Cover Image: Specter

Specter

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Member Reviews

Specter is a YA mystery with a paranormal twist. Having not read any book from the YA genre lately, it was a short fun read with lots of mystery and paranormal elements.

The book follows Lanie, a teenager with a penchant for horror. While sick with a fever she sees two ghosts and is horrified. While researching her ghosts she meets Ryan, who offers to help her. Together they start to investigate the hauntings, working out who the ghosts are and when Lanie can see them. Soon they discover that the mystery goes a lot deeper than they had imagined.

In many ways, Specter is your distinctive paranormal teen book, but the writing quickly draws you into the story. What I really enjoyed is that this book was fast-paced with several twists. Every time you think you have figured out the plot, you get a new twist. In some ways, Specter reads like a mystery novel, when as a reader get closer to the truth with each new revelation. The writing was really good and the mystery will keep you guessing. The story builds up the tension nicely and brings it to a satisfying conclusion.

Having said that, there were too many concepts thrown in too fast into this book which made it difficult to focus on the mystery part. From lucid dreaming, altered mental state, OBE, etc, it may become too much to tackle at once. Some parts without the paranormal elements drag a bit. Also, Lanie makes some new discoveries that were interesting but were not explored too much in detail and it felt rushed towards the end.

Overall, Specter is a fun and interesting read that anyone who likes paranormal stories. It’s a tightly-paced read with some engaging characters which YA fans will enjoy.

Many thanks to the publishers Kobo Writing Life, author Katie Jane Gallagher and Netgalley for the ARC.
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I’m a bit puzzled by this book. Reading the blurb it sounded like it was going to be a quirky, fun read with a hint of The Frighteners - ghosts stuck in their death era, in this case the 1980’s - with a dose of comedy around the clash of styles and pop culture. The book ended up somewhat different. It’s a lot more serious than I expected, and I think it would have greatly benefited from an injection of humour, as it would have thrown the tragedy into even greater relief. 

The book follows Lanie, a teenage loner with a penchant for horror. While sick with a fever she sees two ghosts, apparently teenagers from the 80’s, and is horrified - this is the first point the book falls down for me, knowing what it’s like to be (and be married to) a horror/supernatural fan, I wouldn’t be horrified at all! It would be the best day of my teenage life! While researching her ghosts she meets a cute stoner called Ryan, who she almost immediately, and inexplicably, trusts enough to confide in. Together they start to investigate the hauntings, working out who the ghosts are and when Lanie can see them - usually when her mental state is altered, by a fever, pot or alcohol etc. They stumble across some missing persons stories from the 80’s and after Lanie finds out the name of one of her ghosts, Melissa - much to the rage of another ghost who they nickname ‘Claw Hands’, as she appears to be some form of demonic spirit, they discover a forum dedicated to the weirder aspects of life and all the conspiracy theories that make the internet the joyously insane place that it is. 

In the process Lanie deals with parental expectations as she’s caught smoking pot with an undesirable like Ryan - although her parent’s immediate decision that she’s a screw up and needs to go to a boarding school for troubled girls seems a bit of an overreaction for her first real rebellions! Despite all this seeming somewhat out of left field, Lanie jumps at the chance to go to the new school to escape her ghosts and the shady company that she and Ryan believe are responsible for the deaths of the teenagers who are haunting her - who also happen to have caused an explosion which injured Lanie as a child and left her with lifelong complications. Whilst there she tries to put everything behind her, at this apparently Utopian school which definitely sounds completely real and not at all unlikely, but worry for Ryan niggles. She decides to experiment with lucid dreaming using the weird and wonderful forum, and finds that she can talk to Melissa in ‘her realm’ where she is in control. Melissa has been watching Lanie grow up, as she and the other missing teenagers were killed for an experiment at the nearby pharmaceutical company Avanic and are trapped. They were being used to test ways to control OBE’s (out of body experiences) to provide the CIA with ways to spy on the Soviet Union (hey, it was the 80’s!), and their spirits are still harnessed and used. Together they realise that Lanie was affected by the experiment that killed the missing kids when there was an explosion at Avanic when she was 9 - which actually ’killed’ the souls of two of the test subjects/victims, which is why she can communicate with the ghosts and control her dreams. Melissa also explains that ‘Claw Hands’ is actually the first of the missing kids, Pamela, and that she has been damaged and warped by the experiments and treatment of Avanic, and that she doesn’t want Lanie to help the others ‘die’ because she and another victim Scott fell in love. Scott and Melissa want to be free, to truly ‘die’ so they can finally be at peace. Melissa warns Lanie that Ryan is in danger after his continued snooping, and that she needs to warn him. Of course that would be too straight forward, and we’re reading about angsty teens here, so she struggles to find a way to warn him without tipping off anyone who could be keeping tabs on them. Melissa also 

After failing to warn Ryan, Lanie discovers that he has gone missing and correctly surmises that Avanic has decided to ‘disappear’ him. She immediately bolts from school and goes to Avanic to rescue him, while being chased by dodgy men and aided by Melissa - until Claw Hands/Pamela steps in to stop her. Scott then helps Lanie navigate the facility, and kill some guards in self defence, but she is eventually caught by the doctor that visited her as a child after the explosion and all seems lost. 

With the help of her ghosts, including Claw Hands/Pamela who seems to decide to let Scott be free, Lanie frees Ryan and shuts down the equipment holding the spirits of the three dead kids....which triggers a failure of the equipment and an explosion is imminent. Ryan carries Lanie to safety - she ended up with a bullet in her knee - with the help of Melissa to guide them out of the building. With the explosion comes the final ‘death’ of Melissa, who is finally free and leaves behind the girl she’d come to love as her little sister having watched her grow up. 

After surgery Lanie and Ryan tell their story, to a world that is rabidly interested in the CIA conspiracy theory angle, yet disbelieving the ghosts angle and not caring too much about the murdered teens. In an effort to get their story across Lanie and Ryan live stream to the weird and wonderful forum, giving the conspiracy theorists material for months and years to come! 

I’m still not sure if I liked this book, oddly. A lot of things felt like huge leaps in logic, a lot of overreactions and rushes to judgement. An odd lack of excitement for a horror nerd finding herself being haunted still irks me. I think if the blurb hadn’t built my expectations up it would have been better, but I’m left disappointed that this wasn’t more fun and quirky. It ended up being pretty serious, even with a ridiculously silly concept, and the result was somewhat jarring for me. My husband actually picked this out to be my next read as he got the same vibe from the description that I did, so it’s not just a case of one person misreading something. There is also an awful lot of philosophising and hyperbole, a lot of metaphors that get a little flowery for me, especially in what I’d expected to be a fun book. Basically, my advice is to ignore the blurb as it doesn’t describe the book honestly or accurately, and read it without expectation and hopefully you’ll enjoy it. The writing is perfectly fine - apart from the aforementioned tendency towards philosophising - and the story isn’t bad, if you’re into conspiracy stories (I’m not, which may also be why I didn’t enjoy it as much, felt a little bit conned I think, as I wanted a supernatural story and got more conspiracy). The blurb does mention conspiracy but less in a ‘the government are conducting medical experiments’ kind of way and more a ‘ooh there’s a serial killer at work that’s been hiding in plain sight for decades’, at least to me. I don’t think there’s anything particularly ground breaking here, it’s a perfectly serviceable book and story, but it doesn’t really stand out as one I’d gush over. Having said that, I wouldn’t be averse to reading more by Katie Jane Gallagher, so the book did it’s job I suppose!
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A young adult paranormal mystery, heck yes I'm in. There’s never enough of this theme and Katie did it tastefully and hooked me. It was wayyy better than I thought it would be; it was posed as a Stranger Things type story and personally some books can’t pull of things that are mentioned. The mystery of it had me guessing and trying to solve. Katie did a spectacular job and this is a great debut. I can’t wait to read more from this author!!
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This was a good, scary book.  The plot was fun and kept me interested throughout the story.  I did feel that the writing could be developed more, but I expect that to happen as this author develops.  

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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