The Trespassers

the trespassers

The Trespassers, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, was a thrift-store impulse buy.

First of all, I can’t just bypass the fact that at some point in human history, two grown adults looked at their precious baby and decided that “Zilpha” was going to be the word that best described her.

Aside from the name of the author, this was a great book. It has a lot of the same suspense as The Turn of the Screw, but with a much better ending. And it’s written on a middle-grade reading level (I think), so it’s a really fast read.

But it’s not just a fast read. It’s got some really good character development, realistic kids and adults (you rarely get both in the same book, I’ve found), and what might be the most realistic and down-to-earth treatment of special needs I’ve ever seen. I say it’s realistic because the narrator’s younger brother is… different. And that’s about the only way he’s ever described. His behavior suggests he might be autistic, but he might also just be a little odd. You don’t ever really know, because the main character doesn’t really know.

Oh, and also, said brother may or may not be able to see ghosts. You never really find out. The story is about a brother and sister exploring a “haunted” house, then meeting the new family who’s moved in. And then the new kid who lives there starts acting really weird, and they have to figure out why.

I would recommend this to anybody who enjoys/enjoyed Goosebumps, but wants something a little more well-constructed. ♦

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

MissPeregrineCover

So, Ransom Riggs apparently wrote this book by stringing a bunch of really weird, old photographs together (the kind you see on Buzzfeed with haunting descriptions), and then making a story line out of them. And actually, I think he did a spectacular job. The plot works well, and the world he’s created is a lot of fun, while still keeping a dark, macabre, Tim Burton quality to it. And the photographs, rather than distracting from the story, keep the mood exactly where he wants it.

The story follows Jacob Portman, whose grandfather has told him stories all his life about the horrifying “monsters” who hunted him during World War II. Jacob was always under the obvious assumption that those monsters were Nazis—but after seeing a tentacle-faced monstrosity in the forest near his grandfather’s slashed-apart body, he starts to rethink that. And after Jacob decides to go to Wales and see his grandfather’s homeland to find closure, he stumbles upon a wormhole that takes him back in time to the school his grandfather grew up in: a school full of “peculiar” children.

And by “peculiar,” I mean, “levitating,” or “invisible,” or “literally chock-full of bees.”

This is a wonderful, imaginative book, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. ♦

The Mermaid Chair

the mermaid chair

I picked up The Mermaid Chair because I really liked The Secret Life of Bees, which was also written by Sue Monk Kidd. And it was still pretty good, but not as good as The Secret Life of Bees. So if you’re only going to read one, go with the bees.

Bees aside, The Mermaid Chair is pretty good. I kind of hated the main story line, which is about a woman with no sense of identity “finding herself” by having an affair with a Franciscan monk. (Yes, you read it right.) And apparently, she does find herself in the process, realizes she’s made a terrible mistake, and the person she really should have been loving the whole time was herself.

But even though I hate watching weak women making stupid mistakes in an effort to grow a spine, I did appreciate that by the end of the book, Jessie (the above-mentioned woman) grows a spine, faces some issues she’s been putting off, learns to love and appreciate her husband again, and—most importantly—gets married to herself. Metaphorically. And also literally. Sort of. At any rate, she realizes that she can’t rely on other people for her identity, finds out who she wants to be, and starts standing on her own two legs.

And while all of this is happening (and while she’s having a clandestine affair with a monk on the banks of a really gross-sounding marsh), she’s also solving the mystery of her father’s death. Which is a surprisingly twisted and poignant story.

If you really get wrapped up in your protagonists, maybe skip this one. But if you’re willing to say, “It’s okay if she’s stupid—at least she’s not me,” then this is a great book. And by the end, she’s not stupid anymore. So that’s nice. ♦

The Mailbox

the-mailbox

I picked up The Mailbox, by Audrey Shafer, at the used bookstore—based entirely on the cover art. It looked interesting, and I had store credit, so it wasn’t really a gamble.

The Mailbox is probably a middle-grade read; about junior high level, or maybe late elementary school. It’s a story about a boy who’s been in the foster system for years, is finally adopted by a loving (albeit grumpy) old uncle, who suddenly falls down dead one day at home. When twelve-year-old Gabe finds his uncle’s body, he is obviously grief-stricken—but he also decides not to tell anyone, because he doesn’t want to go back into foster care.

Then Gabe starts getting mysterious notes in the mailbox, notes addressed specifically to him. Notes that give him clues about his Uncle Vernon’s life. Notes telling him how to care for the big black dog who just showed up in his house. And he decides not to tell anyone about the notes, either.

If I have any complaints about The Mailbox, they’re about the dialog. Every now and then, someone says something out loud, and I just think, “Really? Who would say that?” The conversations are sometimes a little forced or awkwardly worded. Having said that, it’s still a great book.This book explores death, grief, war, PTSD, and does all of in an age-appropriate manner, with a brilliant plot line that keeps you interested. I would highly recommend it. ♦

 

The Moonstone

the moonstone

I picked up The Moonstone around Halloween time, because I remembered loving The Woman in White (also by Wilkie Collins.) It took me forever to get around to reading it, but once I started it, it went pretty fast.

The Moonstone is a fairly classic detective-type story, about the disappearance of a rare diamond. This particular detective story has a bit more mystique to it, though; the diamond has religious significance in India, and a band of followers who will kill to get it back. And, of course, the plot has more red herrings than a British bed and breakfast.

It’s a long book – but if you like a good cozy mystery, it’s a cut above the rest. If you want a little more horror mixed in with your mystery, I recommend The Woman in White, as well. ♦

Nancy Drew: The Mystery at Lilac Inn

The-Mystery-At-Lilac-Inn

I felt like reading a good Halloween book, so I made my way down to Pioneer Book and started perusing for good ghost stories.

The trouble is, I’m picky. Like, super picky. I don’t want gore. Or graphic violence. Or graphic sex. Or graphic language. I’m looking for a good, old-fashioned ghost story. Not a slasher. Just ghosts. Kind of a gothic horror-type. Just a good mystery, and some good haunting, but nothing that’s actually going to make me scared to look in the mirror.

So I eventually gave up and picked up a Nancy Drew book, just for old times’ sake. (Okay, I also picked up a few other books, but I read this one first.)

When I was about 8 years old, I remember going to the school library and checking out the same Nancy Drew book several weeks in a row – it was the one with the creepiest illustration on the front. Also, it was the one I never seemed to finish. I don’t remember whether I was too scared, or whether I was just reading slowly.

Anyways, I was excited to relive the excitement with The Mystery at Lilac Inn. (This one had the best illustration on the front cover. Some things never change.) Within the first chapter, however, I remembered something: this is cheesy.

Like, super cheesy. Like, on a scale from Brie to Sharp Cheddar, this thing is the Cheesasaurus Rex. And then I remembered that “Carolyn Keene” was actually just the pseudonym for about a dozen ghost-writers, so they couldn’t have much personal voice in their writing, or people would catch on that the series was being mass-produced.

And, you know, it still took me down Memory Lane. I had a blast, remembering how much I loved these books when I was a little girl. But I’m not exactly planning on buying the whole series anytime soon.

I would not recommend this book (or its series) to any adult who’s never read them. I would recommend them, however, to someone who wants to reread some old favorites.

I would also recommend this to just about any girl under 10, or any boy under 10 who’s willing to put up with the descriptions of the girls’ pretty dresses. There’s still an action-mystery element that would be attractive to anyone looking for a tame mystery. No death, murder, adultery, etc. – just catching the bad guys, one clue at a time. So if you’re not quite old enough to handle Agatha Christie, this is for you. ♦

The A.B.C. Murders

The A.B.C. Murders

Agatha Christie is a classic. She is one of the best-known mystery authors out there, and even though few have read all (or anywhere near all) of her works, most readers have dabbled in a Christie novel or two.

The A.B.C. Murders is a mystery novel featuring Hercule Poirot (her popular mustachioed Belgian sleuth) as he takes on a disturbing serial killer who seems intent on working his or her way through the alphabet, with seemingly no other connection between victims. The book is well-connected, although predictable enough. Christie has a knack for leaving a few red herrings, following them up until the very end, and then throwing you for a loop right in the last few pages. If it’s your first Agatha Christie, you’ll be surprised. If not, you’ll just be predicting which “clues” are completely irrelevant.

It’s not fine literature, by any means. But it’s a great, cozy read. If you’re looking for an entertaining escape read, any Agatha Christie is great, and The A.B.C. Murders is no exception. ♦