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The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

The Dead of Winter (edition 2012)

by Chris Priestley

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9813123,235 (3.58)6
Title:The Dead of Winter
Authors:Chris Priestley
Info:Bloomsbury USA Childrens (2012), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 224 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Christmas, Ghosts, MaineCat, Requested, Read, Returned

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The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley


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When I was younger, I used to read lots of horror novels. The first time I raided my parents' bookshelves, I took Stephen King's Firestarter (which I enjoyed) and a German copy of Pet Sematary (that didn't work out so well – my German vocab just wasn't up to the task). I'm much more of a wimp now and rarely read horror, but I couldn't resist the bit on the back of this book that said fans of Neil Gaiman would enjoy it.

This is one of those books that I enjoyed more as I was reading it and in the grip of its creepy atmosphere than when I wasn't reading it. When I wasn't reading it and had more of a chance to think about it, I found that certain aspects of it irked me more.

My biggest problem with the book was probably Michael, who I didn't entirely like. Part of the reason for that, I think, was that there was hardly any time to see Michael at his best. The story began right after Michael's mother's funeral, which would have been bad enough, but then he was essentially forced to live with a man he resented. I tried to cut Michael some slack, at first, but his sullenness got a bit old after a while. He wasn't as bad towards the servants as he was towards Sir Stephen, but I don't think he was likable enough to deserve the affection some of the servants demonstrated later on in the book.

Initially, I didn't mind Michael's reaction to Sir Stephen so much. I could understand why Michael might blame Sir Stephen for his father's early death, and Sir Stephen did act a bit unhinged at times. However, I couldn't understand why it didn't occur to Michael that he and Sir Stephen had a few things in common, especially after he learned that both of them had seen and heard similar creepy things at Hawton Mere. It wasn't that I thought Michael should start to like and trust the man – I was just surprised that he never made the connection between his own reaction to the scary things happening at Hawton Mere and Sir Stephen's declining mental health. I figure, if I had grown up at a place like Hawton Mere the way Sir Stephen had, I probably would have eventually gone crazy too. Instead of seeing Sir Stephen as a potential ally or even just as another source of information, Michael seemed more focused on blaming him for everything.

Despite slightly disliking Michael, I plowed through this book really quickly. I read it in three sittings and could probably have finished it in one or two if I hadn't been so tired. Its atmosphere had such a grip on me that I found myself wishing I had more than just my cat for company while I read it.

Although I did think the book was very creepy, after a while I found myself wishing for a greater variety of scares. Mostly, the scares consisted of darkness/shadows and strange noises, along with different combinations of “I think there's something behind/nearby me,” breathing sounds, a ghost, a mysterious child, and a priest hole. Even though I sighed a bit when I got to yet another “it's dark and there's something in here with me” scene (not that those scenes didn't work on me each and every time - I'm that much of a wimp), the book never felt like a slog. It helped that I was very intrigued by the mystery of whatever had happened at Hawton Mere. I really wanted to find out who the woman and child Michael kept seeing were and why they were there.

Overall, I enjoyed this and would recommend it to someone looking for horror that doesn't rely on gory, gruesome moments for its scares. It'd probably work well for its intended audience (“Ages 12 and up,” according to Amazon).

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Sep 24, 2013 |
If you like paranormal stories this is a good read. It is quick read. ( )
  WickedWoWestwood | Feb 12, 2013 |
Book review by Smith, posted by CA Library:

"The Dead Of Winter by Chris Priestley. SPOILER ALERT! My book was about Michael Vyner the protagonist, who parents died in a car crash life changed forever. He is forced to live with this guy who his parents know but who he does not.

The second week or so, Michael and his new “parent” get in a verbal fight for him not finishing his supper. When it’s all over Michael left on his way walking to his old house a brutal storm came in causing Michael to not see anything but a person behind him.

Michael kept walking on even though he knew someone was following him. At this point Michael had no clue where he was at the time, when he turned around he saw this figure right behind him. He screamed no one was there to answer back. He tripped and was knocked out from the hit to his head. Michael woke and was warm, he thought how weird is that just a second ago in his only memory he was freezing cold on the verge of hypothermia.

The same figure he saw in the blizzard was right before him, turns out it’s his “new parent” Sir Stephen the antagonist. Sir Stephen welcomed Michael as if nothing just happened even though Michael thought it did. Michael demanded to be put in his uncle’s house but Sir Stephen said ”NO!” and smacked Michael in then faced and knocked him off his bed.

The maid screamed and picked Michael up and walked him out of his room. Michael not knowing what just happened asked “Why, what, what did I do?” The maid knowing of all the people Sir Stephen has abused over the years answered “Honey you fell you just landed on your head its ok.”. This book has the craziest ending you would never see coming.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars." ( )
  calibrary1 | Dec 2, 2012 |
This ghost story is the first person account of a young man, who as a child spent the Christmas holidays with his legal guardian at Hawton Mere, an ancient, brooding and foreboding manor house in the empty fenlands of Cambridgeshire, and of the events that still haunt him to this day.

This is one of the creepiest ghost stories I have read to date. The prose is very clear and precise, and the events are seen through the innocent eyes of a young boy. The imagery is vivid and atmospheric, a sense of dread and unease pervading the house, turning it into a character in its own right. The subsequent events unfold with a chilling predictability, with the setting in the snow-covered fens masterfully adding to the sense of desolation. Unfortunately a few plot inconsistencies mar the overall enjoyment of this tale, but Chris Priestley's name is definitely one to look out for. I will certainly never look at priest-holes again in the same way. ( )
  passion4reading | Jul 16, 2012 |
Review courtesy of Dark Faerie Tales

Quick & Dirty: Michael’s unnecessary overdramatic speech patterns detailing the events after his mother’s death grew tiresome to read, but I was surprised by the twist ending.

Opening Sentence: My name is Michael: Michael Vyner. I’m going to tell you something of my life and of the strange events that have brought me to where I now sit, pen in hand, my heartbeat hastening at their recollection.

The Review:

Recently orphaned, Michael Vyner is alone in the world when he is taken under the care of the man his father died to save, Sir Stephen Clarendon. Once he arrives at Sir Stephen’s estate, Hawton Mere, Michael experiences a phenomenon no one will explain like loud knocking behind a permanently closed panel and a ghostly woman alone in the darkness. At first those around Michael act like his experiences were just in his imagination, causing Michael to detest living at Hawton Mere with his unusual guardian and sister, Charlotte. Later on, we find out Michael’s experiences are not as impossible as those around him first claimed to be.

I understand the character of Michael is obviously under a lot of stress and sorrow, but he acts petulant and immature when the strange phenomenon he witnesses is not believed immediately. His choice of vocabulary and syntax structure seems to me like a boy wanting to sound more mature than he really is, but it just comes off as wordy and somewhat annoying to read. In the end of the novel, Michael has aged and matured a lot, but is still just as long-winded.

The novel itself is fairly short, but the only thing that kept me reading was finding out about the mysterious happenings at Hawton Mere. In the end, I still am not quite sure what caused the house to be so evil, but maybe that was intentionally left open for the reader to interpret as they will. Like I said before, the ending was a twist I did not see right off, but the vague evil power given to the house was never properly explained.

Sir Stephen is a quiet and reserved man with a troubled past and frightful history in the house he lived in his whole life. Emotionally scarred as a child by his father, Stephen is prone to emotional fits and physical infirmity. His sister Charlotte takes care of him and the house. Stephen and Michael have more in common than Michael originally thought, and in the end, Michael understands Stephen better. Charlotte is nice to Michael, and fiercely protective of her brother and the house. Only when Michael is named to inherit Hawton Mere does Charlotte show a different side.

Overall the novel was interesting enough to figure out what was causing the paranormal activity in the house, but the style of writing was just too overdone for my tastes. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys gothic novels and quick reads.

Notable Scene:

The corridor I was now in didn’t lead anywhere. I could make out an arched doorway at the far end, but it had been blocked up years – possibly centuries – before.

The darkness was encouraged and enriched by the wood paneling that lined the walls at either side. It was as high as my shoulder and a black as ebony. It was grim and gloomy, but no more so than anywhere else in the house, and yet once again I had the urge to run – to run and never stop until I was miles from this place.

I was turning to go back up the steps when I heard another short volley of knocks. This time the sound seemed to be coming from beyond the paneling. I leaned forward and tapped a panel and it sounded with a distinctly hollow rap. The wall was evidently not solid behind it.

‘Hello?’ I called again.

There was no response but I felt sure that there was someone there – in whatever space lay beyond that panel. I had a growing dread of that place. The air in the passageway seemed fetid and poisoned and I was about to turn and get back to the main body of the house when something touched my shoulder and I cried out, leaping away. I turned to see Jerwood standing there.

‘I didn’t mean to startle you, Michael,’ he said. ‘Forgive me.’

I slid down the wall to sit on the stone floor and catch my breath.

‘There’s some kind of secret chamber behind that panel,’ I said.

‘Yes, there is. It’s a priest hole,’ he said, and seeing my look of confusion continued, ‘It dates back to the sixteenth century and the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This was the house of a Catholic family and they hid Jesuits here – agents of the Pope in Rome. Those were harsh times. Capture would have meant bloody torture on the rack and a slow and gruesome execution.’

‘It’s a fearful place somehow,’ I said, looking back at the panel.

‘Yes’ said Jerwood. ‘I rather think it is. How did you find it?’

‘I heard banging, sir,’ I said. ‘It sounded like it was coming from inside.’

‘Banging?’ said Jerwood, frowning. ‘But I was only yards away and I heard nothing at all. Besides, I don’t think it could be coming from inside there – ‘

‘Perhaps you think I’m a liar,’ I said, standing up indignantly. ‘But I’m not! I did hear banging and I did see that woman on the road!’

Jerwood crouched down and examined the panel.

‘I apologize for offending you. I do not think you’re a liar, Michael,’ he said. ‘But these panels were painted over years ago. Come and see. The paintwork is intact.’

FTC Advisory: Bloomsbury USA provided me with a copy of The Dead of Winter. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review. ( )
  DarkFaerieTales | Jul 4, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
“Written in the first person, The Dead of Winter introduces us to Michael by explaining his need to pen the eerie happenings around him. Like a horror version of The Secret Garden, The Dead of Winter is a supernatural page-turner, guaranteed to send goosebumps crawling across your skin, making this young adult novel a truly riveting read.”

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Book description
Michael Vyner recalls a terrible story, one that happened to him. One that would be unbelievable if it weren't true! Michael's parents are dead and he imagines that he will stay with the kindly lawyer, executor of his parents' will ...Until he is invited to spend Christmas with his guardian in a large and desolate country house. His arrival on the first night suggests something is not quite right when he sees a woman out in the frozen mists, standing alone in the marshes. But little can prepare him for the solitude of the house itself as he is kept from his guardian and finds himself spending the Christmas holiday wandering the silent corridors of the house seeking distraction. But lonely doesn't mean alone, as Michael soon realises that the house and its grounds harbour many secrets, dead and alive, and Michael is set the task of unravelling some of the darkest secrets of all. This is a nail-biting story of hauntings and terror by the master of the genre, Chris Priestley.
Haiku summary
Michael Vyner spends
Christmas with his guardian -
Ghostly goings-on!

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A boy, a mysterious guardian and a haunted house with a terrible secret - this is a chilling ghost story that will thrill and terrify and be read again and again and again.

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