Barry shares this review:
Neil Gaiman is probably best known for his writing for adults, the superb graphic novel Sandman or carefully crafted fiction such Anansi Boys or his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. I think though that Gaiman deserves to be equally well known for his writing for children and young adults. Coraline is a sublimely creepy tale that is a perfect read on a rainy autumn evening.
As in so many tales of the supernatural, our heroine, Coraline, finds herself at loose ends. She and her parents live in an old ramshackle house that has been turned into flats. She has explored the grounds, and had encounters with the other inhabitants of the place (a pair of aging actresses and an old man who says he is training a mouse circus). On a rainy day, while exploring indoors, Coraline discovers an locked door, whose entrance, when opened, has been bricked over. The door holds a strange fascination for her though, and one day she unlocks the door to find that the bricks are gone.
Of course she goes on through, and there finds a strange version of her own world. Coraline meets her “other” parents and her strange neighbors are apparently there too, as well as a disturbing community of talking rats, who seem to have dreams of domination. Coraline quickly discovers that there are other children trapped in this seemingly pleasant, though skewed version of her home, and she takes it on herself to save them and to restore the balance of her world. She faces some horrifying creatures in her quest, and finds help where she least expected. Through his use of language and his power of description Gaiman creates a world that is both believable and chilling.
Check the WRL catalog for Coraline
Charlotte shares this review:
Wisecracking brothers with swords and guns, on the run from the demons that killed their father. This could have been a run-of-the-mill teenage urban fantasy with demon hunting and chase scenes, but first-time author Brennan also gives us an intriguing, sardonic narrator who hooked me into a story I didn’t expect.
Sixteen-year-old Nick Ryves is a man of few words and many weapons. His priorities are simple: to protect his brother, Alan, at any cost, and to protect their mother, but only because Alan has some weird, sappy attachment to her. In general, other people and other people’s emotions are a waste of Nick’s time.
The Ryves brothers have stayed one step ahead of the demons for years, but this time, they’re slowed down by two kids from school: Jamie, who’s unwittingly gotten himself marked for demon possession, and his devoted sister Mae, who’s willing to do anything to get him un-marked. They’re messing up the uneasy balance of Nick’s family triangle. They’re throwing off his priorities. Alan’s taking stupid risks just to help Jamie, or maybe to impress Mae, and for the first time in their lives, he’s hiding secrets from his brother. This cannot end well.
I loved Nick’s point of view. I loved watching him try to interpret the world through his brother’s reactions and facial expressions. (And then he would cross the line from grumpy and laconic to really, truly, take-the-knives-away-from-this-boy scary, and I’d wonder what I’d gotten myself into.) Brennan springs surprises throughout the fast-paced plot. Even while I was congratulating myself on predicting some plot twist, a character would sneak around my mental blind side and do something completely unexpected.
While the focus is on brothers Nick and Alan, there’s a solid ensemble cast in which each of the characters gets a moment and some Buffyesque one-liners. The Demon’s Lexicon wraps up without a cliffhanger, but it’s also the setup for what should be a fun and unconventional series.
Check the WRL catalog for The Demon’s Lexicon.
Andrew shares this review:
So, what would you give for the chance to see a dead loved one again? How about seeing them at the significant times in their lives, times you couldn’t possibly have known about? What about the chance to talk with them in their afterworld? Sixteen-year-old Zoe discovers that the price may be far more than she believed possible.
Zoe’s father died unexpectedly. Not only has she lost her beloved dad, his life insurance company has declared that he never existed (at least in their files). She and her mom are forced to move from their familiar home to a cramped urban apartment while Zoe’s mom searches for work. Zoe has a history of cutting and drug use, so her mom is always on her back.
Her sole consolation is a young man she regularly sees in her dreams. Valentine is like a brother to her, and the tree fort they hang out in is a refuge from the bizarre world beneath their feet. He listens to her, offers good advice, and is genuinely present and concerned for her. But she doesn’t have any idea if he’s real or a manifestation of something else.
While skipping school and mindlessly wandering through San Francisco, she winds up in front of an old record store specializing in punk music on vinyl. But the weird store owner has another room, one only certain people can see. Inside the room are discs that have captured the lives and souls of the dead. Zoe gets a taste of her father’s life, but she’ll have to pay with something more precious and talismanic if she wants more. When she decides she won’t pay and is cut off, she must summon her wits and her courage to find a path to the underworld.
But that underworld is a hellish landscape, a purgatory without hope of either redemption or judgment. Zoe has to negotiate her way through a bizarre parody of a city, evading vengeful spirits whipped up by hatred of the living, and searching for an exit known only to ones who would kill her, or worse.
Kadrey has created a resourceful, determined young woman who is surprised by her own strength, and set her in an eerie world filled with disturbing imagery. It reminded me of the classic Greek stories of Orpheus and Odysseus’ journeys, and indeed the book has many subtle allusions to Greek myth. This is definitely a dark book with some heavy themes, but a good read.
Check the WRL catalogue for Dead Set
Charlotte shares this review:
I do try to be a cool aunt, but Aunt Peg, Ginny Blackstone’s bohemian artist aunt, takes the cake. Who wouldn’t enjoy an expenses paid tour of Europe? The only problem is that Aunt Peg isn’t there to share the adventure any longer. Ginny’s “runaway aunt,” never the most reliable person, took off two years ago without a forwarding address, and the next thing her family heard, she had died overseas. As the next best thing to being there, she’s left her 17-year-old niece money for a solo plane ticket to London and 13 envelopes, each to be opened only in a certain time and place.
London, Edinburgh, Paris, Rome: in each city, Ginny has instructions. Find a particular café, fund a starving artist. When in Rome, ask an Italian boy out for cake! Obviously Aunt Peg’s posthumous mission is not only to retrace her European travels, but to push quiet Ginny out of her comfort zone. Feeling more and more ordinary without the company of her extraordinary aunt, Ginny fumbles her way through the assigned tasks. She meets the Harrod’s manager who packs Sting’s holiday baskets, is temporarily tattooed by a famous artist, and is briefly adopted by the world’s most frighteningly organized tourist family. It’s an emotional scavenger hunt: with each letter, Ginny learns a little more about her aunt’s missing two years, and that she isn’t finished grieving for her aunt… or quite through being angry that she vanished in the first place.
Teens will enjoy Ginny’s not-exactly-a-relationship with her adopted starving artist and the whirlwind tour of Europe with nothing but an oversized backpack and a bank card, but I finished this book thinking about things from the aunt’s perspective. If you wanted to lead someone through the greatest hits of your life—the places where you were the happiest, or learned the most important lessons—where would you send them?
Check the WRL catalog for 13 Little Blue Envelopes.
There’s a sequel, too: The Last Little Blue Envelope.