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REVIEW:  The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

REVIEW: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

girl-from-the-well-chupeco

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:  Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

REVIEW: Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

Sweetshop

Are you a licorice or peppermint fan? Melt-in-your-mouth caramel or sticky saltwater taffy? Nothing invokes nostalgia like an old-fashioned candy shop. But nostalgia isn’t really Rosie Hopkins’s thing—not with her busy London life that includes fantastic friends and her boyfriend, Gerard. Even so, Rosie does her Aunt Lilian a favor and takes a job in her small village sweetshop. As Aunt Lilian struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to retire from the business, a long-kept family secret makes life in the sweetshop a lot more interesting than Rosie had anticipated…

Dear Ms. Colgan,

I enjoyed “The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris” earlier this year so much that I jumped at the chance to try another one of your books. And it’s about sweets and chocolate as well, albeit from the English side of the channel. I don’t think you can go too far wrong with a book with lots of chocolate in it.

The openings to each chapter are a lovely, funny trip through British sweetie-dom. It makes me want to try each one – work my way through a sweet shop as it were. I take it these are from the astringent, no nonsense point of view of Aunt Lilian. I loved Aunt Lilian and took to “hearing” her in my head as voiced by Eileen Atkins. Lilian is a hoot. Dry humor abounds through the book as seen in her sarcasm. I also like her lifelong friendship with Hetty and how the Lady is shown as slightly down at the heel with holey jumpers, aged vehicle, dog and drafty great country house.

Yet it’s not all acerbic wit from Lilian as her sweet, sad youthful love story shows. Mixed in with the present day action, it presents the quiet life in the village during the war years and how many things haven’t changed that much in the intervening decades. One thing that stood out to me about Lilian’s lifetime there running the sweet shop is how she knows everyone’s favorite treats and has remained so beloved by all there.

The other story here is that of Rosie and it’s chick-lit but not. Rosie actually likes her nursing profession, has a boyfriend and no intention of staying in Derbyshire longer than is needed to help Lilian get back on her feet, clean the sweetshop and sell it. But then – and I enjoyed seeing this too – country life starts to grow on her, so to speak, despite her initial reservations and the drenching she seems to get when she can’t anticipate the weather.

You switched things around on me with the ultimate hero. I was all set thinking we were going one way when I began to get the hint that there would be a change in direction. Initially I enjoyed Rosie’s encounters with the hero. There were definite sparks flying and they didn’t start out romantically. But, here’s the thing. Once Rosie realizes who her Prince Charming is, he looses his charm, and even his snark. He becomes less than who I think Rosie deserves and never does offer up an apology that I think she also deserves.

Too many things get wrapped up too neatly in the last pages of the book. Villains and neglectful mums get told off. Lilian faces down a long time rival after settling into the perfect place and Hero gets back into Rosie’s good graces too easily. I adored the first half of the book but the second half just didn’t live up to it. B-

~Jayne

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