Posts Tagged ‘Ghosts’

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

November 21, 2014

Teenager Jeremy Johnson Johnson (yes, his middle and last names are both Johnson) lives in the offbeat town of Never Better, which can only be located by those searching for it (but if you find it once, you’ll never lose your way when you try to return). He and his father run the Two Book Bookstore, which stocks just two books. And Jeremy’s best friend is the ghost of Jacob Grimm. This quirky setting is the backdrop for one of the most unique books I’ve read in a while – part ghost story, part dark fairy tale. Like many fairy tales, the good characters are truly good, the villains are shockingly evil, and the magic is unexplained but ever present.

Jacob doesn’t know why he has a duty to look after Jeremy, but he knows he does. He knows that he must find and protect Jeremy from a mysterious figure known only as the Finder of Occasions. Jeremy is the only one who can hear Jacob, and Jacob has become his constant companion as he struggles to cope with his mother having left the family and his father sinking into depression as a result. Jeremy is focused on his schoolwork, his one man lawn business, and planning for a better future – until the day he and the daring, beautiful Ginger Boultinghouse meet and she takes an interest in him. Much to his surprise, he and Ginger become fast friends. But soon, an innocent enough prank goes wrong and the town turns on Jeremy. Soon, Jeremy is at risk of losing the bookstore and his home. As Ginger tries to help Jeremy figure out a way out of his dilemma, they start to uncover dark secrets about Never Better: the town has had a mysterious string of disappearances of children and teens, and they may be in danger of something far worse than being shunned by the townspeople.

Jacob continues to fret about the danger Jeremy is in from the Finder of Occasions as more and more ominous signs appear – but the truth about the missing children is darker than anyone in Never Better suspects. As things start getting more twisted, the story gets more and more gripping. McNeal writes the kind of fairy tale that grabs you and won’t let your imagination go – and the kind of story that makes you want to leave the light on if you read it late at night!

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The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith

July 1, 2014

The Frangipani HotelI picked up this book on a whim, and as I casually read the inside cover, I was a bit intrigued. Once I turned to the back and read the author bio, I knew I had to give The Frangipani Hotel a try. The author, Violet Kupersmith, is just in her early 20’s and a recent college graduate.

The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of short stories that are based on traditional Vietnamese folktales, but Kupersmith has reworked them to be both contemporary and relevant. They are all ghost stories, if you will, but not the typical “Boo!” or jump out of your seat variety. Some are eerie, some unsettling, and all are unexpected in their plot and conclusion. They often start out in the mundane world and then some supernatural element is woven into the plot. The Vietnam War and its haunting aftermath also makes an appearance in many of the narratives.

Although united by these common themes, each story is unique and Kupersmith writes comfortably with a diverse cast of characters. My favorite story was entitled “Skin and Bones”. This was about a Vietnamese American teen who is sent with her older sister to stay with their grandmother in Vietnam. Thuy is sent away by her mother in hopes she will lose weight, as Thuy has become addicted to American junk food. However, Thuy soon finds a strange little sandwich shop that she sneaks to when her grandmother and sister nap into the afternoon.

Overall, call me impressed by Violet Kupersmith’s wise-beyond-her-years literary debut. I highly recommend this original, captivating work. Kupersmith is a rising young star, and I look forward to seeing where this gifted writer will go from here.

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Best New Books of 2013: Marci B’s Picks

December 13, 2013

Hi, I’m Marci Byers.  I read all types of genre fiction, but I am partial to Young Adult books.  I enjoy YA books because I like watching the characters journey into their adult selves.  Here are some of the gems I uncovered this year.

Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
This book is the conclusion of an outstanding trilogy. See here for my review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns.  Over the course of three books we’ve watch Princess Elisa grow up and mature into a strong leader.  Gone is the shy, sheltered girl, who was afraid of her shadow.  Elisa is trying to find happiness in her current situation; can she succeed without risking her country’s security?

Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
Madness Underneath continues the story of  Rory Devereux in The Name of the Star. Rory just wants to be a normal teenager.  As an American living in England, she already stands out.  Also there is the pesky matter of her ability to see ghosts.  Her first year at boarding school was marked by a serial killer stalking her.   This year Rory just wants to get her life back to normal.  She wants to go back to boarding school and her friends.  However, her parents are being a bit overprotective of her this year.  Can Rory get her life back on track or will the past continue to haunt her?

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy
How far would you go for someone you love?  Criminal is just that story.  Nikki, is a street smart young woman, except for her flaw, her boyfriend Dee.  Her friends tell her Dee is trouble and she should dump him.  She cannot because she loves him and sees good in him.   Then Dee asks her to lie to the police and alibi him.  By the time Nikki discovers the reason she lied it’s too late to save herself and she must now face the consequences of that lie, which is prison time.  Can Nikki find redemption for her part in Dee’s crime?

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Set in a future Earth, but based on the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood, Scarlet is the 2nd book in The Lunar Chronicles (after Cinder). The people who populate Meyer’s books are anything but typical fairytale characters.  When Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother goes missing, she does not hesitate to go where she thinks she might find out information on her missing grandmother.  When she meets a street fighter named Wolf, both of their lives will be changed forever.  Cinder’s story is also continued in this book.

Orleans by Sherri Smith
For the city of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina was just the beginning.  Subsequent hurricanes and Delta Fever have left the residents quarantined and left  to fend for themselves. The Delta Fever means the population segregates itself by bloodtype in order to survive.  After an ambush by another blood type, Fen is entrusted with the safety of her chieftain’s newborn baby girl.  Her plan is to get the child out to the Outer States before she is infected with Delta Fever.  Will she be successful?

Best New Books of 2013: Cheryl T’s Picks

December 4, 2013

Although I read all sorts of books, from adult historical and literary fiction to narrative nonfiction and books on nutrition, I am the children’s and teens’ selector, so I keep up with those books, too! This short list contains titles from some of the best YA writers out there, including atmospheric mysteries, mind-bending science fiction, surprising fantasy, and contemporary coming-of-age novels. These are some of my favorite new titles of 2013. Enjoy!

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry
When eighteen-year-old Judith returns to her Puritan village two years after she disappeared, even her mother considers her a ruined young woman. After hearing Judith struggle unsuccessfully to tell her tale with the half a tongue that her captor left to her, her mother is so repulsed that she forbids her to ever speak again. Judith knows that the boy she has loved since they were both children is lost to her forever, even though she can never tell him why. Her captor was his father. Thus begins a terrifying and desperate story of guilt and innocence, love and hatred, and above all, sad misunderstandings. See my full post here.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Josie Moraine is the daughter of a brothel prostitute in 1950s New Orleans. She’s smart, pretty, resourceful, and yearning to escape her seedy life in the Old Quarter. Her mother has taken up with a dangerous man who repeatedly threatens Josie’s life. Josie longs to join society-girl Charlotte at Smith College, but it seems like just a dream. Life gets even more complicated when she finds a deceased wealthy man’s watch under her mother’s bed, which entangles Josie in a murder investigation. The anguish in the novel is excruciating at times, as Josie lands in one terrifying situation after another, and the author does not sweeten them up for a minute. A richly portrayed novel of ambition, betrayal, and honor.

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Seth drowns in the very preface of the novel, but he does not move toward a gentle light, nor is this book one big flashback. The reader works to discover the truth along with Seth in this sci-fi thriller, and events unfold ever more quickly, running toward a breathless conclusion. Along the way, Seth grapples with the nature of reality, wondering if his present circumstances justify the feeling he has always had, that there must be more than this. If this is the “more,” is it what he expected? Or perhaps the “more” was always in front of him before, but he didn’t see it.

Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal
Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives with his dad in the town of Never Better, but things could be much better for them. His grandfather bequeathed Jeremy the bookstore where they live, but his father took out a huge loan on the store, and of course, he can’t pay it back. Along comes the fetching Ginger Boltinghouse, who convinces Jeremy to participate in a harmless prank that goes terribly wrong. The ghost of Jacob Grimm, one of the famous brothers who wrote those dark fairy tales, is trying to protect Jeremy from the Finder of Occasions, a person who will use any event to visit evil upon his unsuspecting victims. The shocking twist proves that this is a Grimm tale, after all.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Bonded together more than ever after their mother leaves, twins Cather and Wren spend their time taking care of their sweet but unstable father and writing fanfiction about the incredibly popular Simon Snow series. When they go to college, Cather imagines that life will continue as usual, fitting in her schoolwork around her fanfiction writing, but Wren becomes a party girl overnight. Cather is dealing with a hostile roommate with a nosy boyfriend, a writing partner who steals her material, and a professor who informs Cather that fanfiction is not original writing. While Cath dithers about raising her failing grade in her most important class and Wren continues to implode, Cath’s romantic life becomes very complicated and their father chooses that moment to have a breakdown. A complex and delightful coming-of-age novel in which every character needs to come of age: the main characters, the roommates, the boyfriends, and even the parents.

Poppet by Mo Hader

July 16, 2013

poppetSomeone, or something, is causing patients to harm themselves at the Beechway High Security Unit. The patients believe that the ghost of a long dead dwarf is responsible, but A. J., the senior nursing coordinator, is looking for a more earthly cause. His suspicions fall on a recently released young man, Isaac, who was found guilty of killing his parents 10 years ago. A.J. continues to investigate these odd incidents against the wishes of his boss Melanie. She just wants the problem to go away and since Isaac has been released from her hospital, she believes the problem is no longer hers to worry about. Complicating the issue is the fact that A.J. and Melanie have recently become involved with each other. When A. J. discovers that Isaac is following him and Melanie, he enlists the help of inspector Jack Caffrey despite Melanie’s insistence he not involve the police.

Caffrey is also working on an unsolved crime, that of a young woman who went missing over a year ago. Caffrey’s boss is ready to scale back the investigation, but he is not ready to let go. He understands all too well the feelings of the young woman’s mother, who cannot lay her daughter to rest when she has no body to bury. Caffrey has been haunted by the disappearance of his brother years ago.

Hayder has written a host of wonderful characters into her new book. The inmates at the hospital are very creepy, but not unrealistic or unsympathetic. A. J. is such a likeable character you are rooting strongly for everything to work out for him. I was also very happy to see Flea, the police diver, return. She is one of my favorite characters in the last few years. Hayder left much unresolved between Caffrey and Flea in her previous books, Skin, and Gone, so it is good to see them working together again.  Start with Ritual if you’d like to hear their entire story.

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The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

October 29, 2012

Henry James’ Gothic classic The Turn of the Screw is a thoroughly unsettling tale, and it is unsettling, and downright scary, partly because the reader cannot be sure of what is happening.

The novella was first published in October 1898, and it is a far cry from the contemporary shock esthetics of Hollywood. The story crawls along slowly, the plot is elusive, and the tale is difficult to interpret. The narrator – or narrators, rather – may or may not be unreliable, the text is unstable, and while the ending may seem distinct, it also contains an abundance of loose ends; it is, in fact, drastically unclosed.

A young governess – why does James not give her a name? – is sent to a country house, Bly, to take care of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Shortly after her arrival, Miles is expelled from boarding school. Although charmed by the young boy, the governess secretly fears that there are horrid reasons behind his expulsion.

With Miles back at home, the governess starts noticing eerie figures roaming the estate’s grounds. Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, claims that the two are the former governess Miss Jessel and her lover, the valet Peter Quint. But how can this be? The two are dead. Desperate to learn more about these sinister apparitions she discovers that the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of her predecessor, Miss Jessel, hold grim implications for herself.

As the young governess becomes increasingly fearful that malevolent forces are stalking the children, she is determined to save them – but save them from what, exactly? From Miss Jessel and Mr. Quint, or, in other words, save them from the dead? And what is the relationship between the children and the deceased couple anyway?

Henry James once said that he preferred to write ghost stories in which the strange and sinister was “embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy.” In this sense, he is a predecessor of, for example, Shirley Jackson and Stephen King – and just like them, he can keep his readers up, all night long.

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The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

June 19, 2012

I hesitated before picking up this novel, because I was worried it would increase my skittishness about air travel. It didn’t. Instead, it made me leery of visiting small towns in New Hampshire!

Night Strangers is the story of former pilot Chip Linton. Chip has stopped flying after a freak crash that while not his fault, resulted in fatalities. In an effort to leave bad memories behind, Chip relocates with his wife, Emily, and their twin girls, Hallie and Garnet, to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. This is their first mistake. The second is to buy an old house without investigating its history. Once moved in, Chip becomes obsessed with a room in the basement and begins to hear voices. The neighbors, while friendly, are strangely well preserved and strangely interested in the twins.

I love how Bohjalian makes you care about some characters — and how he makes you dislike and fear others. He creates a spooky atmosphere and makes three little words, “She deserves friends”, so frightening I felt chills run up and down my spine every time they were uttered. His choice to use the second person narrative for Chip was interesting and added to the tension.

Night Strangers is an interesting hybrid of horror story, ghost tale, and family drama. When I say horror I’m thinking of books like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives with a soupcon of Stephen King and Henry James thrown in.

Readers are divided in their opinion of the ending. I won’t lie — I was taken aback, but that’s one of my expectations when reading horror. I also expect a story with engaging characters that keeps you feverishly turning pages while simultaneously scaring you out of your wits. I think Chris Bohjalian succeeds on all counts with this book and I highly recommend it.

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The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

July 19, 2011

As I sat down to start reading the brand new book, The Restorer, I checked a few reviews that had come before me and noticed a strong theme of “This book is VERY CREEPY.” Personally, I have never been a huge fan of being creeped out as it brings me very intense dreams that scare the ninny out of me. However, I pressed on, as the subject and setting of the book (ghosts in Charleston) are of a particular interest to me. The idea of a heroine who restores graveyards also intrigued me.

Amelia Gray happens to really enjoy her work restoring cemeteries. It’s solitary and comforting to bring order back to someone’s final resting place. So when she happens upon a rather fresh body in a very old cemetery, her world turns upside down. A mysterious detective arrives in her life and suddenly she is pulled into a rather unconventional murder investigation.

I was really pleased to find that yes, the book was super creepy in parts, but the tension was never dragged out so long that I just couldn’t take it. The heroine is not a typical modern tough female either. She is strong, but not supernaturally so and her weaknesses are clear and real.

The characters are really engaging as well. It blends a lot of what people enjoyed in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with any good secret society story like The DaVinci Code. It shares plot elements of both, but is as well written as “Garden” and as interesting as “Code.” You are never really sure who you can trust.

But a word of caution… if you are like me and detest a cliffhanger ending that makes you impatient for the next book to be published… maybe put this one off until the second book comes out.

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Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

November 25, 2009

Count on Audrey Niffinegger to surprise you endlessly with her storylines and plots.  We were absolutely blessed with her concept of time travel in The Time Traveler’s Wife and this time, the focus is on the supernatural forces of ghosts.

The novel opens with the death of Elspeth Noblin, who bequeaths her London flat and its contents to the twin daughters of her estranged twin sister back in Chicago. Although they are 20 years old, Julie and Valentina have had no real world experience and seem to be almost childlike in that they dress the same, often sleep in the same bed and only make plans together.

The twins move to London, and Historic Highgate Cemetery, which borders Elspeth’s home, serves as a haunting setting as the twins become entwined in the lives of their neighbors: Elspeth’s former lover, Robert; Martin, an agoraphobic crossword-puzzle creator; and the ethereal Elspeth herself, struggling to adjust to the afterlife.  Niffenegger has you mesmerized by these characters within no time, particularly Robert in my case.  Elspeth’s life as a ghost in the apartment is a bit hard to follow, but if you can suspend your disbelief, it is well worth it.

Valentina begins to develop a relationship with Robert, making Julia jealous, particularly when Valentina also decides to pursue her interest in fashion design independent of Julia.  Elspeth secretly is developing a relationship with Valentina, also based on jealousy but much more deviously than Julia.
Valentina and Julia create a plan (sure to go awry) that will allow Valentina to move forward with her life while at the same time “rescuing” Elspeth.

While the characters are wonderful, the plot unique, the setting haunting, and the writing beautiful, the very confusing ending does take a bit away from this otherwise incredibly creative and compelling story.

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