Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Smashed Man of Dread End and other spooky books

Ocker, J.W. The Smashed Man of Dread End
August 17th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Noe (short for Noelle) is okay with her family moving. It's within the same town, but after a sleep walking incident that estranged her from her best friend, she's glad to get a fresh start. Her new neighborhood is situated in a dead end on a wooded ravine, but close to her new school. While unpacking with her parents and younger sister Nore (Lenore), she meets three girls from the neighborhood. Radiah, Crystal, and young Ruthy warn her not to go into the house's basement after dark-- so of course she does. There, she sees a shadowy figure trying to escape from a crack in the cement. She's scared, but also a bit confused about whether or not this is just part of the night terrors she has fought for years. She's also concerned because Nore seems to have started sleep walking as well. Noe hunts down the girls, and finds out that they are not only scared, but angry that Noe is in the house where Erica had lived. Erica had a run in with the figure, whom they call the Smashed Man, and is now in a coma, her family having moved to Texas. The adults won't believe that anything is wrong, and their eyes glow violet and the seem hypnotized when the Smashed Man is around. Radiah has taken to spending most of her time in the attic of her house, Crystal is home schooled in her basement, so lives in fear, and Ruthy is young enough that she isn't quite sure about what is going on, but Radiah is trying to protect her. The group decide to try to figure out what is going on and to dispatch the Smashed Man, and start by investigating a veiled house in the neighborhood, where they meet Fern. She's visiting from Alabama as part of a group called the Neighbors, who are working against the forces of evil. From her, they learn a lot about different realities and "places in between", but also gain some helpful knowledge about painting sigils on their houses with darkwash, and about tactics that might work to rid themselves of this scary menace. As the neighborhood bonfire approaches, it becomes more important to deal with this creature before he gains even more power, but will the girls be able to pool their resources to do this?
Strengths: Remember the "killer clowns" that were on the loose a few years ago? A lot of my students were actually concerned and afraid. The Smashed Man has that sort of feel. Unlikely, absolutely, but Erica is in a coma still, so it's nothing to fool around with. Working in persistent sleepwalking and night terrors is a brilliant move,and having the younger sister be vulnerable adds some touching (and frightening!) moments. Sure, there's a #MGLit trope about moving and having your house be haunted, but this kicks it up a notch. Definitely purchasing.
Weaknesses: The cover could be a lot scarier (the Smashed Man coming out of a basement crack), and I'm not sure how effective Fern's presence was. I either wanted more of her or less of her.
What I really think: It is so great to finally see more horror books for middle grade readers. Currie's Scritch Scratch, Joel Sutherland, Lindsay Duga, and K.R. Alexander titles (as well as others) have really helped me expand offerings to students who want just the right amount of terror in their reading.

Lawrence, Lorien. The Collectors (Fright Watch #2)
August 31st 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Quinn and Mike took care of the trouble on Goodie Street in The Stitchers, and are glad that they can go back to running and hanging out without pretending to be dating to cover their tracks fighting their undead neighbors. Things are a bit fraught on the team-- Quinn is a co-captain with Jessica, who is sabotaging her and not being at all captainly, but she ans Mike continue to run. As the new school year starts, there are new neighbors, all women in their twenties who work in a design firm and always wear white. Lex is captivated by their look and work, and thrilled when she is offered an internship with them. Perhaps Quinn is overly sensitive, but she and Mike both are worried about the women, especially when Quinn hands one a glass at their open house, and it goes straight through her hand and drops on the floor! Since the woman who runs the design business, Abigail, seems to have designs on her Uncle Jack, Quinn plunges into an investigation and turns up some frightening information about just who Abigail is, and what horrible historical tragedy is driving a round of new ones that may consume Lex if they aren't careful. Grandma Jane is still helpful with advice, a selection of herbs, and the occasionaly dinner, Billy the dog is slowing down but remains safe, and Quinn still grieves for her father, but this doesn't stop her from halting the forces of evil from taking over her neighborhood. 
Strengths: Neighbors. There should be more about them in #MGLit. They are people who live close to you, and yet, what do you really know about them? I have the phone number for everyone on my circle, but how do I know that Mr. Harris wasn't secretly a spy? He had the WWII experience. This could cross genres (Your babysitter's house is a portal to a fantasy world! That nice old man pruning his shrubs... was a spy!) but works especially well in mystery. I liked how Lawrence weaves in some history, and has Quinn trying to make the ghost's existence better while also making sure she doesn't do further harm. The way the grief over her father's death comes up occasionally is very realistic and not soppy. I LOVE Grandma Jane. We can have a lot more #MGLit grandparents who are still kicking as well. The sports team details give us a much needed break from the creepiness, and Lex's involvement heightens the stakes. A strong sequel that left me wanting more. 
Weaknesses: This must be a difference in sports seasons in different areas of the country. In the fall, in Ohio, Quinn would be running cross country and not track. While I understand that we needed motivation for Abigail to become a vengeful ghost, I wish it were something other than becoming unhinged because of parental grief. My views on that trope are clear-- it's insulting. This isn't quite as bad as some books, and I get why it's done, but it wasn't my favorite part. 
What I really think: I'm curious to find out more about the neighborhood and why creepy people keep moving in. There are also some feelings that Quinn and Mike might have more than a friendship. I'd love to see Jessica being the one at the center of the next creepy installment, so we could see her dynamic with Quinn evolve. Looking forward to a third book. 

Marshall, Kate Alice. Brackenbeast (Thirteens #2)
August 31st 2021 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Writing book reviews is hard, and if I don't focus, sometimes I read a book and find myself unable to do it justice with a review. I'm blaming the heat, trying to read 6 books on my birthday (which lead to interruptions when people kept calling me), and a weekend where I had to do Life Things before I got around to writing the review. Also, the cat-of-ashes, graveyard dog, and rattlebird gave me a bit of a pause, since I always struggle with talking animals. Thirteens circulates, well, so I'll definitely buy this one. 

From the publisher:
On the night of their thirteenth birthday, Eleanor, Pip, and Otto bested the mysterious Mr. January before he could make them disappear. . . forever.

Eleanor and her two best friends have narrowly escaped the clutches of the January Society and their nefarious leader, but life in the too-quiet Eden Eld isn't safe just yet. Not when there's giant mud monsters snatching up their neighbors and classmates. This time, Mr. January's devilishly stylish sister, Mrs. Prosper, is behind the chaos. Though unsuspecting adults can't see past her irresistable line of make up and skincare products under the name SixSeed.

Inside their book of twisted fairytales, Thirteen Tales of the Gray, Eleanor, Pip, and Otto might find the secret to warding off the brackenbeasts and thwart Mrs. Prosper. That is, if they accept the help of a mysterious figure seemingly plucked from its pages, who looks disquietingly familiar to Eleanor. They quickly learn that the power of the stories they've turned to for help have a stronger hold on them--and their futures--than they realized.

Hippy vibes today, with a nice Liz Claiborne tunic over a Lands End t shirt dress. Hang Ten necklace that nobody understands.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I remember Hang Ten! Haven't seen one of those in many years.