The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

“Lockwood & Co. are hired to investigate Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead, while Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in a ghost jar”–Provided by publisher.

skull

I’ve only read one book in between The Screaming Staircase (#1) and The Whispering Skull (#2) so this dark and creepy alternate world was easy to be welcomed back into. In this book, we fast forward six months and discover what the teenage ghost hunters of Lockwood and Co. have been up to. I enjoyed the inclusion of the whispering skull (glowing green head trapped in a jar —>) as it kept me guessing whether it was an ally or not. Only Lucy (because of her Talent) can hear the skull, but it taunts and teases Anthony, Lucy and George to no end! This is very amusing for the reader. Obviously, the title of the book hints of the skull’s importance in the book, but you’ll have to read The Whispering Skull to find out just how!

While I did enjoy The Whispering Skull, I wish Stroud would have included more info regarding The Problem. I thought the world building and background was super interesting in book #1, and that we’d learn more in book #2. I also found myself wanting more horror scenes as the first book. This one is more of a mystery/adventure, featuring a competition between ghost-hunting agencies to find stolen powerful and supernatural artefacts. Don’t get me wrong- there is ghost rats, talking skulls and plenty of creepy scenes to scare a brave reader! There is also a HUGE cliff-hanger that will likely unravel some of Lockwood’s past secrets. So, although The Whispering Skull did not engage me as much as The Screaming Staircase, I will likely continue on with book #3 The Hollow Boy.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer #2) by Michelle Hodkin

Mara Dyer once believed she could run from her past.
She can’t. She used to think her problems were all in her head.
They aren’t.
She couldn’t imagine that after everything she’s been through, the  boy she loves would still be keeping secrets.
She’s wrong.
 
In this gripping sequel to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the truth
evolves and choices prove deadly. What will become of Mara Dyer next?

evolution

After the cliff hanger of an ending in ‘The Unbecoming of Mara  Dyer’, I immediately put the sequel on hold.   This action is extremely rare for me, as I prefer stand-alone titles and try to avoid committing to series.  I’m so glad this book did not disappoint.  It picks up right where the previous book left off and takes readers on one crazy, thrill ride.  Fans that enjoyed the creepiness in book one have plenty to look forward to, including: one freaky handmade doll, dead crows, and a mental hospital.   I must admit that I didn’t fully ‘get’ what was happening at all times (including the flashbacks to India), yet I was still completely engrossed in this psychological tale.  Hodkin had my attention from page one as I attempted to formulate theories on Mara’s situation.  Just when I thought I had it all figured out… BAM.  Major twists (or shall I say allies) I never saw coming!

In comparison of the two books, I’m glad that Hodkin downplayed the romance element.  I didn’t completely hate Noah in this one.  Yet, I still think he was way over protective and Mara relied on him too much.  I also wish their abilities were tested just a tad more. At this point, they are still unsure of what and who they are.

I did find some parts a little drawn out and lengthy (the book is over 500 pages!), which makes me question whether a third book in the series was truly necessary.  I guess there is only one way to find out…. The Retribution of Mara Dyer will be released Fall 2013.

Review: Rotters by Daniel Kraus

Grave-robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It’s true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey’s life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school.

Everything changes when Joey’s mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey’s father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey’s life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.

 <— Love the cover.

This is one heck of a dark, depressing and creepy book. The description of decaying corpses is enough to make your stomach churn (coffin liquor anyone?) However, the intense dark matter it what makes it so unique and original. It is definitely something I’ve never read before.  I especially enjoyed learning about the history and mythology of grave robbing. At the same time, I wondered how exactly Kraus completed his research for the book. It felt like the detailed descriptions stemmed from actual experience-including how to escape being buried alive, and how to rob a grave without being detected.  A less morbidly explaination points to Kraus’ excellent writing ability (which is undeniably evident throughout).

Although it is based on grave robbing and death, there are also many other themes and issues in the book including family relationships and bullying. I don’t understand how his biology teacher could get away with such harassment. I felt sorry for Joey, but also frustrated and angry with him for not seeking help.  In the end, I was satisfied with Joey’s story and the ending. While Joey’s story could be continued in a series, I’m glad it remains a well-written stand-alone title.

Book Review: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff is one of the most fascinating, original stories I’ve read in a long time. I found it so fitting that I read this book over Halloween since the story also takes place around the same creepy time. Around Halloween you begin thinking about all the ugly, twisted things in the world, and this story delivers all that and more! 

From Goodreads:Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world. Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

🙂 THE GOOD

-Descriptions. The descriptions of the town (Gentry) and the twisted, dark underworld (Mayhem) were definitely the strongest elements of the book. In an eerie, fantasy based novel, the descriptions have to be strong for the reader to visualize and imagine the world in which the story is set.  Yovanoff did a fantastic job at setting the mood and backdrop.

-Storyline. The storyline is so intriguing and there is a fun genre mix of fantasy, thriller and romance that will appeal to a wide audience of readers.

-Sibling relationship. Although ‘replacement’ babies usually die at a young age, Mackie has made it to high school-largely due to his sister’s care and love. I really enjoyed that Emma is so prominent in his life.

-Take home message.  Despite all the dark and dreary elements, the main message of the book is that everyone wants and needs love—even if you aren’t human.

-Not a series. YAY- finally a good stand alone book. It seems like every book these days is being turned into a money grabbing series.

 

 😦 THE BAD

-Huh? Throughout the book, Mackie is described as being hypersensitive to loud noises, yet he can attend heavy metal rock concerts and be totally not bothered? 

-Lack of curiosity. I just don’t see how the whole town of Gentry could live with an oppressive cloud over their head and do nothing about it.  How can they just accept that babies go missing every couple of years? Also, I find it overly bizarre that Mackie himself lacks any real curiosity about what and who he truly is. Early on, he recognizes he is different, but instead of really questioning it, he tries his hardest to blend in and appear ‘normal’. Maybe it’s because he wants to be human so badly, but I just don’t buy it.

 

                                               I LOVE the cover- screams creepy!

Warning: Just so readers are aware- the book includes:  teen drinking, profanity, and sexuality.

Check out the youtube book trailer if you dare…

Book Review: Envy by Gregg Olsen

Two weeks ago, I attended the Whitehot’s Children’s Book Display at the Mississauga Library.  I was able to speak to publishing reps about upcoming new releases and get the scoop on the best reads.  I asked the rep from Sterling Children’s Books for his top pick of YA titles and he immediately picked up Envy by Gregg Olsen. The book cover itself is a high selling point, but at the same time scared me because it reminded me of the scariest movie ever- The Ring. Yes, I am still terrified of that film, and really haven’t watched a horror movie since.  Luckily, Envy isn’t so much a horror story as it is a suspenseful mystery.

Summary from Goodreads:

Envy, the series debut, involves the mysterious death of the twins’ old friend, Katelyn. Was it murder? Suicide? An accident? Hayley and Taylor are determined to find out–and as they investigate, they stumble upon a dark truth that is far more disturbing than they ever could have imagined.
 
Based on the shocking true crime about cyber-bullying,
Envy will take you to the edge–and push you right over.

I must admit, the story kept my interest. But I’m not sure it’s because of Olsen’s story or the fact that I knew the book was based on the true case of Megan Meier. If you aren’t aware of the case, Megan was 13 years old when she committed suicide after being cyberbullied by an unlikely individual. The case was highly publicized and shed light on the dangers of social media. 

Now for my critiques…

😦

–         This book had some of the worst cliffhanger lines ever. For example—When Katelyn is found dead in a bathtub with an expresso machine, Olsen writes: [someone in Port Gamble was] “loving the sad moment to the very drop”.  I also found that Olsen loved writing short empathetic sentences. For example, he ends a chapter with “…beginning of something that would change everything. Everything. Every. Single. Thing (p.16)”. The majority of chapter endings were so terrible that I was surprised there wasn’t a dramatic ‘duh duh duh’ written after them.

–         I think Olsen tried too hard to reference popular culture. From Twilight, to Smashbox makeup. Yes, it may be in ‘in’ thing now, but in a couple of years, these references will date the book.

–         Umm…did I miss something? Why exactly was the espresso coffee machine even near the bathtub in the first place?

–         SPOILER— I didn’t buy the ending. Once they found out Katelyn’s death was an accident, it was like ‘ohhhhh okay, no problem, it was an accident, end of story’.  The storyline of Katelyn was pretty much dropped there.  Then, the next chapter thrusts us back into Hay-Tay’s supernatural issues and the annoying reporter Moira. Yes, she was a little crazy stealing their dog and all, but did she really need to be murdered so that the twins could be ‘protected’? I really doubt being ploughed down by a car would look the same as falling down a rocky bank. To be ruled ‘accidental’ Port Gamble must have the worst policemen and coroners in the world.

🙂

 -I liked the supernatural ‘special’ powers between the twins and wish that it was a bigger part of the storyline. However, the ending of Envy does suggest that their powers will be more played out in the series. 

-I enjoyed reading a mystery and searching for the clues within the story to try to understand what really happened to Katelyn.

-I appreciated the fact that Olsen addressed the issue of online anonymity and the dangers of cyber bullying. Today kids are so tech savvy and cyber bullying is sadly becoming a more prevalent form of bullying.

 

Want more Envy?

Click to watch the Youtube book trailer

Or visit www.emptycoffinseries.com for more information on the book and cyberbulling. You can even take a ‘how mean are you?’ quiz!

 

Humourous. Hair-raising. Haunting. It’s Darren Shan’s Cirque Du Freak!

Time and time again, I have been told to read the Cirque du Freak series.  For some reason, I don’t usually like reading series books. I like one strong story to be told in one book—not spread over a couple of books. However, after reading the first book in the Cirque du Freak series, I know that I will be continuing on to find out what happens to Darren Shan.  I should have known– I mean, J.K Rowling herself endorses the book right on the cover, ‘A compelling book… a plot full of twists which leaves the reader hungry for more’.  So true!

Want an interesting fact? Darren Shan is a pen name. The author’s real name is Darren O’Shaughnessy, but he uses his main character’s name as his pen name.  Sometimes the book is referred to as ‘The Saga of Darren Shan’ by Darren Shan, with the main character’s name also being Darren Shan. Confused yet?

Basically the story follows fourteen year old Darren Shan and his friend Steve as they attend a showing of the Cirque du Freak.  They witness a snake-boy, a wolf-man, and much more! However, it’s the performing spider named Madam Octa that really captivates and causes future problems for Darren.

The book reminded me of R.L Stine’s Goosebumps series that I used to read as a kid. I can’t stand reading or watching anything scary, so I’m not sure why I loved that series so much. Perhaps it’s because it kept me glued to the page and held my attention. That is why I will be recommending the Cirque du Freak novels for even the most reluctant readers. Far from boring, the entire book is fast paced—something crazy, dangerous, or creepy happening on every page! However, I do recommend that readers should be aged 10 and older, as it is not for the faint of heart.

I only found two minor snags in Shan’s writing. First, in Darren and Steve’s conversations, they often used adult expressions and sounded more like adults than fourteen year olds. Also, I was slightly annoyed by the excessive use of exclamation marks!!! For example, take a look on page 11 and there are three exclamation points in five sentences!!! Since I loved the book so much, I will overlook these slight issues.

Some patrons have told me there is also a film adaptation of the book. They have warned me it isn’t as good as the book. Isn’t this always the case? Despite this notice, I still plan on tracking down a copy so I can compare the book to the movie myself.

                                 

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