Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: YA Horror

Review: The Caldecott Chronicles – R.G. Bullet

The Caldecott Chronicles book coverOne hundred years after the death of the Earl of Rothshire, his great great granddaughter released his account of the strange goings on that occurred on his property in 1896. in a series of letters to his son, he recounts the story of his battles with the undead that have taken over his estate and the surrounding area.

The Caldecott Chronicles is a fun novella that combines two of my favourite things: the Victorian era and zombies. They actually fit together surprisingly well, due in part to the fantastic voice of R.G Bullet’s protagonist, Radclyffe. As well as being full of wonderfully dry humour, Radclyffe’s letters are written in a style that feels surprisingly authentic, given the subject matter of the book.

Radclyffe is portrayed very much as the lord of the manor, although his character grows and becomes less snobbish as the book progresses. Always very aware of his position in society, he is also taken to brief reminiscence about his military past. The epistolary style of the novella cleverly allows for Radclyffe to award the reader a glimpse of personal and family history without an overwhelming backstory.

The development of Saffy’s character is limited a little by The Caldecott Chronicles‘s strong focus on Radclyffe’s perspective, but the reader is nonethless shown a spirited and interesting girl who seems to thrive in the unusual conditions into which she is thrust. In age, nature and class, she is the perfect foil for Radclyffe and adds a good deal of life to what might otherwise be a narrative-heavy book.

The undead themselves are wonderfully described. Squeamish readers may shudder a little at Radclyffe’s accounts of shattered bones and splattering bodies, but I personally enjoyed the particularly gruesome detailing of the decay the creatures have undergone. What can I say – I grew up on horror!

Although this is the first of several ‘excerpts’ from Radclyffe’s letters, the story is left at an appropriate point and doesn’t leave the reader feeling disgruntled. They will want to read on, but this is due to the clever voice and fun universe, not to a frustrating cliff-hanger.

Overall, The Caldecott Chronicles is a quick read and an enjoyable one. Recommended for lovers of zombies in unexpected places.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Chasers – James Phelan

Chasers coverIn New York for a UN Youth Ambassadors camp, Jesse is on a subway with friends when an explosion and the subsequent fireball devastates their train and most of the people in it. They make their way above ground, only to find the city in ruins. The dead are everywhere, there is no sign of help and the other survivors have changed.

Wow, what a gripping novel Chasers is! It took me a couple of chapters to grow accustomed to Jesse’s first person voice but, once I got a little further into the book, it was extremely hard to stop reading. Now, having finished it, I’d be picking up the sequel right away if it weren’t for the fact that I have other books I’m committed to reading first.

In a lot of ways, the general storyline of Chasers is not particularly ground-breaking. It’s a fairly simple tale of post-apocalyptic survival (with added zombie-like creatures) and there isn’t a great deal that actually happens in the novel, but somehow James Phelan has managed to infuse his story with a power that goes beyond its surface appearance.

Chasers is more than the action-horror that it initially seems to be. Its strength lies in Phelan’s portrayal of the inner workings of his protagonist. The reader witnesses the changes that are wrought in Jesse by the situation he finds himself in – not so much through his own self analysis as through his interactions both with his companions and with the city around him. More than a tale of physical survival in a ravaged world, this is an exploration of the human mind and of the ways in which an individual, emotionally injured by a traumatising situation, constructs purpose and meaning in order to carry on.

Of course, Chasers is also a fast-paced novel, with plenty of suspense to keep the reader turning the pages until the mind-blowing ending. The reader is no more informed as to the circumstances leading to the destruction of New York than Jesse is, giving the book a constant feel of urgency. Chasers raises a lot of questions, few of which are answered in this, the first book in a series. Luckily, Phelan’s world and characters are interesting enough that I am more than happy to read the subsequent books in order to get some more answers.

Jesse is a sympathetic protagonist, with an authentic teen voice. He is supported by the carefully diverse characters of Dave, Mini and Anna. While it is Anna who Jesse is most enamoured of, she is possibly the least-defined of his friends. Dave is complicated and sometimes confusing, but he makes perfect sense in the end. Of the three, Mini is the most likeable. Her quiet presence adds much-needed warmth to the (necessary) bleakness of the novel.

The one thing that I struggled with while reading Chasers was the absence of quotation marks throughout most of the book. There was a reason for their exclusion, but I’m unsure as to whether the stylistic choice was clever enough to warrant the confusion it sometimes allowed.

That said, I’m willing to forgive a lot from a novel that gave me such a perfect punch to the stomach in its closing pages. It’s the ending that makes Chasers as good as it is. Once you get there, you realise just how artfully constructed the entire work is – and want to go right back to the beginning to read it all over again.

Chasers is Phelan’s first YA novel. In a growing teen market, he is definitely an author to watch.

Review: Games – Robin Klein

Patricia Miggs is excited when the two most popular girls in her new school, Kirsty and Genevieve, invite her to spend the weekend in the country with them at Kirsty’s aunt’s house. But things go steadily downhill when it becomes obvious that neither girl really wants her to be there. When strange things begin to happen in the house, Patricia assumes they’re all part of an elaborate prank, with her as the intended victim. But are Kirsty and Genevieve behind the games – or are they the work of a tormented woman who died in the house many years ago?

When I was in year seven,Games was the book to read. The queue to borrow it out from the school library was so long that I’m amazed the school’s copy didn’t fall apart by the middle of the year. For many of us, it was our first introduction to the horror/thriller genre. The Goosebumps series didn’t begin until the following year (and we were all too old for it by then anyway) and the Point Thrillers didn’t take off at my school until a year or two later. And we were scared by Games. It was so popular because it got to us in a way that most books didn’t.

Re-reading Games again as an adult, I was surprised by the way that the old feeling of spooky tension came flooding back to me. I predicted the ending quite early in the book, but that didn’t relieve the feeling of uneasiness as I read on. These days, I’m almost completely immune to horror due to absolute over-exposure, but there was a residual memory there that sparked into something when teamed with Klein’s excellent storytelling ability.

One of Klein’s strengths was always her characters. They had flaws and back-stories and more levels than might at first be apparent. Games is no exception. Certainly, none of the three girls are very likeable, but Patricia, at least, becomes more so as the book progresses and she begins to come into herself.

Klein teams excellent descriptive language with realistic teen dialogue to create a novel that is both appealing and well-crafted. It was a pleasure to re-read Games as an adult; I found that my enjoyment hadn’t been tempered at all by the passage of the intervening years.

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