Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: 'Los Gatos Black on Halloween' by Marisa Montes

✰✰✰✰ Black cats, witches, skeletons, mummies, and more emerge from the darkness for some Halloween fun. As the scariest creatures of the night walk, rattle, and fly to a haunted mansion, the night air fills with magic and chills. It's the perfect recipe for a monstrous ball in the house’s haunted halls. There’s music and dancing and fun galore, when suddenly there’s a rap, rap, rapping at the door. The monsters run. The monsters hide. But there's no escaping that of all the horrors in the night, the very worst at their door. What could be so frightening to the monsters of the night? Check out Los Gatos Black on Halloween to find out.

The Bottom Line: Highly recommended for spooky bilingual fun for kids in grades 1 - 4. Author Marisa Montes seamlessly incorporates Spanish words into the rhyming text. Thus, this is a great way to introduce kids to the Spanish language. Yuyi Morales' illustrations perfectly complement the text making it easy for non-Spanish speaking readers to guess what the words mean. Also, the book includes a glossary in the back for those who need a little extra help. Morales' illustrations are fantastically dark, spooky, and reminiscent of artwork representing the Day of the Dead or el Día de los Muertos. However, while older kids will enjoy the dark tone of the book and the creepy illustrations, this one may be a little too scary for preschoolers.

Details: Los Gatos Black on Halloween written by Marisa Montes and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Hardcover picture book published by Henry Holt and Company in 2006. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8050-7429-5

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: 'A Halloween Treat' by Edward Gorey

✰✰✰✰✰ A few of my favorite things are included in this fun Halloween themed flip-over book. First up, trick-or-treaters are in for a surprise Edward Gorey style when their goody bag is filled with a surprise. (Hint: It isn't candy.) By flipping the pages very quickly there's even a little animation in the corner of this colorful adventure.

Next, flip the book over to check out Edward Gorey's Ghosts. Filled with a variety of characteristic pen and ink images, some illustrations are new and some are more familiar. Assembled together, this collection of ghosts features unearthly fun.

The Bottom Line: This little gem contains plenty of cats, bats, and ghosties. Kids young and old will enjoy Edward Gorey's illustrations and sense of humor. This is a great introduction to Gorey's artwork and will inspire a new generation of Gorey fans. Highly recommended for everyone.

Details: A Halloween Treat by Edward Gorey. Hardcover published by Bloomsbury in 2012. 48 p. ISBN: 978-1-60819-616-6

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book Review: 'Substitute Creature' by Charles Gilman

✰✰✰✰½ Middle school students Robert Arthur, Glenn Torkells, and Karina Ortiz, the school ghost, have returned in the fourth installment of the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series. Lovecraft Middle School is not just any ordinary school. It was built upon the remains of Tillinghast Mansion, the home of renowned mad scientist Crawford Tillinghast. The school grounds contain hidden portals to other dimensions, and the school itself is teeming with demons, monsters, creatures, and an assortment of creepy crawly insects. While seventh graders Robert and Glenn have survived several near-death experiences over the past few months, nothing can prepare them for their current adventure.

It’s Valentine’s Day and the school has a special treat for the students; it’s a surprise concert. When Glenn notices that the choir robes look mysteriously like the garments worn by Tillinghast’s servants, they find themselves stepping through another portal and into a new adventure. Just then a blizzard suddenly descends upon their town trapping Robert and a few others inside. Faced with freezing temperatures, little food, and no electricity, the trio of friends must confront a mysterious substitute teacher and the most frightening monsters they have encountered so far. Before all is said and done, Robert will be faced with the most difficult choice of his life, and their lives will be changed forever.

The Bottom Line: The fourth book in the series is just as fun and full of adventure as the previous installments. Authentic characters and dialogue make this book appealing to both boys and girls in grades 4 – 7. Author Charles Gilman expertly weaves the themes of friendship and teamwork into the story. While illustrator Eugene Smith’s black and white pencil drawings are spot-on.

Although there are references to the previous adventures, young readers can dive right into this installment without having read the other books in order. This very quick read is highly recommended for kids who enjoy monsters, horror, and adventure fiction.  For more creepy fun, check out Lovecraft Middle School.

Details: Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #4: Substitute Creature written by Charles Gilman & illustrated by Eugene Smith. Hardcover published by Quirk Books in 2013. 176 p. ISBN: 978-1-59474-614-7 Note: I received a copy from Quirk Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: 'The Resurrectionist' by E. B. Hudspeth

✰✰✰✰ Featuring two books in one beautiful hardcover, The Resurrectionist is both intriguing and beautifully grotesque at the same time. The first half of the book features the fictional biography of a man named Dr. Spencer Black. Spencer and his brother, Bernard, had a rather unusual upbringing. Having a father who was a respected professor of anatomy, the brothers often assisted him in digging up corpses for the dissections he performed for his students. Spencer grew up to attend medical school and attacked his studies with a passion. He excelled and had a promising career ahead of him. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way he is drawn into the darkness and becomes obsessed with genetic deformities. As he spiraled into insanity, Dr. Black theorized that deformities were not accidents, but rather the body's attempt to regrow what it once had eons ago. Around this time Dr. Black began experimenting with surgically recreating mythical beasts he believed once roamed the earth. He even went so far as to create a traveling carnival show of his creations.

Written in a style that incorporates some of Dr. Black's journal entries, poetry, and drawings, the biography abruptly ends with his disappearance adding to the mystery of the man. Nevertheless, the short biography sets up the tone for the second half of the book, The Codex Extinct Animalia. The codex features a brief introduction and anatomical drawings for eleven creatures shrouded in myth and legend including Sphinx Alatus, Minotaurus Asterion, and Canis Hades.

The Bottom Line: This gorgeous hardcover book is a keeper. I'm a big fan of books that are a bit different and dark; this one is definitely both. As I read it I was reminded of the anatomy and physiology texts I studied back in college. Having a basic knowledge of anatomy helped me appreciate the book even more. As other reviewers have mentioned, the text is somewhat lacking and repetitive in areas; however, I thought that may have been intentional since the main character is obviously mad. Hudspeth’s illustrations are fantastically macabre and spellbinding. Enthusiastically recommended for adult readers looking for something eccentric with a dark and disturbing twist. Also, recommended for those with an interest in mythology. This would make an interesting coffee table book to be sure. Note: Some sections describing Dr. Black's experiments are extremely disturbing. Additionally, due to the anatomical illustrations, this book is not recommended for sensitive readers or children.

Details: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E. B. Hudspeth. Hardcover published by Quirk Books in 2013. 192 p. ISBN: 978-1-59474-616-1

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: 'Fergus and the Night-Demon' by Jim Murphy

✰✰✰ Fergus O'Mara is a lazy young lad. All he wants is for his nagging mother to leave him alone so he can be off to Skibbereen to have some fun. Fergus is determined that nothing will get in his way, not even the fearful Night-Demon. After all, the apparition could simply be a figment of Fergus' imagination brought on by something he ate. The quick-witted young lad dodges the Night-Demon's every move. However, when Fergus is ordered to dig his own grave, he finally realizes that the Night-Demon is serious. Will Fergus end up the next victim of the Night-Demon or will his quick wits save him yet again? It seems the young Fergus is doomed, but you'll have to read the book to find out.

The Bottom Line: If you are looking for a scary ghost story with an Irish twist, this one is for you. Gouache and colored pencil illustrations by John Manders are dark and frightening adding to the evil character of the Night-Demon created by Jim Murphy. Fergus and the Night-Demon is somewhat reminiscent of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as Fergus undergoes a transformation in character due to the haunting. Recommended for kids in grades 5 & 6, but don't read this to the little ones (it's too scary).

Details: Fergus and the Night-Demon: An Irish Ghost Story written by Jim Murphy and illustrated by John Manders. Hardcover picture book published by Clarion Books in 2006. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-618-33955-6

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: 'Halloween Bugs' by David A. Carter

✰✰✰✰✰ Bugs, bugs, and more bugs galore are featured in this cute little Halloween pop-up book. Hidden behind all kinds of doors, children will find all kinds of bugs hiding out. For example, there's a Lollipop Bug behind the dusty old door and a whole bunch of nested bugs behind the enchanted door. The illustrations throughout the book are simple and colorful. Little ones will have lots of fun opening all the doors to find all the different kinds of bugs waiting to pop out.

The Bottom Line: Kids will absolutely love this little gem of a book. They will read and play with this book time and time again; it's just that fun. Highly recommended interactive fun for little ones ages 4 & 5.

Details: Halloween Bugs: A Trick-or-Treat Pop-up by David A. Carter. Hardcover picture book published by Little Simon in 2003. 14 p. ISBN: 0-689-85916-3 Halloween Bugs is part of the Bugs in a Box series; check them all out.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: 'Twisted Sistahs' by Mark Kimball Moulton

✰✰✰ The Ghoulyah sistahs were three very special ladies. A long time ago, they were known far and wide for their extraordinary beauty. While each was different, each possessed her own special charms. Thus, it was not surprising that the sistahs attracted mistahs from all over the world. Mistahs of all kinds would wait for days to meet these lovelies. In fact, there were so many, how could each sistah choose just one? Then an idea came to them...throw a party and invite them all. And so the invitations were sent, the spider legs fried, and the sistahs dressed in their best. The event became legendary. Soon everyone around the world aspired to have their own October celebration...a celebration that came to be known as Halloween.

The Bottom Line: Author Mark Kimball Moulton has written a fictional account of the "true story" of the first Halloween. While this title is somewhat humorous, it falls flat due to the forced rhyme and lengthy text. Good's watercolor illustrations are simple and a bit quirky; the earth tones are pleasing to the eye. Since the text is rather long for a picture book, save this one for kids in grades 3 - 4. Readers who enjoy stories about Halloween and witches will pick this up.

Details: Twisted Sistahs written by Mark Kimball Moulton and illustrated by Karen Hillard Good. Hardcover picture book published by Riverton Press in 2006. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8249-8676-8

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cookbook Review: 'Betty Crocker Halloween Cookbook'

✰✰✰✰½ At last there is an easy cookbook with kid-friendly recipes dedicated to my favorite holiday of the year...Halloween! I've been searching for quite some time to find a cookbook featuring spooky treats to make for the little goblins in my neighborhood. Finally, I have found what I've been looking for.

Tucked inside the Betty Crocker Halloween Cookbook are seasonal recipes for cooks of all skill levels. After a brief introduction on planning a Halloween party, the book is divided into four sections. Choose from appetizers and drinks; main dishes; cupcakes and cakes; and cookies and other frightfully fun treats. Additionally, there's even a small section for "giftable goodies." Tempting treats to make include: Mummy Toes, Spider Bites, Serpent Subs, Creepy Crawler Cupcakes, Munchable Mice, and more.

Each recipe features a full-color photograph to show you what the finished product should look like. Both the ingredients and the instructions are listed in an easily readable format. Plus, each recipe includes nutritional information. Finally, the cookbook includes "terrifying tips," a metric conversion guide, recipe testing information, and an index. These recipes are so appealing and fun, you'll want to try them all.

Taste Test Notes: The nearly 100 recipes were so tempting that I had a difficult time picking just one to try. My first choice was the Graveyard Bones with Dip on page 36. Unfortunately, my local grocery store did not carry the Pillsbury refrigerated breadsticks, nor did it offer a substitute. Therefore, I moved on to my second choice:  Spooky Spiderweb Pizza on page 78. Once I had gathered all my ingredients, it was a cinch to put it all together. This would be a fantastic recipe to make with kids in the kitchen. They get to work with their hands and enjoy a yummy treat when finished. Surprisingly, the most difficult part of this recipe was getting the pizza dough to fit my round pizza pan. After prebaking the crust, the rest was simple layering. The result was a tasty treat that was completed in 45 minutes.

Spooky Spiderweb Pizza before baking
Nana's Cooking Tips: 1.) You can easily change the toppings to suit your family's tastes. 2.) When it comes time to drizzle the Alfredo sauce on top, be sure to cut the tip of the plastic bag sparingly. You can always go back and cut off a little more.

The Bottom Line: Kids of all ages and adults who are kids at heart will simply adore the delightfully spooky snacks and dishes served up in this Betty Crocker cookbook. The directions are easy so kids can join in the fun by picking out recipes and helping to prepare them. I enjoyed browsing through this cookbook so much that I wanted to give it five stars. However, I did experience some difficulty locating ingredients; thus, the final rating is 4.5 stars. This is a highly recommended purchase for both library and home cookbook collections. Aspiring chefs of all skill levels will find something fun and spooky to whip up for Halloween.

Details: Betty Crocker Halloween Cookbook by Betty Crocker. Paperback published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. in 2012. 208 p. ISBN: 978-1-118-38894-5

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book Review: 'Doll Bones' by Holly Black

✰✰✰✰ Poppy, Zach, and Alice have been friends since they were just little kids. Together they have always played elaborate fantasy games with the girls using their favorite dolls and Zach using action figures. However, now that the trio is in middle school, things are changing rapidly. Zach is involved in sports, and Alice has theatre leaving little time for fantasy play. As they try to finish one last game with their toys before they grow up, Zach suddenly stops playing. He won’t even give the girls a reason.

In a last ditch effort to finish the game and get Zach to play, Poppy kidnaps a doll called the Queen. The Queen is an antique china doll that is integral to all their stories. She sits in a locked glass cabinet and is strictly off limits. However, as soon as she is released, the Queen appears in one of Poppy’s dreams as a ghost girl. It seems that the doll is made from the bones of a real little girl who died a tragic death. According to Poppy, the ghost wants her bones to be buried properly. If Poppy doesn't help her, the Queen promises to make her sorry. While Alice and Zach aren’t entirely convinced of the ghost story, they agree to help Poppy. Sneaking away during the night, they set off to discover the ghost’s true story and find her grave. With clues to guide their journey, they find themselves on a real quest instead of a fantasy. The friends discover that they must work together as a team to overcome several obstacles and see the quest through to the end to give the Queen the eternal rest she yearns for.

The Bottom Line: After a slow start, Doll Bones turned into a real page-turner; it’s a tale of adventure, friendship, and growing up. The story is filled with middle school tension as the characters face the uneasy transition from childhood to adolescence. The friends argue with and challenge each other, as they try to work together to complete the task. As with all quests, the participants change along the way. The characters learn that they don’t need to fear growing up, and even when things look bleak, they still have their friendship.

I have never been a fan of antique china dolls, and Black’s story justifies this dislike. These dolls are just plain creepy, and the Queen in this story is eerie and a bit sinister. This is a quick read that ends rather abruptly. Nonetheless, it’s a spooky tale that middle grade readers will enjoy.

Details: Doll Bones by Holly Black. Hardcover published by Margaret K. McElderry Books in 2013. 256 p. ISBN: 978-1-4169-6398-1

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: 'On the Day I Died' by Candace Fleming

✰✰✰½ Mike Kowalski is just your average high school teen with a midnight curfew. Glancing at his car's dashboard clock, he realizes that he is running late again. Ignoring his ringing cell phone, he steps on the gas. Suddenly his car's headlights spotlight a girl standing directly in his path. Slamming on the brakes, Mike narrowly misses her. That's when things begin to get strange. The pale girl is wet, cold, and needs a ride home. What is Mike to do? He can't just leave her there.

After dropping her off, Mike notices her brand new saddle shoes on the floor of his car. He returns to the girl's house only to be told by her mother that she died many years ago. If Mike wants to return the shoes, he'll have to go to White Cemetery, a place just for young people. When he arrives, the cemetery seems forgotten and abandoned, but soon he realizes he's not alone. One by one the ghosts emerge all around him. Mike is horrified to discover that he cannot leave until he hears their stories...their death stories. Before the night is through, Mike will have heard them all, but will he be allowed to leave or will he become one of them?

The Bottom Line: This collection of short ghost stories takes place in the Chicagoland area; some are even loosely based on well-known urban legends and lore. Since Fleming's characters span different decades from 1853 - 2012, each short story is like a time capsule. While Mike's character is used to bind the stories together, each ghost has a unique voice. Thus, the short stories could easily stand alone; you could even skip a story or two without missing beat.

Although some of these stories are more original than others, all are fun and creepy. This quick read is recommended for kids in middle school who enjoy horror, paranormal, historical, and even science fiction. The characters are almost evenly divided between male and female characters appealing to both boys and girls. And don't forget, short ghost stories are always a hit around Halloween. Also, for those interested in Chicago urban legends, the author includes a notes section.

Details: On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave by Candace Fleming. Hardcover published by Schwarz & Wade Books (an imprint of Random House) in 2012. 208 p. ISBN: 978-0-375-96781-8

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Review: 'Mouse and Mole, A Perfect Halloween' by Wong Herbert Yee

✰✰✰✰½ Mouse and mole are the very best of friends, but they are also opposites. While Mouse likes Halloween; Mole does not. For Mouse, Halloween is full of fun and adventure. There is so much to do like decorating, carving pumpkins, and scaring friends. On the other hand, Halloween is scary and frightening for Mole. Fortunately, there's one activity that's not too scary. Both Mouse and Mole decide to enter the Halloween pumpkin carving contest. Both pick out the perfect pumpkin, but who will win? And how will they get their pumpkins home? After all, the road will be dark and scary. When Mouse realizes that frightening Mole wasn't such a good idea, she comes up with a plan to help her friend by reading a Halloween story.

The Bottom Line: This Early Reader contains four chapters for beginning readers in Grades 1 & 2. This gentle series highlights the theme of friendship. In this book, Mouse helps Mole overcome his fear of Halloween so they can enjoy the holiday together. In fact, my favorite part of the book was when Mouse reads a Halloween story to Mole; it's like there's a book within a book. The gouache and litho pencil illustrations feature soft, earthy tones perfect for Autumn. Enthusiastically recommended for beginning readers everywhere.

Details: Mouse and Mole, A Perfect Halloween written & illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee. Hardcover published by Houghton Mifflin in 2011. 48 p. ISBN: 978-0-547-55152-4

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Book Review: 'Twelve Haunted Rooms of Halloween' by Macky Pamintuan

✰✰✰✰½ Set to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, this vibrant picture book features 375 spooky items for kids to find. Follow the little bear as he peeks into each haunted room to find what's hidden throughout the house. You'll have to look closely, especially at the large foldout page at the end, so you don't miss any of the fun. Illustrator Macky Pamintuan brings to life bats, cats, ghosts, zombies, spiders, and much, much more.

The Bottom Line: Little ones will pick up this book time and time again. Just when you think you've found all the items, you notice something new. Macky Pamintuan's illustrations are colorful and friendly, making this perfect for younger kids in Preschool and Kindergarten. This counting book is so much fun; I just wish there had been a thirteenth room.

Details: Twelve Haunted Rooms of Halloween by Macky Pamintuan. Hardcover picture book published by Sterling Children's Books in 2011. 28. p. ISBN: 978-1-4027-7935-0

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: 'More Than Midnight' by Brian James Freeman

✰✰✰✰✰ Relinquish your imagination to five tales of horror by master storyteller Brian James Freeman. Included in this collection is a demon waiting to escape, a music teacher gone temporarily mad, monsters taking over the world, an escape from an asylum, and phone calls from the other side. These stories contain abandoned buildings, creepy basements, stormy nights, supernatural forces, and lots of darkness.

This is horror at its very best. These vivid tales were written to scare the reader, and they do. You will be compelled to get up in the middle of the night to check the doors and windows and make sure there’s nothing hiding under the bed or in the closets. Best read on a dark, stormy night, this is a very quick read that will leave you longing for more.

The Bottom Line: All of these short stories have been previously published; however, the stories complement each other so well they were meant to be together.  Each story takes the reader on a short journey into darkness where your imagination takes over and gets the better of you. Freeman builds suspense like few authors can, and Glenn Chadbourne’s pen and ink illustrations heighten the horror. Read this collection for your enjoyment and fright. Very highly recommended for fans of horror.

If you have not read any of Freeman’s work before, I would highly recommend starting with this collection. Also, check out my review of The Painted Darkness, which is one of my favorite reads.

Details: More Than Midnight by Brian James Freeman. Advance uncorrected proof published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2012. 175 p. ISBN: 978-1-58767-331-3

Horrorfest of Books 2013

The days and our shadows are slowly getting longer while the leaves are changing to hues of gold, red, and orange reminding us that Autumn is here. With the arrival of this special season, Mini Book Bytes Book Reviews is once again pleased to present a carefully chosen selection of books focused on Autumn, Halloween, and horror. We'll be taking a look at books that feature black cats, ghosts, hauntings, pumpkins, recipes, and spooky short stories.

Some of the 13 titles we will be reviewing include:
  • More Than Midnight by Brian James Freeman
  • On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave by Candace Fleming
  • Betty Crocker Halloween Cookbook
  • The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E. B. Hudspeth
  • Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes
These books feature spooky fun for readers of all ages. So settle in with a hot apple cider and some roasted pumpkin seeds and dig into a scary read for a spooktacularly good time. Oh, and don't forget to leave the light on! You'll be glad you did.

Happy Reading &

Note: The free Halloween clip art is from Squidoo!