Strange Star by Emma Carroll

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Strange Star

It’s a gloomy old Saturday here in the West Mids and I’m wishing I was still reading Strange Star by Emma Carroll. If you haven’t already, I’d get yourselves a copy forthwith and settle in for some deliciously extraordinary happenings.

Lake Geneva, June 1816

At The Vila Diodati, Lord Byron is planning an evening of ghost stories with friends. His servant Felix has been sent to deliver the invitations to Mr and Mrs Shelley and Miss Clairmont who are staying nearby. The weather is unseasonable for June to say the least and the servants are discussing it:

” ‘It’s the comet causing all this queer weather,’ Frau Moritz said over her shoulder. ‘Comets are a bad omen. Always have been, always will be.’

Yet that didn’t explain why it was still cold, still stormy, even when the comet had nearly disappeared. “

A strange star indeed.

Lizzie Appleby

As preparations are made for the evening, a storm rolls over Lake Geneva, bringing early darkness. The stories begin but are interrupted by an apparent sighting of someone at the window and then by a loud knock at the door. The anticipation of ‘something’ is brilliant; the best I’ve read since my first encounter with The Turn of the Screw. Then it gets even more intriguing.

Felix opens the door to find a young girl, covered in scars and apparently dead. After trying to resuscitate her, the party abandons hope and drifts away- that is except for Felix and Mary Shelley who refuse to give up thankfully. The girl is Lizzie Appleby and she has an urgent story to tell: one that will both captivate you and chill you to the bone…

Honestly, I could just go on and on about Strange Star; I’ve already hit my ‘recommended word count’ for a blog post and don’t feel like I’ve even begun to do it justice.

So, What Do You Need to Know?

I can’t put you through several thousand words though, so what do you need to know?

Well, that it’s entirely suitable for children aged 10 years plus but still managed to spook me very satisfactorily. It’s also a masterclass in how to bring a scene to life: there’s this bit on a hillside in a snowstorm and another in a tunnel later on and I’m telling you, you will be so present you’ll feel the sting of the snow and taste the mustiness of the damp earth around you. You also need to know that it’s heavily bound up with Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and enough real-life elements to make you question what really happened and who really existed. And it’s oh so very good at it. Strange Star will also encourage further reading and further exploration of literature, of that I’m sure.

Great for fans of historical fiction and absolutely one of my favourite reads this year. More of this please.

 

 


Through the Mirror Door by Sarah Baker

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“Suddenly, there was a groan from over by the bedroom door and my eyes shot wide. I stared at the door handle, waiting for it to turn like in all the ghost stories I used to read. But another groan made me realise it wasn’t coming from the door; it was coming from the wardrobe. I gulped. The wardrobe creaked open a little wider, as if by invitation, and  I scrambled back on the cot till I felt the wall. I clutched the blankets tight around me. 

‘Help!’ I screamed.

But again no one came.”

Through the Mirror Door

I do love a scary book, but don’t find pleasure in reading anything so terrifying that I couldn’t give to a child in my class. There’s far more subtly and fascination for me in a story we can share with the whole family than there is in one that’s for ‘grown ups’ only.

My Halloween recommendation this year is a real beauty. A book to fire the imagination, connect you to characters and introduce worlds that will widen your eyes. Come on in…

Angela’s Worlds

Life has been cruel to Angela. When we first meet her she is on the verge of  further upheaval: leaving her current children’s home will either result in her starting again in another one, or there’s a chance she might be taken in by her mum’s sister and her family. This is all part of an ongoing nightmare that started for Angela on the night her own family was torn apart by tragedy, leaving her alone in the world.

Now this: an extended holiday in a dilapidated house in rural France with her aunt, uncle and cousins. And if she behaves herself, she may even get to live with them at the end of it. Not the greatest outcome for our Angela. Vile, spoilt cousins, an ineffectual uncle and an aunt who in another existence would certainly be sorted into Slytherin.

Secrets

However, there’s more than enough going on in the crumbling French manor house to keep Angela occupied, as secrets are revealed and a story from the past begins to unwind.

Besides the story itself, which is deliciously enticing and great fun to read, my favourite aspect of Through the Mirror Door is the brilliant way Sarah Baker has twisted two worlds together: Angela’s desperate real-life situation and those she has to deal with, combined with the otherworldly existence she discovers in France. I love the fragility of the portal that takes her there, and that it creates a situation for the reader where we are wonderfully uncertain as to what the next chapter will reveal. For me, it’s feels like Jacqueline Wilson meets Edgar Allen Poe, and that is a truly wonderful thing!

Perfect for Darker Nights!

I’m really looking forward to introducing this book to the Year Six children at school who will be thrilled by both the intriguing plot and the more spine-tingling touches. I don’t know about you, but this is exactly the kind of thing I want to read as the darker nights set in!

 


The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison

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Beyond Boundaries

Some authors send their readers straight into their worlds: there is no door into Tolkien’s Middle Earth, no way of gaining entrance to Le Guin’s Earthsea. The only way in is by opening the book and beginning to read.

Others provide a portal, some means of gaining entrance; usually a deliberate action by the protagonist, if not at first then afterwards. Lucy may have stumbled into Narnia during a game of hide and seek, but each time after she wanted to visit. Pullman’s Will Parry sees his parallel world and makes a decision to enter and Rowling’s Harry Potter is shown the various ways into the wizarding community of Britain.

Whether travelling by rabbit hole or wardrobe, tornado or train, there is a reassurance from the outset that as we are clear about the way in, we may also feel in some way secure about a way out. We are relatively free to enjoy the excitement and dangers of another world with a degree of detachment.

When you set out to read The Other Alice, you’re granted no such protection…

The Other Alice

In The Other Alice, Michelle Harrison’s other world isn’t sought or visited via a handy entrance; instead it comes to us unannounced and most definitely without invitation. The boundaries of truth and fiction become wonderfully hazy. Magic doesn’t seem like the stuff of fantasy stories anymore, but real and ancient and quite possible. Harrison has a knack of making magic and fantasy so close and so conceivable that it feels risky. Be careful what you wish for; it might just come true.

The Museum of Unfinished Stories

The Other Alice is narrated by Mitch, who is telling us a memory of his childhood. Looking back, he tells us about his older sister Alice who loves writing stories to the point of obsession. Mitch has grown up hearing Alice’s brilliant creations and so is understandably a huge fan of stories and riddles himself.

When Alice vanishes without a trace, it is Mitch who must unravel the mystery and save his sister. By discovering and then using her secret book ‘The Museum of Unfinished Stories’, he begins to reveal the full extent of the problem. This is no ordinary book. How can it be when its characters have seemingly stepped off the page and are walking around Mitch’s home town, including a girl who looks just like Alice?

The thing about book characters is that there are both heroes and villains. With chunks of the ‘The Museum of Unfinished Mysteries’ missing, Mitch cannot hope to decipher alone which is which. By taking a risk and placing his trust in some of his sister’s creations, he begins to solve the riddle…

The Other Alice is one of the best written and most beguiling books I’ve read this year, with hands-down the most intriguing and arresting plot-line. For readers aged 11 years plus, this is a mind-blowing meta-fiction read that will have you reliving the story in your head and looking twice at the people you see in the street. Total immersive brilliance.


Darkmere by Helen Maslin

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” And then, at last, there it was, high above us on the hillside. Just like the picture on the postcard- with turrets and a shroud of ivy- but now in high definition with sound and movement. The dark trees swayed all around it, the windows flashed in the sunshine and the sea made a constant hushing on the air. I could see the clock tower right at the front- time frozen for ever at five past twelve. It was Leo’s castle.

Our castle!”

Waiting…

I’ve been saving Darkmere by Helen Maslin up for MONTHS. Since seeing Helen at Waterstones Birmingham a while back, Darkmere has intrigued me, so I decided there and then to squirrel it away for my summer holiday. I say summer holiday, but it would be more accurately described as the best part of a week spent in a tent, on Exmoor, under questionable weather conditions.

Reading a spine-chilling Gothic thriller with no mobile signal, whilst a thin layer of polyester separates me from who knows what? Sounds great!

Darkmere

Family pile Darkmere Castle has recently been inherited by private school kingpin Leo, who plans to spend all summer there partying with his friends. Amongst the guests is our Kate (I am claiming some sort of ownership here on behalf of us all as she is fabulous: cool, clever and also mentions trying to have hair like Debbie Harry, which recommends her highly in my book).

Kate is new to the school, not rich by any means and looks different to the other girls. Leo has been nothing but friendly since she arrived- notably more than friendly outside a nightclub one night- and he invites her along.

Darkmere Castle is totally off the beaten track, I’m imagining it in the craggiest reaches of Cornwall. Unfurnished and uninhabited for years but with the bones of grandeur clear to see, Darkmere is the perfect spooky holiday destination for teenagers in a book!

The mood is thrillingly ominous and the pace exhilarating. We’re away from school and at Darkmere in no time, ready for whatever adventures it may bring.

Secrets

Once there, the summer really begins and Kate learns more about Darkmere’s dwellers both past and present. In the present, Leo’s other guests are all charismatic in different ways, but for me the best thing about them is that as a group they brought that all too familiar sense of edginess I remember from being their age.

The sense that anything could happen.

From the past,  we are treated to discovering even more from original inhabitant Elinor through Maslin’s dual narrative. Elinor is alleged to have placed a curse on the castle and all future male heirs back in the early 1800s, so this is good stuff we need to know.

Soon enough, strange things begin to occur and the castle starts to reveals its secrets. You will be utterly hooked. Just don’t forget to breathe.

And Sorry

Apologies to my husband, who was ignored for hours on end during our holiday as I obsessed over Darkmere. Sufficed to say, I absolutely loved it and would give it a big thumbs up for readers of 13 years plus, and particularly to any adults (especially if they’re fans of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca) who are after an excellent and all-consuming summer read.


Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan

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“Quick heavy footsteps walked over the corner of the room. I could hear them on the tiled floor. I held up my tilelight with one trembling hand, but no shaking or confusion could explain what it showed: that no one was there.

The footsteps stopped just short of me and then, horribly, I could feel the definite presence of someone or something breathing into my face. I could hear and feel sharp, angry breaths. 

I bolted for the exit but that door slammed in my face. I grasped the ancient handle with slippery hands and pushed and pulled as hard as I could, forgetting which way it should open. It would not budge. Behind me, the footsteps were approaching stealthily.”

Suitable for readers of eleven plus, Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan is exhilarating and action-packed YA science fiction.

It’s 3016 and Earth has long since been uninhabited due to the devastating effects of war. Although life continues on Mars, with the population living under thick domes in contained cities, there are still many links to home. Our story is part based in New Cardiff, a Martian city built to replicate Cardiff on Earth and originally designed to create a feeling of belonging and familiarity for the first dwellers.

Here we meet Bree, an immediately friendly and likeable teenage girl living in New Cardiff and attending the prestigious Pioneer School.

Bree

When Bree is picked from her fellow students to be part of a mission to Earth, no one is more surprised than she is. Only the most academic students usually get to make up the research teams visiting Earth, and though she has many talents, including empathy and a gift for writing poetry, Bree is not a traditional straight A student. However, once she begins training, she begins to understand her worth and appreciate that diversity within a group creates a stronger team.

As Bree becomes part of the mission at the Cardiff Scientific Survey Organisation (SSO), she learns quickly that the public image of Earth and the classified factual information are two very different things. She is informed that there are dangers on Earth the team will have to face every day, weapons originally developed by Earthlings in the final war. These biological weapons, or dragonmansks, once created to protect, became too powerful and wiped out human life. Now, having established themselves as Earth’s dominant species, they appear indestructible. Because of these creatures, any plans for making Earth habitable again have been written off. Teams from Mars, we learn, are now focused on stripping the planet of its useful resources while they can.

Suspicion

In discovering just how much the SSO is holding back from the general public, a delicious seed of suspicion was created for me. I couldn’t wait for Bree to get to Earth and start to uncover the truth.

You should read Alien Rain for the following reasons:

  • I’m loving the love for Cardiff. There are stunning descriptions of Cardiff, written by someone who really knows it well and has the skills to re-imagine it as a post-apocalyptic world. Ruth Morgan brings beauty to dystopia and it feels extraordinary. Plus, it’ll open your eyes to the everyday loveliness of our planet, something I was all too happy to be reminded of.
  • It’s a more than slightly addictive page turner, that will take you through a range of events and emotional responses. I read Alien Rain straight after the brilliant Alone by D. J. Brazier and was still very much in the jungle, but within a few pages Ruth Morgan’s writing had transported me fully to Mars. I stayed up half the night reading Alien Rain, because I so wanted to reach the next twist in the tale. I wasn’t disappointed.
  • Adults who want to read but find time is not on their side will enjoy this just as much as their young adult counterparts. YA authors are amazing. They manage to convey concisely what most ‘regular’ fiction authors would find hard to achieve in double the page count. Alien Rain is a great example of a book that knows how to get you hooked and keep you enthralled in under 300 pages.
  • Alien Rain champions the importance of being yourself and recognising the power of all your talents, not just using the measure of academic results. I also loved the closeness depicted in the book between science and the arts, which are linked by the common goal of discovery. It sends a good message to young readers.

Alien Rain is a great read for superior beings, regardless of planetary provenance. Out of this world.

 

Big thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this copy.


The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

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” A twitching thing, it moves as if it were still alive.

But it can’t be. The hand isn’t attached to anything.

Sinews, veins and skin are dried up, discoloured, dead on the page. Yet it moves as if no one has told it. As if no one dares to say the word:

Drowned.”

I’ve just opened The Boy Who Drew the Future again to find this extract. Immediately I’m covered in goose pimples and wish I was starting it all over again.

Gripping

Suitable for readers of eleven plus, The Boy Who Drew the Future is a gripping read, beautifully told by Rhian Ivory. It’s about two teenage boys living in different times but inexplicably linked by their unusual talent for drawing the future.

In the present we have Noah, a good soul and intriguing character, just moved with his parents to the village of Sible Hedingham. A new start isn’t a bad thing: you see, Noah’s had problems in the past that cannot be rubbed out and redrawn. Much to the distress of his family, and try as he might, Noah has no control over the artwork he produces: often disturbing images of real life events, drawn before they happen. He does this  as if commanded by an unknown force, without choice and sometimes even in his sleep. In 2016, this is definitely a curse. This is not what we might call normal, and so it is little discussed in the hope it might go away- which of course it doesn’t.

In the past, we read from Blaze’s point of view, also told in Sible Hedingham but in 1865. Although Blaze also has the gift/ curse to draw people’s futures, it is partially acknowledged in this time frame. This certainly doesn’t make his life any easier than Noah’s though, for whilst some accept and even consult Blaze about their own lives, he knows this could very quickly backfire. Here in 1865, this gift has the power to provide a source of income, but also makes him incredibly vulnerable to local hostility. The rural 1800s feels very pre-Industrialisation and more in tune with medieval times than the present, which it of course must have been. Unlike Noah living today, Blaze is no one’s responsibility. He has no parents to worry about, nor to worry about him. Since his mother died, his only comfort is Dog, who is wonderful and much-needed as a source of love and comfort.

Fingers Crossed

The Boy Who Drew the Future tells their fascinating stories, unravelling the links and uncovering elements of past, present and future in the process. Chapters are equally shared between the boys, pleasingly short and action orientated, which had me binge-reading for long periods of time and kept the story feeling fresh throughout. Scenes are highly visual, varied and exciting; it’s easy to become submerged. You have been warned.

Both Blaze and Noah’s worlds are made all the more irresistible by the characters around them. Antagonists on each side were especially convincing and brilliantly tangible in their unpleasantness. You will, I guarantee, make all sorts of  sounds under your breath as you read and discover more about where the boys’ futures are leading them. This is a book that gets under the skin, leaving the reader prone to muttering like a lunatic in surprise, anger, triumph- all of that- throughout. There may even be pacing and tiny punches of the air at times.

It it ends completely, with no hint or hope given of a sequel, but I’ve still got my fingers crossed for another book, as I’d love to read more of these characters and felt sad to see them go. Although it’s YA in genre, I’d happily recommend The Boy Who Drew the Future to anyone who’s after something original and a bit special to escape into. Oh, and if you get the chance to see Rhian Ivory talking about it, as I did recently at Waterstones in Birmingham, then do. There are some really fascinating and a few spooky stories connected with this book, that are absolutely brilliant and well worth hearing!

Goose pimples. Need I say more, really?

You can find out more about Rhian Ivory here.

 


Thirteen for Halloween…

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Last year we went totally gung ho for Halloween, leaving no (grave)stone unturned in our search for eerie reads. So dear reader, lock the doors, light the candles, avoid going down to the wood shed for a bit and get reading! Mwah ha ha ha ha!

Struwwelpeter

Here is the cover of Struwwelpeter:

photo (22)

And you get the idea. (In theory a children’s book. You might want to check it out first though…)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A great kid’s book which amazingly gets away with starting at the scene of an horrific murder and then leads us with the protagonist-at the stage a tiny wee baby- into a graveyard in the dead (ahem) of night. Read it for the thrill of coming face to face with Ruth’s favourite villain ever The Man Jack and for the complete pleasure of Bod, an unlikely hero. (11+, although have shared with Year Five who enjoyed it immensely.)

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

If you like Stephen King/horror/thriller you should really enjoy this book. If you have overwhelming childhood issues and an old Supergran tracksuit* you will love this book……every inch of it and then some. (YA+)

*See original review for further clarification.

L’abecedaire de la Colere by d’Emanuelle Houdart

Anger issues? Mr Kick-Off come to stay? Fear not. Maybe you hadn’t previously thought of turning to the French for assistance? Oh, how wrong we’ve all been. The Alphabet of Anger, or L’abecedaire de la Colere, by d’Emmanuelle Houdart helps the reader, young or old, deal with anger in many forms including fighting, war, spanking, weeping and the deeply, deeply disturbing coat of anger which has lies sewn into it and once on can never be removed. All in French too: work for it babies. (French children and anyone else brave enough.)

Osbert, the Avenger by Christopher William Hill

A delightful tale of murder and mayhem, in every sense of the words. Ruth loved it:

“So much did I enjoy this book that I have included a little extract, which includes the line (at the very end) that made my laugh out loud.

Osbert opened the door to the delicatessen, and the bell jangled noisily. It was a dark shop, made all the more darker by the large smoked hams and salamis that hung from hooks in the ceiling.
‘Yes?’ said Salvator Fattori,heaving into sight behind the long mahogany counter.
‘I’m here to see Mr Lomm,’ replied Osbert.’I have a violin lesson.’
There was a clattering in the depths of the shop, and Mr Lomm appeared from behind a large leg of pork.
‘Osbert!’ he cried, beaming.’Welcome.
‘Take a bit of this for you,’ said Salvator Fattori, cutting three slices of garlic sausage, wrapping them in paper, and handing them to Osbert.
‘Thank you,’ said Osbert, who always seemed to get on well with butchers.” (11+)

Demon Dentist by David Walliams

The villain of the piece in Ruth’s words:

“…..a devilish dentist so horribly vile that she makes Cruella de Vil look like Mary Poppins; she doesn’t need a coat made from cute little puppies to convey her evilness, no, she has a whole apartment made from children’s teeth, and not ones they’ve given voluntarily. With her blood incrusted instruments of torture (sorry, dentistry) she likes nothing better than a screaming child and a room full of blood. A dentist so utterly horrible that she even had me (a confessed dentist lover), holding onto my mouth whilst reading, in fear that she might suddenly appear and start extracting my teeth. Or, perhaps more disturbingly, ask me to call her ‘Mummy’, which, I am afraid to say, is her preferred title.”

Walliams at his best! (9+ and reluctant readers)

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

Billy, a street urchin, meets Mister Creecher in the small hours of New Year’s Day 1818. He finds him lying in a doorway, a giant body showing no sign of life. As Billy goes through the pockets of the man he assumes to be dead, hoping to be the first to check for valuables, local gangsters arrive. Things start to get a bit lively and it turns out the body is not so dead after all… A true Gothic novel for young adults +.

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

Strictly for those of you most inured of horror themes, otherwise tread carefully. Brooks sticks us in an underground bunker to be toyed with by a mad man. But is it a good book? Yes, definitely. It’s written very cleverly and for me, impossible to put down. Would I recommend it in a book review as teen reading? God no. It’s way too close to the bone and actually quite distressing at times (most of the time), as you’d expect with such subject matter. (read at your own risk.)

The Savages by Matt Whyman

The Savages set a lot of store in the importance of family. Their roots run deep and although they live very much in the modern world, they never forget where they’ve come from. The crux of this sentiment dates back to Grandpa Oleg’s experiences in World War Two during the Siege of Leningrad, where pushed to the point of absolute desperation, starving and with death all around, many Leningraders were reported to resort to cannibalism as a means of survival. This is where Whyman cleverly places Oleg- a man looking for a way for his wife and him to remain alive. The effects of eating human flesh are found to be instantly revitalising. Oleg and his wife developed a taste for it and post war it no longer becomes a way of surviving, but a tradition destined to be passed down through future generations…until they get found out… (YA+)

Dead Romantic by CJ Skuse

A black comedy for young adults, reminds me quite a lot of The Savages by Matt Whyman. Camille is a teenage girl with rubbish friends and a crush on pretty much everyone, especially Damian de Jager who is clearly a no-good lothario type. That ship sails when her so-called best friend starts dating him but luckily for Camille, she’s got her eye on a new best friend- the rather daunting Zoe who like most girls in teen books is gorgeous and unlike most girls in teen books is brilliant at science, particularly genetics. When Zoe offers to build Camille a boyfriend for the Hallowe’en ball, she jumps at the chance. I didn’t love this book, but plenty of folks do, so don’t let that put you off. (YA+)

Shoutykid by Simon Mayle

Shoutykid is a cracking book. It’s a lively story with a big heart about Harry Riddles, whose family are having some financial problems. His dad is failing to get work as a screen writer and it looks like Harry and his sister might have to move schools. Harry decides to do his bit to get the family out of trouble by writing a MEGA amazing zombie movie. I wont tell you if he does or not because that would be silly. I will tell you however that as all of this is going on he is also having to deal with his first crush on a girl at school. Tough times eh? Listed here as contains zombies and therefore qualifies on a technicality. (9 + and reluctant readers)

Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin

Rather adorable (although some readers may find him a tad annoying), tweed wearing, overly intellectual Darkus Knightly is the books gorgeous (again an adjective possibly only used by 40 year old, overly sentimental, librarians) thirteen-year-old hero. After finding and reading his dads secret files, whilst his dad is in a four year coma, Darkus realises he has inherited a gift for detective work – just like his father.
When his father awakes from the coma he brings with him an unsolved mystery, a mystery shrouded in danger. A mystery that is possibly linked to a sinister book called ‘The Code’ that is causing all sorts of crazy behaviour amongst those who read it. Before he has time to rejoice in his fathers miraculous recovery, Darkus finds himself embroiled in a real life case. (YA+)

The Unicorne Files by Chris D’Lacey

In Ruth’s quest to find books for the slightly younger teenager (aged 11 – 13ish) , rather than Young Adult books, She came across ‘A Dark Inheritance’ whilst perusing the shelves in her local Waterstone’s:

“I had already decided that I wanted to find something of a ‘murder mystery’ or ‘thriller type’ book, as with so many end-of-the-world and tragic-love-stories knocking about, I wanted to read something different. I also wanted something that looked good on the outside, as well as (hopefully) the inside. I loved the cover (you have to start somewhere) I have a thing about black covers, and the shiny blue unicorn symbol was effective and inviting. Was I judging a book by its cover? Absolutely…..how else do you do it?” (11+)

Scared are ya?

To make you feel better again, here is a picture of some lovey dovey Care Bears:

care bears

BOO!

 

 

 


Cautionary Tales in time for Halloween

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Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman

Although it’s said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I’d make an exception for Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter. I mean, take a blooming look at it:

photo (22) Fingers

It’s pretty clearly going to be a somewhat disturbing read isn’t it, what with the terrifyingly tapered fingers and the Geoff Woade-esque huge thatched head. And you’d be correct in thinking twice before presenting it to the innocent tinies in your life. Heinrich Hoffman however, who wrote it in 1845, didn’t think there were enough good quality children’s books around at the time. What the small Victorian-age cherubs apparently needed was a series of tales in which they would be able to watch their peers befall all kinds of terrible fates. Fairly alarmingly, Struwwelpeter was a labour of love- an intended Christmas present for his three year old son.

Catchy

Originally published anonymously under the catchy title “Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with Fifteen Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged Three to Six”, it was later shortened to Struwwelpeter, or Shock Headed Peter- ie, the young man with the hygiene issues pictured above. You’ll most likely associate the sort of poems in this book with Hilaire Belloc, born later than Hoffmann but more well known in the UK for his cautionary tales about Matilda and rather thrillingly, Rebecca, amongst others. For some reason, Hoffmann comes over as a little more direct in his poems. For example:

The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches

I expect you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen here haven’t you? Poor Harriet. At least her cats were sad, bless them. After her demise they cry a little pond around her ashes. Here they are:

photo (23)

 

The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb

A tad harsh, this one. Suck-a-Thumb, or Conrad, finds himself in a bit of predicament with a chap who has deep seated issues with thumb suckers. Despite being warned by his mother about the likelihood of a giant tailor arriving and using his extra-sharp scissors to chop off sucked thumbs, Conrad dismisses this as implausible. This is what occurs:

Conrad risks a suck.

Conrad risks a suck.

Ah, scissors.

Quite, quite thumbless.

I’m feeling lucky that I made it out of childhood with all fingers fully intact now. Incidentally, Conrad’s mother takes the firm but fair line of  telling Conrad who is ‘quite sad’, that she’s not really surprised and did warn him beforehand.

The Story of Augustus Who Would Not Eat His Soup

Essentially our Augustus goes from being a bonny, healthy looking type- chubby even- who eats his soup heartily, to a child who for some reason undisclosed makes the decision to refuse his soup. Nothing will convince him to eat the ‘nasty soup’. He keeps this up for five days, then dies. He probably should have ate the soup. Still, a bit mean to leave a soup tureen on the grave though.Talk about rubbing it in.

photo (27)

Mean.

And Many More!

There are many more tales but I don’t want to spoil the surprises…

Yes, it’s fairly macabre for a children’s book and that is going to limit its appeal, but personally I just love it. If I was the intended three to six year old, this would haunt my dreams horribly though. By the time I reached nine years old, I’d have got the joke I reckon. Now, I can’t help but find it charming and hilarious. I realise that I might be on my own with this own however. If anyone knows of any other ‘unusual’ children books, please share!

GGGGG Oddness of an outstanding quality


Top Five Dark Books for Dark Days

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With the West Midlands currently feeling a little more Moria than metropolis, it’s time to hunker down with more shadowy tomes…(Probably best to read this post with inner voice tuned to ‘Vincent Price’.)

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

With the possible exception of the hall of bright carvings, Gormenghast is pleasingly caliginous and as intricate as a spider’s web. Look out for the many names of Dickensian magnificence- Nannie Slagg being a particular favourite- and also the pleasure of escaping into a dark, new world. Might take a bit of getting into at first but keep going. Let it be noted though that if you do get hooked the trilogy could keep you occupied until the clocks spring forward. If all else fails and you really can’t stick it, try the BBC adaptation from 2000 instead- excellent cast, very well made and available on YouTube in handy ten minute chunks.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A great kid’s book which amazingly gets away with starting at the scene of an horrific murder and then leads us with the protagonist-at the stage a tiny wee baby- into a graveyard in the dead (ahem) of night. Read it for the thrill of coming face to face with Ruth’s favourite villain ever The Man Jack and for the complete pleasure of Bod, an unlikely hero. I’ve read this to a class of ten year olds: they were delighted with both characters and plot and inspired to write their own scary stories. Fun to read out loud with plenty of opportunity for good audience reaction!

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Proving that ‘Once upon a time’ is still an excellent way of starting a book, John Connolly takes the reader back to World War II, although we don’t hang around there for long. From the moment David, a twelve year old who has recently lost his mother, enters the family garden and crawls through a crack in the wall into a fantasy world of fairy tales and grown up horror, I was entirely captivated. I found the twists in the traditional tales enchanting and enjoyed reading the story that was taken to its full conclusion. Looking forward to forgetting it so I can read it again.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

One of my absolute favourites and not just because of the title. Become entwined in life at Manderley and meet the ghosts that lie within. Mrs Danvers ( a right nasty piece of work) is quite rightly preceded by her reputation and once encountered not easily forgotten, certainly least of all by the book’s narrator whose experiences will leave you catching your breath. Best not read by the coast if you’re of a nervous disposition…

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I’m going to be careful here. This novella was sold to me as the scariest thing I would ever read which rather put a dampener on it as I rushed through too quickly in search of the big BOO! This isn’t Henry James’ style, who is far more subtle than that, so I lost out a bit through my own misconceptions. Instead, tiptoe through a classic ghost story, savour the sinister and draw your own conclusions. No collective rating: books of both glory and doom in equal measure and in all the right ways. Got any favourites best suited to this time of year? We’d love to hear about them.


L’abecedaire de la Colere: This is Halloween

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Anger issues? Mr Kick-Off come to stay? Fear not. Maybe you hadn’t previously thought of turning to the French for assistance? Oh, how wrong we’ve all been. The Alphabet of Anger, or L’abecedaire de la Colere, by d’Emmanuelle Houdart helps the reader, young or old, deal with anger in many forms including fighting, war, spanking, weeping and the deeply, deeply disturbing coat of anger which has lies sewn into it and once on can never be removed. It’s written in French so I’ve just spent the last hour or so trying to make sense of it with a combination of rusty GCSE French circa 1990 and Google Translate. I’m still not quite sure what it’s about but I have gathered that apparently if you’re prone to tantrums you should take to the ways of the koala, calm right down and eat eucalyptus leaves. There was also something about bogeymen and penguins, but who knows what…

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Nightmarish imagery aside, the book is brilliant though. Heironymus Bosch on a restricted palette of red and black, the pictures are the thing and very much like Bosch they don’t really need words to tell the tale. I’ve taken a few photos of some of my favourites so brace yourselves.

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Yes, they are anti-spank pants. The robed cat on a trolley? Your guess is as good as mine. Buy it for friends with a dark side, buy it because it’s a good-sized and good quality coffee table book and makes a change from The Earth From Above- yawn (if you have a coffee table, I don’t). Just don’t give it to the tiny ones to read before bedtime unless you really need to stop them throwing their food…

GGGG- L’abecedaire de la Colere is a surreal and macabre Halloween treat!