Thursday, October 9, 2008

Book Reviews: Middle Grade Marathon Part 1: Halloween Reads

I decided to set this week aside for a mini middle grade marathon, and the first books I read could all be great Halloween reading selections – perfect since that hallowed date is only 3 weeks away!

The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French
Candlewick Press Hardcover 200 pages

Lady Lamorna orders a new dress made out of black velvet with layers of blood red petticoats and rows and rows of little skulls sewn along the hem. But then she discovers she has no gold left, and non-payment will anger the ancient crones, so she has no choice but to go into the world and WORK. But what can a washed-up, reclusive old witch do? Cast nasty spells of course! And thus begins this playful romp through the fairytale world of the five kingdoms.

If you are familiar with fairytales and fantasy, there’s nothing here that will terribly surprise you, but it’s a perfect addition to the “humor-tinged gothic” category that’s emerged since Lemony Snicket. (Also see my reviews of PJ Bracegirdle’s Joy of Spooking Fiendish Deeds and Lois Lowry’s The Willoughbys). I had so much fun reading this and hanging out with the characters (my favorite was Marlon the bat), and was very satisfied with the way the story wrapped up. A definite keeper!

Storm: The Ghost Machine by E.L. Young
Dial Press Hardcover 320 pages

In this second action spy thriller novel of the Storm series, genius teens Will, Andrew and Gaia head to Venice to investigate a ghost cult and its’ criminal leader” Il Fantastma” in a purportedly haunted island castle. When their contact, the beautiful computer genius Cristina goes missing and they stumble onto a plot to blow up an important meeting of world leaders, it is going to take all their brains and cutting edge gadgets to prevent the world from plunging into chaos.

There seem to be quite a few series out now with genius kids saving the world (see my reviews for Shannon Greenland’s Specialist books one, two, three, and four) but I can totally see the appeal. Since I haven’t read the first book in this series, Storm: The Infinity Code, I didn’t have the benefit of complete character introductions, and only know bits and pieces of these three British teens’ backgrounds and motivations. Andrew’s a computer genius and rich kid, Will likes to build gadgets, has recently lost his father and owns a tricked out rat, and Gaia is all about chemistry and explosives and has an alcoholic father. But the setting and plot are spectacular and I loved learning the science behind “ghosts” and other experimental technology. Find out more about this fun series at Thanks to JL for the book!

Creepers by Joanne Dahme
Running Press Kids Hardcover 232 pages

13 year old Courtney and her family have just moved to an old house covered in ivy next to a graveyard. Courtney quickly becomes friends with Margaret, a girl her age and the daughter of a historian who gives tours of the graveyard. Margaret and her father seem obsessed with the story of as ancestor of theirs, Prudence, who died at 13, and her father, Christian who didn’t want to go on living without her. As Courtney gets to know them better, things start to get really creepy.

Preteens looking for a good ghost story might like to pick up this atmospheric novel that gives you chills but isn’t scary enough to give you nightmares (unless you have an acute phobia of creeping Ivy that is). The mystery surrounding Courtney’s new friends and their ancestors keeps you turning the pages though the resolution is rather vague and not wholly satisfying. Still, a good choice for those who like a spooky ghost story in the vein of “The Others” (movie with Nicole Kidman).
All three of these books are out now. Stay tuned for more reviews from my middle grade marathon (still going on).


Alea said...

The Robe of Skulls definitely sounds fun! And I agree with you about the ending of Creepers.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Alea - Yeah, I think I recall you saying pretty much the same thing in your review you posted a while back!

Kristen M. said...

I will definitely look at The Robe of Skulls (great cover artwork!) and Creepers. I am a big chicken though. There was a book called The Dollhouse Murders when I was a kid and it scared the bejeezus out of me and turned me off to horror books for years and years! I'm not much better now as an adult -- spooky kid books are at about my level of tolerance.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Hi Kristen - I read Stephen King's IT when I was 12. NOT a good idea!

Alea said...

Lenore! Did you see some of the books in the new Early Reviewer batch! This looks like a good one :D

Lenore Appelhans said...

Alea - not yet! Must go look. Robe of Skulls was an ER book (which I didn't get) and the only review of it on there is mine - can you believe it?!

Alea said...

Oh yeah I remember that! I can't believe that yours is only review, naughty naught reviewers!

I finally got and just read my MIA book from May so I should be all caught up once I write my review.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Oh I'm so excited that Evermore by Alison Noel is on there (wasn't that on your blog in one of the lookalikes?) and Cracked up to Be by Courtney Summers. You request those too?

Alea said...

Yes those are the two I was thinking of! I'm going to wait until I get home so I can read everything at the same time and make sure i don't miss anything! ;D Yeah Evermore was one of the lookalikes! I posted a new one last night that's kind of creepy!

Lenore Appelhans said...

How did I miss that?!

The new Shaun Tan looks good too. I loved The Arrival.

Alea said...

Yeah that does look cute!

Traci said...

The Storm books look good. I'll have to look for those.

Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie said...

Robe Of Skulls and Creepers look like great Halloween reads. I'll have to check if my library has these.