Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

This Halloween, Zombert returns!

Return of Zombert, by Kara LaReau/Illustrated by Ryan Andrews, (July 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201079

Ages 8-12

Last summer, I read Kara LaReau and Ryan Andrews’s Rise of Zombert, and audibly squawked at the cliffhanger ending; needless to say, seeing Return of Zombert in my review box of goodies from Candlewick Press gave me a large amount of seasonal joy.

To catch you up: Lambert is a corporate town, with the YummCo corporation at the town’s heart. Everyone is employed by or affected by YummCo in some way, but it’s okay! Because YummCo is great! They have a catchy jingle, and the head of the company loves to give people the thumbs up! And they swear they don’t test on animals! Except they do. YummCo’s got their corporate fingers in a lot of pies, and some projects are shadowy and secret, and involve some awful animal testing. Zombert – known at the lab as Y-91 – is a cat that escaped from the lab with promises of revenge when he returns to liberate the other animals, but he’s found by a girl named Mellie, who cares for him, nurses him back to health, names him Bert, and doesn’t mind (too much) that he prefers to eat the heads of his live prey.

Zombert – as Mellie’s best friend Danny calls the “zombie cat” – has started easing into life with Mellie while haunted by nightmares of his mother, who never returned from a food run; his brother and sister, captured with him and brought to the lab, and the memories of Cold Hands, the cruel human at the lab who experimented on him. And YummCo hasn’t forgotten about Zombert, either: there are new plans afoot to get him back, and they have another inside man infiltrating Mellie’s and Danny’s lives to facilitate that. Mellie needs to earn some money to get Bert to the vet, and YummCo just happens to be holding a Best Pet contest. Is the contest legit? What do you think? This latest entry into the Zombert chronicles is even more compulsively readable than Rise of Zombert. It’s dark humor at its best, with poignant moments as we experience Zombert’s trauma through his memories. The ending will leave you yelling at the book yet again, and waiting not-so-patiently for the third part of the series, due in the Summer of 2022. Ryan Andrew’s black and white illustrations add the perfect touch of chiller to this story. Definitely grab this one.

Read a sample chapter of Return of Zombert here.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Spooooktastic middle grade: SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES

I can’t believe Halloween is THIS WEEKEND. I’ve been booktalking all the spooky books I’ve been reading year-round, in anticipation of this moment!

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker/Illustated by Junyi Wu, (July 2019, Henry Holt & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250181428

Ages 9-14

A Newbery Honor-winning collection of interconnected stories, Scary Stories for Young Foxes stole the show when it hit shelves in 2019, and it’s still going strong today. Framed by the setting of a storyteller spinning tales for a group of young foxes, the heart of each story involves two kits, Mia and Uly, separated from their litters, and fighting scary creatures to get back. It’s a great concept, because the stories are told for young foxes, putting readers into the mindset of a fox, not a person, and thinking about things that would terrify a young animal, rather than a person, and realizing that we share similar fears. These are stories for older kids – there are some moments that may be tough to read about, including domestic abuse, a witch who wants to wear the kits’ skins, and a very hungry zombie – not fare for kids who are still loving Goosebumps. Think of your Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark fans, maybe a year or two older. Junyi Wi’s illustrations add additional chills. As Kirkus writes, “Dark and skillfully distressing, this is a tale for the bold”.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes has starred reviews from Booklist and the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books. You can visit author Christian McKay Heidicker’s author webpage and learn more about his books and school visits, and read his blog.

 

 

Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City, by Christian McKay Heidicker/Illustated by Junyi Wu, (Aug. 2021, Henry Holt & Co.), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250181442

Ages 9-14

The stories continue in the companion to Scary Stories for Young Foxes! Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City is back with eight new stories, more gloriously horrifying illustration, and two new foxes. Fox kit 0-730 loves the “old stories” about Mia and Uly, and is desperate for an exciting, adventurous life away from the Farm and what he thinks are the safe, wire dens the foxes inhabit. He escapes his cage to discover the truth behind what’s going on at the Farm, and runs for his life. Cozy is a fox who lives in the suburbs with her skulk, forced to escape her den when a terrifying creature that hunts foxes arrives. Both foxes arrive in The City, a scary new world with scary new dangers awaiting them.

The book can be read on its own as a stand-alone, or as a companion to the first book. Either way, the stories are scary: the kind of scary that creeps like dread as you read, and the heart-pounding panic you experience when you have information that the characters just don’t know (yet). Fans who love Katherine Arden, Mary Downing Hahn and Holly Black will love Scary Stories for Young Foxes and Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City.

Visit illustrator Junyi Wu’s website to see more amazing artwork.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Spooky Reads for Halloween: Ghost Girl b Ally Malinenko

Ghost Girl, by Ally Malinenko, (Aug. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063044609

Ages 8-12

Horror for tweens is on the rise, and I couldn’t be happier. My library kids are hungry for it, having gone past Goosebumps and cleared my Holly Black and Mary Downing Hahn books off the shelves. They’re ready for spookier, and I love reading and booktalking these to them. Ghost Girl is definitely on my must-talk list: a girl who discovers that she has a gift for seeing and communicating with ghosts, a new school principal that’s way too creepy, a missing Kindergarten teacher, and three friends that have to stand against an entire town that’s fallen under a spell? Tell me more!

Zee Puckett is a middle schooler who loves ghost stories. She’s living with her 21-year-old sister, Abby, who’s dropped out of college and taken a job at a diner to keep their family going while her widowed father is out of state looking for work. Bullied at school, Zee’s only friend is Elijah, an African-American boy who’s got a bully of his own: his father, who is constantly at his brainy son who’d rather do science projects than hit the gym with his dad. After an altercation with Nellie, the middle school gets a new principal, Mr. Scratch, who comes off like a self-help guru on steroids. While everyone in town seems to be falling under Mr. Scratch’s spell, Zee starts seeing frightening things, including what feels like… looks like… a ghost. Zee knows that somehow, Mr. Scratch is at the center of everything; now, she has to get Elijah and Nellie – yes, her bully – to help her save the ghost, themselves, and their town. Filled with fantastically creepy moments, there are great themes of feminism and family in Ghost Girl. Zee embraces her Ghost Girl moniker, put on her by Nellie, to get to the bottom of all the mysteries plaguing her town, but the talent also connects her to her mother, who died giving birth to her. Guilt, grief, and anger power the subplots in Ghost Girl, and Ally Malinenko writes in a way that will thrill and chill readers as powerfully as it will let readers know that she sees them. There are some genuinely creepy, unsettling moments that will satisfy any spooky fiction fan, making this a story to booktalk to your burgeoning horror fans.

 

Posted in Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Spooky Reads for Halloween: The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl

The Lost Girls: A Vampire Revenge Story, by Sonia Hartl, (Sept. 2021, Page Street Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781645673149

Ages 13+

Holly has been a teen since 1987, when her then-boyfriend, Elton, turned her into a vampire, and it’s not nearly as awesome as the movies would have you think. She’s stuck getting crappy part-time jobs at places like Taco Bell, she’s compelled to follow Elton wherever he goes – that whole sire business – and let’s not even talk about her crimped 1987 hair. She’s pretty much resigned to smelling like taco grease and draining lecherous guys in dark alleys when she meets Rose and Ida: two of Elton’s other ex-girlfriends. He turned Ida in 1921, and Rose in 1954, and they’ve got a plan to kill Elton and free themselves, but they need Holly’s help. The three bond over their shared plan and shared trauma and form a plan to get to Elton before he turns another girl, Parker. The only thing is, Holly discovers that she’s falling for Parker and doesn’t want to involve her in Elton’s mess. Then again, what better revenge is there than to steal your ex’s girl before you put an end to him?

The Lost Girls has been described as John Tucker Must Die but with queer, feminist vampires, and that works pretty darn well for me. The overall storyline is good and the characters are nicely fleshed out. It’s filled with dark humor and a strong supporting cast, including Stacey, Holly’s best friend who has her own afterlife issues to reckon with. There are moments of brilliance – Ida’s story in particular stands out, as does Holly’s backstory – but it doesn’t always come together to keep pages turning; there are moments of lag that I hard a hard time working through. I’m still handselling this one to my library teens, because of the positive female character development and the storyline that shows young women working together to build up and support one another.

I’m editing this because I feel like I need to talk more about the theme of toxic femininity in this book, too. The book provides an excellent look into the concept of toxic femininity – something not as often discussed as toxic masculinity – using Holly’s mother as a case study, but also looking at the relationships between Holly, Rose, and Ida to Elton. Toxic femininity makes women believe they need to accept abuse and dominance; that their value is in being prized as a sexual object. Holly’s mother is not only a victim of this toxicity, but passes it onto her daughter. Holly’s mother dates Holly’s schoolmates’ fathers, using her sexuality as a weapon to brandish in the faces of the women and families left behind by these men, who will ultimately leave her, too. Rose and Ida come from time periods – the 1950s and 1920s – when women were largely “seen and not heard”, but the afterlife has given them an agency they didn’t always posses in their time among the living. When you read The Lost Girls, focus on this and talk about it, because it’s just brilliantly done.

Posted in Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Excellent Adult-YA Crossover Horror: Reprieve by James Han Mattsson

Reprieve : A Novel, by James Han Mattson, (Oct. 2021, William Morrow), $27.99, ISBN: 9780063079915

Ages 16+

Set in 1997 in Nebraska and taking place largely in a full-contact escape room, Reprieve is a horror/thriller that you want to devour – and yet, you don’t, because there’s so much to think over as you read. Kendra is a teenager uprooted after her father is killed in a car accident; moving to Nebraska with her mother and living with her aunt, Rae, and her cousin, Bryan, Kendra finds a job at a local escape room called Quigley House, a full-contact escape room promising terror – and cash – to those who complete it. John Forrester, the owner of the house, is a little bit on the creepy side, and is absolutely a manipulative, casual racist and not-so-casual sexist, but could he be responsible for murder? That’s the question at the heart of Reprieve, a story told in court documents and alternating points of view from the rest of the characters in the room that fateful night: Kendra, a Black teenager; Leonard, a white male hotel manager with a history of obsessive behavior who stands accused of murder; Jaidee, a gay Thai college student in love with a former English teacher – and the deceased’s college roommate; Victor, the English teacher, and his fiancee, Jane, who wanted desperately to win this game and collect the prize money. As the story unfolds, we’re confronted with casual, everyday racism and stereotyping that culminates in a horrifying crime. Social criticism, horror, well-developed characters and a consuming narrative with taut pacing, this is a book to give teens as well as your thriller/horror/suspense readers. Imagine what Jordan Peele could do with this book.

Reprieve has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade

Scary Stories to Tell… Anywhere! Hide Don’t Seek…

Hide Don’t Seek, by Anica Mrose Rissi, (Aug. 2021, Quill Tree Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063026957

Ages 8-12

A new collection of scary stories for a new generation, Hide Don’t Seek is a volume of middle grade spooky stories that I know my library kids – all voracious readers of Alvin Schwartz and R.L. Stine – are going to devour this. There’s a story about a suspicious summer camp where activities mostly include building a wall, and when kids go to the infirmary, they don’t come back… just be sure to pack your Cheez-Whiz; a story about a school play gone horribly awry, and a realistic doll that’s a little too lifelike. Each story is short and speaks to situations kids are familiar with: summer camp, school talent shows, playing hide and seek. This is a book that’s going to get passed around and read out loud, flashlights under the chin (cell phones?). Hide Don’t Seek earns its place next to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark on your shelves.

Hide Don’t Seek has a starred review from School Library Journal.

 

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Life imitates art in Girls Save the World in This One

Girls Save the World in This One, by Ash Parsons, (Apr. 2020, Philomel Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780525515326

Ages 13+

Okay, imagine you’re going to a con where the cast of your favorite zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic show is appearing. You’ve hit the exhibit hall, taken pictures with the cosplayers, and are just sitting down to a panel with the whole cast… and the zombie apocalypse happens. For reals. That’s how it goes down for teens June, Siggy, and Imani, attending ZombieCon! in their little hometown. They’re sitting in on a panel with all the stars of their favorite zombie show, Human Wasteland, when all hell breaks loose. The girls have to put their zombie apocalypse skills to the test to survive, and June has to cope with the indignity of having her ex-BFF, Blair, who’s also at the con and on the run from the undead. DRAMA.

Girls Save the World in This One is FANTASTIC. I loved every single page of this hilarious action-adventure story, with relatable teens who are sick and tired of friendship drama, dumb boyfriends, and all of these freaking zombies! June, Imani, and Siggy are quick-thinking, smart, and their friendship bond is #squadgoals. June, in fabulous teen fashion, takes time to agonize over her damaged friendship with Blair while figuring out how to escape zombies and put up with obnoxious cable TV celebrities, and Blair – the friend on the outside looking in – is proof that desperate times can bring people closer. Fans of the other zombie show on cable TV will recognize some characters, and I love the fangirl’s dream come true that evolves throughout the book. Who will survive? You MUST read this to find out. Strong female characters, the power of friendship, and a burgeoning romance amidst the zombie apocalypse make this a must have.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Great TBR Readdown: Hello, Neighbor and The Land of Broken Time

My Great TBR Readdown continues!

Hello Neighbor: Missing Pieces (Hello Neighbor, Book 1), by Carly Anne West/Illustrated by Tim Heitz, (Sept. 2018, Scholastic), $7.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-28009-8

Ages 10-14

Based on the horror video game, Hello Neighbor, this is the first book in a middle school-and-up series introducing Nicky Roth, a new kid in the town of Raven Brooks, and their neighbors, the Petersons. Nicky and Aaron, the Peterson’s son, become friends over their shared interest in tinkering, but when Nicky visits Aaron’s home, he’s uncomfortable. Aaron’s father makes him uneasy, and Nicky notices that Aaron, his mother, and sister are equally uncomfortable around him. The kids at school seem afraid of Aaron, and secrets and rumors about his father run wild. What’s the Peterson family’s dark secret, and why does Nicky feel like Aaron’s father is stalking him?

Knowing nothing about the Hello Neighbor game, I picked this book up and discovered a quietly creepy, light horror novel for tweens. If you have horror fans, this should be a good book to hand them. There are three in the series so far; the characters have a good background to build on, and the suspense builds nicely throughout the book. Illustrations throughout keep the pages turning.

 

In the Land of Broken Time, by Max Evan/Illustrated by Maria Evan, (Aug. 2016, self-published), $7.99, ISBN: 978-1520569291

Ages 8-10

A self-published novella by husband-wife team Max and Maria Evan, we’ve got a time-traveling fantasy starring a boy, a girl, and a talking dog, taking place in a fantasy land ruled by time – or the lack of it. Christopher sneaks out of his house to go to a nearby traveling circus, meets a girl named Sophie, and ends up hijacking a hot-air balloon, where the two meet a talking circus dog named Duke. They end up in a land where sibling scientists work at opposite ends: one seek to help them repair time, while the other wants to use time to manipulate his own power struggle.

The books is only about 50 pages, and is a quick enough read. I’d like to see something a little more fleshed out, because the world-building felt a little rushed, but was promising. Where is this land? What are the origin stories for the scientists, gnomes, and townspeople who waited for the prince? How did this power struggle between the two scientists begin? There are Narnian influences here that I enjoyed spotting, and there’s obviously more backstory to draw on; the story’s end leaves a sequel – or a prequel? – open to possibility. Maria Evan’s illustrations are beautiful, bright, and colorful, and brought the land and its characters to life. I’d like to see more. Let’s hope we get it.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Media, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Realistic Fiction, TV Shows, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Part Lois Lane, Part Nancy Drew… Introducing Cici!

Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer in Training, by Joris Chamblain/Illustrated by Aurelie Neyret, Translated by Carol Burrell, (Nov. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626722484

Recommended for readers 8-12

Cici’s dream is to become a novelist. She journals her thoughts and ideas, and constantly people watches, much to the chagrin of her mother and friends. Cici doesn’t see it as being nosy; she figures that you need to understand what’s inside of people in order to write about them. But when she starts digging further into people’s lives and expecting her friends to lie to her mother to cover up her “investigations”, they let her know that they’ve had enough. Can Cici learn to be a good friend and an attentive writer?

Originally published in France under the French title Les carnets de Cerise (2012), this is Cici’s first English translation and includes two stories. In the first story (title), Cici discovers an older man walking through the forest every Sunday, covered in paint and lugging cans of paint back and forth. In Hector’s Journal, she tries to get to the bottom of a mystery involving an older woman who takes the same library book out every week. Both times, Cici goes after her subject with gusto, but is often insensitive to her friends and mother. It isn’t until her mentor, a local author, steps in to have a heart to heart with Cici that she finally understands that she’s been using people, and starts taking others into consideration. Kids will recognize themselves and their friends in Cici, especially as she goes through the frustration of disagreeing with Mom and falling out with friends.

The graphic novel is a mix of graphic storytelling and journaling, with doodles, scrapbook pieces, comments, and notes throughout the book. The art is realistic with a soft touch, and Cici has a very fun and eclectic style that will appeal to middle graders. She complains about her friends throughout the book, and with seeming good reason: one girl is in a perpetually bad mood, and Cici herself can be exasperating (mind you, I say this as a 46 year -old mother of three, not a tween). In short, kids will identify with or see their friends in these characters, and dive into Cici’s adventures – and maybe start journaling on their own.

In my neverending quest to create programs that I can booktalk with, Cici’s Journal is a nice fit with a writer’s program I want to test out. Put this one with your Dork Diaries, Amelia’s Notebooks, Wimpy Kid books, My Dumb Diaries, Kate the Great, Origami Yodas, and Popularity Papers.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Thornhill is good haunted house creepiness

Thornhill, by Pam Smy, (Aug. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626726543

Recommended for readers 10-14

Two girls, two decades, one story: Thornhill is a story told in prose and pictures, switching back and forth to tell each character’s story. In 1982, Mary is a lonely orphan living in the Thornhill Institute for Children, relegated to her room where she makes puppets, for fear of the merciless bullying she suffers. The Institute is on the verge of closing, and the girls are being re-homed – except for Mary and her tormentor, who continues unabated by the social worker who prefers to victim blame. Mary’s story unfolds through journal entries, where we see the bullying turn her, desperately, to a plan for revenge that will echo for decades.

In 2016, Ella is the new girl in town, living in a home with a perfect view of the abandoned Thornhill Institute. As she looks out the window, she sees someone in the lonely attic window at Thornhill. Determined to discover who she is, Ella wanders onto the Thornhill property and unravels Mary’s – and Thornhill’s – story. Ella’s story is told through stark black and white artwork, leaving much for readers to discover. The narratives follow one another; Mary’s narrative enriches Ella’s story. The chilling ending will leave readers breathless.

Thornhill is captivating, urging readers to its conclusion. Mary and Ella are kindred spirits on their own journeys; while Ella’s story is relegated to what we see on the pages, there is a wealth of material there for sharp-eyed observers. It’s a great choice for suspense and thriller fans.