Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Stories’

Liesl and Po – Lauren Oliver

Posted in Children's Books on October 12th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Liesl and Po is the first of Lauren Oliver’s novels to be targeted at middle grade readers (age 8-12).  Following the sudden death of her best friend, Oliver wrote this book in a two month period as a type of confessional and a way of exploring her grief. 

The title immediately reminded me of Hansel and Gretel and it does have that ethereal, fairytale feel.  Liesl’s beloved father has just died and she is locked up in an attic room by her cruel stepmother, Augusta.  One night she is visited by Po, a ghost of indeterminate gender and his animal companion, Bundle (cat,dog, hamster?).  She enlists Po’s help to contact her father on the “other side”.   This is the story of Liesl’s quest to lay her father’s spirit to rest, a quest which is thwarted by other characters such as her stepmother, an evil alchemist and the redoutable Lady Premiere. 

The characters inhabit a grey and murky world, almost Dickensian at times although the time period and location are deliberately uncertain.  The wonderful grey, pencil illustrations complement this vague, dream-like world perfectly. 

All in all, a very charming tale but, unfortunately, the characters never really emerge from their initial pantomime like introduction.  Yes, they are beautifully drawn, but they lacked depth (both the ghosts and the living ones!)  and I would have loved to have discovered more about their back stories – an opportunity missed?

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The Devil Walks – Anne Fine

Posted in Children's Books on September 16th, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

“The Devil Walks” is a gothic thriller for older children and just the right kind of book to curl up  with as the nights draw in.  Our tale is narrated by Daniel who has spent his childhood years sequestered in his bedroom, a reclusive invalid cared for by his widowed mother.  However, all is not as it seems, it turns out that Daniel’s background is shrouded in secrecy and as his story progresses, we discover what dark and dastardly skeletons lurk in the family vaults.

I’m deliberately not giving away any of the plot – suffice to say that those who love a touch of gothic will be very impressed this wonderfully eerie tale.  Family secrets, a mysterious dolls house, a psychotic uncle holed up in a creepy old house – everything to tempt the Gothic gourmand!

Daniel is a really engaging character, not one for snivelling and whinging, he just gets on with things and is determined to discover what motivated his mother to hide him away from the world.  Each revelation serves to further increase his emotional turmoil.  His uncle Severin is evil personified, switching between benevolent and malevolent at the drop of a hat. 

The plot moves swiftly with lots of twists and turns and the language is exquisite, ideally suited to the period setting but not too convoluted as to dissuade young readers.  An extremely well crafted, atmospheric tale which will appeal to all ages.

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Review – The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

Posted in Ghost Stories on September 24th, 2010 by admin – 5 Comments

It’s hard for an author to match a perfect ghost story like The Woman in Black but here, Susan Hill again manages to recreate the chilling atmosphere of a subtly woven Gothic tale.  Sir James Monmouth returns to England having spent most of his life abroad in exotic climes, following in the footsteps of his hero, the intrepid explorer Conrad Vane.  He was orphaned at the age of five and has no recollection of his childhood in England nor any family to fill in the blanks in his history.  Keen to settle down in England and have a focus in life, he embarks on research into the life of Conrad Vane with a view  to publishing his findings.  However, every time he seems to get closer to finding out more about Vane, the man, he is warned off with vague intimations as to the dark, evil side of the man he has idolised.  He is haunted by a waif like boy whose melancholy sobs and doleful countenance fill him with great sadness.  He sees the frightening apparition of an old woman behind a curtain

I saw the black pits of her eyes with a pin-prick gleam at their centre, and a swarthiness and greasiness about her skin; I saw her hands laid on top of one another, old, scrawny, claw-like hands they seemed to me; and  the flash from a spark from jewelled or enamelled ring.

Susan Hill excells at the slow-build up of tension and terror which gives the reader goosebumps on their goosebumps.  The atmosphere is wonderfully gothic from the opening description of dreary, rainswept Victorian London to the sinister, shaded cloisters of a public school to the windswept moors of the North complete with abandoned villages and a dilapidated country house.  In just 180 pages you are taken on a rollercoaster journey with ever-increasing thrills and twists.

What disappointed me a little was the ending which fails to tie up loose endings and explain elements like the woman behind the curtain and the mysterious mirrors but I guess that uncertainty goes hand in hand with the nature of ghosts and the unexplained.  This is an ideal story for those dark Autumnal nights as we approach Halloween and would be an excellent accompaniment to the ghost stories of M R James.  If you haven’t read this or The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, haste ye to the bookshop/library.

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