A ghost story with plenty of twists and turns

doll bonesTITLE = DOLL BONES

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = HORROR, QUEST, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9    

Poppy, Zach and Alice have been friends for ages and have had great fun playing a special game filled with imagination and adventure. They use action figures, puppets and dolls to act out their stories, collaborating and decorating their storytelling.

But what happens when one of them is challenged to stop being childish … the ripple effect on their friendship and their storytelling game quickly stirs into action, especially when Poppy realises that the doll in her cabinet at home has a mysterious curse that can only be lifted by a road trip … by bus, at night ….

Can 3 young teens really work together on this quest without destroying their friendship? Does the doll really need help or is it just playing games with them? Can they in fact finish their quest … or will fear, anger or disappointment get in the way?

This is a clever story with plenty of mystery, adventure and friendship problems to be resolved. If you liked The Spiderwick Chronicles you are sure to enjoy this novel for younger readers from Holly Black

Recipient of a Newbery Honor Award

Recommended (dma) **** 

A gothic horror with a literary twist

fairytales for wildeTITLE = FAIRYTALES FOR WILDE GIRLS

AUTHOR = ALLYSE NEAR

GENRE = GOTHIC, HORROR, FAIRYTALES, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP, GRIEF, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Does Isola live in a fantasy world or is the fantasy simply happening in her head? When we first meet this teenage girl who lives on the edge of a “dark and scary wood”, we are certainly introduced to an unusual setting and an unusual girl. Living with her gruff and often absent dad and with a somewhat unbalanced mum to care for, it may come as no surprise that Isola often loses herself in her beloved book of fairytales and surrounds herself with imaginary friends that seem to come from a rather twisted fairyland. For the mermaids, warriors, fairies and heroes who seem to be her best friends and greatest protectors, all seem to have lived and died violently.

Yet Isola also inhabits a very real world with school and its normal assortment of friends and foes, of bossy teachers and deadlines, of swimming carnivals, tests and detentions. And she also has two boys vying for her affections.

How does a girl live a life haunted by her mother’s illness, haunted by her namesake’s short life and haunted by her fears … is Isola brave enough to face the truth of her world or will she simply waste away? Will she spurn the help of those who care for her, those who really can help her … can she break free from the horrors she has witnessed, from the ties of family?    

This novel may be a challenge for some readers, especially in the early pages as the focus and style seem to change all too rapidly but it is well worth the effort. Ultimately, readers might have different views about whether it is a clever fantasy story or a book about mental health and resilience… but there is certainly plenty to think about and plenty to enjoy in the writing.

 It is no surprise to find that this novel is the winner of a number of awards (gaining two 2013 Aurealis awards –  joint-winner of Best Young Adult Novel and winner of the Best Horror Novel) and it has been shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year Award (Older Readers) and long-listed for the 2014 Gold Inky Awards.

This book was announced as A CBCA HONOUR BOOK!! CONGRATULATIONS TO ALLYSE NEAR.

 Highly Recommended ****(dma)

 

A witches brew indeed

undermy hatTITLE = UNDER MY HAT: TALES FROM THE CAULDRON

AUTHOR = JONATHAN STRAHAN (ed)

GENRE = SHORT STORIES, WITCHES 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8+

If you like witches then you will love this book. Every story is about a witch or wizardly being – some are dark and scary, some are hauntingly beautiful, some are quite funny and clevr as they play on common witch mythology. There are longish stories and there are poems ( Some witches fit the ‘black hat, black cat” mould and some really stretch this image to its limits: so some stories will appeal to younger audiences and some to older readers (“The threefold world” by Ellen Kushner). This is not just a book about magic spells (“Payment Due” by Frances Hardinge and “A Handful of Ashes” by Garth Nix), it is also a book about the magic of life (although you may need the tissues for “Stray Magic” by Diana Peterfreund). Whilst some of the stories hark back to older times, others focus on a more modern wicca experience (“Little Gods” by Holly Black) Some stories are a little spooky and some are unexpectedly warm-hearted and some manage to combine elements of both (“The Witch in the Wood” by Delia Sherman). An absolute favourite is the very clever “The Stone Witch” by the queen of Australian fantasy, Isobelle Carmody.  Fantastic Aussie author Margo Lanagan , provides a suitably weird and thoughtful : “Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow”). The funniest story (in a dry sort of way) continues the wizardly detective work of Jim Butcher’s hero, Harry Dresden  in “B is for Bigfoot).

Basically, there is something in this collection for everyone: whether you are a huge wiutch fan, or even if witches are not reasly your fave .. Dip in a nd out .. choose fave authors or try someone new … that’s the fun  of a collection of stories. And the introduction which sketches in the historical and literary background of witches will delight witch lovers and intrigue those new to (or less enthusiastic about) witches. Plus bios of authors at the end are very readable and add to the overall enjoyment of this book.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gritty and compelling vampire story

coldest girl in coldtownTITLE = THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLD TOWN

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = FANTASY, SUPERNATURAL, VAMPIRES

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS

Imagine a world where vampires exist … not the sparkly kind, the dangerous kind. Imagine going to a party one night and waking up the next morning to find all the other party guests have been killed …. by vampires. That is, all but your ex-boyfriend. Do you run? Do you save him? And what about the vampire chained in the corner .. do you take him with you or escape while you can??

This may seem like a nightmare world but it is Tana’s reality.

And so begins a gripping new novel by that wondrous writer, Holly Black. As Tana tries to maintain her sanity, and her humanity, she is driven into increasingly desperate situations. Going on the run with a soon-to-be vampire she once loved and a somewhat crazed vampire who she seems to be falling for, may seem like an act of madness but Tana is intent on staying alive and staying one step ahead of danger. She is not trying to impress anyone, she is not looking for romance – she simply wants to stay alive and human …even if she must risk everything by entering the strange world of Coldtown, where vampires and reality TV seem to have merged.

Only Holly Black could have dreamed up a world like this one: dark and cruel and absolutely fascinating. A world where compassion may be found in the unlikeliest places and where no-one is quite as they seem. A compelling tale from go to whoa which will have readers spellbound, especially those who like their fantasy to be just a little bit gritty.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****  

An exciting horror adventure awaits … if you dare to read….

screaming staircaseTITLE = LOCKWOOD & CO. : The Screaming Staircase (Book 1)

AUTHOR = JONATHAN STROUD

GENRE = GHOSTS, FANTASY, SUPERNATURAL, ADVENTURE, HORROR

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 10

A bit of horror, a bit of humour and a whole lot of adventure … this book has it all. Set in a world where ghosts come out to play at night, and they like to play nasty, scary, life threatening games! Lockwood and Co is a small company of psychic investigators; for a price they will come in and rid your home of those nasty spectres, they will banish the ghosts to eternity.

Well, that is what Lucy has trained for and that is why she has joined forces with the dashing Anthony Lockwood and his side-kick, their researcher, George. The three teenagers hope to make a name for themselves, even though they are working solo, without the usual adult supervisor. However, it is hard to be taken seriously when your exploits have a tendency to go slightly awry. Customers may want the ghosts to disappear but they don’t necessarily want their house to be burnt down in the process!

This is the predicament they find themselves in early in the novel. To avoid going out of business, they must solve a mystery and take on the scariest challenge ever: a challenge that has already taken the lives of many other ghost seekers. Can they survive the night on the renowned “screaming staircase”? Will Lockwood lead his charges safely or will they pay with their lives for his recklessness?

An exciting adventure awaits readers … and the best news is, this is the first in a series of books by Jonathan Stroud – so there are plenty more to come. This book has already been nominated for a number of awards, including the Edgar award (US award for mystery writing).

Check out the website based on the series or read the interactive shortstory featuring Lockwood and his crew, here.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky Award.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A beautifully written story with a dark edge

TITLE = THE BONE DRAGON

AUTHOR = ALEXIA CASALE

GENRE = FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, REVENGE, DRAGONS, FANTASY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-11

This is a genuinely spinechilling novel but cleverly crafted so that the chills literally creep up on you in unexpected ways. The novel’s cover looks magical but we soon realise there is a bleak layer beneath that surface appearance.

Evie is recovering from an operation which removed a fractured rib. From this rib she begins to carve a magical and beautiful dragon with whom she has night time rambles on the fens surrounding her home. There is beauty and magic in the descriptions of these nightly forays – darkness, mist and dampness suddenly look quite bewitching rather than scary  – when you have a dragon accompanying you. Dragon says he has come to protect Evie and his nightly rambles seem to help her sleep and recover more fully. But is there a darker reason for these adventures? We suspect that Evie has been badly treated by her mother and grandparents and part of the gripping feel of this book comes from our desire to learn the truth of Evie’s past. The more we guess, the more we pity her for what she has suffered and what she still suffers. For Evie is subjected to bullying from one of the lads at school – but this is where the first warning comes into the story … has Evie coirrectly interpreted events?

The reader will be on the edge of their seats as they turn the last few pages with equal amounts of awe and dread: the ending will stun and surprise and make you adjust your thoughts – not just about Evie but also about the ethics of revenge and the nature of evil. This is the true magic of this amazing and compelling novel by first time author, Alexia Casale; beautifully written but with a layer of darkness beneath each page.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A dark and spooky surfing story

TITLE = NIGHT BEACH

AUTHOR = KIRSTY EAGAR

GENRE = IDENTITY, FRIENDSHIP, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

This is a dark novel. At its heart is a gothic story about supernatural, ghostly elements which have taken over a young surfer (Kane) and are threatening to take over his step-cousin, Abbie. But even darker than this is the undercurrent of violence that lurks behind the surfing world that Abbie and Kane inhabit. From the moment Kane returns to town and punches the local surfing bully, the threat of further violence lingers around the edges of the story as we await to see if the town bully exacts revenge on Kane.

Against this dark backdrop is the central story about Abbie, a lonely girl who is looking for love and lusts after Kane, even though she fears he is not good for her and recognises that her obsession is unlikely to be returned. Abbie comes from a broken home: her dad is loving but he is starting a new family in Brisbane, so Abbie has reluctantly begun living with her Mum who seems aloof at best and critical at worst.  Her sister offers sage advice but she too is largely absent from Abbie’s world as she is off in Canberra studying and exploring her own romances. Abbies’s best friend is holidaying in Darwin and her sole remaining friend is bitter about her obsession with Kane. Whilst the artistic and creative Abbie attempts to make sense of her feelings, and discover the truth behind Kane’s ghostly haunting, she is also trying to complete her HSC project.

Eagar often writes about the surfing world, but in her hands this world has a far more sinister feel than in the world presented by other Aussie authors such as Tim Winton, largely due to the violence and power plays inherent in the male surfing fraternity.

This is dark and compelling novel and has been shortlisted for the Gold Inky 2012 (dma) ***

 

A strange and violent world …that may just drive you mad!

TITLE = BZRK

AUTHOR = MICHAEL GRANT

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION, GAMING,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8,9

This is a weird and rather dark book. The opening chapters introduce us to a number of characters and a number of plot lines – a young teen visits his brother who is chained in a mental institute and screams insanely “beserk”. Another teen dies in an explosive plane crash which seriously injures his sister. So far we are in a violent and angry world but not a strange one.

And then we learn that a character named “The Bug Man” created the plane crash by rewiring the brain of the pilot – using bugs or biots. Sounds wrong. Sounds evil. But what if the “good guys” use a similar technology to try and combat the baddies. What if they use nanbots to rewire people’s brains too?? It takes skill to do this – to enter a person’s body and move inside to the right part of the eye or the brain so that you can control them. If you get it wrong … then you might die..or you might go mad! And why are they doing this? BugMan’s bosses  want to control everyone – so we can all live happy lives. The good guys want freedom of thought. But is freedom more important than happiness?? So important that they will risk madness?? And should freedom be gained by any means??

This is at times a fascinating story as we are literally taken inside people’s heads and over their eyeballs. It is often a violent book – as there are battles waged on the nanoscale and (more conventionally) on the macro scale (with fists and guns). It is also a dark book – with so many deaths, the stakes are high. The similarity of the strategies employed by both the good guys and the bad guys certainly makes for an interesting moral dilemma. There is no doubt the good guys have greater integrity and are more appealing – whether they are the cool Vincent or the newbies Sadie and Noah. However, it is somewhat disturbing that the good guys have all taken on names of people who have all gone mad: Vincent (van Gogh), Plath (Sylivia), Keats …

Michael Grant wrote the compelling “Gone” series but this new books is more complex and less easy to read, partly due to the nanotechnology and partly because it is less easy to emotionally engage with some of these characters – like those figures in the Gone series, they are all flawed.

BugMan is clearly a gamer and there are Games and iPad apps to accompany the novel. Check out the book’s website.

Intriguing. (dma) ***

More exciting seafaring action

TITLE = SHIP KINGS 2: The Voyage of the Unquiet Ice

AUTHOR = ANDREW McGAHAN

GENRE = ADVENTURE, ACTION, FANTASY, HORROR

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 AND UP

This second instalment in the Ship Kings quartet, is every bit as exciting as the first. There is again a sense of dread and fear lurking in the wings as Dow struggles to stay alive and free. He may have gained his dream of living and working on a sailing ship but has this dream come at too great a cost? Will a voyage to the icy edges of the world provide answers or more danger and possible loss of life?

Apart from the ever present dangers of the sea, Dow is also facing more personal dangers, especially when he seeks to find out more about the intriguing  scapegoat girl, Nell. We learn more about the back stories of some of the key characters in this book and Dow is put to the test yet again. Full of adventure and seafaring action – and moving human stories too.

Another great read – and readers will be excited to know that there is more action and suspense expected in the next eagerly awaited volume in this dense, beautifully written seafaring adventure story.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A FAST-PACED THRILLER WITH A DARK TWIST

TITLE = EVIL STAR

AUTHOR =ANTHONY HOROWITZ

GENRE =FANTASY, ACTION, SUPERNATURAL, HORROR

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

 

Check out the short book trailer below:

You might also like to look at the publisher’s website based on the series – plenty of games and info to entertain and intrigue.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****