The Diviners by Libba Bray

diviners“‘Let’s try another question.  Do you have any prophecy for us, Naughty John?  Any fortune-telling?’

The scryer remains still.

‘Do tell us something else, won’t you?’

Finally, there is movement on the board. ‘I…will…teach…you…fear…’ the hostess reads aloud.

‘Sounds like the headmaster at Choate,’ the boy in the fez teases. ‘How will you do that, old sport?’


I A-M T-H-E B-E-A-S-T.”

Things are not right in New York. The Ouija board spells out a terrifying message for the partygoers, and that is just the beginning. Something sinister is stirring; when dead bodies marked with strange symbols begin surfacing, Evie and her uncle are pulled into the investigation.  What could be killing New York inhabitants in such an frightful way?  Is there something darker at work than a simple murder?

Evie thought New York would be a breeze-she was sent away from her boring  hometown to live with her Uncle Will in New York. Evie was excited-the city lights were practically spelling out her name.  The speakeasies! The shows!  Jazz! However, it’s not all she hoped-Will is the curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, or the “Museum of Creepy-Crawlies”.  Because of his expertise in the subject, Will is needed to consult on the murder cases, and Evie finds herself in the middle of the investigation. Forget shows, short haircuts, and flapper style-now Evie’s life consists of curses, secrets, and racing against time.  Will Evie and Will be able to find and stop the killer before it is too late?

This is one of the rare 500 + page books that doesn’t feel like one at all.  Libba Bray’s Jazz Age New York is full of music, bright lights, and carefree hearts-until the murders begin, at least.  The supernatural elements to the plot are sure to delight fans of the paranormal, while the 1920’s setting adds interest and prevents this from being “just another scary magic book”.  Scary?  Yes, absolutely.  But it’s the very best kind of scary:  eerie, suspenseful, and fresh; you’ll be checking over your shoulder and wondering about old curses as you read.  Libba Bray not only brings us a great historical setting, she also gives us characters that feel like real people.  This winner of a book combines ancient prophecies, Broadway lights, jazz, and murder, all told by a master storyteller.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Book’s website:

Bray, Libba. The Diviners. Little, Brown: New York, 2012. 578 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you will probably love Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series:

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Rebel Angels

The Sweet Far Thing

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

replacement“I hadn’t given away my secret because I didn’t even know how to say the secret out loud.  No one did.  Instead, they hung on to the lie that the kids who died were actually their kids and not just convincing replacements.  That way, they never had to ask what happened to the real ones.

That was the code of the town-you didn’t talk about it, you didn’t ask.  But Tate had asked anyway.  She’d had the guts to say what everyone else was thinking-that her true, real sister had been replaced by something eerie and wrong.  Even my own family had never been honest to come right out and say that.”

Mackie is a changeling, a replacement for a stolen baby.  His family, along with the entire town of Gentry, would like to continue acting as though this never happened, as though the town’s children did not sometimes disappear from their cribs, to be replaced with darker and more unnatural beings.  Of course, Mackie wishes he could ignore it, too, and that he could just be normal and play his guitar and never have to worry about how blood and metal make his head spin.  But when his friend (and love interest) loses her baby sister to Gentry’s underworld, he knows it’s time that someone acted.  He knows it’s time to stop keeping secrets.

Oh, I am so weak for paranormal stories, especially when they involve little children.  And young adult fiction is the perfect place for finding these stories, as the gore and shockingly sad endings are usually rare!  This particular book was a dark and interesting diversion, written by a Colorado author.  I’d been wanting to read it for months.  You’ll like the eerie premise:  as the story unfolds, you’ll learn that the town of Gentry is at the mercy of two feuding spirit sisters, and that townspeople have mutely accepted the child-switching as a price to pay for their relative good fortune.  It’s quite creepy, a bit gruesome (but blood makes me dizzy, anyway), and an original take on the changeling story.  Readers looking for romance will find it, readers looking to ignore it will find that possible, too.

I have a single small issue with the book.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bring it up, but I found it quite jarring.  At two points in the text, young women are referred to as “tart” and “hookers”, and you know what?  It is absolutely not ok. This is the kind of language that perpetuates violence against women, and it was a great disappointment to see it used unnecessarily in the story.

Aside from that, this is a ghoulish and creative tale of a cursed town and the dark forces at play beneath it.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Yovanoff, Brenna. The Replacement. Razor Bill, New York, 2010.  343 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you should check out Chimeanother paranormal fiction book with a similar premise.  And then Half World, and then there’s Libba Bray’s new book (it looks so good!!) called  The Diviners, which totally looks like it has some good creepiness in it.  Or,  how about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children?  Or any book out there with a dark gray cover and crows, or girls in puffy dresses, or blood on the cover-this is a hugely popular genre right now (lucky for me!) Oh, and there’s Huntress by Malinda Lo; it’s a small part of the plot, but there’s a changeling there, too.

For the younger readers looking for creepy, try A Drowned Maiden’s Hairor (next up on my list) Picture the Dead.

Half World by Hiromi Goto

“WANTED: For having appallingly become with child and risking the Half Lives of all citizens of Half World.  Fumiko and Shinobu Tamaki are considered pregnant and extremely dangerous.  Last seen seeking passage into the Realm of Flesh.  They must be caught and the pregnancy must be terminated.  Under no circumstances must a child be born in the Half World.

All sightings are to be reported to Mr. Glueskin at the Mirages Hotel. Creatures found harbouring the fugitives will be treated with perpetual cruelty, psychological, emotional, and physical.”

The three ancient realms have been thrown out of balance, dooming those in the nightmarish Half World to a life of perpetual suffering under the chilling reign of Mr. Glueskin, with no possibility of moving from the Realm of the Flesh to that of the Spirit.  Also lacking hope of ever moving into the Spirit Realm, those in the earthly Realm of the Flesh become destructive and violent.   It has continued in this way for millennia.

Everyone is waiting for a baby, the baby that will save them all.

When Melanie’s mother disappears, Melanie learns of the prophecy, and understands that she is that baby.  She and her mother were granted passage from the Half World into that of the Flesh, but only for fourteen years.  After that time, her mother had to return, or else risk the torturous death of Melanie’s father, who had to stay behind.  Melanie must venture into the horrors of the Half World, find her family, and restore balance to the Realms.

This innovative fantasy enthralled me; I finished the book in five hours.  While the plot appears formulaic at first glance, I promise you, it’s the good kind of formula: the one that brought us Lord of the Rings and The Odyssey.  Furthermore, the mythic base is embellished with a cast of unforgettably ghoulish horrors that feel as though they’ve been transplanted from a Bosch painting.  Seriously, Mr. Glueskin is a literary monster rivaling the Crooked Man, and the nightmarish tableau of the Half Realm is truly a horrible place.  This ALA Best Book also won the Canadian Sunburst Award for Literature of the Fantastic, and both awards are richly deserved.  This is a great starter book for readers who would like to explore more fantasy books, but are put off by the elaborate backstories that sometimes characterize the genre.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Half World website (it’s pretty!):

Goto, Hiromi.  Half World. Illus. Jillian Tamaki. Puffin: Toronto, 2009. 230 pp. Ages 14 and up.

Read this one first before you decide to read it out loud, ok?  It’s a perfect story for sharing, but the monsters are quite dreadful, and not for the faint-hearted.

If you liked this book, you might want to explore Neil Gaiman.  His book Neverwhere is a great place to start! Other read-alikes are Malinda Lo’s Huntress and Rick Riordan’s Lightning ThiefIf you loved the beautiful illustrations, you should check out the graphic novel Skim, also the work of artist Jillian Tamaki.


Chime by Franny Billingsley

“I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.

Now, if you please.

I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story.  I can’t relive those memories-the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp.

How could you possibly think me innocent? Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies.  A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.”

Briony conceals her second sight and forces herself to use her right hand because in Swampsea, witches are hanged, and Briony absolutely, positively, must not die.  Dying, you see, would break her promise: she must always live so she may take care of Rose.  Briony’s life is consumed with care for her identical twin, Rose, in an attempt at penance for a childhood accident that irreparably changed her. However,what is she to do when saving her sister’s life means that Briony must sacrifice her own?

Briony’s scrupulously honest, don’t-pity-me, prickly demeanor does nothing to conceal her vulnerability; she is a multi-dimensional artwork of a narrative persona, relating a chilling tale of secrets, bargains with spirits, and subterfuge. Furthermore, she’s unreliable: readers are unsure exactly what the truth is. Briony hates everything, including herself, and Billingsley’s masterful characterization prevents her from reading as selfish or irritating. You’ll love the distilled gems of bleaks humor like this:  “Skipping meals is terrifically convenient: It gives one lots of time to brood and hate oneself”.

The language itself is another reason to love this story.  In an interview, Franny Billingsley said that she drew inspiration from the wordplay in folk songs and ballads, and definitely adds another layer of appeal to the novel.  Words invert and rhyme, creating an interesting textual parallel for the reader’s changing perceptions of the characters and the story as layer after layer of deception is excoriated.  Adding to the literary complexity of the work is the story’s structure! It’s not difficult to follow, but hearing the tale backwards, from the moment we know Briony is to die, brings a sense of urgency to the story. Finally, even though we begin the story knowing the ending already, Billingsley manages to keep us wondering and worrying about it.

This creepy and enthralling novel was a finalist for the National Book Award last year, amid some controversy.  I found it a combination of delightful elements that are so often honored by the award, including high literary merit.  Furthermore, the romance (yes, there’s romance, but I promise it isn’t offensively saccharine!) is based on equality and mutual respect and tenderness, which is delightful to see in these paranormal books, as they often rely on tired stereotypes of straight relationships.  The one concern I have is one the author herself has also acknowledged, that of the “beauty barrier”.  Books about non-beautiful young women are disappointingly scarce, and this is no different.  Billingsley missed a perfect opportunity to give us a complex and appealing heroine while also affirming the importance of other values besides traditional beauty.

That said, if you love witches and swamps and the feeling you get when you read Jane Eyre, this one’s for you.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Billingsley, Franny. Chime. New York, Speak, 2011. 361 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this one, you can rejoice: the author claims she has two related novels she is working on!  While you are waiting, you can check out books like Beauty and Ash and  Castle Waiting (for the feminist graphic-novel antidote to the stereotypical beautiful heroine) and Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyrefor the classic take on creepiness.

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey


“‘Observe the frontal lobe, Will Henry.  The sulci-these deep crevices you see covering the rest of the brain-have all disappeared.  The thinking part of his brain is as smooth as a billiard ball.’

I asked him what that meant.

‘…We may assume it is a manifestation of the toxin.  This aligns perfectly with the literature, which claims the victim, in the final stages, becomes little more than a beast, incapable of reason but fully capable of a murderous, cannibalistic rage.  Certain indigenous tribes of the Lakshadweep Islands report whole villages wiped out by a single exposure to the pwdre ser, until the last man standing literally eats himself to death.'”

Dr. Pellinore Warthrop is a monstrumologist, a scientist specializing in horrors, a monster-hunter.  He and his apprentice, Will, are current on the trail of the “Holy Grail of Monstrumology”-a beast whose very saliva causes those infected to lose their faculties for reasoning, and become filled with the desire to destroy and eat each other.  The search brings them to the locus of the infection, a remote island where packs of the sick roam, preying on each other.  Together, the pair faces a nightmare beyond anything they’ve experienced.

I am the kind of person who keeps her eyes clamped shut during bloody scenes in movies, and I’ve only read one Stephen King book.  Horror just isn’t really my thing.  That said, I am powerless in the gravitational pull of The Monstrumologist series.  This is the third installment, and it didn’t disappoint.  Rick Yancey crafts a gory, chilling literary world full of original monsters, literary references, and characters so real that you’d know them instantly if you saw them in the street.  The books are narrated by the young Will Henry, the son of Dr. Warthrop’s previous assistant.  Will was orphaned and the doctor took him in and began initiating him into the world of furtive autopsies, international travel in search of things that undoubtedly want to kill them, and scientific research on the stuff comprising nightmares.  It’s not a life for a child, but Dr. Warthrop is all Will has in the world. Where else would he go?

The brilliant part of the series is the setting: the stories take place during the later half of the nineteenth century, during the Industrial Revolution. This is the time of scientific societies, Darwin, and empiricism (only believing in what you can measure with numbers), concepts that form the backbone of Dr. Warthrop’s belief system.  Reason is his deity, and the scientific method is his salvation.  Will and Dr. Warthrop live in a gritty New England, with frequent trips to the dirty, rough London that appears in Sherlock Holmes stories.  Actually, Dr. Warthrop is a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the poet Rimbaud. (They both make appearances in this story!)  The books are saturated with the scientific beliefs of the time; the interweaving of philosophy and moral issues adds another level of appeal.  In short, these are gruesome horror stories told by a master who carefully frames his gore in a meticulously accurate historical setting. Horror fans will want to stay up all night, and the writing is compelling enough to snare poor non-horror lovers like myself, too.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so: the first book in the series is a Printz award winner.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Yancey, Rick. The Isle of Blood. Simon & Shuster: New York, 2011. 558 pp.  Ages 16 and up (a brave and unsqueamish 16).

If this sounds like a good book, you should try the others in the seriesThe Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo.




Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley

“‘But I wonder if this tale may be too disturbing for you,’ said Uncle Montague, seeing me peering towards the window, turning to the fire and prodding at a log with the poker.

‘Really, Uncle,’ I said, pushing out my jaw. ‘I am not as timid as you seem to think.’

Uncle Montague lay down the poker and turned to me with a warm smile; a smile that quickly faded from his face as he linked his long fingers together and began this new story.”

After I finished Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I felt a little bereft and needed another creepy, atmospheric book to bolster myself up.  Since I’m in library school now, I try to justify all my reading time as “professional development”, but really, I just like to sit in the park and look at the fall leaves and read fun things that remind me why I want to be here in the first place…and not study for my cataloging test…at least, not just yet.

Anyway, look what I found!  This creeptastic book features Edgar and his rather ominous Uncle Montague.  Uncle lives in a candlelit, Gothic monstrosity of a house, replete with red velvet curtains, a lurching butler, and a nightmarish array of artifacts. Edgar regularly makes his way down the forest path to sit in his uncle’s parlor and listen to the stories his uncle tell.  It seems each relic in his home has a ghastly backstory, and Edgar’s uncle is eager to share them.  There is a unifying theme to these chilling tales, and readers will be kept guessing until the very end of the book.

Fantastic, Gorey-style illustrations?  Yes.  Stories that are both original and spooky? Yes!  I especially see this book as hitting that sweet balance of a very engaging subject matter (scary stuff for a slightly older crowd), quirky format, and accessible reading level that is just right for enticing more reluctant readers.

Happy reading!

Author’s website:

Priestley, Chris. Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror. Bloomsbury: New York, 2007. 237 pp. Ages 10-14.

If you liked this book, you will probably like these:

A House Called Awful End 

A Series of Unfortunate Events 

The Witches 

The Haunted Tea Cosy




Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock, and like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.  Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.”

When Jacob was young, his grandfather told him many stories: stories of how he was chased by monsters out of Poland, how he took shelter on an island, at a home for children, in a place full of gardens and streams and sheep and safety. The children at the shelter had unusual skills: a levitating girl, an invisible boy, a young woman who could control fire.  Abe even had a box of photographs from those days. Jacob had seen them so many times, that he felt as if he knew them personally. Eventually, he grew too old for his grandfather’s stories,  and stopped believing.
When his grandfather is killed one night, and dies raving about monsters and begging Jacob to carry a cryptic message for him, Jacob is shattered.  Attempting to fulfill his grandfather’s final wishes leads him to a tiny island off the coast of England, where he finally finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. And something horrifying, called wights, and their further horrifying counterparts, hollowgasts.  If you know anything about the myth of the wendigo , they will sound familiar to you.  Either way, Jacob grandfather was fully justified in his terror of the creatures.
The best part of this story is the creative format. Ransom Riggs integrates eerie old photographs into this story seamlessly.  You’ll be reading along about a character, and then turn the page, and there it is: a crying boy in a bunny costume, beautifully dressed twin girls who are ominously faced away from the camera,  a young boy with a monocle. The best part is that they are absolutely real photos, which makes them even creepier. They contribute to the melancholy, supernatural tone of the story.
After reading some reviews, I found that some people didn’t necessarily know how to respond to the between-genre feel of this book.  Is it written for adults? Is it YA lit? Is it science fiction? Light horror?  Personally, I think it is a little of all of the above, and I really like that.  The genre-crossing gives it a very unique feeling.  I loved the atmosphere of this book.  It feels like part X-men, part science fiction, part ghost story, part graphic novel (because of the photographs), and part war story.  It made me very happy for 24 hours!
If this one sounds good, you might like these, too:
Happy Reading!
Author’s website: (He says a sequel is coming!)
Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Quirk Books: Philadelphia, 2011. 348 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

” ‘Can I ask a question?’ said Richard.

‘Certainly not,’ said the marquis. ‘You don’t ask any questions. You don’t get any answers. You don’t stray from the path. You don’t even think about what’s happening to you right now. Got it?’


‘Most important of all: no buts,’ said de Carabas. ‘And time is of the essence. Move.’

…Richard moved, clambering down the metal ladder…feeling so far out of his depth that it didn’t even occur to him to question any further.”

Richard is a decent guy,  a mild-mannered fellow with an undistinguished office job.  His life is on track: he is engaged to a beautiful (if somewhat intimidating) woman, enjoys time with his friends, and generally doesn’t make waves.  However, it all changes when he stumbles on the bleeding body of a young woman one night and knows that the only decent thing to do is to stop and help her.

When Richard stops to assist the girl, his whole world shifts and he is tumbled into the underworld of London.  This isn’t just the sewer-underground-metro London, though; it’s a whole new plane of existence.  This strange and threatening tunnel-world is populated with frightening beasts, tricksters, a thriving market economy, and a host of memorable characters, including a huntress who specializes only in the biggest and most dangerous animals, a marquis who barters in favors, and an angel.

Richard has no choice but to go forwards, deep into the underbelly of London.  After he stops to help the injured girl, no one in his former life even recognizes him anymore.  The only way out is in, and so, Richard embarks on a quest leading him through the depths of the underworld, facing a maze of filthy tunnels, nightmarish dark, and chilling characters.

If I had to classify this book, I would say it’s is a dark urban fantasy.  It’s not inaccessible, like sometimes true fantasies can be, though.  Richard is just an ordinary, somewhat bewildered nice guy, and so you learn about this new, Dark London along the way, just like he does in the story.  It’s an intricate plot, but easy enough to follow, and very interesting.  I love the dark, gritty feel of the underworld, especially as observed by Richard, who is quite pitiable.   He actually reminds me of Arthur Dent in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of my favorite books.  It’s a similar idea: a nice, ordinary guy gets sucked into an unbelievable adventure and has to cope with all the accompanying unpleasantries.  Come to think of it, that actually encapsulates the plots of a great number of books out there, from The Odyssey to Alice in Wonderland.  And speaking of Alice, there are a number of references to the Lewis Carroll story tucked away in this book, which I thought was a fun surprise.

This book is the current One Book, One Chicago selection. I love Chicago, and its great library system!  I was there recently, and every time I go, I pick up the One Book selection.  I think it’s such a well-done program, and I’d love to implement it in my own library some day.  If you’re interested, here’s the link:

This is an older book, and has been made into a miniseries for British television.  I think I’ll actually check it out; I really enjoyed this book.  Also, if you’re in the area, he will be speaking on Tuesday, April 12.  I would love to see him! Click for the  schedule of library events for One Book, One Chicago:

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: (Check out that amazing hat he’s wearing!)

Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere. Harpertorch, New York: 1996. 370 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you might want to try John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things or The Gates.  They’re both dark fantasies that still have strong connections to reality, so they are very accessible, even to the non-fantasy-reader.  However, they are really for the 16 and up crowd.  If you’re a little younger than that, you might try The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, or The House Eaters by Aaron Polson.


The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey

“It feeds, and the more it feeds, the hungrier it becomes.  It starves even as it gorges.  It is the hunger that cannot be satisfied.  In the Algonquin tongue its name literally means ‘the one who devours all mankind’.”

I am so glad that I’m done with these two books-this one and The Monstrumologist.  I spent three days unable to do anything else but read them.  The books followed me to the dog park, the bathtub, to work and kept me awake way, way too late.  I want to be done thinking about them, because they are really intense!  I love a book that grips you, but these were almost too scary for me to stop looking at.  I just had to finish them, so they could stop torturing me.

Poor Will Henry, the apprentice.  He and Pellinore Warthrop, the monstrumologist, are back again. This time, instead of hunting Anthropophagi in New England, they are trooping through isolated woods of Canada, searching for another monstrumologist, who happens to be the former best friend of Warthrop.  He  disappeared when searching for the (supposedly) mythical Wendigo.  The wendigo preys on humans, propelled by an insatiable desire for flesh. The natives they encounter are shaken, warning the pair of the danger stalking the woods.  And where has all the wildlife gone?  There’s not a squirrel or a bird in sight.  While they don’t find the wendigo,  they do find the lost colleague of Warthrop’s, but he is a sick and broken shell of the man he used to be.  Will Henry is afraid that the wendigo is real, but Warthrop is still convinced that it is nothing but a fiction, created by frightened minds, and that his friend has just fallen ill from the exertion of the journey.

Warthrop’s insistence that the wendigo doesn’t exist puts him at odds with the community of monstrumologists, who feel that the wendigo should be included in list of known species.  The professional disagreement takes Warthrop and Will to New York, where a conference on the subject is to take place.  However, at the same time, something unspeakable is preying on the citizens, and striking terror in the hearts of the tenement-dwellers.

Just like its predecessor, this is a dark and chilling tale.  I’m not sure which of the two is more gory; let’s just call it a draw.  However, if horror is your thing, Yancey is a master storyteller.  The plot is fast-paced, creative without being unbelievable, and very frightening.  After I finished The Monstrumologist, I went directly to the library to get the second installment.  But like I said, I’m glad it’s over and ready to read something that doesn’t make me afraid to turn off the lights, or shudder with disgust.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Yancey, Rick.  The Curse of the Wendigo. Simon & Schuster, New York: 2010.  424 pp. Ages 16 and up (Graphic descriptions of gore, horror). ISBN: 9781416984504.  When I say gory, I’m not kidding.  And the 16-year-olds reading this book should be brave and level-headed, as well as iron-stomached.

If you like this book, (and you’re an older reader), I think it might be time to move on to the real heavy-hitters of horror.  You might want to try Stephen King’s books, or check out the classics, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula.