Book Review: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

Title: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall
Author: Katie Alender
Genre: YA Horror/Suspense
Page Count: 336 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Point
Release Date: August 30, 2016

Publisher’s Summary: Delia’s new house isn’t just a house. Long ago, it was the Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females — an insane asylum nicknamed “Hysteria Hall.” However, many of the inmates were not insane, just defiant and strong willed. Kind of like Delia herself. But the house still wants to keep “troubled” girls locked away. So, in the most horrifying way, Delia becomes trapped. And that’s when she learns that the house is also haunted.

Ghost girls wander the hallways in their old-fashioned nightgowns. A handsome ghost boy named Theo roams the grounds. Delia learns that all the spirits are unsettled and full of dark secrets. The house, too, harbors shocking truths within its walls — truths that only Delia can uncover, and that may set her free. And she’ll need to act quickly — before the house’s power overtakes everything she loves. Katie Alender brings heart-pounding suspense, gorgeous writing, and a feminist twist to this tale of memories and madness.

My Thoughts: Everything about this book made me scream YES! From the feminist angle on Victorian attitudes toward “hysterical women” to the flawed MC to the dynamic, multi-layered world-building and intriguing mysteries, twists, and turns pulling me along every page, I was completely entranced by this book from sentence 1. I found The Dead Girls… by googling “YA ghost novels” when I was in the mood for a good ghost story. But what I got from this was SO much more than that. It’s a novel with heart, with emotional resonance, and protagonist who learns and changes–even after she dies.

The intricate afterlife world-building and the physics of how being a ghost works in the time/space continuum had me fascinated. Every detail the author wrote, every passage, contained some further meaning, a purpose, a clue that comes into play later on. It all culminated into a multi-climaxed, beautiful message about life, love, redemption, and our place in the mysterious plan of it all. Characters aren’t always who we expect them to be, surprises lurk around every corner, and the MC, Delia, is always driven by some goal or another that kept me hooked. Yes, the paranormal goings-on were creepy, and so were the ghosts, but they were also people. Souls, with their own personalities and backstories. I grew to care about all of them.

Despite the cover’s bloodied appearance, this is not a gross or gory book, nor is it gratuitously violent. It is, rather, a poignant interpretation of life after death and a soul’s purpose. The end moved me to tears and gave me hope. I think this novel is perfectly brilliant and I gladly add it to my hall-of-fame of all-time favorites.

Editor’s Review: Foretold (Book 3 of the Near Deaths Series) by Holly M. Campbell

foretold

*Full disclosure: I was the editor of this novel for 48fourteen Publishing.

Foretold (48fourteen, 2018) by Holly M. Campbell is the third – and final? – book in the Near Deaths Series. As a mega-fan of Mrs. Campbell’s previous works, including Foreshadowed (Book 1), Forewarned (Book 2), and Without Curtains, I was beyond honored to be approached by 48fourteen Publishing to edit her newest novel.

Foretold is every bit as compelling, gripping, and heart-stopping as its predecessors. The story of the teen mind-reader, Hope; her death-seeing boyfriend, Lance; and their quest to uncover the identity of a serial rapist/murderer in their small western town comes to its apex in this grand finale to complete the trilogy. Just like the first two books, the story is equal parts teen paranormal romance and murder mystery/suspense. Even the supernatural elements feel believable and realistic, keeping me on the edge of my seat as if it could all truly be happening.

The narrative takes a somewhat heavier turn as Hope grapples with guilt and grief after a sudden and devastating turn of events at the end of Book 2 (no spoilers! My lips – er, fingers – are sealed). Yet, the plot manages to stay fast-paced and unputdownable, aided along especially by intriguing characters from previous books who return with larger roles, the emergence of important new characters, and even one particular character turnaround that nearly stole the show for me. The banding together of the psychic Near Deaths vigilantes and Hope’s final battle against the villain in the third act of this book blew me away. Make no mistake, this is a masterful series executed by a master writer.

Punchy, suspenseful, heartfelt, dangerous, and at times humorous while deliciously dark, Foretold was the perfect ending to Campbell’s memorable and highly recommended paranormal suspense trilogy.

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This YA book was not what I was expecting! At least not when it started. I’d seen it on shelves for years, but I think I was expecting a haunted orphanage, third-person sort of fairy tale. When I began reading, I wasn’t prepared for as lovably flawed of a narrator as Jacob Portman, a wealthy Florida teenager who’s trying to get fired from his job. The writing was excellent and the book was, to steal a word from author Aimee Easterling, unputdownable. I was addicted to the story about the strange photographs of creepy children Jake’s grandfather kept, and how Jake witnesses his grandpa’s grisly and mysterious death, and especially his therapy sessions with Dr. Golan, after which Jake and his dad agree to visit the Welsh island of Cairnholm where Jake’s grandfather had once lived as a WWII child refugee.

Riggs’s writing is some of the best I’ve read. The book is enhanced by dozens of strange photographs procured by the author, which help the story unfold and come to life. In the second act, things take a turn for the wackier when Jake discovers a time loop in a cairn and is transported back to September 3, 1940. There, he meets Miss Peregrine -a Minerva McGonagall type of headmistress – and the same peculiar children, all with superhuman powers, from his grandpa’s photographs. This includes the feisty Emma, who was once his grandpa’s sweetheart, but who now has eyes for Jake. The witty dialogue, old-fashioned figures of speech, and U.K. slang really stood out among the new cast of characters, to the point where I felt I could really hear the kids speaking in their accents, each in his or her own unique voice.

I was fairly obsessed with the majority of the novel, until I came to the third act, and it began to play out more like an average YA fantasy novel. I had been more intrigued when Jake was straddling his real, present world and the time-loop world; but once we plunged into the full-fledged peculiarverse, I was ready for a resolution. I don’t plan on finishing this series soon, but I can see why this book is so acclaimed. Ransom Riggs writes with phenomenal skill!

Memorable Quotes

“‘They may love you,’ she whispered, ‘but they’ll never understand.'” – p. 263

“Stars, too, were time travelers. How many of those ancient points of light were the last echoes of suns now dead? How many had been born but their light not yet come this far? If all the suns but ours collapsed tonight, how many lifetimes would it take us to realize that we were alone? I had always known the sky was full of mysteries – but not until now had I realized how full of them earth was.” – p. 338