NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Final Scare: BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

Title: Bird Box
Author: Josh Malerman
Pub info: Ecco, 2014; 262 pp
Genre / Audience: horror / suspense / written for adults
Caveats for Younger Readers: Very tense with some after-the-fact gore (discovery of dead bodies and the like), but readers 15+ can hack it; no sex

Goodreads summary:
Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news. But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street. Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent. The phones stopped ringing. And we couldn't look outside anymore. Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors. The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows. They are out there. She might let them in. The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall. Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them. Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything.

status: finished 10/29

My impressions:
This book is pure Hitchcockian tension. It's all about what dangers might lurk around the next corner, the fear of the dark, the fear of the unknown. This superfast read keeps you on the edge of your seat the same way the films Paranormal and Blair Witch Project did. Somewhere out there lurk creatures who will drive you insane if you look at them; you will kill yourself and possibly others. They have cut you off from your neighbors, your community, your government. You cover your windows; you don't dare leave the house--until you must.

Did this book give me nightmares? No, but it kept me very tense all the while I was reading it. Perfect for a dark and stormy night.

About Josh:
Josh is the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band The High Strung. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan. Bird Box is his first novel. He has also written a Halloween thriller novella called Ghastle and Yule.

You can find Josh on his band Facebook page and his Twitter feed. 

Need more scares? Every Friday in October I dished up a new one! Search for the tag Scare of the Week to see them all. Stay tuned for the upcoming giveaway to win one of these spooky titles.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

BLOG TOUR STOP: Annie McMahon!

Congratulations to Annie McMahon, author of the middle-grade contemporary novel Adventure on Nemesis  Mountain! I'm honored to be a stop--almost the caboose!--on her blog tour. For a full schedule of stops, including giveaways, interviews, and more, go to the blog schedule here.

Title: Adventure on Nemesis Mountain
Author: Annie McMahon
Pub info: Amazon Digital Services, 2014; 65 pp; available in paperback and ebook formats
Genre / Audience: contemporary MG (ages 8-12)
Caveats for Younger Readers: none; easy reading, would be ideal for a reluctant reader

Goodreads summary:
Emilio would rather eat a slimy worm than miss the fifth grade field trip. Nemesis Mountain must be full of rare leaf specimens and bugs for his collection. Besides, he needs a break from the playground and Hans’s nonstop teasing. His excitement is squashed when he gets lost in the woods with his worst enemy.

Alone in the forest, the two boys battle to survive the harsh wilderness, facing challenges that will change their lives forever.

My impressions:
Adventure on Nemesis Mountain is a fun, engaging read. McMahon quickly establishes the roles of Emilio as victim and Hans as bully early on in the story. When the two boys get lost together on a school field trip, McMahon deftly brings them first closer together, then further apart, letting the reader see a gradual (but not linear) journey to greater understanding. The tension stays ratcheted up just enough to keep the pages turning fast.

I'd have liked to have seen a bit more in this story. At 65 pages, it's pretty brief, and maybe more buildup at the beginning would fill it out. But as a fast-moving, easy-reading chapter book, young middle-grade readers will eat it up. The writing is straightforward, and there are some nice touches of humor and suspense, even if occasionally the dialogue doesn't quite ring true for kidspeak. Emilio's knowledge of nature coupled with Hans's courage and athleticism would make a fun pairing for a future book as well.

About Annie:

Annie McMahon is originally from Canada but now lives in New Jersey. She has a degree in computer programming, but her life took an unexpected turn and she ended up writing stories and articles instead of computer programs. Now she uses every spare minute to write children’s novels and to help other writers succeed.

Her three children have been the inspiration behind many of her short stories, over forty in total. Her flash-fiction story, "Paradoxical Neighbor," has been published by Nelson Education in a book for 10th graders, Nelson Literacy 10.

Annie has a certificate in copyediting, moderates a critique group for children's writers, and is the editor at UK Children's Publishing.

You can find Annie on her Twitter page and blog, where she regularly offers helpful tips for writers and readers. Currently, Adventure on Nemesis Mountain is available in paperback ($6.99) and ebook ($2.99) formats from Amazon at this link.

Annie is generously offering several copies of her book in this Rafflecopter giveaway. Enter below and good luck! (Note: All entries will go to Annie's attention, not my own, so please direct any questions to her. Thanks!)

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Scare of the Week: WAIT TILL HELEN COMES

Title: Wait Till Helen Comes
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Pub info: HarperCollins, 1987; 192 pp
Genre / Audience: horror/ ghost story / MG ages 8+
Caveats for Younger Readers: Precocious readers will have no trouble with the length or language in this book, but it's pretty scary

Goodreads summary:

Heather is such a whiny little brat. Always getting Michael and me into trouble. But since our mother married her father, we're stuck with her ... our "poor stepsister" who lost her real mother in a mysterious fire.

But now something terrible has happened. Heather has found a new friend, out in the graveyard behind our home--a girl named Helen who died with her family in a mysterious fire over a hundred years ago. Now her ghost returns to lure children into the drown! I don't want to believe in ghosts, but I've followed Heather into the graveyard and watch her talk to Helen. And I'm terrified. Not for myself, but for Heather ... 

Status: finished

My impressions:
This isn't one of those books I read as a kid. I read it as an adult, just recently, to see if it's as scary as other readers think. I can't say that as an adult, I was very frightened, but if I'd read this as a kid, I'd have been pretty creeped out. The idea of a ghost that lures children into danger--a kid ghost, no less!--is properly scary, and Hahn does a nice job of creating a spooky atmosphere with the isolated church that becomes their home, the stepfather who never believes what protagonist Molly has to say, and the truly terrible stepsister. Nothing gory here, but there are chills aplenty for the 12-and-under set.

About Mary:
A former children's librarian, Mary has been writing children's books for over thirty years and is a perennial favorite with readers. Her books have sold more than two million copies and consistently win state children's choice awards. Mary's work spans a variety of genres—historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and fantasy—but she is best known for her ghost stories and mysteries. Wait Till Helen Comes was her first novel. Her most recent book is Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls (Clarion Books, 2012), a YA novel based on the true story of the murder of two girls in 1955. Kirkus's starred review of Mister Death called it "an engrossing exploration of how murder affects a community."

Read about Mary and her many books for middle-grade and YA readers here, on her website. Librarian Annaline Johnson from Laredo, Texas, created a deliciously creepy trailer for Wait Till Helen Comes. Watch it here.

Need more scares? Every Friday in October I'll serve up a new one. Search for the tag Scare of the Week to see them all.

Friday, October 17, 2014


There's nothing I like better than a chill October day full of swirling leaves, ominous skies, and scares aplenty. I don't know why humans love to be frightened, but I count myself among those who do. It was the same when I was a kid. In that spirit, I'm going to bring you some of my favorite scares every Friday. Today's is the classic Alvin Schwartz collection, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Title: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Author: Alvin Schwartz
Pub info: HarperCollins, 2011 (orig Scholastic 1981); 128 pages
Genre / Audience: horror anthology / ages 10+ 
Caveat to Younger Readers: Well, it's horror--there are dead people doing things dead people oughtn't. But it's nothing terribly graphic. However, read on for more info ...

Goodreads summary:
Some boys and girls were at a party one night. There was a graveyard down the street, and they were talking about how scary it was.
"Don't ever stand on a grave after dark," one of the boys said. "The person inside will grab you."
"A grave doesn't scare me," said one of the girls. "I'll do it right now. . . ."
Welcome to the macabre world of Scary Stories, where folklorist Alvin Schwartz offers up the most alarming collection of horror, dark revenge, and supernatural events of all time. Here is a selection of extraordinarily chilling tales along with spine-tingling illustrations by renowned artist Stephen Gammell.
My impressions:
These stories scared me silly when I was a kid. I must have read this collection over many times, because it's stuck with me. Recently I checked it out of the library to see if the scares still held.

Well, yes and no. The stories are genuinely creepy--though a large section of the book is dedicated to silly/funny "scary" tales--but the writing is not terrifying. The stories are told in a straightforward, unadorned style, and are quite short. Schwartz took his inspiration from urban legends and folktales from different countries. (As an adult, I was most interested in the bibliography he supplies in the back.)

But here's the kicker: The illustrations, depending on which edition you get, can be truly frightening. The original edition featured black-and-white drawings by Caldecott Medal winner Stephen Gammell, and I realize now that it was the drawings coupled with the stories that kept me up nights as a kid. Indeed, it's been theorized that the drawings are what's landed this book on the radar of banned-book enthusiasts, along with its two sequels. When HarperCollins released a 30th anniversary edition, however, Gammell's controversial artwork was gone, replaced by illustrations by Brett Helquist (A Series of Unfortunate Events). While Helquist is a talented artist, his depictions don't have the haunting, unearthly, and frankly terrifying quality of the Gammell illustrations. The Horn Book praised the new edition, calling it "handsome and accessible; now young readers have a choice of how scared they want to be—just a little, or a whole lot." Take your pick according to your comfort level, but when I was a kid, I wanted to be scared a whole lot--always. Click here to read an interesting comparison (with illustrations) between these two editions.

About Alvin (from Amazon):
Alvin Schwartz is known for a body of work of more than two dozen books of folklore for young readers that explore everything from wordplay and humor to tales and legends of all kinds. His collections of scary stories--Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Scary Stories 3, and two I Can Read Books, In a Dark, Dark Room and Ghosts!--are just part of his matchless folklore collection. Schwartz died in 1992.

About Stephen:
Stephen Gammell, who won the 1989 Caldecott Medal for Song and Dance Man (written by Karen Ackerman), also won the Caldecott Honor Medal for The Relatives Came (written by Cynthia Rylant). He lives with his wife in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Read more about Alvin Schwartz in this New York Times obituary. Click here for yet another take on Gammell's eerie artwork for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Need more scares? Every Friday in October I'll serve up a new one. Search for the tag Scare of the Week to see them all.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Scare of the Week: FRIGHT NIGHT

I don't guess my best friend (worst enemy?) could call me a horror movie aficionado. I don't like slasher flicks because they all seem so similar--some teens get together, get friendly with each other, and eventually they all end up dead. Plus, there's blood. After the first couple of deaths, the film is thumpingly predictable and it just stops being scary.

But I am a huge fan of the Scottish actor David Tennant, who has starred in BroadchurchThe Escape Artist, and yeah, as the incomparable Doctor #10 in Doctor Who. He's also a regular on the Royal Shakespeare Company stage in London.

That said, Tennant also had a delicious role in the recent remake of the film Fright Night, starring Colin Farrell and Anton Yelchin. I never saw the original Fright Night, but how could I resist this film, written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer veteran Marti Noxon and featuring some very attractive Brits?

In this truly frightening flick, Anton Yelchin plays a high school student whose new next-door neighbor just happens to be a vicious vampire beast (Farrell). Yelchin turns to the only source of information he has--alcoholic onstage illusionist and vampire killer Peter Vincent (Tennant).

Fright Night is perfect for Halloween month. Here are some of Tennant's wonderful scenes:

And here's the full trailer:

Leave the lights on.

NOTE: This film is rated R for language. While teen sex is hinted at, there's no nudity or graphic displays. The gore isn't graphic, either. But the scares are real, and if four-letter words bother you, don't watch.

Need more scares? Every Friday in October I'll serve up a new one. Search for the tag Scare of the Week to see them all.

Monday, October 6, 2014

October Giveaway

It's another giveaway for More Middle-Grade Madness! For those who don't know, middle-grade is a publishing industry term that means, generally, ages 9-12 (abbreviated MG). It doesn't mean "written for middle schoolers (grades 5-8)," as many people assume. Any of the books below would be wonderful for a third grader who's a good reader and would be interesting all the way up to a 6th, 7th, or even 8th grader, depending. (Everyone seems to love Rick Riordan, so these age designations are somewhat arbitrary.) Pick your favorite of these, enter, and win! To find out more about each book, click the title and read my review.

by Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini
MG fantasy adventure (#1 in the House of Secrets series)
A new house takes 3 siblings on a wild adventure

by Pseudonymous Bosch
MG fantasy / mystery (#2 in the Secrets series)
Cass & Max-Ernst try to unveil the mystery behind the Terces Society

by Rick Riordan
MG fantasy adventure (#1 in the Kane Chronicles series)
2 siblings try to save their dad from Egyptian gods

by Cornelia Funke
MG fantasy (#2 in the Inkheart Series)
Meggie and her friends get trapped inside Inkworld

1. U.S. entrants only, please.
2. Be sure to note the book you want to win AND WHY.
3. Giveaway prizes will be brand-new books delivered to you via They will be paperback editions unless the book is still available only in hardcover (or choose a Kindle ebook edition of you wish).
4.  This giveaway ends 12:01 AM OCTOBER 14.
5. There's a new giveaway every month! CLICK HERE to receive a brief email every time a new giveaway is posted on the blog. 

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review: INKSPELL by Cornelia Funke

Title: Inkspell
Author: Cornelia Funke (translated from the German by Anthea Bell)
Pub info: Chicken House / Scholastic, 2005; 635 pp
Genre / Audience: fantasy / ages 9+
Caveats for Younger Readers: a fair bit of death by swordpoint, but not too graphic; book will be too long for some

Goodreads summary:
The captivating sequel to Inkheart, the critically acclaimed, international bestseller by Cornelia Funke, an author who is emerging as a truly modern classic writer for children.

Although a year has passed, not a day goes by without Meggie thinking of Inkheart, the book whose characters became real. But for Dustfinger, the fire-eater brought into being from words, the need to return to the tale has become desperate. When he finds a crooked storyteller with the ability to read him back, Dustfinger leaves behind his young apprentice Farid and plunges into the medieval world of his past. Distraught, Farid goes in search of Meggie, and before long, both are caught inside the book, too. But the story is threatening to evolve in ways neither of them could ever have imagined.
My impressions:
The marvelous characters that Cornelia Funke brought to life in Inkheart continue to captivate the reader of Inkspell. This book does a very handy thing that other authors/publishers should take note of: It provides a cheat sheet in the front to reintroduce the characters. Since it had been several years since I'd read the first book in the series, I found this indispensable.

My only complaint with the book is its length. Despite Harry Potter--those doorstop tomes we wordy writers always like to bring up--it's a lot to ask of, say, a fourth grader to wade through 635 pages. At times I was thoroughly engrossed in the story; at other times, I was frustrated and wanted it to move along more quickly. Part of this was just my own bias. Sometimes a marvelous book that you've been looking forward to for months--in my case, Lauren Oliver's Rooms--arrives in your mailbox and you just want to put down Inkspell and have at it. But even discounting that bias, I would say that shaving 100 pages off of this book wouldn't have been a bad idea.

Still, that said, the story is marvelous, the world building complex and fantastical, and anyone who loved Inkheart will be pleased with Inkspell. Caution: It does end on a doozy of a cliffhanger, but no worries; Funke has completed the series and you can pick up a copy of Inkdeath to complete the story. 

About Cornelia:
Cornelia Caroline Funke is a multiple award-winning German author of fantasy/adventure children's and YA fiction. Praised as the "German J. K. Rowling," she has written 24 books and is best known for her Inkheart trilogy. She is also the author of Dragon Rider  and a new YA series, Mirrorworld. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Cornelia maintains a fun, interactive website here, in English (also available in German and Spanish). Her Facebook page is a mixture of German and English postings, and she also has a Twitter account at this link. Read a preview of Inkspell here.

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: October 6.  SIGN UP HERE TO RECEIVE A BRIEF EMAIL WHENEVER A NEW GIVEAWAY BEGINS.

To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here