Tag Archives: Ghosts

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Review by James B. ’24)

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

TW for the book: Drug Overdose, Murder, Sexual Assault

As Leigh Bardugo’s debut into Adult Fantasy, Ninth House is a stunning dark thriller that takes place on the modern day Yale campus. Be aware that this book may make you question your college apps however, as there is much murder and magic afoot.

The book follows Galaxy (Alex) Stern, a freshman with an unusual ability, through various timelines as she attempts to piece together the details of an oddly familiar murder and figure out how it relates to her mentor’s disappearance. You see, Alex is by no means qualified to study at Yale, but has rather been enlisted by a governing body that oversees the activities of the university’s ancient secret societies. It is through her ability to see ghosts, called Greys in the book, that Alex is recruited as Lethe House’s new Dante, serving under the previous Dante, now Virgil, Daniel Arlington. From a hospital bed after being found overdosed on the scene of a brutal killing, to controlling the magical powers of several groups of entitled rich kids at one of the most prestigious schools in the country, Alex Stern must fight for her life and the promise of a better future.

For the record, I wanted to like this book so badly, and even having finished it I still want to. The world-building is incredible and Leigh Bardugo once again proves that somehow she can still create new magic systems as well as lovable morally-grey characters. Alex Stern had potential to be among my favorite characters I’ve read in fantasy; she’s dynamic, persistent, and brutal while also remaining very human (ever when she is very much not). This book had all the makings to be a favorite and somehow it all just fell flat.

I am by no means a slow reader, but Ninth House took me months to conquer. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of hard-hitting action, but the back and forth between timelines quickly became dizzying. I found myself frustrated that another segment had gone by without answering my biggest questions, and even once they were answered, it didn’t feel satisfying. One of my biggest red flags for a book is whether it makes me question if I, the reader, am reading it incorrectly somehow. Too often I felt I was slipping off the hook, like the line itself was too taut for me to think about anything else.

Having said that, there are some truly gorgeous scenes in this book that stand extremely well on their own, and I think it is worth reading if you have the patience for a lot of unanswered questions. Just be sure to prepare yourself as Ninth House does explore some intense topics that might be upsetting, and that I was frankly unprepared for. —Review by James B. ’24

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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Review by Anika F. ’21)

Cemetery BoysCemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are looking for an emotional young adult story with paranormal elements, Cemetery Boys is the perfect book for you. Cemetery Boys follows a teenaged transgender male named Yadriel who is trying to prove his identity to his family. After a string of murders, Yadriel decides to summon a ghost with his brujo powers, but ends up summoning the wrong spirit.

The strong points of the book include (but are not limited to) the characters and the culture. When I initially read that the ghost summoned would be the “high school bad boy,” I was convinced that I would not like the character. However, as I read more and more, I found Julian’s personality to be so much more than the synopsis gives him credit for: He is loyal, brave, and accepting while also being funny and sarcastic. Similarly, I found Yadriel’s character to be a delight to follow. His journey with identity is so wonderfully done; you can see his struggles and successes as he proves to his family that he truly is a brujo. Latinx culture is also seamlessly mixed with the story. There are some beautiful scenes about Día de los Muertos, where Yadriel is able to communicate with his ancestors who have passed on. In particular, this book thrives when discussing the intersection of Yadriel’s gender identity and his cultural background.

My main complaint with this book has to do with the predictability of the plot. In essence, the story is a murder mystery where a few men end up dead. I guessed the murderer at around page 50 and was not surprised at all by the ending. My second plot critique does involve some spoilers, but to keep it vague: I like when decisions have consequences. Some of these characters seemed to make tough calls, but not face adequate repercussions.

Do I think these criticisms break the book? Absolutely not. Cemetery Boys is much deeper than the plot. Rather than being about a murder-mystery, this story is about love, identity, and family. And in those aspects, this book truly shines. –Review by Anika F. ’21

For those who enjoyed this book, Anika has recommended Felix Ever After for you to check out!

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We Have Always Lived Here by Shirley Jackson (review by Andrew R. ’17)

We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a malicious presence in the Blackwood estate, the imposing structure on the outskirts of town inhabited by the only surviving members of a reclusive aristocratic family. It might be wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian, who constantly relives the day most of his family dropped dead of arsenic poisoning. It might be Constance, who hasn’t left the estate in six years and is fanatically devoted to the rules of etiquette. It might even be Merricat, the younger sister, who surrounds the estate with wards and totems to keep the rest of the world at bay. Jackson is best-known today for “The Lottery,” her horrifying story of small-town insularity gone wrong, but of all her notoriously creepy works this one deserves the most attention. Its suspense works in two directions: the reader discovers unsettling details about the past even as the narrative creeps toward a chilling climax, leaving the present moment doubly uncertain and doubly tense. The question of who sprinkled arsenic in the sugar bowl is pretty easily answered, but don’t be fooled—that apparent mystery is just a diversionary tactic to let more frightening revelations approach unnoticed. Even if horror isn’t your genre of choice, as Halloween approaches, Shirley Jackson’s novels are worth a try. – Andrew R. ’17

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (review by Andrew R. ’17)

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No one who’s read Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is likely to forget it anytime soon: even sixty-five years after its explosive debut, the narrative of sinister small-town ritualism retains an impressive staying power that makes it as jarring to modern readers as it was to its original audiences. Shirley Jackson draws on the same arsenal of subtly suspenseful plot devices in her 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, in which the scarred and unstable Eleanor Vance joins a research party to live in a crumbling Victorian mansion for the summer. Part Edgar Allen Poe and part Henry James, this psychological ghost story isn’t quite a horror novel, at least not in the Stephen King sense; its terror, as in “The Lottery,” is so understated that the full force of the book’s scariest scenes isn’t likely to manifest itself until days after you’ve read them. (From what I’ve heard, Jackson’s last novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, ramps up this creepiness to an even more intense and chilling pitch.) For a haunted-house story, this novel is very strong, and rates only one notch below “The Lottery” in its quality and spine-tingling effect.

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (review by Catherine H. ’17)

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since she was six, Blue Sargent has been told by her family of psychics that if she kisses her true love, he will die. She decided she wouldn’t fall in love, but when she’s sixteen, she meets and becomes included in a group of boys. Specifically Aglionby boys, called Raven boys. Their quest for something supernatural draws Blue in, and her knack for making supernatural occurrences stronger accelerates their pace. This book introduces us to a great variety of characters, all of them eccentric in their own way. I found that Maggie Stiefvater keeps a good pace throughout the book, picking up towards the end and leaving us at a cliffhanger. Though I originally thought I would be reading a novel filled with romance, it was surprisingly low in the romance and tragedy department. I hope to find more romance, mystery, and action in the next two books in The Raven Cycle. – Catherine H. ’17

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