Book Review: The Turning

|+| Warnings: Unreliable narrator, emotionally abusive relationships |+|

“The big, dark house was their world and they were letting me in. But only so far.” ~Jack (The Turning)

TheTurning_Cover

Goodreads |+| Amazon |+| Barnes & Noble

Author: Francine Prose

Genre: YA Horror

Synopsis:  Jack is spending the summer on a private island far from modern conveniences. No Wi-Fi, no cell service, no one else on the island but a housekeeper and the two very peculiar children in his care. The first time Jack sees the huge black mansion atop a windswept hill, he senses something cold, something more sinister than even the dark house itself.

Soon, he feels terribly isolated and alone. Yet he is not alone. The house has visitors—peering in the windows, staring from across the shore. But why doesn’t anyone else see them . . . and what do they want? As secrets are revealed and darker truths surface, Jack desperately struggles to maintain a grip on reality. He knows what he sees, and he isn’t crazy. . . . Or is he?

My Opinion: The Turning has all my favorite horror tropes in it and uses them beautifully. Did it scare me? No, but there’s only been one horror book that’s done that, so I won’t hold that against this book. Although it took me a bit to get into the writing style and I wasn’t fully satisfied with the ending, I was in love with the concept, characters, and setting. Overall I gave this book 3 stars.

This book is based off of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, a book I’ve had on my TBR list for a while, but have yet to read. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed The Turning more or less if I had read Henry James’ book. Regardless, this book relies a lot on classic horror tropes and uses them flawlessly. The book doesn’t feel bogged down with tropes because from the start, we know exactly what we’re getting. We expect to get a creepy house with creepy kids and paranormal activity and we do.

I love books that are told through letter style, and to see a horror book that does that was super fun. I think the only problem with this narration style was that we ultimately had three letter writers (Jack, Sophie, and Jack’s father) that all sounded the same. I found myself double checking the “Dear ____” part because I was getting confused. This took me out of the story somewhat.

I also had an issue with the predictability and pacing of the story. There’s odd and interesting things that happen at the start, but it’s easy enough to make (accurate) assumptions about them. This changes 100+ pages into the story. Because this is a short book (just over 200 pages), that meant a lot of waiting.

Despite the slow pace and the predictability I think what sold me on this book was the fact that once it picks up, it picks up. Not only that, while we’re seeing tried and true horror tropes we also are seeing some genuinely interesting things. This is done mostly through the setting and how the characters react to it. The way that the characters and supernatural events behave within the setting was extremely well done. This element was what really kept me going.

TL;DR: If you’re looking for something to scare you stiff and a more serious horror book, this might not be your cup of tea. But if you’re looking for a more fun horror read and are a fan of horror tropes, this is the book for you! Although this book is predictable and has a slow start, it’s still a quick and fun read.

 

Advertisements

Book Review: Cuckoo Song

|+| Warnings: Unreliable narrator |+|

“Everything on one side or the other, and nothing in between.” ~Shrike (Cuckoo Song)

cuckoosong_cover

Goodreads |+| Amazon |+| Barnes & Noble

Author: Frances Hardinge

Genre: YA Horror, Historical fiction, Paranormal

Summary: When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry, her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family—before it’s too late . . .

My Opinion: I live for atmospheric books. The stranger the better. Cuckoo Song delivered. I picked it up ages ago, almost finished it, then had to return it to the library (ah, the curse of exams). It was great to finish it this time. Everything I loved was still there and it’s a satisfying story. A historical fiction that couldn’t quite seem to get across to the reader when it was taking place, Cuckoo Song was wonderfully atmospheric, interesting, and creepy. Due to a few lacking things, but plenty of strong elements, I gave the book four stars.

What stood out to me from the start was the atmosphere of the story. It comes in many forms, from the language used to describe things, pacing, and the increasingly strange happenings. In parts it’s so bizarre it’s disturbing. Dolls were terrifying, birds were unusual and not to be trusted, and I will never look at scissors the same way again. And that’s why I think this book really does stand on its own as a horror book, especially in the YA field. While none of the scares lasted off the page, there’s a few household objects I’m still giving the side-eye to.

The characters were unique and for the most part well developed although there was little diversity. Triss was interesting and I enjoyed being in her head. I have a thing for unreliable narrators and this one showed huge growth. Violet and Pen are close seconds in favorite characters. Watching the three of them grow was wonderful. Perhaps my biggest complaint with the book is that the secondary characters don’t get any character development until about 200 pages in. We’re consistently shown that there’s potential but it’s not set into motion until half way through the book. I felt there was way too much hint dropping about what characters could be instead of getting a move on with that development. But Triss’ parents and their characterization was phenomenal. I applaud Hardinge for tackling such an overlooked issue when it comes to bad parenting. Triss’ parents are despicable.  Yet the parents are loving. They want what’s best for their daughter, they’re older and wiser and know best. But the book makes clear that they are stifling not only Triss but the whole family. Their obsession with control is causing cracks in the family and possibly putting them in danger. Sometimes reading about the parents’ choices was more frightening than screaming dolls. Screaming dolls are not real, but parents like Triss’ are. And that’s terrifying.

I also was frustrated with the setting. No doubt of it, Hardinge has a wonderful writing style that reminds me of Stiefvater. Both writers are very whimsical and metaphorical. But with Hardinge, I had no idea when this story was taking place. I knew it was after a war, but which war? It never was clearly established. Turns out that the story takes place after World War I, but with such weak timeline establishment, the book felt like it was trying for something steampunk.

Flaws aside, I really did enjoy this book. It’s perfect for October, especially if you’re going to read under the covers with a flashlight or around a bonfire. Creepy, moody, and filled with uncertainties, Cuckoo Song is a top pick for those looking for something out of the ordinary.

TL;DR: Despite little diversity, sluggish character development, and sometimes veering into formulaic territory, Cuckoo Song has promise and delivers on it. A dark and unsettling atmosphere is established from the start. Mundane items become frightening and the book tackles one of the most challenging family issues. While I wouldn’t recommend this to those who are unsettled by dolls, for those of you looking for a creepy read that puts a new spin on old things, read Cuckoo Song. It’s seriously the perfect October read.