Category Archives: Books

NetGalley Reads

I appear to have ended up in a state of (fear?) over writing reviews, which makes each one take too long and I worry that I’m not doing the ones I care about justice. I’ve managed a couple of posts of Chaos Castle this year, but I’m generally being avoidant. So I’m trying to write some quick reviews here of past NetGalley books I’ve read (some over a year ago) in order to get into practice!

A Song for Ella Grey - David Almond (Hachette Children's Books, 2014)A Song for Ella Grey – David Almond (Hachette Children’s Books, 2014)

I think I am not a David Almond fan. So far, of the three or four of his books I’ve read, I’ve loved Skellig and have felt meh at best for the others. I very much disliked A Song for Ella Grey, I think all the more so because of the rave reviews from everywhere else. I did not see what other people saw in this book. I have no frame of reference to relate to the teens, and thought that perhaps this was the problem. I also never studied English Literature past GCSE level so perhaps I was missing out there too. But I believe a novel should be enjoyable regardless of what level you read it on. Maybe it has more for the literati, but it still needs to be readable. I realised that A Song for Ella Grey was lacking not just in my experiences on reading Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan. Again, I have no frame of reference to relate to the characters, but because of the way they were written, I could relate. Again I could not relate to studying English, but Apple’s writing was beautiful and enjoyable. Crossan’s writing is beautiful, lyrical, and enjoyable (I also love The Weight of Water.) Almond’s writing was a slog, with generally unlikeable characters, and no relation to the Orpheus myth that I know. It’s been over a year since I’ve read this, so I don’t have a clear memory, but I have no desire to try again and try to work out what it was that I was missing.

Buy A Song For Ella Grey at Amazon*

Heart of Dread: Frozen - Melissa de la Cruz & Michael Johnson (Hachette Children's Books, 2014)Heart of Dread: Frozen – Melissa de la Cruz & Michael Johnson (Hachette Children’s Books, 2014)

This is the first in a dystopian fantasy series. It’s been over a year since I read this, so I can’t write a very clear review, but it was a quick read with a believable world and I would read the sequels if I didn’t have such a big TBR list. One to read if you’re into YA fantasies, albeit fairly standard fare.

Buy Heart of Dread: Frozen at Amazon*

Buy Heart of Dread: Stolen at Amazon*

Buy Heart of Dread: Golden at Amazon*

The Astounding Broccoli Boy - Frank Cottrell-Boyce (Macmillan Children's Books, 2015)The Astounding Broccoli Boy – Frank Cottrell-Boyce (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2015)

I’ve not actually read any other Cottrell-Boyce, but I know I really should. I read The Astounding Broccoli boy about a week after the Doctor Who episode Forest of the Night (written by Cotterell-Boyce) first aired, which slightly detracted from my enjoyment as the TV script and the novel recycled some scenes. In different contexts, but because I’d read/seen within a week it did seem a bit lazy. I don’t know if this was changed in the final print version, as the NetGalley was out five months before publication. However, silly distractions aside, Broccoli Boy is a funny novel about three very different children who suddenly turn green, and what happens after this. Illustrated by Steven Lenton, I grabbed this in paperback when it came out and would happily re-read. At some point, I might get around to reading Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s other novels.

Buy The Astounding Broccoli Boy at Amazon*

What Milo Saw - Virginia McGregor (Little, Brown, 2015)What Milo Saw – Virginia McGregor (Little, Brown, 2015)

This book tries too hard. If it was just about Milo and his unique view of the world, then that is a story in itself. But it then adds in immigration and nursing homes in a mess of trying-to-win-some-diversity-award that mostly just left me feeling that the story was trying too hard to be too many things, and managed to sideline Milo’s disability and its effect as a result despite claiming to be about this. Read several months ago and not memorable enough to have much to say about it.

Buy What Milo Saw at Amazon*

NEED - Joelle Charbonneau (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)NEED – Joelle Charbonneau (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)

From the author of The Testing trilogy, comes a contemporary but no less disturbing story set in an all-American high school. NEED is the new social network – tell it what you want, and do what it asks, and you get what you’ve asked for. It warns that it should only be for things you need, but of course the students ask for stuff they want (phones, laptops, etc), or even revenge. Soon they realise that none of this is for free, and NEED knows too much about you… There’s a main plot on one teen, searching for her father, and a twist relating to this, but the social media concept in itself makes this a compelling YA thriller.

Buy NEED at Amazon*

The Wolf Wilder - Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2015)The Wolf Wilder – Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2015)

Katherine Rundell’s writing is beautiful, and I found my only bug with The Wolf Wilder (which I also had with Rooftoppers) is that it seems to end too soon. I’m sure there should be more! I didn’t know what to expect from this story, and I read the title as “The Wolf, Wilder” thinking it was maybe fantasy from a wolf viewpoint, but finding out that a wolf wilder is someone who returns ex-pet wolves to their nature. Which was fascinating, especially in a backdrop of Russia just before the Revolution. This is another book I will buy in paperback when it is out, because it has gorgeous illustrations (the downside of NetGalley are the “illustration here” comments in the middle of the text, because they are unfinished proofs!) I already want to read this again.

Buy The Wolf Wilder at Amazon*

Counting Stars - Keris Stainton (Hot Key Books, 2015)Counting Stars – Keris Stainton (Hot Key Books, 2015)

This is my first Keris Stainton book and although out of my usual genre (contemporary romance isn’t really my forte) it was a fun read and I much enjoyed it. I’m afraid for me it comes under popcorn as a quick read that doesn’t stick in the memory, but that’s due to my personal tastes. However, I would happily pick up any other Stainton novel based on Counting Stars, knowing that I would have an enjoyable and well written read ahead of me.

Buy Counting Stars at Amazon*

Into The Dim - Janet B Taylor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)Into The Dim – Janet B Taylor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

This is a time travel novel, set in contemporary Scotland and 12th Century London, written by someone who I’m fairly sure probably has made nothing more than a fleeting visit at best to a very touristy part of Scotland, if visited at all. It might work better in America, but as a Brit reading, it is so inaccurate as to be painful. Which I expect is also how Americans feel about some British writers writing about contemporary America. The historical aspect didn’t feel well researched, and although the concept was interesting, it really didn’t work for me. It’s described as Outlander for teens, but I’ve not read or watched Outlander to compare. However I think for a time travel tale, 18th century is more believable than 12th century. Seriously, how much has language changed in over 900 years? Is it really possible for 21st century people to pass (the language they were using as written certainly wouldn’t have), or to not catch some long-dead illness that would kill them quickly? Am I completely over-thinking this? You may have guessed that this didn’t entirely work for me.

Buy Into the Dim at Amazon*

Demon Road - Derek Landy (HarperCollins Children's Books, 2015)Demon Road – Derek Landy (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2015)

I expect “not as good as Skulduggery Pleasant” isn’t much of a review, but I think I need more time to get into this new world of a teen that turns into a demon, her incredibly f-ed up family, and a new host of not-as-human-as-you-thought characters. Actually, having written that, I feel more inclined to revisit it. If you’re a fan of Skulduggery, then you need no tempting to read this, but Demon Road is definitely aimed at older YA than early Skulduggery was. I expect I will be buying this series as it comes out in paperback, but I’m glad I got to read the preview so I didn’t pay for a hardback.

Buy Demon Road at Amazon*

Buy Desolation at Amazon*

Of these nine books, I recommend The Astounding Broccoli Boy, The Wolf Wilder, and NEED first, plus Heart of Dread: Frozen, Counting Stars, and Demon Road.

All books received free to read via NetGalley, with thanks to the respective publishers.

* affiliate link

#bookgivingday #giveaway


It’s International Book Giving Day! As I posted on Instagram, I’ll be giving away five books today. Three are brand new, unread, and can be won from entering the very easy rafflecopter entries below.

The other two are read (although as new apart from slight crease where front cover has been opened) and will be given away via Instagram. Note: the post above is not a giveaway post.

These are personal giveaways, not affiliated with anyone, and posted to UK mainland addresses only. Giveaway closes at midnight tonight, and please allow time for posting if you win because it’s half term break and I won’t get to a post office for at least a week.

Good luck 🙂

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rapunzel Books


In the tale of Rapunzel, Rapunzel’s birth mother craves the salad leaves / rampion / garlic / greens growing in the garden next door. Nothing else will do for her, and she pines for this one thing…

I have a huge TBR pile. More books on my Kindle that I’ll be able to read in a lifetime. Plus a least four books that I urgently need to read and review right now.

[I’m talking novels when I say books. Reading picture books and early readers are no problem.]

I’ve read on one day for the last two weeks because I have a rapunzel book. I want to read a particular book (that I don’t own) and I just can’t get into anything else at all.

My current rapunzel book is The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.* It was published five years ago and I’ve managed to completely bypass it. It wasn’t until last year that I realised it was in a genre that I’d probably enjoy. And this year, I realised that the author wrote two Seventh Doctor stories that I’d enjoyed as a teenager (I have a soft spot for Sylvester McCoy stories – and Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield were ones that I actually remembered watching. Especially Battlefield. I was 14. I had a crush on one of the characters. Blush.)

There is no reason for me to need to read this particular book now, but it’s stuck in my head. I may not even like it. But it’s stuck in my head.

I have no reason to buy another book at the moment, I have more than enough to read, and re-read. I have a TBR list that will take me two years to get through. I don’t have £9 spare to spend on a paperback.

But, like Rapunzel’s mother, I will probably give in. This is not my first rapunzel book, nor will it be the last. Some turn out to be my favourite reads.

But in the meantime, I can’t concentrate on reading any other novels, because I pine for the rapunzel and nothing else will do…

Do you have rapunzel books? Please share yours. Were they what you expected, or a disappointment?

*affiliate link

The Shadow Keeper by Abi Elphinstone

theshadowkeeperAbout (from Simon & Schuster)

Moll Pecksniff and her friends are living as outlaws in a secret cave by the sea, desperate to stay hidden from the Shadowmasks. But further along the coast lies the Amulet of Truth, the only thing powerful enough to force the Shadowmasks back and contain their dark magic. So, together with Gryff, the wildcat that’s always by her side, and her best friends Alfie and Sid, Moll must sneak past smugglers, outwit mer creatures and crack secret codes to save the Old Magic.

With more at stake than ever before and the dark magic rising fast, can Moll and her friends stop the Shadowmasks before it’s too late?

Perfect for fans of J.K Rowling, Piers Torday and Michelle Paver.

Chaos Comments

I was late to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and all three were out in paperback before I was given the set by a friend. This was handy, because I when I ended a book with a “No! I need the next one NOW!”, I could read the next. The ending of The Shadow Keeper has left me feeling like this again, but there isn’t the next book to read now.

The world of The Shadow Keeper takes me back to the books I loved as a child, and I’m itching to re-read The Dark is Rising sequence, The Chronicles of Prydain, and The Wizard of Earthsea again now.

Following on from The Dream Snatcher, Moll and her friends are still avoiding the dark magic whilst searching for the second amulet. The stakes are higher, and the pain experienced by members of the tribe were heartbreaking. Poor Gryff! Poor… Oh, but no spoilers.

There are codes to solve too! I was one of those kids that translated the runes in the Hobbit, so codes rock for me.

I love this exchange near the end of the book, it sums up Moll’s character for me, and a fab piece of humour.

‘- and Moll wants to go after it tonight,’ Puddle finished. ‘In the rain. Without a boat. To Devil’s Drop.’

‘What’s Devil’s Drop?’ Siddy asked warily.

Moll raised her jaw. ‘A waterfall that might or might not be a little bit haunted.’

‘How haunted are we talking?’ Alfie asked.

Moll tapped her foot impatiently. ‘Dead sailors, I think.’

Siddy moaned. ‘Only you would come up with a plan as mad as that, Moll.’

Then a few pages later, Abi will break your heart. The danger is real. The trust and friendship are deep. Moll’s world is one worth visiting. I savoured this book over a longer period so I didn’t have to leave them again, and I can’t wait for the next part.

The Shadow Keeper is published by Simon & Schuster on 25th February, and The Dream Snatcher is out now.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of The Shadow Keeper by the author, and I’ve even got a mention in the acknowledgements. [Squee!!] I also think Abi is a pretty awesome person. This doesn’t affect my honesty in writing reviews. 

Word of the Year


I’ve chosen words of the year a couple of times, and then not really taken much notice of them.

I don’t think I chose a word last year. I don’t think I did much of anything last year.

I wasn’t going to choose a word for the year this year, but it snuck up on me and I realised it’s what I want to aim for overall.

My word of the year is:



New Year. New Books.

New books are always lovely, and a book sale is an excellent time to stock up for future gifts; grow a home library; or plan for party bags. The Scholastic Book Clubs sale started on 25th December, and has books from as little as 99p. What’s more, 20% of purchases go to the school of your choice.

Our local school sends home Scholastic Book Club catalogues once a term, and they are always packed full of bargains. They also have exclusives, like the paperback version of a something only just out in hardback.

Scholastic Book Clubs asked me to choose a few favourites from the sale to share. I’m not sure if all my choices are sale books, but the prices are pretty great all year round. You can see all the books in the sale on their website.

Scholastic Book Clubs SaleMy first choice is this amazing pack of 20 picture books for only £20. At only £1 per book this would be perfect for party bags, and the quality of the books included is stunning.

The pack includes Marmaduke the very Different Dragon (review), The Pirates Next Door (one of our favourites in 2012), How to Hide a Lion from Grandma and Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion (included in Chaos Castle’s books with single dads). I’d be willing to pay more than £20 just for those four, but there are another 16 included too – something for everyone.

Scholastic Book Clubs saleSticking with early years, who can resist this lovely soft Hugless Douglas? We are huge Hugless Douglas fans, and even though MG and DG are technically a little old for this, it’s still so cute that it gets read and played with regularly. £3.99 is a £7 saving on full price, and a very cheap gift for new babies (or their toddler siblings), or any young child really!

Scholastic Book Club saleMy next choice is the latest in Claire Freedman and Ben Cort’s Underpants series, Aliens Love Dinopants. Currently still only out in hardback, this paperback is even more of a bargain at only £2.99. The Underpants series are wonderful, and each new book is still fresh and inventive (and includes little details relating to other books in the illustrations, which makes reading even more fun.)

169177-ml-1436458My final picture book choice is I’ll Wait, Mr Panda – which isn’t even published in hardback until next week, so this paperback for £3.99 is almost an essential purchase. We haven’t actually read this yet, but Please Mr Panda is amazing and Steve Antony hasn’t had a so-so book published yet. Besides, who could resist that cute face?!

Scholastic Book Club saleThe Phoenix comic is probably the best comic for kids around at the moment, and the collected strips in book form are excellent for reluctant readers, and avid readers alike. Of the three in this pack, we’ve only read The Pirates of Pangaea but are avidly waiting the next installment. This three pack is £14.99, or each can be bought separately for £4.99 each.

Scholastic Book Club sale

Jim Kay’s illustrations for Harry Potter are stunning, and this first illustrated book in the series is stunning and worth the £30 RRP – but it’s only £16.99 here so grab a bargain (and don’t forget the 20% back to your school.)

And if you don’t own any of the Harry Potter series, and have kids approaching the age to enjoy them, the full set of paperbacks (with Jonny Duddle’s gorgeous covers) are only £29.99.

156822-ml-1212677My final choice (and really there are so many more I could point out, but I’m late writing this already!) is the complete set of nine Skulduggery Pleasant books for £39.99. Okay, so it doesn’t include The Maleficent Seven or Armageddon Outta’ Here, but the main nine novels don’t need the extra two unless you get completely addicted (which I did!) The earlier novels are 9+, but later ones are 11+, so I’d recommend this pack for teens and older (up to any age!) The humour, action, twists, and fabulously imagined world of Skulduggery Pleasant is well worth losing yourself in.

I hope that’s given you some good ideas for new books for the new year, and some brilliant bargains. There is so much to browse in the Scholastic Book Clubs sale, and 20p in every £1 spent goes to the school of your choice. Wins all round.

Disclosure: My local school will receive some books in exchange for this post. I’ve been a happy customer with Scholastic Book Clubs for over five years so jumped at the chance to promote them more.

Our Year in Books 2015

I didn’t keep up with this very well this year but more or less have an updated spreadsheet offline, but I can’t be bothered to copy and paste here.

I met my main reading challenge of 52 books, but didn’t quite meet the short reads. I also haven’t got a clue how many picture books we read!

I have done much better on acquiring books, buying 90 less than 2014; but also getting 103 less free/review books and giving away over 280 so a net gain of approx 150 books this year instead of the 400 of the last two years. Still lots of books to cut down on, but that’s a big improvement.

We had half as many review books in 2015 than in 2014, which is a good thing because my reviewing has been terrible. I will try much harder with blogging and reviewing next year, because I have missed it.

I’m keeping the same reading goals for next year. I probably could read more, but I want to channel my procrastination into writing about books to start with rather than reading more that I don’t write about!

It’s been an odd year, and not one of many achievements, but it’s the year I finally found out for definite that I am autistic; it’s been one of parenting challenges; it’s been one of building relationships. It’s flown past and I feel like I’ve achieved little in the last four years, but I’m terrible at focusing on the negative.

So the plan for next year is take each day at a time. Focus on the positives. Work on routines and making good habits. I get stressed if I’m over-scheduled, but I think I will be less stress if I work out a schedule / routine that works instead of trying to do everything all the time. My planning and goals may appear to focus on me, but there are unwritten ones for parenting. My daughters are a fundamental part of my life.

Our Week in Books in Numbers
Year progress: 365/365 = 100%
Read 52: 54/52 = 103.8%
Picture books: 120+/52 = 230+%
Short reads: 36/52 = 69.2%

Books reviewed:
Cumulative: lost track…

Books read (excl picture books): lost track…

Books added to shelves: lots…
Cumulative: 429

Library books borrowed: none
Cumulative: 43

Books removed from shelves: 150-ish
Cumulative: 280-ish

A reading challenge from


Christmas Gift Guide




Wander round your local independent book store; or huge Waterstones; or order some huge collections from The Book People; or whatever.

And if you don’t know what someone is interested in, book tokens are fab too.

Suitable for any age and any gender.

Just buy books.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst by Griselda Heppel

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst: Griselda Heppel (Matador Books, 2015)The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst

Author: Griselda Heppel
Cover: Hilary Paynter (wood carving)
Publisher: Matador
Original Publication Year: 2015
Edition reviewed: PB 2015
Source: Author

About (from Matador):
In the shadows of Walton Hall a demon lurks. His name: Mephistopheles. In 1586, young John Striven struck a bargain with him in return for help against his murderous foster brother. Nice work for a demon – or it should have been. Because somehow, his plan to trap the 12-year-old went wrong. All he needs now is another soul, in similar desperation, to call on him.

Enter 13 year-old Henry Fowst. A pupil at Northwell School, Henry longs to win the Northwell History Essay Prize. Exploring the school’s sixteenth century library, he stumbles across the diary of a boy his own age beginning this 20th day of Januarie, 1586… Soon Henry is absorbed in John Striven’s struggles with his jealous foster-brother, Thomas Walton, who, it seems, will stop at nothing to be rid of him.

Then matters take a darker turn. Battling to escape his own enemy, Henry finds his life beginning to imitate John’s and when the diary shows John summoning ‘an Angellick Spirit’ to his aid, Henry eagerly tries the same.

Unfortunately, calling up Mephistopheles lands both boys in greater danger than they’d ever bargained for.

Griselda Heppel’s first book, Ante’s Inferno, was one of my favourite reads from 2012 and I eagerly awaited her second title. My knowledge of classics is fairly limited – I’m aware of the Faust legend in the sense that it involves someone making a pact with a devil – but no prior knowledge is assumed and this Fowst has more chance of redemption, if he can best Mephistopheles.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst is told from three viewpoints, mostly modern-day Henry and Tudor John but with the odd malevolent musing from Mephistopheles itself. Starting in the sixteenth century, we learn about John Striven and his murderous foster-brother; skipping forth and back to modern day where the Hall John Striven lives in is now a school (the same one attended by Antonia Alganesh in Ante’s Inferno) where Henry Fowst is on a scholarship.

Mephistopheles is attracted to both the boys’ misery and attempts to entrap them. Connected across the centuries by the old library of the Hall, Henry finds John’s old diary and willing to try anything to escape his bully (and protect his family from shame) he repeats the ceremony John tried to summon the devil…

Aimed for 10/12+, the novel is gripping and more-ish. Skipping between past and present leaves you needing more of each story, and wondering how they combine. I admit I couldn’t understand why Henry was so willing to summon Mephistopheles without finishing reading John’s diary first, but I’m no longer twelve and choices can seem a lot more limited when you’re being bullied. My children are a little young to read this yet, so this is from my viewpoint only, but I’m glad there was redemption available and the novel shows how it is possible to change from bad choices, even when things seem helpless.

With a mix of history, modern day, spooky school buildings, secret hiding places, supernatural goings on, and a tie-in to the previous novel (although each stand alone), The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst is an absorbing read. I look forward to the next novel (I hope there is a next novel!)

On a final note, there was one tiny scene that made me giggle when I read the book two months ago, and now I know it will make today’s children giggle too. Henry’s sister is singing in the bath: “She’s the top – she’s fantastic – she’s the strongest, she’s the smartest, Rachel FOWWWST!” – which of course I instantly heard to the tune of Danger Mouse. With the new Danger Mouse series, it’s even more spot on. Griselda’s writing is full of tiny observations that add up to a believable world. Highly recommended.

13 Spooky Reads for Halloween

With Halloween on the horizon, here are a selection of spooky reads for any age from birth and up. The lower age guides are not exact, every child is different, and there is no upper age limit for books as far as I’m concerned.

Most of these books were published this year, but I sneaked in a couple extra.

Boo!: Fhiona Galloway & Jonathan Litton (Little Tiger Press, 2015)0+: Boo!: Fhiona Galloway & Jonathan Litton (Little Tiger Press, 2015)

This colourful board book uses gradually decreasing eye-holes on each page as a variety of (extremely cute) spooks try to work out who said Boo! With rhyming repetition and bright colours this should catch the eye of babies. Toddlers will love the chunky pages (and that you can turn pages using the eyeholes!) and I can see this being one being quoted regularly. Danger Girl (6) also loves this, and the text is simple enough for her to read too. Not just for Halloween, a very cute not-all-that-spooky introduction to ‘scary’ staples (pumpkins, cats, witches, bats…) Did I mention it’s cute? 🙂

Ten Spooky Skeletons: Garry Parsons (Little Tiger Press, 2015)0+: Ten Spooky Skeletons: Garry Parsons (Little Tiger Press, 2015)

Glow in the dark alert! We all love a glow-in-the-dark book in the Chaos household, and spooky skeletons are even more of a hit. Not only the cover, but the final spread are glow in the dark. And not only that, but there are peek-through sections on every page too. This book is just too much fun! Garry Parsons is a fabulous illustrator, and his adorably cute skeletons rhyme and count bouncily through the pages. DG (6) and MG (8) both still enjoyed this book, though it’s probably aimed mainly at 2-5 year olds. I can’t recommend this one highly enough – will keep small ones amused for hours. (Note: a torch held near the glow in the dark pages in a darkened room recharges the glow quickly and is such fun. If you’re children aren’t scared in the dark, make sure the last pages have been left in bright light to ‘charge’ first, and then read by torchlight…)

Fright Club: Ethan Long (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2015)3+: Fright Club: Ethan Long (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2015)

That gorgeous front cover drew me into my local bookshop, and although I didn’t mean to buy anything, I was shortly walking out with a copy (I say ‘shortly’ – actually there was a lengthy look at the shelves as usual, and an even lengthier chat about books, phone apps, and life with the fabulous bookshop people…) DG (6) was similarly drawn to this book first when I laid out a few suggestions for a bedtime story, although she did complain that it wasn’t scary enough! The monsters really are adorably cute (and, though it’s a shame I need to mention this at all, they are an actual equal mix of male and female characters – WOOHOO!!) and this is one we will read over and over. The story is funny, as a cute bunny tries to join Fright Club, and inclusive. Extremely gorgeous illustrations, fabulous layout, eye-catching cover. We love Fright Club.

The Ride-By-Nights: Walter De La Mere & Carolina Rabei (Faber & Faber, 2015)3+: The Ride-By-Nights: Walter De La Mere & Carolina Rabei (Faber & Faber, 2015)

Making classical texts accessible to the very young like this, allows an increased vocabulary to permeate into their minds. At least, that’s what I think, and I don’t think you can get more accessible than this beautifully illustrated poem. The pictures show both traditional witches flying through the stars (a basic introduction to constellations is in the text) and children trick or treating in a village. I was completely put off by ‘literature’ at school, but find this beautiful and compelling. I could read it over and over, and it makes a perfect bedtime story. DG (6) asked lots of questions as we went through it, and it’s a book that works as well wordless so toddlers and non-readers can pour over the pages alone too. Personally, I want the “And surge pell-mell down the Milky Way.” page as a print to put up. Beautiful.

Seen and Not Heard: Katie May Green (Walker Books, 2014) 3+: Seen and Not Heard: Katie May Green (Walker Books, 2014)

In Shiverhawk Hall, in the light of the moon, the children come out of their pictures and run riot. Although not described as ghosts, the children have a very ghostly feel in their old fashioned attire. Beautifully illustrated, this is less creepy and more fun (but if you think of them as ghosts, it can feel a lot spookier!) and children of any age will love the naughty things these children get up to. The text is full of lyrical phrases that are a joy to read aloud (Sticky ringlets, jammy ribbons, fizzy tummy, “I feel sick.”) and the muted palette shows their night time antics well. A gorgeous book, not just for Halloween.

No Such Thing: Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books, 20143+: No Such Thing: Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books, 2014)

Often in stories you find children who see shadows and sudden noises as signs of something spooky, which are then shown to be completely ordinary. Georgia in No Such Thing sees simple explanations for things moving round the house, getting broken, or going missing. It’s the pets, or her little brother, or something like that, because honestly who believes in ghosts?! There’s no such thing! But… If you look closely at the pictures, maybe you can spot the ghosts hiding? And in case you missed them, they might appear at the end too! Fabulous fun for children who want to believe in (gentle) spooks, and for keen spotters. A lovely autumnal read, for any time of year!

Mortimer Keene Ghosts on the Loose: Tim Healey & Chris Mould (Hodder Children's Books, 2014)6+: Mortimer Keene Ghosts on the Loose: Tim Healey & Chris Mould (Hodder Children’s Books, 2014)

Mortimer Keene books are a well loved series in the Chaos household, with five madcap adventures so far from Slime to Aliens to Dinosaurs to Robots. Ghosts on the Loose was the second in the series to be published, and might just be my personal favourite. Told in rhyme, this tale follows another of Mortimer Keene’s inventions gone wrong, with a host of horrific ghosts portrayed with aplomb by the extremely talented Chris Mould (who looks like he’s had a lot of fun inventing fiendish ghouls to fit descriptions including Hooded Black Monk and Victorian Hangman…) Designed to attract reluctant readers, the fun rhyming, copious illustrations, and clever links of characters between books (we like Mr Bevan, who teaches Shakespeare to Year Seven…) and including extra pages of plans, A-Zs, and tips, Ghosts on the Loose is a perfect Halloween read.

Pablo & Jane and The Hot Air Contraption: Jose Domingo (Flying Eye Books, 2015)6+: Pablo & Jane and The Hot Air Contraption: Jose Domingo (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

I cannot help but love a book which includes dialogue like:
“Muuum, Pablo and I are going out to explore that ruined creepy house on top of the hill, the one that’s filled with monsters and where the radioactive meteorite crashed!”
“Okay darling! Try not to die before dinner time!”
And this is following a page with a map of their local area including the haunted orphanage, the old graveyard, and the abandoned sawmill. Not only that, but this is in wonderful comic strip form. Bliss!

The first 15 pages Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption are a comic strip story, leading on to twelve double spreads packed with creepy critters and things to spot, finishing with a final six pages of comic strip story. This book can be poured over, delighted in, and absorbed for many hours. I find the picture search pages quite overwhelming in detail, which may be because of my aspie brain, but my children happily pour over the pages. I cannot do this book justice, so I recommend you read Mat Tobin’s wonderful review (and grab a copy as soon as you can!)

The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom - Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing, 2015)6+: The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom – Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing, 2015)

Bewitched pirates, hoards of gold, sea hags, and the magical interweb… “Hubble, flubble, toil and trouble, Lanterns burn and cauldron bubble. Bring us pirates on the double!” The Jolley-Rogers return in their second full length adventure, this time bewitched by sea hags with only Bones the dog left to take a message for help to Matilda. The scary hags have a cave full of gold – and bones. Shudder… Can ‘Tilda and a pint-sized Jim Lad get out of this dastardly dilemma? This isn’t a specifically Halloween story, but it’s spooky enough to count, and Jonny Duddle’s pirates deserve a place on any bookshelf. Packed with delicious illustrations, and some pretty spooky moments, one for pirate fans of any age.

Dixie O'Day and the Haunted House: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Random House, 2015)6+: Dixie O’Day and the Haunted House: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Random House, 2015)

Dixie and Percy are well loved characters in the Chaos household and in this, the fourth book of the series, the daring duo set off for a fun camping trip. Sadly anything that could go wrong appears to go wrong, and they end up escaping from a soaking wet tent and a grumpy farmer to a spooky old house where a friendly old lady offers them a bed for the night… This is a proper old-fashioned ghost story, with a familiar spooky twist for adults but a great introduction to the style for young children. As ever Shirley Hughes writing and Clara Vulliamy’s illustrations are a delight and the pages are also packed with maps, interviews and a quiz. Perfect as a read aloud, an early reader for confident youngsters, a tempting read for reluctant readers, and a joy for any age. Comfortably spooky, with a very friendly ghost.

Once Upon A Zombie Book One The Colour Of Fear: Billy Phillips & Jenny Nissenson (Toon Studio Publishing, 2015)8+: Once Upon A Zombie Book One The Colour Of Fear: Billy Phillips & Jenny Nissenson (Toon Studio Publishing, 2015)

Zombie Princesses. Zombie. Princesses. I don’t think I need to write any more to sell this! Once Upon a Zombie is a line of dolls, in the vein of Ever After High / Monster High, but also in the vein of Ever After High, the novel shows well realised characters and an interesting alternate world concept. Being able to travel to fairytale worlds via their writers’ graves is a new concept, and gives the potential of truly global appeal. This particular story starts in London, with two American sisters, and stories of chickpeas appearing in graveyards around the world… The start drags a little if you’re a 6yo (younger than the recommended 8+) so I summarised when reading aloud and DG (6) really liked the concept even though the writing style of the book was too old for her. There are some fun creepy videos on YouTube to promote the book, and the dolls are also available. Will appeal to children who love their fairy tales with a darker twist.

The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2008)10+: The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2008)

I’ve not read this for years (when it was published in 2008), but I couldn’t exclude it from a list of spooky books. The Graveyard Book is the tale of Bod, a boy raised by ghosts, and the ghosts who raise him, and the man Jack who means to find him and finish his job of killing Bod’s whole family. It starts with a knife, and Neil Gaiman is not one to shy from the creepy for children. It’s suitable for any age that can read, but some parents might find it a little scary.  For me, anything written by Neil Gaiman is worth reading, and this is one of his best, and Chris Riddell is a master (again, some parents might find the illustrations a bit scary!) A book I’d put on every child’s bookshelf.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst: Griselda Heppel (Matador Books, 2015)10+: The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst: Griselda Heppel (Matador Books, 2015)

With a mix of history, modern day, spooky school buildings, secret hiding places, supernatural goings on, and a tie-in to Ante’s Inferno (although each stand alone), The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst is an absorbing read. Skipping between past and present leaves you needing more of each story, and wondering how they combine. I’m glad there was redemption available and the novel shows how it is possible to change from bad choices, even when things seem helpless. Griselda’s writing is full of tiny observations that add up to a believable world. Full review here.

Disclosure: Some books received as review copies, others own copies.