Terry, Laura. Graveyard Shakes. Graphix/Scholastic, 2017. $12.99. 203p. ISBN 978-0-545-88954-4. Ages 8-12. P7Q6
Bullied sisters and scholarship students at a boarding school, Katia and Victoria, are miserable in different ways. Victoria hides from people, and Katia makes sure she stands out. They meet the underworld in a cemetery where a doctor is trying to keep his son, Modie, alive by feeding him a child’s life every 13 years and thinks that Katia is a prime candidate.
Verdict: Although the illustrations in the graphic novel are well-done and characters easily identified, their behavior appears far over the edge. Katia is just too mousy, and Victoria is too blatant in her behavior. Only Little Ghost, who is afraid of other ghosts but likes the almost-dead Modie, is likable. The chaotic plot skips around, and the characters are stereotypical with no background. Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts is far better.
December 2017 review by Nel Ward
Tapalansky, Nick. Cast No Shadow. Ill. by Anissa Espinosa. First Second, 2017. $16.99. 214p. ISBN 978-1-59643-877-4. Ages 10-14. P7Q9
Angry because his father has a new girlfriend after his mother died three years earlier, high school freshman Greg also suffers from the lack of a shadow. His best friend, Layla, protects him from the bullies, but she’s tired of his complaining and turns to a new boyfriend who Greg thinks is a jerk. Layla did too until he put stars in her eyes. The excitement accelerates when Layla and Greg decide to visit a haunted house where Greg meets, and develops a crush on, the ghost of Eleanor who is Greg’s age. When Greg’s furious shadow decides to destroy everyone and everything in the town. Greg reluctantly gets help from a psychic to save the people from violence. Diverse themes include the need to preserve history, misconceptions about how people in the past died, and acceptance of people and situations. The odd beginning with two characters in the haunted mansion who disappear after the first four pages and the occasional use of two narrators adding humor and insight to the serious plot keep readers on edge.
Verdict: A thoughtful look at bullying, grief, and loss of a parent is mixed with humor and danger. The black and white drawings add an artistic dimension to the plotting. Bonuses are the well-developed realistic characters and the plot pacing that varies between racing forward and holding back. A great addition to a graphic novel collection for readers who can see beyond the monochrome.
December 2017 review by Nel Ward
Kirby, Matthew J. A Taste for Monsters. Scholastic Press, 2016. $18.99. ISBN 9780545817844. 343 pages. Ages 12+. P7Q7
It’s 1888 in London, and Jack the Ripper is murdering women. Evelyn, whose hard life has hurt her emotionally and bodily (she is disfigured by Phossy Jaw or phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, caused by the white phosphorus used in match factories), begins working at the London Hospital as a maid to the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. As Evelyn and Mr. Merrick, who is sweet and fragile, get to know each other, they are afflicted with ghostly visits from the unhappy spirits of Jack the Ripper’s victims. These visitations cause Mr. Merrick’s health to suffer, and Evelyn tries to resolve the mysteries to relieve his mind. There is a bit of romance, which turns out badly, but Evelyn is successful in resolving the situations that keep the ghosts restless, comes to terms with her own fears, and finds out who the Ripper is. All in all, it was a satisfying paranormal mystery that wasn’t too gory or explicit.
VERDICT: Young adults interested in the Victorian era and lovers of mysteries will enjoy reading this novel.
April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.
Poskitt, Kjartan. Agatha Parrot and the Odd Street School Ghost. With art by Wes Hargis. Clarion Books, 2014. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-544-50672-5. 147 p. Gr. 2-5. P7Q4
When the school bells ring uncontrollably Agatha and her friends become convinced a ghost is haunting the school. Other odd incidents send the entire student body into a frenzy until Mrs. Twelvetrees, the school’s principal, offers an evening of exploration and debunking of the unexplained events. Agatha and her friends discover the true reason the bells ring and also feel justification when a particularly unpleasant classmate receives a comeuppance.
Verdict: The line spacing makes the text easy to follow. The printing of the book included different sizes of font to emphasize certain points. The author pulled in the reader with almost text like use of “Ha ha” and messages written as asides. The illustrations by Wes Hargis enhance the story with humor. It might have been a plot device to make the narrator sound like a young student, but the author repeatedly misused the pronouns “me” and “I”. It got to the point where I was distracted from the narrative while trying to mentally rewrite the material.
October 2016 review by Shelly Jones.
Yelchin, Eugene. The Haunting of Falcon House. Holt, 2016. $15.99. 320p. ISBN 9780805098457. Ages 8-11. P8Q9
An invitation to the fearsome Falcon House forces 12-year-old Prince Lev Lvov to leave his beloved mother along with his comfortable country home and cat. The decrepit manor is filled with strange things in this alternate universe of late 19th-century Russia where his only friend turns out to be a ghost. The caricatures of his aged aunt and a covey of servants—many of them quite elderly—are complemented by the extensive, bizarre black and white ink drawings depicting a variety of subjects from Lev’s cat to a myriad of stars. The premise behind the book of a long-disappeared manuscript adds to the mysterious reality of Russian cruelty in a time of serfdom. The protagonist’s emotional growth through his newly discovered artistic ability makes the novel a compelling—and haunting—read.
Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.
Falcone, L.M. The Magic Box. Illustrated by Kim Smith. (The Ghost and Max Monroe series, Case #1) Kids Can Press, 2014. $12.95. ISBN 978-1-77138-153-6. 88 pages. Ages 6-10. P8Q7.
This is the first book in the “Ghost and Max Monroe” series. Max is a young boy who often stays with his Grandfather Harry when his father’s job as a news reporter takes him away from home. On his grandfather’s property, Max discovers an old rundown carriage house with a wooden sign that said, “The Monroe Detective Agency.” He questioned his grandfather who explained that his brother, Larry, was a detective, while not a very good one, having never solved a single case. Harry told Max that despite Larry’s death, his ghost continued to haunt the detective agency. When Uncle Larry’s ghost receives a call to investigate a magic trick gone awry, he has a second chance to clear his poor reputation as a detective. Marty, the magician, has caused Daisy Dee to disappear from her birthday party during a magic trick, and he needs help finding her. With Max’s help, the two are back in the detective business. The story is amusing and engaging. Children will certainly look forward to continuing the series.
March 2015 review by Penny McDermott.
Klise, Kate. The Loch Ness Punster. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. (43 Old Cemetery Road series, #7) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-544-31337-8. 135 pgs. Ages 10 and up. P7Q7
Twelve-year-old Seymour Hope and his parents, Olive C. Spence and Ignatius B. Grumply, find out that Seymour has inherited the castle at Loch Ness, Scotland from his psychiatrist uncle, a notorious punster. Iggy refuses anything to do with his uncle, leaving Seymour and Olive to deal with the legacy. Three people want to buy the castle, and they try to scare Seymour off by kidnapping his tortoise, Mr. Poe. Seymour decides not to pay the ransom and saves Mr. Poe in the interim.
This book title was misleading and all the kids at the camp site were disappointed in it. The adult thought it was clever and in fact enjoyed the book a lot, hence the ages 10 and up. I would recommend this book to anyone who would enjoy a light read.
[Editor’s note: Kate Klise uses her signature style of brief interlaced messages, emails, letters, documents and transcripts to advance the story, many of which include puns or riddles. The illustrations are often integral to figuring out the mystery. An appearance by the Loch Ness monster is an additional treat. As the seventh, and last, book in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series, the story explains why Iggy is grumpy.]
Summer 2015 review by Kris Cooper.