Category Archives: Horror/Ghosts/Scary

More Victorian chills….A very unusual pursuit

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A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jinks. (City of orphans; book 1). Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013. 360 pages. Available in NZ bookstores now: rrp $18.99

‘A bogle’s a bogle. I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’

From the publisher:

Monsters have been bothering Londoners for centuries, and the only solution is to call in the experts. Alfred Bunce, the bogler, has a ten-year-old apprentice, Birdie McAdam. With her beautiful voice and dainty appearance, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them. Then one life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of young pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared in unsettling circumstances. Edith Eames is an educated lady who’s studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Birdie soon realises that her very livelihood is under threat, as Miss Eames tries to persuade Alfred that there must be a more ‘scientific’ way of killing bogles.  But only with Miss Eames’s help, can Birdie save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and defeat an altogether nastier villain, the treacherous Doctor Morton, and vanquish a terrifying and deadly bogle. Catherine Jinks, one of Australia’s most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

What do I think about this book?

I absolutely love this cover…. it is a really great introduction to the mood of this story. From the very first page of this book I was plunged headfirst into the dark, dank and dangerous world that was Victorian London. The children of London’s poor, often orphans, had to work at a very young age and tended to be employed in very dangerous occupations – sweeping chimneys and cleaning sewers. Sometimes children were illegally ’employed’ by Fagan type characters called “gangers” running gangs of urchins to pick the pockets of unsuspecting passersby and to steal from shops, stalls and houses. Add some very scary ‘bogles” (monsters or goblins or the bogeymen that hide in chimneys and sewers) to their already dangerous lives, and working children would be terrified.

The language and writing is superb – I love the way the author presents a throughly convincing and authentic feeling Victorian environment while at the same time weaving a very believable fantasy. At first I was a little worried that some of my young readers would be put off by the dialogue which gives this story a real Dickensian tone, but once immersed in the story the language really adds to the depth of the plot. The reader is aided by a glossary of terms at the end of the book, but even without using this the reader is carried along with the contextual clues in the text.

…from chapter 5…(Miss Eames is showing Alfred and Birdie pictures of water monsters known as Grindylows, Jenny Greenteeth, or Peg Powler…)

She thrust the book under Alfred’s nose, so sharply that he recoiled. When Birdie rushed to join him, she saw that the pages had fallen open at a picture of a creature – half hag, half troll – with long, tangled hair and a ragged cloak on it’s back.

“‘That don’t look like no bogle I ever saw,’ Birdie commented, cocking her head to one side.

‘It is perhaps drawn from a verbal description,’ Miss Eames said delicately, ‘and not from life.’

‘A bogle’s a bogle.’ Alfred’s tone was gruff. ‘I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’

‘Them sewer pipes is thick with bogles,’ Birdie added. ‘Ain’t that right, Mr Bunce?’ To Miss Eames she remarked, ‘It’s very likely me own Ma died on account of a bogle. She were a tosher, see, but left me in a drain one day, and no one’s seen her since.’

‘But how dreadful!’ Miss Eames looked quite shocked….

If I use the glossary I learn that a Tosher is a sewer scavenger, but I could have easily read on without checking this and I suspect many children reading would be too wrapped up in the story to stop! The story is full of characters with unusual occupations and unusual names, here are a few:  cadger, caffler, coal whipper, cracksman, griddler, hurrier, muck snipe and slavvy.

The characters are richly and vividly drawn. Alfred Bunce is rough but genuinely fond of Birdie, ensuring her support and loyalty later on in the story. Birdie is small and looks delicate with the face and voice of an angel, but is feisty, determined and brave. Miss Eames is rather proper and true to her class, her fascination with and belief in mystical creatures was common during the Victorian era, and she is motivated by kindness. The villains – Sarah Pickles and Doctor Morton are all too believable. The story is as much about Alfred and Jem (Birdie’s male friend), as it is about Birdie.

This historical fantasy will be a great read for children aged 9-12 who enjoyed Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones or Fire spell (Splendors and Glooms) by Laura Amy Schlitz,  and I think my students will really enjoy this book.  Boys who don’t tend to read stories where the main character is a girl will miss out on a thrilling adventure with great suspense.

I will be ordering a copy of this for our library. The copy I read was an advance review copy supplied by the publisher (thank you Allen & Unwin!).  This is the first book in a planned trilogy (the second book is due to be published July 2013 with the final installment due early 2014.) I am really looking forward to the next exciting installment in this trilogy!

Link to author website: http://www.catherinejinks.com

Link to publisher website: http://www.allenandunwin.com

RELATED POSTS:

Christopher Edge – Free chapters

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It is wonderful when publishers provide us with lots of ways to explore new books before we buy or read them. Nosy Crow (one of my favourite UK publishing houses) has made the first chapters of many of their wonderful books available.

For those of you eager to try Christopher’s wonderful story “Twelve minutes to midnight” that I blogged about earlier, here is a link to the first chapter: LINK

If you are lucky enough to have read the first book and would like a taste of the sequel – “Shadows of the silver screen” which will soon be published, here is a link for you: LINK

From the publisher:

“A mysterious filmmaker approaches The Penny Dreadful with a proposal to turn Montgomery Flinch’s sinister stories into motion pictures. With Monty installed as the star of his production, filming begins but is plagued by a series of strange and frightening events. As Monty pleads with Penny to help him, she is drawn into the mystery, but soon finds herself trapped in a nightmare penned by her own hand. Can Penny uncover the filmmaker’s dark secret before it’s too late?”

What do I think about these books?: I can’t wait for Shadows of the silver screen to arrive!

Happy reading 🙂

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Roald Dahl would be proud…the Quality Chophouse…

Most of my young students will be far too young to remember, or know about, the thoroughly chilling Tales of the unexpected series, which used to air on television when I was …ahem… younger. Just yesterday, as I was reading a wonderful children’s thriller, I was lamenting to all who would listen in my household, that there just isn’t great children’s drama on the telly these days. The American shows on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel just don’t cut it in my opinion – all they seem to have done is teach children how to overuse the word “like” and to inflame the current obsession with celebrities! Thankfully there is no shortage of brilliant children’s fiction being written which more than fills the gap!

Anyway back to Tales of the unexpected….it wasn’t really a children’s TV show but I am sure many older children watched it, especially if they loved Roald Dahl…

Tales of the Unexpected is a British television series that aired between 1979 and 1988. Each episode told a story, often with sinister and wryly comedic undertones, with an unexpected twist ending. Early episodes were based on the adult short stories by Roald Dahl collected in the books Tales of the Unexpected, Kiss Kiss and Someone Like You… (Source Wikipedia).

Here is a video taster… Roald Dahl introduced each of the earlier episodes. He makes some insightful comments about the difference between comedy and tragedy and the subtle, hard to get-just-right sliver in between, which is black comedy…something many writers strive for, but only a few can pull off successfully. (If you want to see any episodes in full – look on You Tube for the episode called “the Landlady” or “lamb to the slaughter” – these are two I remember after all this time!) – look for the books at the Public Library….I wouldn’t recommend the short stories for younger children, but middle and senior students might enjoy them.

Now, why am I telling you about this very old fashioned TV series when I am blogging about books you may ask?…in a very round about way, I wanted to tell you about the Shiverton Hall short story I gave you a link to yesterday.

The Quality chophouse by Emerald Fennell is a stunning little short story of the black and chilling variety. The publisher had warned that the reader needed a strong stomach to read it, and they were right. There is a twist in the tail of this story that Roald Dahl would be proud of. After reading this story I was immediately reminded of the Tales of the unexpected, because this tale would have been quite at home as an episode there.

I have started Shiverton Hall and I am thoroughly enjoying it, many of the scenes take me back to Harry Potter (what is it about English boarding schools that are so interesting?)… but parts of it really are really quite scary…my ten year old daughter is reading it now, but I am not sure if letting her read it right before bed is a good idea! (she has just finished A Tale dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz and subsequently has developed an appetite for the horrific.)

RELATED POSTS:

Strange goings on at…Twelve minutes to midnight

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Twelve minutes to midnight by Christopher Edge, Published by Nosy Crow 2012.

From Booktrust.org.uk:

In 1899, thirteen year old orphan Penelope Tredwell is the author, editor and sole proprietor of London’s most popular magazine, The Penny Dreadful, concealing her true identity behind the pseudonym Montgomery Flinch. But when she receives a strange letter addressed to Flinch, Penelope finds herself drawn into a real-life adventure as thrilling as any she pens for the pages of her magazine. 

Every night at precisely twelve minutes to midnight, the inmates of Bedlam, London’s notorious madhouse, all begin feverishly writing – incoherent ramblings that Penelope quickly realises are in fact terrifying visions of the new century to come. But what is causing this strange phenomenon? Together with her trusted companion, printer’s apprentice Alfie, Penelope pits her sharp wits against this unearthly problem – and finds herself plunging into danger. 

Pacy and tightly-plotted, this is an exuberant and entertaining adventure story set in an appealingly foggy and sinister Victorian London. This adventure packed with exciting twists and turns will appeal to confident readers, and fans of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series.”

The Booktrust also listed Penny as one of their “inspirational heroines” in between Matilda (Roald Dahl) and Coraline (Neil Gaiman).

From the author (talking about one of his sources of inspiration):

“However, instead of a detective like Sherlock Holmes investigating the mystery, I wanted a different kind of hero or should I say heroine. Penelope Tredwell is the thirteen-year-old owner of The Penny Dreadful magazine whose sinister tales grip Victorian Britain, even though nobody knows that she’s the real author. Sniffing out a new story, Penny plunges into the heart of the mystery and proves herself to be just as courageous, quick-witted and resourceful as the famous resident of 221B Baker Street himself. In the course of her adventure, she even meets Sherlock Holmes’s creator – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who has a small part to play in helping her to solve the mystery.”

Read the full author blog entry from the UK Bookbuzz website here:

From the publisher (Nosy Crow):

“Montgomery Flinch gripped the sides of the reading lectern, his knuckles whitening as he stared out into the darkness of the auditorium. His bristling eyebrows arched and the gleam of his dark eyes seemed to dart across the faces of each audience member in turn. A mesmerised silence hung over the stage; it was as if the theatre itself was holding its breath as it waited for the conclusion to his latest spine-chilling tale. The expectant hush seemed to deepen as Flinch finally began to speak…”

And so the story begins…If you want to read more of the first chapter, you can download it from the Nosy Crow website:

What do I think about this book?:

I have been in the fortunate position of reading some really great fiction set in Victorian London lately. Firstly, Constable & Toop by the amazing Gareth P. Jones, Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz (see my previous blog discussion on each of these titles below), A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jenkins (the first in a new trilogy “City of orphans” and one I will discuss just prior to it’s publication) and now this splendid title. This is another book published by Nosy Crow, a relatively new UK children’s publisher. Every book or series that I have bought and read from their range has been a great hit with my students. This would appeal to age 10+ or year 6 -8 readers, both girls and boys, due to the strength of the main character.

Shiverton Hall – a “must read” for Skulduggery Pleasant fans!

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Shiverton Hall by Emerald Fennell, Bloomsbury Kids, 2013.

Due to be published in January 2013 by Bloomsbury (the same publisher who brought us Harry Potter!) This has been described as a great book for Skulduggery Pleasant fans, it sounds like it’s a very exciting read for 9-11+ year olds who like something really scary, but without too much blood and gore.

From the publisher:

They slowed as they reached the gate; two stone columns, each with its own crumbling angel perched on top. The angels held up a rusty, wrought-iron arch that read, in curling, serpentine letters: SHIVERTON HALL.

Arthur Bannister has been unexpectedly accepted into Shiverton Hall, which, as it turns out, is an incredibly spooky school, full of surprises. And it is just as well that Shiverton Hall has made its offer, because Arthur had a horrible time at his previous school, and was desperate to leave. Timely indeed . . .

But Arthur has no time to worry about the strange coincidence. He is too busy trying to make head or tail of Shiverton Hall, dogged as it is by tales of curses and bad fortune. At least there are a few friendly faces: George, who shows him around; also Penny and Jake. But not all the faces are friendly. There are the bullying Forge triplets for starters. And then there is the acid tongue of the headmistress, Professor Long-Pitt, who seems to go out of her way to make Arthur’s life a misery.

Luckily Arthur has his new friends to cheer him up. Although there are some friends that you don’t want to have at all, as Arthur is soon to find out.

Click here to read an extract of the first chapter.

Plus..as a bonus from the author and publisher:

The Quality Chophouse: A Shiverton Short Story

Click here to read an exclusive Shiverton short story from Emerald Fennell.  Be warned – you need a strong stomach to read this!

What do I think about this book?:

How could I resist something that will appeal to Skulduggery Pleasant fans? I have already ordered a copy and it should be on our new book display sometime in February (once I have read it first!)

It’s not the ghosts you need to worry about…

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Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Evans, Hot Key Books, 2012.

From Booktrust.org.uk:

“A Victorian funeral parlour might seem like an unlikely setting for a children’s book, but in fact it makes the perfect background for this spooky supernatural tale from Blue Peter Award winning author Gareth P Jones. 

Undertaker’s son Sam Toop is struggling to deal with his unusual ability to see ghosts. As a ‘Talker’ he is one of the few living people who can see and talk to spirits – and as a consequence, he finds them continually asking for his help to resolve their unfinished business. But something strange is happening in London, and soon Sam finds himself dealing with not only the ghosts’ usual problems, but a whole host of other strange happenings – the terrible Black Rot, which is infecting haunted buildings across the city, a demon hound roaming the streets, and a sinsiter preacher performing horrible exorcisms. Closer to home, he also has to deal with the return of his no-good uncle Jack, and the revelation of all sorts of long-hidden family secrets.  

Meanwhile, long-dead clerk Lapsewood is spending eternity trapped in the bureaucracy of the Ghost Bureau, working his way through an endless pile of paperwork. But when he discovers that haunted houses across London are mysteriously losing their ghosts, he makes up his mind to investigate – even if he has to defy the Bureau to do so.

With an appealingly gothic setting, this pacy and exciting mystery perfectly blends comedy with the dark, spooky and supernatural. There are plenty of funny and gruesome moments that will appeal to young readers; but this is also a well-researched, thoughtful and compassionate novel, that takes inspiration from the Victorian preoccupation with mourning and death. Jones skilfully manages a complex series of interlocking storylines and an engaging cast of characters in this witty, action-packed and hugely entertaining ghost story.”

I love this moody book trailer featuring the author:

What do I think about this book?:

One of the best books I read in 2012. I discovered Gareth P. Jones after a group of reluctant readers got hooked on one of his earlier titles – “the Considine curse”. On investigation I discovered that Mr Jones had a few other books under his belt including a cool series for younger kids “Ninja Meerkats” which I immediately ordered and have had 6/7/8 year old boys clamouring for ever since! But back to Constable & Toop…I absolutely loved this book and literally could not put it down until I had consumed it completely. This title was published in October 2012 by Hot Key Books  (a very new and exciting publisher from the UK…every time I read about their forthcoming titles I want to buy them ALL and read them, even the titles that are written for teenagers)…. Anyway this is a ghost story, but not a silly one, instead, a rather dark and chilly one, set in Victorian London and the thoroughly researched setting perfectly matches the tone of the book. It is really well written and doesn’t feel like a typical children’s book. This should appeal to Year 5/6+ readers (and adults of any age!). Teachers – this would make a great read aloud!

As Hot Key Books aren’t yet available in NZ (they will be in 2013 I believe) I bought this copy from the Book Depository. It is already in the category of “most wanted” in our library with a long line of waiting readers on the reservation list. It is well worth waiting for!

One of my favourite blogging friends – Zac Harding of “My best friends are books” was lucky enough to interview Gareth P. Jones on his blog here 🙂 check it out if you are interested in reading about where Gareth got his inspiration from and what his plans for future books might be.