Category Archives: Horror

The Dogs

Somehow there is nothing innocent about the title of Allan Stratton’s novel The Dogs. You just know they aren’t going to be cute, floppy-eared creatures, loved by everyone. And they’re not.

Allan Stratton, The Dogs

There’s a slow, menacing start to the story, and while it does pick up speed, it doesn’t become truly scary until closer to the end, when I defy anyone’s heart rate not to thump a lot faster.

13-year-old Cameron has to keep moving house when his mother suspects that his father is on their tracks yet again. He was abusive (although when Cameron thinks back, he makes excuses for his father, deciding that maybe he wasn’t all that bad) and fearing for their lives, Cameron’s mother keeps moving them to new places.

This time the new house is a decrepit farmhouse, somewhere that feels like the American Midwest, although it never says. You know the kind of place; flat farmland, weird neighbours, nearby town with the standard American services and some suspicious people. It was made for thrillers.

Cameron discovers there are dogs near the farm. He sees, or senses, the presence of a boy his own age. There is a mystery, somewhere, and he needs to work out what it is. The former owner was eaten by his dogs. No one else sees the boy and Cameron worries he’s going crazy. His mother wonders if he’s turning out just like his father.

So yeah, there are things to worry about. Who’ll be dog food next? Will the townspeople chase them out? Who is that boy, and what happened to him and his family, and did their landlord have anything to do with it?

Cat Magick

Di Toft’s Cat Magick is the perfect book for readers who like talking cats. And witches. (But then, who doesn’t?)

Pye is a cat prince, and he meets up with witch-to-be Suki under dramatic circumstances. Life in England post-Cromwell is not good for either cats or witches. They are blamed for causing the plague, and are caught and strung up at the nearest tree.

Di Toft, Cat Magick

Talking cats are obviously more suspect than most, but Pye is such a chatty boy that it’s hard for him to shut up. However, he is brave(-ish) and cares for Suki and he wants to help her, and also the country. Possibly. He needs a little urging to do the right thing, but he is  brave.

The hellcats are a problem and so is dark magic. The rat population is growing rapidly, until we have rats who have never seen a cat, and are not scared of them.

So the question is; how are Suki and Pye going to solve the problem of this hate campaign against them, and the little matter of them being caught by some nasty creatures?

Read Cat Magick and find out. It’s quite interesting to see how a small (cat-) tweak of real history brings home so much better what it was like back then.

Cartoons

I won’t even pretend to understand what’s going on in France, but it can’t be ignored.

Cartoons are something you tend to remember. Pictures stick in your mind longer than a novel might, and any accompanying words will stay with you longer as well. But generally you don’t need words.

There are old cartoons that I still ‘take out’ and think about every now and then. Like the (humorous) one of new Swedish prime minister Fälldin in 1976, greeting a surprised Fidel Castro. Or the one of the grounded Russian sub and its defecting sailors in the south Swedish archipelago in 1982.

And the heart-rending one by Steve Bell after Dunblane in 1996. It’s very hard to forget.

Below are a few I’ve seen on facebook this week, by Sarah McIntyre, Chris Riddell and Albert Uderzo.

Sarah McIntyre

Chris Riddell, Je suis Charlie

Albert Uderzo, Moi aussi je suis un Charlie

The Whispering Skull

Like meeting up with old friends. Jonathan Stroud’s second Lockwood & Co novel returns the reader to some favourite characters, and you just know you will have fun together. Again.

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co - The Whispering Skull

Lockwood and Lucy and George have a nicely functioning style of searching for ghosts and getting rid of them, making London and the world a safer place. A year has passed since Lucy joined the company (please tell me this doesn’t mean they will soon be too old to deal with ghosts?), and they are about to start work on a new and dangerous hunt for a mirror that kills.

The three keep running into their rivals from Fittes, and this new case sees our friends actually having to cooperate with them. But it’s not always those who seem to be your enemy that you ought to worry about the most. What about the – illegal – green skull in the jar they keep in the house? Friend or foe?

You have to admire Jonathan for creating this modern day, alternative London, which at the same time feels really Victorian. His core group of characters might follow the standard pattern of two boys and one girl, but Lucy as the narrator makes for a different kind of story. She’s also very talented. Perhaps not more so than the others, but their skills complement each other.

This is quality reading for young and old. Bring on those ghosts, but first hand me my rapier!

Ten years ago

Just over ten years ago I explained to Meg Rosoff that I am a witch. She seemed to think that was OK, and said she rather believed in what she called ‘minor witches,’ which I suppose is a fair description of my trade. I ‘knew’ she’d win the Guardian prize that autumn for How I Live Now. I just did.

I also knew she’d win the Whitbread. Or I did, until some odd instinct made me take out a copy of Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean from the library, to read over Christmas. Just in case. I’ve no idea whether what I sensed was Geraldine’s success in winning the Whitbread, or that the title suggested there really would be an end to the world for countless people.

It felt almost wrong to be reading about Noah’s Ark when all that water killed so many people in the tsunami on Boxing Day 2014.

Some of you may know I’m a Roger Whittaker fan. Earlier that year I’d felt an unexpected sense of unease when reading Mrs Whittaker’s annual newsletter to the fans. They would generally always have a family Christmas get-together. But in 2004 Roger had worked so very hard that they decided to spend Christmas away from the family, to relax. In Thailand.

I didn’t like it one bit, and wondered why. It’s not as if they had announced they wouldn’t be spending Christmas with me.

So when the news broke, I fished around in my mind for anyone I might know who was there, and realised that I did ‘know’ someone. Luckily the Whittakers were safe, and Roger went on to write a song about it, in aid of the victims.

But I do wonder how these premonitions work.

Endless Empress

Wonderfully weird, would be a good way to describe today’s Book Week Scotland read. Those of you who have already read my snippets about Kirkland Ciccone on here, will not be surprised to hear my opinion of this crazy author’s second novel. In fact, you will probably have suspected ‘the worst.’

Kirkland Ciccone, Endless Empress

Perhaps better suited to the YA readers Kirkland had in mind, than us oldies, it’s still fascinating and will potentially give us an insight into the warped minds of some teenagers.

Or are they warped? I don’t know. Maybe this was all a game, and perhaps there really wasn’t a crazy ‘Empress’ who enticed a gang of mid-teens to kill most of the students at their high school. You can’t be certain. Perhaps the Empress played with their minds, or is Kirkland playing with ours?

Beware of lunchboxes! And as I say that, I can’t get Kirkland’s Kurt Cobain lunchbox out of my head. I don’t want to know what’s in it. Or maybe I do. Just to make sure.

This is the slightly confusing story about a group of six teenagers who believe in the fictional state of Enkadar, and who hate the other children at school and want them dead. Or their Empress does. Set a few years after the bomb at their school went off, the tale weaves back and forth between then and now. It’s occasionally hard to know where you are, and when, but I guess that’s the point. Keep everyone on their toes.

I noticed that looking back to the first pages, you find lots of hints of what is to come. It’s quite obvious, in fact. And chilling.

There could be many teenagers who will identify with the feelings of the Empress. I just hope they won’t do what the characters did. And do.

And don’t eat the sandwiches!

BZRK Apocalypse

When you approach Michael Grant’s third BZRK novel, Apocalypse, it’s worth remembering what happened at the start of the first one. People died. They seemed nice, but they still died before you really got to know them. To think that the third book is likely to be sweeter and less violent than the first is plain ridiculous.

It won’t be. Can’t be. But how many deaths is Michael prepared to ’cause?’

Quite a few. You know what Apocalypse means, don’t you? That.

Michael Grant, BZRK Apocalypse

At the beginning there were the evil Armstrong Twins, and the slightly better BZRK, fighting them. The twins might be weakening, but not so BZRK. Although, that’s not as good a thing as you’d want it to be.

‘Excuse me. I believe I’m about to go mad. You may want to move away.’ That’s about as polite and collected as it gets, in this book where very many people go mad. It’s not a pretty sight, and it will not end well. Michael has a go at many people we ‘know’ and it would be wrong if he let characters miraculously survive, because they were on the same side as us.

After the first book I could see that someone like Bug Man would change and do things differently. Well, it wasn’t this kind of different I had in mind!

We learn who the main players behind our diminishing group of fighters are; the ones we’ve come to rely on, who will lead wisely, and make sure the world is all right. Hah!

This might be based on games, but there is still a strong feeling that it wouldn’t take much to make this reality. And while I believe that, I’m not so sure that the knowledge and bravery displayed by the ‘good guys’ is terribly likely to be there to help us.

A thrill all the way to the end.