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4.2 out of 5 stars


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on 11 January 2012
I have just finished reading The Dead of Winter, and I still don't want to turn the light off and go to sleep!

Despite being aimed at children, it had me on edge throughout and is genuinely creepy. Not scary and gory, just creepy - but that is more what horror is about, what you don't read. It also deals with some mature subjects - the story begins at the narrator's mother's funeral and him being packed off to his mentally instable guardian, who lives in a haunted castle in the middle of nowhere - if it wasn't for the respite of the friendly servants I don't think I would have been able to finish the book!

Very well written, and definitely not just for children!
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VINE VOICEon 29 October 2010
I am not easily scared. There are very few books that can keep me awake at night through terror. With it's deliciously spine-chilling story, The Dead Of Winter managed that and had me on edge throughout.

Young Michael has lost both his parents and faces orphan hood in Victorian London, but on the day of his mother's funeral a surprise benefactor is revealed. Michael must go and spend Christmas in his new guardians home, the formidable Hawton Mere. Nervous to meet his new guardian, Sir Stephen, Michael's apprehension soon turns to terror as he approaches Hawton Mere in a carriage late at night and sees a ghostly woman in the marshes surrounding the stately home. Once inside his fear isn't abated as he finds Sir Stephen on the edge of insanity and dark secrets lurking in every shadow.

I love a gothic ghost story. There's nothing better than slipping back into an eerie past and being scared out of your wits. The Dead Of Winter is no disappointment and is gripping throughout.
In a book of this kind perhaps the most important character is the setting itself, and Hawton Mere is a fantastic, creepy mansion harbouring all kinds of secrets. Surrounded by cold dark marshes, Priestly truly sets the scene for a terrifying ghost story in this cold and unforgiving home. The descriptions of the surrounding areas are vivid and I could easily picture it while reading the book.

The characters are also brilliantly crafted and very much of their time. From the mad aristocratic guardian, lurking in every shadow and dripping secrets, to the fiercely loyal servants refusing to abandon the family that has seen such tragedy they are exactly what you want from this genre. Sir Stephen's sister Charlotte adds a mysterious and complex dimension as you wonder throughout what her role truly is-friend or foe. The language used is authentic and formal as you would expect, but still manages to be incredibly readable and gripping. Rather than alienate, it sucks you right in and you'll feel you've slipped back in time yourself as you read this book.

The Dead Of Winter is a hugely atmospheric book and best read curled up in front of the fire on a dark, windy night. It isn't a long book and at just over 200 pages is one you will devour in one sitting. I literally couldn't put it down and had that thrilling edge of your seat feeling throughout with every creak and groan in the house having me jump out of my skin. It's my favourite kind of horror, suggestive, atmospheric and sinister without being graphic. I'd recommend this book to anyone of any age from Eleven years old who enjoys a good gothic ghost story and especially to reluctant readers as I'm certain even they won't be able to resist this devilishly delicious tale of horror.
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This book was lovely quick read and brilliantly unique. Set in the victorian era this book followed the story of a recently orphaned young boy who suddenly found that he had been made the ward of an aristocratic man who lived in a creepy house in East Anglia where he has been summoned to spend Christmas with.

The best thing about this book was that it was incredibly uninque in its premise and I don't think I've read anything quite like it. I enjoyed the setting of the Victorian era and loved how the author had written in a style which was in keeping with the time in which it was set. In fact I think the time setting made it even more creepy.

You begin the story not knowing quite what was going on while feeling for the main character Michael having just lost his mother and then been forced to go and stay in a place he doesn;t know with people he doesn't know. As things start to happen you don;t quite know what to believe and don't know whether things are happening or whether they are in Michael's mind.

As the story carries on you begin to find more out about the house where he is staying and the faily he is staying with. All the characters you met are wonderfully written and the plot twists and turns brilliantly as you get closer to the end. There were certainly scenes which were very chilling and creepy as the mystery untangled. I must say I didn't quite see where the book was going and I definately didn't see the final outcome.

A fab book which will creep you out and keep you guessing to the very end.
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THE DEAD OF WINTER is a brilliantly atmospheric, gothic ghost story for younger readers. The story is narrated by a young boy, Michael. Following the death of his mother - which leaves him an orphan - he is told that he is to spend the festive season at Hawtorn Mere at the mansion of a man he hardly knows. All he knows about this man is that his own father died saving his life. But the house has a secret, a secret which does not want to remain secret anymore.

Priestley has done a fantastic job at creating believeable characters and a brooding setting. The marsh land which surrounds the house is brilliantly described and adds to the feel of the book. Ghost stories are hard to write well, but Priestley has done a good job - he truly draws you into the story, pulling you along with Michael so that you feel as though you are living every word with him.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to all people who enjoy an atmospheric, gothic book. Even adults will feel the tingles on their spine whilst reading this - absolutely brilliant!
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on 30 March 2017
Another Chris Priestley horror job. Up to his usual high standards and fun to read. Highly recommended.
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The Dead of Winter is a children's book, aimed at 10-15 year olds, which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. It''s more of a novella than a novel although I refuse to get into literary debate about the differences between short stories, novelettes (?) and novellas - basically it is a story which one could easily read in one sitting.

Back to the story...it is Victorian London and young Michael Vyner, recently orphaned, is sent to spend the Christmas holidays with his guardian Sir Stephen who lives in an isolated, desolate country house. En route to Hawton Mere, Michael sees the ghostly figure of a woman as they grow closer to their destination but no one else shares his horrific vision. What ensues is a gothic ghost story which has echoes of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, M R James, The Turn of the Screw and other eerie stories which crank up the tension subtley but surely.

The result is a supremely spooky story which will keep the reader enthralled right up to the closing pages - highly recommended for all young readers and indeed those young at heart who appreciate their chills being served in a subtle, sophisticated way rather than having blood and gore thrown on their plate...
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on 5 April 2011
Imagine if Le Fanu had tried to write for a YA market and he might have produced something like The Dead of Winter. I'm sure Chris Priestley would cite him as one of his primary influences, along with others like Elizabeth Gaskell. Her short 'The Old Nurse's Story' springs to mind quite strongly. The book, more a novella, is artfully written, perfectly invoking the Victorian setting that uses as much Gothic imagery and motifs as it can possibly pack into the page count. Michael Vyner is a young orphan, who becomes the ward of a rich man whose life was saved by the boy's late father. Reluctantly he agrees to spend Christmas at his sprawling mansion. What is it about ghost stories and Christmas? I blame Dickens - no, I blame the Victorians. Now I have to read every ghost story with the nagging compulsion that I should have saved it for Christmas. This one is told in the first person (what other form would suffice?) by the adult version of the boy, writing an account of that fateful Christmas. The mystery is too slight though for a book of this length. The atmosphere is well maintained but there is not really enough complexity to the plot to make the conclusion anything other than expected.
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VINE VOICEon 3 June 2011
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, comparable to some of the stories in Peter Haining's anthology of haunted houses The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories (Mammoth) (Mammoth Books). 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.
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on 11 June 2012
Enjoyable read, a few creepy moments. I love the ending, though the book has a bit of a slow start. It's not a book with depth, and I now realise that it's because it's aim at young adults. And the reveal, of what the darkness is, is quite a twist.

Enjoyable read. Worth it for 99p which was the price I paid, though the price is 4 times as much now and I don't think it's worth that much for something that is just a cheap YA thrill, and more a novelette than a novel.
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on 26 May 2011
There is a great atmosphere of mystery and tension throughout this book, created by using all of the elements you've seen in ghost stories and mysteries. Chris Priestley packs them all into one story, weaving a mystery that will have you on the edge of your seat.

My only problem with the book is that it only delivers what you expect - there are some twists, but nothing too surprising and nothing you probably haven't already guessed. So the tension starts to go once you realise there is nothing new coming, just a solid delivery of an old fashioned ghostly tale.

It's very well written, with some passages that made me laugh and some that really brought out great sympathy for the main character, a young boy who has lost his parents who is sent to live with a rich benefactor at (you guessed it) an creepy old house where mysterious things keep happening. Despite the cliche, it's really a very good book indeed and should keep you hooked.
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