Review

Review: The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co #2) by Jonathan Stroud

14059024.jpg

5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I first encountered this series at the beginning of the year, the first book being The Screaming Staircase and absolutely loved it. There was no question about whether to request the second book from Netgalley or not, regardless of my ridiculous pile of books to review! And luckily, The Whispering Skull definitely lived up to my expectations.

Set six months after the previous book, The Whispering Skull leaps straight into the action: Lockwood & Co have had a run of successful jobs and things are looking up. More and more clients are approaching them for help and for once they don’t feel like they have to compete with other agencies. That’s until a strange and powerful Source is stolen, and Lockwood, Lucy and George are back in competition with the other agencies, as well as in a race against time, to retrieve it. As before, some scenes were actually genuinely creepy and gave me the chills – but combined with the wonderful sense of humour that I’ve come to expect.

A fast-paced read, the writing just flows off the page – although that may be something to do with the intended younger audience – and the exciting moments just keep coming. I felt that the story was perhaps less atmospheric than The Screaming Staircase, but much of the atmosphere of the first book was created by setting up the story and the changes from the world as we know it.

The publisher describes this book as aimed at ‘middle grade’ readers, but as someone in my twenties I have to say I absolutely LOVE this series. It’s a fabulous mix of ghost novel and detective story, with characters you’ll just love. Lockwood is still an enigma, very much a Sherlock type character, and I can imagine him being a bit of a heart-breaker when he gets older. Lucy is the witty and occasionally sarcastic narrator, with George as the brains but also the comic relief. Were I actually within the age range for this book, I can definitely say that the idea of these teens running their own agencies and living alone, without adults, would be a high point!

If you’re looking for something a little bit creepy, but don’t feel quite ready to delve into some serious horror novels, I would definitely recommend giving Lockwood & Co a try.

Review

Review: Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2) by Stephen King

17666439.jpg

5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Ever since I heard that Stephen King was writing a sequel to The Shining, I knew I would have to get my hands on a copy somehow. And then, lo and behold, the wonderful Hodder sent me a copy to review! I apologise for how long it took for me to finally get around to reading and reviewing it, but it was most definitely worth the wait.

If you’re not familiar with The Shining, I would definitely advise reading it before moving on to Doctor Sleep. Whilst it’s not necessary to have read it and I think you would have no issues following the story, it adds so much more depth. Echoes of moments in The Shining, similar scenes and lines come back to haunt the reader. Despite there being over thirty years between the events of the first book, and the final events of Doctor Sleep, the two books felt so interconnected in many ways.

This is definitely one of those books that’s difficult to review, in that you don’t want to stop and make notes – you want to just keep on reading. One of my best friends mentioned that it was one of those books she just couldn’t stop reading and there wasn’t a dull moment – when someone says something like that you know you have to check for yourself, and she was definitely right. Although I didn’t find it as creepy as The Shining (it was the topiary that got me last time), there was a constant eerie undertone and real sense of danger, to both Abra and Dan.

Speaking of Abra, she could have been a precocious and annoying little kid, with these strange talents to show off, but instead she was witty and mature, if a little naive at times. But that was good, it kept her grounded and reminded the reader that she was just a child. And as for Dan, I felt the book was a really interesting exploration into a character who was created over thirty years ago and not necessarily intended to have a sequel.

Considering that I haven’t been making much time for reading lately, this was definitely the right book to get me back into the swing of things. With a highly original concept, creepy undertones and some great characters, it definitely deserves five stars in my book – but could we expect anything less from Mr. Stephen King?

Review

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

18453110.jpg

4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

The Three is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It’s a fictional non-fiction book (!) comprised of eyewitness accounts, interviews, IM chats and transcripts. Focusing around an event known as ‘Black Thursday’, where four planes crashed at the same time all over the world for unknown reasons, it is a book within a book. Between the four crashes, there were only three survivors: all young children, who don’t quite seem themselves after the event. You would think this not usual, considering what they’ve been through, but various people latch on to different theories about what ‘The Three’ might be. These range from the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse to aliens, to possession and many other crackpot theories. What’s immediately clear is that something isn’t quite right…

It is certainly a unique way of telling a story, and despite the size of the book (close to five hundred pages), definitely one to be read quickly. It keeps you drawn in, every page reveals new information whilst keeping you guessing. I mean, this is a book that managed to draw me away from the Steam sales and all my shiny new video games so that’s got to be something, right? ūüėČ As I read more of the story, the creepier moments began to appear – suddenly and completely out of the blue, exactly as they should be! However, I don’t feel the book was ever quite as ‘terrifying’ as several reviews have claimed.

Unfortunately, there were two major things that pulled the book down a rating for me. The first was that I felt an utter lack of connection to any of the characters, because of the way the book was written. It felt very detached and impersonal, with all these interviews and eyewitness accounts – although they were following the same people, there was no room for character development or even really getting to know any of them. Even with the ‘author’ of the book within the book, and her sidenotes – absolutely no connection to the character. I would have loved more information about ‘The Three’ before the crash: although we’re told by friends and relatives that they’re different post-Black Thursday, we don’t know how. The reader has no real idea what any of the children were like before the event, so the creepiness of the change is rather toned down.

The second reason was the completely open and ambiguous ending. I actually felt really frustrated at this, and in a way it sort of felt like the author just couldn’t be bothered to come up with an explanation for the events. When I read a thriller, I like to try and guess why something has happened, what is causing it, who is behind it etc – it’s quite satisfying to get it right! But as there were no answers or explanations for the past four hundred odd pages, I felt a bit cheated.

In conclusion, a read that draws you in and grips you – and is thoroughly enjoyable – but doesn’t quite deserve the ‘horror’ tag. Perhaps if there’d been some explanation or a proper conclusion, it would have been worthy of five stars in my eyes, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite cut it!

Review

Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

21422471.jpg

5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve received quite a few books from the wonderful Hodderscape recently, and I’m working my way through the pile. I started off with this particular book – and what a way to start!

The reader is immediately thrown into the action, with a scene where one of the two protagonists, Wil, is at the airport and gets waylaid by two strange men. They drug him, and he manages to make a run for it, but his sense of confusion and the frantic feeling of needing to get away now is so well conveyed. It doesn’t hold back on the swearing or coarse language, and you know from the get-go that these guys mean business. I found myself whizzing through the pages, needing to know what their motive was, and why they were targeting Wil in particular.

Well as it turns out, words are power. People who are trained in the use of words are known as ‘Poets’ (they use pseudonyms when working, the names of famous poets), and can use them to convince, coerce and control others. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds though: any old words won’t work on everyone. As well as digging into linguistics, the book explores psychology, in that everyone’s personality represents a different ‘segment’, of which there are over two hundred. To control someone, you need to work out which segment they are, and then use the appropriate words. And on top of this, the words need to be of their language to have the greatest effect, e.g. using English words on a French person would not be as successful as using French. However, there are a few words, know as ‘barewords’, which can affect anyone, and they are also incredibly powerful. Wil has a link to one of these ‘barewords’, which is why he is being hunted. I liked that Max Barry included all of these rules, it meant that although Poets had great power, there was some sort of restraint.

There is also a bit of a 1984 vibe in the book: the government and many companies record personal information (lots of excuses are given for reasons why they need to record various personal things e.g. terrorist attacks), which is then processed by Poets, allowing them to sort the population into segments. The information is then used (or rather, abused) by lots of people, including political parties who may go canvassing, and change their stance depending on who they are talking to. Most of this information was revealed in between chapters, through newspaper articles, emails, IM chats and forums. It felt a little set back from the main story, sort of added in to keep the reader informed. It was nice to have this background information, but I felt it might have worked a little better if it was somehow more integrated into the story.

My favourite chapters of the book were the ones that followed Emily. When the reader first meets her, she is a sixteen year old runaway, living on the streets and getting by on card and slight of hand tricks. She is approached by someone from the ‘Academy’ (the school where the Poets are trained) and is given a chance to improve her life. One of the entrance tests for the Academy includes trying to persuade people in the street to cross the road and talk to her – this was possibly one of my favourite scenes, just for its sense of humour, although one of Emily’s ‘methods’ seemed a bit ludicrous for a sixteen year old! I particularly enjoyed her chapters because they were generally the ones where the power of words was explored; as Emily learnt about the Poets and their power, so did the reader.

I’m not sure if it wasn’t too clear to begin with, or if I was just being slow on the uptake, but the stories of Wil and Emily are actually on two slightly different timelines. I was unsure at how they were going to weave together, but as I read more of the book the cogs started fitting into place and I loved trying to predict what was going to happen next.

I am so grateful that I was sent this book – I’d not heard of it before I received it, and I’ve not seen it on many other blogs or Goodreads, so it might have missed my attention otherwise! It is a wonderfully unique concept, and although some parts of the story (mostly Wil’s) were a little too slow moving, I devoured it in a matter of days. A definite recommendation for fans of cerebral thrillers, or people interested in linguistics and psychology.

Review

Review: The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice

16058296.jpg

4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

For the past few years, I’ve had a fascination with the southern states of the US, particularly Louisiana. Which is why, when I read the synopsis for this book, I knew I wanted to read it. Luckily for me, it was available on Netgalley and I managed to get myself a copy – and it snuck its way up to the top of my reading list, despite my extensive pile of review books.

However, it wasn’t quite what I expected – but that’s not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable. I was expecting voodoo magic, creepy scenes set in the bayous, adventure through the unknown – but actually the majority of the story takes place in the city of New Orleans itself. The setup of the story was definitely eerie, the events that cause the rest of the story to unfold – but this tone was not really kept up throughout the rest of the book, apart from one particular moment when an investigator finds the source of all the strange goings on.

The main characters comprise of Niquette, Ben, Anthem and Marshall, and of these Ben and Marshall are probably the most developed. Marshall is the antagonist, and the reasons for his actions do seem rather extreme – he was rejected by Niquette – but it is what happens just after the rejection that really drives him. I think he would have been a lot creepier if he was not seen to move and/or talk, causing the reader to question exactly how he was doing all these horrific acts. This is actually how it was done at the beginning of the story, which consequently made events a lot more eerie. I don’t feel I can really say much more about character development – the story was more focused on the mysterious forces in the bayous, and the strange goings on involving Niquette and Marshall.

It is not until roughly 75% through the book that the reader receives an explanation for the odd events of the story, and it did feel a little like there wouldn’t be enough time to resolve everything – but it was resolved, in an action-packed sequence that was a real whirlwind to read through. I thought the reveal – and the ‘results’ of the strange parasite – were pretty original, a sort of amalgamation of your worst nightmares and fears.

I generally take some time to read ebooks, as I don’t enjoy reading from a Kindle as much as I do a physical book – but I read 25% of this book in one sitting, which tells me that I was definitely pretty enthralled! The writing style flowed smoothly, and the author had some lovely descriptions of New Orleans, Louisiana, the bayous and Mardi Gras, which painted some wonderfully colourful pictures and vivid images.

Also I’m not sure why so many people on Goodreads have shelved this as Young Adult, because it’s not – the characters are in their late twenties/early thirties for the majority of the story, and it’s not like any Young Adult book I’ve ever read. Perhaps people have just come to associate the supernatural or paranormal with Young Adult fiction?

Overall, whilst it wasn’t quite the book I was expecting – I was looking for something set out in the sticks or the swamplands, away from civilisation – this was an original and fun read that I got through very quickly, which as I previously mentioned is a good sign when I’m reading an ebook! Highly recommended if you’re looking for something of the horror or paranormal variety that doesn’t involve vampires or werewolves.

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Review of Acid by Emma Pass

Today, as part of Sci-Fi Month, I have a¬†review¬†of¬†Acid¬†by Emma Pass.¬†Don’t forget to¬†check out the schedule¬†for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag¬†#RRSciFiMonth.

17287497.jpg

4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I have read a lot of Young Adult dystopian fiction lately. I really enjoy dystopian, plus there is a bit of trend for it at the moment (just a teeny weeny bit…). This means that these sorts of books have a lot to live up to – and I felt the tone of this one was quite different from the others, which made it even more enjoyable.

To start with, our protagonist, Jenna Strong, is supposedly a criminal. It opens with her in prison – an all-male prison, it’s never quite explained why she’s the only female in there – which sets her character up nicely. She is skilled in combat, tough-skinned and able to defend herself. In the time she has been there she’s forged a reputation for herself, and whilst the new inmates see her as easy pickings, the old ones know better. The reader is immediately given this impression of a cold-hearted young woman, but more and more of Jenna’s past and personality are revealed as the book progresses.

Jenna’s world, like all the setting of all dystopians, is not quite our world. She lives in the Independent Republic of Britain, which is ruled by a force called ACID (I can’t remember if Pass ever mentions what it stands for!). All content is monitored, news screens with approved feeds from the government must be switched on for a set number of hours per day, alcohol and tobacco are banned, prolonged contact with an unrelated member of the opposite sex is illegal, and people are put with a ‘LifePartner’ in their late teens, who they will be with for life. It’s very much your typical dystopian government, all seeing and all controlling – what I’ll never get is why so many of these dystopian governments force people upon each other – and it’s never really explained. It’s mentioned that the rest of the world hasn’t changed – for example, the Internet is just a rumour in the IRB but at one point one of the characters mentions how other countries still have it. So the reasoning behind this radical governmental change is never explained, but I can only assume it happened just within Britain, and not the rest of the world.

Yes, there is a romance. However, it’s only minor – and it’s not a triangle! I actually originally thought it was going to be another guy at first, and I was completely and utterly wrong, which was nice. And to top that off, Emma Pass adds in some great twists – some I saw coming, and others that I did not.

There were a couple of moments I had to question. At one point, Jenna wakes up after a certain big event to find that the people who have taken her in have performed cosmetic surgery on her (actually it happens twice), so she no longer looks anything like herself. She doesn’t even bat an eyelid at this sudden change, which was really weird. Sure, some people might not like their appearance, but I know for one that I would be pretty upset if someone did that to me. I’m used to my features, like my small nose and greenish-brown eyes, even if I do sometimes wish I could change things, and if I were to wake up one day with a big nose and blue eyes I’d freak out more than just a little bit! It would be unsettling, and you wouldn’t feel yourself at all.¬†There was also a bit towards the end where Jenna does something really awesome, and then makes the stupidest decision and basically undoes all her work – and then has to fix it again a bit later on. However, she also makes some unexpected choices throughout the book which really surprised me, so kudos to the author there!

The last section of the story was really fast, tense and action-packed, and really fun to read, although I do think the story concluded a little too quickly. I was at about 95% thinking that it couldn’t possibly wrap up, and wondered if there was a sequel – but no, it did and it’s a standalone novel.

So whilst the world building and explanations could definitely be improved upon, I thought this was generally a really fun read, with a different feel to the other Young Adult dystopian novels out there, and am certainly glad I requested it.