Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake. Cas, a teenage boy who inherited his dead father's ghost-killing knife and mission, encounters the first ghost who's his match - in more ways than one: the blood-soaked goddess of vengeance, the teenager who just wanted to go out dancing, the raging spirit trapped in the deadly house she rules: Anna Dressed in Blood. This YA horror/supernatural thriller has a nice snappy pace, some good ideas (Cas lives with his mom, a witch who totally knows what's going on), and Anna is a vivid creation, but the other characters, the world, and the story felt underdeveloped, like an early draft that got polished rather than deepened. I liked what i think Blake was trying to do with Cas - a beautifully polished front of teenage cockiness covering up a well of creepy, death-obsessed nihilism - but as actually shown, he just seemed to alternate between obsessing about death and being full of himself in a way that I didn't find very plausible for a teenage boy. (He's certain that all the girls will be all over him instantly because he's all that. Sure enough, they are!)

Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Cave on Earth, by James M. Tabor. Nonfiction about what it says on the can. This has incredibly vivid descriptions of giant caves, tight spaces underground, and what it takes to explore them, and I would highly recommend it as a writer's reference for the topic. As armchair adventuring, it's pretty good too. Unusually for this sort of book, Tabor does not ignore or slight the women who were involved in cave exploration, describing how one "oozed through" a crack so tight that she had to exhale all the air in her lungs in order to compress her chest enough to get through. Yikes! As far as the quest itself, there's a lot of hair-raising exploration, and then an anti-climactic, "And then [spoiler] turned out to be the deepest, the end."

Thorns, by Robert Silverberg. 70s sf in which a fat! fat! FAT! and evil emotional vampire (did I mention that he's FAT?) throws together two tragic people to feed on their pain. One is a space explorer who was captured and surgically transformed by aliens for, uh, no particular reason, and one is a not-too-bright virgin whose eggs were harvested and given to others, and she wants her babies back. They have a hopeful yet sordid affair, while the fat vampire cackles in glee. Can two misfits find hope and happiness together or apart, even if their problems don't get "solved?" Only if they deal with the fat pain-sucker first!

I'm making this sound worse than it actually was. The storyline about the altered space guy had real emotional weight. But even apart from the fat = evil stuff, I am a very hard sell on emotional vampires who feed on pain, especially if they're not conflicted about this at all. The virgin was so childlike and naive that I briefly wondered if she was supposed to have some sort of intellectual disability, but no - just Silverberg's idea of a traumatized young woman who's none too bright, which made her relationship with the space dude, who was intelligent and worldly-wise, possibly more creepy than was intended, and lacking in the possibility of redemption through love. Also, too much 70s sf-type unpleasant sex. I read this because I do generally like stories about traumatized people building up their lives again, but this was overloaded with turn-offs.
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