Thursday 12 October 2023

It's here! Our spooky Halloween round-up 2023...

Vlad, The Fabulous Vampire by Flavia Z. Drago

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Published by: Walker Books, September 2023


Following on from Gustavo, The Shy Ghost in 2021 and Leila, The Perfect Witch in 2022, Vlad, The Fabulous Vampire is a heart-warming and endearing story about a vampire who tries to hide his uniqueness. The fear of being different to other vampires is something that terrifies him. But, maybe he’s not as different as he thinks…

Vlad has a passion for fashion and being a vampire means black fashion is his preference. But Vlad has something other vampires don't...ROSY CHEEKS! Can Vlad find a way to hide the embarrassing thing that makes him different or is that what makes him special?

These stunningly-produced picture books have become our annual Halloween treat. Flavia Z. Drago uses startling Halloween colour palettes and yet proceeds to turn well-known ‘spooky’ characters into highly loveable, gorgeously-endearing characters. Not only does the artwork steal your heart but also the genuine earnestness of each character; a shy ghost, a witch who strives to be perfect and an embarrassed vampire. These are not bold, in-your-face heroes but ones that are quieter, gentler and more reserved in tone, making them highly relatable and humbly appealing.

This was probably our favourite story of the three. Partly because we loved the combination of black and pink, but also because it has such a great twist that we actually didn’t see coming. Simple but cleverly plotted, it is the perfect story for whole families to enjoy together. Little ones can enjoy spotting the familiar faces from Gustavo’s world and there’s something new to spot in the illustrations with every repeated read. If you’re after something unique and memorable which will give you a distinct feeling when you read it, this is definitely it. 

Grim Falls Academy by Louise Forshaw

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Published by: Maverick Publishing, September 2023


This trilogy of chapter books from Louise Forshaw is not only supernatural, it’s SUPER spooky as well. Set in a boarding school for supernatural kids, it has a loveable trio of main characters – a werewolf, a vampire and a…er…human? – with a supporting cast that includes a mummified bully and a living skeleton for a headteacher…

Don't Eat the Soup - something very weird is happening at Grim Falls Academy. Teachers are losing their memory and growing tentacles! Can Seb and his friends get to the bottom of this tangled mystery?

Don't Feed the Glob - When their Mad Science teacher, who is acting weird, gives Seb and his friends some tiny globs of slime to look after, it's not long before they grow completely out of control. Seems that Seb, Victor and Tabby have a STICKY situation on their hands...

Don't Open the Box - when Seb finds a hidden box in the school, he just has to open it. But suddenly a troll is wrecking havoc and the school has turned into a giant maze. Just what has Seb unleashed and can he, Victor and Tabby sort it before the school is destroyed?

This is Louise Forshaw’s debut as an author-illustrator (previously an illustrator only) and she’s done a sensational job with both the words and the highly engaging pictures, which drew all of my kids in with one glance. For me, the stories felt like Goosebumps for a younger audience and they are perfect for readers who don’t mind feeling just a little bit scared. Each book is packed full of twists and turns, a fast-moving, high-stakes plot and wacky scenarios that are deliciously devilish and highly thrilling; characters that sprout tentacles, a sinister knotweed maze and greedy growing globs. What’s not to love?

As well as having strong themes of friendship and teamwork, each story includes a gentle exploration of accepting who you are, controlling emotions and taking responsibility for your actions. We loved the familiar feel of a spooky setting combined with endearing characters and imaginative and original plots. Even better, it appears that the last page ends on the possible promise of more to come. We really hope so because three books just wasn’t enough. We want to see more of the characters, spend more time in the school and see the trio of heroes battle more villainous shenanigans.

When Frankie Made A Human by Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by Maite Schmitt

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Published by: Sweet Cherry Publishing, September 2023


Perfect for the spooky season, this twisted tale of Frankenstein sews together a very clever concept with an endearing main character, fun world-building and an exploration of human behaviour. 

Frankie is lonely. He's not like the other monsters in Monsterweld and he wants a friend. But when he decides to grow a human, will things work out the way he hoped?

This is a really sweet story and just the book for young readers, aged approximately 6-8 years, who love monsters but don't want to be scared. Frankie is an instantly loveable and relatable character who feels left out because he lives high up on a mountain and is a different sort of monster to everyone else. We also loved Igor and Frankie's scientist mum who insists on Frankie studying science. 

By creating a world where monsters and humans are now separated, Rachel Delahaye is able to explore some great themes. The set-up of Monsterweld is really interesting, where everyone is respectful of their environment and has just enough food to sustain them. Humans live differently, however, and this is cleverly shown through Fido's character. It was nice to see he wasn't all bad though and that change is always a hopeful possibility. There's definitely a lot packed into the short word count and we'd love to see more stories from this world. 

Kevin the Vampire by Matt Brown, illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino

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Published by: Nosy Crow, 14th September 2023


We are big fans of Flavia Sorrentino's cover art and this brightly-coloured number drew us in like a vampire is drawn to blood. Except for Kevin, that is. Kevin is not your average bloodsucking vampire. His family run a carnival and it's Kevin's dream to be a dragon rider like Gogmagog. But an unexpected adventure is about to befall him...

Kevin and his family are on the way to Monstros City. But when their Batnav goes wrong, they end up in a human town called Lower Drudging. In desperate need of gold to continue their journey, they decide to put on a show for the locals. But humans from Lower Drudging don't want anything to do with monsters and, besides, they might be hiding a monster secret of their own...

Full of great world-building, fun and charm, this, for me, has a Roald Dahl vibe to it. With horrible aunts, a miserable mayor and a cast of unusual and memorable characters, it is a high-stakes, fast-paced adventure that readers of all ages can enjoy. Other comparisons include Vlad the World's Worst Vampire and The Addams Family, making it a book that is perfect for the spooky season but which can also be enjoyed all year round. 

Matt Brown has created some lovely twists that set this story apart from other vampire stories. Kevin is able to enjoy daylight, for example, and although his family have little experience of humans, they are excited to meet them (although, unfortunately, the humans don't feel the same way.) Kevin and Susie are great characters and I liked the way the narrative switched between their two stories. This enabled the pace to stay strong and made the climax of the story more satisfying, as we were invested in both characters. There's some great little fact-files to break up the chapters and lots of scope for future adventures. 

So, if you're looking for a fun, light-hearted and spooktacular new series to get hooked on, this is definitely worth a read. 

Bella Bright and the Ghost Game by Carolyn Ward, illustrated by Beatriz Castro

Link to Waterstones

Published by: Welbeck Publishing


If you're looking for a traditional type of ghost story set in a haunted house with cobwebs, flickering lights and slamming doors, then this is the book for you. Bella Bright and the Ghost Game will give you all the feels; hair-raising thrills and chills mixed with a warm injection of friendship and a poignancy that will make your heart ache...

Bella Bright moves from place to place, fixing up old buildings with her mum. So when they first arrive at Darkling Manor in Castleton, Bella is simply faced with another new school, more mean girls and the reality of not fitting in. But Darkling Manor clearly has secrets and, when the 'deadly duo' Skylar and Regan, invite themselves round for a Halloween sleepover, things quickly take a sinister turn. Soon, Bella and her visitors are drawn into a game of Hide and Seek with a ghost called Alice. But can they solve the mystery behind the game in time and will Bella have a shot at finding real friends at last...or lose them all?

This is a cracking story that doesn't hold back on the fear factor. Carolyn Ward pushes the boundaries of scary for middle-grade readers whilst balancing it beautifully with the trials and tribulations of the life of a 12-year-old. The characters are real and relatable (I loved Lex but watch out for Skylar!) and Alice's story is simple but heart-breaking. 

The novel has a strong, pacy structure with clever plotting and a definite escalation of spookiness. I really liked Bella's story arc and her over-riding longing for friends. With secret passages and tons of creepy crawlies, Carolyn Ward's imagination was both fantastic and atmospheric. This is a novel you need to read under a blanket by firelight. Alternatively, you may want to keep the lights firmly on!

The Vanquishers by Kalynn Bayron

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Published by: Bloomsbury, 28th September 2023

Cinderella Is Dead is one of my favourite YA reads and Kalynn Baron's middle-grade debut is Waterstones Book of the Month for October. I can see why! This is a vampire series for younger readers, offering all the spookiness, adrenaline and tension that you'd expect but with friendship and family at its heart...

Malika - or Boog as she is known - and her friends, Jules and Cedrick, live in a close community in San Antonio, Texas where their parents and elders are struggling to shake the fear of a past where vampires existed. But everyone knows that every vampire was wiped out by the Vanquishers during The Reaping so Boog can't understand why they are still acting so strangely. 

But when their new friend Aaron goes missing, it triggers an unsettling chain of events. Could it be that history is about to begin all over again..?

This story has a fairly gentle start, building to a gripping, cliffhanger ending. It hooks readers in by inviting them into the lives of a tight circle of friends who don't quite fit in and who are dealing with all the usual, everyday things most pre-teens are. But the ordinary is about to become extraordinary as we begin to learn about the community's past and the rules around how vampires existed. Kalynn Baron builds the tension slowly but brilliantly - drip-feeding information and making the readers piece the clues together for themselves. I definitely had goosebumps before the action even began!

This is definitely the beginning of an epic series. Ultimately, the characters are really likeable and I was fully invested in them by the end of the novel. I loved how there were references to well-known, much-loved vampire stories but that Baron has twisted the established vampire rules into new ones, whilst keeping all the things we love/fear about them. I also loved the exploration of the unbreakable bond of true friendship.

Dreadwood: Deadly Deep by Jennifer Killick

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Published by: Farshore, 31st August 2023


We've reviewed Jennifer Killick's fabulously spooky novels many times on the blog and choosing to read one around Halloween will guarantee to give you the shivers. The fourth book in the Dread Wood series is definitely one of our favourites (although we love them all!) due to the very different setting and chilling, thrilling monster...

Angelo and his friends are on the school trip of a lifetime - a research trip aboard a boat in the Mediterranean. But their unease soon turns into horror when they find themselves face-to-face with a creepy man on a sinister mission and a deadly sea monster with the power to kill them all. How will the four get out of this one?

This is Titanic mixed with Halloween - a deliciously chilling read with a cracking pace and lifebuoys of humour to stop you from sinking into absolute terror. For me, the absolute star of the show was Karen - a brilliant and almost loveable villain who will stick in my memory for a long time to come. But, as always, the banter of the group and the brilliant Mr. C were also completely on point. Jennifer Killick is a genius when it comes to writing teens and Gus especially becomes more endearing with every book. 

I really enjoyed the slight change in format with Book 4 and the way the future of the series has been secured with a cliffhanger. We're really excited that Dread Wood has been extended to at least two more books because, as long as they keep being written, we'll definitely keep buying them for the guaranteed jitters and jokes. 

Read, Scream, Repeat created by Jennifer Killick

Link to publisher

Published by Farshore, August 2023

This collection of THIRTEEN spooky short stories is a Halloween TREAT! You only have to look at the list of incredible authors who have contributed a tale to get excited. From Kirsty Applebaum to Phil Hickes to Jasbinder Bilan and Jennifer Killick herself - these are just a few of the exceptional writers who have penned an original story for the collection. 

If you don't fancy reading a full-length spooky novel, this is the perfect book to dip in to. The stories can be read in any order or can be savoured over several Halloweens if you'd rather just enjoy one or two. There's a great selection to choose from. Titles include Wolf Moon, The Light Bulb, Underlay Underlings and The Green Ghost, but it feels a shame to only highlight one or two in the collection when ALL the stories are incredible and every reader will bring their own personal preferences. This is a trick or treat lucky-dip that you can explore yourself. Which tale will be your favourite and which will give you frightmares?

In our house there are always too many books to read in too short a time. Sadly, we didn't manage to fit in every spooky read we were hoping to. However, these books are on our pile to enjoy over our Halloweeny half term: 

Dead Good Detectives: Ghost Rescue by Jenny McLachlan - we really enjoyed the first in this series and Jenny McLachlan is one of our favourites. 

The Witchstone Ghosts by Emily Randall - Emily Randall won the Times Chicken House Prize 2021 with this story (then called The Flood Child) and we've heard all good things.

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