Book Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Book Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Series: Lockwood & Co. (#2)
Shelved: Children’s fiction (fantasy, paranormal – ghosts, mystery, horror)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Challenge: Halloween TBR – #2

I forgot how much I love Lockwood, George and Lucy. They’re one of my favourite trios in children’s fiction at the moment, rivalling the most famous of them all. Each character shines, from Lockwood’s inexplicable ability to act and think both like a teenage boy and an old man, George’s chaotic dedication to researching archives and consuming biscuits, and Lucy’s impressive intelligence and determination to solve even the most dangerous of cases and support her argumentative friends. She’s been working at Lockwood & Co. for a year now – and they’d be lost without her.

The Whispering Skull shares a lot less backstory than The Screaming Staircase because the reader is already familiar with the Problem and different types of ghosts, meaning we’re thrown straight into the mystery. This time, powerful supernatural artefacts across London have been stolen, and their warders brutally murdered. Lockwood & Co. have messed up yet another case and are feeling dejected after their triumph solving the mystery of the screaming staircase. That is, until they are called to investigate serious paranormal activity at Kensal Green Cemetery. A suspicious grave of a Victorian doctor has been discovered and inside it, a mirror made of bones with mysterious powers. It has been stolen in the night and it’s up to Lockwood & Co. to solve the case. They must reluctantly work alongside fellow detectives – the Fittes Agency – with a little healthy (and humiliating) competition. And with help from the mysterious whispering skull, housed in a jar in the Lockwood & Co. residence – one of the strongest characters in the book!

The Whispering Skull is a worthy sequel to The Screaming Staircase. It’s full of mystery, adventure, humour – and lots of ghosts! I loved getting to know the trio even more, especially the reserved Anthony Lockwood. I enjoyed watching Lucy’s crush on Lockwood develop, with tension that rivals young adult contemporary romance! It is such a fun series – with the character interactions being a memorable highlight – and I have heard that the third book, The Hollow Boy, is the best so far. I should probably pick it up soon, yes?

“Well, I make that one murder victim, one police interrogation and one conversation with a ghost,” George said. “Now that’s what I call a busy evening.” Lockwood nodded. “To think some people just watch television.”


Published: September 2014
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers (UK) Disney Hyperion (US)
Pages: 496
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!

Books On My TBR / Halloween

Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Shelved: Young adult fiction (graphic novel, fantasy, horror, short stories)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’

I was in a bit of a reading slump (it happens to all of us!) and wanted super quick read to get me back into the reading spirit. I picked up one of the graphic novels I bought recently, Through the Woods, and read it in my garden in one sitting, lazing about in the sunshine. As it happens, it was the perfect juxtaposition. I couldn’t have handled reading Through the Woods in the winter – it’s chilling!

Through the Woods delivers five beautifully dark stories written and illustrated by the very talented Emily Carroll. It is gloriously enchanting from the very beginning. As I’m writing this, I cannot stop peeking at the front cover every so often – the typography, the vivid colours, and the little blue figure walking into the woods. It captures your imagination before you’ve even begun.

I delved into Through the Woods not quite knowing what to expect and was greeted with five stories quite unlike each other. Some evoke memories of Grimm’s fairy tales and some feel more contemporary, more Gaiman-esque, but each is elevated by the haunting illustrations. In the (very few) graphic novels I’ve read, the illustrations are consisted throughout, but Emily Carroll adapts her style to fit the tone of each story. A favourite of mine is Our Neighbor’s House – a creepy yet gorgeous story that feels classic – and the eerie A Lady’s Hands Are Cold. As the stories are left open-ended, the reading experience very much depends on how the reader interprets the tales.

Through the Woods is a wonderful graphic novel – and one where the story telling easily matches the illustrations in quality. I haven’t decided whether I’m brave enough to lend it out…

Published: 15th July 2015 (US) 7th May 2015 (UK)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (US) Faber & Faber (UK)
Pages: 128

Behold the Pretty Books! / May Book HaulBehold the Pretty Books! / May Book Haul

 

Book Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Book Review: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Shelved: Adult fiction (horror, science fiction)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

The Girl with All the Gifts was another book I bought because everyone was raving about it. (I promise I don’t just read books everyone else loves, but I do hate missing out!). It’s a positive sign that I read it shortly after buying because it usually takes months to years before I finally get around to reading a particular book from my teetering bookshelves. I purposely avoided knowing too much about The Girl with All the Gifts before starting, although I don’t think this is necessary to enjoy the story because you find out all you need to know pretty quickly. It’s littered with bold statements all over the cover, including ‘the most original thriller you will read this year’. I think this rests one particular aspect of the story: Melanie.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Before you begin the book, this is all we know about Melanie. We know she’ll be the main focus of the story, but I didn’t quite understand how invested I’d become in her character. To put it simply, she’s a curious, intelligent 10-year-old girl who love stories and learning, especially Greek Mythology, particularly when accompanied by her favourite teacher, Miss Justineau. But Melanie doesn’t live in a normal world where young girls can enjoy going to school and reading books. It’s a future, alternate United Kingdom where most of the population has been destroyed and the rest are hidden away, attempting to protect themselves.

Yet, although I have not read many horror novels, The Girl with All the Gifts feels different. Our five characters – Melaine, Miss Helen Justineau, Sergeant Eddie Parks, Dr. Caroline Caldwell and Private Kieran Gallagher – are all trying to survive, but have very different views on the best ways of survival. It’s now a world where ethics are the least of everyone’s worries, which is why it’s a common theme throughout the novel. And that throws up all sorts of problems for our five survivors.

The Girl With all the Gifts is wonderfully thrilling and cinematic – full of believable science, emotion and fear. I was particularly taken by a scene where the team come across a car full of thousands of pounds rolled up. They comment on the ridiculousness of it – at the thought of someone treasuring these pieces of paper that no longer matter – and throw all the money like confetti all around them. Can you imagine living in this world? It’s easy to imagine the apocalypse as either gruesome or comical, but what about the in-between? The Girl With all the Gifts provides us with a horror story that isn’t black and white. Read it. See if you feel the same.

Published: 14th January 2014 (UK) 10th June 2014 (US)
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 512

Book Review: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Book Review: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Series: Lockwood & Co. (#1)
Shelved:
Children’s fiction (fantasy, paranormal – ghosts, mystery, horror)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I just love ghost stories, don’t you? I don’t often read horror, but as I said in last year’s Books for Halloween post: I’ve never really done ‘scary’. I’m all about creepy, spooky and eerie. And Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase is the perfect horror/mystery/fantasy novel for me. Its ghosts create a tense, eerie atmosphere because they are really quite chilling. But it’s not all about the ghosts – The Screaming Staircase has three brilliant teenage characters too: Lucy Carlyle, Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins. I picked up The Screaming Staircase because everyone had raved about it. I cannot resist books that all my friends love – I’m too curious – and thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

The Screaming Staircase begins with Lucy and Anthony in an alternate London, knocking on the door of a house containing a ghost. It’s all part of the Problem that has swept the country. It’s dangerous business – a ghost’s touch can kill you – but as one of the most dedicate ghost detective agencies in London (plus, they need the money), Lockwood & Co. are there to get the job done. I loved being thrown into this recognisable, alternate London. Jonathan Stroud is unafraid to provide the reader with lots of detail: When did the Problem start? What are the different types of ghosts? How do you remove a ghost? It’s believable because Jonathan Stroud has all the answers.

Not only do we learn the history of the Problem, we also head back to when Lucy first met Anthony. I expected to enjoy The Screaming Staircase because of the ghostly mystery, but I cannot imagine it without our three protagonists. Each teenager has a distinctive voice and is incredibly likeable – smart, passionate, funny. They are fantastic characters to spend time with and they make the book what it is, so I appreciated stepping away from the present and finding out how Lucy came to visit London, from discovering what led to her downfall in her previous role to her interview at Lockwood & Co. I could almost feel the cold, ghostly atmosphere while sitting here reading the book in chilly London, imagining the witty banter between the three teenagers, through their triumphant victories and deadly mistakes.

It’s been a month since I finished The Screaming Staircase and even though my memory is foggy, I sat here before I started writing this review, thinking about all the plot points. I definitely feel like the reader goes through a lot with these characters! The Screaming Staircase is not fast-paced and full of action, but it’s never slow or tedious. It’s eventful, but it doesn’t rely on constant action and adventure to keep the reader interested; we love fighting ghosts alongside the trio, but we also snigger at George and Anthony explaining the ‘no more than one biscuit at a time’ rule to Lucy. It’s so wonderfully British and I couldn’t fault it, if it weren’t for the simple reason that we don’t actually come across the haunted house with the screaming staircase for quite a while. As I was reading the eBook, I did worry that I had started with the sequel by accident! But then, I began the book expecting to be instantly thrown into a haunted house and what we get is much more. Of course I’ll be reading the next book!

‘In our experience,’ Lockwood said sweetly, ‘adults just get in the way.’

 

Published: 29th August 2013 (UK) 17th September 2013 (US)
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers (UK) Disney Hyperion (US)
Pages: 464
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!

Book Review: Say Her Name by James Dawson

Book Review: Say Her Name by James Dawson


Shelved:
Young adult fiction (horror)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Say Her Name was one of two books I read in June for #aryaclub, a young adult book club. We’re all super fans of James Dawson (I’ve previously read Cruel Summer, his YA thriller) so it was an obvious choice, although some of us (not me!) were worried about reading horror. Horror is a under-represented genre in young adult fiction, but that seems to be changing, and James Dawson shows that you can write horror and do it well enough so it to be considered ‘definitely YA’.

Did Say Her Name scare me? No, but then I watched movies like The Exorcist, Scream (all of them!) and The Sixth Sense with my Dad when I was 12-13. (I’m more likely to be scared by horror movies now than I was then!). So, it didn’t scare me, but it was incredibly enjoyable for someone looking forward to reading horror and it was deliciously eerie. One of my favourite horror movies of all time is The Ring and if you enjoyed that, you’ll love Say Her Name. James Dawson brings remnants of The Ring into his story, but with a brilliantly modern twist – a contemporary boarding school setting.

Bobbie and Naya, best friends and roommates, are students at Piper’s Hall School for Young Ladies, an English boarding school. There’s a legend that’s been passed around the school for generations that claims if you say ‘Bloody Mary’ five times in front of a candlelit mirror, ‘Mary’ will come. Bobbie and Naya, alongside fellow teenagers Sadie and Caine (a cute boy who Bobbie wants to impress), dare each other to perform the ritual, so they do it. It’s just a joke, right? But in five days, they find out just what happens when you Say Her Name.

Piper’s Hall, being a boarding school, is the perfect setting for most YA novels if you ask me, but YA horror in particular. It’s enough to peak my interest, but Bloody Mary is a fabulous… ghost zombie? Think The Returned, but much more nightmarish. She’ll make you never want to have a shower ever again. I cannot say much because the best part is not knowing what is going to happen next, but parts of Say Her Name were seriously chilling to think about, and Bloody Mary has a tragic backstory that makes everything seem real. You don’t often get to see the human side of the supernatural in horror, but this makes her even more terrifying. Mary doesn’t just ‘get’ people for the sake of it and I loved getting to know her before she became Bloody Mary, while equally hoping that she would stay away from Bobbie, Naya and Caine, who are realistic teenage characters – they’re afraid and don’t believe they can ‘defeat’ Mary – that you want to keep safe.

Say Her Name is an eerily awesome introduction to YA horror, with a frighteningly believable story and fantastic ending. You’ll want to talk about what you’ve just read, so it was the perfect book club book. I adore the cover, designed by Jet Purdie, and so purchased a finished copy at the Say Her Name book launch last month, where we ate creepy cake and got to see James Dawson dressed up as a Bloody Mary. Don’t be scared – pick it up (but definitely do not say her name).

Published: 5th June 2014
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 240

Behold the Pretty Books! / May & June Book Haul
Behold the Pretty Books! / May & June Book Haul