Saturday, 24 October 2020

Our Spooky October Round-Up

 October is the perfect month for getting cosy and maybe...a little bit spooky. With a whole host of magical and creepy new releases on offer across all the age-groups, we have been completely spoilt for choice this year and we still have plenty to sink our teeth into before Halloween itself.

Below are a round-up of our favourites so far. These stories range from being pure magic to deliciously funny and 'gross' to totally terrifying. Which ones will you go for?

Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

Link to author site
Published by: Little Tiger Press, October 2020

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Perfect for children whose reading is just taking off, Midnight Magic is a short, magical chapter book written in verse by author Michelle Harrison, who is well-known for her magical middle grade books. 

Midnight is a kitten unlike others in her family. Born at the stroke of midnight, she has the power to cause all sorts of magical mayhem. But when she is abandoned by her mum and siblings for being different, Midnight sets out to find where she really belongs, with lots of  fun adventures on the way. 

My seven year old daughter loved Midnight's antics. She insisted on reading the story herself and felt a huge sense of achievement when she reached the end. With beautiful full-colour illustrations by Elissa Elwick, this is the perfect read for cat-lovers and wannabe witches alike. Trixie and her family are an adorable match for midnight and the broom is simply hilarious. Pure, pure magic in a kitten sized package. 

Zombierella: Fairytales Gone Bad by Joseph Coelho and Freya Hartas

Link to Waterstones

Published: Walker Books, September 2020
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Also written in verse, this chapter book is short but for those with stronger stomachs. It is a fairy tale gone bad indeed; gruesomely gross, hilariously funny but with a surprising amount of heart too, especially at the end. 

Cinderella is as miserable as miserable can be, thanks to her awful, fake stepmother and sisters. But, when she slips on the stairs and dies as the result of a cruel prank, the Shadow of Death revives her. Now, undead Zombierella has three days to go forth and seek revenge on those who took her life. But will she win her prince too?

This is a hugely imaginative retelling, perfect for this time of year. It's dark, gothic tone is peppered with humour and there are some fab accompanying characters. Lumpkin the horse, the mushroom carriage and the autumnal ball-gown add to the fantastic twist in this well-known tale but be prepared if you are squeamish! - Garish and gory things lurk, especially poo at the top of the stairs!

Again, this chapter book is accompanied by magnificent full-colour illustrations which pop with a vivid vibrancy. As a result, the expert touch of Freya Hartas makes this tale as alive as Cinderella is dead...or undead. 

Fingers crossed there will be more in the Fairytales Gone Bad series. If you're looking for a darkly funny and icky read, this is the one for you!


The Haunting of Avaline Jones by Phil Hickes

Link to The Book Depository

Published: Usbourne Publishing, September 2020

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Moving into middle grade territory, this novel by Phil Hickes has the fear factor. What begins as creepy soon turns into full on terror! But, wow, if you can handle it, this is a mightily good debut. 

When ghost-lover Aveline Jones goes to stay with her Aunt in Cornwall during October half-term, she stumbles upon a book with a mysterious history. The book of ghost stories previously belonged to a girl who disappeared in inexplicable circumstances. Can Aveline get to the bottom of what happened to her? Or, with the book in her possession, is something...or someone... coming for her too? 

This spooky story is packed with atmosphere and intrigue right from the get go. Book loving Aveline, with her fixation on the supernatural, makes a great protagonist but I loved the supporting characters too, especially awkward Aunt Lilian. There were parts of the story that I felt could have been explored a little more, especially Aveline's burgeoning friendship with Harold, but this was balanced by the effectiveness of keeping the word count low, making for a short, snappy, spine-tingling read, perfect for a wild stormy evening.

I adored Phil Hickes' wild-weather, deserted seaside town setting which was instantly made creepy by the presence of the child scarecrows. The plot centres around a traditional, terrifying ghost story but with the added potency of an unexplained disappearance. However, when strange things start happening to Aveline, events escalate quickly towards a heart-stopping conclusion. 

This really isn't for the faint hearted. It's a mini horror movie in book form - vivid, terrifying but hugely refreshing. Phil Hickes has created a tale that feels both traditional and contemporary and very eclectic. This is superb story-telling.


Sticky Pines: The Bigwoof Conspiracy and The Thing at Blackhole Lake by Dashe Roberts

Link to publisher
Published by: Nosy Crow, Feb 2020 and Sep 2020

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If you're a middle grade reader looking a fun, spine-tingling but slightly more bonkers tale than the one above, then look no further than this brilliant, sci-fi series by Dashe Roberts. Set in the isolated, American town of Sticky Pines, this is a place where very strange things happen indeed.

Bigwoof Conspiracy: When people in Sticky Pines begin to go missing, Lucy Sladan is determined to proof that BigWoof creatures are involved. After all, she and her new friend Milo have seen them with their own eyes! But things get stranger when her precious evidence is destroyed and Milo's dad, the new owner of the local sweet company, throws a carnival. Soon inexplicable, supernatural things are happening all over town. Can Lucy get to the bottom of what's happening or is she completely out of her depth?


The Thing at Black Hole Lake: No longer friends with Lucy, Milo takes a trip to Black Hole Lake only to find something terrifying lurking under the surface. Meanwhile, Lucy is continuing with her own search for the truth about Sticky Pines, which leads her to the same spot. Soon both children are in grave danger. Will they survive the adventure?

These larger-than-life, spine-tingling books are bursting with fresh originality and laugh out loud humour. Lucy, the spunky, out-spoken protagonist is in hot pursuit of anything that whiffs of the supernatural and she certainly finds it. Sticky Pines is saturated with strange occurrences which become more bizarre with every page-turn and readers will find themselves just as thirsty for the truth as Lucy is. 

Thanks to Mr. Fisher, I really enjoyed the rocky friendship between Lucy and Milo and Milo's torn loyalties. The dialogue is sharp and witty and the weird and wonderful supporting cast are hilarious, particularly The Other Mrs. Stricks and Mandy Millepoids. In fact, the whole experience of Sticky Pines is weird and wacky and deliciously enjoyable. This is a must for fans of Crater Lake and Stranger Things.

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange
Published by: Chicken House, October 2020
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Beautiful and haunting, this is a much gentler ghost story than The Haunting of Avaline Jones. Set in the lakes in 1899, it is a story of love and treachery and the unearthing of truth. 

Lady Agatha Asquith's privileged world changes with the death of her father. Told by her cruel cousin Clarence that she is not an Asquith at all, she is cast out of her family home, Gosswater Hall, to live with a man who claims to be her real father. But the Asquith spirits are restless and at the turn of the century a ghostly girl appears to guide a bewildered Aggie towards the truth about who she really is. Can Aggie crack the mystery of her past so she can find her future identity? And who exactly is the ghost?

This is the first novel by Lucy Strange that I have read and I was spellbound by the beauty of her storytelling. Within the first few pages, I felt like I was standing in Agatha's shoes and was completely swept up in her story. I adored the richness and complexity of all the characters-Thomas, Bryn, Sexton Black, Clarence and Old Moll-but this was truly Aggie's journey and, for me, she shone as bright as the ghost. 
   
The ghost, herself, did not feature as heavily in the story as I expected and yet remained ever-present. She was the key to the mystery that stayed just out of reach until the end. The plot was fabulously twisty with a satisfying end and cousin Clarence- a darker, more slavering hound than his canine companion, Brutus-made for a deliciously terrifying villain. 

The novel was pacey with high stakes throughout and Aggie's bold and fiery decision-making drove the story brilliantly. Tempering the savagery of her encounters with Clarence and Sexton Black was her heart-warming friendship with Bryn and the burgeoning relationship with her father. The lakeside setting was hauntingly vivid and the tale was both gripping and chilling, but not because of the ghost. 
There are definitely spine-tingling, spooky moments throughout the text but the threat remains rooted in the real world. Will Aggie defeat evil Cousin Clarence and find out who she is? I recommend finding out.

Spooky, magical stories really seem to be in their element at the moment. The standard of what we've been reading has been exceptionally brilliant, resulting in a fantastic October for us. Have you been reading and enjoying any other books in this genre? If so, we'd love you to let us know! 
Happy Halloween and happy reading! 

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