Mystery | 8-13
Ghost stories were my staple as a girl – I read all those anthologies from Alfred Hitchcock, plus Lois Duncan, John Bellairs, Richard Peck, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. (Until I was 14, when the unforgettable Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot scared me straight.) Modern kids are enjoying stories by Holly Black, Mary Downing Hahn and Neil Gaiman, and I’m delighted to offer Katherine Arden as a terrific new voice in kids’ scary fiction. This is her first novel for children, and it hits all the targets – authentic voice, prickly but sympathetic protagonist witha strong moral compass and two reliable and smart pals, generally unhelpful adults, and a spooky plotline involving a bunch of really creepy scarecrows.
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Mystery | Adult
This new novel from National Book Award-winning author Howard Norman is a mashup of a ghost story, a missing child mystery, and a love story/domestic fiction. Mostly it’s a ghost story, as Simon Inescort sticks around his house after dying of a heart attack at age 48. He is surprised by his consciousness and his corporality – he can pick up and read books as well as write in a journal. Unfortunately he keeps setting off the motion sensor in the library where he spends most of his time, creating an ongoing annoyance for the new homeowners, Muriel and Zachary, and their cat Epilogue – the only creature aware of Simon’s presence.
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Sometimes a title just grabs you and says Read Me. This is one of those titles. It’s the first of two reviews I’m doing this week, both of them books for children. There are three books in the “Two Dogs in a Trench Coat” series; this is the first. Sassy and Waldo are two dogs whose lives are devoted to eating food, protecting the household from the evil squirrels, and napping in the sun. Until they realize Stewart, the boy in their house, needs saving from a place called School, a place he goes every day and returns dejected and bored. Thanks to Waldo’s surprising ability to speak English, the two dogs finagle their way into the classroom, where they learn just how exciting school is, and help Stewart make a friend along the way.
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Here’s another genre-blending blockbuster from Kate Morton, author of The Lake House and The Forgotten Garden, among others. It’s an historical mystery, a gothic ghost story, and a family saga. Best of all it features an archivist! Londoner Elodie Winslow is in her early 30s, engaged to be married though fed up with the wedding preparations and planning expected by her future mother-in-law. She seizes the opportunity for distraction when she discovers an uncatalogued box of items, including a sketch of a beautiful woman and another of riverside house that seems hauntingly familiar. It turns out to be Birchwood Manor, where a young group of Victorian-era artists spent a month in July 1862, a stay that ended with one woman dead and another missing, the theft of a priceless diamond, and a promising artist’s life is ruined.
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Here’s an unexpected novella that meets my criteria for a holiday story as we find ourselves needing a break from the shopping and planning. It’s a wee novel, a novella actually, at just under 150 pages. And let me emphasize that while this is set in familiar King territory, it is definitely not horror fiction. Winter is approaching in Castle Rock, where Scott Carey is a web designer with a couple of problems. His new neighbours’ dogs keep pooping on his lawn as their owners, two married women, set out on their daily run. And he’s losing weight, no matter what he eats. At the outset of the book, he’s lost 28 pounds, and is losing a pound or two every day. Astonishingly, his body isn’t changing. He still looks like a middle-aged potbellied man of 240 pounds.
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This is the second of two books I’m reviewing today on grief and death. They are challenging issues for any of us, and when children are involved, books can offer a way for adults to help kids grasp an understanding of death and accept the pain of loss. This tender and sensitive book offers an honest and gentle approach to an impending loss. Four children are sharing a kitchen table with Death, who has come for their beloved grandmother. Death is presented as a visitor, a kind one, whose heart is surprisingly full of a love for life. The children naturally try to deter Death from his task. Read More »
Be careful what you wish for. That’s the lesson Eldon Wilkes is learning as he approaches his 18th birthday, a big event in the isolated town of Madison, Nevada. That’s when you get to make a wish and – it will happen. Oh, sure, there are rules. You can’t wish for more wishes, and you can’t ask for something that will impact the outside world (like world peace, or being a pro NFL player) but the locals are pretty good at finding ways to get what they want. Money is a common request, as is beauty, and happiness. Some wishes are funny – a truck, or a lifetime supply of pot. Others speak to the desperation in some lives – to be loved, or for transcripts good enough to get into Harvard and away the hell from Madison. Read More »