Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Graveyard Book

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For my final Hallowe’en-esque post, I chose The Graveyard Book. As with Riordan and Oppel, Neil Gaiman can do no wrong, in my humble opinion. His writing is smart and witty and original. (Oh! Good Omens! Now there’s a Hallowe’en read! Witches, the Anti-Christ, the Four Horsemen, and a hellhound that likes to chase sticks, get his ears scratched, and sniff his own butt. What’s not to love? But I digress…)

Gaiman’s story of a young boy raised by ghosts is a fabulous Hallowe’en tale, without the terror of a horror story. There are grisly and creepy elements, including the opening scene multiple murder and the constant shadowy threat, but it is also sweet and gentle and shows the kindness of strangers. Dead ones.

After a horrible night when his entire family is murdered, a young toddler miraculously escapes the carnage and wanders into the nearby graveyard. Unsure of how to deal with the sudden young life, the ghosts of the graveyard decide to raise and educate the boy themselves, and protect him from the still-present threat. Dead 300 years, Mr and Mrs Owens take him as their own, into their crypt, and name him. Nobody Owens.

Bod is given Freedom of the Graveyard, so he can see in the dark, and communicate and see the ghosts, and also learn their ways of fading into the mists and darkness. Bod has wondrous adventures in the graveyard, learns about himself, learns how to make friends, and learns what it will be like to live away from death one day.

Silas is a great protector and teacher, his ghostly guardians, the graveyard itself are all so beautifully developed and so relevant to Bod and his story. Under their care, the young boy becomes an independent man with a good head and a loving heart, able to look after himself in a world where evil still lurks.

In the end, The Graveyard Book is about family. Family that you are born into, and family that is created. Although haunted and eerie, it paradoxically never loses the optimism and joy of a young man growing up and learning to how to live. A tribute to Kipling’s The Jungle Book, “It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will take a graveyard.”

Gaiman’s writing is poetic and visual and imaginative, humorous and mystical and riveting. Every word adds to the images, done effortlessly.

The story is appropriate for any age, but there is a murder, so may not be for everyone.

Happy Hallowe’en, everyone!!

The Graveyard Book is published by Harper Collins.

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Department 19 (series)

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A violent, gory, action-packed, graphic, fast-paced thrill-ride. There are vampires and blood and weapons and monsters and exploding body parts. Not a sparkle in sight.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not a story. It is a history lesson. And it is shocking.

16 year old Jamie Carpenter has been in a hateful funk since his father, Julian, was killed in a shootout with the government two years ago, when they tried to take him away on terrorism charges. His mother’s kidnapping by an ancient vampire snaps him out of that. He learns of a secret organization, Department 19, dedicated to keeping humanity safe from vampires. Obviously not always fulfilling its mandate, as his mother can attest. How does he find out about it? Frankenstein tells him. Yes, that Frankenstein. (I love him. He’s a big softie, for an oversized grey-green monster).

Department 19 of the British government does not exist. Officially. Founded by none other than Abraham Van Helsing and his co-horts, after they discovered Dracula was not the lone monster terrorizing the world. Dracula’s faithful lieutenants, brothers Alexandru and Valentin and Valeri, the next oldest and most powerful vampires in existence, rule in his stead, turning new vampires, and waiting for him to rise again.

Jamie is descended from one of the founding members of Department 19; his father was one of the organization’s top vampire fighters. And he’s probably rolling in his grave to learn that Janie has hooked up with a vampire girlfriend.

The plot of this series is new. It is detailed and international in flavour. There are companion departments in the US and Russia and China, to name just a few countries fighting the threat alongside Britain. International cooperation and intrigue add to the story.

The characters are extremely all well drawn and developed. OK, to be honest, I didn’t really like Jamie all the time. He comes across as a bit whiny and poor me and no one understands the pain I am in. An angsty teen. But he is a teenage boy, loyal to family and friends, who has dealt with the death of his father and the kidnapping of his mother and the discovery of vampires. So maybe we’ll give him a pass.

The secondary characters, if you can call them that, fit into the story perfectly. Distinct, strong personalities, each one the reader can picture in action, saving the world from the scourge that becomes stronger by the day. All are equally important to the plot. Larissa and Valentin totally rock.

The detail is fabulous and credible. Everyone knows there really are secret government departments dealing with everything from aliens to vampires to zombies, don’t they? Every shadow in the night has become a vampire for me, and I really want my own purple ultraviolet flashlight and t-bone rifle! How cool is that? Aim just so, pull the trigger and whammo! Exploding vampire.

The five book series follows the first years of Jamie’s training and development as a top lieutenant in Blacklight, the unofficial name of Department 19. The rise of Dracula, the death and capture of different vampires, the eternal fight against darkness, are all chronicled with precision and ingenuity. This is a great, imaginative, new, vampire series.

Books 1 – 4 were gripping, and, although long, fast-paced. I can’t say the same for the 5th book, unfortunately. The story is good, the writing excellent, but it crawls in places. Too much emotion, not enough action.

Make no mistake, these are really good reads, but they are VIOLENT. (i.e.: When the vampires die, they do NOT crumble into dust, or disappear in a flash of light. No, they explode. Everywhere. In a shower of blood.) Not for the squeamish or the faint of heart.  I’m not wimpy about blood, but even for me, it was a bit graphic in places. So while these are definitely YA novels, they may be for the upper age bracket.

The Department 19 series is published by Razorbill.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

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Continuing the theme of “let’s make sure I never fall asleep with the lights off again”, I just read Slasher Girls & Monster Boys. A collection of short stories, mostly horror, some edge-of-your-seat thriller, these will scare the pants off you. I think my hair turned grey. Grey-er.

This is not an anthology where you need to pick and choose the stories you read. There were a few that did not appeal to me so much; I found the pure horror most gripping, with the psychological thrillers a close second, but they were all GOOD.

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma. Inspired by films Rear Window and The Birds. SO creepy and mind-bending and eerie..

In the Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan. Holy CRAP. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland, it will FREAK. YOU. OUT. That is one sick tea party.

Emmeline by Cat Winters. Inspired by films All Quiet on the Western Front and Nosferatu, this one is beautifully written, but more supernatural than horror. Sad.

Verse, Chorus, Verse by Leigh Bardugo. This one is actually inspired by Nirvana’s “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seatle.” Not my favourite story of hers, or of the book, but still a high creep factor.

Hide and Seek by Megan Shephard. Inspired by films Final Destination and The Crow and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. I LOVED this one. I loved the folklore and mysticism and the relationship with Death. Shepherd is SO good.

The Dark, Scary Parts and All by Danielle Paige. Inspired by the film The Omen and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I really liked this one, although the heroine lost me a bit at the end. That said, anything with the Prince of Darkness in it can’t be all bad.

The Flicker, The Finger, The Beat, The Sigh by April Genevieve Tucholke. Inspired by Stephen King’s Carrie and the film I Know What You Did Last Summer. A bit predictable. I didn’t know what stories had inspired it when I started reading it, but guessed right away.

Fat Girl With A Knife by Jonathan Maberry. Inspired by films Zombieland and Night of the Living Dead. Zombies. ZOMBIES. I am not so good with the zombies. Vampires, ghosts, mystical beings, aliens – I can handle them all. Zombies freak me out. I am freaked out.

Sleepless by Jay Kristoff. Inspired by the film Psycho. SO good. Compelling, creepy, eerie.

M by Stefan Bachmann. Inspired by the film M and the tv series Upstairs, Downstairs. What is it about children singing that can bring the chills?

The Girl Without A Face by Marie Lu. Inspired by the film What Lies Beneath. Horror, pure and simple.

The Girl Who Dreamed of Snow by McCormick Templeman.  Inspired by the film Kuroneko.  This one didn’t strike me as horror, although there was an element in the story. This was more of a supernatural mystery. With human sacrifice. So maybe horror.

Stitches by A. G. Howard. Inspired by Frankenstein. Oh. My. GOD. LOVE. So creepy and horrific and dark and terrible. I want to read it again.

On the I-5 by Kendare Blake. Inspired by films Death Proof and The Hitcher. Truck stop terror and revenge.

If you are smart (i.e.: NOT me), do NOT sit down and read them all in one go (i.e.: ME), or you will spend the next few days hiding under the blankets. With all the lights on.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is published by Dial Books.

Doll Bones

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Dolls are creepy. Porcelain dolls are really creepy. One possessed by a ghost goes to the top of the list of creepy. If that still isn’t enough for you, add in a graveyard, ghost-invaded dreams, and various inexplicable noises, winds and odd people. Now are you creeped out?

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been best friends for years, years counted by the imaginative games they have played throughout, with pirates and queens and thieves and mermaids. The Great Queen has been their ruler, a vintage bone china doll that Poppy’s mom keeps behind glass doors.

But middle school brings changes.  Zach has suddenly grown, and not only is he one of the team’s better basketball players, girls are starting to giggle when he walks by. He finds that a bit odd and disconcerting. But the games remain the same with Poppy and Alice, even though he feels he has to hide his participation in them when “the guys” are around. And his somewhat distant father, in an attempt to man him up, trashes his action figures while Zach sleeps.

Zach is 12. So of course he doesn’t want his best friends to know why he won’t play with them any more. Rational? Of course not. But who knows what goes on in the mind of a pre-teen boy? (I have two living in my house right now, and I am scared to venture a guess.) Poppy and Alice sense the change that is going on, and both fight against it in their own distinct way: Poppy tries to cling to childhood, and Alice just wants everything to be over.

The middle school years are the worst. You’re not a teen yet, you’re too old to be a kid, things are changing, there is drama in everything. Life blows. But seriously, if you have a creepy doll that is made from the body of a murdered girl, and possessed by her spirit, wouldn’t that change things? For the better? No?

Doll Bones follows the three friends as they go on what they hope will be an epic quest to free the doll’s soul. (Which is actually boring, ’cause there are no terrible monsters to battle, valiant horses to ride, Olympian food to eat, or even water to drink. There is a lot of boring bus rides and walking. The need for sunscreen is never mentioned when the Hobbits quest.) Along the way they discover things they didn’t know about each other, and get to the heart of the changes they are all experiencing.

Holly Black has written what is truly a coming-of-age story. The creepy doll and the ghost story are a fabulous background and framework for the absolute suckage it is to grow up and change sometimes. And it has the requisite road trip, so what else can you ask for?

When really scary is too much, this book is entertaining. A quick read with the right balance of creepiness and fun to capitvate any middle grade reader, and the parents.

Doll Bones is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books.

The Girl From the Well

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THIS is horror. I take back everything I ever said about not liking horror books. The Girl From the Well is amazing. Talk about spine-chilling psychological drama.

We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night.

A dead girl walks the streets. Okiko hunts those who hurt children, much like the man who threw her own body down a well, 300 years ago. She punishes them horrifically, as her ghost seeks to free the souls of the children who have been harmed. Only when their death and pain is avenged, and their souls released, can she feel warmth and love, for a scant moment.

A re-telling of a traditional Japanese ghost story, The Girl From the Well keeps the classic elements of empty eyes, white clothing and dangling hands and feet of the yūrei, (the ghost of one who has died in a sudden or violent manner, and has not received proper funeral rites to release the soul),  but expands Okiko’s role into that of a hunter. She is able to leave Japan in order to exact retribution.

Okiko is drawn to Tark, a tormented 15 year old boy, scarred not only by his mother’s mental illness, but also by the mystical tattoos that cover his body. He can see the ghost, but he can also see the dark figure that sometimes looks back at him in the mirror, and he lives his life on the edge of anger and pain.

The mystery of the dark woman is what keeps Okiko close to Tark. She knows he will require her help in order to escape the curse he carries. It is not a romance, but there is love and sacrifice.

This story is told from Okiko’s perspective, in both her voice, and in the third person.  She is a gentle killer, if such a paradox can exist.

Rin Chupeco is a master at building tension. Each scene is carefully crafted to maximize brain stress. Her writing is gorgeous, poetic in places, edgy in others. Words are not wasted; each serves to build the story, and terror and horrific danger hit in the most unexpected places.

The characters are well written. Tark is a troubled teen, his dad remote and somewhat lost. His cousin Callie, open to helping him, believes his stories of the white and dark women that haunt him.

And once again, the cover got me. It is stark and stunning, and evokes the same emotion as reading the novel.

The Girl From the Well is the first of a two book series. I will read the second, The Suffering, when I can stop checking under my bed at night and can turn off the lights. Locking the doors won’t help you with this one.

It is graphic and gory and is probably best suited for an older teen, or you, if you are brave enough…

The Girl From the Well is published by Sourcebooks Fire.

Fang Girl

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It’s October!  One of my favourite months.  I love fall and red and orange leaves and crisp air. So in honour of Hallowe’en, I thought I’d read some horror. Or, at the very least, terrifying vampire fiction. Instead, I got Fang Girl. SO FRIKKIN’ FUNNY.

15 year old Xanthe Jane wakes up in a coffin, and immediately figures out that she is a vampire. Cool. Or, it should be cool. It should be everything fiction and movies and fan sites have said it would be. Being a vampire should be an angsty, pale, supernatural experience. At the very least, brooding and sexy. But Jane finds out it is nothing like that. Although her acne does clear up. And she accidentally turns her goldfish. It’s a badass pet, but still. Not an auspicious start to her life as the undead terror.

And SERIOUSLY. Why couldn’t she have been turned a couple of months later?  To be 15 forever? SO not cool.

Hysterical. HYSTERICAL. Helen Keeble has taken vampire mythology and contemporary fiction (looking at you, Twilight and Vampire Diaries) and turned them upside down. Forget garlic. You want to get away from a vampire, throw a handful of rice in front of them. De-alphabetize their bookshelves. Mess up their spice cupboard. Arrange their socks randomly. Vampires are seriously OCD. I had no idea. They have to tidy up before they feed.

Jane is a fabulous character. She is totally relatable, with a great voice. Smart, smart-ass, clumsy and brave. Her undead life has just begun, and she is already facing ordinary-but-not-really teen challenges. Her annoying-yet-loveable 12 year old brother Zach has decided she’s a zombie instead of a vampire, which is just another fight she doesn’t have time for. Her parents think it best for her to turn them into vampires, so she will always have someone to look after her, because they don’t think she can look after herself. Practical, when you think about it, and so typical of parents.

All the characters are great. And as present and distinct, and integral to the story, as Jane is herself. Her over-protective parents, her steampunk-obsessed brother, the dark and brooding (but not really) 200 year old Ebon, Van Helsing the hot, ripped vampire hunter, seductive Lily, evil genius Sarah, Hakon the elder – each and every character stands out and adds so much depth to a smart, humourous, quirky read.

The plot itself is a great mix of mystery and the supernatural, and the “bad guy” is not obvious. And, with the exception of a few moments where Jane pines for her brooding soulmate, there is no romance to distract from the story.

Holy crap. Anyone can read this book, and everyone should. If it doesn’t make you laugh your ass off, nothing will. You are undead to me.

Fang Girl is published by HarperTeen.

Chained (Cage of Lies)

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Book one in the Cage of Lies series, Chained, has pretty much everything you look for in a post-apocalyptic YA novel. Annihilation, oppression, survival, kick-ass heroes and heroines. But the execution will surprise you.

The Wall is the saviour of humanity after the epidemic that decimated the world. Leaving the protection of the Wall means certain death by contamination, and the Guardians serve to protect the population. Or so 16 year old Maya believes. Until the day she is sentenced to the SubWar, the brutal prison system used to keep the population in check, as punishment for an unintentional blunder that put her city at risk. After weeks of survival training, she is forced to make a choice – enter the wasteland, or be hunted down and killed. And she discovers that not everyone outside the wall died. Some live a life of freedom, and some are less than human.

Chained is creative. And unexpected.

The plot is twisty, exciting and inventive. It moves along at a great pace, slowing down about two thirds of the way in, but then rushing right back through to the end. There is no cliffhanger, just the promise of more to come.

The world building is incredibly imaginative; our world turned upside down due to cataclysmic events that play on some of our current fears about science and genetic manipulation. Vast towers of glass and steel, behind a great Wall that soars so high it blocks out the sun, house the population, and retinal scanners and CCTV keep tabs on everyones’ movements and schedules. Life is controlled and regulated for everyones’ protection. Outside the Wall is an endless wasteland, poisoned and useless.

The world that Maya escapes to is less defined, in more ways than one. A collective maybe? While there does seem to be a hierarchy of sorts, there is little explanation of how the society functions. But they do have a mission: free the cities, let the population know it is safe to leave the Wall.

The characters I found to be likeable and relatable.  Maya, Laurie, Alicia and Coal are all distinct individuals, with strong personalities. They stood out, as they should. The Creepers are vile and disturbing. Sort of a cross between a wild animal and a zombie.

That said, they are all a bit too gullible for me to completely believe in them. Although we do find out what happened to shape the world into its present condition, the information isn’t detailed quite enough for me to accept that everyone just fell into line, blindly and unquestioningly following protocol and orders.

How was everyone herded into the cities less than 100 years before? How was the city prepared without raising suspicions? Even as Maya catches a glimpse of how the elite live, she does not stop to wonder at the inequality. Further exploration into the control of the population would be great. Was it just fear of the unknown?

The shock and wonder that Maya and Laurie feel as they enter the outside for the first time is believable, although they seem to deprogram a bit more quickly than I would have expected. And Taylor, so important to Maya, did disappear a bit too conveniently for most of the story.

These issues do not take away from what is an excellent story. The second book in the series, Linked, will hopefully answer some of the questions.

Appropriate for any teen.

The Cage of Lies series is published by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.