The Stone Child

Posted March 18, 2015 By JS Daly

Stone Child

The Stone Child

by Dan Poblocki
Random House, 2010
288 Pages
Ages 8-12 Years

As the curtain opens, Eddie and his family move to a small town in northwestern Massachusetts called Gatesweed after his mom discovers its rustic charm, an ideal setting for writing her stories. By an odd coincidence, (not really; there’s evil afoot,) the town happens to be home of his favorite author, Nathaniel Olmstead, who writes books with titles that sound notoriously like John Bellairs novels.
The first thing Eddie hears about is the Olmstead Curse. (Cue: thunder and ominous fog.) The author disappeared under mysterious circumstances a few years before, and Townsfolk seem edgy and tight lipped whenever Olmstead is mentioned.
Eddie is given a coded book puchased by his mom at a flea market, and while searching for a clue to decipher it, lands a friend in Harris, whose mother owns the small town, cloaked-in-mist bookshop called The Enigmatic Manuscrpt. When he visits the store, vandalism has befallen the park across the way. The words “The Woman is Watching” is painted on the pedestal of a bust of Dexter August, (himself unimportant in his historic shrouded-ness but for his name’s ring of a favorite Lovecraftian mainstay, part of the flavor of Poblocki’s writing.)
When Harris takes Eddie to see the mysterious statue of a child in the woods beyond the Olmstead house, where they were definitely not supposed to be exploring, they are chased away by a pack of bloodthirsty hounds from beneath the dark waters of a nearby lake. And that was only their first encounter with horrible monsters that seem to come straight from the pages of Olmstead’s books.

”Do we have to walk backward all the way back home?” she asked. “My dad’ll kill me if I bring home several dozen giant shadowy demons.”

Soon Eddie meets the class freak at school, a goth-type named Maggie who follows them to the house the next time they go. She hitches along on the mystery when the boys discover Olmstead’s original manuscripts secreted away behind a hidden passage in the basement. There is one hand-written book there that has never been published before… and that hints at the existence of a figure from biblical history that is trying to cross into this world: Lilith herself, and she’ll be bringing a host of abominations with her.
The dark goddess extends her grasp across the divide between the worlds and begins to threaten the boys. They recall the words, “The woman is watching.” Can the three investigators unlock the puzzle behind the lost manuscript before She crosses over and lays waste to the world?
Just as we think the mystery of the manuscript, the statue, and the key has been solved and the book completely translated from its cryptic code, Eddie’s mom gives a reading of her latest novel… and horrifyingly begins reciting the chapters of Olmstead’s unpublished novel word-for-word. It is an incantation that –when her book is finished– will act as a spell to open the way for Lilith and her savage horde.
Poblocki is great with hidden symbols, puzzles and cyphers, as we’ve seen in his Mysterious Four series. In The Stone Child he calls upon the magic inherent in some ancient Hebrew letters and challenges his characters with a code that requires them to locate the key.
Though more thriller than horror, this book has many scary moments. I felt fulfilled when the town librarian witnessed a creature of the dark try to kill the boys. Too often an author of spooky tales will isolate children’s nightmarish experiences from the adult, rational world– making it all the more terrifying when the supernatural comes crashing into the real, sunlit world.

The myth of the Garden of Eden, the theory of the Big Bang, every single “once upon a time” you ever heard when your parents tucked you into bed– these help us imagine our own personal world. And wasn’t that the job of the writer? To create worlds? To invent myths?

An easy read and an engaging story with a taste of adventure, Poblocki’s first book is a thrilling, chilling taste of the frightful dark thrillers yet to come from this author.

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Afterlife with Archie

Posted February 23, 2015 By JS Daly

Afterlife with Archie

Afterlife with Archie:
Escape From Riverdale

by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Archie Comic Publications, 2014
160 Pages
Young Adult

To my surprise, the new series taking the comic-book store by storm is not written tongue-in-cheek… but it is based on a Life with Archie cover that probably was. …And so, finally someone addresses the question that has been nagging at the back of our (collective) minds since our parents were teenagers: What would happen if the zombie apocalypse started at good old Riverdale High?
Jughead appears at Sabrina (the Teenage Witch)’s front door in the middle of the night. Someone accidentally hit his pet Dog with a car, (Yup, it was Reggie,) and Jughead has it in his head that Sabrina is a necromancer. He begs her to bring Hot Dog back to life, and at first she refuses, remembering her aunts’ warnings, hinting at a price similar to that in The Monkey’s Paw, where you might not like what comes back. But after contemplating what it would be like to have lost her beloved pet Salem, Sabrina digs up an old spell and raises Hot Dog from the dead. This lands her a year in the Nether-Realm sans her magic (and conveniently allows for a spin-off comic).
The comic is drawn with a realism that makes one truly appreciate the renditions of Betty and Veronica in Halloween costumes. It holds no punches as it explores a lesbian relationship between Ginger and Nancy and a pretty weird …something… going on between Jason and Cheryl Blossom. But the staples remain intact; Moose and Midge bite it together, Betty and Veronica walk a tightrope between rivalry and friendship competing for the redhead’s attention, and Archie is even dressed as Pureheart the Powerful at the costume dance.
At the Halloween costume ball at the high school, (Ronnie is a perfect Vampirella,) a dark silhouette darkens the doorway. Juggie’s been bitten by a dog with distemper, and he’s really feeling dead on his feet. So he takes a bite out of Big Ethel, and gets dragged off by his friends until Principal Weatherbee and Ms. Grundy show up to really kick the apocalypse into gear.

Mr. Lodge, I’ve been trying to sneak into your daughter’s room for as long as I can remember, and I know what a fortress this place is…

Archie leads the unaffected kids to safety at the Lodge mansion, but someone’s already been infected! We see into the personal lives of Mr. Lodge and Archie as they flashback. Archie goes looking for his parents, and ends up collapsing his own father’s skull with a baseball bat. (Did I mention that my local comic shop displays this title on the kids rack next to Betty and Veronica and Sonic the Hedgehog?)

** Dead Dog Alert **
Vegas protects Archie when a zombified Hot Dog corners him. He doesn’t make it, but sacrifices himself for his master.

The standard “holed-up and watching the undead mill about on security cameras” angst plays out at the mansion, and there is an argument as to whether they should all stay put where it’s “safe” or make a run for it. But the food supply is limited and the generators will eventually run out of fuel, so we transition away from the mansion at the end, the first five issues of the comic book becoming a prelude to what I hope will be a long-running series.
Good luck finding first printings of the original comics. That’s OK, because they started reprinting them in magazine format, only with extras in the old Warren (Creepy and Eerie Magazines) tradition. Now might be a good time to pick up issue number six (with sexy variant cover) along with starting your collection of the Sabrina spinoff as well!

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Posted February 5, 2015 By JS Daly



by Cynthia DeFelice
HarperCollins, 1991
128 Pages
Middle-Grade (9-12)
Although this book clocks in at barely over a hundred pages, it is one of the most memorable books I have ever read. It picks up like a freight train and won’t let go until you reach the end of the line.
It begins on a dark night when a bizarre looking man shows up at the door of two children on the American frontier. Their Dad has not returned home from a hunting trip for a day or two, which was odd. Their mother was lost to fever, so they were utterly alone when the stranger cam knocking. The man beckons them to follow him into the forest. Why would they do such a crazy thing? Because he shows them their mother’s locket that was always carried by their father. Did he give it to the weird white man in Native American dress and a top hat so the kids would know it was safe to follow, or is it a trap?
This book touches on the true violence that existed on both the lawless frontier and in life, but it is revealed in such a way as to make the reader think. Long after the story is done, we wonder about the cost and lure of revenge, about pain and loss, and about the motivation behind hateful deeds. It is suitable for a mid-grade audience, and will thrill young men who hate to invest their time in a longer novel.
Nathan and Molly’s father is in the man’s cabin with an infection and a fever from being snared in a bear trap. They do their best to heal him, but there is still danger lurking nearby in the form of a man called Weasel. The story goes that Weasel was once a government agent sent to clear the land of Shawnee Indians, but that he went bad. Once the Indian population had been relocated to Kansas, he stayed on, a sociopath, killing anyone he could for the sake of murder.

** Dead Dog Alert **

Weasel shoots and kills a pig, and Nathan discovers its body. Nathan spends the day burying the pig, because “civilized men bury their dead.”

Nathan wants revenge, but how can he stand up to a madman like Weasel? Even if he could get the dangerous and evil man in the sights of his father’s rifle, would he have the courage to shoot a man down? As if the trap his father was caught in weren’t enough harm to inflict upon one family, Weasel goes to their homestead and steals their horse and mule and kills a sickly pig, leaving its carcass to rot. Nathan is heartbroken.
The white man who lives in a wig-e-wah like the local native people once did is named Ezra, and he has his own painful tale about an encounter with Weasel. Ezra helps nurse their father back to health along with the herbal healing Molly learned from her mother, but when the family returns to their home, Nathan feels Weasel’s presence close by in the wild, waiting to do them further harm. What can he do but go and face the threat?
There are a few chapters at the end of the book after the train ride comes to a halt, purposefully exploring how life goes on after the encounter with Weasel. They are important chapters, and allay what might be a disappointment for those expecting a Rambo-style fight scene.

And even if Weasel’s not around, there’s likely to be someone else like him, or some other kind of meanness and sorrow and sadness. But there’s plowing and planting, and kinfolk and Kansas, and whistling and fiddling, too. That’s what Ezra wanted to tell me,I think. And I reckon if he can let go of hating Weasel, I can, too.




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Hopeless, Maine: Personal Demons

Posted January 29, 2015 By JS Daly

Hopeless Maine

Hopeless, Maine
(Vol.1: Personal Demons)

by Tom and Nimue Brown
Archaia, 2012
128 Pages
Young Adult
The chronicles of Hopeless, Maine started with a web comic and a weekly newsletter called The Hopeless Vendetta. Though they have been on hiatus for some time, the books are still to be found, and are a gem for fans of Courtney Crumrin and other gothic fantasy. While the stories contain only mild violence, they wallow in a world of bleak and overwhelming gloom. The graphic novels read like visual poetry… in fact, sometimes the chapter titles are the best part!
We find a little girl named Salamandra living alone in a mansion in Hopeless, another victim of the unexplained rash of adult disappearances from the town. We search for Durosimi (her Dad), Melisandra (her Mom), and Drustan (her brother, who was killed– when mom drank him.) Then, slowly, but surely we glean that this family isn’t quite like our own. The soup bowls in the house are filled with tentacled things, and Durosimi, whom we never do meet, can apparently summon demons. (“Must be one of Dad’s,” Salamandra says, nonchalantly).
Salamandra is is “helped” out of her predicament by a witch, Annamarie Nightshade, who quickly discovers that the little girl can do magic when she purposely sets a chair on fire. Just don’t call Salamandra a witch. Immediately delivered to Miss Calder’s orphanage, Salamandra is an outcast, and is chased up a tree. So, of course, she runs away… but she leaves the door open and Miss Calder, like the other adults, simply disappears.
While on the run, Salamandra meets a mysterious ghost-like girl who befriends the lonely ones, and tries to learn their secrets. The ghost girl gets mad when Salamandra won’t teach her magic and appears to other children instead. Unfazed, Salamandra finds a friend in a boy named Owen and a crow from the tree she was chased up. Miss Calder eventually reappears, but is only a ghost of her former self.
Owen and Salamandra go back to visit Miss Nightshade to ask for help with the ghostly girl, who they then must find a way to trap before she causes any further harm. But it isn’t easy to catch something supernatural.

When last they appeared, the Hopeless sites were located here, so stay tuned and catch up on what you missed!
The Hopeless Vedetta
Hopeless, Maine




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Hollow City

Posted January 23, 2015 By JS Daly

Hollow City

Hollow City

by Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, 2014
416 Pages
Young Adult

Riggs’ sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children picks up directly where the first book left off, the Peculiar children clinging to life in tenuous boats at sea, pursued by Nazis. Despite the danger our protagonists are in, the book started off slow for me, but after the halfway point, the story took off like a roller coaster.
I am glad Riggs put reminder pictures of what the main characters look like at the beginning of the book, it’s been a while and I forgot what the kids special abilities were. I only wish there were a picture of a hollowghast, running on its tongues, its atrophied human limbs hanging useless, starved for the brains of a peculiar.
A storm tosses their boats and the fellowship loses their Map of Days. Running from Nazi ships, they begin to read from Bronwyn’s Tales of the Peculiar, (volumes they discover hide secret, coded knowledge of the Peculiars,) and this leads the crew to another loop. Of course, they have to go through a hungry hollowghast to get there! Much like the tale they just read, the loop is filled with a menagerie of talking animals. (But don’t worry, this surreal almost silly chapter doesn’t last long.)

And to think I once dismissed these as just stories for children. They are, in fact, extraordinarily complex– cunning, even– in the way they conceal secret information about peculiardom. It would take me years, probably, to decode them all.

They next encounter a band of Peculiar-sympathizing gipsies who help them on their way to London, where they pray they can find an Ymbrine to help Miss Peregrine recover her true human form. Unfortunately, the wight-infested Nazi regime painfully catches up with the group of Peculiars. We learn the true value of having a chest filled with bees as unlikely Hugh comes to the rescue more than once.

Once in London, the odd group feels the terror of the blitz first hand with children being evacuated and an ever-present and unpredictable possibility of death from above. (Remember, they are still in the 1940s, though their loop has been abandoned.) Searching desperately, they soon learn that every loop in London has fallen, invaded by the wights. Do they enter a punishment loop “filled with pestilence so thick you can’t breathe” and attempt to rescue the Ymbrines on their own?
Riggs explores what it is like to be a true outsider, to be permanently invisible, for instance, as we learn how the different Peculiars first discovered their unique traits. The relationship between Jacob and Emma develops, we feel Jacob’s guilt over what his parents must be going through with him missing, and Emma reveals her own painful childhood all to foreshadow a heavy decision that Jacob must make once Miss Peregrine is healed.
On the way to their last, best hope, an ymbrine named Miss Wren, the gang meets other Peculiars: A pair of echo-locating twins and Melinda, a telekinetic. At this point, the story has turned truly creepy with a trip through some catacombs, the bodies of those who have chosen to “age forward,” a fearsome pursuit by hollowghasts, piles of bones and coffins, and that’s not even to mention the air raid above. We see the death of many Peculiars in this book, and some real violence toward the end.
After visiting the sideshow of a dark carnival the group ends up face to face with a brigade of wights, protected only by a building frozen thick with ice. Though Jacob begins to come into his own, exploring his peculiar powers by mind-melding with a hollowghast, we are double-crossed by none other than Miss Peregrine’s brother Caul himself.
We are now finally reminded with shock and horror of the history learned at the end of the last book—- that a group of Peculiars wanted to restore the race to its former glory and that they began doing experiments. There were experiments that blew up the Siberian tundra and created hollowghasts, things without souls, things that could become wights if they devoured enough Peculiars, (or gain the ability to enter loops,) and there have since been experiments to steal the dual souls of Peculiars. The results are there to be seen: Peculiars driven mad with only a single mortal soul.

They believed they had discovered a method by which the function of time loops could be perverted to confer upon the user a kind of immortality; not merely the suspension of aging, but the reversal of it. They spoke of eternal youth enjoyed outside the confines of loops, of jumping back and forth from future to past with impunity, suffering none of the ill effects that have always prevented such recklessness– in other words, of mastering time without being mastered by death. [~Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children]

It’s now up to Jacob and Emma and a talking dog to save peculiardom (and every living ymbrine,) from the evil of Caul’s twisted ideology.
Again, it seems that sometimes characters are put into the narration just to fit a photo, though admittedly that is the art form itself, to create a narrative collage from a series of images. Regardless, Riggs’ technique is successful and has inspired other books in the same style, such as Asylum by Madeleine Roux.
The ending is another cliffhanger, though I’m not disappointed I took the ride between Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and a promised third book. This episode explores the personalities of the other characters and begins to scratch the surface of the alienation they all feel while a driving adventure speeds us through a war-torn city, underground catacombs, and battles with horrific multi-tongued monsters. In fact, as Riggs comes into his own with his storytelling, I find that although the vintage photographs are indeed magical, they seem to become increasingly superfluous to the deeply engaging saga of Jacob, Emma, and a host of refugee misfits.

This book was received from a publisher or author in exchange for an honest opinion of an artistic work. Neither Awake at Midnight nor the reviewer received monetary compensation for this review.

Related Posts:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Hollow City



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