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!

A little less Percy Jackson than I like in my Percy Jackson

The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

I am obviously a huge fan of the original Percy Jackson series because I am a reasonable person and they are great (my opinion, stated as fact). Generally I enjoyed the next series, although I really missed the intimate storytelling of the first person narrative from Percy Jackson. It’s back for this next series, the Trials of Apollo and it’s not quite everything I  hoped for but pretty close.

There is so much I loved about this book. First of all, Percy Jackson cameo. I wish he was more of a leading character and less of a cameo, but I’ll take it. I always love Percy Jackson, no matter how small his part is. Apollo’s internal voice is hilarious and delightful most of the time – the Me Cabin is an example of a wonderful joke and his character development is a carefully crafted and carries the story forward almost as much as the plot. I love Meg McCaffrey and everything she is and I have nothing else to say about her.

On a deeper level I really appreciated to outright acceptance of both gay and bisexual characters – Apollo’s son Will and his boyfriend Nico are the only functioning couple in the book and that’s fantastic and also very sweet. Although it’s becoming more common, it’s still nice to see some representation in a genre that’s not a coming out novel. Apollo openly declaring that he has only had two true loves, one women and one man and that’s great too. Overall, most LGBT representation kind of boxes off characters into gay or lesbian, so that’s great.

And here there be spoilers. I can’t get over complexity of Meg’s traumatic and abuse filled past. Talking about the devastating effects of Nero’s relationship with Meg and the way he has crippled her emotionally through a monstrous use of fear and kindness is just heartbreaking. Depending on how it is handled in the rest of the books it could be a a great chance to have an abused child become a hero, which would be great.

However, I feel like this book overall could use a bit of tighter edit. I have a feeling that when an author is big enough and their book is sure to be a bestseller that no one takes the time and care they did with the first book to make sure the story is as sharp as it could be. It wasn’t anything make or break it for me, it just struck me that there were a few lines or details that more or less just padded the text and a little more streamlined narrative would maybe make the book a little better.

I would one hundred percent recommend this book and this series to any keen reader and I would totally finish the series, if I get around to it. Percy Jackson, I’m glad your back!

The last movie I watched:

Avatar. I had only seen it once, in theaters in 3D. Incidentally it was when I learned that 3D makes me very nauseous. I enjoyed it much more this time. You know, mostly for the visuals. The plot wasn’t very important.

Last TV show I watched:

A bit of Charmed. It’s always my staple rewatch show and I don’t care what anyone has to say about that.

Greek mythology is real weird

Circe by Madeline Miller

I begin by saying, Greek mythology is very odd and it’s not easy to take something that messed up and make in feel human. But that’s exactly what Miller has done.

Circe is a lesser goddess, featured in Homer’s Odyssey. In the original myth she is a witch who lives on an island and turns sailors into pigs. Odysseus tricks her, takes her as his lover and in the end she helps him complete his quests. In Circe, the character is a little more developed. Her childhood was sad and lonely, her heart not as capricious, cruel or indifferent to the suffering of morals as her immortal family. When she discovers her powers, she goes against the will of her god father, Helios, reveals her witchcraft to the Olympians and is punished with exile for all eternity on an island. There she waits, interacting with several heroes and villains throughout Greek mythology.

It’s a story of family, motherhood, anger and violence, wrapped up in ancient myths and held together with beautiful language and lovely storytelling.

Once again, the part that most resonated with me was Circe’s becoming a mother for the first time. I swear, I’m not looking for audiobooks about parenthood to listen to while I’m feeding my son but they just keep popping up.

Circe’s terror and fierce drive to protect her son, and her amazement and heartbreak as she watches her son age and change struck a cord with me for sure. It’s hard to articulate my feelings of constant terror for my son, particularly because as an adult you see how dark and scary the world is and how delicate life is and how easy it is for it to be hurt and lost. Circe, as an immortal goddess who has survived in a world where gods are a destructive force sees so clearly the futures her son might face. I understood her. The awe she feels as her baby ages and changes in what feels like the blink of her eternal eye, I also got that. My son’s coming up on three months and already I feel like my time with him is slipping away.

It was incredibly powerful to hear the descriptions of parenting Miller wrote through Circe.

This is not a kids book – it’s got quite a bit of kind of disturbing content, a lot of sex (although nothing graphic) and is pretty violent. It is an adult book, and above all, I’d say it’s a parent book.

Also, anyone who likes Greek myths. I would not recommend it to anyone who can’t handle all that nonsense.

Last movie I watched:

The first half of Into the Woods. Fun musical. Very grim.

Last TV show I watched:

Part of To Walk Invisible. I’m committed because I’m interested in the Bronte sisters, but really I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I’m finding it lacks any kind of narrative drive.

I am … okay

Lorien Legacy: The Power Of Six by Pittacus Lore

I suppose I should say, in defense of this series, I haven’t read the whole series. I saw the movie, and read one of the other books so maybe I’d enjoy this more if I’d done better with the series.

The second thing is that I listened to it, and I really didn’t like the readers. That can make or break an audiobook, and in this case, it broke for me. The reader for Four’s part wasn’t great but he was okay. The reader for Seven drove me nuts! I don’t know why she read all the parts of the Spanish characters with a terrible Spanish accent if all the characters, including the main character, are speaking Spanish?

Overall I felt this book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great – the language wasn’t particularly compelling, and while the story moved along at a good pace, the characters lacked any real depth or characterization, the villains lacked complexity and the story was generally predictable. I liked it well enough, but I’m a snob and I guess I was looking for something a little bit more.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed seeing a love triangle with a boy in the center. If there had to be a love triangle, it was nice to see it wasn’t a girl. After all, boys have feelings too.

I’m sure I’d recommend this series to an older child or young adult – it’s a fast read, plot driven and fun. I’m sure I wouldn’t recommend it to adult snobs.

Last movie I watched:

The first half of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I loved the first one so much it could hardly live up to my expectations, but it’s not bad.

Last TV show I watched:

Legend of Korra. Love it!

Learning to fly

Septimus Heap: Book 2: Flyte by Angie Sage

This series is just so much fun! It’s a kids series, good for readers who enjoyed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Septimus Heap doesn’t grow and get darker the same way Harry Potter did). I would confidently recommend it to kids who are looking for a great fantasy series with quirky characters, lots of plot, fun language play and some solid world building.

The book follows Jenna (the long lost Princess), Septimus (no longer a nameless boy in the army, but the apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary wizard) and Simon, the oldest Heap as he pursues another apprenticeship, this time with DomDaniel.

I laughed out loud, was surprisingly moved by a few moments and really enjoyed how, at its core, despite its epic feel, dragons and jokes it is still a story about a family. A confused, struggling and not always reasonable family and if that isn’t relatable I don’t know what is.

Last movie I watched:

Probably still that piece of The Greatest Showman

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. Still so, so, so good

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.