Addictive

‘Escape from Witchwood Hollow’ – Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

4-star-rating

Escape from Witchwood Hollow - Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

Escape from Witchwood Hollow – Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I started reading, I was a bit skeptical and thought that I would not enjoy this offering from Mierek. It opened very much like an American, young teenage fiction: a bit bland, slow to get started and, quite frankly, a bit of a hard slog for lack of interesting plot. However, after getting through the first few chapters and the story of Arnn begins to be told, I found that I couldn’t put this book down and ended up devouring the rest very quickly. It was, as my blog title states, simply, addictive.

I found myself drawn into Witchwood Hollow like the characters Mierek writes about. I too, wanted to escape the claustrophobic setting of the forest, but could not stop reading, desperate to find out what would happen to the characters. The story of Witchwood Hollow takes places over three separate time frames – Honoria’s 2001, the witch’s beginnings and Albertine. Mierek cleverly weaves their stories together and the links that are revealed throughout were a surprise to me, making this story even more enjoyable. The way time seems to slow in the forest appears to be reflected in the writings and, whilst this implies the story stagnates, it is completely the opposite: you are drawn into reading more without realising how much time has passed!

I really enjoyed reading this book and found the way the characters are all tied together at the end a great way to complete the story. I didn’t expect these revelations and this made it even more of a great read for me. I was surprised to see the cover depicts a character – perhaps, Honoria? – with pink hair as this is definitely not talked about in the novel (surely, such a distinctive feature would come up in conversation with her peers?) and it was certainly not how I imagined her. That being aside, this spooky read was a pleasant surprise after how it began in such a shaky manner.

The different layers in the story are intriguing. Were it not for the slow beginning, I would not have hesitated to give this a full five stars. Whilst it is a teenage fiction, I read past this and enjoyed the ghostly horrors that lay within the forest of Witchwood Hollow. If you do find yourself reading this, definitely persevere until Albertine reaches America: from then on, the pace really kicks off.

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Double review

‘Darkness Trilogy’ – L. M. Justus

L. M. Justus

L. M. Justus

About the author:

Lisa Justus’ path to becoming an author took a circuitous route through the University of Waterloo where she earned a Bachelor of Mathematics, followed by jobs in quality assurance and technical writing at a high-tech company. With a keen interest in creative fiction, she wrote her first fantasy novel as part of NaNoWriMo as well as an early chapter book for her kids when they were younger. Welcome to the Darkness and Darkness Reigns are the first two books of the Darkness Trilogy, a young adult paranormal fantasy.

These days Lisa is busy writing her next novel, reading, finishing her basement, doing volunteer work, and trying to stay in shape by running somewhat regularly. She, her husband, and their three children live in Ottawa, Ontario.

Author links:

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‘Welcome to the Darkness’ (Book One)

3-star-rating

Welcome to the Darkness

Welcome to the Darkness

A typical teenager, seventeen-year-old Reed Hennessy doesn’t realize how lucky he is to lead a normal life until he loses everything, including his humanity. The attacker who slaughters his family and destroys their home turns out to be a vampire, a creature Reed had considered a myth.

Now a vampire himself, but with the unique ability to walk in sunlight, Reed struggles in the dark underworld he didn’t even know existed. His only two allies in his fight to stay alive are his reluctant mentor, Nathaniel, a vampire with over two hundred years’ worth of emotional baggage, and Sarah, a rookie cop with a secret ability of her own. 

Together, Reed and his companions face a harrowing, cross-country journey before stumbling into a plot which could mean the end of everything for humans and vampires alike.

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Review:

This is an enjoyable, solid read and I found it very easy to get in to. What let the book down for me was the fact the story did not always “hang” together and I found some of the plot developments just a little bit unconvincing.

Undoubtedly, the plot of ‘Welcome to the Darkness’ moves rapidly which is a definite bonus with so many vampire stories available to read. Justus certainly puts a unique spin on vampires with features such as their saliva healing puncture wounds, going into a “death sleep” after feeding and Reed’s different abilities. This really kept me interested and I liked the originality that this gave. It didn’t take me long to get hooked into the story and I was surprised at how quickly I raced through it.

On the other hand, some parts of the plot are less convincing. The nativity of Sarah, Reed and the vampire hunters in taking down the vampire King was quite frustrating and I couldn’t quite believe how blinded they were to the obvious! I think this went hand in hand with character development: whilst Justus gives readers lots of information about the principle vampire characters, we are lacking such depth with Sarah and the other humans. Sarah is a cop who readily gives up her life to go with Reed without second thoughts and we barely hear anything about her missing her old way of life or what the consequences could be when she returned.

One other thing that bugged me about this read was how there were jumps in time but this wasn’t reflected in the formatting. I agree this might have been because I was reading a review copy so hope this is taken on board. The lack of indication that significant time had passed just added to my feelings that the story became a little far fetched.

However, that being said, I did enjoy reading ‘Welcome to the Darkness’ and found Nathaniel’s character quite amusing, particularly with some of the out-modes words he uses. The distance he keeps from others gradually changes over the story and I liked how he grew to feel protective over Reed.

This is a pretty good read and I look forward to reading the next in the series. I wonder whether ‘Welcome to the Darkness’ is more of a prequel, laying the foundations for the next novel. The blurb looks promising for the next book so I look forward to making the comparisons.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

‘Darkness Reigns’ – Book Two

3-star-rating

Darkness Reigns

Darkness Reigns

New York City is a wasteland. More than eight million people are dead or worse…infected.

After their failed attempt to stop the spread of a virus that turns people into zombie-like, human-vampire hybrids, Reed Hennessy and his ragtag crew are scrambling to stay alive. To make matters worse, the human authorities are close to proving the existence of vampires and blaming them for the disaster in New York.

Their storm of trouble is already spinning out of control when an old enemy reappears to issue a challenge–an ultimatum that will mean certain death for at least one member of Reed’s group. With their mountain of problems growing exponentially and a host of enemies closing in, they flee for their lives, desperate for a miracle. Will they survive and avoid the world’s scrutiny, or will darkness prevail?

Review:

Continuing straight where ‘Welcome to the Darkness’ concludes, this follow-on novel follows in the same vein. This time the action moves away from New York to Montreal as the gang attempt to leave behind the devastation caused by the vampire King of New York.

I certainly found this book better than the first but still felt that there was more plot and character development needed. Once again I found myself distrusting the motives of key characters, such as the King of Montreal and hoped there was more betrayal than what was eventually offered. I think my imagination added to my enjoyment of this story because I hungered for that extra depth and I found it a shame that Justus couldn’t quite deliver on this score.

The novel’s blurb reminded me of zombie films like ’28 Days Later’ and ‘Resident Evil’ but there was minimal focus on what has happened to the citizens of New York. I was hoping this would be more pivotal to the plot but with the virus killing off the humans-turned-zombies in a matter of days, the author neatly puts this out of focus, instead moving forwards with Reed and Nathaniel’s quest of escaping from the Queen of San Jose’s threats.

There were some unexpected twists and turns in this story and I enjoyed following Sarah’s character, particularly in the last third of the book. As Reed gets used to being a vampire, it is clear that he still desires to be human again and this is what sets readers up for the final book in the trilogy.

This book was given another three stars because there was still opportunity for plot development. As this wasn’t quite there throughout the story, it became a very quick read to get through. I guess this makes it more ideal for the teenage/young adult readership and can imagine they would enjoy it more. But, from an adult perspective, I think this was an average read and good for a lazy afternoon.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Surprising characters

‘The Casquette Girls’ – Alys Arden

3-star-rating

The Casquette Girls - Alys Arden

The Casquette Girls – Alys Arden

After the Storm of the Century rips apart New Orleans, Adele Le Moyne and her father are among the first to return to the city following the mandatory evacuation. Adele wants nothing more than for life to return to normal, but with the silent city resembling a mold-infested war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal will have to be redefined. 

Events too unnatural – even for New Orleans – lead Adele to an attic that has been sealed for three hundred years, and the chaos she unleashes threatens not only her life but everyone she knows. Mother Nature couldn’t drain the “joie de vivre” from the Big Easy, but someone or something is draining life from its residents.

Caught suddenly in a hurricane of eighteenth-century myths and monsters, Adele must quickly untangle a web of magic that links the climbing murder rate back to her own ancestors. But who can you trust in a city where everyone has a secret, and where keeping them can be a matter of life and death – unless, that is, you’re immortal.

I must admit, I found this story a bit difficult to get in to early on and found descriptions of a Hurricane Katrina-battered New Orleans just suffocating the plot development. But, as Adele starts to notice the strange happening around the French quarter of New Orleans and the mysterious way that she can manipulate certain objects, my attention was hooked.

Characterisation in ‘The Casquette Girls’ really fuels the story. As Adele befriends Desiree, Isaac and Ren, we begin to learn more about the legends that haunt the streets where Adele has returned to, in an effort to rebuild her life after the destruction of the hurricane. Mixed in with this is the diary of Adeline who made the same journey as Adele – coming from Paris to New Orleans – but three hundred years earlier. As Arden reveals more about Adeline’s experiences aboard the ship that brings her to America, readers start to make connections to the disappearances that are happening in New Orleans. I found many of the characters really surprising and I enjoyed the twists and turns that came along the way. Being unable to predict where the story was going was quite refreshing, particularly as this is a young adult vampire story.

The descriptions of New Orleans are very vivid and whilst I did find this made it more difficult for me to get in to the story, I could vividly imagine the Adele’s environment. In retrospect, it certainly added to the plot and atmosphere, but I feel that this could have been divulged to the reader more effectively.

When Adele has to return to school to continue her education instead of being sent back to Paris, she is given a place at a very exclusive school that has accepted two other students who have been displaced by the hurricane. Arden makes one of these students, Dixie, have more of a major role, particularly whilst Adele is settling in, but I had hoped the other mysterious student, Tyrelle, was more prominent. The author seems to suggest that Tyrelle has a story, but he eventually just fades into the background with little effort. I definitely think there was potential to use his character more.

The ending did seem to extend more than I expected but Arden does cleverly wrap up the curse of the Casquette girls. Their story was really enjoyable and I enjoyed how this ran parallel with Adele’s own investigations. The legend of the Casquette girls is originally introduced through Ren and once Adele begins translating Adelein’s diary, we fully start to learn what happened. As such, the ending was quite detailed and did lack pace at times. Nonetheless, I did appreciate how the ending was so neatly concluded but was surprised to learn that a sequel is expected. It definitely would be good to know how Adele, Desiree and Isaac have fared after their experiences, perhaps five years on, but I questions how much fuel there is to make this into a full-blown novel?

Magic, witches and vampire… this horror has everything and more. The depth to the characters is a credit to Arden’s writing and on this basis I would certainly recommend reading this. Persevere through the opening chapters and you will soon find the story pulling you in.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

A vampire story with a difference

‘Tragic Silence’ – E. C. Hibbs

3-star-rating

Tragic Silence - E. C. Hibbs

Tragic Silence – E. C. Hibbs

When tragedy strikes Bianka Farkas one night in her native Hungary, she loses more than a friend and her mobility. Some things are harder to understand. Waking up in a hospital, Bee struggles to remember exactly what happened the night she was attacked and witnessed a brutal murder. Memories of a mysterious figure plague her as well as bizarre and terrifying changes in her over the next few years. Facing this new horrifying reality with a surprising ally, Bee finally has the chance to take her revenge but at what cost?

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About the author:

E. C. Hibbs

E. C. Hibbs

E. C. Hibbs has lived all her life in Cheshire, north-west England. A lover of stories from an early age, she wrote her first ‘book’ when she was five, and throughout school was a frequent visitor to the younger classes to read her tales to the children.

Living so near the coast, she loves anything to do with the sea. She studied Animal Behaviour at university and longs to work with marine mammals in the future. As well as nature and animals, she also has a soft spot for history, and loves paying visits to castles, cathedrals and museums.

There are many things she could be without, but writing isn’t one of them. She carries a pen everywhere, in case an idea appears, and takes pride in still seeing the world as brimming with magic. Besides writing, she reads obsessively, her favourite genres being the classics and all kinds of fantasy. She also enjoys Disney and horror films, practising Shotokan karate, drawing, archery, and playing with her very cheeky kitten.

Author links:

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Review:

When I realised this was a vampire story, I was expecting something along the lines of biting humans, beautiful and ageless vampires with turning humans thrown in along the way. But ‘Tragic Silence’ is very different to previous vampire stories I have read and it was refreshing to read this alternate take on such a popular genre.

Set in Budapest, readers are presented with Bianka who has suffered seeing her best friend murdered by a vampire. She is hospitalised and deeply traumatised by the experience. Through flashbacks, we understand how Bianka lands in hospital and who the horrifying figure is that is haunting her. The opening chapters really focuses on Bianka and her experiences and this sets up the narrative for the rest of the novel. Whilst it is a first person narrative, Bianka’s telling of the story makes this rather densely descriptive, to the extent that I found it distracted me from the action when it happened. That being said, you get a true insight into her character but because it was so heavy with her thoughts and feelings, I found the narrative became a little tedious in places and prevented me from enjoying the plot development as much.

I really enjoyed the fact that this is primarily set in Budapest. I rarely read stories set so far away from home and though the plot moves to London, Hibbs keeps up the cultural references with different names for vampires and smatterings of Hungarian dialogue. This is another feature that makes ‘Tragic Silence’ a refreshing read because this is so unexpected. It works well with the different vampire angle that Hibbs offers and it helped maintain my interest in the story.

What really makes this a vampire story with a difference is how the whole process of turning into a vampire is presented. Bianka’s boyfriend, Frank, plays a key role in telling her all about the change and his explanations were really intriguing. So unusual, I liked the whole process that was presented and the entire lack of certainty, even for our protagonist, Bianka.

My rating of three stars reflects the dense narrative in this plot from Bianka’s perspective. This is an interesting vampire story but I found her voice too present in the story and this certainly slowed the pace down. There are lots of features in this novel that make it stand out from other vampire stories and this makes the read more enjoyable. Not one in a series, it made a change to read something with a conclusive ending, and this is something I definitely applaud the author for! Definitely give this a go if you like vampire stories because this is so different, but just anticipate the slower narrative.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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A plodding, spooky story

‘Four Rubbings’ – Jennifer Hotes

3-star-rating

Four Rubbings - Jennifer Hotes

Four Rubbings – Jennifer Hotes

Halloween. The night the barrier between the dead and the living is as thin as muslin. Fourteen-year old Josie, haunted by the death of her mother, leads her best friends to an ancient cemetery to rub graves. Convinced she will come away with proof of her mother’s spirit at last, the evening takes an unexpected turn as the teens gravitate four ways into the haunted grounds. Set against the backdrop of the rainy Pacific Northwest, four graves will be rubbed, touching off a series of events that will rattle their once mundane lives. From the lonely World War II hero to an accused witch, the people buried beneath the stones have stories that need an ending. The journey to unravel the mysteries leaves the friends wondering if the graves would’ve been better off left alone.

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About the author:

Jennifer Hotes

Raised across the river from the Hanford Nuclear Reactor, Jennifer grew up looking at the world a little differently. Now she uses her unique perspective and glow-in-the-dark countenance to write Young Adult novels and illustrate for talented authors, preferably with a cat on her lap or dog at her feet. She blogs to teens because she feels the world-at-large gives them a bad shake. Her latest blog is all about finals week and how best to cope/endure.

Mrs. Hotes loves living in rainy Seattle, volunteering in her children’s schools and raising funds for Providence Hospice of Seattle. Her first novel, ‘Four Rubbings’, is out now.

She is a member of SCBWI, society of children’s book writers & illustrators and is currently painting a group of ageing  men posed in an old red truck for a book cover.

Author links:

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Review:

I found the novel ‘Four Rubbings’ different to other teenage fiction that I have read. This is a spooky story, (probably best read around Halloween!) and follows the lives of four teenagers who try to find out more about the gravestone they have, quite literally, taken a pencil rubbing from. However, the teenagers have a lot more on their plate than just finding out about the graves and this takes the form of how all of them live in dysfunctional families. As such, I found parts of it quite sad that the teenagers could not find acceptance and had more responsibilities on their shoulders than kids their age should.

The novel switches between all four teenagers so readers are always able to keep up with the mystery that each character is unravelling. At the same time, it was refreshing to read about their different interpretations on events, and, more in the second half of the novel, their changing feelings towards one another. However, at times I did find that Hotes got a little distracted by the family issues that were within each story and this certainly slowed the pace of the story for me.

Each of the lives that the characters investigate are really different. Hotes cleverly makes links to the family life that the teenagers are living with and I found myself always trying to make parallels between the two. I would have liked to read more about Seth and Blaze’s mysteries and I think these take more of a back-seat; Hotes instead brings their family life to the foreground and how this changes over the course of the novel. The truly spooky element lies with Josie, who is still mourning for her mother and the secrets she uncovers about her life, whilst at the same time learning more about her “rubbing”: the grave of a suspected witch. Josie’s actions at trying to find answers make this novel read more like a mystery and I found the climax more chilling than the rest of the story. Indeed, Hotes certainly sets the novel up for a sequel very well and I was keen to know what happens next in the story.

I enjoyed reading this novel and was keen to find out the answers to all of the little mysteries that built up in the story. I was hoping this book would have more pace and excitement, but instead this is more about feelings rather than actions. I think this would probably appeal to teenagers who specifically enjoy reading spooky stories with a good mystery but would recommend it to all as a young adult novel that is a little bit different from the rest.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Excerpt from the novel:

WHY DO PEOPLE have to mess with the dead on Halloween anyway? They’re dead. Respect the dead. Didn’t their folks teach them any better? I squint into the distance at a cluster of folks standing inside the cemetery gates.

“I’ll scare them good and give them a piece of my mind along the way,” I mumble as I stomp the three hundred or so yards it takes to reach the cemetery entrance from my caretaker’s cottage. Can’t help but think if I had just done my job in the first place, I wouldn’t be standing knee-deep in a pile of trouble right now.

Not five minutes ago I’d stood staring out the kitchen window watching a dull, dreary day change into something better. Leafless gray trees framed an orange and white fireball sky, framed it like iron gates, and that is when I’d remembered. Damn, Grace.

Ten years of watching over Lakefront Cemetery and tonight of all nights I’d forgotten to lock the gates. My forty-year-old bones felt soggy from a day of rain-chilled grave tending. Clearly, I was thinking more about a hot bath and a cup of warm cider than doing my job. Ah, well. With an hour before sunset, I’d figured I had plenty of time to put things right.

I’d found my mud-caked work boots and damp flannel coat piled on the back porch where I’d shed them an hour ago. As I shoehorned my boots onto bare feet, I’d spotted a group gathering at the cemetery entrance. I checked my watch. Five o’clock seemed awful early to start Halloween trouble, but there they were. I made out four bodies, four or five. Couldn’t tell for certain without my glasses, and I wasn’t willing to trudge back through the cottage with muddy boots to collect them up. I’d know soon enough.

As I stomp across the grounds, I rehearse what I will say. I’ll give them a lecture about respecting the dead, then shoo them off speedy quick. All worked up, I don’t pay no mind to the noise my boots make as I dodge headstones and thunder through wet leaves and mud. I want them to hear me coming and be afraid. Too bad I don’t have time to go back for my hefty flashlight, or better yet, a rusty shovel, to shake at them. Boy, the stories they could tell their friends tomorrow about the crazy cemetery lady and her wicked shovel.

“You’ll all think twice about coming around here again after I get through with you,” I spit into the wind.

As I near, I see they’re decked out in costumes. I count four of them, teenagers, of course. It’s mostly the teens that make trouble around here. I duck behind the Yessir’s family tomb to get a better look. “Sorry if I’m blocking your view, folks,” I whisper.

I steal quick peeks around the white marble structure and make out an oversized superhero, a football player, Pocahontas and some kind of dapper fella.

Pocahontas, a tiny copper-headed girl, is giving them instructions. I can’t hear everything she says, but catch phrases like, “Let a stone call you…. open your heart…. connect with the person buried underneath…”

She doesn’t sound like my typical vandal rat; I give her that much credit. I rub my chest where a knot has formed and lean in closer to catch the gist of her words.

The girl reaches into a tan leather pouch and hands around oversized pieces of paper and chunks of black chalk, not the toilet paper and spray paint I expect to see. Art supplies. My knees give out as the truth dawns on me. They’ve come to rub the stones. They’ve come to remember the dead, not hurt ‘em.

The breath I didn’t know I’d been holding bursts from my mouth. My eyes cloud over. My calloused hands ball into sweaty fists and shake. My cheeks burn with shame. I’ve been wrong about these kids, pegged them as vandals when they are bent on doing something good. I fall apart, but gather it all up again quick. I am wrong and have to atone. Good thing I’m already down on my knees.

It’s been so long since I’ve said any kind of prayer. Too long. I’m clumsy about how best to place my hands, how far to bow my head, and how to muster the words. But I close my eyes, and feel warm tears roll down my cheeks. I send a prayer up to the God I’ve been cursing for the past decade.

“Let them have a journey, Lord, a journey that begins with remembering the dead and rubbing a stone. Amen.”

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