Select Page

Review: ‘The Doll Funeral’ by Kate Hamer

Kate Hamer - The Doll FuneralThe Doll Funeral was a novel that attempted to be a great many things, and proceeded to be none of them with great aplomb.  It had the potential to be a touchingly deep story about domestic abuse and the difficulties of coping with adoption, both as the adopters and the adoptees, but instead it got bogged down in a swamp of mystical weirdness that did nothing to help the story along.

Kate Hamer’s The Doll Funeral tells the story from the point of view of a teenage girl who lives with her adopted parents in the Forest of Dean.  Her adopted father Mick is abusive but she finds solace among the trees and with a shadowy friend who has always been in her life.  The narrative follows her search for her real parents, while simultaneously weaving the story of her parents and how she came to live with Mick and Barbara.

The way Kate Hamer writes is beautiful.  She weaves her words with talent and imagination.  She paints a great picture and really brings the Forest of Dean to life as a character in its own right.  The forest plays such an important part in the lives of all its characters that her characterisation of it really made the narrative.  The plot is bleak, dark and otherworldly with a cast of quirky characters who were interesting enough to keep me reading.  The Doll Funeral wasn’t fast paced, or action packed.  It plodded along slowly and steadily and had a decent pace for a relatively serious novel that dealt with some pretty deep issues.

The big problem with The Doll Funeral is the way it chooses to deal with those issues.  The paranormal elements of the narrative fell flat and didn’t serve to heighten Ruby’s story in any way.  The weird Sixth Sense-esque skills that Ruby possesses simply made so much of the plot feel convenient and off kilter all at the same time.  The novel deals with abuse, poverty and mental illness.  By adding the supernatural in to the mix it somehow detracted from the gravity of what I feel the novel was trying to achieve.

Ruby herself wasn’t even particularly believable as a character.  She is 13 years old at the beginning of The Doll Funeral but her voice doesn’t match her age.  Her characterisation is much younger, as are the other ‘child’ characters in the novel.  The adults of the novel are largely absent during the narrative which ultimately felt a little too convenient in places, and her supernatural abilities are never really explained in any way.  This is a criticism I often level at works of supernatural fiction; your paranormal elements need to have their own internal logic to them.  I need to be able to believe that these things exist and the way that they manifest themselves as a reader.  In The Doll Funeral they simply felt like convenient ways to move the plot along rather than as essential elements in the characterisation of Ruby.

That Kate Hamer can write with talent is not in any doubt.  There was a lot to commend The Doll Funeral for, but ultimately I just felt like it was lacking in some sense.  I needed it to be more or less of everything that it was.  I either needed no paranormal elements or they needed to be rendered with more depth, or I needed more focus on the very serious subject matter of the novel with characters that were interesting for who they were, and not for some weird powers they either did or didn’t possess.  It was a novel with great promise that simply didn’t deliver.

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Bloglovin Icon

Follow me on Bloglovin

Review: ‘The Creeping Shadow’ by Jonathan Stroud

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan StroudPrepare yourselves, because The Creeping Shadow ends in one hell of a cliff hanger!  Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series goes from strength to strength, widening its scope with even novel and hooking me in with every page.

Not often can we say that middle grade fiction rises to the strength of the Harry Potter series, but I honestly believe that Lockwood & Co. is just as good.  And finally, with this new installment we are entering the territory surrounding the root of ‘the Problem’.

Lockwood & Co. are a small, independent agency dealing with the problem of ghosts that have been plaguing the UK.  No one knows why the problem began and only children are equipped with the psychic talents to deal with the infestation.  The small agency must battle internal politics, external politics between the largest rival agencies, navigate the criminal underworld, the paranormal otherworld and eat cake!

The characters are strong and flow with personality.  They each have a unique voice and represent archetypes to which we can all relate.  Watching Lockwood, Lucy, Holly and George (with the newest addition of Quill Kipps) fight side by side is an absolute joy.  The way they interact with each other, their humour and their individual ideals make them the perfect team.  You can’t help but be invested in them.

The plot of The Creeping Shadow finally leads us down the path to resolution.  The source of the ‘Problem’ has been hinted at since the beginning, but the events of this novel really make it feel like we’re reaching a climax.  People we trusted turn out to be up to no good, and characters who we’ve learned to distrust save the day!  Everything happens for a reason, nothing is incidental, and the descriptions of ghosts, ‘sources’ and other paranormal activity are visceral and spooky.  The way the story unfolds is like a puzzle, with all the pieces coming together right at the end to reveal the big picture.

I finished The Creeping Shadow in a day, and I’m desperate for more.  Jonathan Stroud is the reason I look forward to September.

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Bloglovin Icon

Follow me on Bloglovin

Review: ‘The Haunting of Jessop Rise’ by Danny Weston

The Haunting of Jessop Rise Book CoverThe Haunting of Jessop Rise was an entertaining read.  It was an unassuming, simple haunted house story with elements of gothic horror that neither excited nor bored.  It simply waswhich in some cases is exactly what you want as a reader.  I read the whole book in a few hours so it never overstayed its welcome, and for a middle grade novel it did have some pretty effective moments of fear.

William, the protagonist is a surprisingly deep character.  Weston actually does a great job of building a pretty decent character profile in a very short amount of time.  The main characters felt read and the satellite characters didn’t have too much fleshing them out that the novel felt bloated.  My only issue with the characters though was that they felt too much like characters from other novels.  There was nothing particularly unique about them to set them apart from better works of the 19th century, or more involved haunted house stories.  There were elements of Jane Eyre, The Woman in Black and even Great Expectations.

Using North Wales as a setting for was originally what drew me to The Haunting of Jessop Rise.  Wales is a country rife with folklore and mystery.  It is a place where tales of witches and fairies become almost believable and the countryside almost seems to sing with the voices of ancient civilisations.  There was potential here, but a potential that was completely unrealised.  The one element of the particularly Welsh supernatural was actually pretty unnecessary to the plot, and most of the action took place in the confines of the titular Jessop Rise meaning that the setting of Wales was largely unnecessary.  The local Welsh were represented as menial and superstitious, whereas the English characters somehow seemed superior, going so far as to scoff at the Welsh language.  This bothered me.  I’m sure it wasn’t the intention of the author, and indeed was probably pretty historically accurate in the way perceptions lay at the time, however that’s the benifit of writing fiction.  Weston simply could have done more.

All in all, The Haunting of Jessop Rise was a short read and one that I must admit I enjoyed despite its shortcomings.  It’s an entertaining middle grade horror if nothing else.

 

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Bloglovin Icon

Follow me on Bloglovin

Review: ‘Thirteen Days of Midnight’ by Leo Hunt

Thirteen Days of Midnight - Leo HuntThirteen Days of Midnight should have been right up my alley. It should have excited me. It should have spooked me. It should have done a lot of things. But it didn’t. Not any of them.

Thirteen Days of Midnight is a novel rife with possibility. It has a brilliant draw that makes it sound like an amazing blend of Caspar the Friendly Ghost and The Woman in Black. Pacts with the devil, necromancy, hauntings and inheritance. What ‘s not to like? The real issue with this book is that it just didn’t go anywhere, or do anything. I can see what Leo Hunt was trying to achieve, but he just didn’t quite get there. Everything happens too quickly meaning that the plot lacked depth. And the motivations for anyone doing anything were virtually non-existent.

Hunt’s characters lack personality and motivation. They also don’t react to things in a healthy or normal fashion. While I realise that Luke Manchett, the protagonist, is estranged from his father it would still be natural for him to feel some upset at his death. I know many people estranged from their families who still grieve when one of them dies. It is normal and natural, it is normal to regret and be saddened for a relationship that will never again have the chance to be. But Luke goes to school, laughs with his friends, doesn’t tell him mother that her husband is dead, goes to see a lawyer alone about his fathers’ estate (this alone was completely ridiculous…). The characters’ behaviours were simply implausible. Not to mention that the whole novel felt like a manifesto on bad parenting.

The plot itself seems like it should be exciting but simply wasn’t. Luke inherits money that we never see. He has friends who we barely meet. There is a love triangle that never happens. Some ghosts that never haunt. Luke is never afraid of the ghosts. There is no period of coming to terms with anything. A female character is introduced as the outsider and within a scene she and Luke are best buddies. The Book of Eight, a necromantic tome is helpful in a three day dream sequence we don’t get to read about. Luke becomes a necromancer and never does any actual necromancy except some casual animal cruelty. All back story is given in monologue rather than organically through the text and none of the characters have any personality.  And this doesn’t even begin to take in to account the unexplored moral implications of soul slavery and the obvious physical manifestations of violent death and physical abuse that show themselves on the ghostly bodies of Luke’s host. All these elements could have been something, but instead were a collection of scenes that did nothing and somehow led to a resolution with an implausible non-choice. I just wanted each of these elements to be so much more…in fact to be anything!

Thirteen Days of Midnight has the beginnings of a great book. I would have said that this is the first draft of an exciting novel. It’s such a shame it made it to publication in the state that it’s currently in, because I do not doubt that it will not fail to disappoint. What a let down.

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Pin It on Pinterest