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REVIEW:  The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

REVIEW: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

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Dear Ms. Chupeco,

Maybe because fall is fast approaching (where did the year go?), I find myself in the mood for a horror novel. Something like Anna Dressed in Blood or The Waking Dark. When I saw your debut, The Girl from the Well, I was excited. Horror influenced by J-horror movies? Sign me up! Alas, I think being such a huge J-horror fan ended me working against me here.

Okiku is the titular girl from the well. She’s a vengeful ghost who travels the world, bringing justice to slain children by killing their murderers. But one day she finds herself drawn to a half-Japanese (living) boy named Tarquin who has mysterious tattoos on his body.

The tattoos are actually seals binding a very dangerous spirit, and they’ve started to break. But because Tark is still a child, his well-being actually falls under Okiku’s purview. (She brings justice to wronged children, remember?) So now she, along with his cousin Callie, must find a way to save him before the other spirit destroys him.

The book opens with a fantastically creepy and violent scene in which we see Okiku delivering justice. It was very reminiscent of a horror movie, and I loved that. But maybe this raised my expectations to an unrealistic degree. Instead of focusing on Okiku and her afterlife of vengeance-seeking, the book detours into revolving around Tark. And while he’s nice and all, the book is called The Girl from the Well, not The Tattooed Boy with a Masked Demon Bound to His Soul.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the writing style. I didn’t mind it, but it is a bit more experimental than you normally find in YA. It’s kind of like a House of Leaves-lite. Nothing as remotely rigorious as that novel, but there are stylistic tricks that some readers will find annoying.

While I don’t often consider characterization as important in a horror novel as I would in other genres (like contemporary, for example), it was lacking here to a distracting degree. Tark is the weird boy with the weird tattoos whose mother is crazy (more on that later). Callie is the Concerned Cousin who drops everything and travels halfway around the world to help him even though I didn’t believe their relationship was so close that she’d do this in the first place. Okiku was the most interesting character, in my opinion, and the novel wasn’t actually her story! (To my regret.)

So back to Tark’s mother. Yes, she’s the crazy mother archetype, because YA needs more of these figures, I guess. But it doesn’t last long because you’ve watched enough horror movies, or read enough fiction in general, we know what happens to mothers of angsty boys, don’t we? I just wasn’t thrilled by any aspect of this subplot: the execution, the portrayal of mental illness (even if it was supernaturally induced), what ultimately happened to her, etc.

My main difficulty with this book, however, stems from the fact that I am such a big Japanese horror fan. By this I mean that I can tell where all the influences come from. The girl from the well — it’s hard not to think of Ringu (aka The Ring). A lot of Okiku’s portrayal reminded me of Ju-On (aka The Grudge). Yes, both of these movies tap into the onryo figure but it goes beyond that. Female ghosts in white with long black hair who hang upside from the ceiling? That’s a visual straight out of Ju-On. The rituals surrounding Tark? Reminded me of Noroi. I can’t believe this worked against me here because that’s never happened to me with horror, but it did.

Despite a promising beginning, The Girl From the Well didn’t live up to its stunning first scene. It’s a fast read but I think ultimately readers will be left unsatisfied. C-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Meet Me At the Castle by Denise A. Agnew

REVIEW: Meet Me At the Castle by Denise A. Agnew

Meet Me At the Castle by Denise A. Agnew

Dear Ms. Agnew,

 

I’ll admit it – I was skeptical at first.  When I requested the title, I was under the mistaken impression it was a full length historical romance novel rather than something much shorter.  How could the full story described fit into just 44 pages, I wondered.  I was very pleasantly surprised, I must say.

Elizabeth Albright is considered a spinster by the standards of her time – and she’s considered more than a little strange by her well-to-do family.  It’s 1848 in rural England, and she’s an artist, at heart, with her chosen subject the ruins of nearby Cromar Castle.  Her passion, in fact, borders on obsession.  The nearby ruins have fascinated her since childhood, compelling her to paint and sketch them from every available vantage point.  They provide her with a sense of peace and security, even though she often feels someone is there with her.  Enter the mysterious Damian.  She only sees him at the ruins, and only occasionally.  Even though Elizabeth is quite content with her life, and the occasional clandestine meeting with her handsome stranger, her wicked stepmother pressures Elizabeth’s father to send the girl to London for a husband.  Will she find one before the mystery of her castle stranger is solved?

Ok, the stepmother?  She’s SO the wicked, evil, nasty stepmother from just about every fairy tale ever written.  Even though we didn’t spend much time with the woman, she made my skin crawl.  Elizabeth’s father, too.  There’s a textbook worth of psychology and history lessons just from those two.  Though, speaking of history, the handsome Damian needs a mention or two.  I absolutely loved the little bit of paranormal woven through the story.  It was just a taste – enough to tantalize and tease, but not so much that it overran the story.  If this had been a novel-length piece, I would have liked to see the explanation behind Damian explained a little more.  Given the published length, however, I think the explanation given was absolutely perfect.

Elizabeth is a very…interesting character in quite a few respects.  We meet a woman who really doesn’t have the time or inclination for the traditional female fripperies of the mid-1800s gentility.  She’s been “trained” in proper behavior (and yes, that word is in quotes for a reason – despite my love of historical romance, the gender norms of the 1800s drive me slightly insane), and observes it – to a point.  I truly enjoy the fact that you don’t shove the typical 1800s ideas and ideals down our throats.  They’re mentioned, but more in passing, to give us context.  Elizabeth could have been more 2-dimensional, but you took the time to let the story unfold as it would rather than forcing either character into any singular mold.

Ok, so the story IS a bit predictable.  When someone picks up historical romance (or any romance, for that matter), they always know there’s going to be a happy ending.  Perhaps some of the characters get knocked around along the way and perhaps they have to face some nasty trials to get that point, but we ALWAYS know that, like the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the happily ever after -will- show up..

If there was one thing that absolutely sold me on this story was the ending.  I’m not going to spoil it for other readers, but it absolutely delighted me that you went in completely the opposite direction from most other historical novels.  I can genuinely say that I did NOT see that coming.  In fact, when I got to the ending, all I could think of was that I wanted more and I wanted it right now.  There’s definitely a full length novel simmering under this story – or, at the very least, a sequel or two.  Elizabeth DOES have a beloved brother, you know… (hint, hint).  B

Waiting Here with Bribes for the Author,

Mary Kate

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