Category Archives: creepy_books

The Secret of Grim Hill by Linda DeMeulemeester

Time for something on the spooky side of things…

Cat Peters hates her new school. She’s in trouble from the first day at Darkmount High, for everything from not knowing the dress code and wearing the wrong sort of jeans to the total lack of any sports teams for her to join. She desperately wants to go to the private girls’ academy on Grim Hill, Grimoire School where her mom is working as the school secretary, but there’s no way her recently-divorced mom can afford the tuition. So when she hears that the prize for the winning team at the Halloween soccer tournament is a full scholarship, she jumps at the chance. And when she makes the team, she becomes a local celebrity.

However, her next door neighbour Jasper and her little sister Sookie are sure there’s something strange going on at Grimoire, but Cat doesn’t want to listen—not even when bad things start happening to anything that would stop the soccer team from practicing. Her teammate Amarjeet has Punjabi school Saturday mornings… until the school burns down. Mia needs to attend rehearsals for her sister’s wedding, until the engagement is called off. Emily spends the weekends with her dad, until he gets transferred out of town. But the only thing that would keep Cat from practice is babysitting Sookie… Cat needs to figure out what forces are at work behind the mysterious school and how it all ties into a diary from seventy years ago, before she loses everything.

This is a great mid to upper elementary series for budding fans of mysterious-type fantasy stories. The build-up is nicely ominous and creepy, and I am such a sucker for folklore elements!

You can read the first chapter on the publisher’s website, and check out the whole series. Other reviews in various places: Wands and Worlds, a blog for fantasy and science fiction for children and teens, the Montreal Review of Books

It’s also been a nominee for various reader’s choice book awards like Red Cedar, Diamond Willow, Hackmatack, and was the winner of the 2008 Silver Birch.

Bonechiller by Graham McNamee

Bonechiller coverIt’s been a day of spring blizzards here on the prairies, and after five hours without electricity, something with lots of snow seemed apropos…

Danny and his dad are in the middle of nowhere. His dad’s been retreating from the world ever since Danny’s mom died, and he and Danny have recently moved from the big city to a a small, northern Ontario town. Danny is on his way home late at night and he gets the feeling he’s being watched. He starts to run, and when he looks back, there is this huge, white, albino-ish creature chasing him, all hairless and creepy looking. It knocks him down, and the last hing he remembers before passing out is seeing its weird pointed tongue coming at him.

When he comes to, there’s a little blue dot on the back of his hand, like from a pen, but no bite marks, no tracks, no monster. He must have imagined the whole thing, right? It must have been a big dog or something and he must have hit his head.

BUT. He starts having weird dream. And the one guy from school who was hospitalized for a mysterious infection kinda went crazy and ran away and now they can’t find him. Then his friend Pike is out ice-fishing with his brother Howie. When Pike comes in to get donuts and coffee, they hear screaming, and ice cracking. SOMETHING REALLY HEAVY has broken the ice and Howie has fallen in. there is rescue and emergency rooms… but he has this blue dot on his neck…

And then the two of them start sharing nightmares of ice and cold and being stalked by a giant albino creature.

And their body chemistry is changing–they can’t tolerate heat, are most comfortable in the extreme cold, and are really sensitive to light, and keep seeing this THING in their dreams…

And of course, Howie does some research and tracks down a history of disappearances over really cold winters…

And then Danny’s sort-girlfriend Ash’s Ojibwe dad starts telling him stories about the wendigo

Oh man, this was a thrill ride and a half! It’s a combination of monster story plus suspense, with the extremes of a wilderness survival story, with a hefty dose of folklore in the backstory, and that had me hooked. The cliche about Canadian literature is that you can tell it’s Can Lit because the landscape is a character in and of itself. Graham Macnamee, your Canadianness is showing, to excellent effect! There’s a monster after Danny, but the weather could kill him just as easily. And what takes this book out of the realm of just another thriller are how the characters are all fully realized people in their own right and not htere just to push the plot along. Danny’s got his own tensions and issues, and so do his friends. I especially loved tough girl Ash. Plus, I am a sucker for stories that incorporate folklore into them, so I found the riff on the wendigo mythology especially cool.

If you’re feeling brave, read this one on a cold January night–or save it for a sticky hot August afternoon, just for that cold chill down the back of your neck….

Frost by Nicole Luiken

Book five of the 48-hour Book Challenge binge. This one’s an autographed copy, mwaha. (Nicole is in my wife’s writing group in Edmonton, and a pretty awesome lady.)

Frost_cover Life in Iqualuit! Hockey! Ancient evil! Awesome!

Johnny Van Der Zee understand his girlfriend Kathy’s dedication. She wants to be a fighter pilot. He wants to be in the NHL. This isn’t as far off as it sounds–Johnny’s the star of his league in Iqualuit, and Kathy’s dad is in the Air Force, so she knows what it will take. Johnny’s lived up north for years, and is not just popular, but athletic and capable. So no-one can understand how he managed to flip his uncle’s snowmobile while Kathy was riding with him. It was a close call, but the only casualty was the snowmobile. Now Johnny’s uncle has pulled him out of hockey for the season as punishment and everyone expects him to be devastated.

But Johnny doesn’t seem to care. He knows that everything he loves is taken away from him by the mysterious, ancient evil that claimed him years ago. Johnny calls it Frost. Whatever it is, it’s a creature of killing cold and silent, barren places. Now Johnny’s trying to drive away everyone and everything he loves before Frost can take it from him, whether it’s his family, girlfriend, or even hockey. As Johnny becomes more manic and uncaring, his friends and family start to worry, and his ex-girlfriend Cheryl, no stranger to tragedy herself after The Year of Three Funerals, starts to put the pieces together. Meanwhile, Johnny is coming to the conclusion that Frost has some very definite plans for him, and the rest of the world. Nuclear-winter type plans.

This reminded me of Graham McNamee’s Bonechiller–but not in a derivative way, more as if two different writers both hit on the same plot elements, and put together two unrelated stories. This particular story is awesome for a variety of reasons. The plot starts off with a slight sense of unease and gradually ratchets up the tension and reveals what has come before and how it’s made the characters who they are. The characters themselves are all clearly-defined individuals–and excellent strong female characters! Like Cheryl, who survived the loss of her entire immediate family and found herself again through her grandfather’s Inuit traditions. Or Kathy, who knows exactly what she wants to do and is willing to put in every bit of hard work she can to get it. There’s a very strong sense of place, and yay for a realistic, respectful yet not sugar-coated look (to the best of my knowledge) at modern Inuit people. Also, it’s quite the creepy, well-put-together story.

One thing’s for sure, you’ll never listen to another Christmas carol about Jack Frost in quite the same way again…

Some Books About Wolves

Hello world, it’s been a while! Life in library-land has been hectic lately, and I’ve been reading like crazy for the Rocky Mountain Book Award Committee. (Coming very soon… possibly even after the meeting tomorrow… the 2009 shortlist! Also coming soon, some of my favourites from all our potential nominees.) But in the meantime, I’ve read a couple really cool books lately about wolves which has lead to this totally arbitrary collection of books.

Wolves by Emily Gravett is about a rabbit reading a book. But wait! This is no fluffy bunny bedtime story! You can see from the library card tucked into one of the pages that he’s signed out Wolves (by Emily Grrrabbit from the West Bucks Public Burrowing Library.) As Rabbit reads, he get smaller on each successive page, and his surroundings get substantially more… wolf-y. There’s some clever intertexuality going on here, and an alternate ending thoughtfully provided for more sensitive readers–though the observant will notice the overdue notice at the end of the book, hmm… The story’s relatively simple, but the sly humour makes this picture book a good read for older elementary school kids. Give this one to your favourite grade three kid who still loves picture books.

Wolf by Gillian Cross is an older UK import, set in Ireland. Cassy’s used to well-ordered life with her no-nonsense grandmother, when suddenly, her Gran packs her off to stay with her mother, Goldy. Goldy’s always been a drifter, and Cassy is appalled to realize that they’ll be squatting in an abandoned house with her mom’s boyfriend Lyall and his prickly teenage son. Goldy and Lyall are developing a performance art piece for schools about wolves, and Cassy is roped in to helping. But she’s also been dreaming about wolves–about her absent father, and Little Red Riding Hood. Why did her Gran send her away, and where is her absent father? Family tension with a touch of psychological thriller, the complex characters and skillful layers of meaning make this a good pick for thoughtful middle school readers.

Woolvs in the Sitee by Margaret Jinx, illustrated by Anne Soudvilas is one of those rare picture books that’s truly meant for older readers–and I mean teenage and up, not grades two and three. In a ruined city, Ben records his fear of the wolves (woolvs) and his dreams for a long-ago blue sky. The phonetic spelling, reading as if it were carefully sounded out by someone unused to writing, and the ominous charcoal illustrations work together to create a bleak, post-apocalyptical future with an ambiguous ending. Because of the story that’s being told, and the amount of reading between the lines, I’m sneaking this one in with the graphic novels for teens and adults (and putting it on my list of YA books about the end of the world), and hoping it finds its audience there. Try this for something successfully innovative and different.

My last two wolf books are off my ever-growing to-read pile and are both adult fantasy. St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a short story collection by Karen Russel, and A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, are both fantasy, and “grown-up” books. But in the meantime, let’s see if I can make it through four more potential award shortlist books before tomorrow night at 7:15 pm…

Book Blurbs: Spooky Stories for School-Age Readers

Every two month, I write a column for our library’s newsletter on recent kids’ books. I’ve been leaning more towards themed lists lately, and have decided to post my latest picks here, too. I haven’t even touched on YA–these are definitely kids’ books, with a few leaning more towards middle school level (grades five to eight) to round out the list. Plus, here you’ve got a couple editorial comments, for what it’s worth.

I love Halloween, and I love ghost stories! Here are some of my recent picks (and one old favourite) for school-age readers looking for something sort of silly, slightly spooky, or downright scary.

Don’t Walk Alone at Night! by Veronika Martenova Charles.
Leon, Max and Marcus tell each other scary stories until they are sure Mothman, Monster, and Ghost are after them. Are they scared? Not enough to admit it, but they certainly are running for home a little faster than usual. This is part of the Easy-to-Read Spooky Tales series for new readers, based on traditional folktales. (I like this series because it’s for beginning readers, but will appeal to older kids who for whatever reason are reading way below grade level. Plus, two points in its favour, based on traditional folklore, and Canadian!)

Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost by Cornelia Funke.
Tom is terrified of ghosts, but professional ghostbuster Hetty Hyssop needs his help to dispel an IRG (Incredibly Revolting Ghost) from an old house. This is the first book of the Ghosthunters series and a slightly spooky, sort of silly story for slightly younger readers than the author’s other fantasy stories like Inkheart and The Thief Lord. Some of the Ghosthunter books are also available on audio CD.

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
David’s new stepsister Amanda tells him and his younger siblings that she is a witch and promises to teach them, too. When strange things start happening in their old house, David wonders if Amanda is to blame, or if it has something to do with the headless cupid statue on the staircase and the ghost that is supposed to haunt the house. One of my all-time favourites, and a Newbery Award winner.

Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake by Jennifer Allison.
Having earned a scholarship to a private girls’ high school, self-proclaimed psychic investigator Gilda Joyce investigates the circumstances surrounding the drowning death of a student whose ghost supposedly haunts the campus. Gilda will appeal to fans of Harriet the Spy–this is a good middle-school mystery series with a few chills!

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac.

After her parents disappear and she is turned over to the care of a strange “great-uncle,” Molly must rely on her dreams about an old Mohawk story for her safety and maybe even for her life. Full of suspense and chills, this is a good pick for anyone who likes their scary stories with high stakes. (Some seriously gross and creepy bits here! I think the missing parents will concievably bother adults more than kids, much like Coraline, but in the original legend of the skeleton man that Molly rememvers her father telling her, he eats all the flesh off his own bones and then devours his whole tribe. Booktalks very well with the whole ick factor… Bonus points for a strong female Native protagonist in a contemporary novel.)

Breathe by Cliff McNish.
Jack’s asthma has almost killed him many times. But when he and his mother move into a new house, he becomes prey to an otherworldly danger. The house is haunted by the ghosts of children, and Jack will have to learn their secrets to save himself and his mother from the Ghost Mother and the terrors of the Nightmare Passage. If you like truly frightening ghost stories and imaginative storytelling, Breathe may be the book for you. (This one had some pretty intense mythology set up around the ghosts. I think my favourite thing about it, though, was how very vivid the historical parts were.)

For more silly spooky stories try: Velcome by Kevin O’Malley, Junie B, First Grader: Boo, And I Mean It! by Barbara Park or Bunnicula by James Howe.

For more slightly spooky stories, try: The Bagpiper’s Ghost by Jane Yolen, The Ghost Wore Gray by Bruce Coville, or The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury.

For more very scary stories try: Haunted Canada by Pat Hancock, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The House With a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz.

(And yes, I know it’s only the beginning of September–it’s never too early to be thinking about Halloween!)

My Week in Books

I’m approaching something resembling regular updates again. Let’s see how long this lasts… I’ve read some really good fantasy in the past few weeks, a couple of interlibrary loans related to gay teens and YA lit, and the ususal miscellany of other stuff.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch Adult fantasy. In a city that bears some resemblance to Renaissance Europe, an orphaned street thief is sold off to a blind priest, and trained up to become one of the priest’s Gentleman Bastards. And Locke, our street thief, is VERY good at what he does. I loved this one. Book two comes out this summer!

The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner YA fantasy. I seriosuly do not want to describe either of these, for fear that it will spoil the end of the first book, The Thief. In The Queen of Attolia, a thief’s punishment starts a war. And in The King of Attolia, the people of Attolia have a hard time accepting a king who is like no monarch they’ve ever known.

The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindl YA/Kids fantasy..ish. (You try to pick a genre for this one… magic realism is as close as it gets, I suspect.)

Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley Kids fantasy. The first book of the Sisters Grimm series.  Sisters Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have abandoned by their parents and are suddenly taken in by a grandmother they thought was long-dead. Turns out that fairy tales are real, and they have a family legacy to live up to, protecting the fiary tale creatures from our world and vice versa. A cute little series with fractured fairy tale and mystery elements.

The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004 by Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkins  Professional library lit. An annotated bibliography of GLBT YA books, and a rather extensive history of the development of the field. The only down side is that there’s been such a boom in YA lit in general, including GLBT books, that I’m sure there have been as many books come out since 2004 than in the first thirty years combined.

Dead Boys Can’t Dance: Sexual Orientation, Masculinity, and Suicide
by Michel Dorais
A study out of Montreal, published in 2004. The suicide rate for gay teenagers in Canada is six to sixteen times higher than their heterosexual counterparts–and not just gay teens, but also kids who are stigmatized as being gay, regardless of their actual sexual orientation.

Weekly update

I’m experimenting a bit with the way I post in this blog. I had the idea lodged in my head that I could actually make a separate post about every book I read. The long list of titles and authors sitting in front of me going back to November begs to differ. So, I’m going to try posting weekly updates with much shorter blurbs, and will no doubt go on at length about anything I either love, or am seriously annoyed by, with the usual detrius of links and news showing up as always.

Here’s the round-up from the  past two weeks:

Peppermints in the Parlor, Sparrows in the Scullery, and Ghosts in the Gallery by Barbara Brooks Wallace Poor orphan children, tangled plots, truly despicable villains and thoroughly satisfying endings where the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. Can you tell I’m working on a Lemony Snicket read-a-likes list?

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill Adult fiction, CanLit. How the motherless child of a young heroin addict gets involved with the local pimp at the age of twelve.  The book escapes being unbearably maudlin or so grindingly depressing I couldn’t finish it only because the protagonist is so totally unaware that there’s anything out of the ordinary about her life of extreme poverty. I kept reading, waiting for things to get better. There was a smidgen of hope at the end, but still.But still, not a happy fluffy-bunnies sort of read. (It’s not CanLit if nobody suffers.)  Incidentally, this year’s Canada Reads winner.

For A Few Demons More by Kim Harrison Adult fiction, vampires! Sometimes, I need to read some grown-up books. Sometimes, I need to read something without any greater literary meaning. The latest book in a series, the main character is a witch, her roomate and boyfriend are vampires, there are werewolves, pixies, crime, peril, and murder. Like Anita Blake, only without the rampant Mary Sue syndrome. A full listing of the series is on the author’s website.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander Kids’ fantasy, of the epic quest variety. A reread of a childhood favourite. How an assistant pig-keeper ends up on a heroic journey, accompanied by a misplaced princess with strong opinions, a bard whose harp strings snap when he lies, a cranky dwarf, and a shaggy creature more concerned with his stomach than anything else. Add a runaway oracular pig, the ominous Horned King and his undead Cauldron-Born minions, and mix well for the first book of a sweeping saga I’ve been recommending to young Lord of the Rings fans for years.

Beans on Toast by Shelley Hrdlitschka  Canadian kids’ fiction. Madison hasn’t made any real friends since she and her mom moved after her parents’ divorce. Now she’s stuck at band camp trying to get along with her cabin mates. Peer pressure, first crushes, and cougars in the woods. Okay for a first novel, but the dialogue is a bit clunky, and it reads like a book for a younger target audience than the main character’s age of thirteen.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner Kids/YA fantasy. A thief is freed from from prison to steal the key to the neighbouring kingdom’s succession. This was excellent and I’ll doubtlessly go on about it at some length later. First of a trilogy. Book two, The Queen of Attolia just came in for me on hold. I may be up late tonight…

Currently reading: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and Storm Front, the first Harry Dresden book by Jim Butcher, both adult fantasy.