Monday, 1 September 2014

Book Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co 2)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Doubleday Childrens
Release date: 25th September 2014

Summary: Life is never exactly peaceful for Lockwood & Co. Lucy and George are trying to solve the mystery of the talking skull trapped in their ghost jar, while Lockwood is desperate for an exciting new case.
Things seem to be looking up when the team is called to Kensal Green Cemetery to investigate the grave of a sinister Victorian doctor. Strange apparitions have been seen there, and the site must be made safe. As usual, Lockwood is confident; as usual, everything goes wrong - a terrible phantom is unleashed, and a dangerous object is stolen from the coffin.
Lockwood & Co must recover the relic before its power is unleashed, but it's a race against time. Their obnoxious rivals from the Fittes agency are also on the hunt. And if that's not bad enough, the skull in the ghost-jar is stirring again.

: Lockwood & Co is back with another cracking case (and new cover - but that's a different matter altogether) and I would like to start this review with an open letter of application to the author:

Dear Mr Stroud 
Please accept this as my formal application (and plea I'll go as far as to say) to join the esteemed Lockwood & Co!!!!  I feel I have been there at key moments in the teams history, I now know a fair bit about Ghosts now, my senses are heightening as I type, and as you may remember from our YALC video, I have suit and sword already! It was meant to be! I'm available for interview at Lockwood's earliest convenience
Yours sincerely

Now back to the matter at hand! The Book! Of course....

I'd initially had reservations with the start of this series because I'd loved the Bartimaeus cycle...but then I ended up loving The Screaming Staircase and book two has only taken this to the next level, hence the impromptu job application above (no shame). It is a well developed and engaging series that both fans and newcomers can enjoy.

Ghosts as a subject are making somewhat of a comeback recently, so I think its great that the paranormal is front and foremost here. The structure of the magical (or here paranormal) construct is what really makes a book for me and here it is well crafted, thought out and not overly complicated so that it simply works. I fully expect to see a Ghost hunting manual out in the near future (hint hint). There is a also Victorian quality to proceedings that helps my mind create a grimy (in a good way if such things exist) recreation of London, where all shady things of this manner can happen and it is the perfect place for Ghosts to reside. And the graveyard (complete with catacombs) sets things off nicely!

Stroud's characterisation here is fantastic, because every character stands out individually, and as I read, I have strong images of how I see each character, from the way they look to the way they sound and act. And all this is skilfully done with little description but lots of personality. We saw a different side to Lockwood, Lucy and George here, with new vulnerability to their characters, especially the darker elements of Lockwood.  There were also some great additions here, in Flo (who I hope we see more of), Penelope Fitties (who's character has laid some nice groundwork for book 3) and last but not least the skull!  They helped to build the world so that it was real to me as if I could go off and find the Fitties agency or see Flo wondering along the shore lines when I'm on the Southbank. The skull especially added a comedic flare to the narrative that I've become to associate with Stroud.

The first person narrative, which at times feels third person ( and yes in one case actually is third person) was great as it put you in the centre of the action, yet with a rounded perspective, keeping strong pace so you power along with Lucy, where I found I was flying through the book...yet at the same time not wanting it to end. It also put you in a position to have to guess/infer/question (and any other suchlike word you can thing of) as to the thoughts and actions of the other characters, and this again helps you to build the characters yourself, so they become part of your world and not just what written on the page. I think this element of guess is important, and here especially I've been guessing for two books whats behind the door and then BAM on the last page you get information, and I "No Way"'d! Now I'm in anticipation for the next book! (*shakes fist*)

This was a cracking read, that packed a punch to the very last word and I eagerly look forward to tacking future cases with Lockwood and Co.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant review

Title: Messenger of Fear
Author: Michael Grant
Published: 26th August 2014
Publisher: Electric Monkey

Summary: Mara wakes in a field of dead grass, a heavy mist pressing down on her. She is terrified, afraid that she is dead. Then a beautiful young man dressed in black appears. He calls himself Messenger of Fear.

This boy is able to move effortlessly through space and time. He also sees the darkness in human hearts. He sees the evils done: the destructive lies, the cruelty, the bullying, the violence. And if the world does not bring justice to those who do evil, he will. He offers the wicked a game. If they win, they go free. If they lose, they will live their greatest fear. Either way, their sanity will be challenged.

It is a world of fair but harsh justice. Of retribution and redemption. And mystery. Why was Mara chosen to be the Messenger’s apprentice? What has she done to deserve this terrible fate? She won’t find out until three of the wicked receive justice. And when she does, she will be shattered.

Review: I came to this book in a slightly strange fashion. My locker at work had been completely empty and then the next time I opened it there was a book sat in it. The cover bore a message "Play or Pay". First I was pulled in by the typography (because you all know by now how much I love covers!), then I was pulled in by the challenge of the game, I was intrigued. This was one of the first times when I've understood someone saying they read a book and had not been able to put it down. I picked it up and kept going.  When I wasn't reading I could feel it tick...tick...ticking in my desk and at the end...I had to remember to breath out and said "damn".  

And what I had read was fast-pace, moralistic tale that's not necessarily for the faint hearted, but one that we can all take something from. It has an almost cinematic quality to the imagery that flowed between the different realms. This is one of those books where you end up thinking 'what you would do' and one you can really put yourself into. This is something I feel is important in literature, so its not just another book, its actually something relate-able that we can take and discuss, which I hope a lot of people will be doing. 

 There was a fantastic mix of reality and fantasy, and the way that information was slowly given to you kept you a)hooked on the book but also b) constantly go 'oooo' (OK maybe that was just me on the train...and the office...and in my room). 

The Messenger was a great character, built on a mix of qualities and emotions that helped you to understand his position and character even more. It will be interesting to see how Mara takes what she's learn within this book and learns and adapts. Her perspective was interesting because you didn't know so much about her so you learnt together and this, at least for me, affected how you saw the character.  I also hope that we get to see more of the other supernatural characters (like Daniel and  the manipulative Oriax) that we were introduced to here. The matter of religion was also briefly touched on as would need be in such a narrative and I look forward to learning more about the governing Gods. 

The book asked me to pay or play, I played, and I'm still playing.