Review: Banish by Nicola Marsh

BanishTitle: Banish
Author:
Nicola Marsh
Publisher:
HarlequinTeen Australia
Release Date:  1st August 2013
Genre: YA, Paranormal Romance
Source: Netgalley
Verdict:

Banish is an unusual YA paranormal thriller from the mind of an adult romance queen. Two contrasting ingredients which primarily sound bad if you mix them together, however, the product isn’t as bad as what you at first suspect.

At first I couldn’t help but worry about what genre Banish fell into as the opening 30 pages was centred on a developing teenage romance between our central character, Alyssa Wood and jazz lover Ronan. This made me feel disconnected towards the story and it came as no surprise to discover that author Nicola Marsh wrote romance fiction in the past. Yet I decided to continue reading Banish as the blurb plot did hold potential. I’m glad I did as about half way through the book I became hooked to this YA thriller.

Seventeen year old Alyssa has been living in tragedy after her boyfriend committed suicide the day after she dumped him. To boil more problems into the cauldron, her mother has succumbed to alcohol over the past few years to drown out the voices that she hears in her head. To escape from this gloomy world of Broadwater, Alyssa moves in with her aunt in New York City. Although she does have to make a compromise in the crazy department as her aunt is a Wicca High Priestess.

Despite this one issue, everything seems to be going well for Alyssa over the next six months. She is becoming cosy with Ronan, she has found a friend in new school student Seth and her aunt has stopped pestering her about joining the Wicca religion. In fact, it is so perfectly that it is boring for us readers as we strive for the equilibrium to be thrown into chaos. Luckily we cheer when the supernatural hunt begins when it comes attached to a video from her boyfriend. After the jazz musician finishes performing his piece in dedication to Alyssa on the video, the segment continues to reveal a dead females corpse oozing with blood.

More terrifying occurrences start to transpire within Alyssa’s life making our protagonist begin to question the people who she is close to. Is her Wicca obsessed aunt taunting Alyssa with these tricks to make her believe in the faith? Has wiz IT kid Ronan pulled the worst boyfriend joke of all time? Or is her ex-boyfriend Noah trying to communicate with her from beyond the grave?

What I loved about this book was the character of Alyssa. Since she was someone who had been thrown into a lifestyle right from her birth, it meant that you could easily sympathise with the actions she was forced to take in the present. This characterisation was extremely realistic and it was fantastic to see a female who was not made out to be a heroine, instead a femme that was not afraid to take care of herself.

One of the biggest problems for me was that the book ended too soon. So many different elements had been targeted within this novel meaning that when it came to the end it was all completed in a big rush. When it was revealed what the predictable twist was I was hoping that this must be a red-herring and there would be one final true twist. This wasn’t the case.

I must admit that Banish is refreshing in showcasing magic as something in the background, rather than making the book solely about this paranormal element. It was good to finally read a piece of fiction where magic was made out as something more normal. This was aided by the fact that Marsh focused on the idea of the Wicca religion. Again, this is an element of the supernatural which is absent from most YA texts so it was exciting to hear a unique angle on the subject for a change.

I hope that there will be a follow up to Banish. One door has been closed on Alyssa’s past life, however, there is still a lot of opportunity to be explored with Alyssa in the present. Also, half of the book would have been a waste of time if there is not going to be a second edition. It would be like Harry Potter finding out he is a wizard and not bothering to go to Hogwarts and instead resorting to live in his cupboard with the Dursleys.

Review: Come Back to Me by Coleen Patrick

Come Back to MeVerdict:

Come Back to Me is a YA novel told from the perspective of eighteen-year-old Whitney Denison who is sucked into a world wind of grief after her ex-best friend dies. There are many novels which deal with the issue of grief and Coleen Patrick’s debut falls into this pack; offering a realistic interpretation of the life of a teenager who is unable to move forward even months after her friend’s death.

I had a love/hate relationship with Whitney as a narrator. I enjoyed the opening of the novel and the charismatic thoughts she had whilst being a resident of the rehab clinic Gosley. However, after her release she seemed to lose this spark within her characterisation and the novel became consumed with her sadness as she tried to work out her past.

I had a problem with the plot as even though it was realistic by the fact that not much action occurs in a teenager’s life, in a novel you do need a gripping motivation within the plot and Come Back to Me lacked this. You would find yourself sadly skimming over pages waiting for action to appear as most of the novel was composed of solely Whitney’s thoughts.

An example of this was when Whitney was hoping to unlock the memories of a scrabble game on the night of graduation. The reader already knows that discovering this memory will not help Whitney to have this epithinay she is searching for. The author also knows this herself, having Kyle say to Whitney: “Why do you keep talking about that ******* Scrabble thing?” We understand Coleen Patrick is using this relentless quizzing for a reason, but this continuous mention of scrabble did become frustrating.

Also, her ex-best friend Katie didn’t seem to be the nicest of dead characters herself. She was a control freak who appeared mean in both her public and in her private life. At one point Whitney returns to Katie’s home and meets Irina their housemaid. Irina unveils a secret about Katie which stirs Whitney into an over-the-top rage, stating: “The guilt inside me shattered, replaced by anger as I realized our friendship was as fake as everything we hated.” This, to me, is too overdramatic and cliqued and not how you would truly feel after a friend’s death. This secret is the one flaw which makes Katie appear more human, but Whitney can’t understand this so feels fury towards Katie and this passion flimsily disintegrates after a while.

In the last fifty pages of the book all the small conclusions of her life start to piece together. These climaxes are not that ambitious, but they help to set the tone right in Whitney working out what she is going to do with her life. She realises it is still possible for her to live and stop being so scared of death. When her mother talks about the 100 Things to Do before You Die book, I thought this would make Whitney choose to go travelling. This doesn’t transpire. It is these little moments where Whitney has an opportunity for adventure and passes it down which is irritating for the reader.

Of course Whitney is also dealing with the fact that she is an alcoholic. This is shown right from the start when she is at the clinic and it is why she can’t remember that ‘fateful’ scrabble game. Other than alcoholism contributing to her fragile state of mind, there isn’t a great revelation in the end about the importance of this addiction, how it began and how she was managing to resist falling back into the trap.

Despite these critiques about the plot, I do believe Come Back to Me triumphs through its realistic portrayal of grief. Whitney is a character who falls into isolation, who volunteers at a TEA café and eventually meets a guy she can talk with. These mundane events and contrasting ideas will occur for someone her age who is faced with such a dilemma as a friend’s death. Patrick’s debut novel is a fascinating look at grief, however it failed to hold my interest through the middle of the story.

Review: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Dangerous GirlsVerdict:

My two favourite genres in fiction (the psychosocial thriller and YA) intertwined magnificently in this mind boggling novel by British author Abigail Hass.

Spring Break. It is one of those American dreams that the average British teen, like myself, can only experience through Magaluf, Ayai Napa or Ibiza. I.e. My idea of hell. But the American version seems more romantic. Then again maybe I should be grateful for not possessing these ultimate drinking, drugs and sex holiday as sometimes they can turn deadly. That is exactly what happened when an elite group of teenagers have one last ditch for freedom before they head off to college next semester.

A fatal event changes the lives of eight teenagers when they spend spring break on the island of Aruba in the Caribbean Sea.  Elise receives the worst blow of all: death. She is found viciously stabbed in her villa bedroom. Her best friend Anna Chevalier is the one left picking up the pieces. Anna is awaiting the trial of Elise. Anna is the prime suspect.

The narrative is told to us in different tenses. I don’t know what I enjoyed more; the build-up to the trial itself or the chapters dedicated to the past friendship between the two girls. The plot was extremely thrilling and quick in pace, however, it was equally exciting to analyse the lives of these two best friends.

Dangerous Girls wasn’t only a great read, but it made me look at murder suspects differently. It definitely expresses a life lesson we should never forget: don’t presume suspects are guilty by relying on pure gossip. Don’t follow the crowd unless there is true evidence. Anna in the novel is rigid in her opportunities to escape because the prosecutor is adamant that she is the killer. This means the press has the guilty verdict scribbled across the newspapers and broadcasts. The world wants the scapegoat and she sure is it.

You couldn’t help feeling sorry for Anna as all you can think is: What if I were in her shoes? To have this inability wrapped around your shoulders would be so difficult.

Anna was put through hell in her trial. Primarily, the prosecutor would use photos of her posing with Elise as examples that her character was destructive. This is laughable. You can’t possibly judge a person’s behaviour through Halloween photos. I hope to God the court can’t count this as evidence in the real world. Also, the way the news turned her into this unspeakable creature from a horror story before she had been pronounced innocent or guilty was horrendous. I haven’t even gone into the fact that all her friends deserted her. ..

Most of the characters weren’t really likeable in the novel. Excluding an exceptional few, most characters only cared about their own ambitions. Haas too noted the corrupt ideology that if you have a bit of money running in the family than you can make your way out of anything.

Some of the plot was pretty unrealistic. One of the guys (I think it was Lamar) gaining his own TV news show and a million dollar book deal, which was a bit too over-the-top – especially when he had bag loads of money to begin with. Although, this worked in fuelling our hatred towards the group of friends who turned their back on Anna.

The ending of the book is one you will either love or hate. I finished the book at one thirty in the morning as I was determined to find out who the killer was before I fell asleep. I will not name who the murderer is, however I need to vent about it so unless you have read the book, skip the following two paragraphs.

Did you think this character was going to be the killer? From here on in I’ll call the killer Bob. Obviously at one point in the book you thought Bob was going to be the person who murdered Elise. Yet, you had to discard this line of thought because it seemed too impossible. This was especially the case when there were red herrings thrown into the mix who could have been the true killer. However, I have to admit my heart was slightly broken (and I hope yours was too) at who the killer turned out to be as it transformed the book into an even more sinister read than it was previously. I’ve never felt this way about a book before, but once I had finished the final pages I have to honestly admit I felt a little scared. I think this anxiety submerged within me because the book expressed that we can’t truly trust a person. EVER. But you do think you can trust a book and that is what makes it all depressing.

With this being the case about Bob, Haas was contrastingly clever and confusing. Clever because her narrative made it feel as though it couldn’t possibly be Bob, but confusing because with a first person narrative you couldn’t possibly hide that you hadn’t done it. You couldn’t leave it out in you stream of thoughts, if you will. I also felt this was the wrong ending because it was an easy way out. In psychological thrillers it tends to turn out that the protagonist has been crazy the whole time and he is the baddie. For the whole book I felt so attached and emotionally drawn towards it, however I found out that I didn’t know the book at all. If the ending had been differently I would have given this book five stars. But before the ending I have to sadly give it a four.

I would fully recommend reading Dangerous Girls as it will no doubt be a hit (expect a film adaptation in 2015) and the book stays with you. Need some solid evidence? I’m still brewing over the ending four days after the reveal.

Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

The returnedVerdict:
The idea of the dead rising back to life is one that has been targeted through many art forms. Our culture is currently obsessed with the ‘zombie’ genre, Brad Pitt’s latest endeavour ‘World War Z’ is a highlight of this. However, The Returned does not fall into this typical zombie category. Characters may be returning from the dead, but they are not brainless creatures with the sole ambition to kill the living; these ‘zombies’ have preserved the personalities of the bodies that they left one, ten or even fifty years ago. They can walk, talk and yes, they are on the hunt for their families.

Harold and Lucille have spent their breathing life stuck in a version of the living limbo since their eight year old son drowned in 1966. The couple receive a knock on the door one day and on their doorstep stands an agent, Martin Bellamy, and with him is a young boy, Jacob: their son. Although, Harold and Lucille aren’t the only ones experiencing a reunion with a deceased family member; the whole world is faced with the dead coming back to life.

This is not a novel of hows: How did Jacob die? How are the dead returning to Earth? How are some people coming back and others not? It is instead an experiment on how individuals will cope with seeing their loved ones, who they had accepted they would never look in the eye, again. It is a story about trying to do things differently when you thought that you had lost the chance. It is a poem about peace.

The reason why I was interested in reading The Returned was because I thought it resembled the French television show of the same name. Surprisingly it turned out to be different in many ways. The television show captures our imagination as a mystery, whilst Mott’s version fascinates our human psychology.

Mott gave hints to the way the novel could have gone down if his philosophy was different. We realistically see how those in power tried to take charge by locking the returned and supporters up. Yet the novel doesn’t bother to go to great lengths in showing how the Government’s plan unfolds. Similarly many returnees are given two page chapters on how this reliving experience is for them. One very interesting perspective illustrated that some NAZI supporters have returned. Yet these intriguing ideas are never really showcased as Mott doesn’t go into detail about these characters.

Instead Mott focused on the area of Arcadia Valle in Missouri. This real community was represented as somewhere extremely rural and backwards, making it work well with the less dramatic storyline. When Harold and Jacob are kept in confinement it does make you lose focus for a while. Although, it is necessary that the father and son are locked up as this allows them to bond in ways they were finding it difficult to do so outside.

Within the story the characters emotions would rightfully change drastically, but some I found more realistic than others. From the beginning I thought it would be Harold that I would gain a firm disliking to. His inability to be grateful that his son had returned was quite upsetting. Although, by the end it was him who I felt the most connected with and this was an extreme role reversal compared to Lucille. As her character progressed she becomes the only one who would challenge the new normal. But this crescendo in the book seemed unrealistic to her character. Also, I found her letter contradictory to her passion and happiness at the beginning of the book.

Furthermore Pastor Robert Peters was one I gathered a great disliking too. When the actions of God are questioned in a story it is common for there to be a Pastor whose beliefs are challenged as a consequence. This is always interesting to analyse, however, it was upsetting to look at Peters as almost a fraud in the end. We tend to put our hands in faith when something goes wrong in our life, but this just shows that Pastors are pure human and this can crumble our hopes to have someone to look up to in a bad situation.

The concept in itself has a lot it could have worked with. Some readers may not enjoy the route Mott has chosen to go down. However, I believe Mott has been successful in his debut novel in conveying the ideas he wished to emplace on the reader. Those ideas he confessed to us within his emotional Author’s Note.

Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

ReconstructingVerdict:

Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel shares the haunts of Gone Girl and imposes questions on society making it one of the best thrillers to read in 2013.

‘Reconstructing Amelia’ begins with workaholic mother, Kate Baron, hearing that her nerdy daughter Amelia has been suspended from Grace Hall for cheating. When Kate arrives late to the school, the importance of Amelia’s copied To the Lighthouse paper becomes insignificant with the news that her daughter has committed suicide.

Or has she? Unable to escape from her grief Kate returns back to her work but only back to her life when she receives a blocked text stating: Amelia Didn’t Jump. This anonymous message works as a catalyst for Kate to reconstruct the truths behind her dead daughter and discover what happened on the rooftops of Grace Hall.

Having this plot as a basis -and the gorgeous poetic cover to match – had me hooked in reading this novel. Also, being a teenager myself, I was excited to read my favourite genre from the perspective of someone my own age.

Alternating chapters of the novel were told from the voices of both Kate and Amelia. It worked well that in Kate’s chapters she would be unravelling another piece of information about Amelia’s secret life, and we would have just heard that detail from Amelia’s point of view in the previous chapter. You would expect that these repetitions of stories would become boring and not work in stimulation the imagination, however in this case it did and helped everything to fit into place.

The book was well constructed with whose eyes we witnessed the plot from at the beginning. Like Kate, at the start we are kept in the dark about the characteristics of Amelia so we knew things were wrong but not to what extent.

The tenses used were a bit peculiar. Kate’s perspective was fair enough third person, although first person was deployed for Amelia. Because of this, I couldn’t help but hope that Amelia would be alive at the end as she had possibly been hiding from the Maggies. Using texts and Facebook messages within the book added to a fun account and gave it a more interactive flavour.

The novel really did keep me guessing until the final moment. Frequently I would feel arrogant that I had worked out all the answers, thinking that anyone would have spotted who the murderer was by now and I was getting irritated at Kate for not realising who she should be blaming. Then precisely the chapter beginning 36 pages before the end, it turned out I was wrong all along. McCreight was toying with me from the start. She made it feel as though I had separately worked out the killer was. She kept Kate from meeting this person to only fuel this idea. I was left the fool in the end.

Most of the characters in the whole book were disgusting creatures. Some of the things that both the teenagers and the adults would come out with were so extreme that I can’t imagine that anyone would dare be equally so vile in the real word. Zadie is the first lady that comes to mind. It was similarly as shocking how the teenagers would treat Kate after she had lost her daughter. No one shed any sympathy towards her and instead they would be irritated with her for wasting their time. Well, I suppose Ian was the only one who did give her a minute, but his answer made him as bad as the rest. Also the school was an absolute joke. How the teachers could act so uncaring was beyond me and the worst of them all was the secretary, Mrs Pearl.

It’s common nature for when you read a book to want the baddies to be severely punished in the end. That was why I was severely angry that the author behind gRaCeFULLY (or should I call it Gossip Girl?) didn’t gain much recognition in the end.

In lots of novels you have characters that are very weak. That is why I embraced Kate and her believable anger towards those around her and her inability to control her emotions. It was liberating to hear the conversation between Kate and her mum on the phone. Amelia was a character who I related with from the start and her doomed future was tragic. Hearing from Amelia’s side was a great advantage in giving an accurate account of the events and sometimes I would become so lost into what she was saying that I would forget that this was McCreight and not a real teenager.

Despite all the red herrings in the novel, the information acquired from these plot twists were still relevant. It was as though all of Kate’s back history and emotions were flung into the first ten pages of the book so the rest of the novel could give way to the chase. Although I see little detail as a good thing, I was pretty disappointed that the motives behind Amelia’s love interest weren’t fleshed out. A big part to play in Amelia’s last few days was due to this person.

There were some pretty unrealistic qualities in the book that were over the top. How the school never bothered about Amelia’s case, how the school board were allow students to have secret clubs and how Lew and Kate went about their investigation. It summed up how all the power was in the wrong hands.

The great insight into a fragile mother and daughter relationship made this book even more than just a “fun thriller”. Although Amelia’s narrative tried to tell us otherwise, I believe that a large part of the blame has to be with Kate. She shouldn’t have been so wrapped up in her work to not have spent time listening to her daughter.

‘Reconstructing Amelia’ has used all the best ingredients to make the perfect thriller and I hope there are more books similar to this in the future.