The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee (9781452149868)
Released August 28, 2018
After their parents made an Agreement with Death, the Vickery twins had to live with it. It meant that Felix had to serve Death alongside his father, witnessing healing and dying every day. Felix was not allowed to go to school and could not ever see his mother. His father could not see his brother Lee or his mother ever again. Lee in turn lived with his mother on the other side of the house serving Memory. He took bottled memories, labeled them and placed them on shelves. Both brothers had errands in Poplar Wood, Lee to dispense of the memories and Felix to gather herbs. Their life was terrible but steady until Gretchen entered it, determined to figure out how Essie was killed. From a family of Summoners, Gretchen is second born and unable to conduct the Rites. Still, she insists on untangling what is happening in their small town as Death, Memory and Passion let their rivalry get out of hand.
Just writing that summary demonstrates how unique this book is, yet it also plays with existing myths about shades and summoning. The book makes Death, Memory and Passion into figures that are non-human but still have human desires like revenge and dominance. The book is constructed so that the reader learns more about this fictional world alongside the characters. Each brother knows separate elements and Gretchen brings her own understanding of the other part of the relationships with Shades to the book. The organic way that it plays out via the story itself makes it immensely satisfying.
The characters are definitely worth noting as well. Gretchen is the most compelling character. She is wonderfully curious, prickly and determined. There is no way to tell her no that she will accept and her tenacity drives the story forward. The two brothers are unique from one another as well, one who goes to public school and the other who doesn’t. Their lives are as different as can be, each raised by not only one parent but also influenced deeply by the Shade too. These factors play out in their personalities in a way that is subtle but also clear.
A great fantasy Gothic novel with a mystery at its heart. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Chronicle Books.
Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller (9781419727245)
This novel by an Australian author is enticingly Gothic and ghost-filled. Elizabeth and her father move back to his childhood home, Witheringe House. With them comes Zenobia, Elizabeth’s not-so-imaginary friend whom only she can see. Zenobia loves Witheringe House since she hates sunshine, enjoys dust, and wants to find a “Spirit Presence” in the home. The two girls spend time trying to detect the spirit and even hold seances with a Ouija board. But no one replies. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Zenobia begin to explore their new home from the weed-choked garden to the overgrown hedge maze and even the forbidden East Wing. It is there that Elizabeth feels a presence, but Zenobia won’t listen to her. What if there really is a ghost in Witheringe House?
Miller has crafted a Gothic ghost story just right for elementary school children who enjoy a good shiver. The use of Zenobia, who is downright ghost-like herself, is an interesting foil for Elizabeth and adds a creepy yet friendly dimension to the book. Elizabeth tends to be more timid and would likely not have explored the house without Zenobia’s prodding. Still, Elizabeth tends to stick with a mystery and follow through, while Zenobia is forever abandoning projects and moving on to the next idea. Elizabeth is brave though scared, while Zenobia just doesn’t feel fear.
The setting of Witheringe House is well drawn and eerie. The house itself becomes almost a character in the novel, the strange wallpaper, the suddenly-appearing housekeeper, the library filled with odd books. There is a melancholy that is echoed in Elizabeth’s loneliness and a strong sense of grief and loss that pervades the novel.
A delightfully creepy Gothic read for elementary students. Get this in the hands of those who enjoyed The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Amulet Books.
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.
Eerie Dearies: 26 Ways to Miss School by Rebecca Chaperon
Don’t expect your sunshiny ABC book here! Instead you get to enter a creepy world where each letter of the alphabet is paired with a way to miss school. Just to make sure you know what you are getting into, the book begins with A is for Astral Projection paired with a picture of a girl floating off the page. The images are haunted and dark, yet with a quirky sense of humor as well. The book goes on with the alphabet with C is for Contagious, K is for Kidnapping, and M is for Mononucleosis. It all ends with Z is for Zombie Apocalypse.
This book certainly is not for everyone. But for those kids who enjoy a shiver along with their ABCs, this is a perfect picture book. I was one of those strange kids myself and would have adored this picture book as a child. The art is creepy, showing children without heads and clearly hearkening back to Edward Gorey and gothic horror. Yet there is no blood on any of the pages, so it’s not graphic in any way.
This book will work well around Halloween, but thanks to its sense of humor will please haunted children throughout the year. Appropriate for ages 6 and up.
Reviewed from library copy.
White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick
Released July 5, 2011 in the US.
In a tiny English village that is being slowly eaten by the sea, Rebecca and her father spend their summer. Rebecca is all alone, her friends back home ignoring her, thanks to her father being accused of something horrible. Then Ferelith enters her life, a strange girl who speaks in riddles, plays dangerous and illegal games, and gets Rebecca thinking of something other than her despair. But everywhere there are secrets, some hidden, walled up and shocking. Some from long, long ago that have never completely died. Some that search for angels or devils. Some that may trap new people. Secrets are at the heart of this eerie, frightening read that is perfect for dark summer nights.
Nominated for the Carnegie Medal in Literature, this book is a taut, thrilling ride that combines several elements into a disturbing novel that is impossible to put down. There is the amazing setting of Winterfold, a town that is withering away as the sea reclaims chunks of the cliffs. The setting is a powerful piece of the book, a presence that is important and vital to the entire story.
Then there are the characters. Rebecca, a thoroughly modern teen, who finds life in Winterfold even for the summer entirely too dull. Ferelith, the strange girl, who both loves Rebecca for who she is and also hates her for it. And finally, the voice from the eighteenth century who speaks of horrors, of blood running, of experiments, that will amaze and torture. They come together to create a book that is wild, vivid and scary.
A modern gothic story, this book is intense and horrific enough that you will want a light on. Seriously. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
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The Museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds
Heloise lives a lonely, subdued and severe life with her godmother. She is not allowed to have toys, not allowed to play, and must spend her time being constructive. Heloise yearns most of all for a doll and then she discovers a secret niche under a floorboard where a doll is hidden. She succeeds for some time in hiding the doll from her godmother, but when her godmother discovers the doll, she flies into a rage. Next door to their house is the Museum of Mary Child, a place where visitors come but Heloise has never been allowed to enter. Her grandmother drags her there. Stunned by the revelations of the museum, Heloise flees her godmother’s home with her doll in tow. Ending up in the city, Heloise is taken in by a choir of orphans, where she begins to learn about what life is about and to feel like a real little girl. But she cannot escape the mystery of her own upbringing for long.
This gothic tale owes a lot to folk tales with birds who guide humans, and a prince in prison. These elements weave themselves into Heloise’s tale, offering glimpses of magic and wonder against the darkness of madness and solitude. Just as Heloise is a unique child, so this book is unique and fascinating. It doesn’t fit into a genre niche neatly, offering so many different but well-worked elements. Because of this, it is a very fun read. Readers will be unable to figure out how the novel will end because they won’t be sure if they are reading fantasy, gothic, horror or fairy tale – perhaps it is all of them at once.
Heloise is a great character with her fierceness and inquisitiveness. She carries this book forward, gradually learning along with the reader what her story is. It is a delicately balanced story, never moving too far into horror, never too far from its fairy tale elements. The setting is such a large part of the tale from the museum to the city itself and its madhouse and prison. Golds does a great job creating and sustaining a mood though the entire book along with a tension that makes it difficult to put down and impossible not to puzzle about even when not reading.
Recommended for tweens who are a little too young for Twilight, this book has quality writing and an intriguing premise. Children as young as ten who are looking for a little horror and creepiness will find a great read here. Appropriate for ages 10-14.
Reviewed from copy provided by publisher.