Savage Island #2: Cruel Castle – Bryony Pearce

It’s been six months since the Iron Teen Tragedy, something that readers of Savage Island will immediately recognise as PR spin. Only Grady, Ben and Lizzie know the truth about what really happened on Aikenhead, Marcus Gold’s private island.

While Ben and Lizzie have been in hiding from Gold, Grady has been working for him. For the past four months he’s been one of the participants in Gold’s graduate programme in London. When he learns he’s being sent on a team building weekend at Stowerling Keep, Gold’s castle in Scotland, Grady knows this won’t be any ordinary team building exercise. He is certain it’s going to be Aikenhead 2.0.

Stowerling Keep. It’s going to make Aikenhead look like Disneyland.

Accompanying conspiracy theorist Grady on this potential bloodbath are several of his fellow graduates:

  • Aanay, who seems too nice to have made it into Gold’s graduate programme
  • Bella, a girl who uses her looks to manipulate others into doing her bidding
  • Dawson, one of the “clones”, who won’t let anyone see what he’s written in the notebook he carries in his trouser pocket
  • Iris, who doesn’t talk to anyone.

Of course, Ben and Lizzie aren’t going to let an opportunity to expose Gold’s nefarious deeds to the world go to waste. They may not have received a personal invitation from Gold to come to Stowerling Keep but that’s why infiltration was invented.

Savage Island was one of my favourite reads of 2018 and while many books I’ve read since then are now pretty fuzzy in my mind, my memory of it remains sharp. If I had to describe it in three words, it would be Survivor: Psychopath Edition. It felt fresh. It surprised me. I didn’t know where it was going. I’m all for gore in my horror and it gave me some “ew!” moments. I absolutely adored it!

Naturally, I was all in when I learned there was a sequel. I enjoyed it but it didn’t pack the punch of the original for me. In horror sequels I expect the body count to be higher, the deaths to be more gruesome and the twists to just keep on coming.

This sequel plays out in a series of escape rooms, which I’ve seen done so many times now, and for it to have given me the wow factor of the first book it would have needed to up the ante in a massive way. There is plenty of blood to paint the walls with, there’s bone crunching and some insides that are now your outsides action to look forward to but it felt somewhat tame to me when I compared it with Savage Island.

Told in four voices, Ben, Lizzie, Grady and another whose name I won’t mention because spoilers, I got a sense of what everyone’s state of mind was as we progressed through the ‘team building’. Switching up the perspectives also helped to propel the story along and provided opportunities for flashbacks to help explain the relevant backstories.

While I liked being able to get inside Grady’s head, I never really bought what was going on with Ben. If I hadn’t already encountered that explanation multiple times before, in books and movies, then it might have made sense to me but I’ve seen it done too many times (and usually not well) so I wasn’t as receptive to it here. This probably won’t be a problem for younger readers, who won’t have come across this or escape rooms as many times as I have.

It probably sounds like I didn’t have fun reading this book. I did, though, and I’m really looking forward to reading more books by this author. If anything, because I loved Savage Island so much, my expectations for this book may have been unreasonably high.

If a third book in the series is ever written, I’ll be there at the front of the queue to read it. I’d just hoped this book would be completely over the top (in a good way) like the first book was.

I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA horror. For context, though, and to understand what the three main characters have already survived, you’ll want to read Savage Island first.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and mental health.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

They thought the island was the end. It was only the beginning…

Having survived the horrors of Savage Island, Grady is now stuck working for Gold, the psychopath who masterminded the gruesome competition. Sent on a “team-building exercise” in a remote castle, he starts to plot his escape.

Ben and Lizzie are in hiding, presumed dead after escaping the island. If they’re ever to return to their families, they need to bring Gold down. So they secretly join Grady in the castle. But as the doors slam shut and the series of deadly challenges between them and freedom are revealed, it looks like history is going to repeat itself…

A Red Eye horror novel for teens, this gripping sequel to Savage Island is full of fast-paced action and gruesome twists and turns. 

Whiteout – Gabriel Dylan

It begins with 30 students, 3 teachers, some ski instructors, and a variety of townsfolk. It ends with … less. A lot less.

Charlie is one of the sixth-form students on a ski trip in Austria. As an outcast, the jocks, geeks and princesses all ignore him, but Charlie doesn’t care. In fact, Charlie doesn’t really care about anything these days.

It was one of the girls that found the blood.

When a snowstorm severs all contact with anyone outside the village the students discover they’re not alone on the mountain, and that’s when the fun really begins in this adrenaline packed massacre. The pages of this book are drenched in blood and I couldn’t wait to see if my favourites would survive, or be recognisable through the blood spatter, at the end.

I loved Charlie and Hanna, both damaged by life, and would have happily used Tara as a human shield. Tara was one of those characters that I love to hate and I kept hoping she’d meet a gruesome end. A fair amount of the characters in this book were clichés but I don’t mind that in a horror book, just as I don’t need to have an emotional connection with a bunch of people that are likely to be slaughtered any minute anyway.

After everything it took to get there (including my favourite description, “entrails dangling like spaghetti”) I would have liked the final action sequence to have lasted a bit longer. It felt too quick and easy, given the horrors the survivors have experienced up to that point.

I love Stripes’ Red Eye series and am at the point where I know I want to read a Red Eye book before I even read the blurb. I wish they’d been available when I was a teenager. I really enjoyed this debut and am interested in reading whatever this author comes up with next.

Content warnings include suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘She sat us all down and told us a story. About things that lived in the woods. Things that only came out at night.’

For Charlie, a school ski trip is the perfect escape from his unhappy home life. Until a storm blows in and the resort town is cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped on the mountain, the students wait for the blizzards to pass, along with mysterious ski guide Hanna. 

But as night falls and the town’s long buried secrets begin to surface, the storm is the least of their problems …

Savage Island – Bryony Pearce

OUTSMART * OUTRUN * OUTLIVE

Wait! What? Outlive?! You won’t see Jeff Probst’s cheeky smile or hear his cheerful jibes at contestants in this game of Survivor! In this game the stakes are high and so are the potential rewards.

10 teams!
5 people per team!
3 days!
£1 million each to the winning team!

When Lizzie finds details online about Iron Teen, hosted by multibillionaire Marcus Gold, founder of Gold Foundation, she eagerly tells her friends Ben, Grady, Carmen and Will about this exciting opportunity. The five have previously completed the Duke of Edinburgh together so they’re confident they have a good chance of winning Iron Teen and taking home the cash.

On the verge of adulthood and with dreams of university, starting a business or helping out their struggling family at the forefront of their minds, the five friends decide that this opportunity is too good to miss.

Furnished with their initial instructions and backpacks filled to the brim with supplies (I’m looking at you here, Grady), they think they have everything they need to complete the unknown challenges awaiting them on Aikenhead, Gold’s private island. They’re confident that between them they have the brains, brawn and endurance required to succeed.

In this game teams need to race around the island to find locked boxes that contain the coordinates to the next location, clues to solve the puzzle that will grant them access to the next locked box and a geocache box. They will need to take whatever is in each geocache box and replace it with something “of equal or greater value at each checkpoint.”

The winning team will be the ones with the quickest time who bring all of their collected items with them to the final checkpoint. Lizzie’s team are excited for a challenging but fun adventure that has the potential to set them up financially so they can live their dreams.

Once on the island our five adventurers learn that the game is not what they expected. The terrain can be treacherous and there’s no one to help them other than their teammates. Oh, and the other teams are hunting their fellow competitors for body parts. There will be no escape until the game is over because the crossing between the island and the safety of the real world is only raised every three days.

The characters, action, pacing, gore and backstories combined made for a book I didn’t want to put down. While there was plenty of action and at times I felt breathless when I realised I’d held my breath during a scene, there were also times of connection between the teammates as well as suspense as the characters and myself waited for the next horror to unfold. I’ve read plenty of books with gore in them so the descriptions here were certainly not the most graphic or gross that I’ve come across, but in terms of a young adult book it would rate quite high on the ‘Eww!’ meter.

The characters’ personalities and voices were distinct and memorable. I loved Grady’s wacky conspiracy theories. I enjoyed Car’s sassy remarks and Lizzie’s enthusiasm. Ben’s sensitivity was so sweet, as was his not so secret love for Lizzie. Will’s character was particularly interesting and while Grady was my favourite character, Will came a close second.

I particularly loved the exploration of the relationship between the two brothers, Ben and Will. The flashback scenes of their childhood experiences added a depth to a story that could easily have simply become a gore-fest. I didn’t expect the sensitivity of the portrayal of the mental illness within their family.

Through flashbacks and their current circumstances the dynamics of this family is examined. We not only get to witness the effects that mental illness has on each individual; we also see its impact on the relationships between family members. I definitely understood and empathised with the protector role.

What delighted me above all was that I was surprised by both characters and events at the end. I was surprised by certain actions of two characters and the actions of a third, while I saw it coming, had me rethinking whether I still liked them or not. Usually young adult books, while entertaining, are generally fairly predictable. I had some ideas of where the plot was heading but I not only didn’t guess the end, it was also better than anything I’d come up with myself.

Another unexpected bonus was that this story got me to thinking about what I’d do if I was in any one of the character’s places. Black and white moral questions greyed for some characters and in most situations I could understand where they were coming from. I loved the questions this book made me consider for myself:

  • What would I be willing to do to win £1 million?
  • What sacrifices would I be willing to make?
  • How much is my integrity worth to me?
  • Would £1 million cover the therapy bills I’d need to pay if I compromised my morals enough that I did what I had to in order to win?
  • Is there a point of no return where the end justifies the means and what type of person is willing to cross this line?
  • If you hurt me, does that then entitle me to take revenge on you?

I had just one unanswered question at the end of this book and while it’s possible I missed the explanation, it is bugging me. Why was team 10 disqualified?

I need to go find some more of Bryony Pearce’s novels. If this novel is any indication of her talent her back catalogue is going to be making its way to my Kindle fairly soon.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book. I knew from having already read Charlotte Says that I was interested in reading more Red Eye books. Now I’m convinced I need to read them all!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When reclusive millionaire Marcus Gold announces that he’s going to be staging an “Iron Teen” competition on his private island in the Outer Hebrides, teenagers Ben, Lizzie, Will, Grady and Carmen sign up – the prize is £1 million pounds … each. But when the competition begins, the group begin to regret their decision. Other teams are hunting their competitors and attacking them for body parts. Can the friends stick together under such extreme pressure to survive? When lives are at stake, you find out who you can really trust …

A Red Eye horror novel for teens, this gripping YA thriller story is full of fast-paced action. 

Frozen Charlotte #2: Charlotte Says – Alex Bell

Suspend all disbelief and take a ride back to the early 1900’s where we meet Jemima, a 17 year old girl who takes a position as assistant mistress at Dunvegan School for Girls, an industrial school for girls who haven’t committed crimes but have nowhere else to go, located on the Isle of Skye. Jemima herself is desperately trying to escape her tragic past at Whiteladies. So, no happy family stories here.

After spending some time on the Isle of Skye at the beginning of 1910 setting up the story we then travel seamlessly back and forth between there and Whiteladies where we gradually learn more about the past 18 months, Jemima’s past and reasons she wants to start over. Jemima was an interesting, complex character who longed to be the girl she was before Whiteladies yet knowing her physical and emotional scarring had changed her irrevocably.

Jemima begins work for Miss Grayson, the evil woman who should be fitted with a device that gives her an electric shock when she gets within 200 metres of a child, otherwise known in this story as the schoolmistress. This is a school where little things like light in the form of candles are rationed and punishments are doled out in abundance and recorded for posterity in The Punishment Book. Punishments may include wearing the imbecile’s cap while sitting in the stupid corner, being made to go without meals and heating, and being sent to Solitary where you may well freeze to death.

Needless to say, Miss Grayson wasn’t exactly my favourite character and throughout the book I determined her appropriate punishment would be for me to lock her in Solitary to enjoy some quality time with Annabelle, who I would have previously arranged to loan indefinitely from Lorraine and Ed Warren. While on the subject of punishments, I think Redwing may have benefited from a new friendship with Chucky.

Now that you know which characters’ names and offences should be inked into The Punishment Book for perpetuity, allow me tell you about my favourite character, Estella. Besides having the coolest name of anyone in the book which translates appropriately as star, Estella is a strong willed little girl who, despite having a history of not being believed no matter what she says, defiantly tells her truth regardless of the consequences. And believe me, for Estella there are always consequences. I definitely had a soft spot for her and would’ve adopted her in a heartbeat.

Henry was going to be my second favourite character as he was so sweet and loyal and loving, but he ended up annoying me because no one is that perfect. So, my actual second favourite character/s? The super creepy evil dolls, all named Frozen Charlotte with the exception of the lone male known as Frozen Charlie. Interestingly enough I don’t remember Charlie being psychotic but the poor guy was surrounded by some seriously unbalanced female dolls.

If you’re like me, by the halfway point, reading “Charlotte says…” will fill you with equal parts dread and morbidly fascinated anticipation that mirrors hearing Chucky’s “Wanna play?”. I loved the supernatural aspects of this book, dabbling in mediumship, automatic writing, séances, ghosts, possession and, of course, creepy dolls. I enjoyed the slow reveal of Jemima’s past and the reason why she doesn’t remember what happened the night of the fire at Whiteladies.

I spent a lot of the middle of the book arguing with myself about Jemima’s actions and lack of action – “Why doesn’t she just – she’s only 17. She’s just a kid! But couldn’t she just – remember her past. But what if she told – I told you! She’s a traumatised 17 year old! Just shut up and enjoy the book!”

I don’t usually find books creepy these days. I’ll get to the end and think to myself, ‘You think that’s scary? Come and sleep a night in my nightmares!’ Yet Charlotte Says was delightfully creepy, best read at night when the house is silent and you can hear the creaks from the house settling and the wind rustling through the trees. This book comes with a fairly significant death toll and some really disturbing and detailed descriptions of actual and fantasised about violence against animals.

I’m not usually that into books that linger in the early 20th century. Sure, I’m happy to time travel there on my way to another time period, but Alex Bell is such a talented writer that I would have happily signed up to stay longer on the Isle of Skye reading by rationed greasy, stinky, animal fat candlelight.

Having not read Frozen Charlotte first like I probably should have as it got buried under my towering TBR pile and temporarily forgotten about until I heard about Charlotte Says, I now have the excitement of knowing I get to read about what happens next with the benefit of knowing the backstory. I can’t wait!

Content warnings include horrific fictional (but in context with the story) animal cruelty, physical abuse and super creepy dolls.

Thank you to NetGalley, Little Tiger Group, Stripes Publishing, and a special thank you to Charlie for the opportunity to read this book. “Charlotte says you need to read this book!”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The much-anticipated prequel to the bestselling Frozen Charlotte, a Zoella Book Club title in Autumn 2016. 

Following the death of her mother in a terrible fire, Jemima flees to the remote Isle of Skye, to take up a job at a school for girls. There she finds herself tormented by the mystery of what really happened that night.

Then Jemima receives a box of Frozen Charlotte dolls from a mystery sender and she begins to remember – a séance with the dolls, a violent argument with her step-father and the inferno that destroyed their home. And when it seems that the dolls are triggering a series of accidents at the school, Jemima realizes she must stop the demonic spirits possessing the dolls – whatever it takes.