Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ghosts, Paranormal and Fantasy

The Black Isle
Sandi Tan
Grand Central, Aug 7 2012, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446563925

In 1922, Ling was born a few minutes before her brother Li. She was the stronger of the twins so starting with the midwife and her parents, Chinese society blamed her for being a female. Her family doted on the male hero while Ling was treated as a lesser sidekick. However, over the next few years Li took care of his sister. When they are seven, they sneak to the park where an old man encourages Li to break the neck of a cat, which he does to the horror of Ling. His action causes a schism between the twins and she suddenly has the ability to see ghosts.

Leaving their mom behind, the twins and their father leave Shanghai during the Japanese occupation sailing to the Black Isle though lonely Ling watched a young ghost swim and kept her brother alive though their blood connection. Lonely Ling sees ghosts everywhere in the Black Isle but ignores them except when her once gentle but abusive father and other men in her life make demands of her. Deciding to embrace her talent, she changes her name to Cassandra.

This is a powerful twentieth century paranormal historical anchored in a gruesome realism that displays the worst of humanity. The storyline reads like an autobiography as Ling-Cassandra tells her epic adventures during several troubled decades. Ling’s voice makes for a discerning at times grisly (and repulsive but apropos) thriller in which fans will want to tour The Black Isle during this tumultuous era. Harriet Klausner

Trucker Ghost Stories: And Other True Tales of Haunted Highways, Weird Encounters, and Legends of the Road
Annie Wilder (editor)
Tor, Aug 7 2012, $12.99
ISBN: 9780765330352

This is a fun collection (unless you are the authors) of short shorts written by people who insist they met unnatural phenomena while on the road. The true encounters are divided into four chapters: Just Plain Weird, Messages and Assistance from the Spirit World, Haunted Highways: Legends and Lore of the Road, and Time Slips. In some cases, the entry reads like a campfire ghost story and in others like the driver entered the “Turnpike to the Twilight Zone” as R. Dustin Mercer discusses about a trip in the Pittsburgh area he has done many times but this time is eerily different.

The first entry George Stern, Jr. “Demon In Texas” sets the tone as no one will sleep near an Indian burial ground. Matt McFadden’s firsthand account of the “Girl in the Window” staring at him as he drives. Stacy Eldrige discusses Uncle Jim’s “Uninvited Passenger” who faded into thin air. When Lee Honawu was fourteen he drove his grandma’s truck with his younger brother as a passenger only they saw a “Skinwalker in Arizona.”

If you are looking for tight editing and perfect grammar you need take a detour away from this anthology; as a major part of what makes these stories fascinating are the observers’ writings on roads like “Old Highway 666 in New Mexico” by Susan Miller and “Ghost Rider on Highway 666” by Carl Smith. Harriet Klausner

Gustav Gloom and the People Taker
Adam-Troy Castro and Kristen Margiotta (illustrator)
Grosset & Dunlap, Aug 16 2012, $12.99
ISBN: 9780448458335

The neighbors on Sunnyside Terrace demand the city do something about the eye-sore Gloom House and its five year old resident Gustav Gloom. The Mayor’s office sends Mr. Notes who asks Gustav if his parents are home; Gustav says he does not know as he does not know where their home is only they are not here on Sunnyside Terrace. After debating rudeness, seventeen minutes later Mr. Notes flees Gloom House.

Five years later, Gustav watches the What family move into the house next door. A shape tells him the younger of two daughters, ten year old Fermie What likes spooky tales. Worried about both girls but especially Fermie, Gustav plans to warn her. When Fermie watches her cat’s apparent shadow pursue her cat she follows it into Gloom house. There she finds an enigmatic world in which books exist that have not been written yet and shadows, including her own, dine at a feast. The People Taker plans to abduct Fermie and her family and take them to the Shadow Country; only she and her new BFF Gustav Gloom can prevent this calamity.

This is a great tweener horror thriller starring two delightful ten year old children and a strong support cast including shadows like that of Mr. Notes and the vile People Taker. Adam-Troy Castro’s exciting tale is enhanced by Kristen Margiotta’s wonderful illustrations that affirm Gustav Gloom looks like the unhappiest child ever seen. Harriet Klausner

The Treachery of Beautiful Things
Ruth Long
Dial, Aug 16 2012, $17.99
ISBN: 9780803735804

Siblings Jenny and Tom were walking past some small trees at the edge of woods while he played his flute. She is horrified when the trees grab Tom. Over the next seven years her family takes Jenny to see psychiatrist though the nightmares never abate.

Now seventeen and filled with survivor guilt as well as knowing the trees abducted her brother, Jenny finally returns to the scene of the kidnapping where she hears Tom’s flute playing. Following the tune, Jenny bravely enters the Realm of the diverse fae. Frightened but intrepid Jenny stumbles on her quest to bring home Tom. When she meets Jack a broken Fae who warns her to keep her distance, she cannot as she knows Jack would never harm her. Jack and Jenny team up to rescue Tom in a Realm in which betrayal is the norm.

This is an engaging tweener-young teen quest fantasy starring a wonderful courageous but scared heroine and the Fae who has her back (maybe as this Realm is known for The Treachery of Beautiful Things). Written as a series of superb short adventures with Jenny jumping from one fire to another against ruthless enemies, readers will enjoy this entertaining thriller though it never quite feels like a long novel.
Harriet Klausner

Devil’s Gate
F.J. Lennon
Atria, Aug 7 2012, $15.00
ISBN 9781439186602

Kane Pryce burned out after years exorcising spirits though he is only twenty-eight years old. Suffering from PTSD, Kane left his day job as a paranormal Soul Trapper to focus on music as a band guitarist.

Although he vowed to never use his late dad’s soul trap to enable spirits to leave earth (willingly or not), Kane realizes that something malevolent entices people to commit kill themselves at Pasadena’s Suicide Bridge; these unfortunates remain trapped underneath the edifice. Reluctantly he decides to liberate the captive souls. However, to achieve his lofty objective, Kane must first learn what incarcerates them at the Devil’s Gate before he goes after the evil with the Soul Trap.

The second Kane Pryce paranormal thriller is an exhilarating urban fantasy starring an anti-Ghostbusters reluctant hero. Ironically his walk on the wild side of Hollywood music and even crazier trysts seem as dangerous to Kane (self-inflicted) as the wicked monster who haunts Suicide Bridge. Readers will appreciate his latest battle with supernatural and natural psychopaths. Harriet Klausner

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