ONE FOR THE BOOKS: Just a little bit spooky

By Mary Louise Ruehr | Books Editor Published:

Eerie shadows, whistling winds; the nights seem darker and filled with unseen threats ... fall is a little bit spooky and a little bit scary, just like these two books.

I have become a fan of Neil Gaiman. He's a true original, and so is his "The Ocean at the End of the Lane."

In the story, a man returns to his childhood home in the English countryside and suddenly remembers what happened there when he was 7 years old: "It was all coming back to me. Memories were waiting at the edges of things, beckoning to me." (I love how he uses words.)

As a boy, he was lonely. "I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else." When he had his 7th birthday party, nobody came. So he went to his room and read. "Books were safer than other people anyway."

But weird stuff starts happening. Money shows up in odd places, in the form of coins. A dead man is found in their car.

Down the road, 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock lives with her mother and grandmother. All three seem to read minds and apparently have some kind of mystic power. Lettie, who calls the duck pond near the house her "ocean," befriends the boy.

He's afraid because of the dream-like madness going on in the neighborhood, but Lettie tells him, "I'll make sure you're safe. I promise. I'm not scared."

When his family's home is invaded by an evil force, he's the only one who sees it for what it is. His father "didn't know what she was. She was a monster, and he just thought she was a normal person."

The monster is weird, cunning and disturbing. "I was afraid of her, more afraid than I had ever been of anything," says the boy. So, "I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible."

Lettie tells him, "Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren't."

The adults, of course, do not understand the needs of children -- except the adults at Lettie's house. So, Lettie, her mother and her grandmother call up all their magical abilities to save the boy.

As I was reading it, I realized it was every bit as exciting as a Harry Potter book, but as unique as Gaiman himself. The action is tense and the characters are disturbing. A couple of scenes made my skin crawl.

I think this could be scary for little kids, but older kids will want to read it again. I think the book was targeted more for adults -- there is one rather adult situation -- but kids will love it.

In "The Returned," author Jason Mott preĀ­sents the premise that death is not the ending we have thought it was.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave lost their 8-year-old son Jacob 50 years ago, when he drowned near their home. Suddenly, Jacob has come back. And he's still 8 years old.

But Jacob is not alone. The dead are coming back all over the world.

At first, Lucille said, "They're not people. ... All I know is they're not like you and me. They're .... they're devils." But that was before her own boy turned up. Now, "Lucille fawned over the son who was suddenly no longer dead. She clutched him to her chest and kissed the crown of his head, then cupped his face in her hands and showered it with kisses and laughter and tears."

And she changed her tune: "I was wrong. I see that now. ... They're a blessing. A blessing from the Lord. That's what they are. A second chance!"

There are pro-Returned supporters and anti-Returned protesters. There are problems brought on by the sudden influx of population.

An odd government agency known as "the Bureau" has organized support groups for the Returned and for the families of the Returned.

But Harold isn't convinced that this Jacob is really their son. The living wonder, Who are the Returned? Are they really their revived loved ones? Are these events, as the pastor says, "miracles and wonders"? Or is something sinister going on?

"Jacob was time beaten into defeat. He was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were."

Some people are suspicious of the Returned. So is the government. People are afraid. "Everything was moving toward the coming terror. She felt it. It was inevitable now."

Then there are the fundamental questions the living want answered: What happens when you die? Where have the dead returned from?

For me, the book is like a "Twilight Zone" episode or something from Stephen King: just a little spooky.

Copyright 2013 by Mary Louise Ruehr.

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