Three haunting books

Even though the sun has come out, it is sufficiently blustery outside to make reading inside for the Halloween Reading Challenge (which I joined at the last minute) a rather nice thing to do. Here are the three middle grade fantasy/horror books that I've read today:

The Joy of Spooking, Book 1: Fiendish Deeds, by P.J. Bracegirdle (2008, 215 pages) Despite incessant taunting from the residents of ultra-bright Darlington down below, Joy loves the all but abandoned hamlet of Spooking, where she lives in an old house full of remnants of the past, with a pleasingly gloomy swamp and a large cemetery adding ambiance. When a water amusement park threatens the swamp, Joy is determined to save it....after all, it is almost certainly the home of the hideous Bog Fiend, made (moderately) famous in the fiction of her favorite author, horror writer E.A. Peugeot. But supernatural horrors pale in comparison to the determination of the mayor's nefarious assistant to get the bulldozers going...

Dark gothic fun for the young reader, although there is some strong stuff here, including a grisly chainsaw murder (the details aren't given, but the imagination has more than enough to go on). I'd advise caution here, because it's rather icky. And there are lots of leaches. On the other hand, Joy, with her spunky intelligence, Peugeot obsession, and penchant for dressing in the abandoned clothes of yesteryear (they came with the house) is a most engaging heroine. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Forbidden Sea, by Sheila A. Nielson (2010, 296 pages). Adrienne has heard the story all her life--of how, years before, a mermaid had laid waste to the island, before taking a beautiful girl away, under the water, forever. Now the mermaid has returned, and is haunting Adrienne....the cuts of her fingernails swollen welts on Adrienne's arm, her voice in Adrienne's ears, sleeping and waking. Adrienne's life is already hard--poverty-stricken after her father's death, her family is struggling to survive, and she is convinced she faces a life of bitterness and drudgery. But then the mermaid offers her a chance of a life beyond her wildest dreams--if she forsakes the land, and all those whom she loves, for the sea.

I wasn't sure about this one at first--the characters and the action seemed to me to lack subtly, and the writing felt stiff. Adrienne, who narrates this story, is, with reason, not a happy person to spend time with, and I found the cast of characters to be rather unsympathetic in general (many of them needed a good shaking). But by the middle of the book, I had become, all unwitting, absorbed in the story, and the last hundred pages flew by as the unpleasantness of Adrienne's life turned into a fantasy wish-fulfillment story with a satisfying ending. This one falls on the upper end of mg--it might be just the thing for the eleven or so year old girl who isn't ready for fantasy that's heavy on the romance, but wants something moving in that direction.

Zombiekins, by Kevin Bolger (2010, 206 pages, but not nearly as many words as that suggests). The witty account of a stuffed animal who is Evil. Who is, in fact, a Zombie! Who is turning all the school children into zombies! Who must be stopped!

Copious illustrations of charm (well, in an un-dead kind of way) and humor, and a pleasingly dry tone make this more than just a silly story. A good one for the Wimpy Kid reader who detests cute stuffed animals that giggle annoyingly. A bad one for the kid who might have nightmares about being suffocated by their own stuffed animals. It is easy to tell these two groups apart, by showing them the cover. Some, like my seven year old, will be repulsed and frightened and ask that it be placed face down once at home. Others, like the random boy of around that age who happened to be at the circulation desk of the library at the same time as us, will be intrigued.

This morning's reading is a nice example of why I am so fond of mg/younger YA fantasy and science fiction--there is so much variety within the genre that it does not grow stale!

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