Book: Voices in the Theater

"Voices in the Theater"

Ever since her grandmother died, Samantha Davidson has been carrying a secret: She can hear voices–other people’s thoughts, some from the living, some from the dead.

Plucked from her roots and transported to another country, estranged from her family and friends, Sam joins a pioneering club in her new school that investigates paranormal activities.

As they examine the mystery behind a haunted theater inside the university, Sam starts to hear voices from those that are no longer earthbound.

Will she heed their voices as they accuse her of a dark secret she has buried deep in the past? Or will she surrender to the light offered by newfound allies and a love that caught her by surprise?

Will the many voices drown out the one voice she has long suppressed? Will she listen?

If I’m to be objective, there is nothing wrong with A.S. Santos’s Voices in the Theater. The plot is good and well-paced, and although some decisions made by the characters make me want to tear my hair out, I understand their choices are organic and not pushed by the hand of the author. There is really nothing bad to be said about the book–

But I still didn’t like it.

Here’s the thing: Voices in the Theater is marketed to be a horror novel. From its back synopsis, to its book cover, to the first few chapters– The story is clearly set-up to be a horror novel that deals with ghosts and unresolved issues. And I was fully on board with that. What I didn’t like was the sudden turn for the religious.

I mean, I completely understand having religious characters. The setting is the Philippines, characters are bound to be non-practicing Christians at the very least. And you can’t really take out religion when you’re dealing with ghosts and the afterlife. They come hand in hand.

Still, the book presents the main character as religiously neutral. Our entry point into the supernatural is science-based. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. And I felt like the story, and the writer, forced the main character into a religion by the end of the book.

The thing is: I would totally understand the religious deus ex machina had there been more visual cues from the way the book was published or presented. Going back to what happens in the story, there’s really nothing there that explicitly says the book wasn’t going to go the religious note. And aside from the first few chapters that established the back story of main character Samantha, the rest of the book does establish the necessity of faith.

But the turn to the religion still threw me off.

It could just be my fault for expecting something else. For wanting something else. It’s just… I’m not the book’s target market. And I wish I knew this fact before I bought the book. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a warning before I delved into the book expecting a horror story. That could have spelled the difference in how I received the novel after finishing it.

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Book: Death Weavers (Five Kingdoms, Book 4)

"Death Weavers"

Cole is about to face his biggest peril yet.

Since arriving in the Outskirts, Cole and his friends have fought monsters, challenged knights, and battled rampaging robots. But none of that has prepared them Necronum.

In this haunting kingdom, it’s hard to tell the living from the dead, and secret pacts carry terrifying dangers. Within Necronum lies the echolands, a way station for the departed, where the living seldom venture.

Still separated from his power, Cole must cross to the echolands and rely on his instincts to help rescue his friends. With enemies closing in, Cole risks losing everything to find the one thing that might save them.

Before I begin, I must warn whoever is reading this that I’m not going to hold back on spoilers. So if you’re planning on picking the book up, I suggest clicking away and coming back once you’ve finished the fourth installment off Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms series. Now, with that out of the way–

I actually don’t know if I liked Mull’s penultimate book to his current series. I mean, leading up to the finale, Death Weavers definitely ups the stakes and does a good job at building the tension. But at the same time, it feels a bit… much.

Now, I praised Crystal Keepers for breaking out of the Mull mold. It didn’t feel like it was a part of the Fablehaven series, and it was very different from the Beyonders trilogy. And the best part? It continued the Five Kingdoms story without being a carbon copy of the two books that preceded it–whilst standing out as its own story. Unfortunately, in Death Weavers, Mull zags again by doubling down on the fantastical countryside capers.

And not only is the fourth book back on fantasy ground, Mull actually brings back a lot of characters from earlier books–and even a couple from the Beyonders trilogy.

The thing here is: when Drake and Ferrin, both well-loved characters from the Beyonders books, first popped up? I thought it was a great way of establishing where and what the Outskirts was. And then they joined the adventure. Which would’ve been great had it been necessary for them to be part of the adventure. It wasn’t. Mull could’ve created new characters to join them, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Their inclusion, by book’s end, felt more like fan service than a story necessity.

Then there’s the cop out with Destiny.

See, in each book, Cole Randolph is saving one princess at a time. In this book, he’s supposed to save and protect the youngest princess, Destiny, from the bad guys who want to take her power. When Cole finally finds Destiny, they immediately get cornered by bad guys. Which was a good plot development, I thought. Then Destiny jumped into the river where no one comes out off, and I was floored. It was a risky move. Especially for a Young Adult adventure book. I loved it because it presents new problems, and it will definitely develop the characters as they confront an important death–in the book that has the theme of death hovering over everyone!

And then Cole saves her.

This is when I started disliking the character of Cole. I know he’s supposed to be the all-powerful savior, and the hero to the entire series–but, it’s hard to root for a guy you know will end up winning in the end. Sure he makes mistakes, but he doesn’t really experience loss. And that makes for a pretty crappy hero’s journey.

Of course, with this being the second-to-last book off the series, I’m still definitely picking the next book up to see how it all gets wrapped up; but I must say that the Five Kingdoms isn’t living up to the legacy of the Beyonders trilogy. The world feels half-formed, and the characters don’t feel like real people most of the time. The villains are still vague, and we’re already four books in–and although they’re all said to be scary, none of them feels threatening because of how powerful our main protagonist is.

I guess I have made my mind up about Death Weavers after all.

It’s a pretty disappointing book overall, even if it does do its job of building up the finale.

Book: Remembrance, a Mediator Novel

"Remembrance"

All Susannah Simon wants is to make a good impression at her first job since graduating from college (and since becoming engaged to Dr. Jesse de Silva). But when she’s hired as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, she stumbles across a decade-old murder, and soon ancient history isn’t all that’s coming back to haunt her. Old ghosts as well as new ones are coming out of the woodwork, some to test her, some to vex her, and it isn’t only because she’s a mediator, gifted with second sight.

From a sophomore haunted by the murderous specter of a child, to ghosts of a very different kind–including Paul Slater, Suze’s ex, who shows up to make a bargain Suze is certain must have come from the Devil himself–Suze isn’t sure she’ll make it through the semester, let alone to her wedding night. Suze is used to striking first and asking questions later, but what happens when ghosts from her past–including one she found nearly impossible to resist–strike first?

The Mediator series was one of the things I really enjoyed reading back in high school and college; mostly because of the heroine who wasn’t always heroic and the supernatural element that, for the most part, wasn’t very complicated.

When I found out that Meg Cabot was following up the Princess Diaries wrap-up Royal Wedding with a new Mediator book, I was ecstatic. And then I started reading the book.

I guess I should learn the lesson of managing expectations. Again.

The Mediator series, for the first four books, were very short novels aimed at Young Adults. At the time, when you say a book is intended for the teen audience, it wasn’t very long. But, I’m guessing, when Harry Potter‘s length increased alongside its popularity, and people didn’t mind; the publishers must have realized that they didn’t need to limit the number of pages of a young adult novel. A good story will have teens reading, no matter the length of a book. So when the last two Mediator books came out in 2004 and 2005, the book was no longer restricted by a small number of pages.

Both Haunted and Twilight flourished with the additional pages. Meg Cabot was able to flesh out her characters more, and made Susannah Simon’s world more immersive. Which is why, when I picked up Remembrance, I was excited to crack open the book immediately. It follows the thickness of the last two Mediator books, and the synopsis at the back promised a great adventure.

A third into the novel though, I was asking myself–Why wasn’t anything happening? In the decade that passed, has Meg Cabot lost hold of Susannah Simon’s voice? Where are her friends? Why is she so hung up on just Jesse and herself when she was able to juggle having a social life on top of school and being a mediator before?

Things started picking up when Susannah finally moved on from being self-centered to start dealing with her ghost situation. From that point on, Remembrance started to read and feel like the old Mediator novels. Which brings me to ask:

Did the Mediator novels work in the past because Meg Cabot was restricted to a certain number of pages? Were they structurally sound and well-paced because the author wasn’t allowed to ramble on and on for fear of running out of pages to tell her story?

Maybe.

But what about Haunted and Twilight? Were they flukes? Or has Meg Cabot gotten used to writing her protagonists one way? As very talkative and very self-centered? Then again, the remaining two-thirds of Remembrance is good, and very reminiscent of Mediator books past. So was the first third just an example of an editor failing to reign in the writer’s meandering thoughts?

At the end of the day, I did still enjoy the book. And I still would like to see more of Susannah Simon, her stepbrothers, and the rest of her ghost-hunting crew. But, here’s to hoping that when a next time does arrive, we won’t be subjected again to a rambling first act that actually subtracts from the protagonist’s likability.

Book: Snowblind

"Snowblind"

The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards…but never one like this, where people wandered into the whiteout and vanished. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.

Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as–tonight–another little boy is missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning’s life has been forever scarred by the mysterious death of his wife, Cherie, and now he’s starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy…and the boy’s father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call…from a man who died twelve years ago.

As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last.

I love horror stories…which is probably why I’m afraid of the dark. But that’s a discussion for another blog. We’re here to talk about Snowblind, Christopher Golden’s return to the wonderful world of horror. And what a return.

I look up to Golden as a horror writer. No BS, I think he creates believable creatures that can really freak a reader out. And more than building worlds, he is a master at building tension. It doesn’t matter if a character is likeable or not, Golden can make you fear for the life of that character.

And I like that Golden doesn’t shy away from characters that aren’t really likeable. There’s actually a lot of them in this novel. But they’re real. And they’re interesting. And… Well… This is also the reason why I was a little disappointed with Snowblind.

Christopher Golden gave us a host of rich characters to follow through this ride of horror. And that became a struggle once things started unraveling. A novel isn’t like a movie where visuals can clue a viewer in with who a character is, or with what is happening. You take time to describe things, to set things up, and this is time (and pages) taken away from character development and plot movement.

None of the characters faltered. They remain true to their forms throughout the novels. But there were plenty of times when we drop a character to allow for other characters to move–taking away our chance to see the former process the things that are happening. There are jumps in emotion that, I think, took away the little things that would’ve made this novel better than it is.

I could have actually done without the interweaving story of the restaurant owner and her musician husband–even though, theirs is the story I like the most. But they exist in a bubble that doesn’t really affect the overall story. I felt like they existed simply to break whatever is happening in the main story thread–to amp up the suspense and tension.

Except… Instead of helping with the building of drama, I think they took away from it. Because they cheated us off the time we could’ve spent with the main characters who we want to care about.

And then there’s the tangential sub-story of Doug Manning and his life of crime. He is a peripheral character who would’ve made a great supporting player…if Snowblind was a movie. But it’s not. And, like the restaurant owner and the musician, his existence takes time away from the running story that distracts and detracts, instead of adding to the overall fear that the novel was going for.

The thing is, both stories can actually exist on their own–as novellas, maybe. Stories that are set in the same place and the same time. An add on, attached at the end of the novel.

I guess what I’m saying is that Snowblind is a good novel that could’ve been great. The stories are good–but they would’ve been greater told apart from each other. Because none of the players in the sub stories are supporting characters. They have their own starring roles in their own main plots, but were relegated to be just supporting stories. And that’s a damn shame.

So… those are my thoughts on Christopher Golden’s Snowblind. Now, let’s see what other people thought of the novel:
Onyx Reviews
The Vivacious Dreamer
Book Den

Oh, and huge thanks to Fully Booked for the help in acquiring Snowblind!

Book: Lola, a Ghost Story

"Lola: A Ghost Story"

Jesse sees dead people, monsters, demons, and lots of other things that go bump in the night. Things that no one else can see. No one except his ailing grandmother — a woman who used her visions to help those living in her small town. The same rural community in all the scary stories Jesse’s heard as a child. Man-eating ogres in trees. Farmhouses haunted by wraiths. Even pigs possessed by the devil. Upon his grandmother’s passing, Jesse has no choice but to face his demons… and whatever else might be awaiting him at Lola’s house.

If one was to judge a book by its cover, you would say that this book isn’t scary at all. And you would be right. Because I don’t think the intent behind this book was to scare. At any capacity. Which makes me wonder–what exactly was the purpose behind Lola: A Ghost Story?

The story is nice. Unfortunately, it’s just that– Nice. It’s not groundbreaking in any way. Nor is it very original.

It’s a story designed to pull at the heartstrings, but only manages a few tugs before giving up.

It’s a story that sets up a world it has no intention of visiting again.

But it’s very likeable. Which, I think, has more to do with the art than the actual story. Because looking back at it now, asking myself what I liked in the book… I’m drawing a blank.

Well, that’s not true. I really liked the art. The story though, I feel, was a wasted opportunity.

Writer Torres sets out to tell one story, a visit to the Philippines mitigated by the death of the title character: the grandmother. It weaves stories about said grandmother to tell the reader how special she was. But the actual story happens at present, at the wake her grandson from Canada is forced to attend. And his story doesn’t really connect with the grandmother save for the fact that they share the same gift: the ability to see visions–and talk to dead people.

Something we don’t really get to explore much.

We get teases of it, sure. And the actual story does deal with one ghost. But juxtaposed with the more fantastical stories about the grandmother–the main plot falls flat.

And then we get to the ending with its vision of the future.

Closing the book, I had to ask–what was the point of the ending? And then, as I type this, I followed this up with, what was the point of the whole story? Is it about acceptance? About destiny? About faith?

Whatever the story may be about, it remained unclear and unrealized.

But the art was really nice.

Of course, I could be looking at this the wrong way. Someone out there might have been able to discern why this book is good. So let’s see what other people said about the book:
One Metal
Comic Book Resources
Kat in Books

Book: Tomb Keeper

"Tomb Keeper"

After the near-disastrous attempt to exorcise the Manila Film Center, Fr. Nilo Marcelo and the spirit communicators vowed never to set foot in there again. But what followed after was a revelation that compels them to return for one final visit. And armed with fresh knowledge about his old adversary, Bishop Miguel Agcaoili leads them back to a fateful confrontation.

On the one hand, Tomb Keeper is infinitely better (in writing and pacing) than Tragic Theater. For the uninformed (which, I’m guessing is many) this book is the sequel to the much-maligned (by me) debut novel by G. M. Coronel. But although I have written that it is better than Tragic Theater, that doesn’t mean that this book is actually any good.

Honestly, I don’t know why I picked the book up. Maybe I was curious if the author did improve, or maybe (deep inside) I wanted to know just how author Coronel would clean up the mess that was Tragic Theater‘s ending. Spoiler alert: he cops out.

In Tomb Keeper, G. M. Coronel flits to and fro two different periods of time: one during the Spanish era, and the other in the year following the events of the first book. I think he mentions somewhere the exact date, but all I know is that it is set in the year prior to the opening of the Amazing Philippines Theater, a theater group that featured transgendered performers. And was managed by a Korean businessman.

Anyway, sorry for going off on a tangent. Where was I? Ah, yes– two time periods.

For me, the Spanish era component doesn’t really add anything to the story. I thought it would. I really thought it would provide answers and not just waste time. I was wrong. It’s just filler. On the plus side, this is better filler than Tragic Theater‘s long prayers (and answers) that take up so much space, but also add nothing to the story.

And speaking of fillers, there’s a chapter in the book that reads more like a travelogue than actual plot movement. I don’t know what the author was thinking, writing about delicious mangoes in the middle of a horror novel, but again it adds nothing to the story. It distracts and detracts. And the person dealing with the mangoes isn’t even the main character– Or was he?

If Tragic Theater‘s Annie was a flawed (and unlikeable) main character, Tomb Keeper suffers from having an ensemble cast with no clear lead. We jump from one character to the next at the drop of a hat, not for the sake of the story–but for the sake of having a page-turning cliffhanger. While it works for the most part, it’s more annoying than satisfying, especially when you learn at the end of the book that there really aren’t any answers to be had. That reading Tomb Keeper, much like the exorcisms in the book, is nothing but an exercise in futility.

Obviously, I didn’t like the book. But maybe, somewhere in the vast space of the internet, someone did? Let’s check out its page at Good Reads.

Book: A Thief in the House of Memory

"A Thief in the House of Memory" by Tim Wynne-JonesDec hasn’t seen his mother for six years. His memories of her lie shrouded in dust, preserved in their old family home which now stands empty. Dec senses that his father is harbouring a secret, but he can’t prove anything. Then he makes a horrific discovery, and suddenly the house is alive with ghosts of the past. Could Dec now learn the elusive truth about his family?

For the longest time, I was on the fence on whether I should buy and read A Thief in the House of Memory. I highly enjoyed Tim Wynne-Jones’ The Survival Game, so I thought I’d enjoy this one too. And you can hear the “but…” a mile away.

Reading the back cover, I was expecting mystery and intrigue. And I did get them, in a way, but A Thief in the House of Memory is more family drama than mystery or intrigue. It’s just one boy’s way of coping with being abandoned by a mother he thought loved him very much, while being cared for by a father who is afraid to get too close with another person again–even if that person was his son. Ooh, runaway sentence. Which kind of fits, since I’m reacting to a story about a runaway mom.

Yes, I did feel a little let down. This, by no means, means the book is hack. It’s very well-written, and I love how the author explores the issue of abandonment through our main character Dec. I was just disappointed because I was expecting more mystery and more intrigue. I think if the synopsis had been better written, and wasn’t so misleading, I would’ve enjoyed the book more.

Which brings me to a complaint about book synopses in general. Who writes them? Who approves them? Because I’ve read too many wonderful books that were referred–but I wouldn’t have touched had I based on the synopsis alone. And A Thief in the House of Memory is hardly the first book I’ve been disappointed with because the synopsis lead me to expect a different story than what was given. And let’s not forget the Journey to the Center of the Earth book that used a different set of names, from the ones used within the novel.

I wish publishers would pay more attention to the book synopses.

And since my reaction to A Thief in the House of Memory got hijacked by my gripes about synopses, here are a few online reviews I found about the book:
A Series of (Un)Fortunate Reviews
TeenReads.com
Quill and Quire