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The Monster Librarian Presents:
Reviews of Supernatural Books For Young Adults
Things that go bump in the night, flashing lights, furniture that moves by itself: here you will find books about ghosts, haunted houses, the occult, and happenings involving other dimensions.
The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney, illustrated by Scott M. Fischer*New Review
Sourcebooks Fire, 2013
Available: Hardcover (preorder)
I received The Ghost Prison as an ARC in egalley format through NetGalley.com. The Ghost Prison was initially a short story, but has been expanded into an illustrated novella here. Author Joseph Delaney makes every word count. The story is narrated by Billy, a fifteen year old orphan who has taken his first job as a night guard in a haunted prison. Setting and atmosphere are established through dialogue and exposition as the head guard takes him on a prison tour, complete with descriptions of the hauntings and warnings of places to avoid. He’s specifically told to avoid the Witch Well, which holds a terrible prisoner who must be fed every night at midnight; neglecting to feed the prisoner will lead to uncomfortable consequences for anyone in the prison, and the head guard has taken on this responsibility to protect the other guards. The tour takes up a considerable part of the book, but the slow buildup of tension pays off, as Billy suddenly finds himself guarding the prison alone. With midnight coming soon, he can’t avoid the Witch Well; the prisoner inside must be fed.
Delaney writes to terrify, and in a very few pages, takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride with an abrupt ending, and finishes with everything neatly tied together. His prose is perfectly complemented by Scott M. Fischer’s illustrations. These take up a considerable amount of space in the book, often flowing onto the same page as the text. Fischer’s drawings lend richness to a story that, while atmospheric, suspenseful, and gory, doesn’t have much depth. I will note that since I read this as an e-galley , due to the limitations of my Kindle, I wasn’t able to see the full effect of the design; the illustrations appeared separately from the text, and there was no way for me to see a double page spread. I am certain, though, that the published hardcover will be a gorgeously produced book. A movie based on Delaney’s book The Seventh Son will also be released in October, so there is sure to be plenty of attention directed at Delaney’s work. With the high interest children and teens have in scary stories, the short length, and the frequent, detailed illustrations, this book should be a hit with both reluctant and ravenous readers. Highly recommended.
Review by Kirsten Kowalewski
Crooked House: The Lilith Chronicles, Book One by John Longeway*New Review
Available: Paperback, Kindle edition.
At no point on the book I received do I see anything about previous books, so I feel bad writing a review like this for a first time author. The plot centers on a character named Lilith, who apparently has psychic powers. She wakes up in a house called the Crooked House, which sparks all kinds of dark memories.
I tried, several
times to get into this book; it took me a long time to get through it. Longeway
can compose a sentence just fine, but this book is totally flat and lifeless,
and did nothing to hook me at all. The characters were not engaging, the story
The reality is that this type of book is why we have
gatekeepers. A good editor or trusted reader should be able to tell a writer he
is not ready.
Reviewed by David Agranoff
Epitaph Of Jonas Barloff by Calvin Dean*New Review
Available: Paperback, Kindle ebook
Sycamore Grove High school athlete Daniel Townsend helps his basketball team win the state championship. He is going to go Ole Miss on an athletic scholarship. Then Daniel and his family find out his father, Donald, has inoperable lung cancer. This upsets Daniel, as the Townsend family is very close-knit, being from the south, and family is very important. Daniel makes a decision to help his father, which results in Daniel's death. Daniel's girlfriend, Angela Chadwick, and her friend Marc Livingston decide to get to the bottom of what happened to Daniel. Marc and Angela meet an old man named Jonas Barloff, who is apparently living in the abandoned Barloff home. Marc discovers a tombstone bearing Jonas's name, with a strange epitaph on it that makes no sense at the time, but as the story goes on, it becomes all too clear.
This book is fast paced. The characters are likable, and you feel bad for Daniel, since he really wants to help his father, but it doesn't work out the way he planned it. Jonas Barloff is also an interesting character, with a backstory relating to the Civil War and the battles of Fredricksburg and Gettysburg. There is also a hell of a twist ending that I didn't see coming, and I'm usually pretty good at spotting those. Highly recommended.
Contains: grave robbing
Reviewed by: Diana Lord
Unraveling Isobel by Eileen Cook
Simon Pulse, 2012 (trade paperback); 2013 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781442413276 (hardcover) 9781442413283 (trade paperback)
Available: New: e-book; new and used: hardcover, trade paperback
Isobel is miserable. Her mom just married a man she’s only known for a few months, and they’ve moved to a haunted mansion on a small island in the Pacific Northwest. Isobel has been torn away from her Seattle high school, and now she’ll have to finish her final year in a brand new place. If all that isn’t enough, Isobel starts seeing the ghost of the dead daughter of her new stepfather, and then her parents send her to a shrink because they think she’s mentally disturbed. At first, Isobel is afraid that they might be right—that she really is crazy, just like her schizophrenic, estranged father, but then she learns that things aren’t as innocent as they seem in her new family home.
This book has all of the bells and whistles needed to attract an adolescent reader: an angsty heroine, mean cheerleaders, an unsympathetic mother, a wicked step-father, a sexy step-brother, and plenty of mysterious things that go bump in the night. The story is spooky, and the heroine is in danger in the final climactic scene. There are no graphic scenes of either violence or sex, but there are a few scenes involving teen-age kissing and snuggling. Recommended for YA collections, middle and high school libraries, and teen readers.
Reviewed by : Patricia Mathews
The Legend of the Pumpkin Thief by Charles Day
Noble Romance Publishing LLC, 2012
Although the publisher appears by name to be a romance book publishing company, this book is far from it. Part mystery and part horror, The Legend of the Pumpkin Thief keeps the reader guessing and on the edge of her seat throughout the entire book. Is there really a pumpkin thief in town stealing pumpkins, could it really just be the neighborhood bullies, or is something else going on? As Nick tries to play detective and investigate, he has to deal with Mrs. Needlewhitter, the elderly lady that every one fears, as well as the bullies from school that torment him. It seems like Nick has to put up with a lot just to find a few answers about the so-called Pumpkin Thief.
Day does a fine job keeping up the suspense and pacing the book to keep the reader wanting to keep turning pages. There were some editing issues that could've been helped with another pair of eyes reading through the book, but not enough to distract me from the story at hand. I would highly recommend reading this during the Halloween season, but it makes for a fun read year round. This book may be aimed at tweens, but it makes a fun read for all ages.
Contains: Adult Language
Reviewed by: Rhonda Wilson
Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Leigh
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition, 2012
Available: New and Kindle
Burn for Burn is about three girls who decide to get even with the people who wronged them, and who discover that revenge is not as clear cut as it seems. Two of the girls, Lillia and Kat, were part of a threesome of friends that was broken up by the third girl, Rennie, who has turned viciously against Kat. Both of the girls are close to popular Alex, who has betrayed Kat romantically and Lillia as a friend. Mary is the X factor: she has returned unobtrusively after an absence of many years to confront star football player Reeve about… something. After minor revenge attacks on Alex turn out to have been misguided, the girls target the homecoming dance as a place to humiliate Rennie and Reeve, but it turns out that Mary has something unexpected and dangerous at her fingertips.
Many reviews I’ve read say that this reads like a contemporary until the very end when a paranormal aspect is revealed. I disagree-- the paranormal runs like an almost invisible thread through the book, but it isn’t a surprise by any means, and by the time the girls target the dance, it’s pretty evident that there will be a Carrie-style confrontation at the end. This, Han and Leigh execute beautifully, with a heart-stopping ending that does what Carrie cannot, because the disaster that takes place in Burn for Burn is not fatal, and the revenge was intentional, even though the execution of the plan went awry. This gives the three girls time to reflect and regret the effects of their actions, which is horrifying in a much different and human sort of way.
I did not realize when I first read this that it was the first book in a trilogy. As a stand-alone novel, Burn for Burn has serious weaknesses, but with two more volumes to flesh things out, I expect the three books together will ultimately make for a compelling, heart-breaking, and satisfying read. Recommended.
Review by Kirsen Kowalewski
Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Tor Teen, 2011
Theseus Cassio (Cas) Lowood is a ghost hunter, a trade he inherited when his father was brutally killed by a ghost. Armed with his father’s powerful athame (a knife that is able to “kill” ghosts), Cas and his mother travel around the country on the hunt for evil spirits. Cas’ latest “case” brings him to Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the hunt for a ghost referred to as Anna Dressed in Blood. Killed in the late 1950s, she now haunts her former home, killing whoever crosses the threshold. She still wears the same white dress she wore when she died, now dripping in blood. Anna has a reputation as a serious and dangerous ghost, killing dozens of people each year. Cas doesn’t get just how dangerous she is until he witnesses one of these deaths. Not a pretty picture, to say the least. Yet he’s the only person alive who has lived through a sighting of Anna; for some reason, she spares his life. Before he can put an end to Anna’s murderous rage, he must find out the cause of her death, and the motive behind her anger. Along the way, he becomes fascinated, almost obsessed with her. With the help of a handful of his classmates, he devises a plan to trap Anna and rid the town of her evil acts.
Overall, Blake provides a unique story in Anna Dressed in Blood. It is a haunting read, guaranteed to chill the reader. While classified as a book appropriate for ages twelve and up, I’d be reluctant to allow my twelve year old to read it. There is a good amount of swearing, not of the mild variety. Additionally, there is a good deal of gore. The downside of this book was the author’s attempt to force a romance. Since Twilight was published, it seems as if all YA literature has to have some element of romance, far too formulaic in my mind. In the case of Anna Dressed in Blood, it came across as unnatural, and quite frankly, a little eerie.All this said, I would still recommend adding Anna Dressed in Blood to a library collection. It’s a good, classic ghost story, one that would appeal to teens looking for a good dose of horror.
Review by Jennifer Lawrence
Katana by Cole Gibsen
Available: Print and multiformat digital
Billed as “Kill Bill meets Buffy”, Katana is the story of an ordinary skater teen with a gay best friend, who, after being attacked in a mall parking lot one night, discovers she's the reincarnation of a 500 year old samurai (yes, there are famous female samurai). The idea of a modern Japanese paranormal novel is enticing. The execution, however, was disappointing.
There are a number of things to throw readers out of the book; things that are such glaring issues it's hard to maintain a suspension of disbelief. Ri having the knowledge of ancient martial arts is acceptable, but her untuned body being able perform them? Not to mention a hospital releasing her after a mysterious attack and unconsciousness into the care of another minor (ahem, lawsuit) and Ri choosing to confront a boy stalking her by driving alone, without telling anyone, across state lines to the dojo the boy owns? It's hard to get to the good bits when you find yourself so dismayed by things like this.
The premise is interesting, and there are certainly sparks of good writing, but they're buried under events that have little logic and feel like author intrusion for the sake of drama. Hopefully, further books will give us the opportunity to find more to love.
Reviewed by: Michele Lee
Dead Spell by Belinda Frisch
CreateSpace, April 28, 2011
Available: Digital and Kindle
There's no doubt about it: Ms. Frisch has talent. The reader can recognize it right from the beginning of Dead Spell, her debut novel about a violent, avenging spirit that torments two teenage girls. But, like a lot of independent authors who self-publish, the novel could have used a good editor's touch.
Harmony and Brea are best friends, but Harmony is haunted by a specter named Tom, who tortures her as she tortures herself through several destructive acts. The only bright spot in her life is her boyfriend, Adam, who is a product of the foster care system and is also a heartbreaking figure, and is loyal to Harmony the point of insanity. When the hauntings of a ghost lead to a deadly end, the spirit settles on Brea and the cycle begins again, for the apparition will not rest until justice is done. The world of Dead Spell is dark, sinister, and addictive; events just keep getting worse, in a steep downward spiral, but the quality of the writing compels the reader to continue. The treatment of the main characters makes them sympathetic, and a ring of truth can be heard reverberating throughout the book as it chronicles their lives on the skids.
It wasn’t the grammar or punctuation that was the problem with Dead Spell, but rather some of its content and flow. What makes a good editor worth her weight in gold is not spellchecking, but the ability to point out problems with the storytelling itself. This book was that close to being great, but just couldn’t close the deal. The book didn’t really begin, but rather picked up in the middle of the action in a very awkward way. Jaxon, Brea’s supposed love interest, was unconvincing, and their whole relationship left a sour taste of disbelief in my mouth. (Adam, on the other hand, swept me off my feet, making me wonder why he put up with Harmony’s abuse—another unresolved issue.) When the ghost’s identity is finally revealed, it made absolutely no sense why he was doing the things he was doing. Finally, the ending was not in congruence with the rest of the story, it just…stopped. I am happy to report that she has been published by Anachron Press recently (The City of Hell Chronicles, Volume 1), so perhaps this lack of editing treatment has been remedied for future works.
I can recommend the e-book version ($2.99 at the time of this review), but suggest passing on the more expensive paper copy for now. (If she republishes after a good reworking, I’d be happy to revisit the novel and eat my words.) Do keep an eye on Ms. Frisch, horror fans—if she stays the course, there may be a quality author emerging.
Contains: gore, violence, sex, paranormal activity, mutilation
Reviewed by: W. E. Zazo-Phillips
From Bad to Cursed by Katie Alender
Available: New hard back and multi-format digital
If anyone was likely to fall in with a cult of beauty-enhancing Donna Reeds it wouldn't be Alexis. Even less so if it was led by an evil spirit, since Alexis has just started recovering from the trauma of last year, when her sister was possessed by a vengeful spirit and tried to kill the whole family. But as Alexis tries to help out her socially awkward sister, it is exactly what happens. Alexis ends up oath-sworn to Aralt, who has the power to make women "pretty". How can she fight him? And why would she want to- when it means giving up a successful future?
From Bad to Cursed is an incredibly creepy book, and succeeds without apocalypses, blood drinking or sexual assaults. Alender's style is incredibly readable, and it’s easy to find oneself a hundred pages in and hours later, still wanting more. This is a very good, very well-written book. However, Alexis is a very smug, condescending character even before she comes under evil influence. It's hard to read a story in which a sister wishes her younger sister's friends will find someone better, or blatantly admits that she wants to tear her sister down to put her in her place. And while Alexis has moments of confronting this behavior, it adds a painful element to the story even before the ancient tomes come out.
As a side note, while this is new material to today's YA readers, older audiences will find the book to be a nicely written mashup of The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin and Caroline B. Cooney's early 90s Cheerleader series. It is highly recommended as a fantastic horror read, but not all readers will be able to engage with Alexis, even though Alender's prose is wonderful.
Contains: Violence, occultism
Reviewed by: Michele Lee
The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
Hyperion Book CH, 2011
Available: New Hardback and Kindle
Near is typically a quiet little town until a “stranger” comes to town. The day after the “stranger” is spotted strange things start to happen. The wind seems to be talking to the townsfolk, and children start disappearing from their beds at night. Is the “stranger” to blame or is something more sinister going on? Lexi, a teenage girl living on the edge of town, decides to seek out the answer. Unfortunately, her uncle chooses to assume the worst of the “stranger”, just as the town once did of the Near Witch. Lexi has heard tales of the Near Witch, but has never known how much of the stories were true. Now, as she seeks out to find the children and to discover more about the “stranger”, she starts to learn more about the Near Witch.
Reading almost like a fairy tale, The Near Witch is a beautiful and lyrical story. Lexi is a powerful heroine who chooses not to take people at face value, but rather to seek out the truth about them. In the story, Lexi and her father had a strong relationship until he passed away, when she was still fairly young. Due to this, she doesn’t follow the image that most of the townsfolk feel a teenage girl should. Instead, she has followed in her father’s footsteps and become a tracker like he once was. When the children in Near start disappearing, she is expected to sit idly at home and let the men hunt, but instead she creates her own search party, including recruiting the help of the “stranger”. Schwab describes Lexi’s search in great detail throughout the novel with vivid imagery of the scenes around her. Additionally, Schwab includes major character growth on Lexi’s part as the story progresses and she gets closer to finding out the truth of the missing children. This is a great book for teenagers and adults alike. I’d recommend it to anyone! Highly recommended!
Contains: Very Mild Violence, Kissing
Reviewed by: Rhonda Wilson
The Screaming Season by Nancy Holder
First Ward Trade Paperback, March 2011
Available: New and used soft cover and in Nook and Kindle e-book formats.
Nancy Holder’s Possessions series has been an unexpected personal favorite of mine. Her third installment, The Screaming Season, did not fail to disappoint. I wasn’t sure I could possibly enjoy the series anymore than I already did, but I was quite wrong. Of the three books in the series, The Screaming Season is the most intense and action packed, leaving me wide-eyed with a racing heart.
The Possessions series is an incredibly spooky tale full of scorned lovers, murders, attempted murders, ghosts, and of course, possessions. The Screaming Season is no exception, and Lindsay, our heroine, is back on the Marlwood Academy campus, ready to fight of the ghosts that stalk and possess the campus residents. Her biggest challenge now is trying to maintain her sanity and belief in her sanity by her fellow students and teachers, staying alive in the process.
The Screaming Season, in addition to the first two books series: Possessions and The Evil Within are must-haves for libraries’ young adult fiction collections. While these titles are geared toward young adults, adult readers will find them enjoyable as well with a jump-right-in feel to the action. Recommended for school and public young adult collections; ages 14 and up.
Contains: mild violence
Reviewed by: Kelly Fann
Haunting Blue by RJ Sullivan
Damnation Books, 2010
Available: Trade paperback & multi-format e-book
Ghosts are one of the overlooked monsters of the paranormal out there these days, likely because it's hard to make a ghost sexy (I mean, without totally ripping off the movie Ghost.) Luckily, RJ Sullivan doesn't even try. Haunting Blue is a fun little horror novel about a blue-haired punk girl forced to move to small town Indiana who immediately gets tied up in the town's big urban legend. It has a classic ghost story/urban legend feel, that escapes the trap of cliché, and is still very tantalizing. It's also got the only climax at a theme park that I've enjoyed other than Zombieland.
Sullivan makes good use of his teen lead's heavy mix of feelings and sense of worthlessness without making this an issue book. Also, the involvement of a geek hero and a D&D tabletop "date" scene amused me to no end. Haunting Blue is a solid read, it moves well, sweeping readers up in the heroine’s conflicts, be they mundane or ghostly. Recommended for sure, especially for readers looking for a good ghost story in a vampire and zombie world.
Contains: violence, language, sex
Review by Michele Lee
The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith
Atheneum/ Simon Schuster, 2010
Available: New Hardcover and Kindle
Katie Mullins is a fifteen year old orphan who just wants to be normal. But Katie may never live a peaceful life because she sees ghosts everywhere, and she is compelled to draw portraits of their violent, often gruesome deaths. Living with her sympathetic but relatively new stepfather, she misses her mother desperately, and recieves vague advice from the derelict father she never knew in life.
Law Walkerʼs passion is architecture. He is the biracial son of a powerful African American community leader who has made reparations for slavery his mission in life and a white preservationist dedicated to saving Pinebank, a beautiful historic mansion crowning Bostonʼs celebrated landscaped parkways, the Emerald Necklace.
But Pinebank is not just an awesome building. This house has a dark, carefully hidden secret; a secret still guarded by the ghost of George, the boy who died to keep it safe. When Katie meets George, her life becomes hopelessly entangled in his responsibility to protect his grandfatherʼs treasure, and fulfill a promise to “the Others.” Katieʼs sadness, her resolve, and her shocking and beautiful drawings captivate Law; they become bound together on a desperate mission to save much more than a house, and to uncover a truth that will set free the living and dead alike.
Riddled with suspense and mystery, The Other Side of Dark is historical fiction at afevered pitch. Brilliantly plotted and masterfully entwined, itʼs a must-read for fans of
Reviewed by: Sheila Shedd
The Sorrow King by Anderson Prunty
Grindhouse Press, April 2011
Teen suicides have paralyzed the town of Gethsemane, Ohio. Steven Wrigley’s nightmares spill over into his journal, record the names of the dead, and reveal clues to a bloodthirsty stalker. Unable to sleep peacefully, he walks the quiet streets till dawn, alone, until he meets Elise. Elise has a secret hideaway, the Obscura, that enfolds her and allows her to escape her anger, stress, and conscience, It’s the one place Steven won’t follow her. A monster watches her there, absorbing her anguish and growing stronger.
Steven and Elise know they are both somehow connected to the legendary horror gripping their town. The Sorrow King lurks, a fiend carved from wood and bone, whose empty black eye sockets melt like wax, who reeks of blood and decay. How can they possibly fight the terrifying entity who feeds on fear and misery? Will it demand the ultimate sacrifice from them? Will that be enough to appease its bloodlust?
Anderson Prunty’s novel, The Sorrow King, is a shocking work. The prose is tight and brisk, speeding the reader through scenes of teen angst interesting to any young adult reader. However, passages of serious gore, extremely graphic and disturbing sex, and horrific violence appear in nightmare sequences. These episodes are so terrifying and emotionally painful that they cause the teenage characters to commit suicide. This aspect pushes the fear and image envelope a full step past the rest of the book’s themes, and makes it difficult to recommend a particular age group. Certainly this book is not for anyone just looking for a few chills.
Having said that, the story is gripping, and the style straightforward and clean; just proceed with caution. The violent sequences are a definite speed bump to the flow of the novel and are not fully justifiable to the plot.
Prunty is the author several horror and cult titles including, My Fake War, Slag Attack (both from Eraserhead Press, 2010), Morning is Dead (Atlatl Press, 2010), and The Beard (Atlatl, 2009). His website, www.andersonprunty.com is very well linked to several horror genre publishing houses and sites.
Contains: graphic violence and sex, suicide
Reviewed by: Sheila Shedd
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Available: New and Used
Cassie was Lia’s best friend. Her body was found in a hotel room, alone. The two
girls hadn’t spoken in months, so Lia didn’t answer her cell when Cassie called
on the night she died… thirty three times. It’s one more guilty secret in a
friendship built on secrets and insecurities. Cassie and Lia weren’t just close
friends- they were companions and competitors who supported and hid their eating
disorders from the world, wintergirls in the borderlands between life and death,
reality and delusion. Cassie may be dead, but she’s not gone- she is haunting
Lia, seductively and ominously pulling at Lia to join her..
Wintergirls is an intense and horrifying portrait of self-destruction, delusion, and guilt. Lia is so lost in the unreal mental patterns of her anorexia that it’s hard to tell if she’s truly haunted or if Casssie’s ghost is merely a delusion, and Cassie’s ghost is not nearly as frightening as Lia’s starvation, cutting, and altered perceptions. In the end, Lia’s self-abuse and inability to judge the power she has to haunt others makes her a terrifying living ghost, much more than Cassie, dead and buried, can ever be.
Laurie Halse Anderson did extensive research into eating disorders for this book, but Wintergirls doesn’t come across as an earnest “message book”. Rather, she has created a powerful individual portrait of a teenage girl who is journeying into hell,, one with which many teens will identify. Highly recommended for all YA collections.
Contains: cutting, drug use, suicide, some language.
Review by Kirsten Kowalewski
We have a second look review of Wintergirls by Michele Lee:
Many times in Wintergirls, the main character mentions feeling like a puppet whose strings are being pulled, which in turn is a fitting description for the feel of this book. Wintergirls is the story of Lia, who suffers from anorexia, depression, and a family who sees her as nothing but a burden. Her best friend Cassie suffered too, until she died alone in a hotel room. That's where the book starts, and reading through Lia's breakdown is like a series of progressively numbing slaps. Anderson weaves the strings of this story together into something fierce, beautiful and so terrible it hurts to read.
I highly recommend it, despite triggering potential, because this kind of spotlight being shed on problems is something we desperately need as a society. Furthermore, as libraries are all too often the only safe place children and teens in need have to go to try to learn more about themselves, books like Wintergirls is an essential to public collections.
Contains: extreme anorexia, depression, language, cutting, drug use
Reviewed by: Michele Lee
Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann
Simon Pulse, 2011
Kendall Fletcher is one of just 212 people who live in the community of Cryer’s Cross. Her junior year ended with the disappearance of a girl from her class, and it’s a relief to be starting over with a new school year. Maybe, she thinks, the familiar routines of school will relieve her obsessive thoughts about what happened to Tiffany Quinn. Kendall has OCD- obsessive compulsive disorder- and once she starts thinking about something, she can’t let go. The OCD also forces her into repeating little rituals, and one of those rituals is tidying up her classroom every morning, which includes moving every desk to a specific place in the room. Kendall knows every one of those desks, and has even memorized the graffiti on each one. The appearance of two obviously Hispanic kids at the high school, Jacian and Marlena, feeds into Kendall’s suspicions about Tiffany’s disappearance, which only increase when her best friend/boyfriend, Nico, disappears as well. As time passes, though, Kendall discovers just how unfounded her suspicions are.
Cryer’s Cross is a really creepy book. From early on you know there is somebody (or several people) who are very, very, angry… and who are seriously wrong in the head. Their thoughts appear at intervals, jagged on the page. The story is told in first person, from Kendall’s point of view, but Kendall doesn’t seem like the most reliable narrator. When you consider her obsession over both disappearances, the mysterious words she finds on the desks, her relationship with the missing Nico, and her irrational compulsions, she’s a pretty good suspect, and we really don’t know who else might have a motive, since Kendall, our viewpoint character, isn’t familiar with all the secrets of Cryer’s Cross. Suffice it to say that the supernatural is involved, and some terrifying (if logistically difficult to believe) things happen. It’s gripping, if horrifying, in both a physical and psychological sense. What saves Kendall from the same fate as the others is her OCD. When it comes down to it, her “disability” is the key to her survival, and the trust she’s developed with Jacian means she’s discovered and taken to safety before it’s too late. Why all of this happened is a complete mystery that’s only revealed at the end… but is it the end? It makes me shiver just to think about that possibility.
I give major props to Lisa McMann for her sensitive portrayal of someone with an invisible disability. I don’t think I have ever read a description of a character with OCD who was as fully developed and three-dimensional as Kendall is. Yet, Cryer’s Cross is not a “message novel”. It is a horror story. The way Kendall’s personality, and her OCD, shape the story is organic- without it, the story would have a rather abrupt end- but it’s not the focus of the book. I hope this will be a trend in YA fiction- but even if it isn’t, I will definitely be seeking out the work of Lisa McMann. Highly, highly recommended.
Contains: violence, mild kissing
Reviewed by: Kirsten Kowalewski
Nightwalkers by Keith Kekic
Damnation Books, 2010
Available: Used and New
Written from the viewpoint of the main character, Nightwalkers tells the story of a teenage boy who has lost his parents and is living with an aunt he dislikes. Loneliness surrounds him and practically consumes him. He finds some relief from this sad life by going out into the darkness of the night and walking. One night, he runs into a girl he is instantly attracted to, but does not find out her name. She only tells him that if he returns the following night, he will find her once again. This causes him to start going out every night, and eventually he meets others that he comes to know as the "Nightwalkers". Here, in this "other world" he finally finds that he can fit in, but is it a real or imaginary world?
Nightwalkers was a very hard read for me, and honestly, I only ended up reading half of the novel. Page after page, I stumbled upon typos; either misspelled words or words left out of a sentence completely. I can forgive a few typos throughout a book, but the frequency within Nightwalkers really distracted me from the story. I was hoping that the storyline itself would keep me involved enough that I could glance over these errors, but unfortunately I found the story dull and lacking as well. It seemed like there was potential for a great story with Kekic's idea, but it fell short somewhere. Maybe things picked up in the second half of the book, but I don't plan on picking it back up to find out. Others may read this book up and enjoy it from cover to cover, but for me it was a struggle to read it as far as I did.
If given another round or two through the editing stage, it might be worth picking up, but if the first edition is the only one available, I'd pass it by for one of many other great horror books out there today.
Contains: Adult Language, Adult Situations, Violence
Reviewed by: Rhonda Wilson
The Waking: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall
Kara Harper and her father have finally realized their life-long dream of starting a new life in Japan. Looking out at the peaceful blue of Miyazu Bay, photographing Ama-no- Hashidate, the Bridge to Heaven, Kara thinks it’s the most beautiful place on earth. If only her mother had lived to share it with her. As Kara walks up the long, forested path towards the pagoda towers of her new school, she stops at a candlelit shrine where the offerings of local monks and residents remind her of the fascinating and complex culture that this adventure will open to her. But when she sees the freshly built memorial to Akane, a school girl brutally murdered only months before, she discovers that evil may lurk in even the most dream-like places.
Jealousy and unrequited love have caused a horrible tragedy here, and Kara accidentally becomes a conduit. Grief, rage and guilt tear a hole in the fabric of reality, unleashing an unspeakable nightmare that can enter the waking world. Sleep becomes impossible for many. Faceless horrors visit in the night, and the death toll mounts. As terror strangles the minds and hearts of the students, Kara and her friends are determined to destroy the demonic presence and send it back into the shadows of legend.
Vividly told and bone-chilling, Dreams of the Dead is a cool mix of Japanese pop culture, mystery and suspense--intense enough to keep you safely awake all night long. The style is passive and imaginative, and the exotic location is beautifully described. Thomas Randall (a nom de plume for author Christopher Golden) is the author of the popular children’s fantasy series, Adventures in Strangewood (ROC, 2004). Dreams of the Dead is the first book in The Waking series; Spirits of the Noh and A Winter of Ghosts are forthcoming in 2011. Recommended for ages 11-up.
Reviewed by: Sheila Shedd
Three Quarters Dead by Richard Peck
Dial, October 28, 2010
In 1973, when Richard Peck was just starting out as a writer, Robert Cormier’s book The Chocolate War, in which a student seized control of his high school from adult authority figures and brutally bullied his peers, changed YA literature forever. Three Quarters Dead is Peck’s contemporary response to Cormier’s novel.
Richard Peck is a gifted and versatile writer with the ability to create unique characters and distinctive voices and settings. He can be funny, make you jump, and creep you out, sometimes all at the same time. And the concept behind Three Quarters Dead is fascinating, and dreadful. The book is entirely ruined, though, by his choice of narrator.
Kerry is new, and lonely, in her large high school. She knows she doesn’t quite fit in and is fascinated by the three girls at the top of the heap- Tanya, Natalie, and Makenzie- and she’s thrilled when Tanya, the queen bee, invites her to join their inner circle. Tanya is beautiful, intelligent, and confident, but she’s also arrogant, vindictive, and manipulative. Even though Kerry knows she’s being used, she still follows Tanya and the other girls. I hated Kerry. She was naive, grating, and whiny and she did things she knew were wrong, cruel, and dangerous, even when she didn’t want to. She wasn’t a sympathetic character, she was just pathetic, and it destroyed the flow of the story for me.
Peer pressure, bullying, and hazing are in the news right now, and Three Quarters Dead slams home how scary it can be. Tanya, Natalie, and Makenzie are in a fatal car crash when Tanya calls Kerry from her cell phone while driving. A month goes by, and Kerry gets a text on her cell from Tanya telling her to come to New York City. Tanya, Natalie, and Makenzie are all there. When she gets to the city, they’re looking pretty good for dead girls. Of course, somebody always has to pay a price when it comes to cheating death.
Three Quarters Dead is compelling, and in some places sickening and truly frightening. It could work as a contemporary complement to The Chocolate War, as it addresses some of the same themes that appear in Cormier’s novel, so on that level I think Peck succeeded. But I missed the humor and development of the main character that I’m used to in his work, and outside of the appalling Halloween incident, the main feeling I came away with from Three Quarters Dead was exasperation.
Given the prominence of the author, the relevance of the theme, and the quality of the writing, this book is highly recommended for young adult collections in public libraries and in high school and junior high school library media centers, for grades 8 and up.
A Girl, a Ghost, and the Hollywood Hills by Lizabeth Zindel
Viking Juvenile, 2010
In the introduction to A Girl, a Ghost, and the Hollywood Hills, the author explains that her intent is to portray a “Hamlet-inspired ghost story unlike any other”, and there are obvious similarities. Holly has gone off to the East Coast at the start of her freshman year of high school, just a few months after her mother’s death. Not long after her departure for high school, her father drops the bomb that he has begun seeing her aunt; Holly’s late mother’s sister, Claudia. Naturally, Holly is extremely upset with her father and puts off returning home for breaks or holidays to cope with the situation until Christmas break. Shortly after her arrival home for Christmas break, Holly begins seeing her dead mother’s ghost, who asks Holly to seek revenge on Claudia. All of this is very much reminiscent of Hamlet, including the idea that Prince Hamlet may be mad in his visions of the ghost of King Hamlet. In A Girl, a Ghost, and the Hollywood Hills, however, Holly finally agrees toward the end that she is creating these visions, thus ending the idea of a ghostly element.
I had high hopes for this novel given the excerpt on the back, but very quickly, I discovered dialogue that seems contrived accompanied by an easily determinable conclusion. No thrills and chills are to be found within the pages. Instead, the reader will likely find themselves feeling a bit slimy from the content as it includes interjections of sexual content, including a scene in which Holly overhears her father and Claudia having sex.
As there is no real paranormal/ghostly presence, but instead a distraught teenager who struggles to cope with her mother’s death and her father’s indiscretions, this wouldn’t really fall into the horror category.
The publisher’s information says the book is for ages 12 and up; grades 7 and higher, but I would be more apt to say ages 14 and up and grades 9 and higher given the sexual content. If added, I would suggest this be included in a YA public library collection.
Contains: Sexual content
Reviewed by Kelly Fann
The Evil Within: A Possessions Novel by Nancy Holder
The Evil Within is the second book in the Possessions series, of which I have not read the first; however, after completing this one, I’ll be picking up the first book and all that follow it. Nancy Holder has created an incredibly spooky tale full of scorned lovers, murders, attempted murders, ghosts, and of course, possessions. Holder writes a vividly terrifying tale that overflows with ancient superstitions and mythologies that span the globe.
After a brief holiday break, Lindsay has reluctantly returned to the creepy Marlwood Academy; a boarding school with a dark past. It doesn’t take long for Lindsay and the rest of the residents of Marlwood Academy, including the extremely unhappy ghosts that stalk the grounds, to fall back into the swing of things – including attempted murders and possessions. Out of cliques, high school crushes and loves, and general teenage angst, Holder has created strong characters that most teen readers will easily identify with, and spun a dark twist on their interactions with one another.
The Evil Within can be read without having read the first in the series, but after completing The Evil Within, you will want to go back and read the first just because the second novel was that good. For those that enjoyed Holder’s Wicked series, this will be a welcome addition to her growing collection of YA fiction. Recommended for a school or public young adult collection; ages 14 and up.
Contains: mild violence, attempted sexual violence
Reviewed by Kelly Fann
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, ill. by P. J. Lynch
Available: New and Used
“Marley was dead, to begin with”. Charles Dickens doesn’t waste words setting the tone of A Christmas Carol. The bleakness of Marley’s solitary death, and the bitter miserliness of his partner, Ebenezer Scrooge soon establish a dark and lonely atmosphere that lends itself to haunting. Indeed, on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by ghosts, and Marley, chained by his greed, is the first.
It’s hard to believe that a book first published in 1843 is still gripping and compelling. Although there are contemporary references that modern readers will miss, Dickens’ words paint a vivid picture of poverty and social injustice on one hand, and of generosity and goodwill on the other. Truly astonishing is that the chilly, hateful Scrooge is transformed into a sympathetic and even likable character, for whom the reader can feel pity and dread. Visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the events of his childhood and young adulthood raise regrets about the path he has taken. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows how even those with very little share goodwill for the holiday, and how stark the fate of the poor and neglected really is. The final spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is truly terrifying.
The watercolor and gouache illustrations by P.J. Lynch complement the story well. Dark colors create a sense of foreboding. Because the illustrations are overall so dark and bleak, it is noticeable when light appears. Candles, lamps, and fires appear in many illustrations, sometimes shedding light and sometimes burnt out. In addition to full page illustrations and occasional double page spreads, Lynch uses the corners and margins of the pages to blend the illustrations into the words, so it feels like you are stepping right into the story. The door knocker that Scrooge sees transformed into Marley’s face is right in the middle of the page, and its appearance there almost made me jump! The phantoms filling the air during Marley’s visit flee in misery across two pages, powerful enough images to stop your breath as you take in the words and pictures together. The black draperies of the faceless and silent Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, inspire fear and dread.
Because there are so many adaptations of A Christmas Carol, it’s hard sometimes to remember its origin as not just a Christmas story but also a ghost story. The secular message of goodwill, of celebrating family, and of generosity, renewed the spirit of Christmas in England and America, but without the wonder, pity, and terror inspired by the four spirits that led to Scrooge’s redemption, it would be a thin tale indeed. While A Christmas Carol is certainly powerful enough to stand on its own, Lynch’s illustrations add another dimension, literally drawing us into the story, making it an unforgettable reading experience. Although most libraries will have A Christmas Carol in their collection, it’s absolutely worthwhile to add Lynch’s illustrated version to academic and public library collections and school library media centers. Highly recommended.
Review by Kirsten Kowalewski
Dare by Brett Williams
Walking to school the day before Halloween, Davey and Dennis spot a cat hanging
in front of the old, abandoned Bentley place. Dennis tells Davey the story of
how the Victorian house is said to be haunted after old man Bentley killed his
family several years ago and that their ghosts still live within. Davey is
hesitant to believe his friend’s story, but later that day when they return to
see if the cat is still hanging where they last saw it, Dennis still insists
that it is true. About that time, Davey’s crush from school, Lacy, shows up and
asks what they are up to. Dennis accuses Davey of being chicken and not wanting
to go check out the house with him. Being teenage boys, this starts a back and
forth argument and ends up in a DARE! Not wanting to look bad in front of Lacy,
Davey agrees to the dare, but not in daylight where they could get caught going
into the house. They all agree that the next night, on Halloween, when they are
out trick-or-treating, that Davey and Dennis will go into the old Bentley place,
but what will they find inside?
Brett Williams’ The Dare is a very fun Halloween read! The first part of the book is basically setting up the scene of who is who and getting the “dare” initiated. It also sets the stage for the “haunted house” that Davey and Dennis are to investigate. The second part of the book is where the kids are going around trick or treating, which is a lot of fun as you get to witness the antics of kids of all ages and also foreshadows to dangers ahead as Lacy and her friend run into a couple of creepy characters that are in search of the Bentley place. And the last part of the book takes place when they finally reach the Bentley place and Davey and Dennis venture inside. Williams does an excellent job with the flow of the story and building up to the final scenes of the book. This book seems to be aimed towards a young adult audience, but I think that fans of horror at any age would enjoy this great novel. Highly Recommended!
Review by Rhonda Wilson
Sleepless by Thomas Fahy
Simon & Schuster, 2009
Availability: New and Used
After a trip to New Orleans,
the students of Saint Opportuna High begin to have nightmares: horrible
nightmares about killing people. The only problem is that they aren’t just
nightmares. After several nights, the students wake up to realize that they
actually have killed people. Emma Montgomery and her friends, who have all had
these nightmares, decide that they have to stick together and stay awake long
enough to figure out what is happening. They need to know who - or what - is
causing this, and how they can stop it before any of them kills…or ends up dead.
Fahy has written an excellent tale that will make it difficult for readers to feel safe dreaming afterward. It is well written, the characters are believable, and the reader will be drawn into the story by the frightening atmosphere that the immediacy of the action creates. The incorporation of flashback sequences is excellent, giving snippets of background information precisely when it is needed. The dream sequences are also well done, giving the story a whole other dimension of horror. The only drawback is that those who have read a lot of horror novels or murder mysteries may find the story slightly predictable. Overall, it is a satisfying read and will appeal to a fairly wide audience, including both YA girls and some YA guys. Recommended for public library YA horror collections.
Contains drug use, violence and murder
Review by Stacey L. Wilson, Master of Library and Information Science candidate at The University of Western Ontario.
Devoured by Amanda Marrone
Simon Pulse, 2009
Availability: September 2009
Megan just wants to make sure
that her new boyfriend, Ryan, stays out of the clutches of his smitten best
friend, Samantha. That’s why she’s working for the summer at the Land of
Enchantment, an amusement park filled with fairy tale princesses. But when the
ghost of her twin sister, Remy, begins to show up more and more, forcing
gruesome visions on Megan, she is not sure how long she will last. Luckily, her
co-worker, Luke, can also see the ghost and might be able to help Megan figure
out what Remy is trying to tell her and help her to move on. However, Megan’s
new friend Ari has a thing for Luke and Luke has a thing for Megan, which makes
for a very tricky situation. Megan has to help her sister and keep everyone’s
jealousy at bay before something bad happens...but can she?
Marrone delivers a finely woven tale – a fairy tale and modern horror story – all in one frightening package. The story has many layers that interact very smoothly and create an atmosphere that is at times chilling and at others sad or uplifting. Written in the present tense with a skilled hand, the story is also given a thrilling sense of immediacy. The dynamics between friends and the family relationships, which are key to the story, are very believable as well, even given Marrone’s inclusion of elements of the fantastic. Devoured will appeal primarily to YA girls and is a novel that some will definitely want to read more than once. Recommended for public library YA horror collections.
Contains violence and murder.
Review by Stacey L. Wilson, Master of Library and Information Science candidate at The University of Western Ontario.
Monster’s Proof by Richard Lewis
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009
Ten year old Darby Ell is brilliant at mathematics, but not so good at being liked. Intrigued by the “thingamabob conjecture” his aunt Ludy discovered just before she went bananas, he becomes obsessed with proving it. As he works on it, the mathematical construct, which calls itself Bob, starts to communicate and interact with him, and even takes on substance. At first, Bob seems friendly to Darby, but Bob’s need for truth, order and beauty takes on a sinister tone as it begins to alter an imperfect reality. Darby’s older sister Livey is having math worries of her own- she’s flunking algebra, and about to get kicked off the cheerleading squad. Luckily, Darby and Livey have guardian angels, of a sort. Aether is Darby’s companion as he travels through Hilbert space and hyperdimensions looking for a way to control Bob, and Johnny guides and protects Livey as she searches for her lost brother.
Nothing is quite as it seems in Monster’s Proof. There’s more to Darby than math, and there’s more depth to Livey’s character than one might expect from a cheerleader. The book often says that math is truth, but while Bob might be truthful, he isn’t trustworthy- he is selfish and manipulative. Other characters may be flawed, or have “messy” relationships, but there’s the possibility of redemption in the love that they share. Echoes of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time resonate through Monster’s Proof, in particular a moment near the end where Darby’s mother has to identify the “real” Darby, but it’s clear that Lewis’ intent is much different, and his tone is much darker. Lewis also uses humor throughout the book, not just as a device, but as a way to move the story forward. He had me cheering for mathematically challenged Livey at the end! Since Livey and Darby are both point-of-view characters, Monster’s Proof may appeal to both genders. It’s worth a sell to teenage girls, who might pass it over because of the cover or title. Not only does Livey defeat a mathematical demon(something I wish I’d been able to do in algebra), but her romance with Johnny is reminiscent of Bella and Edward’s. Boys will enjoy a fast-paced read that involves NSA plots, tearing around hyperdimensions with a fractal sword, a conspiracy to take over the world, and an underdog coming out on top. With this book, libraries have a chance to make room on the shelf for something a little different from the endless parade of YA vampire novels. Recommended especially for middle and high school library media centers.
Review by Kirsten Kowalewski
Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender
Disney Hyperion, 2009
Availability: New and Used
Alexis, a budding photographer and anti-popular-kids activist, lives in the oldest house in town. Like all old houses, this one has a long and strange history, and some very odd things begin to happen after a photo shoot in the backyard. Her younger sister, thirteen year old Kasey, starts behaving very strangely: her eyes flash from blue to green, she has violent outbursts, becomes utterly obsessed with dolls and has no recollection of any of her weird behavior. Strange things also happen in the house: the air conditioner stays on, even with the breaker turned off, and strange lights hover near the bedroom windows. Alexis is worried about what’s happening: is she going crazy, or is there something evil causing all of these strange things? Most of all, can she stop her sister before she hurts herself...or anyone else?
This is very much a can’t-put-it-down-‘til-I’ve-read-it-all kind of book. Although some of Alender’s description reads like a textbook tutorial, especially when elaborating on subjects like photography and microfiche, she creates an engaging atmosphere and draws the reader in, evoking the same emotions in the reader as the characters are feeling. The family and peer relationships are very real, although Kasey often comes across as much younger than she is, and is often treated by the characters as if she were half their age. There are excellent twists in the plot and the book was very satisfying on the whole. Recommended for public library YA horror collections.
Review by Stacey L. Wilson, Master of Library and Information Science candidate at The University of Western Ontario
ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley
Little Brown Books Young Readers, 2008
Charlotte Usher is friendless. She wants to be noticed, but her classmates, including handsome, popular Damen Dylan, don’t know she’s alive. And then she chokes to death. Charlotte has unfinished business, though, and she ends up in Dead Ed with other teenage ghosts. She is sure that going to the Harvest Ball with Damen will resolve her issues, but that’s a challenge, since she’s dead. .
Charlotte is pathetic, but she isn’t sympathetic. She admires popular and beautiful Petula, whose main personality traits are vanity, viciousness, and super-sized ego. She uses her ghostly invisibility to stalk Damen, and she even convinces Petula’s defiant goth punk sister, Scarlet, to let Charlotte possess her so she can use Scarlet’s body to get close to Damen. But Damen turns out to have a little more going on under the surface than the standard popular jock, and Scarlet actually starts to like him herself.
Readers with a dark sense of humor will enjoy ghostgirl. Occasionally subtle, often sharp, and in places, almost slapstick (Scarlet’s bizarre tryout for the cheerleading team while possessed comes to mind), ghostgirl has subversive appeal. The story is seeded with descriptive details and contemporary references teens will appreciate. The book’s design is unusual and visually striking, with a “ghostgirl” in silhouette on the cover, and elaborately framed epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Hurley is also an independent filmmaker, and as the events speed along, with acrobatics, car accidents, and ghostly antics taking center stage, it’s easy to see that the book could translate well to the silver screen. The growing depth of Scarlet and Damen’s characters, and the awkward beginnings of their friendship are probably the most interesting part of the story, but it is Charlotte’s first attempts at real friendship that take the story beyond satire. Ghostgirl is not a book that needed a sequel, but Hurley managed to leave a door open for one, and ghostgirl: Homecoming is due out this summer. Recommended for high school library media centers and public library teen collections.
Contains: mild sex, lighthearted treatment of death, destructive behavior, possession.
Review by Kirsten Kowalewski
Demon Queen by Richard Lewis
Simon and Schuster, 2008
Available: Pre-order (June,2008)
Jesse has grown up in the foster
care system, never knowing his real parents. Unfairly seized by Homeland
Security, he is released to the Mindells, a foster family living in the town of
Longview. As Jesse begins to settle into his new community, Honor Clarke moves
to town, dealing with the death of her father in a freak accident. Jesse feels a
mysterious connection with Honor. He suspects that Honor is behind a number of
strange occurrences, including a rogue pig interrupting a funeral, a student
suddenly being attacked by a wasp, and an unexplainable illness contracted by
Jesse’s friend. It is up to Jesse to find out what is going on and put a stop to
the bizarre events. Demon Queen is a very high quality, well written bit of
young adult occult horror. The plotting is well done, and Lewis does an
excellent job of making Jesse a likable and sympathetic protagonist. The
characters have depth and are interesting, avoiding the stereotypes that often
populate y/a literature. As an added bonus, the book may appeal to both male and
female readers. Highly recommended for public and school libraries.
Contains: minor gore, references to the occult and witchcraft, animal mutilation and killing
Weregirls: Birth of the Pack by Petru Popescu
Tor Teen, 2007
Lily Willison and her friends Nikki, Arielle, and Grazia start up a girls’ soccer club at her school called the Weregirls. When the new girl, Andra Hewlit, senses that Lily has supernatural powers, she seeks to co-opt them and creates her own soccer club. Lily finds out from communications with her deceased father that Lily and her friends have special powers granted by spirit wolves that allow the girls to take on the properties of the wolves. As Lily uses her new powers, an evil force called the Breed is summoned and the Weregirls must battle this new enemy. Although the girls are able to change into the form of their wolf spirit equivalent, Birth of the Pack is really a supernatural tale. Readers hoping for a werewolf story will be disappointed, but those open to an unusual supernatural adventure series will enjoy this book.
Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo, ill by Michael Foreman
Candlewick Press, 2006
High school English teachers will cheer to see this accessible, visually attractive retelling of Beowulf by the British Children's Laureate, Michael Morpurgo. The language used in translations and retellings is often a barrier preventing teens from experiencing the impact of the dramatic battles between heroes and monsters. While Morpurgo's writing does still use challenging vocabulary, it is told more as a narrative story than as a long poem, and Morpurgo's fine storytelling, accompanied by vivid color illustrations, will be a more comfortable way for most readers to engage with the text. I was surprised to discover the many references to Christianity in the story, because the title character certainly isn’t turning the other cheek! If violent struggles to the death with cannibalistic monsters, evil sea-hags, and death-dragons are your cup of tea, you'll want to spend some time revisiting the story of Beowulf as retold here. Collection promotion note: This book is considered nonfiction and falls into the 820s. Pairing it with fiction with similar themes could encourage its checkout. Highly recommended for middle and high school library media centers and for young adult collections in public libraries.
Contains: Violence, gore, cannibalism, decapitation, references to Christianity.
Stories for Young People: Edgar Allan Poe, ed. by Andrew Delbanco and ill. by Gerard DuBois
Sterling Publishing, 2006
This book is a good introduction for the reader getting ready to take on the intricacies of language in the writing of Edgar Allan Poe. The book starts with a brief biography of the author and then leads the reader through five of Poe's most famous short stories. Each of the stories is preceded by a short summary that ends by asking the reader an open ended question about the text. The words in each story remain entirely Poe's- there is no abridgment- but words that may be challenging to the reader are listed in the corner of each page with a short definition, meaning the reader can continue to "flow" with the text rather than having to stop and look up every unknown word. Unfortunately, the words needing definition are not identified within the story, and a reader unaware of the feature might fail to take advantage of it. As with many books aimed at reluctant readers, the book is visually attractive and designed with plenty of white space. The illustrations by Gerard DuBois are appropriately creepy in nature, with his murky oils creating an atmosphere of depression, fear, and madness. While not a textbook, there is certainly a place in the classroom for a book like this one. It's a far cry from the permabound anthology with its tiny print and nonexistent margins that I used in school. And anyone who chances to come across this on their own may find themselves intrigued enough to explore further the works of this master of mystery and terror. Recommended for public library young adult collections and highly recommended for school library media centers in middle and high schools. Contains: live burials, madness, murder, alcoholic drinking, plague and pestilence, revenge.
A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz
Maud Flynn is a troublemaking, unattractive, orphan: the girl most unlikely to be adopted. However, she is the perfect choice for Hyacinth Hawthorne and her elderly sisters. The charismatic Hyacinth convinces Maud to play the part of a ghostly “secret child.” The sisters, posing as psychic mediums able to bring a dead child back to communicate with her wealthy mother, need Maud to carry out their fraud. As Maud studies the life and personality of the girl she will impersonate, she begins to dream of the girl and her death and even meets the girl’s mother. Maud’s experiences make her question the sisters’ motives and affection for her. When the séance intended to convince the dead girl’s mother ends with a disastrous fire, Maud is left behind, and nearly burns to death, Her escape reveals the truth, but as an adopted child, Maud is returned to her legal guardians, and her future does not look to be a pleasant one.
Schlitz creates an ominous atmosphere, descriptive of places, visions, and events, which reaches its creepiest and most terrifying in the final séance. But it is the skillful characterization that makes the book. Maud changes from defiant and unhappy, into a girl eager for the sisters’ love, finally becoming a sympathetic, resourceful, and clear-minded character. Hyacinth is almost sociopathic, mercilessly and even gleefully manipulating people to achieve status and wealth. But Schlitz’s triumph is that her characters cannot be contained neatly. They are too “messy,” and their unpredictability lends them believability. Highly recommended for upper elementary and teen readers looking for a good ghost story. Contains: horrific events Review by Francesca the Librarian
Witch- Book Three of the Sweep Series by Cate Tiernan
Penguin Group 2007
Available: New and Used
Morgan’s quest to learn more about her family, especially her mother, continues in Blood Witch. Now that Morgan has the Book of Shadows, she is able to read the words her mother wrote As Morgan continues to practice magick, other blood witches, threatened by her power strengthen their coven to work against her. Blood Witch is just as enveloping as the others, and leaves you wanting to find out what comes next. However, this one had an intriguing darkness to it that the others did not.
Contains: Some language, references to Wicca, witchcraft
Book Two of the Sweep Series by Cate Tiernan
Penguin Group, 2007
Available: New and Used
In a very short period of time, Morgan Rowland has lost her best friend, gained a boyfriend, and discovered that she is a blood witch. Does that means her parents and sister are blood witches as well, or is there more to her mystery? As Morgan uncovers family secrets, she realizes the only person she can count on is Cal. Another gripping tale from Cate Tiernan, this book flows from the previous book, Book of Shadows, and the story continues in Blood Witch, also published this year. Impatient readers won’t have to wait long to find out what happens next to Morgan and Cal.
Contains: Some language, references to Wicca, witchcraft. Review by Kate-Lynn Williams
One of the Sweep Series by Cate Tiernan
Penguin Group, 2007
Morgan Rowland’s life changes the day she met Cal Blair. When Cal comes to school that first day, his confidence in himself makes every girl want him and every guy want to be him. Cal’s interest, however, is in Morgan. He introduces her to Wiccan practices. Morgan finds her world dramatically altered by inexplicable events stemming from these practices, and begins to question who she really is. Book of Shadows is a well-written, fast-paced, gripping story. It kept me breathless and on the edge of my seat with the suspense and plot twists. This book is a great choice for a rainy afternoon- because readers will be compelled to finish it in one sitting.
Contains: Some language, references to Wicca, witchcraft Review by Kate-Lynn Williams
Return of Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac and Sally Wern Comport
Available: New and Used
Molly hasn’t really recovered from her terrifying experience with Skeleton Man, a greedy creature who kidnapped her parents and then posed as her uncle. Although she and her parents escaped, Skeleton Man was never found, and Molly knows he’s out there, planning to get her. Her parents, determined that life should go on as normally as possible, take Molly with them to an isolated hotel resort in the mountains of upstate New York at the end of October, where they are blocked off from the outside world from a sudden blizzard, with a celebration of Dia de los Muertos inside. With costumed crowds, dark hallways and twisty trails, it’s a perfect location for the Skeleton Man to grab Molly. In addition to the resourcefulness Molly exhibited in the first book, she manages also to gain some powerful allies. The vivid detail in Bruchac’s writing draws a compelling picture, and his knowledge of Native American traditions comes across effectively. Where the story really excels, however, is in creating an atmosphere of foreboding, uncertainty, and fear. The story is told by Molly in first person, so the reader experiences these emotions up close and personal. Molly’s actual confrontation with the Skeleton Man is almost a disappointment after the ominous feelings foreshadowed by Molly’s nightmares and intuitions. The Return of Skeleton Man works as a stand alone novel, but is best enjoyed as a follow-up to Skeleton Man, which has now been described by School Library Journal as “a modern horror classic.” Ages 9-12. Recommended. Contains: kidnapping. Review by Francesca the Librarian
The Intruders by E.E. Richardson
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, August, 2006
In the Intruders Richardson whips up a great pure ghost story. Joel, his sister Cassie and their mother move into a house with his mother's new fiancé Gerald and his two sons. In addtion to coping with the resentment of the children over the joining of their two families, they also have to deal with ghosts that are in the house. Joel begins having terrifying nightmares, sees a shadowy figure in the house, and feels strange sensations suggesting that he is not alone. Soon all four children are drawn in, and must solve the mystery of who the ghosts are and why they are haunting the house. This is Richardson's second offering, and it is stronger than his first, The Devil's Footsteps. Richardson does a great job of telling a terrifying, page-turning tale of ghosts and hauntings. The interplay between the two sets of siblings is believable and adds realism to the story. Teens looking for a good ghost story will find that The Intruders is exactly what the doctor ordered. Please note that the Those looking for a little romance with their horror, however, will need to look elsewhere. Recommended. Contains: Supernatural scares, murder and mention of suicide.
The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick
Wendy Lamb Books, October, 2004
Available: New and Used
In The Book of Dead Days, Marcus Sedgwick introduces us to Boy, a teenage orphan who is the servant and apprentice to a stage magician named Valerian. Valerian is on a quest to find a book that will help him get out of a deal he made with supernatural forces to give up his life in return for material wealth. When the manager of the theater they perform at is murdered, Willow, also an orphan, joins them on their journey in order to escape the prison where they are all being held as suspects. Sedgwick does a really good job of painting a picture of the bleak city where the story takes place. A feeling of gloom pervades the story, and there is an unmistakable feeling of mystery surrounding Valerian's quest. Unfortunately for the reader, however, Sedgwick establishes story threads that have importance to the plot, but he fails to follow through, leaving loose ends that include a serial killer left on the loose, and the mystery of the identity of Boy's parents. Sedgwick is also vague when it comes to explaining the relationships and history between characters, leaving the reader with more than one "Huh?" moment. Ultimately, the reader feels unsatisfied by the dangling plot threads and unexplained relationships. Although this book has a sequel, it still needed to satisfy on its own. The sequel to this book is The Dark Flight Down. Contains: violence and murder.
Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Gris Grimly
Atheneum, August, 2004
Available: New and Used
Four of Poe's classic tales are presented here. In The Black Cat, a man blames his black cat for his descent into murder and madness, The Masque of the Red Death is a tale about nobles who hole up in a castle in an attempt to escape the disease that is ravaging the countryside. Hop-Frog is a story about a diminutive jester ordered to entertain a cruel king, and The Fall of the House of Usher, tells of a visitor's journey and arrival at to a cursed family's mansion . These tales have been brought to life with vivid illustrations by Gris Grimly. These vary from the dark and disturbing to the light and whimsical. Although Poe's tales can be found in a variety of books and formats, this book stands out. Grimly's art may attract teens who might be intimidated by the traditional presentaion of Poe's work. Grimly's illustrations have the feel of a touch of madness to them and complement Poe's tales perfectly, providing a great hook for reluctant readers.
Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
HarperTrophy; Reprint ed, August, 2003
Available: New and Used
Joseph Bruchac retells a tale from the Mohawk Indians about a man who was so hungry he ate his own flesh, leaving nothing but a skeleton, and then ate the rest of his family with the exception of a young niece. In Bruchac's story, Molly's parents mysteriously disappear one evening without a trace. Molly is convinced that they will come back and maintains the illusion of going through her school day until social services finds her living at home alone and takes her into protective custody. Molly is then introduced to a long lost uncle that she has never met or heard of, who is supposed to take care of her. Her "uncle' acts strangely and locks Molly in her room every night.... could this long lost uncle be the skeleton man? Skeleton Man is a great book for younger teens. Bruchac does a fantastic job of building suspense through out the book and teasing the reader with the idea that Molly's "uncle" is really the skeleton man out of Mohawk tradition. Recommended for school libraries for upper elementary and junior high school level reading and public libraries. Contains: descritpion of cannibalism.
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
Rebound by Sagebrush, October, 1999
Available: New and Used
Lois Duncan presents us with a chilling Gothic nightmare in Down a Dark Hall. Kit is starting eighth grade at the very exclusive Blackwood School. It’s so exclusive there are only three other students! A local tells Kit there are rumors that the house the school is in is haunted by the family of the previous owner, who had all died in a terrible fire. Strange things have started happening to the girls- Lynda, who has never studied art, suddenly becomes a talented artist; another girl is visited by a ghostly lady in a white dress, and Kit is waking up at the piano with stiff fingers, although she has very limited skill. Isolated, finally without any communication to the outside world, the girls discover that their headmistress is a medium with sinister intentions, who is using them as receivers for artists, musicians, writers, and mathematicians. As the spirit possessions become more frightening, Kit looks for a way to escape before they are all completely taken over. Suggested for grades 5 and up. Highly recommended for public library collections and school library media centers. Contains: Spirit possession, violence, mention of suicide, disturbing behavior, ghosts, and suggestion of romantic intent.
Clay by David Almond
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, July,
Available : New and Used
In Clay, David Almond introduces us to David, an altar boy who occasionally drinks a little extra communion wine and smokes stolen cigarettes with his friend Geordie. David's life changes when he befriends Stephen Rose, a new arrival in town, at the request of the local priest. Stephen turns out to be a gifted sculptor. As his friendship with Stephen grows, David learns that Stephen has the ability to mesmerize people and that he had been kicked out of his school for playing with the dark arts. Stephen shows David that together they have the ability to animate some of Stephen's clay sculptures. David and Stephen build a huge clay figure, and bring it to life, but David becomes afraid and runs off. David finds out the next morning that the neighborhood bully, who has given David a hard time, has been found dead. The rest of the day clay creature follows David around waiting for his command. When David tries to put the clay automaton down he sparks a confrontation with Stephen, resulting in Stephen escaping and the end of their creation. The story is character driven, and Almond does a great job of developing David into a sympathetic and tormented character. Some of the dialogue, however, may be difficult to read or understand. Potential readers should be aware that , although the title and cover art suggest otherwise, the clay creature appears only toward the last half of the story and isn't really the focus or even the source of the terror in the book for David. Stephen Rose who goes from being an awkward new kid to a manipulative destructive evildoer, is the true monster. An interesting take on the creation of a golem, Clay ends up being a solid story. Recommended addition. to YA collections. Contains: some kissing and a description of a murder.
Ghosts of Albion:
Initiation, by Amber Benson and Christopher Golden.
Subterranean Press, 2006
Available: New and Used
Ghosts of Albion: Initiation introduces us to the Victorian world of
William and Tamara Swift. The siblings have abruptly discovered they have
inherited their grandfather’s responsibilities as magical protectors of Albion,
the soul of England, when he is killed in front of them by were-beasts. Aided by
the ghosts of Bodicea, Lord Byron, and Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, William and
Tamara must defeat supernatural enemies and protect the people they care about.
Ghosts of Albion was developed by Benson and Golden as an online animated show created for the BBC. Initiation consists of the scripts for the first episode, “Legacy,” the third episode, “Embers,” and a short piece, “Illusions,” that provides some backstory on Nigel Townsend, a crucial character in both episodes. On paper the dialogue seems a little over the top, but it works in the context of the show. The brother/sister relationship, witty banter, ghostly characters, and a creative take on horror and fantasy conventions (zombie monkeys?) make Initiation an engaging and entertaining stand-alone read and an intriguing introduction to the show. Contains: violence, murder, demonic possession.
The episodes of the show may be watched at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ghosts/
Francesca the Librarian
Devil's Footsteps by E.E. Richardson
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, August,
When Bryan was ten, his older brother, Adam, disappeared, taken by the Dark Man. At fifteen, Bryan meets Stephen, who has seen the Dark Man, and Jake, who has had his best friend taken by the Dark Man. The three boys go on a quest to uncover the secret of the Dark Man and find a way to stop him. Devil's Footsteps is plain old fashioned creepy supernatural horror. Richardson writes a brilliantly crafted tale that invokes a shudder when you read it. The Dark Man in the story is able to use the children's fears against them which leads to some truly twisted scenes. This is a book is for those looking for something truly unnerving and scary to read. There is no romance subplot, and it really isn't a buddy book. It goes for the creepy factor and it delivers. I recommend this book as a fine addition to any teen horror section. Contains: some gore and horror situations.
The Hollow: Horseman by Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore
Razorbill, May, 2005
Shane and Aimee Lancaster have moved to the town of Sleepy Hollow with their father. When they arrive strange events start to occur. To make matters worse, there is the headless horseman who is taking the heads of the residents of Sleepy Hollow. It is up to Shane, Aimee, and their new friend Stasia to find out why the horseman has risen and what he wants. The first in the series, The Hollow: Horseman lays the ground work for the rest of the books, it introduces us to Jeckle and Hyde, two friends of Shane's who don't play a role in this book butare fleshed out in following books. The book and the series is well written and has many different storylines running underneath such as the constant conflict between the introverted Shane and his extroverted sister Aimee. It also hints at a romantic storyline that continues through the series. The book has a little something for everyone: action, romance, mystery, and, of course, murderous creatures of the night. The series is continued in The Hollow: Drowned and The Hollow: Mischief. Recommended read. Contains: murders by supernatural creatures, mentions of teen drinking and drug use.
The Hollow: Drowned by Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore
Razorbill, August, 2005
Shane Lancaster and his sister Aimee are descendants of Ichabod Crane, the fellow in the Sleepy Hollow story who had a run in with the headless horseman. When they move to Sleepy Hollow from Boston their presence unleashes supernatural forces dormant in Sleepy Hollow. It is up to Shane, Aimee, and her best friend Stasia to uncover the cause of mysterious drownings that are occurring as well as what attacked a group of teens having a party in a cornfield. The Hollow has the feel of a Scooby Doo mystery, with a bunch of normal teens doing detective work to solve a case- but at the end, instead of a man in a rubber mask, they face a true supernatural creature. The unresolved romantic tension between Shane and Stasia also gives the book a touch of Buffy. This is a well-written book that moves along quickly. The second in a series, it follows The Hollow: Horseman and precedes The Hollow: Mischief. Recommended as a good fit for reluctant readers looking for horror stories and for creature-loving readers. Contains murders by supernatural creatures.
The Hollow: Mischief by Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore
Razorbill, February, 2006
Third in the series, the continuing saga of siblings Aimee and Shane Lancaster, descendants of Ichabod Crane, who is responsible for the many demons, spirits, and creatures that haunt Sleepy Hollow. Aimee and Shane feel a duty to track down and stop these critters that their ancestor has unleashed upon the town. In this installment, vandalism has run rampant, causing a great amount of damage and a few fatalities. The blame for these events has been laid at the feet of Mark Hyde, one of Shane and Aimee's friends and it is up to them to uncover what is causing the mayhem and stop it. This book is as focused on Mark Hyde as it is on the mischief going on in Sleepy Hollow and the attempts to stop it. There also is the continuing development of the relationship between Shane and his sister's friend Stasia. This book turns into one part horror book and one part teen romance. For this series you really need to read the books in order to understand the relationships between the characters. A complaint that I have about this book in particular is that Golden and Gilmore throw in characters just to kill them off: if the authors had fleshed the characters out enough so the reader could care about them, it would have made a much more engaging story. The book that follows this is The Hollow: Enemies. Contains: murder by supernatural creatures.
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