Room of Shadows, by Ronald Kidd, (Aug. 2017, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807568057
Recommended for readers 10-13
David finds himself with a lot of anger lately. I mean, it’s justified: his dad abandoned his mom, and they’ve been forced to move into this creepy old house. When a school bully messes with him on a bad day, David beats him up, earning some in-house grounding from his mom. That’s where he discovers the room: a secret room with an old desk and a carving of a Raven, signed, “EP”. The weird dreams start shortly after. When the incidents start at school, all involving people who David’s tangled with, everyone starts looking at him differently, including his mom and the police. How can David prove he isn’t The Raven – the person responsible for the incidents, who leaves a signed note each time? And how can he keep himself safe from The Raven, who’s fixated on him?
With a background in Edgar Allan Poe’s history, I dove eagerly into Room of Shadows. The author takes Poe into very dark territory here, for reasons that become clear as the story progresses. It’s an interesting concept, but one I had a hard time with. I didn’t really get to know David or his best friend, Libby; I felt like their character development took more of a backseat, allowing the Poe storyline to drive the plot. I did like the nod to some of Poe’s greatest hits in the story, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Pit and the Pendulum; it’s always great to discover Poe in new fiction. This one wasn’t my book, but middle grade horror fans who are ready for something weightier than Goosebumps and Haunted Mansion may sit down with this one.
Book Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (June 2015, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791151
Twelve year-old Emily is on the move again. Her unconventional parents are on a quest to live in all 50 states, so she and her brother don’t get a chance to put roots down anywhere. This move takes them to San Francisco, where Emily’s idol-Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the game Book Scavenger-lives. Shortly after arriving, she and her new friend James discover a strangely new copy of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, The Gold Bug; they learn that Griswold has been viciously attacked and is in the hospital, and people start showing an unusual interest in her copy of The Gold Bug. Could there be a connection?
This is a new spin on the middle grade mystery, with a real-life tie in that’s interesting and brings kids into the world of The Book Scavenger. Influenced by the online site Book Crossing, where you leave books for people and record where you’ve left and discovered books, Book Scavenger creates a game where you can attain levels of detective-dom by finding books and hiding books using clues to lead your fellow players to them. Chambliss and publisher Henry Holt have brought Book Scavenger to life, hiding advance review copies of Book Scavenger all over the country and inviting readers to locate them – go to http://bookscavenger.com/ to get on board and join the fun!
There is some great discussion on cryptography and hidden codes used in the book – James and Emily are fans that bring the practice into their school after being caught passing notes – and the book becomes a true whodunit, with readers trying to figure out who could have been behind the attack on Garrison Griswold, and more importantly, what is the secret of The Gold Bug? The characters are likable, even if Emily does become frustrating in her single-mindedness over solving the mystery at points, and Book Scavenger makes for exciting summer reading.
Check out Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s author page for updates on what she’s working on.
Of Monsters and Madness, by Jessica Verday, (Egmont USA) 2014. $17.99, ISBN: 9781606844632
Recommended for ages 14+
Horror and gothic fans will love this book! Annabel Lee – yes, for all intents and purposes of this book, this character is THE Annabel Lee of Edgar Allan Poe fame is a teenage girl, who finds herself moving from Siam to Philadelphia when her mother dies, and she must live with the father she’s never known. Unfamiliar with life and customs in the 1820s United States and confronted with a cold father who keeps her at a distance, Annabel feels left out and pines for her mother and her life in Siam. Her father, once a brilliant surgeon and scientist, now spends most of his time in his laboratory, assisted by Edgar, who unnerves Annabel – yet bears an uncanny resemblance to his cousin, Allan, who Annabel finds herself falling for. Annabel is living in a house full of secrets; when a rash of murders breaks out in Philadelphia, and her father’s strange behavior becomes more erratic, Annabel is determined to unravel the mysteries that consume her life. But finding out answers could put her life in danger.
I loved this book. The idea of making Edgar Allan Poe a character in a gothic mystery, taking place in the United States, is such a great idea – how did no one think of this sooner? We get glimpses of Poe’s writing – he tortures himself over writing The Raven, and bits of The Tell-Tale Heart make an appearance – and the toll that such dark ideas takes on the man. There are some key plot twists that will leave readers staying up all night to finish the book, and then – like me – demand a sequel. Ms. Verday is a New York Times bestselling author, and she knows how to construct a well-paced thriller with smart characters. I’m looking forward to this book hitting shelves in September, and I would recommend it for adults as well as teens.