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curseofzalaLilah and I had a blast reading this funnier-than-scary homage to children’s horror/gross-out books. AJ Zantony is staying at his great-aunt Zsofia’s house, the Zantony ancestral home, Zala Manor, while his parents are away (“McChiller” seems to revel in the thinness of the excuse to get the parents out of the way). His stay coincides with Zsofia’s annual Halloween party, which raises funds to keep the crumbling old manor intact, and Halloween this year occurs at the blue moon. AJ is a typical twelve-year-old, plagued by the school bullies, and is not thrilled when a girl is assigned to be his science partner. Worse, Emily is the Scully to AJ’s Mulder, insisting that the odd occurrences plaguing Zala Manor must have logical explanations.

As midnight on the Halloween/blue moon convergence approaches, AJ and Emily must juggle party duties, dodge zombie, vampire, and skeleton pirates, and…oh, no! Did the bullies show up to the party?! Zala Manor is the sort of house I dreamed about as a child: hidden staircases, secret passages, tunnels, creepy crypts. And, of course, the talking rat (really a parrot trapped in a rat’s body) who helps AJ and Emily figure out how to stop the pirate spirits.

I recommend this funny, scary, high-interest chapter book for reluctant readers and boys in particular, but Lilah and I both enjoyed it. When we reached the end and saw the teaser for the next book in the series, SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG, she was ready to read that one, too.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title courtesy of the publisher.