What a scary little thing. This is shaping up to be quite the year for children's horror. Look out R.L. Stine! The Thickety begins with terror, and it...moreWhat a scary little thing. This is shaping up to be quite the year for children's horror. Look out R.L. Stine! The Thickety begins with terror, and it ends in the same manner. Persecution, death, isolation and fear line the pages of this book. Think of The Thickety as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, but in this story, witches are real, people are needlessly killed and the future of the protagonist remains uncertain at the conclusion. I would say the story was almost perfect, but something about how the premise drew so heavily on the Salem Witch Trials made it feel a little derivative. Otherwise this book gets top marks for its levels of mystery, suspense and horror.
Kara's family has been shunned by her village since the death of her mother seven years ago. Kara's mother was executed for being a witch, and Kara nearly meets the same fate, but something strange happens during the test to determine this, and she is exempted from death. Then one day Kara finds herself in the Thickety, the forbidden forest at the edge of the village. Filled with danger and magic, Kara barely escapes, and she returns with a book that once belonged to her mother. This is where the story begins.
Despite its disturbing premise, I think this book is probably for 4th grade and up. We give Harry Potter to children even younger than this, but because it is so beloved we often forget that story begins with death, and all of the themes I mentioned above are found throughout the series, and they grow more and more intense in scope as the series progresses. It's hard to find age-appropriate horror, and I think this fills that void. I never read stuff like this as a kid. It was way too scary for me, and I rarely seek out the horror genre as an adult. But, for kids who delight in being scared (with a side of moral dilemma), this is a treat.(less)
A creepy little tale about a strange wood on the edge of town that includes a host of creatures, some friendly and some... not. Nate has just moved to...moreA creepy little tale about a strange wood on the edge of town that includes a host of creatures, some friendly and some... not. Nate has just moved to a new neighborhood and is certain he doesn't want to be there until he comes upon a strange old tape recorder stowed away under the floor. The voice on the recording belongs to a boy who once lived in the house but has long since disappeared. Nate and his new neighbor think they know what happened to the boy, but they have to decide if they're brave enough to go into the woods to find out.
This story was a little choppy and came together a little flimsily. But, there are very few age-appropriate horror stories for tweens and middle-graders out there. So, given that, I'd recommend this book to kids who are interested in scary stories. This wasn't too much for the intended audience, but was just creepy enough to make things interesting. The illustrations are done entirely in black and white, which helps to enhance the creep factor. Has a pretty significant hanging ending, so I'd assume a sequel is in the offing. A good read-alike for fans of Amulet.(less)
This was a light read, as far as horror stories go. Mackie Doyle is a replacement. He was placed in the crib of a human baby that was taken long ago a...moreThis was a light read, as far as horror stories go. Mackie Doyle is a replacement. He was placed in the crib of a human baby that was taken long ago as a blood sacrifice for an evil underworld goddess. His family has kept his secret all these years, and he is particularly close with his older sister, Emma, who loves him unconditionally. Preferring to lead a quiet if not completely happy life, Mackie is the reluctant hero of this story, which begins when another child is stolen from her crib and the girl's older sister knows something isn't right about this. Mackie learns what it means to be human as he descends into a world filled with demons, cruelty and in some cases kindness.
This story had a good beginning, but the rest of the narrative didn't really live up to this promising start. At times appropriately chilling, the story frequently was so circus-like in its descriptions of the underworld that I couldn't help but find it a little campy at times, though that's not an uncommon characteristic of the horror genre. I felt the characters were a little flat, and sometimes the author merely told rather than showed when developing the story. All the same, it was a really quick read, and it wasn't particularly scary. I was hoping for a little more depth, because this book had a great premise. In that regard, I would give this book to upper-middle-graders because it lacks nuance. I also found the narrative had holes at times. A nice little treat if you're into horror, though.(less)
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While highly readable, I found this story to be largely unsatisfying. Holly Black is clearly a g...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
While highly readable, I found this story to be largely unsatisfying. Holly Black is clearly a great writer, who can set an appropriately scary stage just right for the intended audience. But, I feel the author sacrificed plausibility and detail for plot and mood. Doll Bones is the story of three friends on the cusp of young adulthood, unsure of where they're headed in the future and reluctant to put away childish games they still enjoy. There is also an uneasy backdrop of neglect and possibly deeper trauma going on under the surface of their troubled family lives. While this book was quick-paced and chilling (and highly original for that matter), I was dissatisfied with how Black dealt with (or didn't in this case) the family issues going on in these kids' lives. I don't expect a neat resolution in real life, so I wouldn't expect one in a book. However, Black started to draw what could have been a compelling picture of familial disharmony and left it unfinished.
I think the book was too short. If it had been a little longer, the author could have successfully fleshed out the problems of Zach and Poppy (and to some degree Alice). I was particularly interested in Poppy's story, but that was primarily because just the right amount of story was shared about her family. Her background was perhaps the most complex and traumatic, but it's merely hinted at. Where was her older sister? Why did her family one day go from happy to unhappy? And, she clearly seemed to have some kind of deeper problem that was chalked up to a desire to keep things the way they were between herself and Zach and Alice.
While the adventure aspect of the book zipped along nicely, I found it to be incredibly implausible and highly coincidental on far too many counts. Where shall I start? The boat, the boat ride, the library, the librarian... It was all too easy, and then it was over. I really like the way the author tried to showcase the anxiety associated with growing up. To a certain extent, she succeeded, and kids will likely love the story at face value. I just felt that it fell a little short in quality to consider it really excellent.(less)
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A funny mystery that utilizes the conventions of gothic novels while still managing to subvert t...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A funny mystery that utilizes the conventions of gothic novels while still managing to subvert them. Kami is an outsider in the village of Sorry-In-The-Vale for several reasons - the main one being that she's never been shy about telling people that she has spent her entire life talking to a boy named Jared who exists only in her head. This has given her some grief growing up as you could imagine, but she's perfectly content to be herself and doesn't especially question why she's been hearing this guy's voice in her head since she was born. In fact, Kami is strangely confident in herself for the most part and has taken it upon herself to head the small English village version of the Scooby-Doo gang.
Kami runs her school paper, and her first assignment is to find out why the town's mysterious founders the Lynburns have suddenly returned after a 20-odd-year absence. The perfect sources for this investigation show up immediately, when cousins Ash and Jared Lynburn turn up as students at her school. Naturally, the Jared mentioned above eerily resembles the one she has heard in her head. What the two of them will do now that they are forced to confront the real existence of the other is simultaneously hilarious and yet also awkward and sad. Sara Rees Brennan takes what amounts to a fairly simple paranormal setup and gives it some depth worth discussing. The social awkwardness of teen relationships is magnified here by the happiness and excitement juxtaposed with the oddity and claustrophobia of having someone know what you're thinking and how you're feeling all the time. Rather than jumping past the uncertainty of wondering what another person is thinking, having Jared and Kami unable to escape each other just seems to make figuring out their new relationship to each other more difficult. I thought that was great.
The gothic part of the story comes into play with a string of mysterious murders with a Satanic bent that start popping up after the first few chapters. Everyone in this small town is a suspect, and even Kami's own mother is hiding something from her. The Lynburns' creepy old castle and the woods that seem to engulf people at the drop of a hat add nice touches to the side of this story that is a sendup of gothic tropes. It's also a nice touch having a new part of the book begin with a quote from 18th- and 19th-Century literary celebrities like Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Frost.
What I liked about this story is that Jared and Kami spend the first book in this series literally at arms length. Their newfound realness is fascinating and yet also horrifying to both of them. Most YA books would and have gone the route of creating a ridiculous, co-dependent, instantaneous relationship between the two of them. Kami and Jared are certainly very close, but they had no choice. Now having met, Kami begins to see the negative side of having someone pretty much know your every move whether you want it that way or not. Jared meanwhile does a good job of playing the part of a Byronic hero, moody and sneering and co-dependent. However, he has his funny side too, and he's not alienating.
Definitely looking forward to seeing how this story takes shape over the next book. The mystery was engaging as well, and for the most part I felt everything came together logically. This isn't a deep, mind-altering read, but it was pleasant and done well.(less)
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True to its word, the latest installment in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater is about dreams...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
True to its word, the latest installment in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater is about dreams and the things we take from them. However, not all dreams come with sleep, and in this story dreams are more often akin to nightmares. The Dream Thieves is a surreal and complex book about the nature of secrets, desire, fear, obsession, self-loathing, love and malice. It is also a story rife with anxiety. I dreaded reading this book. My discomfort however did not stem from the presence of a supernatural threat, or a fear that a character might meet an untimely end. My sense of dread in The Dream Thieves, appropriately, grew out of the author's examination of the characters' troubled and troubling psyches.
Adam, who is perhaps the most troubled member of the cast, succinctly reveals the nature of this story early on when asking himself what he wants: "To feel awake when my eyes are open." This line conveys the struggle all the characters face throughout — the disconnect between what they want and what's actually before them.
The Dream Thieves continues the characters' quest to find the ancient Welsh king Glendower, who is possibly lying buried in a rural town in Virginia. Picking up from the ominous conclusion of The Raven Boys, this book brings a different focus to the search. There is less to do with the search itself and more to do with the searchers. The quest for Glendower took a bit of a back seat to the psychological plundering everyone did in this book, and I have to say that turned out for the best. Maggie Stiefvater is a descriptive writer able to create a sense of atmosphere so palpable at times one feels transported to the scenes she draws. Even at her most middling, Stiefvater knows how to set the mood. She also knows teens. The struggles the kids in this story face make real-world sense despite their supernatural trappings, and the characters' voices are authentic.
This is a sophisticated series that still manages to remain suited for the intended audience. Some of the author's narrative choices however may frustrate readers who want immediate answers to the many mysteries in these books. Additionally, character revelations are often brought to light through the observations of others, thus preventing readers from fully examining character motivations. This is a fairly complex technique that at first would seem shoddy. It's not; Stiefvater by doing this is fully getting at the nature of perception and relationships. The Dream Thieves is about the most unknown corners of existence — our own minds. Therefore, there will be gaps in the narrative at times. I will admit that more needs to be said about certain occurrences, but with two more books to go in this series, I'm expecting more development later. At its heart, I consider the Raven Cycle to be more of a mystery than anything else. There are quite a few twists and turns throughout, and The Dream Thieves in particular possesses a conclusion that delightedly leaves the reader on tenter hooks.(less)
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This book was scary! It got so scary that I didn't even like reading it during the daytime. And...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This book was scary! It got so scary that I didn't even like reading it during the daytime. And yet, at the same time, I found myself bored at certain parts. To say the stars align in the Diviners is true from all angles - the fates of every kind of 1920s New Yorker converge in this story, and it's not ultimately for the better. When Evie O'Neill is exiled to New York for divining the secrets of a well-to-do young man at a party in her hometown in Ohio, she is ecstatic. New York is just the right size for a larger-than-life flapper, but when Evie arrives to stay with her uncle (who is curator of the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies), she gets a lot more than she bargained for. I have to hand it to Libba Bray that the more than Evie bargained for is not sex, drugs and rock and roll, so to speak. She comes into her power and winds up working on a murder case with her uncle, who is called in to consult on why the victim has strange occult symbols on her body.
Evie meets so many characters, and the reader meets so many more. Keeping track of everyone and all of their related plot points was exhausting. I loved Bray's writing, though it often mirrored F. Scott Fitzgerald a little too much for my taste. I just couldn't become invested in any one character because the author kept jumping around. I read over 350 pages of setup. The last leg of the plot started to race, but I almost put the book down several times. Also, I'm not sure what the overarching message of this book was. These kids were all outsiders, but I didn't get any commentary about what any of it all meant. What was the author trying to say about bringing together the teen versions of Langston Hughes, The Greay Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan, Lurch from the Addams Family and so many other characters who should have been so much more interesting than they were.
The only character I really wound up connecting with was Theta. She seemed as bored with the story as I was in parts. Her backstory is complicated and had teeth. The rest of the characters either had cliched histories or I never learned enough about them to care much. I also became confused about who had super powers and which kinds. I loved the atmosphere in the story too, but it was so hard to care about a lot of what was going on. Just the same, I'm intrigued enough to give the sequel a shot, but I hope Bray dispenses with the setup and the character leapfrogging and just writes a story. (less)
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So yeah - one star. I don't normally read books like this. I'm not too into paranormal or horror...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
So yeah - one star. I don't normally read books like this. I'm not too into paranormal or horror, and I'm turned off by urban fantasy a lot of the time, with some exceptions. However, I gave this book a shot because I read a great review on a blog I like on the School Library Journal Web site. It's not hard to find if you're so inclined. I had issues with this book from the start. It's a modern-day twist on the Red Riding Hood fairytale. In this book, the wolf/wolves are werewolves who prey on young, vulnerable girls, and Red Riding Hood is depicted as two teenage sisters who hunt the wolves down and kill them. A little weird, but I was open to it. It seemed like it could have a cool feminist message, and the writer of said blog I mentioned above really harped on how great the bond was between these two sisters - the older of the two, Scarlett, was horribly disfigured protecting her younger sister Rosie when the wolves attacked them as children. Since then, Scarlett has defined herself as an avenging crusader, hell bent on eradicating the wolves. Rosie owes everything to her sister and works with her, but yearns for a different life. She also has a crush on Scarlett's only friend Silas, further complicating the situation.
I have several problems with this book. One, the author isn't that great of a writer. She loves to tell and rarely shows. You don't even really have to concentrate to get what's going on with this story. In fact, I was glazing over through the last third. Second, Pearce's inclusion of certain aspects of the traditional Red Riding Hood into modern-day Georgia don't really add up. For example, the girls wear red cloaks while hunting (yes, the kind with a hood). They don them in broad daylight with regular people around, who don't seem to bat an eyelash at the fact that it's Halloween all year for these kids. And then there's Silas, who comes from a long line of woodsmen who live in the forest and build their homes with their bare hands and who also know all about the existence of girl-eating werewolves. I don't get it either. While these are serious deficiencies, they don't absolutely ruin the book. They just make it pretty bland fare. My major problem with this story lies in how the author ultimately treats the plight of women (hunted by werewolves or in actuality living in a society that condones sexual assault; you may have figured out what's really going on here). It's nice that Scarlett and Rosie know how to kick ass, but by Page 150 or so, I came across an aspect of our culture I dread encountering in real life, let alone in a book: victim blaming.
These werewolves as symbols of sexual predators are attracted to vulnerable, helpless women who flaunt their sexuality. Scarlett and Rosie lure the wolves by exhibiting these tendencies. The wolves thrive on fear. Scarlett is out hunting one night and sees a large number of scantily-clad women, wearing lots of makeup and stumbling around drunkenly without a care. Scarlett dehumanizes them by likening their appearance to dragonflies, while Silas makes the statement that no longer makes this a feminist novel: It's like they're asking [for it]. I made a substitution here because he actually says they're asking to be eaten - same diff. Scarlett agrees with this sentiment. Now, I don't think Jackson Pearce intends to blame rape victims for their attacks; I just think she wrote herself into a corner and couldn't figure out how to get out of it. The protagonists are strong, but the victim blaming negates the good will outlined by the author in the beginning.
Soapboxing aside, I found the characters to be pretty flat. Silas was pretty blank-faced and bordered on creepy, and Scarlett was so consumed by revenge that at one point I thought she might want to consider counseling. I'm not judging - just saying. And here's Rosie caught in the middle of all of this. The poor girl just wants to take a few arts and crafts classes. Does it make her that bad of a person for wanting to make origami frogs for half an hour once a week instead of living and breathing hunting girl-eating werewolves for the rest of her life when there are other issues to be concerned about here? Seriously.(less)
Read this in a few hours after work. It's a really quick read told using current media as a storytelling venue. The original Dracula was told using le...moreRead this in a few hours after work. It's a really quick read told using current media as a storytelling venue. The original Dracula was told using letters, diary entries, news articles, etc. This story is told through Web pages, text messages, e-mails and Internet news articles. It's your basic horror-thriller. Engaging, unique (comes with an interactive mobile app) and the characters actually have some appeal despite the narrow venue provided for development for them. The original, from what I remember, had Jonathan Harker as the main character and teller of the story. In this version, he provides some of the exposition, but the author gives you a twist and makes Harker's girlfriend the hero. Fun little book. (less)