Double Haiku Review: Everlost and Everwild…

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It’s Mad Martha with you on this fine afternoon! It’s been a while since I’ve popped out a haiku review, but really, it’s high time Neal Shusterman gets another outing given how much we enjoy his work over here in Shelf-ville.  After feeling devastated a number of years ago on finding out after finishing book one in his Skinjacker series, Everlost, that my library did not have any of the others in the series, you can only imagine my joy on randomly happening across book two, Everwild, while browsing at Booktopia.

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And guess how much it was?

No, go on, have a guess.

Nope, cheaper than that.

Get this: $1.75. With FREE shipping!!

Of course I had to immediately buy it – in fact, such was my excitement that I accidentally ordered two copies, so now I have one for the week and one for Sunday Best.  You can see from the picture that I’m clearly beside myself over this serendipitous occurence.

In the first book in the series, teenagers Nick and Allie, after dying in the same car accident, find themselves in a sort of limbo for children known to its residents as “Everlost”. Everlost is entirely populated by the souls of children under the age of 17(known as Afterlights) who seemingly got distracted on their way down the tunnel into the light of the the proper afterlife.  In an interesting quirk of Everlost, the events surrounding each Afterlight’s death often become a permanent feature of their current appearance – for example, Nick had the misfortune to die while munching on a chocolate bar, and as a result now bears an eternal facial smear of the stuff.  Afterlights may also find they have gained particular abilities that can be a help or a hinderance in their new existence.  Allie for instance, discovers that she has the talent of “skinjacking” – the ability to jump inside living people, or fleshies, and make them do her bidding.  The book mostly deals with Nick and Allie’s attempts to come to terms with their new afterlife, and along the way they meet a varied crew of monsters, bullies and (supposed!) saints who are all putting their own personal stamp on their little piece of pre-Paradise.

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Stuck forever young

in adolescent limbo

How low can you go?

In Everwild, we rejoin Nick and Allie as they separately work against the machinations of Mary Hightower, the self-styled ruler and mother-duck of Everlost, who has far-reaching visions of making Everlost her own personal paradise through some very ethically-dubious methods indeed.  The significance of one’s own self-image is ever-present as Nick and Mikey McGill discover the double-edged sword of celebrity, Everlost-style.  Allie meanwhile uncovers the incredible secret behind her ability to skinjack.  Add to this a few new characters struggling to define their sense of what is right in an existence with no rules, and the increasingly self-righteous actions of Mary Hightower and you’ve got yourself an eventful read!

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You are what you eat,

steal, remember or create.

Pays to choose wisely.

One of the things we shelf-dwellers love most about Neal Shusterman is his amazing talent for world-building.  Both in this series and in the Unwind series (soon to be four books long – seriously, if you haven’t encountered it before, get on it. Quick!) Shusterman manages to create totally engaging alternate worlds without having to resort to lots of explanation or tiresome, forced situations in which characters “discover” important facts about the world for the sole benefit of the reader.  Similarly, he creates teenage characters that, despite often having an obvious foible or flaw, are fleshed out and driven by motivations that are believable, if not always reasonable.  In addition, Shusterman is positively Mary Poppins-esque in the way he manages to squeeze so much content into ordinary sized books – on finishing one of his books I always feel like I’ve just slogged through a tome the size of Macquarie Dictionary and am continually surprised to find that all has been revealed within a scant 450 pages or less.

I’m both chuffed and frustrated to discover that there is a third book in this series – Everfound – mainly because my library doesn’t have that one either, and I can’t imagine I’ll be lucky enough to randomly find it for $1.75 and free shipping…although, one can always hope.

Yours in happy haiku-ery,

Mad Martha

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Some All Hallow’s Eve Reading Suggestions: From Teeny Halloweenies to Great Big Scaredy-Cats…

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Right then. The Eve of All Hallow’s is nearly upon us, sso Mad Martha and I have donned our festive witches hats and combined our knowledge to bring you some appropriately ominous reading suggestions for the whole family.

For the little monsters (0-6yrs):

These picture books all promise spine-tingling, knee-knocking terrors at a level that is age-appropriate for the littlest ghoul or ghostie.

Our favourites for this age group are the classic tale of witch and cat, Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski; and the terrifying cuteness that is The Scariest Thing in the Castle by Kevin Sherry.  We also recommend the gentle plots and warm fuzzy illustrations of Spooky Spooky Spooky by Cathy MacLennan and Boo, Bunny! by Kathryn O Galbraith.

Our PICK OF THE BUNCH for this age group however is

Fragoline and the Midnight Dream by Clemency Pearce

We defy you not to be caught up in the wild rumpus created by this fiery-haired little minx’s nocturnal adventure!

For Bigger Beasties (7-10yrs):

We are in agreeance for this age group that two stories stand out above the crowd.  The first is the cheeky tale of a grandfather with a penchant for carnivorous plants and feeding his family…to the carnivorous plants: The Bodigulpa by Jenny Nimmo.  Secondly, we could not go past the perennial favourite and highly relevant cautionary tale, The Witches by Roald Dahl.

For Teen Terrors (10yrs +):

Take a meander through the macabre with these suggestions for older readers.  First in this garden of ghostliness is Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which follows the story of Bod, the child of murdered parents who is taken in and raised by the folk of the local graveyard.  Next, Kirsty McKay’s first offering Undead will scratch your itch for simple, gore-filled mayhem with her humourous take on teenagers holding out against the zombie apocalypse.  Finally, for a wander through territory that echoes with the howls of the damned, Neal Shusterman’s short story collection Darkness Creeping: 20 Twisted Tales cannot be left on the shelf.

Our PICK OF THE BUNCH for this age group however, is

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Christ Priestley.

This, the first in a terrifyingly terrific series, is a collection of short stories with fantastic twists and quirky characters that will linger with you long after the initial fright has faded.

For grown-up gore-fiends:

For an informative historical foray into death in the UK capital, Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead, is just the ticket.  This non-fiction title escorts the reader through the fascinating world of London’s major burial sites, from plague pits and charnel houses to the spectacle of a royal funeral.  For a lighter factual read, Mary Roach’s Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife charts the bizarre and highly questionable  attempts that have been made to scientifically prove the existence or otherwise of life after death.

Our PICK OF THE BUNCH for this group is

The Small Hand by Susan Hill.

This short tale maintains a delicious atmosphere of creepiness as, during an unscheduled visit to an overgrown manor house garden, Adam Snow feels pursued and ultimately pressured by a ghostly small hand in his.

We hope that these selections provide some options for those craving seasonal spookiness.  Please feel welcome to add any more to this list if they occur to you.

Until next time,

Bruce and Mad Martha