Chime by Franny Billingsley

Chime, by Franny Billingsley, was published in 2011 by Dial.

Rating: 3/5        

This is one of those books where the cover art really doesn’t do the book any justice. In fact, the cover art is downright misleading, in my opinion. The cover suggests some sort of dark, brooding novel with Gothic undertones and maybe some paranormal activity mixed in. And, okay, the book is somewhat like that, but I don’t know…I felt a bit betrayed by the cover.

Chime is a book that certainly isn’t for everyone. It kind of isn’t really for me. The reason is that Billingsley’s prose is so lyrical and descriptive that it either draws people in or alienates them. I’m not a huge fan of prose like this, but I’m not against it, either, so I was really okay with it except in some parts where it got a little too nonsensical and poetic for my tastes.

The biggest selling point of Chime is the plot, really. Briony, convinced she’s a witch and destined to doom everyone around her, angsts and frets her way through most of the book, while falling in love with the town’s newest arrival, Eldric, and having to deal with the Old Ones (i.e., supernatural beings a la animism) in the swamp. Yet Billingsley draws a really nice balance between Briony’s angst and her strength, and the plot itself is really interesting, though perhaps a little too focused on Briony’s past rather than the present. Not everything is really made clear, such as the nature of Rose’s injury and its effect on her, and it gets a little too courtroom-drama-esque at the end, but the majority of it is woven beautifully together.

I’ve actually read this book before, while I was in college (I think), and I remembered it fairly well (though not the prose, strangely). It was not a surprisingly fantastic reread, but neither did it make me change my mind about the book. I enjoyed it when I read it then, and I enjoyed it now. Billingsley’s way of writing is really not my favorite, but the story itself—Briony’s struggles, her realizations about her past, and her relationship with Eldric—is beautifully done. 

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy/Supernatural

The Girl Behind the Red Rope by Ted Dekker and Rachelle Dekker

Disclaimer: I voluntarily received a copy of The Girl Behind the Red Rope by Ted and Rachelle Dekker, from Revell. All opinions are my own.  

My rating: 3/5

I’ve never read anything by Ted Dekker before; all I know about him is that he’s a fairly popular Christian author. He teamed up with his daughter, also an author, for The Girl Behind the Red Rope, a book that initially seems to simply be about a cult that separates itself from the world, but then delves into Frank Peretti territory with ghosts/beings called the Fury and a Jesus-like child named Eli.

Honestly, I think I would have preferred this book simply to be an exploration of a cult—I probably would have been far more interested. That’s not to say the book was bad, but I’m simply not a fan of angels and demons materializing and talking to people (or attacking them). And the fact that I wasn’t prepared for the supernatural aspect of this book meant that I was really confused by a lot of things that happened at the beginning until I realized the true genre of the book. Perhaps that’s something I would have expected going in if I knew more about Ted Dekker’s works, though.

The Girl Behind the Red Rope is hugely allegorical, to the point of repetitiveness at times. There’s the demon creatures “the Fury,” whom the cult at Haven Valley have cut themselves off from the world to avoid. There’s the mysterious being Sylous, who appears to Rose, the leader, and gives ominous advice. Then there’sEli, who I think isn’t supposed to be Jesus, but is also supposed to be Jesus…it’s a bit confusing. All the allegory/metaphors are compounded at the end by everyone talking about love, light, darkness, and fear for pages on end—that’s where the repetitiveness comes in. Actually, the whole thing reminded me just a little bit of John Bibee’s Spirit Flyer series, which used similar ideas of demons, chains, and captivity to illustrate biblical concepts. Just like in this book, though, Bibee also went a bit overboard in capturing his image.

I suppose I can see why Ted Dekker is popular, but for me, I’d prefer a book that tones down the symbolism explanation and is a bit less on-the-nose in regards to theme. The Girl Behind the Red Rope is far from terrible, but my expectation of it was “cult novel” and I got “cult novel but with demons and angels,” which isn’t really my favorite thing to read.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Realistic

You can buy this here:

The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope

The Sherwood Ring, by Elizabeth Marie Pope, was published in 1958 by Houghton.

Rating: 4/5

The Sherwood Ring is a delightful story full of political intrigue, ghosts, stories of the past, mysteries in the present, and an intriguing, shadowy gentleman known as Peaceable Sherwood. I wasn’t expecting the intermixing of past and present as each chapter is dedicated to a particular story that Peggy hears from one of the family’s ghosts.

Of course, since there needs to be a plot beyond “ghosts telling stories,” Peggy’s present troubles and dramas are, of course, linked to the stories as she discovers more about her family’s history and her Uncle Enos’s strange behavior. Nothing in this book is particularly surprising or complex, but the real charm lies in the story, not the plot, if that makes sense. Peaceable Sherwood is such a fun villain that Peggy being used mostly as a vehicle to find out more about him is something I don’t actually have a problem with (and she gets her own story at the end as she figures out why she’s being told all these things to begin with).

My favorite chapter was “The Bean Pot” because Barbara Grahame is amazing and the battle of wits she plays with Peaceable is fantastic. It’s interesting that all it takes is a good story and interesting characters for me to actually like books set up like this; normally I’m not a fan of disjointed storytelling or characters as plot devices. However, The Sherwood Ring was a fun, enjoyable read, though it wasn’t quite what I expected initially!

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here:

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson, was published in 2018 by Henry Holt.

Rating: 3/5

The cover of Winterhouse really appealed to me when I saw it in a bookstore. I really liked the cutout windows of the hotel, and I’m a sucker for “large houses filled with secrets” novels. Once I started reading it, the many puzzle references—and the reference to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library—made me excited for a decent puzzle novel that had a plot a lot less far-fetched than said Lemoncello’s Library.

There’s lots of mystery and sinister figures once Elizabeth actually makes it to Winterhouse, and Guterson does a good job of revealing things at the right pace, so the reader stays with the book rather than get frustrated. The puzzles are a delight, though they do get a little too much eventually, especially when Elizabeth and her friend Freddy start yelling anagrams at each other. And while there’s no secret tunnels or rooms, a puzzle hidden throughout the hotel is almost as good.

However, I will say that the most disappointing aspect of this book was the aspect the entire thing hinged on: the supernatural. Not only are there puzzles to deal with, but also magic and malevolent spirits. Elizabeth and Freddy get caught up in a plot to bring back a witch who will destroy Winterhouse, and things started getting less fun for me in that moment. I’d rather have either a dedicated supernatural story, or a dedicated puzzle story, but not both. And the supernatural genre has never been my favorite, so perhaps that’s also why I was so disappointed.

The puzzles in Winterhouse are great, but the magic and the fight to prevent a spirit from reuniting with its body dragged down the book in my estimation a little. I’m just not a big fan of the supernatural genre. The characters were interesting (though the side characters were a little one-note), the puzzle aspect was fun (though I wish there was more with that; there was really only one puzzle that the characters had to solve—the rest they invented themselves as entertainment), and the cover and illustrations are gorgeous. However, I could have done without the ghostly ghouly stuff.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Supernatural

You can buy this book here:

2009 Newbery Medal: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, was published in 2008 by HarperCollins.

Rating: 4/5

I’m not sure why it took me so long to read The Graveyard Book. I’ve read a bit of Neil Gaiman and like him, though not as much as I like other fantasy writers. The book was delightful; I loved how each chapter told a different story in the life of Bod, and I loved the rich world of the graveyard, with its ghosts, ghouls, and the not-living, but not-dead Silas. Most of all I loved Bod, who went from a young boy struggling to understand and use his powers, to a quiet, confident young man who suffers from a lot of heartache, but still manages to move forward.

I’m perhaps most displeased with what happens to Scarlett, though I suppose what happens with her fit the story. A quiet part of me, probably the romantic part of me, wanted a different ending, but the ending with Bod striking out on his own to see the world is quite fitting.

The villain, Jack, starts out being mysterious and foreboding, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about his appearance at the end of the book. What happens to him is something I guessed almost from the beginning, but there were other revelations that had me scratching my head a little. In addition, the incentive for killing Bod’s family seemed thin, though I suppose, with the way Gaiman built the world, it made sense.

I enjoyed The Graveyard Book, with its lengthy, story-building chapters, rich ghost world, and likeable protagonist. I’m not sure if it compelled me enough to pick up some of Gaiman’s other works for children, but I know now where I can turn if I want a good fantasy.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Supernatural

You can buy this book here:

Trapped in Room 217 by Thomas Kingsley Troupe

Disclaimer: I received an advanced reading copy of Trapped in Room 217, by Thomas Kingsley Troupe, from NetGalley. Trapped in Room 217 will be published September 1st, 2018, by North Star Editions.

Jayla Walters isn’t sure what to expect when her father’s job uproots her and her brother, Dion, to Estes Park, Colorado. But right away, something doesn’t seem right with their hotel. Jayla soon discovers that their home for the week, Room 217 of the Stanley Hotel, is the most haunted place in all of Colorado. Barely asleep the first night, Jayla watches a ghostly woman walk toward her bed. And the ghost visits her room every night. What does the ghost want? And what happens when Jayla and Dion get in her way? Every state has its own spine-tingling stories of ghosts and mysterious hauntings grounded in its regional history. The Haunted States of America series uses real-life ghost lore as jumping off points to new, chilling tales. But beware: sometimes real life is stranger than fiction.

Rating: 2/5

Trapped in Room 217 is a basic, straightforward ghost story: no frills or bells or whistles attached. Jayla and her brother Dion, travel with their dad to a fancy hotel, which they soon discover has a haunted history. The plot is mostly concerned with the ghost that Jayla and her brother see in their own room. The author based the story off a real hotel and the ghosts after real ghost stories.

I prefer a bit more oomph to plots and writing, but I can tell that this sort of book would really appeal to younger readers. It’s straightforward and simple, and the ghost story has enough of a bite to generate some tension. Though not very much is explained, and Troupe jumps through a lot of hoops at the beginning to get his characters to the hotel, it’s a good ghost story for kids. As an adult, I thought for sure something much more sinister was going on, and so I was extremely let-down by the basic finish, but again, kids would probably love it.

Because this was an advanced reading copy, I’m not sure how much will change for the finished product. There will be illustrations, which I would have loved to see, and I did catch a few typos that will most likely be fixed. But I’m assuming that what I read, for the most part, is what the final copy will be like—and it simply wasn’t quite enticing enough to hold my attention.

Trapped in Room 217 would be perfect for kids. It’s simple, straightforward, and a good ghost story. But I felt that it was a bit of a let-down, since I read something much more sinister into it, and that the simplicity of it took away from my enjoyment of it. That’s purely a personal, subjective feeling, of course—I’m sure other adults may very well love this book!

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Supernatural

You can buy this book here:

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, was published in 2017 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Creeping Shadow.

Five months after the events in The Creeping Shadow, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission. They have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of many questions to be answered in Book Five of the Lockwood & Co. series. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family’s past to Lucy? Has their trip to the Other Side left the two of them changed forever? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency—and does she threaten something deeper still? The young operative smut survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle .And to prevail they will have to rely on some surprising—and shadowy—allies.

Rating: 4/5

The Empty Grave is a satisfying, suitably big ending for the Lockwood & Co. series, delivering on character development and the usual mix of action, tension, and downtime that is especially distinctive in this series with its formulaic sequencing that manages to avoid being repetitive.

I loved the double meaning of the title in The Hollow Boy, and this title, too, has a double meaning, one which manages to communicate both essential plot elements and character development. Speaking of plot, while nothing in this book totally surprised me, I can’t say anything negative about the buildup or delivery or anything. Perhaps some of the details at the end could have been made clearer—who, exactly, was Ezekiel?—and the final battle was almost anticlimactic in its ending (though there’s no reason why it should have been, knowing what we know about ghosts in these books), but it was also satisfying and thrilling and lots of other good things. The resolution between Lucy and the skull was fantastic—in fact, the entire development of the relationship between the two of them was great, and far more interesting than Lucy’s other significant relationship with Lockwood—and the ending, though not as clear-cut as it possibly could have been, made sense and fit with the overall “feel” of the books.

I really enjoyed these books, so much so that I want to reread the Bartimaeus trilogy again (though I do feel that Lockwood & Co. is a superior series). The balance between horror and levity was spot-on, and Stroud’s writing made me enjoy a story about ghosts, a genre I usually stay away from. The Red Room scene from the first book still stands out in my mind as one of the creepiest scenes in any book I’ve read, yet it hooked me rather than scared me away.

The Empty Grave is a fitting end to the series, with resolution from all corners (no dangling plot threads! Yay!), the satisfaction of knowing that the characters grew and changed throughout the series and weren’t just cardboard throughout, and a slightly ambiguous, but ultimately hopeful ending that was a fitting end. I’m going to miss this series, but I’ll be looking forward to whatever Stroud puts out next.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Middle Grade

You can buy this book here:

The Delusion by Laura Gallier

Disclaimer: The Delusion, by Laura Gallier, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

By March of Owen Edmonds’s senior year, eleven students at Masonville High School have committed suicide. Amid the media frenzy and chaos, Owen tries to remain levelheaded—until he endures his own near-death experience and wakes to a distressing new reality: the people around him suddenly appear to be shackled and enslaved. Owen frantically seeks a cure for what he thinks are crazed hallucinations, but his delusions become even more sinister. An army of hideous, towering beings, unseen by anyone but Owen, are preying on his girlfriend and classmates, provoking them to self-destruction. Owen eventually arrives at a mind-bending conclusion: he’s not imagining the evil—everyone else is blind to its reality. He must warn and rescue those he loves…but this proves to be no simple mission. Will be h able to convince anyone to believe him before it’s too late?

My rating: 2/5 

I realized something while reading The Delusion. I realized that I really don’t like books that try to get metaphorical about Christian ideas/theology, because a lot of the time the metaphors are wildly inaccurate and/or downright silly.

The Delusion, which is a little bit like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in its spiritual warfare plot, relies heavily on metaphors as it sets up this world where monstrous gray oozing creatures feed off of people and incite them to do bad things. Besides reminding me of Peretti, the book also reminded me of John Bibee’s Spirit Flyer series, which also has descriptions of people being chained by shackles they can’t see.

I understand the premise of the story, or at least the premise Gallier is going for: there’s more going on in the material world than what we can see. Yet, the way Gallier presents it, with gray monsters and tall golden warriors (angels, I suppose), makes it seem more like some disturbing alternate reality. I’m not going to deny that the supernatural exists, but I find it difficult to believe that it looks anything like what Gallier describes it as.

“But, wait, you’re missing the point,” you might say. “It’s not meant to describe reality. It’s meant to be a metaphor, a way to describe things.” True, and I get that. But I balk at the point Gallier seems to be going for here, which is that evil is caused by possession, not human choice; that people are compelled to do bad things because some gray monster squelched into their body and took over their mind.

Yes, I know it’s a metaphor. Yes, I know Gallier is simply personifying emotion and doesn’t necessarily mean to indicate that humans are forced to do evil by demons, and if it was their choice they wouldn’t do it.

But I think it’s a clumsy metaphor.

Or, I simply don’t like this sort of book and my dislike of the genre is rubbing off on Gallier’s presentation.

In any case, The Delusion is mildly gripping and definitely creepy, which is good for the genre it is. I didn’t like the metaphorical mess that Gallier created, though, and most of the characters were so bland and one-dimensional that I’m struggling to even remember their names. Also, I found some of the scenarios unbelievable, and not the metaphor part, like when Owen gets beaten and then walks away like he had just been punched a couple of times. The Delusion was definitely not my type of book, but I can see it appealing to people who like this sort of supernatural thing.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Christian

You can buy this here:

The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs

The Curse of the Blue Figurine, by John Bellairs, was published in 1983 by Dial Books.

Whoever removes these things from the church does so at his own peril….Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the lord. Remigius Baart. Little does Johnny Dixon know when he takes a scroll inscribed with these words—along with a seemingly harmless figurine—from the town church that his life will be changed forever. On a bleak and stormy night his friend Professor Childermass relates the tale of mad Father Baart, whose ghost is said to haunt the church. And when Johnny unthinkingly returns there and accepts a magic ring from a mysterious stranger, he is plunged into a terrifying adventure—realizing too late that the tale of Father Baart is not just a legend, but the horrifying truth.

Rating: 2/5

The first book I ever read by John Bellairs was The House with a Clock in its Walls, which I tried to find at my library but, sadly, they didn’t have. I had to settle for The Curse of the Blue Figurine, which I’d read when I was a child (along with most of Bellairs’ other works). From what I remember about The House, I do think I prefer that book to this one, but I think if I reread The House I might have a similar opinion of it as I do The Curse of the Blue Figurine.

The horror element is done very well; it’s creepy and dark and there’s appropriate sights and smells and all those things that go into a good horror book. Professor Childermass is quite a funny character, and his grumpiness is the comic relief in what would be an otherwise dark novel.

I don’t have many problems with the plot; it’s simple but effective, and it makes for a simple, effective horror story. Some of the things that Johnny does that are probably more on the “why would you ever do that?” side of things are covered very well—like why in the world he carried the book out of the basement at all, or took it home with him.

The main problem I had was the writing (surprise), which I found clumsy and simplistic. I guess I should have been prepared for that, and I do realize that I am most picky on writing style, but different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Also, there is quite a glaring error in the book, where several times the characters say things like, “In the Bible, it says that Moses’s body was carried away by angels.” Not sure if that was a common belief in the 80s or if Bellairs was using some Jewish tradition and conflating it with the Bible, but either way, I laughed when I read it.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Horror elements.

Genre: Supernatural, Horror, Middle Grade

The inside of the book had been hollowed out. Only the outer part of each page was left. And in the hole that had been made were two things: a small rolled-up piece of yellowish paper tied with a faded red ribbon, and a strange little blue ceramic statue. The statue was shaped like an Egyptian mummy case. It had staring eyes and a tiny beaked nose and a smiling mouth and a scrolled goatee. The figure’s arms were crossed over its breast in the Egyptian style. Apparently the mummy was supposed to be the mummy of a pharaoh, because it held in its hands the crook and the flail, the symbols of kingly power in ancient Egypt.

You can buy this here:

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch, by Joseph Delaney, was published in 2005 by Greenwillow.

For years, Old Gregory has been the Spook for the county, ridding the local villages of evil. Now his time is coming to an end. But who will take over for him? Twenty-nine apprentices have tried—some floundered, some fled, some failed to stay alive. Only Thomas Ward is left. He’s the last hope; the last apprentice. Can Thomas succeed? Will he learn the difference between a benign witch and a malevolent one? Does the Spooks’ warning against girls with pointy shoes include Alice? And what will happen if Thomas accidentally frees Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the county…?

Rating: 3/5

Revenge of the Witch was much scarier than I thought it would be, surprisingly, due in part to some truly chilling illustrations and my mistaken impression going in that this book would be light-hearted. It reminded me quite a lot of The Screaming Staircase and the other Lockwood & Co. books by Jonathan Stroud, since supernatural horror is the main focus.

Thomas is a bit of an annoying protagonist, in that he does so many stupid things that you want to yell at him most of the time for doing them. I’ve also never been fond of the “As I found out later, I should have done this particular thing” type of suspense-building narration, because for me it tends to suck a lot of the suspense out. I don’t want to be told that Thomas shouldn’t have made a deal with Alice—I want to be shown it. But Thomas is, at least, a persevering and brave protagonist in spite of his occasional stupidity and Captain Obvious moments, and I couldn’t help but cheer him on.

While I’m not sure I will continue on with the series, I did enjoy Revenge of the Witch, and the impact of the setting, plot events, and illustrations were all the greater since I wasn’t expecting them. To be honest, I don’t think I would have found it half so scary if it hadn’t been for the pictures. It’s one thing to read about a slouched figured creeping toward you—it’s quite another to see it! It’s probably why I can read horror books, but not see horror movies. Anyway, Revenge of the Witch, though not without flaws, is an endearing middle grade horror novel that has about ten sequels, so it must be pretty popular. I enjoyed reading it, although like I said, nothing about it particularly impelled me to pick up the next book.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Scary scenarios, mentions of blood, supernatural elements, and death.

Genre: Supernatural, Horror, Middle Grade

At that moment the candle guttered and then went out, plunging us into absolute darkness.

“This is it lad,” the Spook said. “There’s just you, me, and the dark. Can you stand it? Are you fit to be my apprentice?”

His voice sounded different, sort of deeper and strange. I imagined him on all fours by now, wolf hair covering his face, his teeth growing larger. I was trembling and couldn’t speak until I’d taken my third deep breath. Only then did I give him my answer. It was something my dad always said when he had to do something unpleasant or difficult.

“Someone has to do it,” I said. “So it might as well be me.”

You can buy this here: