Tag Archives: horror

The Call

unknown

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)

unknown

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)

unknown

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

unknown

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.

Stalking Jack the Ripper

unknown-1

I have been waiting and waiting for this novel to come out, and was so afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Not only is the cover stunning, that incredible first sentence grabs you and won’t let go for the rest of the novel.

17-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth wants to be a scientist. Specifically, a forensic scientist, helping Scotland Yard solve murders and various crimes though post mortem examination of victims. The trouble is, Audrey Rose is the daughter of a lord in 1880’s London, and she should be attending teas and social outings, not cutting into dead bodies and searching for clues on the trail of vicious killers.

Her father has been teetering on the edge of insanity since the death of her mother five years before, while her brother flits from one area of interest to the next, all the while living the high life befitting that of a lord’s son. Her Uncle Jonathon, a forensics expert, does not see eye to eye with her father, and secretly tutors Audrey in the medical arts without her father’s knowledge.

And then Jack the Ripper begins his rampage through the underbelly of Whitechapel in London.

The actual identity of Jack the Ripper has never been discovered. There are theories galore about who the man might have been, but no one knows for sure. So he can be anybody. He tore through Whitechapel in 1888, preying on prostitutes, removing their internal organs after he slit their throats. One of the many thoughts were that he was a surgeon, or had some medical knowledge.

I loved the little touches throughout the novel like the period photos and blood splatter on the chapter headings. Talk about gruesome and evocative! What a way to set the tone.

Audrey Rose is an interesting character. She is willful and strong, and interested in more than teas and marriage. She wants to make a difference in the world, refusing to let society dictate her behaviour. Audrey is bi-racial, Indian and English, and I think not enough was made of that in the novel, beyond her enjoyment of traditional Indian snacks and the fact her Indian grandmother did not seem to approve of her English father.  Her mixed heritage seemed almost an afterthought thrown into the novel, with no real impact on the story.

Fellow forensics student Thomas Cresswell is witty and charming and intent of winning Audrey’s heart, regardless of the fact he is not a suitable match. I like him, although I was never quite sure through the story if the romance was believable out not. They never seemed to move beyond verbal sparring, despite the fact that Audrey did notice how handsome Thomas was almost every time they spoke. But then he would infuriate her, and she would back away. But he is an intelligent, enjoyable character, who kept me on my toes with the twists and turns of his backstory.

Uncle John and Lord Wadsworth are perfect sparring brothers, unable to see beyond past grievances to come together as a family. Aunt Amelia didn’t really have much impact on the story, despite her many appearances, but I did love Cousin Liza’s irreverent attitude and the obvious affection the two girls had for each other.

Debut author Kerri Maniscalco captures perfectly the tone and atmosphere of the time in her writing. Her use of language and description brings the reader right into the dark, damp streets of London, with fear lying as heavy as the ever-present fog.

The story is complex, and the pace quite slow and descriptive. Perhaps too slow and too descriptive. Every action, every outfit, every mood and every thought is described and attributed. Audrey never just stands, she stands proudly, or angrily, or regally. Thomas never just answers a question, he answers it haughtily or mysteriously or argumentatively. Uncle John never just speaks, he speaks thoughtfully or distractedly or moodily. Audrey smooths her intricately embroidered black dress, clenches her hands in the perfectly stitched gloves, and stumbles in her smooth blush silk slippers. Unfortunately, I got bogged down in all the description and found myself losing the thread of the story and having to re-read passages to get back on track.

As for the stalking that Thomas and Audrey do, I spent most of the novel waiting for it to actually occur.  I don’t think it ever did. The pair looked for him. They studied crime scene evidence and psychological journals. But they never actually stalked him.

The conclusion is wonderful. I loved the last chapter of the novel, how everything tied together, how relationships were resolved. Really well done.

This is a good start to a series. It is quite violent and gory, as a good Jack the Ripper story should be, so is not for the faint of heart. I found myself on the edge of my seat, despite any criticisms I have, and look forward to the follow-up books to see where Audrey Rose’s curiosity takes her next.

Stalking Jack the Ripper was published September 20th, 2016 by Jimmy Patterson.

Flickers

unknown

You don’t often find a middle-grade novel that can be classified as horror, but I just did. And it is awesome.

Isabelle and Beatrice Thorn are 12-year-old twins, orphaned in a fire that took their father’s life on their prairie farm in Lethbridge, Alberta. Rescued by their Uncle Walter, the two girls now live in Hollywood under the patronage of the mysterious Mr. Cecil, a preeminent director and inventor in the 1920s. Isabelle, a blond beauty, earns her keep as an actress in silent films. Beatrice is kept hidden away, studying science and collecting insects, her birthmarks and scars covered by flowing scarves.

But life is not as easy as it first appears. People seem to be disappearing, Mr. Cecil keeps odd, private hours, and a rare new breed of insect, the scorpion hornet, attacks Beatrice and her best friend Raul.

I did not read the blurb before picking up this book. The cover attracted me, and I didn’t even stop to consider what was behind it. I don’t even know if I looked beyond the title and the picture. So I went into this book completely ignorant. What a surprise. I picked it up thinking to read a few chapters before bed and ended up staying up ’til all hours, unable to stop until the final page was turned.

Delightfully creepy and chilling. I don’t know how else to describe this novel. Creepy in an edge-of-your-seat-can’t-put-it-down sort of way. This is 1920s movie-making horror mixed with the paranormal mixed with enough reality to make you wonder what really goes on behind the scenes in Hollywood.

The characters are wonderful. Beatrice is smart, logical, questioning and independent, and the real star. Sister Isabelle is, at first, slightly spoiled and snobby and the centre of attention. But as the story winds its way through movie making and the adulation that surrounds it, the reader discovers her depth and that her devotion to her sister is not just based on what “Beets” can do for her. The groundskeeper’s son, Raul, is the best mix of practical and fanciful, he is pure friendship for Beatrice, willing to do anything for her, but also well aware of his role and his standing in the elitist Santa Monica neighbourhood where they live. And Mr. Cecil is mysterious and enigmatic patron, supporting and encouraging, all the while trying to harness the energy of emotion and imagination.

The plot starts out in one direction and ends up somewhere totally unexpected. I will not spoil it, but give it your best guess, and you will be so wrong. The twist is nerve-rattling and out of the blue, and I did not see it coming at all. Such amazing storytelling. The pace builds as the mystery gradually unfolds, mirroring the slow, measured life on the prairies and ending up with the furious cacophony of life in LA. Along the way, author Arthur Slade looks at misdirection and reality, at bravery and friendship and redemption, and weaves it all together with old-fashioned horror and Hollywood glamour.

The research that went into the world-building in this novel is evident. 1920s Hollywood, when the silver screen was just starting to change from silent films to “talkies,” the parties and excesses, the dark theatres with orchestra pits and velvet curtains. Slade is a master of imagery; everything from the lonely prairie homestead in Alberta to the crush of the premiere and the emotion in the theatre jumped off the page at me.

The epilogue is SO perfect.

This is the first novel I have read of Slade’s (which is criminal) and he has just become one of my automatic must-read authors.

While Flickers is a middle-grade book, it can and will be enjoyed by anyone.

Flickers was published April 26th, 2016 by HarperCollins.

Ex-Wives of Dracula

Unknown

This book is a LOT of fun. And I even broke my taboo about sparkly vampires to read it.

18-year-old Mindy thinks she might be a lesbian. Probably. She is still questioning. It’s just that guys don’t do it for her, but she’s not entirely sure that girls do either. So she works her job delivering pizzas and lives fairly anonymously at school, doing her best to fly under the radar as she figures out her life. Until she delivers pizza one night to her next-door neighbour and former best friend, Lucia. Whereas puberty was not so fun for Mindy, it totally rocked Lucia’s world, turning her into a tall busty bronzed goddess. Naturally, she captains the cheerleading squad and dates the captain of the football team.

So of course, Mindy falls in love with her. And of course, Lucia gets bitten by a vampire. Which somehow just makes her hotter.

The first quarter or so of the book is set-up, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure where it was going or if I would like the story very much. Mindy is a bit of a loner, values comfort over fashion, and is pretty self-aware for a teenager. She sees the pitfalls in crushing on Lucia, but is honest and forthright with her feelings, leaving the ball in the more confused Lucia’s court. Mindy looks out for her and helps her, even when Lucia isn’t interested in her for anything other than her pizza delivery skills.

I rolled my eyes a bit at Lucia’s initial description as the completely stereotypical cheerleader. Every cliche you can think of. Blond. Gorgeous. Tall. Dumb. Privately hurting. Sexually promiscuous. Mean girl. Queen bee. Girls envy her, boys love her.

But then the action really starts, and I couldn’t read the rest of the story fast enough. As the girls’ relationship (both as friends and more) develops, both Mindy and Lucia morph into kind and thoughtful protectors, friends, and lovers. Lucia doesn’t become the perfect human overnight, her flaws are still glaring and eminently teen in their selfishness, but she opens up and looks beyond the surface of those around her, and thinks of others. Mindy doesn’t radically change into an extrovert party-girl either, but her confidence and willingness to try something new strengthen in proportion to the relationship.

The dialogue between the girls and Romanian exchange student Seb is fluent and witty and authentic. See is hilarious in his attempts to be cool, but author Georgette Kaplan treats him respectfully, never making fun of him, but introduces him as an equal friend and confidant. Kaplan brings the reader right into the book, and I felt like I was sitting alongside the three friends as they chat and explore and flirt and scheme and complain and fight and search for answers.

The plot is touching, fresh, funny, but also adds components of horror and violence. Which sometimes seem out of place, but Kaplan does a good job of weaving all the elements together so that the violence is not too jarring. Her take on vampires is different and entertaining, occasionally poking fun at pop cultures’ current fascination with the theme. She mixes it up; some vampires are sexy and fun, some are creatures of darkness and brutality. And the vampires are just a backdrop; the main focus of the story is always the girls’ relationship, however, even as so many new pieces are added.

And the relationship is fully explored and balanced. The first thought would be that Kaplan would follow the predictable: beautiful Lucia has the power, with dorky Mindy grateful for her attention. But it is an even and realistic partnership, with each girl bringing her strengths. Mindy’s self-confidence balances out Lucia’s flamboyant personality, who in turn encourages Mindy to step outside her comfort zone. Through her vampire powers, Lucia shares a mental connection with Mindy, but the two can block each other out or invite each other in, and it is not used as mind control. The two don’t just grow as a couple, they also learn that they can live apart, and they make their choices accordingly. It is a wonderful relationship.

The LGBT theme is beautifully handled. Lucia’s realization that she loves Mindy is treated with no less importance than Mindy’s previous acknowledgement that she is “probably” a lesbian. Lucia’s love for Mindy is as real and as glorious as Mindy’s for her.

There is some fairly graphic violence, drug use, and sexual content, so the novel may be better for the upper end of the YA age range, but the story overall is a really fun and unusual read.

Ex-Wives of Dracula was published March 16th, 2016 by Ylva Publishing.

Antigoddess (The Goddess War #1)

Unknown

A war between the gods is brewing. Athena is dying. Feathers grow throughout her body, choking and slowly killing her. Hermes is no longer the fleet-footed god; he is wasting away. Enter Hera. She, Poseidon, Aphrodite, and other powerful gods are banding together to kill off rivals in order to save themselves. Athena and Hermes search for allies, and answers.

The answer lies with the mortals, as it always has. But these ones in particular – Cassandra, Aidan, Henry, and Andie – are special. They have a past that has intertwined with the gods for millennia. And, in fact, Aidan has never been mortal.

This is NOT Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It is dark and twisted, and not for the faint of heart. Kendare Blake does horror like no other.

The story is written primarily from the two perspectives of Cassandra and Athena. As a god herself, Athena really sets the stage for the entire story and brings a depth to the plot that Cassandra can’t, given her mortal status. The basis for the conflict, her rivalry with Hera and Aphrodite, the years of  opposition, layer together to bring this moment about.    Bombs, magic, starvation, dehydration and near fatal car accidents might just be enough to weaken Hermes and herself so they can be finished off. And while all this is going on, brother Apollo is off gallivanting, trying to make up for sins committed thousands of years before.

Cassandra is a weak character in the beginning. She is psychic, she makes predictions for her classmates for profit, she is clingy and moony-eyed over her oh-so-dreamy boyfriend Aidan. She’s a bit much, at first. But when the sh*t hits the fan as she finds out who she really is, she becomes a more interesting and complex character. She remembers her disdain and anger towards Apollo and finds an incredible strength, becoming Athena’s right hand. Her history and present converge into the making of a powerful foe for Hera.

And her visions. Disturbing, violent, fascinating, and packed with gore, Blake’s imagery will not leave your brain for a very long time.

Cassandra handled the news of her true identity, and that of Aidan, with a lot less WTF! than I would have thought possible. Regaining her memory is violent and painful, but she accepts her past. And and Henry’s reactions seemed a bit more cautious and believable, but maybe the explanation actually offers some relief for Cassandra, who has lived her (current) life not understanding so many parts of herself.

I loved that the gods throughout this book were as self-absorbed and childish as always. Even after a few millennia of existence, they never seem to learn, holding onto petty grudges and jealousies forever. Add Athena and Hermes and Apollo portrayed as teens, and their selfish behaviour is even more pronounced.

While the beginning of the book is a bit slow with all the history and set-up, it picks up steam and action as the chapters progress. By the last third, the build-up to the final scene rushes through with an intensity that leaves the reader breathless. I turned the final page without even realizing I was so close to the end, and the cliff-hanger is as epic as a goddess of wisdom could demand. It is a great set-up for book 2.

While you don’t have to know the details of the Trojan War or the stories of the gods to understand this novel, knowledge certainly adds depth and enjoyment to the reading. Alone, it is a gripping tale of power and horror. With the backdrop of the history, you won’t want to put it down. This is an ancient story in a modern setting done perfectly. Blake weaves the old and new together with seemingly little effort.

The two follow-up novels in the series, Mortal Gods and Ungodly, are must-reads on my list.

Antigoddess (Goddess War #1) was published September 10th, 2013 by Tor Teen.

 

Lockdown (Escape From Furnace #1)

Unknown

When I am finished reading a book it usually looks pretty close to the way it did when I first opened it. I am obsessive about taking care of my books, I don’t break the spine, I don’t dog-ear pages. Not this one. The front cover is rough-edged and crumpled where I was gripping it and the spine is cracked and I think I might have bitten it because it looks like there are teeth marks on a few pages… Every fear I have ever had? Meet the written word.

Built after the “Summer of Slaughter” when teens in Britain ran wild on a murderous crime spree, Furnace Penitentiary is buried miles beneath the surface, the world’s most secure young offender’s prison. There is one way in, literally. And no way out. You get convicted of murder, you take an elevator down through the granite, and never see the surface again. The problem is, not everyone in Furnace is actually guilty.

14-year-old Alex Sawyer is a petty thief, spending his time shaking down kids on the schoolyard for their cash, breaking into houses for bigger scores. He lives large and thinks himself invincible. But then it all goes sideways.

Convicted of a murder he did not commit, Alex is sent to Furnace for life without parole. Death might be the better choice. Furnace is beyond imagination. Blood-coloured rough rock walls and pulsing with heat, it houses thousands of teens kept under control through fear of a fate worse than death. Think mutant beasts, giant men in black, inhuman creatures that take screaming boys from their cells in the dark of night, a warden that seems to hold supernatural control over both inmates and employees.

And the outside world could not care less. These kids are no longer their problem.

Deep breath. Whew. The characters in Lockdown are incredible. Alexander Gordon Smith has written teens that we all recognize and can relate to in some way. They handle the horror of Furnace believably: they scream in their sleep, they have nightmares, they band into gangs, they throw up their lunch and they look the other way when violence breaks out.

Alex is the perfect blend of stupidity and bravado and bad choices and a good heart. He is not a bad kid, just one who didn’t think about the consequences until it was forever too late. What starts as a life controlling the playground ends as one of terror. He fights to stay himself in a place that fights just as hard to rob him of his identity.

And the friends he makes in Furnace are also a great cross section. Donovan has a tough exterior that hides fear and desperation, Zee, like Alex, is innocent of the crime he serves time for, and needs friendship but fears reprisals, and Monty has a surprising internal strength that could get him killed.

Smith’s talent for description is mind-boggling. He draws such a vivid picture of hell under the earth that you will swear it must exist. Furnace is gang wars and hard labour and overwhelming exhaustion and fear and the blackest evil. It is tier upon tier of tiny two-to-a-room cellblocks that lockdown when the siren wails. It is the simultaneous fear of death and overwhelming desire for it.

The psychological aspect of this novel is completely and totally unnerving. Not only does the fear of telling the truth and not being believed resonate, but the use of total blackness and despair to control a population is terrifying to the extreme. Yes, of course you know that darkness can’t hurt you. Intellectually. But tell that to the 5-year-old that still inhabits your brain in the middle of the night when the power has gone out and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Add the knowledge that there are actual things to fear in the dark in a hellacious prison, and you can start to feel the panic.

I wanted to stop reading this book. But it is told with so much suspense and in such a terrifying voice, it was impossible to put down. Alex’s voice is compelling and real and absolutely sucked me in to the point where I was begging out loud for him to survive as I tore through the pages.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go turn on all the lights and quadruple check that all the windows and doors are locked. And maybe put some furniture in front of them. And maybe let my two dogs sleep on my bed tonight. Just this once. Just in case.

Lockdown (Escape From Furnace #1) was published October 27th, 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall

Unknown

After the death of her great-aunt Cordelia, the Piven family house now belongs to 17-year-old Delia. She and her family plan to spend the summer at the house, readying it for sale. Except when they arrive, they discover it isn’t just a house. It is the former Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females, known locally as “Hysteria Hall.”

And the house has plans of its own. It has a mission, a purpose: to keep troubled girls, some insane but some just strong-willed, locked away, even in death. And Delia has had a few troubles. The house wants her to stay. It goes to great lengths to keep her. Now Delia must find a way to make sure her little sister doesn’t get trapped as well.

I am on the fence about this one. It is very well written and entertaining, and there is a great twist just a few chapters in that I did not see coming, but I could never get emotionally involved in the story.

Main character Delia is real. She is a fabulous narrator for the story; neither bratty nor spoiled, she is funny and charming and still unsure of herself. Her voice made me laugh out loud throughout the novel. She has a touch of teenage defiance, just enough to get her into trouble and attract unwanted attention.

Her parents’ reaction to her defiance is a bit over the top for what she did. She was stupid, yes, but not exactly criminal. Delia’s reaction to her parents’ flip out, on the other hand, seems very realistic.

With that one exception, her parents seem genuine, and along with all the other characters in the novel, distinct and fun to read. The relationship between Delia and Janie, her five years younger sister, alternates between love and hatred. Your typical older-younger sister stuff. Her friendship with Nicole and relationship with ex-boyfriend Landon strike true. The ghosts, all of whom are from different decades of the institution’s history, cover the scale from happy and friendly to scared and shy to terrifying.

The setting is awesome. A haunted house? Love it. There is very little in this world creepier than an abandoned asylum. Filled with the ghosts of former residents who died there, Hysteria Hall has more than its share of both evil spirits and benevolent apparitions.

It is difficult to write a balance of humour and darkness without it feeling forced and false, but author Katie Alender somehow achieves that balance perfectly. And the ending could not be better.

Although it nicely fills the quota of creepiness and suspense, this is not a scary story. In the end, for all that I enjoyed reading it, I do want more. Maybe I am just heartless, but for a story with such great potential it needs more to suck me in. More horror. More emotion. There are places in the novel where I knew I should be in tears, be heartbroken, be terrified. It just didn’t happen. This is a like, not a love.

If you are easily scared, don’t read this one at night, when things go thump and bump. Just in case. But it is a nice daytime read for anyone.

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall was published August 25th, 2015 by Point.