Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: 'Halloween: New Poems' by Al Sarrantonio

✰✰✰½ Celebrate Halloween with this collection of 41 poems from horror writers including Tom Piccirilli, Steve Rasnic Tem, Brian Freeman, T.M. Wright, and more. In addition, the first poems ever published by Joe R. Lansdale are included. Many different styles of poetry are represented in this slim book allowing the reader the opportunity to experience the many emotions of Halloween from terror to silliness. The poems are organized around seasonal themes including: "Trick or Treat," "Pumpkins," "Samhain," "Dead Leaves," "Ghoulies," and more, making it easy to find a poem that suits your mood.

As with many collections, some of these poems were outstanding while others were not; thus, it all evens out. The standouts include: "Beggars' Night" by Gary A. Braunbeck and Lucy A. Snyder, "On Hallows Eve" by Peter Crowther, "Cap'n Hook" (A Tale of the Prairie) by Bradley Denton, and my personal favorite "The Lady DeWitt" by Joe R. Lansdale.

The Bottom Line: The festivities of the Halloween season are well suited to be expressed through poetry. However, as mentioned above, some of these poems were hits, while others were misses. Nonetheless, there's a little bit of something for everyone. Most of the authors included in this collection are not known for their poetry, so it was interesting to read their work. Also, the collection includes different styles of poetry including many poems written in blank verse. Additionally, I enjoyed the fantastic interior illustrations by Keith Minnion. Halloween: New Poems is fun, seasonal reading for adults. However, due to the inclusion of violence and some profanity, these poems are not recommended for the little ones. 

Details: Halloween: New Poems edited by Al Sarrantonio. Hardcover published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2010. 112 p. ISBN: 978-1-58767-205-7

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: 'How to Carve Freakishly Cool Pumpkins' by Sarah L. Schuette

✰✰✰ If you haven't already done so, now is the time to purchase your pumpkins. For those looking to create something a little different than your ordinary Jack-o'-lantern, check out the ideas featured in How to Carve Freakishly Cool Pumpkins.

As expected, the book begins with "Carving Basics" for beginners and a list of required tools. From there it gets more interesting. There are directions for 11 creepy pumpkins. My favorites are Spider Bite, Hoot Hoot, and the Puking Pumpkin. Each project includes a list of materials, step-by-step instructions, tips, and a full color photograph of the finished pumpkin. The text uses simple sentences appropriate for kids in grade school, and the projects use readily available materials. The book also includes a glossary and index as well as book suggestions for further reading.

The Bottom Line: If you are interested in transforming your pumpkins into something different this year, check out the ideas in this book. You can make creepy pumpkin critters, owls, mummies, skeletons, cauldrons, and more using pumpkins, gourds, paint, and a few simple tools. This book offers creative fun for kids and adults alike. It's a good place to start if you are looking for new ideas. However, if you are looking for templates, you will have to look elsewhere. There are none inside this book. Projects require adult supervision and some previous experience carving pumpkins would be helpful.

Details: How to Carve Freakishly Cool Pumpkins by Sarah L. Schuette. Hardcover published by Edge Books an imprint of Capstone Press in 2011. p. 32 ISBN: 978-1-4296-5420-3

Capstone Press offers a series of Halloween books for those looking for beginning instructions on carving pumpkins, decorating, sewing costumes, and more. Other titles in the Halloween Extreme set include:

  • How to Make Frightening Halloween Decorations by Catherine Ipcizade ISBN: 978-1-4296-5423-4
  • How to Build Hair-Raising Haunted Houses by Megan Cooley Peterson ISBN: 978-1-4296-5421-0
  • How to Create Spectacular Halloween Costumes by Louann Mattes Brown ISBN: 978-1-4296-5422-7

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review: 'Deadfall Hotel' by Steve Rasnic Tem

✰✰✰ Ever since Abby Carter perished in a house fire, Richard  and his daughter Serena have been searching for a place to call home. When Richard responds to an ad seeking a proprietor for the Deadfall Hotel, he is surprised to be offered the job. Together Richard and Serena pack up their meager belongings and move, but nothing could have prepared them for what awaits at the Deadfall Hotel.

You see, the hotel is no ordinary inn. Through the guidance of Jacob Ascher, the previous proprietor, Richard slowly begins to learn the ins and outs of the hotel. While guests do come and go as expected, some guests never leave. Stranger yet, some guests have peculiar and even dangerous habits that must be catered to. Richard learns that being the proprietor of the Deadfall Hotel includes so much more than manning the front desk and overseeing the staff; he’s also the recreation director and the gardener to name a few of the many hats he must learn to wear.

Eventually, as the seasons change, so do Richard and Serena. They become accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of the hotel, which serves as a kind of safe harbor for lost souls. By living in an environment surrounded by death, Richard and Serena learn how let go of their own “ghosts” and live again.

The Bottom Line: Deadfall Hotel is a peculiar, different kind of book; each chapter tells its own story and all the chapters are woven together to form the book. While I enjoyed the eerie atmosphere of this book, I found myself longing for more information about the hotel, its guests, and Jacob, the previous proprietor. Recommended for fans of horror and for those wanting to read something new and different. This one is intriguing and a bit odd. Finally, sensitive readers concerned about the treatment of animals will want to steer clear of this one; it does contain scenes of animal abuse.
Details: Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem. Paperback published by Solaris in 2012. 304 p. ISBN: 978-1-907992-83-4

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: 'Blockade Billy' by Stephen King

✰✰✰✰ The orange signs said it all: ROAD CLOSED BY ORDER OF BLOCKADE BILLY. However, no one remembers William "Blockade Billy" Blakely today, and his team, the New Jersey Titans, have long since been forgotten. But when Mr. King interviews the elderly George "Granny" Grantham, the team's former third base coach, strange things come to light.

It seems that back in the day, Blakely was a great ball player; in fact, he was on his way to breaking every Rookie record in Major League Baseball history. It didn't matter that there was something just a little bit off about him. Neither did it matter that Blakely had a habit of repeating everything other people said or that he referred to himself in the third person. As the Titans' last minute replacement catcher, no one cared about his peculiar habits as long as he kept hitting home runs and could save the season. Unfortunately, Billy had a very dark secret to hide. Once uncovered, the scandal was so great that his scores were wiped off the record books forever.

The Bottom Line: This story is written entirely as a monologue, which is one of the reasons I liked it so well. While Blockade Billy is not a particularly scary story, it is an enjoyable, quick read. I read it in one sitting and especially enjoyed the twist at the end. There is nothing supernatural about this well written baseball yarn, and you don't need to be a baseball fan to appreciate this novella. Since this book includes profanity, it is recommended for adult fans of Stephen King, baseball, horror, and short stories.

Details: Blockade Billy by Stephen King. Hardcover published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2012. 112 p. ISBN: 978-1-58767-228-6

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: 'The 13 Nights of Halloween' by Guy Vasilovich

✰✰✰✰½ Most of us are familiar with the twelve days leading up to Christmas, but how many of us know about the thirteen nights leading up to Halloween? Author Guy Vasilovich has created a lyrical treat to help us count them. On each night, a little girl’s mummy gives her a present. The first present is a bright shiny skeleton key. On each following night, the little girl receives a gift a little more creepy, icky, slimy, or spooky than the previous ones. The usual Halloween characters like bats, ghosts, and witches all make their appearances making this a fun way to enjoy Halloween.

The Bottom Line: The 13 Nights of Halloween is filled with creepy cute illustrations in vivid colors that children will love. Sung to the tune of Twelve Days of Christmas, there is a lot of repetition in this book. The text is easy to read and will be a hit with beginning readers. Enthusiastically recommended for kids in grades K – 2, and for those who love spooktacular illustrations. This book features silly Halloween fun, and I really enjoyed it.

Details: The 13 Nights of Halloween by Guy Vasilovich. Hardcover picture book published in 2011 by Harper. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-180445-8

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cookbook Review: 'Wormy Apple Croissants and Other Halloween Recipes' by Brekka Hervey Larrew

✰✰✰✰ What better way to get ready for Halloween festivities than with a tasty semi-homemade treat? Wormy Apple Croissants and Other Halloween Recipes offers kids and their parents a selection of ten sweet and savory snacks to make and eat. Recipes are rated easy (✰), medium (✰✰), and advanced (✰✰✰); thus, making it helpful in choosing a project for your child's cooking  level. However, it would have been even better if the recipes also appeared in the book according to cooking level from the easiest to the most difficult.

The recipes clearly list both the ingredients and the tools required so that you can have everything ready before you begin. The author includes glossaries for both words and tools. Plus, there is information on kitchen safety, a metric conversion guide, and an index.

Taste Test Notes: I decided to try my hand at baking the Wormy Apple Croissants. It's one of the more difficult recipes in the book, and I wanted to see how long it would take to prepare. Here is the result:

Wormy Apple Croissants: Makes 8. Serving size is 1 per person.
I waited to drizzle the caramel topping onto the croissants until just before serving. These treats are indeed ooey, gooey, and tasty. Kids will absolutely love them. It took me approximately 1 hour to finish making these including 30 minutes of prep time, 11 minutes of baking time, 10 minutes of cooling time, and 10 minutes to insert the gummy worms. It will definitely take a little longer if you are working with kids. Also, you might want to purchase 2 packages of crescent rolls instead of just 1 as I was left with enough extra filling to make a second batch. Nana's Baking Tip: Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil before starting. This is a messy project and the foil will make the cleanup easier.

The Bottom Line: This Halloween themed cookbook is full of fun recipes for beginning cooks. Choose from Spooky Ghost Pops, Blood and Guts Nachos, Witchy Wands, Green swamp Punch and more for to delight little monsters who may happen by. Author Brekka Hervey Larrew uses easy-to-read, step-by-step instructions for her recipes, and each recipe includes a full color photograph of the finished product and tasty tips. The recipes would have been even better if the author had included information on preparation time. Also, sometimes the author uses the phrase "serving size" to indicate how many items the recipe makes rather than how many to eat per person which can be confusing. All in all these scary (and tasty) holiday snacks are sure to be a hit with kids in grade school and middle school. Also, recommended for party settings. Note: Adult supervision is required to make these treats.

Details: Wormy Apple Croissants and Other Halloween Recipes by Brekka Hervey Larrew. Hardcover published by Snap Books in 2008. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-4296-1338-5 This was just one title in the Fun Food for Cool Cooks series; you can check out the others here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Review: 'And Then Comes Halloween' by Tom Brenner

✰✰✰½ Debut author Tom Brenner has written a charming story about Halloween and the days leading up to it. And Then Comes Halloween follows several children as they prepare for Halloween night. As the days grow shorter and the morning air turns chilly, there are paper witches to be cut out, pumpkins to be carved, and costumes to be made. When Halloween arrives, it’s time run out into the night with friends and knock on doors. Finally, when it’s time to go home, the children learn the fun is not over yet; now it’s time to trade and share.

The Bottom Line: And Then Comes Halloween is a gentle tale about the joys of autumn and the preparation for the Halloween celebration. Youngsters will identify with the activities of the children featured in the story. Holly Meade’s watercolor and collage illustrations subtly set the tone for the holiday. This book is not frightening or spooky; thus, it’s a great introduction to the holiday for children who may be a bit fearful of going out for trick-or-treating. It also features themes of friendship and sharing. And Then Comes Halloween is appropriate for little ones in Grades Pre-K – 1.

Details: And Then Comes Halloween written by Tom Brenner and illustrated by Holly Mead. Hardcover picture book published in 2009 by Candlewick Press. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-3659-3

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: 'The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories by David LaRochelle

✰✰✰✰½ What’s a parent ghost to do when his ghost children won’t go to sleep? Tell bedtime stories, of course. So when Franny and Frankie demand a scary story before bed, Father Ghost gives in. But one story is never enough. So Father Ghost shares three short stories, each one scarier than the last. The stories include The Scary Baby, The Haunted Hamburger, and The Big Bad Granny. Each ghost story concludes with a funny and clever twist ending that will leave you laughing all the way to bed.

The Bottom Line: David LaRochelle’s collection of three short ghost stories is a hit for Halloween. These “spooky” stories are humorous and fun to read. I loved the surprise twist endings, especially the one at the very end, and kids will too. Additionally, Paul Meisel’s illustrations perfectly match the hilarious tone of the book. This spooktacularly funny book will be read again and again by kids in Grades 2 - 5. These ghost stories are very highly recommended for everyone.

Details: The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Paul Meisel. Hardcover picture book published in 2011 by Dutton Children’s Books. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-525-42272-3

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Book Review: 'Little Goblins Ten' by Pamela Jane

✰✰✰✰ Counting to ten just got a lot more fun with this Halloween themed counting book by author Pamela Jane. The fun starts with a big mommy monster and her little monster one, who she sends scampering into the forest. From there the fun continues with a variety of seasonal characters like ghosties two, zombies three, and more…all the way up to little goblins ten. Kids will appreciate the singsong verse and delight in guessing which creature is featured next.

The Bottom Line: With a fun, haunted twist, this picture book will seem familiar to those acquainted with the nursery rhyme, “Over in the Meadow.” Little Goblins Ten is an adorable book the little ones will enjoy. Illustrated in soft watercolor tones, the pictures are engaging and fun with just a hint of spookiness. This Halloween themed book features just the right amount of ghosties, goblins, werewolves, and more without being too creepy. Kids ages 4 – 6 will enjoy reading along with their favorite adult.

Details: Little Goblins Ten written by Pamela Jane and illustrated by Jane Manning. Hardcover picture book published in 2011 by Harper. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-176798-2

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book Review: 'Island Funeral' by Keith Minnion

✰✰✰✰½ On their honeymoon, newlywed Sarah makes her new husband, Tim Moser, promise that if she should die, he will see that she is buried in the family plot on the mainland. It's so important to her that he agrees. But promises are made to be broken, and just four years later, Tim replays that conversation in his head as he follows the hearse carrying his wife's body back to her hometown. Tim does his best to follow through with her request, but when an accident puts Tim in a coma, Sarah's family proceeds with the funeral without him. As Tim slowly makes his physical recovery, he has an uneasy feeling that the townspeople are hiding something from him. As soon as his broken body will allow, Tim begins to search for answers. When he finally learns the horrifying truth about the difference between a mainland funeral and an island funeral, he knows that nothing will ever be the same.

The Bottom Line: Keith Minnion's chapbook is the perfect read for a stormy autumn night. It's an eerie delight and quick to read, but it stays with you for a long time. I finished it in about an hour, but I've reread it several times. Island Funeral is reminiscent of Stephen King's Pet Sematary and will appeal to fans of horror and those who enjoy well-written stories. Very highly recommended.

Details: Island Funeral by Keith Minnion. Paperback published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2011. 40 p. ISBN: 978-1587672682

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Horrorfest of Books 2012

October is by far my most favorite month of the year. "Why?" you might ask. Well, because of Halloween, of course. Halloween (and the days leading up to it) is absolutely the best holiday. I know many people will disagree saying that the December holiday season is the best, but I know better. It's not everyday that you can dress up as anything you want and act completely out of character...all in good fun, of course. 

Let's not forget about the beauty of autumn. The leaves are turning colors of fiery reds, golden yellows, and brilliant oranges. There are also evenings around the bonfire with S'mores. Plus, there are football games and tailgate parties to attend.

But what I love best about October is the anticipation leading up to Halloween. There's the search for the perfect costume and the search for the perfect pumpkin (well, make that three perfect pumpkins because I always have to have three). The pumpkins must be gutted and transformed into Jack-o'-lanterns; then the seeds must be cleaned and roasted. And let's not forget bobbing for apples and drinking apple cider.

Yes, the days leading up to Halloween are fun indeed, but what I also love about October is the focus on Halloween and horror books. I have always felt that horror fiction is terribly underrated. That's why Mini Book Bytes is happy to dedicate the month of October to books featuring ghosts, goblins, hauntings, horror stories, and Halloween poems for all ages. So enjoy the Halloween season and check out a few books. You'll be in for a spooktacular good time. Oh...and leave the light on...just in case!

Happy Reading &

Note: The free clip art is from Squidoo!