children's fiction · contemporary · review

The Last Of The Spirits – Chris Priestley

 

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Blurb: “On the bleak streets of London, Sam is freezing and hungry. When he is rudely refused help by Ebenezer Scrooge, Sam vows to kill the selfish man. But later, while Sam is huddled in a graveyard, a ghost warns him of the terrible fate that awaits if he chooses the path of murder. And so Sam begins  journey led by terrifying spirits through past, present and future. After which he must decide his own destiny.”

I found this book when I was browsing through the Christmas sales on Bloomsbury’s website. The second I saw this utterly gorgeous cover I was intrigued. When I discovered that is is a re-imagining of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, I had to get it.

Before I delve into the initial plot and my overall thoughts, I just want to point out something that really annoyed me about this book. From the blurb you can see that a boy called Sam is an important, central character to the book. However, on the cover you can see two children, and in the story Sam has a sister who, for some reason, is not mentioned on the blurb. It kind of threw me off a bit, I will admit.

So this story follows homeless orphans Sam and Lizzie who wander the streets of London looking for someone to give them a little bit of hope during this Christmas time. They fall into the path of the notorious Scrooge and when he rather impolitely refuses to help, Sam is overcome with a desire to kill this foul man. They seek refuge for the night in a graveyard where the spirit of a ghost – Scrooge’s old partner Marely – appears and warns Sam of what will happen if he continues down the dark path he is contemplating. Marely says that he will give Scrooge the chance to change and will send three ghosts (the ghosts of past, present, and future) to help him see the error of his ways. Through certain circumstances Sam and Lizzie try to catch the spirits in the act and Sam ends up seeing some of what the ghosts show Scrooge. The ghost of the future then turns on Sam and shows him what the future will be for him and his sister if he does kill Scrooge.

As you can see, it’s quite a dark, festive read but also very short (166 pages).

Sam and Lizzie are very different children. Lizzie, despite their situation, is quite accepting of the injustice they have, and continue to, receive, lucky that simply she is alive. On the other hand, Sam has grown to be a bitter young boy, believing that he deserves a lot more than what has been handed to him and is determined to change his life. It made for more of an interesting narrative with the focus being on him, but I did feel like Lizzie was a very swept-under-the-rug minor character despite being involved in quite a big portion of the story (And being part of the reason Sam inevitably changes).

I understood the hatred Sam possessed but it felt a bit too much at times for me and Lizzie just seeming to miss some of the important plot moments was disappointing. It would have been nice to see some of her thoughts and be more of a part of the moral journey her brother took rather than becoming essentially an after-thought.

One thing I love about adaptations of a novel that already exists is links to the original and there are quite a few such as the focus on the Cratchit family who still play that ever vital part in this book.

And of course, the overall moral of the story is still there.
Now I’m going to put on my over-sized hoodie, sit by the fire and read another book!

 

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fantasy · review · young adult

Secrets In Phoenix – Gabriella Lepore

 

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Blurb: “When Sophie Ballester and her twin brothers Sam and Todd are uprooted from their home and sent to a remote boarding school run by their Great Aunt Ness, they stumble upon a hidden room that holds a secret – a secret that will change everything. The people of Phoenix Holt are not what they seem. In fact, nothing is.”

**I was sent this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review**

I first heard about this book when Benjaminoftomes announced that he was launching a micro-publishing company “oftomes” and this was to be the first release. Given the current, and ever-growing size, of my TBR shelf I didn’t see myself picking up this book any time soon and despite the pretty good reviews I’d seen, nothing really compelled me to buy it. Then the lovely Ben was kind enough to send me a free copy in exchange for this review you are reading right now. So, I better get started!

The story follows Ballester children Sophie, Sam and Todd who are forced to leave their lives behind when their Grandfather dies an move in with their Great Aunt Ness in Phoenix Holt. This book had the best things to keep any reader hooked: weird people/happenings and secrets. Boy oh boy are there a lot of secrets in this one!

My absolute favourite chapter takes place very early on (when the characters are on the train travelling to Phoenix Holt) and features a rather creepy woman, delighted to hear the Ballester name. She seats Sophie and pulls out a pack of tarrot cards and begins dealing them. It was just so intriguing, unnerving and so well written that I felt like I was actually Sophie in this moment.

As I’ve mentioned, there are a lot of secrets and for me to divulge any of them would simply ruin the reading experience of the book, however, there is one I can share with you because it’s in the blurb! (YAY) The secret room. The trio stumble across this strange room full of weird objects. This room naturally (to a bunch of teenagers) becomes a big focus point and they find themselves sneaking back there on several occasions. They way they had to get into the room reminded me very much of when Coraline in the short story by Neil Gaiman would crawl through the tunnel to get to the other world. It just felt so darn magical.

There’s mentions of Daemons (not Damon from The Vampire Diaries as I kept reading it) who are sources of dark power and Divellions who hunt for power. There’s love (eye roll) that sadly just felt too forced for me. And of course, there’s action. However, for me personally, the last quarter just felt really lacking. As if the story had reached its peak and the characters were like “where do we go now?”

This book turned out to be so much more than I originally expected it to be. I you haven’t picked up a copy yet, do it now!

 

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