The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (J)

The House With a Clock in Its Walls

The House With a Clock in Its Walls  

John Bellairs (Juvenile Fiction)

It’s the summer of 1948.  Newly orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is on a bus headed to New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his Uncle Jonathan.  Lewis is only ten years old but lately, only questions seem to plague him.  Where am I going?  Who will I meet?  What will happen to me?   But rather than getting answers, only more questions await Lewis upon his arrival.  Questions like why does his uncle prowl the halls after midnight and listen to the walls?  How does the stained-glass window change its image?  Why are there so many clocks in the house?  Soon, all too soon, Lewis will discover the truth behind these questions and he just might not like the answers.

John Bellairs gives young readers a book full of magic, mystery, and mayhem.  At the heart of this story, the author introduces us to a young boy who is alone, unpopular, and an outcast.  Parentless, he yearns for a friend and is willing to do anything in order to acquire one.  In his pursuit for acceptance, Lewis has to make a choice between keeping a friend and keeping a trust.  His decision comes at a cost that proves to be more than Lewis can possibly pay.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a ghost story that is suspenseful without being too scary.  Perhaps the most frightening thing in this book is how our young hero is relentlessly bullied and disdainfully discarded by a neighborhood boy.  Any child who has been excluded from a group or made to feel inadequate because of his or her appearance will certainly relate to Lewis’s unfortunate predicament.  Because of this, Bellairs provides us with a lesson that makes this book well worth the read:  If you have to prove your value just to keep a friend, is that a friend that’s truly worth keeping?

Happy Halloween from The Dusty Jacket.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com

 

 

 

Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite

In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.

Ghost on Black Mountain

Ghost on Black Mountain  

Ann Hite (Adult Fiction)

“Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard.  She saw my future in her tea leaves: death.”

Nellie Clay was only 17 when she married 25-year old Hobbs Pritchard.  With just a feed sack of clothes, some trinkets, and a childhood full of memories, she leaves the only home she has ever known and moves to Black Mountain with a man she barely knows and the ghosts he has spent a lifetime creating.

Ghost on Black Mountain is a haunting tale of abuse, power, greed, and fervent love.  There is not a soul on Black Mountain that hasn’t been negatively impacted or affected by Hobbs Pritchard, and his toxic anger and avarice blanket the mountain like mist on a crisp autumn morning.  Hite does a credible job in conveying the torment and fear unleashed on a tightly-knit mountain community by a man consumed by evil and jealousy.  The author keeps the story interesting by having different female characters narrate and share their own histories and perspectives.  Near the end of the book, just when you thought you were safely out of the woods, Hite throws in an unexpected twist by introducing an unknown character.  Rather than stall the story’s progression with this sudden interruption, this shift actually adds to the story’s mounting tension and brings us ever closer to an inevitable tipping point.  As this character’s story is slowly unraveled, we become uncomfortably and painfully aware that the ghost on Black Mountain may never truly rest in peace.

Ghost on Black Mountain is Hite’s first novel and she gives readers a truly gripping and all-consuming story of good versus evil and the price one is willing to pay for redemption.  Like the ghosts on Black Mountain, this story and its characters will linger in your mind and lurk in your memory long after the last page is turned.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com

 

 

The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn (J)

The Old Willis Place

The Old Willis Place  

Mary Downing Hahn (Juvenile Fiction)

There are just two rules that siblings Diana and Georgie Eldridge have to follow: don’t let anyone see you and do not leave Oak Hill Manor.  But after the terrible thing happened, there would be many more rules to come.  All of these rules were easy enough to abide by until the new caretaker of the old Willis place arrived with his daughter.  Things would quickly get a lot more complicated.  Caretakers came and went (there were too many to count), but this one had a daughter—a daughter the same age as Diana.  Diana wanted a friend so badly, that she was willing to break any rule just to have one.  But at what cost?

This is a ghost story with some surprisingly heavy themes given that it is written for ages 7 to 12.  Besides dealing with theft, trespassing, and murder, we are given an older sister who, by selfishly putting her own wants and needs above all else, puts both herself and her younger brother in danger.  She lies to her sibling not once, but several times and flirts with severing the bond of trust that the two share.  Once trust is broken, can it ever be fully restored again?

This book is filled with plenty of action and suspense and, despite some scary and disturbing bits at the end, younger readers will become enthralled and immersed in this wonderfully spooky ghost story.  What I like most about this book is that Hahn delivers a powerful moral message that readers of any age can appreciate.  Despite suffering from separation, grief, loneliness, and fear, Hahn gives us two children who demonstrate the importance and value of extending mercy to the unworthy and offering forgiveness to the undeserving.  And that isn’t scary at all.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

It’s Throwback Thursday where we review a Classic from literature.  In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw  

Henry James (Adult Fiction)

It’s Christmas Eve and, as is ancient tradition, ghost stories are being told by a group of friends sitting around a fire.  Now a ghost story with one child in it would be—as everyone might agree—horrible, gruesome, and terrible even.  But a ghost story with two children?  Well, that would be just an inexcusable and abominable turn of the screw.  Wouldn’t it?  This is such a story.

Contrary to popular belief, just because a story is labeled a “classic”, doesn’t mean that you are automatically inclined to love it, rave about it, or recommend it.  Sometimes old doesn’t instantly equate to great.  The Turn of the Screw is one such book.  Written in 1898, Henry James’ gothic novella is considered one of literature’s most famous ghost stories…but perhaps not the best.  The story is verbose, inordinately descriptive, and James throws about commas like strings of beads during Mardis Gras (“They moved slowly, in unison, below us, over the lawn, the boy, as they went, reading aloud from a story-book and passing his arm round his sister to keep her quite in touch.”).  Adding to the tedious reading that awaits even the most patient of readers, we are presented with an unlikable and unsympathetic  heroine (a governess) who puts her own need for vindication and legitimacy above all else.  As a result, she fails her employer, she fails her friend, and she gravely fails her two small charges.  Those around her pay the ultimate price for her incessant need to claim victory and prove her sanity.  The fact that she did it despite the ongoing harm she constantly inflicts upon two young children ultimately proves to be one too many turns of the screw.

Sometimes, when a story is exceptional, you got lost in it.  Other times, the story just simply loses you.  The Turn of the Screw is regrettably an example of the latter.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

 

 

 

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (J)

Bunnicula

Bunnicula   

Deborah and James Howe (Juvenile Fiction)

Who would have thought that a seemingly innocent rabbit found in a movie theater would turn a happy family upside down…and possibly threaten the world?  Chester, that’s who.  The Monroe’s family cat knew the instant that snuggly bunny entered their home that something was definitely not right.  Harold, the family dog, was clueless and Mr. and Mrs. Monroe and their two boys were no help at all.  No.  It was up to him and him alone to expose this furry fraud for who he really was.  Soon, Chester would make his discovery known to all since the clues were all coming together:  the nocturnal sleeping habits, the drained vegetables, the Houdini-like talents of escapism, the FANGS!  Come on!  Why is he the ONLY ONE WHO SEES IT?  Well, cats are far more intelligent.  Thankfully, Chester has a plan, but can he make it work in time to save his family and everyone on the planet?

Bunnicula is a harmless and hilarious way to get your young reader into the Halloween spirit.  FAR more benign and innocuous than The Witches by Roald Dahl (reviewed on October 9), the antics of Chester and Harold are entertaining and lighthearted.  Perhaps the only scary thing about this book is the cover (an adorable rabbit with red eyes and fangs?  Yikes!).  And, if your youngster wants more fun with the Monroe pets, Howe provides fans with six more books in the Bunnicula series.  Hare-ray!

So, hide your vegetables, put your garlic necklace on, and prepare yourself for some hare-raising fun with the most adorable vampire you’re likely to ever meet.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com

 

 

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (J)

It’s Throwback Thursday where we review a Classic from literature.  In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow   

Washington Irving (Juvenile Fiction)

About two miles past the village of Tarry Town, there is a little village which is perhaps one of the quietest places in all the world.  It’s known as Sleepy Hollow and is thought to be bewitched.  Residents have been known to see strange sights or to hear voices in the night air.  There is never a shortage of ghostly tales or haunted spots, but the dominant spirit that holds dominion over all is the lone headless figure on horseback.

If you think Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is similar to Disney’s 1949 animated Halloween staple, think again.  Irving gives us three characters (Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel, and Brom Van Brunt a/k/a Brom Bones) with three very different desires (to be the boss, to be the bride, and to be the best).  First, we have Ichabod Crane who, contrary to his appearance and demeanor, is quite the adept opportunist.  He woos old Baltus Van Tassel’s daughter, Katrina, motivated not by his passion, but rather by her purse for Ichabod realizes that she is the natural heir apparent to her father’s estate.  Then there’s the charming Katrina Van Tassel who is as manipulative as she is beautiful.  She leverages Ichabod’s feelings for her merely to motivate her apathetic suitor, Brom, toward matrimony.  Lastly, we have Brom Van Brunt who is nothing more than a jealous and possessive man-child with a penchant for childish pranks and an aversion to adult responsibility.

Irving gives us an emotionally charged and haunting tale of ghosts, legends, love, greed, and jealousy…all tightly wrapped within a thick, black cloak and sitting high atop a powerful, red-eyed steed.  All is not what it seems to be in the tranquil hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, and master storyteller Washington Irving reminds us that appearances can be deceiving and fear only has the power we give it.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.scholastic.com

 

The Witches by Roald Dahl (J)

The Witches

The Witches   

Roald Dahl (Juvenile Fiction)

“In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks.  But this is not a fairy-tale.  This is about REAL WITCHES.”

Our story is told through the eyes of a seven-year old boy.  He’s quite ordinary really, but we soon find out that this rather ordinary boy is about to do some particularly extraordinary things.  Before he is eight years old, he tells us that he has had not one, but TWO encounters with witches…and he has lived to tell about it through this book.  I implore you to read this book so that you too will know how to spot a witch, for witches look just like ordinary women.  Miss the signs and alas poor reader, you might as well count yourself squelched!

Told in true Roald-Dahl fashion, the author gives us yet another whimsical, comical, and delightful story.  Dahl treats us to a young hero who shows courage, cleverness, and cunning in the most dangerous and dire of circumstances.  Even when he is at his lowest (and I mean that quite literally), our protagonist always seems to find the bright spot and never resorts to self-pity or defeatism.  His “can do” attitude and spunk will cast a wickedly delightful spell on your heart and is sure to entrance readers of all ages.  A few gory details of the supreme witch’s appearance may leave younger readers a tad squeamish, but it’s all told in good fun.

Dahl presents us with two very different groups of people whose appearance hide who they truly are.  When the narrator’s grandmother poses a question to him about identity and appearance, he responds, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”  And that, friends, is about as bewitching and magical a message as you can hope for.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com