The Last Curtain Call by Juliet Blackwell


cover179924-mediumA new ghoulish mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of A Ghostly Light featuring Mel Turner, a ghost-whispering contractor.

Mel Turner can’t resist the chance to bring the Crockett Theatre, a decrepit San Francisco Art Deco movie palace, back to life. But there’s a catch for Turner Construction: Several artists are currently squatting in the building, and they aren’t the only ones haunting the once-grand halls of the historic theater.

When Mel discovers that the former owner of the Crockett Theatre died under mysterious circumstances, and that there just might be a connection to the ghost haunting her own attic, the case takes a new turn—one that could bring down the curtain for the last time. – From the Publisher –

Juliet Blackwell’s books have been my frequent go-to recommendations for people looking for a light-hearted but not overly twee cozy mystery. This was my first reading of Blackwell’s Mel Turner series and it definitely won’t be the last. I especially enjoy the fact that Blackwell creates a cross-over with Lily Ivory and the same San Francisco she writes about in that series.

The vibe is similar, and Mel and the Turner Construction clan just as appealing and fun as Lily’s crew. The supernatural element is here, too, with Mel having the ability to communicate with ghosts. Here, the ghost of a woman who died violently in the 1920s prompts Mel to uncover the truth about the woman’s death while simultaneously renovating a grand old theatre also filled with ghosts, both old and new.

Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Healer’s Legacy by M. MacKinnon


cover188537-mediumColleen Fitzgerald has finally found the perfect man. But when fate steals her happiness yet again, she finds herself searching for redemption in the Scottish Highlands. A haunted castle will pit her nursing skills against a vengeful ghost and a modern killer, but also offer a chance at true love – if she is strong enough to trust her heart one more time.

Gothic romance novels played a big part in my development as a reader, so this one appealed to me as a light, uncomplicated read since it combines some of my favorite things – ghosts, a mystery, a romance, and Scotland.

I found a very pleasant, well-told story with some memorable characters. This is the 1970s gothic updated for 2020, with modern settings and language, but a very familiar plot. Our heroine gets burned by a rotten, cheating scoundrel and retreats to a remote castle/country house in another country to lick her wounds. Once there, she stumbles into some sort of historical mystery involving the supernatural and a surly man who eventually becomes her love interest.

While nothing new plot-wise, MacKinnon delivers a fun and engaging story that will appeal to romantic mystery fans.

Publication Date: April 1, 2020
Published By: DartFrog Plus
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Chill by Scott Carson


cover175799-mediumIn this terrifying thriller, a supernatural force—set in motion a century ago—threatens to devastate New York City.

Far upstate, in New York’s ancient forests, a drowned village lays beneath the dark, still waters of the Chilewaukee reservoir. Early in the 20th century, the town was destroyed for the greater good: bringing water to the millions living downstate. Or at least that’s what the politicians from Manhattan insisted at the time. The local families, settled there since America’s founding, were forced from their land, but they didn’t move far, and some didn’t move at all…

Now, a century later, the repercussions of human arrogance are finally making themselves known. An inspector assigned to oversee the dam, dangerously neglected for decades, witnesses something inexplicable. It turns out that more than the village was left behind in the waters of the Chill when it was abandoned. The townspeople didn’t evacuate without a fight. A dark prophecy remained, too, and the time has come for it to be fulfilled. Those who remember must ask themselves: who will be next? For sacrifices must be made. And as the dark waters begin to inexorably rise, the demand for a fresh sacrifice emerges from the deep…

As a New Yorker fascinated with local lore, I remember reading about the flooding of several towns and villages in the early part of the 20th century to create Great Sacandaga Lake in an effort to control flooding downstream. This has to be the basis for the fabulously inventive story told in The Chill.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a really good, bone-chilling, hair-raising, scary ghost story, so I reveled in this creepy story. The strong female protagonist, Gillian, is much appreciated and written realistically. The ghosts and what they do will make you shiver for sure. I’d love to see this as film. Well done.

“Wow! This is one terrific horror/suspense/disaster novel. Characters you root for and a story that grips from the first page.” —Stephen King, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Institute

Horror has a new name and it’s Scott Carson. The Chill is an eerie dive into the murky depths of the supernatural. A story that has you looking back over your shoulder on every page.” —Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Night Fire

Publication Date: February 11, 2020
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James


74F245B5-0819-4571-947E-528E80119335Something hasn’t been right at the roadside Sun Down Motel for a very long time, and Carly Kirk is about to find out why in this chilling new novel from the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.

Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her Aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.

The Sun Down Motel is yet another chilling ghost story from Simone St. James, who seems to surpass the level of shivers with each book. St. James’ style is an appealing blend of mystery and horror that straddles that gap between young adult and adult fiction. She consistently delivers some of the creepiest ghosts out there, and the vengeful ghost at The Sun Down is no exception.

The narrative bounces between present day with Carly and 1982 with Viv. Carly’s arrival in the small upstate NY town uncovers old secrets and stirs up some vengeful ghosts at the Sun Down Motel. This book will keep you hooked from the first chapter to the last.

Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Katie Racculia


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From the publisher:
A handsome stranger. A dead billionaire. A citywide treasure hunt. Tuesday Mooney’s life is about to change…forevermore. Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.

Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can’t be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.

If you like madcap mysteries featuring a cooler-than-cool heroine and her dapper sidekick, this book might be for you. Tuesday Mooney is the kind of character I so want to see transferred to the screen. She’s hip without trying to be hip, and super smart, plus she can see ghosts – all of which makes her a dangerous person to cross.

The story here is so intriguing – weird rich guy dies and leaves his fortune in a treasure hunt. Imagine all the trivia night commanders who would totally respond to this kind of challenge in your town, then amplify that into the urban environs of present day Boston and you’re in for a wild ride.

While the story is clever and well-told, it is Tuesday and her friends who make this story special. Fun, fun, fun!

Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden


cover165699-mediumFrom the Publisher: Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the Smiling Man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

Horror for kids is not an easy genre, but with this second book featuring Ollie, Coco, and Brian, Katherine Arden cements her place as the Queen of Shivers for middle grade readers. Picking up a couple months after the events of Small Spaces, we find our plucky trio trapped in a remote ski lodge by a doozy of a snowstorm. As the action progresses, the three find their courage and friendship tested again by the Smiling Man and a gaggle of ghosts.

Arden is adept at creating an atmosphere that will leave you shivering and glancing over your shoulder at every little sound. She makes this old ski lodge seem like the creepiest, scariest place ever, and that’s before she opens another dimension. The horror is countered by the solid friendship enjoyed by Coco, Ollie and Brian, and by the growing affection between Coco’s mother and Ollie’s father.

Arden also focuses the action on the kids using their brains to think their way out of the scary situations. Coco and Ollie especially rely on deductive reasoning to ultimately defeat the Smiling Man.

With this second entry in the series, Katherine Arden takes her place on my scary story bookshelves with Mary Downing Hahn, R.L. Stine, and Patricia Clapp. Recommended.

Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Published By: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Ghost: 13 Haunting Tales to Tell by Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin


9781452171289A finger against the inside of a mirror. A wood where the trees look back. A basement door blocked by a brick wall so thick, it stifles the screams from below. This original collection of chilling poems and tales contains the only true ghost stories in existence (as the book itself will tell you). Accompanied by striking illustrations and building to a truly spine-tingling conclusion, this haunting book will consume the imagination and keep readers of every age up long past their bedtimes.

This collection of ghost stories will most certainly send chills up and down your spine. I had to read it in chunks because it gave me the creeps. The stories cover typical ghost story situations, but the format itself is very clever, with an unexpected 13th story. While most of the stories will frighten you, I was especially repulsed by The Widow in Black, and am actually shivering while writing this and remembering the story!

The format of the book is fabulous. A tactile cover features dimensional footprints leading up to a slippery ghost-like figure. Opening the book, you are treated to very 1960s-ish, dark, blotchy, and suggestive illustrations enhancing the text. The introduction features two boys sneaking out of their camp (of course) to trek across a marsh (what else) to hear ghost stories from Old Man Blackwood (who else). The stories he tells vary from narrative to verse and all are shivery masterpieces.

A little research uncovered the origins of this book in a kickstarter campaign by Illustratus, a design studio owned by Jeff and Kit Turley. The illustrations were done by Chris Sasaki, who designs for Pixar Studios and has worked on Monsters University and Inside Out. The original stories and poems were written by Jesse Reffsin and Blaise Hemingway. No matter how this book ended up published, it is just plain beautiful. Creepy, but beautiful. Get your hands on a copy, lower the lights, and prepare to be spooked!

Publication Date: August 2019
Published By: Chronicle Books

 

The Little Grey Girl by Celine Kiernan


cover159644-mediumFrom the Publisher: In the second book of the Wild Magic trilogy, courageous young Mup and her family are trying to heal and restore the kingdom when they uncover an ancient and powerful anger. The old queen and her raggedy witches have fled Witches Borough, and Mup’s family has moved into the cold, newly empty castle. But the queen’s legacy lingers in the fear and mistrust of her former subjects and in the memories that live in the castle’s very walls. When an enchanted snow blankets the castle, Mup’s family is cut off from the rest of the kingdom, and the painful memories of the old queen’s victims begin to take form, thanks to a ghost whose power may be too much for even Mup and Mam to handle. Celine Kiernan weaves a timely and essential truth into the second book of her trilogy: that dismantling oppression means honoring the pains of the past, and perhaps the most potent magic of all is encouraging joy and hope wherever possible.

Kiernan introduced Mup, Mam, Dad, Crow, and Tipper in Begone the Raggedy Witches (Book One of the Wild Magic Trilogy) last year, and now follows that wonderful debut with a continuation of the same story. After having defeated the Raggedy Witches and dethroned the wicked Queen, Mam moves her family into the other world and takes up residence in the old Queen’s castle. Once there, Mam struggles with the need for a Queen expressed by the people, since she wants to do everything different from how her mother, the old Queen, ruled. There’s no question that Mam has the power, but does she have the will to rule?

At the same time, Mup is struggling to understand her place in this new world, and come to terms with her own power, which sparks from her fingertips. Mup can sense that something isn’t right, and Kiernan does an excellent job of communicating not only Mup’s feeling of being out of place but her powerful sense of something bigger being wrong.

The juxtaposition between Mup’s happy family and the residual sadness, anger, and fear left in the old Queen’s castle is made more powerful by the cursed moon and snow the old Queen sends to disrupt the land. Throw in an unhappy ghost, a confused Raggedy Witch, and a friend who feels betrayed and you have a story that will keep you reading well into the night.

Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Published By: Candlewick Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Griffins of Castle Cary


GriffinsThe Griffins of Castle Cary by Heather Shumaker

Middle grade readers will delight in the spooky adventures of the Griffin family as they navigate their way around Castle Cary in Somerset England. Siblings Meg, Wil, and Ariel are delighted to discover there are ghosts (!) around when they stay with their Aunt in her authentically thatched and ancient cottage while their parents are off doing their geology thing.

What starts off as a pleasant, low-key paranormal mystery quickly gains an edge when the resident ghosts take a very strong interest in Ariel. While Meg worries she’s too old to see ghosts and Wil discovers that he hiccups whenever a ghost is near, Ariel finds herself in real danger of possession. Find out how the siblings work together to save Ariel and put the ghosts to rest.

While there is a certain breeziness to the writing, fans of hardcore ghost stories will not be disappointed and will definitely feel the shivers as they read through this story. Recommended!

Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Published By: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

January Micro-Reviews

1

devouringThe Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman – This creepy, eerie, and imaginative story grabbed me by the back of the neck and held on from first to last page. The plot is a refreshing take on the “monster in the woods” trope and features some sassy, kick-ass characters. The premise of four founding families (shades of Hogwarts, anyone?) isn’t new, but the relationship of the families to the monster and to the town they protect is pretty darn original. The author does a good job of making teens sound like teens, although the adults are portrayed as bullies or dopes. The plot flowed easily and kept my attention. It looks like this will be the beginning of a series, which makes me happy. It would also make a helluva TV series in the vein of Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Recommended.

Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Published By: Disney-Hyperion
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

prosperThe Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken – How did I miss this book when it first came out? It has everything I love about middle grade fantasy – hip and likable characters, clever humor, a multi-faceted villain, a surprise twist at the end, and a superb story. Here, the likable characters are Prosper and Nell and the villain (one of them!) is Alastor, a fiend who has waited hundreds of years for revenge on the family that bound him. The competing themes of revenge & betrayal and friendship & love can lead to some interesting discussions about relationships. The nods to some of my favorite classic stories (The Crucible and Doctor Faustus) only made this more enjoyable. Bracken successfully delivers what appears to be a prologue to some serious world-building, as she prepares to publish the sequel to this in February. The twist at the end was one of the best I can remember and set up the sequel beautifully.

lastThe Last by Hanna Jameson – This title has been sitting in my To Be Read queue for months and I finally opened it last night out of guilt. Holy smokes! I read it in one sitting, resulting in a foggy day spent at work today! I am not, as a rule, a fan of dystopian fiction which is probably why it took me so long to open this one. However, when dystopian fiction is blended with a tautly plotted, inventive mystery it becomes a book I cannot put down. The author has done everything right here – good dialog, evocative description, memorable characters, and an unusual plot. I’ll be recommending this a lot in the coming months.
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

arloArlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon by John August – I am late to the Arlo Finch party, having missed the first in the series. However, this second-in-the-series stands pretty sturdily on its own. August explains enough about the Long Woods and the Rangers so a reader new to the series can follow along, although the characters are cool enough that I will definitely go back and read the first in the series. Here, Arlo and his fellow Rangers Wu and Indra, along with other Rangers, find themselves facing some really weird experiences as they head into their two weeks of camp. There are the usual suspects – the trio of friends who overcome great evil, the obligatory bully, the hip adults, and the scary monsters – all stirred up into a stew of steady action and hair-raising adventures. Kids who enjoy imaginative adventures will thoroughly enjoy Arlo Finch, in all his books. Recommended for middle grade readers.

Publication Date: February 5, 2019
Published By: Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy