Monday, September 19, 2022

Ghost Hunters Reviews and Giveaway


Bones In the Wall

Ghost Hunters Book 1

by Susan McCauley

Genre: Middle Grade Paranormal Mystery 

Twelve-year-old Alex may have lost his ability to play sports, but he gained the ability to see ghosts. Now he must figure out how to put a malevolent spirit to rest -- or die trying.

Once an athlete and popular kid, Alex is in a terrible car accident that severely injures his hip and leaves him with a rare power: he can hear and see ghosts. All Alex wants is to be normal. But when a vicious spirit begins haunting him, Alex must accept his unwanted psychic powers and work with his best friend and his paranormal investigator cousin to solve the mystery of bones in the wall and put the ghosts in the house to rest. If he fails, he’ll lose his family and friends to a gruesome fate.

Ghost Hunters: Bones in the Wall is the first novel in the heart-pounding Ghost Hunters middle-grade horror series.


“Young readers should find themselves deeply engrossed. . . (an) absorbing supernatural tale of change and coping.” - Kirkus Reviews

McCauley puts forth a fascinating premise that will captivate readers. . . a creative and highly original new work. . .”
– BookLife Prize

"Unique and imaginative, Ghost Hunters: Bones in the Wall blends middle grade angst with a big helping of the heebie jeebies. A sure hit for fans of R.L. Stine." - James R. Hannibal, award-winning author of The Lost Property Office

"An inventive, fast-paced tale brimming with chills, thrills, and heart. Perfect for fans of Lockwood & Co."-- Henry H. Neff, author of The Tapestry series

**On Sale for Only $1.99 Sep 13-Oct 19!!**

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Rating: Four out of Five Stars

This unique story is set in a world where the existence of spirits is a fact of life. The main character, Alex, plays Ghostball, a sport that involves a poltergeist trapped inside a ball. When Alex' mother suggests that he take up soccer instead, he says that he prefers Ghostball because you never know what the ball is going to do, whereas with soccer, the movement of the ball is determined by the actions of the human players.

Sadly, Alex' mother is killed in a devastating auto accident that leaves him with a badly injured leg. He can no longer play Ghostball, but he can now see and hear spirits.

The writing style is engaging, and the story is fascinating. However, despite the exemplary world-building skills and character development and the engaging plot line, I will not give this story five stars because I will not give five stars to any story that uses dehumanizing stereotypes. 

I am nearly sixty years old. I don't much care what anyone thinks of my physical appearance. I stopped caring about that a long time ago. However, imagine how you would feel if you were a heavy kid and you read this description:

"Not two feet away floated a translucent tub of a woman, moving away from me through a box of old ghostball trophies."

The rest of the story is kinder to Mrs. Wilson, describing her in a neutral fashion while still recognizing the fact that she is large. In fact, she becomes a beloved side character. However, if I had not agreed to read the book, I would have stopped the moment I saw that derisive description. It is not enjoyable to read a story while waiting for the next instance of appearance shaming to rear its ugly head. Kids should not be led to believe that it's okay to refer to larger people using insulting terms like "tub."

I'm all for having ghosts (and living people) with robust physiques appear in stories. It would have been fine if the author had simply described Mrs. Wilson as a large lady ghost. Adjectives like large, heavy, heavyset, chubby, hefty, portly, plump, stout, or just plain old fat are all neutral descriptions. "A tub of a woman" is contemptuous and stigmatizing. 

The normalization of size shaming has far-reaching consequences. I became bulimic at twelve years old because I was terrified of getting fat. At almost sixty years old, after decades of trying to hate myself thin and failing because diets don't work and neither does hating yourself, I have finally started making peace with myself. If I have to be the Titanic Tub of a Book Reviewer whose mission is to discourage my fellow authors from normalizing size shaming, so be it. Hopefully, one day we will live in a society where nobody else has to take up the mantle.

It's my understanding that "middle grade" stories have a protagonist around Alex' age and are written for readers in the eight to twelve-year-old range. This story seems a better fit for kids on the older end of that spectrum. It's solidly spooky and a bit sophisticated for the average eight-year-old. However, being the kind of kid who read horror comics under the covers with a flashlight when I was just a little tub, eight-year-old me probably would have loved it. 

Pirate's Curse

Ghost Hunters Book 2

In this ghostly and fast-paced adventure, twelve-year-old Alex must use his psychic gifts to speak with pirate ghosts to solve the curse of an old pirate hangout—if he fails, his best friends could be trapped there forever.

Ghosts are commonplace in this dark and exciting world, and the psychics who deal with “the Problem” are rare. Apprentice psychic investigator Alex and his two best friends embark on their first solo case to discover who’s haunting an old New Orleans pub. They battle ferocious winds, driving rain, and raging spirits to put a pirates’ curse to rest.

Ghost Hunters: Pirates’ Curse (Book 2 in the Ghost Hunters series) is filled with rich characters, spooky moments, and lots of action-packed fun. Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Stroud, and Stranger Things.

Rating: Five out of Five Stars

Alex, the hero of the Ghost Hunters series, has left school and moved in with Frank, a retired psychic investigator, to engage in immersive training. The abilities of most psychics are apparent by ten years old. Alex's abilities did not awaken until the car crash that killed his mother. At twelve years old, he feels like he is well behind in his understanding.

Alex has a chance to prove his mettle when Frank assigns him to help clear up what he believes to be a residual haunting at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar. His cousin Hannah and best friend Jason volunteer to help. Jason has a special pair of glasses given to him by Madame Monique, the owner of the occult supply store below Frank's apartment. The haunting turns out to not be residual at all, and Alex finds himself confronting two pirate ghosts and a powerful curse. 

Although there are obviously ghosts present, this story is more action-adventure than horror. The young hero, Alex, learns to work with others and to believe in himself when the problem that confronts him turns out to be much bigger than he thought it would be. 

There are wonderful life lessons in the book for young readers, but this is not strictly a "children's book." Readers of all ages will enjoy the exciting plot and may be able to relate to the challenges that Alex faces as he learns how to navigate life as someone seen as different and possibly misunderstood by the average person.

The story focused on the personalities of its players rather than their physical appearances, and I appreciated that. Thus far, this book is my favorite in the series, easily earning five out of five stars. Like Alex, the story has found its footing.

Spirit Fire

Ghost Hunters Book 3

Who—or what—is causing the fires in the French Quarter? A little girl? A long-dead prisoner? An evil presence calling to those beyond the grave?

In this spooky, fast-paced adventure, twelve-year-old Alex must fight smoke, flames, and ghostly prisoners to stop whatever’s causing the blazes—before more lives are lost.

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Rating: Four out of Five Stars

There are a lot of things to like about this story in the Ghost Hunters series. Alex is living a life that I would have envied if I were reading these books as the bullied teenager I once was. Imagine being treated as an adult at twelve years old, trusted to carry out critical assignments to rid your city of malevolent ghosts. Imagine being not only allowed but encouraged to have tattoos. Imagine not having to be bothered by idiotic school bullies or keeping up with the latest trends. That would be the life!

However, not everything about Alex's situation is enviable. While investigating a fire in a cafe, he learns he is also a seer. He can feel what the ghosts he encounters are feeling and relives the moment of their death with them. Being a seer causes encounters with ghosts to not only be chilly but painful. Alex finds himself in more danger than ever before.

This book has a spookier atmosphere than Pirate's Curse, which is perfect for Halloween in New Orleans. The author does an exemplary job of describing the setting and setting the spooky tone. It feels like the reader is really along for the ride. The author also excels at creating characters that readers can really care about.

While the author doesn't use markedly odious descriptions for any of the characters (and by any of the characters, I mean the plump, portly, and stout Mrs. Wilson) I have little of a sense of humor for using people's bodies as jokes. For reasons unknown (and by reasons unknown, I mean not really seeing larger people as actual human beings) the author believes that Mrs. Wilson's robust physique is comedy gold. (Hint: it really isn't.)

Mrs. Wilson saves Alex's life by shutting the box providing a gateway for an especially dangerous ghost, injuring herself doing so. Instead of fondly saying "that's my Mrs. Wilson, always looking out for me," or something of that nature, Alex finds it hilarious when Alice, the ghost of a little girl who died in a fire in 1788, describes Mrs. Wilson as "fat."

Considering that I spent more than three decades trying to hate myself thin in a body determined to be fat after my thyroid destroyed itself when I was around Alex's age, plus polycystic ovarian syndrome, plus a lifetime of food insecurity both involuntary (no access to decently nutritious food) and voluntary (self-imposed dieting, see "trying to hate myself thin"), and only recently being able to start my day without my first conscious thought being "you fat, disgusting pig, it's no wonder nobody likes you. Just look at you! You're so ugly, nobody could ever love something that looks like you", I am unamused by Mrs. Wilson's physique being a joke yet again. 

I get it. You think fat people are nothing more than comic relief. Har de freaking har. Well, we big girls may be able to take it, but imagine being a fat kid seeing bodies like yours used as objects of ridicule. Imagine a chubby teenage girl, who is likely being bullied for her size, realizing that even adults who don't know her see her as a joke. Imagine reading about a character you could consider a friend, but knowing they would laugh at you too. It hurts, and people need to think before they write such scenes. 

In my first review, I said I would never give a five-star rating to a book that dehumanizes any subset of people, particularly a book whose target audience is kids. Teaching kids that fat people are subhuman clowns who deserve ridicule is not a good lesson. I stand by that rule. It doesn't matter how good the rest of the book is. There is no excuse for appearance shaming. 

Swamp Witch

Ghost Hunters Book 4

In this spooky-fun mystery, thirteen-year-old psychic Alex and his paranormal investigator friends face their biggest challenge yet: the hospital haunting. The friends are convinced that this surge of ghostly activity is far more devious than the “experts” suspect—and that only the ancient magic of an elusive swamp witch can put the ghosts to rest. Finding the witch means braving the Louisiana swamps full of gators and snakes, but if Alex and his team fail, New Orleans could become a realm of the dead.

Book 4 in the paranormal mystery Ghost Hunters series is perfect for fans of Lockwood & Co. and Stranger Things.

**Released Sep 13th, 2022!!**

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Rating: Five out of Five Stars

Until I read this book, the second in the series was my favorite. Now it's my second favorite. Alex and the author have both grown, and it shows in this exemplary paranormal adventure.

Having learned to control his abilities as a seer, Alex feels confident in helping his mentor Frank on an overwhelming case at the hospital. However, the manifestations they must confront are astoundingly powerful. Could this be the last case for Alex and the team?

Not only does the author give readers a wonderfully spooky story, but she also provides a bit of education about the Chitimacha tribe. I knew nothing about them previously and found myself interested in learning more. I really enjoyed Alex' growth in the way he treats his companions. Even though he refers to Mrs. Wilson's "tub of a body" at one point, it's done in such an affectionate way that I can't find fault. If this book is the final chapter, then the series is ending on a high note.

Although these books are categorized as "middle grade," I feel that readers of any age can enjoy them. Overall, I found them wonderfully entertaining.

Susan McCauley is a screenwriter and award-winning author of books for adults, young adults, middle grade, and young readers. Susan fell in love with writing, theater, and film when she was eight-years-old. That passion inspired her to receive a B.A. in Radio-Television with a minor in Theater from the University of Houston, an M.F.A. in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California (USC), and a M.A. in Text & Performance from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and King’s College in London. Susan also studied acting at Playhouse West with Robert Carnegie and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic ParkIndependence Day) in Los Angeles.

Susan has several short stories published, one of which, "The Cask", was made into an award winning short film. "The Cask" was published in the Camden Park Press anthology Quoth the Raven, which won Best Anthology of 2018 in multiple reader polls. In addition to her short stories, Susan has one novella and four novels in print, as well as a feature length film in development. Many of her books have appeared on the Horror Writers Association Recommended Reading List.

Susan loves travel, animals, movies, theatre, taekwondo, her family, and books (of course!) 

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1 comment:

  1. I love the cover art and synopses, the Ghost Hunters series sounds like an awesome one to share with my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing your wonderful reviews of these stories, the author's bio and books' details


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