Mini-Reviews: Coraline, Dead Voices, & Ghost

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 4, 2002
Source: Borrowed

The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring….

In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it’s different.

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

Critically acclaimed and award-winning author Neil Gaiman will delight readers with his first novel for all ages.

I was looking through Overdrive for a quick audiobook to listen to at work and came across Coraline. As a big fan of the movie, and having really enjoyed Gaiman’s narration of Norse Mythology, I figured I might as well give it a shot.

The book is very, very much like the movie. That’s a good thing. The movie is just the right amount of dark and creepy, and so is the book. The Other Mother, as I get older, is an even creepier character. I can totally understand Coraline’s feelings and motivation for going over to that other side, and despite already knowing how everything would end, it was still so creepy to hear about the subtle differences in the Other Mother’s house.

Coraline has just made me want to find more Gaiman books to love.

#wian20: a given/first name


Dead Voices by Katherine Arden
Series: Small Spaces #2
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces.

Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

With Mr. Voland’s help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help–or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted.

Dead Voices is a terrifying follow-up to Small Spaces with thrills and chills galore and the captive foreboding of a classic ghost story.

Let me tell you something — I love this series. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are back in a ski trip gone awry, this time facing some spooky ghosts instead of creepy scarecrows. The book was just the right amount of creepy for me, enough to keep me on my toes but not so much that I felt genuinely scared. (That said, I have no spooky tolerance and this is middle grade.)

I love how, in this series, Ollie, Coco, and Brian have to work together and trust each other to make it out of these crazy situations. In this book, the characters aren’t sure what’s real and what’s coming from the haunting, and that, to me, made this book a little spookier than its predecessor. They had to use their knowledge of each other (and their wits) to figure out the best thing to do with everything that was thrown at them.

I really never thought I’d enjoy a middle grade series so much, but I can’t wait for the next book.


Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

You know, this is my third Jason Reynolds book, and I have yet to connect with his writing. Objectively, I can recognize that a lot of young kids can probably see themselves in Ghost. He’s experienced things no kid should experience, he’s angry about it, and he wants to be a good kid but things just seem to happen around him. He’s a very well-written, well-rounded character.

I just feel like this was a lot to shove into a book that’s not even 200 pages. By the end, nothing felt very… resolved. I realize there are three more books in the series, but they’re focusing on other characters. I had planned to read the rest of the series, but I’m probably not going to enjoy it, so I’m just going to stop here.

As a series opener, there’s nothing wrong with this book. It just wasn’t for me.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good MG recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Norse Mythology, We’ll Fly Away, and I Capture the Castle

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin though their upheaval in Ragnarok.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose, these gods emerge with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

Way back in 2012, I DNFed American Gods about three times. I tried really hard to like that book, but it just wasn’t happening. After that, I avoided Gaiman even though I’ve consistently heard that his writing is amazing. Well, I needed a book set in Scandinavia for a reading challenge, so what better than some Norse mythology?

This book was so good! I don’t really have any background in Norse mythology — I think the extent of my knowledge comes from the Thor movies — but you don’t really need any prior knowledge to enjoy this book. Gaiman writes a funny, engaging story of all the Norse gods interacting with each other and getting into shenanigans.

Norse Mythology gave me hope for other books by Gaiman, so I went out and got The Ocean at the End of the Lane for myself and added a bunch of his other books to my library wishlist.

#ps19: a book set in Scandinavia


We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 8, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love.

I actually DNFed We’ll Fly Away last summer, not because it was bad, but just because it was a much heavier book than I was in the mood for. I ended up picking it back up (audio this time) and connecting with it a lot more.

Still, it was a lot heavier of a book than I normally read. In general, I’m not a big fan of stories that pack a big emotional punch, and this one, a book about a teenage boy on death row, his neglectful mother, and the physical abuse his best friend endures, definitely fits that description. I really felt for both Luke and Toby, and, though I knew it was impossible, I just wanted everything to turn out okay for them in the end.

I saw the ending coming, but I don’t really think it’s supposed to be a surprise. I mean, the whole book builds up to the climax of what exactly landed Luke in prison. So, I don’t love the theme, I saw the ending coming, it’s no wonder I didn’t love this book. But the characters really made it worth the read. I loved reading about their friendship. It’s so rare in YA to find a supportive friendship like this between two boys, and it was so nice to read about.

If you’re in the mood for heartbreak and strong friendships, I’d highly recommend this one.


I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: 1948
Source: Borrowed

Through six turbulent months of 1934, 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain keeps a journal, filling three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries about her home, a ruined Suffolk castle, and her eccentric and penniless family. By the time the last diary shuts, there have been great changes in the Mortmain household, not the least of which is that Cassandra is deeply, hopelessly, in love.

I checked out I Capture the Castle solely because I needed a classic romance for one of my 2019 reading challenges. It’s not something that I would have checked out otherwise, but I ended up really enjoying it!

Cassandra was such an upbeat, fun narrator. The whole book is told through her journal entries, and despite everything going on around her, she keeps a positive attitude. For being written in journal entries, the book does a surprisingly good job of setting the scene. I felt like I was in that crumbling castle with the Mortmains, watching everything unfold right along with them.

I didn’t really expect to enjoy this book, but it was a lot of fun.

#romanceopoly: austen row


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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