Review — The Reckoning

The Reckoning
by Kelley Armstrong
HaperCollins, 2010

The Reckoning, Armstrong’s third and final book in her Darkest Powers series brings some closure to the story of Chloe and her fellow Edison Group ‘experiments.’ This novel finally clears up the question over which adults are genuinely looking out for the teens and those who are just looking to cover up the fact they were part of ethically questionable genetic experiments. The good news is that by the end of the book, they understand who they can count as allies. The bad news is that at the start of the novel they are in the custody of those who are really good at pretending they are looking out for the kids’ best interests.

The novel also brings closure to the developing love triangle between Simon, Derek and Chloe. While some might say that the resolution is surprising, most readers will likely have seen the love match coming from the first book. Still, it’s interesting to witness the characters not realize what is happening as a result of the strengthening bonds that often develop between those who share a traumatic experience, even if it’s not exactly unexpected.

As is typical of an Armstrong story, though, for every thread that gets neatly tied off, another is left to dangle with the tease of another story yet to weave. Many of her novels are interconnected and the wider world she draws from seems to stretch to infinity. If you haven’t gotten enough of the characters and their supernatural adventures, you are likely to find them popping in other tales. Chloe and Derek, specifically, star in a pair of books that continue the Darkest Power stories, one a novel which serves as epilogue to the first three books and one a series of short stories that are woven in and around the first three books.

For a general recommendation, I stick by my first impression of book one–the series is plot-driven, easy-reading, supernatural fun. If witches and wizards, necromancers and werewolves are your thing, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the ride.


Review — The Awakening

The Awakening
by Kelley Armstrong
HaperCollins, 2009

The second book of the Darkest Powers series, The Awakening, by Kelley Armstrong continues the story of Chloe and her band of runaway supernatural friends. The novel starts off where The Summoning left off, with the kids’ short-lived escape plan thwarted, at least for Chloe. Derek and Simon got away, and Chloe manages to slip away again while “helping” the Edison Group look for the boys. Despite the group’s claim that they only want to keep the kids safe, Chole knows the truth after finding records recording the elimination of other supernatural kids who were once patients at the Lyle House. Even before finding that proof, Chloe knew she should be worried when Liz, one of the supernaturals “transferred” from the Lyle House appeared to Chloe as a ghost.

The second escape attempt is more successful and they’ve added Tori, a difficult pain in the butt, but also a powerful witch, powers that come in handy when you are trying to get away from other supernaturals. The second novel finds the kids, Tori, Simon a sorcerer, Derek a werewolf on the verge of changing for the first time, and Chloe a freakishly powerful necromancer on the run, hoping to find safe harbor at Andrew’s, a friend of the boys’ father. Andrew and Simon and Derek’s dad had a falling out a few years earlier, but he is still their guardian and they hope he can be trusted.

On the way to Andrew’s Chloe and Derek are separated from the group when Derek gets off the bus in the throws of the werewolf change. Chloe stays behind with Derek to support him and their relationship begins to change from contentious and combative to an intimate friendship that surprises both of them. Readers see this relationship coming way before the characters, which made their cluelessness feel a bit obvious and intentional.

Escaping the Edison group and getting to Andrew’s house takes up the bulk of this novel, which ends with the kids safely hidden at a Victorian mansion that used to belong to the man who started the Edison Group experiments years earlier. The connection suggests that our group of supernatural minors aren’t exactly protected, but rather trapped again.

This novel is focused more on developing the relationships between characters than advancing the plot. While the kids do learn more about their powers and the rules of the supernatural world they are just now being introduced to, most of the work of this second book is to set up the third novel. As a stand alone it wouldn’t be a very satisfying read but as a bridge between novels it just satisfying enough to propel readers on to the third book.

Review — The Summoning

The Summoning
by Kelley Armstrong
HaperCollins, 2008

Book one of the Darkest Powers series, The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong is a fast-paced novel full of paranormal powers. The book focuses on a group of teens locked up in Lyle House, a group home for troubled kids, but these are no ordinary teens. Locked up in such close quarters they start to learn that they have more incommon than it might appear.

The protagonist, Chole, is sent to Lyle House to get help with a recent string of terrifying hallucinations, which she discovers aren’t caused by schizophrenia as everyone wants her to believe. The people she sees were alive once and as she starts to learn her powers over the dead, she realizes to her own horror that she can reanimate their bodies as well. She is helped in the discovery of her necromancy powers by the other ‘supernaturals’ at the house, including Simon a sorcerer and his foster brother Derek, a werewolf.

In fact, Chole, Simon and Derek suspect every teen at Lyle House is a supernatural of some kind, but what they don’t know is why they are being held together. However, when one of the girls in the house is ‘transferred’ and later appears to Chole in ghost form, the kids realize that they must escape.

Their escape doesn’t exactly go as planned, the teens are separated and Chole is betrayed by the one person she thought she could trust, leaving the readers wondering who is behind Lyle House and what do they want from their patients? Good thing there is a sequel, The Awakening, written and ready to answer some of their questions.

I read the book as research for a paranormal YA novel I’m writing and I really enjoyed the world building. Armstrong has been writing connected paranormal novels (YA and adult) for years and has a depth of already developed lore to draw from. Readers who enjoy supernatural elements and fast-paced storytelling will enjoy this book. The writing level is not as advanced as some YA novels, so it makes for an easy, but not challenging read. It also doesn’t have much depth in the way of literary devices; it is a heavily plot-driven story, but for many teen readers that is a plus.

Because the book is such a quick read, I’ll leave you with one final warning: you may want to make sure you line up the next one or two in the series because the first will go fast and you will most likely be hooked and ready for the sequel.

Review – Frozen Charlotte

Frozen Charlotte
by Alex Bell
Scholastic Press, 2014

Supremely creepy and well-crafted, Alex Bell’s Frozen Charlotte will keep you turning pages even if you have to keep the hall light on when you go to bed. The story of Sophie, whose best friend’s sudden and mysterious death leads her to her Uncle’s house to discover if the ghost of her cousin might have had something to do with it.

When she arrives on the tiny Isle of Skye off the Scotland coast, where her Uncle lives with her three cousins, she discovers that Jay’s death isn’t the only unanswered question. Her cousins work at discrediting each other, Piper is sweet on the surface, but Cameron insists it’s an act. Piper is just as determined to convince Sophie that Cameron hasn’t been the same since their younger sister’s death and can’t be trusted. The youngest of the family, Lilias, has a fear of just about everything including her own skeleton. Is she troubled like her mother who was sent to a sanatorium after her daughter died or is there something more sinister going on?

The biggest question is what do the Frozen Charlotte porcelain doll collection have to do with the family’s tragic experience and is their tragedy connected to the history of the school they’ve turned into a home on the isle’s windswept cliffs?

Driven by her need to find out what really happened to her friend, Sophie will put her own life in danger as she works to discover who she can trust and to break the curse that seems to haunt her cousins.

The paranormal elements in the novel are based on the Frozen Charlotte dolls, creepy porcelain doll “toys” that slept in coffins, popular during the Victorian Era. One Google search of the dolls and you will see why Bell was inspired to write a horror novel using them in a starring roll.

Readers who like horror set in creepy locations will enjoy this book, but it is also about honoring friendship and learning who you can trust, so there is plenty of depth in character development and imagery and use of language to satisfy the more literary minded reader. Bell uses setting and plot to create an atmosphere that you can feel, whether you want to or not.

My one gripe about the book is that Bell leaves a loose end when it comes to the connecting the novel’s conclusion to the opening scenes when Sophie’s friend dies. It is never clear if Sophie discovers any foul play connected to her friend’s death; she finds plenty of foul play, but his death could also have been an accident. For a story that works so hard in the final scenes to explain the various mysteries that keeps readers turning the page, it fails to satisfyingly answer the one that started it.

Still, a good read, just one that readers will be asked to finish for themselves.

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Welcome to my website–one place to capture all of what I do. I am a creative writer,  writing teacher and tutor. This blog will rotate between these topics and sometimes braid all three together to share ideas with teachers, parents and writers.

Teachers–get ideas for teaching writing, including class activities (good ones and flops).

Parents—get ideas on how to help your student read efficiently and improve their writing (and maybe even start to like both!)

And if you love to write or to read about writing, you’ll find original short-shorts, musings and rants on writing (or not writing, depending on the week.)