Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tea Time: Shutter

ARC Review

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

Shutter, 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.

Cover-In a word? Spooky. Totally spooky. And I love it.  The color scheme, the weird and creepy image of a ghost/spector/monster thing, the line of film cleverly snuck into the edge of the photo, and all ending with the text font that looks perfectly suited. It all just works, you know? And it all screams: "I AM HORROR, HEAR MY BATTLE CRY."

Okay, maybe it doesn't really scream that, but you cannot look at this cover and mistake it for anything but a horror novel. It's awesome, okay?

Narrative-SHUTTER is told from the first person POV of out sassy main character, Micheline Helsing. Her voice comes through rather well, switching back and forth between work and personal life constantly-a regular battle between most people, but given her circumstances I think the subjects are balanced rather well. What I especially appreciated was that the "explanation" scenes (for example, when she's explaining how her camera works) weren't totally bogging down the narrative; admittedly, I got bored and might have skipped half a paragraph or so, but I tend to have a short attention span. At the same time, I did get the gist of what Alameda was explaining through Micheline, so I figure that's a win.

What I really enjoyed was the way the novel was broken up. Each "chapter" was merely a moment in time, titled with the current time within the world of the novel. Then, the chapters were broken up into "parts," each of them encapsulating one "day," to have a total of four. Why am I breaking this down for ya'll? Because maybe then ya'll can appreciate how awesomely Alameda pulled off the pacing. Within each "part" you can almost hear a stopwatch ticking down, making the pacing speed up and slow down at just the right moments; when the days end and a new one begins, there's a moment of silence, almost (picture those blackout scenes that you see in movies, right after a major plot point is revealed).

Maybe it's just me, and maybe I'm analyzing it WAY too much, but heck, I finished this book within an afternoon and I think that means the pacing was spot on, and worked really extremely well with Micheline's voice and desperate emotions leading the way.


Plot-For a horror novel, this is pretty standard. In a nutshell: girl gets cursed, has a time limit, has to break the curse in order to save herself and those she loves. I think where Alameda went right was the way in which she used her characters and world to put her own spin. For example, the technique Micheline uses to wrangle ghosts (capture their energy on film) is somewhat new; it made something completely ordinary into a weapon, and while there were plenty of guns (and I do love guns), there were also those moments when the only thing to save their lives was her use of the camera.

We get to see a strange, alternate version of San Francisco, as well; in SHUTTER, the world of ghosts and reapers and poltergeists is public knowledge. In some circumstances, it takes away from the plot: when the world has to remain hidden, it creates an added pressure on the characters involved to make sure mere mortals don't notice anything. What works really well, here, is that the entire world is fair game. Micheline and her friends don't have to hide from anybody but the people hunting them, which means that literally anything goes. And I don't feel like I explained that really well, but maybe ya'll will just have to buy the book when it releases and find out for yourself.

Ultimately, I loved this book. At one point, my roommate had to give in to the fact that I was reading and purposely (sort of) ignoring her while I finished reading because at one point my feels were pulled from my beating heart and twisted into knots and I had absolutely no clue what to do with myself. What Alameda pulled off so well was embedding the characters into this basic plot so well that I was hooked; there was no way for me to pull myself out of the twists and turns of the present mixing with Micheline's past and her really rocky relationship with her father, plus her relationship with Ryder, plus Jude's relationship with a girl he likes and Oliver's relationship with a girl he likes and the fact that they could all potentially become dead or possessed by the end of the week and the ghost they're hunting is also wreaking havoc across San Francisco and eventually targeting the Reapers, themselves.


One thing I was a bit disappointed in: the ending was left a bit open. While I like a little mystery, I also love having everything wrapped up in shiny pink paper with an even shinier gold bow, where the entire story comes full circle and nothing and nobody is left hanging. There is a bit of openness regarding the antagonist, and a lot of connections that can be drawn but never actually confirmed. So this disappointed me a bit.

At the same time, I gave up hope long ago for a good YA horror, and Alameda kind of made me believe that there's at least somebody out there who can weave a good, terrifying, gut- and tear-wrenching horror story.

So my rating here might be a bit biased, because: I feel like I should only give three stars (one star removed for the ambiguous ending and one star removed for the basic plot line). At the same time, I have to also consider how much I'd lost myself in the tale, because if I'm not hooked then obviously something's wrong.

Therefore, I'm compromising:

Characters-And finally I reach the epitome of all that is awesome in this book.

Micheline. Our heroine with an extremely tragic past (like, almost every time a portion of it popped up I wanted to hug her or figure out how to turn back time so she could change her past). This past gave her PTSD, which she's managed to overcome (for the most part). Of course, it still flares up, particularly in the most recent turn of events when she literally has to return to the setting of her nightmares. Her relationship with her father is basically nonexistent; he blames her for things and she blames herself. No help there. What I appreciate within her so much is her willingness to risk her own life to save that of her friends; she's determined to do right, this time. She's tough and at times arrogant; she's the mother figure among her team, but at the same time it's obvious that she needs them as much as they need her. She dives head-first into trouble, especially if it means saving lives.

The boys. They all get grouped together, but they are by no means interchangeable. Oliver, Jude, and Ryder are the brothers and best friends that I wish I had. Their loyalty to Micheline and to each other is obvious, as are the way their different talents affect them and make them particularly unique. What's incredible, and something I know many writers must deal with when creating a cast of characters, is how different each of the boys are. You get to see the most of Ryder, due to his relationship with Micheline, but that also doesn't mean that Oliver and Jude are cut out of the picture. They work together, they care about each other, and they're not afraid of telling one of the other members of the team when they're being an idiot.

Basically, I just wanted to hug each and every one of these guys and somehow move in with them. Even though I'd be terrified about ghost hunting. And useless.

But yeah.

Final Answer: 4.25 / 5

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Terrifying and emotionally wrenching, SHUTTER @courtneyalameda earns this blogger's vote of approval via @Rae_Slater (Click to Tweet)

SHUTTER @courtalameda earns 4.25 / 5 stars from blogger @Rae_Slater (Click to Tweet)

Special thanks to Hyperion, who hosted a giveaway that ended with me miraculously winning an ARC of this fantastic book.

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