Breathe by Cliff McNishBreathe by Cliff McNish
McArthur & Co, 232 pages

Jack is used to danger. His asthma has nearly killed him more than once. But his new home has a danger he’s never known before — the spirits of the dead.

The can’t breathe.

But in Jack’s house, they can chase, hide, scream.

Only Jack can see them. Only he can hear them. And only he can learn their secrets in time to save his mother — and himself…

I may be one of the biggest scaredy-cats in the world, or at least, among my group of friends. I know this doesn’t make sense when it comes to my love for all things zombie. I like all the shambling, brain-moaning creatures, but when it comes to ghosts and other supernatural stuff? I cower under my covers. When I was a kid I used to like scaring myself silly by watching those Halloween specials that all local TV shows air during those times and no fail, I always end up being too scared to sleep for at least a week after watching those shows. I finally got to the point where I told myself to stop — no more scary TV shows, no more scary anything, especially if I will lose sleep over it!

So to be totally honest, I was kind of apprehensive with my Required Reading challenge for October, given my state of being a chicken. :P But of course, what is a challenge if you don’t challenge yourself, right?

The thing that really got me to buy Breathe by Cliff McNish is the fact that the main character, Jack, has asthma. I’m an asthmatic, too, so reading about characters who have the same condition brings me comfort because I could relate to them ((If you want to know how it is to have an asthma attack, try breathing through a straw. Hard, right? :P)). Jack’s asthma attacks seem to be more dangerous than the ones I’ve been having lately, though, bad enough to almost kill him. It doesn’t help that his dad recently passed away. In an effort to stop him from stressing out or getting lonely, Jack and his mom moved out and into an old farmhouse, where they hope to find peace and quiet.

But instead of finding peace and quiet, they find something else. Little did they know that the farmhouse was haunted by four ghosts, all children, whose spirits can’t seem to leave the house Jack finds that he has the ability to sense who had lived in the house before, and to the ghost children’s surprise, he could actually see them. This makes Jack extremely curious to the point of triggering his asthma, but then he discovers that there is something more sinister living in the house, and only he has the power to save himself and his mother.

Like I said, I’m a big scaredy-cat, so I made it a point to read Breathe in broad daylight. The first few chapters of the book were creepy and the illustrations at the start of each chapter gave my imagination enough fuel to see practically the entire chapter. McNish’s writing is very vivid — it was easy to slip into the world he created and actually see the house and the characters. I admit to being spooked for the first few chapters (but then again, it may be just because I’m easily frightened), but I grew comfortable with it later on. Jack’s asthma attacks were also very accurate — and also really scary, in the actual physical sense because I know I could also experience something like that. The extreme measures he and his mom had to go through just to make sure his lungs would behave is something akin to what my mom used to do when I was younger. I’m really, really hoping my asthma won’t escalate to anything similar.

You know now that I think about it, it’s not really that scary. However, I think I can attribute that to the fact that the story is really quite linear. Somewhere early into the book, we already know who the real villain is, and a little bit of why. The other reasons and the story were gradually revealed, but by then it feels almost like a typical ghost story. While I’d really rather not read ghost stories, I still want for a twist that will leave my mouth hanging open in the end, at least to thrill the reader in me.

Breathe still manages to have a heart-warming moment somewhere in the end, which earns it more points for me. I liked how the Nightmare Realm (the place where spirits go when they don’t go to the “light”) is described, and how one of the ghost kids finds some kind of peace there. The actual ending was wrapped nicely and I think it would leave readers with pretty much a good sense of completeness that stand-alone novels can give. (Except if you decide to nitpick, like me. But I can’t offer another ending, so I should stop doing that :D)

Breathe by Cliff McNish may not fare so much with people who really love ghost stories (or who take delight in being scared), but for a casual reader (or for someone who doesn’t really like getting scared), it’s a pretty good novel. The first aid lessons for an asthma attack are a plus, too. This is my first Cliff McNish, but I think it won’t be my last. Now, are his other books scary, too?

Rating: [rating=3]

2011 Challenge Status:
Required Reading – October

My copy: paperback, bought from Bestsellers Galleria

Other reviews:

Chicklit or Horror?

Gravity vs. The Girl by Riley NoehrenGravity vs. the Girl by Riley Noehren

Samantha Green has just spent an entire year in her pajamas, and she is beginning to regret it. What’s more, she is haunted by four ghosts that are former versions of herself. First up is the overachieving and materialistic attorney, who is furious with Samantha for throwing away the career she worked so hard to build. Second is the lackadaisical college student who is high on life but low on responsibility. Next is the melodramatic teenager, who is consumed with her social standing, teal eyeliner and teased bangs. Finally, there is the scrappy six-year old, whose only objective is to overcome gravity so that she can fly. Samantha’s ghosts alternate between fighting with each other, rallying around Samantha’s budding sanity and falling in love with a string of good-for-nothing drummers. Despite her reluctance to do so, Samantha must rely on these spirits from the past to repair the present and ensure her future.

Inbetween Sundays, one of the weekly podcasts I subscribe to, has this little fun little segment called Chick Flick or Horror Movie, where one of the hosts would say the title of a movie and its synopsis, and the other would have to guess if it’s a horror movie or a chick flick. Easy enough? Not for the hosts, both male, which is part of the fun: I find it hilarious to hear them think that Britney Spears’ first movie Crossroads is a horror movie. The thing that struck me about the game is the fact that there are few grey areas, since genres in Hollywood seem to be mutually exclusive. Most commercial movies are typically classified only under one specific genre: a comedy movie may be able to teach life lessons and bring some tears to but it won’t be classified as a drama, just like a horror movie cannot be a romantic comedy.

Books, however, are a different story. In literature more so than in cinema, genres evolve as more and more books are written and published. Nowadays, many books are a mixture of two or more genres. Of course, it’s not always easy to classify books into their respective mixed genres, especially if you’re rather broad and loose with classifications, as I am: I only really divide books into two genres, fantasy and non-fantasy. Anything that falls out of the ordinary is fantasy for me.

Which brings me to my conundrum with Riley Noehren’s Gravity vs. the Girl. This Whitney Award winner for Best Novel by a New Author in 2009 reads like standard non-fantasy chick lit right from the opening pages…click here to read the rest of the review.

Rating: [rating=4]

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 37 out of 100 for 2010

→ Get Gravity vs. the Girl by Riley Noehren from
→ Riley Noehren’s website

Sample Fridays (2)

And it’s time for Sample Fridays! :) Sample Fridays is when I share three to five new samples I got from Amazon’s Kindle Store. Note that they’re not to-be-released books, but books that are already out that I want to get sometime, preferably soon. Sampling is a fun way to get to read the first few pages of the book to see if I really want it. :) So yay.

Here are this week’s samples!

The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell

Sixteen-year-old Damien Locke has a plan: major in messing with people at the local supervillain university and become a professional evil genius, just like his supervillain mom. But when he discovers the shameful secret she’s been hiding all these years, that the one-night stand that spawned him was actually with a superhero, everything gets messed up. His father’s too moral for his own good, so when he finds out Damien exists, he actually wants him to come live with him and his goody-goody superhero family. Damien gets shipped off to stay with them in their suburban hellhole, and he has only six weeks to prove he’s not a hero in any way, or else he’s stuck living with them for the rest of his life, or until he turns eighteen, whichever comes first.

To get out of this mess, Damien has to survive his dad’s “flying lessons” that involve throwing him off the tallest building in the city–despite his nearly debilitating fear of heights–thwarting the eccentric teen scientist who insists she’s his sidekick, and keeping his supervillain girlfriend from finding out the truth. But when Damien uncovers a dastardly plot to turn all the superheroes into mindless zombie slaves, a plan hatched by his own mom, he discovers he cares about his new family more than he thought. Now he has to choose: go back to his life of villainy and let his family become zombies, or stand up to his mom and become a real hero.

This sounds like Sky High meets The Incredibles, in a book. All my geeky tendencies are tickled pink with this book — I’m excited. :) I’m not much of a fan of the cover, though, since it looks more like a graphic novel, but the first few pages seem very interesting. Although maybe I shouldn’t put this in as a sample anymore, as I bought it yesterday. :P Heee.

Swoon at Your Own Risk by Sydney SalterSwoon at Your Own Risk by Sydney Salter

It’s the summer before senior year and Polly Martin has sworn off boys. Who needs the hurt and confusion? Five recent breakups have left her with an unnatural knowledge of NASCAR, the ultimate hiker’s outfit, a student council position, the sixth highest score on the Donkey Kong machine at the mall, and a summer job at Wild Waves with ex #2 Sawyer Holmes.

Success seems a sure thing when Polly’s grandmother, the syndicated advice columnist, Miss Swoon, moves in for the summer. Polly almost doesn’t mind sharing a room with her little sister, Grace. Think of all the great advice she’ll get!

Everything is going according to plan except… Miss Swoon turns out to be a man-crazy septuagenarian! And then there’s Xander Cooper. If only he wouldn’t keep showing up at Wild Waves with his adorable cousins every afternoon — and what is he writing in that little notebook?

No advice column in the world can prepare Polly for the lessons she learns when she goes on a group camping trip (with three too many ex-boyfriends). Polly is forced to see people for who they are — a blend of good and bad qualities that can’t be reduced to a list or a snappy answer in a Miss Swoon column.

This sounds a bit like Judy Blume, for some reason. I read the sample already and it seems pretty interesting, because Polly feels like an endearing protagonist and narrator. Plus it’s a summer book, and I like summer books because I miss summer already. :(

Insatiable by Meg Cabot

Sick of vampires? So is Meena Harper.

But her boss is making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them.

Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die (not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does).

But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side . . . a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for.

The problem is, he already is dead. Maybe that’s why he’s the first guy Meena’s ever met that she could see herself having a future with. See, while Meena’s always been able to see everyone else’s future, she’s never been able look into her own.

And while Lucien seems like everything Meena has ever dreamed of in a boyfriend, he might turn out to be more like a nightmare.

Now might be a good time for Meena to start learning to predict her own future . . .

If she even has one.

I’m not a fan of vampire fiction, even before Twilight, but I’m willing to read Meg Cabot’s try at this. I’m guessing Meena is named after that vampire lady that’s included in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen cast (I think she was originally from Dracula)? This book seems very interesting, although I’m not too crazy about the cover — it looks like those dangerous romance novels that I avoid in the bookstore. Heh.

Zombie BlondesZombie Blondes by Brian James

From the moment Hannah Sanders arrived in town, she felt there was something wrong.

A lot of houses were for sale, and the town seemed infected by an unearthly quiet. And then, on Hannah’s first day of classes, she ran into a group of cheerleaders — the most popular girls in school.

The odd thing was that they were nearly identical in appearance: blonde, beautiful, and deathly pale.

But Hannah wants desperately to fit in — regardless of what her friend Lukas is telling her: if she doesn’t watch her back, she’s going to be blonde and popular and dead — just like all the other zombies in this town….

How awesome does this sound? Zombies! I saw this book while looking at The Book Smugglers archives, and they got me at the word zombies. :P The cover looks simple but effective, too. Look at that barbie cover — can you imagine her being a zombie?

Shadowed Summer by Saundra MitchellShadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell

Iris is ready for another hot, routine summer in her small Louisiana town, hanging around the Red Stripe grocery with her best friend, Collette, and traipsing through the cemetery telling each other spooky stories and pretending to cast spells. Except this summer, Iris doesn’t have to make up a story. This summer, one falls right in her lap.

Years ago, before Iris was born, a local boy named Elijah Landry disappeared. All that remained of him were whispers and hushed gossip in the church pews. Until this summer. A ghost begins to haunt Iris, and she’s certain it’s the ghost of Elijah. What really happened to him? And why, of all people, has he chosen Iris to come back to?

I’ve been seeing this book in the blogs I follow in the web, so I finally gave in and got the sample. I haven’t read it yet, but from the looks of the blurb, it’s about ghosts, and from the looks of the Amazon reviews, it’s comparable to Twilight. I hope it isn’t like that, though — please no more of that. But hm, if it has the same story as Twilight, does this mean Iris will fall in love with a ghost? Interesting.

So that’s it for this week’s samples. I am still on my YA kick, and I can’t help it. I just like them so much. :) But because I splurged on the Kindle Store this week, I can’t really spend so much up until the next few weeks. I have a feeling I’ll just end up sampling and sampling and sampling. Oh well. :)