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Reviews from 7—11 years

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By Tom Becker Author

Tom Becker, author of the Darkside series, reviews a selection of spooky books— not for the faint hearted…

Black Book of Secrets

The Black Book of Secrets by F E Higgins (Macmillan, £5.99 HB)

On the run from a brutal tooth surgeon, urchin, Ludlow Fitch, seeks shelter in the small village of Pagus Parvus. Here, he encounters Joe Zabbidou – a mysterious pawnbroker who invites the inhabitants of Pagus Parvus to trade their secrets for money. To Ludlow’s amazement, one by one people come forth to unburden themselves – shameful midnight confessions of theft, murder and bodysnatching, all recorded in ‘The Black Book of Secrets’. However, the ease of mind Joe grants his clients invites a confrontation with Jeremiah Ratchet, the vicious landowner whose malign influence has Pagus Parvus on its knees… This is an enthralling book, cleverly constructed around a thoughtful and original premise. Despite a foundation of historical detail, Joe’s impassive character gives The Black Book of Secrets an other worldly, almost dreamlike, feel.

Something Wickedly Weird

Something Wickedly Weird: The Wooden Mile by Chris Mould (Hodder, £6.99 HB)

When Stanley Buggles hears of the death of his great-uncle, he is surprised to learn that he has been bequeathed Candlestick Hall, on the small island of Crampton Rock. Yet, no sooner does Stanley make the treacherous journey across the ‘Wooden Mile’, than he realises that all is not well in the little fishing village. All the dogs seem to have three legs, the owner of the sweetshop is strange to say the least, and a mean group of pirates are taking an unhealthy interest in Stanley. And why is everyone afraid to go out at night? A dark sea-shanty of a read, The Wooden Mile is filled with fantastic illustrations.

Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship by Dietlof Reiche (Chicken House, £5.99 PB)

A quiet seaside town is rocked when the bay mysteriously runs dry, revealing a shipwreck on the mud flats. It is the Storm Goddess, a ship that sank during an 18th century storm. Local girl, Vicki, knows all about the Goddess – for years she has been intrigued by its figurehead, which hangs in her Dad’s restaurant. Now, with the help of her new friend Peter, she resolves to uncover the truth of the ship’s final, ill-fated journey. Ghost Ship is a page-turning mystery in the classic tradition, which hoards its secrets until the very last page.

Midnight Beast

The Midnight Beast by Matt Hart (Corgi, £5.99 PB)

A monster is stalking the streets of Wolveston, attacking the unfortunate denizens of ‘The Scarp’. With the police seemingly uninterested, criminal queenpin, Sqaulida MacHeath, engages the conjurer, Callisto, to track the killer down. Helped by his assistants, Crispin and Aril, and a belligerent river girl called Dessica, Callisto will have to unravel a conspiracy involving the League of the Golden Unicorn, a secret society who will stop at nothing to achieve their ghastly aims. With sly gallows humour (and a sideline of Welsh in-jokes), this is fast-paced fantasy adventure populated with a menagerie of monsters and one devilishly charming demon.

Robe of Skulls

The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French (Walker, £4.99 PB)

Foul sorceress, Lady Lamorna, has a problem – she has her sights set on a glamorous new robe of skulls, but doesn’t have the money to pay for it. With the questionable assistance of her manservant, Gubble, she hatches a kidnapping scheme that capitalises on her ability to turn princes into frogs. However, Lady Lamorna hasn’t reckoned on the intervention of Trueheart Gracie Gillypot, a bored young prince called Marcus, and a hyperactive bat called Marlon. A story that plays with the conventions of traditional fairy tales, The Robe of Skulls is as pleasantly sour as a fizzy cola bottle sweet.

Best of the rest

Haunted Holiday

The Haunted Holiday by Janey Louise Jones (Random House, £3.99 PB)

A fun spooky story for younger readers, in which Poppy and her friend Honey, travel to a French chateau that appears to be haunted by the ghostly figure of a young girl.

Terror in Cubicle Four

Too Ghoul for School: Terror in Cubicle Four by B Strange (Egmont, £4.99 PB)

When a host of ghouls try to scare off the children of St Sebastian’s School, it’s down to James, Alexander and Lenny to stop them. With slimy tentacles and ‘plague-riddled’ rates, this is a gleefully gross story overflowing with toilet humour.

Midnight Library

The Midnight Library: The Catch by Nick Shadow (Hodder, £4.99 PB)

A collection of three taut short stories from an author unafraid of unhappy endings. Keep an eye out for the unsettling tale ‘The Trap’, in which a family comes under attack from a malevolent infestation of mice.

Curse of the Raven

The Curse of the Ravens by Rebecca Lisle (Hodder, £5.99 PB)

After encountering a strange boy in the grounds of a nobleman’s estate, Reuben becomes the target in a terrifying pursuit through the darker side of the 17th century. An atmospheric and uncompromising tale not for the faint of heart.

Shadow Forest

Shadow Forest by Matt Haig (Bodley Head, £9.99 HB)

When orphans Samuel and Martha travel to Norway to stay with their mysterious Aunt Eda, they find themselves drawn to the forest nearby. With a cast of blind trolls, cruel ‘huldres’ and an unspeakably evil professor, this is a knowing and inventive yarn.

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