Last year, I LOVED Chris Grabenstein's The Crossroads. It was one of two five-star books I read last year (here's my review). So for me, his follow-up had some high expectations to live up to.
Unfortunately, I feel The Hanging Hill fell a bit short of those expectations. But was a worthwhile and fast read nonetheless. In The Hanging Hill, we find it has been two months since the incident at the Crossroads. Zack and his family are living in an extended-stay hotel while their house is rebuilt (it burned down in the first book). Zack and his stepmom Judy travel to Chatham, Connecticut to spend some time at the Hanging Hill Theater where her popular children's book series, Curiosity Cat, is being turned into a musical.
Sidenote: The creepy building on the cover is the Hanging Hill Theater depicted as it looked when Judy and Zack first pull up to it. Until I read the passage in the book (page 41 toward the bottom), I never noticed the lights making a jack-o-latern face. Pretty cool, huh?
Obviously, by the name of the theater you might be able to guess that it was built on top of the place where historically they used to hold public hangings. And therefore, many ghosts (good spirits and demons) haunt the old theater. Zack meets some of the cast members--children his own age--and becomes friends with Meghan who can also see ghosts! He's thrilled someone else can see them besides him and Judy. And he stops to notice that Meghan does in fact eat food proving she is not a ghost herself. He's had trouble with befriending ghosts in the past, not realizing they're ghosts right away.
The two friends start to explore the theater and find themselves involved in a ceremonial ritual meant to release angry demons from their spirithood. If the ceremony finishes, these evil ghosts can come back to life more powerful and deadly than when they were first alive.
While this was a fun entry in a ghost series, I didn't find the story as gripping or as interesting as The Crossroads (there is one tie-in in this book with a ghost from the Crossroads...I thought that was pretty cool--very insignificant to the plot, but a fun tidbit). I guess the sacrificial ceremony plot just didn't grip me as much as the ghost story of the first one. I did like the appearance of Zack's mom's ghost though (I won't say more, I don't want to give too much away). I believe it really helped in developing Zack's character a bit more and helping him become more confident to move on from the past. The book was fun overall and I'm sure middle-grade readers will enjoy it immensely. I do hope that Grabenstein continues the series. I'll be sure to keep reading to see if he can top The Crossroads, at least in my mind.
This is book #2 for the R.I.P. IV Reading Challenge. Two down, two to go for this challenge. I think I might actually make it with this one!! ;-)