Posts tagged ‘Ghosts’

Doll Bones

Doll BonesTitle: Doll Bones
Author: Holly Black
Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
Narrator: Nick Podehl
ISBN: 9780804122900 (audiobook)
Pages: 247 pages
CDs/Discs: 5 CDs, 5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2013.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2014)

“It wasn’t like a regular dream,” Poppy said, her fingers smoothing back the Queen’s curls and her voice changing, going soft and chill as the night air. It reminded Zach of the way Poppy talked when she played villains or even the Queen herself. “It wasn’t like dreaming at all. She was sitting on the end of my bed. Her hair was blond, like the doll’s, but it was tangled and dirty. She was wearing a nightdress smeared with mud. She told me I had to bury her. She said she couldn’t rest until her bones were in her own grave, and if I didn’t help her, she would make me sorry.”[…]
“Her bones?” he finally echoed.
“Did you know that bone china has real bones in it?” Poppy said, tapping a porcelain cheek. “Her clay was made from human bones. Little-girl bones. That hair threaded through the scalp is the little girl’s hair. And the body of the doll is filled with her leftover ashes.” (62-63)

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have played an ever-changing, imagination based game involving pirates, mermaids, treasure, curses, and the Great Queen, influenced by a bone-china doll locked in Poppy’s mother’s cabinet. It’s all pretend, and Zach’s father is urging him to grow up. But Poppy claims to recently receiving dreams from the Queen, urging the trio to bury the doll in her empty grave. They set off in one last adventure, with Zach and Alice not quite sure what to believe. Is Poppy possessed, or is this just play? When things start going wrong, it’s anyone’s guess whether they will be successful.

Have I mentioned before how much I love Nick Podehl’s narrations? Because I really do. While this book did not require the range and variety that I know he can create, it was still an excellent audiobook. Black paints this questionably creepy situation where the events of the book could be explained away as someone playing a trick…. except maybe it really is a ghostly presence influencing the group. It was the creepy factor that did it to me, as the doll was described so well, I was picturing a feminine version of Chucky. The cover really doesn’t do the doll justice, and unfortunately neither do the interior illustrations. The beauty of the narration is the imagining, the what if, and the illustrations pull you out of that spook factor. I read one review that compared this to Toy Story meets Sweeny Todd, which I guess is apt although I think Sweeny Todd is much more graphic in nature than this one.

You can tell that a lot of thought went into this book. For example, if you Wikipedia East Liverpool, Ohio, where the bulk of the story ends up happening, it really does exist. And it really did have a number of potteries, “once produced more than half of the United States’s annual ceramics output. Throughout East Liverpool’s ceramics history, there were more than 300 potteries.” (link) You can read all about Holly Black’s road trip to this tiny town, which she did for research. The trio’s adventures were fully realistic, whether it was getting from point a to point b, budget issues, or dealing with suspicious adults who paid a little more attention then they would have liked to three unchaperoned minors traveling together. A pivotal scene takes place in a library with a pink-haired librarian who is super savvy about the ways of teens, and you can tell Black is a fan of librarians through her portrayal of this character.

I did wish that Alice and Poppy had more personality. While there is some exposition regarding Zach’s attitudes and evolution, we never really hear about the two girls and how they feel about the game that Zach’s father is so keen in making Zach give up. I think Zach’s father’s change in attitude towards the end came about a little too neatly, and the quest’s end was very convenient in nature. But it’s the journey, that’s the part that compelled me to keep reading, and the uncertain ground that Black keeps you on, forcing you to question everything that is happening. Leave the light on, and you’ll never look at your dolls the same way again. Especially the china ones, which plays such a big roll to making the whole premise work.

Afterworlds

AfterworldsTitle: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Narrators: Heather Lind and Sheetal Sheth
ISBN: 9781442372467 (audiobook),
CDs/Discs: 12 CDs, 15 hours 16 minutes
Pages: 599 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, c2014.
Publication Date: Sept. 23, 2014

“The thing is, I want to defer college for a year.”
“What?” her mother asked. “Why on earth?”
“Because I have responsibilities.” This line had sounded better in her head. “I need to do the rewrites for Afterworlds, and write a sequel.”
“But. . .” Her mother paused, and the elder Patels shared a look.
“Working on books isn’t going to take all your time,” her father said. “You wrote your first one in a month, didn’t you? And that didn’t interfere with your studies.” (15)

This is the story of Darcy Patel, a newly graduated high school student who forgoes college in order to move to New York and focus on her publishing career. This is also the story of Elizabeth, a high school senior and the only survivor of a terrorist attack at an airport that leaves everyone else dead and Lizzie seeing ghosts, including a hunky Hindu god named Yamaraj. Elizabeth is the character in Darcy’s story, written over the course of a month-long writing challenge and then rewritten and revised over the next year. Each girl suffers from distractions of their first romance, life’s interference, and their own insecurities about their ability to handle their situations.

First, the negatives. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, which impedes the flow of each story. Elizabeth, or Lizzie, will be running away from a ghost at the end of one chapter, and then readers are flung back to Darcy’s substantially tamer life. If there were parallels between the plots it might have made more sense, but the transitions are disconcerting and seem arbitrary in nature. In one instance, a plot point is portrayed in Lizzie’s story before Darcy finishes the rewrite of it, which makes it all the more jarring when the subject is broached in Darcy’s because we already know what she decides.

I think this may be the first time that the audiobook quality negatively impacts my enjoyment of the book. Each chapter gets only one track, making the tracks close to 30 minutes long, and quite frequently running onto a second disc. That proves frustrating when you’re listening in your car and reach your destination before the track ends. There are also small clicks in one narrator’s enunciation for Darcy’s parts, which may have been included intentionally to emphasize her accent, but are occasionally distracting.

The parts I enjoyed the most are the exposition on the publishing process and the thought-provoking asides as a result. Darcy’s advance, rewrites, edits, marketing efforts, and fearful expectations are all covered, although we aren’t privy to the actual release of her book. There is a well-quoted portion where Darcy’s friend introduces the Angelina Jolie paradox, which forces your mind to really think about how much suspension of belief we have when reading or watching movies. Darcy is questioned about her appropriation of cultural figures for her novel, and she revisits those thoughts again and again. Darcy’s friend Imogen also reveals that some symbolism in a writer’s work may not be as intentional as you might think, pointing things out that Darcy never realized she was doing. There are beautiful turns of phrases throughout the novel that capture your attention.

“Their bodies fit perfectly like this, two continents pulled apart eons ago but now rejoined.” (264)
“The surface of the snow was frozen into glass. Wind-borne flurries uncoiled across it, the high sun casting halos in them, like gray rainbows.”(428)

But the dialogue in places seems stilted and the characters’ reflections make them seem wise beyond their years, even while you’re waiting for character development to happen. Westerfeld even addresses this, when Darcy realizes that her book characters can be boiled down to a few pithy adjectives. It also strikes me as odd that Darcy, on her own for the first time, receives so little parental supervision or inquisition, especially as she keeps stressing the strictness of her immigrant parents. One bright spot is we refreshingly see a character out of school who is forced to make her own decisions and mistakes about budget, including food and living arrangements, no matter how pie-in-the-sky that life may be after Darcy’s six figure advance is paid out.

Personally, I think Westerfeld should stick with the science fiction/fantasy genres. I’ve raved about his Leviathan trilogy several times on this blog, and this seemed like a disappointing departure from what he does well. However, it’s a “chicken and the egg” thought process, because any complaints about the writing style could be attributed to Westerfeld’s portrayal of Darcy’s inexperienced writing and faults, as when someone falls on the ice and claims they meant to do that to show other people the sidewalk is slippery. Tasha Robinson says it better in her NPR Review:

And Westerfeld has an easy out for any flaws in Lizzie’s side of the book: Darcy is a young, inexperienced author. For instance, her relationship with Yamaraj seems insubstantial and heavily romanticized because it’s being written by an 18-year-old who’s just learning about love herself.

If you’re interested in trying your own hand at the National Novel Writing Month challenge, which takes place in November, try visiting their website. For more fulfilling books with a writing themed plot, try Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Liesl and Po

Liesl and PoTitle: Liesl and Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Illustrator: Kei Acedera
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780449015025 (audiobook), 9780062014511 (hardcover)
Pages: 307 pages
Discs/CDs:  5 CDs, 5 hours and 55 minutes
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2011.

“I must take his ashes to the willow tree,” Liesl whispered suddenly, with certainty. “I must bury my father next to my mother. Then his soul will move Beyond.” She looked directly at the place where Po’s eyes should have been, if Po were not a ghost, and again Po felt the very core of its Essence shiver in response.
“And you must help me,” Liesl finished.
Po was unprepared for this. “Me?” it said unhappily. “Why me?” (92)

When a ghost appears in Liesl’s attic prison, Liesl asks for help in sending a message to her recently deceased father. The message Po brings back is anything but cheery, as Liesl father insists that he must go home to the willow tree, and that Liesl should be the one to take him there. Liesl steals the container of ashes from the mantle and rushes off to her old house, leaving her wicked stepmother behind. Little does Liesl know that the box she carries does not contain her father’s ashes, but a powerful magic that accidentally got delivered to the wrong address. Soon joined by the “useless” delivery boy called William who is fleeing his angry alchemist master, the three of them are thrust into events that they don’t quite understand, but nevertheless are intent on preventing in their efforts to improve their lives (or in Po’s case it’s death) for the better.

I thought I’d get behind this newest book about a girl and her ghost by Lauren Oliver. It’s narrated by Jim Dale for heaven’s sake, the one who did all those cool voices for The Emerald Atlas and Peter and the Starcatchers not to mention Harry Potter. But for the first time, I wasn’t feeling it with Dale. His attempts at the female voices fell flat to my ears, which I did not anticipate at all, and I didn’t pick up the suspense or excitement that I think this reading could have had.

But maybe he was tempering his voice to match the gray and bleak environment of the story’s setting. Maybe it was the material, because the story itself fell flat for me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for Lauren Oliver. For plenty of other people the story has really resonated with them. After reading the author’s note in the back, I truly wanted the book to resonate with me too. Oliver reveals that she wrote this story “during a concentrated two-month period.”

At the time, I was dealing with the sudden death of my best friend. The lasting impact of this loss reverberated through the months, and it made my world gray and murky, much like the world Liesl inhabits at the start of the story. […] And so my fantasies were transformed into the figure of a little girl who embarks on a journey not just to restore the ashes of a loved one to a peaceful place but to restore color and life to a world that has turned dim and gray.” (309-310)

If she had succeeded in doing this, I would have claimed her attempt a success, and that synopsis of the book makes it sound wonderful, but I didn’t really pick-up on that meaning and depth upon listening to the book. But upon reading the author’s note, I feel like I should have gotten A Monster Calls and instead got Casper.

It’s also meant to be a story of coincidences and mix-ups, but it just seemed like Oliver threw a whole bunch of bumbling characters together and loosely tied their stories to each other in a comedy of errors. Yes, mix-ups and coincidences are sometimes the basis for every story, but do there have to be so many of them in one story? For instance, if Liesl’s step-mother was such an evil woman, why did she bother locking Liesl up in the attic in the first place, an attic window that Will noticed but no one else? The Lady Premiere, the evil lady who ordered up this powerful magic in the first place, feels like a minor general “bad character” with almost no motivation for her actions presented to readers. Why in the world would so many people who have no connection to the events at hand continue to chase after the children? It reminded me towards the end of those old-fashioned black and white movies where the whole town is chasing a dog for no other reason than the dog stole and by this point has eaten a sausage.

Kei Acedera’s black and white drawings are appropriately dark and murky, and I thought Po was very well rendered considering the description of a non-gendered, cookie-cutter child-shaped ghost. In fact, all of the characters were instantly recognizable, and while the facial expressions seemed relatively uniform, the postures told the emotions of the characters very well. For fans of Casper, this mad-cap tale of a ghost and it’s girl will find readers, but while it was an interesting story, it just didn’t do it for me.

Ghost Knight

Title: Ghost Knight
Author: Cornelia Funke
Translator: Oliver Latsch
Illustrator: Andrea Offermann
ISBN: 9780316056144
Pages: 345 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown & Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., c2011 (English translation c2012)
Publication Date: May 1, 2012

But there they were.
Three riders. Very pale. As if the night air had gone moldy. And they were staring up at me.
Everything about them was drained of color: capes, boots, gloves, belts–and the swords hanging from their sides. They looked like men who’d had their blood sucked out by the night. The tallest one’s straggly hair hung down to his shoulders, and I could see the bricks of the garden wall through his body. The one next to him had a hamster face and, just like the third ghost, was so see-through that the tree behind him seemed to grow right through his chest. Their necks were marked with dark bruises, as if someone had tried to slice their heads off with a very blunt knife. But the most horrible thing about them was their eyes: burned-out holes filled with bloodlust. To this day those eyes scorch holes into my heart.
Their horses were as pale as the riders. Ashen fur hung from the animals’ skeletal bodies like tattered rags.
I wanted to cover my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see the bloodless faces anymore, but I was so scared that I couldn’t even lift my arms. (24-25)

Eleven-year-old Jon has just been shipped off to his father’s old boarding school. He is certain it’s because of the pranks he pulled trying to get his mother’s boyfriend (aka The Beard) out of his life for good. But Jon’s “banishment” has just gotten worse, as instead of making friends he quickly discovers he is the descendant of an old dispute involving a knight from the 1500s who is out for revenge. Jon enlists the help of a classmate Ella, who shows him how to call upon the Ghost Knight William Longspee for protection. Things get complicated when Jon learns that Longspee might not be such a good guy after all. Jon must decide who to trust fast after Ella get kidnapped and he must face his ghostly past, with or without Longspee’s help.

Fans of Cornelia Funke’s work will jump for this newest book before even knowing what it’s about. While still containing elements of fantasy, Funke strays toward a more realistic setting and plot. In an author’s note and glossary, readers discover that William Longspee, Jon’s “ancestor” William Hartgill and the vengeful knight were real people. The boarding school that Jon is sent to has existed in one form or another for almost a century. Jon mentions his eight-year-old sister’s desire to go to a boarding school based on her readings of the Harry Potter series, and I think quite a few kids harbor that desire, although I’m not sure how much they would have enjoyed running from ghosts.

The combination of ghosts and knights is a sure hit with readers. The battles are described beautifully, and while Andrea Offermann’s drawings sometimes remind me of an anime movie, they deftly portray the action. She’s really in her element when it comes to the scenery, with portrayals of the cathedral and old style architecture containing detailed stained glass windows (pg 203) and intricate above the head shots (pg. 90) featuring two-page spreads of the columns and “spandrels” (76-77) and the ghostly atmosphere (pg. 50-51).

Although Funke weaved real aspects with her own creations almost seamlessly, at one point Jon is reassured that the ghosts can’t hurt him, but that he should run anyways. It’s only later that we discover what ghosts can do that is so dangerous, but until then his fear of them seems incongruous. Once you’re willing to forgive and forget that detail (and as I said, it’s sort of explained later what makes them so fearsome), it’s a wonderfully entertaining story. Another part I don’t think was really necessary was little hints that Jon is telling this story from the future including foreshadowing comments like “That’s more than eight years ago, and I still remember it perfectly.” (5) and “I tried to drag her to the stairs, but she was–and still is–stronger than me.” (228) How his relationship pans out with Ella is left a little hazy, but the ending clearly ties up any loose ends, even if Funke does leave it open enough for a sequel that I think most readers would appreciate if it ever came about.

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