Posted in MG Book Recommendations

Five Middle-Grade Books… Gothic

SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK by Robert Beatty

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity…before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

Reading age: 9+ This book hooked me from the very first page. Serafina is such a brilliant character and I had so much fun exploring Biltmore Estate with her. The corridors at night, the creepy forest, the Man in the Black Cloak, this book is a truly spooky read!

THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS by Chris Priestley

Sam and Lizzie are freezing and hungry on the streets of Victorian London. When Sam asks a wealthy man for some coins, he is rudely turned away. Months of struggle suddenly find their focus, and Sam resolves to kill the man. Huddling in a graveyard for warmth, Sam and Lizzie are horrified to see the earth around one of the tombs begin to shift, shortly followed by the wraithlike figure of a ghostly man. He warns Sam about the future which awaits such a bitter heart, and so begins Sam’s journey led by terrifying spirits through the past, present and future, after which Sam must decide whether to take the man, Scrooge’s, life or not.

Reading age: 9+ A delightfully spooky take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol following two hungry, desperate orphans, Sam and Lizzie. Set in fabulously gothic Victorian London, this book is dark, atmospheric, and crawling with suspense. I loved every second of it.

SHADOWS OF THE SILVER SCREEN by Christopher Edge

A mysterious filmmaker approaches The Penny Dreadful with a proposal to turn Montgomery Flinch’s sinister stories into motion pictures. With Monty installed as the star of his production, filming begins but is plagued by a series of strange and frightening events. As Monty pleads with Penny to help him, she is drawn into the mystery, but soon finds herself trapped in a nightmare penned by her own hand. Can Penny uncover the filmmaker’s dark secret before it’s too late?

Reading age: 10+ This is the second book in Christopher Edge’s Twelve Minutes to Midnight trilogy. It can definitely be read as a standalone, but I’d highly recommend reading the first book too because it’s awesome! Shadows of the Silver Screen will whisk you away to dark, Victorian London, the macabre pages of The Penny Dreadful, and a mysterious and spooky story.

DOLL BONES by Holly Black

My name is Eleanor Kerchner.
You can call me the Queen.
I died in 1895.
Now it’s time to play.

Reading age: 9+ A seriously spooky book, beautifully written, about three friends and the creepiest thing ever: a haunted porcelain doll. Shivers.

MARINA by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


In May 1980, 15-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts…

His story begins in the heart of old Barcelona, when he meets Marina and her father German Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the fourth Sunday of each month. At 10 a.m. precisely a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman dressed in black, her face shrouded, wearing gloves, holding a single rose. She walks over to a gravestone that bears no name, only the mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.

When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her they begin a journey that will take them to the heights of a forgotten, post-war Barcelona, a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons; and a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.

At the top end of MG, this book is recommended for ages 12 and up, but I’m squeezing it onto this list because it’s amazing! Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing is absolutely incredible. Darkly atmospheric, macabre, lyrical, captivating, beautifully gothic. Savour this.

Posted in MG Book Recommendations

Five Middle-Grade Books… with Monsters

THE MAKER OF MONSTERS by Lorraine Gregory

Brat has always lived in the isolated castle on the island, taking care of the vicious creatures that his master creates, waiting in terror for the moment when they are ready to be put to use. But then the unthinkable happens. The monsters get out. Now Brat must overcome his fears, and venture into the world he has hidden from his whole life. For the fate of everyone rests on his shoulders alone. . .

If you’re after a book featuring monsters then this is the one for you! It’s got monsters galore! It’s monsters, squared! There are sweet, lovable monsters that’ll steal your heart. And there are scary, blood-curdling, spine-chilling monsters that’ll have you reading this book with the lights on. Super fast-paced, page-turning read – I loved this book!

THE BIGWOOF CONSPIRACY by Dashe Roberts

When twelve-year-old, UFO-obsessed, Lucy Sladan sneaks out in the middle of a thunderstorm to investigate the unexplained disappearances in her hometown of Sticky Pines, she finds more than she bargained for: a huge hairy creature, a thirteen-year-old stranger named Milo Fisher and a deep-rooted secret. Together, Lucy and Milo become entwined in a mystery that threatens to engulf the whole town of Sticky Pines and its weird and wonderful residents.

Quirky. Spooky. Funny. Bigfoot? This is a crazy-fun adventure wrapped in a sci-fi mystery that’s like the X-Files meets Scooby Doo.

THE DARKDEEP by Ally Condie & Brendan Reichs

When a bullying incident sends twelve year-old Nico Holland over the edge of a cliff into the icy waters of Still Cove, where no one ever goes, friends Tyler and Ella – and even ‘cool kid’ Opal – rush to his rescue . . . only to discover an island hidden in the swirling mists below.

Shrouded by dense trees and murky tides, the island appears uninhabited, although the kids can’t quite shake the feeling that something about it is off. Their suspicions grow when they stumble upon an abandoned houseboat with an array of curiosities inside: odd-looking weapons, unnerving portraits, maps to places they’ve never heard of, and a glass jar containing something completely unidentifiable. As the group delves deeper into the unknown, their discoveries – and their lives – begin to intertwine in weird and spooky ways. Something ancient has awakened . . . and it knows their wishes and dreams – and their deepest secrets.

Do they have what it takes to face the shadowy things that lurk within their own hearts?

Stranger Things meets Middle Grade! This fast-paced book is heaped with creepy. There’s something seriously evil in the Darkdeep and it knows that the scariest things live in your own imagination.

CRATER LAKE by Jennifer Killick

Who is the mysterious bloodstained man who stops their coach? Why is no one around when Lance and the rest of Year Six arrive at the brand new Crater Lake activity centre?
But this is just the beginning of the school trip from hell; a fight for survival that sees five pupils band together to save their classmates from an alien fate far worse than death. But whatever happens, they must Never. Ever. Fall asleep!

Monsters from out of this world! This book is seriously creepy and super spooky. And it’s gory… but in that deliciously disgusting way that’ll have you cringing with a smile on your face.

SMALL SPACES by Katherine Arden

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie who only finds solace in books discovers a chilling ghost story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who loved her, and a peculiar deal made with the smiling man–a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.


Captivated by the tale, Ollie begins to wonder if the smiling man might be real when she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about on a school trip to a nearby farm. Then, later, when her school bus breaks down on the ride home, the strange bus driver tells Ollie and her classmates: Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you. Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed these warnings. As the trio head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: Avoid large places. Keep to small.

Scary, with a capital S. If you don’t want to be terrified of scarecrows for the rest of your life, you might not want to read this. That being said: you want to read this! Small Spaces will easily make the Top Ten of any Spooky MG list. It’s utterly brilliant and a must-read.

Posted in MG Book Recommendations

Five Middle-Grade Books… with Witches

THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste

Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they? When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and to save her island home.

Incredible creepy story set in Trinidad and rich with Caribbean folklore, The Jumbies ticked all the spooky, witchy boxes for me. Suspense, intrigue, mystery, this magical tale is an atmospheric read you won’t be able to put down.

NIGHTBOOKS by J.A. White

A boy is imprisoned by a witch and must tell her a new scary story each night to stay alive.

Alex’s original hair-raising tales are the only thing keeping the witch Natacha happy, but soon he’ll run out of pages to read from and be trapped forever. He’s loved scary stories his whole life, and he knows most don’t have a happily ever after. Now that Alex is trapped in a true terrifying tale, he’s desperate for a different ending–and a way out of this twisted place.

With nods to 1001 Nights and Grimm’s Fairytales, this book is seriously scary. Nightbooks is a proper page-turner oozing with nightmares and suspense.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is in fact a good witch who shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge – with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

A fabulous book filled with quirky, charming characters you’re guaranteed to fall in love with. The Girl who Drank the Moon deals with sorrow, loss, family, belonging, whilst also drawing you into a magical and mysterious quest.

TWELVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT by Christopher Edge

Why are the patients of Bedlam waking every night at twelve minutes to midnight? What is the meaning of the strange messages they write? Who is the Spider Lady of South Kensington?

Penelope Tredwell, thirteen-year-old owner of The Penny Dreadful, is always seeking mysteries to fill the pages of her magazine. But this isn’t any ordinary story, it’s the future.

And the future looks deadly…

This book hooked me from the very first page. There’s such a wonderfully macabre atmosphere to it, set in the Victorian era at the turn of the century when magic meets innovation. There isn’t a witch in the traditional sense, but for me, the Spider Lady exuded those eerie sorceress vibes, which is why I had to include Twelve Minutes to Midnight in this list.

THE VANISHING TRICK by Jenni Spangler

Step into a world of secrets, folklore and illusions, where nothing is as it seems and magic is at play…

Madame Augustina Pinchbeck, travels the country conjuring the spirits of dearly departed loved ones… for a price. Whilst her ability to contact ghosts is a game of smoke and mirrors, there is real magic behind her tricks too – if you know where to look.

Through a magical trade, she persuades children to part with precious objects, promising to use her powers to help them. But Pinchbeck is a deceiver, instead turning their items into enchanted Cabinets that bind the children to her and into which she can vanish and summon them at will.

When Pinchbeck captures orphan Leander, events are set into motion that see him and his new friends Charlotte and Felix, in a race against time to break Pinchbeck’s spell, before one of them vanishes forever…

Creepy, Gothic, with a fantastically twisted villain, this book is bewitchingly written. Set in Victorian England, The Vanishing Trick explores spiritualism with seances and tarot cards, mystery, misdirection, and magic. An incredible dark fairytale and a must-read!