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review 2015-10-31 10:24
A book ill-served by its cover - The Death House by Sarah Pinborough
The Death House - Sarah Pinborough

One of my pet hates is books which are misrepresented by their covers and blurbs. A book cover is a visual language. It tells the ideal reader THIS is the book they want to read; THIS is what their life has been missing. It tells them about the others books they've enjoyed and lets them know THIS book is going to be just as good, MAYBE BETTER. Misrepresentation only leads to tumult of poor reviews from those expecting something distinctly other than they got. 


Sixteen-year-old Toby lives in The Death House with the other Defectives. Presided over by Matron and her team of nurses, the children of the house are watched carefully for symptoms of their illness - a runny nose, shaking limbs - when they will be taken upstairs to the sanatorium. Nobody ever returns.


From the blurb, the cover and the title, I could be forgiven for expecting something sinister and creepy. Instead, I got a largely gripping young adult novel which had me initially pleased it had been so badly represented (because otherwise I wouldn't have picked it up).


The Death House begins with the arrival of new Defectives to house, including the rare spectre of a girl: Clara, who has red hair. Where Toby is angry - at his role as patriarch to the younger kids in his dorm, at the theft of his life - Clara is bright, like her red hair, vibrant, like her red hair, and a source of annoyance to the despairing teenager. The previously divided community is mended by red-headed Clara's manic pixie dreamgirlish red hair, the older boys playing nicely with each other in an attempt to impress her.


Which is what this book is, really: a love story about children who are having to cope with their imprisonment and imminent death. I find I like the idea of it more than I ultimately liked the book. What's there is kind of shallow, and repetitive. I can think of other books which do this far better.


I think what frustrated me the most was the lack of worldbuilding. By the end I was reading madly, eager to find out more about the world, but I was to be left disappointed. The sci-fi/dystopian/whatever-you-want-to-call-them elements of the book play a firm second fiddle to the emotional story of the characters. This can be done well - think of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go - but where Ishiguro drip-fed specifics to allow an understanding of his world and how it worked, Pinborough doesn't bother. The Defectives are never explained. What they are, what they will become, the place of The Death Houses in UK society ... all remains unexplained. I'm guessing when I say this follows Ishiguro's lead in being an alternative world rather than a near-future-dystopian.


In Never Let Me Go, there is a reason for the house the characters are brought up in - it's the sort-of the point of the book - but with Pinborough's Death House, I just wonder why anybody would bother with this set-up. Why make a pretence at continuing their education? Why not just euthanise them? The question is touched on but so indirectly that I wonder if the answer is Pinborough's or mine. 


Clearly The Death Houses are a Thing in Toby's world - on the day he is taken he notices the empty streets, only appreciating why when he is ushered into the van waiting outside his house - yet he offers no information about them. Another character indicates there are several of the houses around the country, so it's not as though it's only a dozen children a year who are found to be Defective. What place do they occupy in this world? By concentrating on the love story, Pinborough has abandoned lore to an annoying degree.


Then there is Matron, the faceless autocrat, whose eye the children avoid drawing lest they find themselves come for in the night. She is ridiculously two-dimensional. Without any wider context, I'm again having to make guesses why she makes the decisions she does and really, the best I come up with is stupidly over-simplified.


Overall, I sort of enjoyed it. The Death House is a fast read and one I stayed up to finish, but in the end what it offered was not what I wanted, nor what I enjoy. I honestly don't know why this isn't marketed as Young Adult, unless it's because this is a British book which involves British teens doing what I, obviously, was far too well brought up to engage in at that age. I'd cautiously recommend it, but you may be left feeling unsatisfied.


3.5 stars.


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review 2015-09-15 00:00
The Death House
The Death House - Sarah Pinborough This turned out to be nothing like I expected. In fact, it completely surpassed all of my initial expectations and I just couldn't put it down.

Beautifully written and genuinely moving in places.

Hmm... I appear to have something in my eye.



*sobs violently*


Don't look at me! I'm not crying! You're crying!

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review 2015-06-26 08:53
Death House - Carole Avila

“Curses are like chickens, they always come home to roost.” - Charles H. Spurgeon

Adley Lange's idea of a summer vacation with her parents was spending it anywhere but her late grandmother's mansion somewhere in the high desert of New Mexico. moreover, the sprawling Capilla Manor, with its deteriorating facade and weed-choked yard, gave her the creeps. inside the house, something waits for Adley - eager to welcome and enfold her in its bony embrace.

the book started out slow for me and my enthusiasm waned a bit due to Adley's mood swings. it was getting to a point that i found her tactless behavior and disparaging language too unbearable to make me quit reading when i realized that the author's writing was quite effective in making me feel that way. in other words, i have been had. i fell into the author's trap. with that "eureka moment", my interest in Adley and her haunting rose again from chapter 8 onward especially after her encounter with her neighbor Victor Trumillo. that meeting, i think, when things began to unravel, was the catalyst that spurred me on.

strong characterization, appropriate word choice, graphic details evoking vivid, hellish imagery are some of the novel's strong points. in particular, i enjoyed the action-packed, hair-raising confrontation near the end of the book. it was like watching a tension-filled championship game where one wrong move could spell disaster for one team and victory for the other.

however, there was that specific twist in the remaining pages which i did not favor at first but what it resulted to seemed justified somehow. i just wished it did not have to be that way but horror fans like myself know that when the horror stops, the creepylicious fun ends too.

overall, Carole Avila's novel about a generational curse, an evil entity and two teenagers fighting for their lives has all the ingredients to scare you off while still letting you have a good time in the process.

* review copy provided via Reading Alley in exchange for an honest review

Source: aobibliosphere.blogspot.com/2015/06/review-death-house-by-carole-avila.html
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review 2015-05-01 00:00
The Death House
The Death House - Sarah Pinborough Toby's life was perfectly normal . . . until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House; an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They're looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it's time to take them to the sanatorium.

No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.

Because everybody dies. It's how you choose to live that counts.

“I’m not afraid”

Ouch! That took me by surprise! I adore Sarah Pinborough's work especially the Thomas Bond series so I came to the Death House unprepared for this deeply moving book of love, life, friendship and death.

Beautiful, effortless writing and a story, best taken at face value, I tried not to dwell too much on what came before the sickness, or any of the other speculative aspects. It was a distraction and you can ponder preceding events after you have finished the novel.

Stunning....*mops tears*
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review 2015-04-23 14:17
The Death House by Sarah Pinborough
The Death House - Sarah Pinborough

Extremely well written, this book was told from the first-person by Toby and was narrated in the present tense, interspersed with narrative at the end of some of the chapters about the time before current events.


I didn’t know what to expect from this when I picked it up, all I knew is that I’d been grabbed by the synopsis which explained that Toby, the protagonist, had a normal life until it suddenly became unravelled by a blood test. The results of this blood test lead to him being taken from his family and put in a facility, nicknamed The Death House. The Death House is a place that houses young people who have tested positive on their blood test and they are monitored for any sign of sickness.


The synopsis lead me to believe that this would be a chilling book and it was, but not in the way I had expected. I thought that the chills would come from a story riddled with suspense, but instead it came from the characters and their predicament. It was, then, a predominately character-driven book.


Not far into this I was slightly disappointed to find that it was a very different book to what I’d presumed and I was nearly going to put it down, but I’m very glad I didn’t because it did improve. Toby was very astute for his age and while I didn’t love him and did feel a bit distanced from him, I enjoyed spending time with him.


For a large portion of the book not much happens and we instead learn the dynamics of The Death House and the interactions between its residents, specifically Toby and a girl. What I really liked about this book is how the reader felt as clueless as Toby and his friends about the situation they were in. Instead we learned how they dealt with it all, specifically through relationships.


During the last quarter of the book more starts to happen and it’s worthwhile to continue if you do consider giving up, as I did. There was a surprise ending and while it did feel a bit rushed, it was well done.


Easy to follow, this predominately character driven story wasn’t what I had in mind when I first picked it up, but I’m glad I read it and will check out the author in future.

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