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Ghosts and witches and wizards, oh my!

What better time of year to curl up with a creepy book and a cup of cocoa to ward off the supernatural shivers? These middle-school novels provide just the right balance of adventure and eeriness — along with a few magical villains (or are they?) — for deliciously spooky fall reads.

yelchin_haunting-of-falcon-houseSet in late-nineteenth-century imperial Russia, Eugene Yelchin’s faux-memoir novel The Haunting of Falcon House follows young Prince Lev Lvov as he arrives at the cavernous Falcon House, eager to assume his noble duties. In his late grandfather’s gloomy study, which the servants are convinced is haunted, Lev is befuddled by episodes during which his hand seems to be taken over by a spirit, creating some of the curious drawings scattered throughout the book. Short chapters, an eerie setting, and a surprising twist make this a compelling read for fans of historical fiction and ghost stories. (Holt, 9–12 years)

barnhill_girl who drank the moonEvery year on the Day of Sacrifice, the elders of the Protectorate take a new baby and leave it in the woods to appease a witch no one has seen. A witch does live in the forest, though, and she finds homes for the babies; she even welcomes one of them, magically gifted Luna, into her own family that includes a beloved bog monster and a dragon. Meanwhile, the true Witch of Sacrifice Day is hiding in plain sight. Love — familial, maternal, filial, and friendly — is the engine and moral of Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon. (Algonquin, 10–13 years)

sherman_evil-wizard-smallboneTwelve-year-old runaway Nick Reynaud, protagonist of The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman, seeks shelter at Evil Wizard Books. The proprietor, Zachariah Smallbone, declares that Nick will be his new apprentice, and when Nick disagrees, the wizard turns him into a spider. Back in human form, Nick looks to the bookstore to learn enough magic to protect himself from Smallbone’s shape-shifting whims. Well-timed revelations feed the ongoing mystery — which includes the apparent contradiction between Smallbone’s “evil wizard” moniker and his periodic eruptions of decency — and, by the end, all is resolved in a satisfying way. (Candlewick, 10–13 years)

ritter_ghostly-echoesIn Ghostly Echoes, the third outing in William Ritter’s Jackaby series, paranormal detective R. F. Jackaby and apprentice Abigail Rook search for clues linking recent murders to the decade-old death of Jenny Cavanaugh (a ghost who’s both a dear friend and their landlord). Jenny’s murder and the latest deaths, as Abigail and Jackaby soon learn, are all part of a monstrous plot affecting this world and the afterlife. Inventors and engineers, as well as a vampire, a nixie, giants, and other supernatural creatures, all figure in Ritter’s latest glorious fusion of detective novel, ghost story, and fantasy. (Algonquin, 10–13 years)

From the October 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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