Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 168 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, is part one in a series of graphic novels about a mysterious house and its locked rooms.  Keyhouse is an unlikely mansion in the Massachusetts town of Lovecraft, and it sits on an island separate from the rest of the town.  It’s a clear set up for a horrifying tale.  The three Locke children are left with their barely functioning, alcoholic mother when their father is murdered at their summer cabin outside San Francisco.  The family starts over across the country, only to be caught in a web of darkness they can’t see until it’s too late.

Tyler is struggling because he blames himself for his father’s murder.  He never could please his father, and they often argued, but he did not really want his father to die.  Bode is the youngest, and he escapes the sorrow through his imagination, flying around the Keyhouse as a ghost, while his sister, Kinsey, struggles to remain unseen by everyone in their new school.  What these kids are unaware of are the childhood antics their father and uncle used to get up to as children in Keyhouse, and even their mother is only mildly aware of some stories.  Rodriguez’s artistry is gritty and the violent scenes are well rendered.  The ghost-like characters are gorgeous, swirling as they move from place to place.

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, is a great opener to this dark fantasy series, and the twists and turns are unraveled a little at a time to keep readers on their toes.  There are dark forces at work in this house, and they will stop at nothing to open all of the locked doors.

About the Author:

Joseph Hillstrom King is an American writer of fiction, writing under the pen name of Joe Hill.  Hill is the the second child of authors Stephen King and Tabitha King. His younger brother Owen King is also a writer. He has three children.

Hill’s first book, the limited edition collection 20th Century Ghosts published in 2005 by PS Publishing, showcases fourteen of his short stories and won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, together with the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection and Best Short Story for “Best New Horror”. In October 2007, Hill’s mainstream US and UK publishers reprinted 20th Century Ghosts, without the extras published in the 2005 slipcased versions, but including one new story.

About the Illustrator:

Architect, artist and illustrator. He started his career with myth based illustrations for card games, and then jumped into the world of professional comics working with IDW Publishing. In addition to his current work in Locke & Key, his collaborations with IDW include Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show, Beowulf, George Romero’s Land Of The Dead, as well as several CSI comics and some covers for Angel and Transformers.














Underdays: Poems by Martin Ott

Source: Bostick Communications
Paperback, 72 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Underdays: Poems by Martin Ott is a collection that seeks to dissect human motivations to love, to hate, to soldier on, and more.  His poems express this search through a dialogue within their lines and between one another, almost like people in deep conversation.  Readers may see this technique as an extension of his days as a U.S. Army interrogator, as Ott continues to dig deeper to find kernels of truth and fact.  He opens with a poem that examines the undercarriage of retirement, what does it mean to retire, how does it feel.  In the poem, it’s clear that there is an expectation about retirement that does not come to pass:

From "The Interrogator in Retirement" (pg. 3)

He wants to love recklessly
but his eyes remain desert
dry, unable to view clear skies
without seeing the curtains,

He examines this new found freedom with a critical eye. How do you move beyond what came before, even if you have no further obligations and you’re beholden to only yourself and your desires?  Ott creates tales that unfold and fold unto themselves, taking readers on winding journeys — much like those in real life that are never a straight line from point A to point B.  His images are fresh and nuanced, and will force readers to rethink their own perceptions of retirement, work, and death.

From "Survivor's Manual to Love and War" (pg. 6)

Death is a loving dog
with no children or chew toys
to occupy its attention.
It will lick you into submission,
this inevitable pack instinct,
to join the vast departed.

He examines what it means to face death and how alluring it can be when things are hopeless, but he also counters these examinations with a look at how much we do to stave off death and avoid it altogether just so we can eek out just a little bit more time with loved ones. Ott’s images will stay with readers long after poems are read, like a man who turns into “a dragon … sucking fumes in motor pools” or the clacking of Salinger’s typewriter on the battlefield sounding “like gold fillings against wet pavement.”

Some poems seem to be about the mundane, like why he doesn’t set the clock in his car or why he doesn’t carry an umbrella, but these poems, too, become something more — a time travel journey with kids or the hidden dangers of the umbrella and how it can die just from being opened.  Underdays: Poems by Martin Ott, winner of the , turns over the rocks in our lives to find the darkness, the humor, and the introspective nature we hide as we trudge through daily activities.

About the Poet:

Born in Alaska and raised in Michigan, Martin Ott served as an interrogator in U.S. Army military intelligence. He moved to Los Angeles to attend the Masters of Professional Writing Program at USC, and often writes about his adopted city, including in the novel The Interrogator’s Notebook (currently being pitched by Paradigm as a TV pilot) and poetry books Captive, De Novo Prize Winner, C&R Press and Underdays, Sandeen Prize Winner, University of Notre Dame Press (Fall 2015).

Social and political themes are prevalent in all of his books, particularly Poets’ Guide to America and Yankee Broadcast Network, coauthored with John F. Buckley, Brooklyn Arts Press and his short story collection, Interrogations, Fomite Press (Spring 2016).







Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 544 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub, which was our October book club selection, is billed as an anthology that includes horror stories that can be deemed literary, rather than “formulaic gore.”  Although some of these stories are by turns surreal and unsettling — some may even be literary — they are a far cry from the disturbing and nightmarish tales of Edgar Allan Poe.  Readers may appreciate the nods to Poe or even other authors, like Franz Kafka, but those nods to previous greats on their own do not make a story worthy of note.  “Cleopatra Brimstone” uses the idea of people turning to bugs found in Kafka and turns it into a story about strong female sexual identity, but at the same time, the story lacks verve.

“The Bees” and “The Man on the Ceiling” will leave readers wanting more, particularly in the development of the characters, while “The Great God Pan” offers an interesting premise and a shadow that lurks behind the lives of three friends who underwent a ritual together, but the story fizzles out by the end.  “In Praise of Folly” is a slow moving story in which Roland Turner seeks out the Jorgenson estate in his quest for a folly to be saved, and it’s a tale of watch what you ask for because you just might get it — and then some.  While the story itself is not particularly unique, the anxiety stems from what happens when Turner finally finds the estate and its “Little Italy.”  Although it is not horrifying in the gory sense, it does make readers gulp for air as they consider what happens to him.

Even the stories by Stephen King, Joe Hill, Peter Straub, and Neil Gaiman are lackluster, though Gaiman’s story is the most enjoyable and uses his writing style well.  King’s story was not what readers will expect, Hill’s is unimaginative, and Straub appears to be too bogged down in his own introductory statements about literary horror fiction.  Unfortunately, Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub does not live up to expectations and is mediocre at best.

What the Book Club Thought:

Many of us were disappointed by the horror collection, with many of the stories only moderately creepy and others were just surreal or odd.  Some stories felt very unfinished, and others had endings that came out of left field.  A few felt that the introduction set us up for disappointment, as many of the stories were lacking in the horror or Poe quality we expected.  The cover of the hardcover edition seems to tell you what the book will not be — it is not about dead babies and other horrors traditionally found in the genre.  One member, however, thought that the introduction helped lower expectations and made the collection more enjoyable.  Overall, the discussion about each of the stories was animated, even though no one really LOVED this one.

About the Author:

Peter Straub was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1943, the first of three sons of a salesman and a nurse. The salesman wanted him to become an athlete, the nurse thought he would do well as either a doctor or a Lutheran minister, but all he wanted to do was to learn to read.

He went to the University of Wisconsin and, after opening his eyes to the various joys of Henry James, William Carlos Williams, and the Texas blues-rocker Steve Miller, a great & joyous character who lived across the street, passed through essentially unchanged to emerge in 1965 with an honors degree in English, then an MA at Columbia a year later.










Ava the Monster Slayer by Lisa Maggiore, illustrated by Ross Felten

Source: Sky Pony Press
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Ava the Monster Slayer by Lisa Maggiore, illustrated by Ross Felten, is another hit with my daughter with its comic book style illustrations.  It’s like a beginner’s comic book.  She is hooked.  Ava is a young girl with a favorite stuffed animal and an active imagination, which is fueled by the stories of her older brother.

When her mother tells her that her stuffed animal is in the dryer, she is determined to save him from the monsters in the basement.  She transforms herself into a monster slayer with a cape, a crown, and pink rain boots when she realizes that she’s on her own in her quest.  There are action sequences, moments of tension in which Ava’s confidence is shaken, and large old-school “Pow” and “Wham”-type exclamations.  She is on a mission to save her friend, Piggy, despite the dangers.

Ava the Monster Slayer by Lisa Maggiore, illustrated by Ross Felten, is an origin story, and it seems as though there are more adventures to come for Ava.  My daughter adores these adventure stories, and this one has great illustrations.










Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 5 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, narrated by Mike Chamberlain, examines teenage life with an inside look through Tyler Miller’s eyes.  Miller was an average student and teen with a dysfunctional family, and he makes one mistake — paints graffiti on the school and lands on probation.  Miller’s life is further upended by the attention of popular girl, Bethany Milbury.  He has had a crush on this girl for a long time, and when she pays him attention he cannot believe his luck.  However, his one chivalrous decision ends up landing him in hot water with the school and the police.  Chamberlain’s voice is perfect for the voice of this teenage boy, who is by turns comic, tortured by bullies, and entertains thoughts of suicide.

Miller’s parents are consumed by their work and are barely home to care for their kids, and the father is clearly in need of anger management.  And Anderson raises questions about what it means to be a man in today’s society, how teen boys can face pressures that even their parents are unaware of, and what it means to be the subject of bullying.  Miller is a genuine teen boy, and readers will see why Anderson’s prose is so well praised in the young adult fiction community and beyond.  She is in tune with today’s teens and their struggles.

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, narrated by Mike Chamberlain, is tragic and real at the same time, and the Miller family is in dire need of therapy.  This book is funny, horrifying, and poignant given the two-income households that abound in modern society, the need of families to find balance between work and home life, and the bullying that happens in many high schools.

About the Author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous ALA and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists.

Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and on her tumblr.










Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 208 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss has a cover that glows like the radium discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie, and the collage format allows the text, photos, illustrations, and documents to inform one another in a unique way.  Not only does Redniss use interviews with scientists, A-bomb survivors, and Marie and Pierre Curie’s own granddaughter, but she also utilizes Marie Curie’s own words from her diaries and letters.  The book chronicles not only the discovery of Radium and Polonium, but also how Marie and Pierre came to be working and living their lives together, as well as Marie’s life after the death of her husband.

What’s interesting about this book is that it not only examines the history of discovery and the resistance to commercialization held at the time by the Curie’s and other scientists.  There are some points in the book where the transition between the historic events and the more recent consequences of Curie’s discoveries could have been smoother, particularly the section about the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant meltdown that comes right after Marie has lost her husband and moves with her daughters closer to Pierre’s father.  Beyond that, those who have studied Curie in school may not know about her work with hospital X-ray units or how her work was carried on by her children.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss condenses a lot of historic fact into a small volume and offers supporting documentation for her findings.  This collection would be a great addition to school classrooms and could help make a hard-to-understand subject easier to digest.

***Another thank you goes to Bermudaonion for bringing my attention to this one***

About the Author:

Lauren Redniss is the author of Century Girl: 100 years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies and Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for nonfiction. Her writing and drawing has appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, which nominated her work for the Pulitzer Prize. She was a fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library in 2008-2009, became a New York Institute for the Humanities fellow in 2010, and is currently Artist-in-Residence at the American Museum of Natural History. She teaches at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 161 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Displacement by Lucy Knisley is part travelogue, part memoir, part comic, and it does an excellent job of illustrating the fears of younger generations when it comes to caring for elderly parents or grandparents.  Lucy volunteers to take her elderly grandparents on a cruise with their senior housing community, and while she loves her grandparents, she, like many grandchildren, still see them as capable and active adults, even though their health has declined.  Traveling with aging grandparents through a series of connecting flights and the boarding of a cruise ship is difficult, especially as Knisley’s grandmother is losing her memory and her grandfather has bladder control issues.  Readers are likely to giggle about some comedic moments, but what makes this book shine is the compassion, angst, and love that shines through in every page.

Knisley ponders what it means to be a good person and what her own motivations are for coming on the trip, as well as why her own family has a hard time expressing love for one another — with the closest to an “I love you” being “we’re so proud of your academic achievements.”  Although her grandparents have lost some of their memories, Knisley is lucky to have her grandfather’s memoir about his WWII experiences.  She discovers while reading this memoir in preparation for the cruise that her grandfather often threw caution to the wind, like not wearing a parachute while flying because it was uncomfortable.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley is not just about mortality and how many young people do not want to face it.  It is also about having compassion and love for your own roots, so much so that you set aside your own discomfort to make sure elderly relations enjoy their own time on vacation or just with family.  It also sheds light on the incredibly hard job it is to be a caregiver for the elderly, particularly when you’re not related to them.  Knisley gives readers a new respect for those working in nursing homes and elderly communities.

A definite contender for the year-end best list.

***Thanks to Bermudaonion for reviewing this one and calling my attention to it.***

Other reviews:

About the Author:

Beginning with an love for Archie comics and Calvin and Hobbes, Lucy Knisley (pronounced “nigh-zlee”) has always thought of cartooning as the only profession she is suited for. A New York City kid raised by a family of foodies, Lucy is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago currently pursuing an MFA at the Center for Cartoon Studies. While completing her BFA at the School of the Art Institute, she was comics editor for the award-winning student publication F News Magazine.

Lucy currently resides in New York City where she makes comics. She likes books, sewing, bicycles, food you can eat with a spoon, manatees, nice pens, costumes, baking and Oscar Wilde. She occasionally has been known to wear amazing hats.

Monster Trouble! by Lane Fredrickson, illustrated by Michael Robertson

Source: Sterling Children’s Books
Hardcover, 26 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Monster Trouble! by Lane Fredrickson, illustrated by Michael Robertson, was a big hit.  Winifred Schnitzel has an active imagination and is fearless, even when monsters arrive in her bedroom.  Like my daughter, she loves Halloween, monsters, and ghouls, but what she doesn’t like is interrupted sleep.  She tries to ignore their noises and their distractions, but it’s of no use.  The more the monsters come and visit, the sleepier she is during the day.  She can’t even have fun.

While the immediate subtext for adults is that this child who loves monsters is having dreams that keep her from achieving full rest — they might be nightmares.  Parents can use this story to teach little ones about being strong and taking care of their nightmares with their imaginations.  Winifred uses a Monsters Beware book to lay traps, use smelly cheeses, and more to get the monsters to leave.  But the biggest weapon she has is her love for all that’s ghoulish.

Monster Trouble! by Lane Fredrickson, illustrated by Michael Robertson, has been read more than once, and my daughter adores the colorful “scary” monsters and the traps Winifred sets for them.  We were giggling as the monsters get trapped and outwit her, until finally she turns on the love.













The Colorado Kid by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 4 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, narrated by Jeffrey DeMunn, is one of those mysteries that King does from time to time, bringing his readers on a journey through evidence and oddities in a case.  King’s use of small town, older journalists in a Maine town gives the story a rather low key quality, as they talk about the 25-year-old mystery of an unidentified man found dead.  The dead man has no identification on his body, but as they unravel the mystery of his identity, the case gets stranger.

These characters are in a small town that crawls with tourists in the summer and sometimes big city journalists looking for their big break in the headlines about small town freakish accidents and murders.  Those who live in the town look suspiciously at those from out of town.  What’s important here is not solving the mystery of the man’s death but the journey of uncovering the truth, even if cases are not neatly tied up.  DeMunn does a fantastic job in his narration, providing a local-sound drawl for these Mainers.

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, narrated by Jeffrey DeMunn, is a mystery that could leave some readers frustrated, either because of its conclusion or because the story is mainly two men recounting their efforts to solve a 25-year-old case in which an unidentified man is found dead.  However, like with many King novels, this one is more than its surface reading — it’s about the niggling feeling at the back of your mind to uncover the truth to find out why things happen they way they do, rather than make up a story that is plausible but not likely to be true.  Good journalists and detectives have this desire, this passion for uncovering facts.  King is paying homage to those who do their best to uncover the facts of unsolved murders and unexplained deaths.

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.









All the Words Are Yours: Haiku on Love by Tyler Knott Gregson

Source: Penguin Random House
Hardcover, 144 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

All the Words Are Yours: Haiku on Love by Tyler Knott Gregson is a collection of haiku poems — though not all of them include references to nature — about love and all of its manifestations. This small collection, however, is just a taste of what love can mean, bring, and be to many of us. These verse reveal a poet who is romantic and optimistic, as these poems espouse not only how passionate love can be but also how transformative and consuming it is.

I am broken down
and shattered into pieces
You are still barefoot
Your soul knew my soul
long before we needed skin
to spend a life in.
Lay down your roots now, 
let them wrap tight around mine,
sink deep in the soil.

In each of these short haiku, readers will get a glimpse of the form and its power to punctuate a feeling or a moment, so that they can stop and listen to their own feelings and thoughts, compare their own past and present loves, and be more introspective. Gregson lays his heart out and is unafraid of those who would poke fun at his cheesy lines or his unabashed love expressed in intimate ways. It’s like peering into his life, watching how he forms attachments, reveres them, and carries them forward.

All the Words Are Yours: Haiku on Love by Tyler Knott Gregson could be a romantic gift for your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend on an anniversary, as an every day gift, or something special for Valentine’s Day, that most commercial of holidays.  However, Gregson’s haiku also challenges the traditional use of the form, driven by nature imagery, to consider more abstract things as natural because we are aware of them — such as love or the soul.  Some of these haiku also leave you breathless.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (audio)

Source: Public library
Audiobook, 6 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, narrated by Jeannie Stith, is an extremely disturbing look at the mindset of a teenager caught in the grips of anorexia.  Cassie calls Lia a wintergirl, a girl living between life and death with a beating heart but not really living.  Lia and Cassie are no longer friends by the time we meet Lia, who is trapped in a world of counting and restraint.  Like her mother, Lia wants to be in control and she keeps her feelings bottled up inside.  Her parents are frustrated, and Lia’s frustrated with herself because she cannot be thin enough, she cannot escape Cassie’s taunting, and she cannot change.  Her parents are as trapped as she is, but Anderson has crafted a narrative that forces the reader to be trapped with them.

Lia’s plight will make readers uncomfortable, especially if they have ever thought they were too fat or unpopular.  Most teens have been bullied for one reason or another, but Lia’s problems go deeper than what her peers call her — the biggest problem is what she calls herself and how she hates herself when she eats, when she doesn’t act “normal,” and when she fails those around her and herself.  This is a harrowing tale and a nightmarish narrative that will shake readers from their complacent ideas about anorexia.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, narrated by Jeannie Stith, is disturbing and world-shaking.  Anderson is a powerful writer who understands teens very well, and her stories are relevant and worth reading for adults and teens.  While the subject matter may hit too close to home and concern parents that teens will take the narrative to heart and begin their own anorexia journeys, these are the books that are here to challenge our way of thinking, to make us reassess our perceptions of these disorders, and incite us into action.

I read this for Banned Books Week.

About the Author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous ALA and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists.

Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and on her tumblr.











The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas

Source: Sterling Children’s Books
Hardcover, 20 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas is a wonderful use of paper art and color.  Imagine a gray scale world in which the monster is the only one in color, and his rainbow of color signifies that his emotions are out of control.  This young lady has the patience of a saint as she kindly explains the situation to the monster and they set off together to sort out his emotions.

The young lady and her monster go through the book sorting out the emotions by color into jars from the sunshine of happiness to the blue rain clouds of sadness.  In addition to using paper art, these pop-out images also utilize other materials, including string.  And by the end, she and her monster uncover another emotion, one that they haven’t even labeled, which is accompanied by pink hearts.  The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas is delightful to look at and read, but it also is a great tool for helping young kids sort out their emotions.