Review: Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Courtney Alameda

Feiwel & Friends
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Published February 3, 2015
384 pages
YA / Horror / Nightmare Fuel

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Horror has a new name: introducing Courtney Alameda.

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

I hate this cover. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why since I first saw it months and months ago, but I didn’t even try to get a copy at Comic Con because the cover made me think it would be… I don’t know, super silly or over-the-top crazy full of bad horror clichés? I don’t know. Something about it was just very off-putting to me.

Well, people-who-say-don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover, you were right. This book is awesome. I couldn’t read it right before bed because it freaked me out, but in an awesome, all-the-right-ways sort of way. It’s full of scary things and great characters with complicated lives fighting ghosties and ghoulies and all it’s missing are some Winchester brothers and a 1967 Impala.

In Shutter, a Homeland Security-type division called Helsing fights the daily monsters that creep out of mirrors and woodwork each night. Micheline is the daughter of the head of Helsing, a star pupil being shaped to take the organization over and conveniently a great-great-great-etc. granddaughter of the original Van Helsing that formed the organization. Together with a few of the other top students in her class, including a great-great… grandson of Jonathan Harker, a distant relative of a group experimented on with vampirism and a transplant Aussie badass, Micheline finds herself fighting big bads all around San Francisco.

Shutter opens with Micheline breaking the rules to exorcise a ghost taunting a San Francisco hospital, and it doesn’t go so well. This sets up a plot as she and her friends fight not only the big bad, but also Micheline’s father and the Helsing team trying to “protect” them. There’s lots of action and big set pieces with fighting. There’s adventures with ghosts and other dimensions and plenty of gore.

Micheline is a soldier with tetrachromat, which allows her to see the ghost light emanating from all the creepy things she hunts with unaided eyes. She exorcises ghosts with special cameras created for her, allowing her to trap these things on old-school film. She’s amazing at what she does, but her personal family history has left her with PTSD and a fierce need to protect the people in her life. This pushes her to make rash choices, but she never becomes a stupid protagonist. She’s determined and blinded by her objectives, but also isn’t above feeling fear and emotions that humanize her beyond her soldier life.

The three boys in her life are each a different but pretty standard hero type. Ryder is the strong silent bodyguard, who loves Micheline but won’t give into his feelings because it’s against protocol. Oliver is the super genius computer wizard that doesn’t much go out into the field. Jude is the smart alec with a mouth that happens to also be able to see potential ways people may die when he has skin-to-skin contact.

Okay, maybe not all standard qualities, but these three guys only get a little bit of fleshing out as characters, mostly in how their relationship with Micheline develops. A few hints are dropped here and there to fill them in more, but this is Micheline’s show and everyone else is just filling their parts. But that’s okay because Micheline is such a compelling heroine that she doesn’t need anyone taking up her spotlight.

The writing flows very well, even over the more complicated fight sequences and the gory bits where there are a lot of moving parts. Courtney Alameda is already a master of suspense and freaking me out, so I didn’t mind much when the twists ended up being pretty predictable. The journey was far too much fun to care that the ending was easily seen from hundreds of pages away. I just wanted more adventures with this crew of characters.

I don’t know if I can honestly express how I feel about Shutter in simple words. This is the first book this year where I just want to Muppet flail and tell everyone to read it. Just keep the lights on if you have an overactive imagination and tend to have nightmares.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Opinions are my own. Muppet flailing was gif-ed by someone somewhere at some point and probably a hundred other people too.

Review: Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw

Jenna Burtenshaw

Greenwillow (2011)
320 pages
YA / Fantasy / Middle Grade

Purchase it here from Amazon

The Night of Souls—when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest—is only days away. 

Albion is at war . . . and losing. 

The wardens have descended, kidnapping innocent citizens for their army, but looking for one in particular. 

And fifteen-year-old Kate Winters has just raised a blackbird from the dead. 

As her home is torn apart by the wardens, Kate's discovery that she is one of the Skilled—the rare people who can cross the veil between life and death—makes her the most hunted person in all of Albion. Only she can unlock the secrets of Wintercraft, the ancient book of dangerous knowledge. Captured and taken to the graveyard city of Fume—with its secret tunnels and underground villages, and where her own parents met their deaths ten years ago—Kate must harness her extraordinary powers to save herself, her country, and the two men she cares for most. And she'll make a pact with a murderer to do it. 

Those who wish to see the dark, be ready to pay your price.

I received the sequel to Shadowcry unannounced in the mail a few weeks ago, and because I know I usually dislike novels when read out of order, I was happy to find that the Austin library had a copy of the first book in the series. Going in, I didn’t realize how young the tone of the series was. Despite the protagonist being 15, it reads for a younger audience. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to label it Middle Grade, it’s riding somewhere in the gap between the two categories. Whether it’s plotting or word choice or characterization, Shadowcry is just an easy book.

I was also thrown that the place where the story took place was call Albion. I kept expecting Merlin and King Arthur to pop up around the corner and smite the bad guys, but alas, they did not. Instead I received a fairly simple story about a girl coming into her own mystical power while being held captive and manipulated by two different evil beings. There isn’t any love interest despite the tiny hints that pop up here and there. And Da’ru, who is mostly your standard evil queen role, doesn’t really do anything more horrendous than kill a bird. There’s the potential for darkness, but it never gets shown.

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Waiting on Wednesday was started by Breaking the Spine and serves to showcase those books we’re not so patiently waiting to arrive!

This week we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming with a book for Waiting on Wednesday.  This book has been floating around in the back of my head since I stumbled upon Maureen Johnson on Twitter and found her to be a very entertaining lady to follow.  My only prior exposure to her writing is the story “Children of the Revolution” in the anthology Zombies vs Unicorns and it was suitably creepy.   We are both firmly on team Zombie, if it matters.


The Name of the Star
Maureen Johnson

Releases on Sept. 29, 2011 
370 pages 
Buy it on Amazon here

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago. 

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

When I was younger, I had a fondness for stories taking place in boarding schools.  They always seemed so exotic and far away from my life in a dingy public school.  While I haven't read much YA set in boarding schools recently, there's still an appeal with that setting.  Add in the automatic win of it being a British boarding school and I’m sold.  Sounds like this will be full of twists and ghosts and adventure.  Considering how much I enjoyed her short story, I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does with a full length story with such supernatural elements crossing with themes from British history.  Yes, it’s the beginning of a series, but I’ll bite.  After following Johnson on Twitter and hearing the reaction this novel has already been receiving, I’m eager to read more from her.