City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab – A Review

Note: This is a repost of a review published last year. The sequel to City of Ghosts, Tunnel of Bones, is now available.


“Every time I get nervous or scared, I remind myself that every good story needs twists and turns. Every heroine needs an adventure.”

The Book

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Amazon | Goodreads
Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr
Publisher: Scholastic, 2018


What It Is

Cassidy Blake is a young girl who can see ghosts, and Jacob is her best friend, who happens to be a ghost.

Due to an accident in which Cassidy almost drowned, she gained the ability to cross “The Veil,” allowing her to see ghosts and observe them reliving their deaths. While she doesn’t exactly have a normal life, things start to get a little crazier when her parents begin working on their new television show, discussing the most haunted places in the world.

See, although Cass can interact with real ghosts, her parents, world-renowned ghost experts, don’t know this. They’ve written loads of books about ghosts and hauntings, without having actually ever seen a ghost. If only they knew about their daughter’s secret…

The family (and Jacob) travels to Edinburgh, Scotland, an ancient city of castles, cobblestone streets, and lots and lots (and lots) of ghosts. Not all of these ghosts are harmless – the Raven in Red, a spirit that snatches children away on cold nights, sets her sights on Cassidy.

Cassidy and Jacob, with the help of their new friends Lara and Findley, go on a daunting adventure to stop the Raven from stealing Cassidy’s very life force. This novel has some truly spooky moments and haunting scenery.

This is an exciting middle-grade novel from the author of Vicious, Vengeful, A Darker Shade of Magic, and more.


My Thoughts

This was such a delightful book to read. It gave me strong vibes of one of my all-time favorite books, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which I definitely recommend if you enjoy City of Ghosts.

It’s a lovely book that focuses on friendship and facing your fears. Cass puts herself at risk to save her best friend, and Jacob does the same for her. Their unusual friendship is so sweet and endearing.

I wish we had seen more of Lara’s character, who starts off pretty cold, but who you quickly warm up to. I found myself wanting to know more about her history, and that of her ghost-obsessed grandfather. I can only hope that the sequel that Victoria Schwab is currently writing includes some more of their story.

Please don’t be put off by the fact that this is a middle-grade book – it truly reads like something that people of all ages can enjoy, much like Cassidy’s beloved Harry Potter. I already know that this is a book I’m going to go back to over and over again. I had quite the book hangover when I finished it, but then this happened:

Capture.PNG

I can’t wait to read the next book. I’m aching to know more about Cass’s story, and I still want to know how Jacob died!

The only (slight) problems I had with this novel is that I wish it was a little bit longer and that there was a bit more character development. While many of the characters did have personalities and backstory, more would have been nice.


Verdict (Buy, Borrow, Read)

Buy. This is such a wonderful book, especially to read in October as we near Halloween. Plus, you’re going to want to reread it when the sequel comes out!

Have you read City of Ghosts? What were your thoughts?




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The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Book

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The Witches by Roald Dahl
Amazon | Goodreads
Published by Jonathan Cape, a division of Penguin Random House
Released 1983
Author Links: Website | Goodreads | Twitter
10 Things You Should Know About Roald Dahl on His Birthday


“It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.” ― Roald Dahl, The Witches.png


What Is It About?

The Witches is a children’s book about a little boy that goes to live with his Norwegian grandmother after his parents are killed in a car crash. His grandmother warns him about the dangers of witches and how to spot one.

“Real witches dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ordinary jobs.”

There are several ways to spot a witch, who are always female: they wear gloves to hide their hideous claws; all witches are bald, and therefore wear itchy wigs upon their heads; they have slightly larger nose-holes, which helps them to smell out nasty children and their “stink-waves”; the pupil of their eye continuously changes color; witches do not have toes, so the end of their feet are simply squared off; their spit and saliva is blue.

The reason for her teaching him about witches is quite simple: Witches are very dangerous and they want nothing more than to rid the entire world of children.

“A real witch hates children with a red-hot sizzling hatred that is more sizzling and red hot than any hatred you could possibly imagine.”

When the lawyer representing the boy’s parents share their will with his grandmother, the pair of them move back to the family’s home in England. One summer, after school is over, they decide to take a vacation, heading out to the coast.

The boy has pet mice, which the hotel has threatened to drown if they see them running about, so he searches for a quiet, hidden place to train them to do acrobatic feats.

The boy finds an empty conference room and sets up behind a curtain. Suddenly a large group of women starts coming in, taking their seats before a podium. Once they’ve all filtered in, a beautiful woman stands at the front and has them lock and chain the doors.

Once they’re all safely locked in, the woman standing at the front of the room removes her face, which had been a mask, and the boy makes a horrifying realization: this is a conference of witches, and the woman who took the mask off is the infamous Grand High Witch! And he’s trapped in a locked room with them!

The boy cowers in fear, anxious for their meeting to be over so he can get back to his grandmother. He breathes a sigh of relief as they start to exit, thinking he made it safely through until one of the witches gets a whiff of a child in the room. They catch him, and they turn him into a tiny mouse, although he still thinks and speaks as the child he was.

From there, the story turns into an adventure, with the boy and his grandmother working together to rid England, and the world, of witches.

The book is illustrated by Quentin Blake, who did work for most of Roald Dahl’s books.


My Thoughts

I grew up with Roald Dahl’s books. In the fifth grade, my teacher was obsessed with him, and every day she would read to us from one of his books. Now, at 31, I still find plenty of reasons to love his stories.

One of my favorite things about this book was the incredibly sweet relationship between the boy and his grandmother. It’s a nearly ideal family relationship, with both of them willing to do anything for the other.

Dahl’s writing style is fun to read, as you can see in this description of the witches:

“That face of hers was the most frightful and frightening thing I have ever seen. Just looking at it gave me the shakes all over. It was so crumpled and wizened, so shrunken and shriveled, it looked as though it had been pickled in vinegar. It was a fearsome and ghastly sight. There was something terribly wrong with it, something foul and putrid and decayed. It seemed quite literally to be rotting away at the edges, and in the middle of the face, all around the mouth and cheeks, I could see the skin all cankered and worm-eaten, as though there were maggots working away in there.”

That is definitely a description that terrified by as a child, but one that delights me to read as an adult.

I honestly cannot tell if I like the illustrations by Quentin Blake. While my art history-degree boyfriend hates it, I find myself feeling that, while not something I would actively seek out to display on my walls, his illustrations work very well for a children’s book. They’re fun and simple.

dahl_which-one-is-the-witch.jpg

One thing about the book that surprised me that I didn’t remember from my childhood-reading of it was it’s frank and positive depiction of death. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a conversation between Grandmamma and the boy near the end of the story where you can really see this. It’s not something that’s written about frequently in books, especially in books meant for children, so it was refreshing to see.

This book has been banned and challenged in several places, mainly for people feeling that this story teaches boys to hate women and that some of the points in the book are sexist.

There are two main points that I see when people complain about this book: misogyny, and the negative portrayal of witches.

I’m not sure if I’m somewhat biased simply because I read this book and loved it as a child, but my own opinion is that this is simply a light-hearted children’s book about a boy having an adventure. However, there are some points that can be made.

First, Grandmamma, the boy’s grandmother, is an amazing, strong woman. She isn’t afraid of anything, is immensely wise, and has a way of staying positive despite difficult circumstances. I think we can all learn a few lessons from her, and she’s a wonderful role model to look up to.

Second, the witches aren’t actually women, they just look like women.

“You don’t seem to understand that witches are not actually human beings at all. They look like humans. They talk like humans. And they are able to act like humans. But in actual fact, they are totally different animals. They are demons in human shape. That is why they have claws and bald heads and queer noses and peculiar eyes, all of which they have to conceal as best they can from the rest of the world.”

Overall, if this book makes you uncomfortable for either of the above reasons, that’s absolutely okay. We all have different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personally, I really enjoyed this story, and it’s one that I can easily see myself reading to my own children one day, albeit reminding them afterward that just because they see a woman wearing long gloves, that doesn’t mean she’s a witch.


Verdict

4 out of 5 stars. This is a really enjoyable book and one that is quick to read. It’s also a great book to read near Halloween! I recommend buying this book if you’re a Roald Dahl fan, or checking it out from your local library if you’ve never read one of his books before.



Have you read The Witches? What do you think of it? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below!




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Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Amazon Wishlist

If you would like to support Read Yourself Happy, you can donate through Ko-Fi!

Book Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

“Every time I get nervous or scared, I remind myself that every good story needs twists and turns. Every heroine needs an adventure.”

The Book

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Amazon | Goodreads
Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr
Publisher: Scholastic, 2018


What It Is

Cassidy Blake is a young girl who can see ghosts, and Jacob is her best friend, who happens to be a ghost.

Due to an accident in which Cassidy almost drowned, she gained the ability to cross “The Veil,” allowing her to see ghosts and observe them reliving their deaths. While she doesn’t exactly have a normal life, things start to get a little crazier when her parents begin working on their new television show, discussing the most haunted places in the world.

See, although Cass can interact with real ghosts, her parents, world-renowned ghost experts, don’t know this. They’ve written loads of books about ghosts and hauntings, without having actually ever seen a ghost. If only they knew about their daughter’s secret…

The family (and Jacob) travels to Edinburgh, Scotland, an ancient city of castles, cobblestone streets, and lots and lots (and lots) of ghosts. Not all of these ghosts are harmless – the Raven in Red, a spirit that snatches children away on cold nights, sets her sights on Cassidy.

Cassidy and Jacob, with the help of their new friends Lara and Findley, go on a daunting adventure to stop the Raven from stealing Cassidy’s very life force. This novel has some truly spooky moments and haunting scenery.

This is an exciting middle-grade novel from the author of Vicious, Vengeful, A Darker Shade of Magic, and more.


My Thoughts

This was such a delightful book to read. It gave me strong vibes of one of my all-time favorite books, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which I definitely recommend if you enjoy City of Ghosts.

It’s a lovely book that focuses on friendship and facing your fears. Cass puts herself at risk to save her best friend, and Jacob does the same for her. Their unusual friendship is so sweet and endearing.

I wish we had seen more of Lara’s character, who starts off pretty cold, but who you quickly warm up to. I found myself wanting to know more about her history, and that of her ghost-obsessed grandfather. I can only hope that the sequel that Victoria Schwab is currently writing includes some more of their story.

Please don’t be put off by the fact that this is a middle-grade book – it truly reads like something that people of all ages can enjoy, much like Cassidy’s beloved Harry Potter. I already know that this is a book I’m going to go back to over and over again. I had quite the book hangover when I finished it, but then this happened:

Capture.PNG

I can’t wait to read the next book. I’m aching to know more about Cass’s story, and I still want to know how Jacob died!

The only (slight) problems I had with this novel is that I wish it was a little bit longer and that there was a bit more character development. While many of the characters did have personalities and backstory, more would have been nice.


Verdict (Buy, Borrow, Read)

Buy. This is such a wonderful book, especially to read in October as we near Halloween. Plus, you’re going to want to reread it when the sequel comes out!

Have you read City of Ghosts? What were your thoughts?




Don’t forget to follow me on social media:

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Amazon Wishlist

If you would like to support Read Yourself Happy, you can donate through Ko-Fi!

White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Goodreads
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – Book Review

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Goodreads
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.