Scary stories to enjoy

tales of terrorTITLE =Tales of Terror from the BLACK SHIP

AUTHOR =Chris Priestley

GENRE =Horror

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 7 – 9

This is a wonderfully scary story within a story. On a dark and stormy night, two sick children are left at home whilst their father goes to get a doctor – but home is a semi-abandoned inn on the edge of a cliff overhanging the sea … just the right setting for eerie events to occur. A stranger asks for shelter from the storm and whiles away the time telling scary stories … as the children become both engrossed and bewildered, the story of the stranger begins to loom as even scarier still…. and what lies aead for the brother and sister … will they see the night through???

Lovers of Edgar Allan Poe will thoroughly enjoy this book – as each story (and the central story too) have deliciously macabre twists and turns … but perhaps, it is best read in the daylight – not just before turning out the light to go to bed!

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

The power of story

merrowTITLE = Merrow

AUTHOR = Ananda Braxton-Smith

GENRE = Mystery, Supernatural, Folk Tales


This is an unusual story but quite powerful in its impact and the lyrical, slow manner in which it gradually develops. Life for Neen isn’t easy. She lives in relative isolation on an island with her cold and hard Aunt Ushag. They eke out an existence from the sea and country around their shelter, farming and fending for themselves, with only the occasional visit to market. But even the market town seems cold and harsh – with its unforgiving stories about Neen’s dead parents. Neen is desperate to know the truth – about her family and about herself – and struggles to make sense of the stories she hears – a combination of mean spirited gossip and folktales about sea-folk: the merrows. But her aunt refuses to talk and set the story straight, so neen remains confused.

Neen clearly has an affinity with her wild surroundings, especially the sea, where she finds solace – loving to watch the sea creatures unobserved on the sea floor. And it is the sea that causes the change of circumstances that brings Neen and her aunt closer together, indeed brings a new warmth to Aunt Ushag – when a stranger is delivered to them one night in their fishing net. Finally, her aunt agrees to tell Neen the story of her mother.

Yet is her Aunt’s story the real story of Neen’s mother – or does Neen have to find her own story?? Again, the sea provides her with the answer.

This is a beatifully crafted novel and the writing is wonderfully lyrical. Whilst it may seem a little slow at the start – the evocation of place and the raw authenticity of the key characters will soon draw readers in to learn more about the mysteries of Neen and the mysteries and power of story in general. And a satisfyingly uplifting ending, too.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Struggling with grief.. struggling with food

beautiful monster good readsTITLE = BEAUTIFUL MONSTER




The cover of this novel is rather bleak and this is matched by the story itself. Within the first few pages, Tessa’s life is thrown asunder as she watches her younger brother die in a car accident. She and her family struggle to cope: Mum falls into a depressive illness from which she struggles to emerge, Dad tries to support her through this and Tessa’s response is to fall into the clutches of an eating disorder.

Realistically, Tessa cleverly hides her problems from family and friends for much of the novel.  A bright, intelligent girl she also plays clever mental games to maintain control over her eating.

McCaffrey has written powerful novels on difficult themes in the past but this one doesn’t quite gel. It is certainly a heartbreaking exploration of a difficult subject. However, the exceptional circumstances surrounding Tessa’s dilemma (brother’s death, mother’s breakdown) and the employment of “Ned” as a means of explaining her mental games tends to limit the resonance of the novel. In this regard, it suffers in comparison with “Wintergirls” a recently published novel about eating disorders which painfully exposes the mental anguish of sufferers in a more “every girl” manner.

Nevertheless, McCaffrey writes well and creates eminently believable characters and situations. Some teen readers may find the novel of interest – if they can get past the cover! (The title certainly provides food for thought). However, be warned that the ending may also seem a bit grim – so the novel may be more suited to older readers.

Recommended for older readers (dma) ***

Percy Jackson & the sea of monsters





This story is about a boy named Perseus Jackson who sneaks out of summer camp in order to retrieve the fabled GOLDEN FLEECE because  only with its powerful nature magic will Percy  be able to restore the sacred pine tree. The force of this pine protects the camp from a whole horde of monsters.

I liked this book because of the way it turns a famous legend into a powerful fantasy. Full of satyrs,centaurs and ancient greek gods and goddesses.

Highly Recommended (tamelania) ****

The horror of cyberbullying revealed

destroying avalonTITLE = DESTROYING AVALON




This is a powerful story and a deserving winner of numerous awards. Avalon is pretty and smart and has every reason to feel confident about herself. But starting the new school year at a new school can be daunting for any teenager and things are no different for Avalon, especially when she finds herself at the centre of a vicious cyberbullying campaign. With nasty postings about her placed on the web and messages about her sent to students’ mobiles, Avalon feels threatened and exposed. Her bedroom is no longer a sanctuary. Fear prevents her from telling her parents or her teachers (because she believes their interference will only make it worse). The only support she finds at school is from a group of “misfits” who befriend her, especially Marshall, a boy all too  familiar with school yard taunts, as half the schools assumes he is gay. When the bullies turn the full glare of their campaign from Avalon to Marshall, things go from bad to worse.

The power of this book lies in its credibility, from the school yard to the classroom to the main characters themselves. The pain suffered by Avalon and Marshall is raw and terribly convincing – as victims they are too afraid to reach out to the very people who ultimately can help them: the school and their families. For solutions and answers are also provided and perhaps the most telling part of this story is in the revelation of who is the perpetrator of the bullying campaign.

There are clearly some powerful messages in this novel about bullies and victims, about the insidiousness of cyberbullying and the dreadful impact it can have on all it touches. The fact that these messages are woven into a compelling story ensures that readers will not want to put it down till they reach the final page. However, readers should be warned that the ending is incredibly moving and may challenge younger readers.

Highly Recommended for mature readers (dma) *****

The plight of the homeless child

a small free kiss in the darkTITLE = A SMALL FREE KISS IN THE DARK




Skip has run away from foster care and is living on the streets in a city on the brink of war. He yearns for a family having lost both his mother (who died) and father (whose grief and anger overwhelmed him). Despite these losses (or perhaps because of them) this young boy has a great capacity for love. When circumstances throw him in with a grumpy homeless old man and a young a teenage  mum and her baby, Skip jumps at the chance to love and care for them. But these people have been broken by their lives as well, so are they worth trusting or will they too betray young Skip and leave him alone? This is a gentle and moving story about one boy’s determination to create a family and the power of love and trust. Young teen readers will be moved by Skip’s plight.

A winner of “The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards: Young Adult Book 2009”. Readers might enjoy reading about how the author came to write this story and her approach to writing in general.

Recommended (dma) ****

On death…and grief…and learning how to live

beginners guide to livingTITLE = The Beginner’s Guide to Living

AUTHOR = Lia Hills

GENRE = Identity, Growing UP, Grief, Death


Lia Hills’ debut novel is certainly a compelling read. The narrator, 17 y.o. Will, has just lost his mother (in a car accident) and is struggling to cope. Unable to connect with his father or brother, Will turns to philosophy and photography to try and make sense of his world and his grief. To further confuse the matter he also falls deeply in love (or lust?) with a girl he first saw at his mother’s wake. At first his relationship with Taryn seems like the one true constant amidst the confusion around him but even she can’t seem to save him from himself as he finds new, and increasingly risky, ways to find happiness or meaning in the world around him. And it seems he is intent on hurting all who try to help him. Is his endless search for meaning just sinking him deeper into a mire of confusion? Is his brother, right – that Will is just too intense for his own good. Or do we all have to deal with griegf in our own way?

Whilst the subject matter may appear to be bleak, Will is a likable narrator, even when he resorts to some rather ugly behaviour. However, this is not always an easy book to read and the explicit sexual and drug references suggest an older readership is more likely to engage with Will’s journey.

This book has been shortlisted for a number of literary awards and was longlisted for the Inkys (2009)

If you enjoyed ruminating on some of Will’s philosophising about life and death, you might like to look at Lia Hills’ bloggings when she was Writer in Residence at Inside a Dog.Not only does she offer thoughtful reflections about her novel but also she initiates some interesting philosophical discussions (with the aid of contributors) about all manner of interesting things. It is also a good place to learn more about this author as a poet. And check out her website, too.