Monthly Archives: August 2011

Invisible Fiends: Doc Mortis by Barry Hutchison

When I first picked up an Invisible Fiends book in my library last year I thought, ‘this is a BRILLIANT idea!’  In the past few years I’ve become a huge fan of horror stories for kids and reading the blurb I knew the Invisible Fiends series was going to be great.  The mixture of horrific characters and dark humour had me hooked and I’ve loved every book in the series so far.  The fourth book in the series, Doc Mortis was recently released in the UK but I couldn’t wait until it’s released in New Zealand in October so ordered it from Book Depository.  I got straight into it as soon as it arrived, but took my time as I wanted to savour it.

One of the things I loved about Doc Mortis is that it starts off exactly where The Crowmaster ended.   Kyle has been left wounded by the Crowmaster and is now wanted by the police for murder.  He wants nothing more than to find his mum and make sure she is OK.  Before he gets the chance to find her, Kyle discovers that he has been poisoned by the Crowmaster and he becomes trapped in the Darkest Corners, a place of nightmares.  Kyle wakes up in a decrepit hospital, with hideous creatures trying to get inside and a crazed doctor hunting him.  Doc Mortis wears a filthy lab coat and carries a medical bag full of rusty and bloody instruments, and he wants Kyle for his experiments.  Kyle knows that his only hope of escaping the Darkest Corners is to defeat Doc Mortis and his freakish porters and find the cure to the poison, hidden somewhere in the hospital.

The brilliant Barry Hutchison has, once again, managed to create an even-freakier Fiend and put Kyle in more scary situations.  Barry seems to be able to increase the scare-factor with each Invisible Fiends book and this is no exception.  In previous books Kyle has been able to use his imagination to help him defeat the Fiends but in Doc Mortis he’s left helpless and trapped in the horrific world of the Darkest Corners.  Several things made Doc Mortis my favourite book in the series so far.  The first was the re-appearance of a certain character, which left me feeling completely different about him (I can’t tell you who or it will spoil the surprise, and Barry would kill me!).  The second was that we learn more about what happens to the invisible friends when they get forgotten and why they end up as messed-up as they are.

I highly recommend the Invisible Fiends series, especially for fans of Darren Shan and Derek Landy.  Rush out and get the whole series from your bookshop or library now.

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Picture Book Nook: Phoebe and the Night Creatures by Jenny Hessell and Donovan Bixley

Phoebe’s in bed but needs to go to the toilet.  There’s only one problem – there’s a wolf under her bed.  Her mum tells her to take the wolf with her and off they go to the toilet.  Along the way she meets a cast of interesting characters, including a stinky troll, a scary shark, and a giant,  who all follow her to the bathroom.  Are all these monsters following her or is it just her imagination?

Phoebe and the Night Creatures is one of those picture books where the words and the pictures are a perfect match.  Jenny Hessell’s story is full of the monsters that children create in their imagination and they are brought to life with Donovan Bixley’s stunning illustrations.  Jenny has created Phoebe, a girl who isn’t afraid of trolls or ghosts and Donovan has portrayed this courage in his illustrations, particularly on the cover of the book.  Donovan Bixley is my favourite New Zealand illustrator, because of the way he uses light and colour, making his illustrations glow on the page.  This book has really allowed him to have some fun and use his imagination to create these night creatures.  Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the design, which is also done by Donovan.  The layout of the words adds extra enjoyment to the story, with some words looking spooky or stinky.  Phoebe and the Night Creatures is probably not a book to read before bed, but one to share with those children who aren’t scared easily and are fascinated with monsters.

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Picture Book Nook: Out of Bed Fred by Lucy Davey and Harriet Bailey

Every day Mum has to give the boys a hurry-up.  She goes through the house calling,

“Out of bed, Fred!
In your clothes, Mose!
Brush your hair, Blair!
Wash your face, Mace!
Eat your food, Jude!
Clean your teeth, Keith!
Time to go, Joe!”

However, their little sister, Shirley is always up before them, “all dressed, brushed, washed, fed, cleaned and ready to go.”  She’s the sort of sister who always  does everything right and never gets in trouble.  But one day her brothers come up with a plan to change all that.  Will it work or will Shirley outsmart them?

Out of Bed Fred is a fun story that perfectly captures the day-to-day life of a big family.  Shirley really stands out, not just because she’s the only girl, but also because of her sense of humour and the way she stands up to her brothers.  The illustrator, Harriet Bailey has given the pictures a real Kiwi feel, with the brothers wearing shorts and rugby jerseys and photos of beach holidays on the wall.   If you look hard enough you’ll also be able to spot Weetbix and Marmite on toast.  Out of Bed Fred is perfect for brothers and sisters of all ages and is a great read-aloud.

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Countdown to Skulduggery Pleasant: Death Bringer

Skulduggery Pleasant is one of my favourite book characters and I always look forward to his latest battle against the forces of evil.  Luckily I only have to wait a few more weeks as the sixth book, Death Bringer is due out in New Zealand on September 15.  I can’t wait to be reunited with Skulduggery, Valkyrie, Ghastly and Tanith.

If you haven’t read any of the Skulduggery Pleasant books by Derek Landy I highly recommend them.  They’re filled with action, mystery, thrills, chills, brilliant characters and perfectly-timed humour.  If you want a taste of this awesome series, here’s the book trailer:

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100 Things by Masayuki Sebe – a counting book with a difference

100 Things by Masayuki Sebe is a counting book crossed with a look-and-find book.  On each page there are 100 things (as the title suggests), including 100 moles, 100 sheep, 100 fish and 100 cars.  Not only can you count the things on each page, but you can find all the things that are the same colour (how many green fish?), find the odd one out (where is the child wearing the hat?) and find specific things on the page (find the elephant holding a pineapple or the mole who’s farting).

The vibrant colours, the simple, child-like pictures, and the amusing details on each page make 100 Things stand out.  It’s the perfect book to share with children, especially on a cold Winter’s day when you’re stuck inside.

100 Things and Dinosaurs Galore (also by Masayuki Sebe) are published by the wonderful Gecko Press, the home of curiously good books from around the world.

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Picture Book Nook: My First Car Was Red by Peter Schossow

My First Car Was Red is a really unique picture book by German author and illustrator Peter Schossow.  It’s the story of a boy who is given an old, rusty pedal car by his grandfather.  Together, they repair the car and give it a new coat of shiny red paint.  The boy wants to take it out for a spin straight away but his grandfather takes him off to the Driving School to have lessons first.  When he finally gets to go off on his own his little brother wants to join him, and this is the start of a wild ride uphill and downhill, through fields, spooky forests and tunnels, nearly hitting pigs, and being chased by wasps.

The thing that really makes this book unique are the road signs throughout the book.  Each of the signs match up with the story perfectly (a speed bump sign for the bumpy field, a rockfall sign when they reach a cliff) and the story could almost be told without words, just the road signs.

The relationship between the brothers is realistically portrayed.  I especially liked when the little brother offered to kiss his arm better.  The story is perfect for boys (especially 4 and 5 year olds) because of the topic and the way in which the author talks about cars.  Boys will be hooked right from the start where Peter describes all the work they have to do on the car

“First we took the whole thing apart…Then we hammered, sanded, patched and painted.  I chose the colour – shiny red.  We drilled holes and tightened nuts; we greased and oiled and upholstered.”

My First Car Was Red is a story to be read again and again, finding new things in the illustrations each time.

8 out of 10


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Learn how to speak Dragonese with Cressida Cowell

Have you ever wanted to learn Dragonese, from Cressida Cowell’s books?  In this video you can learn how to say to following things in Dragonese: ‘Please would you be so kind as to spit out my friend?’ and ‘I don’t like that. It’s revolting, it’s gross, it’s really, really revolting.’  Have a go and impress your friends.

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Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones is the queen of fantasy.  She was writing the fabulous Chrestomanci series, about orphans, witches and magic long before J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter came along.  She has written lots of books, including the Chrestomanci series and Howl’s Moving CastleEarwig and the Witch is the magical book that she wrote before she died earlier this year.

Earwig is a an orphan girl who lives at St Morwald’s Home for Children with her friend Custard.  Earwig is quite happy living here and she says that “anyone who chose me would have to be very unusual.”  She is a pretty unusual child but she seems to be able to make anyone do anything that she wants, like cooking her favourite food or playing hide and seek in the dark.  One day a very strange couple come to the orphanage looking to adopt a child.  The woman has two different coloured eyes and a raggety look to her face, and the man is very tall and looks like he has horns on his head.  They adopt Earwig, but she discovers that the woman is a witch and only wants her as a slave to help her with her spells.  Earwig is trapped in the house and wants nothing more than to go back to the orphanage with her friends.  Will she be able to outwit the witch and escape?  And who or what is the mysterious man with the horns?

Earwig and the Witch is a funny story about a feisty girl trying to fit into her new family.  All the characters are quite strange and I especially liked Thomas the cat.  The cover is very cool and really draws you in, with the spiderwebs and spiders crawling all over it.  Marion Lindsay’s illustrations are spectacularly spooky and I love the little pictures of crows or spiders on each page.  The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that it ended so suddenly.  I would have liked to know more about her life in the house.  Earwig and the Witch is perfect for those girls who don’t like fairies, but who still like a bit of magic.

Recommended for 7+     7 out of 10

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Northwood by Brian Falkner

The best books grip you from the first few sentences and you want to keep reading until you get to the end.  Northwood  by Brian Falkner is one of those books.  Here are the opening sentences:

“This is the strange story of Miss Cecilia Undergarment and the black lions of Northwood.  It is probably not true, but who really knows for sure.”

Straight away, you want to know all about Cecilia Undergarment (like why does she have such a funny name?), why the story is so strange, and what are black lions?  So now you’re sucked into the story and want to find out what happens to Cecilia.

Cecilia Undergarment lives with her extraordinary family in her extraordinary house, which is shaped like a huge bunch of balloons (to find out why you’ll have to read the book).  Wouldn’t it be great to live in a house made of balloons!  One day while looking out her window she sees a sad and neglected dog trying to escape from the house next door.  She rescues the dog, but the dog’s mean owner destroys her home and sends her balloon room floating away, until it lands in the dark forest of  Northwood.  The forest is home to the ferocious black lions and anyone who has entered Northwood has never returned.  Cecilia and the dog, Rocky find refuge in Northwood at Castle Storm, which is ruled by the horrible King Harry.  Cecilia is determined to find a way out of Northwood, but King Harry will do anything to stop the people leaving.

Brian Falkner has created an amazing world.  When I started reading I was transported into the world of Northwood and felt like I was right there with Cecilia on her adventure.  I could picture the dark tarblood trees of the forest and the dusty rooms of Castle Storm, smell the damp forest, and hear the low rumble of the black lions.  Cecilia is a really cool character and someone who you would want to be friends with.   I also really loved Donovan Bixley’s illustrations, especially the way he portrays King Harry, and the cool cover that really stands out.

Recommended for 9+     10 out of 10

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Barry Hutchison’s Doc Mortis video blog

In his latest video blog, Barry Hutchison talks about the release of his latest Invisible Fiends book, Doc Mortis.  He also answers reader’s questions, including one of mine – which of your characters would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?


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