Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A spooky Book Birthday to Spirit Hunters!

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083

Recommended for readers 9-13

Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?

Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.

I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Monstertown gets Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies!

9781484713242Monstertown Mysteries (#2): Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies!, by Bruce Hale, (Mar. 2017, Disney/Hyperion), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4847-1324-2

Recommended for readers 8-12

When we last saw Carlos and his friend Benny, they’d just saved their social studies teacher from a miserable life as a were-hyena. Just when they think it’s safe to relax, they’re… bored. Seriously, where do you go from were-animals, right? They shouldn’t have worried – the lunch ladies are acting weird. I mean, weird. They start feeding the boys junk food, and the girls… well, the boys catch a glimpse of what the girls are eating, and it looks like “greenish glop, scrambled eggs, fish sticks, and a sloppy joe thing with maybe-grasshoppers inside it”. Over the next few days, kids start disappearing – all boys – and the girls start getting very aggressive. They’re talking back, bullying kids, acting kind of like the boys do! They sneer at their male classmates and threaten to bite off their heads and suck out their insides! Carlos and Benny start investigating, and they’re pretty sure that the lunch ladies are giant preying mantises that have plans for both the girls and boys in their neighborhood, but who’s going to believe them?

The second Monstertown Mystery is just as much fun as the first one, with more laughs and a lot more gross humor. (Seriously, put down that snack or that sandwich while you read this. You’re welcome.) There’s some nice social commentary about sexism, even if it comes with the whole female-biting-a-male’s-head-off sort of thing; a particularly strong statement by Carlos’ friend Tina toward the book’s conclusion. Put this out with your Goosebumps books, your Lovecraft¬†Middle School books,¬†and your Haunted Mansion novel (when are we getting another volume of that?) and watch the kids swarm. Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! comes with a lenticular cover, just like The Curse of the Were-Hyena did, for transformation fun.

Come on, this is a no-brainer add to collections.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Doll’s Eye is SO creepy. Perfect for horror fans.

dolls-eyeThe Doll’s Eye, by Marina Cohen, (Feb. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626722040

Recommended for ages 9-13

Twelve year-old Hadley is not thrilled with her mother’s decisions. Since she married Ed, whose 6 year-old son, Isaac, is nosy and allergic to everything, means Hadley’s constantly chasing him away from her stuff AND her entire way of eating has changed to accommodate Isaac. They’ve moved out of their apartment and away from her friends to live in this huge, dilapidated house, away from everything, because her mom and Ed got it cheap. Her mother even broke her promise to send Hadley to summer camp with her best friend, to go on a family road trip instead. And worst of all, her mother seems to have no time for her anymore. The only neighbor her age is a bug-obsessed kid named Gabe; at least the tenant, an older woman named Althea, treats her like a granddaughter.

Hadley discovers an old dollhouse with a doll family, and wishes her family were perfect, just like the dolls. But you should always be careful with wishes…

Doll’s Eye is creeptastic and perfect for middle grade horror fans that are ready for some more scares in their reading. Hadley is well thought-out and written, and her supporting characters will keep readers turning pages. Wacky former neighbor Grace is a delight, a scary movie staple as the person who’s in tune with the spirit world. The unexpected ending will get some strong reactions – Doll’s Eye is a great book to give to Goosebumps fans who are ready to go next level.

Give this to your Mary Downing Hahn fans and tell them between The Doll’s Eye and Took (by Hahn), they’ll be looking at their dolls (or their siblings’ dolls) with a very different set of eyes.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Ghosts roam The Shadow House… but who are they?

shadow-house_coverThe Gathering (Shadow House #1), by Dan Poblocki, (Aug. 2016, Scholastic Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9780545925501

Recommended for ages 8-12

Poppy is pretty much an orphan, abandoned as a baby and raised in a group home, where she’s known as “Crazy Poppy” because of the ghostly friend that lives in her mirror and who leaves her little gifts. She receives a letter from a long lost relative, thrilled to have found her, and invites her to live with her at Larkspur Estate.

Marcus is a musical prodigy who always hears music in his head. He receives a full scholarship to the Larkspur Academy of Music and can’t wait to be around other musicians.

Azumi is lost without her sister, who disappeared into a Japanese forest on a family trip. She receives word that she’s been accepted to the prestigious Larkspur Academy, where she can start over in a place where no one knows her.

Dash and Dylan are twin brothers, child stars who have left their show to go on to bigger and better things. They’re offered the chance to star in a horror movie to be filmed at a school… Larkspur Academy.

When the tweens all arrive at Larkspur, they realize that something is wrong. No one is there to greet them or explain what’s going on. Children wearing ghostly masks show up and try to attack them. What is really going on in the Shadow House?

This first book in a new middle grade horror series is a lot of fun, with a lot of creepiness that kids will love. If they’re ready for a little more than Goosebumps, but not old enough yet for Madeline Roux’s Asylum books, this is the book to give them. It’s a fast-paced read, switching between the points of view of the main characters (one of whom is hiding a whopper of a secret) and revealing little bits of information at a time. The ending left me a little wanting, but I’m hoping that book two, due in December, will clear the confusion up.

Scholastic is going all out with this series. There’s a Shadow House website with links to a healthy print excerpt, an audio excerpt, and an app that lets users explore the Shadow House. I haven’t downloaded it, but I may snag my son’s iPad (my phone is almost out of memory) and try it out. If you use it, comment here and let me know!

If you have horror fans, add this one to your list. I’ll booktalk this with the Haunted Mansion and Haunted Museum series.

 

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Skin crawling YA horror: The Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics

women-in-the-wallsThe Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics (Sept. 2016, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780373211944

Recommended for ages 13+

Lucy Acosta lives with her cousin, Margaret, her aunt, Penelope, and her father, Felix, in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods. Her mother died when she was three, leaving her to be raised by her loving aunt and distant father. When Lucy is 17, Penelope takes a walk into the woods and disappears, throwing the household into chaos. Margaret, Penelope’s daughter, is becoming unhinged, telling Lucy that she hears her dead mother talking to her through the walls, telling her to join her. Her father, obsessed with throwing dinner parties for the exclusive club he belongs to, ignores Lucy’s pleas for help; he won’t accept any sign of weakness. As Lucy tries to get to the bottom of the voices in the walls, she starts hearing them too; and when she begins digging into her family’s legacy, the things she find may doom her.

This was a gloriously creepy novel with just enough gore to move it from haunted house novel to horror. Think Wicker Man meets The Legacy (wow, did I just date myself with that reference), with wonderful madness tossed in, to make things interesting. Be warned, delicate sensibilities and stomachs may find some of the language and violence too much. This is not a book for your conservative readers.

Lucy and Margaret are fairy skin-deep characters with the potential for deeper storytelling, but it’s not really their story, as you’ll discover. The real development is going on around them. Think of Lucy as the narrator – which she is – and the host of the story. She’s the central character, but she’s in the dark almost as much as we readers are. The supporting characters are where the story lies, and when the elements all come together, this is a page-turning read. Horror and suspense fans will enjoy this one.

Posted in Horror, Humor, Teen, Tween Reads

Gina Damico’s Wax: You’ll never look at a candle the same way again.

waxWax, by Gina Daminco, (Aug. 2016, HMH Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544633155

Recommended for ages 12+

Welcome to Paraffin, Vermont, home of the Grosholtz Candle Factory. The town stinks. No, really, it does; imagine all those different scents in the air all the time, and what they must smell like when combined? Seventeen year-old Poppy is so tired of Paraffin and their candle tourism, but she and her bestie end up touring the factory one day, for giggles. She ends up discovering some batty old woman talking about living wax, and gives Poppy a candle that will protect her. When gets home, there’s a naked teenage boy in her trunk. A boy who looks suspiciously like a wax figure that she saw in the batty old woman’s workshop. He doesn’t really know much about who or what he is, but he answers to the name, Dud. A fire destroys the workshop, and with it, any chance for Poppy to talk to the woman and discover more, but no worry: she’s going to find out what’s really happening in the town of Paraffin soon enough. People are starting to act a little odd. A little… waxy.

Wax, like Damico’s previous book, Hellhole, combines horror with humor, with laugh-out-loud results. If you’re like me and love horror comedies like Evil Dead: Dead by Dawn and Return of the Living Dead, with a little less gore, you’re going to enjoy Wax. There’s something really horrific going on in the town of Paraffin, but with a sarcastic lead character like Poppy and a sweet, but dense sidekick named Dud, just sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s some true creepiness here; it’s not all snorts and giggles, so horror fans, if you want a break from gore and just want some good storytelling, pick up this book.

I loved Wax because there’s a good story and good characters, and it reminded me a little bit of Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets one of my favorite cult films from the late ’80s. Does anyone remember Waxwork? I have such great memories of being in college, staying up all night, and watching movies like Waxwork and the Puppet Master movies from Full Moon Entertainment. If you haven’t treated yourself to a viewing of Waxwork, I highly encourage it. Here’s the trailer.

But back to the book. Give this to your morbid humor fans who enjoy a little chuckle with their scares. Please booktalk this one with Damico’s Hellhole, because I feel like that book doesn’t get the love it deserves. Quirk Books has a great list of horror comedies that you can display, too, and don’t discount the tried and true work horses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Have teens who love movies? Have a horror fest with the cheesiest of cheese! My teen and I bonded over Evil Dead 2, and my tween understands the power behind the phrase, “Hail to the King, baby”.

Shop Smart, shop S-mart, and consider adding Gina Damico to your horror collection if you’re a fan or have fans in your patronage.

 

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

My Best Friend’s Exorcism gives a touch of ’80s horror to YA

my best friendMy Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix (May 2016, Quirk Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781594748622

Recommended for ages 12+

It’s 1988 and Abby and Gretchen, two high school sophomores, have been BFFs since fourth grade. After a night of partying goes a little awry, Abby notices Gretchen acting strangely. Really strangely. She finds herself on the outs with her group of friends when Gretchen turns on her, but Abby knows there’s something more to it than usual teenage friendship drama. The more she digs to find out what’s wrong with her friend, the worse the news seems to get. Abby’s convinced that Gretchen is possessed, but can she save her best friend without getting herself in more trouble?

I loved Grady Hendrix’s previous book, Horrorstor, so I dove into My Best Friend’s Exorcism with delight. Hendrix’s characters are in my age bracket, so the generous ’80s references (shout-out to Duran Duran!) and the song-titled chapters were just what the doctor ordered. I was in the frame of mind, and Hendrix captures the time and the attitude beautifully.

The creepiness of the actual possession story is deliciously insidious and skin-crawling. It builds, and I was right there with Abby, feeling my guts squirm and my knuckles tighten, waiting for someone to realize what was going on. Freaking adults, man! When Abby takes matters into her own hands, I was rooting for her; I was right there with her.

Then the exorcism happened, and I have to be honest, it fell a little flat for me. I get what Hendrix was doing, but it felt like the manufactured plot of an ’80s teen chick flick. If that’s what he was going for, he hit it on the head, but I was hoping for more. I was ready for an all-out ’80s horror fest, but what I got was a little more anticlimactic, a bit more melodramatic. Still, the book had a satisfying ending and overall, I enjoyed it.

Teens will get a kick out of it; it appeals to fans of high school drama and horror alike; there’s some truly creeptastic stuff to be found in here. Give it a whirl. My Best Friend’s Exorcism has received a starred review from Booklist. Check out an excerpt, below:

my best friend_1

my best friend_2

my best friend_3