Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Tony Jones
“For the teens that still read… Some YA horror stocking fillers
The YA horror scene has been relatively quiet these last few months, but there are still plenty of great titles to chew over, some of which might make lovely Christmas presents for your favourite niece or nephew. Of course, some may throw that book straight back at you! Should you do that then duck and read it yourself… All but one is from 2017, a couple have been around since summer but are recent discoveries to me. None of them have been previously reviewed on Ginger Nuts. There is not a lot of straight horror on offer, more an eclectic mix of dark thrillers, speculative fiction, dystopia and fantasy crossing into horror. There are some fantastic books to choose from and they are not ranked in any particular order.
You can click on the titles and the cover images to purchase these books from your region specific Amazon store, thanks to our universal purchasing links, by purchasing the books via these links you help to Ginger Nuts of Horror afloat.
“Bleeding Earth” has been name-checked by very cool YA horror writers such as Amy Lukavics and I certainly found it to be a very enjoyable and rather different read. It’s a clever mix of apocalyptic, dystopia and an end of the world scenario cleverly played out through the eyes of a very spunky and likable teenage girl, Lea. Near the opening of the novel blood begins to seep from the earth, initially it is thought to be an isolated incident, but it quickly worsens and soon you cannot go outside without your welly boots on. Before long the water supply is contaminated, and the shops are empty of food, this is all played out very convincingly and deliberately low key as things go from bad to worse. Before long hair and bones start growing out of the earth and the hair really does have a life of its own. Lea is a great lead character, she is gay and is just embarking upon her first serious relationship when things all kick off and you’ll root for her all the way. You could argue not enough is revealed at the end and the resolution comes too easily, but that was a minor quibble, and this was a top-notch novel which I’m very happy to recommend for kids aged 13+.
Wow. This really is the perfect Christmas present and one of the best books I read in 2017, for kids or otherwise. “Thornhill” by Pam Smy is a pretty huge book, and it’s also a pretty pricy book until the paperback turns up next year. However, if you’re looking to give a kid a rather special gift then this absolute beauty might just be it. Even though it totals the best part of 500 pages an adult could still easily read it in a couple of hours, mainly because it is a time-slip story with the present-day section being told completely in pictures, which are just so easy to read! So “Thornhill” has a lot of illustrations, in a style made popular in recent times by Brian Selznick “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” and his subsequent novels. “Thornhill” itself is a care home for kids in 1982 which is shortly going to close for good, the story focusses on Mary who is a lonely orphan who suffers from selective mutism and is bullied mercilessly by other girls and one particularly nasty girl who is the ringleader. Flick forward to 2017, Ella moves into a new house which overlooks the burned-out shell of Thornhill and she is sure she can see a ghostly figure watching her in the derelict building. Adult readers will be able to tell where the story is going, but it is so beautifully told you will still have a tear in the eye come the end. The drawings are so great they really do tell the 2017 story of Ella without the needs of any words at all. Simply terrific, and if this book does not end up on the short lists of the top children’s book awards of 2017 I will eat my hat. It’s a big old book, but anyone over the age of 10+ (adults included) will adore it. Wonderful in every possible way.
Patrick Moody’s debut novel “The Gravedigger’s Son” was another absolute belter and was every bit as good as “Thornhill” telling the sad tale of a ten-year-old boy who is the son of the local gravedigger. For generations that go back for hundreds of years Ian Fosser’s descendants have always had this same job, which he will inherit from his father in due course. However, Ian would rather work with herbs and study, escaping the generations old family traditions, which is one of the main themes of this wonderful novel. Ian is tutored by the matters of the dead by a 400-year-old ghost called Bertrum and to ensure the dead are truly at peace, the words heaven and hell are never used, but the gravedigger’s role is an important one in this process. Ian may well only be an apprentice and before long he is sucked into a supernatural mystery involving his dead mother, his friend Fiona who has the power to hear the restless dead and an old family feud. Amazingly the whole of this beautiful novel is set pretty much entirely in the graveyard and the world Moody creates is so believably vivid you’ll be cheering for Ian right up to the superb ending. A tremendous book I would recommend for anyone aged from ten to 110.
“There's Someone Inside Your House” was a very quirky change of direction for an author best known for writing teen romances, so it’s great to see Perkins do something different. Essentially it harks back to the teen horror films popular in the 1980s and 1990s with a serial killer on the loose. Set in a small sleepy Nebraska town a teenager has been killed in a particularly gruesome way and when there is a second death tension ratchets up. The main character is a mixed-race Hawaiian girl, Makani Young, who is living with her grandmother after her parents split up and have little time for her. Makani has her own secrets as to why she left Hawaii, which are revealed slowly, and the novel very carefully builds her friendships and relationships, whilst maintaining a certain level of attachment, even nostalgia, to its slasher roots. It’s by no means perfect, has some gruesome scenes, is a lot of fun and overall a very decent page-turner for kids aged 13+, equally entertaining for those who do not normally read horror and are more drawn to thrillers.
I adored this quirky and highly original dystopian tale of a land where the whole population have every significant moment tattooed on their skin for ever. The whole culture and society is built around this weird concept and when teenage Leora leaves school she hopes to get a prestigious job working on tattoos. Alice Broadway has built a very believable and realistic world which sucks the reader right in, however, tragedy strikes and Leora’s father dies. After death the deceased is skinned, and their tattoos are turned into a book, this acts as a memory and is stored as a memory. However, a few are refused this type of ‘burial’ without reason and this happens to her father. She then begins to investigate, and the novel develops into a terrific thriller which effortlessly throws in a dash of romance and a lot of fantasy. What a terrific read, suitable for ages 12+. Book two is coming in 2018.
“Shallows Graves” does not have a UK publisher yet, but it well worth having a look at from Amazon. It’s an engaging mix of fantasy and horror which has a very freaky opening you’re not likely to forget in a hurry. Breezy Lin wakes up in a shallow grave one year after her death and murder, she doesn’t remember who killed her or what exactly happened. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her are hiding a murderous past. This is all revealed very closely and cleverly when Breezy sees something akin to black smoke trailing behind those who are murderers, she compares it in some way to guilt. Around the same time, she discovers she has the power to kill, by touch, but only those who are murderers, this weird power does not work on anybody else. She then begins to search for her own killer, but hitchhiking for any teenage girl (even a dead one) is a dangerous one in America. It’s a strange journey as Breezy Lin is not really the vengeful time, but nevertheless goes on the hunt. She’s not exactly a superhero, but it’s certainly a very odd gift she has. Without giving too much away, the crux of the novel revolves around the discovery of others who may be like Breezy, and a cult attempting to control their powers. Breezy may be dead, but she’s a great central character and the flashbacks to her living life are believable and powerful, showing what she has lost without dwelling on sentiment. Highly recommended for kids 13+.
“Monster” begins the series which follows the bestselling predecessor “Gone” which lasted for an exhausting seven books. The problem is I’m not sure how many kids had the stamina to read all seven books, I certainly did not. However, this series is written in such a way you can dig it without having read “Gone” which kicks off a very long alien invasion series which opens when everyone over the age of fifteen disappears into thin air. “Monster” continues the extra-terrestrial horror theme and begins with a huge dome mysteriously appears in America, several hundred children are trapped inside, eventually out of the blue the dome disappears and the story moves four years forward. It has a great range of teenage characters which have all been affected by the dome in some way, a few even become minor celebrities if they were one of the captives. As the story develops slowly we find out went on in there comes out and the survivors begin to change into something else. I’m a huge fan of Michael Grant, few teen authors mix horror and science fiction better than him and this is a great start to a proposed trilogy. Great fun for kids aged 12+.
“Grave Matter” by the prolifically cool Juno Dawson, an author who effortlessly moves between supernatural and standard teen fiction, is an addictive fast paced read dealing with guilt and loss. Samuel was involved in a car crash which killed his girlfriend Eliza, picking up the story some months later Sam is still crushed and struggling to deal with life. He stumbles upon a way of bringing Eliza back from the dead, but at a price, and before long Sam empties his bank account to pay for the ritual. This was a deliberately fast paced read by Barrington Stoke who specialise in high interest but relatively easy books to read for kids who are dyslexic or have lower reading abilities, but are looking for good challenging plots which do not patronise them. If you’re looking for something along those lines Juno Dawson delivers, this very talented author usually does.
The latest novel by Virginia Bergin “Who Runs the World” is a very cool twist on the dystopia/utopia (which is it?) theme… Set sixty years after a virus has killed off the male population, imagine what a world would be like with no men? Fourteen-year-old River lives a pretty normal life and believes men are extinct. However, whilst walking in a local forest she discovers a half-dead boy called Mason who has escaped from somewhere where effectively the few men who were immune to the virus are used as permanent sperm banks to keep the human race going whether they want to or not. This book is very clever on many levels, reveals its secrets slowly and you’ll enjoy the reactions as the teenage girls get to meet a real-life boy. I’m a real fan of this author and her other books “Rain” and “Storm” are also highly recommended apocalyptic fiction. Highly recommended for ages 12+.
Popular teen horror writer Cliff McNish makes a welcome return to horror, albeit a brief one, with “The Craving” a short punchy read with a similar aim as the Juno Dawson novel above. Published by Badger this high interest horror novel is perfect for a kid struggling to finish long books, has language or concentration problems. They should happily whizz through this entertaining tale of a teenage boy who realises his whole family are vampires, and just as he wants to fight ‘the craving’ he realises his parents want him to give into it. Easy reads often play into genre stereotypes, but this book does not do this at all and I’m sure a casual adult reader would also be entertained. I’ve been a fan of Cliff of many years and he has many great horror and fantasy novels to recommend including “Breathe”, “The Hunting Ground” and “Savannah Gray”. He also has another short read published by Badger, which is more of a thriller “Silent Valley” about a teenage girl who gets her revenge on the mother who abandoned her as a baby after many, many years. Both Badger books are perfect for ages 9+.
The Treatment by CL Taylor has had some hype in YA land recently, being the teen debut for a bestselling adult thriller writer, ultimately though it was disappointing. I haven’t read any of her adult offerings, but this was decidedly underwhelming and although it was well written with an engaging free flowing style the plot was completely telegraphed and very, very predictable to an adult reader. Sadly, I think teen readers will agree also and Taylor really needed more of the twists and turns which she is known for in her thrillers. Drew is having a tough time at school, and is being bullied after her troublemaker brother is sent to a reform school. This is a new type of school, called Residential Reform Academy (RRA), Drew finds out that the RRA may have some dodgy ‘treatment’ which reconditions and cures these troublesome teens. Of course, before long Drew also ends up in the RRA and it all becomes very predictable. It’s more thriller than horror and an undemanding teen might get some entertainment from it. If Taylor returns to YA she really needs more going on than dodgy doctors, the acknowledgements mention “Prison Break meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but for teens.” It really, really isn’t.