Book review: Out of the Wild Night, by Blue Balliett

Balliett, Blue.  Out of the Wild Night.  Scholastic, 2018.  ISBN 978-0-545-86756-6. $17.99. 291 pages.  Ages 9-13.  P7 Q6

A paranormal novel based on the history of the architecture on Nantucket Island.  Balliett does an amazing job describing the houses on Nantucket Island and how the heart, and in this case, actual spirits, of deceased Nantucketans (I made up that word) are imbedded within the planks and posts the houses are made of.  Not necessarily the foundation of the house, or the shell, but what makes up the entire inside.  The tragedy is these homes are being gutted and rebuilt for a more modern interior by people moving out to the island from the mainland, and have no attachment to the rustic, low ceilinged interior.  The souls of the generations of people within these homes are lost forever once a home has been gutted and rebuilt.  The premise of the novel is pretty passionate, but the novel doesn’t deliver a passionate message.  I experienced mild anger and then moved on.  Additionally, I had a problem with perspective.  I often questioned what was happening to the individual at the time in the story.  Once I got to the end of the book this made more sense and I reread the beginning with my new found understanding.  It was still rough going and I still have questions.

Verdict:  A good ghost story with a passionate premise, but Balliett doesn’t deliver her vision to the reader.  In her attempt to add intrigue, Balliett only created confusion.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

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Book review: Graveyard Shakes, by Laura Terry

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

Book review: Cast No Shadow, by Nick Tapalansky, illustrated by Anissa Espinosa

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

Book review: A Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby

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.

Book review: Agatha Parrot and the Odd Street School Ghost, by Kjartan Poskitt, with art by Wes Hargis

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

poskitt-agatha-parrotWhen 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.

Book review: The Haunting of Falcon House, by Eugene Yelchin

Yelchin, Eugene. The Haunting of Falcon House. Holt, 2016. $15.99. 320p. ISBN 9780805098457. Ages 8-11. P8Q9

yelchin-haunting-og-falcon-houseAn 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.

Book review: The Magic Box, L.M. Falcone, illustrated by Kim Smith

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.

Falcone Magic BoxThis 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.