20 Oct 2012

THE DEAD OF WINTER - CHRIS PRIESTLY

SUMMARY
Michael Vyner recalls a terrible story, one that happened to him. One that would be unbelievable if it weren't true! Michael's parents are dead and he imagines that he will stay with the kindly lawyer, executor of his parents' will ...Until he is invited to spend Christmas with his guardian in a large and desolate country house. His arrival on the first night suggests something is not quite right when he sees a woman out in the frozen mists, standing alone in the marshes. But little can prepare him for the solitude of the house itself as he is kept from his guardian and finds himself spending the Christmas holiday wandering the silent corridors of the house seeking distraction. But lonely doesn't mean alone, as Michael soon realises that the house and its grounds harbour many secrets, dead and alive, and Michael is set the task of unravelling some of the darkest secrets of all.

REVIEW
It is no secret that I am a massive fan of Halloween, so when it comes to this point in the year I like to give myself a fright with some spooky stories. Christ Priestley is a chiller writer for children around the ages of 9-12, or big kids around 24... ahem. I have been meaning to pick up some of his books for a while so when I spotted this in the library I thought it would be the perfect opportunity.

The Dead of Winter follows traditions set by the wonderful Poe and the underestimatedly Gothic Charles Dickens. After the death of his mother, Michael Vyner is sent to live with a guardian in his creepy old mansion, Hawton Mere. Spooky events are abundant in the old house and never fails to disappoint. The atmosphere is built gradually through the fantastic descriptions of the house, really breathing life into the old walls. This reminded me so much of Poe, the artistic detail in giving a living, breathing anthropomorphic character to the old house. It is as much a part of the story as the human tale of woe behind all the hauntings.

It's narrative is not simple, nor does it carry any of the slang of modern day children. I'm pretty certain the story is set in the late 19th century, which completely adds to the feel of 'otherness'. For children reading this I think it is a clever scheme: it gives space in dialogue at the beginning to give the reader time to adjust to the older speech style but then whisks you so much into the action that you barely seem to notice. 

This has everything you could want from a traditional scary read: a haunted house, ghosts, mirrors, trap doors and a whole dose of mystery. If you've enjoyed more modern stories like Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book I guarantee you will love this. Its a super quick read at only just over 200 pages but it is so much fun. Give this to your kid and they will be absorbed for hours.


17 Oct 2012

CARNIVAL OF SOULS - MELISSA MARR

SUMMARY
An extraordinary new world, from the New York Times bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series. Enter the Carnival...In a city of daimons, strict class lines control every aspect of life. At the heart of The City is the Carnival of Souls where, once in a generation, anyone can fight for their chance to join the elite. Kaleb is of the lowest caste; Aya is ruling caste - but female. They both face bleak futures and, for each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live. Mallory lives in the human world and knows little of The City, beyond the threat it poses her and her family. But soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the Carnival of Souls...Combining Melissa Marr's extraordinary world-building, breathtaking action, secrets, love and the struggle to forge one's own destiny, Carnival of Souls will blow your mind and win your heart.


REVIEW
Melissa Marr is a staple of YA reading, and I own her other series, Wicked Lovely, even though I haven't read them yet (fairies and I don't always mix very well). I wasn't sure what to expect when going in to this one, though I had heard good things on the blogosphere. I actually picked it up because it was new in at my local library, which really surprised me because of how soon it is after its release date - note to self, don't underestimate the library.

I'll try and set the premise up a little for you: The story is split between two worlds, the Human world where Witches are banished to and Mallory and her Witch father Adam live, and The City, where the 'Daimons' live. The Carnival of Souls refers to a part of and place in the story that I thought wasn't explored enough to warrant being the title. It's basically a Competition that citizens enter where they either kill their opponent or force them to forfeit in order to become one of the top ranking members of The City's government. Mallory is actually a Daimon child who is given at birth to the Witches as a sleight against her true father Marchosias (a stupid name that really annoyed me to read). Kaleb is then hired as an assassin to return her to her father in the Daimon world or kill her.

16 Oct 2012

PRETTY GIRL 13 - LIZ COLEY

SUMMARY
A gripping, suspenseful debut that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page...Angie Chapman is only 13 when she gets lost in the woods in the middle of the night. The next thing she knows she's returned home, scars around her wrists and ankles, physically exhausted. Her parents collapse into tears when they see her, but Angie doesn't understand - until they tell her she has been missing, presumed dead, for three years. Angie doesn't remember anything from her missing years. But there are people who do - people who could tell Angie every terrifying detail, if only they weren't locked inside her mind. With help, Angie begins to unravel the darkest secrets of her own past. But does she really want to know the truth?

REVIEW
Pretty Girl Thirteen is currently promoted as adult but this is a great novel for older teens who want a strong female character. The story begins almost mid actions; we find Angie as her psyche is just reappearing, unaware of anything between being in the woods on a camping trip and finding herself standing at the end of her road.

This isn't really a story to read for action. Although it is very gripping, it is also very sad and focuses more on Angie's rehabilitation and the psychological process of recuperation than simply relaying the narrative of her capture. It's a fragmented narrative that mirrors the splinters of her psyche, but this is a novel way of retelling her story without giving it the weighty atmosphere of terror and inescapability. 

As a lead character Angie is very likeable. She is funny, sweet and incredibly strong for a young woman who has been through so much. But then she doesn't know that she has. It really posed a question for me as to how would I expect myself to act if I had been told that I had been kept in captivity for 3 years but could remember nothing. Would I panic? Would I spend every moment trying to remember? Or would I rather forget it all and thank God that I had escaped with only physical scars? Angie doesn't react in any of these ways. She seems... fine. Confused but certainly not distraught or angry at the fact she can't remember anything. I felt that the narrative didn't really give her room to sit down and think - she was whisked away to school almost straight after she comes home. I think this was one of the only things that annoyed me; I understand that there must have been a great sense of relief when Angie reappears but there is no real anger in the novel, apart from the Dad, and he barely has a voice.

13 Oct 2012

LEFT HAND OF GOD - PAUL HOFFMAN

SUMMARY
'Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is named after a damned lie for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary'. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers: vast, desolate, hopeless. Where children endure brutal cruelty and violence in the name of the One True Faith. Lost in the Sanctuary's huge maze of corridors is a boy: his age uncertain, his real name unknown. They call him Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming - and violent. But when he opens the wrong door at the wrong time he witnesses an act so horrible he must flee, or die. The Redeemers will go to any lengths to get Cale back. Not because of the secret he has discovered. But because of a more terrifying secret that lies undiscovered in himself.

REVIEW
I picked Left Hand of God as my second book, still venturing in to the world of adult, male-oriented, fiction (my previous one being Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence). Although I don't want to compare the two too much, I couldn't help thinking that I just wasn't enjoying it as much as the previous one, but then I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it too much if it had been the first. 

The novel is set in the type of place you would expect from adult fantasy, regressed future/alternate past, in a place I would guess at having vague resemblance to Spain. The storyline follows Thomas Cale, an Acolyte of the Sanctuary where Redeemers (holy teachers and leaders) use physical abuse, intimidation and flat-out fear to force the Acolytes, who are mere boys, to follow the One True Faith, that I can only assume is loosely based on Catholicism, in order to send them to fight a Holy war.

For a time I found it a little difficult to read. I am a girl of the 21st Century and have been numbed to violence like the majority of my generation, but I still can't help wanting to stop reading when it is on a page in front of me, and there is certainly a lot of violence in this. And its not the sword-on-sword action I mean either, its the horrible physical abuse. Although I always understand why its in the narrative that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with it.

7 Oct 2012

PRINCE OF THORNS - MARK LAWRENCE

SUMMARY
Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother's tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that's true enough, but there's something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse. From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg has the ability to master the living and the dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.

REVIEW
I very rarely read books like this; adult fantasy that is aimed primarily at men. And you know what? I loved it. I couldn't put it down. I was completely sucked in by its quick-witted, whirlwind of a story. I initially picked it up because I wanted to see what my other half reads and had also had it recommended by several people at work. I'm so glad that out of all the fantasy the other half reads I picked this one up first. It is great for anyone who wants to venture into the genre or wants to graduate from the upper age end of YA fantasy.

One thing I should mention: it is absolutely not for the faint hearted. The story follows Jorg, Prince Jorg to be exact, who escapes his life at the Royal castle in favour of a life as a traveller, working his way across the country looking to find revenge for the death of his Mother and Brother. He doesn't do this in a quiet way, oh no, Jorg and his brothers murder, torture, burn, rape and pillage their way across the kingdoms and enjoy themselves with it too.

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