Review: Welcome to the Dark House

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Title: Welcome to the Dark House

Author: Laurie Faria Stolarz

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Date: July 22, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

The typography on this one called to me again. It was only after I checked this one out from the library that I realized it was by the same fright-inducing author as Blue is for Nightmares, which haunted me throughout my teen years. I made a stupid decision and read this one anyway.

A brief summary from the author’s website (which, by the way, has a neat gif-version of the cover):

For Ivy Jensen, it’s the eyes of a killer that haunt her nights. For Parker Bradley, it’s bloodthirsty sea serpents that slither in his dreams.

And for seven essay contestants, it’s their worst nightmares that win them an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at director Justin Blake’s latest, confidential project. Ivy doesn’t even like scary movies, but she’s ready to face her real-world fears. Parker’s sympathetic words and perfect smile help keep her spirits up. . . at least for now.

Not everyone is so charming, though. Horror-film fanatic Garth Vader wants to stir up trouble. It’s bad enough he has to stay in the middle of nowhere with this group-the girl who locks herself in her room; the know-it-all roommate; “Mister Sensitive”; and the one who’s too cheery for her own good. Someone has to make things interesting.

Except, things are already a little weird. The hostess is a serial-killer look-alike, the dream-stealing Nightmare Elf is lurking about, and the seventh member of the group is missing.

If you imagine touches of And Then There Were None mixed with a contemporary horror movie, that would describe this book fairly well.

It switches perspectives between each of the characters who win a trip to meet Justin Blake, one the most popular horror movie directors in the world. We get a little bit of background on some of the characters beforehand, but most, we only meet once they’re in the Dark House – their vacation-stay reward. I was a little confused trying to get to know each of the characters and their personalities, but maybe that was just because I had to keep taking breaks from the book so I wouldn’t freak myself out, and I kept forgetting who everyone was.

As you might have guessed, their fake-horror trip quickly takes a shift towards real horror. When the characters end up at an abandoned amusement park with instructions to find their own nightmare ride, some take to the challenge with enthusiasm and some begin to worry that maybe this trip isn’t what it seems to be. One of the fun things about the book was trying to figure out – are they still just on their reward? Is all of this fake? Who put together the amusement park and why? Are they in real danger? And if so, how on earth are they going to get out of it?

Honestly, the only reason I’m giving this 4 stars instead of 5 is because it gave me nightmares. I don’t like horror novels and this book reminded me why. Still, if you want a good scare, do pick this one up. And according to Goodreads, it’s the first in a series – so you can look forward to that as well (although I won’t, because I’ve scared myself well enough already).

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

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Review: Drowned

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Title: Drowned

Author: Nichola Reilly

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Publication Date: June 24, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I’ve been on a post-apocalyptic YA kick lately – well, who’s kidding who, I’m always on a post-apocalyptic YA kick. I picked up Drowned on my last stop at the library, hoping for the best, and just finished it this afternoon. Mixed feelings on this one, folks.

First, a brief summary from the author’s website:

Coe is one of the few remaining teenagers on the island of Tides. Deformed and weak, she is constantly reminded that in a world where dry land dwindles at every high tide, she is not welcome. The only bright spot in her harsh and difficult life is the strong, capable Tiam—but love has long ago been forgotten by her society. The only priority is survival.

Until the day their King falls ill, leaving no male heir to take his place. Unrest grows, and for reasons Coe cannot comprehend, she is invited into the privileged circle of royal aides. She soon learns that the dying royal is keeping a secret that will change their world forever.

Is there an escape from the horrific nightmare that their island home has become? Coe must race to find the answers and save the people she cares about, before their world and everything they know is lost to the waters.

What I liked was the mystery surrounding this group’s existence on the island. I thought the story was set in the future, and it was fun trying to work out how the world came to the point that it is in the book. The humans who face the tides have reverted to a sort of primitive survival mode – love and attachments aren’t really a thing, brutal fights for power are common, and every day they face the dangers of the rising water and the vicious scribblers that lie in wait. The mood is intense and the story’s action never slows.

Also, I don’t want to give away one of the important twists near the end, but be aware – not everything is what it seems to be. You’ll probably see one twist coming, but the other will blow you away.

At the same time, the book falls into some of the traps that I was hoping it wouldn’t. As soon as I found out that the characters didn’t know what kissing was, I could feel the awkward learning-how-to-kiss scene from a mile away. There’s also an unnecessary love triangle, which, to be honest, made me want to put the book aside in boredom.

But overall, this was a story I’d never heard told before. Supposedly, there will be a sequel – which I’ll probably end up reading, just to find out what happens next. We’re just getting to the good part when Drowned ends. As long as you are aware that you’ll have to work past the cliches, definitely give this one a try if you’re into post-apocalyptic goodness.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Otherbound

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Title: Otherbound

Author: Corinne Duyvis

Publisher: Amulet Books

Publication Date: June 17, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

The duality of the cover immediately caught my eye, as did the title (otherbound? bound to what other?). I ended up reading this one in just one weekend. Part of the time I was reading it, I was on a boat – but only physically; mentally I was with Nolan and Amara as they fought for their lives in their respective circumstances.

As always, a brief summary from the author’s website:

Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

I’m a sucker for the visit-another-world-when-you-sleep trope. This book, however, goes a step further, because whenever Nolan closes his eyes – even if it’s just to blink for half a second – he gets pulled into a fantasy realm, though the mute Amara’s eyes. Getting adjusted to Nolan’s world and Amara’s world and trying to figure out how they’re connected and why was a delight. Most of the book was a good old fashioned fantasy/sci-fi adventure, which was engaging and full of surprising developments along the way.

Additionally, Otherbound has a variety of automatic star-winners for me. POC lead characters! Queer lead characters! Point of view from varying genders! Kick-ass disabled characters! Morally complicated characters that fit all of the above! Love.

One thing that kept it from getting five stars was the fact that sometimes it was hard to follow the goings-on in Amara’s world – too much technical vocabulary, too many rules for magic, too many things that were too hard to understand. I liked getting thrown into her world immediately, but it was too difficult to follow some of the intricacies, which annoyed me after a while. Also, there were too many crucial plot details that were skimmed over or left unexplained.

Overall, though, I loved this book. I wish there was a second one, actually, and I’ll definitely be reading this one over again. I already miss the characters, which I completely credit to Duyvis and her creative style and characterization. Bravo to her for this spectacular piece of fantasy.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Book Characters Who Would Be Sitting At My Lunch Table

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Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogging meme that was created by The Broke and the Bookish.

School’s back in session! And with it, my teaching job – which is why I haven’t been posting as frequently. However, even though it’s a bit late in the day, I didn’t want to miss out on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday! The theme is to choose characters who would be sitting at your lunch table at school. Back in my high school days, the people I sat with all had the same qualities about them – they were quiet in class but genuinely eccentric, loyal and accepting, and all a bit socially inept. So the book characters who would best fit in with us, I think, would be:

1. Hermione from the Harry Potter series. Her unpopularity, general intelligence, and inability to be, uh, tactful? when making friends? would definitely count her among our ranks.

2. Laurel from Love Letters to the Dead. Her general personality and her intense connection to writing as a form of expression would match her nicely with my group of peers.

3. Adam from If I Stay. My friends, to be quiet honest, were a bit on the punk side. So if we kept Adam’s musicality and style but not his popularity, that’d be us.

4. Sarah from The ListLikewise, I think most of us were completely against the typical popular culture and did our best to stand out, even obnoxiously so. I hate my high school self in retrospect for this.

5. Ethan from The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy. Again, mostly because he’s good-hearted but also inanely sarcastic and pretentious.

6. Craig from It’s Kind of a Funny StoryMostly because he is one of the most realistic characters I can think of who also dealt with mental illness. He’d fit right in with us.

7. Eleanor from Eleanor and Park. Eleanor is, again, a bit off-the-beaten-path in terms of how she dresses and acts, but she’s also very passionate about music and comics, and our lunch table had no lack of passion.

8. Scott from the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. Scott is an awkward person. He’s also kind of an idiot, but a lovable one who does make mistakes and realizes it. He’d fit right in.

9. Holden from The Catcher in the Rye. Sarcastic, strange, a little bit crazy, as per the theme. Also, I’m putting him on here because I’d want to meet him and the idea of having lunch with him pleases me.

10. Charlie from The Perks of Being a WallflowerNo explanation necessary.

Even though I only ever ate with maybe five people maximum, I think this is a pretty solid list. We’d get along well, I think, and definitely be able to have enough things in common to keep a decent conversation going. Either that, or we’d be able to sit in companionable silence. I think most of these characters wold be the kind that would be okay with talking but also okay with just eating in good company – a wonderful trait.

Let me know what you think of my fictional lunch table and who would be at yours!

Tara