Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Dead House

Carly and Kaitlyn Johnson share the same body. Carly gets the day and Kaitlyn gets the night. Carly was treated for dissociative identity disorder, presumed to be triggered by the death of her parents. Twenty-five years ago the school they attended burned down and Carly vanished. Carly was assumed responsible but nothing proven, not until the discovery of a journal which sheds sinister new light onto the events leading up to the fire.

Told through Kaitlyn’s journal entries, transcripts, interviews and emails, The Dead House is genuinely creepy in the kind of way low budget horror films are. You don’t get to see the whole picture and often accounts just cut off. There are shadows just out of view and plenty of unanswered questions.

I liked how, initially, the lines are blurred between Carly’s mental illness and the possibility of supernatural elements. Is she having a psychotic break or is she being haunted? It’s just as terrifying to think that such real experiences can be triggered in our own minds. I was hoping it was going to explore more the idea of an alternate personality suffering from their own mental illness, separate to the dissociative identity disorder.

They try to trick me – lie to me. Tell me things… that are so beyond hurtful that I think they must be denizens from hell to do that. They make me feel like poison. Like an illness. A symptom of some horrible disease.

The story wavered for me once it started to focus on the Mala elements. From what I can gather, Mala is a fictional religion originating from the Scottish Islands, with a basis in voodoo. Naida, a fellow student at Elmbridge who films much of the events via the camera in her top hat, practices Mala and believes some bad mojo is infecting Carly and Kaitlyn.

Naida befriends both Carly and Kaitlyn, believing they are two souls in one body. Her friendship leads them either deeper into their psychosis or into a scary world of possession, depending on if you believe Dr Lansing or Naida. As the story gets darker, Kaitlyn starts to dream of the Dead House where Carly is trapped.

They saw a drunk, when I was broken.
They saw sarcasm, when I was sobbing.
They saw me push them away, when I was screaming for their love.

The ending is suggestively open but I felt it was leaning much more towards one viewpoint than the other. I couldn’t really accept the group hysteria theory in relation the events near the end.

The Dead House is published by Indigo, an imprint of Orion, and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 6th August 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Monday, 27 July 2015

All Involved

In 1992, when the white cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted of assault and walked away scot free, racial tensions in Los Angeles flared and triggered six days of rioting. In the South Central neighbourhood of Lynwood, another story plays out, telling the untold stories of the people mixed up in the lawlessness.

The sheriffs never abandon the town in western movies. It’d be un-American. But it’s happening here.

The title refers to the term given to those involved with gang activity in LA. Yet it also reflects on how every becomes involved due to proximity or family ties. The death tolls of the riots didn’t take into account those who died in areas left without emergency services for 6 days, areas where gang related crime when through the roof, where no police presence triggered a free-for-all. All Involved transports the reader to a city that feels like a war zone.

The gang members are portrayed as humans, not stereotypes or bit-part characters to play a part. Told via multiple narrators, there are plenty of people who do things that are unforgivable, yet you can still see them as just people. People who have made some bad choices, who are struggling to survive in a world that is very much survival of the fittest, where fittest often means the most feared. Every time someone’s age is mentioned, it always surprised just how young they all are.

The multiple narration is so well done, with so many distinct voices. It’s not just the gang members who tell their tale, but also emergency services workers and those just trying to protect what is theirs. However there isn’t a sympathetic law enforcement figure included in the narrators.

The day someone on TV has to write an incident report on a fuckup and admit responsibility for it like we do, that’s the day no one wants to be a newscaster anymore.

It’s hard to fathom what would make someone attack a fireman, and in such a brutal manner. They are only there to help people. The connections between people and events runs through the different narratives if you care to make them. The man who attacked the fireman is described only by his scars, and as I read on, I was surprised by the person implied to be the culprit. It is never confirmed but the way they were portrayed completely didn’t fit with the senseless crime. Maybe that’s the point. There is little logic when mob mentality strikes.

In a way, the gangs have their own form of justice but this does result in a never ending cycle of revenge. There is a greater sense of injustice when something happens to those who have stayed out of the gangs. The “you play you pay” mentality means that those involved expect death and violence, but it’s not OK to target those who had a chance at something else. Big Fate’s crew, despite being certain criminals, they at least seem to have that over their rivals. When they kill, it’s not innocent family members, but people that should pay for their crimes.

You plunk a bunch of people down from all over everywhere, keep them in their corners and don’t let them mix and figure shit out, and they all got minds to compete, cuz shit, everybody in LA’s hustling all the time for everything.

I read this straight after To Kill a Mockingbird. One would hope in the years between the books, the world would have moved on, but equality isn’t there yet. All Involved may be set in 1992 but we keep seeing the events that kicked off the LA riots happen again and again. It doesn’t really touch on the events that led to the riots, but it highlights that people were living in different worlds, defined by the colour of their skin or the place their grandparents came from. And those are things individuals have no chance to change.

I wouldn’t normally choose to read about gangs, but All Involved will stick with me, I am sure. It’s brutal and shocking, but also shows unexpected tenderness and fierce loyalty.

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Also reviewed @ Random Things Through My Letterbox




Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Incoming!

I haven't had to read a book for book group in ages, either I'd already read it or I couldn't make the meeting, so I have pre-bought the next three months' worth and will try and read them promptly. There's a couple of thrillers so I will have to psyche myself up to be in the mood but I am looking forward to The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August which has been on my wishlist a while.

I'm not sure what's going on with UKYA titles in September; we have a Monster and Monsters coming up. This could get confusing... I also received an Adventure Time book which I'm giving away here.

Have you read any of these? Feel free to leave your (spoiler-free) thoughts or links to reviews in the comments.


For review:

Monster by C.J. Skuse (MIRA Ink)
Led Astray by Kelley Armstrong (Tachyon)
This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp (Sourcebooks Fire)
Monsters by Emerald Fennell (Hot Key Books)
Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter (Jo Fletcher Books)*
Dust and Desire by Conrad Williams (Titan Books)*

Bought:

All Involved by Ryan Gattis
The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith


*Unsolicited titles

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Night School: Endgame

Endgame is the final book in the Night School series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Why couldn't they have even a day to be normal kids in a normal school, with their A levels the biggest obstacle ahead of them?

Allie can’t believe they left Carter behind. She’ll never forgive them if he’s dead. Back at Cimmeria Academy, the students and teachers regroup to form a plan to find him and stop Nathan once and for all. The endgame has started.

The Night School story has come to an end. I loved this series at the start but the last couple of books have trailed off for me and I think it was the right time to end it. I was starting to feel the whole Orion organisation was a bit tenuous.

Considering I applauded the handling of a “love triangle” at the beginning, it’s goes severely downhill at the end. Allie’s behaviour towards Sylvain was pretty rotten and I have been left with the feeling that I don’t like this girl very much. I may have misconstrued it but it seemed like she didn’t want to dump one until she knew the other wasn’t going to die. Considering how much she thinks about the boys, they have very little presence in the story, making it feel like a lot of it is just what’s swirling round in her head.

We're young. This is the age when we're supposed to make mistakes. You have to let yourself learn. We're still figuring out what we want. Who we are. All of us are.

The plot’s pretty weak and I do think Endgame and Resistance could have been one book and still have managed to tie off the loose ends. Young adult books don’t generally focus on the older adults, and here I think I wanted that. Nathaniel’s a bit of a cardboard cut-out villain, with some hints of humanity that wanted exploring but were just mentioned then forgotten about. Having got to the end, I still don’t quite see the whole point on Orion considering what their great plan to end the fighting was. Why did it all matter so much in the first place?

If you’ve been reading the series, you’ll definitely want to know how it pans out and I found Endgame to be a quick read. It was good to have some closure.

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Win Adventure Time Art Book!


Any fan of Adventure Time’s wonderful post-apocalyptic world will fall head over heels for the second volume of Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards. This stunning book features the complete set of distinctive title cards from seasons three and four of the worldwide cult phenomenon. With sketches, works in progress, revisions and the final title card itself, as well as commentary from the artists – Pendleton Ward, Andy Ristaino, Nick Jennings, Phil Rynda and Paul Linsley – this collection is a visual guide through the process of development and a celebration of the show’s exceptional creative talent.

Want to win a copy? I have one to giveaway to a lucky reader courtesy of Titan Books. Please note this giveaway is open to the UK only due to weight of book.

Adventure Time: The Original Cartoon Title Cards (Seasons 3 & 4) will be available to buy in hardback from 4th August 2015.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

One

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins. This year, with their parents unable to afford home schooling any longer, they are going to high school. Prepared for cruelty and stares, they are not prepared for friendship. Or an impossible decision that will change everything.

One is a gorgeous, compassionate story about two sisters, simply told but so powerful. Even the most cold-hearted will be moved by Grace and Tippi, who have no choice to spend their every moment together. Yet they don’t despise each other, instead they are the best of friends. Yes, sometimes life is hard, but they really don’t want to live without the other.

Of course, it’s not just about what they want. Their parents are struggling financially due to medical bills (yes, a story to make you feel grateful for the NHS) and Grace hasn’t been feeling all the great lately. She does her best to hide it, but she can’t hide anything from Tippi. And when she meets a boy she likes, they both have to face the fact that kind of love isn’t something they can have. What kind of boy would want them?

It touches a little on the kind of attention conjoined twins get, not just at school but the media interest. How much is their privacy really worth? I can understand the interest in them though, we spend so much time by ourselves, and we always have the option to hide ourselves away. So what is it like when that basic human right isn’t available; they never have privacy from each other. Although their therapist had an ingenious idea to make one of them listen to music whilst the other talked. That’s the closest to alone they get.

Told in free verse, this isn’t your average young adult novel. But please don’t be put off, it is so easy to read and is so emotional. It reads more like Grace’s stream of consciousness than a poem.

One will be published by Bloomsbury on 27th August 2015 in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Monday, 20 July 2015

UK Goodreads Giveaways



Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
25 copies, UK + Ireland
Ends 30th July

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
40 copies, UK + Ireland
Ends 26th July

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
5 copies, UK + Australia
Ends 29th July

Monsters by Emerald Fennell
20 copies, UK only
Ends 1st August



Night Owls by Jenn Bennett
10 copies, UK only
Ends 1st August

Sunkissed by Jenny McLachlan
3 copies, UK + Australia
Ends 30th July

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies
30 copies, UK only
Ends 24th July

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
10 copies, UK only
Ends 27th July



The Affinity Bridge by George Mann
5 copies, UK only
Ends 22nd July

How You See Me by S.E. Craythorne
10 copies, UK only
Ends 14th August

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
10 copies, UK + Ireland
Ends 3rd August

The Killing Kind by Chris Holm
10 copies, UK only
Ends 28th July

Saturday, 18 July 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird

It's never an insult to be called what someone thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you.

Unlike half the country, I was not forced to read To Kill a Mockingbird at school and with all the fanfare and kerfuffle going on around the publication of Go Set a Watchman, I thought I’d finally get round to reading it. And I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting it to me more focused on the court case rather than the life of a small, southern town through the eyes of a child. It is a charming book and not as dark as all the critical analysis would make it out to be.

My cluelessness regarding the book extended to the existence of Boo Radley. Clearly that’s where one hit wonder The Boo Radleys got their name from and consequentially I ended up with Wake Up Boo stuck in my head for half the book. The whole spooky house where the recluse lives thing has become a bit of a cliché over the years but things become clichés for a reason. I felt the lesson of prejudice Scout learns regarding Boo makes much more of an impression on her than her father’s court case.


Of course the central themes are injustice and racism, much explored and discussed in numerous places already. It’s hard to fathom such a world existed not all that long ago. I can imagine it having a greater impact when it was first published, but taking a more modern viewpoint, it doesn’t quite challenge enough. Atticus is a decent man doing his job, but everyone else just turns a blind eye to racism and it isn’t challenged. I guess it was a sign of the times…

I read this piece in The Guardian shortly after finishing Mockingbird and found myself nodding. I don’t think Atticus was ever perfect in the first place, the story is told through the rose tinted spectacles of youth after all. He is infuriatingly nice and respectful to everyone, even racist old drug addicts. It’s an admirable quality in a father to teach his children to respect everyone equally, but then some people don’t deserve that respect. I wanted to side with Scout and her desire to fight anyone who disparaged her father’s good nature.

I was also really saddened by Mayella, she is such a brief character but the poor girl. She’s “white trash” and a liar so we’re not meant to care in the confines of the story. Yet she was so lonely and a victim of abuse, not to mention the guilt she must have been burdened with. I would have liked to have known what happened to her.

I’m not particularly interested in reading Go Set a Watchman, but I can understand it’s a different perspective on a man who we only know through his loving daughter’s eyes. I’m more put off by the fact it was a book Harper apparently didn’t want published, that many people have said isn’t as polished and also that it’s lacking Scout’s innocent charm. Now if it were about Boo Radley’s life…

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Hunter's Kind

The Hunter's Kind is the second book in The Hollow Gods quartet and therefore this review may contain spoilers for Smiler's Fair.

Having fled the ashes of Smiler’s Fair, it’s time for the King of Ashaneland’s son and Moon God reborn to gather his followers. With Dae Hyo and mage Olufemi at his side, Krish travels to foreign lands and discovers that loyalty isn’t easy to find. Back in the Moon Forest, forces are gathering and their quarry is Yron. He may have been raised a lowly goatherd but now Krish is the land’s most wanted man.

These are men, Cwen reminded him, not monsters. Though from what Sang Ki had told her, the monsters were preferable.

As the title suggests, The Hunter’s Kind focuses more on those who follow the Hunter and the sun god Mizhara rather than the moon god. As the book opens, we are introduced to Cwen, a young girl who has been marked to become a Hawk, a servant to the Hunter. We learn much more about this presumed god who was only a fleeting presence in the first book and about the people who serve her.

There are a lot more revelations up at Salvation too. This was the element of the first instalment that I wasn’t so sure about. But I found myself much more invested in Eric and his wife’s future. And I’m still loving Rii, the giant bat creature he befriended.

Of course, Krish is still central to this world order and we follow him through different lands as he tries to find followers. His friendship with Dae Hyo is pushed to its limits and he struggles with his choices as he starts to realise he holds a power over people. And power always comes at a cost.

You've made my people your tools - at least have the courage to use them.

I surprisingly enjoyed the character development of Sang Ki. A character introduced as a villain, he becomes so much more rounded, perhaps softening a little and actually making friends of sorts. I think his isolated childhood and his overbearing mother did him no favours, but now he’s out in the world, we see his glee at visiting distant lands that he’d only ever read about. And his relationship with the burnt woman that he believes is Nethmi, the woman who murdered his father, goes to show how there is a chance for change in this world.

The story shows how people who believe in the same thing can be worlds apart and want very different things. Many of Yron’s followers are not nice people, to put it mildly, and so far from the kind of person Krish wants to be. Some of the people who want him dead would probably agree with his ideologies but they can’t see past the fact he is the embodiment of their god’s enemy.

He'd begun to see how people found strength and purpose in numbers. Maybe that's why the villagers of his home had been so weak. They'd been too few.

The loss of life in a pointless war is rather saddening. The connection to some characters is so well done, they may be flawed but they are people we want to see grow, yet they don’t get the chance. It is very much an unglorified war.

At one point I was worried it was descending into the kind of hopelessness that exists in so many comparable series. Without giving too much away, I would say it redeems itself and has a small degree of positivity. It turned itself round just in time to make it one of my top reads so far this year.

The Hunter's Kind is published by Hodder and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.