Super Scary Haunting Kids Book

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

I really, really loved this book. It also scared the crap out of me which was kinda fun, although not my usual. I am also delighted to report that this is a series so within any luck, I’ll enjoy this exciting, frightening world again before too long.

This novel takes place in a future where ghosts have become so common that all life on earth has just adjusted to it, and humans get on with their lives by staying in after dark, lighting ghost lamps each night and development of Agencies, which can be hired to investigate and remove ghosts from private residences. Children often have more psychic abilities than adult supervisors, so they are used by these agencies to investigate ghosts. After Lucy’s supervisor makes a terrible error and all of her colleges die in a horrifying haunting, she runs away from home and ends to London looking for a job. And she finds one with Lockwood & Co, the only agency that doesn’t have adult supervisors.

There was so much to love about this book. The three members of Lockwood & Co, Lockwood, George and Lucy are each well fleshed out, have lovely banter and a genuine relationship. The world building is so careful and thorough that you can’t even pinpoint when you learned something about it because it’s worked in so subtly. The writing is terrifying, like I was worried I’d have nightmares (I am a wimp though) and the plot was twisting and interesting with quite a few twists that I didn’t see coming, or if I did, I couldn’t see how.

I would recommend this to older readers, mostly due to the horror content, nothing else there is inappropriate there, who liked Harry Potter and want a creepy twist. Definitely check it out!

Last movie I watched:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Never gets old.

Last TV show I watched:

Things Explained, or something like that on Netflix. It’s by Vox. I liked it a lot.

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Heartbreaking, hopeful but also mostly gutting

We Are All That’s Left by Carrie Arcos

This book is really compelling, really heartbreaking and a good story about one of those things I didn’t know a lot about. I really value YA lit that widens my world view. The story is told in two perspectives. The first person narration is a diary entry of a typical American teenager – her strongest relationships are with her friends, she loves photography and she doesn’t get along with her old fashioned Mom. The second story is a third person narration account of her old fashioned mother as a teenager during the Bosnian genocide. Their lives are brought together when a fictional terrorist attack in the USA injures them both and brings them closer as part of their healing process.

Although the writing isn’t particularly outstanding, it’s a good story. It’s always startling to me to learn about history that I was alive during. Sure, I was a little kid at the time, and I was kind of aware of hearing about Bosnia, but I didn’t understand it at the time and as an adult it’s hard to reconcile that terrible things didn’t just happen in my grandparents time – the World Wars, the Depression, etc  but in my parents time and worst of all, in mine. I imagine my kids will have a similar moment when they realize I was a teenager during 9/11. As uncomfortable as it is, I’m glad this book made me look closely at how recently there’s been this kind of violence in the world and remind me how unkindly history looks on people who stay silent during times of great violence.

At it’s core, this story is about trauma and the healing process being about connection and faith. Nadja, the mother, survived the trauma of genocide, rape, outlived her family who were all killed and lived in a city under siege for years where she faced starvation and snipers. And yet she made it to the United States, met a man, got pregnant and found joy in her baby. But she was never able to talk to her children about their grandparents or her past and she remained closed off from the world. Zara saw nothing in her mother but her weird habits, obsessive behaviors and closed off nature. After the terrorist attack Nadja is able to see her daughter learning to cope with the same trauma she is experiencing and understand that keeping her terrifying past away from her children has held her back from them. Zara comes to understand that trauma and violence change a person in very profound way and that her mother is a product of a brutal life, scarred, just like she is now.

I’m an atheist and generally don’t read outright religious texts and maybe that’s why I wasn’t really prepared for the religious element in this book. Although the concept of God is quite loosely defined (Nadja is ethnically Muslim but celebrates both Christmas and Eid during the war and almost never attends mosque and Zara doesn’t have a clear sense of her own faith at the start of the book) through the introduction of Joseph,  a young man Zara meets at the hospital and his quest to at least temporarily practice all the major world religions, Zara moves towards having a relationship with God. In the abstract I didn’t connect with her because of my own bias but it’s probably a good thing for me to consider from time to time, where religion fits into other people’s lives.

The ending had me in tears and that’s all I can say safely, without spoilers. But it really did drive home this feeling the book carries that love is as strong as anything bad in the world.

Last movie I watched:

Moana. Love it!

Last TV show I watched:

The Dragon Prince. Although the animation isn’t great, the story and characters are great! Definitely committed to this show!

Beautiful and heartbreaking and human

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Abridged) by Khaled Hosseini

I listened this book as an audiobook, which is why it was the abridged. The reader was great, the book was amazing and I’m kind of struggling with an book hangover – I’ve got a new audiobook on the go but can’t get into it because it’s just not as good as this story.

The story is of two women in Afghanistan, spanning forty or fifty years. It is heartbreaking, beautiful and devastating but ultimately hopeful story .  It is about the amazing power of women to overcome unthinkable horrors, particularly when they are motivated by love of their children.

The first part of the book is the story of Miriam, an illegitimate child of a wealthy man and a former housekeeper. She is excluded not just from her father’s family, but society as a whole. Her world changes dramatically when she’s a young teenager which ultimately results in her marriage to an abusive man named Rasheed in Kabul.

The second part of the book introduces Laila, who has lived her whole life down the street from Rasheed and Miriam, some twenty years older than her, without ever knowing it, in a much more liberal household. She too is forced to grow up devastatingly early and she becomes Rasheed’s second wife.

The last part changes point of views, switching between the two women as they move from adversaries to allies to a family in the truest sense.

The personal struggles of the two women take place against the backdrop of Afghanistan troubled history, including regime changes, international conflict with the Soviets and the Americans and the repressive rule of the Taliban. Both women are scarred by the trauma of war, just as their beloved city is. Yet at the end of the books, there’s a glimmer of hope for another generation of women, who may escape the horrors their mothers and grandmother’s survived.

I should mention that this book ends almost in the present, and its worth considering what the book is so subtly and elegantly suggesting about the future in the middle east.

It’s really hard to talk about this book without giving away a lot of details, which I’m struggling with because it was such a great story I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but I feel like I have to talk about mothers in this book, because to me that’s what the story is really about. In all fairness, this could be because I listened to it as I fed my 4 week old son, but I still think it’s worth considering.

Both women, Laila and Miriam had mothers who loved them, but could not make the hard choices to protect their daughters, due mostly to the trauma and pain they had experienced. For Laila’s mother, this was the death of her sons and her hatred for the Soviets as a result which motivated her to stay in Kabul long after it became unsafe for her family, which ultimately resulted in her death, her husband’s death and the forced marriage of her daughter. Miriam’s mother was so unable to move past the betrayal of the man she loved that when Miriam left her, even just for a day, to see her father, she took her own life.

Contrast that with Laila who married and stayed with a man who abused her to protect her children, who at the end of the book is called “mother” by a school full of orphans and is carrying the potential for the next generation of women. Miriam kills and literally dies to protect Laila and her children, the daughter who wasn’t even her own. Both women make enormous sacrifices to ensure the safety of their children, and that provides hope for the future.

This is an incredible story and I think everyone should read it. Everyone because if nothing else it’s a beautiful, moving exercise in empathy, which is of course, how books change the world.

Last movie I watched:

A small piece of the Greatest Showman, with the commentary of a four year old and a six year old over top of it. I think I’ll try it again sometime.

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. So good guys! So, so good.

Very deep, just a little bit scary

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I really like John Green, his online personality as much as his books. So I was pretty excited for this.

As I side note, I listened to it as an audiobook and the reader was pretty good, if anyone’s got a long road trip ahead of them.

This book centers around Aza, a sixteen year old girl who has a great best friend Daisy who convinces her to help look for a missing billionaire in Indianapolis to get the hundred thousand dollar reward. She also has a few pretty serious mental health issues. As she struggles with her sense of herself, Aza and Daisy’s quest changes everything for both of them.

Overall it was a great read. Like most John Green books, it’s pretty philosophic and maybe a little more thought driven then plot driven, but that’s okay. There’s lots (and lots) I could say about it but I will just mention a thought or two and get on with on my day.

One of the things that I could most terrifying and wonderful was Aza’s mental health issues. John Green clearly brings his own personal experience to this book. Aza’s constant search for the perfect metaphor to describe her illness, like if she could just explain it accurately somehow she’d be better. I found (spoilers! just assume there are spoilers from here on out) her late night drinking of hand sanitizer to be a terrifying and traumatic read for me. The writing was perfect. Not only was Aza out of control, but the reader was too. It was scary.

I also really liked that Aza and her love interest, Davis, the son of the missing billionaire, did not end up together.  John Green often subverts expectations about happily ever afters (see Paper Towns) but Davis and Aza really had a connection. It felt tangible and real and built on something that mattered, not the far too common love at first sight coupling that YA so enjoys. But lots of relationships between two people who are really connected don’t work out and YA doesn’t always do a great job of showing that.

And I liked that the core relationship in the story was Aza’s and Daisy’s. Because again, YA novels often put all the focus on the romance, and not the best friend. There’s the odd exception of course, but generally it’s not. This is unfortunate, because I have found in my own experience (not a study or anything) that after high school you’re way more likely to keep in touch with your friends than anyone you dated.

So it’s not The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s a great read and I would be more than happy to recommend it to any young person.

Last movie I watched:

Golden Compass. It was good. Certainly not the movies fault they didn’t make the sequel. I blame the book.

Last TV show I watched:

Galavant. Hilarious.

Paranormal Love Triangles

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

This young adult novel follows a pretty familiar pattern – young girl who’s always felt a little, well different, starts public school for the first time, immediately forms a special connection with a cute boy and then starts to experience from pretty weird stuff  that will throw her into an epic battle between good and evil. Guiding her along the way? A cute fairy boy who she has a strong connection with and he tells her the truth – she was never a human at all but a fairy all along.

There’s a lot of good stuff here. Certainly the fairy lore is at least as well researched as most of the vampire/werewolf/angel/demon kind of mythology that constantly leaks into this genre. The story is pretty neat too, playing off the idea of changelings, which of course is part of fairy lore, but set in modern times when Laurel has to worry about science and doctors revealing her secret which is pretty interesting. The world ending premise (that the bad guys will take control of Laurel’s human parent’s family land) is also pretty neat.

But the characters lack the depth to really make them get up off the page and relate to. They’re good, fine, flat but for me, not looking for someone I need to project into, it was just a little disappointing.

I would still recommend it to younger teens who were looking for something to follow up the other paranormal love triangle books.

Last movie I watched:

Infinity Wars! I just can’t form words

Last TV I watched:

The Crown. So good.

Magical Science Fiction

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

I adore Kelley Armstrong. I think this was the first of her YA fiction that I’ve read and while I would say it was good, really good even, I guess there’s something about YA’s tropiness that makes it hard for even great writers to really shine. Having said that, I would very much recommend it and read the rest of the trilogy.

The story is about Maya, a pretty typical teenager who lives with her adopted parents in a community on an isolated park on Vancouver Island, founded entirely by a large medical company. The sudden death of her best friend, and a year later increasingly strange things happening to her sends her on a quest to understand who she really is and what this doctors who founded her town are really researching.

Like many YA titles it falls victim to a few standards – first loves, relationship drama, one ultimate mean girl, orphan with mysterious and unknown past, best friends confused with dating partners and a tension between the teens and the authority figures. Most of these are okay on their own, but as they stack up, it starts to feel a little stale.

But it’s also got some great points too. Maya is an indigenous character. Not being indigenous myself I can’t say if her close ties to the forest and the animals could be seen as reinforcing a stereotype or as a really cool, accessible magic power  or as a bit of a mix of both. It certainly adds a something to the story. Kelley Armstrong’s fast paced, narrative driven style makes it almost impossible to put down. It also deals with attempted date rape, which is also something I think we all benefit from talking about with teens. And it’s both written by a Canadian and set in Canada, so that’s just a great bonus.

I would recommend this  book for it’s intended audience – teens and do so happily! I will continue to love Kelley Armstrong.

Last movie I watched:

Infinity Wars! So good although kind of a kick in the teeth

Last TV show I watched:

The Crown. So good guys, so good!

A whole lots of stuff for one little graphic novel

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

I read this ages ago, and so any intelligent thoughts I had have slipped away, and all I’m left with is intelligent feelings and overall impressions.

This is a pretty mature graphic novel about a 16 year old Japanese- Canadian girl who is struggling her way through high school, her identity, her peers and increasingly her romantic feelings for one of her teachers when a boy at her school dies by suicide, opening up a complex world of grief, mourning and personal struggles.

I loved this book, I thought it was well written, thoughtful, accurate, the illustrations were a little creepy but fit well with the story and it’s a moving book, maybe particularly for adults who can forget how complicated, isolated and dramatic high school can be.

It also has great representation of different cultures, LGBT characters and women, which I think is a good thing.

Last movie I watched :

Part of Moana with a 3 year old. I recommend, the movie and the three year old. She added some great commentary

Last TV show I watched:

Supernatural. I’ll get through it all eventually.