpable types, we can't help but put ourselves in the situation and experience the book.  Which is a good, if disturbing, thing.

Here's my [zombie] teaser, yo! (don't ask me why I sometimes feel compelled to 'yo' things.  I don't know.):

Also don't forget to check out my interview with David Moody, and the PRIZE PACK GIVEAWAY (includes Hater!)

*Know what I'm talking about?  They are these horrific urban-legend-like stories of people on acid, gouging out their own eyeballs with knitting needles because they think there are spiders behind their eyes...Or was this just at my school?
Couldn't have been, The Simpsons did a similar episode...Cool points to anyone who knows what I'm talking about and can find that episode...
** like the ones from outer space ~cheese alert!~

Teaser: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she'll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters' laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything--including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

Alrighty.  I've been putting this off because I have a recorded one I wanted to share with you -- which is trapped in my computer, on it's way to Dell to be fixed.  So instead, we're having to go old school with a written teaser.  I give you: Nightshade: 

I crossed the street on tho the next block. Shay fell in step, oblivious to my sudden wariness. I glanced over my shoulder. The men trailed behind us. I sniffed the air, but the pair of strangers walked downwind of me, making it impossible to know if they were human...or something else. I flexed my fingers as I worked through a map of the area around Edin in my mind's eye.
I tilted my head and listened; it was easy to pick up their gruff whipsers.
"We can't be sure without getting a look at his neck."
"You gonna ask him to roll back his collar to give you a peek?" the second man said. "He fits the description and he just came out of the warlock's club. Let's grab him and ask questions later."
"He's not alone."
"Are you afraid of a girl? Probably some tart our golden boy pulled off the dance floor. Just knock her down, snatch the kid, and we're out of here."
With a languid stretch I draped my arm around Shay and curled him toward me. A curious, flirtatious smile appeared on his lips. He glanced at my bursting cleavage again. A sudden low ache made me stumble, sending hot blood up my neck to scorch my cheeks. Then one of the men uttered a low, lewd sound, bringing me back to the street. I shook me head and dug warning nails into Shay's shoulder, trying as much to focus myself as distract him.
"There's trouble. Those guys are following us. [...] Get out of here. Now!"
He grinned before dashing around the corner. The rush of footsteps came from behind me. I whirled and spread my arms wide, obstructing their path.
"Out of the way," the first man said gruffly.
He raised a hand to shove me aside. I whipped my fist low, catching him with a sharp jab in the stomach. The air whooshed from his lungs and he doubled over in pain. Now that he was close, I caught his scent: not human. Searchers.
All the heat in my body gave way to an icy flood. I couldn't believe I'd let them get so close. My distraction could have cost me my life. Shay was even more dangerous than I'd imagined.
"They've got guardians watching the kid, Stu."
The first man recovered from my blow; his hand dipped into his long leather coat, and he moved into a crouch. His lips curled in disgust. "Let's see what you've got, fleabag."
Something glinted in this hand. I caught the twitch in his wrist just in time to dodge, and the dagger clanged along the sidewalk. I bared my teeth and leapt on him. His scream cut off as my jaws closed, crushing his windpipe. His blood poured into my mouth, molten copper. When I felt his heart stop beating, I raised my muzzle.
The other Searcher stared at me, his face contorted in horror...

Please note, this selection comes from an ARC, so it may differ in the final version.  Also, any typos are (likely) mine. [...] indicates a removed passage, for the purpose of condensing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Repost: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Last year, about a month after Helluva Halloween ended, I was still in the Halloween spirit, and I picked up a slim little book that was perfectly suited.  This year, I find myself thinking about that book again, and wanting to read it and share it with you, so I thought I would repost my review so that those of you who didn't see it or weren't convinced last year would have a chance to get your hands on a copy of it in time for Halloween.
Trust me, you won't regret it.
I give you last year's review of

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson ~

Recently, as a kind of lingering bit of Helluva Halloween, I read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I read it purely on cover appeal alone. I mean, look at that ----->
It's so evocative. I just had to.
The cover doesn't disappoint. It matches the tone perfectly.

But first:

"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead."

We Have Always Lived in the Castle tells the story of the Blackwoods, a hill-country family more well-off than their neighbors, and maybe just a little more off than them, too. Told from the POV of 18 year old Mary Katherine Blackwood, the youngest, we learn that the remaining Blackwoods -- Merricat, her older sister, Constance, invalid Uncle Julian, and Jonas the cat -- are shunned by the townsfolk to the point of Frankensteinian pitch-fork crazy.
Mary Katherine, or Merricat, as she is called, is a thoroughly fascinating character. She reads like I Capture the Castle's Cassandra Mortmain if she were maybe OCD and slightly disturbed. In fact, the whole thing reads like the Mortmains with a dash of gothic crazy thrown in. Through Merricat, it is slowly revealed that the reason the Blackwoods are shunned, and the reason there are only three left, is because the rest of the family was poisoned over dinner six years prior -- and Constance stood trial for it. Now, they keep to themselves in their secluded house with agoraphobic zeal, with Merricat making dreaded weekly trips into town for supplies.
They could go on this way forever, avoiding people, avoiding life, living in Merricat's fantasies -- until a visitor comes and things will never be the same.

So, that's the basic story, without giving too much away. What I loved about this, what I found absolutely compelling, was the tone of this story. Jackson, known for her insanely famous tale "The Lottery," is a master of tone. Her stories always seem to have a presence; you can feel them in the room with you. Everything about Merricat's world seems present and ominous and dangerous. The town has a presence, the forest and fields have a presence, the Blackwood house -- more so than anything -- has a presence. In only 200 or so pages, Jackson makes everything come alive, which is an impressive feat.

Merricat, as the narrator, is quirky and volatile and possibly brilliant. She is very much haunted and slightly odd, and as the reader, you become completely absorbed in Merricat's view: you know the world is against you, and you find yourself going along with the things she does. It's easy to root for Merricat, even when you start to doubt her. The peripheral characters are fascinating and difficult and compelling.

In short, if you can handle a healthy dose of weird and/or crazy, this slim story pulls no punches. Definitely add it to your list (Halloween-time reading is recommended).

Bonus Materials:

The townsfolk's taunt:
Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you'll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

Read this article about We Have Always Lived in the Castle making it to the big screen soon...

Read Jackson's short story "The Lottery"

Reviews around the blogosphere:
"I became so enthralled with the setting of this book. The very atmosphere of it, I think, held me captive and I loved the relationship between the sisters, Merricat and Constance. It is very simple and felt familiar somehow."
from 5 Squared

"First off, this is the most damn disturbing book I’ve read in along time, and in so many ways as well, not just for the story as unfolds and spills it’s secrets, but also for the way you begin to care (and sometimes root) for people you really, really, shouldn’t."
from Bart's Bookshelf

"This story explores the evils of the human mind - sometimes much more frightening than ghoulies, ghosties, vampires, and all other things that go bump in the night.

This book examines what happens when a family is shattered and the truth is held back too long. The fear and anxiety of the sisters combined with the hostility, blunt rage, and inhumanity of the villagers makes this a compelling novel."
from Well-Mannered Frivolity


When I was asking for input on Helluva Halloween, a couple of you mentioned David Moody; you were really eager to get your hands on something, anything, by him.  So I am just pleased as punch to say that David has complied with your wish -- in a BIG way.  Because he is made of awesome, 1 lucky person is going to win this fab prize pack:
copies of Hater, Dog Blood and Autumn:

and a Hater t-shirt!

I know!  Pretty cool, right?  So what do you have to do to win?  Fill out this entry form and you're in! 
Want some bonus entries?  Happy to oblige:
  • Being a Book Rat follower (old or new, +5)
  • Following David on Twitter, Goodreads and/or Facebook! (+5 each)
  • Linking or tweeting the giveaway (+5), my interview with David (+5) or my review (not yet up, will be +5)
  • Doing a blog post about any of the above (+10)
  • Telling me your "zombie name" on the entry form (+2)
  • Leaving comments on this post, the interview, the review, or the zombie teaser (+2 each)
Good luck!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Manifest by Artist Arthur

Manifest (Mystyx, #1)
by Artist Arthur

from Goodreads: 
When  fifteen-year-old Krystal Bentley moves to Lincoln, Connecticut, her  mom's hometown, she assumes her biggest drama will be adjusting to the  burbs after living in New York City.

But Lincoln is nothing like  Krystal imagined. The weirdness begins when Ricky Watson starts  confiding in her. He's cute, funny, a good listener—and everything she'd  ever want—except that he was killed nearly a year ago.  Krystal's ghost-whispering talents soon lead other "freaks" to her  door—Sasha, a rich girl who can literally disappear, and Jake, who moves  objects with his mind. All three share a distinctive birthmark in the  shape of an M and, fittingly, call themselves the Mystyx. They  set out to learn what really happened to Ricky, only to realize that  they aren't the only ones with mysterious powers. But if Krystal  succeeds in finding out the truth about Ricky's death, will she lose him  for good?

~  ~  ~  ~

There was a point in Manifest that things sort of clicked for me and I saw the potential for something pretty gripping and distrubing (without giving too much away, there is a serious creep (in the real world sense) preying on the girls of Lincoln, and MC Krystal may be the next on his list.  There was a dark, gritty and realistic edge to this side of the story that I didn't see coming, and it added much needed authenticity and danger.  But this one almost-stellar aspect aside, Manifest fell flat for me.  

One of the biggest problems was the main character, Krystal.  Krystal is very, very hard to like for a good chunk of the book.  She's angsty in the worst way, pouty and insolent, she's kind of obtuse and frustrating, and it was sort of hard for me to root for her.  This did get better as it went along, and I realize that it was an intended progression because of things that had gone on in her life, but it doesn't change the fact that I didn't want to read her; I didn't want to be in her head.  Of the other bigger side characters, Ricky was cliched, contradictory and silly, Sasha is a princess who has yet to grow on me (bad sign, as she's the star of book 2), and Jake, who I liked and felt was more developed, was often brushed to the side.

Another problem I had (and this was partly the result of my own expectations) was the cliched aspect of the novel, coupled with attempts to make it a more POC slant.  I was looking forward to getting a new perspective, something more like a melding of urban fantasy and paranormal romance.  But it never felt authentic to me.  Ricky, the ghost gangbanger, wears his pants low and his Timbalands untied, and he speaks in alternating urban teen slang and well-spoken prepster -- sometimes both in one sentence, like this:
"I'll admit, if circumstances were different, I might try to holla at you.  But your foul attitude would probably turn me off."
 Really?  What teen of any background talks in this weird mish-mash?  And what teen says 'foul attitude', other than in a mocking way when they've just been written up for it?  Overall, the way it was handled, I just felt like the author had to try to connect with an audience so she sprinkled some stuff in hoping it worked, or even worse, maybe thinking it rang true, and it didn't.  For me, this was hard to get past, and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot.  The same is true of the "Mystyx" powers (and the name Mystyx) -- it was sort of too grandiose and I rolled my eyes.  A lot.

But even though this bothered me, and I've been fairly negative so far, but truth be told, I did see potential.  As I said in the beginning, there was a darker, more raw undercurrent that really could have made something of the book, and as is, saved it from completely flopping for me.  I feel like Arthur has given herself room to grow over the series, and I'm curious enough, and saw potential enough, to be willing to read book 2 and see what she makes of it.  I wouldn't push Manifest on anyone, but I wouldn't completely dissuade them from reading it, either.  Caution, maybe, but not dissuade.

In the end, I went into Manifest with hopes of a good POC take on paranormal YA, with maybe some romance.  What I got was a letdown: a cliched story of a hard to like main character, with slang and skin color thrown in to mix it up.  But I also caught glimpses of something better, and I'm hoping to see it expanded upon.

Here's my teaser:


and here's the book trailer:

Also, make sure to enter to win a signed copy of Manifest + swag, courtesy of the author!
And while you're at it, read her excerpt of book 2, Mystify.

Helluva Halloween Final Stre-e-e-tch Updates!

There's less than a week left of Helluva Halloween (frowny face), so I thought now would be a good time to do a little update on the fun and games.  Everyone who played in these games received bonus entires into the Helluva Halloween Tricks and Treats Grab Bag, and may have qualified for other giveaways, too!

  1. I had to do it; you would have too. How could I not? It was the beating of his hideous heart!~ Me!
  2. Lightning strikes and the creation gets loose. A dead girl leads a mob with torches to storm the castle. Death for all.  ~ from Jason
  3. Revenge, revenge! I must have my revenge! I'm willing to wait until the time is right. Nemo me impune lacessit. ~ from Natalie (Mindful Musings)
  4. She clawed her way through the door and growled. Honey, I'm home. ~(a mashup, female werewolf Jack, based on The Shining) from Velvet (vvb32 reads)
  5. You could be here (and if I missed your tweet, you should be; send it to me!)

  1. The scariest thing
    That can go bump in the night
    Is from Jersey Shore   ~ "The Situation" by Vampires and Tofu
  2. It's the midnight hour
    Something wakes me from slumber
    Fangs pierce my white throat  ~  also by Vampires and Tofu
  3. Putrid rotting flesh
    Longing for your tasty brains
    Join me in undeath   ~ From Titania
  4. His metal claws screech
    His face is horribly scarred
    Freddy comes for you  ~ also from Titania, inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street
  5. Bloody glinting teeth
    Please tell me I was dreaming
    I ate the monster  ~  from Giada, inspired by The Princess and Mr Whiffle
  6. the scariest dream
    is one that you can never
    escape, never wake  ~ from Mrs. DeRaps, inspired by  Sleepless by Thomas Fahy
  7. You call me stupid.
    Shadowy vampire stirs
    Sparkling vampire dies.  ~ from Jedisakora
  8. Brains are yummy stuff
    I wanna eat a whole bag
    and not gain a pound  ~ from Alessandra
  9. Brains are yummy food
    mouth-watering, sweetly true.
    Grey matter tastes good.  ~ also from Alessandra
  10. A creak on the stairs
    The sound of eerie laughter
    I need to hide now  ~ from Stephanie
  11. thump thump goes my heart
    thud thud thud it approaches
    make ready fi-re  ~ from Velvet
  12. It is the birthday
    Of feared and unwanted things
    Hidden in the mind  ~ from Polkadots 1121
  13. Ghosts are frightening
    And monsters even more so
    but you are the worst  ~ from sablelexi

^from Giada^
^from Scratching at the Window^
^from Zombie Girrrl^
^from The Epic Rat^

^Prince Zee, from Velvet^
^and my very own Herbert^

  1. The Cutter (Me!) 
  2. The Girls of St Trinians (Lady Scribbles)
  3. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar (Velvet)
  4. Bellatrix Lestrange (Allison)
  5. Lady Esclarmonde (Enbrethiliel)
  6. Sadako Yamamura (Velvet)
  7. Valentine Morgenstern (Faye)
  8. Bill Sikes (Mrs DeRaps)
  9. The Queen of Hearts (Velvet)
  10. Edward Hyde (Suey) 
There's still one more week left, so don't forget to enter your villainous Character Connection this thursday!

  1. Zombie Titania
  2. Wereraven Velvet
  3. more listed in comments at DeRaps Reads challenge post

There is one more bit of fun and games, the Caption This! Challenge.  I'm not going to update that here as there is going to be one big wrap up post full of awesome at the end.  But if you want to get it on that, you can caption the pictures for the entire month: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4

And just in case you've missed any of them, here are the Helluva Giveaways:


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