Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson, was published in 2018 by Henry Holt.
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.
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, was published in 2008 by HarperCollins.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…?
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.”
After leaving Lockwood & Co. four months ago, Lucy has become a freelance operative, hiring herself out to psychic investigation agencies that value her ever-improving skills in locating Sources and shutting down Visitors. Her new life of independence, complete with her own studio apartment, would be fine if it weren’t’ for having to work with incompetent agents and answer to meddling supervisors. And it does sometimes get lonely, even though she has the skull in the jar to annoy her with his leers and sarcastic jibes. One day Lucy receives a surprise visit from Lockwood, who tells her he needs a good listener for a tough assignment. Penelope Fittes, the leader of the giant Fittes Agency, wants them—and only them—to locate and remove the Source for the ghost of a legendary cannibal. Throughout this very dangerous undertaking, tensions remain high between Lucy and her former colleagues. What will it take to reunite the team?
I’ve enjoyed each book in the Lockwood & Co. series more and more, and I ate up The Creeping Shadow. Creepy ghosts (seriously, the cannibal one is the creepiest yet), intriguing developments, and cute awkwardness between Lucy and Lockwood led up to an ending that I can say I truly did not see coming—and took the series in a whole new direction for the grand finale fifth book.
I said it in The Hollow Boy and I’ll say it again here: adding Holly to the picture and making Lucy leave Lockwood & Co. was truly a good thing for the series, which felt a little stagnant to me after the second book. I was ambivalent about Lucy in the first two books, grew to like her in the third, and now am vehemently behind her in the fourth. And her camaraderie with the skull (who I’ve found annoying in the past) works, so that her going after it made complete sense character-wise.
The plot revelations in this book were good, too—and reminded me strongly of Stranger Things, as any book with other dimensions will now do—and although I knew who the villain would be based on what happened in the third book, I was not expecting the Big Reveal at the end—and it was a fantastic whammy of an ending, too.
The supernatural/horror genre really is not my cup of tea, so it’s a testament to just how good Stroud is that I’m enjoying Lockwood & Co., in all of its spooky element, so thoroughly. I can’t wait for what the last book will reveal for these characters that I’ve grown to love.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Supernatural, Mystery, Young Adult (maybe mature Middle Grade if they can handle scary)
He was here! Why was he here? Excitement and incredulity kept smashing together, like waves colliding at a jetty. There was so much noise going on in my mind that the first priority—making small talk—was a bit of a problem.
“How’s business with Lockwood and Co.?” I asked over my shoulder. “I mean, I see you in the papers all the time. Not that I’m looking for you, obviously. I just see stuff. But you seem to be doing okay, as far as I can gather. When I think about it. Which is rare. Do you take sugar now?”
He was staring at the clutter on my floor, blank-eyed, as if lost in thought. “It’s only been a few months, Luce. I haven’t suddenly started taking sugar in my tea…” Then he brightened, nudging the ghost-jar with the side of his shoe. “Hey, how’s our friend here doing?”
“The skull? Oh, it helps me out from time to time. Hardly talk to it, really…” To my annoyance, I noticed a stirring in the substance that filled the jar, implying a sudden awakening of the ghost. That was the last thing I wanted right now.
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox, was published in 2016 by Viking.
Twelve-year-old Katherine Bateson believes in a logical explanation for everything. But even she can’t make sense of the strange goings-on at Rookskill Castle, the drafty old Scottish castle-turned-school where she and her siblings have been sent to escape the London Blitz. What’s making those mechanical shrieks at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And who are the silent children who seem to haunt Rookskill’s grounds? Kat believes Lady Eleanor, who rules the castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must face the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and what Lady Eleanor is—before it’s too late.
I heard some good things about The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, so I decided to pick it up even though I don’t usually tend to go for paranormal/supernatural. And while I didn’t think it was blow-me-away-amazing, I did like the subtle tension underlying the novel and the atmosphere of terror created not just by WWII, but also by Lady Eleanor.
Kat was also a good protagonist, although the “you’re the only one left and have to save everyone” mechanic is a little overused, in my opinion—but it does make for good tension. I liked the other characters, too, although I wish the charmed children were more directly involved with the plot. Once they became charmed, they melted into the scenery a little—it would have been nice to see the other characters interact with them a little more.
I wish Lady Eleanor’s character had been developed a little more, and the resolution of the novel got a little hazy in its attempts to explain everything. There were a few things that I thought were simply hand-waved away, and other things didn’t make much sense as to why they happened. I also thought the book would have been better as a whole without the additional MI6 side plot thrown in, although clearly it’s a way for Fox to continue writing books with Kat as the main character.
I enjoyed The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle for its subtle tension and spookiness as well as its use of historical artifacts and philosophy as magic. I thought some of the characters could have been more developed, especially Lady Eleanor, and the resolution of the book could have been a lot neater in its execution, but it’s a fine book for those who enjoy spooky reads.
The door burst open behind them. “Kat!” Robbie fell into the room, Peter on his heels, Robbie’s eyes like saucers. “Kat! You won’t believe it. We found a secret hiding place. A hidden room. With something—or someone—locked inside that makes terrible shrieky noises.”
Kat looked at Peter, who nodded, then back at Rob.
He was white as the cliffs of Dover. “Sure as sure,” Rob said in a low voice, “sure as sure, it’s a ghost.”
Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is modest and well mannered—a proper young lady who knows her place. But inside, Faith is burning with questions and curiosity. She keeps sharp watch of her surroundings and, therefore, knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing—like the real reason her family fled Kent to the close-knit island of Vane. And that her father’s death was no accident. In pursuit of revenge and justice for the father she idolizes, Faith hunts through his possessions, where she discovers a strange tree. A tree that bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit in turn, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder. Or, it might lure the murderer directly to Faith herself, for lies—like fires, wild and crackling—quickly take on a life of their own.
I love Frances Hardinge, but her books are so strange that I’m caught between “this is great” and “this is weird and I can’t really get into it.” That’s exactly how I felt reading The Lie Tree, which takes a simple setting (Victorian England) and gives it a supernatural twist with the concept of a lie tree, which basically gives you truths if you feed it lies. Or something like that.
I will briefly express my displeasure at Hardinge for getting many religious facts wrong, such as the entire concept of the Nephilim and other cliché representations, but at least she is somewhat open-minded and doesn’t paint one group or the other with too thick of a brush. And, granted, since the book takes place in the Victorian era she does do well occasionally with representing the thought process at the time, although, again, it’s incredibly clichéd and stereotypical most of the time.
So, yes, The Lie Tree is strange, and I’m so sick of “women can’t do anything so protagonist sets out to Do Something” novels, but it was still pretty good. Hardinge is a great writer, and the strange parts had a sort of attraction to them even as they repelled me. The villain, while not terribly obvious at first, is almost too obvious once revealed, as in my reaction was something like “oh, of course that’s who it is. Why would it be anyone else?” But the book was engaging and typical Hardinge, and it certainly didn’t put me off from reading any more of her works. I liked Faith well enough and overall, I enjoyed the book as a whole.
Faith opened her mouth to apologize, but the words died in her mouth. Her father’s posture, always ramrod-straight, was now oddly slumped. She had never seen his face so pale, so slack. Her skin tingled.
There was a clammy smell in the room, she realized, the cold scent she had noticed in the Folly. Now it ran little ice-fingers down her throat, through the nerves of her teeth, and across the backs of her eyes. The air was alive with it.