Croak by Gina Damico

croak
Author: Gina Damico
Genre: Paranormal
Rating: 3/5
Protagonist(s): Lex
Other Characters: Uncle Mort, Driggs, Zara, Ferbus, Elysia, Kloo, Ayjay, Cordy

Synopsis: Lex, a previous straight A student, is sent to her uncle’s farm house to adjust her newly acquired attitude problem. When she arrives at the town of Croak things doesn’t seem to be what it is. Instead she finds out the true meaning of her uncle’s job, one that he hides from his family.

Review: A couple of years ago a few of my GR friends were talking about this book. So of course I had to pick it up for myself. Not really knowing much about it, I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed reading it. I admit there were things that disturbed me about it, but overall it was a fun read. Now if you want a comparison to this book, it almost reminds me of the show “Dead like Me”, except none of these reapers are dead. So if you remember and liked the show, then I suggest you try reading this.

As far as protagonists goes, Lex was pretty interesting. I’m not really sure what to think about her just yet. She’s one of those “grey area” characters that just pass the “good guy” line, but if pushed hard enough, she can go in the deep end. There were time that I found her to be bratty and annoying, but eventually redeemable as the book progresses. The other characters are not any better. They too had their moments of good and bad. The one thing that I found unrealistic are their “bad moods” towards Lex I understand they had an awful childhood, but to actually resent Lex for her family dynamic is dumb. The one character that I actually truly enjoyed is Uncle Mort. He’s the type of uncle that you wish to have. Unfortunately, he’s not much present in the book. Hopefully, my feelings towards the characters, especially Lex, will change in the next book.

My lack of feelings for the characters more than made up for my thoughts on the relationships that are present in the book. I really enjoy the relationship of Cordy and Lex. I understand that their twins and their suppose to have this connection, but it was still nice reading about it. Although, the revelation of Driggs in the end was a bit “stalker-ish”, I still enjoyed his friendship/love interest(?) with Lex. I especially enjoyed Ferguson’s relationship with Driggs. I think their hilarious banter and unique duo is cute. A relationship that I find would not have formed in a regular school environment.

Mystery is an integral part of this book. I feel that the author introduced something that made me question and wonder in almost every chapter. The bad part is, there really isn’t a lot of answers by the end of the book. Yes, the big mystery is solved, but even that didn’t have a conclusion. I really thought that the book would delve deeper into the murders, rather than just a passing mention. I wish Damico at least added bits of information about each crime scene. I think that would have been more interesting. I also think that the whole town itself is a big mystery, and the explanation of Damico is a bit weak. I wish there was more world building on her part. I understand this is not a fantasy novel, but I would have like to know more about the town. Like I said this is the first novel, so maybe we’ll see more of Croak in the second book.

There are things in this book that are not my cup of tea, but for the most part it was highly enjoyable. For some reason I almost feel like this book gives the vibe of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, yes totally different genre, but I just felt that they have the same characteristics. Were Fangirl fell flat for me, Croak didn’t give me the same feelings. I actually want to continue with the series just to see what happens to the characters that was introduced in this book.

***********************SPOILER ALERT!!*********************

If you do not want the ending to be revealed, please do not read any further.

Ending: Lex was a straight A student, when midway to highschool she started feeling agressive and angry with everything around her. Not knowing what to do with her, Lex was sent to her uncle’s farm to work off her aggression. Upon meeting Uncle Mort, with his punk style clothing and motorcycle, Lex realized that her uncle wasn’t all that honest with Lex’s father. Uncle Mort then explains to her that he is the ‘Mayor’ of a town called croak that is a portal to the afterlife. The town and the people within it are in charge, out of many in the world, in helping people cross over to the next life. There different jobs within Croak, but most of the teenagers are the reapers, this is because their body and mentality is a lot more able to deal with the deaths they see.

Lex, of course being the protagonist, is different from the other reapers. When she touches a body, she doesn’t just feel a spark on her finger, but rather lightning through her whole body. Being different from the rest of her friends, not only sets her apart, but became a radar to the antagonist Heloise and Norwood, the leader of the Director of the Ether Traffic, in lame term, those in charge so that the reapers don’t reap in the same place or family members. They also have difficulty letting Lex through because she is the niece of Mort, but Damico doesn’t really elaborate as to why that seems taboo.

Now in Damico’s world there is no such thing as heaven or hell, there is only the afterlife. So no matter how good or bad you are, technically, you end up in the same place. This didn’t really sit well with Lex and she was furious of this injustice. Driggs and the others are a lot more willing look past this folly because they believe that the souls needs to be released rather than it be trapped in the body or become specter. Apparently, Lex wasn’t the only person who thought this was an unfair outcome.

While on one of their cases, Driggs found one of the corpse with unusual symptoms. One after the other, he realize that someone has been taking souls that are not meant to be reaped. Eventually, they find out that these corpses have crimes that they have not paid for. He then realizes that one of the grim reapers found the Loopholes. Apparently, there is a ‘manual’ that shows the loopholes of grim reaping. Where they can kill anyone or go anywhere without being detected by the Ether Traffic Control. This then would give them free reign on anyone in the world.

Zara, another reaper, believed that this too was an unfair outcome for those who needs to be punished. Having such a difficult childhood, she didn’t feel that her stepfather or others like him deserved to be in the afterlife. She is the one who found the ‘manual’ that allowed her to proceed with her plans. The one thing that she needed was Lex’s powers. Finding out how to harness Lex’s powers, she kills Cordy, Lex’s twin sister, with Lex’s anger in full capacity, Zara was able to harness the gift. This gift enables Zara to damn the souls of the people that she kills. Meaning, when she touches the souls of the dead, they no longer go to the afterlife, but their soul seizes to exist.

In the end, Zara gives the choice to Lex, to join her or die. Not being able to work with her sister’s killer, Lex escapes and warns her uncle about Zara’s plans. We find out that Cordy is in the afterlife.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Screaming Staircase
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre: Paranormal
Rating: 3.5/5
Protagonist: Lucy Carlyle
Other Characters: George Cubbins, Anthony Lockwood, Annie Ward, Sir John Fairfax

Synopsis: In London, where its citizens equals its paranormal activities, many companies opened their doors to help silence the dead. Anthony Lockwood, along side his friend, George Cubbins, is one of the agencies that was established in order to meed the needs of the people. Newcomer Lucy Carlyle, helps the two investigate and rest the restless spirits. Unfortunately for them, their reputation and size, leaves them with the smaller and less desirable cases. As an unplanned incident occurs during one of their investigations, they must now embark on a dangerous case were previous agencies has failed. Will they be able to free the house of its ghosts and create a name for themselves or will they be the next victim of the deadly house.

Review:This was a “hidden gem” monthly group read winner in one of my Goodreads group for the month of August. I’m so glad that one of the members decided to share such an awesome read because I highly enjoyed it. I listened to this in audio so my audiobook review will be before the spoiler section. As for the actual review itself, this is a MUST for those who enjoys ghosts stories. There were times in the book where I was scared out of mind and listening to it at night, didn’t help my situation. Stroud did such a good job portraying his characters and creating vivid details of his settings. I will definitely check out the other books in this series.

There were many things that I like about this book. The characters themselves are very well done, but its mainly the way Stroud writes his scenes. Its very detailed and it allows you to envision the protagonists surroundings. I especially love his description of Annie Ward, one of the spirits haunting an old house, it not only gave me goosebumps, but it also left me sleepless for that night. I always have a hard time finding YA books that fits this category, where its for younger readers, but at the same time it still sends chills down your spine, so I’m really glad for Stroud not sugar coating his book. This was also a great break from any romantic pairings. I tried to see if any relationship will form, but the main focus was the investigation and I was ok with that. Something different in the YA genre.

As for the characters, personally, I didn’t really connect with Lucy. I don’t hate her, but I did find her idiotic at times. I understand her ‘mistakes’ was essential in solving the case, but what if her actions led to a more sinister outcome. I admit, she’s brave, in a dumb way, and she’s just as kick-ass as many of my favourite female protagonists, but her lack of critical thinking was aggravating. That being said, I did enjoy her banters with George. It was a burst of laughter during times of great stress for them. We don’t really see more of him until the end, but we do learn that he is the brain in the group and was a previous employer of a rival company. Now, my favourite out of the three is Anthony Lockwood. He almost gives me a Sherlock Holmes vibes, with his quick thinking and attention to details. He’s young, just like the other two, but he seems to hold the group together. His quick thinking allows dire situations to be handled efficiently. Even if we do get a glimpse of Lockwoods personality, there really isn’t much that was discussed about him. His past is a mystery and it seems like it will remain a mystery until the next book.

Even with the slow start of the book, I’m glad that it eventually did pick up. I understand that the first half was filled with important information regarding this very different, paranormal filled London, and the history of our narrator. It was also important to introduce the group and the problem that they were facing. So the slow beginning wasn’t a problem for me. I did have a problem with then ending though. As much as I like the whole case finished and wrapped up nicely, their was a tidbit in the end that made it a slight ‘cliffhanger’. Usually, I don’t get all hyped up by cliffhangers, but the way Stroud did it makes you want to pick up the next book ASAP. That being said, there really isn’t much that I have to complain about with this book. There’s action, there’s mystery and laughter, a great cast and everything else I enjoy in a book. So I totally recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading the paranormal.

Audiobook Review: I love the audio. The voice of the narrator is spot on and the voices that she use for the other characters are all very well done. I especially love how she narrates the scary parts of the book. Those parts always gave me the chills and it was wonderful! If you get the chance to listen to this on audio, then take the chance.

***********************SPOILER ALERT!!*********************

If you do not want the ending to be revealed, please do not read any further.

The first half of the book was a mystery including a girl, Annie Ward, that died in a horrendous way, therefore, she tends to attack violently. Being dormant for a few years no one knew she existed until a family moved in and disturbed her slumber. As Lucy and Lockwood exterminate Annie, the former attains the locket she is wearing and accidentally burns the house to the ground. As punishment, they must pay a fine they could not afford. At the same time, Lucy starts getting haunting from the same girl. Realizing that her spirit is still restless, the group investigate further to uncover the mystery that surrounds her death. Unfortunate for them, the looming threat of the fine forces them to take on a dangerous tasks, that previous agencies has failed. A wealthy man, Sir Fairfax, hires them to investigate and exterminate the spirits in his home, Combe Carey Hall, with the Red Room and the Screaming staircase.

As they investigate the house. The group finds out that a group of monks were savagely murdered in Combe Carey Hall, and it is their spirits that is haunting and killing the ‘intruders’. The Screaming Staircase, was where the monks were lead to be executed and you can hear their screams and moans as the ghosts replay the murderous event. As for the Red Room, blood covers the walls, and it is were the murders took place. Now the actual mystery is not this investigation. We learn earlier on that these are the disturbed spirits that the groups needs to silence. The actual mystery is John Fairfox. As he hires the team of Lockwood & Co. he sets restrictions on them that will be difficult for them to survive the investigation. It is revealed in the end that Fairfax and Annie Ward was a couple when they were younger. The Locket is a significant evidence that will incriminate him to the murder. As a way to preserve his innocence, he hires the team, that found the locket, to his home knowing that the team will be killed by the violent monks. As Fairfax tries to handle the locket, he is viciously attacked by the ghost of Annie who is seeking her revenge.

The ending we see the three celebrating their success. As Lucy tries to get more drinks in the basement, she accidentally uncovers the ghost in the jar, where he tries to communicate with her. Telling her that there is a bigger and more sinister spirit that she and her comrades will have to face.