Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Book: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release date: September 29, 2011
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary: (from Goodreads) The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

First impressions: Rory is an incredibly friendly and authentic narrator. Her voice really drew me in, though I had a hard time picturing her with a Louisiana accent.

Lasting impressions: Jack the Ripper mystique aside, this is a good old fashioned paranormal murder mystery, and I loved every minute of it.

Conflicting impressions: As much as I liked Rory, she seemed a bit generic at times. I’m not sure I could tell you one unique quality about her, other than that she comes from an eccentric community in Louisiana.

Overall impressions: Oh good Lord did I gobble this one up! No, not just gobbled – devoured. This was no simple “Hmmm, wonder what’s going to happen next?” It was “OHMIGOD I WILL KILL YOU IF YOU MAKE ME STOP READING THIS.” I would count down the minutes on my commute and lunch hour, racing to flip pages as quickly as possible so I could find an appropriate stopping place.

There was no appropriate stopping place. It was too good to stop reading. Ever.

The summary pretty much says it all – girl moves to London for boarding school in the midst of a Jack the Ripper copycat spree and winds up entangled in the investigation while discovering an interesting paranormal element. So we have lots of things I love: 1) boarding school setting; 2)murder investigation; 3) Jack the Ripper history/trivia; and 4) paranormal activity. I fainted from swooning the moment I first read this book’s jacket copy.

Believe me when I tell you it delivers in pretty much all of these categories. Rory’s school is typical – grand buildings, quirky roommates, cute boys, skirted uniforms, and lots of studying. The murder mystery unfolds at a nice pace, with clues that stuck out upon reveal but weren’t too intrusive when introduced (these are the best kind, in my humble opinion). There was lots of good Jack the Ripper information shared as the investigation went on, and when Rory discovers her new powers play a distinct role in catching the killer, I was fully on board.

Whatever unique qualities Rory may have been lacking were more than made up for with Maureen Johnson’s breezy writing and distinct side characters. Everyone and everything seemed so natural and real that I bought in to the world completely without it ever seeming gimmicky. The tension and pacing worked seamlessly to pull me along through the plot, and around every corner there seemed to be something new and interesting to keep my full attention. Add in the Ripper timeframe counting down the days to the next kill and I was hooked.

This book requires a strong will to put it down, but enough entertainment to make you want to prolong the agony. Balancing fun, light characters with dark, terrifying events, this book is pure magic. You need to run out and get your hands on this one.

Now.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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Review: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford

Book: The Poisoned House
Author: Michael Ford
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Release date: August 1, 2011
Source: ARC for review from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) Life can be cruel for a servant girl in 1850s London. Fifteen-year-old Abi is a scullery maid in Greave Hall, an elegant but troubled household. The widowed master of the house is slowly slipping into madness, and the tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs.Cotton, punishes Abi without mercy. But there’s something else going on in Greave Hall, too. An otherworldly presence is making itself known, and a deadly secret will reveal itselfâ??-a secret that will shatter everything Abi knows.

First impressions: I adore it when stories start with outside information. In this case, the book opens with a statement that the story that follows is based on letters found inside the estate many years later. I practically rubbed my hands together in anticipation. That kind of literary device makes it all seem more real to me as a reader, and I was super psyched to dive into this one as a result.

Lasting impressions: Similarly, the book ended with an obituary outlining events as they transpired beyond the scope of this tale. It gave me a better sense of justice and finality for the story as a whole, and I liked that we got to see how things ended up instead of just how they ended when the plot came to its natural conclusion.

Conflicting impressions: As much as I liked the plot, the spooky elements weren’t quite spooky enough, and as a result, the action dragged.

Overall impressions: I am definitely becoming a gothic fiction fan. The old house full of sad memories, strange occurrences, and a mystery of love waiting to be uncovered. Gets me every time.

Here, Abigail Tamper is a servant girl in Greave Hall. The lord of the manor sequesters himself away for much of the time, and Abi’s only friend in the house, Lord Greave’s son, is off serving in the military. Enter Mrs. Cotton, the domineering sister-in-law to Lord Greave who tries to live above her station and treats her fellow servants like garbage. Abi is often the recipient of Mrs. Cotton’s abuse, and when we first meet her she is trying to run away.

Abi’s plight is depressing, and until she starts to witness ghostly acts, I have to admit that I found her quite boring. She’s a sad little thing, with not much hope in her world, and it was dreary to say the least. Once she witnesses her mother in the face of a medium Mrs. Cotton has secretly hired, Abi is convinced that the things gone missing and strange handprints found in unlikely places are her dead mother come back to deliver a message.

Tempting fate, Abi sneaks out during a dinner party to try and hire the medium to help her. Without any money, however, she’s forced to give up a sacred pocket watch that belonged to her father in order to walk away with nothing but a ouija board. Doom and gloom! I started to grow frustrated with the lack of options Abi faced, and started to wonder if we’d ever find out anything that could rescue us from boredom.

Luckily, the last third of the novel really picks up. Lord Greave’s son returns, and he’s up to no good. The tension in the house rises as he asserts himself over Lord Greave and steps on the toes of Mrs. Cotton. Abi uncovers more clues, and several surprising things happen that keep us wondering what will happen next.

This is a great read for fans of gothic fiction, but the story wasn’t quite compelling enough or scary enough for my tastes. Abi is a likable protagonist, and I wish I could have connected with her more. Though I felt for her plight, and particularly her unjust interactions with Mrs. Cotton, I didn’t become completely invested in her life. That emotional distance made it hard to ride the slower parts of the book, despite finding the overall story interesting.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Book: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release date: August 30, 2011
Source: ARC for review from I Read Banned Books Tour

Summary: (from Goodreads) Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story. . .

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous deadâ??keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

First impressions: Male POV! Yes! Not only is Cas a great male protagonist, he’s funny. Swoon!

Lasting impressions: Great little horror book for the ghost hunting set.

Conflicting impressions: Can we have a new rule where nobody falls in love with ghosts?

Overall impressions: This book was so much fun, which feels weird to say about a sometimes gruesome, often scary tale about a demonic ghost. Kendare Blake sets the tone with our fearless narrator, Cas. He’s witty, funny, quirky, and has an interesting occupation: ghost killer.

Cas has inherited a knife and an ability from his father that allows him to put murderous rampaging ghosts to rest. He grew up traipsing around the world after his dad, who followed leads on where to find the worst ghosts. His mother, a witch, sells candles and other Wiccan supplies online, thus supporting the ghost killer habit. When Cas’s dad dies at the hand of a particularly brutal ghost, Cas takes over.

Now following tips of his own, he pursues a lead on a ghost in Canada known locally as Anna Dressed in Blood. Murdered in the 50s on her way to a school dance, she now haunts her old house, taking out anyone who dares enter. She proves this in epic fashion on Cas’s first visit to the house, when a bully from school locks him in the house and Anna unleashes her wrath upon the bully.

There is plenty of violence and a smattering of foul language (f-bombs flying!), so this is one for the older set. I, for one, did not mind the language, but a few times it seemed to pop up so suddenly that it took me out of the world for a second. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading so clean lately?

Anna is as wonderful a character as is Cas. She’s bold, confused, and full of hideous secrets she tries desperately to hide. I don’t want to give too much away, because the joy of the novel is discovering Anna’s story as well as Cas’s. The two of them have to explore their histories and destinies in ways that make them uncomfortable, but it must be done in order to set things right.

This is a magical, dark, funny novel full of interesting characters. I loved the story, and its twists and turns kept me guessing. There were a few elements that could have been developed a little further, and I’m not a fan of the fact that this turned into a paranormal romance when it could have been a great standard horror book, so four stars from me. It’s still a great read, however, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great male protagonist.

Marry me, Cas!

Rating: 4/5 stars

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