Children's/YA fiction

Charlotte Says by Alex Bell

Charlotte Says is the prequel to Frozen Charlotte, and is set in 1910, in the Dunvegan School for Girls. It shows the origins of how the frozen Charlotte dolls came to the Isle of Skye, with their horrifying influence on those around them.

Jemima comes to Dunvegan as assistant school-mistress following the death of her mother and step-father in a horrific fire. She has no memory of what happened that night but hopes to escape to a new life on Skye. It soon becomes apparent that she is less than welcome, and that the school is not a happy one. Events take a turn for the worse when Jemima is sent a chest full of frozen Charlotte dolls who begin whispering to the school girls. Unsurprisingly it all ends in tragedy, and Jemima is forced to try to escape the dolls in any way she can.

Initially, I did not find this as interesting or engaging as Frozen Charlotte; it’s hard to say why. I think perhaps I thought I knew how it would end, especially as it is a prequel. However, I did prefer the ending of this story to the ending of Frozen Charlotte. One thing I really did like about this story is that it wasn’t just about supernatural evil, but also about a very human kind of evil and its consequences.

Fast-paced, scary, but also fun… another great young adult horror story.

Children's/YA fiction

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

It’s safe to say that this book is a bit of a departure from the usual genres I read. I will often read YA books, but horror really isn’t my thing. However, this was recommended to me, and I decided to give it a try, even though I was a little worried that it might leave me with nightmares!

Sophie is about to visit her cousins on the Isle of Skye. They live in an abandoned school, where dreadful things once happened, and ever since the death of her cousin Rebecca, things have not been happy for the family. Cameron is miserable, scarred permanently in a terrible fire, Piper seems friendly enough, and Lilias, the youngest, has an unusual fear of bones. However Sophie seems to have brought an unwanted guest with her: the spirit of her dead cousin Rebecca… A series of eerie encounters lead Sophie to discover the frozen Charlotte dolls: frightening Victorian dolls that whisper dreadful things to anyone around them. Can Sophie escape their awful plans for her?

This was a hugely enjoyable book. It was certainly creepy and scary, but also really good fun to read. I particularly enjoyed the creepy dolls and the role that they played in the horror story: who doesn’t find Victorian dolls frightening? I can see why it has been so popular, and will probably give the prequel a read too over the summer (in a well-lit room!).

Romance/ chick-lit

The Perfectly Imperfect Woman

Marnie Salt has lived her whole life believing she wasn’t quite good enough. Abandoned as a baby, her adoptive mother and sister treated her with unkindness, and this was followed by a succession of unhappy relationships. Her one source of happiness was a childhood discovery that she could bake amazing cheesecakes. Following her most recent relationship disaster, an affair with a man who told her he was about to get divorced, but was in fact still in a relationship with his wife, Marnie runs away to the village of Wychwell. She sets up home there at the insistence of her new friend Lillian Dearborne, who she met online in a cheesecake chatroom. Marnie builds a new life for herself in Wychwell, finding new friendships, new love and a new sense of confidence in herself.

The Perfectly Imperfect Woman is a great, light read; perfect for the summer. It has a likeable protagonist and an enjoyable plot. Like a lot of Milly Johnson’s novels, what I really like about this one is not so much the romance, but the way the protagonist becomes a new woman, and shakes off the sadness of her past.

Fun, enjoyable, full of emotion, but one warning: all the mention of cheesecake in this novel will definitely leave you feeling the need to indulge!

Children's/YA fiction, Murder/mystery/adventure/thriller

One of Us Is Lying

Imagine The Breakfast Club but with a murder: that is the premise of this young adult novel by Karen McManus.

Five students enter detention, all from very different backgrounds: a baseball player; the prom princess; a criminal and trouble-maker; the geek with a bright future ahead of her, and the boy who runs a malicious gossip blog which everyone fears appearing on. Something isn’t right though: for one they all believe they’ve been set-up and shouldn’t be there in the first place. And then Simon, the universally disliked gossip-site owner, collapses with an allergic reaction. His epi-pen has been taken from his bag, as have all the epi-pens from the nurse’s office. It soon becomes apparent that this was no accident; someone killed Simon. The police have their list of four suspects, and must narrow it down to find the killer.

The story is told from multiple perspectives which keeps the reader guessing throughout. I really enjoyed the fast-paced plot and the various red herrings thrown in to keep us guessing as to who the murderer is. I think this is a great introduction to crime novels for teens. Personally, the only thing I didn’t like was all the teenage angst melodrama that occured, but it seems a little unfair to criticise this when the book was written for teens.

Overall, enjoyable… even though I’m not the target audience. A modern crime novel, perfect for teenagers.


The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder

Jasper is a thirteen year old boy with learning difficulties, face blindness and synaesthesia. He can’t remember anyone’s faces, but he knows the colour of their voices. In fact he sees every sound as a colour, using it to decode the world around him. When his neighbour Bee Larkham disappears, Jasper thinks he knows what happened to her: he killed her and his dad hid the body. But when you live a life where the colours can sometimes trick you, not everything is at it seems, and Jasper starts to work out the truth of what happened to Bee Larkham.

Told in first person from Jasper’s perspective, this story reminded me a lot of books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Jasper was a highly unreliable, but also likeable character and you can’t help but feel sympathy for him as he tries to negotiate situations he doesn’t fully understand.

Bee Larkham, the murder victim, plays an interesting role in the story. She is both villain (she is manipulative and cruel) and victim (of the murder but also of abuse in her childhood). Jasper struggles to understand her, yet finds himself drawn to the sky blue colour of his voice, the closest colour he’s ever found to that of his mother, who died several years previously.

I have to admit, it did take me a while to get into the story, especially with its unique narrative voice but once I got around half way through I began to enjoy it more, and I found the revelation of what really happened to Bee Larkham on the night she died, to be tense and exciting.