Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel

Posted February 4, 2016 By JS Daly
Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel

HarperCollins, 2015
416 Pages

one skull

The small city of Night Vale and its unique Twilight Zone flavor finally finds its way into print, with its deadly City Council chambers and the Glow Could that heads the school board, its Dog Park that dogs do not visit (though strange hooded figures do,) the Sheriff’s Secret Police, and the Moonlite All-Nite Diner along Route 800.
The story explores the lives of two residents of Night Vale that we’ve met, if briefly, before; Diane Crayton, who is on the PTA (alongside that jerk Steve Carlsburg,) and Jackie Fierro, who runs the local pawn shop. One can only imagine the objects being hocked in a town like Night Vale. Things like space-and-time warping pink flamingos and such.

Big Rico’s had struggled ever since wheat and wheat by-products had been declared illegal. This was the result of a long and not terribly interesting story, but the gist is that wheat and wheat by-products transformed first into snakes and then into evil spirits resulting in a number of dead citizens.

Diane, a single mom, has been suffering from migraines lately, and her son Josh, a shape-changer, is beginning to question who his father is. Can Diane reach the mystery man before her son does? He’s kind of a… well, to put it nicer than Jackie does, he’s a jerk who ran out on her.
Jackie is handed a scrap of paper by a man in a tan jacket that reads “King City,” a place no roads seem to lead to. Every time she drops it, throws it away, burns it, chews it… the paper returns to her hand. She is not the only Night Vale denizen to receive a paper reading “King City.” Jackie is pulled from her forever 19-year-old world where she never grows older, and thrown into a mystery.
There is a another man I can’t remember much about, but Diane remembers him. She loses her job trying to track him down, in fact. The man’s name is Evan McIntyre. Or so he says. (Shoot– or was it Emmett? Ernest?)
Diane and Jackie get off on the wrong foot, but then realize they are unavoidably in this together when Josh hits Jackie with his mom’s car and disappears, looking for clues to find his father. And, oh yeah, the man in the tan jacket has been trying to get Josh to King City as well.

In most ways it felt like it always did. But now her entire body hurt. And she knew the paper was curled up in her cast like the hidden centipede nests that sometimes appear overnight in people’s beds.

The two women finally begin to bond as they face the library together. Too bad Tamika Flynn isn’t with them. They do find clues.

And now a word about librarians. We are all, from our youngest years, warned that the most dangerous, untrustworthy creature is that which stalks our public libraries… Librarians are hideous creatures of unimaginable power. And even if you could imagine their power, it would be illegal.

Inevitably, they come to the realization that they are both on a collision course with King City. Except they can’t get there. The King City off-ramp leads, in a suspiciously Lovecraftian way, right back to the center of Night Vale.
Finally, they decide to make the trip together using a dangerous method that has already resulted in at least one person being trapped in a time loop. (That was Sheila who marks people’s activities down on her clipboard at the Moonlite All-Nite). But time doesn’t really work in Night Vale to begin with.
An interesting afterward can be heard on the podcast (Episode 76: An Epilogue) when Cecil, the radio announcer notes that Night Vale citizens can now remember the man in the tan jacket, the one with a suitcase full of trained flies, who ends up being rather important to the conclusion of the novel.
Welcome to Night Vale is a strange, unique mixture of science fiction and horror that is compelling and fun, and not too scary for family listening. (Although there is a chance kids may be indoctrinated towards fighting in a Blood Space War.) This, the first book, does a great job of mixing a narrative story within the framework of the disparate parts of Night Vale from Cecil and Carlos to Old Woman Josie and her friends who are definitely NOT angels.
You will certainly want to familiarize yourself with at least the first ten or twenty episodes of the PODCAST before reading it if you aren’t already a fan. All hail the Glow Cloud.
Do not know this. Forget that you have heard of this book.



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Took – Book Reviews

Posted January 22, 2016 By JS Daly


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
272 Pages
Middle Grade (9-12 and up)

four skulls

With her latest novel, the Grand Mistress of the ghost story spins a yarn better than Old Nancy and her wise black cat, Satan! An American gothic that takes place in the back country (reminiscent of Manly Wade Wellman’s eerie mountain world) where the woods hide witches and …things… that ought not be.
This foreboding trip through the dark countryside explores that which holds a family together and what we believe defines us. The real and imminent threat to the safety and integrity of an American family, one so easily torn asunder, will keep a knot in your stomach until the very end.
Erica Andrews and her big brother Daniel move to Woodville, West Virginia when their father gets laid off in Connecticut. It’s a slow descent into poverty. First they lose the country club membership, then their house. Now the roof leaks on the preppie family’s stark new home. Erica takes refuge in her doll, one that was custom made to resemble her. She withdraws. In fact, the whole family nearly collapses under the stress of their diminished lifestyle.
Hahn has a masterful way of building up tension and developing a feeling of being powerless. The kids first hear of the legend of Old Auntie and her “dear boy” Bloody Bones from school mates who tease them as the new kids. Then the myth is corroborated by a respected figure of authority, a neighbor’s parent, who is also scared of the dark woods near the Andrews’ new home.
The town’s folk legend describes how a girl who used to live in the house the Andrews just moved into had disappeared fifty years ago, and how on that night a girl who was lost yet another fifty years before that just re-appeared. Each one was taken by the old conjure woman on the hill. Kept as a servant until they were all used-up. The cycle of stolen children has been going on for over 200 years.

She screeched with laughter and stuck her face so close to mine that I could smell her breath, rotten with decay. “Why, boy, I believe you ain’t never seen the likes of me afore.”

One night Erica disappears. Everyone in town seems to know what happened, and they are afraid and unwilling to help look for her. Then a girl Erica’s age walks out of Auntie’s woods. Selene, it looks like. The girl who had disappeared fifty years earlier.
Daniel and Erica’s parents descend into madness.
The narrative doesn’t go too far into detail; just enough to let our imaginations fill in the spider-webbed gaps. Just enough to let us know the evil in this story is all-too real. Erica’s been “took,” and the adults are powerless to stop it.

One girl said she was took. Maybe it was the demons in the woods, a boy suggested. Maybe Old Auntie the conjure woman up on Brewster’s Hill got her, Brody said. Or, worst of all, a girl said, Old Auntie’s razorback hog, the one called Bloody Bones, ate her up.

Oh, Bloody Bones is real. Half-man, half razorback, with bear’s claws and a panther’s teeth and a rotten old matted tail. And an appetite for seven year old girls.
Daniel feels guilty because he believes Erica went back into the woods alone that night to retrieve her doll when he made her leave it behind. But Auntie had been planning for a long time. Auntie has very real powers, and is keeping Erica as her new house-servant. Erica is under a spell– she loves her Auntie and would never leave her. Not when Auntie is the only one who can protect her from Bloody Bones. It seems hopeless for Daniel and his despondent parents.

What can Auntie do with such a stupid, lazy girl but scold her and beat her and shut her up in the hidey-hole under the cabin floor. When she can’t stand it no longer, Auntie brings in Bloody Bones and tells the girl he eats bad children like her.

But there is a neighbor, Mrs. O’Neil, whose daughter was best friends with Selene so many years ago. Selene, the girl who was returned. The girl heartbroken at having lost the life she led for so long in the witch’s ramshackle house. The girl with no memory of her former life. Mrs. O’Neil knows of another lady, a recluse named Miss Perkins who, it has been whispered, also does some conjuring.
After 30 years of writing scary stories for kids, Mary Downing Hahn’s still got it. Far more scary than many earlier works like The Old Willis Place or her classic The Doll in the Garden, Took may be Hahn’s most frightening tale yet.

It begins with a whisper in the dark, always the girl’s name, always long and airy. The old woman blows it through keyholes and cracks. She guides it upstairs and down until it finds the girl’s ear and nestles there…




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Takeshita Demons – Book Review

Posted January 14, 2016 By JS Daly
Takeshita Demons

Takeshita Demons

(Book #1)

Frances Lincoln, 2010
128 Pages
Middle Grade (8-12 and up)

two skulls

Miku moves to London from her home in Japan, which had been a house built with an upside down pillar, which pretty much guarantees a haunting. But her Baba had lived with her back then and had taught her about yokai and magical protections. That house had a zashiki-warashi ghost within its walls that had watched over the family. Now, her mother refuses to even let her hang cedar leaves over the doorway.
One day someone who isn’t there comes knocking, and a strong, terrifying breeze blows in.
Miku suddenly has a new teacher at school, Mrs. Okuda, a woman straight from Japan who addresses her in proper Japanese, as Takeshita Miku. The new teacher has a strange tattoo that runs around her neck like jewelry. Miku believes her to be a nukekubi, a dangerous demon that can remove its head to devour children. Could she have followed Miku’s family all the way from Japan?
Miku invites her best friend Cait O’Neil for a sleepover one night when the snow gets heavy. (I guess they just aren’t equipped to handle a Japanese snowstorm in London. Of course, having grown up in upstate New York myself, I chortle in their general direction.) There is a knock at the door, and there stands Cait’s father. Who is also on the phone in the next room… Miku knows it is a noppera-bo, a mostly harmless spirit, but soon after, Miku’s little brother Kazu goes missing. The girls know that it must be the work of their new teacher.
They go to the school in search of the yokai’s body, but they discover the halls flooded from a leak in the pipes. Swishing through the water comes a woman with the body of a huge snake, a water spirit called a nure-onna. She says that the snowstorm was caused by yet another demon, a yuki-onna, a lady of the snow. Surrounded by yokai spirit demons, how can the two girls hope to rescue Kazu?

The flying head shot again in our direction, a black comet through the white sky. This time it slammed so hard into the glass that the whole window shuddered. When it whirled away for another attack, it left a smear of red blood on the glass.

Miku learns that her grandmother had been a woman respected by the spirit world, and that indeed, she and her family had become a target once she left the house in Japan and was no longer guarded by the ghost her family endearingly called Zashiko.
Demon-fighting is in the Takeshita blood, it turns out. So after this adventure, Miku is assured to have more encounters with demons, ghosts, and the supernatural.
It’s hard to find this series in the US, as it did not have a large distribution. It’s too bad, because it’s really fun! This series is a must-read! It’s written at a younger middle-grade level, like Preller’s Scary Tales, so his fans would enjoy these books. Any enthusiast of Japanese culture’s supernatural side, yokai or kaiju, especially fans of Hayao Miyazaki, will likewise be enamored of Burne’s writing.



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Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3) – Review

Posted January 7, 2016 By JS Daly
Hollow Boy

The Hollow Boy

Lockwood & Co. (#2)

Disney-Hyperion, 2014
400 Pages
Middle Grade (8-12 and up)

five stars
four skulls

The Lockwood & Co. team are now carrying the nameless Type-3 skull around as a member of the team. He’s a sarcastic jerk who undermines them at every chance, but is genuinely helpful at alerting Lucy to sneaky supernatural trouble. (At least so long as he is afraid of Lucy burying him in a hole with no human interaction for the rest of eternity.)
The action begins at Lavender Hall where the trio take on a changer and a full cluster of ghosts that have been murdered by the seemingly innocent old proprietors of the quaint Bed & Breakfast. The couple attempts to eliminate the investigators in the same way they offed their other victims: by locking them in the attic to be ghost-touched at midnight. After Lockwood gets set on fire, George falls off a ladder and Lucy loses her epee before the ghost is finally contained.
The team members have begun splitting up to handle more cases, spreading themselves thin what with the myriad common Whitechapel stuff no one else has time to deal with since “the Chelsea outbreak” began. But more thrills for us! Yes, things are really stirring up down in Chelsea. Every agency in the city is getting involved. All except Lockwood & Co. that is, thanks to Inspector Barnes.
Lucy starts to explore her talents and solves a few visitations by communing with the dead; hidden letters of confession, money stashed away by a miser; she is successful at first and doesn’t feel any danger. Too bad.

She’s wearing a lacy gray gown, and a sort of ragged veil over her face. Some kind of letter in one hand, spotted with something dark. Don’t know what that’s about– might be blood or tears. She’s clutching it to her chest with her long, shriveled fingers… Listen, I’m laying out the chains.

So what with all the new business, what’s a agency to do? Lockwood decides to hire a new employee– not an agent, but an 18 year old housekeeper and administrative assistant named Holly who straightens up and screens job offers. Lucy can’t get over her suspicion of her, she’s so prim and confident, and has really caught Lockwood’s eye. Or is it only jealousy, rivalry, as the skull taunts? That jerk even mentions how Lockwood is always on about her extra weight.
Lucy starts taking almost negligent risks to test her talents, placing herself in danger. Lockwood ends up injured because of her bravado and Holly Munro has to save her. In fact, Lucy breaks Lockwood’s trust and enters his sister’s room where she learns more about the horrible night it all happened. She doesn’t meet her ghost, but the sensitivity of her touch shows us enough to tease with a deeper mystery.
The team is hired to investigate Miss Fiona Wintergarden’s home in ritzy Hanover Square, where bloody footprints have been appearing in the kitchens going toward and ascending the ornate central stairs while apparitions chase one another.
Due to the kerfuffle in Chelsea, DEPRAC and the two major agencies decide to hold a parade to take back the streets. Because of their success with Miss Wintergarden, Lockwood and Company, including Holly, get to ride on the lead float with Miss Penelope Fittes and Mr. Steve Rotwell himself. Then the float is attacked with ghost bombs!
The protective agents come to the aid of Miss Fittes, bringing them more under her good graces, but also leading them into a confrontation with Sir Rupert Gale, a “good friend of the Fittes Agency”. They also learn from Flo that Julius Winkman, the artifact fence from The Whispering Skull, has it in for Lucy, who was instrumental in putting him away. Word on the street is that he’ll be seeing revenge.
After Quill Kipps, frustrated with the lack of progress shown by DEPRAC in Chelsea, shares the stacks of information from the meetings the Lockwood agency was not invited to attend, George believes he has solved the problem. But Barnes won’t listen. Luckily Kipps will.
The two teams join forces to spend a night in a store that has strangely been untouched by the hauntings. Lucy & Holly’s differences come to a head, and leads to a chaotic whirlwind. A shade cluster is revealed led by an emotionally fueled poltergeist and a fetch amid some really scary images. Then Lucy must face off against The Hollow Boy alone!

I watched that notch of darkness.
I watched as something moved into it.
It came… a human figure crawling on all fours. Scarcely blacker than the blackness all around, it dragged itself along on knees and elbows with a series of slow, slow jerking movements.

Though the entire Chelsea problem is resolved, thanks to Lockwood & Kipps’ efforts, many mysteries are left unsolved. I’ve got to know more about Lockwood’s sister Jessica, (not to mention his parents,) and what the story is with Sir Gale! The mystery of the Orpheus Society deepens. Then there are fears that Lockwood may be getting a little too chummy with Fittes, threatening to change the agency into one of her toys. There promises to be another confrontation with Winkman and the London criminal element as well. And as if we weren’t already drooling for more, Lucy makes a startling announcement at the end of the book that left my jaw on the floor.


Related Posts:

The Screaming Staircase
The Whispering Skull


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Hoodoo – Book Review

Posted December 31, 2015 By JS Daly


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
224 Pages
Middle Grade (8-12 and up)

four skulls

A dark stranger comes for a young boy in Alabama in the 1930s. The main character is named Hoodoo because of the unusual heart-shaped birthmark he bears just below his left eye. (The term Hoodoo is not to be confused with Voodoo, the religion that evolved from African spiritual beliefs. Hoodoo is a specific type of traditional American folk magic.)
Hoodoo Hatcher was raised by his grandmother, who he called Mama Frances. His Grandpa (Pa Manuel) didn’t live with her, but he came around when things needed doing… even if he might be a little worried about being hexed when he did. Hoodoo’s father was out of the picture, as was his mother who died when he was born. In fact, unraveling the mysterious past of his family pulls us deeper into the story as he is motivated to help his family and a girl he cares for, named Bunny, when a creepy outsider comes to town asking for a special hoodoo charm called Mandragora.

A hand, followed by a long arm, shot right up out of the dirt. Crooked, black fingers grabbed at the empty air. And then, with a sound like an ax chopping through wood, a dead man rose up out of his pine box. He had on a long cloak and a wide-brimmed black hat. His eyes glowed red. He was coming for me. “Mandragore,” he said, as slow as molasses. “The one that did the deed.”

After horrifying visions begin in his dreams, Hoodoo goes to see the fortune-teller from the county fair, but is given only a cryptic clue to who this guy is and what he wants. He learns that the evil figure is a demon in human form come to collect on the debts of his father. It is finally revealed that Hoodoo’s father had died on the gallows, convicted of murder, and had made a “deal with the devil” at the end. But it backfired.

Beware! He who holds the hand of glory may use the dead man’s fingers as candlewicks, which cast an unholy light, by which the dead can be called from the grave to do the owner’s ghastly work, spreading death and destruction in his name.

Hoodoo steals a book from the fortune-teller. Turns out he’s gonna need a lot more protection for his troubles. Hoodoo’s hand starts to get hot, real hot, and when he loses his temper, he gains amazing strength in that hand. It’s his father’s hand. The hand that did the deed. The hand the dark stranger is coming for.
Hoodoo explores an overgrown meeting house and discovers a dusty tome beneath the floorboards, he goes soul-traveling and talks to his father, which leaves him with even more questions, and he learns that conjuring is in his blood. He tries his own hand at magic. But when the demon comes for its due and puts the entire town under a spell, will a few magic words be enough to defeat him?
The story gives insight to the life a black kid might have led back in the 30s, worried about being swindled by the local carnies, bullied by a pair of local boys bigger than him, and loving the food he grew up with, like catfish, grits, and chitlins. Racism is explored deftly, exemplifying itself in the matter-of-fact description of Hoodoo’s daily life. Smith’s depiction of a hidden South is woven so skillfully in fact, that I desperately want to learn more about Hoodoo’s world, to taste it more deeply both in its triumphs and its dark corners.
I admit I was first attracted to the book because of the cool cover art, but I am so glad I dove into this world of secret societies, grimoires and curses. It’s really a charm. I’ll be anxiously looking for more from this author! (His second novel The Mesmerist is due out in 2016!)

“Aha,” she croaked, seeing my face. “Ain’t nothing to be afraid of. This here chicken foot will get rid of the bad juju left from that demon.” I didn’t know what bad juju was, but figured it wasn’t good if it had to be gotten rid of.



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