Review: Give Up the Ghost

by Megan Crewe

Cass has spent much more time in the last few years in the company of ghosts than she has in the company of living beings.  After a horrible encounter with her supposed best friend that left her ostracized by the entire school and then the untimely death of her older sister, Cass has had a lot to deal with.  When her sister shows up as a ghost, Cass is the only one who sees her and now Cass still has her big sister around for help and advice, even if she isn’t technically alive.  Cass has also made good friends with a few ghosts that hang around her high school.  For Cass, ghosts are the ideal friends because they can’t hurt her the way people have, and that makes them extremely appealing.  Cass’ world is about to change again when Tim, student council VP and card carrying member of the popular crowd, asks for her help.  Tim lost his mother just months before and wants Cass to help him contact his mom’s ghost.  Cass is skeptical and reluctant to trust a living person, but when she realizes that Tim needs her for much more than just talking to his mom, how can she refuse?

Reaction: This one surprised me, in a good way.  I really thought it was just going to be a cutesy ghost story with a fluffy romance and some “issues” thrown in but not developed, and I was ok with that because I do enjoy that kind of book, but Give Up the Ghost was much more than that.  Cass has some serious issues with trust.  Not only did her friends completely betray her but ever since her sister died, her mother has thrown herself into her career as a travel writer and is barely if ever home and when she is home she seems to criticize Cass to no end.  I didn’t always like Cass necessarily, though I understood where she was coming from.  I didn’t agree with the choices she was making when it came to learning other students’ secrets and then using the secrets against them.  I know in her head she was doing a service, trying to stop the high school evils from happening, but her actions often didn’t make her any better than those she was trying to school.

Then there is Tim, who is a complete wreck.  Just when I thought Cass was the one who really needed help, along comes Tim.  Tim, who seemingly has it all, at least to Cass, is hurting and no one has noticed.  The death of his mother and the betrayal of his father when Tim needed him the most has left Tim a shell of his former self.  His friends don’t know how to talk to him so they don’t and he has practically no support system except for an aunt who lives in another town.  Tim is left to wallow in his grief with no clear way out.  I was proud of Cass for trying with Tim.  She didn’t make it easy on him and she certainly didn’t make all the write choices but she could have continued to shut him out but she was able to see beyond her own problems and issues to help Tim in the best way she knew how.

Give Up the Ghost is a great book for people who are dealing with grief, for people who have dealt with bullying, and for anyone who’s felt like they are on the outside.  Both Cass and Tim show that no matter how bad things get they aren’t always going to be that way.  I think Cass especially really matured and grew to learn that shutting people out is no way live.

Review: The Splendor Falls

Splendor Fallsby Rosemary Clement-Moore

After a devastating leg injury ends her promising career as a principle ballerina and some poor choices at her mother’s wedding get her in hot water, Sylvie Davis’ life is in an upheaval.  While her mother and her mother’s new husband are away on an extended honeymoon, Sylvie is shipped off to spend part of her summer with her deceased father’s cousin, a woman she’s only met once–at her father’s funeral.  Her father’s cousin, Paula, is working on refurbishing Sylvie’s father’s family’s ancestral home in Alabama, and that is where Sylvie is going to stay.  Sylvie is hoping for a relaxing time full of reading, healing, and figuring out what she wants to do with her life now that her dream, her career, her passion has been taken away.  Instead, Sylvie gets a watchful cousin, warned by Sylvie’s psychologist stepfather that Sylvie is headed for danger, a house and town rich with a family history she never knew about and expectations linked to that history that she’s not sure she wants to live up to, a broody boy and a charming boy both vying for her attention, and visions of a watching colonel, a running woman, and a crying baby.  What is going on in this small Alabama community?  Is Sylvie going crazy or is what she’s seeing and feel for real?  And if it’s real, what does it mean?

Reaction: Overall, another solid story from RCM.  There were a lot of really well-done elements. I found Sylvie a very believable character.  Her struggle with her identity after her injury and her sanity as she started seeing things felt real.  I could understand her anger and her frustration over her situation even as those around her seemed to think she should be able to move on by now.  I also enjoyed how little Sylvie reminded me of Maggie Quinn, the protagonist of RCM’s other novels.  I think it is a sign of a good writer when her characters are distinctly different.  I also greatly enjoyed the setting.  It was well-drawn, atmospheric, and really added to the overall effect of the story.  Finally, one little thing but something that stood out to me, I appreciated Sylvie’s lackluster relationship with her cousin Paula.  I feel so often in other stories, teens find these immediate and amazing relationships with a previously unknown adult when they are thrust in new situations and I really appreciated the fact that Sylvie and Paula didn’t see eye to eye; it just felt more realistic to me.  There were a few things I didn’t like: 1. there were some inconsistencies (Sylvie being freaked by the lilac sent in her room one minute then thinking not long after that the scent was the only unexplained event that didn’t creep her out); 2. the length, it could have been shorter; and 3. the lack of time Rhys and Sylvie had to develop their feelings.  The complaints are minor in the end and do not keep me from recommending this title to those who like a bit of history and mystery with their ghosty, supernatural stories.

Also by RCM:

Book provided by my local library.

Review: Ruined

Ruinedby Paula Morris

A native New Yorker, Rebecca is being shipped off to New Orleans to live with her “Aunt” Claudia while her dad goes on business to China for six months.  Aunt Claudia isn’t really her aunt but she’s the closest thing Rebecca and her father have to family, despite the fact Rebecca’s only met Aunt Claudia and her daughter, Aurelia, once.  It doesn’t take long for Rebecca to realize that she doesn’t like New Orleans.  She can’t stand the constantly gray skies, the warm, damp air, or the odd smells and she can’t stand the snooty girls who go to her new private school.  In New York, how old your money was or your family’s lineage didn’t matter, neither did skin color or ethnicity.  In New Orleans, specifically in the neighborhood Rebecca is living in, money and family lines mean everything, more than Rebecca knows, more than anyone will tell her.  One of the only people with whom Rebecca feels most comfortable, one of the people she would call a friend is not a person at all, but a ghost.  Lisette is a young black woman about Rebecca’s age.  She haunts the cemetery across the street from Aunt Claudia’s house and she has a sad, gruesome history.  The other person who has been nice to Rebecca is a heart-throb named Anton.  He is one of the elite but he seems to strain against his familial bonds and is interested in knowing and being involved with life outside the sheltered streets of his New Orleans neighborhood.  Ultimately, though, Rebecca is an outsider, and the families of the neighborhood do not take kindly to outsiders.  Secrets and mysteries shroud the mansions, and one of the most volatile of the mysteries is tied to Lisette, her life and her death.  Rebecca’s friendships with both Lisette and Anton are about to bring about some serious and dangerous consequences.

Reaction: Overall, a pretty solid ghost story.  The setting was perfect.  I loved the scenes in the cemetery — Rebecca sneaking in at night to see what her stuck up classmates are up to or visiting during the day to hunt down and talk to Lisette.  I also loved when Rebecca and Lisette walked together, hand-in-hand through New Orleans and Lisette introduces some of New Orleans’ plethora of ghosts to Rebecca.  Some had been around longer than Lisette, some were new, all had sad stories, though some much worse than others.  The saddest part about this walk, to me, was that some of the ghosts were stuck haunting stretches of land that at one time were filled with houses or prosperous businesses but are now highways or abandoned warehouses.  In places, the writing could have been a bit tighter and I thought a few of the characters acted a bit young for their age, but I was intrigued by the mysteries and histories of the prosperous families and Lisette’s sad tale and was frantically trying to figure out what exactly Rebecca’s role was in it all.

I did have one semi-big, spoilery complaint(ish) (did I just use any real words??).  Here it is, so read at your own risk:

I didn’t understand why Rebecca’s dad would let her go to New Orleans.  He and his wife completely severed ties with their families and changed their identity and Rebecca’s birth date and year to try to protect her.  If he went such great lengths to avoid the curse and keep anyone from New Orleans from finding them, why would he listen to Aunt Claudia and let Rebecca live in New Orleans and let the curse run it’s course?  Doesn’t make sense, at least to me.

End Spoiler.

There were several points, like the one above, that seemed forced, like the author was trying too hard to make the story work.  In the end, these didn’t detract too much from the many good points of the novel, and if you enjoy a good, spooky, ghosty thriller, give Ruined a chance.

One final thought: the cover. Gorgeous, right?  And if you look up pictures of the Lafayette Cemetery, the gates on the cover are much like the gates to the actual cemetery in New Orleans.  I have one problem, though.  The ghost on the cover looks like a blond white woman in a negligee.  The ghost in the story is a teenaged black girl with a torn white blouse and a black skirt.  Is this another case of whitewashing covers?? (read about the Liar controversy if you haven’t already)  Sad, very, very sad.

Thanks to: Carrie, whose review made me want to read the book.

Once Dead, Twice Shy

Once Dead Twice Shyby Kim Harrison

Madison Avery is dead but no one knows it.  On the night of her prom she was killed by a celestial being, a dark reaper, but somehow managed to snag his amulet and give her ghost self a corporeal form.  Now she is being guarded and taught by a light reaper named Barnabas.  Avery is a bit of an anomaly, even in the strange new world of which she is now apart, and Avery and those who are trying to save her must figure out what she is and her role in her new ghosty life before the dark forces find her once again and try to get rid of her once and for all.

Reaction: Wow, it was hard to write an understandable plot synopsis for this one.  Avery’s world is complicated.  There are light reapers and dark reapers.  Dark reapers decide to take the lives of people before their natural death time in order to stop something it is predicted the person will do in the future that the dark reapers don’t want to see happen.  Light reapers try to stop the dark reapers from prematurely ending a life.  Light reapers and dark repears are angels of sorts and are sent on their various missions by two timekeepers, one dark and one light, who used to be human and are not immortal.  A dark reaper was sent to and did kill Avery but somehow after she was dead she got a hold of the amulet of the dark reaper who slayed her and this gave her special ghosty powers, like a body even though it isn’t actually her body because the dark reaper stole her real body.  The story is about what Avery is supposed to do now, who is after her and why, and what her future as a dead girl holds.

These are the basics of this complicated story but it felt like basics are all we really get.  The story is more of an outline or unfinished, undeveloped full story.  Details are not explained or not explained very well.  I wanted to know more about Avery’s hinted to past — the whole story behind why she now lives with her dad.  I wanted more background on the light and dark reapers — what they were exactly, where they really came from, how they were assigned — and the timekeepers — how are they chosen, what are all of their jobs, powers, and functions.  And then there was Avery and Josh.  They had an odd history.  I wanted to know why Josh agreed to ask Avery to prom, I wanted to know why Avery said yes in the first place since they seem so different, and I wanted to know who Josh’s real friends were since he was so nice and his friends were such jerks.

Overall, I’m interested to see where this series* goes because it’s a unique and interesting premise but I just hope that there is a lot more development and explanation in the next book otherwise I don’t see this series going very far.

The cover, though.  The cover’s awesome.

*I’m assuming this is a series.  Her other books are a series and this one is very open ended.  I couldn’t find any information on other books but I didn’t dig too hard.  I guess we’ll see.

Swoon

Swoonby Nina Malkin

When Dice’s cousin Pen falls out of the big ash tree on the green another being takes up residence with Pen in her body.  Dice is a tad bit psychic, she has episodes, and she can tell Pen isn’t the same as she used to be.  Dice meets the other being in Pen.  His name is Sinclair Youngblood Powers — Sin.  Sin was born in 1751 and was hung from the same ash Pen fell from as punishment for a murder he didn’t commit.  Dice falls a little in love with Sin but she knows she must exorcise him from Pen’s body so Pen can go on living her life as she should.  Dice isn’t sure how to get Sin out of Pen but Sin knows; Sin tells Dice exactly what she should do and Dice trusts him.  Unfortunately, Dice thinks she’s releasing Sin to R.I.P. but Sin has other ideas.  After the ritual is performed, Sin is not gone but now has a body, a human form, and he is determined to get revenge on the ancestors of those people who wronged him so long ago.

Reaction: I just didn’t get it.  There were things I liked.  I liked the writing style.  I liked Dice’s voice when she wasn’t being a bozo over Sin.  I even really liked the premise but in the end I just didn’t get it.  I didn’t understand why Dice was in love with Sin.  I understood her compassion towards his dreadful, sad story.  I understood a physical attraction.  But love?  Um, didn’t feel it.  Sin was a bit of an a-hole and paid little-to-no attention to Dice.  When did she develop love?  Also, I didn’t understand why Sin had to incite such a sexual revolution in the uptight town of Swoon.  I’m not a prude when it comes to sex in teen lit.  I’m ok with it and I think if it was lacking in the genre then the genre would not truly be reflective of teen life, but this sexual frenzy caused by Sin seemed gratuitous.  His ability to persuade people to do whatever he wished or think whatever he wanted them to think was more than enough to accomplish his goals — and would still have gotten him into any girl’s bed.  Just his presence made everyone around him want to have an orgy, even the very old and the very prudish, and I didn’t understand the need for this particular trait.  There was nothing sexual explicit, it was all pretty much suggested, but it did seem as though this book could have made a pretty good starting off point for a pretty steamy adult romance novel.  Like I said, I really did enjoy the writing style and the tidbits on Nina Malkin’s website make me want to like Swoon more than I did, but Swoon just wasn’t for me.  That being said, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Malkin in the future and I agree with the quote by Karen Marie Moning on the back of the book, Twilight fans will love Swoon because of the forbidden, intense, inexplicable love.

Wuthering High

Wuthering Highby Cara Lockwood

Miranda makes a few bad choices — charging $1,000 in Wonder Bras on her stepmother’s credit card, totaling her father’s car, and over-sleeping her PSATs because she had been at a party the night before where someone had spiked her drink.  She doesn’t think these things warrant her punishment, reform school.  Bard Academy is located many miles away from home on a small island off the coast of Maine.  How is Miranda, who is basically good, ever going to fit at a reform school!  When she arrives, though, Miranda makes a few good friends — who seem pretty normal considering — and even meets a hotty who used to go to her old school.  Things are looking up, except for the weird nightmares Miranda has every night and her almost certainty that she is being haunted by a girl who died at the school many years ago and the odd fires that keep cropping up at different locations on campus and that weird guy Heathcliff who keeps calling her Cathy.  Ok, so things are pretty weird at Bard Academy and Miranda’s trying to get to the bottom of it all.

Reaction: I picked this book up because I was interested in the concept — a school run by the ghosts of literary greats: the Brontes, Hemingway, Virginia Wolff, and more.  Cool!  Unfortunately, the writing isn’t great and the general storyline is a bit cliched.  These points won’t stop this from being popular with teen girls looking for an interesting mystery with a touch of romance and the supernatural, but I don’t think I will be reading any further in the series.

What’s next: While I may not go on, currently there are two more in the series for others who may be interested — The Scarlet Letterman and Moby Clique.  Cute titles.