Review- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Goodreads:At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting — he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments.

The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

Inspired by an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, Ness has succeeded in creating a heartbreakingly dark story about the difficulty of facing your fears and letting go.  Monsters both real and imagined take centre stage as Conor attempts to deal with the many difficulties in his life, including: his mother’s illness, his father’s absence, and being bullied at school. We see Conor go through many emotional states, including confusion, loneliness, sadness and denial. 

Conor only begins to see the importance of truth and acceptance after a monster (in the form of a Yew tree) appears and over time tells him three stories. These stories teach Conor essential truths, including  “There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”  In the end, the monster exists to push Conor to admit the truth to himself.   The monster itself can be interpreted in different ways.  I’ve read other reviews, and I too believe that Conor’s grief had consumed him (literally) like a monster.

This monster was illustrated in such a unique way throughout the book. Check out this Youtube trailer for a sample of the amazing artwork. My favourite illustrations were of the monster’s first appearance (pg 6) and of the monster and Conor standing in field (pg 100).

Although classified as a YA title, A Monster Calls can definitely appeal to adults too. Since all humans experience grief we are able to empathize with Conor’s experience. In the end, I recognize that not all stories can have happy endings but I’m glad that Conor was finally able to find acceptance in his truth.

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story…

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. But she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

                      

Published August 30th 2011

I am absolutely scared of ghosts, so I should have known not to read this book late at night before drifting off to sleep.  I woke up several nights with nightmares of Anna’s bloody dress dripping on the floor. Terrifying.  I also wasn’t prepared for the vividly gruesome scenes to commence early in the book. Here is a sample:

“…I strike, drawing the blade across the throat, opening a yawning black line. The hitchhiker’s fingers come up to his neck. They try to press the skin back together, but something as dark and thick as oil floods out of the wound and covers him, bleeding not only down over his vintage-era jacket but also up over his face and eyes, into his hair. The hitchhiker doesn’t scream as he shrivels, but maybe he can’t: his throat was cut and the black fluid has worked its way into his mouth (pg.13).”

The Good:

-As a Canadian, I loved that it was based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. In Blake’s acknowledgements we learn that she actually stayed in Thunder Bay and clearly her research shows in the writing. I have many friends from Thunder Bay and from what they’ve told me, the description of the city sounds very accurate.  Apparently, even the restaurants and waterfalls described in the book actually exist!

-Quick read—chalk full of: black/white witches, Voodoo, ghost hunting and murder!  Great for reluctant readers!

-Vivid imagery (especially when describing Anna and the dress she was murdered in).

-The complexity of Anna’s character. One minute I saw her as a ruthless killer and the next as an innocent girl. I loved the way the story of her past was presented and I enjoyed trying to figure her out. Anna is a force to be reckoned with and always kept the reader guessing.

-Scary. Since it is categorized in the ‘horror’ genre, I felt it did a great job at inducing feelings of terror in the reader. It was both scary and entertaining and I just could not put it down! Maybe I’m just a sissy, but I was legit scared reading this book before bed.  I also loved how the text was printed in a strange red colour that gave off the appearance of dried blood.

 

The Bad

-Weird paranormal romance. I didn’t understand the love element between Cas and Anna. The romance was minor, and I only knew they were ‘in love’ because readers were told so. It’s a strange tragic paranormal love, and I really wish Blake omitted this addition.

-There is no way that teens could possibly have so little empathy for their murdered friends. If you witnessed a brutal murder of your friend or were the first to come across their murdered bodies I would expect that you would be devastatingly traumatized. However, these teens spent more time discussing their alibis than their murdered classmates and friends.

 

Overall, Anna Dressed in Blood is an original, gory, heartbreaking story. Indeed, the book has been recognized as one of Kirkus’ Best Teen Books of the Year (2011) and an ALA 2012 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers.  The sequel, Girl of Nightmares (Anna #2) will be published in August 2012 and I’m definitely looking forward to that one!

*Warning-Since the book is told from Cas’ teenage perspective, there are quite a bit of f-bombs!

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

From Goodreads:

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything? Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. She’s stuck at JFK, late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s in seat 18C. Hadley’s in 18A.


Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.

                                  The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Published: January 2nd, 2012

I’d give this book a three out of five.  The title alone made me pick up the book. It is an amazing title but I think the story didn’t really do it justice.  The title actually stems from one of Oliver’s fake summer research topics he tells Hadley in his effort to impress her.  As far as I’m concerned, the book could have also been named ‘The Fermentation Process of Mayonnaise’ or ‘Patterns of Congestion in US Airports’.  However, I doubt the book would have received the same attention! I just felt it was more of a family drama than love story. Sure, they met at the airport and that’s cute and dandy, but I never felt like they were truly in love. They just happened to be at the same place at the same time and it was convenience.  I didn’t feel the chemistry.

I also completely hated the character of Hadley’s father. After moving to Europe, he essentially abandons his wife and daughter when he meets another woman.  I can’t believe Hadley lets her dad off so easy, with his justification ‘because I fell in love’ and ‘love isn’t supposed to make sense. It’s completely illogical’.  Reaaaally?

One more thing—I didn’t enjoy the third person narrative and it really took some getting used to. I felt like I was reading as a spectator rather than a participant.

Overall, a quick, cute read. Maybe I was just hoping it would rank along with Anna and the French Kiss. I wanted the love story, but instead got a story more about reconnecting and forgiving. I think that teens that have felt the effects of a broken marriage would able to relate (and enjoy) the story more than I did.

Bookit Review: Above by Leah Bobet

I saw this book and I thought the cover was beautiful and intriguing. I enjoy discovering new Canadian authors and the depiction of a woman with beautiful wings looking out at the Toronto cityscape at night prepared me for a read that would intertwine a fantastical world with a city I have visited often. If I wasn’t already excited, the cover also includes praise from the 2011 Evergreen winner Emma Donoghue (Room) who writes “Above pulls off that rare trick of being convincing and utterly magical at the same time.” Thus, I went into this read with high hopes….

From Goodreads:

An extraordinary debut urban fantasy about dangers outside and in.

Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee’s wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above—like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.

But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape Above. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe’s history and the shadows’ attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home—not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.

ABOVE is the debut of an amazing new voice.

 

I really wanted to like this novel. The story is told from the perspective of Matthew who describes himself as a monster or freak, with feet like lion claws and scales like fish. He was born underground in a Sanctuary called Safe and has the role of Teller for his community. He listens, memorizes and tells the stories about the members of Safe. Thus, we see the story through his perspective and after Safe is invaded by horrific creatures that try to destroy the only home he has known Matthew is forced to the world above. Leah Bobet does a great job of building character development through Matthews voice, similar to how Emma Donoghue told the story of Room through the perspective of 5 year-old Jack who knows the world only through the room he is born in. Matthew tells the stories of the various members of Safe and how they came together, including Ariel a girl with bee wings he found broken and abused in the sewers.

In Above Bobet combines a depressing and realistic look at what life might be like for those who are born or inflicted with abnormalities, such as those of the fantastical nature and even those that have been seen to threaten societal norms such as being mixed gender. How would society and scientists treat these people if they were discovered? History shows that we have not been kind, and Above includes these hard to read topics which made it sad to read at times.

Lastly, the mystery of the story takes an interesting spin as you discover who invaded Safe and why. The moral code of Matthew`s character is challenged throughout the story and in the end the story of Above sends out the message of the butterfly effect, where one action can completely change the course of events to come.

I give it 4 out of 5

Happy reading,

Bookit

 

 

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