Posts Tagged ‘The Seer of Shadows’


Just over a week to go until All Hallow’s Read. If you are not familiar with this new bookish Halloween tradition, watch Neil Gaiman explain it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tYtLeWN5NQ

As a huge fan of spooky stories, I would like to make a few recommendations for young readers and not-so-young readers. I’ll start with my list of books for children and young adults. I’ve always preferred psychological horror to gore, and my selections should reflect that. Here are my top spooky reads for kids (and you should still have plenty of time to go buy one of these at your local indie bookshop):

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman: Gaiman is a master storyteller. I read this book as an adult, and it still spooked me. It also made my best of the year list. It has everything a scary story lover could want: murderers, ghosts, graveyards…

The Seer of Shadows – Avi: Again, a title I read as an adult while working in a public library. The story is fascinating, with a marvellously rendered historical setting and the added element of wonder in the subject of early photography (specifically “spirit photography”). The writing is top-notch and the ghost story is terrifying. Two thumbs up!

Wait Till Helen Comes – Mary Downing Hahn: I read this book when I was 11 and it scared the bejeesus out of me. Seriously. I’ve had it on my shelf since then, and every once in a while I think, “I should read that again.” Then I remember how terrified I was (in a good way), and I chicken out. Maybe it’s time. Apparently, there is a movie coming out: http://variety.com/2014/film/news/maria-bello-nelisse-sisters-starring-in-wait-till-helen-comes-1201304228/

Julie – Cora Taylor: Another classic from my Scholastic book order days, this is a story about a girl with the second sight, and while it isn’t a ghost story, I remember being incredibly tense because it was so thrilling and dealt with the unknown/paranormal. I loved this one so much as a kid, that I faked the author’s autograph (which turned out to be rather embarrassing when she actually signed the book 25 years later, and actually saw my grade four attempt at forgery).

And no list of recommendations for kids who dig scary stories would be complete without recommending…

Scary Stories to Read in the Dark – Alvin Schwartz: I remember reading these stories to my brother and uncle on long road trips while we sat in the back of the Suburban. The stories are classics drawn from folklore and urban legend, but it was really the illustrations that were the most terrifying. I still have a box set of these on my shelves.

So, there you have it. Five suggestions for books to track down before October 31st, so that you can give the spooky little ones in your life their first All Hallow’s Read!

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I know, I know! It’s too early to talk about the holiday season. But the decorative lights are going up, and here in the Canadian hinterland there’s already plenty of snow on the ground. Actually, the primary reason I want to get this post out so early, is so that you have a chance to seek these books out at your local independent bookshop, and if they don’t have them in stock, you’ll still have plenty of time to order them in before the orgy of greed begins.

I’m going to stick to books I’ve read in the last 12 months, so some of these titles will be brand new, and some will be older books I’m just getting around to reading. I’m going to start with Young Adult fiction because it is the smallest and most manageable list. Disclaimer: I don’t read a lot of children’s books or young adult fiction, so I can’t give much insight into age appropriateness or reading levels. Ask your independent bookseller for help on that score. These books are reviewed from an adult reader’s point of view.

Markus Zusak – The Book Thief (Knopf Books for Young Readers): Okay, I know I’m late to the party on this one, but as I said, I don’t read a lot of YA, so the ones folks recommend to me will often sit on the shelf for months or years before they are picked up on a whim. I read this while traveling in Romania, and was so affected by it that as I finished it on the plane to my next destination, I was silently, unapologetically weeping. The story is narrated by Death and follows Liesel Meminger, a foster child living outside Munich, through the Second World War. As should be evident from the title, a key theme is the importance of books and stories as nourishment for our souls. All of the characters have tremendous depth, and the story is very moving.

Avi – The Seer of Shadows (HarperCollins Canada): In spite of the fact that Avi writes books marketed for children, his language is more sophisticated than that of most contemporary adult fiction writers. This was my first exposure to Avi, and I was originally drawn to the book by the fascinating subject matter, early photography and the spirit photography hoaxes of the late 19th Century. Horace, a rational young man apprenticing to a society photographer, and Pegg, an African American servant girl in the wealthy Von Macht household, join forces when the spirit of the Von Macht’s dead daughter Eleanora begins appearing in photographs intent on exacting vengeance upon those who abused her. The story is vivid and full of wonderful imagery and detail about the magic of photography. Avi writes vividly about a fascinating historical period full of sweeping technological and social change, and tells a rather frightening ghost story as well.

John Green – The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton Juvenile): This novel will make you laugh and break your heart, often at the same time. In a wonderful narrative voice, Green tells the story of Hazel, a 16-year-old girl battling terminal cancer, trying to live some semblance of a life, and crushing on a boy. The story is honest, funny, and wrenching. The reactions of Hazel, her family, and her friends to the limitations and frustrations of illness (especially terminal illness) ring true and take the novel far beyond the realm of schlocky, sentimental teen cancer stories into the realm of insight and empathy. Given the subject matter, you can expect this story to be a weeper, but oftentimes the weeping is accompanied with laughter at the cleverness, making this a perfect and cathartic good read.

Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls (Candlewick): Having lost my father to cancer when I was 14 years old, I found this story particularly wrenching. Also, you must buy this in print (not digital) because Jim Kay’s illustrations are stunning and evocative. Conor O’Malley’s mother is dying of cancer, and after her treatments begin the nightmares start. An ancient yew tree monster visits Conor every night at the same time. Ness approaches the subject matter with tremendous clarity, especially those things one feels they should never think, or thinks they should never feel, in such situations. The story is complex and moving.

Victor Lavalle – Lucretia and the Kroons (Random House Digital): This was one of the first titles I read entirely in digital format (and that is currently the only format it is available in). I found this story readable and compelling. The young protagonists deal the monstrous in everyday life (terminal illness, urban decay, seeking a sense of belonging, etc). Lucretia is a brave and determined urban heroine who risks a horrifying urban netherworld of mutilated crack-heads in an attempt to save her terminally ill best friend. The nightmare world that LaValle creates can be read as a sort of urban spiritual limbo, which will certainly resonate with a metropolitan audience.  I did find the writing to be a bit lacking stylistically, especially compared to the richness of the writing in the previous four titles on this list, but this is definitely an interesting read, especially for those who enjoy urban dystopian fantasy.

The next batch of capsule reviews will focus on my favorite adult reads of the year. The biggest problem with that project will be whittling the list down to something manageable!

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