Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

Down a Dark Hall
I have loved Lois Duncan's teen novels ever since I first read them as a beginning teacher in the early 90s. I love how she creates a feeling of suspense and terror with references to the paranormal. For some reason, I never read Down a Dark Hall, so when I saw this edition where the author has updated the story to give it modern references, I thought I'd give it a try.

The story starts with Kit being driven by her mom and new stepdad to Blackwood Hall, the boarding school she will soon be attending. She's not at all excited about being left at the new school while her mom goes off to Europe on an extended honeymoon with her new husband. When they arrive at Blackwood Hall, the description of the school is straight out of a gothic novel. Creepy with a capital C. The reader feels Kit's foreboding when exploring the house and the hallway to her new room. You just get a sense that something is off. All the clues are there -- how there are only four students at the school, how no one from the closest village wants to work there, how strange it is that there are locks only on the outside of the girls' bedrooms. This is one sinister place.

Kit and the other three girls each have some weird experiences in the house and are seemingly more and more isolated from the rest of the world. Lynda suddenly exhibits a talent for drawing and painting, even when she couldn't do anything artistic before. Sandy feels as though some presence is in her room at night. Kit is haunted by a melody in her dreams, but has no idea where it comes from. It seems that of the four girls only Kit and Sandy really question the oddness of it all and want to know more. Is the house haunted by ghosts? What's the real reason each of these girls were accepted to Blackwood Hall.

This is a quick read. The reader is quickly immersed into the sinister events at the school and Kit's quest to uncover all the secrets. Ms. Duncan does a nice job of building suspense without making it overdramatic. I really didn't get some of the secondary characters (like Ruth or Jules) -- they seemed a bit too one dimensional. I'm sure it would have helped to see just a bit more into their thoughts. Some things at the end of the book seemed incomplete, as I have way too many questions. I realize some things should be left to the reader's imagination, but I'm a bit confused about exactly how things worked. (I know that's a bit fuzzy, but without giving away spoilers, that's the best I can do.) Even with my questions, this is a terrific horror story to give you some spine-tingling chills. B rating.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (American Fairy #1)

Dust Girl (The American Fairy Trilogy, #1)
Plenty of suspense and drama surrounded Callie, a teen from the Dust Bowl era in Kansas. When her mother disappears, Callie discovers that her father is a fairy prince and she is the heir to the fairy throne. Suddenly, she's thrust into the middle of a feud between the Midnight People and the Seelies, not knowing what is real and what is illusion. She teams up with Jack, a boy traveling the rails to California, in order to find both her parents and discover what is exactly the truth.

I really, really liked the first 3/4 of the book. I could most clearly visualize the Kansas of the Dust Bowl era, with the dried up fields, the dust storms, the despair of the people and even the subtle commentary on the racism common in this time. I was certainly intrigued with the mystery of Callie's heritage and where on Earth her parents had disappeared. That said, once Callie and Jack get to Kansas City, I was less than enamored, and I certainly found the ending less than satisfactory. I realize that this is the first of a trilogy, but I like to have a few things wrapped up. I don't like it when I have more questions than answers at the end of a book. Here, I just finished the last page with a huge question mark? Huh? That was it? We still don't know the least bit about Callie's parents -- we know what Callie suspects -- but we don't KNOW anything. And the last part with the train (No specifics here, so I don't give spoilers.) ... I know the purpose of that in giving Callie a choice with her future and let Jack have some closure, but it was just plain strange for me. Possibly this is a book that could be salvaged when the trilogy is complete. If the reader could immediately continue Callie's story, maybe the end of book one wouldn't be as weak as I now see it. That's something only time will tell. C+ rating.

P.S. I'd highly recommend putting the suggested playlist (located after the author's note at the end of the book) on while reading the story. It does wonders for putting you into the mood of the era!