Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Johnny Constantine, the Early Years!

The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel, by Ryan North/Illustrated by Derek Charm, (June 2021, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 9781779501233

Ages 7-10

More DC Comics for Kids! You know how much I love this middle grade series, and introducing hard-bitten demonologist John Constantine – one of my favorites! – to kids with a kid-friendly background makes me SO happy. Don’t fret, none of his dark backstory or unattractive habits show up here. Johnny Constantine is a kid who just happens to know magic and knows a handful of demons in his native London, but when he’s sent to boarding school in America, he discovers that his magic isn’t as easily accessible here. Johnny, who prefers to be called “Kid”, is a loner with no patience for friends, but a fellow student named Anna is too interested in Johnny’s abilities when she sees him manifest a pencil out of thin air. Turns out, Anna likes magic, too! The two new friends also have some concerns about one of their teachers, who seems to have it out for Johnny and who may or may not be a witch.

The story is hilarious and so well done. We perfectly get the feel for Johnny’s loner, antihero character, a guy who learned in childhood that you push people away before they can reject you, or run screaming from your abilities; whatever happens first. It’s a guessing game, and a few well-known and loved DC characters make appearances, making this a book kids and their parents can enjoy together (still thrilled that The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid introduced my then 7-year old to Swamp Thing). There’s magic mixed with the struggles of being a kid – making friends, enduring school, staying out of the way of a teacher who doesn’t like you – and will appeal to graphic novel readers in a big way. I’m really hoping I get to see more of Kid Constantine.

Author Ryan North is a comic book writer who kids will know from his Eisner- and Harvey Award-winning run on Adventure Time. Sign up for his newsletter at his author page. Derek Charm is an Eisner Award winner whose work you’ll recognize from Star Wars and Archie Comics.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Humor, Teen

Drama, demons, and the Revenge of the Evil Librarian

evil-librarianRevenge of the Evil Librarian, by Michelle Knudsen, (Feb. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0763688288

Recommended for ages 13+

Cynthia and her BFF, Annie, have finally settled down after the events from Evil Librarian (#1), where Mr. Gabriel, the librarian in question, tried to make Annie his demon bride. Cyn’s now dating her crush, the gorgeous Ryan Halsey, and the two are off together to drama camp, where Cyn’s hoping to start working on set design. She’s ready to embrace the summer and all it has to offer, especially with Ryan at her side, but the demons have other plans: Aaron, demon-ish consort of the demon queen, looks Cyn up and reminds her that she owes the queen a few favors, for one. And things with Mr. Gabriel may not be quite over just yet.

Revenge of the Evil Librarian is the follow-up to 2014’s Evil Librarian, and it keeps a lot of the fun tone set in the first novel. There are demons at a theatre camp, a romantic rivalry, and a showdown to remember. Cyn is head-over-heels for Ryan, and the ups and downs of their romance – impacted by the fallout from the first book – will appeal to YA romance readers. Peter, another camper, is an endearing character whose background will crack readers up, and Jules, Ryan’s longtime summer camp “friend”, is the classic romantic rival.

Liven things up with your drama/theatre club readers and pair this with Stephanie Kate Strohm’s Taming of the Drew. If you’ve got readers who enjoyed the first one, they’ll love this one (and wait for the next one); if you have readers who enjoy their YA with a smidgeon of paranormal or horror, booktalk this one.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The reluctant necromancer: Eight Rivers of Shadow

8riversEight Rivers of Shadow, by Leo Hunt, (Aug. 2016, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763689940

Recommended for ages 12+

In this sequel to 13 Days of Midnight, Luke Manchett and his girlfriend, Elza, are dealing with the aftermath of discovering that Luke’s father was a necromancer who passed along his Host of spirits to his son and his deal with the devil to banish them. He and Elza are trying to just blend into the background and get back to a semblance of normalcy when an American exchange student named Ash shows up. She’s got white hair, wears only white, and she’s just… off. Luke and Elza do some investigating and learn that Ash is much more than she seems to be; desperate to save her sister, she drags Luke back into the world of demons and deals. This time, though, stakes are even higher, and Luke must head back to Deadside to make things right again.

I haven’t read 13 Days of Midnight, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage here, but Leo Hunt does put a wealth of background info into this story so that new readers aren’t completely lost. There are ghosts and demons aplenty here for paranormal fans to enjoy. Luke is sympathetic enough, getting pulled along a road he doesn’t want to be on in order to save his reality; my big wish is that we’d have gotten to Deadside sooner. If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll enjoy this sequel; booktalk them together, and display and talk this up with Labyrinth Lost, which also features a protagonist with power she doesn’t want, and a trip beyond the Veil.

 

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

My Best Friend’s Exorcism gives a touch of ’80s horror to YA

my best friendMy Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix (May 2016, Quirk Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781594748622

Recommended for ages 12+

It’s 1988 and Abby and Gretchen, two high school sophomores, have been BFFs since fourth grade. After a night of partying goes a little awry, Abby notices Gretchen acting strangely. Really strangely. She finds herself on the outs with her group of friends when Gretchen turns on her, but Abby knows there’s something more to it than usual teenage friendship drama. The more she digs to find out what’s wrong with her friend, the worse the news seems to get. Abby’s convinced that Gretchen is possessed, but can she save her best friend without getting herself in more trouble?

I loved Grady Hendrix’s previous book, Horrorstor, so I dove into My Best Friend’s Exorcism with delight. Hendrix’s characters are in my age bracket, so the generous ’80s references (shout-out to Duran Duran!) and the song-titled chapters were just what the doctor ordered. I was in the frame of mind, and Hendrix captures the time and the attitude beautifully.

The creepiness of the actual possession story is deliciously insidious and skin-crawling. It builds, and I was right there with Abby, feeling my guts squirm and my knuckles tighten, waiting for someone to realize what was going on. Freaking adults, man! When Abby takes matters into her own hands, I was rooting for her; I was right there with her.

Then the exorcism happened, and I have to be honest, it fell a little flat for me. I get what Hendrix was doing, but it felt like the manufactured plot of an ’80s teen chick flick. If that’s what he was going for, he hit it on the head, but I was hoping for more. I was ready for an all-out ’80s horror fest, but what I got was a little more anticlimactic, a bit more melodramatic. Still, the book had a satisfying ending and overall, I enjoyed it.

Teens will get a kick out of it; it appeals to fans of high school drama and horror alike; there’s some truly creeptastic stuff to be found in here. Give it a whirl. My Best Friend’s Exorcism has received a starred review from Booklist. Check out an excerpt, below:

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

The Divah takes New York!

divahDivah, by Susannah Appelbaum (March 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634506748

Recommended for ages 12+

Itzy Nash is not looking forward to this summer vacation. Her dad is sending her off to her stuffy aunt, who doesn’t even like kids, while he goes off to Paris to do some research. But when Itzy arrives at New York’s elite Carlyle Hotel, she gets the strange feeling that something’s not right – for starters, Aunt Maude isn’t around, either; she’s left word that she’s hired a governess to keep an eye on Itzy. Plus, there’s a weird sound coming from one of the closets, and there are tons of flies. And that’s just the beginning.

Itzy learns that the Queen of the Damned – the Divah – is at the Carlyle, and she’s trying to open the gates of Hell itself. With the help of a fallen angel that she may or may not be able to trust, an aging star, and a host of colorful New Yorkers, Itzy also discovers that it’s up to her to save New York – and the world – from the Divah and her minions. Better hope she’s up to the task.

I loved this book. There’s a bit of historical fiction with a twist, some horror, and through it all, a fantastically witty thread of the darkest humor. It’s a sendup of high New York society and celebrity, a thrill ride in a book, with an End of Days bent. There are well-developed characters and a backstory that comes to fruition over the centuries. Ms. Appelbaum takes pop culture and weaves it into her story’s history to establish the ubiquity of demon and demon hunter culture in our world, from Evian water to Hermès scarves.

Add this to collections where YA thrillers/paranormal fiction is popular. Booktalk New York touchstones like the Carlyle Hotel in New York, particularly the Bemelmans Bar within the hotel; show art from the Madeline books to link the readers to Bemelmans’ work. For teens, booktalk Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, for similar New York-based horror.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Book Blitz: The Girl and the Gargoyle (The Girl and the Raven #2) by Pauline Gruber!

Dating a gargoyle is great, until his family gets involved…

The Girl and the Gargoyle (The Girl and the Raven #2) by Pauline Gruber 
Release Date: 06/23/15
Summary from Goodreads:
Being half-witch/half-demon and dating Marcus, a gargoyle and demon enemy, is complicated enough for Lucy. She can almost tolerate Jude, her demon father, forcing her to undergo combat training. But when Marcus’s long-lost family returns to Chicago, her world begins to crumble. Marcus’s mother wants him to leave to join the gargoyle clan; his father wants him to help kill Jude. There’s one major problem with this: if Jude dies, Lucy dies.
Marcus will do whatever it takes to save Lucy and her father. Meanwhile Lucy has her own plan and with the aid of a surprise newcomer, seeks help from the most unlikely—and dangerous—source. 
Excerpt:

“What are you?” The words come out like a sigh.

He takes his time answering, but when he finally speaks, the velvety softness of his voice turns husky, sending a delicious shiver through me. “I’m the creature who spends his nights on the rooftop, protecting you from evil.”

Buy Links:
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Playlist

Here is a link to the playlist on Spotify for The Girl and the Raven and The Girl and the Gargoyle: https://open.spotify.com/user/gruberp/playlist/0TQkg1W6fq8xmpoIqdvF1t

The playlist includes: 

  • Everlong – acoustic version, by Foo Fighters
  • Hero/Heroine, by Boys Like Girls
  • Take Me (As You Found Me), by Anberlin
  • Your Guardian Angel, by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
  • Little Death, by +44
  • Running Up That Hill, by Placebo
  • Tomorrow Comes Today, by Gorillaz
  • Franklin, by Paramore
  • Velvet, by The Big Pink
  • Walking With A Ghost, by Tegan and Sara
  • Magic, by Coldplay
  • Electric Feel, by MGMT

Book One:

About the Author

Pauline Gruber is a self-professed music junkie, cat wrangler, and travel nut. She went to Paris in the 90’s where she discovered a love of three things: croissants, old cathedrals, and gargoyles. Deciding that the paranormal world could use a new kind of hero, Pauline translated her fascination with the protective gargoyle into a suspenseful love story. She is the author of the young adult series, The Girl and the Raven, The Girl and the Gargoyle and the forthcoming novel, The Girl and the Demon. By day, Pauline is a legal assistant for a Chicago law firm, where she steals identities and incorporates them into her books. If you tell anyone, she’ll deny, deny, deny.  Pauline lives outside of Chicago with her precocious black cats.

Author Links:
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Posted in Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rin Chupeco’s The Suffering returns to the J-Horror from The Girl from the Well

sufferingThe Suffering, by Rin Chupeco (Sept. 2015, Sourcebooks Fire), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492629832

Recommended for ages 13+

Tark and Okiku, the boy and his ghost from The Girl from the Well are back in this sequel that takes a deeper look into the complex relationship Tark and Okiku now share following the events of the first book. Tark is now something of an exorcist, trapping wayward spirits in the bodies of dolls – a skill he learned spending time with the women of the temple in The Girl from the Well. Okiku is still restless and still seeks vengeance, spurring Tark on to hunt child murderers down so she can take her revenge and set the victims’ souls free. When he receives word that Kagura, one of the temple women, has disappeared along with a ghost hunting reality show crew in Aokigahara – Japan’s suicide forest – he and his cousin, Callie, head over to Japan to help: but what’s waiting for them is nothing they could ever have imagined.

I got sucked into The Suffering right away, because I enjoyed The Girl from the Well so much. We’ve got the same cast of characters returning for another go, and Ms. Chupeco gives us an increasingly deep look into the complex relationship between Okiku and Tark, with clues as to the changes in Okiku’s behavior between The Girl from the Well and The Suffering. There’s horror here, for sure, but there’s also mystery/thriller, and Japanese folklore. I was fascinated by the story behind Aokigahara, and Chupeco’s story takes the horror of a suicide forest even further to create a thoroughly skin-crawling reading experience. We get desiccated corpses, demonic dolls, avenging spirits, and a forest filled with dead people who may or may not want to stay that way- horror fans, turn down the lights and read this at your own risk. And when are we getting movies made about this series?

As with The Girl from the Well, more sensitive readers may shy away from the subject matter.

Posted in Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Girl from the Well brings Japanese folktales to America YA horror

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The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco (Aug 2014, Sourcebooks), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1402292187

Recommended for ages 13+

Okiku is an avenging spirit – the restless ghost of a young girl betrayed and murdered long ago. She stalks child murderers and strikes without mercy, without pity, and releases the innocent souls held prisoner by their killers, watching them turn into fireflies as they finally know peace. She can never join them; her restless, agitated soul cannot find the peace she seeks. And then, Tarquin comes into her… well, afterlife.

Tarquin, or Tark, for short, is a teen with some baggage. His mother had him tattooed at the age of 5, something he tries desperately to hide from curious eyes. She’s locked away in a mental hospital and Tark’s father, a businessman always on the go, is raising him as best he can. Strange things have followed Tark his whole life – birds smashing into windows around him, accidents happening to kids around him, and even more terrifying, his own mother trying to kill him whenever he comes near her. Okiku sees Tark for the good kid that he is, but she also sees the terrifying spirit attached to the boy – and decides, for the first time, to reach out to him and help.

Anyone familiar with the Japanese horror movie, Ringu – or its American counterpart, The Ring – will have a strong idea of what this book is about. Japanese folklore and J-horror are both strong influences on this story, and will appeal to fans of both. There’s a strong story here, multilayered with a major plot and two subplots that the author weaves together to give readers an unsettling, creepy read.

I got a kick out of Tark. He battles the chaos around him with sarcasm and wisecracks. He does his best to keep the reality of his situation from his father, who really wouldn’t understand, no matter how much he loves his son and tries to be an involved dad. Okiku is a tragic figure, yet her anger and her strength make her a force to be reckoned with – you may feel for the circumstances that brought Okiku to where she is, but you will never pity her.

There are some disturbing things happening here, including depictions of sexual abuse and murder, so easily triggered or upset readers should seek their thrills elsewhere.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Teen, Uncategorized

Hellhole shows you why dealing with demons is BAD.

cover46129-mediumHellhole, by Gina Damico (2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), $17.99 ISBN: 9780544307100

Recommended for ages 14+

Max Kilgore is a nice guy. He’s working double and triple shifts at his thankless job so he can help support his chronically ill mother. He’s honest. Squeaky clean, even. Except for that time when he accidentally unearthed a demon named Burg. Who’s now living with him. He’s gross, he makes a mess, he doesn’t like wearing pants, and Max finds himself entangled in a series of bad situations and deals that puts him at Burg’s mercy, because Burg knows exactly how to get to him. It’s up to Max to beat Burg at his own game, but can he? With the help of a schoolmate who may just have a little inside information of her own, he’s got everything to lose.

Hellhole is a heck of a book. I went into it, thinking I’d be getting a light, funny story about a demon who shows up on a kid’s couch, but found myself reading a pretty deep book on morality, evil, where the line falls, and is that line crooked or straight? There’s a lot going on in this story. We’ve got a pretty likable character in Max, a guy we want to root for, and a straight-up despicable jerk in Burg, but it’s not that black and white. You know that old saying, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”? Keep that in mind as you read this book.

Teens who enjoy a good satire will love this novel. This would be a great book to booktalk in a library or classroom setting, especially with Summer Reading approaching.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

The Demon Notebook: The Craft, for middle-graders

demonnotebookThe Demon Notebook, by Erika McGann (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014). $6.99, ISBN: 9781402295386

Recommended for ages 10-14

Grace and her friends, Una, Jenny, Rachel, and Adie want to be witches – well, they want some wishes to come true, and figured magic would be the best way to make it happen. Their spells have failed, but when they use a Ouija board, something happens – the notebook where they wrote their spells has a strange message, all of their spells are coming true – and it’s not always great to get what you think you want – and Una is acting… strange. Worst of all, one of the spells is something awful, made while one of the girls was angry – the girls have to stop the magic before that last spell runs its course, AND figure out what’s wrong with Una and how to fix her. They’re going to need some help to face this.

This was  a fun book with some genuinely creepy moments. It reminded me of a middle school version of the ’90s movie, The Craft – will any middle graders even know that movie if I mention it to them? I really enjoyed Mrs. Quinlan and Ms. Lemon, the two adult characters the author introduces into the story; it was gratifying to a) see the girls realize that they needed help and actually ask for it, and b) have two adults that weren’t completely incompetent or dismissive of the girls.

This book has a June 1 pub date, making it a perfect summer reading choice for tweens. Obviously, there’s magic and talk of demons, so for those audiences and parents that are sensitive to that subject matter, this isn’t your book. For anyone else who wants a good read about friendship and sticking together through thick and thin, with some good, old-fashioned creepiness, check this one out.