THE HAUNTING OF HOUNDS HOLLOW Written by Jeffrey Salane (Scholastic Press; $16. 99, Ages 8-12)
The middle grade novel, The Haunting of Hounds Hollowby Jeffrey Salane, is a recommended read for chilly, dark winter evenings. When Lucas Trainer’s family inherits a house from an almost-forgotten relative they move from the comforting familiarity of the big city to Hounds Hollow. For Lucas, making new friends means explaining his undiagnosed disease (his parents call it the Dark Cloud). Adjusting to being in the middle of nowhere is complicated by their crazy new mansion—akin to the Winchester Mystery House with rooms that lead to nowhere and a construction crew that doesn’t stop building.
The town’s history of people disappearing coupled with what may be a roaming pack of malevolent ghost dogs is enough to scare anyone away, but Lucas and his two new friends, Bess and Lens, decide they must uncover what’s going on before it’s too late. Lucas has a mysterious key that he hopes will unlock secrets from the past that continue to have hold of the house and its environs.
This book is suited for kids who like plots that delve into horror. The Haunting of Hounds Hollow takes some dark turns, particularly at the end. If you think your kid will grow into a fan of stories like Stephen King’s Pet Sematary then this tale will not disappoint.
In her debut chapter book as author-illustrator, Cantini brings young readers Ghoulia, a friendly, warm and purple-loving zombie girl (can a zombie be warm, just asking?) who really has only one wish, to have friends. Stuck inside the grounds of Crumbling Manor, Ghoulia has been forbidden to leave the premises out of fear she and her Auntie Departed, her closest relative, will be made to leave the village should they be found out. In this first book of the series, and at just 64 illustration-filled pages, Ghoulia is a fast and fun read for anyone curious about zombie kids. Ghoulia’s cast of characters includes her Auntie Departed, Shadow the cat, Uncle Misfortune who happens to be a head and ideal candy bucket for Halloween, Tragedy the Albino greyhound and Grandad Coffin, a chess-playing distraction for a zombie granddaughter’s escape on Halloween. Ghoulia pulls off this daring feat (and that could be a pun since her body parts can come off whenever she wants) on Halloween when her brilliant idea to masquerade as herself in order to meet the local children is a huge success. But alas, what will happen when the village trick-or-treaters learn the truth and it’s revealed that Ghoulia’s not dressed up in a zombie costume but actually is one? A secret Monster Society is formed and everyone lives (well that’s not totally true of course) happily ever after. Cantini captures the atmosphere of Ghoulia’s off-beat world with page after wonderful page of whimsical illustrations and a sweet storyline. Book 2, Ghoulia And The Mysterious Visitor is up next in this winning new series so fans won’t have to wait long to find out what’s in store for the charming zombie girl. Several entertaining pages of bonus activities are included in the back matter. • Review by Ronna Mandel
Chapter book, Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts is a good match for reluctant readers because of its simple text, frequent illustrations, and funny asides in the margins or footnotes. As the title implies, there will be a lot of ironic humor; Sam Wu must face his fear of ghosts and reestablish himself in the eyes of his peers after a truly embarrassing incident. Luckily he’s learned a lot from his favorite TV program, “Space Blasters.” Now it seems there’s a ghost in Sam’s house, so Sam and his friends must prove they are brave ghost hunters.
Kids can sympathize with how it feels to not fit in. Sam introduces his friends to his favorite meal (roast duck and turnip cake) and urges them to take just one bite—even though the turnip cake does smell a lot like feet. Doing so, he successfully bridges their cultures using delicious food. Regaining some dignity with his classmates is harder, but Sam Wu demonstrates he’s no “Wu-ser” (as Ralph, the class bully, calls him).
In the closing Q&A, authors Katie and Kevin Tsang explain how they’ve woven some of their own childhoods into the story, showing they are “definitely NOT afraid of answering some author questions.”
Nathan Reed livens up the story with hilarious images of the characters including the evil cat Butterbutt, and Fang, the toughest snake ever. There is visual interest on every page to keep kids engaged beyond the text of the story.
Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts works well as a Halloween book for kids who prefer not-very-scary ghost stories with plenty of laughs. • Review by Christine Van Zandt
CITY OF GHOSTS Written by Victoria Schwab (Scholastic; $17.99, Ages 9-12)
Looking for a spooky Halloween read? Check out Victoria Schwab’s middle-grade novel, City of Ghosts. The story opens when eleven-year-old Cassidy’s birthday gift sends her over the edge (literally) and she drowns (sort of—a boy-ghost named Jacob retrieves her from death). Soon after, Cass is drawn toward something she calls The Veil and discovers that she can cross over into the place where ghosts dwell.
Jacob and Cass travel to Scotland with Cass’s parents whose book The Inspecters (inspectors of specters) is being made into a television series. Cass meets another girl with the same sort of gift in Edinburgh, the city of ghosts. There, mysterious locales harbor dangerous inhabitants; Cass must quickly learn how to survive.
The reveal-and-conceal relationship between the lead characters in City of Ghostsis fascinating. There’s a lot to learn about the other side when adventures through The Veil become more complex. This book explores historical haunts and interesting folklore as the alluring story unfolds in ethereal delight.
Victoria Schwab is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen novels for young adults and adults, including the Shades of Magic series, Vicious, Vengeful, This Savage Song, and Our Dark Duet. • Review by Christine Van Zandt Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Successwww.Write-for-Success.com @WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly is reviewed by the newest member of our team, Mary Malhotra.
Deep Blue, (Disney Publishing Worldwide, $17.99, Ages 9-12), released May 6, 2014, is the first in a planned four-book fantasy series, The Waterfire Saga, about six gifted teen mermaids from different realms who come together to save the ocean from an ancient monster. The story takes readers on an adventure exploring diverse cultures under the sea (and inside mirrors, too — a shadow world that has always fascinated this reviewer!). The mermaids do magic by singing, a skill they call songcasting. In addition to enchanting Mer creatures, the book features ghosts, zombies, and other supernatural figures, and some explicit battle gore.
The world of Deep Blue, first envisaged by a creative team at Disney, is brought to life by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Donnelly. Donnelly is the author of A Northern Light, a historical fiction YA set at the turn of the nineteenth century (winner of Britain’s Carnegie Medal and a Printz Honor), and Revolution, a story about a troubled present-day teen pulled into the world of a girl living in revolutionary France. Deep Blue will probably appeal most to a tween audience. Disney suggests the book for ages 9-12.
In the book’s prologue, water witches summon the six mermaids, warning that a four thousand-year-old monster capable of destroying entire civilizations has been awakened. As the story begins, we meet two Mer princesses, Serafina of Miromara and Neela of Matali. Sera and Neela are best friends, together for Sera’s betrothal to Neela’s brother Mahdi, the crown prince of Matali. Sera and Mahdi’s betrothal, intended to unite the two underwater kingdoms in peace, is interrupted by a brutal attack led by the cruel Captain Traho. Many at the party, including Sera’s parents, are injured or killed, but Sera and Neela escape.
The princesses soon discover they have both dreamt of the witches and the monster. Now they must find the four other mermaids described in the witches’ chant and join up to battle the monster. Captain Traho pursues Sera and Neela, so they have to use their wits and their growing special talents to stay a step ahead of him and figure out who or what is behind his evil ambitions. Destined to lead the other mermaids, Sera tightly holds on to the hope that her mother, the queen of Miromara, is still alive and will return to make everything all right. Will Sera grow to accept her role as leader? Can the six chosen mermaids gain the confidence and skill needed to battle the monster?
Deep Blue is a fun read, and a doorway to imagining a complex and magical world under the sea. Author Donnelly says Disney’s The Little Mermaid was a favorite at her house when her daughter was younger. Now her daughter is ten, an age Donnelly says is “fearless and full of wonder. Bemused by boys. Fierce about friendships. Standing at the borderlands of childhood, suitcases in hand.” Donnelly hopes her readers will find Sera and her fellow teen mages to be “worthy travel companions” as they embark on the soul-searching and increasing independence of their own teen years.
About Reviewer Mary Malhotra – After your typical career as a database designer/schoolteacher/small-business CFO, Mary Malhotra is focusing on the next obvious thing, short story and novel writing for the YA market. A member of SCBWI, she has participated in writing workshops at UCLA Extension and the Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD). Her YA novel COMMON HOURS is on its first full revision (and fourth working title). She lives in La Canada, California with her husband and lots of pictures of her grown kids. Find her on Twitter @MCMalhotra or at www.Facebook.com/MCMalhotra.
If you are in need of some good, ghoulish tales tonight and tomorrow, take a look at this roundup of recommended reads.
Sally’s Bones by MacKenzie Cadenhead ($6.99, Sourcebooks, ages 9-12) Substitute Creacher by Chris Gall ($16.99, Little, Brown, ages 4-8) Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters: A Lullaby by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Kelly Murphy Pumpkin Trouble by Jan Thomas ($9.99, HarperCollins, ages 2-5) What’s in the Witch’s Kitchen by Nick Sharratt ($12.99, Candlewick Press, ages 3 and up) The Monstrous Book of Monsters by Libby Hamilton with illustrations by Jonny Duddle and Aleksei Bitskoff ($17,99, Templar Books, ages 5-8)
BOO!! Right in time for the new year of quality education, SCARY SCHOOL is open and it’s inhabited by some really strange creatures, like Mr. Spider-Eyes, the hallway monitor, T Rex, who wears, of all things, a blue dress and blue bonnet, Ms. Fang, the sweetest homeroom teacher, who has one huge fang hanging out of her mouth (had she had two fangs, she would have been called Ms. Fangs! There’s Nurse Hairymoles, named as such for obvious reasons and oh, wow, she can bring you back from the dead. Trust me, she is kept extremely busy at Scary School. Then, of course, there’s Principal Headcrusher and Dr. Dragonbreath, named, yes, you guessed it, because he has really, really, really bad breath. Oh, wait! Did I mention Archie, the giant squid, who lives in the school’s moat? And… and… ooh… how could I leave out Mr. Snakeskin, the half zombie science teacher?
A new kid, Charles Nukid… no really, that’s the new kid’s name, started at Scary School that year and what a year it would be, because Scary School is chosen to host the annual, wait for it, Ghoul Games, this year. Did I mention that most of the children attending Scary School weren’t “regular” kids, like that new kid, Charles Nukid? Oh no, they were ghouls and goblins and vampires, oh my!
Now, all the ghoulish going-ons are narrated, for your reading pleasure, by none other than Derek The Ghost, who unfortunately, last year, became … a ghost, that is, when a science experiment in class went terribly, terribly wrong. And this is his story of “…all the horrible and wonderful things that go on there.”
But do not fear, my children, because even if T Rex, who wears a blue dress, eats you up whole, (almost) all you children will come back to life, as I already mentioned, just perhaps not in the same shape you were before. That is, if you’re lucky! As the terrific children’s author, Dan Gutman, of the My Weird School Daze series, is quoted on the book’s back cover, says, “I died laughing. Weird monsters in silly situations. Why didn’t I think of that?”
This is such a hilarious, okay, creepy read, but of course, not for the faint of heart. So get to your bookstore (hopefully BookStar in Studio City where there are autographed copies!) and gobble up the totally cool, Scary School!