Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller


IMG_0301Elizabeth and Zenobia are inseparable. Light and dark. Timid and brave. Yin and yang. So when Elizabeth’s father decides to move the family to Witheringe House after Elizabeth’s mother runs off with an opera singer, of course Zenobia comes along. The key, though, is that no one but Elizabeth can see Zenobia. Her father *knows* about Zenobia but dismisses her as an “imaginary friend,” even as he plays along with his daughter’s insistence that Zenobia is real.

When they arrive at Witheringe House, Elizabeth finds a dreary, dusty, isolated old house. Zenobia is thrilled at the decrepitude of the house because it fits perfectly with her current fascination, which is making contact with a “Spirit Presence.” Eventually, they uncover a mystery involving Elizabeth’s Aunt Tourmaline, her father’s sister who mysteriously disappeared at age seven. As the girls work through a number of clues, they discover what happened to Tourmaline, and ultimately rescue her from a dark and dangerous place.

Miller cleverly creates a world where Elizabeth and Zenobia certainly seem like two independent girls, while at the same time creating this undercurrent of emotion that suggests they are one in the same girl. Light and dark, timid and brave, yin and yang. Elizabeth is a timid child. She feels unloved and ignored by her botanist father, who would rather spend his time searching for plants in the fields than with his daughter. Zenobia fills a void in Elizabeth’s life. She is everything Elizabeth is not, until Elizabeth finds her courage, a moment captured in this lovely quote:

There is one good thing about hearing your deepest fear spoken out loud – nothing else that made you afraid before will ever seem so large or so terrible again.

Zenobia represents all the anger and hurt Elizabeth has experienced – her mother’s abandonment, her father’s disinterest in her, and her own fear…of everything from the black keys on a piano to certain types of food. Miller does a good job of conveying Elizabeth’s insecurities, and gradually builds her up until she takes charge of a very thrilling and scary situation. Middle grade readers will enjoy this. Recommended.

Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Abrams Kids; Amulet Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

 

31 Days of Halloween Reading

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Halloween is my favorite holiday and October my favorite month, so I thought I’d compile a list of some of the scariest stories out there for my readers to enjoy this season. These shivery treats were compiled from my own favorites and recommendations from fellow lovers of ghosties and goblins. Scroll down past the images for links.

  1. Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
  2. This House is Haunted by John Boyne
  3. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  4. Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs
  5. The Changeling by Victor LaValle
  6. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
  7. Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  8. The Terror by Dan Simmons
  9. Jane Emily by Patricia Clapp
  10. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  11. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft
  12. Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
  13. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  14. Took by Mary Downing Hahn
  15. The Fireman by Joe Hill
  16. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  17. Hell House by Richard Matheson
  18. The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson (especially Room in the Tower)
  19. Carmilla by J. Sheridan leFanu
  20. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
  21. Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
  22. I am Legend by Richard Matheson
  23. Ghost Story by Peter Straub
  24. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  25. Psycho by Robert Bloch
  26. It by Stephen King
  27. The Death Chamber by Sarah Rayne
  28. Tales of the Uncanny and the Supernatural by Algernon Blackwood
  29. A Thin Ghost by M.R. James
  30. The Shining by Stephen King
  31. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

I hope you find something in this list that makes you shiver. Happy Halloween!

Ghost on the Case by Carolyn Hart


IMG_0160Here’s another series that I dropped down into without having read the earlier entries. I requested this one from NetGalley because I used to read Carolyn Hart all the time. I was especially fond of the Death on Demand series, until it became so formulaic and annoying I gave it up. I could not stand to read one more description of Max as “Joe Hardy, all grown up and sexy as hell.” Even so, I still enjoy Hart’s breezy, casual, tongue-in-cheek style of writing which is certainly evident in Ghost on the Case.

Bailey Ruth is a ghost. She died and went to heaven when her cabin cruiser sunk in the Gulf. Bailey seems to enjoy being a ghost because she can change her outfit at will, and appears as though she’s 27 (which was a very good year!). In Hart’s Heaven, ghosts are assigned to various “departments.” Bailey is assigned to the Department of Good Intentions, which means she gets sent back to Earth occasionally to help right a wrong which seems to involve investigating a crime. Here we find Bailey sent to her hometown in Oklahoma to help a woman who is forced into committing a crime in order to rescue her little sister, who is being held captive. Hi-jinks ensue, and through Bailey’s assistance, the bad guy is caught.

This is a perfect beach read – fast paced, clever, and fun. It doesn’t make you think too much, but certainly provided me with a couple hours of uninterrupted, enjoyable reading time. Is it a classic? No. But if you enjoy cozy mysteries with a sassy protagonist, give Bailey Ruth a shot. I’ll be going back to check out some of the earlier entries in the series.

The Rattled Bones by S.M.Parker


IMG_0101I love a good ghost story, and this one has some pretty creepy, shivery moments. Combine those spine-tingling scenes with an interesting backstory and you’ve got a solid, satisfying read.

We meet our protagonist, Rilla Brae, as she’s still reeling from the sudden death of her father and coping with the life changes that accompany tragedy. Rilla, born and raised on the ocean helping her father fish for lobster off the coast of Maine, feels obligated to take on the family fishing grounds, which means giving up an academic scholarship to Brown University and staying in Maine. At the same time, she’s struggling with a changing relationship with her boyfriend and an absent, mentally ill mother. It’s a lot for anyone to handle, but Rilla meets the challenges head-on, with help from her Gram.

One day while out on the ocean, Rilla sees a young woman on a deserted island and hears an eerie song that calls to her. Haunted by her mother’s illness, where she claimed to hear and speak to the Water People, Rilla worries that she’s going mad. In an attempt to make her “girl” real, she explores the island where she first spotted the girl. There she meets Sam, a college student conducting an archaeological dig on the island looking for a lost community. Sam and the story of the island community help focus Rilla’s experiences as the ghost girl becomes more and more a part of Rilla’s life.

That period of time between high school and college is a time of change for most people. Rilla’s typical experiences are magnified by her father’s death, her sudden visual and auditory “hallucinations” of the girl, and a shocking revelation about an ugly period in the history of her community and family. Parker does a good job conveying the fear, excitement, guilt, and eagerness new high school graduates feel as they prepare to move on to new lives and new friends as they begin college. She successfully takes that universal story of growing up and pairs it with both a truly creepy ghost story and an interesting piece of history. Some of the ghostly parts were scary enough that I had to stop reading for a bit, especially after the scene where the ghost shows up in Rilla’s bed. The historical side to this story piqued my interest and prompted me to research the early island communities of the eastern seaboard. Fascinating stuff!

All in all, a satisfying story. Take this along on your summer vacation. You’ll thank me.