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‘Rooms’ by Lauren Oliver ****

‘Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family – bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna – have arrived for their inheritance.But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself – in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide – with cataclysmic results.’

 9781444760767
I adore books about old houses and secrets, as well as good ghost stories, and Lauren Oliver’s Rooms was therefore quite an obvious choice for me to pick up. I’m so pleased that Oliver has made the transition, if a temporary one, to adult literature; the only other book of hers which I have read to date is Before I Fall, which I enjoyed, despite young adult literature not really being my thing.

I very much liked the structure within Rooms, revolving as it did around a series of different rooms in a grand old American house. Each character was followed in turn, and the way in which only the ‘ghosts’ of the house used first person perspectives gave a really interesting overview, which had quite a lot of depth to it. I would not personally term this a fantasy or paranormal novel; it is really rather human, and makes one think about the strength of history and family. Yes, there are ghosts, but there is an overriding sense of realism to the whole. The prose is both effective and poetic, and everything about it works.

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The Book Trail: Lost in the Woods

I am kicking off this Book Trail with one of my favourite books, written for children by one of my favourite lyricists, Colin Meloy of Portland-based band The Decemberists.  The books which follow largely deal with children lost in the woods, or trapped in adult-free lands; a good theme, I feel, for a not-too-obvious Hallowe’en post.

1. Wildwood by Colin Meloy 10431447
‘In Wildwood, Prue and her friend Curtis uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval–a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood. Wildwood captivates readers with the wonder and thrill of a secret world within the landscape of a modern city. It feels at once firmly steeped in the classics of children’s literature and completely fresh at the same time. The story is told from multiple points of view, and the book features more than eighty illustrations, including six full-color plates, making this an absolutely gorgeous object.’

 

2. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
‘Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice,until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.  That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.  Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.  From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.’

 

3. Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky
9869553Juniper’s parents have not been themselves lately. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. And lonely Juniper Berry, and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to figure out why.   On a cold and rainy night Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world’s secrets in a simple red balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t.  M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut novel is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

 

4. Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham
Max ‘the Wolf’ is a top notch Boy Scout, an expert at orienteering and a master of being prepared. So it is a little odd that he suddenly finds himself, with no recollection of his immediate past, lost in an unfamiliar wood. Even odder still, he encounters a badger named Banderbrock, a black bear named Walden, and McTavish the Monster (who might also be an old barn cat) – all of whom talk – and who are as clueless as Max.  Before long, Max and his friends are on the run from a relentless group of hunters and their deadly hounds. Armed with powerful blue swords and known as the Blue Cutters, these hunters capture and change the very essence of their prey. For what purpose, Max can’t guess. But unless he can solve the mystery of the strange forested world he’s landed in, Max may find himself and his friends changed beyond recognition, lost in a lost world…

 

5. The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton 7843500
Ten-year-old Persimmony Smudge leads (much to her chagrin) a very dull life on the Island at the Center of Everything . . . until the night she overhears a life-changing secret. It seems that Mount Majestic, the rising and falling mountain in the center of the island, is not a mountain at all-it’s the belly of a sleeping giant, moving as the giant breathes. Now Persimmony and her new friend Worvil the Worrier have to convince all the island’s other quarreling inhabitants-including the silly Rumblebumps, the impeccably mannered Leafeaters, and the stubborn young king-that a giant is sleeping in their midst, and must not be woken. Enhanced with Brett Helquist’s dazzling illustrations, Jennifer Trafton’s rollicking debut tells the story of one brave girl’s efforts to make an entire island believe the impossible.

 

6. The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell
Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is a servant to the kind and elderly matron of the house. Clara has never known another home. In fact, she’s confined to the grand estate due to a mysterious heart condition. But it’s a comfortable life, and if it weren’t for the creepy squawking birds in the aviary out back, a completely peaceful one too.  But once old Mrs. Glendoveer passes away, Clara comes to learn many dark secrets about the family. The Glendoveers suffered a horrific tragedy: their children were kidnapped, then drowned. And their father George Glendoveer, a famous magician and illusionist, stood accused until his death. As Clara digs deeper and deeper into the terrifying events, the five birds in the aviary seem to be trying to tell her something. And Clara comes to wonder: what is their true identity? Clara sets out to solve a decades-old murder mystery—and in doing so, unlocks a secret in her own life, too. Kathleen O’Dell deftly weaves magic, secret identities, evil villians, unlikely heroes, and the wonder of friendship into a mystery adventure with all the charm of an old fashioned classic.

 

99728787. The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer
Like the other children who have journeyed to the village of Xibalba, Martin Maple faces an awful truth. He was forgotten. When everyone else in the world disappeared one afternoon, these children were the only ones left behind. There’s Darla, who drives a monster truck; Felix, who used string and wood to rebuild the internet; Lane, who crafts elaborate contraptions for live entertainment; and nearly forty others, each equally brilliant and peculiar.   Inspired by the prophecies of a mysterious boy who talks to animals, Martin believes he can reunite them all with their loved ones. But believing and knowing are two different things, as he soon discovers with the push of a button, the flip of a switch, the turn of a dial…  A whimsical apocalyptic fable that carries readers to a future world without adults, a journey filled with dark humor that every reader will want to take.

 

8. Vanished by Sheela Chari
Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.  When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?  Sheela Chari’s debut novel is a finely tuned story of coincidence and fate, trust and deceit, music and mystery.

 

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One From the Archive: ‘Before I Fall’ by Lauren Oliver ***

I do not tend to buy many books for my Kindle unless they are reasonably priced.  (Also, may I take this opportunity to say boo, bad Amazon for not paying your taxes and making me dislike you?)  I saw this in a post-Christmas book sale for just 99p, however, and decided to go against my laurels and purchase it.  I did so mainly because I had seen so many people rave about it on Goodreads early last year when I was still a member, some of my good friends among them.  I expected, without having read the blurb, that it would be an amalgamation of The Fault In Our Stars and Jenny Downham’s Before I Die.  It was not like either book in the slightest.  (Note to self: in future, read the blurb before you purchase anything!)

Before I Fall was nothing at all like what I was expecting it to be.  It tells the story of Sam, a seventeen-year-old girl who spends most of her time doing those awfully cliched things that not many teenagers whom I have encountered of late actually seem to do – ‘getting wasted’ and ‘getting high’ among them.  In the prologue, she is killed in a car crash.  Rather than die however, she wakes up in her bedroom, unscathed, and realises that the accident has not yet occurred.  She begins to live the same day over and over again, trying to get it right.

Sam is one of the ‘most popular girls in school’, so I believe that I took an active dislike to her from the very beginning. I really dislike the ‘popular’ kids faction, and even the notion of popularity irks me somewhat.  I am far more drawn towards the Dashs and the Lilys, the Holden Caulfields, and the Scouts and Jems of the literary world, than those who feel obnoxious on the page, and frequently go on about how much everyone just adores them when, quite frankly, they have little going for them.  Cue Sam, the novel’s protagonist.  I was astounded throughout at quite how cruel she was, particularly to those who try to be kind to her.  There was no call for her behaviour.

Before I began to read, I glimpsed several of the Amazon reviews.  Some – actually, most – people seem to clearly adore this book, but I am in the minority camp.  One of the reviewers, Stephanie, said that she has read a lot of young adult fiction which strongly appeals to the adult market too, but that Before I Fall is a young adult novel which is ‘firmly rooted in the young adult market’.  It did feel too young at times for anyone over the age of about sixteen to enjoy, and the way in which simple language is used throughout seems to exacerbate rather than diminish this.  I doubt I would have enjoyed Oliver’s writing if I were still of the intended age to read it.  Any emotional charge which the storyline could have held had been wiped away entirely.

I did not like any of the characters in Before I Fall, until almost at the end of the novel – and those characters whom I did grow to like were relatively minor ones.  They were all so superficial, and even though we as readers learnt a lot about them as the story went on, they still felt lacking in depth.  A lot of the novel felt like a rip off of ‘Mean Girls’ at times.  Because Sam is not a likeable narrator, even when the conclusion is reached, none of the bad things which happened to her struck up any sympathy within me.  I had the same problem with a lot of Sarah Dessen’s characters when I read her books as a teenager.

The whole Groundhog-Day, deja-vu element of the plot is quite a clever twist, and it is interesting to see how just one different action can so alter the course of a life, but I really resented a character like Sam being the protagonist of a novel in which we as readers had to spend so much time with her.  She began to grate on me from just a little way in, and by the time I had reached the final page, I hoped that I would never encounter such a character again.

I did not abandon this book, as I wanted to see if it improved as it went on.  I am glad that I persevered and read it to the end, because at around the halfway point, it did actually get a lot better.  Sam stopped being quite so self-centered and irritating.  My three star review reflects the poor two-star beginning, and the far better four-star ending.

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‘Before I Fall’ by Lauren Oliver ***

I do not tend to buy many books for my Kindle unless they are reasonably priced.  (Also, may I take this opportunity to say boo, bad Amazon for not paying your taxes and making me dislike you?)  I saw this in a post-Christmas book sale for just 99p, however, and decided to go against my laurels and purchase it.  I did so mainly because I had seen so many people rave about it on Goodreads early last year when I was still a member, some of my good friends among them.  I expected, without having read the blurb, that it would be an amalgamation of The Fault In Our Stars and Jenny Downham’s Before I Die.  It was not like either book in the slightest.  (Note to self: in future, read the blurb before you purchase anything!)

‘Before I Fall’

Before I Fall was nothing at all like what I was expecting it to be.  It tells the story of Sam, a seventeen-year-old girl who spends most of her time doing those awfully cliched things that not many teenagers whom I have encountered of late actually seem to do – ‘getting wasted’ and ‘getting high’ among them.  In the prologue, she is killed in a car crash.  Rather than die however, she wakes up in her bedroom, unscathed, and realises that the accident has not yet occurred.  She begins to live the same day over and over again, trying to get it right.

Sam is one of the ‘most popular girls in school’, so I believe that I took an active dislike to her from the very beginning. I really dislike the ‘popular’ kids faction, and even the notion of popularity irks me somewhat.  I am far more drawn towards the Dashs and the Lilys, the Holden Caulfields, and the Scouts and Jems of the literary world, than those who feel obnoxious on the page, and frequently go on about how much everyone just adores them when, quite frankly, they have little going for them.  Cue Sam, the novel’s protagonist.  I was astounded throughout at quite how cruel she was, particularly to those who try to be kind to her.  There was no call for her behaviour.

Before I began to read, I glimpsed several of the Amazon reviews.  Some – actually, most – people seem to clearly adore this book, but I am in the minority camp.  One of the reviewers, Stephanie, said that she has read a lot of young adult fiction which strongly appeals to the adult market too, but that Before I Fall is a young adult novel which is ‘firmly rooted in the young adult market’.  It did feel too young at times for anyone over the age of about sixteen to enjoy, and the way in which simple language is used throughout seems to exacerbate rather than diminish this.  I doubt I would have enjoyed Oliver’s writing if I were still of the intended age to read it.  Any emotional charge which the storyline could have held had been wiped away entirely.

I did not like any of the characters in Before I Fall, until almost at the end of the novel – and those characters whom I did grow to like were relatively minor ones.  They were all so superficial, and even though we as readers learnt a lot about them as the story went on, they still felt lacking in depth.  A lot of the novel felt like a rip off of ‘Mean Girls’ at times.  Because Sam is not a likeable narrator, even when the conclusion is reached, none of the bad things which happened to her struck up any sympathy within me.  I had the same problem with a lot of Sarah Dessen’s characters when I read her books as a teenager.

The whole Groundhog-Day, deja-vu element of the plot is quite a clever twist, and it is interesting to see how just one different action can so alter the course of a life, but I really resented a character like Sam being the protagonist of a novel in which we as readers had to spend so much time with her.  She began to grate on me from just a little way in, and by the time I had reached the final page, I hoped that I would never encounter such a character again.

I did not abandon this book, as I wanted to see if it improved as it went on.  I am glad that I persevered and read it to the end, because at around the halfway point, it did actually get a lot better.  Sam stopped being quite so self-centered and irritating.  My three star review reflects the poor two-star beginning, and the far better four-star ending.

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