All Hallows’ Eve is upon us once more and that can only mean that we are soon to be surrounded by all types of monsters, ghoulies and manifestations. Fear not, as many of these unsettling creatures will actually be children dressed up on another adventure trick or treating. But what about that pair of seemingly malevolent trousers that walk by themselves? That is no child, but a pair of haunted kecks. Run, run, run, but perhaps if you have them a friendly hello these pants may be nicer than you think?
On a dark night, as our hero travels along a long and lonesome road he passes the most oddest of all sights – a pair of disembodied trousers walking themselves. Like any sane person, the hero runs off, but he keeps seeing the trousers. There is only one solution for a situation like this, buck up the courage and go and say hello. What’s the worst that could happen?
Dr Seuss always specialised in crazy flights of fancy, but the trousers in ‘‘What Was I Scared Off?’’ are actually amongst the most bizarre things he invented. This is because this book is one of his most grounded pieces. It is set in his usual Seussian world, with his usual Seussian prose, but the actual narrative is quite dark and spooky, with few twists. This is certainly a Halloween type of book as our hero is a little terrified of what the trousers represent. It is just very odd (and so like Dr Seuss) that the monster in his horror story should be phantom pants.
To reflect the darkness of the tale, this is one of Dr Seuss’ darkest illustrated books. There are lots of greens and blacks; none of the bright colours you will be used to. It has the effect of making this silly story a little bit unsettling. Thankfully, the finale shows that you should not judge a pair of trousers by their coveralls. What makes this particular special edition special is the glow in the dark technology. Some of the white elements glow if you store some light into them. To get the best of the effect you need to read the book in the dark though, which you can imagine if a challenge. Therefore, the glow in the dark is a fun extra, but not that easy to use.
For fans of Dr Seuss, ‘‘What’’ is a curio. The prose is as good as ever, but the story is a little too linear to be a real classic. The narrative betrays the books roots as part of a collection. As one of several spooky and short outings it would work brilliantly, on its own it feels a little like an anomaly. But, what an anomaly. Even when being a little too bizarre by his own odd standards, Dr Seuss books remain fantastic.
Selling books is not as lucrative a market as it once was, but one area that continues to do well is books for children. This is possibly why authors known for their adult work have decided to try writing for tweens, with mixed success. Harlan Coben has many a top selling crime thriller under his belt, even if they often might be the same book over and over again. Surely he could take his tense time based fiction and adapt it for kids?
Micky Bolitar is the nephew of famed ex-basketball player turned agent/PI Myron, but even his uncle cannot help him when one of his friends at school dies. The police seem to think that Micky may be in some way involved, so he must ask for the help of his pals Ema and Spoon to investigate once again. Their investigation will lead to great dangers, but for some reason this bunch of random children still go back for more.
‘Seconds Away’ feels like a flashback to the days of the Hardy Boys, but with more danger. Whilst the Hardy duo would find themselves in situations close to death, it always felt like mild peril and did not happen too often in one book. Coben decides to go his own way and create a rather dark book that has his characters continuously close to dying. At one point they even witness someone being shot in the head – this is not the teen fiction that I read as a youth.
With this in mind, it is a book aimed at the slightly older child who won’t mind a bit of action and a few scares. The problem is that even they will find the characters a little jarring. These are school children who don’t really need to get involved, but continue to do so. On so many occasions they should just leave well alone, especially as the book starts with the death of one of their own. Admittedly, a fiction novel about people not getting involved is not interesting, but Coben fails to make the scenarios believable enough that these kids would get involved.
‘Seconds’ is the type of book that feels like it is taking 12-14 year olds for granted – they don’t know better. Personally, I think that the audience will be well aware that something is not right in this book. Coben never earns the right to have so much violence and tension in the book. It is just a set of empty headed children getting into empty headed situations. The author should and can do better.
The world of pulp fiction is rife with prolific writers who often release a book every few months, sometimes under different names to disguise how quickly they can write. Jack Higgins was and is a prolific writer of pulp thrillers, but the difference is that back in the day he churned out quality, punchy titles and now he just flounders in a swamp of Sean Dillion identikit waffles. ‘Hell is Always Today’ is a great example of the type of raw thriller that Higgins used to write. A book that pops in and goes again, not spending too long making you think.
There is a killer on the lose known as The Rainmaker. On a wet night any young women thinking of going out better have second thoughts as they may end up dead. With the weather turning for the worse, the killer is in their element and Detective Sargent Nick Miller wants them caught. But that is not really his case, instead he is also on the lookout for talented cat burglar, Sean Doyle, who has escaped from prison. In a wet and grey city you might just find that people are not all black and white. A criminal may just help to catch a killer.
Higgin’s 60s novels are almost all great little thrillers. ‘Hell’ is a 1968 vintage and is smack in the middle of his heyday. Higgins used to write books set in different places and with different characters, but all of the books had his renowned punch to them. ‘Hell’ is no exception. It may suffer a little from being dated and it would certainly not conform to today’s politically correct world, but there is no denying there are fun thrills to be had.
This book is one of Higgin’s more pulpy affairs and a killer called The Rainmaker is a little cheesy. The author specialises in men that punch first and ask questions later; there is an abundance on offer here. By having a few dodgy characters there is actually an element of whodunit to the book, but most people will guess. What I liked best about the book was the two separate antagonists who are involved with The Rainmaker from different sides of the law. Both Miller and Doyle have their failings, but as a reader you want both of them to succeed.
‘Hell’ is certainly a cheesy title and things wrap up as you would expect, but there is a lot of fun to be had during the journey. At under 200 pages this is a pacy thriller that keeps giving from the start to the end. It may not be the very best that Higgins had to offer over his lengthy career, but it certainly worth reading for fans; especially those that may have forgotten why they read him in the first place.
For many people clowns are the stuff of nightmares and there they should remain. In the modern age you can pretty much live a life free of these demon entertainers; just avoid going to the circus, CBEEBIES and any films about IT. But what about if the clowns of your dreams decided to leave and come to the real world? In the world of ‘Night Terrors’ not only do you have to get along with your nightmare, but you may just have to buddy up with them as cops.
The line between the real world and dreams is a surprisingly thin one. To the majority of us we will never know, but some people bond with their nightmares and can travel from one world to the other. Audra is one such person and with the help of her psychotic clown sidekick, Mr Jinx, she must help police this line. Usually, the job is the occasional chasing of a nightmarish creature along the city streets, but recently these events have been happening more regularly and covering them up is becoming impossible. Are the worlds of the wake and the asleep about to collide and what happens if it does?
I am a fan of Tim Waggoner and in particular his Nekropolis books that star Zombie PI Matt Richter; a series of great action adventure books that took place in a brilliantly realised world. ‘Night Terrors’ does not stray too far from this template as the world of Hell is similar to that of dreams. However, in this series it allows Waggoner to bring in far more human elements to the story as half is set on Earth. On a plus note this means that you can identify well with the characters, especially Audra, but best of all is seeing the dream and wake versions of the same characters.
The element I found most interesting was Jinx’s insane dream version compared to his more benign and intelligent wake version. The relationship between the two partners is complex, Jinx was born of Audra’s nightmares, but has become somewhat of a protector to her. Although a beast of nightmarish qualities, Jinx knows what he is; it is Audra’s lack of professionalism that is the biggest danger at times.
The characters of the book work well and there are some fun sidekicks included later. However, the book concentrates too much at times on the action. There are big set pieces as supernatural beings take on one another. These are ok in moderation, but are a little too numerous here. It is not helped that there is often little consequence to the action as a team of dream weavers just repair things and make humans forget.
There is a nugget of a good idea at the centre of ‘Night Terrors’, but it suffers as much from anything from being similar to the Nekropolis books, but not as good. I would have preferred more Richter stories than spending time here. Waggoner seemingly wanted to merge his ideas of hell with the real world, but rather than enhancing the tension, it has lessened as all he consequences are tidied away.
When did children’s books become so Meta? Back in the day each Thomas the Tank Engine adventure was separate from the other as if they lived in their own episodic wildness, but not today. In this world of Nintendo Switches and online platforms the average adult is too scared to venture onto, we have metaphysical children books. Books that reflect back on previous outings in the series. If you are going to get the most out of ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, you best know about your ‘‘Oi Frog!’’ and ‘‘Oi Dog!’’ too.
When we last left the creatures of ‘‘Oi Frog and Friends’’ world they perched precariously on a selection of odd items. One unhappy customer of Frogs rhyming solution was Cat. This feline found itself having to sit on gnats and that is not a comfortable place to be. Therefore, Cat goes about looking for an alternative place to nestle, but Frog won’t let Cat off easily – you must follow the rules.
Both original outings by Kes Gray and Jim Field were examples of daft excellence. ‘‘Frog’’ and ‘‘Dog’’ are basically books about rhyming animals with silly things. The fun is in seeing Field’s illustrations as he shows a pony having to sit in macaroni etc. Things are little different in ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, but there is a twist. The rules that Frog makes everyone live by come to the fore. In this dictatorial landscape we find our hero, Cat. The book plays a little on gentle questioning of authority, but really it is still an excuse to have a load of animals doing silly things.
The combination of Gray’s writing and Field’s illustrations work wonderfully once again, no matter what Gray fires at Field, he can draw it. Fans of the series will love this outing as it is essentially more of the same, but delve a little deeper and it is playing with the lore of the world. Not many children’s books create a universe in which the characters inhabit, but Gray has achieved it. New readers to the books would be best tackling them in order as you will otherwise lose out on some of the in jokes and the bigger picture. Fans should grab this with abandon, they will especially love the ending.
Exercise is not always fun and in fact can be a little dull. One thing I like to do is exercise in front of the TV so that I can work my body, whilst vegetating my brain. The ‘Ultrasport Horserider’ is the type of tool that has been used in the UK for centuries; you find old fake horses in Stately Homes for people to exercise on when it rained. This horse is just about light enough to carry about the place, but you will probably want to store it close by to where you exercise and it is not really pretty enough to be on full display all the time.
Even as odd as it looks once built, it is a sight for sore eyes when compared to how it arrives. On a positive note the box is not actually that big, but the negative is that you need to build it. It is probably best tackled by two people as they are some tricky elements that are helped when one person is holding and the other is tightening. The instructions need to be followed carefully, but anyone who has tackled an IKEA flat pack will know the drill.
Once built the ‘Ultrasport Horserider’ is significantly different from an exercise bike. It uses far more muscle groups as a combination of your own body weight and the machine’s resistance works on legs, arms and stomach. There are a range of tensions to choose from, but if you are anything like me the lowest will work to begin with as they applied enough pressure. Being lifted as you exercise feels like a slightly more fun and different way to exercise and the good thing is that it a smooth action so you are not punishing joints. I would recommend this to someone bored of their exercise bike, or for someone considering getting some sort of home exercise machine – it is a good alternative.
There are certain subject matters that seem to resonate well with the toddler demographic; dinosaurs, animals, pirates. ‘Knock Knock Pirate’ by Caryl Hart and Nick East takes one of these big hitters and brings the pirates to the child. When a child is visited by some pirates she is in for more than she bargained for as they confiscate her house and sail it away to look for treasure. Can the child help the salty crew before they make her walk the plank?
‘Knock’ is a charming book that really plays up a child’s love of pirates. If you know a child like this, then this book will have instant appeal. It hits many a cliché and East’s illustrations really give the book a sense of fun and movement. The pirates bring with them a sense of anarchy and many a mischievous kid will enjoy their antics. There are so many things to look at on each page that a lot of entertainment is just had talking about what is going on and not really focussing on the narrative.
It is some of Hart’s choices that bring the book down from being a must have. Within the book is a counting element, but it feels a little sporadic. One minute you are counting up, then next the story is progressing. It gives the story a slightly stilted feel and this is also seen in some of the rhymes. They don’t all scan perfectly, so you find yourself stumbling over some of the words as the timing is slightly out.
There is enough contained within the illustrations and daft nature of the tale to entertain most children, but especially those that love the high seas. With a little more finessing on the wordage front, it would have been one for all, as it is, stick to pirate loving children.