Book Review: Say Her Name (James Dawson)

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 287

Release Date: June 5th 2014

Summary (From Goodreads):

Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Rowe is not the kind of person who believes in ghosts. A Halloween dare at her ridiculously spooky boarding school is no big deal, especially when her best friend Naya and cute local boy Caine agree to join in too. They are ordered to summon the legendary ghost of ‘Bloody Mary’: say her name five times in front of a candlelit mirror, and she shall appear… But, surprise surprise, nothing happens. Or does it?

Next morning, Bobbie finds a message on her bathroom mirror… five days… but what does it mean? And who left it there? Things get increasingly weird and more terrifying for Bobbie and Naya, until it becomes all too clear that Bloody Mary was indeed called from the afterlife that night, and she is definitely not a friendly ghost. Bobbie, Naya and Caine are now in a race against time before their five days are up and Mary comes for them, as she has come for countless others before… A truly spine-chilling yet witty horror from shortlisted ‘Queen of Teen’ author James Dawson.

Review:

The lovely Jim at YA Yeah Yeah gave me a copy of this book, so thank you very much to him 🙂

As I write this Say Her Name is being considered for the YA Book Prize (massive good luck to James and all at #TeamSayHerName) and it’s easy to see why.

According to the Acknowledgements, Dawson wrote Say Her Name after being challenged to write the scariest contemporary YA horror and I think he’s been successful. Say Her Name takes the well known legend of Bloody Mary and uses it as the basis for a very creepy, fast paced horror story.

I’ve done it myself before: way back in primary school a friend and I stood in the lower years bathroom and nervously giggled our way through three ‘Bloody Mary’s before leaving scared. If I’d only know it was supposed to be said five times, things may have turned out differently…

The boarding school setting was suitable creepy, but it was Mary herself who caused the most scares, and rightly so. The drip drip drip that indicated her presence immediately set me on edge, and that soon turned to a claustrophobic feeling as Mary began to manifest in mirrors and other reflective surfaces. The best ghosts are the ones that you can’t escape.  

The dreams that haunted Bobbie and Caine were very creepy but I was glad when Naya got her fair share of the awfulness – I’d started to feel she was getting off lightly, but I think she got the worst of it in the end!

The mystery pieced together very nicely and wasn’t so obvious that you could guess it, or so far-fetched you couldn’t believe it. I did begin to feel a little annoyed with all the ‘we must help Mary, she’s just a troubled lost soul stuff’ but the ending more than made up for that – I don’t want to give anything away but there was a satisfying twist at the end, just as I’ve come to expect from modern horror.

If I were to criticise, I’d say the plot reminded me a little too much of The Ring film: the wet ghost, the time limit and investigation and such. But I still raced through it and, as this is my first James Dawson book, I’m looking forward to reading more from him.

My Verdict:

4
If you enjoyed this, you might also like The Haunting of Sunshine Girl (Paige McKenzie)

Top Five… Mothers/Mother Figures

I wanted to a post for Mother’s Day so this week’s Top Five is my favourite mothers in stories. I’ve had to add in some ‘mother figures’ as too many protagonists in my stories are orphans or motherless!

5.


Mrs Coulter (His Dark Materials)
Philip Pullman
Perhaps an odd choice for the first one, and maybe not your traditional awesome mother/mother figure, but she does love Lyra fiercely, even if she has an odd way of showing it sometimes.
4.

The Beldam (Coraline)
Neil Gaiman
Whacking out another untraditional one, but when Coraline meets the Beldam she seems like the greatest mother on earth. Ignoring the buttons for eyes thing for a moment, she makes amazing food (which Coraline’s real mother doesn’t) and has created a whole amazing world for her to play in. Let’s just ignore what she goes on to do…
3.

Vinetta (The Mennyms series)
Sylvia Waugh
One of my favourite series, though I think it’s not very well known now. Vinetta has a protective love for her family of life sized rag dolls and she has a pretty tough job of keeping them all safe and protected in their house. I love her unwavering niceness and ability to pretend (that probably only makes sense if you’ve read it).
2.

Melissa (If You Find Me)
Emily Murdoch
She may not be their real mother, but Melissa takes care of Carey and Jenessa much better than their real one ever bothered to do. I tensed up a bit when I first realised Carey’s father had a new wife and family, because I so wanted them to live happily ever after, and it was a relief when Melissa was so good to them.
And the winner is…
1.

Molly Weasley (Harry Potter series)
J. K. Rowling
Who else but Molly for the top spot? She’s already an amazing mother to one daughter and six boys (is that right?!) but she also takes Harry under her wing as well. While obviously his mother was amazing because she died for him, but Molly was there afterwards to look after him and love him when he needed it most. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all real and fictional mothers and mother figures out there!


Book Review: James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl)

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Publisher: Puffin 
Pages: 160
Release Date: First published in 1961
Summary (From Goodreads):
This novel tells the story of James who has lived with his two beastly aunts ever since his parents were eaten up outside London Zoo. Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker are really horrible people and make poor James’s life a misery.

Review:
I received this book for Christmas from my other half. He wanted to buy me my favourite Roald Dahl book, and when he couldn’t find it in store (it’s The Twits, in case you’re curious) he bought me his favourite instead. Ah well, it’s the thought that counts…

I’ve always vaguely known James’ story but I don’t think it’s one I’ve actually read before; my knowledge was probably based on the film (which is amazing and I have such a craving to watch it now I’ve read the book).

The book is quite different to the film, which meant it was a refreshing read for me. It starts off quite similarly, with poor James’ parents being eaten by a rhino and him being sent to live with awful Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. I enjoyed their fate in the book a lot more than I did in the film: a lot more satisfying and a lot more ‘Dahl’.

I read this book when I was feeling a bit down and it certainly cheered me up. Dahl’s books are charming, even when they’re dark and dangerous, and they never fail to make me smile. This book had a few pages that lost me a little: a whole page paragraph describing the peach rolling away was a bit much for me, but otherwise the story moves fast and is captivating and even makes giant insects seem charming rather than scary.

My Verdict:



Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Book Review: The DUFF (Kody Keplinger)

 *I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
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Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 343
Release Date: January 1st 2010

Summary (From Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Review:
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised how this book turned out. I read it after seeing the film trailer and I had a completely wrong impression of it. From the trailer, it looked like, after being called the Duff, Bianca had a makeover and got hot and won over the cute boy. It looked like a fun film but that wasn’t a message I could get behind in a book for teenagers.
That’s not quite how it goes in this book. After being called the Duff, Bianca falls for the person who called her it, despite the fact that he is a big man-whore and still insists on calling her Duffy. I did have a problem with this, as I couldn’t see how, even if he was providing her with escape, Bianca could let herself fall for someone who called her a nickname based on her being fat and ugly. It just doesn’t make sense in my head. If that was me, I would feel hurt and angry that he kept calling me that, and while Bianca does display these emotions, it doesn’t stop her going back to him again and again. While I know he wasn’t as shallow and awful as he appeared to be, it still didn’t make sense to me.
I found the characterisation in the book was often forced upon you: Bianca kept reminding us she was cynical and snappy, that Jess was bubbly and naive, that Wesley was smooth and a creep. It felt like I was constantly being told these things rather than showed, which made the characterisation seem a bit flat. The comparison to Wuthering Heights also seemed shoehorned in and that was jarring.
I’m glad that the overall message of the book wasn’t: if someone calls you fat and ugly, make yourself thin and hot. Instead, it leaned more towards: everyone sometimes thinks they’re the fat, ugly one, don’t let it get you down. I think the point was that everyone has insecurities, even your 6ft tall, skinny, blonde cheerleader friend. The message did get a little lost under all the romance complications though.
Overall I found this a pleasant bit of light reading. It’s a bit high-school drama for me, which isn’t really my cup of tea, but it does touch on some interesting issues of secrets, escapism and alcoholism. I’m sure a lot of people will be going to see the film and I hope they read the book first!

My Verdict:



I enjoyed – give it a read

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black)


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Publisher: Indigo
Pages: 272
Release Date: January 13th 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?


Review:
I received this book through a giveaway run by Daphne at Winged Reviews so massive thanks to her.

I’ve been on a bit of a fairytale rampage lately and this was more than satisfying. I’d heard a lot about it and was certainly not disappointed.

This books takes a lot of familiar fairytale creatures and myths and places them in the modern world, where humans live alongside the Folk, albeit not always happily. It’s amazing to see the juxtaposition of the modern and Folk worlds: the image of the Prince sleeping in his coffin made of tears while teenagers get drunk and make out around him just sang to me. It was great to see the way the two worlds blended and how the strange creatures and happenings weren’t just explained away, but (mostly) accepted as magical.

The characterisation in this book was brilliant. From the first chapter I identified so much with Hazel and was more than happy to follow her story along. It was easy to see how the secrets grew between her and her brother Ben, even though I kept yelling at them to ‘fess up and get it over with. But we all know how hard it can be to tell the truth after lying for so long…

One of the things that drew me to the book was the diversity I’d heard talked about: in the beginning, both Hazel and Ben are in love with the sleeping Prince. I loved their different relationships with the Prince but most of all I loved how normal it was: it wasn’t a big deal that a boy loved another boy, it was just there and it was normal and that’s how it should be! (Labouring the point there but I love diverse books that aren’t solely about being diverse).


I thought the world building worked wonderfully, and loved the different bits of mythology that was dropped in, some which I recognised and others which I now want to read more about. The monster of the forest was truly creepy – the words it spoke really chilled me – and the action sequences were heart pounding and intense.

This is my first venture into Holly Black’s writing and I’m already lining up more of her books to read. This is a magical read with action, romance and plenty of shocks and surprises littered throughout. A definite one to read this year.

My Verdict:



Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Top Five… Female Protagonists

In honour of International Women’s Day last week, I’ve decided this week’s Top Five will be dedicated to my favourite and most inspirational women in YA fiction. There’s a lot to choose from so this was a particularly hard one to narrow down!

5.

Rachel (Animorph series)
K. A. Applegate
Rachel is the ultimate tough girl/Xena: Warrior Princess. She finds herself one of Earth’s last hopes in a secret invasion and she kicks butt. I love the darker side of her character as she revels in the violence and danger, but also the vulnerabilities she can show and the fierce love she has for her sisters.
4.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series)
J. K. Rowling
Not only is Hermione brave and has a good hand in saving the wizarding world, she is smart with it and saves Harry and Ron’s skins plenty of times along their journey. She’s passionate about charitable causes (remember the Elf Liberation Front?) and she knows who she is, even if others don’t like it.
3.
Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games series)
Suzanne Collins
She’s become a bit of an idol lately (helped by the amazing portrayal by Jennifer Lawrence). She’s strong, brave and makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her little sister. She heads a revolution and manages to go through atrocities without becoming a monster herself.
2.

Rialle (The Echorium Sequence)
Katherine Roberts
I’ve always loved Rialle, and one of the things I love most is how vulnerable she is and how she grows in the first book. She might cry easily and be afraid a lot but that doesn’t mean she’s not a strong women, and it doesn’t stop her from saving her friends. She risks herself to stop her home and friends being destroyed and you can’t help but love her.
And the winner is…
1.
Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials)
Philip Pullman
Lyra was my inspiration growing up. She’s a little wild, headstrong and fiercely loyal and it was such a pleasure to follow her story. She doesn’t let anyone stop her from doing what she wants to and what she needs to. She’s another who makes great sacrifices to herself for the greater good, and the pain of that made me love her all the more.

Which women in books have inspired you?

Book Review: Sleepless (Lou Morgan)

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: October 1st 2014

Summary (From Goodreads):

Young, rich and good-looking, Izzy and her friends lead seemingly perfect lives. But exams are looming and at a school like Clerkenwell, failure is not an option. Luckily, Tigs has a solution. A small pill that will make revision a breeze and help them get the results they need. Desperate to succeed, the group begin taking the study drug. It doesn’t take long before they realize there are far worse things than failing a few exams.

Review:

I bought this book at the UKYA Extravaganza and got it signed by Lou and had a lovely chat with her about her books and the horror genre.

As a bit of a self confessed horror nerd (I spend most evenings watching horror films and I wrote my Masters dissertation on the subject) I enjoyed seeing a lot of classic horror tropes in the story, as well as references to situations we’re so used to seeing in horror films. Protagonist Izzy’s awareness of this (like me, she’s a horror film fan) somehow made the situation more believable: she knows that if she were watching her life as a film, she’d be screaming at herself not to go off alone, but sometimes the situation calls for it.

The setup of the story was very thorough: the characters and their group dynamic was very easy to grasp and the introduction of the pills seemed natural enough, though knowing what the story is about, you’re already yelling at them not to be so stupid. My gripe would be that the set up went on a little too long. It felt like I was over half way through before everything really started kicking off.

The warning on the back of the book is right: it’s definitely not for younger readers. Some of the descriptions are pretty gruesome and there are some grizzly deaths that made my skin crawl.

As with a lot of horror stories, I found I didn’t connect too well with some of the characters, probably because I knew they were going to be killed off. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I loved Izzy, Grey and Tigs (great name/nickname there) so I didn’t really mind regarding the others as part of the body count.

I was pretty ill while reading this and not sleeping well myself, so I really felt for Izzy as the tiredness began to take over her. I loved the lapses of memory/consciousness and not knowing what was really happening and what wasn’t. It makes everything feel so much more dangerous when the lines between reality and dreams are blurred.

In my head, I was comparing this constantly to Frozen Charlotte, another Red Eye book, and I found this book didn’t have the same kind of creepy atmosphere: if I compared it to a horror film, Sleepless would be a gory slasher, while Frozen Charlotte would be the psychological horror that stays with you long after it’s finished.

The ending was a little confusing and open ended, but it’s another horror trope I’ve come to expect, especially with modern horror: I think horror can lose its effect if it’s all closed off neatly at the end, and with some ambiguity it means the nightmare is still going on.

This is another modern horror that I would recommend to anyone who loves a good scare, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lou’s books.

 My Verdict:
 
4
If you enjoyed this, you might like Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

Book Review: The Death Cure (Janes Dashner)

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Publisher: Chicken House
Pages: 327
Release Date: 2011
Summary (From Goodreads):

Thomas knows that Wicked can’t be trusted, but they say the time for lies is over, that they’ve collected all they can from the Trials and now must rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission. It’s up to the Gladers to complete the blueprint for the cure to the Flare with a final voluntary test.

What Wicked doesn’t know is that something’s happened that no Trial or Variable could have foreseen. Thomas has remembered far more than they think. And he knows that he can’t believe a word of what Wicked says.
The time for lies is over. But the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever imagine.
Will anyone survive the Death Cure?


Review:
I may not have enjoyed it, but I have at least finished the series (don’t mention the prequel, I’ll get round to it eventually but I was losing the will to read and needed a good book). 
As predicted, this was a pretty unsatisfying end to a very unsatisfying trilogy. With all the comparisons to The Hunger Games I had high hopes and they have not been met at all. The thing about The Hunger Games was that, whilst obviously never likely to happen, everything still managed to sound plausible. You could see how they’d got to that state and how the games were used to control people. But with this series, I’ve not been able to suspend disbelief at all. I just don’t buy any of it, even with the vague explanations in this final book, nothing made sense. 
I think the most interesting point in this book was finding out that one of them wasn’t actually immune to the Flare. But I think that it could have been written with a lot more emotional pull, because the way it went down didn’t really do it for me (I seem to use that phrase a lot when talking about these books). The whole thing with Newt’s note didn’t play out realistically for me: I know he could have been being irrational on purpose but it just all felt too contrived. 
A really minor point that bugged me was when Brenda had to explain what a mall was. The whole memory loss thing was inconsistent: if he knew what a bowling alley was, or a football field then why not a mall? Silly, I know, but inconsistencies like that really jar me. 
I could go on about the flat characterisation and unsatisfactory ending but I’m sure you’re used to hearing that from me now. Safe to say I didn’t enjoy this book either and doubt I’ll be revisiting the series. 
My Verdict:


   Take it or leave it

Book Review: The Scorch Trials (James Dashner)

Details:
Publisher: Chicken House

Pages: 359

Release Date: 2010

Summary (From Goodreads):
Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.
In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety… until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order— and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim… and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?
Review:
I’m not going to say too much about this book. I’m reading them all because it’s rare that I don’t finish a book/series, and there is a part of me (the bit that’s also a sucker for punishment) that wants to find out what happens in the end. But the more I read the more I feel like I’m not going to get any satisfying answers.

After escaping the Maze the Gladers find themselves back in another WICKED’s trials (or ‘games’) only this time it’s a lot less interesting than the Maze.

I do like the idea of the Flare, a kind of zombie like disease that eats away at the brain until all emotions and rationality is gone. It’s like giving the zombie genre a medical background and I think it’s a good idea. I just don’t like the story that goes with it.

The characters are still pretty flat and boring, Thomas and Teresa especially, while the others tend to blend into the background a lot (seriously, how many times does someone die and Thomas says it was a boy whose name he didn’t know/had never spoken to?) Thomas spends a huge portion of the book sleeping or passing out and is constantly being the ‘Chosen One’ without ever really doing anything special.

I didn’t like the love triangle type relationship that forced its way in with the introduction of Brenda. I didn’t like that Brenda and Teresa were constantly being described as ‘probably as tough as any of the boys’ as if girls can’t be tough in their own right without being compared to boys, who are obviously all tough (read with massive amounts of sarcasm). The whole betrayal thing at the end didn’t fool me at all, and I was really annoyed when it was explained away by saying that WICKED just wanted Thomas to feel betrayed. None of their explanations make sense!

This is going a bit ranty so I’ll draw it to an end. There’s plenty of action and intrigue in this book, but not enough character or, quite frankly, sense. The vague explanations of the Variables and patterns and what not just leave me feeling sceptical more than anything. It all seems like it’s trying very hard to be mysterious and I feel there’s not going to be a great pay off at the end.
My Verdict:

 

UKYA Extravaganza

So, after a month or so of waiting for it, and an amazingly epic blog tour, yesterday the UKYA Extravaganza finally happened in Birmingham.

I didn’t get off to the best start to the day. My little car died this week (RIP) and public transport is not my friend, but after one very slow bus, and an impressively quick walk/run to the train station and lots of directions from other people, I made it to the Birmingham High Street Waterstones.

(I should point out that I only live round the corner from Birmingham and it should not have been such a big thing. I know a lot of people travelled a lot further for it!)

As I am cursed with crippling shyness, I probably didn’t make the most of the event, but I’m just going to take baby steps for now and call it a success. I met Anna from Enchanted By YA which was great as we’ve spoken a fair bit online. I also met Georgina from Miss Chapter’s Reviews who was so friendly and easy to talk to, and helped me find cake, which is always good.

Author wise I got to meet Rachel Ward who I interviewed for the blog tour and it was great to meet her in person, and she also introduced me to Lucy from Queen of Contemporary, who leads the UKYAChats.

Money’s tight so I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but I couldn’t resist getting Sleepless by Lou Morgan so I could get it signed by her. We had a great chat and I can’t wait to read her book.

And I ended my time there chatting to Jim from YA Yeah Yeah and Debbie from Snuggling on the Sofa who were both so friendly I wish I’d spoken to them earlier in the day.

There were plenty of bloggers and authors I wish I’d spoken to, but I think I did okay for my first event. As a reader and a writer I found the whole thing so inspiring: it’s amazing just being in a room with people who love books as much as you do, and I really can’t wait for the next event.