Category Archives: Reviews

You're Invited to a… Creepover: Truth or Dare by P.J. Night

During a round of Truth or Dare, Abby Miller confesses her crush on Jake Chilson. The only people who know her secret are her friends at the sleepover – and whoever sent her a text message in the middle of the night warning her to stay away from Jake…or else!

But Abby isn’t going to stay away from Jake, especially not after he asks her to the school dance.

As the night of the dance comes closer, some very creepy things start happening to Abby. Someone definitely wants to keep her away from Jake. Is it a jealous classmate or, as Abby begins to suspect, could it be a ghost?

Truth or Dare is the first novel in the Creepover series by P.J. Night, aimed at the tween or Middle Grade (MG) segment of the reading population. Truth or Dare is 160 pages in length, but don’t let the slenderness of the volume fool you, for it contains a wealth of jumps and creepy occurrences that kept me guessing until the end.

Truth or Dare twists like a serpent, from the genuinely spooky prologue to the final confrontation in a cemetery and a promise of more chills in the epilogue.

It put me in mind of some of the spooky films I watched as a child/early teen – creepy without being outright scary or terrifying but no less satisfying.

It is possible that the Creepover series is being written with an eye to a television series as I think it would work in a visual medium, in terms of spookiness is more John Carpenter than Wes Craven with flashes of spookiness rather than full on horror.

Based on this book, I can see the series being extremely popular. Spooky enough to keep younger readers enaged but without being scary enough to upset parents or more sensitive readers.

I already have a plan to use Truth or Dare as my spooky read for Hallowe’en in my library. I will read two chapters a day during lunch break or after school for the year 7 & 8 reading groups with added special effects starting with the prologue & chapter one on Monday 22nd October I will finish with chapter 14 & the epilogue on All Hallows Eve.

Toxic Treacle by Echo Freer

This is a world of the future, a world of oppression, a world run on the strict rules of the toxic T.R.E.A.C.L.E. regime – Training and Resources for Educating Adolescent Children in a Loving Environment.

In writing Toxic Treacle Echo Freer has taken some of the most prevalent problems facing youth in the UK today and placing it in a future not too far removed from our time.

Single-parent families, state intervention in the raising of children and bloody youth violence on the streets. Toxic Treacle is a very British take on the Dystopian genre with lashings of biting satire.

Using teminology that could only have been dreamt up by a committee of spin doctors we have pre-breeders and pre-nurturers (teens), Nurturers (mothers) known as movs in this strange new world, Breeders and Providers the fathers whose only purpose is to provide genetic material for up to three children before going on to lives of work and play.

Monkey is 15 and only weeks away from becoming a Breeder, he cannot wait to move on from his gang-related lifestyle to live the life of his dreams, breeding with Angel and then moving on to becoming a pro-footballer. Lofty goals that many young men of today would wish to emulate. Monkey is a typical teen, desiring male companionship and confused about his feelings for Anel and fears that she will not reciprocate.

When his friend Trevor ‘Tragic’ disappears after a gang fight, Monkey starts to see beyond what the rulers of this new Britain want him to see and starts to understand that there is more to life than his selfish dreams and desires will offer him.

Toxic Treacle is brilliant! Offering believable male and female protagonists and a shift away from plucky freedom fighters rebelling against a monolithic totalitarian state (although there is some of that too). This is a novel about choices, the meaning of love, family and society and change, a change that comes not from a sacrificial figurehead but from ordinary people standing up and demanding change with the ballot not the bullet.

This is also a rare teenage love story told from the boys perspective.

Blade: Enemies by Tim Bowler

Meet Blade. But be careful. You may not like what you see. He’s dangerous. He needs to be. Because there people who want him dead.

It’s dog eat dog in his world. Win or die. He thought he was safe. But now they’ve found out where is. And they’re coming.

I will just state for the record that I am a massive Tim Bowler fan. I love what he does with ordinary words – he puts them together in such a way that they weave a compelling narrative that sucks you in keeps you gripped to the very end.

I am by nature a law-abiding citizen, I have respect for the organs of state and that includes the police force. Yet by the close of the first chapter of Enemies, I had developed such a hatred of the policeman that was grilling a young Blade in the lock up that I was hoping he would get shanked. In five pages Mr Bowler made me identify with a seven year-old and turned me into a police-hating Blade fan.

The rest of the book was even better! Terse, exciting prose with a protagonist that broke the fourth wall and addresses the reader throughout the novel, cluing us in to what he is doing and why. It is quite possible that blade is an unreliable narrator, he openly admits to being a liar and gives us the choice to follow him or wig out and let him go his own way.

We have all seen or know teenagers like Blade, hard, solitary beings who want or need no-one, at least on the surface. Enemies lets us in to Blade’s thoughts and shows us his distrust and loneliness. Enemies is a brilliant set-up to a series, Blade has many powerful enemies but we do not know who they are or why they are following him, we do not even know who he really is or what he has done.

Enemies is noir for teenagers, Blade is no Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe but he has his own moral code and although his instincts warn against it he cannot turn away a damsel in distress even though the forces arrayed against him are cast and powerful.

Enemies is the beginning of an epic quest set against the dirty streets of a modern world, where a boy must stand alone to stay free and battle against his darker instincts that threaten to drag him down!

Enemies was previously published in two parts as Blade: Playing Dead and Blade: Closing In.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

When Mara Dyer wakes up in hospital with no memory of how she got there, or any explanation as to why the bizarre accident that caused the death of her boyfriend and two best friends left her mysteriously unharmed, her doctors suggest she start over in anew city, at a new school, and just hope her memories gradually come back.

But Mara’s new start is anything but comforting. She sees the faces of her dead friends everywhere and now she’s started to see other people’s deaths before they happen. Is she going crazy? As if dealing with this isn’t enough, Noah Shaw, the most beautiful boy she’s ever seen, can’t seem to leave her alone. But does he have her best interest at heart, or another agenda altogether.

When I was a child (many years ago now) one year my family and I went on holiday to a camp site on the bank of a river. I was swimming one afternoon when a slow current caught me, I was a fair distance down river when I finally noticed what was happening I was unable to swim strongly enough against the current and was helpless in its grip. Reading The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer was like that, I was reading lazily and all of a sudden I was gripped and unable to put it down, and unlike my episode in the river, there was no-one that plunged in to drag me back to the bank.

I must admit that I judged this book by its cover! When I saw it at the Simon and Schuster offices I thought oooh pretty! and was fortunate enough to wheedle a copy, the cover of Mara Dyer is one that I would have liked to have had as a poster when I was a teenager. Usually with most of the books I have read, the cover image has had something to do with the story but the only connection is the ethereal, otherworldly style that suffuses the story.

I can honestly say that I was very confused throughout the entire novel, trying to figure out if it was a paranormal tale or not. Even at the end when things are supposed to become clearer as to what was going on it left me guessing!

I will say that my confusion and inability to work out if what was happening was real or in her head in no way impacted on my enjoyment.

I do know for a fact that I will be picking up volume two so I can find out what happens next!

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is a beautiful novel that reads like a dream!

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R.J. Palacio made me cry!*

That is all I need to say really, in Wonder I have found a story that made me laugh, it made me cry and it made me feel more for any fictional characters than I have for years.

Auggie’s story is told from his perspective and also the perspectives of those around him – his sister, his friends, his sister’s boyfriend and others. This works extremely well, as we obtain a bigger picture than we would if the story was told from Auggie’s perspective alone.

Wonder is a story about individuals, about families, friendship but mostly (I think) it is a book about seeing and understanding.

There have been many books written about vampires, werewolves, the undead and future worlds with characters fighting to survive, but none of these stories can compare to the horror of being a child and being different amongst other children.

I cannot write a long review, I mean I could but I won’t, I love the story, I love the characters and their development over the course of fifth grade and 313 pages. It would have been so easy to make this story grim and miserable, instead R.J. Palacio has woven a tale shot through with humour, bravery, loss and acceptance (also Star Wars, lots and lots of Star Wars!)

I urge everyone that reads this to believe me when I say that you should read this book – buy it, borrow it from your local library – if your library does not have it order it so they do and once you have read it make sure that other people you know read it too!

Wonder is now my favourite book of 2012!

* Pages 204 & 221

Oliver Twisted by J.D. Sharpe (and Charles Dickens)

“Flesh,” the woe-begotten moaned at Oliver, baring teeth which were ragged and black. “Flesh” came another moan, and he turned to see two more behind. They began to shuffle towards him, barefoot. The world according to Oliver Twisted is simple. Vampyres feed on the defenceless, orphans are sacrificed to hungry gods and if a woe-begotten catches your scent it will hunt you forever. On the advice of a corpse, Oliver flees his ghastly orphan life to seek his destiny in the dark streets of old London Town, despite the perils of the woe-begotten zombie-infested journey. There he meets the shadowy Dodger, the evil old soul-stealer Fagin, and the menacing Bill Sikes, who is more beast than man. But will Oliver Twisted be the world’s salvation, or its downfall?!

I am a fan of the original Oliver Twist but it has been replaced in my affections by Oliver Twisted. If I am brutally honest the whole literary classic/horror mash-up genre was getting a little tired for me, I had enjoyed some of them but on the whole I thought it had pretty much run its course. Then I was sent a copy of Oliver Twisted, I was planning on purchasing myself a copy, but when Egmont contacted me offering a review copy I said a big YES PLEASE! (I have no shame) When it arrived I was immediately impressed by the cover and the tag line – Please Sir I want some GORE! I am (as those that know me are aware) a fan of puns, the more groan-worthy the better. Then I started reading.

Oliver Twisted is no mere mash-up! This is the Buffy-verse version of Oliver Twist! Hell has vomited up its damned souls; they now roam the earth as the woebegone – which is the best euphemism for zombies that I have ever come across.
But that is not all, there are demons, witches, were-beasts and young Oliver, born in the poorhouse under a prophecy that proclaims him as the saviour of mankind… or the tool of its eventual destruction!

Stir in a satanic conspiracy bent on the overthrow of mankind, a devious soul-eater that runs a gang of young thieves, a vicious werewolf and young Oliver who is abandoned, betrayed and alone, an innocent soul that although unwilling to do wrong is often consumed by a rage that threatens to consume him.

All is not dark and evil in this world, there are the Knights of Nostradamus, a secret organisation pledged to overturn the world order and return mankind to the light, but they are few and beset on all sides…

You do not need to have read Oliver Twist to enjoy this book but it will heighten your enjoyment to see how subtly the originals have been turned with the addition of a world overrun by supernatural phenomena.

Night School by C.J. Daugherty

Allie’s world is falling apart. She hates her school. Her brother has disappeared. She’s just been arrested. Again. And now her parents are sending her away.

I am SO glad that C.J. Daugherty changed the name of my school in her novel Night School as the secret chiefs of the world would not have been pleased to have the location where their children are educated out there for all to know.

She was a little too close to accuracy in her descriptions of the school for comfort though – the forest, the chapel, the library carrels and the dormitories were spot on. None of the staff made it in though…

Night School is a teen global conspiracy theory novel that makes Dan Brown look like a hack (well he is).

Allie is a girl with problems – kicked out of her last school for rampant acts of vandalism and frozen out of what remains of her family she is sent to posh private school Farringto um I mean Cimmeria Academy where the only things richer than the students are their parents.

Night School is that rare beast – a novel about attractive, powerful people that does not involve the supernatural! The rich girls are bitchy in a non-werewolf way and the rich boys act like over-entitled dicks because they are wealthy, over entitled and never have anyone say no to them not because they have some vampiric power.

Awesome stuff!

There are also mysterious happenings, dark warnings about not disturbing the students of the Night School and an air of secrecy and mistrust directed against Allie as she does not (according to some of the students) fit in, her face is wrong, her pedigree is unknown and someone like her is not just let in to an exclusive establishment because she is a problem child.

None of the characters are caricatures and there is no black or white morality; none of the characters are completely obnoxious or amoral and there is some character development as well as love rivalries, crazy behaviour, amazing night sports and some excellent villainous scenery chewing.

Night School is a brilliant start to a new series and I am looking forward to the next book in the series!

Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Neva keeps a list of the missing – people like her grandmother who have vanished. The people that everyone else pretends never existed.

In a world isolated by the Protectosphere – a dome which protects, but also imprisons – Neva and her friends dream of freedom.

But a forbidden party leads to complications. Suddenly Neva’s falling for her best friend’s boyfriend, uncovering secrets and lies that threaten to destroy her world – and learning the horrifying truth about what happens to The Missing…

In writing Dark Parties, Sara grant has combined elements of The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and some of the grimmest practices torn from today’s newspapers, Dark Parties is one of the darkest books I have read recently.

When he created Star Trek back in the 1960’s Gene Roddenberry used science fiction to hold a mirror up to the issues of the ‘60’s and Sara does something similar with Dark Parties.

Dark Parties is a subtly feminist novel with Neva our protagonist not a hard-core freedom fighter, but more realistically a young girl on the cusp of becoming a woman in a society where women have been reduced to almost second-class citizens fulfilling menial tasks as well as being housewives and child carriers to bolster a shrinking population.

Forget a bright future, the citizens of this society subsist on hand me downs and trading necessities with friends and neighbours, the technology where it exists has been repurposed to create a stasi-like spy network, with cameras on every corner and a population that does not know who to trust.

Brought up to believe that the world beyond the Protectosphere has been so utterly blighted and destroyed by war that their pocket of existence is all that remains, Neva and her friends know that something is wrong but they have no idea what, they just know that things must change, but they do not know how.
I found dark Parties to be a disturbing read, completely plausible and in that lay the seeds of my disquiet. I tend to moments of quiet paranoia and with the current fetishization of CCTV monitoring and tendencies to tighten up on laws especially those governing reproductive freedom I can see how such a society can develop… but I tell myself that it is paranoia and it will not happen (but that does not sound too convincing – even to me!)

Dark Parties has love, loss, betrayal, the now almost obligatory love triangle (between Neva, her best friend and best friend’s boyfriend), scenes of bleak horror that are all too real as well as redemption, reconciliation and release.

Dark Parties is thought-provoking and at times uncomfortable but is utterly compelling and eminently readable! It is dystopian science fiction at its best!

Crossing Over by Anna Kendall

The land of the dead is a dangerous place to be…
…and so is the land of the living.

So this is one of the books I greedily grabbed (heh that rhymes) at the Orion Indigo Evening It was originally published last year through Gollancz but is being re-released as a YA novel via the Indigo imprint.

The story is narrated in the first person by Roger who has the somewhat dubious talent of being able to cross over into the Land of the Dead, but only by causing himself pain. This talent is exploited by his utter bastard of an uncle who finds the easiest way to send him over is by administering severe beatings.

So when Roger has the chance of a new life in the royal court, it seems a gift… until he falls in love with the bewitching wilful Lady Cecilia. And in this courtly world he has no idea what he is letting himself in for. With every move to win Cecilia he is drawn deeper into political intrigue and war.

Trapped ina web of secrecy, Roger is torn between his own safety and that of his friends. He can save them, but only if he can bring himself to perform a deed so unthinkable that the living and the dead shrink from it alike…

Crossing Over is an entertaining, if slightly flawed novel the concepts are brilliant but the execution was clumsy in parts. Admittedly as a teenage boy Roger would be overly concerned about his erections – but they kept popping up (slight pun intended) and ruining the flow of the story. A number of things were not explained and sometimes things just happened for the sake of the plot – Roger falling in lust love with Cecilia and following her into the forbidding land of Soulvine Moor – ok this was actually believable especially when teens and rampant hormones are involved, but Maggie mooning after Roger and following him after only meeting him a few times? I don’t know…

On the whole there were more hits than misses with Crossing Over.

I am hoping that the sequel Dark Mist Rising will elaborate on some of the concepts that were introduced in this book.

Go on pick it up – it is a good read!

I will pass it on to some of the teen fantasy fans I know to see what they think.

National Non-Fiction Day

National Non-Fiction Day is an annual celebration, initiated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups in partnership with Scholastic Children’s Books. It aims to celebrate all that is brilliant about non-fiction and show that it’s not just fiction that can be read and enjoyed for pleasure.
The first National Non-Fiction Day was celebrated on the 4th November 2010, and annually thereafter on the first Thursday in November.
This website aims to give you as much information as possible about National Non-Fiction Day, as well as information about non-fiction titles, authors and available resources, to be used in the classroom or at home.



According to the introduction 23 is the smallest prime number with consecutive digits; a human cell has 23 pairs of chromosomes; julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times when he was assassinated; William Shakespeare was born and died on 23 April; John Forbes Nash, the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician and the subject of the film A Beautiful Mind, was obsessed with the number 23; Michael Jordan wore the number 23 throughout his career and David Beckham first started wearing the number 23 when he played for Real Madrid; Psalm 23, the ‘Shepherd Psalm’ is the best-known of all the psalms; there are 23 letters in the Latin alphabet (there is no J, U or W) and this is the 23rd edition of Top 10 of Everything.

All lists are all-time and global unless a specific year or territory is noted.

Unless you are an obsessive cover-to-cover reader this book is perfect for dipping into for interests sake or using for checking specific facts. It is broken up into 10 sections. Being a (possibly stereotypical) Librarian I turned to the Libraries & Loans pages in the culture and Learning Section and – hey it focuses on UK Libraries on the first page and also includes a handy definition of what makes a classic. The 10 latest Carnegie & Kate Greenaway medal winners are also mentioned under Book Awards.

This is excellent for quick reference AND calming down a group of over-excited teens (and even adults), it is amazing for exciting even the most jaded anti-book teen just by flashing the crocodile teeth on the cover their air of seen it and couldn’t care disappears and they start reading. the snippets of additional information scattered throughout the books has increased the use of a number of other non-fiction reference books in the library.


Being armed with lots of knowledge is your first – and often best – line of defence, whether you’re dealing with a charging bull, an angry mob, a trembling earthquake, or anything else that might shake you to your core.
From the Introduction: The captain’s soothing voice announces over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached our cruising altitude.” Time to sit back, relax, and watch the in-flight movie. but it smells like something’s burning. You look out the window…uh-oh, your plane’s engine is on fire! – this has actually happened to me
I needed The Worst-case Scenario Survive-O-Pedia when I was 11, and not just for the many interesting articles on surviving the worst the world has to throw at you. The information on page 51 would have saved me from near electrocution and blowing all the fuses in my family home.

Deep under the years that have built up around me like a coral reef I am at heart a teenager. I love fact books and books that you can dip into and learn often gory and gruesome facts, the survival tips are also good – I have already made copious notes on surviving shark attacks as I am going back to cape town over Christmas and there have been several incidents involving sharks at my local beach. The teens of today are not so different from the teen that I was, those that love reading are in my library every day and the kids that are not so fond of books are tempted in by books such as this one!

The information is concise, the pictures colourful and the book is written in such a way as to impart information as quickly and interestingly as possible. I keep this book behind my desk as the original that I won on twitter disappeared two days after making its way onto the shelves.

These are both really fantastic books and have proven to be popular with boys & girls in my school, I have had to adjudicate in several face-offs when different groups have wanted them at the same time!