Book Review: Middle Grade Horror

It seems as though all of a sudden kids have way more options for horror literature. This is excellent news. Gone are the days of R.L. Stine (not really; still super popular and fun) and Mary Downing Hahn (also not really; still creepy)! Over the past few years we’ve added some genuinely creepy titles to our juvenile fiction shelves. If you have a middle schooler looking to break into horror here a few to suggest:

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

Follow Corinne Le Mer and her friends as they fight legends of Caribbean folklore like the douen or the soucoyant. The Jumbies is fast paced and exciting and introduced me to a whole new group of mythical creatures. There are now two more in the series!

Small Spaces by Katharine Arden

This is an unsettling story about Ollie, an eleven year old who falls into a battle for her life and the life of her friends after stumbling upon a book full of terror that has somehow has connections to the farm she finds herself visiting on a field trip the next day. Bonus, this has also become a series!

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

Spirit Hunters is a classic haunted house tale but also has a possession! Can Harper solve the mystery of who is haunting her beloved little brother and save him from its clutch? This book is as much about cultural identity as it is ghosts and it blends the two themes seamlessly. Also, I just found out there is a second Spirit Hunters. Another series!

Other titles to try:

Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

No Place for Monsters by Kory Merritt

Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Books don’t scare me easily, but I had to stop reading this after dark.

When Merry was eight, her teenage sister began to exhibit signs of schizophrenia.  When nothing seems to help and Marjorie’s symptoms grew more disturbing, a local Catholic priest suggests exorcism.  Out of options and falling into debt, the family agrees to be a part of a reality tv show to cover their bills, but things quickly spiral out of control and the resulting tragedy becomes the stuff of urban legend.

15 years later, Merry agrees to tell her side of the story.  As contradictory memories begin to surface it becomes harder and harder to tell what really happened all those years ago.  Was Marjorie really possessed, or just a vulnerable teenager being manipulated for ratings?  Does Merry really know?  Do we?

I don’t read a lot horror, but when I do this is the kind I like.  It walks the line between what is real and what is not, with a lot of deeper commentary on fame, science, and memory.  The result is a truly terrifying book- one of the scariest I’ve ever read.

Book Review: The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

I have always loved Octopus and, after reading this book, you will too.  A rich, fascinating, and surprisingly heartwarming exploration of these smart (and funny!) sea dwellers, with stunning color photos that take a deeper dive (pun intended) into their fascinating world.

Book Review: Downeast: Five Maine Girls and the Unseen Story of Rural America by Gigi Georges

In September, I always find myself leaning into the back-to-school spirit of becoming more interested in the non-fiction section of the bookstacks.

I heard some buzz about the book, Downeast: Five Maine Girls and the Unseen Story of Rural America by Gigi Georges and set to finishing it. My family and I travelled to Downeast Maine this summer as a vacation getaway and I found myself imagining what it might be like to live in these communities; so seemingly far from the life I know in the Midcoast region. Georges’ accounts of the lives and rugged determination of these five women was fascinating to me. She touched both on the challenges and the advantages to rural Maine living.

I loved the way Georges wrote about the upbringings of these women, and how their lives intertwined in rural community living. It seems that regardless of the hardships they endured, there was always a friendship in the community for them to lean on. I enjoyed learning about the amazing teachers and coaches and other mentors who helped these women find their way.

A great read for those who have always been curious about Downeast living and how our next generation is faring despite the poverty and division in our local politics. We will always sit next to each other on the bleachers to cheer our youth on.

Book Review: The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott

This book is absolutely captivating.  It’s a tale of bootlegging, a government investigation to stop the smuggling, and a marriage gone awry.  It reads like a novel, but you’ll find it in the nonfiction stacks.  Abbot has researched the real-life case of George Remus and every phrase of dialog, detailed article of clothing, and weather reference comes from court transcripts and newspaper archives.  The story is compelling, and I’m mesmerized by the skillful craft of citing records to bring the story to life.

Book Review: Dead by Dawn by Paul Doiron

Mike’s in hot water – or, rather, cold water.  In the first several paragraphs, we witness warden investigator Mike Bowditch hit metal spikes tossed onto the road for his benefit, skid off a corner, and plunge into the icy Androscoggin River.  Part survival story, part multi-threaded mystery thriller, and Doiron’s best work to date answers the burning (or freezing) questions of how Mike ended up in this predicament, whether he can survive against all odds (again), and whether he and Stacey are going to FINALLY get together.  Start reading this one early in the evening, because you’re going to be up until you finish it!

This book is #12 in the Mike Bowditch series.  If you haven’t already, make sure you start with the first book, The Poacher’s Son.

Book Review: Ahab’s Wife, or, the Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund

Melville makes a passing reference to a wife on Nantucket in Moby Dick…Naslund imagines a full and rich life for Una that weaves in loads of historical detail and context. I found myself rooting for her from the first page and her thoughts and perspective on everything from slavery to marriage to technological advancement feel authentic.  Una’s story is at times joyful, at times tragic, and at times unsettling. It’s a fascinating read that will take you from Kentucky, Massachussetts, the South Pacific, and beyond.  If you enjoy historical fiction, this one is worth adding to your list.

Book Review: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

In this thriller, we are set on an old estate in Vermont with a brilliant rose garden and an ancient, spring-fed swimming pool. The pool is icy cold and has been rumored to be haunted by a young girl who tries to pull swimmers below. Our main character, Jax, receives multiple phone calls from her manic sister who lives at her deceased grandmother’s estate and believes she’s having another episode, however, she turns up dead in the swimming pool the following day.

The sisters have a rocky history, starting from their childhood and their time spent at their eccentric grandmother’s old mansion. As Jax starts to dig deeper into the history of the house, she learns more about the sulpheric smelling, crumbling pool they grew up swimming in as young girls.

In a dual timeline, it’s 1937 and Ethel Monroe and her husband are trying desperately to have a child. They hear through the grapevine of a bed and breakfast with a natural spring in Vermont that grants wishes. They book their trip and whisper to the mystical water their wishes, unaware that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.

There are dark secrets, ghost sightings, family drama, chilling swim scenes, and even peacock sightings in the Vermont woods. This book has an ending that you’ll want to re-read three times it’s so good.

Trigger Warning for Death of a Child, and Mental Instability.

Book Review: Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur

One summer night when Adrienne is fourteen, her mother wakes her up to confess that she just kissed her father’s best friend. So begins a story of a codependent mother-daughter relationship, a love affair that spans decades, and a family of larger than life personalities. It’s a memoir that reads like a juicy novel- but it’s not only full of rich people behaving badly but also mouth watering descriptions of their sumptuous, summertime Cape Cod meals. My e-book checkout expired when I was only two thirds of the way through and I put holds on the book in multiple formats because I just had to know how it ended. It was an excruciating wait because the characters are so vivid and the author’s journey so personal and gut wrenching (and the meals so delicious!) that I felt like I was there at the seashore just waiting for them all to come home and finish their story.

Book Review: Later by Stephen King

If you’re one of the people who have dismissed Stephen King as being “just” a horror writer, it’s time to give his books another go. King’s handle on reality and relationships is what makes the Stantons loyal readers of his work. This summer read introduces us to a young man who can speak to dead people. King immediately reassures us we aren’t reading a recycled trope by allowing the teen narrator to explain that this isn’t “The Sixth Sense.” Both and funny engrossing, Later takes you through several rewarding relationships that include family, friendship, and multi generational connections while maintaining the suspense that we have always counted on from Uncle Stevie.

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