Super (not so) Scary Halloween Reads

If you haven’t already consumed your friends or scared the pants off yourself after reading Romi’s recommended Halloween reads,  then whip out your witch’s hat and strap on your bat wings; here are a few more scary reads guaranteed to bring out the ghoul in your little monsters.

Scream! series by Jack Heath (Dimity’s perennial Halloween favourite)

This is a seriously spooky series of stories for middle grade readers. All types of whacky scary and wonderful; youngsters will devour these offbeat tales beginning with The Human Flytrap, progressing to The Spider Army, The Haunted Book and finally slithering to The Squid Slayer. This series gets better and better the more involved you get. Spine chilling tension focuses on a different member of a team of four young sleuths and erstwhile mystery magnets who live in the creepy town of Axe Falls, a place teeming with unusual, nightmarish realties and reoccurring reasons to scream, often.

Josh, his sister and their friends encounter weird creatures and endless dubious going-ons, which they have to battle violently against in order to survive.  This series promises un-put-downable excitement and thrills guaranteed to increase the heart rate of 8 – 14-year-olds. The first book will have you screaming well into the night! Highly recommended.

Scholastic July 2015

Continue reading Super (not so) Scary Halloween Reads

8 books set in cemeteries

There’s something eerie yet somewhat peaceful about cemeteries, and the untold tales of those resting there for eternity. And if you’re a taphophile – someone who takes an interest in cemeteries, funerals, tombstones, or memory of past lives – you’ll agree with me. I’ve always enjoyed books set in cemeteries so I’ve compiled a list for like-minded readers.


8 Books Set in Cemeteries


  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a fantasy novel for children about a young boy who escapes the night his family is murdered in their home. He wanders up the street and eventually into a graveyard. The ghosts in the graveyard discuss his predicament and agree to raise the young boy as their own. That’s how the life of Nobody Owens (Bod for short) begins. The Graveyard Book has won a tonne of awards, including the Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal.
  2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King is a horror novel known to many readers. A horror story that only Stephen King could write, it’s about a young family and an ancient Indian burial ground. It’s also been made into a film. No more needs to be said.
  3. Pure by Andrew Miller is an historical fiction novel set amidst Les Innocents, the oldest cemetery in Paris. In 1875, the cemetery has been closed to burials for 5 years because it’s overflowing with 2 million corpses and emitting a foul stench.
    Jean-Baptiste Baratte is employed by the Minister to demolish the cemetery and relocate the human remains outside the city of Paris. We witness his struggle with the dark task of disturbing the final resting place of thousands of Parisian occupants. The descriptions of the cemetery and surrounds (including church, charnel houses and graveyards) were deeply evocative of this grisly yet soulful place.
  4. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier is an historical fiction novel set in Edwardian London between January 1901 to May 1910 with many of the scenes taking place in Highgate cemetery. Told from the perspective of different characters, the novel covers the journey of two girls from different families.
    The chapters are narrated in the first person by several of the main characters (including my favourite character, the gravedigger’s son). It includes themes of mourning, mourning etiquette, class and the suffragette movement.


    While I enjoyed reading the above, I have plenty more in this genre to look forward to, including:

  5. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, is set in and around Highgate Cemetery and is a novel / ghost story about twin sisters, love and identity, secrets and sisterhood.
  6. Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold has been on my TBR pile forever. It’s a non fiction look at London’s dead through the lens of archaeology, architecture and anecdotes. London is filled with the remains of previous eras – pagan, Roman, medieval and Victorian and I look forward to learning more as soon as I can get to it.
  7. The Restorer by Amanda Stevens is a paranormal novel about Amelia Gray – a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts – and is the first of six in the Graveyard Queen series.
  8. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is a new release historical fiction novel about Abraham Lincoln and his grief at the death of his son. It is said that Lincoln was so grief-stricken over the loss of his beloved son, he visited the family crypt several times to hold his body. Lincoln in the Bardo takes place in a single night.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of books set in cemeteries. What have you read or hope to read in the future?

Review: I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid

9781925355079I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the kind of novel you’ll read with your stomach clenched, mouth dry, heart pounding in your chest. It’s compulsive, unnerving, and downright unputdownable. It’s by far the most tense, atmospheric, and suspenseful book I’ve read this year – and also one of the best. Seriously, just thinking about it now, that ending . . . I’ve got goosebumps. And an insatiable desire to read it again.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about the fragility of identity and reality. But such a summary belies its edginess, and its sheer incredible craftsmanship. Every word is necessary; every sentence and paragraph framed with precision. It is smart, it is spooky; it’s a can’t-put-down-thriller masquerading as an examination into the human psyche. It takes place over a single night. Jake and his girlfriend are on a road-trip through a snowstorm to visit his parents on a remote farm. Which is when things get strange. After dinner, they choose not to remain at the farm, and drive home. But the dinner – their brief stop at the farm – has unwoven something, and the night unravels fast, climaxing when he leaves her stranded at an abandoned high school . . .

It is a psychological thriller? A horror story? An amalgamation? I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the kind of novel that defies bookstore categorization. I’d hand it over to anyone who reads in either genre; fans of Stephen King; fans of Gone Girl. It helps that the novel is short – a couple hundred pages – and its momentum is unstoppable. So even if you’re not sure this is your thing, by the time you’re asking yourself that question, you’re a quarter of the way through the book, and by then, you’ll need to know what happens next. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a masterwork of building intensity. It’s a masterpiece, full-stop.

Buy the book here…

Review – Nightmares!

NightmaresNothing beats the morbid delight begot from a good old-fashioned bad dream. It’s the stuff memorable horror movies are made of. There’s no denying, being tantalised and terrified go hand in hand. But what about those bad dreams that leave you thrashing in a bed of sweat-soaked sheets and screaming for salvation? Nightmares can plague a kid’s sleep and wreck their waking world. Fortunately, there is a thrilling new series available to primary aged kids to help keep the bedtime beJason Segelasts at bay.

Nightmares!, by writing partners, Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller is the substantial first book in a new series, which dares you to go to sleep. Good luck with that. There’s way too much skittish action, adventure and horror to bore even the most critical mid-grade reader.Kirsten Miller

Eleven-year-old Charlie Laird is in the middle of his own real-life nightmare. Still dealing with the loss of his mother three years ago, he now also has to contend with living in a purple house that he is not keen on with a step mum he believes is a witch and a father he feels has forgotten him. Feeling alone and vulnerable, Charlie goes to extreme measures every night to stay awake. He is terrified of falling into slumber because each time he does, he enters the Netherworld, a place where his most terrifying nightmares torture him with sadistic regularity.

Living in constNightmares Charlie illo spreadant fear jeopardises Charlie’s schoolwork, blurs his logic, and transforms him into a person that scares even him. Then one afternoon, an opportunity to discover more about his dubious step monster leads to a nail-biting adventure in the Netherworld, one Charlie is not sure he’ll ever be able to emerge from.

Nightmares is thrilling on every level. I was curious to see how well comedic actor and star of films like Despicable Me, Gulliver’s Travels, and The Muppets Movie could write. I was far from disappointed. Segel executes his penmanship (along with Kirsten Miller) with exquisite strength and accuracy, slicing through the mundane to reveal a voice of tremendous depth and humour and expose worlds that readers are instantly familiar, if not one hundred per cent comfortable with.

Nightmares Charlotte illo spreadTheir characters, including those who frequent the Netherworld, possess a mixture of Chucky-style surreal horror and emphatic warmth, which keeps readers engaged whilst never quite certain of who to trust. It’s spellbinding stuff.

Nightmares propels us into those creepy, fearful places we are always relieved to wake from but simultaneously suggests to young readers that in order to truly surrender your fears and leave them behind once and for all, we must face them. If we can be as brave as Charlie can, we may just be able to learn that nightmares are really just the stuff of dreams.

I love the slightly psychotic sense of satire, the horror, and the comedic parody in Nightmares. The notion that ‘what can’t kill us and what we fear can make us stronger’ is just one of the many reasons to read this story. I can’t wait for the next nightmare to begin – due out in August 2015!

Meanwhile give yourself a delicious fright with Nightmares, available here.

Random House Children’s

First published by Corgi Children’s September 2014

 

What I’m reading this Christmas: Anna O’Grady, Simon & Schuster

Anna O'Grady in front of her home library
Anna O’Grady in front of her home library

Thanks to Anna O’Grady for talking to Boomerang Books today, and sharing your Christmas picks with us. First, let’s find out more about you and some of the books you’ve been working on.

You’re the Marketing and Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster. What does your job entail?
How much time do we have? I like describing it as ‘parenting’ a book and making sure that I find the best possible home for it. It all starts by understanding who would enjoy the particular title, and then the fun part of thinking of the best means of reaching that audience. Nowadays there are so many different ways that this can be achieved.

In the last few months I’ve worked on creating online trailers and ads, organized blog tours, pitched titles to festivals, events and media and talked to our book loving community over various social media channels.

How did you get this job?
I am the third generation working in the book world from a family of booksellers and publishers. For the better part of my life I have been lucky enough to continue our family tradition across six different countries. However, bookselling is rapidly changing and for a few years I have wanted to try my hand in a publishing house. All the stars aligned really well this year and I ended up with the amazing team at Simon & Schuster Australia. I have learnt a tremendous amount but it also has been a lot of fun.The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg

What is different/special about Simon & Schuster?
One of the things I really like about Simon & Schuster is that it is a small publishing house. There are just over 20 people in the office and that means that there are opportunities to try different things in different areas of the book business. For example, even though my official role is within the marketing and publicity department, I am also part of the acquisition team – so I have a chance to read new manuscripts and contribute to the decision on publishing these.

I also really love the staff’s passion for books we publish within the Simon & Schuster program. A lot of larger houses release so many books that it is physically impossible for everybody to be familiar with all titles. Our publishing program is small enough that almost everybody in-house can read all the books we publish and be able to meet all the authors in person. I really love being in an office where everybody reads and where books are celebrated every day.

I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of?
It has been quite a year for me, and I often feel in awe of the amazing authors that I have been taking care of. I will highlight two – only because they are so completely different. The first one was my campaign for debut author Ellie O’Neill’s book Reluctantly Charmed. Debuts are notoriously difficult to break out, but I felt special pressure on this one because everybody at Simon & Schuster loved this book. In the end we had a great campaign that was embraced by a major sponsor – Tourism Ireland – and also created a lot of buzz in the book blogging community. I am already looking forward to the second book from Ellie coming next year.A Thousand Shards of Glass cover by Michael Katakis

The other campaign that will probably stay in mind for a very long time was A Thousand Shards of Glass by Michael Katakis. Although Michael is a world class photographer, an overseer of the intellectual property of Hemingway and an author of very thought provoking books, he is very little known in Australia. We decided to bring him here for a tour and I had the task of arranging events and media for his tour. This took several months and many, many phone calls and emails to organize. Because Michael is relatively unknown some event organizers took some persuasion and were hesitant to the last moment. In the end the response to Michael’s tour was exceptional and well worth all our efforts. I have never seen such an emotional reader–writer reaction, with many people moved to tears at events, and many readers calling and sending emails – and in one instance hand delivering a letter of thank you to our offices. There is nothing more special than seeing that connection in front of my eyes and knowing that I helped make it happen.This Changes Everything Naomi Klein

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?
I have been watching the book industry very carefully for at least 20 years now and I find some changes painful, but I also see a lot of great things on the horizon. I think that we might be experiencing a new golden age of storytelling. There are more people reading than ever before, and they access books in many formats and ways. But what is even more exciting is that readers have more to say, and the means to say it, than ever before. The future of the publishing industry is in deepening the connection to readers and embracing new ways of telling and experiencing stories. I have no doubt that great books and storytellers will always find their audience.

What are your must-reads over Christmas?
I have been building my little Christmas stack for a while now – and as usual I am probably overambitious. Here are the titles that are currently sitting in my Christmas pile: The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg; The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel; In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower; The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber; and This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein – but who knows what other gems I might find under my Christmas tree.In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower

What is your secret reading pleasure?
I really enjoy many YA novels, love a good mystery, and have a fascination with horror fiction. For me some of the great horror and crime writers are amongst the best at the craft of writing – although critics often disregard them.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Anna.
You’re most welcome, it’s been a pleasure.

And to all a good night (whatever you’re celebratin’)

‘Tis the night before Christmas here in Europe and all through the house everyone is stirring in a desperate effort to get closer to the fireplace. It’s really, really cold, especially for those of us who have acclimatised to the Southern Hemisphere and are now being called wusses by all our Northern Hemisphere friends and family.

It’s the morning of Christmas for all of you in Australia and I suspect – I certainly hope – you are all a good deal warmer than me. Most of you are probably still in bed (funny how getting up at 5am to open presents seems less reasonable as you get older) and this message will reach you at some stage over a few lazy days spent relaxing and doing whatever you most enjoy in this lull at the end of 2011.

The business of the year is near wrapped up; the last of 2011’s books have been released, the bookshops are taking a well-deserved break and Possum Magic has topped the Boomerang Annual Advent Poll as our readers’ favourite Australian Children’s Book. Soon my email will be over-flowing again with announcements from publishers about 2012’s shiny new books but right now, with most businesses taking a few days off, it’s peaceful and – like the Christmas eve house in the poem – my inbox isn’t stirring.

I’d like to mark the occasion of this unusual and welcome time of peace and goodwill even if, like many others, I don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional Christian sense. Whether it’s a holiday for Horus, Mithra, Bacchus or Dionysus, whether it’s the Festival of Lights or the winter or summer solstice or just a couple of well-deserved days off work with your nearest and dearest, I hope you enjoy it.

Damien Kelly, a Northern Irish writer (who just released a Christmas-themed set of horror and suspense short stories this year called The Christmas Gifts, with plenty of ghoulish and creepy festive fare) blogs over at christmasmacabre.com has this greeting for everyone, and it’s so perfect for the occasion that I just have to share.

Because you’re great, it bears relatin’
Happy What-You’re-Celebratin’
From me to you, it’s worth restatin’
Happy What-You’re-Celebratin’
Raise a glass, invite your mate in
Whether or not the date’s worth ratin’
Take a break from What-You’re-Hatin’
Happy What-You’re-Celebratin’.

Have a wonderful few days, whatever you are celebrating. I wish you a fantastic new year, filled with great releases from all your favourite authors, discoveries of awesome new authors and books and, of course, plenty of cash to pay for them all. A happy holidays to you all.

Running The Zombie Gauntlet. Jumping The Zombie Moat (AKA Why I Don’t Read Stephen King)

On WritingI don’t read Stephen King. Not out of some high-literary disdain for someone who’s written so much and sells so well to the general Joes. Not because he’s not a good writer. But precisely because he is.

King has proved himself time and again throughout his 50-something books that he can create an intensely believable world, grip you, and then terrify your pants off. Me? I’m easily pants-off terrified.

Two films dominated the sleepovers of my youth. One was Child’s Play (the original, although I’m aware there are more tenuously linked, money-milking, spin-off sequels than in even the current Saw series). The second film was Stephen King’s It, and I am now pathologically afraid of clowns (which I’d previously thought to be friendly critters) and stormwater rains.

All the other kids seemed to revel in being scared witless. Me? I considered—consider—it a form of torture. I am an ashamed but incurable scaredy cat with a vivid and uncontrollable imagination.

CarrieI’ve steered clear of scary books and movies every since those sleepovers where wussing out would have seen me tumble down the schoolyard social order. The exception has been Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, but I was fooled because it was sold to me as a zombie romance that was written by a fellow wuss. I thought it was about zombies giving up their quest for brains and falling in love. I thought I was in safe, scaredy-cat hands.

I am almost too embarrassed to admit that I have to run the zombie gauntlet back from the bathroom in the middle of the night and jump the zombie moat which occupies the one-metre perimeter around my bed (The jumping on the bed went down a treat with my now ex-boyfriend, I can tell you).

The point of this long-winded background is to explain why I’d, until recently, never read King’s On Writing. I figured it would scare the bejeepers out of me, and I need to cure my irrational, zombie-gauntlet-running, bed-moat-jumping fears, not acquire new ones.

But I picked On Writing up this week, a time when I was feeling flattest about my own (lack of) talent and dim career prospects—can anyone truly make a decent living out of this difficult craft? The book’s been a revelation. I don’t for a moment consider myself in the league of this bestselling master crafter, but what King conveys through his book is that bestselling author or emerging one, we’re all facing the same struggles.

The TommyknockersA memoir of his own writing journey (just writing that sounds naff, but sorry, I’m sticking with it), On Writing outlines King’s career and inspirations and influences. How the seeds of ideas were shaped into hits like Carrie, The Tommyknockers, or The Shining. On Writing is a stellar read—King writes so well it makes me wish I could read his other work.

The books mirrors many (in fact, most) of my own experiences, from the first stories shamelessly borrowed from what he was reading at the time to the volume of rejection letters to the first taste of success to the flow-on effects of a little success—once you’ve ‘proved’ yourself through a few quality publications, it’s amazing how other publications, which had previously rebuffed you, are willing to take you on. There isn’t, King explains, a magical writing process, and there’s a lot of hard slog, refinement, more slog, perseverance, and a bit of luck.

I ate up this touchstone of a book and dog-eared almost every second page because I wanted to remember and refer back to the many, many gems of wisdom, inspiration, and encouragement contained within them (Please spare me the anti-dog-earing emails—I dog-ear books I love; it’s a compliment; it’s my thing).

ItOn Writing is perhaps a book for aspiring writers, and for emerging and mid-career ones too. I’m not in the realm of King and am unlikely to ever be there, both because I don’t have his talent and I’m completely terrified of anything scary like a zombie. But I am heartened that when you strip away the number of books published and the vast readership he has, our writing processes and experiences are similar. That ideas comes from anywhere and everywhere and fit together Tetris-like and surprising when they don’t at first appear to fit at all. That writing is as much about taking words out, keeping the words left in simple.

I might not be able to read his other books, but I will often revisit or simply dip into this dog-eared and now completely revered one. King fan or not, I recommend you do too.

Angels in Literature: Who Dares Disturb Their Slumber?

I noticed recently that Boomerang Books had twittered about a book trailer for The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. Released back in 2008, I read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it because the blurb just sounded so damn good:

The nameless narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

This strange debut offering – which had such a high-falutin’ storyline – turned out to be compulsively readable. From the first sentence the book leapt free of the Gothic Classic narrative I’d been banking on, and was testing its wings in an entirely more modern context. And it may have been more of a shock, because the narrator wasn’t some damsel-in-distress wooed by a chance at love, it was a Hollywood heartthrob with a face of ash, being wooed by an excaped patient from the psychiatric ward next door. So yeah, romance can happen in all places, to all types of people. And this message gave The Gargoyle its ability to enter massmarket fiction for adults. Indeed, it was the first time since the 90s (when angels were popular for the ‘Hard Rock Goths’), that I sensed the concept of a winged being had embarked on a dark road: one to commercial success (excess).

Gargoyles; vampires; angels; demons; concepts of heaven and hell, have all experienced a resurgence in literature. Gothic is all the rage right now, for some reason. You could perhaps, credit Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Gothic poem Christabel (one of me faves) as the stirring of vampires in the 1800s. From there, friend and contemporary Mary Shelley produced Frankenstein, Sheridan Le Fanu was inspired to write a cracking novella titled ‘Carmilla’, and this in turn is said to have partly influenced a book you may know: Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

While Twilight may have awoken the sleeping dead for teenagers and starry-eyed 20- and 30-something women, word around the book blog traps has been that angels, riding on the coattails of the humanised vampire, are ready for a descent themselves. Not only a descent into the world of teens, mind you, but with a plan for fantasy fiction world takeover (including all its subgenre cities).

I don’t know just yet if angels are indeed the new vampires, but the whole religious idea and how it has been translated into popular culture definitely deserves some further investigation. Why are they popular again? How do they differ from their original concept? Religious connotations of heaven and hell, as alluded to in The Gargoyle, also requires some exploration.

Grab a shovel, and get ready to do some digging. Stay tuned for future angelic/demonic posts – it’s a heaven/hell extravaganza!