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: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Book Review: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Series: Lockwood & Co. (#1)
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: The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

Book Review: The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

Series: Bloodlines (#4)
Young adult fiction (paranormal – vampires, magic, romance)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Published: 19th November 2013
Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin Books
Pages: 448

The Fiery Heart is the fourth book in the Bloodlines series, so you might not want to continue reading this review if you’ve not read the first book.

Well, I think we all can say that Sydney Sage’s life has well and truly changed. Sydney’s discovered what the Alchemists – who she has trusted her whole life – have been hiding from her. She has accepted defeat and has thrown herself into a serious relationship with Adrian, that is, until her sister Zoe turns up. Sydney Sage is still the smart, cautious, resourceful and witty young girl that we’ve all come to know and love (if you don’t, why are you continuing with this series?!), but she’s opening herself up to new experiences. It’s dangerous, but Sydney knows that if she can discover the secret of the indigo tattoos, she can save people from being turned Strigoi – and change their world as they know it.

The Fiery Heart is the only time we’ve had a perspective from Adrian, but it’s like he’s been here the whole time. We finally get to see how much Sydney means to him – and we finally see the proper romance that Sydney and Adrian shippers have been waiting for. Sydney and Adrian, I think, are both occasionally controversial, but we see that they are genuinely good people who makes mistakes and do not necessary know what’s best for themselves. I think this is why they work – they’re opposites and can see each other’s faults and try to protect each other

I still love the paranormal-contemporary mix that Bloodlines offers. Sydney may be on a caffeine break, but she is struggling to give up anything else in her life. It essentially is a contemporary series – tackling mental illness, privacy and family issues – but occasionally dabbling with magic and vampiric characters. Sydney is being pulled in one direction by Adrian, who just wants to run away with her, and another by her undercover work, attempting to discover the secret behind the indigo tattoos, and in another by her sister, who despises vampires like Sydney used to, and who just wants to spend time with her older sister. (I couldn’t help but intensely dislike and feel sorry Zero at the same time!). The Fiery Heart is another compelling novel in the Bloodlines series – we’ve over halfway through! – and I cannot imagine what will happen in the next installment, Silver Shadows, when it’s published this summer.

Book Review: Under My Hat – Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan

Book Review: Under My Hat – Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan

Shelved: Young adult (fantasy, paranormal – various)
Rating: ★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I used to be one of those people who avoided short stories. And ‘proper fantasy’, for that matter. So why, you may ask, did I pick up this collection? Well, Halloween is one of my favourite holidays and I feel like we just don’t celebrate it properly here. Sure, you’ll find a lot of Halloween-related goodies in shops, but I’m not quite sure what people actually do with them once they buy them. I’ve never been trick-or-treating (it’s probably a bit late now, eh?), not that we’re accustomed to that either. (We’re more likely to turn the lights off and pretend we’re not in). So, instead, I celebrate Halloween on my own by picking up a suitable book to read. Last year, I decided to re-read Dark Inside, and the year before that I read The Name of the Star, and the year before that I read The Little Stranger. And this year I thought I’d go with something a little different.

I quickly discovered, much to my delight, that short story collections are perfect commuter books! I loved being able to finish a story or two on my way to work – sheer luxury! I decided not to look up each story before I actually started reading – I only knew that Neil Gaiman’s contribution was a poem – so I didn’t really know what to expect every time I started a new one. Under My Hat is such a varied collection, with mythical folk stories that feel centuries old to more contemporary stories that take place today. I did not love all of the stories equally, but with such a diverse selection, this is neither surprisingly nor unexpected. If I do read paranormal or fantasy, I tend to enjoy stories that blend the fantastical with the real (is this magical realism?), like Harry Potter or Vampire Academy, so I was drawn more to those, but there’s plenty of them here!

Stray Magic by Diana Peterfreund, the first in the collection, is a whimsical yet touching story about Goneril, a magical talking dog who has been abandoned and is desperate to find her way back to her master. She has to with very little time to spare because if she doesn’t, she’ll perish. I couldn’t help but picture Goneril as Dug from Up. It’s both witty and endearing, with a sassy little creature at its heart. Little Gods by Holly Black was one of the more modern stories. It reminded me of one of my all-time favourite series, Wicca (or Sweep) by Cate Tiernan. Sixteen-year-old Ellery experiences something exciting and new when she attends a party – her first Wiccan Sabbat. Ellery’s tired of being treated like a child and longs to be part of a group of people who see her as just another person in the gang, even if they are a little odd, according to her parents. Little Gods leaves you wondering whether it’s a story about real magic or simply a coming-of-age tale. The Education of a Witch by Ellen Klages, one of the most quirky and thrilling stories, is from the perspective of a little girl. Lizzy develops a somewhat obsessive fascination with Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, which almost makes me feel happy that I’m an only child… And although I’m not a particular fan of poetry (I know, I know!), I really did enjoy Neil Gaiman’s offering, Witch Work, which I re-read a couple of times.

If you’re like me and prefer the magical mixed with the real world, perhaps give Under My Hat a shot as there’s a story for everyone, whether you’re reading it at Halloween or not. If you’d like to see a full list of stories, there’s one over on Goodreads.

Published: 28th August 2012 (US) 4th October 2012 (UK)
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (US) Hot Key Books (UK)
Pages: 432
Source: Thank you Hot Key Books for providing this book for review!



Book Review: World After by Susan Ee

Book Review: World After by Susan Ee

Series: Penryn and the End of Days (#2)
Shelved: Young adult fiction (paranormal – angels, fantasy, post-apocalyptic)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

World After is the second book in a series, so I advise you not to keep reading this review if you’ve not read the first book, Angelfall.

Angelfall was one of the most surprising reads for me so far this year. I wasn’t sure whether it would live up to the hype, but it deserves the praise. I was also surprised by its brutality, dangerous – often shockingly – adventure, and blossoming relationship between an unlikely pair, Penryn and Raffe, which turned out to be a magnificent combination. As you can imagine, I was rather excited when World After fell through my letterbox.

Thankfully, World After continues straight on from Angelfall. Penryn is being carted off, paralysed and shaken, having just witnessed the horrific experiments the angels have been conducting in the aerie, which is now just a pile of rubble and smoke thanks to the Resistance. She is being held by her mother, who believes Penryn is dead, and has been reunited with her little sister Paige, who currently looks like a terrifying demon-like doll. Well, that is enough to take in already, but it’s about to get a lot worse.

You’ll be forgiven if you, like me, mistakenly thought that the plot for World After was actually for Angelfall. Paige has been taken, although this time by humans who think she’s abhorrent – a monster – rather than angels, and Raffe is busy tracking down Beliel, who is beaten and damaged, but proudly displays Raffe’s white wings. Yet World After is even more brutal and tragic than its predecessor. We finally find out what the angels are up to – what on Earth are those scorpions for? – and what they plan to do. According to the angels, humans aren’t the problem, just incidental.

In World After, we do not see Raffe again until we’re nearly at the end, making it a very different experience to Angelfall. But Penryn is by no means a diminished character without him. She is still incredibly witty, engaging and a character you want to support. She’s smart, but does not always make smart choices – and who can blame her? I thought it was fascinating to see Penryn’s desperation to save her sister lessen slightly in this sequel, as if she’s settled into the apocalypse and her purpose now is not just protecting her mother and sister. Paige is no longer seen as human by some and it’s clear that Penryn struggles herself sometimes – no longer is Paige the only thing on her mind – until she discovers some video tapes of her sister’s capture…

World After shows us that it is even more difficult to distinguish between angels and demons than ever before. If you read and loved Angelfall, you’ll be wanting some answers!

It’s painful to see that people prefer a bad guy who looks like an angel to a good guy who looks like a demon.

Published: 19th November 2013 (US) 21st November 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Skyscrape (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Pages: 442
Source: Thank you Hodder & Stoughton for providing this book for review!