Small Spaces Quartet #1

At night they will come for the rest of you. It’s with this ominous warning that eleven-year-old Ollie and her two friends, Coco and Brian, set out on a chilling adventure in the woods with nightfall fast descending and the ever-watchful eyes of scarecrows on their backs.

What began as an unremarkable school trip to a nearby farm soon becomes a frightening journey into the world behind the mist. In order to survive and not remain trapped there forever, Ollie and her friends need to be quick on their feet as they work to unravel a hundred-year-old mystery, save their classmates, and beat the villainous smiling man at his own game.

When night falls, Ollie and her friends must find small spaces to hide from the scarecrows, who follow the smiling man’s commands. During the daylight hours, the three friends search for a way back into their world. Along the way, they meet several ghosts, who were unwilling to leave their loved ones who the smiling man turned into scarecrows. However, before Ollie meets the ghosts, she finds Beth Webster’s book where she chronicled the story of her family and explains how the smiling man was able to turn her husband into a scarecrow.

Beth Webster’s story connects to Ollie’s own story. In Beth’s story, her mother-in-law was distraught over her son’s disappearance. In order to appease his grieving mother, Beth’s husband Johnathan makes a deal with the smiling man. The smiling man brings Johnathan’s brother back to life, but Johnathan then becomes the smiling man’s servant. Similar to Beth, Ollie is also grieving the loss of a loved one—her mother. However, Ollie doesn’t let her grief overshadow her life. When the smiling man offers to bring Ollie’s mom back to life, Ollie doesn’t accept the deal. Instead, she gives up the deepest desire of her heart in order to break the curse and restore her classmates.

While Small Spaces is predominantly a ghost story, it also touches on the theme of grief. Through her experiences, Ollie learns that her mother’s words and advice will continue to help her navigate life. Even though Ollie still grieves her mother’s loss, she is learning to find joy in life again.

Small Spaces will appeal to readers who want a creepy, scary story without bloodshed and gore. The easy-to-read story keeps readers on edge as the smiling man’s secrets are revealed. The story’s conclusion is a little confusing as it tries to piece together the stories of the past with the stories of the present.

While Ollie and her friends are not well-developed, they are an interesting group who learns to appreciate each other’s differences. If you’re looking for a fast-paced ghost story that will keep you guessing, then grab a copy of Small Spaces. Beware: when you get to the end, you will want to find out what happens in the next book, Dead Voices, in which Ollie and her friends get trapped in a haunted snow lodge.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After school, Mike takes Coco’s notebook and begins taunting her. When Brian does nothing to help Coco, Ollie threw a rock that “caught Brian squarely in the back of the head, dropped him thump onto the grass, and turned everyone’s attention from Coco Zinter to her.” Then Ollie gets on her bike and races home.
  • At the farm, the kids were going to learn about “slaughtering hogs (cut the throat and then hang it up to drain).”
  • Before the book begins, Ollie’s mother died in an airplane crash. “Ollie dreamed of the crash, even though she hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t seen the firs afterward, or the bits of broken plane stuck in a tree, the things that haunted her nightmare.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • The first time the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian asks, “What in hell was that?”

Supernatural

  • Ollie reads a book about a brother who makes a deal with the smiling man to bring his brother, Caleb, back to life. Caleb “came back. He was pale and blue-lipped; his eyes were strange and distant. . . It was his voice, his smile. Only the look in his eyes had changed, and he would not say where he was.”
  • Ollie’s teacher tells the class a story about the farm that the class will be visiting. The farm is rumored to be haunted because two brothers wanted to marry the same girl. The teacher says, “The younger brother disappeared. No one ever found traces of either of them. Eventually, the sheriff decided that the younger brother had killed the elder and then been overcome with remorse and thrown himself into the creek. That was when the rumors of hauntings started.”
  • In the past, there was a school at the farm. The schoolhouse “was burned to rubble, of course, right down to the foundation stones. . . The weird things is this: they never found any bodies.”
  • After Ollie’s mother dies, her father gives her her mother’s cracked watch. While running from the scarecrows, the watch gives her a countdown until sunset and tells her what to do. For example, “RUN” and “HIDE.” When Ollie whispers, “Mom? Is that you? Can you hear me?” The watch’s screen reads “ALWAYS.”
  • The scarecrows try to grab Ollie and her friends. They crawl into a small space under some rocks. “A nightmare face turned to Ollie: stitched-on snarl, eyes like two finger sized holes. The rake reached out again. . . A huge, straw-smelling arm thrust itself into the hole. . . Then the arm withdrew.” When the scarecrows realize they can’t reach the kids, they leave.
  • While running from the scarecrows, the kids go into a house where Ollie meets a ghost. Ollie discovers that two of the scarecrows are the ghost’s sons. When the kids leave the house, “Two scarecrows stood outside, one at each window. Somehow, they were not looking into the house anymore, but were watching the kids run, still smiling their wide smiles.”
  • Brian recognizes one of the scarecrows as his friend Phil. Brian says, “It’s wearing Phil’s clothes. Because that’s Phil’s hat and Phil’s hair and kind of Phil’s face—if it were sewn on.”
  • Ollie and her friends go into another house and Ollie sees a ghost. “A hand appeared on the doorframe. A thick, yellow-nail hand. Then a face popped around the edge of the doorframe. . . It was a woman. Or had been. Her skin was sunken in beneath the cheekbones, and when she smiled, her lips stretched too wide, the way a skull smiles.” The ghost tells her that the scarecrows are “neither flesh nor spirit” and that they are now the smiling man’s servants. The ghost says, “the cornfield is the doorway” to another world and the scarecrows hold the door between two worlds open.
  • While talking to the smiling man, Ollie figures out how to save her classmates. Ollie flings “a scattering of drops [of water] at the first scarecrow. . . the scarecrow screamed—a human scream.” The scarecrows that were from the past turned into dust but her classmates turned back into themselves.

Spiritual Content

  • After the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian says, “Deliver us from evil” and then did the sign of the cross. When Ollie and Coco look at him, he says, “I’m not a good Catholic but maybe God is listening.”

Help! We Have Strange Powers!

Jillian and Jackson are twins having a normal day at the movies until a fortune teller machine changes their lives by zapping them with superpowers. Now Jillian can read minds and Jackson can make objects levitate. The twins are excited to live their new lives as real-life superheroes, but what if superpowers come with super villains?

Scientist Dr. Cranium kidnaps the twins and takes them to a lab. Dr. Cranium wants to drain the twins not only of their powers but of their minds. The twins escape the lab by lying about their powers, but their troubles are not over. They eventually go to HorrorLand, and become trapped in a creepy theme park run by monsters. Will they be able to escape, or are they trapped in HorrorLand forever?

Help! We Have Strange Powers is the tenth book in the Goosebumps HorrorLand series. The first part of the story is interesting as it focuses on Jillian and Jackson’s new powers. However, once the twins are trapped in HorrorLand, the plot becomes confusing because the twins meet all of the characters from the previous books. This will be confusing for readers who have not read the previous books, as there is no explanation for what HorrorLand is or how Jillian and Jackson get there.

Help! We Have Strange Powers is told in the first person from Jillian’s perspective. In true R.L. Stine fashion, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, making the reader want to continue with the book. Jillian and Jackson are not admirable, as they only use their powers for selfish reasons and to mess with others. The plot is not cohesive and it uses the typical Goosebumps elements. Even though the story is just average, fans of R.L. Stine will enjoy Help! We Have Strange Powers because it is an easy-to-read thriller.

Sexual Content

  • Jillian reads her classmate’s mind. He thought, “Wow. Jillian is looking totally hot today.”
  • Jillian says the gym teacher is “young and tall and very hot. The girls in school all have crushes on him.”

Violence

  • Angry that Artie, an annoying kid, got butter on his sweater, Jackson “wrapped an arm around Artie’s neck and began wrestling with him…The two of them tumbled into the aisle, wrestling, grabbing at each other, punching.”
  • As Jackson reaches into a fortune-telling booth to grab his fortune, the machine shocks him and Jillian. Jillian’s “whole body shook and danced as a powerful shock stung [her]. Jolted [Jillian] hard. And sent pain shooting out over [her] arms and legs.”
  • During a soccer game, Artie kicked the ball, which “crashed into Jackson’s stomach.” Jackson “opened his mouth in a sick groan. His face turned purple, and his eyes nearly goggled out of his head.”
  • Jackson and Artie are playing Wii boxing when Artie’s “punch went wide – and he slammed his fist into [Jackson’s] jaw.”
  • Jillian and Jackson try to see if they can fly. They break into a run and leap up. Jillian “crashed headfirst into the wire fence . . . and staggered backward, struggling to keep [her] balance. Pain shot through [her] body.” Jackson “hit the fence with a loud clang. He bounded off and tumbled onto his butt.”
  • While Dr. Cranium tries to wipe Jillian and Jackson’s thoughts, Jackson uses his powers to crash a mannequin into him. “The mannequin dropped hard and fast. It landed headfirst on top of Cranium, and he crumpled to the pavement.”
  • Jackson uses his powers to crash a chandelier onto the Purple Rage, a superhero who was trying to hurt the kids. “The chandelier crashed onto the superhero’s head and shoulders. The Rage uttered a weak cry. He toppled facedown onto the floor.”
  • Because the Purple Rage is so angry, he “exploded. His body burst apart with a loud splat . . . his purple guts went flying all over the room.”
  • Jillian, Jackson, and a few other kids try to go through a portal in a mirror that leads to Panic Park. It doesn’t work because the mirror turns back into solid glass, and Jillian runs into it. Jillian “screamed as [her] forehead cracked into solid glass.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jackson and Jillian go see a movie called Butt-Kicker II.
  • Jackson used his powers to hurl a soccer ball at Artie. It missed Artie because he bent down to tie his shoe. Jackson said, “I’m sorry I missed that jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Jillian and Jackson obtain telekinesis and mind-reading abilities after getting zapped by a fortune-telling machine. Jillian can read people’s minds and Jackson can make things levitate. They are kidnapped by Inspector Cranium, who tries to erase their memories by “going into their brains.”
  • Jillian and Jackson eventually end up at a theme park called HorrorLand. The workers there are monsters, and they trap the two siblings and other kids in a basement where superheroes try to hurt them.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

The New Year’s Party

It’s five minutes to 1965. Beth should be at the party having fun with her boyfriend. Instead, she’s looking for her best friend, Karen. Suddenly, a group of men barge into the house with guns—they’re attempting a robbery. One man grabs Jeremy, Beth’s shy brother, puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger. However, nothing happens because the gun is fake. The robbery was just a prank pulled by Karen and some seniors. Upset, Jeremy runs off. Beth follows him into his car. They’re driving recklessly in the snow when suddenly they hit a boy. They swerve, then crash.

The story jumps in time to the present day. Reenie, Greta, Archie, and Sean are all friends who enjoy playing pranks on each other. For example, Archie hides in Reenie’s closet pretending to be a corpse. Reenie starts to get the idea that their pranks are going too far, though, when she falls off a cliff and nearly drowns in a frozen lake. She has an uneasy feeling when Archie suggests she throw a house party but ultimately agrees.

Archie and his friend Marc come up with the perfect prank to pull at Reenie’s party. They will get Sandi, the most popular girl in school, to ask P.J., the new quiet kid, to the party. At the party, Sandi will kiss P.J., then pretend to die. This prank goes too far when P.J. actually dies from shock. Reenie and her friends are horrified, but the horror turns to confusion when P.J.’s body disappears. In the next couple of weeks, Marc and Sandi are both murdered. Someone is taking revenge on Reenie and her friends, but they can’t figure out who.

 In addition to the supernatural elements, The New Year’s Party has relatable characters, who are not perfect. Like many typical teens, the characters try to justify their wrongdoings. In addition, the story includes fighting couples, friends who party together, and friends that have trouble with trigonometry. The story jumps back and forth in time, but the time differences are separated by chapters.

In the climax of the story, Liz, P.J.’s sister, invites Reenie and her friends to a New Year’s party. At the party, Liz reveals who killed Marc and Sandi, and chaos ensues. This exciting conclusion that connects the past to the present will shock readers.

The New Year’s Party is a gripping story that will keep readers turning the pages. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger. The vocabulary is simple, and the plot moves quickly. Reenie’s friends play multiple pranks that always seem real, keeping the readers on the edge of their seats. In true R.L. Stine fashion, the book ends with a twist. The New Year’s Party is a good book for readers of all types who are looking for a quick, enjoyable read.

Sexual Content

  • Beth is at a party scanning the room for her friend when she sees a couple who “were making out in the corner.”
  • When the clock strikes midnight, Beth’s boyfriend, Todd, “pulled Beth to him and kissed her.”
  • Todd asks Beth if she wants to move to the stairs, where “four couples sat on the carpeted steps, making out.” Beth “didn’t want to make out in front of the entire party.”
  • At Reenie’s house, Artie sat next to Gret, then “leaned forward and gave her a long kiss.”
  • Sandi, a pretty, popular girl, slow dances with P.J. When the song ends, she “pulled P.J.’s face to hers. Kissed him. A long, slow kiss.” Reenie observes Sandi “kissing the helpless P.J. so intensely. . . her mouth moving over his, her arms wrapped tightly around his slender shoulders.”
  • Before he leaves the party, Sean “pulled [Reenie] close and kissed her. Reenie wished the kiss would never end. She didn’t want to think about anything but the way Sean’s lips felt against hers.”
  • Reenie is hiding under the bleachers in the gym so she can listen to Liz and Ty’s conversation. Reenie watches as “Liz gently pulled Ty’s head to hers and kissed him. A long, serious kiss.”

Violence

  • A group of men with pistols crash a house party. One of the men grabbed Jeremy and “pressed the gun barrel against Jeremy’s head. Then he pulled the trigger.” The gun didn’t fire because it was plastic. The whole thing was a prank played by a group of high school seniors.
  • Jeremy is driving recklessly on icy roads with Beth in the car. They saw a “dim figure” in the road before “something bounced on the hood with a heavy thud. A face appeared through the foggy windshield. A boys’ face, his mouth open in a scream of surprise. The boy dropped to the ground. The car rolled over him with a hard bump.” Because they are scared of facing the fact they just killed a boy, they do not stop to help him and keep driving.
  • Jeremy lost control of the car on the icy roads. “The car smashed hard into the snowbank. . . [Beth’s] scream ended in a grunt as she was thrown forward and her head cracked against the dashboard . . . Beth felt warm blood trickle down her forehead.” Beth watches the car break “through the snowbank” and feels “shock after shock of pain.” Beth is able to crawl out of the car, but she later realizes she is just a spirit, and her body is still in the car, dead.
  • As Reenie puts her sweater in her closet, she sees “bulging, blank eyes.” At first she believes it to be a “corpse” with “gooey blood, dark and caked, oozed over his head.” The corpse is actually Sean, and he was pulling a prank on Reenie.
  • Reenie falls off the edge of a drop-off that overlooks a lake. “She was falling, sliding and tumbling, down the snowy hillside. It knocked the breath out of her. She struggled to gasp in air.” She falls onto the frozen lake, and her “hip smashed against the hard surface. She let out a small moan of pain.” As she is walking to the bank, “the ice beneath her gave way with a groan. She slid into the freezing, black water.” Struggling to get out, “she thrashed her arms, trying to pull herself back up to the surface. . . her head hit the underside of the ice. ‘I can’t breathe,’ she realized. She pounded on the ice with her fists. Clawed at it.” Reenie passes out, but Sean rescues her.
  • As Artie speeds into an intersection with Reenie in the car, another car hits them. Reenie heard “metal slam against metal. Shattering glass. The car spun, slamming her into the door. . . She felt the seat belt biting into her stomach, as she was thrown forward. Then she lurched back against the seat.”
  • After Sandi kisses P.J., she shoves him away and “uttered a long, frightening moan. . . She sank to her knees, her eyes wide, her mouth hanging open. . . Sandi crumpled into a heap on the floor.”
  • Artie and Marc are working in the garage when Reenie and Greta come over. Artie leaves Marc alone in the garage. Marc’s friends hear “a high, ragged scream of terror” come from the garage. When they rush to the garage, they see “a body lay sprawled over the shiny red hood. Marc’s body. Blood dripped from his mouth and nose and his head . . . was twisted around on his neck . . . completely backward.” Marc was murdered.
  • Reenie leaves Sandi alone at the Burger Shack. When Reenie comes back, she finds Sandi dead in a trashcan. “Sandi’s eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. But she lay on her chest . . . Her head had been twisted around backward. And her face held the same terrified expression. Her blue eyes wide with horror.”
  • Liz is holding Sean, Greta, Archie, and Reenie captive. Sean holds a knife as he demands that Liz open the door to let them go. Liz “threw herself at Sean,” who “toppled to the floor with Liz on top of him. . . His body twisted and thrashed as he tried to throw Liz off.” Liz “tried to choke” Sean but Reenie “grabbed Liz by the shoulders and struggled to pull her off Sean.” Liz “tore at Sean’s wrist with her teeth,” causing him to drop the knife.
  • Once she regains the knife, Liz “grabbed Sean and pressed the blade against his throat . . . Reenie saw a drop of red blood roll down Sean’s neck.”
  • While Reenie distracts Liz, Sean “grabbed Liz around the waist. He pinned her against him with one arm—and grabbed the knife away with his other hand.” Liz “stumbled into [Sean]. And the knife plunged deep into her chest.” Everyone is frightened, especially when, “No blood poured from the wound.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Reenie has a house party and runs into Marc. “He stood so close she could smell the beer on his breath.”
  • At the party, Reenie notices Artie’s eyes look watery, and thinks, “Great. They’ve both been drinking.”

Language

  • Artie threatens P.J. after P.J. dropped a weight on him. Artie says, “I’m going to get that little creep, P.J.” Artie goes on to call P.J., “You little jerk!”
  • After he describes their “dumb practical jokes” to a police officer, Sean admits he sounded like a “total jerk.”

Supernatural

  • After they crash the car, Beth and Jeremy realize they are dead. They can see their bodies in the car. Jeremy tries to get back inside his body, but he can’t. He cries, “My arms passed right through my body!” Beth realizes Jeremy is starting to fade. Beth feels herself fading too. “Only the darkness remained. Everywhere. Closing on her. Claiming her.”
  • It is revealed that Liz and P.J. are the same people as Beth and Jeremy; they just changed names. Their spirits somehow reappeared solidly enough for them to act like real people. They died in a car crash thirty years ago, and they were trapped for years in a “cold, gray place.” Liz explains, “As the years passed, we grew stronger. And then suddenly we were back. Back in our old bodies. People could see us and hear us again.”
  • Ty confesses he was the boy Beth and Jeremy ran over, and he was also brought back to life to get revenge.
  • As the clock strikes midnight, Beth, Jeremy, and Ty fight with each other. “Liz and Ty and P.J. whirled around, tugging each other as if in a mad dance. Faster and faster. Waves of icy air swept off their bodies. . . A ghostly whirlwind.”
  • Beth, Jeremy, and Ty disappear once the clock strikes midnight. “A high, shrill whistle pieced Reenie’s ears. Louder. Shriller. Until Reenie covered both ears to shut it out. And the three ghosts began to fade. . . They faded to shadows. Then the shadows faded to smoke. A spinning column of smoke . . . The smoke faded. And floated away.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

I Hunt Killers

Jasper Francis Dent, who goes by Jazz, is the son of a famous serial killer who has been imprisoned for four years, but still has lasting effects on the boy’s life. Although Jazz is plagued by memories of the teachings his father gave to him, Jazz was almost adapting to living normally. He took care of his grandmother and had a best friend and girlfriend.

However, a serial killer imitating his father causes Jazz to change his life drastically. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps, he uses the inner workings of a serial killer’s mind to try to find out who is committing the murders. Jazz has to deal with reporters constantly hounding him, a sheriff who won’t let him look into the investigation, and a killer who is always one step ahead of everyone else.

I Hunt Killers has an exciting premise that hooks readers instantly. The story immediately throws Jazz into a crime scene surrounding a dead body. The gore and violence that the book opens up with are present throughout, but so is the thrill Jazz experiences trying to discover who committed the crime. The characters are well developed, unique, and convincing.

Jazz’s character is relatable because of his complexity and his competing desires. The reader is given a glimpse into Jazz’s thought process and is allowed to see his torment. Jazz wants to do good, but also struggles with the darker parts of himself, those parts that might be like this father. The themes in the book seem somewhat forced at times, but also provide messages related to independence, persevering through difficulty, and breaking cycles of abuse.

The book contains a somewhat predictable story, although the characters are unique and compelling. The story is written in a very approachable way, utilizing understandable language that clearly and quickly conveys Lyga’s message. At times, it seems like Jasper almost magically discovers clues to his victim. It is difficult to believe that a thirteen year old would reach the conclusions he does. This results in many of the revelations in the story feeling somewhat forced, and the twists feeling less surprising.

I Hunt Killers is a dark, disturbing, character-focused mystery in which the plot is often overlooked in favor of humor or graphic violence. Its story is predictable, but is otherwise an enticing read. The story shows the horrific nature of brutal crimes. Readers will want to take caution before picking up I Hunt Killers because of the subject matter, the graphic crime scenes, and the mind games that are played throughout the story.

Sexual Content

  • Many of the dead bodies in the book, including the first one, are found naked.
  • Jazz thinks of a time he and his girlfriend spent “tangled up” at their hideout.
  • Jazz says that another character’s reaction “felt like he’d just seen a nun do a striptease.”
  • Jazz mentions having a pistol pointed at his “thirteen-year-old junk” in a memory from when his dad was first apprehended. He is seventeen at the time the book takes place.
  • Howie wonders if the killer was just “having sex and stuff” and suggests that the killer’s girlfriend might have just hit her head and had a heart attack, resulting in him abandoning her at the scene.
  • Howie perks up at the mention of “cleavage” while a dead body is investigated.
  • Howie and Jazz contemplate whether or not the killer “did stuff” to his victim.
  • Jazz and Connie kiss several times. Their kisses range from a “quick kiss on the lips” to “kissing and groping” that includes descriptive visuals such as “the soft insistence of Connie’s plush lips, to the warm of her tongue” and “a long, lingering kiss that warmed him [Jasper] all over.”
  • Connie and Jazz spend the beginning of rehearsal “feverishly kissing and groping back in the wings.”
  • A character is suspected to have “entertained some R-rated fantasies about the girls in his class.”
  • Jazz says that “if you were in a room alone with her [Harriet Klein], you’d feel it.”
  • Gramma Dent accuses Jazz of “Putting [his] thing inside them [whores]!”
  • Jazz explains how serial killers often “jerk off” after revisiting crime scenes, which Howie says “ruined masturbation” for him.
  • Howie calls a toe ring “sexy.”
  • Jazz thinks about how he is obsessed with sex. “He was terrified of sex. Like every teenage boy, he was obsessed with it, of course, and wanted to have as much of it as humanly possible…”
  • When Connie sits on Jazz’s lap, “he felt himself respond to her weight in his lap the only way a teen boy should respond.” Then, Connie adjusts herself in Jazz’s lap and grinds “her butt into his groin in that special pleasant/painful way.”
  • Connie mentions how people dream about “having sex with a supermodel.”
  • A character whose initials are “VD” reminds Howie of “venereal disease.”
  • Jazz remembers how a female character’s breasts had pressed against him when they hugged.
  • When Howie is hospitalized, Jazz asks jokingly if he wants “a hot nurse and a stripper pole.”
  • Jazz recounts that one of Billy Dent’s victims was “sexually assaulted, invaded both vaginally and rectally.”
  • Jazz suspects that the killer used “a sex toy or something” on one of his victims.
  • Jazz says to Connie, “I bet I could warm you up,” implying sex. Connie “shifted, locking her ankles together.”
  • Jazz thinks that “any straight male snuggling with Connie would be desperate to get those jeans off.”
  • Gramma Dent, upon seeing a horde of reporters outside her home, believes they are enemy warriors and yells that “They’re gonna rape mongrel babies into me!”
  • Howie suggests to Jazz that he “stick [his] tongue down her [Connie’s] throat.”
  • Billy Dent asks if Jazz has “a little piece of tail [he] like[s] to bang,” and if “girls. . . line up for a taste of [his] dick.”
  • Billy Dent talks to his son and asks, “are you always the one buyin’ the rubbers? Hmm? Or maybe she’s on that pill? Cause you can’t always trust ‘em, Jasper. You look at them rubbers real close-like, see?”
  • Billy asks Jazz to “Tell Dear Old Dad your little pussy’s name.”
  • Billy describes a victim with “Perfect little titties.”
  • Billy says to Jazz “I’m glad you’re getting’ your dick wet.”
  • Billy is suspected to have left semen and committed rape at a murder scene.
  • G. William searched Jazz and placed a hand “uncomfortably close to the family jewels.”

Violence

  • The book opens up with a police scene surrounding a dead body, and it is made clear that this will be a common theme in the novel.
  • There are multiple instances of body bags being opened or used to store/view bodies. “Two cops approached the corpse with a body bag hanging limp between them… he focused on the struggle with the body bag.”
  • Jazz often imagines entering violent scenarios with different characters.
  • The killer’s specialty is to sever his victim’s fingers. Removed fingers are referred to as excised digits.
  • Billy Dent killed over one hundred people, whose deaths are frequently referenced.
  • Jazz experiences memories of his father describing his methods to commit murder. “Good boy. Good boy. (one cut, two cuts) Just like that.”
  • Vivid descriptions of dead bodies are provided. “Dead female Caucasian… Found at least two miles from anywhere in any direction. Naked. No apparent bruising. Missing fingers.”
  • Billy Dent kept trophies from his victims.
  • Jazz has what looks like the “biggest god-damn pistol in the entire universe [pointed] right at [his] thirteen-year-old junk.”
  • The experimentation process of serial killers is described as they try new methods of violence. “And they experiment. Cutting off the fingers…”
  • G. William threatens to shoot Jazz.
  • Jazz “was certain that the next day would have seen G. William dead by his own hand” if Billy Dent had not been found.
  • Jazz imagines cutting a finger off.
  • Jazz says that the death isn’t just “Joe-Bob McHick smacking around his girlfriend and then leaving her to die.”
  • An autopsy is performed on a corpse.
  • Jazz imagines G. William drawing his service revolver and putting “two slugs into his center of mass.”
  • A joke is made about pointing an excised finger.
  • Howie is a “type-A hemophiliac, which meant that he bled if you looked at him too hard,” and experiences large amounts of bleeding in the novel.
  • Jazz beat up Howie’s bullies.
  • Jazz experiences a bloody nose.
  • A reference is made to Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal villain.
  • Jazz thinks a crime would be easier to identify if there had been “some sort of savagery before death—torture, cutting mutilation…”
  • Victims are strangled.
  • During the investigation of a body, eyelids are peeled back.
  • Howie’s face bleeds profusely from a nosebleed.
  • Genocide and famine are referenced.
  • A body is nailed naked to a ceiling in a church. “Her head lolling downward, her limbs bearing the weight of her body. When the reverend who found the body called the police, the skin and muscle were already coming loose.”
  • An angered parent of a victim threatened to kidnap Jazz and perform his father’s crimes on him.
  • Eyes are removed from a corpse and fed to cats.
  • There are multiple references to famous serial killers.
  • Gramma Dent often threatens people with a shotgun.
  • Jazz imagines a character having a “Glock or Magnum” in their purse.
  • Jazz’s grandmother smacks him multiple times.
  • Billy Dent disjointed a corpse.
  • Billy Dent is said to have raped and abused his victims as well as killed them.“He tormented them. Tortured them. Raped them and abused them.” More details are given later on when Billy Dent’s victim is described as “Sexually assaulted, invaded both vaginally and rectally.”
  • Jazz imagines ripping out a character’s larynx.
  • Jazz wonders why Billy has not been shanked in prison, as well as why he hasn’t committed suicide.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • G. William is said to very rarely drink.
  • Jazz gives his grandmother a “poor man’s sedative” so that he can go out without her arguing.
  • Jazz also puts a “powerful tranquilizer” in his grandmother’s breakfast for a similar purpose.
  • Jazz’s grandmother is sedated and held captive by the novel’s antagonist.
  • Jazz “clambered down the fire escape like a monkey on crystal meth.”

Language

  • There is an immense amount of profanity including crap, Christ, God, Devil/Satan, Hell, idiot, moron, badass, douche, goddamn, demon, piss, whores, ho, bastard, ass, hellfire, jackass, smart-ass, butt, buttocks, damn, BS, pussy, titties, dick, bitch.
  • When Jazz tells G. William that he had been spying on the crime scene at the beginning of the book, “G. William slammed a fist on the desk and swore.”
  • A killer leaves behind his victim’s middle finger while taking other digits.
  • Doug Weathers is called a “bottom-feeding moron.”
  • Jazz and Howie say “bros before hos.”
  • Gramma Dent uses the “hellfire o’ Jesus” as an exclamation.
  • Jazz exclaims “Jesus!” at one point.
  • Connie gasps “Oh my God.”
  • Billy Dent is said to have “a real PhD in slinging high-grade horse manure.”

Supernatural

  • Witchcraft and witches are mentioned as a part of the Salem Witch Trials that took place in The Crucible.

Spiritual Content

  • G. William is said to have “catholic guilt.”
  • The Devil/Satan, demons, Heaven, Christ, and God are mentioned as slurs, although not in actual religious contexts.
  • Jazz describes faith as “being certain of something without any kind of evidence.”
  • Howie says that he “deftly avoids the crushing throngs of heathens.”
  • The Crucible is being performed by Jazz’s drama group, and he acts as a reverend in the play during the witch trials that were performed in Salem by the Puritans.
  • A quote from The Crucible says “Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small.”
  • A quote from The Crucible says “Man, remember, until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.”
  • Gramma Dent has a collection of “religious dogma.”
  • Billy Dent says that “Cain slew Abel, all under God’s eye” as justification for his murders, specifically of Jasper’s dog Rusty.
  • Jazz asks that “God bless Ginny Davis.”
  • Billy Dent describes the sound of someone dying as “sacred an’ holy.”
  • Gramma Dent cries out “Praise God!”
  • Jasper’s grandmother recalls how she had “said all her Hail Marys” when she shifts into the persona of a young girl.
  • Billy Dent claims he is the god of his victims.
  • Jazz says Billy “had been a god” that he worshiped, although later states that Billy “had been a devil, not a god.”
  • Billy sighs “as if asking the Good Lord.”
  • A serial killer believes that Billy Dent, a serial killer, is a god, and that Jasper is a “child of divinity.”

by Dylan Chilcoat

 

City of Ghosts

A screech of wheels. The grip of freezing water. Death. When Cassidy almost drowns, everything changed. She can now enter the world of the dead. To make things stranger, her best friend, Jacob, is a ghost.

Cassidy didn’t think life could get more complicated. Then her parents agree to film a TV show about the world’s most haunted places and the family heads to Edinburgh, Scotland. Restless ghosts haunt the graveyards, castles, and even the pubs. When Cassidy meets another girl who can see the dead, Cassidy realizes she has a lot to learn. Cassidy soon discovers that in a city of ghosts, danger hides in unexpected places.

Victoria Schwab writes a creepy ghost story that is just the right balance of cuteness, chills, and charm. Scotland’s people and lore come to life as Cassidy visits the historical landmarks including Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close. As Cassidy encounters different ghost stories, Scotland’s history unfolds.

Cassidy’s best friend, Jacob, is a fun addition to the cast of characters. Even though Cassidy has told her parents about Jacob, and Cassidy’s parents research haunted places, they do not believe in ghosts. Cassidy’s caring, quirky parents bring ironic humor to the story that middle school readers will understand.

City of Ghosts is the perfect ghost story for younger readers. The easy-to-read text contains short sentences and is a good blend of action, description, and dialogue. The Harry Potter references will delight readers. Although the plot contains only a few surprises, the story is still solid and engaging. Cassidy’s inquisitive mind and courage will draw the reader into the story. Her relationship with Jacob and her parents are an added bonus. City of Ghosts takes the reader on a spooky adventure that will be hard to forget.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The narrator almost dies while riding her bike. She is on a bridge when “the truck whipped around the curve and hurtled toward me. I swerved out of the way, and so did the truck, tires screeching as my bike slammed into the railing hard enough to make sparks fly.” She goes into the river, where a boy ghost saves her.
  • A long time ago, a boy died in a school fire. The fire began during a school play. In a panic, the boy “shuffles on his hands and knees until he reaches the trap door (of the stage). . .He pulls the door up and climbs down into the dark just before a piece of burning set collapse on top of the stage, pining the trapdoor shut.”
  • When Cass enters the veil, she sees “a man being hauled toward a platform, where a noose hangs waiting.”
  • Cass’s dad explains how some people would rob graves and take the bodies to medical theaters so medical students could practice on them. Two men, “Decided that instead of digging up corpses, they would simply create their own. . . They murdered sixteen people before they were caught and tried . . .Burke was hanged, and then dissected in an anatomy theater, just as his victims had been.”
  • While in the veil, The Raven, a ghost who steals children, puts Cass under a spell. Then, “her fingers harden like claws. . . she thrust her hand straight into my chest. Cold rushes through me, a bone-chilling cold, worse than the bottom of the river. It feels like icy fingers wrapped around my heart.” She tears Cass’s life’s ribbon out of her chest. In order to come back alive, The Raven must dig up her corpse and place the life’s ribbon in her chest. Cass attempts to get her life’s ribbon back and the struggle is told over several chapters. Cass crawls into a grave, and when The Raven finds her, “The Raven grabs me and throws me out of the grave. . . I land hard on the ground. . . and hit a gravestone, knocking all the air out of my lungs.”
  • While in the veil, Cass sees a ghost who is on a platform, and “a course rope is cinched around his neck.” The execution doesn’t come.
  • Ghosts chase after Cass and Jacob. The ghost children “close in, opening their mouths, and instead of different voices coming out, there’s only one. The Raven’s. Her eerie hypnotic song pours from their lips.” The chase takes place over several chapters.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the characters has two pints of beer—one for himself and one for his friend’s ghost.

Language

  • “Oh god” is used as an exclamation. When Cassidy’s parents want to talk to her, she thinks, “Oh god. I’m going to be a big sister.”

Supernatural

  • Jacob, a ghost who is attached to a living girl, is one of the main characters in the story.
  • Cass can see ghosts and cross the veil between the living and the dead. The narrator explains, “It takes a lot of spirit power for a ghost to reach across the Veil—the curtain between their world and ours. And the ghosts that have that kind of strength, they tend to be really old and not very nice. . . the dead grow strong on darker things. On pain and anger and regret.”
  • Lara casts a spell on a ghost and then reaches in and pulls the ribbon out “. . . The dark thread comes free in her hand, hanging limply from her fingers for a moment before crumbling away to ash. An instant later, the main crumbles, too, just . . . falls apart.” Later Lara explains that she sent him, “To the great unknown? To the silent side? To peace and quiet? Call it what you like. I sent him to the place beyond. Where he’s supposed to be.”
  • The Raven puts two teen boys under a spell. The boys “stand chest-deep in the grave. . . Their expressions are glassy, their breaths fogging as they shovel mound after mound of dirt out of the pit. . . “The boys dig up the Raven’s corpse.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Polaris

During the 1830s, the Polaris sets sail on a scientific mission to the Amazon jungle. The crew is excited to bring back new discoveries, but when the landing party returns, only half are alive. After an argument, the crew loads a chest into the bowels of the ship. After they begin their trip home, a bloody mutiny leaves most of the adult crew dead. Those who live, flee the ship, leaving six children—none of whom are older than twelve. The captain’s 12-year-old nephew Owen, a botanist’s assistant, and other deckhands struggle for survival. Soon they realize that the sea isn’t their only worry. Something else is lurking below deck, and it’s growing.

From the first page, Polaris will capture reader’s attention and they will not want to put the book down. With just the right mix of suspense and action, Polaris makes the fight for survival come to life. Full of realistic detail and nautical facts, readers will be pulled into the frightening atmosphere of Polaris. The story is appropriate for younger readers with tame battle scenes. This fast-paced story has well-developed characters that show the importance of working together despite the fact that they do not like each other. With a diverse cast of characters, an engaging plotline, and an epic battle scene, Polaris will not disappoint those looking for an excellent horror story. But be warned, the creepy creature may make its way into the nightmares of readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A character thinks about a boy, who “had blown up trying to carry two cartridges (of gun powder) at once.”
  • A mutiny begins among the adult crew. The children listen to the fighting through a locked door and hear gunshots as well as someone being thrown into the sea. Then the boys hear, “three shots rang out in quick succession—the officer’s pistols. Shrieks of pain mixed with the shouts of rage, telling Owen that the rest of the work would be done with blades and hands.”
  • Owen shoots the creature. “Owen heard a quick sound behind him—tik-taclik! —like metal on bone.” Then, the boys pour boiling water on him. When the creature flees, someone stabs it with a spear.
  • When the creature snatches one of the boys, someone shoots the creature. “Per-KRACK went the pistol. A flash of flame and a billowing plume of smoke shot forth.”
  • A boy hits Owen over the head with a hatchet. Owen is not seriously injured.
  • When the creature tries to snatch another person, there is a fight that takes place over several pages. When someone shoots it, “the lead ball ricocheted off the thick armor plating of its thorax.” When Owen throws the pistol at it, “the butt of the pistol smacked heavily into what had been Obed’s forehead. The creature staggered backwards. . .” No one is injured.
  • The creature attacks the boys. The battle takes place over several chapters. During the battle, “A dark red rat-like creature emerged from the hatch, then a second, and then they all began to pour out. One dozen, two dozen.” The kids rig a device to blow up the ship after they have jumped off.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Owen thinks about his uncle and father. “His uncle had taken him in after his mother’s death and his father’s descent into sorrow—and the bottle.”

Language

  • When the crewmembers discuss being infected with spores, someone thinks, “Oh God. . . What if it’s me?”

Supernatural

  • The children believe the ghost of Obed Macy is haunting the lower deck of the ship. They discuss if a Bible and cross will ward off the ghost.

Spiritual Content

  • During a storm, a character begins “the Lord’s prayer.”
  • A character prays, “Lord help us all.”

 

The Breathless

Ro’s body was found lifeless on the beach. No one knows what happened. All they know is that Ro’s boyfriend, Cage, disappeared the same day and hasn’t been seen since. The mystery behind her death turned Blue Gate Manor into a house of sadness and secrets.

One year later, Cage shows up looking for Ro with no memory of anything that happened in the last year. His confusion only adds to the mystery of Ro’s death because even though he was the last person to be seen with her, he has no idea how she died or if he caused her death. Ro’s sister, Mae, doesn’t trust him, but she decides that helping Cage is the only way to find out what happened to her sister.

Then Mae finds a little green book that belonged to Ro. She hopes the book will unlock the secrets behind Ro’s death. As she follows clues in the book, she discovers her family is hiding a dark secret about her ancestors. Danger lurks around every corner as Mae hunts for answers that might be better left undiscovered.

The very first sentence of The Breathless grabs the reader’s attention and never lets go. Graphic descriptions bring this creepy Gothic tale to life. Full of magic, love, and loss, The Breathless is a captivating story that will give sensitive readers a fright they will not soon forget. This is not a good book to read for those who are prone to nightmares.

Sexual Content

  • Cage is watching a girl on the beach. The girl, “licks her fingertips before she turns the page and he wants to be that book.”
  • While sleeping, Ro’s boyfriend thinks about a time when she “pulls him down next to her and leans into him, all oil and legs and her red bikini top loose. He holds his breath as she unties her top, lets it fall.” He wraps his arms around her in the dream and then wakes up.
  • One of the characters is in love with a girl and they kiss. “She leans forward and kisses him and his stomach drops and then the world drops way until her lips finally leave his.”
  • When Mae starts to cry, Cage hugs her. Then he thinks about kissing her. “He was going to kiss her, it was all he wanted, and the next thing he knew she was pulling out of his arms, and stepping back.”
  • When Cage is burning with fever, Mae undresses him. When she goes to take off his pants he said, “Mae, we can’t.” She replies, “Cage, that’s not what I’m doing.”

Violence

  • Cage wakes up in a hospital, unsure of why he is there. He climbs out a window to escape. When a security guard tries to stop him, Cage hits the man. “His fist collided with the man’s face. The security guard crumpled to the ground.”
  • Elle points a rifle at Cage. At first, Elle thinks she hit her sister when she fires because “The house was bleeding. Thick, dark red droplets were splattered across the floor.” However, Elle only shot the red polish in Mae’s pocket.
  • Grady’s girlfriend, the “witch’s” daughter, has his child. When Grady’s father discovers Grady’s secret, the father sets the house on fire and Grady’s girlfriend dies. Then Grady kills his father with an ax. “The first thud makes his ears ring, and they’re still ringing as he drags his father’s body from the house . . . He feels like his lungs are going black, his heart too. But there’s no stopping now.”
  • Elle hits a deer with her car. Mae “knelt down beside the deer, taking its head in her hands, watching its lungs going fast as it panted, a shard of glass in its neck. Its heartbeat thudded against her, echoed inside her, fainter and fainter . . . The deer’s blood was slick in her hands and she stared at the shards of glass in its neck.”
  • One of the characters tries to raise Ro from the dead. In order to complete the ritual, he drugged his sister and then put her into a lake to drown. She is saved. Later the character intends to kill her so she can’t tell anyone what he did, but “he realized he couldn’t do it. Not when she was blinking up at him, asking questions.”
  • Mae’s father shoots Cage. “And then came the blast that thundered in his ears and he was falling, the gravel rising up in front of him. . .”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mae’s father often drinks whiskey.
  • In a flashback, Ro is smoking a cigarette. “It’s slender and smells of cloves.”
  • A character steals pills from his mother’s supply and gives them to his sister.
  • When Cage is on his way to see his mother, he doesn’t want to . . . “meet her new boyfriend but what he really doesn’t want to see are those pill bottles of hers, the way they make her angry. She’s angry that she’s sick, always has been.”

Language

  • “Shit” is used often throughout the book by several different characters. In one scene, Mae’s father said that there are “plenty of pieces of shit around these days.”
  • “Hell” is used several times. When Mae is caught spying on her sister, Elle says, “What the hell, Mae.”
  • Mae’s father says “goddamn” several times. One time he swore when he almost hit a girl with his truck.

Supernatural

  • The story revolves around Mae trying to understand a book that Ro had owned. The book has several spells, including one to bring back the dead. “Besides the raising ritual, there were other spells: some for curses, some for love, so many she hadn’t been able to get through them yet.”
  • Mae finds a room that has jars of animals used for rituals. In one jar “chunks of a hairlike substance were at the bottom. Floating inside the jar was a pale cat skull.” Another jar had a bird claw and a horse’s hoof. “Bits of tissue swirled into the murky water, and long dark hair was layered at the bottom. . . A hank of what looked like the horse’s dark mane fluttered at the bottom, next to bone.”
  • Mae remembers a time when her sister tried a ritual. When her sister turned around, “her dress had been a different color. . . Dark, dark red, steaked with blood.”
  • Mae discovers that the raising ritual requires the payment of a “human life for human life.”
  • A “witch” and her family live nearby. They use a ritual that can bring the dead back to life.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Took

When Daniel and his sister move to rural West Virginia, Daniel doesn’t think things can get any worse.  The students at his new school torment him. The teachers are indifferent. He has no friends. His parents are unhappy. And to make matters worse, his sister spends all of her time talking to her doll.

When Daniel hears stories of Old Auntie, who kidnaps a girl every 50 years, he thinks it’s just an old tale used to frighten children. But then he feels someone watching him. He sees strange shadows. And when his sister suddenly disappears, Daniel is convinced Old Auntie isn’t just a story.

As Daniel’s parents lose themselves in grief, Daniel decides he must face his fears and bring his sister home. With the help of his neighbor and one of Old Auntie’s descendants, Daniel fights for his sister’s freedom.

Right from the start, Took: A Ghost Story will capture the reader’s attention. Young readers will be able to relate to Daniel, who feels as if all of life’s decisions are out of his control. Although Daniel clearly cares for his parents and sister, his frustration with them is understandable. Daniel is a likable character, who faces his fears and in the end, brings his family back together.

The story is primarily told from Daniel’s point of view but has several chapters told from Old Auntie’s point of view. This adds suspense to the story and helps develop the creepy mood. This is not a book to read with the lights out. Because Old Auntie and Bloody Bones are described in such realistic, vivid detail, readers will be entertained and frightened.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Bloody Bones kills someone. “Tore him clean apart with the panther’s teeth and ate him up. Then he dug his grave with the bear’s claws and brushed the ground smooth with the raccoon’s tail.”
  • The kids at school are mean to Daniel. They “accidentally” hit him and kick the back of his seat on the bus.
  • When Daniel and his sister, Erica, are in the woods, Daniel sees something and forces Erica to leave with him. They get into a fight. “. . . She struggled harder to get away from me, crying and screaming . . . she managed to bite me twice and scratch my face.”
  • Bloody Bones is going to throw Daniel off of a cliff, so Eric throws rocks at him. “Bloody Bones plunged over the edge of the cliff, screaming as he bounced from rock to rock, his bones flying apart and scattering as he went.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Daniel and Erica’s parents are seen drinking wine. When Erica is “took,” their parents drink even more. “There was an empty wine bottle on the table and an ashtray full of cigarette butts and ashes.”
  • When Daniel goes to a friend’s house, his friend’s father smells of beer and cigarette smoke.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The story revolves around Old Auntie, a “conjure woman” who takes a girl every 50 years. When she takes a girl, she returns the one that was “took;” however, the girl is the same age as she was when she was first “took” and has no memory of her former life. Auntie weaves spells to influence people’s decisions.
  • One character describes Old Auntie as “a haunt come back from her grave.”
  • Old Auntie takes the form of a girl, so she can talk to Erica without scaring her. Auntie also uses a doll to convince Erica that no one loves her except Auntie.
  • Auntie has a razorback hog, called Bloody Bones, which she called back from the dead. “His bones put themselves together and rose up on their hind feet. His skull jumped on top of the bones, and off he danced.”

Spiritual Content

  • The townspeople are mean to the new family because they do not join the only church in town. “We weren’t only outsiders, we were godless outsiders.”

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