Review: Banish by Nicola Marsh

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

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: 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.

A Review: The Farm by Emily McKay

Old Duck Farm in Flanders 4

Since dystopian fiction has entered the YA picture I must admit that I have not read many ‘worlds-which-could-have-been-our-world’ novels; I’m more of a contemporary lit kind of girl. But, when I read about the plot of The Farm by Emily McKay and how it was meant to the next Hunger Games, which movie I extremely enjoyed, I decided it was time for me to jump on the dystopian bandwagon and see what it had to offer. After reading the book and giving myself a night and a day to muse over it I have come to the conclusion that I’m still confused over my feelings towards it.

As a whole I did enjoy Emily McKay’s debut at Young Adult Fiction, she tends to write those annoying woman romance novels, in particular the first half where we were introduced to Lily and her autistic twin sister Mel, and their scheme to leave the Farm. Right, so what is the Farm? It’s not exactly George Orwell’s animal kingdom; instead it is this old college in Texas turned institution where good teenage humans, e.g. greens ,are unable to let slip or do anything out of the ordinary as this will be registered by the bully teenage humans, e.g. blues, who will then tell the headmaster, the Dean, of their doing and they will be fed to the Ticks. These Tick creatures have resulted due to an experiment gone wrong and they have taken over the USA. Lily believes that if she can make it to Canada then all her worries will fade away…

I enjoyed the first half of the apocalyptic tale because I like introductions. I like being presented by a setting where the remainder of the book is going to be set. I like meeting the characters who are going to lead us through their wee story. What I hate is when this simple structure is broken, a la, Mel and Lily escaping from The Farm and bringing us into the second half of the novel where everything is disciplined to always become bigger and better. What I also hate is when your average character ends up not being any old average individual, but instead special, in the way that only they have the power to save humanity.

Ok, rant over. Back to where I was, the starting of the book was a bit different by analysing how teenagers can turn bad if their lives depend on it and the lengths at which they will go to remain alive. That’s another thing, when you turn 18 you get thrown to these Ticks because it has something to do with puberty hormones, who will rip out your heart the minute they smell you from a 30 mile distance. Of course this whole turning 18 served no point after Lily left the farm. It was actually when she left on her travels that I stopped reading the book for a while as another animal entered the picture, a vampire.  As much as I like their fangs and that; it really wasn’t necessary for one of the characters to go, “Hey look, I’m a vampire.” After two weeks, in which I had been spending my winter crouched over my Christmas chocolates, I began to read from where I left off and once again I fell back in love with the book.

I understood the character of Lily up to a certain extent. I liked how when Carter, her old crush, flamed back into her life and how she was finding it difficult to deal with having this love emotion reappearing from within her after this long six month period of hate. I suppose it’s kind of similar to a boyfriend breaking up with you and you swear vengeance on any human of the male species. I do like my romance in a novel and Carter did put up a good fight against Lily. The only downfall of Lily was her sister; as the chapters would switch between the point of view of Lily, Mel and Carter, I would just skim over Mel’s usual half a page of because I couldn’t understand what her rhythmic way of thought was all about. It was as though McKay wanted to express how important sound was in our everyday lives, but I wish she had either explained this use of sound a bit more clearly to the audience or she had gone down a different route entirely. Lily’s feelings towards Mel were what annoyed me the most; one moment she hated her, the next she couldn’t stand losing her. I guess that is infinite circle of sisterly love. It felt a bit too much at times though as Lily would moan about how she was taking care of Mel, but I’m sure she would have been able to stand on her own two feet if Lily had given her the chance.

I was wondering about a third of the way through the novel what the grand finale ending would entail. I had already guessed correctly what the twist was going to be earlier on and I was intrigued with what other surprise would await me. The end of the novel was anticlimactic. There was only one moment when I went OMG, but I only rolled my eyes when they thought of how they could solve the problem. I’m still not too sure what the motive behind the story lies as their seems to be only one objective which needs to be done, so the last 100 pages was like a big detour, literally, to offer some way of splitting the story into two novels. It was pretty disappointing, but I must admit myself that I wasn’t sure how The Farm could have finished in the first novel to keep you hooked, but how it finished was pretty carless and unimaginative. It wasn’t like how novels in a saga usually work where one door shuts and another opens, instead that door is still open and their continuously driving towards it in the yellow magical mystery bus.

This has not been the most uplifting rewarding review for my first real read of a dystopian novel. I did enjoy reading this book and growing into the characters heads; the plot just fell flat. There is a lack of imagination to this book and although I will read the next instalment because I can’t now not know what happens. All I hope is that more detail and time is given to the plot for the second in the series so that they events feel necessary and there are no loose ties.