Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good Reads, Good Scares

There are two books I read as a kid that remember being really scared by. Both were library books and I doubt if either is still in print by now. The first was called Alfred Hitchock's Spooky Stories or possibly Alfred Hitchcock's Tails of Terror. It was an old book when I read it, with a sort of 1960s looking cover with the director's famous outline ( although I had no idea at the time who he was).
It was, as advertised, filled with scary stories. But one, called 'Davy Jones' Locker' stands out in my memory. In it, a sailor dies and is buried at sea, but another sailor can't stop thinking about him and something wet and dripping comes in through a porthole one dark night.. you get the idea. I was probably about 8 when I read it and I remember shivering under my covers, unable to stop thinking about it, listening for squelching footsteps dragging damply down the hall outside my room.

The other book was also from the library and even holder- a small, musty volume, bound in worn green fabric entitled Ghost Stories of the Scottish Highlands. It was filled with gruesome tales of warring clans, beheadings, bloody castles and the ubiquitous story of the bride who played hide and seek on her wedding day and disappears, her skeletal remains found locked in a trunk decades later.

But the story that danced through my brain for many nights afterwards (I can, in fact, still summon up the mental image clearly to this day) was of woman who was cut in half in a battle between Highland clans. Years later when the castle is made over into a hotel, a tourist recounts a sleepless night watching first the bottom half of the lady's skirts running in terror through his room, her waist ended in a bloody stump, and then her torso, which floated outside on top of the castle walls, dripping blood until the terrified woman's upper half is flung from the battlements by invisible assailants.

Even after all these years, the fear I felt when I read those stories is still with me. I can recall it perfectly, as I can recall reading The Shining by Stephen King for the first time, or Ghost Story by Peter Struab.

There is a lot of good fiction being written for kids these days that ranges from actively gruesome and horrific to really funny.Vampires and werewolves are par for the course these days, but there are a lot of other traditional 'horror' themes to explore. In honor of Halloween and all the kids who like scary stuff, here are some really good books!

For kids 8-10, the Scream Street series by Tommy Donbavand follows a reluctant kid werewolf and his new friends, a wannabe vampire and a tomboy mummy when he and his family are relocated by the government to a neighborhood populated by ghosts, zombies and other supernatural folks. These adventures are more funny than scary and give a humorous twist to the practical realities of living life as a monster.

Another terrific series dealing with spooky stuff for the same age group is Something Wickedly Weird, written and illustrated by the very talented (and appropriately named) Chris Mould. His line drawings and sketches make the lively story of the mysterious little village of Crampton Rock and Stanley Buggles, the boy determined to figure out all of its secrets even more entertaining.

Also for the 8 to 10 crowd, and a personal favorite in our house, The Secrets of Dripping Fang by Dan Greenburg follow the adventures of the Shufflemuffin Twins as they escape the poorly-named Jolly Days Orphanage for life in Dirpping Fang Forest, populated by zombies, giant slugs and overly-affectionate aunts. The entire series keeps you in stitches and these books are just the right size for reluctant readers to enjoy too.

Since Halloween can also include aliens from outer space, I just have to include a book that came out a couple of years ago from Hyperion's Disney imprint. Normally I am not a huge Disney fan, but this Hyperion imprint has put out consistently high quality books, such as Peter and the Starcatchers by humor writer Dave Barry .

The book I want to recommend is The True Meaning of Smekday by writer and illustrator Adam Rex. The Earth is invaded by the Boov, a short, stocky race with poor language skills but advanced technology. Deciding that they need most of the United States for themselves, the Boov relocate the humans first to Florida and then later to New Mexico. Gratuity Tucci and her cat Pig are on a quest to find her mother when they meet a Boov on the run who calls himself JLo.
A flying car made from a slushy machine, a trip to the Happy Mouse Kingdom complete with its own group of vigilante Lost Boys and all sorts of terrific comic illustrations made this book truly laugh-out-loud funny. Things go from bad to worse when the taller, stronger and definitely more disgusting Gorg come along and decide they want to take the planet from the Boov. But maybe Gratuity and JLo can save the planet, with a little help from Pig. Lots of action, wacky characters and a sort of cosmic civics lesson make this book a great read for ages 9 and up.

We've had Adam Rex at the store before. His wife Amy Timberlake wrote a wonderfully funny picture book based on an old Texas folktale called The Dirty Cowboy and Adam illustrated it. He hasillustrated and written other picture books of his own, most notably Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes The Cake, both a great way to introduce very young kids to monsters in a really funny way. Sometimes when you meet an author, he is so personable and so talented that you really want his career to go far. Adam and Amy both fit this description, so please check their books out!

A recent movie adaption has come out of The Vampire's Appretice, the first book in Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak series which came out a few years ago. Although the movie had some good performances and was fun to look at, the books are a great deal more detailed and Shan invents his own spin on the vampire mythos and follows it up with entertaining details and well-drawn characters. If your kids saw the movie, get them the book! They will like it even better.

For kids ages 10 and up, The Last Appretice series by Joseph Delaney kicks off with Revenge of the Witch. This book sends shivers up the spine and although it begs you to keep reading late into the night, you won't want to turn off the light for fear of the shadows. Old Gregory, the Spook of the county rides the countryside, ridding the villages of evil pests; boggarts, ghosts, the Unquiet Dead, and even the occasional witch. Now that 29 apprentices have fled or failed to live through the experience, it's up to Thomas Ward to take over. This series has an old-fashioned Legend of Sleepy Hollow sort of flavor that many modern novels lack and each book is very creepy as well as being a real page turner. The woodcut-style line drawings by Patrick Arrasmith only add to the atmosphere of quiet horror and make for a satisfyingly scary evening of reading.

One of the best and most interesting horror novels for older kids and young adults that I hve come across in a long time is Monstrumologist by Rick Yancy.

Written in a highly literate neo-Victorian style, it tells the tale of orphaned Will Henry, who is appretice to a monster-hunting doctor in an alternate historical world that calls up Dickens and Sherlock Holmes with a dash of Frankenstein and echoes of Jekyll and Hyde. As Will and his master go in search of the Anthropophagus, a supposedly extinct monster that feeds through a mouth of razor-sharp teeth in its belly, the book takes on a Lovecraftian twist and starts a series of taunt Gothic horror that is sure to challenge older readers while holding all their attention.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is a book that sneaks up on you. You're not sure quite when it takes place at first, or where. You don't know just why Mary must keep to her village, trusting only in the rules of the mysterious and omnipresent Sisterhood, or why the Unconsecrated lurk in the Forest beyond the Wall. But as this book draws you in, you will be unable to put it down until you've followed Mary to the answer to all of these mysteries. This is a well-crafted story filled with wonder and romance and dark horror that will appeal to older readers and stay with them between waking and sleep. I think this book will especially appeal to teenage girls, and anyone looking for something to read without vampires can try it.

Steampunk author Chris Wooding knows his way around many genres: horror, manga, fantasy, young adult and adult fiction. His 2001 book The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, a steampunk-horror novel set in an alternative Victorian London overrun by undead wych-kin effectively combined a quick thinking hero and plucky heroine, a government conspiracy, and spine-tingling action with creepy-crawly horror and made it one of my favorite books of the year.

His new novel, Malice is a combination of graphic novel and prose that follows a group of friends into a sinister comic book. If you read the book and do the spell, Tall Jake will come and steal you away into the violent and terrifying world of Malice- where your misadventures and gruesome death will be printed in the next issue while you languish there forever! Appealing and believable characters, clever dialog and a well-balanced combination of text and art make Malice a great read for fans of comics, horror or adventure stories.

The blustery days of autumn are finally upon us! Soon enough it will be the holiday shopping season and I'll have a whole slew of new recommendations for that as well. But in the meantime, between the end of summer and the turkey, curl up under the covers, stay up late, and read a scary book! Just be sure to leave a nightlight on for when you've finished.

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