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Halloween Storytime: The Intruder

Enter if you will, gentle reader, pull up a stuffed armchair by the fireside and join me in a true tale of small-town terror.

As young teenagers, one of the biggest and most important obstacles my friends and I faced was convincing all our parents to allow us to stage spontaneous sugar-fuelled sleepovers and backyard 'campouts'. We would listen to cheese-rock ballads on a temperamental Walkman, play pass-the-buck-style dramatic storytelling games, conjecture wildly about our dream futures and generally achieve little to no sleep.

Cold Bath Street by A.J. Hartley Book Review: A Modern Ghostly Mystery Woven with Local Legends

Cold Bath Street by A.J. Hartley (with illustrations by Janet Pickering), £7.99 (UCLan Publishing, 9780995515574)
Publication date: 27 February 2018
My rating:★★★★☆

Despite appearances, most ghost stories focus on the living and the impact the dead have on them. By the beginning of Cold Bath Street, however, protagonist Preston Oldcorn has already died, his heart and watch stopped forever at 9:22p.m.

Part supernatural thriller, part mystery, Cold Bath Street is pacey and engaging, drawing the reader in with an unpredictable plot and warmly drawn characters. Hartley casts Preston as a relatable young boy who, like many of us, wishes he'd spoken up for himself more often. Unfortunately, it takes his untimely death to jolt him with this realisation. The extraordinary circumstances in which he finds himself see him face many of the usual worries and desires of a teenager alongside the dawning realisation that he will never again get to act on any of them.

Some of my favourite scenes, ho…

Halloween Storytime: Knock to Enter

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. 'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door — Only this, and nothing more.' – 'The Raven', Edgar Allen Poe
After spending several years of my early childhood sharing a bedroom with two brothers, coming into a bedroom all of my own was a momentous event. It might have been little more than a glorified closet with hot-pink pebbledash walls (a misguided effort by my parents to designate it the 'girl's' room), but for the first time I had my own space. I filled the little shelves in my space-saving cabin bed with Choose Your Own Adventure and Goosebumps books carefully curated from local charity shops and hunkered in the cubby hole under my desk with friends conspiratorially as though it were a secret hideout. Apparently drunk on the sudden power of establishing my tiny empire, on my first day in residence, I also att…

We Are Not Okay by Natália Gomes Book Review: Big Issues that Need More Space to Breathe

We Are Not Okay by Natália Gomes, £7.99(HQ Stories, 9780008291846)
Publication date: 2 May 2019
My rating:★★☆☆☆

⚠️ This review contains spoilers and refers to sensitive issues, including sexual assault and suicide.

Four teenage girls: all of them different, all of them struggling with their own shame and secrets. Lucy loves to gossip, Ulana is from a conservative Muslim family, Trina likes to party and Sophia has a seemingly perfect boyfriend. But in this book by the author of the dark social problem novel Dear Charlie, no one is exactly as they first appear.

Gomes’ chatty, readable narrative style belies, and sometimes jars with, its mature subject matter, which ranges from interracial relationships and teen pregnancy to slut-shaming and sexual assault. The chapters cycle through each girl’s perspective; each is given a voice, and I assume that the intent is for the reader to identify with different aspects of the narratives, building a cumulative impact similar to The Everyday Sexism …

The Harm Tree by Rose Edwards Book Review: A Dazzling yet Dizzying Debut

The Harm Tree by Rose Edwards, £7.99(UCLan Publishing, 9781912979004)
Publication date: 19 July 2019
My rating:★★★½

The resistance is rising and dark forces stir to take back what was once theirs. Belief in the ancient gods runs strong—the sacrificial Harm Tree still stands.  Torny and Ebba are friends. Sent away by their families, they work together and watch out for each other. Too young to remember the war that tore apart the kingdom, Torny dreams of the glorious warriors of old, while Ebba misses her family, despite the darkness she left behind. But when a man is murdered on the street and Torny finds herself in possession of a dangerous message, the two friends must tread separate paths. These will lead them through fear, through grief, to the source of their own power and to the gates of death itself. As Torny and Ebba are used as tools for the opposing factions of the war, a deep power is ignited in them both. Can they uncover their own strength to finally heal the wounds of a nat…

The Raven's Children by Yulia Yakovleva Book Review: Breaking the Silence around a Dark Period of History

The Raven's Children by Yulia Yakovleva and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (translator), £6.99 (Puffin Books, 9780241330777)
Publication date: 5 July 2018
My rating:★★★★☆

A bestseller in its native Russia and translated into English for the first time, The Raven’s Children was written to ‘break the silence’ surrounding a dark and largely hidden period of history. However, despite its setting of Stalin-era Russia, a time of terror, paranoia and the Secret Police, Yakovleva delivers an accessible, engaging and resolutely hopeful story.

This is achieved through the courageous protagonist, seven-year-old Shura, whose innocent world is shattered after his family—Mama, Papa and baby brother Bobka—vanish overnight, spirited away by a mysterious figure called The Raven. Nevertheless, Shura determines to find them himself, navigating a hostile, unpredictable city where birds talk, the walls have eyes and few can be trusted.

As Shura discovers the truth about the Stalinist regime, fact and fantasy are in…

Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland Book Review: Dealing with Anxiety Through Laughter and Friendship

Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland (writer) and Sarah Horne (illustrator), £6.99 (Penguin, 9780241346211)
Publication date: 7 February 2019
My rating: ★★★★☆

Meet Charlie. He’s a fairly normal nine-year-old who enjoys playing FIFA on the PS4 and tries to stay positive—even though he’s the target of the school bully and his brother is in hospital. Oh, and he also happens to turn into a colourful menagerie of animals when he least expects it, from a high-hopping flea to an incontinent rhino.

Young readers are sure to be delighted by Charlie’s lively tale, which begins in action-packed fashion and manages to sustain its pace throughout. Each animal transformation is as unpredictable as its consequences, setting off an imaginative chain of preposterous events.

Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within by Jane Jensen Book Review: A Warming Dose of 90s Lycanthropic Nostalgia

Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within by Jane Jensen, $6.99 (Roc, 9780451456212)
Publication date: 1 December 1998
My rating: ★★★☆☆

Just as Gabriel Knight is finally settling into his ancestral home in Germany, he is called upon in his role as schattenjagger, or "shadow hunter", to help solve the savage killing of a young girl. The authorities claim it was a wolf escaped from the zoo, but the townspeople say it is a werewolf. Gabriel soon becomes certain the answer lies within an exclusive hunting club in Munich that celebrates the nature of the beast. As his loyal assistant Grace delves into the past to discover the truth, Gabriel finds himself ensnared in a sinister trap, in which the beast within himself becomes the greatest threat of all!

I found a digital copy of this as it turns out the paperback is near-impossible to acquire these days. I wasn't expecting much in the way of literary merit, simply a way to get my Gabriel Knight fix having exhausted many of the best classic…