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: The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

Book Review: The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

Series: Bloodlines (#4)
Shelved:
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!

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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!

Book Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Book Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Series: Penryn and the End of Days (#1)
Shelved:
Young adult fiction (paranormal – angels, fantasy, post-apocalyptic)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: The Book Depository
More: Goodreads

Angelfall was a book I had heard a lot about. In 2011, the blogosphere exploded with enthusiastic reviews praising this newly self-published book about angels and the apocalypse. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but being unable to resist hype, I caved and bought the eBook. As fellow book bloggers and book lovers will know, we often cannot read books at the rate we acquire them, and so it sat left unread on my Kindle. Until now. Angelfall is published in the UK on 23rd May and so I thought it was about time to finally start reading it. Does it live up to the hype?

Seventeen-year-old Penryn is pushing her younger sister’s wheelchair through the deserted streets of Mountain View, CA, in the heart of Silicon Valley, when she witnesses a gruesome angel fight. It has been six weeks and no one knows why the angels have taken over Earth and massacred millions of humans, but it’s starting to look like they’re here to stay. When one of the beautiful yet macabre creatures flies away with Paige in his grasp, Penryn is determined to find the angel aerie, save her sister, and make the angels pay – with the help of Raffe, the now unconscious and bloody angel, ruthlessly removed wings surrounding him.

Angelfall is brutal, but compellingly so. Penryn’s apocalypse is bloody and violent, a world where humans turn on each other while attempting to stay out of the way of the menacing not-exactly-living-up-their-angelic-stereotype creatures, unless they can salvage body parts to sell. Susan Ee’s new world is terrifying, but luckily we have Penryn for company. She is strong, smart, fast, a martial arts pro (thanks to her mother’s paranoid schizophrenia, obviously), loyal, and surprisingly quite funny. She is a fantastic protagonist, as is Raffe, our injured angel. I’m not one for mythical creatures, but Penryn and Raffe make a brilliant pair. Ee’s angels are hauntingly realistic and, like Penryn, I had to keep reminding myself that they were far from human.

Angelfall was a magnificent surprise that fortunately lived up to its hype. I hung onto every word, following Penryn and Raffe’s treacherous footsteps as they made their way to San Francisco to find Paige, dead or alive. I laughed at the pair’s witty banter and jumped at every surprise. I noticed half way though the book that not much had happened – not in a bad way, I was thoroughly enjoying it – and that I was not going to be given as much of the story as I wanted, so I eagerly added the as yet untitled second book to my Goodreads ‘wishlist’. I’ll have to wait to find out Penryn and Raffe’s fate.

If you love witty banter, a dangerous apocalypse, and a cling-on-to-your-seat plot, then why haven’t you read Angelfall yet?

Published: 23rd May 2013, originally 1st May 2011
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 272
Source: Thank you Hodder & Stoughton for providing this book for review!

Book Review: The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead

Book Review: The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead

Series: Bloodlines (#3)
Shelved: Young adult fiction (paranormal – vampires, romance)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: The Book Depository
More: Goodreads

The Indigo Spell is the third book in the Bloodlines series, so I advise you not to keep reading this review if you’ve not read the first book.

Annnnd we’re back! Sydney Sage, rule-abiding Alchemist and not-so-secret friend of the Moroi, is once again thrown into the deep end. Sydney finally tracks down Marcus Finch in an attempt to know whether an Alchemist’s life is really her only choice, and is simultaneously under threat from a powerful woman responsible for murdering young witches by stealing their youth. And then there’s Adrian Ivashkov.

Bloodlines is just an incredibly fun, addictive and entertaining series, and I was very much looking forward to the third book, The Indigo Spell. We are now halfway through Bloodlines and it’s starting to heat up. I mentioned in my review of the last book, The Golden Lily, that I was surprised to find that the series was less paranormal, and more contemporary romance, and that is still, much to my delight, the case. Among the Strigoi, Moroi, dabbling in magic, and a slight amusing Game of Thrones twist, it is really just about a bunch of teenagers attending boarding school, trying not to get into trouble and surviving the drama that is teenager romance. And, at last, Sydney is not exempt from this ordeal.

Sydney Sage is a wonderful character to watch grow. As I have said before, I have absolutely no issue with her being a ‘perfect’ and near Mary Sue-type character. I do not believe that living recklessly is the only way somebody can be interesting and funny and intelligent – Sydney is all of those! But I did rather enjoy watching Sydney and Adrian get into a few scrapes in this novel, while trying to solve the mystery that is Marcus Finch and the indigo spell, and following up on the tasks that Ms. Terwilliger laid out for them both. I enjoyed the amusing banter between them both, including the constant teasing and compliments given by Adrian. I was never a massive supporter of Adrian in Vampire Academy, although I did like him, but I’ve begun to appreciate him more and more. He may go a little too far sometimes, but his wit more than makes up for it.

The Fiery Heart, the fourth book in the series, is published November 2013 – I’m glad we do not have to wait too long to find out what happens next (especially after that dramatic ending where everything is thrown into disarray just as Sydney decides she knows what she wants! You are so cruel, Richelle Mead). If you are looking for a series that will enable you to escape, Bloodlines might just be the right choice.

“Adrian shook his head, still smiling. “I’ve said over and over, I’d do anything for you. I just keep hoping it’ll be something like, ‘Adrian, let’s go hot tubbing’ or ‘Adrian, take me out for fondue.'”
“Well, sometimes we have to–did you say fondue?” Sometimes it was impossible to follow Adrian’s train of thought. “Why in the world would I ever say that?”
He shrugged. “I like fondue.”


Published: 12th February 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books (UK) Razorbill (US)
Pages: 416 (UK) 432 (US)
Source: Thank you Penguin Books for providing this book to review!
If you liked: Vampire Academy
Soundtrack: Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac

Book Review: Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones

Book Review: Constable &Toop by Gareth P. Jones

Pub. Date: 4th October 2012
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 372
Readership: Children’s fiction
Genres: Paranormal – ghosts
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy: Paperback
More: Goodreads

Set in 1884, during the forty-seventh year of Queen Victoria’s reign, Constable & Toop is a marvellous Victorian ghost story told by a hoard of extraordinary characters. I knew I was about to embark on something a little different as soon as I opened the book and was confronted with ‘Praise’, not from press or reviewers, but from famous ghosts: ‘I wish I had written this story’ says The Ghost of Charles Dickens.

Sam Toop is an undertaker’s son and it’s all he’s ever known. He’s used to death, but he cannot possibly get used to his unusual gift – he can see, hear, and talk to ghosts. They constantly plead to be heard and ask for help to accomplish things they can no longer do. On the other side: Lapsewood, a conscientious ghost whose work is unappreciated. Lapsewood is horrified to discover that haunted houses throughout London are losing their ghosts and that a mysterious Black Rot, undetected by humans, is trapping new ghosts and acting as a blockade. And don’t mention the terrifying demon hound roaming London’s streets.

Before I start to write a review, I sit down and list the main things I enjoyed about a book. But I’m struggling; I want to put everything down. Constable & Toop is full of wonderful, believable characters with colourful personalities. These characters – from Sam, our protagonist, to Clara, the journalist-in-practice daughter of wealthy Londoners – are a joy to read about. They’re extremely witty, but the sort of skilful wit that I do not come across often, such as Marquis, who has a tendency to burst into inspirational speeches during inappropriate situations, and the Artful Dodger-esque Tanner who’s determined to defy the Bureau. Every character has a fascinating history and although we do not read about them all in detail, each offers us a glimpse into how a character came to be, allowing us to appreciate the richness of the story.

Constable & Toop is a mystery set at a perfect pace, with excellent foreshadowing and impeccable characters. It’s almost wasted on children (joking, joking!). Even if you do not usually read children’s fiction, you need to pick this up. I sometimes read younger books and wonder if I’d have appreciated them more as a child, but Constable & Toop offers something for all ages. I’d have never understood the subtle references as a child. It tackles mourning, morality, and ethics, but it’s not a lecture on good behaviour. It’s one of those stories that once finished, you want to pick up and read all over again.

You can read the first few chapters here.

Thank you Hot Key Books for providing this book for review!

Book Review: The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

Book Review: The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

Pub. Date:12th June 2012
Publisher: Puffin (UK) Razorbill (US)
Pages: 432 (UK) 417 (US)
Series: Bloodlines (#2)
Readership: Young adult
Genres: Paranormal – vampires, romance
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Paperback
More: Goodreads

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

Sydney Sage, the intelligent and classy Alchemist that we were first introduced to in Vampire Academy, is still living in Palm Springs, sunny California. Sydney is protecting Jill Mastrano, sister to the Moroi queen, from those who may want to kill her and overthrow vampire royalty. Meanwhile, Sydney’s concerned about getting too close to the Moroi and dhampirs, terrified that she’ll be sent for ‘re-education’, but as she spends more time getting to know Jill, Eddie, Adrian and friends, she begins to question the central principles and beliefs held by the Alchemists.

Vampire Academy, and now Bloodlines, as I’ve said before, are my ‘guilty pleasures’. I’m not wide read within the paranormal genre – it’s definitely not one of my favourites – but something about the world of Richelle Mead draws me in. I love the characters, the drama, and the fact that these paranormal entities – vampires, dhampirs, and magic – are easily interwoven with our world was we know it. It makes everything so much more palatable and believable as a reader, at least, for me. It occurred to me while reading The Golden Lily that it isn’t that paranormal at all, but much more like contemporary and realistic fiction. Contemporary paranormal?!

As always, I really enjoyed reading about Sydney Sage. I can’t help but relate to her (as a fellow human!). Sydney begins to find out more about herself in this book – what she believes in, what she enjoys, and who she trusts. I enjoyed watching her relationship with Adrian slowly develop (not a spoiler! It’s obvious from the beginning, and in Bloodlines, that they’re interested in each other), wondering how she was going to deal with it, since she’s always felt that vampires are ‘unnatural’ and inherently ‘wrong’. Their relationship is complicated, sincere, and subtle, and quite different from Adrian’s relationship with Rose in Vampire Academy.

I thought there was a lot less mystery to this story, though I liked how the reader had more freedom to ‘guess’ what was going on, rather than Sydney figuring everything out first. I enjoyed the contemporary themes and feel of the whole book.

Bloodlines is a series that is just plain fun! The third book, The Indigo Spell, published February 2013, gives us clues as to which direction the fantasy plot will take, but as for Sydney’s complicated relationship? I really do not know. I can’t wait to see where this series is headed!

Thank you Razorbill for providing this book for review!