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.

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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.