RIP (VI) Wrap-up

It was another fun year for the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge that Carl over at “Stainless Steel Droppings” hosted.

This year I read:

The Stuff of Legend: The Dark (bk 1) by by Brian Smith & Mike Raicht

Gunnerkrigg Court (vol. 1 &2) a web-comic published in hardcopy that has enough “creepy & spectral” to fit as a seasonal treat.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness w/ Gris Grimly helped with my Poe fix, though I did read some w/ Natalya. I also read a bit of H.P. Lovecraft.

For more short story thrills there was Guys Read: Thriller edited by Jon Scieszka

I didn’t get to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but I am finishing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and I am in the final pages of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.–hope to have that review this week.

And for Peril on Screen:

re-watched: Coraline (2009), Ghostbusters (1984), The Others (2001)

watched: The City of Lost Children (1995, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro)

Jane Eyre (2011), which I’ve yet to review and may not. was pleased by the performances, but a bit underwhelmed overall.

Logan at “Rememorandum” reviewed a short film by Mattson Tomlin called Dream Lover and that was a fitting RIP viewing. Check out the review and follow Logan’s link.

on television there was Doctor Who, Torchwood: Miracle Day, Luther, and Zen 

I found a few more blogs to follow and some great reviews–from these I made note to read Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me by Kate Bernheimer, Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter, something Michael Didbin, and A Night of Blacker Darkness ed by Cecil G. Bagsworth III (Dan Wells). and watch Buried (2010) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010). I’m sure I missed some, but there you go.

Thank You Carl for hosting another great year! I hope to join a group-read next year, those looked like a lot of fun.



"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · series · short story

Guys Read : Thriller

Ten stories guaranteed to thrill, chill, and have you so far on the edge of your seat that you’re actually on someone else’s, from the following notorious authors: M.T. Anderson, Patrick Carman, Gennifer Choldenko, Matt de la Pena, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Bruce hale, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Anthony Horowitz, Walter Dean Myers, James Patterson; with Illustrations by Brett Helquist. ~jacket copy

Volume 2—Guys Read : Thriller edited (and intro) by Jon Scieszka

Walden Pond Press, 2011. Hardcover, 272 pages. Ages 8-12.

The second installment of Guys Read’s Library is Thriller, a collection of short stories that delivers “the wildest mix of detectives, spooks, cryptids, snakes, pirates, smugglers, a body on the tracks, and one terribly powerful serving of fried pudding” (Jon Scieszka, “Before We Begin…). Yep, sounds like a guys read to me. And it begins with the cover.

Brett Helquist as Illustrator would not only do his part to provide an image for each story, but he has a mystery to share as well. Sciezska begins his Introduction by drawing attention to the cover. “Why is that shady-looking character lurking in the dark alley? What’s he doing with that crowbar? Is that something in his other hand? What is he doing? What has he done?” Sciezska continues to speculate and draw definitions of ‘mystery’ and ‘thriller’ from his contemplation and leaves the story of the cover art up to capable hands, the readers’. “You will have to work out the rest of the story yourself, because that’s all we’ve got from Brett Helquist’s cover. And Brett is suddenly not talking anymore. Smart guy.”

The stories vary in subject matter and in approach, there is even a comic. Three or four at the very least should capture the reader via style/voice. I am guessing the target audience will likely find more. I found humor in every story in Funny Business, but with Thriller I was beginning to think any review I wrote would ultimately surrender to “Jon Scieszka and these authors/illustrators know their audience, they know what they are doing.” It may yet. But as it was I was a bit underwhelmed. And then I found my three or four: (in no order of preference) Pirate by Walter Dean Myers, Thad, the Ghost, and Me by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Nate Macavoy, Monster Hunter by Bruce Hale, and Ghost Vision Glasses by Patrick Carman. Okay, The Old, Dead Nuisance by M.T. Anderson was a good way to start the anthology. And undoubtedly Patrick Carman’s Ghost Vision Glasses was the perfect last story of the collection. While I don’t think one should have to read such a book of stories in order (I like to pick out my favorite authors/titles first), Carman’s story does leave the right level of excitement that makes you think the whole book was a winner.

And Guys Read: Thriller is a winner. This Library of books Scieszka is curating, editing, is a brilliant idea, and it is meeting its promise. These books and stories will entertain the most reluctant middle-grade reader, and said reader will likely find at least one author to pursue. Many of these stories would provide great writing prompts, let alone inspire a reader to write or illustrate their own Thriller. Jon Scieszka and these authors/illustrators know their audience, they know what they are doing. I can’t recommend this Library enough.


Because it is Halloween-time and I am thinking about Neil Gaiman’s All Hallows’ Read, wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could get ahold of these Thriller stories in bite sizes, each printed in slim volumes of singular stories, to purchase and place in school libraries, English classrooms, and trick-or-treat pillowcases? Well, at least for your favorite young people in your life, Guys Read: Thriller en masse is available in time for the season.

Guys Read: Thriller also makes for a good Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) for the younger (and younger at heart) participants in Carl V./”Stainless Steel Droppings” Challenge.

"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

Tales of Mystery & Madness

Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness

Illustrated by Gris Grimly

Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon&Schuster), 2004

Hardcover, 135 pages. Juvenile Fiction (ages 11 & up)

A sweet little cat drives a man to insanity and murder…

The grim death known as the plague roams a masquerade ball dressed in red…

A dwarf seeks his final revenge on his captors…

A sister calls to her beloved twin from beyond the grave…

Prepare yourself. You are about to enter a world where you will be shocked, terrified, and, though you’ll be too scared to admit it at first, secretly thrilled. Here are four tales — “The Black Cat,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “Hop-Frog,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” — by the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. The original tales have been ever so slightly dismembered — but, of course, Poe understood dismemberment very well. And he would shriek in ghoulish delight at Gris Grimly’s gruesomely delectable illustrations that adorn every page. So prepare yourself. And keep the lights on. ~Publisher’s Comments

I read the final story (The Fall of the House of Usher) in this illustrated collection of 4 Edgar Allan Poe stories just before falling asleep last night. Yeah, my dreams were even more demented than usual. I also woke to the dismembering of several trees, where the snowfall was too much for the still leafy behemoths. Tree carnage everywhere. Needless to say, Gris Grimly’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness is a perfect seasonal read.

The claim that “The original tales have been ever so slightly dismembered” is true. Gris Grimly handles these stories masterfully. Poe’s work is as delicious dark as ever, atmospheric, gruesome, and wickedly worded.

The daughter picked up a collection of Poe’s work from the school library not long ago. And the delight in her reading Poe was his overall effect, and his incredible vocabulary. Lists were made by page where she would stop and look them all up. Then at the end re-read the story in a definite state of awe. In Gris Grimly’s lovely book, the words remain as flavorful and difficult as ever. The oft long and unwieldy sentences that sing so perfectly are still enacted, sinking the chills so deeply inward as they wind about and descend.

Poe has a way of externalizing the internal machinations using everything at his disposal, and I think Gris Grimly via his figure sketches and his composed frames/pages would echo a similar effect. The accompaniment of illustration is really well done in a contemporary styling of Edward Gorey, with some water color, and with an edge of mania. Admittedly, at first I shrugged at their darkling charm, but the images really grew on me. They’ve an energy; and they infuse the sinister in the same subtle ways Poe does with words. Given time and a better vocabulary I could disassemble the effects, like one might do with Poe (sentence structure, diction, etc) but in the end there is sure to be an organic quality that unsettles appropriately.

from The Fall of the House of Usher. this image is pre-text. I liked Gris Grimly’s use of water color.

The presentation of the stories are of interest. There is a lot of framing, with actual—er—frames, but it is more picture book than comic*; although the debate there is sure to continue. The images move as the story warrants, and they clarify the mood of each piece. Mind the compositions, as well as the delicacy in which Gris Grimly handles the more gory aspects to a story. I adored the font for the dialog and how it paired so nicely with the regular text in Locarno. The details really come together. But for the color, it is old cinema at points, a bit of Hitchcock; perhaps with the color, Tim Burton, both with film and with pen. I can liken, but Gris Grimly, even as he glowingly cites influences, concocts an imagery all his own.

You read enough Edgar Allan Poe and you note repetitive images and themes and his brilliant observations of mental illnesses. In the 4 stories Gris Grimly chose to collect and illustrate find commonality, and not just Mystery and Madness. For those adults who worry over characters drinking or smoking, Poe and Grimly provide good morality tales as to how alcohol and opium (among other things) poorly affect the spirit and drive a body into horrible states. In the first story, Black Cat, the protagonist, driven by alcoholism and its subsequent inhibition of rage, gouges his beloved cat’s eyeball out. And then later tries to take an axe to it, but well, I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, many a story here is an advertisement for how the drink and anger harms; and how horrifying the unrepentant truly are.

And yet, of course, Poe can be complicated. With Black Cat: Was it the Alcohol? Was it an adult onset of some other illness complicated by drink? Was he really just a bad man (and since he was writing the letter misled us at the beginning)? We really want to work out some of Poe’s mysteries, review his words, his establishment of the story, because his villains (who are oft our narrator) are scary and it feels safer to explain them away—which is a mistake, because Poe’s villains become all too familiar a figure.

For instance, The Mask of the Red Death feels timely, does it not? Prince Prospero hiding away behind impressive and impassable walls in opulence with the select courtiers while the 99% writhe in anguish beneath the onslaught of the Red Death (assign the red state where you will). –okay, sorry, I usually avoid anything political, but you get the example. Poe (and Grimly) use both the upper and the lower classmen as figures of terror. Notably however is the gleefulness you feel at the ending of the villainous Prince (The Mask) and King (Hop-Frog). Then, with both The Mask of the Red Death and Hop-Frog the endings are a conflict of terror and jubilance; not unlike the masquerade balls in which the concluding events occur. As for The Fall of the House of Usher just felt inevitable. I felt an enormous relief of having escaped that story. Unfortunately Black Cat is a scenario that isn’t always so inevitable. Poe’s stories and Grimly’s artwork are inspired.

Poe’s stories (and Gris Grimly’s illustrations) can be enjoyed at a most basic level: you can get a fairly simple chill of horror and enjoy its lingering effects for hours after. Or you can linger and worry over how you yourself have been thus revealed by the reading and manipulative response of Poe’s tales. You can marvel over a sentence, a scene, or creatively subtle devisement. In Gris Grimly’s book, you can enjoy the illustrations several passes more. Edgar Allan Poes’ Tales of Mystery and Madness is a treat that keeps on giving, “ever so slightly dismembered” into bite-sized stories for enjoyable autumnal afternoon sittings. And I would echo the recommended daylight hours, for Poe in the hands of Gris Grimly is delightfully disturbing.


*Since this book is for 11 & up you will likely find this in a Teen Graphic Novel/Comics section. And I really would take the age 11 & up seriously here.

to view more of Gris Grimly’s work click here.

A Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) read if I ever met one.

"review" · cinema · foreign · mystery · recommend

[tv] zen

We have fast become addicts of BBC television series, especially those that end up on PBS Masterpiece. We’d noticed Zen when it was temporarily streaming on Netflix, but it was Carl V.’s encouragement that we follow through and watch it. I am so glad we did.

Zen is a television series originally aired for and by BBC then picked up by PBS Masterpiece. There are three 90 minute installments: “Vendetta,” “Cabal,” and “Ratking.” And before Aurelio Zen, the Italian Police Detective, came to screen, he was created by Michael Dibdin in a series of detective novels. I have yet to read any of the novels, but Carl V. has, and in his review of Dead Lagoon (Vintage Books, 1994), he makes a few comparisons with the television series.

Rufus Sewell stars as Aurelio Zen a soft-speaking bit of a smart-ass Venetian in Rome working as a detective and living with his mother. Zen is good at his job, but it is his impeachable reputation for integrity that certain politicians are keen to make good use of it. In “Vendetta,” he is caught between competing interests and as the series continues you realize Zen is often placed in this situation. There are certain resolutions the powers that be would like to see. But as the series progresses the stakes change, as does the application of pressure. And it doesn’t get old watching Zen negotiate his way through these difficult and increasingly perilous cases.

Zen’s personal life is not the least bit wearisome either. Separated from his wife, Zen has taken an ardent interest in the new office secretary, Tonia Moretti (Caterina Murino of Casino Royale note). But then, most all the men in the office have noticed the secretary and a crude betting pool started. High School antics come to mind despite the professional office attire. Zen’s jealousy and bits of vengeance are amusing; as is his awkwardness in trying to initiate an affair with the much more sexually confident Tonia. (The show is well-populated with sexually self-possessed women.) Again, Zen’s ethics come to bear and he has to figure his way through and around them.

His living with his mother is a sweet tension. His (quite beautiful) mother would have him happy, instead of being “stuck in a flat with your stupid, old mother.” “Ah, Mother, you’re not old,” Zen replies, a quiet smile. Their affectionate teasing is a steadfast charm in the series. Their relationship, his friendships, and his blossoming relationship with Tania are constant sources of warmth and humor.

Zen has a dry wit that surfaces quietly and the initial surprise is lovely. The comedic moments in the show are done in such a way that is very appealing, none of it forced or anticipatory. Sewell’s smooth delivery, his inhabitation of Zen’s posture, his ego and his uncertainties…I have finally realized this actor’s appeal.

Alas, according to the Wikipedia page for the show,

“The series was canceled by BBC One in February 2011; BBC One controller Danny Cohen later said there were already enough male crime-fighters on TV. Left Bank, the show’s producer, has been in discussions with other broadcasters about continuing the series elsewhere.”

I truly hope someone will pick this series up. While I agree there are “already enough male crime-fighters on TV” (as well as female), few are like Aurelio Zen, and even fewer have a more appealing series.

PBS Masterpiece Theater link Wiki link

 Zen provides some good mysteries for “Peril on Screen” : Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) VI.

"review" · cinema · foreign · philosophy/criticism · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

the city of lost children

“Once upon a time there was an inventor so gifted that he could create life. A truly remarkable man.[…] Since he had no wife or children he decided to create them in his laboratory. He started with a wife and fas into the most beautiful princess in the world. Alas, a wicked genetic fairy cast a spell on the inventor so much so that the princess was only knee height or less. He then cloned six children in his own image, faithful, hardworking. They were so alike no one could tell them apart. But fate tricked him again, giving them all sleeping sickness. Craving someone to talk to he grew in a fish-tank a poor migraine-ridden brain. And then at last he created his masterpiece more intelligent then the most intelligent man on Earth. But alas the inventor made a serious mistake. While his creation was intelligent he never ever had a dream. You can’t image how his sadness made him quickly he grow old”. ~Irvin,The City of Lost Children.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro are responsible for Delicatessen (1991), and Jeunet is credited Amélie (2001) and A Very Long Engagement (2004). Ah, yes. If that isn’t reason enough to watch Jeunet & Caro’s The City of Lost Children, the family has decided this makes for a good “Peril on Screen” for the Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) challenge. The City of Lost Children is a dark surrealist film chock full of the bizarre and the creepy.

The Mad Scientist Krank (Daniel Emilfork) cannot dream and because of this he has aged prematurely. In order to stave off, or possibly even reverse these effects, he kidnaps small children and steals their dreams. The cyclopes make the mistake of kidnapping Denree (Joseph Lucien), the little brother of strongman One (Ron Perlman) who teams up with a young street urchin Miette (Judith Vittet) to get the boy back. But first they have to escape la Pieuvre, the Octopus (Geneviève Brunet/Odile Mallet).

Or so the story goes. Many reviewers lament the disintegration of a plot, the incoherent if even existent narrative. They may have a point. The above synopsis is true and deceptive at once. For one, the film is the city of lost children, not the Laboratory of One’s Lost Child. There are a lot of characters and a plenty of strange goings-on. In his review, Roger Ebert mentions a Fellini, “In the way it populates this plot with grotesque and improbable characters, “City of Lost Children” can be called Felliniesque, I suppose, although Fellini never created a vision this dark or disturbing.” Entering via a dreamscape, transitioning into mad laughter, moving on to a street fair… From the introduction of the cyclops on, you find agreement with Ebert.

Santa Claus as the subject of nightmares may not come as a surprise to some, but The City of Lost Children have more in the way of terrible creatures to offer. Krank’s lair is populated with the discomfiting, and not to the exclusion of his own strikingly sinister figure. The camera’s distorting angles and close-ups enhancing the effects of Krank’s repulsive visage as well as that of the clones and the female midget. The only sane perspective (even in its lens capture) is the brain in the box, Irvin (the super ego?). Jeunet & Caro’s film is inhabited by and employs the carnivalesque. The conjoined twins, the flea and its victims, the man in the diving bell, and the Cyclopes are perhaps the most chilling.

The consensus that The City of the Lost is for its visual pleasure only may have less of a point than those who desire greater narrative coherence. Jeunet & Caro’s film is certainly one to relish the set and costumes and the darkling whimsy pervasive throughout, no disagreement there. But despite its dreamlike/nightmarish narrative qualities (i.e. fragmentary, encoded), the film has its disturbingly lucid moments wherein story can be found. The child’s world has been perverted by monsters (in adult forms/industry). They struggle against it, even as they meet it rather bravely. As their dreaming has been taken from them (as well as their childhood, family, origins) they are forced to age prematurely; what will they then become?

Krank has been created by an inventor with whom he rebelled; he is a monster and soulless. Some characters in the film have always held their unnatural forms and others seek them out, grotesquely augmenting their reality (the cyclopes or Marcello). They are figures of nightmares, but they are also figures of reality, regardless of the level of consciousness upon which they reside. They scare the hell out of us.

Consciousness in a film about dreams is necessary to consider. Is it a mistake that the looped pull Krank uses to signal an exit from his “dreaming” contraption looks like a knotted umbilical cord? That is a relatively easy connection to make. What about the diver (Dominique Pinon) who is afraid to surface, whose forgotten/suppressed a past he only remembers to fear? There are details, character studies, and there is also the sheer occupation with set and scene.

The extravagance in The City of Lost Children has a role of its own. I read one review where they complained that ‘mouse and key’ scene was superfluous. Why couldn’t the street-children just use the string and magnet to pull the key under the door? Why the mouse and the cat business? The film begins within the nightmare of a child’s consciousness. The film never really leaves that childlike consciousness, however dark, however ridiculously imaginative or whimsical in nature. The ‘mouse and key’ scene reflect the surreality of a city of lost children. It is a moment no less superfluous than the ‘feed the fishes’ scene where One and Miette wait for their respective planks to fall, for the buckets of fish countering their weight to be emptied by the gulls. The accordion steps might be for sheer whimsy.  The City as a Rube Goldberg machine set off by Miette’s tear, however enchanting, enriches the narrative. There are charming and silly (if not outright hysterical) moments interlaced, making this otherwise dark film tenable on various levels.

There are very few “normal” looking adults populating the landscape of the City of Lost Children. Most of the adults are either lost to monstrosity or are childlike themselves. One is simple, which works in Perlman’s favor as it gives him fewer lines to learn in French (a language he learned for the part via his lines). One rarely speaks and it is in short collections of words when he does. One is unsophisticated in appearance and demeanor. He is closer to nature, unable to continue harpooning whales after having heard their song. He understands and responds to Miette’s loneliness, offering her siblinghood as he had Denree. He is naïve to the sexual advances of a prostitute, carrying her innuendos rather ignorantly and creepily into an exchange with Miette (“radiator”). When One speaks of the future, he speaks as a child might, in “one days.” One is an odd figure of the hero, but is a hero nonetheless, a human who has grown into an adult’s body while maintaining the heart of a child.

Judith Vittet is compelling as Miette who is the adult in a child’s body, who is savvy to the way the world around her works. She is clever and confident. But with One, she expresses a vulnerability that contributes beautifully to the narrative. And complicates it. Miette is a difficulty, especially in her doubling with the prostitute. The parallel in the red hue of their clothes, the dark coloring, the curly hair, the cool sophistication that is somewhat dumbfounded by One. Sean remembers a version of the film where, when Miette is aging in the dreamscape, she pauses when reaching One’s age and the two are dancing. It is strange to find security in One’s innocence but not Miette’s. Even our hero and heroine haunt and disturb the audience.

The City of Lost Children has the ability to enchant the viewer, but admittedly few will fall prey to it. The best approach is to arrive open-minded, and expect some wonderfully magical imagery set before you. The narrative frustrates, and while the ending continues into strange turns, it has a happy one.

<spoiler alert>

The film also has a sad one—in a sense. Krank’s nefarious antics to regain youth however funny and terrifying, fail. We cannot regain our youth once it is spent. What does this mean for our lost children? I can only think—how might we save them from exploitation, from the theft of their dreams, from their having to grow up too quickly?

<spoiler’s ended>

Other remarks on the film: We watched this with our 11 year-old-daughter and had her cover her eyes twice, when the possessed cyclops went to stab his mates, otherwise I think I was the only one frightened into disturbing dreams (of which we will not be analyzing). We watched with subtitles that also translated all the names like: Denree read Grub, Miette as Crumb, etc. I wasn’t paying attention to the music as I tend to. Though gorgeous, some found it a bit at odds with the film’s antics. The set was not at odds in the least. I love nowhere places. I like to write in them, and the city was inspiring. The costumes are fantastic!! And I really want a mad scientist smock just like those in this film. If you want to send me one or two—please do. The casting was perfect. There are so many deliberate aspects to this film that while watching it just for sheer amusement, thinking about it some too is also entertaining.


Do read Roger Ebert’s 1995 Review, he is sharp and amusing, as usual.

La Cité des enfants perdus

The City of Lost Children (1995)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro

Produced by Félicie Dutertre

Written by Gilles Adrien, Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier

Starring: Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon

Music by Angelo Badalamenti

Cinematography Eric Caro, Philippe LeSourd, Darius Khondji

Editing by Ailo August, Herve Shneid

Country: France (watched w/ subtitles)

112 minutes, Rated R due to mild violence and a sexually suggestive scene [at least one, anyway].

Wiki link IMDb link

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · young adult lit

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Quirk Books, 2011. hardcover, 352 pages.

It is easy for a young boy to believe the tales woven by a loving grandfather–of monsters, a magical home, and children with amazing powers. But as that boy matures his grandfather’s tales develop the taint of untruth and what once seemed so very real is now nothing more than fairy stories. So what if his grandfather had pictures of these children, pictures that in childhood were quite convincing? To the boy’s eye these photos now appear faked, doctored, impossible. And so the grandfather stopped telling the stories and a special bond was lost. Then one night tragedy struck and the now adolescent boy saw something–something that should not be real, could not be real. That one night will send the boy on a journey in which he discovers that truth is sometimes stranger, and scarier, than fiction. ~Carl V.

Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings recommended this read—thank you friend—and really, I should just link this post to his and stop there. And so that is just what I am going to do—after the next paragraph and these atmospheric photographs from the book.

I really enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. At first thoughts went to X-Men and Tim Burton’s 2003 film Big Fish, and then those reminiscences left. Riggs provides a highly imaginative historical science fiction fantasy drama of his own. His story shifts from disturbing to scary/grotesque to high adventure all while confidently treading a coming-of-age. The use of a photograph felt a bit reaching at times, but his clever use is undeniable. I was/am a little concerned about Miss Peregrine’s Young Adult designation and having to hunt it down on YA shelves where many adults do not tend to browse. It would be a shame for anyone 11* and older missed this read.

I am very excited to learn a second book is in the works.

*if you are edgy in the least about scary novels for your sensitive 11-13 year old, I figure you’ll want to screen this one first, and hopefully really enjoy it while you do.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a good idea for a Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) read.


"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · series · Tales

tales of terror from the black ship

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship

by Chris Priestly

Illustrations by David Roberts

Bloomsbury, 2008.

Hardcover, 243 pages

I will never look at snails the same way again. –Thank You Chris Priestly for adding another neurosis, and Thank You Carl V. for the book recommendation.

I am not one who boasts a fearlessness when opening a book of scary stories meant for children. I’ve learned my lesson, but I didn’t think Priestly’s Tales of Terror from the Black Ship was going to get me, especially after the mysterious Thackeray’s first tale. Sticking with the read I was eventually rewarded by becoming both grossed out and properly horrified. It is my fondest wish that after reading this book, you will feel the same.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship is a collection of scary stories set at sea, or involving the sea-faring. The stories are woven into a narrative involving a boy, Ethan, and his younger sister, Cathy, who are left ailing and alone at the family Inn while their father is fetching medicine for them. A stranger comes and due to the fierceness of the storm outside, they feel obliged to let him stay until it passes. Thackeray is a suspicious figure, but he keeps the morbid children entertained with stories of the macabre (their favorite). Between tales, the interactions between characters create a growing sense of unease. It doesn’t help either that the stories themselves become increasingly scary. And after Thackeray has finished his last tale for the evening, there is yet one more tale of terror to be finished, it had been drawing itself out.

The tale I found the most delicious in sensation? The Scrimshaw Imp. The Monkey had me laughing in that hysterical way; nice, and terrifying. Nature and The Boy in the Boat had wonderfully grotesque moments and lingering unease. I did appreciate the overall story, though I admit there were times I felt the Tales and tales went on a bit long; which is likely due to my impatience or those anxiety-induced moments of “oh dear, there’s more!?” Oh, but the ending is nicely done, Priestly’s devisements work.

The addition of David Roberts’ illustrations are delectable. They are wonderfully Edward Gorey-esque. Each tale is given an illustration incorporating a title, a more seamless way to mind how the tales are all part of a greater story. And you’ll be looking forward (with some trepidation) to the full page illustration that comes with each story. They capture the mood and are always worth lingering upon.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship is the second in a series of Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly. Unfortunately, the Library here only had this one. I am assured that the first book Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror is brilliant (and likely better). I’ll be looking forward to the others. If you are curious about them, check out Carl V.’s reviews for Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth. You’re sure to be persuaded to try one of these volumes, if not all—even if that means adding a new fear of something.

>>>note: this book can be pretty gorey and violent–a bit of a given. However, like Carl, I feel a caution is necessary on the language; ” for a book that is published for children, I was a little taken aback by the amount of swearing and by a few sexual remarks.” I agree with Carl when he suggests it fits the coarseness of the setting/lifestyle. The book being published in the UK first might have to do with it as well. But a caution just the same, at least for the 8 and change crowd.

this has most definitely been considered a Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) VI read.