October 26, 2014

The Haunting of Heck House: The Wiggins Weird, Book 2

by Lesley Livingston and Jonathan Llyr
Illustrations by Steven Burley
Puffin Canada
280 pp.
Ages 8-12
For release October, 2014

It's less than a week before Halloween and authors Lesley Livingston and Jonathan Llyr launched The Haunting of Heck House (sequel to How to Curse in Hieroglyphics, 2013) yesterday, and I can't think of a better reason to finally post my review of this captivating middle-grade read that smacks of funny and scary in equal parts.

Unbeknownst to their grandfather and guardian, Pops Pendleton, twelve-year-old babysitting aficionados and cousins Tweed Pendleton and Cheryl Shumacher sneak out to compete in an overnight babysitting competition at the previously-unknown home of Sir Hector Hecklestone the Third on Eerie Lane.  Along with their varied babysitting tools of the trade, the two take along a malfunctioning drive-in speaker that holds the talkative essence of the Great Simon Omar, dead magician. (You'll need to read Book 1 in The Wiggins Weird, How to Curse in Hieroglyphics, to understand the means by which a portal into the Egyptian afterlife probably created Speakie i.e., a disembodied Omar with audio).  

While these plucky girls intend to go to the Hecklestone house and prove that they're the best babysitters/housesitters for the job, there seem to be super-natural forces working against them, not the least of which are a grand piano plummeting down the stairs, flying books assaulting them, dripping ectoplasm, doors that open and lock without explanation, and their competition, tech wizard Feedback, and 13-year-olds Hazel Polizzi and Cindy Tyson.  Luckily, the cousins get the help of their friends Pilot and Artie to help problem-solve their way out of a haunted house while playing their make-believe game ACTION! in the roles of the League of Awesome so they can get through some scary situations. 

The house with its "early-Munsters vibe" (pg. 104) seems to have its own agenda and all the kids must share their skills–including lock-picking, tech, gargoyle-translation, role-play and mechanics–to help escape its evil hold, and save the ghosts trapped within.  Never fear, though, because The Haunting of Heck House is more humour than horror, wordplay than wickedness, and fun than frightening.  Of course, an 800-lb. piano tumbling down the stairs at the girls is rather disconcerting but, still believing that their skills are being tested, they all take it with comic sensibility.
"What the heck kinda test was that anyway?" Cheryl glowered. "Agility? Musical appreciation?"
"I really didn't appreciate that," Tweed said grimly.
(pg. 106)
Even Simon in his audio-speaker form pipes in that, "Guess there will be no encore tonight". (pg. 106)  And then there's an adorable little gargoyle whose "bat-like wings...red eyes, a sharp-hooked beak and talons"(pg. 130) might have been frightening except Ramshackle purrs and likes being stroked like a pussycat!

It's not surprising that, with Lesley Livingston and Jonathan Llyr both involved in acting, that The Haunting of Heck House is a story ripe with a quick-paced plot, highly-visual settings and characters, and priceless dialogue.  And, while Steven Burley's illustrations of the kids' ACTION! role-plays provide entertaining graphics, The Haunting of Heck House is so well written that it easily provides readers with a virtual visual that runs like a movie that could played at the twins' beloved Starlight Paradise Drive-In, with or without 3D-glasses.  Enjoy the movie!

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