Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Death & Co. Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher):
Adam is a Luman, and it runs in the family. Escorting the dead from life into light, Adam must act as guide to those taken before their time. As his older brothers fall into their fate however, Adam clings to his life as a normal kid - one who likes girls, hates the Head and has a pile of homework to get through by Monday morning. When Adam gets a terrible premonition he realises that he must make a devastating choice, risking his life, his family and his destiny.

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): A really inventive spin on the Grim Reaper mythos, for strong readers (male and female) 12+.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Feathered Man Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher): In a German town, long ago, lives a tooth-puller's boy called Klaus. It isn't Klaus's fault that he sees his master steal a diamond from the mouth of a dead man in Frau Drecht's lodging house, or that Frau Drecht and her murderous son want it for themselves.

He has nothing to do with the Jesuit priest and his Aztec companion who turn up out of the blue looking for it, or the Professor of Anatomy who takes such a strange interest in it. No, Klaus doesn't want any trouble.

But when he finds himself with the diamond in his pocket, things really can't get much worse - that is, until the feathered man appears. Then they become a matter of life . . . and death.

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): A darkly original tale that is both terrifying and gripping. You'll never read anything else like this.

Dearly Departed, 
We are gathered here today to discuss The Feathered Man by Jeremy de Quidt. And first, a story. A few years ago when I was still doing the buying for the children's section of the bookshop I worked in, a publishing rep presented a book to myself and the other buyers. It was marked as middle fiction which meant 9-12 years old, and was an unassuming little hardback. It was passed around the five of us, and when it got to me I cracked it open, only to find...

Terrifying illustrations. The stuff of nightmares. The one that really stuck with me was a picture of a doll with rings of razor sharp teeth and demonic eyes. The other buyers, who weren't fans of horror, passed it up. I made a note to read it, but I never got around to it, and so when I saw this book and realised it was the same author, I eagerly jumped on it.

I'm really glad I did. This is one of those completely unique books that is so unlike any other on the market, both in plot and tone. It's a grim, dark tale, from the thankless life the main character lives apprenticed to a man who pulls out the teeth of dead people, to the horrible Frau Drecht and her penchant for burning young people with hot irons. Maybe it's the German setting, but this reminded me more of a Grimm's tale than anything that's been put out in recent years. And it's not just the poor living conditions of the main characters that gives you chills, the plot itself is genuinely eerie. Without giving anything away, it all centres around an object that many people are eagerly searching for, and when that object was revealed I had chills.

I loved The Feathered Man, because at no point could you grow complacent and guess how it's all going to end up. The sheer originality mixed with the genuine creepiness that pervades the story through character and setting makes this the perfect read for anybody looking for something a bit out of the ordinary.

For Readers: Because of the presentation and tone, I made the mistake of thinking this was for slightly younger readers ten and up, but the content makes it older. I would give it to readers 12+, especially those with unusual tastes who aren't interested in the glut of realistic fiction or romance that's out there.

For Writers: If you're trying to tell a tale that you think is unusual, check this book out to see how well an atypical plot can work. Also have a look at it for a great example of atmospheric horror that doesn't rely on gore.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Was Afraid of That...

Today's bit of writing advice isn't exactly new, but it is one of the most important things to keep in mind if you want to write horror.

I want you to think about what YOU are afraid of. What gives you pause in the dark, or keeps you up at night?

Fear is a funny thing (well, not necessarily funny...) because no two people will have exactly the same set of fears, and when you're trying to write a piece of literature that tickles the terror bone, it's hard to find something that will inspire universal fear.

Some things come close - spiders, public speaking, heights etc. There are some fears that most of the population counts among their top ten, but you can never guarantee your reader will be one of them. So, how can you actually start scaring your brave readers?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Best Reads: The Enemy

What's it About?
The adults of the world have started to act funny. As in, they'll rip apart and devour any kid they can get their hands on, so the only way to survive is to hole up and hope for the best. A bunch of kids have been living in an abandoned shopping mall, but they can't stay there forever. Instead they decide to make the journey across London to Buckingham Palace, which they hear is a paradise of safety, plentiful food and fresh water. But is there such a thing as paradise in the zombie apocalypse?

And in a Nutshell?
The best zombie YA series, hands down. A huge cast of characters means you never know who's safe and who isn't, and there are lots of wonderfully original gory parts that will satisfy even the bloodthirstiest of readers. Probably one of the scariest books out there, so make sure you give it to readers 12+. Also, as the timelines in the different books isn't sequential, you can read them out of order, but it is better to start with The Enemy.

Why is it a Best Read?
The characters. The characters. The characters.

Okay, sure, it's also a best read because it's so terrifying, but it's terrifying because you actually care about the characters. There isn't a single cardboard cut out or Mary-Sue amongst Higson's cast, they're all so real that it's like you're peering through a window watching them trying to survive. They run the whole range from loveable to detestable, and everything in between. Higson is an absolute master when it comes to writing teen characters, and he's not afraid to put them through some pretty horrific stuff.

On the surface, the zombie apocalypse seems to have been done to death, but when you read a book like The Enemy, you'll finally realise what true horror really is.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hunter and Collector/Game Over Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher):
Hunter and Collector
She called herself Mrs Hunter, although that was not her real name. No one on Earth could pronounce that. She had chosen the name Hunter because the word had a meaning all of its own . . .
When Mrs Hunter collects William she thinks she has found the perfect prey . . . but she may have met her match. An alien-invasion story about the kind of hunting and collecting that makes your skin crawl . . .

Game Over
It's the 1980s and Samuel is the new boy at school who seems to have it all: Mad magazines, video games, and even some food Johnny has never heard of called Doritos. In this Eerie story, all is not as it seems and Johnny soon finds out that having it all . . .  could cost him his life.

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): A junior horror series that should be a great idea, but hasn't quite got its target audience down pat.

Dearly Departed,
We are gathered here today to discuss the Eerie series, by S. Carey (geddit?). Which actually means two books - Hunter and Collector, and Game Over. This is going to be a bit of a split review, because I really loved one of these titles and wasn't so keen on the other.

Let's start with the good - Hunter and Collector. This really nails the scary-but-not-too-scary market for those 7/8 year olds who want a bit of horror but might have nightmares if there's anything too scary. Everything about the writing was solid, the story was great and it felt like a seasoned writer was behind the pseudonym. I'd really like to know who the ghostwriter was on this one because I'd like to read more by them, and I think Penguin might have missed out on an opportunity by choosing not to name their authors. I'd highly recommend this book to any kids wanting to start out on the horror path - it won't take them long to read, but they'll be gripped the whole way.

Now, onto Game Over. I have to admit, I was a little confused by this one. As an avid gamer, I was really excited by the idea of it - video games AND horror? Win! Except the game platform in question turned out to be the Atari, which I reckon most kids these days would never have heard of, and aren't quite in the right age bracket to be loving the nostalgia factor. All of the references in this seemed jarring to me, things like Mad magazine (or even just magazines in general these days) and I couldn't help wondering if this was marketed towards the kids themselves or the parents who grew up in the 80s. And the latter is fine, but given that these are slim enough to be read-alones, I don't really see it having any great appeal to the modern child reader.

On top of that, Game Over felt distinctly older than Hunter and Collector - I'm not normally prudish about violence in books, but there's a scene at the start that I wouldn't feel comfortable giving to an eight year old reader. Plus the kids in it are drinking beer and ogling their friend's hot mum. It was a bit jarring going from Hunter and Collector to Game Over, and it made me think that the Eerie series hasn't quite nailed its target audience. A few other minor quibbles are the price point - $10 just feels like too much for such a slim read, and the covers - these look like they might be more at home in a classroom than on retail shelves. But that said, the black and white illustrations are eye-catching, and for all I know, the Eerie series might just be trying to appeal to the schools market.

I'm going to keep an eye on these and see how the rest of the series reads, but for now it's off to a rocky start.

For Readers: Hunter and Collector is a great book for readers 7+ who want their first taste of horror, whereas Game Over feels more like it's aimed at older readers who are struggling with longer books.

For Writers: Check these out for an example of a ghost-written series, or if you're looking to write horror for young readers.

Hunter and Collector

Game Over