July 04, 2014

YAck Attack: And All The Stars

So, we YAcked And All The Stars by Andrea K. Host.  Which was terrible.  But only really according to me and I tried REALLY hard to like it.

You can find out why and also what everyone nicer than me thought RIGHT HERE.

July 03, 2014

The House That Horror Built (Review: Amity by Mical Ostow)

Micol Ostow
Egmont USA 2014

Amity? As in Amityville Horror? Seriously?! Holy son of a nutcraker am I pumped for this.  What's not to love right?  This ol' house is a cornerstone of modern horror, it is the quintessential haunted house tale, everyone in the English speaking world knows the story. And maybe that is part of the problem...

In fairness, this isn't exactly the Amityville tale that we are all so familiar with.  Ostow treats us to a dual-narrative between Connor and Gwen which transcends 10 years and a whole lot of bad house history. Connor moves to Amity with his family, headed by an abusive patriarch who is looking to escape some poor business decisions and financial demons.  Connor has plenty demons of his own - namely some serious anger management issues coupled with a fondness for playing surgeon with the neighbourhood cats.  Gwen's family arrive at Amity in the hope that the idyllic country life will help bring their daughter out of a telekinetic funk (yes telekinetic) which has left a former neighbour slightly worse for wear.  I wouldn't say that either of our narrators are particularly likeable but that in itself isn't an issue for horror audiences - if we are honest, did we really like Danny Torrence in The Shining?  Ben Mears in Salem's Lot? Not really so much.  As we would expect, the old Amityville favourites don't take long to make their presence felt and, within a few days of their respective arrivals, both Connor and Gwen are being hit with the 3:15 wake up calls, the red room nightmares and the feeling that some of the men in their lives are beginning to act pretty strangely.

And this is great!  This is exactly what we want from haunted house horror - deterioration to out and out bloody anarchy should be the order of the day.  One of the problems being that we just don't know either Connor or Gwen well enough to feel uneasy about the changes in their behaviour.  Whilst minimal back story can be an absolutely legitimate writing choice, here it left me feeling slightly on the back-foot - is Connor an ass because of the undeniably evil house his family inhabit or just because he has always been an ass?  The severity of the change in both families is lost because we are given no discernible start point. Frustrating.  And I think it is undeniable that more could have been made of both Connor and Gwen.  For a dual narrative to work well both voices have to be strong and identifiable in their own right for the contrast desired to really come across and sadly this wasn't the case.  At points I lost track of which of our narrators was speaking which is never a good sign.          

The pacing is erratic, the supporting characters essentially non existent and the writing style, in part at least, is clunky and repetitive.  But is this the worst book I have ever read? Absolutely not.  I think my biggest problem with Amity as a whole was the feeling of frustration that more wasn't made of what is an already loved premise.  My feelings would likely have been different if the tie-in to a monolith of modern horror hadn't been there.  When there is so much love for a concept, it will always be difficult to do it justice in everyone's eyes.

But remember that we at MOI are only one voice.  Amity has been getting some serious love online and we would be interested to hear your thoughts so drop us a line.   

Amity is published by EgmontUSA in August. This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph. In tune with Steph, Splendibird really wishes she'd re-read the above-mentioned Stephen King rather than attempted Amity. Such potential, so much disappointment. Nevertheless, thank you to the publisher, via Edelweiss, for providing us with a copy to review.


July 01, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten YA Classics

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week, the theme is classics and I've chosen to go with my top ten YA classics. Actually, some of these are established classics, some are titles which I have no doubt will go on to be viewed as classics in the future. Any of these htat we've reviewed have links in the titles. Enjoy.

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

It's an obvious one, really.  A book beloved by both adults and young adults alike, it has recently suprised me how few teenagers that I work with have actually read it - something I am actively striving to remedy in the library I work in. Holden Caulfield is the epitomy of disaffected youth, with his questions and his attitude and his desperate desire to be heard.

Might as well get this out of the way right at the beginning, yes?  Unlike The Catcher in the Rye, the teens in my library cannot get enough of this.  We literally cannot produce enough copies to keep up with their demand to read and then re-read a book that has them thinking and talking and crying and wondering. It is an extremely good book and one that will remain popular for years to come, despite the current John Green backlash that its popularity has brought the author.

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

A favourite of mine since I first read it aged nine, this is a book for all ages but one that will particularly speak to teenagers.  Particularly teenage girls because Jane is as compelling a female character as you will find in any Hunger Games or dystopian Chicago.  Smart, focussed yet more than a little naive, she is a pleasure to watch as she grows into an accomplished and independent woman.  Also, spooky attics in creepy houses, endless moors and the intriguing Mr. Rochester combine to make this one of my all time favourite stories.

The nice thing about Jellicoe Road is that, on a fairly regular basis, you come across someone who has just discovered it for the first time and has been as utterly blown away by the story as everyone else.  An exceptionally well written book, it tells a story of love, loss and family as well as one which charts the choppy waters of one girls coming of age while adding an almost, if not quite, air of the supernatural. There are many of Marchetta's books that could be billed as classics (er, see below) - but this one is my favourite and arguably her best work.

The Secret History - Donna Tartt

This was published as an adult book - much like Jane Eyre and The Catcher in the Rye - but the story is about a group of students aged between about eighteen and twenty-two who have become embroiled in murder. While there is mystery at the heart of Tartt's astonishing debut, she is really riffing on themes of privilage, friendship and influence.  It is utterly unputdownable and should be read by all age groups.

How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff

One of the first young adult books that I read and still one of the best.  Rosoff's vaguely dystopian tale of a summer holiday gone wrong (via WAR) and forbidden love made right is utterly mesmerising, unique in it's use of language and both magical and horrific in turns.  It is a story that will stay with you for years after you read it and the recent film adaptation isn't too shabby either (Hellooooo, George Mackay!)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chobsky

This is perhaps the perfect Bildungsroman.  Readers watch Charlie navigate the choppy waters of high-school, girls, friendship, love and loss with a heartbreaking mixture of naivity, hope, success and disaster.  As a study on the fragility of mental health it is fascinating and moving, as a coming of age story it is pretty much perfect.

Inhabiting a timelessness that only the best fantasy can, Sabriel is pretty special. The story of one girl's battle against evil, Nix creates a completely unforgettable world filled with uniquely beautiful, if broken, magic and one delightfully acerbic cat.   While Sabriel is the first in a series, it stands alone perfectly - although I can guarantee you will want to read more.

Chaos Walking - Patrick Ness

Comprising of The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, Ness's tour de force is like nothing else out there.  At heart, a coming of age story set against a backdrop of tyranny and oppression it is breathtaking, thought-provoking and completely unique.

As we've previously stated on MOI, myth and magic never threaten to overwhelm Finnikin of the Rock (Marchetta's first venture into fantasy), which is ultimately the story of those made homeless by tyrants but a people who also struggle with a guilt of their own making. It a the story of exiles and while embedded in high fantasy, it brings to mind images of refugees the world over. This is reality writ large on a fantasy stage and the result is a powerful tale for the modern world.