Hello everybody! Today, since it’s Halloween, I’m sharing my latest batch of reviews with you, which all have some sort of connection to Halloween, whether they’re actually spooky or just have some sort of word in title association. Onto the post!
Uki and the Ghostburrow by Kieran Larwood and illustrated by David Wyatt
My friend Rachael and I had a long running joke for about 2 years that it took me FOREVER to pick up Podkin One-Ear, which is true, but I’ve loved catching up on the series over the course of 2021 and Uki and the Ghost Burrow was my first one that I got to really anticipate the release of, which was very exciting. This one follows Uki and his friends as they attempt to capture the spirit of Mortix, queen of death, and complete the quest Iffrit entrusted Uki with. And in the present day timeline following Rue and the Bard, Rue is in mortal danger following the ending of book 2 in the trilogy, and as such needs urgent medical help from a tribe who are renowned for killing rabbits and cutting off their ears. I feel like I always say this, but I am such a sucker for dual timelines. I think they’re such a clever narrative device and this series is one of the best examples I’ve seen of it. Both storylines are absolutely compelling and I love the way they sort of feed into one another. I also love the characters a ridiculous amount; Uki is just an absolute darling and I love him, Jori and Kree make wonderful companions (I might even love Jori more than Paz, which is to say I ADORE her), Coal is such an interesting character and the reveal at the end about him left me absolutely shook, the Bard’s love for Rue melted my heart, and Rue himself is just the sweetest sweetheart so I could not cope when he was in danger, like at all, and of course the spirit of death is every bit as scary as you would imagine. There was something towards the end of this that made me cry, but also some really heartwarming moments and great twists and the cruellest cliffhanger that I’ve ever read. I need there to be another series about the Five Realms!!
Malice in Underland by Jenni Jennings and illustrated by Hannah Peck
This has been on my TBR for ages, and after narrowly missing it on my October TBR last year, I decided to wait for this year so I could enjoy it in its full autumnal glory. It’s about Malice Malign, who sticks out like a sore thumb in her family of mischief makers as someone who wants to do good and help people, and what happens when her beloved grandad and lots of other granddads suddenly go missing. When her Uncle Vex, a private investigator, recruits her to help solve the case, she heads down into Underland to try and work out where the grandads have gone and how to get them back. Malice is such a plucky, kind heroine and I love fish out of water underdogs you can’t help but root for her. The plot zipped along at a great pace and Underland was such a fun, quirky setting with lots of wonderfully spooky residents, my favourites being the Witches and Belladonna. Malice’s family, who live Topside causing chaos, were also brilliantly depicted and I feel like I also need to emphasise how amazing the illustration and design of this book is. I also loved the little nods to Alice in Wonderland, which I assume inspired the title, throughout! Overall, a great first book in the series that is perfectly pitched for the age group yet very enjoyable for older readers of MG too.
A Trick of Time by Jenni Jennings and illustrated by Hannah Peck (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed two books from the same series in one post before, unless I’ve just forgotten something, but I guess there’s a first time for everything and these books were such fun spooky season treats, I couldn’t resist gobbling them up one after the other! It follows Malice, uncle Vex and her Topside best friend Seth as they pursue Maniacal Malign, the family’s most notorious member, and attempt to prevent him from disrupting the whole world with his time stopping pocket watch, after he is accidentally released from the case of amber he was sealed in many years ago. Like book one, this was tremendously enjoyable, with just enough spookiness to make it a brilliant read for around Halloween, as well as an super fun world in Underland, which it was great to learn more about. My favourite supporting characters this time round were Lillian and the formidable owner of the tailoring shop, but I also love Malice’s kindness and cleverness, how much of a wuss Uncle Vex is, and Seth’s hilarious reactions to the supernatural chaos he’s been plunged into. Learning more about Belladonna and her backstory was brilliant as well. This was just a fab little read for October, and I really hope there’s a third book out in time for Halloween 2022!
The Stitchers by Lorien Lawrence
This popped onto my Instagram feed one day a few months ago, and I wanted to read it straight away because I’m getting quite into MG horror ( it has all the best bits of the genre but is not so scary it affects my sleep!). It’s the story of Quinn Parker and her friend Mike, who start an investigation about their neighbours, nicknamed the Oldies, who all look very old yet have very healthy bodies, and who act very suspiciously in general. I loved the friendship between Quinn and Mike, their fake relationship was a lot of fun, and they both brought great individual strengths to the mission. I particularly loved Quinn as she is navigating the grief of her dad’s death the previous year and my heart honestly just broke for her at so many points. Her grandma Jane was just an absolute queen, and the Oldies made such sinister villains. The spooky vibes were absolutely on point and I loved the explanation behind what the Oldies were doing, and the whole of the rather scary finale sequence. This is absolutely perfect for fans of the Crater Lake series, and I’m so intrigued to pick up the sequel after that fairly chilling epilogue.
Following Frankenstein by Catherine Bruton
I picked this up for this post rather than trying to squeeze it into some other things I have planned, as it doesn’t fit neatly into one genre, ewpecially as it interrogates one of the most annoying parts of Halloween for me: the fact that anything “other” is automatically deemed scary and fair game to caricaturise in costumes, which often means that disability and disfigurement pop up all over the place and are described as “monstrous”. Now, I’ll step down from my soapbox, and actually tell you about this book. It follows a girl named Maggie Walton, whose father is obsessed with tracking down the creature of Frankenstein, to the detriment of everything else in their lives, and over the course of the book we see them journey from the Artic Tundra to a circus in New York and beyond. The unusual thing in this is that Frankenstein’s creature has in fact had a son, and this is more his story than his father’s; and he truly is a wonderful character. I loved Maggie and her little pet mouse Victor, I loved the fact that Kata is so compassionate and the furthest thing from a monster, not t mention their gorgeous relationship. I loved the wide variety of “misfits” they meet at the circus, who are treated despicably yet still show such kindness to others, and the many other people they meet who help them on their journey too. I ended up crying at one or two points because I was so invested! The references to classic literature were also really fun, especially as I could pick them up without having read most of the original texts. Catherine Bruton is so talented, and I’m already dying for her next book, which will no doubt be sublime regardless of its genre or storyline.
The Shadows of Rookhaven by Pàdraig Kenny and illustrated by Edward Bettison (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I couldn’t do the Monsters of Rookhaven justice, and I won’t be able to do this justice either. It’s a sequel to one of my favourite reads of 2020, and as such, I had extremely expectations. This didn’t disappoint. It follows the Family (a group of Monsters) at the time of the Great Configuration, a rare event that only takes place every 100 years, but this time someone has invaded the sanctuary of Rookhaven and has orders to do something terrible that could change things forever. Mirabelle, our main character, is phenomenal; she is so outspoken and sassy, which makes me laugh a lot when she interacts with people, but she is also incredibly kind and clever and flawed that she feels like a real person to me. Billy was a fascinating new addition in this installment, Aunt Mavis was horrible but also deeply entertaining, and I loved the rest of the Rookhaven crew once again, especially Odd and Gideon and my beloved Piglet. The multiple narrator device is once again used to fantastic effect, and I honestly couldn’t pick a favourite character from them because they are all so dear to me. There are some fabulous twists in here, it was great learning more about this world and what it means to be Misbegotten like Mirabelle and it also navigates grief really beautifully. I was just utterly obsessed with it the whole time I was reading; I cannot begin to describe how much I love these books. From start to finish, this is just a gorgeous, Gothic masterpiece. I can’t wait to read Pàdraig’s next book, whatever it may be.
The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes
This is the sequel to last year’s the Haunting of Aveline Jones, and I think I may have liked this one even more than it’s brilliant predecessor. It sees Aveline and her mum go and stay in a mysterious village, with a stone circle nicknamed the Witch Stones by the locals located right beside their cottage. It is there that Aveline meets the highly unusual Hazel, who doesn’t seem quite part of the Mortal world and who has seemingly put some sort of spell over her new friend. I like how clever and resourceful Aveline always is, it was great to see her sarcastic but secretly a softie best friend Harold again when he came to visit, and Hazel was a very intriguing character indeed. I did guess who she was going to turn out to be, but even so this is very spooky and it added a real sense of foreboding to my reading experience that made it very difficult indeed to put this down. It was also interesting to learn more about stone circles, and Wicca magic, and I always love reading things involving the witch trials because I think they’re abhorrent but also fascinating. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next installment, which I assume will be released in time for next Halloween, already!!
The Ash House by Angharad Walker
This is honestly one of strangest books I’ve ever read, with its ingenious mix of fabulism and horror, and while I’m still not sure I’m clever enough to fully appreciate it, it is so original and unique that it has confirmed Angharad Walker as an author to definitely keep an eye out for in the future. It is unbelievably difficult to describe this plot or my opinions about the book without giving everything away, as this is undoubtedly a book it’s best to go into without much information. A very condensed version is that it follows a boy who arrives at the strange, secretive Ash House to get help for his chronic pain that no doctor has been able to cure, and when he arrives, the Headmaster has been gone for 3 years and the children there are still following his rules about Niceness in the hope he will come back. The boy is given the name Solitude (Sol for short) and Dom (short for Freedom) does his best to help him settle into this new, extremely strange environment. There are many other Niceness names and characters who we meet too, my favourite of whom was Con, who is an incredibly complex boy and his characterisation was just so compelling. The Doctor was utterly chilling as a villain, and there are some moments and twists in this I just didn’t see coming at all, most likely because I am a naive little flower who doesn’t read much horror! My skin was literally CRAWLING a few times, but I think that only added to the incredible atmosphere of the book and how gripping it is. Like I said at the beginning, the ending is definitely very ambiguous and it’s one that I’m going to be thinking about for a long time, to the point I’d love a sequel to get more details about the ending and what will happen to the characters moving forward.
How Not to be a Vampire Slayer by Katy Birchall (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I’m a big fan of lots of Katy Birchall’s books but I’ve somehow never read one of her MG books before, so it was lovely to finally pick one up and really enjoy it too. It’s about a girl named Maggie Helsby, who moves with her family to a new town, where entry to the Skeleton Woods is forbidden and people constantly spread rumours about supernatural stories in the past and present. Maggie is obsessed with all things horror and so despite her initial reluctance to be in a new place, she soon starts investigating the spooky history of the town, and amidst making new human friends at school, she soon meets a vegetarian vampire named Sharptooth who lives in a vampire school in the woods, and is caught up in trying to convince the mayor of the town that the vampires deserve to remain there despite his protests. Maggie is a great character with a kind heart and a real passion for horror related things, who feels like she doesn’t really fit in at first, and I also really liked the friendship trio she forms with Ari and Miles, which proves to her that her people were always out there and she just had to find them. Sharptooth was another absolutely joyous character who made me giggle an awful lot, and I really liked the book’s sense of humour in general, possibly as it reminded for some reason of the Halloweentown films! Overall, this was brilliant fun and has just reinforced for me what a great author Katy is.
Ghostcloud by Michael Mann
Last but certainly not least for my 2021 Halloween review post is this debut about a futuristic version of London, in which humans co-exist with the Smog by wearing gas masks, Big Ben beeps and the world has been forever changed by a war. In this new Britain, kidnapping is so common that no one really bats an eye when someone disappears, and we follow a boy named Luke, who is forced to work underground digging coal with many other abductees by a woman named Tabatha. That is, until, he realises that he can see ghosts, and he isn’t fully human, and it’s about him navigating this new identity while trying to win back his freedom. Luke is such a lovely character and he just made my heart melt with how often and how much he tried to help the newer or less able children, such as Jess, to fit in and stay safe, and also his determination to get back to his family. Tabatha is a wonderful villain in the vanity-obsessed tradition of Lucretia Cutter and Cruella de Vil, and I absolutely loved to loathe her, as I think many other people have said in their reviews. Based on the ending, I’m assuming this won’t be the last adventure in this world, and I’m definitely planning to pick up the next one if that’s the case!
Thank you so much for reading! What are some of your favourite Halloween books? Have you read any of the ones I’ve included in this post? I’d love to hear in the comments!