Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Dogs

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I say I’m not the biggest fan of horror, and end up reading two in a row! Although maybe it is also fair to categorize The Dogs as a psychological thriller or murder mystery.

Award-winning Canadian author Allan Stratton has written a twisting, horrifying story about two separate cases of spousal abuse and murder occurring half a century apart, and converging in the present.

Cameron Weaver and his mother have been on the run for years from an abusive father he barely remembers. He doesn’t know the extent of what his mother endured, he just knows enough to always move when anything out of the ordinary happens.

He stops making friends as he gets older. It becomes easier to live in his own head, and have his own conversations, rather than become close to other kids and then feel the pain of leaving them behind like they never existed.

In Wolf Hollow, in the middle of nowhere, the past and present come together. Cameron begins to slowly uncover a 50 year old mystery on the farm he now calls home, drawing parallels to his life, and raising questions he’d never bothered with before.

The Dogs is a smalltown horror story that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. Cameron’s unstable life creates a mental anguish and chaos as he revisits the past abuses. He questions his sanity and his mother’s, questions what is true and what is just a figment of his overactive imagination, questions whether or not it was his father that was the problem, or, he wonders, was it his mother?

It takes some extraordinarily and psychologically gripping chapters for the truth to come out. Stratton’s ability to weave illusion and reality is stunning; I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what was real, who was real, and what Cameron’s exhausted brain was fabricating on its own.

The setting is eerily perfect. Stratton’s description draws on classic horror scenarios of a derelict house, a mysterious figure out in the barn, a sealed attic, a creepy coal room in the basement, shadowy woods, and the echoes of howling dogs in the distance.  Perhaps the weird neighbour with the meat-grinding machine in his barn is a bit cliché, but it certainly did not take away from the story!

Stratton wrote a really interesting teen in Cameron, but in order to make the story happen, has him make decisions that do not fit his personality. (Approaching the school bully for information about his family, when he has made your life miserable from day one, does not seem like something ANYone would do.) That said, his vacillation between imagination and truth is wonderfully written. The reader is left wondering which is which.

Cameron’s mother is believable, a woman always on the edge. Jacky is a perfect spectre from the past. The farmer, Sinclair, is appropriately mysterious and creepy. The other secondary characters move the story along well, but don’t really stand out for me.

I found the ending slightly rushed after all the build-up to it, but was by no means disappointed by the final result.

Appropriate for all teens, keeping in mind there are disturbing descriptions of domestic abuse and murder. But a fast read, and enjoyable for both fans of the genre, and those who want to give it a try.

The Dogs is published by Scholastic Canada.

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Anna Dressed in Blood

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I love murder mysteries, but have never been the biggest fan of the horror genre. It’s a bit much for my already over-active imagination.  Anna Dressed in Blood might change that. After reading book one of the series, I am looking forward to the second.

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual calling in life. He kills the dead. Well, he releases them. And only those that are dangerous, that threaten the living. He and his witch mother, her weird witch’s companion cat, and his athame (the mysterious knife he inherited from his father along with the job), follow hints and legends and hear-say, moving from city to city, ending the murderous rampages of the already dead.

His latest adventure takes him to Thunder Bay, Ontario (woooo!), where he is looking for a ghost that the locals refer to as Anna Dressed in Blood. This bloodthirsty spectre has haunted her former home for more than 50 years, since she herself was gruesomely dispatched the night of a school dance. Anyone who stumbles into the now-derelict shack is swiftly decapitated and torn limb from limb. Lovely. You are warned.

What Cas discovers when he confronts the ghost is one with more rage than he has ever dealt with in the past. She is uncontrollable, powerful and invincible, tossing him around like a tennis ball. But she doesn’t kill him. He, in turn, cannot release her to find the peace she craves. Her long ago murder holds the key.

Characters, setting, pacing, plot.  Loved it all. The characters are all relatable, well-written and believable (yes,even the ghost killing teen and the ghost herself. Anna is awesome.). The language is realistic – the occasional f-bomb from a 17 year old is expected, but so often avoided in YA lit.

Loved that the book is set in small town Ontario. The descriptions built a familiar landscape, are recognizable and authentic.  And when Cas said “…and Carmel and Thomas looked pale, even for Canadian kids,” I cracked up.

The book is fast paced and moves from one scene to another seamlessly.

I liked how author Blake did not end the book predictably. There was the easy, romantic pairing that I think would have taken away from the story as a whole, but she went in another direction. Good.

There are a few issues with the book, but none of them are game changers for me. Blake does not explain the history of the athame or of Cas’s family; what makes them so special that they are the only ones that can kill ghosts? What is the relationship between the athame and his father’s killer? It doesn’t make total sense to me.

Maybe these questions are answered in book two, which means I am going to have to go for it. Because I so need to know. And I thought I didn’t like horror.

By the way.  AWESOME cover.

There is a LOT of violence and gore in this novel, well-written, but there, nonetheless.  Be prepared. Otherwise, appropriate for any teen (and adult!) who can handle it.

Anna Dressed in Blood is published by Tom Doherty.

Solitaire

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Let me get this out of the way first.  I wanted to LOVE this book. I was looking forward to reading it. The plot sounded fantastic. And the PLOT was really good. BUT.

Oh. My. GAWD.  Someone stop me from reaching into this book and strangling Tori. Please. Violence of any sort should not be tolerated against a fictional character.

Tori Spring is stumbling through her last years in high school, not really fitting in, not really caring one way or the other. Her brother Charlie has some mental health issues that are never really explained, her mother is remote. She chances upon a website, Solitaire, that wants to challenge authority and make change at her school – but essentially, it goads teens into mob-like behaviour and mocks authority. She makes it her mission to find out who is behind it, as the behaviour escalates and people get hurt.

I know I’m supposed to be sympathetic to her character, but I just can’t. Sheesh. What a self-absorbed WHINER. Bitter, pessimistic, judgmental, toxic, pretentious, and convinced she is the only human out there that understands life. Enough with the teenage angst and no one understands me and I blog all the time and I hate reading and my life sucks and you’re too good for me and no one is real except me and I don’t like anyone. My mother is insufferable, my father recommends books to me. Poor me.

Look.  We were all misunderstood teens at some point or another. But Victoria Spring takes it to a whole new level. And I can’t decide whether that is awesome or not – is it worse to intensely hate a character, or to feel ambivalent about one? Author Alice Oseman obviously can evoke emotion in her writing!

I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the characters, really, although I seemed more drawn to the ones Tori judged unworthy of her attention.

The funny thing is that the story itself was very compelling.  I wanted to find out what Solitaire was, and who was behind it, and why. The idea is interesting; are today’s teens really just social media sheep? Is that really all it takes to incite violence? It didn’t seem totally unlikely. But the execution is painful at times. (For example: blasting one song all day over the school’s PA system that no one can stop? Ever heard of the “off” switch? Maybe pull the plug?)

Don’t even ask me about the supposed love triangle/interests, I have no idea. I’d smack all three of them and move on.

Any teen can read this, and maybe some will want to, if only to feel better about their own lives.

Solitaire is published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.

The Naturals (series)

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This two book series from Jennifer Lynn Barnes left me wanting a three book series. More, please. More murder and serial killers and plot-twists and FBI agents and sociopaths and suspense and teenage crime-solving phenoms. Please. And throw in just a little bit of romance for those who need it in their YA fiction.

17 year old Cassie has always been different.  Raised by her “psychic” mother until she was 12,  she has the natural ability to read and profile people, something that was helpful to her mother’s career.  After her mother is murdered, Cassie is sent to live with her extended Italian family, where she feels like she never quite fits. And then the FBI comes calling.

Cassie is recruited to become a Natural – one of a team of five teens all with preternatural abilities to profile, detect lies, read emotion or recall and decipher detail.  They consult on FBI cold cases, looking for clues that the agents may have missed. They see things others don’t, and in the process save lives and find killers. And then an open case hits close to home for Cassie. Her involvement puts her team at risk.

So.  Five teenagers – Cassie, Lia, Sloane, Michael and Dean – all with unusal abilities, dark pasts and conflicting personalities, living together in one house. Drama? What drama? I loved it. Teen angst and joy and selfishness and moodiness and disregard for rules times five. Barnes writes good teens, and develops her characters believably;  I was equal parts intrigued and irritated with them at all times.

I don’t usually like a love triangle, they are kind of overdone, yes?  But in this case, I could tolerate it.  So many times, the third person is just thrown in for the sake of it. This time, it worked. Who was the third?

The plot and the pacing are excellent; the action moves well. The FBI profiling was incredibly interesting (I’ve always been fascinated by it), and the Agents that dealt with the teens all had distinct personalities and worked well in the story. The plot twists were unexpected, the finale fantastic!

Barnes did not answer everything neatly in the first novel. It worked. There were still questions for the second book to address. How did the Naturals become what they are? Why are they special, and where do they come from? Which people or events from their pasts are creeping into and affecting the present?

Totally appropriate for all teens and the budding FBI agent. Easy to read, not overly gory, but just enough detail to intrigue. A fun page-turner that will keep you guessing.

The Naturals is published by Disney-Hyperion.