Friday 27 February 2015

Haunt: Dead Wrong, Curtis Jobling

Pages: 232
Publisher: S&S
Release Date: 26th February 2015
Edition: UK paperback, review copy

Other Titles by this Author: Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf, Rage of Lions, Shadow of the Hawk, Nest of Serpents, Storm of Sharks, War of the Werelords; Haunt: Dead Scared

Will and Dougie are adjusting to the slight change in their friendship dynamic...

Will’s dead but Dougie can still see him. Weird, admittedly, but there are some positives: solving a murder mystery, becoming a local hero and getting the girl of your dreams are pretty big perks for Dougie.

But what happens when the girl is Will’s crush too? The first (and last!) girl he ever kissed? And why has Dougie’s dad been acting weird ever since Will died? Just as things are beginning to go right for Will, it seems he couldn’t have been more wrong.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series so I was really rather pleased to find that Dead Wrong is even better than Dead Scared!

Curtis Jobling has a wonderfully chatty, warm tone that even though it’s been nearly eight months since I first met Will and Dougie, they feel instantly familiar again. But there were some dark goings on in Dead Wrong. Will and Dougie are having a few issues at the beginning of the book; there are few things that can cause friends to fight more than a girl, and your dead best friend eavesdropping on your dad and finding out that he has a massive secret... The tension and the slow repair of their friendship were realistic and genuine. It really is nice to read a YA novel that focuses so heavily on friendship – there aren’t enough of them out there.

Dougie isn’t Will’s only friend, though. There’s the Major: a ghostly American WWII soldier who hangs around the hospital. He’s a sassy dude. And so charming it’s no wonder that he had a sweetheart while he was stationed over here. The story of the Major and Ruby was a surprising element to the book; emotional and unexpected. I teared up! One of my favourite things about stories with ghosts in them is the history that comes along with it and I would honestly read a whole novel about Ruby and Major’s burgeoning romance in 1943.

Haunt: Dead Wrong is full of fun, friendship, humour and heart. Highly recommended.

Thanks to S&S for the review copy.


Thursday 26 February 2015

Blog Tour: Curtis Jobling's Top Ten Ghosts in Books, Film and Television

I'm always a little sheepish when I'm asked to give my top ten of anything - it's such a subjective thing, so I can only go with those characters that have struck a chord with me. And let's be honest, we're spoiled rotten with ghost stories in every medium. I know I'm going to miss something out, but here's some of my particular favourites.

10) Poltergeist. A film directed by Chainsaw Massacre's Tobe Hooper and produced by Spielberg, it's a great collaborative work with some incredible special effects for its time. In particular, though, it's the "lo-fi" effects that seized my imagination as a kid; toys coming to life, shadows playing across the window as branches tap-tap-tap against the panes. The poltergeist shows itself in many forms throughout the movie, most famously through the crackling static screen of the television set. A classic.

9) The Monkey's Paw, by W. W. Jacobs. OK, so strictly speaking it may not be a ghost, the 'thing' that comes knocking - perhaps it's a zombie? Don't care, it creeps the bejeezus out of me either way. Only bettered by the League of Gentlemen's Curse of the Monkey's Knackers...

8) The Child, The Devil's Backbone. Guillermo Del Toro has great fun making monstrous blockbusters such as Hellboy and Pacific Rim, but his more personal films are the ones that particularly excite me, such as Pan's Labyrinth, and Backbone. Set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, it's a tremendous setting for a tale that is equal parts sociological and supernatural. The use of special visual effects is as genius as the story itself. Wonderful.

7) The Covenant Spirits, from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Don't know about you, but if I see it in the telly planner, it has to be watched. You can lump JAWS in there too, and Empire Strikes Back. Raiders is head and shoulders above the other films in the Indiana Jones franchise, a stonking swashbuckler of a movie. When the Ark is opened and the spirits emerge, first beautiful then monstrous, Indy and Marion weren't the only ones shutting their eyes! Face-melty-tastic!

6) Jacob Marley, from A Christmas Carol. I remember reading this aged ten in primary school, thinking it was going to be a jolly, festive tale. OK, so eventually it is, but it takes a while getting there. And remember, this was before the guiding gentleness that was the Muppets to steer me through choppy, chilling waters. When Scrooge's old partner in business puts in an appearance, I was entranced. I recall spending weeks copying Arthur Rackham's classic bookplates into my sketchbook. No wonder I wanted to be a writer and illustrator when I grew up.

5) The Woman In Black. Susan Hill's wonderful novel has been dramatized on stage and screen, and tweaked accordingly on each occasion. It doesn't seem to matter what the producers do with it, inevitably the end result is the same. Audiences soil themselves. OK, perhaps that statement's slightly semi-autobiographical. I took great pleasure watching the Hammer/ Radcliffe film recently with my son, 14, who had never sat down and enjoyed an old fashioned spooky film before. My glee was unhealthily massive, in part because of the lavish production values, direction and cinematography on the screen, accompanied by my eldest leaping and squirming like a worm on a hotplate.

4) The Ghost of the Suit, Heart Shaped Box. I love Joe Hill's writing, and respect him immensely for not "pulling a Sheen" and trading upon his dad's name (Joe's father is horror supremo Stephen King). This is a classic ghost story given a thoroughly modern setting, with an unstoppable, never faltering phantasm who wants our anti-hero dead. It's incredible. When the subject of ghost stories pops up in conversation with friends, I immediately point them toward the nearest bookshop. Not for children, this is very definitely an adult tale.

3) The Librarian, from Ghostbusters. I was a 12 year old when GB came out, and managed to get into the first screening at my local Odeon cinema in Warrington. It was madness. My best mate broke his arm in the crush to get in, not that he discovered this until he got home. I think adrenalin kept him going, such was the excitement. When Peter, Ray and Egon first encounter the ghost of the old librarian beneath the New York Central Library, and she lurched out of the screen to the audience . . . sod 3D! That made hundreds of kids scream in unison, proper audience participation. Never experienced anything like it since on the big screen. Terrific film - another one that if it comes on the telly, you have to watch it. Fact.

2) The Haunting. This film by Robert Wise was my father's introduction to the classic ghost story for me. It was a good call. The genius of the film is that we never see the entity that is haunting the house. Everything is implied and suggested through ingenious cinematography and direction. Distorted camera lenses, crash zooms, eerie sound effects. It was remade recently in god-awful fashion as one would imagine, relying heavily upon CGI special effects and completely missing the point of what made the original so endearing, and so chilling.

1) Harry, by Rosemary Timperley. I have a wonderful English teacher to thank for introducing me to Harry (ain't that always the way?). The late, great Jeanette Crizzle handed me Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories when I visited the school she taught at, Bedford Prep. It was only the one short story in there she wanted me to read, a thoroughly creepy little tale featuring a pair of childless professionals who adopt a little girl. I really CANNOT say any more than that, for fear of spoiling the ending. Only seek it out. Read it. Timperley is a masterful writer in many mediums, but her short stories are something else. Dahl says it's one of the best ghost stories ever written. It's hard to disagree. The last line gives me goosebumps to this day. . .

"And that name. Harry. Such an ordinary name!

Thank you so much for a wonderful post, Curtis! I’ve hardly seen or read any of these so I better get cracking!

Be sure to check out Haunt: Dead Wrong – it’s brilliant; review to come tomorrow – and the first book, Dead Scared, if you haven’t already. Make sure to pop over to Bookbabblers tomorrow for the next stop on the tour.


Wednesday 25 February 2015

Nightbird, Alice Hoffman

Pages: 208
Publisher: S&S
Release Date: 26th February 2015
Edition: UK e-proof, NetGalley review copy

Other Titles by this Author: Aquamarine, Indigo, Green Angel, Green Witch, The Red Garden, The Dove Keepers, The Museum of Extraordinary Things and lots more

Twig lives in a remote area of town with her mysterious brother and her mother, baker of irresistible pies. A new girl in town might just be Twig’s first true friend, and an ally in vanquishing an ancient family curse. A spellbinding tale of modern folklore set in the Berkshires, where rumours of a winger beast draw in as much tourism as the town’s famed apple orchards.

A dangerous secret, a town monster and a family curse, Nightbird has it all.

Alive Hoffman has a gorgeous writing style. I read Green Angel by her many, many years ago and the thing that lingers most is the magical lyricism of her prose and that’s what I’ll most likely remember Nightbird for as well. The gorgeous Massachusetts town of Sidwell is brought vividly to life with the Gossip Group collecting at the General Store every day, the horror of graffiti (even though it’s promoting environmental issues) and the secret world of the orchard and woods that Twig’s house backs onto paint a lovely picture of small town American life. I want to live there. But Hoffman also gives us a bittersweet picture of Twig.

Our heroine is tall, clever and a tree-climbing genius. But the family secret she must keep hidden from the rest of Sidwell means that she has no friends and is virtually invisible. Her longing for friendship and a life without secrets makes you ache along with her, it’s beautiful and sad and makes her friendship with Julia, her new next door neighbour, even more poignant. Her fears of Julia finding out that she’s not very cool and abandoning her for someone else was so sad and it kind of explained Twig’s connection with the orchard and nature; they could never desert her or tell her secrets.

The threat of Sidwell’s monster, a major tourist attraction for the town, spirals to epic proportions once the monster starts to raise issues with the town in an unconventional way. So naturally, during  a long, hot summer, Twig and Julia vow to uncover the identity of the monster and break the Fowler family curse while becoming the very best of friends. It’s the summer of twelve-year-olds that we dream of now: endless bike rides, swimming in lakes, solving mysteries and baking your mum’s famous pies.

Nightbird is a beautiful tale of friendship, magic, acceptance and home and I loved every page of it. Gorgeous!

Thanks to S&S and NetGalley for the review copy!


Tuesday 24 February 2015

Blast From the Past: The Catcher in the Rye

Originally published in 1951 by Little, Brown

My edition: the 2010 Penguin paperback. Simple, but beautiful.

What’s it about?
Holden Caulfield is seventeen. He’s a high school dropout and is trying to navigate his way throw growing up in a world of phonies with a legendary teenage voice.

Why now?
I’ve always meant to read this, but as I get older I’m starting to worry that I will have missed the seminal age to read and appreciate this novel. I’m hoping that at 22 and still pretty angsty I will have caught it in time...

The verdict:
The Catcher in the Rye surprised me. From everything I had and read and heard about Holden and his story, I was expecting a crap-ton on angst, a fairly unpleasant character in some ways, not much plot and a solid reason that it could be banned so continuously for the last 60-odd years. But what I got was a troubled, confused teenage boy who doesn’t know what he wants from the world and serious trust issues; a deep, dark mental spiral and a genuinely affecting novel.

Unsurprisingly, this is a character-driven novel; there’s not a huge amount of plot at all. Holden is kicked out of his prestigious boarding school, but instead of waiting for the information to reach his parents, he decides to make his own way back to NYC and live on his own terms for a few days. It was strange to see through the eyes of a character that was both so self-aware and so naive, and he’s also a pretty unreliable narrator; he’s prone to exaggeration. The three days that this novel is set over is told from Holden a little while later from a place where he’s being treated for mental illness, or so we assume, and it’s refreshingly narrated with direct address so even though not a whole lot of plot happens, you’re right there in the heart of the story with Holden.

Considering The Catcher in the Rye gets banned so much, I was expecting the novel to be full of sex and serious profanity and every taboo subject you can think of, but nope. There was underage drinking, minor language and mentions of sex (well, quite a few mentions of sex, actually) but nothing you don’t get in a YA novel! It’s even stranger considering Holden’s stance on sex; he’s scared of it. He talks about it a whole lot, but it seems as if every reference too it gets condemned as perverted by him, and when he has the opportunity to do it, he can’t. But then come the hints at sexual abuse and it becomes clearer, and so does Holden himself. Salinger keeps it ambiguous and it’s only referred to twice, but it stuck in my mind. I’ve never heard sexuality spoken about in regard to this novel, other than reasons for banning it, and know I can’t understand why.

I have to admit that I would have loved to have studied this at A-level or university – there’s a lot in it and I’d love to discuss it properly, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Catcher in the Rye regardless.

Still not convinced:
- You’ll just feel left out if you don’t.
- Holden Caulfield is so much more than the angst and fast wit – he’s been sold short.
- John Green’s Crash Course Literature videos (Part 1, Part 2) give you a glimpse at the awesome that lies inside.