Archive for Horror

Booktalk: The Fall by Bethany Griffin

The Fall cover

This retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” is brought to us by Bethany Griffin, also known as the author of the YA novels Masque of the Red Death and Dance of the Red Death.  Although all of these novels are inspired by Edgar Alan Poe stories, the Red Death novels take Poe’s original story and extrapolate a dystopian future society, while The Fall is more of a traditional retelling.

In Poe’s original story we see the action from the perspective of an outsider who is coming to visit the cursed family, someone who’s coming in at the end of the story as the house is about to collapse.  But The Fall lets you imagine the fear and despair of what it would have been like if you’d spent your entire childhood growing up in that dark, creepy house with a curse hanging over your head.

The tagline on the cover is “Madness is in the very air she breathes,” which will give readers a good sense of the chilling, atmospheric story contained inside.


Madeleine Usher is eighteen years old, and she’s just been been buried alive.  But that’s not where the story begins.

The story started generations ago, when the Usher family was cursed.  Ever since then, all of the Ushers died young, usually after being driven to madness.  Sometimes after trying to leave the house.  The house seemed to have a mind of its own … almost as if it didn’t want them to leave.  Madeleine’s parents sent her twin brother away to try to save him, which left Madeleine even more alone than before.  Now both of her parents are dead, because they couldn’t escape the curse, either.  The only Ushers that are left are Madeleine and her brother, and the curse might die with them.

Madeleine knows the house better than anyone.  She knows its moods and its secrets.  She has peered into its darkest and dustiest corners.  She knows that the house wants to protect her, but she also knows that it might kill her.

Madeleine Usher is eighteen years old, and she’s just been been buried alive.  That’s not where the story begins … but it might be where it ends.

Booktalk: Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami

Seraph of the End cover

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami is one of the best mangas I’ve read in a long time.  It has a great combination of external and internal conflicts.  We spend a lot of time inside a 12-year-old boy’s head, learning why it’s so hard for him to trust other people and why he reacts so badly to the idea of a family.  But we also get lots of action in the form of vampires, and there are plenty of exciting scenes that will keep readers on the edge of their seats!


In the future, a mysterious virus kills most of the Earth’s population.  It kills the adults but leaves the children alive. With all of the adults gone, human society starts falling apart.

And that’s when the vampires take over.

The vampires capture the human children and bring them underground.  They let the children live, but only to be used as a permanent blood supply.  Yuichiro is a 12-year-old boy who hates vampires.  He dreams of having enough power to fight and defeat them, which is almost impossible because vampires are so much stronger than humans.  But before Yuichiro can defeat the vampires first he must escape the underground city and find his way back to the human world.  He doesn’t know it yet, but the human world is a lot different than he remembered, and a lot different than he expected.

Booktalk: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods cover

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is kind of difficult to categorize.  It’s definitely a collection of short stories that are all dark and haunting in different ways.  The stories feel like fairy tales and are sometimes loosely connected to fairy tales, but they also stand alone on their own.  And the collection could be categorized as a cross between a graphic novel and a picture book for older readers.  But no matter how you categorize it, this is a great book to share with readers who are ready to try some deeply chilling stories!


There was a girl, and there was a man.  The girl’s father told her that she had to marry that man, and so she did.  And then she traveled by horse and carriage to the man’s enormous home, where there were servants, and silk dresses, and beautiful jewelry, and more food than she could eat.

During the day the house seems perfectly fine, but every night, she hears the sound of someone singing.  Sometimes it’s coming from the walls, sometimes from the floor, or the stairs, or the ceiling.  But each night the song is the same. Each night the voice sings that she married her love in the springtime, but by summer he’d locked her away.  Each night the voice sings about what her husband did to her, and each night the girl lies awake in bed, listening to the song, filled with terror and dread.  But even though she’s afraid, the girl is determined to find out what happened to this woman and to understand why her voice is haunting this house.

“A Lady’s Hands are Cold” is just one of the dark and chilling stories in
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

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.

Booktalk: Sick by Tom Leveen


When I was looking for scary books to booktalk this month, I found an advanced readers copy of this book in the pile on my desk.  The title and the great cover illustration caught my eye, as well as the tagline “High school is full of monsters.”  When I read the back cover and saw that they were calling this book “The Breakfast Club meets The Walking Dead,” I knew that I HAD to read it.

Sick is a great book to share with reluctant readers, because the story is exciting, the violence is gruesome, and the language is … shall we say … realistic to the high-school experience.  Visit Tom Leveen’s website to learn more about this book and the other novels he’s written for teens.


Brian and his friends decided to cut out of school in the middle of the day.  That’s one of the main reasons they’re still alive right now.  By the time they came back to school later that afternoon, the outbreak had already started to spread.

It started with students fighting other students.  But these were no ordinary fights.  You see, infected students were attacking healthy students.  They attacked their victims by knocking them to the ground.  Biting their arms.  Clawing their faces.  Ripping out their throats.  Some of their victims died instantly, but some of them weren’t so lucky.  Some of them became infected, and they started hunting for victims of their own.

Brian and his friends are safe, for now, in the theater department.  But Brian can’t just think about himself.  There’s his sister Mackenzie, and his ex-girlfriend Laura.  They’re somewhere in one of the school buildings.  Maybe they’re alive, and they need to be rescued.  Maybe they’re dead.  Or maybe they’re worse than dead — maybe they’ve already been infected, and they’re just waiting for someone to bite.

Booktalk: Darkness Before Dawn by J.A. London

Darkness Before Dawn cover

Okay, so do you see that cover?  The one featuring the pretty girl in the long pretty dress?  Well, now you know the #1 reason that my eyes slid right over this book when it first came out.  Because, as I may have mentioned before, there are way too many YA books published nowadays featuring pretty girls in long pretty dresses, and I started getting sick of them after a while.  It wasn’t until I was recently compiling a list of scary books that I discovered, really looked at, and finally READ this book.  And that’s when I learned that it defied my expectations.

Yes, in answer to your follow-up question, Darkness Before Dawn is about a pretty girl who sometimes wears a long pretty dress.  But since Dawn is a human delegate who meets with one of the most powerful vampires in the world, and since part of the etiquette is that she has to dress in a formal, old-fashioned way whenever she goes to meet him, the cover kind of makes sense!  What I liked about this story is that it’s about a modern girl who is being pulled in different directions romantically, all while dealing with danger, betrayal, and REALLY dangerous vampires.  Oh, and when I showed this book to my Teen Advisory Group, their first reaction was to ask me (in an eye-rolling way) if it was about vampires that sparkled in the sunlight.  I told them that while there was romance in this book, that these were the kinds of vampires that would burn to ashes if the sunlight hit them.  And that seemed to be a very satisfactory answer.

Check out J.A. London’s website to learn more about this book and the others that complete this dystopian/vampire/romantic trilogy (Blood-Kissed Sky and After Daybreak).  And if you visit J.A. London’s Twitter feed, you’ll learn something very unusual about the author’s identity!


Dawn has plenty of reasons to hate vampires.  Years ago, her brother died while saving her from a vampire attack.  And just three months ago, her parents were murdered while returning from an official visit to Lord Valentine, one of the most powerful vampires in the world.

Now Lord Valentine has selected Dawn to be the new human delegate to the vampires, continuing the job her father held until his untimely death.  It’s Dawn’s job to bargain with the vampires, and to set a balance between vampires and humans.  She needs to encourage people to donate enough blood to keep the vampires satisfied, so that humanity can be safe once and for all.  But bargaining with vampires is going to be hard, and trusting vampires is going to be even harder.

Dawn doesn’t know it yet, but even as she starts learning to trust people and starts hoping that a human-vampire peace can be achieved, the people she loves most in the world are in more danger than ever before.

Booktalk: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Coldest Girl in Coldtown cover

This book has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and deservedly so!  The Coldest Girl in Coldtown fuses the idea of vampires with a dystopian future, and stars some really compelling characters.  Plus, I love both the title and the cover to pieces!

Give this to your teen readers who love horror, who love vampires, and who love strong kick-ass heroines.  And make sure you visit Holly Black’s website to learn more about her novels, short stories, and graphic novels for children and teens.


When a person is bitten by a vampire, the person doesn’t turn into a vampire right away.  Usually what happens is that the person turns cold.  Not exactly living, but not quite undead, either.  The person might turn into a vampire, or might turn back into a human.

And that’s why the government built a series of Coldtowns, and surrounded each one with walls and high security.  Each Coldtown is filled with vampires, humans who want to become vampires, humans who want to be vampire victims, and humans who’ve turned cold … so they’re not quite human anymore.

All of the vampires are supposed to stay in the Coldtowns.  But vampires don’t always follow the rules.  So it’s still dangerous for humans to be out at night … and still stupid for humans to go to parties at sundown.

Last night, Tana went to a sundown party.  This morning she woke up in the bathtub, and discovered that almost everyone else in the house was dead.  Now she’s on the strangest road trip ever, with her ex-boyfriend and a vampire who probably wants to kill both of them.  And Tana is driving all of them to the nearest Coldtown.

Booktalk: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline cover

Welcome to my first spooky booktalk selection for October!  Okay, first I’m going to tell you why I love this book to pieces, and why it’s one of my favorite booktalks I’ve ever written.  Then I’m going to tell you why I don’t booktalk it any more.

Let’s start with the love.  Neil Gaiman has a very simple, clear, and poetic writing style that is easy to understand yet often profound.  He’s demonstrated this style with a wide range of writing over the years, for adult audiences (the Sandman graphic novels, The Ocean at the End of the Lane), for children (The Wolves in the Walls) and for a crossover audience of older children and younger teens (The Graveyard Book and Coraline).  And YES, I know he’s written many more books — those are just some of MY favorites, okay?  Anyway, I love Coraline in particular because it’s scary without being bloody or gruesome, but it’s also very creepy in a “deep inside we’re all afraid of dolls and clowns” kind of way.

I mean … buttons instead of eyes?  SHUDDER

I also like this booktalk because I think it covers that creepy atmosphere very nicely (if I do say so myself).  And the use of repetition works particularly well when you’re sharing a story that has a fairy tale kind of quality.  It’s one thing to tell a story to a kindergarten class and see them start to nod their heads and mouth along with the phrases you repeat in a story.  But it’s very different (and very rare) to see the same kind of reaction in a 7th grade class.  I’ve shared this booktalk with middle school classes many times over the years, and on multiple occasions I’ve seen 7th graders mouthing along with my repetitions of the phrase “… but not quite.”

As to why I don’t booktalk it any more … well, some of you have figured that out already.  As I mentioned in my “Are There Any Books That I Shouldn’t Booktalk?” episode, I usually stop booktalking a book when I know that it’s been turned into a movie, especially if it’s a big-budget release that many people have seen.  Because it’s kind of pointless to drum up the whole “You’ll have to read the book if you want to know the ending!” vibe if half of your audience already knows what happens at the end of the story.  That being said, since the movie came out a while ago and it isn’t as fresh in everyone’s minds, I wouldn’t mind working this booktalk back into my repertoire again.  After all, a great book is still a great book.

If you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing (and you should be), make sure you check out his books for adults, kids, and everyone in between.  And in case you’re wondering if there are any more literary frontiers he hasn’t conquered yet, I should also point out that he’s recently developed a video game called Wayward Manor that is going to be coming out within the next few months.  Jeez, what CAN’T this guy do???


Coraline and her family moved into a very old house.  As Coraline began exploring the grounds, she discovered many interesting things.  She discovered a rose garden that was all overgrown, a tennis court where the net was rotting away, and a dangerous old well that was covered up by planks of wood.  When Coraline explored inside the house, she discovered something else.  There were fourteen doors, but only thirteen of them were open.  The last door was locked.  When Coraline asked her mother about it, she told her that it went nowhere.  She unlocked the door, and showed Coraline the brick wall on the other side.  It really went nowhere.

That night, Coraline’s strange dreams began.  She dreamed that she heard a creaking noise – almost like an old door being opened.  She also dreamed that she saw little black shapes with little red eyes and sharp yellow teeth.

And as the days passed, Coraline’s dreams grew even stranger, like the time she dreamed that she unlocked the door herself, and that instead of a brick wall there was a hallway on the other side, and that the hallway led into a house that looked almost like hers but not quite … and that she walked into a kitchen that was almost like hers but not quite … and that she saw a woman who was almost like her mother but not quite.  Because this woman had skin as white as paper … and long fingers with curved sharp fingernails … and big black buttons instead of eyes.

And this was the worst kind of dream for Coraline to have, because, in fact, she wasn’t dreaming.  This time, Coraline was wide awake.

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: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls cover

This is a monster story unlike most other stories.  From the title and the cover you might think that A Monster Calls is a horror story, and while there is definitely horror here, there’s more tragedy and anguish.  I can also tell you that I cried at the end of this book, and that there are very few horror stories that have affected me this way.

It’s difficult to describe this book without giving away too much, which also makes it difficult to booktalk (which is why I only described the very beginning of the story).  I can tell you that the book is written by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd.  I can tell you that the illustrations by Jim Kay that are seamlessly integrated into the book are ASTOUNDING, and that they make the impact of the story even stronger.  And I can tell you that this is one of the most powerful books for children and teens that I’ve read in the last decade.


Conor keeps having the same nightmare over and over again.  But then one night, he wakes up from that nightmare just after midnight to hear a strange voice calling his name.  He looks out the window and sees the same things he always does … the church on the hill behind his house … the graveyard next to the church … and the huge tree growing in the middle of that graveyard.  But then the moon goes behind a cloud for a moment, and when it reappears, it’s shining on that tree again, only now the tree from the graveyard is right behind his house.  And now that tree isn’t just a tree anymore.  It has transformed into a monster, and it’s staring at Conor through the window, waiting for him to come outside.

Very soon, Conor is going to learn that it’s very hard to wake up from some nightmares … and that some nightmares are more real than others.