School Spirits by Rachel HawkinsHex Hall, Demonglass / Raising Demons and Spellbound). You definitely don’t have to have read the Hex Hall books to enjoy this new series, however. The blurb:
Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy’s mom decides they need to take a break.I enjoyed this book a great deal. Izzy’s inner monologue had me laughing out loud many times, particularly as she tries to work out how to be normal (often comparing the situations she finds herself in with a teen soap opera she bought as “research”). It had me from the first chapter, in which Izzy fights a vampire pretentious enough to wear body glitter (best Twilight jab I’ve read so far).
Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who’s always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.
Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?
School Spirits has shades of typical new girl and new school YA, but with the twist that Izzy has never actually gone to a school before. And before moving to Ideal, Mississippi she didn’t even own a TV. So fitting in and pretending to be normal is slightly more of a (hilarious) challenge for her. And although Izzy doesn’t have any magic powers (other than an ability to sense magic/magical creatures) she does have a lot of skills that normal teenagers don’t. Like vampire fighting and a knowledge of ghosts.
On a side note, I liked the way the love interest plot line played out. There was mercifully no love triangle and while there wasn’t much mystery about which boy was in fact the love interest, it was enjoyable to watch it play out.
While most of School Spirits was light and fun reading, it took an unexpected serious turn at one point which added some depth and, dare I say, reality to the story. I can’t elaborate further without spoilers but for me it was that moment that took the novel from pure fun to something a bit more serious. Also, the ending was a bit unusual and I’m dying to see how that plays out in the sequels.
All in all, I found School Spirits quite an unputdownable read. It was fun, hilarious and over too soon. I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable quick read and, of course, to fans of paranormal YA.
5 / 5 stars
First published: May 2013, Disney Book Group (US edition — no word yet on UK/Aus release dates)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of ? (3?). Same world as the Hex Hall trilogy, but does not have to be read after Hex Hall.
Format read: eARC
Source: the publisher, via NetGalley
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Rise of the Fallen by Teagan Chilcott
Appearing as students at a local Brisbane high school, Emilie and Cael are centuries-old elementals on the run. Their inseparable bond starts to fray when Soul, an irresistible demon, comes on the scene and Emilie follows him into the savage world where she and Cael were once kept captive.
Emilie is enchanted by Soul and a new existence where nothing is sacred - where death comes in the alleyway and graveyard brawls are commonplace - and she has to find her way among the shape shifters and vampyres in a demon hierarchy as complex as algebra. At first Soul’s intentions seem honourable, but Emilie soon finds that all is not as it seems…
I haven’t had a particularly good track record with books featuring angels. Happily, Chilcott does not fall into the trap that other authors have with the portrayal of the angels (although the angels don’t get nearly as much page time as the demons, what they did get didn’t annoy me, so yay).
However, I didn’t find Emilie the most endearing of characters. At the very start she struck me as a bit stupid and I felt like she was relying on Cael and Soul to dictate her life for her. Fortunately, as I got to know Emilie better, I came to realise that wasn’t quite true. It turns out she’s just hideously naive, which caused a bit of face-palming but was generally less bothersome. I never quite understood what she saw in Soul though and why she kept following him around when she didn’t really have to. At first I thought magic, but by the end that definitely wasn’t true. Possibly it just took a lot of him doing morally reprehensible things to knock the naive out of her. In any case, it didn’t quite feel like romance to me. Emilie is very quickly convinced that Soul cares about her and loves her, and while that is evident in his actions, I couldn’t see a reason for her to want to be with him. At least a relationship with Cael would have been based on long-standing mutual trust. Not one for dedicated romance fans.
Which brings me to the writing. It was a bit rough. I felt character — particularly relationships between characters — was not very well developed and some of the conversations were stilted. I was a bit baffled by some of Emilie’s actions, despite her explaining some of them to us. There could have been more descriptions of setting, particularly the more mundane Earthly settings, to ground some of the action. Overuse of “seemed” and “strangely enough” and other adverbs was grating although it did improve as it went along.
The ending was strong, setting up the next book in the series well. I read that the last chapter was what inspired the author to write the book, and looking back, I can see how everything was leading up to that point. It was definitely the most clearly drawn scene.
I think teens looking for a quick adventure story might enjoy Rise of the Fallen, particularly if they’re into paranormal fantasy. It will be interesting to see how Chilcott’s writing develops in the future.
3 / 5 stars
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge
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The Price of Fame by RC Daniells
The Price of Fame by RC Daniells is epic fantasy writer Rowena Cory Daniells’ first foray into paranormal crime. Just as her fantasy books are intense and difficult to put down, so was The Price of Fame.
The Price of Fame is the story of Antonia, a film school graduate who moves from Queensland to Melbourne to make a documentary about the Tough Romantics, an 80s punk band whose singer was murdered just before they made it big. Accompanied by former classmate and hunk, Monty, as her camera and effects man, she begins to dig into the band’s past. Her initial plan is to focus on their early creative dynamic and steer clear of the sensationalist murder angle. She even rents the house in St Kilda where the band lived before they were famous. Of course, the more she digs into the past, the more it becomes apparent there’s more to the singer’s murder than generally known.
As Antonia and Monty learn more, their present-day story is interspersed with a story of events in the 80s centred about, O’Toole, the taxi driver who was accused of the murder. Through his eyes we see the visceral reality of life on the Street (Fitzroy St) for the fringes of society in St Kilda. As you might expect (especially if you know anything about Melbourne and St Kilda’s history), that world is full of drugs and casual violence.
Daniells has O’Toole not originate in that world but move there after his divorce. In some ways, he’s not so different to the people around him, but he’s different enough that he’s still a bit of a tourist. This is a clever move on the author’s part as it gives the reader a more easily relateable character who can report on Street conditions without being entirely a part of the scene (and neatly sidesteps any issues of authenticity compared with writing from the point of view of a Street personality).
I have a soft spot for stories set in Melbourne, my home city. I might not have spent all that much time in St Kilda, but I’ve walked down Acland Street and bought pastires, and been to Luna Park and ridden the same roller coaster the band rides in the book (a few safety-induced renovations later). The language Daniells uses is distinctly Australian, particularly in the slang all the characters use, which I also enjoyed.
Overall, I enjoyed The Price of Fame and read it in two sittings, finding it difficult to put down, especially once the 80s story started to unfold. It has minor paranormal elements, but they don’t really become pivotal until the end and could almost be dismissed as magical realism (if paranormal elements aren’t your sort of thing). This easily one of the most realistic novels (as opposed to speculative fiction) I’ve read this year. (Shift by Em Bailey is the only other one that competes.)
I strongly recommend The Price of Fame to anyone who enjoys mystery/crime novels, paranormal fiction and/or historical Melbourne.
5 / 5 stars
A copy of the book was provided by the author for review.
Poltergeeks by Sean Cummings
Poltergeeks by Sean Cummings is a rollicking great read out from Strange Chemistry (YA imprint of Angry Robot) on October 2nd in the US/Canada and ebook and on October 4th for the UK/Aus paperback. A copy of this book was provided for review from the publisher. Also, how awesome is the cover? I love it.
Julie is a trainee witch, still learning the craft from her mother. The only person who knows her secret is her best friend Marcus. An excerpt from the blurb:
When she and her best friend, Marcus, witness an elderly lady jettisoned out the front door of her home, it’s pretty obvious to Julie there’s a supernatural connection.
In fact, there’s a whisper of menace behind increasing levels of poltergeist activity all over town. After a large-scale paranormal assault on Julie’s high school, her mother falls victim to the spell Endless Night. Now it’s a race against time to find out who is responsible or Julie won’t just lose her mother’s soul, she’ll lose her mother’s life.
This was a great fun read packed full of action and (magical) explosions. I liked Julie as a kick-arse heroine but one who hadn’t come into her full power yet. When bad things happen, she’s still supposed to call her mum and when she doesn’t, she gets told off and grounded. It’s nice to see a YA book where the main character’s parent has some agency and acts like a normal parent despite the supernatural elements (even if she spends half the book unconscious — it’s still an improvement).
Marcus is painted as a love interest early on and, although Julie panics at first, I found her examination of her feelings (in between something trying to kill her) believable. Oh and Marcus is a science geek and keeps trying to work out how magic fits in with physics. It was great.
The only thing I didn’t like was Julie’s other (female) friend’s jealousy regarding Marcus. It would have been nice if there was also a strong girlfriend relationship but at least there were no queen bitches at the school (a trope I’m a bit sick of).
I very much enjoyed this read and I hope that there will be more books about Julie in the future (and from his website it seems that Cummings is working on a follow up, Student Bodies, so yay). I recommend Poltergeeks to anyone who wants a quick, fun read with lots of action, crazy paranormal activity and a dash of awkward romance. And bonus: it’s set in Canada for a bit of variety.
4.5 / 5 stars
The Ravenous Dead by Natasha Hoar
The Ravenous Dead by Natasha Hoar is a new ebook-only novella published by Carina Press. Continuing Carina Press’s trend of releasing series of related novellas, The Ravenous Dead follows on from The Stubborn Dead (link to publisher page). I haven’t read The Stubborn Dead and, while I could guess vaguely what it might have been about, I didn’t feel I needed to have read it before The Ravenous Dead nor that The Ravenous Dead was likely to have spoiled the earlier story for me (of course, I might be wrong on that second part, who knows).
Rachel is a rescue medium which means that it’s her job to help free souls which are stuck on Earth and deal with certain supernatural creatures. In this novella, a reaper, an undead soul-eater, is ravaging Vancouver and leaving a trail of bodies in it’s wake. Rachel sets out to stop it with her protege (with his own special powers) Kit.
It was a little bit gory at the start when the bodies were described but after that the story was mainly action and a little bit of detective work.
There were a few scenes from the reaper’s point of view which felt a bit odd. They seemed to make the reader sympathise a bit with the reaper (who didn’t end up as a particularly soul-thirsty reaper on purpose) but then ended with him being an emotionless killing machine. It turned out there was a reason for this, story-wise, but it confused me a bit.
There was a nice hook at the end for a possible future story which definitely made me want to read more.
Overall, this wasn’t a bad story but it didn’t elicit any particularly strong emotions in me. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy and is looking for a quick and action-heavy story to pass the time.
3.5 / 5 stars
Ascend by Amanda Hocking
Ascend picks up the story shortly after Torn left off. As usual, it’s difficult to review a sequel without spoilers, so excuse my vagueness.
Wendy, who only learnt she was a
troll Trylle princess in book one, now has to save her kingdom from destruction by the dark and power-hungry king of the Vittra, another race of trolls. The problem, of course, is the Vittra are physically much stronger than the Trylle and the Vittra king is very powerful magically.
As with the previous books, I particularly enjoyed Wendy’s attitudes towards the various love-interesty boys in her life:
- She never lets boys interfere with her mission (to save the kingdom)
- She does what she has to do without ignoring what she wants to do (so long as that doesn’t interfere too much)
- She has sane reactions to their bullshit where relevant (“you didn’t love me enough to make any sacrifices yet you still expect me to want to be with you?”)
- She’s not afraid to tell boys to piss off (eg when they’re showering her with unwanted attention/affection)
The lack of a conventional love triangle is also a big point in this series’ favour. At the end of book two, I was a bit confused as to how the boy she does end up with was a serious contender, but having read Ascend it does work.
I enjoyed this series very much. It’s one of the less conventional YA fantasies I’ve read lately, particularly thanks to the lack of love triangle. And the troll part was novel too, I suppose. I recommend it to anyone who likes YA fantasy/paranormal.
4 / 5 stars
Spellbound by Rachel Hawkins
Spellbound by Rachel Hawkins is the concluding volume in the Hex Hall trilogy. You can read my reviews for Hex Hall and Demonglass (US) / Raising Demons (UK/Aus) at those links. I bought the UK/Aus ebook edition of Spellbound but because I have the first two books in US paperback editions, I have also included the US cover below. Well, actually, I included it because for the first time I prefer US covers for a series. But anyway. (I can’t help but wonder why all the US covers feature a cat. There are no cats in the series whatsoever! Is it just supposed to be a generic “oh look witch” indicator? Inquiring minds need to know.
Being the third and final volume in the series, this review is going to be vaguer than usual thanks to avoiding spoilers.
Spellbound picks up exactly where Demonglass/Raising Demons left off. There is a lot more action spread throughout the book (compare with book 2 where most of the excitement was towards the end). There’s still piles of sarcasm from Sophie, the main character, but in contrast with the early books, in which she just enjoyed being snarky, now she’s sarcastic out of fear and nervousness. There were still some funny lines that made me laugh out loud, but overall the plot, subject matter and stakes were more serious.
In my review of Demonglass, I said that there were higher stakes and more serious business than in Hex Hall. This trend continues with Spellbound raising the stakes as far as possible
(because what can out, er, stake an apocalyptic war?) and throwing the characters further into the deep end.
In some ways, the good guys’ plans seemed a little simplistic, but on the other hand, considering that Sophie, a teenager, was a key player, that’s probably realistic. I appreciated that when they decided “ok, we’ll try and do blah and hopefully that will save the day”, it might have looked like it would be too easy, but it never was.
As far as the romantic plot line went, the love triangle annoyed me, but I think that’s mainly because I’m really over love triangles in YA. It wasn’t actually poorly executed, despite me being on the “wrong team”.
and hoping the other guy would get killed. I would have appreciated a less formulaic and more surprising approach, but it certainly wasn’t something which ruined the book for me. (And for more on why I’m complaining about love triangles, I recommend this post by Shaheen.)
The ending was satisfactory with the world saved (yeah, so not a spoiler) and all the characters were nicely accounted for. Overall, I enjoyed Spellbound more than Demonglass but I had less fun reading it than I did Hex Hall. I continue to recommend this series to anyone who likes YA, paranormal adventures and snarky sarcasm.
4 / 5 stars
Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins
Demonglass (titled Raising Demons in the UK/Australia) by Rachel Hawkins is the second book in the Hex Hall trilogy. You can read my review of book 1, Hex Hall, here.
The shenanigans and sarcasm from Hex Hall return in full force in Demonglass. Sophie is off to spend summer break in the UK with her absentee father and, luckily, her best friend Jenna is allowed to come with her. Conveniently, from a plot-ish point of view, one of her love interests also goes with them.
Where Hex Hall mostly involved school yard pranks and mischief with only mysterious murders and a bit of life-threatening danger at the end, Demonglass ups the ante. There’s a lot more danger and risk with more adult-involvement (as in, less teenage mischief more serious business).
Happily, Sophie’s sarcasm continues apace.
One thing that bothered me plot-wise was the love interest/triangle. I’m a bit over love triangles and I suspect I’m rooting for the losing side (which seems to often be the case, hmm). The other thing that probably wouldn’t bother most readers that got to me were a couple of misused words (eggcorns, to use New Scientist’s term): brisk instead of brusque, shattering instead of chattering. Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it was enough to throw me out of the story.
On the other hand, it was interesting to watch Sophie’s relationship with her father develop (although I think elaboration would be spoilery). That and the fact that Jenna got some happies were two of the highlights.
The big finish was definitely big and the last few chapters crammed in a lot of sudden action and excitement and also a cliffhanger. Good thing I already have the concluding volume, Spellbound, lined up and ready to go.
Overall, a must read if you enjoyed Hex Hall. I liked it slightly less but the ending more than made up for it. Oh, and I was still definitely laughing out loud. If you haven’t started the Hex Hall series, definitely do if you like YA with magic and sarcastic, snarky main characters.
4 / 5 stars
Slide by Jill Hathaway
Slide by Jill Hathaway was a book I almost bought at Heathrow during my stupidly long layover. I was able to talk myself out of it at the time because a) I’d just bought a pile of books in the US and and b) I opened it to a random page in the middle and it seemed a little bit shallow. Then later c) I bought a Kobo.
But now I seem to be on some sort of YA binge and ran out of pre-purchased YA so I downloaded the sample/preview of Slide and one thing led to another, I bought it and kept flipping those iPhone pages until I got to the end. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.
Slide is about Vee, a teenage girl (I think aged 17), who has a magical form of narcolepsy. When she passes out, she slides into someone else’s head for a few minutes. She can’t read their mind, but does see and experience life from their point of view. The choice of who she slides into is determined by what she was touching at the time; if she touches something which had some sort of emotional significance to another person, she’ll probably slide into their heads. Because she can’t read minds, she often doesn’t know who she’s slid into unless there’s a clue in the new environment or unless she knows what object brought on the episode.
Things aren’t exactly going well for Vee with mild injuries brought on by the narcolepsy interspersed and night-time insomnia to top it all off. But then she slides into the head of a murderer just after they’ve committed the crime. A cheerleader is dead and because the killer made it look like suicide, Vee is the only one who knows it’s murder.
And so, between boys being confusing, girls being bitchy and her sister (friends with the dead girl) falling apart, Vee realises it’s up to her to work out who the killer is. She can’t tell anyone else about it, because they’ll just think she’s crazy.
This book had be guessing at whodunit until the end. I was wondering “oh, could it be that person? Surely not, but that does look very suspicious” right along with Vee and I couldn’t stop reading until I got to the end. Far from being shallow, as per my first impression, the book works much better in context. It’s written in a fairly straight-forward style but from the (first person) point of view of a teenager, this is quite appropriate.
There were some parallels between Vee and Veronica Mars. Both outcasts, both have male BFFs and pasts that aren’t all sunshine and roses. Vee is slightly less awesome (and less immediately proactive at trying to solve all the mysteries) but that’s not an entirely fair comparison since Veronica Mars is my favourite teenage girl character ever. What I did enjoy about Vee was watching her take control of her life by deciding to find the killer. Throughout the book she gains agency and becomes less of a victim of her condition. Which was nice to read about.
In short, this was an enjoyable read. If you’re after some YA mystery and murder, this is a good place to start.
4 / 5 stars
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
I admit part of the reason I picked up Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins was because of the smashing cover. This is one of the few times I’ve preferred the US cover to the Aus/UK one (see small Aus/UK cover below on the left). The other reason was — thanks to jet lag — I felt like an easy/fun YA read.
And what a fun read it was. I wasn’t expecting Hex Hall to be quite as laugh-out-loud funny as it was. From the prologue, in which we learn just why Sophie is sentenced to the supernatural reform school, to a plethora of sarcastic comments, I was sniggering or laughing every few pages.
The story is told in first person from the point of view of Sohpie, a witch who did one too many spells in front of humans. But she was raised by her human mother after her parents broke up and didn’t get to speak to her father until she came into her powers. Before arriving at school, she had never met any other supernaturals (the school has witches, shapeshifters (including werewolves), faeries and vampires) and knows very little about their society. She quickly manages to antagonise the three bitchy witches, but at least she’s room-mates with the only vampire student so they can be outcasts together.
Then things start to go wrong. A student is attacked and Sophie’s new vampire friend is the prime suspect. Sophie doesn’t believe her friend did it, but everyone else does. No one will listen when Sophie starts looking for the real culprit.
As I said at the start, this was a really fun book. Without getting overly gloomy, it touches on racial tension (faeries and shapeshifters don’t really get along, hopefully something that will be explored more in the sequels) and fear of the unknown (humans who find out about supernaturals tend to get homicidal on them). And of course, there’s the whole being an outcast element. Actually, it was nice that the vampire girl was more of an outcast than Sophie started off being. Too many books have the Chosen One also being a complete outcast. At least while Sophie has elements of Chosen One-ness, it’s mainly the bitchy coven that hates her straight away, not the whole school.
Did I mention funny? I’ve ordered the second book, Demonglass, from Book Depository and look forward to reading it.
4.5 / 5 stars