The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

the orphan choir cover

Now, this is what a creepy ghost story should be like. 

Louise is a woman going crazy in her own home. Her neighbour torments her with late-night music and her son has started boarding at his school so that he can be part of the school’s choir. She misses him desperately but everyone keeps trying to tell her it is for the best, that this is an amazing opportunity for him. Louise just feels like he has been stolen from her.

When she starts hearing a choir singing late at night at first she puts it down to her neighbour getting meaner and targeting her where it hurts but she starts to hear it during the day, in places where her neighbour’s music wouldn’t reach, where he couldn’t possibly be causing it.

Is Louise going crazy or is she really hearing a ghost choir singing to her? Is her neighbour targeting her to take revenge because she reported him to the council or is it all in her head?

Her actions are believable. I can understand how annoyed she was by the noise from her neighbour and her husband that acts like a jerk and I was 100% behind her and everything that she did even though I didn’t find her at all likeable.

It’s not the most ghostly of ghost books out there. I loved the ending but the rest of the book is very subtle and wavers between making you think that Louise is actually haunted and then making you think that it is all in her head. I liked the balance of this but if you’re expecting a full on ghost story you might find it disappointing. The end though I found genuinely scary and I thought it worked well after the slow build up.

This is the first time I’ve read a ghost story that’s trying to be scary and actually liked the ending.

If you’re looking for a full on ghost story this might not be for you, the rest of my book club was disappointed by it, but I enjoyed the slow build and the tension caused by trying to decide if it was a haunting or if Louise was imagining it.

The Orphan Choir
Sophie Hannah
Horror
May 9th 2013
Hardback
304

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) by Stacia Kane

Unholy Ghosts cover

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased.

Enter Chess Putnam, a tattooed church witch and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls.

Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

My Thoughts

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, #1)Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and gothic take on urban fantasy.

Unholy Ghosts stands out for me as being one of the better books in the urban fantasy genre. It’s much darker than most and main character Chess has issues – she’s not perfect at all, not even in the “thinks she’s not but actually is” sort of way.

Chess is a troubled individual who works for the church exorcising ghosts with magic. She’s also a drug addict who finds herself in debt to her local drug dealer, Bump. He calls her in for a favour and Chess finds herself in a whole lot of a mess, having to deal with black magic and human sacrifice while trying to hide her involvement from the church to protect her job.

I know I’m emotionally invested in the story because I get very angry at Chess for some of the bad decisions she makes. I just so badly want her to have a bit more self-respect and look after herself better.

But this is a story that is dark, the ghosts are scary and dangerous and the characters are not heroes.

Potential love interest Terrible is 6 foot plus, described as being not very attractive and a bit rough and is Bump’s main enforcer, doing all the risky dirty work. But his intelligence and kindness balance out his rough edges to make him super interesting and actually really attractive for me. I was rooting for Chess to notice just how lovely he is and how he seems to have a thing for her.

The world building is done in a way that feels unobtrusive but I can still easily imagine myself there. I love when the authors throw in references to the music the characters are listening to, it adds a lot to my mental picture of the world. This is a book that would lend itself to some awesome soundtracks!

So, I thought this was fun, dark, different and I’m left desperate to know what happens next with Chess and Terrible.

Unholy Ghosts
Downside Ghosts
Stacia Kane
Urban Fantasy
May 25th 2010
Paperback
339

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1) by Diana Wynne Jones

Charmed life cover

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

My Thoughts

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci, #1)Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charmed Life is an odd but fun book about two orphan children who go to live in Chrestomanci Castle, home of the most powerful magician in the land and his family.

Cat has no magic of his own but his sister Gwendolen is a very powerful witch and she’s also very impressed with her own ability. When they arrive at the castle though, the adults ignore them and Gwendolen is banned from practising magic. Safe to say she is not pleased by this and she quickly sets out to cause as much mayhem as possible in revenge.

I did enjoy this book but it has what I think is a pretty big plot hole. Cat and his sister are dragged away from their home to live with this Chrestomanci person and no one in their new home will talk to them or explain anything that’s going on. No wonder Gwendolen gets frustrated, I would too!

I spent a good two-thirds of the book being outraged on behalf of Cat and Gwendolen and cheering Gwendolen’s naughtiness on. The adults keep their secrets for far too long for no real reason – they could have sat down and talked to Cat, then everything would have been resolved almost straight away.

Of course, when the truth comes out you realise the adults were actually dealing with everything very carefully. The villain is mean and nasty (and the author doesn’t sugar coat it) and there is real and scary danger to everyone.

The story has a very dark edge to it but then the best children’s books always do. The exciting ending made up for a lot of my issue with Chrestomanci just not talking to the children.

Charmed Life is aimed at children but with enough to it to keep adults interested too. Make yourself a big cup of tea and settle down somewhere cosy to enjoy this one!

Charmed Life
Chrestomanci
Diana Wynne Jones
Children's Fantasy
1977
Paperback
252

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

heartshaped box cover

Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals…a used hangman’s noose…a snuff film. An ageing death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can’t help but reach for his wallet.

I will “sell” my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder…

For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. he has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts–of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What’s one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.

And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door, seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang, standing outside his window, staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting–with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand.

My Review of Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first 100 pages or so were creepy and made me not want to turn the light out but then the tension faded away and after that, it was not scary at all.

I don’t think it’s really supposed to be a ghost story, it’s more about a not particularly nice man becoming a better person.

Judas Coyne is an ageing rock star on a self-destructive downward spiral. He purposefully pushes people away and has lost all interest and joy in his music. The ghost starts to destroy his quiet hideaway and Judas has to go on a journey physically and mentally to fight for his life.

The women in the book feel like they are present just to suffer through traumatic events so that Judas can feel all the emotions and grow as a person. By helping them he ends up saving himself, coming to terms with the childhood abuse he suffered and dealing with the death of his bandmates, and he learns how to form proper, caring relationships with the people left in his life.

I feel a bit cheated because it’s sold as a ghost story but it’s really not. In itself the story is interesting and it held my interest to the end but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about Judas, he seems a generally unpleasant person.

It’s not a bad book but it’s kinda predictable and the ghost isn’t anywhere near scary enough.

Heart-Shaped Box
Joe Hill
Horror
February 13th 2007
Paperback
406

Fire (Engelsfors #2) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren

Fire Cover

The Chosen Ones are about to start their second year in senior high school. All summer they have been waiting for the demon’s next move. But the threat comes from another direction, somewhere they could never have foreseen.

It becomes more and more obvious that something is very wrong in Engelsfors. The past is woven together with the present. The living meet the dead. The Chosen Ones are tied even closer together and are once again reminded that magic cannot make you happy or mend broken hearts.

My Review of Fire
Fire (Engelsfors #2)Fire by Mats Strandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fire is very Buffy inspired in that it’s as much about dealing with the horrors of high school and adults that think they know better, as it is about dealing with actual demons and magic users intent upon nefarious deeds. It even has a morally dubious magic council trying to police and control the witches powers. But Fire is moving and deep and transcends its Buffy influences by creating a wonderful story all of its own. This is definitely one of my favourite series about high school magic users, up there with the Brooklyn Brujas books by Zoraida Córdova.

I’d say the first 50% of the book there isn’t really any magic in it though, it’s just the girls dealing with life and family and friends. The magic side of the story is a slow burner, building up in the background all the time the girls were dealing with the fallout from Anna Karin’s magic use in the first book. Then when I’d actually stopped caring about the lack of magic because I was just enjoying the story, it all starts to kick off and the magic use amps up!

All through the book, there has been a demon touched witch lurking in the background influencing and controlling the townspeople. The girls kinda brush it to one side whilst they are surviving the magic council’s attentions as the ‘bad’ witch gains more and more power.

Both sides of the story are done well, I wasn’t bored waiting for the magic bits like I would normally find myself with this sort of book. I know what it’s like to be an ‘outcast’ at school and I think Fire captures that feeling so well. The girls are dealing with all sorts of family and relationship issues and then on top of that they have to deal with the magic council turning up too. It’s very realistic in the way it portrays the girl’s personalities and the cliques which exist in high school.

We have Minoo – super shy and retiring, she struggles to make friends and has little confidence in her magic.

Vanessa – a wild child whose self-worth is wrapped up in her boyfriend.

Ida – the school bully who has had her eyes opened to the effect her actions have on other people.

Linnea – an independent loner that tries to deal with everything on her own.

Anna Karin – an overweight outcast who feels that she has no control over herself or her life direction.

There is massive character growth in Fire: these five girls are still almost strangers at the start of the book but by the end, they see the good and the potential in each other. They start to trust their magic circle.

I’m kinda heartbroken by the ending, but I feel hopeful it’s just setting up for a killer storyline in the final book.

Basically, I loved it all! I can’t wait to read the finale.

Fire
Engelsfors
Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Young Adult Fantasy
June 20th 2013
Kindle
687

Scary Mary (Scary Mary #1) by S.A. Hunter

scary mary cover

Mary just wants to be left alone, but the cheerleaders, jocks, guidance counsellors, and ghosts won’t stop harassing her. When a new boy starts school, he surprises Mary by befriending her. That’s a rare thing for the school freak, but her unusual abilities put a rift in their budding friendship when Mary has to tell Cy that his home is haunted and not by Casper, the friendly ghost. Mary has to get rid of the ghost, thwart the school bully, do her homework, and not get detention. Mary’s sure she can do all of that except for the last part.

Scary Mary (Scary Mary, #1)Scary Mary by S.A. Hunter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary is an outcast at her school, teased and bullied by the other kids because she is different. When a new kid, Cyrus, joins Mary’s school and shows an interest in her Mary is wary at first but soon starts to warm up to him.

But Mary really is different; she can hear ghosts, and when a ghost in Cyrus’ house starts causing mayhem Mary is the only one that can get rid of it.

This was a fun story to read. It’s fast-paced and full of ghost hunting action. I liked Mary and her sarcy voice, sometimes she came across as very immature but then she is a teenager so I can understand that. I admired the way she went after the ghost though. If it was me I would have just left Cyrus to it after he blamed her for damage she didn’t cause.

Clunky writing slowed the story down occasionally. Some bits read as though the author was making notes about what they wanted to happen, but then never actually got round to writing it.

“She remembered that she didn’t have his number or his address and got both from him. He got her info as well. After a few seconds of just staring dumbly at the scrap of paper with his address and number scrawled on it, Mary said to her shoes, “Well, I’ll see you this weekend.”

Other bits were just awkward and there were points when I couldn’t understand the things people were doing – why was Mary blamed for all the altercations with the other students? why did Mary stay for the seance? Why did Cyrus blame her for the damage?

The writings not brilliant but I enjoyed the story. It’s quick, fun and action packed but I don’t think I’d go out of my way to read the rest of the series.

Scary Mary
Scary Mary
S.A. Hunter
Young Adult Fantasy
August 16th 2006
Kindle
144

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

June 1st 2009

In a vast, mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the hole punched into its heart. Lily is gone and her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, the gentle Luc, mourn her absence with unspoken intensity. All is not well with the house, either, which creaks and grumbles and malignly confuses visitors in its mazy rooms, forcing winter apples in the garden when the branches should be bare. Generations of women inhabit its walls. And Miranda, with her new appetite for chalk and her keen sense for spirits, is more attuned to them than she is to her brother and father. She is leaving them slowly –

Slipping away from them –

And when one dark night she vanishes entirely, the survivors are left to tell her story.

“Miri I conjure you ”

This is a spine-tingling tale that has Gothic roots but an utterly modern sensibility. Told by a quartet of crystalline voices, it is electrifying in its expression of myth and memory, loss and magic, fear and love.

My Review of White is for Witching

White is for WitchingWhite is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn’t get the creepy vibe I was really after from this. All the elements were there but it felt like the author was using the haunted theme to try to say something else. It never came together in a coherent haunting and there was a disappointing lack of witches.

There were a lot of different themes that seemed to be running under the surface but nothing stood out enough to say anything. The thing with the refugees never went anywhere, I’m not sure why it was included. Whatever the author was trying to say was not obvious for me to understand what it was.

There are a few different narrators (one of them the house!), all of them unreliable. You never know what’s real and what’s not, what’s made up and what’s just imagined.

Miri was the main narrator but I didn’t find her very interesting. Intended to be fragile she came across as a pretentious. She had a lot of issues that weren’t really dealt with. Her twin brother was trying to distance himself from her and her father didn’t seem interested in trying to understand her problems, convincing himself he can solve her eating problems by discovering what food she would want to each. Miri starts to slowly fade away, becoming paler, thinner, and more and more distant. The book starts when she has disappeared completely.

I really enjoyed the part of the book that was told from Ore’s point of view. I liked her voice and she had an interesting story.

It’s a slow paced book but the writing is beautiful. I may not have understood it but I know it’s not really a haunted house story, it’s more about love and loss. I enjoyed the slow pace, I think it worked well with the writing style. It kind of lulled me into feeling like I was in a daydream.

I didn’t get the point of the book and that just left me feeling frustrated. I do like the way Helen Oyeyemi writes though, she has a poetic style that’s captivating to read.

White is for Witching
Helen Oyeyemi
Fiction
June 1st 2009
Paperback
244

The Amber Citadel (Jewelfire #1) by Freda Warrington

The Amber Citadel Cover

Two hundred and fifty years ago, humans defeated the shape-changing Bhahdradomen in the War of the Silver Plains. Although they are exiled – or even thought to be extinct – the shape-changers’ hatred and jealousy of the humans live on. Now, in the failings of a human king, they find a way to assuage that hatred. Meanwhile, the third race, the mysterious Aelyr, keep apart from human realms although they also consider the Bhahdradomen enemies.

Tanthe and Ysomir are sisters, living in the village of Riverwynde, 2,000 miles from the capital city Parione. Ysomir is in love with Lynden, son of the village leader. Tanthe is bored with rural life and longs for the wonders of Parione. But the growing madness of King Garnelys and the Bhahdradomen’s wiles soon lead to terrible events, the abduction of Ysomir, and the beginning of a long journey for Tanthe, Lynden, and his brother Rufryd, as they set out for the Amber Citadel of Parione.

My Review of The Amber Citadel

The Amber Citadel (The Jewelfire Trilogy #1)The Amber Citadel by Freda Warrington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to say The Amber Citadel is not as good as the other books I’ve read by Freda Warrington. The writing is still fantastic and her descriptions are just as lush as ever but it’s all a bit overwhelming with a lot of back story and history to remember and lots of different characters. I found the plot a bit messy and hard to keep track of and the characters not very likeable. But it is very inventive and she manages to stay away from a lot of the standard fantasy clichés.

The characters bicker a lot. Tan doesn’t speak, she shouts and gets angry at everything anyone says to her and I found her very childish and hard to like. Rufryd was the same and I really could have done without their relationship drama.

The ending was dark and full of surprises, it did not go the way I expected at all! The story had all started to come together and the characters were growing up a bit. I think there is a lot of potential for the next book to really take off. Hopefully there will be less of the bickering!

I didn’t get on with the characters but I’m hooked by the ending and I want to see where the story goes. I will definitely be reading the next book, I just hope there will be less relationship angst and more story.

The Amber Citadel
Jewelfire
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1999
Paperback
599

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter Cover

January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely, and desperate to change his life, so when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it.

Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, but the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice: stay or go.

Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return–when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.

Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark.

My Review of Dark Matter

Dark MatterDark Matter by Michelle Paver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of the expedition to the Arctic is interesting and the descriptions are brilliantly done. The characters felt real to me, and I cared about what happened to them.

But I didn’t get enough of a feel for the the isolation or the darkness. Jack is never alone for long, then when he is he’s busy. I liked the journal format and I think it worked, but when Jack writes in it he condenses his day to the interesting bits and the long lonely hours aren’t included.

I did read it in the middle of summer, which didn’t help the atmosphere. I think this book would benefit from being read on a cold, dark evening. If you’re on your own, even better.

The important question: was I scared? Well, sort of, but not really. There was a nice build up, but it went on for too long. The reveal of how the ghost was created was creepy and very dark but felt a bit rushed and crammed in at the end. It feels like the book ends just as the scary things get going.

As a ghost story it falls a bit flat, but as a story about an Artic expedition with some dark, creepy elements then it works really well.

Dark Matter
Michelle Paver
Horror
September 1st 2011
Paperback
288

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase, Peter Sís (Illustrator)

the wicked wicked ladies in the haunted house

Maureen Swanson is the scourge of the neighbourhood. At age nine, she already has a reputation as a hard slapper, a loud laugher, a liar, and a stay-after-schooler. The other kids call her Stinky. So sometimes when Maureen passes the crumbling (and haunted?) Messerman mansion, she imagines that she is Maureen Messerman–rich, privileged, and powerful.

Then she finds a way into the forbidden, boarded-up house. In the hall are portraits of seven young women wearing elaborate gowns and haughty expressions. Maureen has something scathing to say to each one, but then she notices that the figures seem to have shifted in their frames. So she reaches out her finger to touch the paint–just to make sure–and touches . . . silk!

These seven daughters of privilege are colder and meaner than Maureen ever thought to be. They are wicked, wicked ladies, and Maureen has something they want.

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted HouseThe Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In which an unpleasant young girl meets her match in seven unpleasant sisters.

Why are the sisters considered so wicked? Because they are heartless? Because they shoplift pretty trinkets? Well, sure that makes them unpleasant but I wouldn’t call them wicked for that. Because they send Maureen back in time and were mean to her? Well, she called them all sorts of names and took Ingrid’s bracelet. The sisters did first go to Maureen’s house and try asking for it back, Maureen lied and said she didn’t have it. so I’d say they were all as bad as each other.

I think this is a book very much of its time. Written in the 60’s when a woman that didn’t care about anyone and wasn’t polite and kind probably was considered wicked.

I didn’t find it scary or spooky at all, maybe children will but I’m not convinced. I’m easy to scare, by contrast children seem to love scary things.

I did enjoy reading it though, it’s a fun adventure story with a non-typical heroine. I would just have liked to have see Maureen keep some of her mischievous ways and not become so much of a “good girl”.

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House
Mary Chase, Peter Sís (Illustrator)
Children's Fantasy
September 1st 1968
Kindle
128