Book Review: Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell

Title: Mistwalk

Author: Saundra Mitchell

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

The family lobster boat will always hold a specially place in Willa’s heart – even if she does have to look past the dark stain where her brother was killed. For Willa, the sea is her calling, her home. But what seemed like a life of simple pleasures – marrying her high school boyfriend Seth, taking over the family business, eventually passing it on to her own children – has fallen apart since Levi’s death. The worst part is Willa knows it’s all her fault, as does everyone else even if they admitted out loud. Banned from the boat, soon to lose her best friend to college, at odds with Seth who keeps trying but in all the wrong ways, Willa doesn’t know what to do. As she stares out at the old lighthouse on Jackson Rock, she finds herself thinking of the legends that surround it. Not that she believes it’s really haunted by the Grey Man – until she catches sight  of mist shrouded figure on the rocks…

The Grey Man has been trapped for one hundred years, seduced by a beautiful woman who passed on this curse. Now he must either collect a thousand souls of those who die at sea, or convince someone to take his place. He can feel her out there – the one who is think of him. Now he finally has a chance for freedom: he must seduce Willa, must make her fall so in love with him she would be willing to die for him. And what better way to make her fall in love that to show her an escape from all her problems?

This is a very quiet novel, set in a sleep Maine fishing village where the inhabitants have handed down their livelihood for many generations. The atmosphere is one of the best parts of this book: despite being set in the present day, Mistwalker has a somewhat timeless feel that I love. The writing from Willa’s POV is simple but captivating, in a honest almost raw way, which is nicely balanced with the Grey Man’s POV which is more poetic and slightly unsettling. I enjoyed reading the Grey Man’s side, he was creepy and fixated on Willa and his freedom but whilst his obsession was understandable given his entrapment it is never shown in a positive light. This is a good example of writing that shows sympathy for his predicament but doesn’t excuse creepy behaviour. I also loved the treatment of Willa, a teenage girl who has a simple dream and fights so hard to make it happen – to take over her father’s lobster boat, to marry her boyfriend Seth, and to pass on her family traditions to her own children. It’s nice to read a book that doesn’t push a teenager into making grand plans for their lives, that shows that some (like Willa’s best friend Bailey) will go to college and make big money in a glamorous city, but that not everyone has to ‘making something’ of themselves. No-one looks down on Willa’s dream, not the narrative or the other characters. Willa’s love for the sea is a beautiful thing, and the description might just make you fall in love with the ocean too.

As I said, this is a slow book that starts off just a bit too slowly, and the action doesn’t really pick up till about half way. The novel alternates chapters from both Willa and the Grey Man, but the first half focuses on Willa’s life after her brother’s death and it takes her a while to even think of the Grey Man and his lighthouse, other than mentioning it as a local folktale. This is mixed with the Grey Man insisting that he can feel some is thinking of him, which can be confusing at first. I was ok with it as I tend to re-read the blurb of every book before I start it, but for those who don’t do this it may take some a while to work out what exactly is going on.

I too have a specially place in my heart for the sea, and this novel near perfectly captures that love.

4 stars.

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Early Review: The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce

16006117Title: The Weight of Souls

Author: Bryony Pearce

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review:

Everyone knows being a teenager sucks. Especially when you’re bullied by the popular guys at school, even worse when one used to be your best friend – but when you are hunted by ghosts how can you be anything but a freak? Like all the women of her family, Taylor Oh is cursed, haunted by the ghost of murder victims only she can help. When a ghost touches her she has roughly three weeks to hunt out the murderer before she is consumed by a void known only as The Darkness. Taylor’s life consists of hiding at home where she’s safe from the ghosts, but not her father who thinks she’s suffering from a mental illness, and at school hiding from Justin and his friends who spend their time coming up with new ways to torment her.

But everything changes when Justin suddenly dies, and his ghost marks Taylor. Since Justin doesn’t know who killed him, Taylor must gain the trust of his friends by infiltrating the exclusive V Club, a secret society where members play true or dare with horrifying stakes.

It’s hard not to feel for Taylor, as Bryony Pearce pulls no punches in making her life almost unbearably hard. As the victim of such horrid bullying, where the teachers seem to be deliberately turning a blind eye, and having to hear her own father tell her again and again that she is crazy, and without her mother who also had the curse, it’s impressive that Taylor doesn’t fall apart. Having had personal experience with bullying in school, Taylor’s character resonated with me and I admired her strength to keep on struggling, even if no-one else understood or was on her side. For me, Taylor was the strongest part of The Weight of Souls, and her trials moved me.

That’s not to say this was its only strength – there is a lot to love about this book. The curse itself was both fascinating and seriously creepy, with clear rules as to how exactly it worked and background knowledge that, unlike some Young Adult books, didn’t make it feel added in for the sake of it. Having said that, there was still enough mystery to entertain you throughout and ends with room for a sequel. its origins to a exploration to an Ancient Egyptian tomb by Taylor’s ancestor and the god Anubis were very interesting and become a much bigger part of the story towards the end. Unfortunately, I can’t say more without spoiling the book.

It shows Bryony Pearce’s skill as a writer that the evolution of Justin from leader of Taylor’s tormentors to love interest feels natural and believable. He is a character you hate in the beginning, and his change could have easily felt forced and rushed, ruining the book – but he is more than the two-dimensional jerk potential boyfriend troupe that is commonly used in Young Adult. As Taylor gets to properly know Justin, he is shown to be a complicated boy caught up in the V Club, which has spiralled out of his control as their dares get more dangerous. With his realisation that he has in fact died without a chance to say goodbye to anyone, and his anger at being murdered, Justin is another very sympathetic character you came to love.

The Weight of Souls was a very entertaining book, with very sympathetic characters and a great idea done justice to. The story is left open, and I can only hope there will be a sequel.

4.5 stars.

Book Review: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

12937427Title: The Madness Underneath

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Shades of London #2

Rating: 3.5 stars

Cover Comments: Nice tie-in to the first book, I prefer the splash of red on this one.

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

Surviving a murder attempt is never easy, but for Rory Deveaux it’s even harder. Her therapist keeps wanting her to talk about what happened, but how can she? How can you tell anyone that you were attacked by a ghost? Not to mention that she can now, somehow, destroy ghosts just by touching them. Stuck in Bristol with her parents, away from the few other people who truly know what happened, she feels trapped and isolated.

Rory senses freedom when, suddenly, her therapist convinces her parents to send her back to London to resume her studies at Wexford. Reunited with the Shades, a group of secret ghost hunting policemen, Rory is determined to explore the limits of her new abilities, and find some way to deal with everything.

The Madness Underneath is a much more serious book than The Name of the Star. It’s main focus is on Rory’s recovery – a topic that is portrayed in a painfully realistic manner. I love that Rory has to deal with her issues, that she isn’t somehow magically cured overnight. Surviving a murder attempt isn’t something that can just be shrugged off in a few weeks, and even when she changes her outlook (that she is a survivor, not a victim) Rory is still struggling to cope. Her school work is falling far behind, she can’t talk properly to her friends, and she struggles to make a relationship work. This was easily my favourite thing about this book.

On the other hand, The Madness Underneath had several problems. For one, the pacing was terribly uneven. A plot line about ghosts being unleashed and becoming violent was introduced and developed, but then suddenly dropped without warning, then another about Rory’s new therapist became the focus. This plot felt a little tacked on and ruined the flow of the book, and worst of all, wasn’t even resolved. Also, it’s not explained why or how Rory can destroy ghosts. It suffers from “middle book syndrome” – the book falls flat because the story lines need to be setup but they are left hanging, waiting for the last book to complete everything.

I was also very, very surprised at the fate of one of the main secondary characters. It was sudden and unexpected, and I can honestly say I have no idea where Maureen Johnson will go with it. Though I haven’t quite decided how I feel about this, because of this turn, and the brilliant way in which Rory’s recovery was handled, I will be reading the third book when it’s released. I am interested in seeing where it goes next.

3.5 stars

Book Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

10805588Title: The Name of the Star

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Shades of London #1

Rating: 4 stars

Cover Comments: Very pretty, I like the watercolour effect. Though the butterfly is a little out of place.

Review:

The mystery of Jack the Ripper is one that has fascinated the world since the anonymous murders occurred in 1888. Who was this serial killer? How did he evade capture? And what drove him to such brutal actions in the first place? Part of the terror (or some might say allure) comes from this lack of knowledge, which has stood the test of time among scholars and creatives alike. This is why when teenager Rory moves from Louisiana to Wexford, a London boarding school, only to find the work of a copycat killing has happened right on her new doorstep, she is in far more danger that she could realise. Especially since she’s the only one to see the suspect – but that’s not all she can see – after nearly choking to death Rory can see ghosts. Now a secret organisation of ghost hunters known as The Shades need her help to stop the killings, as the new Ripper may be more that he appears.

Ultimately, The Name of the Star is an enjoyable book. Rory is an interesting and funny character, whose inner musings, (—), as she compares and copes with life between America and England make her not only likeable, but relatable. As a British person living in London, reading Rory’s thoughts were quite amusing and just show that what one person considers normal can be new and strange for another. I was also grateful that neither nationality was stereotyped or overly mocked – whilst there was a gentle poking at both English and American culture, it all seemed in good nature.

As for the plot, the idea of ghost-busting police is engaging and original, not to mention fun (they are sometimes known as “Scotland Graveyard”). The reveal of Rory’s new ability marks a distinct change in the tone of the book, from contemporary to paranormal. Seeing ghosts changes her life quite dramatically, which is reflected in the narrative, bring the Ripper into the spotlight. As for the Ripper himself, he is convincingly creepy and dangerous, which builds up tension between the murder dates and increases the pressure on the Shades to stop him.

For a book about ghosts, I would have liked to have seen a few more. I was also intrigued by the use of an abandoned Underground station, which was a clever metaphor for the ghosts themselves – hidden in plain sight, known only by those who know where to look – but again, I wish there had been more development around this topic. I was also slightly annoyed about the almost cliffhanger ending; it was abrupt and jarred with the narrative pace of the rest of the novel.

Luckily, the next volume was available to me as soon as I finished, so I just set this one down and moved on to the next one.

4 stars