The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Signet, 10th printing, 1988
Genre: Dark fantasy
Once upon a time–there was terror. And dragons and princes … evil wizards and dark dungeons … an enchanted castle and a terrible secret. With this enthralling masterpiece of magical evil and daring adventure, Stephen King takes you in his icy grip and leads you into the most shivery and irresistible kingdom of wickedness … THE EYES OF THE DRAGON.
Book Report: When I was in fourth grade and bored because everyone in my class was reading Island of the Blue Dolphins (god, how last year!) and nothing is duller than following along as people very slowly read something you’ve already read and enjoyed on your own, my mother handed me a copy of Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, thus beginning a lifelong relationship. Now, many people who aren’t familiar with this particular novel might think it a bit much to hand a Stephen King novel off to a nine-year old (especially one who suffered from an intense fear of the dark and of closets), but TEotD is more a bedtime story than an experiment in terror like most of King’s other works. And it’s the one I most recommend to people who aren’t horror readers, but who do enjoy fantasy. Like I said, it’s more a bedtime story, albeit one of dark fantasy, a real fairy tale, more akin to The Princess Bride than to The Shining. Read the rest of this entry »
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
originally published 1967
Dell, 6th printing, 1986
Genre: Children’s lit, mystery, suspense
Jacket copy: The first time Melanie Ross meets April Hall, she’s not sure they’ll have anything in common. But she soon discovers that they both love anything to do with ancient Egypt. When they stumble upon a deserted storage yard behind the A-Z Antiques and Curio Shop, Melanie and April decide it’s the perfect spot for the Egypt Game.
Before long there are six Egyptians instead of two. After school and on weekends they all meet to wear costumes, hold ceremonies, and work on their secret code.
Everyone thinks it’s just a game, until strange things begin happening tot he players. Has the Egypt Game gone too far?
Book report: When I’m ready for bed, I read a little. Sometimes, when I’m reading a massive tome (think The Game of Kings), I’ll pick up a lighter volume, usually YA, to read before bed so that I can properly relax without thinking too much. But there are certain books I shouldn’t read before bed, because then I don’t go to sleep. Such is the case with The Egypt Game, one of the many books I appropriated from elementary school teachers (sorry, Ms Kunishima!), which I picked up just before going to sleep, and them promptly read all the way through. It’s just that engaging. And good. Not to mention suspenseful. When things start happening in Egypt, it gives me chills.
Even though I’ve read it literally dozens of times since I was six, and sort of know exactly what happens, Snyder is just so dang good at creating tension and atmosphere that I’m gripped by it and cannot put it down. I haven’t read much else by her, but I can say definitively that The Egypt Game and Eyes in the Fishbowl are two of the finest examples of juvenile suspense fiction out there. And they were both penned back in the Sixties. Why was there such great kid fiction in the Sixties? Seriously: Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Outsiders (which I haven’t read, but I hear it rules), A Wrinkle in Time, The Pigman, etc etc etc, so on and so forth. Need I say more? Read the rest of this entry »
Missing Pieces by Norma Fox Mazer
originally published 1995
Harcourt, 1st edition, 2007
Genre: YA fiction, juvanalia
Jacket copy: Jessie Wells doesn’t know her father. He left one day, saying he’d be back in a few hours. But he never came back. Curious about her father, she decides to do some investigating. But she may not be prepared for what she discovers …
Book report: The jacket copy makes it all sound so much more scandalous and interesting than it really was. I mean, those ellipsis, they suggest something nefarious or ominous … and there really isn’t anything of the sort. Jessie’s dad just got bored of having a family, and he wasn’t much interested in his child. Not that it’s a bad book, or anything, but it’s not suspense. It’s about a teenage girl who wants to know where she came from, who doesn’t know anything about her father but that he was handsome and he left her and her mother and never came back. Though she’s always wondered about him, things finally come to a head when a school assignment sends her looking for her family history. But her mother was orphaned young, cared for by an elderly aunt, and Jessie’s father is AWOL–so she decides she must find out anything she can about him.
Along the way we see the difficulties she and her mother have caring for their aging Aunt Zis, who is more and more prone to forgetting where she is and what she’s doing. And Jessie tries to make her two best friends befriend each other, while one BFF’s family falls apart. And she navigates the tricky waters of coming to like her BFF’s crush–and finding out that he likes her, too. And she finds out that the handsome hero her mother married is only one layer of the father she never knew. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s Not the End of the World by Judy Blume
originally published 1972
Atheneum Books, 25th printing, 2001
Jacket copy: Karen couldn’t tell Mrs Singer why she had to have her Viking diorama out of the sixth-grade showcase. She felt like yelling, To keep my parents from getting divorced. But she couldn’t say it, and the whole class was looking at her anyway.
Karen’s world was ending. Her father had moved out of the house weeks before; now he was going to Las Vegas to get divorced and her mother was pleased! She had only a few days to get the two of them together in the same room. Maybe, if she could, they would just forget about the divorce. Then the Newman family could be its old self again–maybe. But Karen knew something she didn’t know last winter: that sometimes people who shouldn’t be apart are impossible together.
So she felt like yelling at Mrs Singer. And then Mrs Singer did something surprising …
Book Report: What a difference a generation makes. When Judy Blume first published It’s Not the End of the World, the world was a very different place, and divorce was not unheard of, but still unusual. Second wave feminism had hit, and starting in the late Sixties, the no-fault divorce revolution was causing sweeping changes in American families. To me growing up in the Eighties, divorce was no big deal–my parents had been divorced throughout my entire conscious life, and lots of my peers had divorced parents. But for Karen, it’s a very BFD indeed, the biggest one she’s faced. I’m sure it was very helpful reading for lots of kids back in the day–and that it still is–though my monstrous and savage little self would have wondered what all the fuss was about. So while I intellectually understood that it’s a big deal for some people to go through a divorce, my understanding has been tempered by what I read, including Blume’s treatment of the matter in INtEotW and other novels, especially Just as Long as We’re Together. Read the rest of this entry »
The Green Flash, and Other Tales of Horror, Suspense, and Fantasy by Joan Aiken
Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1971
Genre: Suspense, horror, fantasy, children’s lit, short stories
Jacket copy: A small self-contained child who dreams reality; the ghost of a love-struck bicycle-riding night watchman; a canary who bears an acute resemblance to the younger sister of Charles II; an old lady, hard of hearing, almost blind, but with a murderous sense of smell–these are just a few of the characters you’ll encounter in this spine-tingling, mind-boggling collection by Joan Aiken.
The impact of the tales is varied and ranges all the way from grisly horror through old-fashioned mystery to comic fantasy. It’s a book to curl up with and enjoy on a dark, rainy night, a book which continues to astound from the first page to the very last.
Book report: So, though it’s been a couple of years since I found out that Joan Aiken had written a whole mess of books in concordance with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (the Wolves Chronicles, they’re sometimes known as)–a shocking discovery for someone who’d read and re-read TWoWC like it was her job–I hadn’t read anything else by her til last winter’s Shivers for Christmas, which included a really excellent little story, “The Ferry.” I not sure why, but I don’t read short stories all that often, though I like them a great deal (especially TALES OF TERROR), but the title of The Green Flash was well-nigh irresistible. I mean, how evocative is that?
It is such an odd little collection of stories, ranging from the, well, grisly to the subtly disquieting, and from pathos to humor. And for the most part, they’re very, very good. I don’t think I disliked any of the stories, but I couldn’t say that I liked them all. Not because they were bad or uninteresting, but because of that lingering sense of disquiet (“Summer by the Sea” has taken me three readings to come to terms with, and it still makes me uncomfortable) they invoke. But that’s a good thing; I’d much rather puzzle over a story and how it made me feel than simply forget it. Read the rest of this entry »
Jane-Emily & Witches’ Children by Patricia Clapp
originally published 1969 and 1982
Harper, 7th printing, 2007
Genre: Horror, suspense, historical fiction
Jacket copy: Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful child who died before her thirteenth birthday. But that was a long time ago.
Jane is nine years old and an orphan when she and her young Aunt Louisa come to spend the summer at Jane’s grandmother’s house, a large, mysterious mansion in Massachusetts. Then one day . . . Jane stares into a reflecting ball in the garden—and the face that looks back at her is not her own.
Many years earlier, a child of rage and malevolence lived in this place. And she never left. Now Emily has dark plans for little Jane—a blood-chilling purpose that Louisa, just a girl herself, must battle with all her heart, soul, and spirit . . . or she will lose her innocent, helpless niece forever.
One of the most adored ghost stories of all time is available again after thirty years—to thrill and chill a new generation!
During the winter of 1692, when the young girls of Salem suddenly find themselves subject to fits of screaming and strange visions, some believe that they have seen the devil and are the victims of witches.
Book report: It’s funny: Though both I’m Deborah Sampson: A Soldier in the War of the Revolution and Witches’ Children were favorites of mine in elementary school, I don’t recall ever happening upon Jane-Emily in the Mililani Library. And don’t doubt me; I read Deborah Sampson (about a girl who dresses as a boy and FIGHTS IN THE REVOLUTION) probably seventy-odd times in second and third grade, and around that time Witches’ Children introduced me to the joys of both historical research and the occult shelf in the Children’s section. Actually, a decade or so later, when I was in The Crucible (Ann Putnam, Sr, whut whut!) and our director was going over historical notes with us, I brought up the cake Tituba makes of rye meal and the girls’ urine (my director–Stephen Clark–was nonplussed at that detail being in a children’s book). Yes, a good ten years later, I still vividly remembered that detail, and it was because the book was THAT good. But yeah, Jane-Emily? Never heard of it, so of course it went on my Shelf Discovery reading list, though there it only merited an Extra Credit mention. If Patricia Clapp wrote it, I was going to read it. Read the rest of this entry »