The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

When David Fickling Books are publishing a new title, it’s something to take note of. The publishers have released the last two year’s best books for me (The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, and Unbecoming by Jenny Downham), so I already know that their calibre of YA is pretty high. So when The Call came to me, I was very curious indeed – A YA horror/thriller with deep roots in traditional Irish folklore? I’m in…

The Call

Set in a desolate Dystopian Ireland in a world where all teenagers must survive The Call – 3 minutes and 4 seconds in which they will be transported to the hellish Grey Lands to fight for their lives against the twisted and beautiful Sidhe (pronounced “Shee”) people – the malevolent fairies of legend who where banished there thousands of years ago by the descendants of the modern day people of the Emerald Isle. Time moves differently in the Grey Lands, and 3 minutes becomes 24 hours there, whilst the Sidhe hunt their prey – and if you’re lucky you’ll be transported back at the end unharmed. If you’re lucky they might only kill you. But the Sidhe like to play with their victims if they catch them early enough… Twisting human flesh into grotesque art. If you’re unlucky, what they send back might not resemble anything human at all. Nessa, the story’s main character, is at a training college that educates and prepares the nation’s teenagers for The Call. No-one expects her to survive – there’s no way, not after polio ravaged her legs as a child. She can barely run without the aid of crutches, and the Sidhe won’t let her take anything like that with her. Her death is a certainty, and everyone knows it. Except Nessa – Nessa is going to prove them all wrong…


Despite such twisted writing, he seems so nice!

Talk about PACING. I’m a pretty slow reader (it bugs me a lot), but I flew through The Call in about a week, which is not bad going for me. Peadar expertly pulls the story along by using short, punchy chapters, each one ending on just the right hook to pull you into the next one. It’s these choppy chapters, filled with action and mystery which keep the book pounding along through its story, combined with the way he jumps from Nessa’s plot to the short, often violent lives of those Called to the Grey Lands. It’s these little snapshots of the brutality of the Sidhe realm that up the tension for the characters left behind, and as they are Called one by one, the pressure becomes monumental on those who remain. Peadar also uses a Clive Barker-esque feel of horror in his writing, by twisting the familiar to make it unsettling or outright upsetting (in the way all good horror should be), and the punishments and the games of the Sidhe are wonderfully creative and horrifically dark and cruel. The Grey Lands themselves are a suffocating alternate world which the author describes in scant, disturbing slices, but it’s the bleak and ruined Ireland that really feels the darker setting of the two. Only 1 in 10 teenagers survive The Call, making the country a crumbling ruin of what it once was. The adults are strained, hopeless and desperate, and the teenagers range for confident and arrogant to nihilistic, and the clashing this creates makes the characters really stand out – none more so than Nessa. A physically disabled protagonist in a YA novel is virtually unheard of, and one in a fast paced survival horror is even rarer. Nessa might even be the first, to my knowledge. Her resolve and quiet determination are at odds with the usual “strong female character” trope that we see so much in the genre. She has fears and hopes, loves and hates. She isn’t an unstoppable badass – she’s a girl who everyone else has written off already, and the bitterness of a life being told she’s as good as dead quietly weaves its way through her actions.

The Call uses mythology and modern horror ideas to create something really unique and absorbing. As someone with no knowledge of the Sidhe and Irish folklore, I’d love the backstory to be investigated a little more and fleshed out – perhaps in a sequel…? I’ll be the first in line…

Thanks For Reading,



Monster by C.J. Skuse

I can never deny my love for all things horror. I really can’t, and whilst masked serial killers slaughtering teenagers in the woods does next to nothing for me, the premise of Monster really did. Plus, when I was reading it January was in full swing, bringing with it the full force of Winter weather, so the atmosphere felt just perfect…

Atmospheric Jacket too.

Atmospheric Jacket too.

Nash is in the race for Head Girl at Bathory, one of the brightest private schools in the country. Outside of the boarding school, her brother is missing, but Nash is determined to push all of her anxiety into the competition to be the very best she can be. However, as the Christmas holidays fast approach, the weather starts to turn, bathing the beautiful school in a torrent of snow. It looks like there are a few students who won’t be going home just yet. Which would be fine… Except there’s something out there in the snow, stalking the girls, hungry and relentless. Could it be the urban legend of the Beast of Bathory is true? A monstrous cat that prowls the grounds looking for a way in to feast on them all? Despite their massive differences, the handful of girls left behind soon realise that their only hope for survival is to stick together.

Any story like this, with such a claustrophobic setting, really needs to rely on the few characters who propel the plot along, and I think Skuse does an excellent job at creating five distinctive personalities without playing too much to the usual stereotypes. Nash, the story’s hero, is a driven, determined person with a superb ability to think on her feet. Her backstory, with her missing brother, allows her (to begin with) perfect façade to begin to crack and expose a well rounded, emotionally articulate character underneath – she’s bright and determined, but she’s not a superhero. She makes mistakes. I think Maggie, “the bad girl”, was my favourite character in Monster though, being thoroughly vulgar and hilarious throughout some pretty dark and terrifying situations. She’s also headstrong and forceful as well, managing to offset the relatively goody-goody atmosphere of the students well to keep the interaction and dialogue feeling fluid and fun. Regan came a close second though, her creepy obsessive nature giving the plot its sense of drama and tense darkness.

The atmosphere in Monster is what really makes it such an engaging read – the claustrophobic hallways of the school, and the stark, blinding white of the snow cutting them off from the outside world creates a pulsing sense of unease that really drags the reader through the story. The plot itself is filled with enough plot twists and red herrings to keep it feeling constantly unbalanced and uncertain (I mean that in a totally good way), and as it reaches the final chapters, it starts to fly along with a nervous energy of its own. The book brings in themes of feminism, family and survival, with a superb set of character arcs, and makes for a gripping thriller that keeps the reader glued to the page. I had hoped the mental health aspects were fleshed out a little more, but that would be hard to do without bogging down the quick, animalistic plot. It was like The Breakfast Club meets Alien.

That’s a comparison. Let’s stick with that.

It was good!

Thanks for reading,


Lockwood & Co. – The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

The third instalment in Stroud’s creeping spectre splashed ghost series is one that I’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for ever since book two, The Whispering Skull, ended with such an explosive cliff-hanger. These books are everything I ever dreamed of reading when I was about nine or ten, and even in my late twenties I devour them eagerly in a few short sittings, staying up into the small hours to try and get as much read as my brain will allow.

I need book four RIGHT NOW.

I need book four RIGHT NOW.

The Hollow Boy picks up a little after the events of The Whispering Skull, and a huge area of Chelsea has been cut off from London, due to an unexplained and deadly outburst of ghosts – hundreds roaming the area, leaving many ghost-touched and leaving London’s biggest and best agencies baffled. There’s no obvious source, so all that can be done is teams of agents sweeping the cordoned off zone on a nightly basis, dealing with the overwhelming number of smaller apparitions. London’s smallest agency, Lockwood & Co., have not been requested however, deemed too small to be of any use, much to the annoyance of brightly talented young Anthony Lockwood and his two assistants Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins. As they continue trying to deal with the void left in the rest of the city by the other agencies prioritising Chelsea, the strained relationships between the highly talented young agents begin to reach fraying point. Lockwood’s cold distance is becoming increasingly more frustrating for Lucy, who is still trying to work out her rapidly expanding skills with hearing ghosts and spirits. But Lucy doesn’t just hear ghosts and death echoes, she can talk and communicate with the dead, a skill that is entirely unique as far as she knows. Eventually the stresses and pressures of overworking cause shifts in the structure of the tightknit Lockwood & Co., driving the wedge of uncertainty further between Lucy and Lockwood. When they’re finally asked to come into the Chelsea outbreak to help, the team are no longer operating with their usual haphazard synergy, and there’s something lurking underneath Chelsea that feeds on fear and distrust…

I cannot recommend this series enough.

I cannot recommend this series enough.

I think it’s no small thing to say that this might be one of the best series to come out in the MG age bracket since a certain bespectacled boy discovered he was a wizard. That’s right – Lockwood & Co is a series I just compared to Harry Potter. Not just that, but Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant – Stroud really stands with the big names. Lockwood’s chilly Sherlock-esque unflappable nature, George’s grubby but brilliant mind and Lucy’s emotionally charged narration all work perfectly to create a warm, diverse cast of characters that I genuinely care about so very much. Each book in the series stands alone superbly as a chilling ghost story, as well as a historical mystery, against a brilliantly realised world of paranormal darkness and a Victorian sense of melancholy, and they’re continuing to build a deep sense of history and mythology in The Hollow Boy. I yearn to know more and more about this universe after each chapter, dreaming of rapiers and rawbones. It balances creepy atmosphere with quirky, wry humour and intelligent plots, and this third instalment contains some of the most haunting moments of the series yet (crawling on all fours… *shudders*)

If you’ve got a strong reader with a love of clever, twistingly sophisticated ghost stories rooted around three vibrant characters then I cannot recommend the Lockwood & Co. Stories enough – they really are one of the greats.

Thanks for Reading…


Monsters by Emerald Fennell

I’m a big fan of Emerald Fennell’s debut novel, Shiverton Hall, and when I found out she was not only doing a YA novel, but that it was also coming from my favourite publishers Hot Key Books, I was over the moon. When I found out it was a bleak, cold and brutal story of murder and mystery, I was even more on board with the whole thing.

Such a wonderfully sinister jacket.

Such a wonderfully sinister jacket.

The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, a 12 year old orphaned girl with a love of all things macabre and upsetting. Her parents were killed in a speedboat accident, and she spends her time living with her grandmother, except during the Summer holidays, which she spends in her Aunt and Uncle’s hotel in the sleepy seaside town of Fowley. It’s a boring boring place where nothing ever happens, and our narrator normally can’t wait to get back to school – until they pull a body out of the sea, and she’s there to see the whole thing. It’s like a dream come true for her. While everyone thinks it’s a tragic accident, the girl is determined it must be murder, and she’s not alone. There’s a boy staying in the hotel, a 13 year old with a hugely overbearing mother, called Miles. He’s even more obsessed with murder than she is, and the two of them form a strange, co-dependent relationship that hinges on their shared goal of proving that the body that washed up on the beach was the victim of a sinister murderer. It becomes a lot easier when the second body washes up.

Monsters is a sinister, dark novel with the shiny veneer of forced sunshine and happiness over it that creates a sticky, humid atmosphere filled with subtlety sliding mysteries and awful, shiveringly cold characters. The use of an unnamed narrator of the story is a great way to create a sense of unease and it allows the reader to slowly slip themselves into her chilling mind set. She’s a direct, complex character and her view on the world is pretty bitter and blunt, but somehow Fennell manages to make her charming in a strange sort of way. Miles is by far the darker, more sociopathic character, and his penchant for cold, indifferent cruelty and obsession with control over others is painful to read, and the narrator’s steadily increasing frantic obsession with him is like a slow, unstoppable slide into insanity. Emerald has really nailed a sociopathic voice in Monsters, and she’s also managed to really underpin an unhealthy relationship fuelled by desperation and control – there’s a Brady/Hindley vibe that runs  throughout their friendship.

And yet she always seemed so lovely in Call The Midwife.

And yet she always seemed so lovely in Call The Midwife.

Monsters is well plotted, twisting and tense, but I particularly liked that every now and then it would break the prose style and having the narrator rant in an unhinged style. It pulses with uncertainty, and we as readers are never sure what actually happened and what is a product of her highly active, deeply macabre imagination, especially when it comes to how Miles feels about her. The story also manages to touch on some sweeter points about growing up, and the power of friendships, as it meanders through the much darker plot, and I feel like Emerald has managed to create a very unique, outstanding and horrifically dark coming of age story. About sociopaths. It’s pretty gripping and awesome.

Thanks, as always, for reading,


Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions that horror is probably my favourite genre – Ghost Stories more than Zombies – but I tend to find that it’s done badly an awful lot, which upsets me greatly! A good horror should be subtle and building, and full of atmosphere. When I was sent a proof of Amy Lakavic’s debut novel, the people at Simon & Schuster described it as “Little House on the Prairie meets The Excorcist”, and so obviously I was very interested.

UK Cover

UK Cover


Last Winter, Amanda saw something in the snow from her family’s tony cabin on the mountainside. Her parents are convinced it was nothing more than the result of intense cabin fever, the six of them cooped up in the winter snow drifts, but Amanda knows that she saw the Devil himself, and his festering evil has never left her soul since. This Winter, with a new sickly baby, her Father decides it’s time for the family to move from the isolated mountain to the flatter, less treacherous prairie. It could be a chance for Amanda to escape the hellish evil that she feels stalking her in the forest. When they arrive at their new cabin, though, they find it covered in stagnant blood. Has Amanda brought something with her, or is there evil everywhere?

US Cover

US Cover

Wow, Daughters Unto Devils gets horror perfectly. It’s character driven, evocative and so powerfully atmospheric and it builds with a slow, deliberate sense of dread. Amanda is a torn, realistically written girl, full of darkness and hope – I love how much more flawed she is than her sister, Emily, and her self-doubts help build her into a character and narrator that we really root for. The strict, overbearing religious parents are also painfully twisted, all pure upfront but with layers of aggressive, hateful misery beneath them.

The atmosphere is where the book really shines, though, with a real sense of bleak isolation and hopelessness. The horror is unfolded gradually, using Amanda’s unease and slow descent into paranoia to build it up to staggering proportions. It twists everyday events and throws in some deeply unsettling one shots – particularly the baby standing in the long grass of the prairie. The final few chapters though are horrifically gripping and I raced through them with wide eyes as the levels of violence and awful, horrific events ramped up to make every page an exploration in dark, twisted imagery that sticks in the reader’s brain.

I also really like that Lukavics explores some really important issues in this book, including the ideas of teen pregnancy, miscarriage and guilt, and I found it so brilliant that it’s a story driven by a decisive, emotionally articulate girl, and her friendship with her sister is so powerful. Like any good Horror story, it’s all about show, not tell, and it uses its character’s psychology to get the creepy feel right into our brains.

Thanks for Reading, as always,


P.S. The book does contain some potentially upsetting scenes, and so it definitely requires a Trigger Warning.

Demon Road by Derek Landy

Derek’s Skulduggery Pleasant series is one of the best loved Middle Grade/YA crossover series in the world – brilliantly blending macabre horror with a unique, twisted sense of humour and plenty of twists and turns that have kept readers gripped for over seven years. His new series, purely YA, promises to deliver the same sense of magical horror, wanton violence and sharp, acidic wit, and let me tell you it did NOT disappoint.



Amber is a 16 year old girl. Like many 16 year old girls, she doesn’t have a huge amount of friends, spending her time on message boards for her favourite TV show and working shifts at a local diner, as she waits to graduate high school and inevitably head out into the big wide world. She has a distant and strangely cold relationship with her parents, who have always been vaguely loving but disinterested, until the day they tried to kill her. You see, Amber’s parents are demons. Red skin, tall, resplendent and complete with long, black horns – proper demons. And they and their friends have been extending their demonic lives for hundreds of years by devouring their children when they turn sixteen – and Amber’s next on the menu. The only advantage she has is the she’s also a demon, able to shift from her average human form into a terrible and beautiful red skinned demon, gaining super strength and resilience in the process. Fleeing her home and her parents, Amber makes some unusual friends and begins an epic road trip across America in search of some way to stop her parents and their friends from becoming more powerful by consuming her – including making a bargain for her soul with the Shining Demon that originally granted them their powers, pitting daughter against mother and father in a struggle that goes way past life and death. It turns out though, that Demons are hardly the strangest and most dangerous things on the Black Roads of America…

Whoa, what an absolute RIOT of a book! Demon Road is Derek Landy on top form, and I was so immersed in this story – I’m just gutted that it’s going to be over a year before I can get my paws on book two. Amber is a brilliant lead character, and she works perfectly in the story, pushing her self-loathing to one side and coming out swinging as soon as she discovers her parent’s true nature – she’s a real hardcore girl with a strong survival instinct, and not because she needs to live for someone else, but just because she wants the chance to be her own person. Unlike the Katniss’ of the YA world, she makes a lot of pretty stupid mistakes though, which highlight her trusting, if naïve nature, and her gradual learning and understanding of her demon nature, and the supernatural world around her helps open the hidden world to the reader at the same time, instead of lumping huge amounts of information on them at once. Oh, also Amber has a great sarcastic streak to her that definitely works well with her character, and especially bounces well off Glen. Aaah Glen, the wonderfully doomed and infuriatingly motor-mouthed Irish teen is a brilliant side character for Amber (and hurrah for no damnable romantic subplot!), because the way he nervously rambles and babbles gives the story the humour and dialogue it needs. I’m impressed that Landy managed to make him so endearing, despite how mindlessly he acts and the way he talks first and thinks second – he really adds heart to the story. Finally, Milo is Amber’s stoic, secretive driver on her trip along the Demon Road, and he wordlessly balances out the two teenagers with his patience and effortless skills and knowledge of the darker underworld of the USA. His character arc is beautifully done too, as he starts to view Amber as more than just a job, but as someone he actually wants to protect.



I love Derek’s writing style in Demon Road… He really does create a strange, almost Summer-y quality to the road trip, but he works in the subtle but creeping horror perfectly, and so much of it is expertly done to be unsettling as opposed to cheap gore soaked frights. Plus, his world feels deep and well thought out – I get the distinct impression that there’s a much richer mythology going on under the surface that we’ll get to peek at in later books in the trilogy. The description is excellent here too, flowing and bouncing intelligently and using really jarring comparisons to help hammer home that sense of unease and dreamlike uncertainty in the reality of what the characters are seeing. Oh, and I love the way the road trip plot ties together some excellent set pieces – almost like mini episodes within an arcing plotline.

Fans of Derek Landy are going to adore Demon Road, and newcomers to his work will find it an excellent starting point to his writing style – dark, unsettling, hilarious and heartfelt, with wonderfully varied characters and more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing.

Thanks for Reading


P.S. – Demon Road is out on the 27th of August, but you can Pre-Order your copy here.

P.P.S. – Derek will be signing in my store (Waterstones Durham) from 1pm on the 29th of August! I’d love if you could come along.

Free Writing No. 10 – Bump in the Night

This is a slightly long piece of Free Writing, mostly because I had a very particular set piece in my head, and I was on a train anyway. It’s got some violence about it, and some strong language. Sorry Mum and Dad, I only heard those words on TV, I’ve never used them.

Big Tim and the others had been having a pretty great night when they spotted the thing in the fog. It was 4am, and the nine of them had managed to get kicked out of two pubs and a club for fighting, which he personally counted as a good effort. Not a personal best for him, but not bad when you considered the options in a next to nothing town like Little Westbrook. When the thing that would kill him first lurched into their vision, Tim had his arm around Kate, who he had been fooling around with all evening, despite knowing full well that she had a boyfriend – little rat faced Jimmy who worked at the corner shop. Tim wasn’t afraid of that little wanker, though. Big Tim wasn’t afraid of anything. He had his boys at his back, and the streets of the town where his playground tonight.

A bright, full and ominous moon hung above the leafy street as they sauntered cockily down the middle of the road, daring cars to give it a go.

“What the fuck is up with that?” Mick shouted from behind, and Tim took a moment to adjust his beer hazed eyes to the thick fog that had come in off the river through the night, somewhere between pub six and pub nine.

It shambled, that was the best way to describe to describe it, listing this way and that as if it was a drunk on deck during bad weather. The moon cut through the fog almost perfectly to highlight some of the vague details. It had two arms, two legs, but it looked like the rest of it was covered in a dirty sheet, hiding its face and body from view.

“How can he even see?” Kate asked him, but Tim just shrugged.

“Some pisshead’s decided to have Halloween two months early!” Mick yelled, and hurled a half filled beer can in an arc that landed a good few feet short of its target, frothing onto the concrete.

“Yeah, dickhead, you Casper the friendly ghost or something?” Mick’s twin brother Andy followed up, flinging his can through the gloom as well. The brothers where always the first to kick off, if not purely for the fact that they knew Big Tim would back them up, and over the years their behaviour had gotten pretty tiring. Tim would have to give them a serious talking to one of these days, with a baseball bat preferably.

Andy’s can was much better aimed – either through dumb luck or the fact that the figure was gradually ambling up the road towards them, and it connected with the part of sheet that Tim figured must have a head underneath it. Now it was a little closer, he was struck by how short it was, standing probably just over four feet tall. The thing stopped as the can bounced off it, stiffening and staring straight at them – only staring without any eyes, just a serious feeling of malevolence.

“Lads, leave it out alright?” Tim commanded, trying to keep his voice steady and nonchalant, but there was a spider web of uncertainty working its way into his heart, “It’s probably some kid out pissing about. Look, he’s like, gnome height, in’t he?”

“Whatever,” Mick answered. He’d heard the hesitance in Tim’s voice, and decided now was great time to push the big man for a display of authority over the group. Behind, the lads bristled nervously – fighting and drinking had filled them all with an energy, and now it was bubbling to come spilling out onto the floor, one way or another.

“Mick, I said leave it,” Tim reiterated.

“You’re not the fucking boss of me, ‘Big Tim’,” Mick spat back, derision in every syllable of his words. The two of them squared off for a second, eyes matched and burning with tension and wild purpose. Eventually, Mick broke first and strode across to the now stationery figure in white.

“I’m going to knock your freaky little teeth in now, mate. Stay nice and still, yeah?” He said to it, in the same voice people might use to patronise a small child. He pulled back his fist, hung it in the air for a second to see if the thing even knew he was there, and swung it forward with all the force his alcohol filled body could manage.

The shrouded creature moved impossibly fast, stuttering in Tim’s vision like a lagging character from a video game, and Mick’s fist met empty air as it sidestepped him. As he pitched forward, his momentum not quite taking him over onto the ground, an arm shot out from under the sheet of the creature and grabbed Mick at the wrist. Tim noticed with overwhelming horror that the thing had seven fingers, four at the top of its hand and three across the bottom, each pointed and needle like, giving it a fearsomely powerful grip. The skin of the hand and arm was a mottled grey, dark and leathery, like something that had been buried underground for centuries and left to fester in arid, dry conditions. As soon as the fingers curled around Mick’s wrist, he let out an agonised cry of terror, standing bolt upright as if electricity was coursing through his body, and gradually blood began to run from his ears and nose, before finally pouring from his eyes like tears.

“What the fuck?!” Andy yelled, running past Tim and towards his brother. The creature made no movement to avoid his full on charge until the very last second, where it again simply wasn’t there anymore. It stood barely a foot away from Andy, still clutching Mick’s arm at the wrist. Unfortunately for Mick, the arm was no longer attached to him.

Blood poured from the open wound at the shoulder where Mick’s arm should have been, spurting alternately as his heart beat forced his life out at high pressure. His skin rapidly turned translucent and pale, before he collapsed to the ground, his eyes staring back at Tim lifelessly. Andy bellowed with rage, and swung at the creature with his fist, just like his twin had done, only this time the creature stayed still, bringing its horrifying arm up in a straight arc, and split Andy into two pieces. Blood and organs spilled out onto the street as the man fell apart as easily as ripping paper, and Tim heard Kate throw up next to him. He’d probably have done the same if he wasn’t so paralysed with terror. The next thing he knew, the creature had rushed towards them within a single blink, ploughing into them with ethereal elegance, like a cloud moving at the speed of light. He felt Kate fall to the ground beside him and saw with horror that her head was gone. Simply missing, with dark blood pooling on the floor beneath her body, and he freaked out. With the power suddenly returned to his limbs, he ran as hard as he possibly could, past the mutilated remains of the twins and into the swirling fog.

“Why isn’t anyone coming out of their house?” He muttered in frenzied panic, noticing lights on in the windows around him. He even noticed people stood, watching the spectacle of violence with mild indifference. His town had turned on him.

He heard the shouts and screams as the rest of his friends where effortlessly dismembered with ruthless efficiency, but he was spared the sight of it, as they were obscured by the pearlescent fog. Eventually everything fell silent again, and the night pressed in on him, taking away the sense of confidence and control he’d flaunted all evening. His lungs burned from running, and he finally had

to slow to a stop as his breath failed to catch, resting his hands on his thighs, the cold sweat of fear mixing with the hot sweat of exhaustion down his back. The very last thing he ever saw was the shrouded monstrosity gliding silently through the fog towards him, letting out a single sigh as it rushed past him at a phenomenal speed, severing his head from his shoulders as it passed with a flick of its razor like hands.


Hope you enjoyed it. The thing in question I think is some kind of ancient alien. I dunno. I don’t think it matters right now. It might become a thing, though…