Tag Archive: horror

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Steve’s new baby brother isn’t healthy, so his parents keep having to meet with doctors and specialists to see if they can help. Steve struggles with worries much of the time and now it is getting worse. He worries about the baby, about his parents, about his little sister, about the odd man who drives the knife sharpening cart, and about the wasps. Steve doesn’t like wasps and when he is stung out in the yard one day, he discovers that he is allergic to them too. So Steve has to carry an Epi-pen to keep safe. As the summer continues, Steve begins to have weird dreams. It seems that the queen of the wasp nest outside under the eaves is communicating with him. And she is steadily explaining something horrible and tantalizing, promising that she can help his little brother by fixing him. But it takes Steve saying “yes” and helping them get the new baby in the house. As the pressure mounts, Steve is told by his doctor that dreams are only in his head and not reality. But what happens when your dreams actually start coming true?

Oppel has written a spectacular horror book, combining a fear of bees and wasps with the myths of changelings. The way that Oppel incorporates the science of reason and has adults dismissing Steve’s dreams and concerns makes for a horror book that uses parents and polite adult sensibility as the way the main character is isolated. This benign busyness of the parents though they care deeply will be something that most modern children will recognize. It’s far more effective than having no parents at all.

The queen wasp in the story is a brilliant villain, attractive and kind. She offers Steve attention when he is getting none, plenty of praise, and the sweetness of power in a situation where he has no control. It is an irresistible mix and a trap that Steve realizes far too late. Readers too will tell themselves that this is all in Steve’s head, just pretend, only a dream. But Oppel does not let that happen, taking it all the way through to its horrific conclusion.

Frightening, magical and impossible to stop reading, this horror novel for older elementary children is one of the best. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Simon & Schuster.

cuckoo song

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Triss wakes up feeling very strange, surrounded by her worried parents and a doctor. As she starts to feel better, she struggles to recognize even family members and her own home. Everything seems strange, even herself. At night, Triss finds herself ravenously hungry and eating windfall rotting apples off of the ground outside. Her younger sister Pen is terrified of her and her parents are worried. Cutting their vacation short, the family returns home but Triss doesn’t get any better. She does start to investigate other strange things happening at their home. There’s a desk drawer filled with letters from her dead brother that seem to be written after his death. There’s Pen making calls on the phone that leave no trace with the operator. Triss follows Pen to a strange movie theater where she discovers a man called The Architect who has made a dark deal with Pen with promises to save her family. Triss has to piece together her own role in what is happening to her family and see what she can do to save them all.

Hardinge writes with such strength and beauty. Her prose is lush and exquisite even in her descriptions. She manages to tell readers about the setting with details that expose the horrors happening right below the surface, the result is unsettling, eerie and gorgeous. Here is how she describes The Grimmer, a waterway that Triss was rescued from at the beginning of the book:

With every step the Grimmer grew closer and clearer, black as perdition and narrow as a half-closed eye…Over its waters the willows drooped their long hair, bucking in the gusts as if with sobs. Against the dark surface she could make out the white waterlily buds, like small hands reaching up from beneath the surface.

Readers know immediately that they are in a horror book, one that nods towards gothic but also stands firmly in faerie land too. At the heart of the book is Triss, a sickly girl with a younger sister who despises her. She focuses mostly on her own hunger, her own desires, but as things reveal themselves so does Triss’ real character and she grows into a gutsy and selfless heroine. The transformation is less about Triss changing and more about revealing what was already within her but hidden. It’s a book of slow reveals, layers being removed, truth being exposed. And it is vicious, dangerous and treacherous to the extreme. In other words, it’s a dazzling dark read.

Wild, terrible and hauntingly beautiful, this children’s fantasy novel is a delight thanks to its dark heart and strikingly unique heroine. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

bunker diary

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

The controversial winner of The Carnegie Medal in 2014 has arrived in the United States. It is the story of Linus, a teenager living on the streets who is kidnapped and placed in a bunker. The bunker has six bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. In the kitchen are six plates, six cups, six sets of plastic utensils. Each room has a Bible and a notebook and pen. There is is no hot water, only cold. Linus is there alone at first but then others start to arrive. Someone is watching them through the vents in the ceiling, even in the bathroom there are cameras and microphones. That someone responds to written requests for food and supplies via notes sent in the elevator. Until someone does something wrong, then the food stops and the real horror begins.

Brooks has crafted an intense and horrific story here. It could have descended into pure hate and the proof that people are inherently evil. But something else happens here. There is hope, there are dreams, there are memories of human connection, and new connections are forged too. At the same time, there is no denying that it is bleak and desperate and frightening. It is a book that asks what you would do in this circumstance, who you would become. It is a book that challenges, that doesn’t offer easy answers and that is beautifully terrible.

While Linus is the narrator of the book with the story told in his own writing in his notebook, the story is also that of the others in the bunker with him. They are all just as well crafted, their responses to their kidnapping entirely personal and appropriate for who they are, and there are at least two of them who are heroes of the story too. They are the ones that imbue it with humanity and make the book worth the endurance needed to finish it.

Powerful, compellingly written and achingly human, this novel is challenging and exquisite but certainly not for all readers. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Penguin.

through the woods

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This graphic novel is haunted by authors like Neil Gaiman and the Brother Grimm.  The tales here are gruesome in the best possible way, frightening and oozy and delightful.  Our Neighbor’s House is a strange tale of a family that disappears one by one into the frigid snow following a man in a wide-brimmed hat until there is only one girl left.  A Lady’s Hands Are Cold tells of a women married into a loveless marriage who begins to hear voices calling from the walls and floors of the house.  His Face All Red is a story of murder and the undead. My Friend Janna tells of what happens when fakery of the occult becomes real and dangerous.  The Nesting Place will have your skin crawling, or perhaps it’s what lurks behind your skin.  Each story is a gem, strange and beautiful and entirely horrific.

Carroll does both the stories and the art here and they are married together so closely that they could not be extricated.  Though they are all clearly done by one person, the art changes from one to the next, definitively showing that you are entering a different place with different people.  There are old stories with coaches, horses and corsets as well as more modern tales too. 

Yet though they are clearly different, you start each one with that unease in your stomach that Carroll seems to be able to generate through her use of colors and the way that her characters gaze from the page.  Something is wrong in each of the stories and you can’t finish until you figure out exactly what it is.  The effect is haunting, haunted and wildly exhilarating.

A true delight of a read, this graphic novel for teens is completely disturbing and filled with horror.  In other words, it’s perfection for horror fans.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.

rules of summer

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

Enter the surreal world of two brothers with a picture told in few words and many pictures.  The book takes place in the previous summer and explains what one of the brothers learned that summer.  The lessons are strange, but the images are even wilder.  The first lesson is “Never leave a red sock on the clothesline.”  It is accompanied by a wonderful and magnificently creepy image of a huge rabbit the size of a house with a red eye staring over the wall as the two brothers cower on the other side.  As the pages turn, the world gets odder and odder, forming a cohesive world but one that surprises, horrifies and delights.

As Tan blends humor with his frightening images, one starts to see a world that is beyond our own and yet strangely parallel.  These brothers live in a different world, one with its own rules and laws but one that is hauntingly familiar to our own.  Perhaps my favorite series of images is the series of pictures for “Never wait for an apology” where the younger brother is padlocked in a small steam engine with smoke pouring from the smokestack.  Black birds fly past.  Since all of the other images were done as single picture, I didn’t expect to turn the page and see the image continue from farther away.  It all evoked so brilliantly the loneliness, the trapped feeling, the isolation of waiting for an apology. 

Tan continues to surprise and delight in this new picture book.  While not for everyone, there are some children who will adore this skewed world that speaks to our own.  Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

night gardener

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

A book sure to create some shivers, this is a thrilling gothic horror book for children.  Molly and Kip are two Irish children abandoned by their parents as their family fled to England due to the Great Irish Potato Famine.  No one will hire Molly as a servant until a man hires them to work for his family at their isolated and decrepit mansion.  It quickly becomes apparent that things are not what they seem in this family.  Molly finds a painting done of the family a year earlier, and they have changed considerably with their hair turning black and dull to their skin losing all color.  Perhaps it has something to do with the locked green door in the house, a door that Molly yearns to find out what is behind.   But opening that door unleashes a terrible force, one that answers your wants but destroys you in the process.  How can two children stand up to a centuries old curse?

Auxier’s storytelling skill is incredible.  He weaves a world of darkness, creeping misery and despair so cleverly that readers will feel the chill on their skin before it reaches their thoughts.  The children are steadily drawn into the strangeness surrounding the house and family, succumbing to the temptation of safety, the illusion of a home, and not seeing the proof around them of what is happening.  For the reader, this is a book that steadily builds and builds as the tension mounts and the nights get more frightening.  It is a wonderfully creepy read, one that simply can’t be put down.

The themes of the book are beautifully crafted.  The book speaks to the importance of love and family, but even more so it is about what happens when greed becomes consuming, literally.  It also is about the power of storytelling and stories, the way that they can teach, terrify and soothe.  And finally about the terror when a story comes to life right in front of you. 

An extraordinary horror novel for children, this book will be enjoyed by young readers but maybe not right before bed.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet.

sorrows knot

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

The dead live in every shadow.  There are small dead and larger dead, but they are all dangerous.  That’s why the women of the Shadowed People have binders, members of their tribe who are able to use knotted string to turn the dead away and even destroy them.  Otter is a binder, daughter of Willow, one of the strongest binders ever.  As she spends the last of her childhood playing with her two best friends, Cricket and Kestrel, she is almost entirely carefree.  Then Cricket is attacked by one of the dead, and suddenly life is not so simple.  The wards around the town seem weaker, and Willow is slowly becoming insane as her power to bind turns inside out.  As one of the strongest dead, a White Hand, stalks the village, Otter’s must find her own role not only as binder but as a woman of the Shadowed People.

This is the second YA book by Bow and it is a stunner.  First, you have the fact that it is entirely unique.  It’s a horror novel set in the distant past and populated by aboriginal tribes.  The entire world that Bow has created is well developed and manages to be familiar yet profoundly different from anything you have read of before.  Then you have the characters, who are strong and amazing.  There is Otter, the brave and proud girl who transforms into a woman before your eyes, but not before facing the horrors that are plaguing her world.  Kestrel, the ranger, who is also brave but loves deeply and ferociously too.  And Cricket, the storyteller, quick-witted and one of the few boys in the village of women. 

It is Bow’s writing that really sings throughout the novel.  It is her writing that shows us the world she has built, lets us love these characters so deeply, and allows us understand the danger and horror as well.  Here is a quote from page four, early in the book, that shows her skill in creating a place:

So Otter was born, and so she came to girlhood, among Shadowed People, the free women of the forest, in the embrace of mountains so old they were soft-backed, so dark with pine that they were black in summer.  A river came out of those mountains, young and quick, shallow and bone-cold.  Where it washed into a low meadow, the people had cleared the birch saplings and scrub pines and built a stronghold of sunlight.

Her voice is that of a story teller, filled with rhythm and intention.  She captures the setting she has created in just the style of her writing.

Unique and amazing, this book offers a fresh take on horror and an incredible teen heroine who faces death in many ways.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

engines of the broken world

Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee

Merciful’s mother has finally died.  After years of growing more and more confused and cruel, she died as the weather grew colder and colder.  Merciful and her brother Gospel had wanted to bury her properly but the bitter weather had worsened and prevented them from digging a hole.  The snow came too, lashing the windows and keeping them from even venturing out to the barn to check on the animals.  So they put their mother under the table and went to bed.  The Minister, in an animal form, said prayers over her but was also firm in saying that she needed a proper burial.  Merciful is starting breakfast the next morning when she hears it, a voice she thought she would never hear again, singing her childhood song.

This novel is completely unique.  It is the story not of a post-apocalyptic world but of the days leading directly into an apocalypse.  Yet it is also a book that explores religion in a way that will certainly bother many people.  This is a religion beyond decay, heading into the final days, one that is flagging but still powerful.  Even better, it is one that is familiar to many of us.  Now add zombies to this complex world, and you are starting to understand why this book is so difficult to explain.

Against this dire setting, we have two young characters Merciful and Gospel.  The two do not get along, both approaching the world from different places.  Yet given the claustrophobic setting, the two are forced to see the truth about each other and their strengths.  It is this setting of a blizzard at the end of the world that makes this book so haunting.  Vanhee writes in a voice that we haven’t heard before either, he tinkers with perception of the characters, and he has created a book where you can’t trust much at all.  It is a wonderfully slippery book, that changes underneath you and turns into something unexpected.  Yet it is also filled with moments of great beauty and character. 

A horror book for teens, this is also something much more.  It is a beautifully written apocalypse that is harrowing, striking and powerful.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.


Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Intertwined stories that range from the near future of 2073 to the distant past of the Vikings, this book lures the reader in with dark promises, strange happenings, and dares you to follow your curiosity deeper and deeper.  When Eric Seven arrives at the island of Blessed to see if the claims that people have discovered how to live longer (if not forever) are true, he is greeted with warmth and immediately set up in house of his own.  No one lives on the western side of the island and the eastern side only has adults, no children.  Eric starts out with drive to discover what is wrong, but the longer he spends on the island and drinking the tea the community provides him, the less he wants to explore at all.  When he travels to the western side of the island finally, his story forms the door to those that follow.  Layer upon layer, the lives of the people on Blessed are told, each layer revealing something new and equally odd.  This impressive novel is impossible to put down until the final story and the real truth is revealed in all of its horror.

Immediately upon opening this book, the strangeness of the story was apparent.  As Eric slips into complacency, I was almost screaming at him with frustration.  It was the ideal way to open this book where so much hinges upon the moments of hair raising oddity that link the stories.  Sedgwick has built this book so exquisitely that there is no guessing at the ending until it comes.  It is a story of love but also of revenge, of brotherhood but also of murder. 

Set on a Scandinavian island that is remote, Sedgwick uses the unusual formation of the island as a large part of the story.  The two halves nearly severed from one another, they are two worlds connected only slightly.  So the island itself reflects the story of generations of people who remain connected as well.  The inclusion of the dragon orchid and the powerful tea it brews is also a great symbol within the story.  The orchids are powerful, strange but also beautiful and delicate. 

This compelling novel is amazing teen literature.  It has enough depth to be used in a classroom where the symbolism and incredible writing can be celebrated.  It is also a riveting combination of romance and horror that will thrill discriminating teen readers.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

cavendish home

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Victoria has always tried to be the best that she can be with her perfect hair, great grades and neat room.  So when she gets a B in music, she is distraught and refuses to show her parents her report card.  Lawrence, her one and only friend, doesn’t have the same appreciation for perfection.  He’s a musician who is often untidy and has a habit of humming constantly.  As Victoria obsesses about her grades, she starts to notice that strange things are happening around town.  Some of the students at her school have disappeared and no one seems to care.  When Lawrence disappears and his parents are unconcerned, Victoria realizes that there is something horribly wrong.  She knows it must have to do with the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, an orphanage which never seems to have any children around.  In Mrs. Cavendish, Victoria finds another person with a will for order and perfection.  In Victoria though, Mrs. Cavendish may have met her match.  As this book turns from mystery to horror, readers will taken on a frightening ride.

From the endpaper that is designed with bugs to the bugs scattered along randomly inside the book, readers will realize that this is a little darker than most mysteries.  It begins as a classic story of a girl who is top of her class and fairly self-centered.  She is likeable despite these faults thanks to her natural inquisitiveness and bravery.  As the book becomes more dark and creepy, Victoria rises to the challenge, turning into a heroine before your eyes.  It’s a credible and impressive transformation.

Legrand slowly builds the tension in the book, creating a story that you can never quite relax into.  A great example of this is on page 83:

Outside, the streets glistened. Storm clouds sat fat, black, and heavy all along the sickly yellow sky. Victoria wondered if they would ever break or if they would just keep spitting bits of rain forever when no one was looking. She tightened her grip on the umbrella beneath her raincoat and tried not to think about how it felt like the trees were watching her.

It’s a book that twists and turns, becoming the unexpected. At several moments, I thought I had figured it out and the doubted that that would be the outcome in a children’s book.  Children will delight though in realizing that Legrand does not shy away from the horrid, the frightening and the disgusting. 

This is a wild ride of a book clothed in a classic mystery disguise.  Get it into the hands of children who enjoy a good shivery read.  It’s perfect for reading at night under the covers, if you are brave enough.  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.


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