It's that time of the year, where we all start looking back on the year that has just passed. and I'll be honest this past year has been a son of a bitch for both personal and genre wide reasons. It's a year that almost saw this site close down after everything became too much, three bouts of debilitating injuries and infections, saw this reviewer hot rock bottom. And the never ending genre infights, and this new fad where every author is determined to prove that they are more socially aware and woke than the next one brought me to a point where I just didn't care anymore. I just wanna to have fun, I just want to talk about the genre I love and the writers I adore without being made to feel that I should be waving the flag and riding my white horse into battle every ten seconds, I'll leave that to those of you who want to do that. It got so bad that that I really didn't want to do this round up of my favourite reads, however as I sat here at 2am looking at the bookcase filled with books read this year I realised that despite all the bullshit this year, it has been a great year for reading, so without further ado here are my picks of the year. If any of these books tickle your fancy please use the universal Amazon link at the end of the feature to take you to your country specific Amazon store. Purchasing items from this link helps to fund the running cost of this site.
My Book of the Year
SHRAPNEL APARTMENTS BY CHRIS KELSO
Last year there was a little bit of confusion as to the actual running order of my pick of the year. To avoid the same confusion this year I'm going to make it clear, THIS WAS MY TOP BOOK of 2017. A daring, and challenging novel that dares to play around with standard narrative structure this is a book that broke the mould.
"Shrapnel Apartments is a triumphant return to the world of Unger House Radicals, Kelso as carried over many of the themes and narrative styles that made the first book such a success and turned then up to eleven. Kelso dares to make us step out of our comfort zone, dares us to pay attention for fear of missing a vital tidbit, and dares us to be repulsed at the dark nature that resides in all of us. "
Read the full review here
My other top reads of 2017 in no particular order
CHALK BY PAUL CORNELL
Paul Cornell's powerful tale of revenge and the impact that it has on the person seeking it is a dark and fascinating folk tale for the modern world. Mixing a perfect blend of 80's nostalgia ( done in a way that should have the makers of Stranger Things hanging their heads in shame) with the frightening wild magic of the woods, Chalk reminded me of an X rated version of those sadly now long gone Sunday teatime dramas.
"Chalk is a savage and harrowing, yet moving read, Cornell never shuns from dealing with the brutal nature of bullying and the neverending cycle of the bully and the bullied, and skillfully sways the reader's feelings towards Waggoner from sympathetic to disgust at what he does. Chalk is an uncompromising novel, the flourishes of cruel and barbaric violence inflicted on Waggoner and others are truly shocking, thanks to the almost clinical and matter of fact way in which they are described adds to their shock value. "
Read the full review here
HAP AND LEONARD: BLOOD AND LEMONADE BY JOE R. LANSDALE
There is no denying that Joe Lansdale is a master of storytelling and the latest Hap and Leonard novel is a triumphant return to the world of these two hapless heroes. Written as a prequel to their very first adventure Lansdale gives us an emotionally charged insight into what makes the two of them tick.
"At times this is a hard book to read, due to its cultural setting, Lansdale has captured the sociopolitical zeitgeist of the era perfectly. A period where racism was rampant and times were excruciating for Black people and those who didn't fit in with the general feeling towards them. Be warned the use of the N-word is utilised many times in this book, but it is never used for shock value, it drives the story to such an extent it almost feels as though your soul is taking a beating as you read it. Blood and Lemonade is an emotionally compelling tale which puts the reader through an emotional whirlwind in a way that only a great writer such as Lansdale can do. "
Read the full review here
HEKLA'S CHILDREN BY JAMES BROGDEN
Hekla's Children can be read as a sort of companion piece to Paul Cornell's Chalk. Both stories deal have a similar theme of the old wild world trying to break through into the modern day. But where Chalk is a more introspective novel, Hekla's Children is glorious adventure with horrific overtones. Brogden never lets the pace drop in this thrilling adventure story,
"The collision between the prehistory world of "The Un" and the modern world is handled in an adroit manner. The mundane, unmagical modern world is a perfect counterfoil to mythical lands of The Un. The grey concrete world stands as a stark mirror to wild and untamed lands of the Un. Brogden development and world building with regards to The Un is exceptional. This is the world that is entirely different to ours, with different laws and socio-political concepts that would be abhorrent in our world. The level of detail and depth in which he goes into gives the novel a firm foundation from which to build the culture shock story. "
Read the full review here
FUNGOID BY WILLIAM MEIKLE
If you are looking for fun filled exciting stories filled with daring do and adventure then you really can't go wrong with Willie Meikle. Fungoid is a thrilling eco thriller that combines Meikle's unique sense of storytelling with his knowledge of ecosystems and biology. A modern day fable for the excessive and reckless nature of mankind Fungoid is a story that will make you think about the impact that you have on the world as much as it will entertain you.
"With hints of Harry Adam Knight, John Wyndham and Doomwatch Fungoid is a deeply satisfying "when nature attacks" novel. Where the book excels, above and beyond the sheer entertainment factor is the refreshingly believable use of a fungus as a monster. Yes, the fungus can be described as sentient, but the spread, development and actual process of infection for once is delivered by someone who understands microbiology. There are no cases of someone getting infected then seconds later succumbing to the disease. I'm looking at you Walking Dead, Z-Nation and just about every other zombie book and film."
Read the full review here
DEFENDER BY G.X. TODD
The post apocalyptic novel genre is probably one of the most tired and over used sub genre of the horror world. Everyone who is anyone has dipped their toes in this pond so it takes a rather special novel to make this reviewer sit up and take notice.
Todd's Defender is one such novel, yes you will recognise many of the same old tropes and characters from countless other stories, but Todd's slightly leftfield approach to the genre is like a breath of fresh air.
"If you are looking for answers and reasons as to what the voices are and why they are here, you will be slightly disappointed, in the grand traditions of the Saturday serial Todd keeps the majority of the facts close to her chest. If you want the answers, you will just have to wait for the three planned sequels, which is no bad thing as Defender is a gripping and momentous addition to the genre.
Todd uses the narrative of Defender to explore in a thoughtful and credible manner some deep themes. Such as the consequences of violence, loneliness and psychology of survival. These themes are handled in such a way that they are allowed to get their message across without ever getting in the way of the story, elevating Defender above your usual end of the world story. "
Read the full review here
REVIEW: BORN IN BLOOD BY NICK HARDY AND GEORGE LEA
George Daniel Lea is a writer who can at times intimidate me. This is a writer whose intellect and knowledge of the genre far outstrips my own. Hell my review of this collection took far longer to write than it should have done as it took me so long to assimilate and fully understand parts of it. However when it finally clicked and I felt I knew exactly where he was coming from, I realised that this was a powerful, unique and rather special book. The stories contained within this book are like brief insights into the fractured and tortured minds of people suffering from severe mental illness. George's sympathetic use of the short story format to highlight these issues is challenging and upsetting, but ultimately this is a book that shines with its brilliance. Aided by a series stunning photos from Nick Hardy Born In Blood will stay with you for along time.
"Born in Blood is an excellent example of a mixed media collection where all the elements of the book work together to create something truly magical. I highly recommend purchasing a copy, and doing so will help to raise money for some very worthy causes. "
Read the full review here
YOU DON'T BELONG HERE BY TIM MAJOR
Time travel is a funny old game, so many novels and stories are written using time travel as theme, but so many of them fail to understand the complexities and consequences of it. Luckily for us we have writers like Tim Major who are capable of writing an enthralling novel that uses time travel in a logical and well thought way. "you don't Belong Here" Is an exciting rollercoaster ride across time that challenges the reader to pay attention.
"You Don't Belong Here is a demanding novel, but one that ultimately rewards the reader for their patience and concentration. Major's almost languid writing style that reminds me of a Humphrey Bogart noir thriller. Major takes him time with the plot, and the narrative reveals allowing the reader to become invested in daniel's plight. This in turns makes it possible to understand and at a push root for him, he might not be a classic hero, and he certainly isn't a time honoured good man, but he is a man who is trying to change his life, more akin to a weak man caught up in a time Tsunami. And this the main strength of the novel, it is so easy to have a likeable "hero" and grab the readers attention; however, it takes a great writer to make a character who is so intrinsically flawed As Daniel into a person that the reader can connect with on a base level. "
Read the full review here
WHAT GOOD GIRLS DO BY JONATHAN BUTCHER
Horror can be many headed monster, it can have its quiet head and it can have the head that will rip your soul apart and make you weep with despair. Butcher's brutal novella of urban horror will leave you feeling broken dirty and heartbroken. This nihilistic story of the horrors of what some people are capable of doing to each other is not an easy read, but that is the whole point of this story. Butcher expertly walks the fine line between horror and voyeurism with a deft touch of an extremly talented writer
"The descriptions of the events that unfold are brutal, nihilistic and downright disgusting, but Butcher has an ability to keep the reader in the palm of his hand, despite the events of the book, you will find that you become trapped like a twig in a never ending whirlpool of depravity and despair.
Butcher is an incredibly talented writer, in the hands of a lesser writer, this novella would have caused me to go on a rant about empty shocks at the expensive of a real story, but Butcher knows how to draw the reader in the, especially during the home invasion scenes of the novella. Butcher's decimation of suburban middle-class bliss is a masterclass in narrative rhythm. "
Read the full review here
A WARNING ABOUT YOUR FUTURE ENSLAVEMENT THAT YOU WILL DISMISS AS A COLLECTION OF SHORT FICTION AND ESSAYS BY KIT POWER
This collection of short stories and essays from Kit Power was a complete revelation, I have always known that Kit was a hugely talented writer of both fiction and non fiction, and I had read many of the entries in this collection before. But is was the clever and beguiling way in which Kit linked these stories together that was the real eye opener. How anyone can link stories about psychotic chickens, the dangers of going to the toilet in the workplace, along with essays on The Wildhearts, and obsession with Robocop, and his time as a child slave trader ( for the record he never was one in reality), with a coherent and satisfying linking stories just goes to show what a talented writer he is. AWAYFETYWDAACOSFAE is perfect jumping on point for anyone not familiar with Kit's writing.
Full review to follow.
Exploring The Labyrinth
In this series, I will be reading every Brian Keene book that has been published (and is still available in print), and then producing an essay on it. With the exception of Girl On The Glider, these essays will be based upon a first read of the books concerned. The article will assume you’ve read the book, and you should expect MASSIVE spoilers.
I hope you enjoy my voyage of discovery.
Prologue: Clickers - J.F.Gonzalez & Mark Williams
It feels oddly appropriate that my first steps into the labyrinth would seem, on the surface, to be a wrong turn. Clickers was, after all, not written by Brian Keene, so starting a new discovery/career retrospective here, rather than with The Rising, could seem, at the very least, a little obtuse.
But it makes perfect sense. Honest.
See, while Keene may not have written any part of this novel, he did subsequently go on to write three Clickers titles with Gonzalez, including one that crossed over into the literary universe of The Rising. In that sense, then, Clickers is a hugely important strand in Keene’s career, so it makes sense to go back to ground zero, and see what came before - not only to help make sense of what follows, but also to try and tease out what influence Keene had on the Clickers series - and indeed what influence Gonzalez may have had on Keene, given how close the two were as friends and contemporaries.
Throughout this series, I’ll also be checking in with Jim Mcleod, Gingernuts proprietor and lifelong Keene fan, to get his perspective as a more experienced fan. He had this to say about Clickers -
“Clickers is the bastard offspring of Guy N Smith and HP Lovecraft. Brutal, graphic, and exciting, with a hidden depth lurking beneath it’s bloodsoaked waters.”
I read the most recent Kindle edition of the book, which has an additional Foreword written in 2010, over a decade after the initial publication date. I mention this because said foreword mentions this is the 6th edition of the book, and that one of the things this edition does is fix some earlier editorial and formatting issues that had apparently plagued prior editions.
And I’m afraid that brings me to one more order of business before I get into the essay proper, and that’s the somewhat vexed subject of criticism.
Let’s start here: I am not a critic, and this is not a series of critical reviews. I am a writer, and I am a genre fan. I don’t dislike critics, or criticism - in point of fact, I actually think that criticism is an art form unto itself (and yes, there are ‘bad’ critics, just like there are ‘bad’ novelists or storytellers, and ‘bad’ can apply in the moral sense, or in the sense of ‘bad at their job’, or both - but still). It’s just not what I do, as neither my enthusiasms or my talents lie in that direction.
That’s not to say I don’t have critical faculties, or that I engage with creative work without any thought or attention to craft, or that I can’t see flaws even in work I admire, enjoy, or love. It’s more to say that, most times, I’m writing from a place of enthusiastic engagement, because that’s how I tend to feel about the work I enjoy, whether it’s music, movies or books. There’s plenty of folks out there who will try and sell you the snake oil of ‘dispassionate critical assessment’ (and some of them will be their own best customers, come to that) but I’m not one of them. Chances are, if I get to the end of a book (which is far from a foregone conclusion), I will have enjoyed the experience, and I’ll mainly want to talk about why.
Clickers is a pretty fine example of that. I fucking loved it.
The intro talks a lot about the pulp 50’s B-Movies and Guy N Smith/James Herbert influences, and they ain’t kidding. The structure is pure Rats-era Herbert, with chapters following the ‘lead’ characters interspersed with sections where you get to meet various interesting people, and then watch them get hideously killed. I point out the formula merely to highlight, not to sneer - it’s a classic for a reason, and one I fully intend to emulate myself some day, in a future work. Both the characters and the deaths are vivid and well drawn. The characters especially, actually. Rick Sychek certainly appears to be a hilariously on-the-nose authorial insert, given his status as a midlist horror author on the way up, heading to a remote seaside town in Maine to get that difficult fourth novel put away, but the guy absolutely crackles on the page - smart, charismatic, and just the right side of charmingly roguish, he’s a pleasure to hang out with. Similarly, the small town sheriff with a racist stick up his butt (and, it transpires, almost certainly a dose of PTSD from his ‘Nam service), his essentially decent but slightly hapless deputy, the town doctor - there isn’t a character in this book that doesn’t feel fleshed out, alive, and with their own interiority that brings them to life, from the lead on down to the one-chapter victims. It’s a huge strength of the book as a whole.
Similarly, Jack Ripley - Ripper to his fans, of course - who runs the local comic shop is a delight - a man with a cult underground comic career that he passed over to run a comic shop in a small town on the edge of the country. The lengthy scene where the two men meet, and discover a mutual fandom, really should be cheesy and overindulgent - and certainly the narrative slams to a halt for a dozen pages or more as they discover their mutual fandom, and then talk about their career paths and the state of the creative industries.
But honestly, it was one of the highlights of the book, for me. There’s an incredible authenticity of the sequence, the dialogue - as the reader, I felt like I was getting to listen in to two working artists in a private conversation, and the passion and pragmatism really rang true. It’s not a million miles away from the experience of listening to Keene’s podcast, as I think of it - especially the interviews conducted at crowded conventions or noisy hotel rooms, where the audio challenges add to that atmospheric sense of, in some sense, actually being there.
It’s the quality I most look for in writing, I realise - the one I most value: that feeling of falling into the page, being swept along by events. And Clickers delivers that in spades.
It manages this in spite of some occasional rough edges in the prose. There’s a tendency to word repetition in places, and the odd clumsily constructed sentence. The pacing is mostly superb, but there were also a couple of sequences (especially once the main event started and the Clickers were marching up Main Street, spitting acid and chowing down on half the town) that for me dragged a bit - perhaps especially the moment of exposition, though I suppose that’s usually the least convincing moment of any B-Movie, almost by definition.
Despite that, I found the book for the most part to be a lethally quick read, a gleeful headrush of horror set pieces populated by vividly drawn characters that feel in many ways like broad stroke stock characters, yet all of whom come to life on the page, with a combination of deft personal flourishes and authentic dialogue.
And then, of course, there are the Clickers.
Somewhere between a crab and a lobster, three feet long with foot long claws whose snapping gives them their titular name. Oh, and they have stingers, which inject what appears to be fantastically corrosive acid into anyone unlucky enough to get into striking distance (spoilers: that turns out to be rather a lot of people). And of course, there’s thousands of them, apparently driven from whatever hellish sea depths they usually inhabit by some freakish 100 year storm. God, they’re fucking brilliant. Seriously. Classic critter feature monsters - basically recognizable, but outsized, twisted, more deadly. Add in speed, viciousness and weight of numbers, they’re exactly the kind of implacable, unstoppable, unreasoning opponent you want for this kind of tale. The venom is a particularly brilliant touch, both upping the danger stakes, and providing some superb gross out splatter moments, as stomachs swell and explode, and the clickers move in to eat the steaming bubbling organs from the still screaming victims.
And there’s a lovely change up a little way after the halfway point, when you discover the reason the clickers have been driven to the shore line. Because the Old Ones are coming.
So I guess we also need to talk about Lovecraft.
I’ll be brief, as I’m both woefully under qualified, and have not a single original thought on either the man or his work (I’ve got a complete works on my Kindle, and I’m currently at the 23% mark, having just finished The Rats In The Walls - so I wasn’t kidding about underqualified). I have, however, read enough, and followed enough of the recent debate, to know that there will be a subset of Lovecraft fandom that must feel personally insulted and aggrieved at the usage of Lovecraft iconography in such a brazenly pulp environment as this novel. I imagine it might feel sacrilegious, even.
I laughed like a goddamn drain.
It’s so delightfully, deliriously punk rock, that’s all - to take creatures from the cosmic horror, creatures where, in the source material, their horror comes from their indescribability, their unknown qualities, their barely-glimpsed-through-mist-monstrosity… and then fling them into a garish, technicolor splatterfest, and let the violent disemboweling and beheadings commence! It’s gleeful, irreverent… and yet, there’s sincere love here, too, for both the source material, and for the genre the Old Ones stride into. The way that translates is that they are utterly badass, cutting a bloody swathe through the now battle-hardened townsfolk that endured the initial clicker surge, in the process upping the stakes and energy as the book careers towards it’s conclusion. It’s a bonkers, gonzo idea, and it shouldn't work, and it works so well I’m grinning right now, thinking about it.
I guess we should talk about that ending, given the wider scope of this project (and I wasn’t kidding about the spoiler warning up top, so if you don’t want the entire thing ruined, as well as The Rising and City of the Dead, and you haven’t read all of them yet, last chance to bug out and unfuck that).
Because there are undeniable echoes, with both The Rising and City of the Dead. In both cases, there’s a promise made to a kid, a vow of protection - and ultimately, in both Clickers and Keene’s stories, that promise fails. In Clickers, it’s an especially brutal and graphic moment, and for me it cut through, shocking me out of the shlock horror glee of the scenes of carnage by breaking one of the taboos that even horror won’t often cross - killing a kid. I’m not sure the emotional fallout for the characters played out as deeply as it could have done - to be honest, it feels like the narrative ran out of road before that could really happen - but still it’s a hell of a moment, and a reminder that the authors really aren’t pissing about. I hadn’t expected an emotional shock to land that late in the book, and the fuckers got me good - it was a real rug-from-under moment.
So. That was my Clickers experience. I really cannot emphasise enough how much damn fun I had. The pages flew by, and I was left with a series of vivid portraits of characters, and some moments of visceral, visual horror that will linger long. I haven’t gone into a lot of detail here, but there’s some amazing horror set pieces here - the clickers in the powerstation leaps to mind, as does the initial attack on the kid (and for that matter, that batshit prologue that sinks an entire fishing vessel). Yes, the prose is unpolished in parts, but there are times when that matters and times when it doesn’t. When it betrays a deeper lack of understanding of the form, when it’s symptomatic of a wider failure to grasp the fundamentals of storytelling, it can be a dealbreaker.
Here, it’s entirely besides the point. Because this is a ferocious, bloody, and gleeful expression of imagination, a joyous love note to the B-Movie and the paperback nasties of the 70’s and 80’s.
Just like it said it was in the intro. These guys knew exactly what they were doing,and they delivered as advertised. With glee, passion, and love. And every ounce of that made it onto the page.
This was so much goddamn fun.
I can’t wait for the sequel.
By Tony Jones
“For the teens that still read… Some YA horror stocking fillers
The YA horror scene has been relatively quiet these last few months, but there are still plenty of great titles to chew over, some of which might make lovely Christmas presents for your favourite niece or nephew. Of course, some may throw that book straight back at you! Should you do that then duck and read it yourself… All but one is from 2017, a couple have been around since summer but are recent discoveries to me. None of them have been previously reviewed on Ginger Nuts. There is not a lot of straight horror on offer, more an eclectic mix of dark thrillers, speculative fiction, dystopia and fantasy crossing into horror. There are some fantastic books to choose from and they are not ranked in any particular order.
You can click on the titles and the cover images to purchase these books from your region specific Amazon store, thanks to our universal purchasing links, by purchasing the books via these links you help to Ginger Nuts of Horror afloat.
“Bleeding Earth” has been name-checked by very cool YA horror writers such as Amy Lukavics and I certainly found it to be a very enjoyable and rather different read. It’s a clever mix of apocalyptic, dystopia and an end of the world scenario cleverly played out through the eyes of a very spunky and likable teenage girl, Lea. Near the opening of the novel blood begins to seep from the earth, initially it is thought to be an isolated incident, but it quickly worsens and soon you cannot go outside without your welly boots on. Before long the water supply is contaminated, and the shops are empty of food, this is all played out very convincingly and deliberately low key as things go from bad to worse. Before long hair and bones start growing out of the earth and the hair really does have a life of its own. Lea is a great lead character, she is gay and is just embarking upon her first serious relationship when things all kick off and you’ll root for her all the way. You could argue not enough is revealed at the end and the resolution comes too easily, but that was a minor quibble, and this was a top-notch novel which I’m very happy to recommend for kids aged 13+.
Wow. This really is the perfect Christmas present and one of the best books I read in 2017, for kids or otherwise. “Thornhill” by Pam Smy is a pretty huge book, and it’s also a pretty pricy book until the paperback turns up next year. However, if you’re looking to give a kid a rather special gift then this absolute beauty might just be it. Even though it totals the best part of 500 pages an adult could still easily read it in a couple of hours, mainly because it is a time-slip story with the present-day section being told completely in pictures, which are just so easy to read! So “Thornhill” has a lot of illustrations, in a style made popular in recent times by Brian Selznick “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” and his subsequent novels. “Thornhill” itself is a care home for kids in 1982 which is shortly going to close for good, the story focusses on Mary who is a lonely orphan who suffers from selective mutism and is bullied mercilessly by other girls and one particularly nasty girl who is the ringleader. Flick forward to 2017, Ella moves into a new house which overlooks the burned-out shell of Thornhill and she is sure she can see a ghostly figure watching her in the derelict building. Adult readers will be able to tell where the story is going, but it is so beautifully told you will still have a tear in the eye come the end. The drawings are so great they really do tell the 2017 story of Ella without the needs of any words at all. Simply terrific, and if this book does not end up on the short lists of the top children’s book awards of 2017 I will eat my hat. It’s a big old book, but anyone over the age of 10+ (adults included) will adore it. Wonderful in every possible way.
Patrick Moody’s debut novel “The Gravedigger’s Son” was another absolute belter and was every bit as good as “Thornhill” telling the sad tale of a ten-year-old boy who is the son of the local gravedigger. For generations that go back for hundreds of years Ian Fosser’s descendants have always had this same job, which he will inherit from his father in due course. However, Ian would rather work with herbs and study, escaping the generations old family traditions, which is one of the main themes of this wonderful novel. Ian is tutored by the matters of the dead by a 400-year-old ghost called Bertrum and to ensure the dead are truly at peace, the words heaven and hell are never used, but the gravedigger’s role is an important one in this process. Ian may well only be an apprentice and before long he is sucked into a supernatural mystery involving his dead mother, his friend Fiona who has the power to hear the restless dead and an old family feud. Amazingly the whole of this beautiful novel is set pretty much entirely in the graveyard and the world Moody creates is so believably vivid you’ll be cheering for Ian right up to the superb ending. A tremendous book I would recommend for anyone aged from ten to 110.
“There's Someone Inside Your House” was a very quirky change of direction for an author best known for writing teen romances, so it’s great to see Perkins do something different. Essentially it harks back to the teen horror films popular in the 1980s and 1990s with a serial killer on the loose. Set in a small sleepy Nebraska town a teenager has been killed in a particularly gruesome way and when there is a second death tension ratchets up. The main character is a mixed-race Hawaiian girl, Makani Young, who is living with her grandmother after her parents split up and have little time for her. Makani has her own secrets as to why she left Hawaii, which are revealed slowly, and the novel very carefully builds her friendships and relationships, whilst maintaining a certain level of attachment, even nostalgia, to its slasher roots. It’s by no means perfect, has some gruesome scenes, is a lot of fun and overall a very decent page-turner for kids aged 13+, equally entertaining for those who do not normally read horror and are more drawn to thrillers.
I adored this quirky and highly original dystopian tale of a land where the whole population have every significant moment tattooed on their skin for ever. The whole culture and society is built around this weird concept and when teenage Leora leaves school she hopes to get a prestigious job working on tattoos. Alice Broadway has built a very believable and realistic world which sucks the reader right in, however, tragedy strikes and Leora’s father dies. After death the deceased is skinned, and their tattoos are turned into a book, this acts as a memory and is stored as a memory. However, a few are refused this type of ‘burial’ without reason and this happens to her father. She then begins to investigate, and the novel develops into a terrific thriller which effortlessly throws in a dash of romance and a lot of fantasy. What a terrific read, suitable for ages 12+. Book two is coming in 2018.
“Shallows Graves” does not have a UK publisher yet, but it well worth having a look at from Amazon. It’s an engaging mix of fantasy and horror which has a very freaky opening you’re not likely to forget in a hurry. Breezy Lin wakes up in a shallow grave one year after her death and murder, she doesn’t remember who killed her or what exactly happened. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her are hiding a murderous past. This is all revealed very closely and cleverly when Breezy sees something akin to black smoke trailing behind those who are murderers, she compares it in some way to guilt. Around the same time, she discovers she has the power to kill, by touch, but only those who are murderers, this weird power does not work on anybody else. She then begins to search for her own killer, but hitchhiking for any teenage girl (even a dead one) is a dangerous one in America. It’s a strange journey as Breezy Lin is not really the vengeful time, but nevertheless goes on the hunt. She’s not exactly a superhero, but it’s certainly a very odd gift she has. Without giving too much away, the crux of the novel revolves around the discovery of others who may be like Breezy, and a cult attempting to control their powers. Breezy may be dead, but she’s a great central character and the flashbacks to her living life are believable and powerful, showing what she has lost without dwelling on sentiment. Highly recommended for kids 13+.
“Monster” begins the series which follows the bestselling predecessor “Gone” which lasted for an exhausting seven books. The problem is I’m not sure how many kids had the stamina to read all seven books, I certainly did not. However, this series is written in such a way you can dig it without having read “Gone” which kicks off a very long alien invasion series which opens when everyone over the age of fifteen disappears into thin air. “Monster” continues the extra-terrestrial horror theme and begins with a huge dome mysteriously appears in America, several hundred children are trapped inside, eventually out of the blue the dome disappears and the story moves four years forward. It has a great range of teenage characters which have all been affected by the dome in some way, a few even become minor celebrities if they were one of the captives. As the story develops slowly we find out went on in there comes out and the survivors begin to change into something else. I’m a huge fan of Michael Grant, few teen authors mix horror and science fiction better than him and this is a great start to a proposed trilogy. Great fun for kids aged 12+.
“Grave Matter” by the prolifically cool Juno Dawson, an author who effortlessly moves between supernatural and standard teen fiction, is an addictive fast paced read dealing with guilt and loss. Samuel was involved in a car crash which killed his girlfriend Eliza, picking up the story some months later Sam is still crushed and struggling to deal with life. He stumbles upon a way of bringing Eliza back from the dead, but at a price, and before long Sam empties his bank account to pay for the ritual. This was a deliberately fast paced read by Barrington Stoke who specialise in high interest but relatively easy books to read for kids who are dyslexic or have lower reading abilities, but are looking for good challenging plots which do not patronise them. If you’re looking for something along those lines Juno Dawson delivers, this very talented author usually does.
The latest novel by Virginia Bergin “Who Runs the World” is a very cool twist on the dystopia/utopia (which is it?) theme… Set sixty years after a virus has killed off the male population, imagine what a world would be like with no men? Fourteen-year-old River lives a pretty normal life and believes men are extinct. However, whilst walking in a local forest she discovers a half-dead boy called Mason who has escaped from somewhere where effectively the few men who were immune to the virus are used as permanent sperm banks to keep the human race going whether they want to or not. This book is very clever on many levels, reveals its secrets slowly and you’ll enjoy the reactions as the teenage girls get to meet a real-life boy. I’m a real fan of this author and her other books “Rain” and “Storm” are also highly recommended apocalyptic fiction. Highly recommended for ages 12+.
Popular teen horror writer Cliff McNish makes a welcome return to horror, albeit a brief one, with “The Craving” a short punchy read with a similar aim as the Juno Dawson novel above. Published by Badger this high interest horror novel is perfect for a kid struggling to finish long books, has language or concentration problems. They should happily whizz through this entertaining tale of a teenage boy who realises his whole family are vampires, and just as he wants to fight ‘the craving’ he realises his parents want him to give into it. Easy reads often play into genre stereotypes, but this book does not do this at all and I’m sure a casual adult reader would also be entertained. I’ve been a fan of Cliff of many years and he has many great horror and fantasy novels to recommend including “Breathe”, “The Hunting Ground” and “Savannah Gray”. He also has another short read published by Badger, which is more of a thriller “Silent Valley” about a teenage girl who gets her revenge on the mother who abandoned her as a baby after many, many years. Both Badger books are perfect for ages 9+.
The Treatment by CL Taylor has had some hype in YA land recently, being the teen debut for a bestselling adult thriller writer, ultimately though it was disappointing. I haven’t read any of her adult offerings, but this was decidedly underwhelming and although it was well written with an engaging free flowing style the plot was completely telegraphed and very, very predictable to an adult reader. Sadly, I think teen readers will agree also and Taylor really needed more of the twists and turns which she is known for in her thrillers. Drew is having a tough time at school, and is being bullied after her troublemaker brother is sent to a reform school. This is a new type of school, called Residential Reform Academy (RRA), Drew finds out that the RRA may have some dodgy ‘treatment’ which reconditions and cures these troublesome teens. Of course, before long Drew also ends up in the RRA and it all becomes very predictable. It’s more thriller than horror and an undemanding teen might get some entertainment from it. If Taylor returns to YA she really needs more going on than dodgy doctors, the acknowledgements mention “Prison Break meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but for teens.” It really, really isn’t.