Woohoo! Another one bites the dust! Check out my complete list here. Only two left now. One with only a little bit left. One with a lot a bit left. We shall see . . .

Published August 30, 2011.

Cas Lowood has inherited an usual vocation: he kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead – keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian house she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares his life. (ARC back blurb)
Apparently the publishing gods were listening to me as I begged, pleaded and whined about getting more YA horror onto the market because ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD certainly delivered! Part Supernatural, part Buffy with a penis (just don’t tell Cas that), part Exorcist, ANNA is both incredibly spooky and touching all at the same time. It grabs the horror and throws it at you in little bursts, never overdoing it but it likes to play at the heartstrings too. It still carries some of that teen relationship schtick that most other YA books have but it’s different and even more unattainable than Buffy and Angel’s tryst. So there’s really something for everyone but just be warned about the gore and spook elements. If you don’ like that stuff, it might not be your bag.
There’s something immediately likable about Cas. He’s not a complainer but he’s not a showboat either. There’s a subtlety to his function that if tipped any other way he’d probably come off as annoying. But Blake does a phenomenal job of keeping him grounded and inherently appealing. He’s got a job that he does. No big deal. He does it and moves on. That’s it. It’s best not to get strings attached to anything because that’s just a hassle. He’s so grounded out in logic that I can’t help but fangirl him. Nearly every move he makes actually makes sense. There was barely a moment in the story where I was reading and disbelieving something he was doing. He followed a natural order to everything that was going on and he really never went against that. Scoffing at ridiculousness need not apply.
I also liked that his mom was a big buddy in the story. Whereas a lot of YA tends to shove parents into the background, ANNA didn’t really do that. Of course the teens did a lot of the goings on and there was some bemoaning of parental worrying on Cas’s part but that’s natural. His mom, and Morfran, weren’t wisps of smoke in the background leaving their children alone. They played active rolls in helping Cas figure out what the deal was and I really liked that. Again, more reality. More elements that actually made sense. Love it.
Carmel (sorry, but that’s an absolutely atrocious name) and Thomas prove good supplements to Cas’s abnormal evenness (because really, such a level-headed character is rare in YA). Carmel played the giggly popular girl well but she’s a basket full of surprises. I ended up really liking her simply because she shattered every preconceived notion I had about her. Thomas didn’t. He lived up to everything I originally thought he was, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like him. He was useful to Cas, and insistent about it, which Cas begrudgingly took at the beginning but Thomas proved himself. Both of these guys showed Cas that he doesn’t have to go it alone. They made him open up his eyes. For someone that was so open to strange and unusual things, Cas ended up being pretty close-minded about a lot of things mundane. I guess that comes with the territory.
I loved the gore simply because it came out of nowhere. It’s not something you really expect in YA so when it popped up it was a total surprise and then I cheered a little. Not because a character got hurt, but because here’s an author that’s unafraid to take that step. How could I not love that? And there were some genuinely freaky moments going on that had me looking over my shoulder. I can’t really like a book more once it does that. That’s pretty much the pinnacle. The horror has done it’s job. It’s freaked me out and, even for a moment, unsettled me. Win.
I can’t wait to read more in Blake’s ANNA series if what I’m going into looks anything like this. YA horror, how nice it is to see you again. I hope you stay for a long, long time and have many, many little horror babies. Please.

Ban Factor: High – With all the talk of voodoo and ghosts and witchcraft and nothing Christian to balance it out, the banners would attack this like Westboro Baptist at a gay pride parade.

Giveaway Time!!!
I have a finished copy on my hands. You want it? Just fill out the form for your chance to win!
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ETA – Just read the press release I found in my giveaway copy and what does Tor compare the book to? Supernatural and Buffy. It’s okay. You can call me awesome for my amazing prophetic abilities.

Published October 11, 2011.

Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don’t know it’s there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be overdue for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.

Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. (

I’ve known about the caldera for a while so when Mike approached me to review ASHFALL, it was an instant yes. How I missed this one in my NetGalley wandering, I have no idea but Mike was kind enough to send me a copy and OMG am I glad he did.
The first couple of chapters were absolutely horrifying. Like literally had me shaking, horrifying. The thing is, I think what made it really horrifying is that this is something that’s going to happen. Not if, but when. We have no idea and we can only pray to whatever god exists that we’ll have some kind of warning sign to help prepare us but that doesn’t make it any more palatable. Knowing that a popular tourist attraction can and will annihilate us can tend to keep one up at night.
The story is told from the POV of Alex and almost immediately it starts into the destruction in Iowa from the erupting volcano. Alex’s house gets hit by a volcano-projected meteor, nearly trapping him inside of it. It’s a total down-slide from there but the sheer resilience of this kid is absolutely astounding. Of course he had help along the way (he’d literally be dead if he didn’t) but his will to reconnect him with his family was so strong that he pushed on to walk from Iowa to Illinois to find his parents and sister that were only supposed to be away for a weekend. You see Alex start from a little boy (despite his 15 (16?) years) and morph into this young man that can field dress a pig and survive the elements.
Of course, Darla helped him along there. If it wasn’t for her, Alex would have been left at the curb well before the end of the book. Darla starts off overly strong but it’s a logical strong. It’s not the type of attitude where it’s ‘I can do anything better than you’ but more like ‘holy crap, we don’t have enough food to feed a drifter, we need to think of ourselves first.’ Her logic really grounds out Alex’s inherent altruism that, at times, can really bite them in the ass. What’s even better is when they actually point out his stupid altruism. Self-deprecation is always a win for me.
But Darla functions as his rock and, quite frankly, it’s nice and refreshing to see the boy having to get rescued time after time after time in a story. Not that Alex is a little pansy weakling but Darla’s a farmhand. Her ability to survive and adapt is a little better than his. And the relationship they form is something unlike what I’ve seen in other books. I liken is to Alex in Ilsa Bick’s ASHES and her relationship with Tom. ASHFALL’S Alex’s relationship with Darla is a little more intense but there’s something purer about it. Their survival depends on each other. They actually have to work at it. Where they are didn’t come free. They earned every second of it and, for me, that makes it that much sweeter and far less lust-at-first-sightish.
As I said before, this book had me shaking. The setting was realistic to the point where I could feel the ash on my skin, taste it in my mouth, hear the roaring of the erupting volcano. And the fact that it actually reads accurate makes it all the more realistic. I had a little bit of issue with how the military was portrayed (I could ask soldier boy for clarification, just haven’t gotten around to it yet). The whole situation seemed a bit dramatized for the sake of, well, drama. Although I do know that true martial law is quite possibly one of the most horrifying things on the planet and while they’d get shit done, it’d be at the sacrifice of a lot of people, the individual actions of the soldiers that Alex and Darla interacted with just didn’t seem right to me. They just seemed far too douchy. I am a touch biased but I’d like to think that even in martial law, most soldiers would maintain a modicum of humanity and douche nozzles like those guys would be the exception, not the norm. That could just be me being hopeful. Like I said, I could get more accurate clarification on that but it’s based in hypothetical, technically. There’s some experience there when dealing with vets so I guess it’d be a little less hypothetical than normal.
ASHFALL was easy to read and while I felt, at times, it read a little too simplistically (I would have liked some greater detail in some parts, less inane description in others), it made its point. It got Alex’s story across without flowery prose and without pretense. I really felt like I was reading about Alex from Alex. For the most part I didn’t read the book and feel like I was reading anyone other than Alex (there were a few times where I felt the wording was a bit out of character but not enough to have a major effect).
The best part, I think? There’s nothing paranormal about ASHFALL. No zombies, no mutant hybrids. Just science. The earth’s biggest zit explodes and this is the aftermath of that. Really, people losing their minds was scary enough. And that’s what made this book really hit home: just how real it was, and could be. You don’t close the book and go whew! That was freaky! Glad I don’t have to worry about it. You close the book when you’re done and go, oh shit. I need to stock up on bottled water. The lack of anything paranormal, to me, makes it all the scarier because it’s that much more rooted in reality.
For apocalyptic stories, ASHFALL comes in second to ASHES by Ilsa Bick for me. Everything that happens is based on science, nothing seems out of place and at the end it’ll leave you shaking just a little bit harder than when you started. The ending leaves a few things open but the sequel comes out next year so you won’t be left hanging for long. Yet another apocalyptic book that I’m proud to say rockets itself up and over nearly everything else that’s out there. Read it and get scared.

Ban Factor: Medium – There is premarital sex but it’s fade to black and I believe subtle enough that the banners wouldn’t be smart enough to pick up on it. Swearing’s on the low side but it’s there a little. If anything I think it’d be the sex that’d kill it but they’d be happy about the Christianity (not that it’s a Christian book).

Giveaway Time!!!
Want my ARC? Then just fill out the form below for your chance to win!
  • Open to US residents 13 years of age and older only.
  • One entry per person per email address
  • Duplicate entries will be deleted
  • Giveaway ends October 20th at midnight, EST.

September 30, 2011

Published January 1, 2010.

It’s one thing watching someone get killed. It’s quite another talking about it.

But Ty does talk about it. He named some ruthless people and a petrol-bomb attack forces him and his mum into hiding under police protection.

Shy loser Ty gets a new name, a new look and a cool new image. Life as Joe is good. But the gangsters will stop at nothing to silence him. And then he meets a girl with a dangerous secret of her own. (book back blurb)
This book hooked me in right from the beginning. David has a simplistic way with words that both conveys the deepest emotion possible for the character while being as poignant as can be. That’s a hard balance to strike and I think David does it perfectly. The words are simple but they’re deep enough to suck you in and hold you there.
I thought that Ty was an immediately likable character. You can’t help but latch onto him as soon as you find out he’s on the run, which is pretty much right from the beginning. The story starts on some pretty high action and while it peters out, the threat of something happening lingers just beneath the words and keeps you, and Ty, on edge. His actions in his new life are indicative of the paranoia he’s bound to have.
I was less than thrilled with his mom, Nicki. She would be someone I’d deem a Mom in Denial. She’d had Ty young, 15 I believe, and she kind of hangs that guilt on him at times but lifts it off of him and puts it on herself the rest. It’s kind of underhanded and the jabs can be subtle but they’re there. She nearly blows their cover because she gets to slip back into the teen mode that she missed and a lot of the time, I just don’t pity her. I’m thinking I should but . . . you sleep in the bed you make. I don’t feel the situation she’s in is a result of shitty parenting. The best parents in the word can end up with kids that hang out with the trashiest kids. I just think it’s a matter of circumstances. She didn’t do anything bad per se but she’s not a contender for the mom of the year award either. Perhaps cut in half all those times she spent going out and singing drunk karaoke and things might have turned out differently. Parents have to have lives of their own too but not at the sacrifice of their children.
But Nicki and Ty work well off of each other. Ty makes up for the parent that Nicki isn’t (which isn’t something he should be doing but rather a role he was kind of forced to step into) and she is a mom when the situation calls for it (most of the time). Ty is a character that sees his faults and tries to improve on them. And I think that’s the most important, and endearing, part of him: how he wants to improve himself. He tries so hard but sometimes things slip. Maybe they could have been helped, maybe not. But he tries as much as he can and I like him for that.
When Ty has to make another switch I felt his escape was a little too easy (an escape from the situation at school as opposed to thugs on his ass). He made some mistakes that he was about to be punished for but the bobbies had to come in and move him because he’s become too high profile. By the end of the book he’s pulled a 360, going back to something resembling his old self, just without friends at all. Really, I’m surprised he wasn’t psychotic by the end of the book for all the personalities he had to juggle.
And I liked his relationship with Claire. It was probably the purest thing in Ty’s life and I was sad when he had to let it go. It was something so nice and sweet that he could hold on to, that balanced out everything else in his life. He could be himself around her and I felt at as much of a loss as Ty did when Claire was ripped away from him. But she lingered and I’m glad for that.
WHEN I WAS JOE is a unique contemporary that deals with something wholly unpleasant, and something that really isn’t talked about much. How can it? Witnesses in witness protection tend to keep their lives hidden. So getting a glimpse into this jilted lifestyle and seeing how ruinous it can actually be was eye-opening. But Ty handled it all so well and I think he’s such a fantastic character for it. He’s still human, and he shows his human side quite often in the book but it only functions to make him a more dynamic character. If you’re looking for a book that shows strength at it’s greatest, WHEN I WAS JOE is it.

Ban Factor: High – There are some sexual innuendos thrown in there and there’s plenty of swearing. While it might not be at the forefront of the banner’s ban list, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s on there already.

Published April 1, 2011.

What happens when a girl, homeschooled by her counterculture mother, decides to spend her senior year in public school? First friendship, first loveā€”and first encounters with the complexities of authority and responsibility. (

Well, this is absolutely a unique book with a take on homeschooling that doesn’t veer into the weird religious road. So that was nice. But THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT solidified my notion that I just don’t like hippies. At all. Martha, Eve’s mother, I wanted to beat her to death with her own Birkenstocks. I’m all for people wanting to have a self-sustaining lifestyle and all of that. I think that’s fantastic. But those that don’t follow it through, complain about “The Man” holding them down and then try to force themselves onto other people, effectively becoming “The Man” (see re: nonconformists conforming to the nonconformist conformity) and piece-mealing their lives to suit them bother the shit out of me. For instance they live in a self-sustaining house but Martha drives a Volkswagen micro bus. Well, they certainly cancel each other out. Or complaining about “The Man” but she doesn’t have a problem actually working for one and using it as an outlet to force her ideals down others’ throats. It’s just a big basket of contradictions that annoyed the ever-loving hell out of me.
But remove Martha from the scene and it really isn’t so bad of a story. Eve’s a great character. She’s strong and sticks to her laurels even though everyone, and I mean everyone, ends up against her. She doesn’t waver in the slightest and that makes her such an amazing person. She’s extremely intelligent and can go toe to toe with authorities in arguments with viable opinions well above what her classmates could probably offer. While I don’t agree with some of her stances (like students being equal to teachers, sorry kids, school isn’t a democracy, the teachers aren’t your equals and they’re not meant to be your friends), I could empathize with a lot of what she stood for (clean bathrooms, teachers not berating and insulting students, better food in the cafeteria, etc.). The majority of her stances weren’t unreasonable but the world she grew up in was an extreme so while Eve herself isn’t an extreme person, her actions leaned that way because that’s how she was taught to handle them. And that came around to bite her in the ass hard.
I really liked how Rajas and Jacinda took Eve under their wing even before Eve got to school. They accepted her for who she was and defended her when she really started to open her mouth. The bounds of their friendships did get tested and both Jacinda and Rajas made themselves look exceptionally human. And I really liked that. They reacted to situations like I believe normal teenagers would react and while it didn’t make them look all that great, it made me like the story even more for it’s reality. These two characters hold their own.
What kind of tampered my like for the book a bit was the ending. I don’t want to spoil but what I will say is that the ending is like something you’d see in your typical teen movie. It pretty much killed the reality of it for me because I felt it was a little too out there to be acceptable. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it and I wasn’t happy with the ending but in terms of realism, I wasn’t buying it.
The main drawing point for me with THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT is Eve. She’s such a fantastic character. You can see how strong she is at the beginning, watch as she crumples under the pressure of school and then builds herself back up towards the end. While she second-guesses herself and why she decided to enter public school, she never wavers from her beliefs. She stands strong even though the entire grain is against her. Your really can’t help but admire something like that. I wish more YA had characters like Eve, that show such impeccable strength of character. Granted I do think she’s an anomaly. Many teenagers under her kind of duress would have caved, I believe. But she didn’t. I didn’t find it outside of the norm because of the way Johnson wrote Eve. Her breakdown as her world crumbled was believable enough, and her mother’s insistence in staying strong was so vivid, that I could believe it. In this case, growing up so sheltered really helped Eve stay Eve.
If for nothing else, read THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT for Eve, to read about a truly strong character walk from one end of the plank to another. It is a sweet story, if not a little unbelievable at the end. You’ll find yourself taken aback at some points and rooting all of them on at others. It didn’t blow my socks off, but it was good nonetheless.

Ban Factor: Medium – There’s some definite disregard for authority going on in this one but I don’t know if it’s enough to make it onto the banners’ radar. There’s also some mild swearing and some light petting but it could be innocuous enough to slide by.