The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

“Lockwood & Co. are hired to investigate Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead, while Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in a ghost jar”–Provided by publisher.

skull

I’ve only read one book in between The Screaming Staircase (#1) and The Whispering Skull (#2) so this dark and creepy alternate world was easy to be welcomed back into. In this book, we fast forward six months and discover what the teenage ghost hunters of Lockwood and Co. have been up to. I enjoyed the inclusion of the whispering skull (glowing green head trapped in a jar —>) as it kept me guessing whether it was an ally or not. Only Lucy (because of her Talent) can hear the skull, but it taunts and teases Anthony, Lucy and George to no end! This is very amusing for the reader. Obviously, the title of the book hints of the skull’s importance in the book, but you’ll have to read The Whispering Skull to find out just how!

While I did enjoy The Whispering Skull, I wish Stroud would have included more info regarding The Problem. I thought the world building and background was super interesting in book #1, and that we’d learn more in book #2. I also found myself wanting more horror scenes as the first book. This one is more of a mystery/adventure, featuring a competition between ghost-hunting agencies to find stolen powerful and supernatural artefacts. Don’t get me wrong- there is ghost rats, talking skulls and plenty of creepy scenes to scare a brave reader! There is also a HUGE cliff-hanger that will likely unravel some of Lockwood’s past secrets. So, although The Whispering Skull did not engage me as much as The Screaming Staircase, I will likely continue on with book #3 The Hollow Boy.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake – and her own.25903764

I received some advanced reading copies from Scholastic and immediately picked Ghosts first. I’d likely read anything by Telgemeier! While Ghosts was not my personal favourite of her works, fans won’t be disappointed. In this graphic novel, Cat’s family move to the Northern Coast in hopes that it will make life easier for Maya who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Like any teenager, she’s having a tough time with the move, and settling into a town seemingly obsessed with the afterlife, but her love for her sister shines through and takes priority. I loved their relationship, especially the heartfelt moments discussing Maya’s chronic illness. At one point, Maya asks “What happens when I die, Cat? Will you be afraid of my ghost, too? (pg. 175)”

Besides the inclusion of chronic illness, I really liked that the book introduced aspects of another culture. Readers will learn more about Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead) and the colourful illustrations are a bonus! Look for Ghosts in September 2016.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented yo51ap7b3fZGL__AC_UL320_SR210,320_ung agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
I must admit, I don’t like reading scary stories (especially those about ghosts) and I’ve never read anything by Jonathan Stroud before. BUT that’s all changed.

In this alternate world, supernatural spirits (aka “visitors”) are so widespread that private agencies made up of children operatives (they have better senses than adults) are formed to battle “the Problem”.   One such agency, Lockwood & Co. struggles to remain afloat after a destructive accident involving the team members, Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins and Lucy Carlyle. All three of these characters bring their own skill set and personalities, so the group dynamics (especially the banter!) was a highlight for me.

I was surprised how dark, scary and violent some scenes were, but I suppose that’s exactly what some readers are looking for. Although I think all ghosts are scary, in this world, there are two types to look out for: type 1 (harmless) and type 2 (dangerous). To solve these spine tingling murder mysteries, the group arms themselves with magnesium flares, iron rapiers, salt and chain nets- but will it be enough? Don’t worry, if you forget any of these important details, they are all listed in the glossary in the back.

I’m not a fan of reading series, but I’ve already placed Book #2: The Whispering Skull on hold and have recommended it to several colleagues. I’m looking forward to reading more about Lockwood & Co.’s adventures!

THE DOGS by Allan Stratton

Cameron and his mom have been on the run for five years. His father is hunting them. At least, that’s what Cameron’s been told. When they settle in an isolated farmhouse, Cameron starts to see and hear things that aren’t possible. Soon he’s questioning everything he thought he knew and even his sanity. What’s hiding in the night? Buried in the past? Cameron must uncover the dark secrets before they tear him apart.

dogs

Influenced by his own past, author Allan Stratton discloses his personal connection to the book’s themes in the included Q+A.  Heavy themes like: domestic abuse, bullying, and mental health issues are portrayed throughout this eerie, teen thriller.

After moving in, Cameron quickly realizes that the creepy (just look at that front cover!), isolated farmhouse has a strange history. As a reader, it was easy to be immediately hooked by the mystery of the farmhouse, and like Cameron, I was curious to uncover the truth. The plot moves at warp speed; especially when Cameron makes one little mistake and sets of a frightening chain of events!

More praise:

“It’s about ghosts and terrifying danger and going mad all at once. I didn’t know what was real and what was imagined until the very last page. I loved it!” —Melvin Burgess, author of Carnegie Medal winner Junk

“It is increasingly rare to find genuine, convincing narratives that have us looking over our shoulders. The Dogs is such a narrative…What would it be like if the most frightening thing in your world lay at the heart of your own family? Stratton imagines this horror full and convincingly.” —Quill & Quire, starred review

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

grave

I don’t understand where all the hype and praise for The Graveyard Book is coming from.  How can a confusing book that lacks plot explanations win the Newbery Medal?  Did I miss something? Although the first chapter immediately grabbed my attention, it slowly started going downhill for me. Characters are introduced and frequently disappear. Each chapter read like a short story, which made plot events difficult and confusing to connect.  Readers watch Bod grow from a baby to a teenager, yet so many gaps were left open and unexplored.

I wish Gaiman provided more detailed explanations, especially the motivation behind the murder of Bod’s family. After waiting so long to find out, I was so disappointed in the brief reasoning!  Also, am I the only one that had trouble piecing together Silas and Miss Lupescu’s world? It took me forever to figure out what they were and what they did.  I would have liked to read more about their world, variations of the dead, and the Honor Guards.   Same goes for the Jacks of All Trades. I have so many questions…

Lastly, in my opinion it is not suitable for the target age group (middle graders).  In the first chapter, a family is slaughtered. Scary black and white imagery, hell, ghosts, vampires, and murders all add to the dark tone throughout.  Nightmare inducing for sure!  Therefore, although the book had an interesting premise, it won’t  be my first recommendation to middle school patrons.

 

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

paper valentine

Yovanoff’s book covers always grab my attention. Paper Valentine is no exception.

A while back I read The Replacement, which is set around Halloween. By complete coincidence, I read Paper Valentine over Valentine’s Day. I found both books to have some similarities:

-Sibling relationships (Ariel is a big part of the story—Hannah is very protective of her younger sister)

-Underlying message— No one is perfect. We have to learn to be happy in our own skin and not care what others think.

-Stand alone title. Not a series!

-Genre-hard to classify. It includes a mix of different elements: romance, paranormal, mystery, thriller.

While the storyline centres on the murders, it is also a book about a girl coping with her best friend’s death. Although never referred to as ‘anorexia’, it is clear that Lillian died from the eating disorder. How Hannah describes the appearance of Lillian’s ghost and the smell of her breath is truly disturbing. Hannah’s guilt is prominent throughout, and only in the end can she finally let go.

I thought Hannah made an interesting main protagonist. She loves putting her own spin on her clothes and aims to stand out from the rest of the crowd.  Although she feels guilty for her role (or lack thereof) in Lillian’s death, she puts on a smile and pretends she’s happy. I liked how her love interest, Finny challenges her to be real and accept those emotions.

Although I didn’t see the end twist coming, I figured by the number of pages left that something was around the corner. However, I had big questions surrounding the killer’s motive. Why kill young girls? To demonstrate power? For a thrill? It’s a HUGE leap from shoplifting to murder. I didn’t get it. I also didn’t quite grasp the reason for all the dead birds and the constant mentioning of heat. I definitely thought it was so sort of eerie foreshadowing.

Overall, I think Yovanoff did a great job at weaving together an interesting murder mystery. The book tackled plenty of issues to keep readers hooked and guessing. The Ouija boards and séances really upped the creepy factor.

 

 

Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.” When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.

diviners

If you’re looking for a completely original young adult book, look no further- The Diviners delivers.  At first, I was reluctant to pick up the book because of its intimidating length (578 pages!), but I’m glad I did. Despite sore wrists, I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of mystery, suspense and horror! The 20’s setting and inclusion of real events in history (eugenics movement, Chinese exclusion act, etc.) were a welcome bonus as well.

Over the course of the novel, tons of characters were introduced. I don’t have the best memory, so I found it sometimes hard to keep track of who was who.  One shining individual that proved impossible to forget was the main character, Evie. When trying to describe her, so many words come to mind: young, witty, humorous, sassy, brave and at times, self-centred.  You can bet-ski her actions and dialogue are always entertaining to read.  However, I think that Bray came on really strong with the 20’s lingo in the beginning (cat’s pajamas, bee’s knees) yet it kind of sauntered off in the end. Or maybe I just became accustomed to it?

In the end, it became clear that the well-researched, creepy, yet intriguing story of The Diviners would be continued. There were plenty of unanswered questions left for Evie and readers alike.  I would really like to have Evie’s (and others) diviner powers further explored. Although I’m not a fan of series, I will likely pick the next instalment up.  By the time the next one is released, I’m hoping I’ll have the gruesome ritual killings and Naughty John song out of my head. Pos-i-toot-ly terrifying!

 

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story…

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. But she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

                      

Published August 30th 2011

I am absolutely scared of ghosts, so I should have known not to read this book late at night before drifting off to sleep.  I woke up several nights with nightmares of Anna’s bloody dress dripping on the floor. Terrifying.  I also wasn’t prepared for the vividly gruesome scenes to commence early in the book. Here is a sample:

“…I strike, drawing the blade across the throat, opening a yawning black line. The hitchhiker’s fingers come up to his neck. They try to press the skin back together, but something as dark and thick as oil floods out of the wound and covers him, bleeding not only down over his vintage-era jacket but also up over his face and eyes, into his hair. The hitchhiker doesn’t scream as he shrivels, but maybe he can’t: his throat was cut and the black fluid has worked its way into his mouth (pg.13).”

The Good:

-As a Canadian, I loved that it was based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. In Blake’s acknowledgements we learn that she actually stayed in Thunder Bay and clearly her research shows in the writing. I have many friends from Thunder Bay and from what they’ve told me, the description of the city sounds very accurate.  Apparently, even the restaurants and waterfalls described in the book actually exist!

-Quick read—chalk full of: black/white witches, Voodoo, ghost hunting and murder!  Great for reluctant readers!

-Vivid imagery (especially when describing Anna and the dress she was murdered in).

-The complexity of Anna’s character. One minute I saw her as a ruthless killer and the next as an innocent girl. I loved the way the story of her past was presented and I enjoyed trying to figure her out. Anna is a force to be reckoned with and always kept the reader guessing.

-Scary. Since it is categorized in the ‘horror’ genre, I felt it did a great job at inducing feelings of terror in the reader. It was both scary and entertaining and I just could not put it down! Maybe I’m just a sissy, but I was legit scared reading this book before bed.  I also loved how the text was printed in a strange red colour that gave off the appearance of dried blood.

 

The Bad

-Weird paranormal romance. I didn’t understand the love element between Cas and Anna. The romance was minor, and I only knew they were ‘in love’ because readers were told so. It’s a strange tragic paranormal love, and I really wish Blake omitted this addition.

-There is no way that teens could possibly have so little empathy for their murdered friends. If you witnessed a brutal murder of your friend or were the first to come across their murdered bodies I would expect that you would be devastatingly traumatized. However, these teens spent more time discussing their alibis than their murdered classmates and friends.

 

Overall, Anna Dressed in Blood is an original, gory, heartbreaking story. Indeed, the book has been recognized as one of Kirkus’ Best Teen Books of the Year (2011) and an ALA 2012 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers.  The sequel, Girl of Nightmares (Anna #2) will be published in August 2012 and I’m definitely looking forward to that one!

*Warning-Since the book is told from Cas’ teenage perspective, there are quite a bit of f-bombs!

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