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

Monday, February 18, 2013

Haunting of Derek Stone Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher):
Could the road to the afterlife be a two-way street?
Derek Stone just turned fourteen. He's lived in the heart of New Orleans with his dad and older brother, Ronny, his whole life. He's a little overweight. He can't hear well out of his left ear.
Oh, and he's on the run from the dead.
Derek never imagined that the dead could be anything but dead. But there's no denying it. They're back -- and they're after him.
He just doesn't know why.
And he doesn't have long to figure it out.

In a Nutshell: A great series for less than confident readers 11+ who don't like their horror dumbed down.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Very Unusual Pursuit Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher):
Monsters have been infesting London's dark places for centuries, eating every child who gets too close. That's why ten-year-old Birdie McAdam works for Alfred Bunce, the bogler. With her beautiful voice and dainty looks, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them.

One life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared. Edith Eames is an educated lady who's studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Both of them threaten the only life Birdie's ever known. But Birdie soon realises she needs Miss Eames's help, to save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and vanquish an altogether nastier villain.

Catherine Jinks, one of Australia's most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): An adventurous tale of a monster hunter, perfect for good readers 10 and up

Monday, February 11, 2013

Best Reads: The Fury

The Fury by Alexander Gordon Smith

What's it About?
Brick, Cal and Daisy are three very different kids with one unfortunate thing in common – everybody wants to kill them. Otherwise normal people turn into ravening, zombie-like creatures when they come into range, so the only thing they can do is stay far, far away from other human beings. Easier said than done. They eventually find refuge in an abandoned themepark, but the problems don’t stop there. Because strange things are happening to them – things that could be called super powers – and they'll need to learn more about these powers if they're to defeat their terrifying new enemy.

And in a Nutshell? 
Zombies (sort of), edge of your seat terror, not a lot of gore, brilliantly written characters, 12+

Why is it a Best Read?
The Fury is a relatively new book, which makes it perfect for those keen horror fans who have read everything else. It’s such a great set-up: the spooky location, the horrible fate that awaits those targeted (and if the reader needed any convincing, a kid well and truly gets it in the opening chapter). But what really makes this book for me are the characters – the three main characters are all utterly different but you genuinely care about all of them, especially Brick, the misunderstood thug, and the introduction of less-than-warm-and-fuzzy Rilke later on in the book really rounds out the cast. 

The Fury is a long book, but it will absolutely keep you hooked the whole time. I was. This is the perfect book for fans of Gone – in fact, I think it’s much better than Gone, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series holds (Book 2: The Storm out May 2013).

Buy It
My Review
Alexander Gordon Smith's Website

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pitch It

Have you written a book? Are you getting it ready for submission? Or is your book still just an idea in your head?

Either way, I'd encourage you to start thinking about a pitch.

For those who don't know, a pitch is a short sentence (or couple of sentences, at the most) which sum up your idea. I tend to think the shorter the better - Jurassic Park? Theme park with Dinosaurs. Jaws? Killer Shark on a rampage.

Basically, you need a good pitch for a couple of reasons.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Infects Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher): 
Seventeen-year-old Nero is stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents on an “Inward Trek.” As if that weren't bad enough, his counselors have turned into flesh-eating maniacs overnight and are now chowing down on his fellow miscreants. As in any classic monster flick worth its salted popcorn, plentiful carnage sends survivors rabbiting into the woods while the mindless horde of “infects” shambles, moans, and drools behind. Of course, these kids have seen zombie movies. They generate “Zombie Rules” almost as quickly as cheeky remarks, but attitude alone can’t keep the biters back.

Serving up a cast of irreverent, slightly twisted characters, an unexpected villain, and an ending you won’t see coming, here is a savvy tale that that’s a delight to read—whether you’re a rabid zombie fan or freshly bitten—and an incisive commentary on the evil that lurks within each of us.

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): A teen zombie comedy that tries to be ambitious with style, but ultimately becomes annoying.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Best Reads: Skulduggery Pleasant

Continuing my Best Reads series, here's the second offering. Again, these are in no particular order, they're all brilliant!

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

What's it About?
Skulduggery Pleasant. Living Skeleton. Ace Detective. Razor-sharp wit. Also, he can do magic.
Stephanie (AKA Valkyrie) finds herself working as his partner after he shows up at her uncle's funeral and introduces her to a whole world she didn't know existed - a world of magic-wielding maniacs who want to do things like raise ancient evil monsters. Now Valkyrie must harness her own powers in order to prevent the end of the world.

And in a Nutshell?
It's hilarious. You won't even care what the plot is (though it's a great plot) because you'll want to follow Skulduggery Pleasant anywhere. High-action, larger-than-life characters, starts out for readers 11/12 and gets darker as the series progresses, aimed more at 13/14.

Why is it a Best Read?
By now the popularity of this series probably means it needs no introduction, but for those of you who haven't checked it out (or have dismissed it because of the giant, grinning skeleton on the front) this is a plea to remedy that situation. Go out now and pick up book one, then stay nearby while you finish it, because I guarantee you'll be back to buy the rest.

The reason this series has been so popular with readers is, simply, because it's so funny. It's hard to find really funny horror books. Detective Skulduggery Pleasant tends to steal the show with his witty one-liners, but the humour isn't limited to him - a cast of brilliant characters means that almost every page will have you laughing out loud.

But it wouldn't be much of a horror book if it was all laughs, and the action itself is top-notch, with super-sized fight scenes and terrifying villains. The world-building is just spot on too, and the mythology Landy has created builds a fascinating foundation for a rollicking good detective series.

Buy It
My Review
Derek Landy's Blog

Friday, February 1, 2013

Parents - To Kill or Not to Kill?

If you're here, it's probably because you're a fan of books for readers under the age of 18. I truly believe that Young Adult writing is one of the best genres to write in because of both the freedom and the focus it gives you. You have write a gripping story, because your audience is going to appreciate that a lot more than sixteen pages devoted to making a cup of tea.

Of course, YA has its limitations, and one of those is parents.

I don't mean real world parents. Those are important. But if your character is going to go off on some adventure, risking his or her life to do some very dangerous things, a caring parent is probably going to object. Which is why you have to get rid of them. 

People often remark at the number of dead parents in kidlit, but step one on the teenage hero's journey isn't necessarily the Call to Adventure, it's the 'my guardian has kicked the bucket, now let's get on with the fun stuff'. Basically, your character can't do dangerous if there's a responsible adult around to stop them. So they have to go, and here's how:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shiverton Hall Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher): Arthur Bannister has been unexpectedly accepted into Shiverton Hall, which, as it turns out, is an incredibly spooky school, full of surprises. And it is just as well that Shiverton Hall has made its offer, because Arthur had a horrible time at his previous school, and was desperate to leave. Timely indeed . . .

But Arthur has no time to worry about the strange coincidence. He is too busy trying to make head or tail of Shiverton Hall, dogged as it is by tales of curses and bad fortune. At least there are a few friendly faces: George, who shows him around; also Penny and Jake. But not all the faces are friendly. There are the bullying Forge triplets for starters. And then there is the acid tongue of the headmistress, Professor Long-Pitt, who seems to go out of her way to make Arthur's life a misery.Luckily Arthur has his new friends to cheer him up. Although there are some friends that you don't want to have at all, as Arthur is soon to find out.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Best Reads: Spook's Apprentice

As a children's bookseller, I get asked a lot for horror recommendations, but what I find most of the time is that it's not the readers themselves doing the asking, it's their parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents. They know their kids like horror, but since most of it can't stand it themselves, they don't know where to start.

So over the next few weeks I thought I'd present five of my favourite books that any parent can confidently give their horror fan, knowing that they'll devour it.

NB: These recommendations won't come in any order, they're all as brilliant as each other.

Wardstone Chronicles: The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney

What's it About?
Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son, which makes him Spook material. The problem is, Tom isn't convinced he wants to be a Spook – after all, a Spook’s role is to roam the county, ridding it of dark creatures like witches, boggarts and even the devil himself. Can Tom complete his training as an apprentice and become the best Spook the county has ever seen? Or will he be won over by the dark side?

And in a Nutshell?
Dark fantasy, brilliant world-building, the horror comes from build-up and scary monsters rather than gore, long series, books start off youngish (perhaps 10/11+) and get older, movie Seventh Son coming in 2013.

Why is it a Best Read?
As of writing this, there are ten books in the Wardstone Chronicles main storyline, two books of short stories, two standalone tales that also tie in with the main one, and one bestiary. As a body of work, it is absolutely my favourite series – this is dark fantasy at its very best. The series has some of the most memorable characters, both heroes and villains (who are sometimes both). Not only that, but the various plots just grow stronger with each book, and the creatures of the dark become more terrifying.

The Wardstone Chronicles is a very chilling horror series for readers 10/11+ (though I believe the target audience is older in subsequent books). I’d highly recommend it to readers who are just getting into horror, as the first few books aren’t quite as scary as the later ones, and there is very little gore. Most of the horror relies on worldbuilding and creating a great atmosphere.

Buy It
My Review
Spook's Website

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Spook's - Slither's Tale Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher):
Slither is not human. Far from the Spook-protected County, he preys upon humans, sneaking into their homes to gorge upon their blood while they sleep.

When a local farmer dies, it's only natural that Slither should want to feast on his lovely daughters. But the farmer has offered him a trade: in return for taking the younger girls to safety, Slither can have the eldest daughter, Nessa, to do with as he wishes . . .

Slither's promise takes him and Nessa on a treacherous journey where enemies await at every turn. Enemies that include Grimalkin, the terrifying witch assassin, still searching for a way to destroy the Fiend for good.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What's All This?

Some of you might be surprised to find that Spinechills looks a little different. After a rather extended absence, I've decided to give it a bit of a facelift and to add a few new features: over the coming weeks I'll add some Best Reads lists and some Writing Tips.

I've decided to dust off the cobwebs to make it more in line with my HJ Harper blog - for all three of you who don't know, I also write children's books under another name, though since they weren't horror I'd decided to keep both worlds separate. But as I'm preparing to write horror books for kids, I thought it was time for these worlds to collide!

Please let me know what you think about the changes, and stay tuned for more Spinechills!