Review: The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

The Creeping Book Cover The Creeping
Alexandra Sirowy

Eleven years ago, Stella and Jeanie disappeared. Stella came back. Jeanie never did.

Now all she wants is a summer full of cove days, friends, and her gorgeous crush—until a fresh corpse leads Stella down a path of ancient evil and secrets.

Stella believes remembering what happened to Jeanie will save her. It won’t.

She used to know better than to believe in what slinks through the shadows. Not anymore.

Review:

I find myself in a bit of a quandary – I’m not entirely sure how to review this book. The most critical thing I need to talk about is the way the ending completely changed my appreciation of the story, but I can’t truly do so without sharing major spoilers.

For the first 9/10ths of the book, I was planning to award The Creeping a single star. The plot plodded, the characters irritated me, and I wasn’t the least bit scared. Once I reached the ending, though…wow. I was completely unprepared, and that doesn’t happen often. I finally saw what Sirowy had been setting up for the entirety of the book, and she blew me away.

The storyline follows Stella Cambren, who’s something of a local celebrity in her hometown of Savage, Minnesota. At the age of 6, Stella and her best friend Jeanie disappeared from Jeanie’s front yard. Stella came back unharmed. Jeanie was never seen again.

Stella, apparently traumatized, retains no memory of what happened the day Jeanie vanished. In fact, she barely has any memories of Jeanie at all, just vague recollections of what she was like based on the stories of others. In the years following the disappearance, Stella does her best to put the past behind her and live a normal life. She does a decent job of it…at least until the body of another little girl is discovered the summer before Stella’s senior year. A little girl with hair that’s red like Jeanie’s was, and whose corpse just happens to show up on the anniversary of Jeanie’s disappearance.

This incident triggers something inside of Stella, and she begins to experience little flickers, flashing back to images of Jeanie on the day she disappeared. It’s not enough to completely restore Stella’s memory, but it is enough to freak her the hell out and inspire her to get to the bottom of the disappearance before any more people are victimized.

In order to solve the mystery, Stella is forced to rekindle her relationship with Sam Worth, her childhood sweetheart and another former companion of Jeanie’s. Together Sam and Stella struggle to piece together a picture of what really happened the day Jeanie vanished, poring over photographs from their childhood, delving into old newspaper clippings, and interviewing Jeanie’s creepy old neighbors.

The investigation leads Stella and Sam to some disturbing discoveries: animal sacrifices, tales of an ancient monster living in the Minnesota woods, unsolved cases of other little redheads disappearing from their homes. As spooky as this sounds, though, I actually wasn’t all that scared for the majority of the book. Probably because I spent most of my time either bored or annoyed. The pace is incredibly slow, which made it challenging to stay focused; I almost didn’t finish this book. The scraps of information Stella and Sam retrieve during their search for answers are so spread out, so hard to come by, that there were times it felt like nothing was happening. I suppose that’s not entirely true – there was romantic stuff developing between Stella and Sam – but I wasn’t really interested in that. Sam is great – sweet, nerdy, loyal, supportive – but he just didn’t light my fire, if you know what I mean.

Another thing that had me ready to give this book a 1-star rating was that I didn’t care much for Stella or her friends. They’re your typical high school dream team, popular and judgmental and mean. I especially loathed Stella’s best friend Zoey. I spent the entire book wanting to smack her across the face for being such a hateful, self-centered bitch. I wanted to smack Stella, too, for putting up with it and letting Zoey dictate her life.

But then…the ENDING! It changed everything for me. Though I may not have been scared for the majority of the book, I was definitely shaken up by the conclusion. The more I think back over the course of The Creeping, the more freaked out I get. Even as I write this review, all of the lights in my house are blazing, and I find myself jumping at the slightest noise.

[START SPOILER]

Caleb and Daniel turning out to be the culprits behind Jeanie’s death was FAR more terrifying than a monster ever could have been. It was totally unexpected but totally believable, which was part of the horror; looking back, everything made sense, and you could easily see how the events of that fateful day had spun out of control. One line really stood out to me and gave me chills: “Jeanie wasn’t afraid of the things that tap at your window at night. She was afraid of the boy who lived in the bedroom down the hall.” And that’s a sad truth, isn’t it? We don’t need to dream up monsters. Human beings are frightening enough on their own.

[END SPOILER]

Thank you, Alexandra Sirowy, for writing the first book in ages that has been able to catch me unaware AND scare the pants off of me. This story is going to stick with me for a long time, and I have a feeling that it’s going to be a while before I’m able to fall asleep without a nightlight again.

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood Book Cover Anna Dressed in Blood
Kendare Blake

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual 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.

Review:

Now that I’ve finally, at long last, tracked down a copy of Anna Dressed in Blood – I swear the library must have been hiding it from me – I’m pleased to report that it’s just as wonderful as everyone told me it would be. Anna Dressed in Blood grabbed my attention from the get-go, and I was both creeped out and entertained from beginning to end.

The fact that I was entertained, in spite of the creepiness, is a testament to Blake’s talents. Ask any of my friends or relatives, and they’ll tell you that I’m one of the biggest wimps on the planet. Even a few of the scenes in Scary Movie III gave me the heebie jeebies the first time I watched them, which is just plain pathetic. That being said, I usually don’t make it through books that deal with ghosts and spirits, unless said books are so good that I just can’t put them down.

That was the case with Anna Dressed in Blood. There are plenty of scenes that left me squirming, but I was so interested in the characters and the story that I couldn’t stop reading. I persisted while the characters crept through houses where the walls oozed blood and the inhabitants reenacted their grisly murders again and again. I made it through descriptions of people being ripped in half, eaten, dismembered, and disemboweled. It was an eerie reading experience, but it was worth every single goosebump.

Part of what makes the book so wonderful is Cas, the protagonist. Most sane people wouldn’t consider “ghost hunter” a satisfactory profession, but Cas handles the job with humor, swagger, and attitude.  Rather than considering himself burdened by the legacy that requires him to hunt the things that go bump in the night, Cas takes pride in his work. Although you get the impression that he would occasionally like to enjoy a day that doesn’t require him to stalk and re-kill the dead, he always does his job willingly and well.

What’s great about Cas is that even though he’s a competent ghost hunter, he doesn’t come across as one of those macho I’ve-seen-it-all-and-nothing-fazes-me-anymore heroes. He’s brave and handles himself much better than most people would in scary situations, but he still feels fear like anyone else. This fear humanizes Cas and makes him into a much more fascinating character than if he’d been effortlessly unafraid. If he were fearless, there’d be no hurdles for him to overcome, no meaning to the story. The fact that he’s afraid but is able to fight through his fear speaks volumes about his strength and resolve.

The main action of the book begins when a tip leads Cas to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to take on a ghost known as Anna Dressed in Blood. Cas has been battling evil spirits for most of his adolescence, but none of his extensive experience prepares him for the terrible force that is Anna. Her rage and power are unparalleled, and Cas quickly realizes his usual tactics are no match for her might. He commits himself to studying Anna, to figuring out what separates her from all of the other ghosts he’s fought, and the more time he spends with her, the more intrigued he becomes.

I don’t think it’s giving away too much to tell you that the relationship between Cas and Anna gradually evolves into something more than the two of them simply trying to kill one another. You’d think that the whole “ghost hunter falls for the ghost he’s trying to destroy” thing would be cheesy, but it isn’t, mostly because Cas and Anna’s feelings for each other are complicated. There is mutual respect and even admiration, acknowledgment of each other’s strength, but neither ever forgets that the other is a threat.

It also helps that there aren’t any grand declarations of love or any “Woe is me, I’ve fallen for the very woman I must put to death!” lamentations. Cas and Anna are both realists, not romantics. They realize their situation is unlikely to end happily ever after. As Cas wryly remarks at one point in the book, “[H]ey, at least we’ll have this strange story to tell, love and death and blood and daddy-issues. And holy crap, I am a psychiatrist’s wet dream.”

Blake’s characters and plot are fantastic, but I also have to give her credit for breaking away from YA tropes. Unlike most teenage protagonists charged with fighting the forces of evil, Cas doesn’t have to hide his calling from his mother. She’s fully aware of his unusual job, so there’s no sneaking around or coming up with lies to keep her in the dark. Another pleasant surprise is that Cas doesn’t have to work alone. He has a great support system he can rely on, including the local high school’s queen bee, who is not – hallelujah! – a stereotype. She’s popular and gorgeous, but she’s also smart and self-assured and practical, which made me all the more grateful for this fantastic book.

Overall, as disturbing as some of it was, I really liked Anna Dressed in Blood. Definitely recommended!