Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Call

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This is the type of horror that seeps into your brain and wanders around, taking over your dreams and worming its way into your sub-conscious. Irish folklore with a twisted twist.

Ireland has been cut off from the rest of the world for a quarter century. Thousands of years after the Sidhe were defeated by the Irish and driven to a nightmarish otherworld, the fairy folk have gathered their strength and returned to fight for their land. To do so, they issue the Call, wherein every Irish child at some time during adolescence systematically disappears and is brought to the Grey Land to fight for his or her life.  1 in 10 return alive. And they, 3 minutes and 4 seconds after they disappear, return to Ireland changed forever, distorted and twisted, physically and psychologically.

15-year-old Nessa awaits her Call. She has lost countless friends and family and knows that  her chances of survival depend on her wits more than her strength. Because she has another challenge. Childhood polio left her legs weak and twisted, and outrunning the hunters will be nearly impossible for her. She trains every waking moment to be prepared for the hunt. But even reading the hundreds of Testimonies from survivors cannot prepare anyone for the horror that awaits.

The world building in this novel is flat-out amazing. This is fantasy horror, and Peadar Ó Guilín has nailed it. Dystopian Ireland is a land of terror. Teens live in fear of the Call, parents of losing their children to it. They are cut off from the rest of the world, technology is useless, communications barely survive, and the world has abandoned them. The children are sent away to schools to learn survival tactics, and Year One classes of 60 dwindle to three or fewer by Year Seven, as one by one they are Called.

And the Grey Land more than lives up to that simple description. In a dimension without colour, where time has slowed, there are ugly, twisted, vicious monsters that used to be human. They chase the thieves (what the Sidhes call the Irish teens) to torture and kill. The Called must survive a full day in the Grey Land, but everything there is deadly. The absolute horror of hunting dogs that upon closer inspection were once people, twisted viciously out of shape. The cloaks of the Sidhe, made from human skin. Flora and fauna that had their origins in the Many-Coloured Land of Ireland now haunt and demonize the Grey Land. And the Sidhe themselves, beautiful fairy folk that live for vengeance and can maim with a mere touch.

Nessa is an ordinary girl in an extraordinary situation. She recognizes that in order to survive she has to harden her heart against any distraction, including friendship and love. Cold and aloof, she pushes away her fellow trainees, not ever wanting to be moved from her training and focus. But try as she might to be alone, there are those that ignore her cool exterior and strong arm her into friendship. Megan is one such girl; she is an irreverent redhead who embraces life with as much force as Nessa ignores it.

Conor, Anto, Liz, and Aoife are characters that play a huge role in Nessa’s life, some for good and some for evil. Other characters are met only as they receive the Call; they are the ones that suffer the greatest in the Grey Land but survive the least amount of time. The adults in the story are very much in back ground, as they watch their Nation’s future stolen away from them.  Many work to train the youngsters to survive, studying the Testimonies of the survivors looking for clues to help give an edge to the teens, but in the end are as helpless as those that are Called.

This book is brutal and dark and bloodthirsty. Through the images of horror and fear, it examines the causes and costs if war. We all know that history is written by the victors, but beyond that, how is responsibility determined? Who bears the guilt of past wrongs? Who must pay?

Another horror novel that is not for the faint of heart, although I suspect any teen that reads it will handle the fear better than I and enjoy the fast-paced action and imaginative monstrosities within. But I may never sleep again.

The Call was published August 30th, 2016 by David Fickling Books.

Alice in Zombieland (White Rabbit Chronicles #1)

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Full disclosure: I have had this novel sitting on my shelves for at least two or three years, and have been unable to bring myself to open it. I hate zombies. Can’t handle them. Can handle vampires, ghosts, monsters, witches, you name them, I like them.  But zombies?  Just EW.  But it is Hallowe’en month and sacrifices must be made. So I read it. And I regret waiting so long. Because this one is fun.

Maybe because this is not your typical zombie novel.  Yes, there is fleshing-eating grossness and ooze and snacking on humans.  But there is also a sweet love story and lots of humour that had me giggling throughout.

Alice Bell is a fairly typical teenager, with a few important exceptions. Blond and pretty, she adores her younger sister Emma, and copes with her eccentric parents. Well, not eccentric so much as irrational and deranged. Her father is an out-of-control alcoholic and convinced that monsters are real, even though no one can see them. Alice’s mother loves him and supports his every whim. So at age 16, Alice has never been allowed out of the house after dark, or near a cemetery, or near anyone who would try to convince her leave the house after dark or go near a cemetery, all of which can throw a wrench in any teenager’s life. 

But in one tragic second, she discovers that the alcoholic father she dismissed as insane was not. The monsters are real. And now Alice becomes Ali and fights the undead, the monsters that stole her family.  And along the way, she might get the chance to be a “normal” teenager for the first time.

As a retelling, this one is not close to the original at all, which is fine. There are references to the white rabbit and mad parties and evil grins and of course Alice, but Carroll’s story is more of an inspiration than a framework for this novel.

The zombies in this Alice are not the kind we usually see on TV or read about. Shuffling, decaying, mindless monsters, yes, but these ones exist only in the spirit world, are not visible to all, and must be fought in their realm. They are attracted to fear and death and horror and hurt only those that can see them. These are zombies even I can tolerate. (They are still gross and ooze black gunk, but fine, I don’t have to picture them in a horde chasing me.)

Alice is a strong main character. She is smart, independent, fierce, loyal and doesn’t take crap from anyone. She can also be whiny and self-absorbed. Her  self-worth and sense of humour remain intact even as her world has been destroyed, and she not only has to come to terms with the fact that she had a minor part to play in it but also that she has spent her life looking down on her father and dismissing his beliefs, while all along he adored her and was just looking out for her safety.

Best friend Kat is fun, feisty and a bit wild. But she too knows her own self-worth and doesn’t let anyone – ex-boyfriends and fairweather friends included – tell her who she is. She has her own secrets and isn’t afraid to admit when she is out of her depth, and while I wondered about her motivations at first, it becomes clear through the story that she is who she is, and loyalty is one of her most important qualities.

The boys in the novel are really supporting characters for the cast of bad-ass girls. Tough guy Cole is the typical bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold, but I like him.  OK, the intense violet eyes and love at first sight visions of passion are a *bit* over the top, but I can deal. He has a tough job and he carries it out with purpose and passion, all the while managing to look hot and flirt with Ali. Their dialogue is humorous and they have good chemistry, although perhaps the back-and-forth bantering between them goes on a bit long. What I do like is they are equal. Ali is not mooning around, hoping the sexy tough guy will choose her. And while Cole had the upper hand in knowledge and experience of the world she is about to enter, Ali makes it perfectly clear that she stays on her terms, not his.

Nana and Pops bring Ali home to live with them and there are moments that swing between absolute hilarity and sadness as they try to cope with having a teen in their home again, while also dealing with the loss of family themselves. I cringed alongside Ali as they questioned the boys she brought home, laughed at the slang they picked up in their research of current teenage language and cried at their heartbreak.

There is the violence to be expected from a zombie novel, but the gore factor is pretty mild. This is not the book for you if you want a hard-core zombie apocalypse but definitely is if you enjoy a fun romance with a side of zombie beat-down. Books 2 and 3, Through the Zombie Glass and The Queen of Zombie Hearts, are going on my to-read list.

Alice in Zombieland was published September 25th, 2012 by Harlequin Teen.

Three Dark Crowns (#1)

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Kendare Blake has done it again. This is fantasy and horror at their best.

The island of Fennbirn eagerly awaits its next queen. The inhabitants have been ruled by the Black Council for the past 10 years, but the time is coming for the Queen to take her rightful place. But who will be Queen remains a mystery. For now.

Every royal generation starts as three. Triplets are born to the current Queen, who gives up her Crown and her children and disappears.  The three girls possess magic and are equal heirs to the throne, fostered out from age 6 until the night they turn 16 years old. Then the fight begins. Will it be Katherine the poisoner, Arsinoe the naturalist, or Mirabella, controller of the elements?  The young queens must fight each other in order to claim the crown. Only one can live.

Let me start by saying I AM SO HAPPY THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL!  I will buy the hardcover and put it on my shelf next to this one and build a shrine to the series and look at them every day. (That’s normal, right?? Right. My precious…)

Fantasy requires extensive world building, and in Three Dark Crowns it is fabulous. Thankfully, the novel starts with a detailed map, something every fantasy should have on page one. Add in Blake’s descriptions and the island comes alive, immersing me in each village and manor and gathering place. I visited the forests of Wolf Spring, experienced storms over the cliffs of Rolanth, and watched the Black Council in action at Ingrid Down.

Katherine is the Heir Apparent. The last three generations of Queens have been poisoners. Poisoners are perfectly creepy. They wear only black and ooze attitude and superiority. They turn up their noses at untainted food and enjoy showing off their power by ingesting poisons in all their food and drink. Except Katherine’s gift doesn’t seem to have fully developed. Poison makes her ill. She is weak and thin, and the odds of her winning the Crown seem to slip away with each passing day. Her guardian, Natalia, will not let that happen. Her family has served the poisoner Queens for generations, and she will not let the line end with Katherine.

Arsinoe is the naturalist queen. Picture a hippie commune where everyone talks to animals and hugs trees. Arsinoe should be able to make fruit ripen and blooms grow and fish and game leap to her table. She should have a powerful animal familiar as her companion. Except she suffers from the same fate as her poisoner sister. Her gift has yet to appear. Her best friend Jules is the most powerful naturalist of her generation and strives to cover for Arsinoe’s weaknesses.

Mirabella has the strength that her two sisters lack. Elementalists are self-assured and have swagger. And Mirabella has power. She brings storms and controls fire and commands the waters and the earth. And she is beautiful. But she has her own weakness, one that would put her in danger if ever discovered. Mirabella alone of the three queens remembers their lives together, and misses their companionship. But the hopes of the elementals rest on her powerful shoulders and she cannot fail them.

There are love interests and consorts and backstabbing politics and wonderfully unexpected friendships. I am not usually the biggest fan of the love triangle, but this one  added a whole new layer to the story. Giselle, Pietyr, Sara, Luca, Rho, Joseph, Billy, Bree, Elizabeth and so many more supporting characters add a myriad of relationships throughout, and make the Queens so much more real.

There are twists and turns in the story throughout. And while I loved the entire book, it does take some time to build the characters and relationships, so the pacing is much slower for the first half.  It was the last few chapters that had me turning pages almost before I’d finished reading them. And the ending. Holy crap, the ENDING. I did NOT see any of it coming. What an epic cliffhanger!

If there is one weakness to the novel, it is that the histories of the Goddess and the Queens and the Island are hinted at, but not fully explained. I am hoping more is revealed in the second book.

Read this one. There is violence and gore, and some very PG-13 sex, but is still appropriate for the entire YA range.

Three Dark Crowns was published September 20th, 2016 by HarperTeen.

Pretty Wicked

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I’ve been in terrible reading slump combined with a post-Thanksgiving food coma (and pure unadulterated laziness) since I finished Esperanza Rising, and have DNF’d 4 or 5 books. But then I picked up this one, and everything changed. Pretty Wicked is a perfect horror read for Hallowe’en, but you better have a strong stomach.

Ryann is 15 years old and living in the small town of Dungrave, Colorado. She is a straight A student, a top cheerleader, blond, pretty, and popular. Her father is a police officer. She is also a sociopath and a serial killer. She has spent all her free time since she was about 8 years old planning the perfect murder. And now it is finally time. And what a rush.

But she can’t stop at one. Because Ryann wants to be one of The Greats. She wants to be one of those killers of whom people speak with gruesome relish and reverent hushed tones. She wants to be one of the ones that never gets caught and leaves a legacy of fear and terror. She loves to hear people talk about what she has done, although she wishes they could know who is responsible.

Can the perfect 15 year old pull off the perfect crime spree?

The characters in this novel are unusual, to say the least.

The vast majority of the book is told from Ryann’s point of view. But being inside her mind is both terrifying and fascinating, and it actually feels wrong at times to be in her head and be unable to stop her actions. The psychology behind the acts is mind-bogglingly addictive to read about, the thought process is abhorrent, but reading this book is somewhat akin to driving slowly past a car wreck on the highway. It was impossible to put down, even as the sane part of my brain was telling me to stop.

Ryann is the perfect daughter and the perfect friend. Popular and friendly, but truly remote and a loner. She keeps her distance, both physically and mentally, from everyone, but no one really sees it. She works hard to make her parents proud, and loves them, but also secretly looks down on them. Her mother is a diner waitress, and her father doesn’t know he has a killer living in his house. Ryann believes that she is smarter than everyone.

The surrounding characters are as well developed and psychologically intense as Ryann. Best friend Bao-yu has her own quirks and excesses and is the perfect foil for Ryann. “B” is a gamer and spends hours online with a like-minded group, giving Ryann the chance to be the social and popular one in their relationship, and control their times together. Lucas and Asad both lead the reader on a bit of a wild-goose chase as the story develops and Ryann starts to feel the net closing around her.

Dad is a perfectionist  – she gets 97 on an exam, and he asks what happened to the other 3.  It is subtle yet profound pressure to be perfect, and Ryann has a deep desire to best her father. He, the well-respected cop, the solver of crimes, has a daughter committing the most heinous of murders right beneath his nose, and he has no idea.

The POV jumps just a couple of times, from Ryann to Detective Estevez. It was jarring, but good. Estevez is a textbook cop, toeing the line and lacking in humour. But he can see what Ryann’s dad doesn’t, the lack of soul in Ryann’s eyes, the ego that longs to be recognized, the horror that lies beneath.

And Officer Knox. I did NOT see that coming.

Author Kelly Charron places the reader right in the mind of a twisted teenager and explores the psychology underlying her actions. Was Ryann born that way, or did something happen to trigger the behaviour? She doesn’t come from a broken home or tough circumstances, she isn’t abused. She has a good upbringing, is an A student, head cheerleader, well-liked, familiar, and normal. But she is pure evil.

She is a fabulous villain. Perfectly written.

Obviously, the reader knows who the killer is right from the start. But there are twists and turns to the investigation right up until the end. Will she be caught, or will she be one of The Greats and get away with everything? The second half of the book is extremely intense and suspenseful; as Ryann starts to make mistakes and struggles to correct them I found myself unwillingly rooting for her. And I’m not sure why. She is without emotion or empathy, she takes pleasure in pain, and yet I held my breath every time she was interviewed or evidence was discovered.

This is a psychological thriller with unexpected moments of dark comedy. It has extremely graphic and violent content, and is probably more appropriate for the upper end of the YA range. And any adult who doesn’t mind sleeping with the lights on.

Pretty Wicked was published September 30th, 2016 by Dark Arts Publishing.