Author: Mira Grant
My rating: 4 of 5
Harlowe and her friends have been there, done that. They’ve made a name for themselves as teen detectives. Solved cases adults wouldn’t touch, even some paranormal ones. But now they’re growing up, and Harlowe feels like they’re losing something, maybe losing each other. So in one last try to keep the group together and make it work, she brings them something special: a haunted house, tied to her own family history and possibly to her parents’ deaths, with a huge payout if they manage to find the original deed and find out who the house really belongs to. None of them can resist. But they aren’t the first who have ventured into the house. Who’s to say whether they’ll be the first to succeed and make it back out alive?
I really enjoyed In the Shadow of Spindrift House, a paranormal novella by Seanan McGuire, written under the pen name Mira Grant. Right off the bat, I loved the idea of teen detectives who have grown past the point where they can call themselves that, who have already had their popularity and are no longer cute. I mean, you see stories about kids going around solving mysteries and doing crazy stuff all the time. But what happens when those kids grow up? Are they able to adapt, or do they keep doing that crazy stuff . . . only now, it will get them killed or arrested or something? Just saying, it’s an interesting idea to play with, and I thought the author addressed it well, putting this solidly in a new adult fiction kind of genre. Only with lots of eerie paranormal stuff going on. I also liked the way the mystery and the atmospheric creepiness gradually built, tiny details adding up over the course of the story. The author also did a great job of creating characters and relationships that I cared about–enough so that certain parts of this story actually hurt, so fair warning there. There’s a certain lack of definition to some of the paranormal elements of this story, and I still can’t quite decide if there was enough definition, or if I would have preferred a bit more clarity. For instance, there’s a good bit of effort put into building the themes of nature and the sea, and we definitely can tell a lot just from that and from the historical stories that Harlowe and her friends uncover. But we never get a name for what we’re dealing with, or an actual explanation, or anything like that. So I guess I’d recommend this book for those who prefer things a bit more mysterious and open-ended. I would definitely recommend In the Shadow of Spindrift House, though, and I certainly intend to try more of the author’s writing.
Author: Scott Heim
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Three siblings travel back to a hometown they’d left far in the past, glad to forget it except in nightmares. They’re going to bury their father and handle his estate. But before they even get into town, they find themselves confronted with horrors from their childhood and with the guilt of what they had done all those years ago.
Loam is one of those stories that starts out reading like some slice-of-life family-drama sort of thing–relatively innocent and safe for the most part. But as the story proceeds and the author starts unpacking the skeletons in this particular family’s closet, the horror element begins building gradually, atmospherically, until by the time you get to their childhood home, you’re ready for something horrific to jump out at you. Nothing ever does quite jump out, which is almost worse, leaving a slimy feeling that it might at any time. The ending is kind of like that, too–open-ended enough that we don’t know if the horror is actually over or not. I’ve heard some people complain that the story “just ends abruptly,” but I liked the way it left things open for interpretation rather than tying everything up nearly, which I honestly think might have killed the story. Also of note, the author does a fabulous job of giving us a lot of backstory early on, so we’ve got context, without making it an info-dump. There’s a lot of detail woven seamlessly into the story in such a way that it’s just picked up on without even realizing it sometimes. The author also employs an interesting use of flashbacks mixed with the main storyline to give us more information and build the tension. The use of potentially faulty memories adds an interesting sense of uncertainty to the atmosphere as well. I will say that Loam feels like a story that would generally fit better in a short story collection than as a standalone novella, but it was still an enjoyable, eerie read.
Author/Illustrator: Keezy Young
My rating: 5 of 5
Being a ghost, Blue had missed human interaction . . . until he found Hamal, a guy who can actually see and talk to ghosts. The two quickly become friends–okay, Blue maybe has fallen a bit in love–and the small gardening shop Hamal works at soon becomes a popular hangout for a number of lonely ghosts. But something dark is creeping into the area, and Hamal seems to be at the center of it all. How far will Blue have to go to protect the guy he cares for and the other ghosts?
Taproot was one of the most charming, refreshing stories I’ve read in a while. Originally a webcomic, it’s now available as an updated single-volume graphic novel. But yes, it has that independent, webcomic sort of feel, which is delightful. The main characters are just absolutely lovable and sweet; like, I wanted things to work out well for them right from the start. And, not to give away too many spoilers, but I promise, they do get their happy ending. The art is really nice–distinctive and attractive. I really love the mix of bright colors with dark, especially the way the panels are overlapped to provide a fade-in at certain points. It’s used well to emphasize the contrast of light and darkness in the plot itself. As for the plot, again, a good mix of feel-good fluff and eeriness that resolves well and left me feeling happy. Taproot is the perfect sort of story for when you need something short to cheer you up and make you believe in hope again.
Authors: Tom & Nimue Brown
Illustrator: Tom Brown
Hopeless, Maine, vol. 1
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Hopeless . . . both a place and a state of being on this cursed island off the coast of Maine. It is a place where the sun never shines, a place that invites demons–both metaphorical and actual. Salamandra is found alone (apart from the creepies) in a huge gothic house. Not a place to leave a child, so she is brought to an orphanage where she fits in not one bit. In her friendless state, she is approached by a smiling girl . . . whom no one else can see.
Personal Demons is not your typical graphic novel, that’s for sure. It’s more atmospheric rather than action oriented. And the atmosphere is done brilliantly. The whole setting is this eerie, dark gothic island inhabited not just by people but by all sorts of oddities that appear inspired by Hieronymus Bosch himself. The art is beautiful but atypical. (I believe this started as a webcomic, and there’s the freedom and individuality of style to this graphic novel that you would expect in a high-quality webcomic.) It’s done almost entirely in a dark monochromatic palette, barring a few flashes of brilliant color to emphasize the presence of magic (and yes, there’s definitely magic in this story). For the art, the concept, and the actualization of the concept I would have to give this book a 5 out of 5 rating. Where it fell flat for me, personally, was in the story itself. I didn’t fall in love with the characters, and the plot was not particularly original . . . thus the 3.5 instead of 5 stars. Still, Personal Demons is definitely an interesting graphic novel if only for the originality of the concept and the art–well worth giving it a try.
My rating: 4 of 5
Have you ever seen the little girls of the forests, alone and beckoning? Hopefully you never will. But if you ever do . . . run!
The Little Girls of the Forests is a strange but intriguing short story, just the sort that would be perfect for telling around the campfire. Creepy, chilling, unbelievable, but with just enough credible detail to give the reader a moment’s pause. It’s written in a first-person style that almost evokes the idea of a memoir or a research journal–something of the sort of style that writers such as Poe used to employ. The addition of another individual’s “experiences” with the creepy little girls in the story adds authenticity, as do several details that are colorfully thrown in. I know the author personally, so I’m probably biased, but I really enjoyed this story. Plus, it’s super short (seriously, 5-10 minutes to read, tops), so why not give it a try?
You can find The Little Girls of the Forests here on Wattpad.
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The town of Gentry is very good at keeping secrets and not noticing horrible things. Mackie Doyle knows this better than anyone . . . after all, he’s the best-kept secret of them all. When he was little, he was placed in the crib of Malcolm Doyle–a fey changeling to replace the stolen human child. But instead of creating an uproar, Malcolm’s parents chose to treat Mackie as their son, hiding the fact that he wasn’t human as best they could. But now as Mackie is in high school, it’s not so easy being a fake; blood makes him sick, all the iron around him everywhere is slowly poisoning him, and now he finds himself approached by individuals who aren’t even as convincingly human as he is . . . which isn’t particularly, not that anyone seems to notice. Because Gentry is good at not noticing.
The Replacement was an unexpected find for me, a dark paranormal romance with a refreshing twist. I have to admit, I’ve gotten extremely tired of vampires and zombies, even though there are some excellent stories featuring these beings. But having a contemporary story that looked back to the old legends and fairy tales of the fey and their habits of stealing children in exchange for “luck” or “protection” or some such was a pleasantly creepy change. I think the way Yovanoff handled the concept worked well too, especially in Mackie’s character–the extreme allergy to iron allows for all sorts of interesting plot developments, since the element is so commonplace we don’t even notice its presence usually. But Yovanoff also did a great job of keeping the story human, of putting people in Mackie’s life to love him, whatever he may be. I did have a few minor issues with the plot development, although I realize they were probably necessary for the story to flow. For one, the romantic development felt too fast for me; I mean, I totally think that Mackie fell in love with the right person, it was just like “whoa, they’re kissing already?!” you know? The other thing was the complete paralysis of the parents. I get how a town could overlook awful stuff happening around them when it’s convenient. We do it all the time, you know we do. But mother instincts are pretty crazy strong things, and I can’t see any real mom not realizing that her baby’s been exchanged–or not doing something about it when she realizes, however futile her actions may be. But still, in spite of these relatively minor issues, The Replacement was an eerie, exciting teen paranormal romance that I would recommend, especially to those who really enjoy the genre.
Author/Illustrator: Stephen Collins
My rating: 5 of 5
Dave lives on the island of Here in a neat, tidy house on a neat, tidy street. Every day he follows the same, orderly routine. In fact, he detests disorder, as do all the denizens of Here. But one day everything changes for Dave, one day all the disorder that haunts his nightmares seems to burst forth from his nearly bald body to form a beard. An enormous beard that won’t stop growing no matter how it’s trimmed and treated. A beard so disorderly and gigantic that is seems ready to devour the entirety of Here. So of course, the people of Here do what they have to do; they deem the beard “evil”.
I really enjoyed The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil much more than I expected to. It felt like a mix of Shaun Tan, Dr. Seuss, and The Stanley Parable, not that that makes any sense but it’s true nonetheless. There’s exactly that sort of combination of silliness paired with a deep, unsettling underlying tension. Because this story really is a parable about us all, not one that I could spell out the moral to but one that’s valuable to consider nevertheless. It’s a scary but important reflection on human nature. The textured, stylized art and the sporadic, sometimes-rhymed writing work remarkably well with the theme. Actually, the entire graphic novel is just fitted together in every detail in a way that just works. If you’re at all of a philosophical bent, I would definitely recommend The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.