Category Archives: children’s horror

Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection by Derek Landy

I’ve stuck with Skulduggery and Valkyrie through all their battles, near-death experiences and the countless times they have saved the world.  Like many Skulduggery fans I thought I’d seen the last of these characters that I had come to love, but Derek Landy is always full of surprises.  He has brought Skulduggery and Valkyrie back again, with new characters to welcome as friends.  Resurrection is the latest book in the series and I was so excited to return to this world and these characters that Derek created.

y648A lot has changed. Roarhaven is now a magical city, where sorcerers can live openly. Valkyrie Cain has been out of action for years, recovering from the war against her alter-ego Darquesse, which nearly destroyed her and everyone else.

Some things never change though: bad people still want to do bad things, and Skulduggery Pleasant is still there to stop them.

When Skulduggery learns of a plot to resurrect a terrifying evil, he persuades Valkyrie to join him for just 24 hours. But they need someone else on their team, someone inconspicuous, someone who can go undercover.

Enter Omen Darkly. Student at the new Corrival Academy. Overlooked. Unremarkable in every way.

24 hours to save the world. One sharply-dressed skeleton. One grief-stricken young woman. One teenage boy who can’t remember which class he’s supposed to be in.

This cannot end well.

Resurrection is a return to classic Skulduggery Pleasant.  All the things that I loved about the early books are here in Resurrection – the witty banter, great villains and humour.  The humour especially was lacking in the last few books because of the whole end of the world thing that was happening.  The relationship between Skulduggery and Valkyrie is never going to be the same as what it was at the start of the series but you can see their relationship strengthening again.  Resurrection is a return to the good old days of Skulduggery and Valkyrie, even though so much has changed in their world.

Valkyrie has been out of Ireland for 5 years, hiding away in a cabin in the wilds of America.  She had a lot to deal with after Darquesse took her over and she killed hundreds of people in Roarhaven.  At the start of the book she has moved back to Ireland and is living in Uncle Gordon’s old house.  As she is settling in her old pal Skulduggery turns up and asks her to come back into the fold and join him, just for 24 hours.  Valkyrie doesn’t feel that she is ready, mentally or physically, to be back doing Sanctuary business again but she reluctantly agrees.  It’s not long before she finds herself back in trouble again, with people who want to hurt and kill her.  Into the picture comes Omen Darkly, the brother of The Chosen One, Auger Darkly.  Omen is a kid who fades into the background, not just at school but also at home, as his parents give all their attention to Auger.  When Omen gets the chance to join his idols, Skulduggery and Valkyrie, he thinks all his dreams have come true.  Omen soon finds himself deep in trouble with some very bad people and it’s up to Valkyrie to get him out safely.  After a run in with a nasty piece of work called Smoke, Skulduggery has been corrupted and will do anything he can to kill Valkyrie.  This is one action-packed story!

I really enjoyed this introduction of Omen Darkly. He is going to play an important part in the coming books and you know that he will grow up fast, just as Valkyrie had to do.  A lot of my favourite characters from the series have been killed off but I’m sure there will be some great new characters to come.

Resurrection made me want to go right back to the start of the series and enjoy them all over again.  I feel like you would still have to have read the other books in the series to fully understand what is happening in Resurrection.  I’ll certainly be promoting the first few books in my library.

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Win Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection

Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection is the 10th book in Derek Landy’s epic series featuring the wise-cracking skeleton detective.  The Skulduggery series is one of the few series that I have stuck with all the way through so I’m really excited to see where Derek takes the series next.

Skulduggery_Pleasant_Resurrection

Thanks to everyone who entered. The winner is Helen Muxlow.

 

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The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Jon Klassen has to be the strangest, most unsettling book that I have read this year.  There had been lots of hype leading up to its release and there were starred reviews popping up all over the place, so I had to read it and find out why.  When you have two very talented storytellers like Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen collaborating on a book it is bound to stand out.

My first thoughts on looking at the book and flicking through were that it was a wonderful production.  The cover, with the transparent dust jacket, is stunning and Jon Klassen’s black and white illustrations inside give the book a suitably eerie feeling.  This feeling became stronger as I started to read Kenneth’s story.

9781910200865

The first time I saw them, I thought they were angels.

The baby is sick. Mom and Dad are sad. And all Steve has to do is say, Yes to fix everything. But yes is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back? Treading the thin line between dreams and reality, Steve is stuck in a nightmare he can’t wake up from and that nobody else understands. And all the while, the wasps’ nest is growing, and the ‘angel’ keeps visiting Steve in the night.

Reading The Nest was like slipping into a strange dream that I just had to see through until the end.  It unsettled me and made me shiver but I had to know how it ended.  I really felt for Steve and his predicament.  His parents are distracted with his baby brother and he just wants his brother to be healthy so that his parents have time for him.  Steve is given the chance to make his brother healthy and all he has to do is say yes. If I was in Steven’s situation I probably would have done exactly the same thing.  The story is tense right from the start but Kenneth Oppel ramps it up until right at the end of the book.  I didn’t know how it was going to end but it was satisfying.

I know that adults will enjoy this book but I’m not sure what children I would recommend it to.  It would be best for children who like dark stories or maybe even fairy tales.  It would probably work well as a read aloud in a class, as there could be a lot of discussion about it.

Check out the book trailer below and you can read an excerpt here.

 

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Dave Shelton

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by award-winning author, Dave Shelton.  Dave’s debut novel, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat, won the 2013 Branford Boase Award and was shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Medal & the 2012 Costa Children’s Book AwardsDave’s most recent book is the seriously spooky Thirteen Chairs, a series of thirteen interlinked short stories that will send a chill down your spine. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it!  Dave joins me today to talk about writing Thirteen Chairs.  Thanks for joining me Dave!

It’s interesting what different people find scary. When I wrote Thirteen Chairs I had an idea that I was writing for readers aged maybe eleven and up, so I wanted not to include anything too gruesome, in terms of explicit blood, guts and gore, but I did want to be properly scary. So I set out to try to get inside the reader’s head a bit and to make them imagine the worst thing for them, rather than be too specific about details that I might find frightening but which the reader might just shrug off. Occasionally I would lead the reader part way along a certain route and then leave them to carry on and imagine what happened next after I had brought the story to a close. It’s something I’ve noticed occasionally when returning to books and comics I’ve read in the past looking for a particular scene that I remember vividly and I find it isn’t actually depicted at all, it’s only suggested. I’d just been given the space to imagine it for myself. And yet sometimes that’s the part I remember the best. This is also why I only drew one illustration per story: I didn’t want to impose my images in a reader’s mind when they were certain to provide better ones themselves if suitably prompted. I was trying to be clever (or maybe lazy; but sometimes it’s possible to be both).

Thirteen Chairs

In certain other respects, though, I was neither clever nor lazy (quite apart from the monumental error of thinking that short stories must surely be an easier option than a novel – er, nope!) I had decided that, rather than a collection of unconnected short stories, I wanted there also to be a linking narrative that would connect the individual stories in some way. The idea I eventually settled on was that each of the stories was being told by one of thirteen odd characters gathered together in a deserted house. As such, each story would be written in the distinct ‘voice’ of the character telling it. This decision was not clever. This decision was not lazy. I thought it would be an interesting exercise, a way of providing variety throughout the book (both to the reader and to me writing it). I thought it would be fun.

Ha!

Actually, to be fair, occasionally it was: when I wrote as the young, possibly slightly autistic, Amelia in the story The Girl in the Red Coat, I had a whale of a time; when I rewrote The Red Tree from being told as a slightly ironic folk tale to being voiced by the Eastern European giant Piotr in his somewhat fractured English, I amused myself greatly; when I became gossipy Josephine relating the story of the demonic cat Oswald, I had a rare old time of it. But mostly … mostly it was just hard work keeping track of everyone. In my previous book A Boy and a Bear in a Boat I had (albeit accidentally) been really clever in choosing to write my first substantial piece of prose fiction with only two characters in the whole story. Two characters; two voices. Simple. Thirteen characters and voices (and more again within the stories told) turned out to be quite tricky. How well I succeeded in the end is for the reader to judge of course. Those of you that read Thirteen Chairs: do feel free to let me know.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Jack Heath

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by Jack Heath, author of the seriously spooky Scream series.  Jack joins me today to talk about why he loves scary stories and what led him to write books about spider armies, venus fly-traps and haunted books.  Thanks for joining me Jack!

The weirdness makes it seem real

When I heard Scholastic was looking for someone to write a horror series for kids, I stuck my hand up so fast that I ruptured my rotator cuff. I had loved scary stories since I was in nappies (which is a very convenient time to discover the horror genre, by the way).

My life as a reader began with picture books like Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg and Stephen Gammel, which led me to The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight by R. L. Stine, which in turn led me to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. After that I discovered Crew’s 13, an anthology of horror stories (edited by Gary Crew) which included The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe and The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs. After falling in love with Frankenstein I later discovered Stephen King, and…

Pardon me. I got lost down memory lane for a second there. Where was I? Oh yes, the Scream series. I was told to write four books.

‘About what?’ I asked.

‘Something scary,’ I was told.

I’m not a brave person, so it wasn’t hard to find four things which frightened me. I started with the obvious – spiders. Big ones. I thought about the zoo in Singapore where I was invited to hold a tarantula, and I channeled all that skin-crawling terror into The Spider Army.

the-spider-armyI remembered having a Venus flytrap in my room as a kid, and uneasily watching it sit, perfectly still, mouth open, fangs wide, just waiting for an unwary fly to make one false step. This became the tingling spine of The Human Flytrap. (I was delighted to discover that the first edition literally screamed at readers when they opened the cover.)

I thought back to a holiday in Queensland when my brother and I found ourselves surrounded by lemon sharks. Being immersed in dark water, unable to scream and too frightened to move as these otherworldly creatures whipped past gave me the inspiration for The Squid Slayer.

But my favourite of the four books was a bit meta. The horror stories I loved had something in common – the monsters weren’t based on existing myths. There were no werewolves, no witches, no vampires. Instead they unleashed something completely new and bizarre, and paradoxically, the weirdness of the creatures made them more believable.

I remembered all the times I’d been reading a scary book and I’d started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the terrifying events depicted within might actually be true. I tried to capture this sensation in The Haunted Book.

People have asked me if it’s appropriate to expose a nine-year old to the frightening stuff in the Scream series. I tell them that I read books just like these as a kid, and I turned out all right.

Then I go home to write more disturbing stories and then sleep – with the lights on.

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Scream series by Jack Heath

When I was a kid the only spooky books I could find were the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine.  Thankfully there are more and more authors writing seriously spooky books for kids and one of those authors is Jack Heath.  Jack Heath’s Scream series (published by Scholastic) is perfect for those kids who love R.L. Stine’s short and spooky stories.  The covers of the Scream series even look a bit like Goosebumps books.

The Scream series is set in Axe Falls, where a cargo ship ran aground years ago.  Ever since then the town has been plagued by ‘mysterious disappearances, terrifying visions and unusual events.’  The books follow four local kids who wonder what was the cargo? And will anyone survive long enough to find out?  So far there are four books in the series: The Human Flytrap, The Spider Army, The Haunted Book and The Squid Slayer. You don’t have to read them in a particular order so start with whatever one you like.  They are guaranteed to give you a fright.

Check out this video of Jack Heath talking about the series and check out his Seriously Spooky Guest Post here on the blog.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Gareth P. Jones

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by Gareth P. Jones, author of my favourite funny book about ghosts, Constable and Toop, and the forthcoming Death and Ice Cream.  Gareth talks about why he loves writing about death.  Thanks for joining me Gareth!

“Honestly, Gareth, why do you have to write about death?”

My new novel (published by Hotkey Books) comes out January 2016, and I already know that my mum won’t like it because of its title. It is called Death or Ice Cream?

“Why can’t you write a nice book like Little Women?” she says.

“I think because I was born a hundred years too late,” I reply. “Also, I’ve not read it but I have seen that episode of Friends about it and I’m pretty sure someone does die in it. Beth possibly?”

“Black Beauty then.”

“I’m not massively keen on horses.”

My mum’s real question is: “Why do you have to write about death?”

Firstly, I should explain that I don’t only write about death. I have three series of books (Ninja Meerkats, The Dragon Detective Agency and The Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates) in which the vast majority of the characters make it to the end. I have also written the text for two picture books, (The Dinosaurs are Having a Party and Are You the Pirate Captain?) which are very light on the subject of mortality.

But when it comes to writing my standalone novels, I am often drawn to the subject of death. The Thornthwaite Inheritance is about a pair of twins trying to kill each other, The Considine Curse begins with a funeral, and Constable & Toop is a Victorian ghost story named after a real undertakers.

It was the real Constable and Toop that sparked the idea for my new book, Death or Ice Cream? I follow them on Twitter (sure, why wouldn’t an undertakers have a twitter account?) and they put up a link to an article called 500 Ways To Say Dead about all the euphemisms we use for dying (kick the bucket, push up the daisies, fall asleep, bite the bullet, pop your clogs etc.) It got me thinking about why we have such a long list of ways to express the one thing that will definitely affect us all. The answer is that death is something we are scared of so we use language to soften its impact. We try to make it sound funnier, gentler… more temporary. But, if Dumbledore has taught us nothing else, it is that fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.

“Yes, Gareth.” This is my mum again. “But you write children’s books. Why can’t you be more like that nice Beatrix Potter or Enid Blyton?”

Over the nine years I have been a published author, I have visited hundreds of schools and met thousands of children. I have observed that these children have not yet learned to fear death but they are fascinated by it. And literature allows us to consider subjects in a way that is engaging, satisfying and, above all else, entertaining. So whether it’s war, religion, prejudice, sex or death, books help us explore these tricky subjects in a unique – and rather wonderful – way.

Anyway, my new book isn’t just about death. My favourite thing about being a children’s author (rather than – say – a crime writer or a purveyor of historical fiction) is the freedom to employ different genres and draw upon a variety of influences to tell my stories. As my publishers will tell you, Death or Ice Cream? is a difficult book to describe but I’ll have a go anyway. Death or Ice Cream? is a selection of dark morality tales, closely interwoven and all set in the same fictional town of Larkin Mills. While the characters change from story to story, the book has an underlying theme about the duality of the daily choices we are forced to make. Let me try that again. It’s about god and the devil and why religion forces us to make a choice between them. It’s also about domestic sharks, concrete sculptures, dodgem cars, corrupt politicians, evil doctors, the Roman empire, the dangers of archeology, zombies, the art of making television, alien landings, death and ice cream.

Oh and if you’re thinking that the question Death or Ice Cream? is a no-brainer, then I should point out that it is not really a choice at all.

After all, you can choose never to have an ice cream.

Cover illustration by Adam Stower

Cover illustration by Adam Stower

Death or Ice Cream? is published January 2016 by Hot Key books.

You can read my review of Gareth’s Constable and Toop here on the blog.

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Beware – Seriously Spooky Month is here!

I love spooky books for kids and teens!  If it’s got ghosts, witches, vampires (non-sparkly ones), zombies or anything supernatural I’ll read it.  So I’ve decided to dedicate a whole month to spooky stories.

Throughout Seriously Spooky Month in October I’m highlighting my favourite spooky and scary books for kids of all ages, from picture books right through to YA.  I’m also very excited to have some wonderful guest posts from authors and illustrators who create spooky books for kids, including Barry Hutchison, Chris Priestly, Gareth P. Jones, R.L. Stedman, Sue Copsey and James Foley.

Scare your socks off this October and join me for some Seriously Spooky reads!

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