Book Review: Charlotte Says (Alex Bell)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: September 7th 2017

Summary (From Goodreads):

Following the death of her mother in a terrible fire, Jemima flees to the remote Isle of Skye, to take up a job at a school for girls. There she finds herself tormented by the mystery of what really happened that night.
Then Jemima receives a box of Frozen Charlotte dolls from a mystery sender and she begins to remember – a séance with the dolls, a violent argument with her step-father and the inferno that destroyed their home. And when it seems that the dolls are triggering a series of accidents at the school, Jemima realizes she must stop the demonic spirits possessing the dolls – whatever it takes.

Continue reading “Book Review: Charlotte Says (Alex Bell)”

Guest Post: Ambiguous Characters by Sharon Gosling

Today on the blog I am excited to welcome Sharon Gosling, author of the latest chilling book in the Red Eye series, Fir. She’s talking about ambiguous characters, something I found really interesting and different in her book.

So without further ado, welcome Sharon!


What’s in a Name?

 

I’ve always been fascinated by ambiguous characters in literature, especially when it comes to narrators. Reading a book as told by one character requires trust, doesn’t it? The reader knows nothing at all about the person telling the story – the first time we’ve ever meet them is when we turn to the first page of that book. So who’s to say that what they choose to tell us is the absolute truth? Even if they’re trying to tell us the truth, can they? A first-person perspective can’t but be subjective, can it? It’s not even necessarily that the narrator is deliberately setting out to lie to the reader. But we all know how the same events can seem vastly different when seen from a different perspective. One of my favourite episodes of The X Files is ‘Bad Blood’, in which we see the same events twice, from Scully’s point of view and also from Mulder’s. They’re seeing the same things, but the way they experience them is so completely different, not through an attempt at subterfuge, but just because their own personalities and expectations make them see things differently.

That goes for readers too, of course. One person’s response to a book can be vastly different to another’s for exactly the same reason – we all see things from a different angle, there are always different moments that strike us as significant or themes that stand out to one person that may not even occur to another.  

One of my favourite poems is Dialogue, by Adrienne Rich. The first time I read it, it was as part of a lecture about the role an author plays in the way a reader experiences a text. Is it necessary to know anything about the author, or is the author a surplus component once the text is written? I first read the poem without knowing who the writer was. Finding out that the writer was a woman and not a man as I had originally assumed not only made me think differently about the poem itself, but it also made me question my approach and how my own assumptions and preconceptions had altered my understanding of the text.

When I set out to write FIR, I thought it would be interesting to do something that might similarly challenge the reader. I decided to write the book from a first-person perspective, but never stipulate either a name or a gender for the narrator. The absence plays with larger themes of identity – if we don’t have a name, what permanence do we have in the world? If there comes a time when no one remembers our name, how would anyone know we had ever existed? – but it also makes the reader think about why they choose to think of the narrator as either female or male. What is it about the character’s actions and personality that leads the reader towards one or the other? Is it more about the reader’s perspective than it is about the character as written? It’s been interesting to talk to people who have read the book about whether they think the narrator is a boy or a girl. There seems to be a pretty equal split between readers who experience the narrator as female and those who think of the narrator as male. When I ask the reader why they’ve made their decision, though, most don’t seem to be absolutely sure as to the reason. Some point out that the narrator is a skateboarder and listens death metal, which they think of as being more of a boy’s interests than a girl’s, but then with more thought – often unprompted – the same readers observe that they also know girls who share those interests. Others who think of the reader as a girl cite the narrator’s relationship with the mother in the story. Others who are friends of mine say they think of it as a girl because they know me, they know I wrote it and they know I’m female, and without something to definitively tell them otherwise they think of me as they are reading.

So how do I, as the writer, think of the narrator? Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?


Thanks so much to Sharon for being on my blog today.

Check out my review of Fir here.

You can by Fir from Waterstones, Wordery, Amazon or your local bookstore

Follow the Tour

Fir Blog Tour

Book Review: Fir (Sharon Gosling)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 384

Release Date: February 9th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

We are the trees. We are the snow.

We are the winter.

We are the peace. We are the rage.

Cut off from civilization by the harsh winter of northern Sweden, the Stromberg family shelter in their old plantation house. There are figures lurking in the ancient pine forests and they’re closing in. With nothing but four walls between the Strombergs and the evil that’s outside, they watch and wait for the snows to melt.

But in the face of signs that there’s an even greater danger waiting to strike, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from illusion. All they’ve got to do is stay sane and survive the winter…

Review:

I love the Red Eye series of young adult horror books – when I first started reading these they were something really different for me and I loved it. 2 years on and I still get excited when a new one comes out – with this one I was lucky enough to get an invite only download on NetGalley, so thank you so much to Stripes for the copy!

The setting for this book is very creepy. Isolation is a big thing in horror and Fir does it perfectly: the Stromberg family move to an old plantation house in  a forest, cut off from civilization by distance, no internet, and harsh winter weather. The group of children studying the trees there leave for winter after a tragic accident and the family are left with just the creepy old maid Dorothea for company.

The novel built atmosphere well, not only with the isolation but the heavy presence of the trees and the unease as the family grows distant and starts to fall apart. The dad is determined to stay put and make things work, the mum is increasingly depressed and the child keeps seeing wolves and children outside in the snow. Dorothea tells them about the varulv, a forest spirit fused between a human and a wolf.

My main gripe with the book was that I didn’t connect with the main character. They were snarky and moody and quite typically teenage, but I didn’t feel they had much in the way of redeeming qualities. While I liked the story, I didn’t like their story, if that made sense. I got part way book and realised I didn’t know if they were a boy or girl, I couldn’t even remember their name. I thought that was me not reading it properly, but the more I read the more I realised this was on purpose. I won’t say why because I don’t want to spoil it, but this was one of my favourite parts of the book once I understood what was going on.

The ending was a bit frustrating in its ambiguity. After all the tension and fear, I wanted a bit more from the climax. I’m usually a fan of ambiguous endings but this was one I wanted to see more of. Still, I suppose it’s better to be left wanting more!

This was a really creepy book to read during winter – I only wish England had more snow to really match the atmosphere!

4

Book Review: The Haunting (Alex Bell)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: February 11th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Some curses grow stronger with time…
People say that all Cornish inns are haunted, but the Waterwitch’s history is particularly chilling. Built from the salvaged timber of a cursed ship, the guest house’s dark secrets go further back than anyone can remember.
Emma is permanently confined to a wheelchair after an accident at the Waterwitch which took place when she was ten. Seven years later, she decides to return to the place where the awful event occurred. But the ancient inn still has its ghosts, and one particular spirit is more vengeful than ever…

Review:

The first book I read in the Red Eye series was Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell and I completely loved it. It’s been by far the best in the series so I was really excited when I found out she was writing another one for them.

I found The Haunting a little slower than Frozen Charlotte, and definitely not as creepy. It’s probably unfair to compare the two so much, as they are different books (plus Frozen Charlotte had me unbelievably spooked) but I suppose it’s inevitable to do so when it’s a book in the same series, and by the same author.

I enjoyed seeing this book from different perspectives – Emma, who has been hurt by the Waterwitch’s curse before, Jem who doesn’t believe in witches or curses, and Shell, a witch herself who sees a lot more than everyone else, even if they don’t always believe her.

Despite the book being fairly evenly split between the three, I thought of Emma as the main protagonist, probably because we started the story with her. I loved her relationship with Bailey, her disability assistance dog, I was kind of dreading something bad happening to him the whole story (I won’t say whether it does or not – not spoilers here!) It was clear how much she loved and relied on him, and how much she would struggle, physically and emotionally if something were to happen to him. I think her being in a wheelchair added a real vulnerability to her character – she couldn’t just go upstairs to investigate strange noises, or run away when something frightened her, and that made for some tense reading.

I think the climax worked really well, but my one gripe was how definite it was – throughout the book I enjoyed Shell as a bit of an unreliable narrator. Sure, she thinks she’s seeing all these creepy things, but if no one else is then how do you know for sure? The ending made it very clear whether what she saw was real or not (again, no spoilers) but I think a bit of ambiguity would have added to the creepiness of the book.

Overall, another good read from Alex Bell and the Red Eye series, and a great way to kick off my 2016 reading (and one to add to my Horror Reading Challenge list)

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Book Review: Bad Bones (Graham Marks)

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 336

Release Date: May 4th 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Some things are best left buried. Gabe is feeling the pressure. His family has money troubles, he’s hardly talking to his dad, plus lowlife Benny is on his case. Needing some space to think, he heads off into the hills surrounding LA. And he suddenly stumbles across a secret that will change everything. A shallow grave. Gabe doesn’t think twice about taking the gold bracelet he finds buried there. Even from the clutches of skeletal hands. But he has no idea what he’s awakening…A chilling new story in the Red Eye series.

Review:

If you’ve been around my blog at all you’ll have seen reviews for all the books in the Red Eye series and I have been loving them – YA + horror, what’s not to love?

I have to say Bad Bones was probably my least favourite in the series so far. For me, it was less of a horror and more a mystery book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s less my cup of tea than horror, and this particular mystery just didn’t float my boat.

I liked Gabe as a protagonist and understood the dilemma in his position: when you’re that hard done by, and you see what looks like a quick way out, it’s so easy to just take it. Unfortunately in this kind of book, nothing’s ever that simple… It was easy to see how quickly things spiraled out of control, and I did so want things to work out for him.

I loved the friendships in this book more than anything. Anton is such a good friend to Gabe, even when he makes it hard, and you could really feel the bromance there! The blossoming relationship with Stella was also lovely to watch, and her character surprised me too: I had some theories about where she was going but I was completely wrong. There was also a lovely moment when Gabe’s sister was in danger – that was a real heart-in-the-mouth moment and probably one of the highlights of the book for me.

Unfortunately I just didn’t get into the plot. I found it a little slow and predictable, and it just wasn’t to my taste. I think I like a little more of the creepy/gory side of Red Eye than the slow building mystery – but that’s just me!

3

If you enjoyed this, you might like Frozen Charlotte, also in the Red Eye series.

Book Review: Dark Room (Tom Becker)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: September 10th 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

When Darla and her feckless dad, Hopper, move to Saffron Hills, Darla hopes it’ll be a new start for the both of them. But she stands no chance of fitting in with the image-obsessed in-crowd at her new school. Then one of her classmates is brutally killed when taking a photo of herself. A murder Darla herself predicted in a bloody vision. When more teens die in a similar fashion it appears that a serial killer is on the loose – the ‘Selfie Slayer’. Darla alone is convinced that the murderer might not be flesh and blood…

Review:

I’ve been a big fan of the Red Eye series since reading Frozen Charlotte at the beginning of this year. Horror is one of my favourite genres and I’m so glad that there’s a group putting out great horror for YA.

I loved the idea for this book: one feature of horror is often the fear of technology and changing times, and what’s more relevant at the moment than the selfie? You can scroll through social media without seeing one, they’re happening all around you in the street, and there’s even people in the news with selfie addictions. So to me this sounds like a perfect horror story.

I had wanted it to be a little more supernatural. I love the idea that even taking a selfie can cause your death somehow: kind of reminiscent of the old Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die book (one my sister used to read to scare me before bedtime). In that way, the book didn’t quite live up to my expectation.

There were other elements that I loved though. Darla is a great protagonist: you can’t help but feel for her as she moves from one life to the next, and when she moves to Saffron Hills you do hope things will work out for her, even though you know it won’t… I wasn’t too sure about the friends she managed to make, and they did put me off a little, but I think this was intentional, as you’ll see when you read it.

I did manage to guess the killer around half way through, which was a little disappointing, but there’s a lot of details that go around that which I couldn’t have guessed at all, so there were still some surprises there for me. I loved (if that’s the right word?) some of the murders too: they were very graphic and I could picture it in such horrific detail that it did make me feel uncomfortable. This is definitely not one for the faint hearted!

This is another hit for the Red Eye series and I do hope it continues in this way. I’ve yet to find a book that creeped me out as much as Frozen Charlotte did – I want to issue that as a challenge to Red Eye, because I am so ready to be scared!

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like Frozen Charlotte, also in the Red Eye series.