Tag Archives: ghosts

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Screaming Staircase – Book 1 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheScreamingStaircaseaudiobookreview

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This is a series I’d downloaded for my granddaughter, which had thoroughly gripped her – and after starting the story, I could see why…

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in…. For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

This is set in an alternate reality where fifty years ago, ghosts of people who had died in difficult circumstances are now feral. Mostly, they are annoying, manifesting as cold spots, bright lights and leaving uneasy feelings in their wake. But some of the stronger types are able to kill with a touch – and it’s only some ‘gifted’ children who can actually see or sense them clearly. This premise is a brilliant one, producing this dark, clever and often funny ghost story brilliantly narrated by Miranda Raison, who vividly portrays Lucy’s first person narration.

I had previously read and enjoyed Stroud’s wonderful Bartimaeus Trilogy – see my review of The Amulet of Samarkand – featuring an emotionally abused young warlock and a trapped djinni, whose withering and very funny commentary on human behaviour gives this book welcome shafts of humour. Lucy’s sharp-edged observations about her mysterious and brilliant young employer, Anthony Lockwood and his equally brilliant sidekick, George, often had me sniggering aloud as I listened to this one.

But that didn’t stop it being really creepy and utterly gripping when the trio were locked into a lethally haunted house – and very glad that I was listening to this one during the mornings when houseworking. There is the depth of characterisation I have grown to expect from Stroud, along with an exciting and well-paced adventure. The fact that I had already figured out who was doing what to whom before the denouement really didn’t matter – because the mystery was far more about how the heck they were going to survive the experience, anyway.

I’m thrilled to report that I already have the second book in this adventure ready and waiting to be heard – yippee! Far better for my blood pressure and mental health than listening to the catastrophic struggles in Parliament over Brexit…
9/10

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Sunday Post – 24th March, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

This week was the last week of the Spring Term at Northbrook, so I am now on Easter holiday until 23rd April… The final sessions went well on Monday and Tuesday – it’s always a pleasure having a one-on-one tutorial with each student to discuss their writing progress. On Wednesday, Mhairi and I got together – they actually moved to Lincolnshire on Thursday, so we had lunch together in Haskins and spent the afternoon talking. She will be coming to stay next Tuesday, so it wasn’t too much of a wrench, thank goodness…

On Thursday and Friday, I got up late and pottered a bit – did some really pressing admin and answered urgent emails, etc. But other than doing a bit of tidying – nothing much, other than listening to Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase which was gripping and fun. On Friday night, I had some amazing dreams and woke up fizzing with creative energy. So after posting my blog, I got down to work and wrote a couple of shorter pieces – one life writing article about our holiday in Venice, back in 2015; and a short story set on Mars and then tucked into the novel. It went reasonably slowly, but I’m pleased with what I wrote – and that’s the main thing.

After a week of gloomy, dank weather, today is glorious, so Himself is outside, painting the fence. Spring is finally here – thank goodness!

Last week I read:
Starseers – Book 3 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
The mysterious and powerful Starseers have Captain Alisa Marchenko’s daughter, and she will do whatever she must to get her back, even if it means traveling to their stronghold and confronting them personally. Unfortunately, her strongest ally, the cyborg Leonidas, may become a liability since the cyborgs and the Starseers have a long history of hating each other. It doesn’t help that Leonidas and Dr. Dominguez have a mission of their own, one that could jeopardize all that Alisa is fighting for.
I am thoroughly enjoying this series – I like the fact that the narrative powering the story is Alisa’s hunt for her lost daughter. There is plenty of action and snark in this entertaining space opera adventure and I look forward to read the next book very soon.

 

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon
A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…
This is a retelling of the tale of Pericles – I’m glad I didn’t know the original before I read this, because in many places it follows the story quite closely. Review to follow.

 

 

Knight: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War by Timothy Zahn
Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha. Now she is a Sibyl, a special human that has the ability to communicate with the aliens and their ship, and no one is happy.
And that’s putting it mildly. It is the classic story of the underdog, where an outmatched outsider somehow has to prevail and put right a lot of injustices with insufficient information… I quickly got pulled into the story and really enjoyed it. I’m going to go back and get hold of the first book, Pawn.

 

AUDIOBOOK – The Screaming Staircase – Book 1 of the Lockwood and Co series by Jonathan Stroud
For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
This may be presented as a children’s book, but the writing and premise kept me gripped throughout – and it was quite creepy enough, thank you very much… I’m delighted that I already have the second book in this excellent series to tuck into. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 17h March 2019

Review of Satellite by Nick Lake

Review of Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper

Review of Nimbus – Book 3 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

Friday Face-Off featuring Death of Kings – Book 6 of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwall

Review of Dreadnought – Book 2 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

The Art of the Book Event: 9 Tips https://writerunboxed.com/2019/03/23/the-art-of-the-book-event-9-tips/ I’d like to think that authors take this on board – to avoid disappointing long-suffering book fans and so that they, too, enjoy these events…

Midspring https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/03/23/midspring/ And why wouldn’t we celebrate the coming back to life of the countryside with Inessa’s fabulous photos?

Shiver Me Timbers! A Series Shake-Down – Part 1 https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/20/shiver-me-timbers-a-series-shake-down-part-one/ As the Cap gives a rundown on outstanding book series, I’m sure we can all relate. How do you handle it when you realise you have started faaar more series than you can ever complete?

A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Wild Nights! Wild Nights’ https://interestingliterature.com/2019/03/18/a-short-analysis-of-emily-dickinsons-wild-nights-wild-nights/ A poem I didn’t know from this accomplished poet…

Throwback Thursday: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett https://lynns-books.com/2019/03/21/throwback-thursday-the-secret-garden-by-frances-hodgson-burnett/ I really like the sound of this meme. We spend a lot of time discussing new books or more recent releases – I love the idea that we can now also highlight and celebrate gems we read years ago that someone else might also like…

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I am still trying to catch up – thank you for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

Friday Faceoff – The grave’s a fine and private place… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is A HORROR NOVEL, so I’ve selected The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

 

This edition was produced by HarperCollins in September 2008. I really like this one – the blue-black background is both effective and attractive and the gravestone is striking. But what stands out is the treatment of both the title and author fonts, which I love. And then they go and RUIN it by plastering that large gold blob right in the centre! Couldn’t it have gone in a corner? Just asking…

 

Published in December 2008 by Bloomsbury, this cover is the exact opposite of the above cover. Rather than going for the minimalist approach, this cover is full of wonderful detail, featuring the two main protagonists scowling out at prospective readers. I could have done without the endorsement by Diana Wynne Jones impinging onto that glorious artwork, but overall I like this one, including the funky title font. This is the cover of the copy we own. The big problem with it is that it doesn’t look good in thumbnail.

 

This Spanish edition, published by Roca Editorial in October 2010. I really like it – the design is  clever, featuring the blade of a knife with the cityscape running along its length and young Bod running along the edge of it. I think it’s attractive and eye-catching – and again the author and title fonts look fabulous. However, the snag for me is that there is no graveyard in this cover, which features so heavily in the book – and the title.

 

Produced by Polaris in September 2008, this Czech cover does feature a graveyard. I like the design and appreciate that the ghosts also feature. However, unfortunately the execution of the otherworldly characters lets down this cover – they look like they’ve been painted onto material and then photoshopped into the cover. It’s such a shame, because I think the idea and the rest of the image is really strong.

 

This French edition, published by J’ai lu in April 2012, is also set in a graveyard and I love it. I think it’s the strongest of all the designs. It sings off the page with the eerie lighting and the silhouetted figure of the small boy against the wrought iron gates of the graveyard looks fabulous. This is mine – but which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – There’s more of gravy than ghost about you… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week to feature on any of our covers is ghosts. I’ve selected The Ghost Brigades – Book 2 of the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi.

 

This edition was produced by Tor Books in May 2007. ‘Spaceships, baby!’ has become the warcry for my marketing maven and I when designing a new cover for my space opera adventure series. But these ships are completely overwhelmed by the huge blocky title and author fonts and the chatter cluttering up the artwork. I don’t think this one works at all.

 

Published in June 2008 by Minotauro, I think this Spanish edition is really clumsy. I don’t like the stylised treatment – while those savage-looking space-warriors look suitably threatening, that green sky doesn’t sit well with me. While that horrible yellow blob as a background to the title font is completely unnecessary.

 

This Tor edition, published in November 2015, is a classic science fiction cover featuring a cool spaceship against a huge half-ruined world. The detail is lovely, yet there definitely a feeling of menace. I really like this version – it’s my favourite. Spaceships, baby!

 

This Romanian edition, produced by Nemira in February 2016, is all about the lethal space warrior. However, he does look disturbingly like the Borg in Star Trek. I don’t like the boring font and the chatter across the top of the cover, either.

 

This cover, published in November 2007 by Subterranean Press, is again featuring the genetically formulated soldiers. I don’t know how anyone without prior knowledge of the series would know this is military science fiction, instead of horror. And Scalzi’s name merges into the cover background, which completely vanishes when the cover is a thumbnail. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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This is a gem of a series that Himself stumbled across – see my review of Star Witch here – and so we were delighted when we realised the next book in the series was just about to come out. It was a no-brainer that we would pre-order it…

Barely recovered from her brush with necromancy, Ivy is flung once more into a world of intrigue, adventure and potential death and disaster. It’s not her fault – it just so turns out that she’s now the only person in the entire world who can communicate with the dead. And they’re a chatty bunch with a list of demands. When the ghosts offer information about a witch-hating mass murderer in return for Ivy’s help, she has no choice but to get involved. She might be getting herself into more trouble than she realises though – and that’s even before she’s dragged to Sunday dinner so she can meet Winter’s family…

This urban fantasy romp features Ivy who would far rather slump on a sofa eating takeaway than get swept up in some wretched adventure. That’s what she tells anyone who’s prepared to listen, anyway. However, it turns out that she is unexpectedly nifty at the odd tricky rune and while she initially hated Rafe Winter and his driven attitude – they are now an item… So you have some of the major ingredients in this beguiling adventure – a feisty protagonist with a strong first person voice that pings off the page; an enjoyable dollop of romance that supplies plenty of snark and some silliness; a strong plotline that provides plenty of page-turning tension as the stakes are steadily ramped up. And a talking cat.

I became a tad tired of this sub-genre a couple of years ago and these days I’m quite picky what I’ll read – but this one ticked all my boxes. The fact it is set in the UK and written by a Brit doesn’t hurt, as the sarcasm and humour is very much home-grown and certainly had me chuckling aloud in places.

Like the previous book, the actual storyline is quite dark as a serial killer with a major prejudice against witches is on the loose – and Ivy only gets to hear about it when another ghost tells her. Her ability to see and talk to ghosts is both unnerving and the source of some humour. Harper is very good at using comedy to lighten what would be quite a grim read, otherwise – in fact there is a very moving scene near the end which left me with a lump in my throat. But it is then counter-balanced by some more nonsense from Brutus, Ivy’s very contrary cat, which helped to lighten the mood again.

The romance is well handled – I thoroughly enjoyed Ivy and Rafe’s sheer delight with each other as they bathe in that newly-in-love feeling that makes every day together seem like Christmas. Harper manages to effectively depict that glow without feeling the need to embroider it with any nonsense like a love-triangle, or someone plotting against their happiness – it put a smile on my face and even produced a couple of ‘ah’ moments. Given that I’m not a romance fan, that takes some doing.

I was under the impression that this is supposed to be the final book in the series – however I have read a steady stream of impassioned pleas from other fans wanting more and I’m about to add my voice to that chorus. I would love to read more about Ivy, Rafe and Brutus. This is a delightful series and comes highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review KINDLE Ebook American Monsters – Book 3 of the Demon Road series by Derek Landy

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This is the final instalment of this YA horror series, featuring Amber, a demon who shape-shifts when the going gets tough – see my reviews of Demon Road and Desolation. And the going is continually tough…

americanmonstersBigger, meaner, stronger. Amber closes in on her murderous parents as they make one last desperate play for power. Her own last hopes of salvation, however, rest beyond vengeance, beyond the abominable killers – living and dead – that she and Milo will have to face. For Amber’s future lies in her family’s past, in the brother and sister she never knew, and the horrors beyond imagining that befell them.

Amber has teamed up with Milo and his magical car to fight a series of lethal opponents. However, they all rather pale against her struggle with her seriously unpleasant parents, who raised her for the sole purpose of eating her once she came into her demonic powers. I really like the fact that when she isn’t a tall, red-skinned demon she is a rather plump, nondescript-looking girl. And her prospective girlfriend is attracted to the human side of her, rather than her charismatically fearsome alter ego.

Once again, the story starts with a bang and doesn’t let up as we are whisked from one crisis to another. There are a range of unpleasant monsters and creeps in this story, the most memorable being the murderous clown fixated on killing sixteen-year-olds. The action is vividly portrayed, with plenty of gore and a number of key characters dying off – to an extent that I was a tad winded when one of them met his end…

I’ve enjoyed this series, but I’m not quite sure who it’s aimed at. There is an awful lot of violence and murder, with not quite enough emotional bonding for it to truly appeal to the teenage girls I know – and while the non-stop action would definitely tick the boys’ boxes, I can’t see them warming to a gay shape-shifting female who beats up several men who bad-mouth her in sexist terms. While it is marketed as YA, I’d recommend that you check it out before you allow your younger teens to read it. Many, no doubt, will be perfectly able to cope with the action, but it is very graphic and there are some horrific moments that could upset sensitive children with vivid imaginations.

I received the arc of American Monsters from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
7/10

Review of Ghosts of Columbia omnibus edition by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

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There’s a problem, I think, with extremely prolific writers. The obvious one is that someone regularly releasing two novels a year will – inevitably – at times have something published that would have been far better if only it had a chance to ‘incubate’ a bit longer, either in the author’s imagination or in the editing state. But another issue is that an author with fifty-something novels to his name will occasionally produce a book, or series that is absolutely outstanding – which somehow gets overlooked. Fortunately, someone at Tor had the good sense to realise that this had happened to Modesitt’s Ghost books and so Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost of the Revelator were republished together in an omnibus edition.

ghostsofcolumbiaI’m very glad they were – and that I stumbled across the book on the library shelves. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV. And we are sucked into a world where everything is in its place; where people all know each other in a small university town and Johan, recovering from the death of his wife and small son, gives us daily details of the food he eats, the lessons he teaches and his interactions with the Dean, his colleagues and cleaning lady – and the ups and downs of his relationship with the French opera singer and refugee, Llysette duBoise. Against this backdrop political tensions rise, murders occur and Johan is inexorably pulled into the deadly intrigue going on around the new research into ghosts.

It is masterfully done. Johan is a wonderful character, whose depth and complexity powers the whole narrative. Modesitt even pulls off the very difficult trick of giving the reader information about Johan through what he won’t discuss – his first wife and dead son… This is Modesitt at his blinding best – and that best is very good, indeed. Because the other major component that needs to really work in an alternate history, is the world.

In this particular plot Modesitt not only had to have the basis tenant nailed, he also needed to ensure all the details are convincing – this isn’t some paranormal fantasy where we can shrug our shoulders and assume that the odd flaky anomaly is ok – it’s a big ask. But Modesitt rises to the challenge magnificently and as far as I’m concerned, this is the best alternate history I’ve ever read. The world is there in a welter of detail that in its everyday ordinariness acts as a striking contrast to ghosts and the increasingly dangerous situation besetting Johan, thus adding to, rather than diluting the narrative tension.

Any niggles? Well, there’s one – which would have been a major problem if this review had been about Of Tangible Ghosts, rather than the omnibus. Modesitt slightly messes up the climactic denouement at the end of the first novel, so that I wasn’t completely sure exactly what had occurred – until I’d finished the first chapter of the second book where it is all properly explained. As I’ve been reading the second book, I’ve been slightly dreading the end – what if he does the same thing? It’s one of the major sins in my view – taking your reader all the way, only to rush the final details, leaving an unsatisfactory muddle. I’m delighted to report that Modesitt brings the plot to a complete and well explained conclusion in the second and final book in the omnibus. So despite that one glitch, I’m giving this book a 10.

If you enjoy well depicted, convincing worlds where the main character leaps off the page, complete with believable foibles – this is a must-read book that has been somehow buried under the weight of the rest of Modesitt’s output. A real shame… because it’s right up there as one of my most enjoyable reads, ever – and the skill required to produce such a gem shows that at his best, Modesitt is one of the outstanding speculative fiction writers of his generation.
10/10