Archive for Ghosts

Booktalk: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness cover

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean has one of the most unusual premises of any young adult book I’ve ever read.  A girl, who is in love with a long-dead explorer, ends up going to the same part of the world where he died and risks following him to the same fate.  There’s danger, drama, and adventure on the outside while on the inside there’s an ongoing conversation between two people, one living and one dead.

There are times that I read books that have won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and I think, hmmm … I can see why they thought that was a great book, but I would find it hard to recommend to most teenagers I know and I definitely couldn’t booktalk it to an entire class!  But The White Darkness has enough appeal and enough unique layers that as soon as I finished reading it I knew that I wanted to share it with a larger audience.


Sym has always had trouble fitting in.  She doesn’t have many friends, and a lot of kids in school make fun of her.  Her father didn’t like her very much either, but he’s dead now, so that doesn’t really matter anymore.  Her mom is okay, but Sym actually gets along better with Uncle Victor, who isn’t really her uncle but more a friend of the family.  But Uncle Victor is the only one who really understands just how much she loves the Antarctic.  How much she dreams of following in the footsteps of the brave explorers who went on doomed expeditions to the South Pole, many of whom lost their lives surrounded by miles of ice and snow.

In fact, while Sym has never had a boyfriend, there is one man who she loves more than anything in the world, and that man is Titus Oates.  As in, the late Titus Oates.  You see, Titus is one of those explorers who never came back from the Antarctic alive.  But Sym has read so many books, seen so many videos, and learned so much about Titus’ life that she feels like she knows him.  She even has long conversations with him inside her head.  But that’s not a secret Sym tells anyone — not even Uncle Victor.

Now Sym’s life stays pretty much the same until the day that Uncle Victor offers to take her and her mother to Paris for the weekend.  Sym thinks this is a great plan, even though the plan keeps changing.  First her mother’s passport went missing, so she was unable to go with them.  Then the weekend trip to Paris turned into several weeks in Antarctica.  Since Sym has always wanted to go there, she’s delighted.  But it’s when they reach the end of the world that Sym’s dream turns into a nightmare.

Sym is going to learn some very painful truths … about Antarctica, about Uncle Victor, and about herself.  She will find herself in incredible danger while surrounded by miles of ice and snow in every direction.  And her only hope of survival will be to rely on everything she’s ever learned about the Antarctic, her intuition, and the voice of a long-dead explorer that only she can hear.

Booktalk: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Asylum cover

When you pick up Asylum and flip through the pages, you can’t help but notice its visual style.  That’s because, like its popular predecessor Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, creepy old (or old-looking) photographs are incorporated into the text.  In this book, Madeleine Roux has created a frightening story about ordinary teens who are trapped in extraordinary circumstances.  The photographs taken in actual asylums simply add to the mood and make this book even more memorable.


The teenagers who show up at the New Hampshire College Prep program think that they’re going to have a life-changing experience this summer.  But when they show up at the school, they discover that the dorm where they will be living for the summer is a very old building that was once used as an asylum for the criminally insane.  And that’s when the idea of a life-changing experience starts to feel a little creepy.

When Dan gets to his dorm room and starts to unpack, he opens one of the drawers and inside that drawer he finds an old photograph of a man’s face.  The photograph is old and faded, and the man looks very stern and serious.  But the scariest thing about the photograph is that someone has completely scratched out the man’s eyes.

When Dan shows the picture to his roommate, his roommate says that he doesn’t know where the picture came from … but that there are lots of pictures and papers in the old warden’s office downstairs.  When Dan and his friends, Abby and Jordan, decide to go downstairs and start exploring in the old warden’s office, they’re going to discover that this building is holding more secrets than they ever imagined … and that some of the asylum’s residents aren’t quite as dead as everyone believes.

Teen Horror Books: Vampires, Zombies, and More!

Strange Angels coverRot and RuinColdest Girl in Coldtown cover

In this episode, I give a brief overview of one of my favorite genres and talk about the horror authors I used to read when I was growing up.  Then I talk about some of my favorite teen horror novels that you can find on library and bookstore shelves today:

The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
iDrakula by Bekka Black
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Booktalk: To Be Or Not To Be by Ryan North

To Be Or Not To Be Cover

If you follow Kickstarter news, then you’ve definitely heard of this book and you or your library might already have a copy of it.  In 2012, Ryan North started a Kickstarter campaign to fund this book, and it turned into the #1 most funded publishing project on Kickstarter (full disclosure: I’m one of those many backers, which is how I got my own copy).  In fact, several of the stretch goals included donating copies to schools and libraries, which is why your library may already have a copy.  But if you don’t already have a copy through Kickstarter, it is available to purchase through the usual channels, as well.

To Be Or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure would be most appreciated by high school students or adults, since they are most likely to be familiar with the original source material.  Basically, it would be a great book to share with Shakespeare fans, with people who were forced to read Shakespeare in school, and with fans of the choose-your-own-adventure format.

Oh, and I have a brief booktalking note: when I was first writing this booktalk, one of the ideas I had was to read aloud some of the choices that are available in the book.  I decided to go in a different direction, but I still think that it’s a good idea.  So another way that you could approach this booktalk would be to give a brief introduction of the concept of the book, and then read aloud some of the choices in the book (make sure you mark off the pages with page markers or sticky notes first for easier reading!)  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • (p. 11) Go murder your uncle: turn to page 195
  • (p. 36) Show her how non-murderous you are by killing whoever’s behind the curtain: turn to page 294
  • (p. 203) Become a ghost: turn to page 636 / Do not become a ghost: turn to page 633
  • (p. 211) Step from the shadows and introduce yourself dramatically: turn to page 250
  • (p. 251) Turn into a gamma-irradiated monster: turn to page 274
  • (p. 413) Shout “I’m not a murderer!!” then throw the book as hard as you can at Hamlet’s head, tell the court “I regret nothing” and make a break for it: turn to page 421

ETA: As you may have noticed, there are two small issues with this episode.  The first issue is that I left off the opening music, which is entirely my fault (but in my defense I’m still in vacation mode).  The other issue is that my description of this episode isn’t currently showing up in iTunes.  I think it has something to do with a technical issue that the Quick Blogcast gurus are currently trying to resolve.  Anyway … um … onward and upward?


Spoiler Alert: Prince Hamlet learns the identity of his father’s murderer, he seeks revenge, and by the end of the story a LOT of people are dead.

But does the story HAVE to wind up that way?

What if the characters made different choices?  What if Hamlet’s father decided not to come back as a ghost?  Or what if he decided to get his own revenge, rather than making his son do it?  What if Ophelia wanted to confront the ghost herself?  Or what if she decided that dating Hamlet was too much trouble and she just broke up with him instead?  What if Hamlet was so depressed by all his family drama that he decided to kill himself?  Or what if he skipped the whole revenge thing, married Ophelia, and lived happily ever after?

YOU decide what happens next!

Booktalk: Break My Heart 1,000 Times by Daniel Waters

I was first introduced to the writing of Daniel Waters with his excellent zombie novel Generation Dead (which I booktalked in a previous episode back in 2012).  So when I saw that he’d written a novel about ghosts, I definitely knew that it would be worth checking out.  What I enjoy the most about Break My Heart 1,000 Times is that while it’s both a mystery and a scary story, it’s also a deeply emotional story about an empathetic protagonist.  Readers will find themselves rooting for Veronica as she plays both hero and victim as the suspenseful story unfolds.


Veronica lives in a world where ghosts are real.  They aren’t there permanently, but they keep showing up for a few minutes or a few seconds at a time, over and over again.  Sometimes they return to the moment of their deaths.  Sometimes they return to the happiest moments of their lives.  And sometimes they return to ordinary moments of ordinary days.

Veronica sees ghosts every day; she sees ghosts on her way to and from school, in the classrooms, and even at home.  In fact, it’s a ghost that she’s been seeing at home that’s been making her curious and worried.  This is the ghost of a teenage boy who stands in front of her bathroom mirror.  Every day at the same time, he combs his hair, he smiles, and then he vanishes.  But this ghost is unusual because he seems more real to Veronica than the other ghosts she’s seen.  Sometimes it looks like his reflection appears in the bathroom mirror, even though everyone knows that ghosts don’t have reflections.  And sometimes after he vanishes, when Veronica walks over to the place where he stood, the air feels colder in that spot, and she can even smell the cologne that he once used.

Veronica doesn’t know anything about this boy.  She doesn’t know his name, or how he died, or how long he’s been gone.  She also doesn’t know that he is one of many ghosts that are slowly becoming more powerful, and more real.

Booktalk: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya’s Ghost is the first of what I hope will be many books by Vera Brosgol, and it’s one of my favorite graphic novels.  It’s a stand-alone story that takes realistic fiction and gives it a paranormal twist, and it features a protagonist who is refreshingly fallible.

To give you a little behind-the-scenes insight, I’ll tell you that I recorded this booktalk several days ago, just a few minutes after I finished writing it.  In a future “how-to” episode I’ll be talking about how and why booktalks can evolve over time, but I can tell you that I’ve already made multiple changes to this booktalk and I haven’t even presented it to an audience yet.  So stay tuned for that future episode when I’ll tell you about some of the changes I’ve made and why I made them.


Anya is a Russian girl who doesn’t fit in at her American school.  Over the last few years she lost weight and she lost her accent, but she still can’t get the other kids to like her.  There is one Russian boy at her school, but Anya doesn’t want to hang out with him because he’s much too Fobby (that’s Fresh Off the Boat).  And then one day Anya has an accident that changes her life.  She falls down into an abandoned well, and at the bottom of that well she finds a skeleton.  And hovering just above that skeleton is the ghost of a girl.  When Anya sees that ghost, she has the reaction that you might expect.

That’s right — she freaks out and starts screaming.

But little by little, as the ghost talks to Anya and Anya talks to the ghost, Anya starts to calm down.  By the time she gets rescued, she’s starting to become friends with the girl who used to be Emily Reilly.  Anya starts learning the advantages of being friends with a ghost.  Emily can help Anya cheat on tests by telling her the answers the other kids chose.  Emily can sneak a look at Sean’s schedule so that Anya can just happen to bump into him after class.  Emily can tell her the best places to hide where the principal won’t be able to find her.

Anya wants to repay Emily for helping her out, and she offers to do some research and see if she can find out what really happened to Emily.  But the more Anya learns about Emily, the more she realizes that Emily has been concealing the truth about herself.  And Emily has been dead for almost 100 years; she’s had a LOT of time to think about what she really wants.  Anya is going to learn just how dangerous befriending a ghost can be.

Booktalk: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood is a wonderfully creepy and scary story.  Cas is a likeable protagonist, and Anna is a great character, too … once you get to know her.  The character of Anna and the reason she got her distinctive name will definitely intrigue your teen readers!  Check out Kendare Blake’s website to learn more about Anna Dressed in Blood and her other exciting books.  And stay tuned for the release of Girl of Nightmares in August!


Cas has led a very unusual life so far.  His mother is a witch, and his father was a ghost hunter.  Cas’ father hunted ghosts for years until someone … or some THING … killed him.  Now Cas uses his father’s weapon to kill ghosts.

Right now, Cas is going to pick up a hitchhiker.  This hitchhiker haunts a road in North Carolina, and every time someone picks him up he’s happy and friendly for the first several miles until the car reaches the bridge — the bridge where the hitchhiker was killed.  That’s when he transforms into something else — an angry spirit that wants to get revenge by destroying the driver of the car.  The hitchhiker has already killed more than a dozen people.  Cas has to make sure that he won’t kill anyone else.

As soon as he takes care of the hitchhiker, Cas and his mother are moving to the town of Thunder Bay so that Cas can hunt another ghost.  This ghost is called Anna Dressed in Blood because when her throat was cut she bled so much that her white dress turned completely red.  Cas doesn’t know it yet, but Anna is more powerful, more dangerous, and at the same time more human than any ghost he’s ever encountered before.  Anna might change his life … if she doesn’t end it first.