Tag Archives: paranormal

The In-Between

9 Jan

Today’s book review is for The In-Between, by Barbara Stewart, published by St. Martin’s Press. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The In-Between book cover

Elanor Moss is a 14-year old girl moving to a new town with her parents for a fresh start after a suicide attempt. On the way she’s in a terrible car accident that nearly ends her life once more. Her near death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by bold and beautiful Madeline Torus. Madeline is everything Elanor has wanted in a best friend–and most of all, Madeline needs Elanor just as much as Elanor needs her. But Madeline isn’t like other girls and if Elanor talks about her, she could be labeled as crazy. Soon, Elanor finds her life spinning out of control. Is she having a paranormal experience, or is her damaged brain having a psychotic break?

As a middle grade student, paranormal and psychological thrillers were a staple of my literary diet. Hauntings, mediums, astral projection, dissociative personalities–I couldn’t get enough of this stuff. Reading The In-Between felt like a return to those roots. It was a wonderful reminder of how gripping a well-written thriller can be. Once I got into the story, I couldn’t stop reading.

Stewart does an amazing job at keeping her writing ambiguous. There is always the question of whether Madeline is a ghost or a construction of a damaged mind. This question builds amazing tension throughout the book. Even when you’ve convinced yourself that one answer is true, something will happen which throws all your assumptions into question. It’s surprising to discover, that with this amount of skill, this is Stewart’s writing debut.

Probably my favorite part of the book, though, was the narrative discourse and structure. I loved that it was written as though it were Elanor’s journals. This lent itself well to a variety of chapter lengths, including one-liners or the obsessive repetition of Madeline’s name. It felt authentic as a result. It reminded me a little of my own journal-writing as a teenager–the reflection, the self-absorption, the addressing of an imagined audience. I liked how it gave such rich psychological insight to the protagonist.

I’m giving this book 4 stars. It was creepy and captivating. One star is held in reserve because I wanted the “in-between” to be developed a bit more clearly. Still, that’s a pretty minor quibble. This is a great book for teens who like paranormal fiction or thrillers. It’s also excellent for anyone who has felt like an outcast, who has questioned their sanity, or is curious about what it might feel like. Since the book does discuss suicide, sleeping pill abuse, and self-harm, it is recommended for mature readers.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

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Dark Spell

17 Dec

Today’s book review is for Dark Spell, by Gill Arbuthnott, published by Floris Books. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Dark Spell book cover

Callie Hall has always felt a bit like a misfit. She has few friends other than Josh, whom she met when he was vacationing in her village last summer. However, she’s still not prepared to find out that she’s a witch. She struggles against her new-found identity. But when Callie and Josh decide to explore the old tunnels beneath St. Andrews, she brings a darkness back with her–and soon she can’t deny who she is. If she’s going to defeat the darkness, though, she’s going to have to figure out what it is and embrace her witch heritage. Will she be able to master her powers before the people she cares about are placed in mortal danger?

The thing that bothered me most while reading this novel was that the Kindle formatting was terrible. Even though formatting is a cosmetic issue rather than a style issue, it can still impact one’s reading. At times it was difficult for me to follow the dialogue, because there needed to be line breaks which weren’t there. There were also places where cut scenes weren’t delineated which also got to be a bit confusing. This was a big problem, because every formatting issue pulled me out of the story.

It wasn’t the only problem, though. Even though the story was interesting and creepy, the pacing was far too slow. There were too many moments where I found myself wondering when we’d get back to the interesting bits–it wasn’t a building of suspense, but rather too much of Callie’s inner monologue. Her inner monologue was pretty predictable. She’s worried that her friend is going to freak out and stop being her friend. She can’t deal with her mother. She’s not sure she’s strong enough to handle the task at hand. Sound familiar to anyone else?

And it’s too bad, because I actually found a lot of the story quite compelling. I absolutely loved how local history was woven into the plot. It made the haunting seem all the more plausible because the history had actually happened. It also made it easier to imagine a lot of the locations, even though I’d never been to them. I could picture St. Andrews with all the tunnels, the unremarkable Dane’s Dyke, the ocean of Pitmillie. All of it felt vivid and alive. The characters were also fairly likable. I loved grandmom Rose and her circle of friends. And I liked Josh and Callie, too. Sometimes Callie irritated me, but I think that nearly any teenage girl would.

So, it’s kind of a wash. It has all of the elements for a great novel, but the pacing and atrocious formatting prevented it from attaining that status. If you’re the kind of person who is into the creepy YA paranormal genre, it could be worth checking out (particularly if formatting issues don’t bother you as much as they do me). I’ll give it 3 stars since I cared about what was going to happen in the end. But that might be a little bit generous.

You can find out more about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.