The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby

They were met with a view of a large garden, but unlike the welcoming front of the house, now flowers bloomed and no bumblebees buzzed. Everything was dark and drenched in shadow because of what lay to the left – a gigantic tree that loomed over the entire garden and the house itself. Immy’s breath caught in her throat and her heart began to race as her eyes slowly travelled up its thick, gnarled trunk.

When Immy and her parents travel to England for a fresh start, they desperately want to rent a country cottage with a garden. But the only house that meets their brief has a downside: a mysterious mulberry tree in its backyard. Village lore has it that the tree is responsible for the disappearance of two girls, each of whom vanished on the eve of her eleventh birthday. Although the two disappearances were almost two hundred years apart, the legend surrounding the tree is such that the whole village mistrusts the tree, and girls are kept well away. But Immy’s parents don’t believe the tales, and Immy herself feels drawn to the cottage and to the mystery of the tree, and soon the family is trying to rebuild their lives in their new home. Still, as Immy’s eleventh birthday draws close, and Immy hears and sees things that aren’t really there, she wonders if she can solve the mystery or if she, too, will fall victim to the tree.

The Mulberry Tree is an engaging, but eerie novel for younger readers, who will love th supernatural elements. The blend of creepy, frightening moments with realistic, everyday problems and warm moments is a satisfying mix, suitable for middle and primary aged readers. The English setting will also appeal, adding tot he sense of displacement felt by the protagonist and adding interest for the reader.

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781760650292

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, by Krystal Sutherland

Esther Solar had been waiting outside Lilac Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for half an hour when she received word that the curse had struck again.
Rosemary Solar, her mother, explained over the phone that she would no longer, under any circumstances, be able to pick her daughter up. A cat black as night with demon-yellow slits for eyes had been found sitting atop the hood of the family car – an omen dark enough to prevent her from driving.

Esther Solar believes her family is cursed. Ever since her grandfather met Death in Vietnam, every family member has been cursed to suffer from one great fear, and to eventually die because of that fear. Her Grandfather, told her will die from drowning, avoids water, even baths. Esther’s father is an agoraphobic who has lived in the basement for six years, And her twin brother Eugene is terrified of the dark. Esther, though, is determined to avoid the curse, by avoiding everything that might trigger a phobia. She’s made a list of them, a semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. Then she meets Jonah, a would-be film maker with problems of his own, who is determined to make her confront, and dispel every one of her possible phobias.

Funny, sad and satisfyingly weird, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is hard to categorise, which is a good thing. The cast of flawed characters – teens and adults – are intriguing, and the plot equally absorbing. There’s some tough stuff happening, but the story is ultimately fun.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares Penguin, 2017
ISBN 978014357391

The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby

There was a man standing in the alcove that led out onto the Golden Gallery’s walkway. His attention was fixed on the explosion, which meant he hadn’t seen her yet. At first she thought he was a fire watcher, stationed up the top of St Paul’s to protect it from burning. But, no, this man was a twilight visitor – a man of the dead, not the living – she could tell by his ashen hue. Everything was a muted shade in her world; it was how you could tell the living world from the the world of the dead.

It is 1940 and Flossie Birdwhistle is the turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery, charged with keeping the souls that rest there at peace. When London is subject to enemy bombardment every night, this is an even more difficult task than usual. During one raid, when Flossie sets out to fulfill the request of one of her charges, she sees something surprising: a German soldier, who, though as dead as she is, seems to have abilities and interests from the other side of the grave. It is up to Flossie, and her friends, the turnkeys of London’s other cemeteries, to figure what he is up to, and how to stop him.

The Turnkey is an intriguing novel set in the midst of the second world war, populated with ghostly characters, as well as a handful of those still living. the concept of the dead being looked after by one of their own, and of them still carng for the world beyond the grave is appealing, and history lovers will enjoy seeing World War Two London and Germany from a very different angle.

Great stuff.

The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925126921

Black Light, by K.A. Bedford

“I have been having the most frightful dreams, Ruth. Something was happening to you – something terrible. I saw someone trying to kill you, someone with the most enormous hands – “

Twelve years ago Ruth Black’s husband was killed in mysterious war-time circumstances. Since then she has built herself a new life, resettling in rural Western Australia and forging a career as a novelist. But the arrival of  her Aunt Julia heralds the start of a series of unsettling events. Julia has travelled from England to warn her niece that she has forseen her murder. Ruth is not sure whether to believe her Aunt’s eerie premonition, but is startled by her knowledge of Ruth’s home, without ever having visited it.  As events unfold, Ruth must take her Aunt’s warnings seriously – but how is she to stop her enemies, and who is she to trust?

Black Light is a spine-tingling supernatural crime thriller, set in 1920s Western Australia. The town of Pelican River is fictional (though loosely modelled on Mandurah, south of Perth), and populated with an intriguing cast, including the eccentric Ruth herself; her widower neighbour Gordon, who copes with his grief by inventing things and surrounding himself with dogs; and a parish priest who believes Ruth is evil.

An intriguing blend of mystery, thriller and the supernatural, Black Light is absorbing, though at times a little confusing. For example, Ruth – and it seems everyone else – is acceptant of the fact that elves populate the neighbourhood, and that Gordon can cast protection spells, but struggles with other paranormal or supernatural possibilities. Still, it is perhaps this unpredictability which make the book intriguing.

Recommended for lovers of the paranormal.


Black Light

Black Light, by K. A. Bedford
Fremantle Press, 2015
ISBN 9781925161410

Available from good bookstores and online.

Dying to Know, by Josh Langley

Have you ever wanted to know something so badly that you’d do anything to find out the answer? I’ve had a burning question raging inside me for nearly 15 years and it’s not a flippant question like ‘will blue be the new black this winter?’ It’s the simple age old question that everyone would like to know the answer to but refuses to actually ask.
‘Is there life after death?’

After fifteen years of wondering and with a pressing desire to connect with a recently deceased relative, Josh Langley decided to thoroughly investigate the possibilities and probabilities of the afterlife, in an attempt to answer the question of life after death for himself. His investigations ranged from visiting a crematorium, to consulting mediums, and attending a spiritualist church, as well as looking inwards through experimenting with lucid dreaming and out of body experiences, as well as conducting a ghost hunt.

Dying to Know is an honest and open account of Langley’s attempts to answer the question for, showing both an amazing commitment to his topic, and a willingness to share those experiences with readers. As Langley explains, he wants to establish an answer for himself, but by sharing his journey, he provides an opportunity for others to learn and to ponder.

Easy to read, and thought provoking.


Dying to Know

Dying to Know, by Josh Langley
Big Sky Publishing, 2014
ISBN 9781922132482

Available from good bookstores and online.

Almost Dead, by Kaz Delaney

What I learned today:
1. It’s never wise to run in ten-centimetre platforms, no matter how well you think you can handle them.
2. My knowledge of the great outdoors is sadly lacking. Tents, for example, have ropes and things that can trip you up. Very easily.
3. My image of psychics wearing too much cheap jewellery and draped in floaty scarves may be way off but, like, since when did psychics look like surfer gods?

Macey sees dead people. This would be disturbing enough, but when she realises the ghost-boy who’s visiting her isn’t actually dead yet, she has no idea what she’s supposed to do. If she doesn’t figure out how to help Nick she’s going to go crazy.

Soon though, she realises that Nick isn’t her only problem. Her mother has walked out and her dad has come home with a whole other family for her to adapt to. The surfer god who’s masquerading as a psychic keeps popping up in her world. Oh, and maybe, just maybe, somebody is trying to kill her.

Almost Dead is a wonderful mix of so many things: romance, humour, mystery, teenage angst, the supernatural, and more. So many elements could be overwhelming, but instead it is delightful. Macey is an engaging, quirky character who is likeable, strong and, at times, frustratingly independent. What happens t her is pretty scary but it’s also told with humour, in a satisfying mix.

Suitable for teen readers, Almost Dead can be read as a sequel to Dead, Actually, but equally well stands alone.


Almost Dead, by Kaz Delaney
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743313268

Available from good bookstores and online.

You can see an interview with Kaz Delaney here.

Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan

‘Kristin,’ I said to her voicemail yet again. ‘The boy advice, man advice, whatever, it’s not for me. It’s much ore serious than that. Cathy’s gone all moony-eyed over a boy. Not just any boy. This one is an undead pain in the butt, and he won’t go away. Help!’

Seeing a vampire isn’t all that unusual in New Whitby, given that the city was founded by vampires. But although Mel and her friends Cathy and Anna might have seen them before, they haven’t actually met one. Vampires tend to stick to their own kind, and their aversion to light means they tend to be awake and active when humans are asleep. Then a vampire comes to their school, and suddenly everything is different, because Cathy is convinced that he is ‘the one’. Mel is determined to do whatever it takes to make Cathy see that dating a boy like Francis is dumb, but considering becoming a vampire to be with him is just sheer madness.

Her efforts to save Cathy are complicated when she meets Kit, a human boy with an unusual upbrining. Mel’s anti-vampire sentiments are soon trheatening not just her friendship with Cathy, but also her connection with Kit.

Team Human is an interesting take on the vampire book phenomenon. Taken as a parody of the form, it is clever and funny. Taken as a straight read, it also works – there is romance, mystery, suspense and character development. Whether teen readers will consider it a parody will depend on the reader, but because it works either way this is not a problem.

Team Human

Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 978174237839

This book is available from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond,

Dead, Actually, by Kaz Delaney

Contrary to popular belief, the air in hell is freezing – because surely that’s where I’d somehow landed. My breath caught; my heart jerked…
My body froze.
My brain shut down.
I clutched at the doorframe.
But still she stared at me.
Her…A dead person. In my room.
Let me clarify: not a body, a dead person.
An already-buried, dead person.

Willow’s having a bad week. A very bad week. Her parents have told her they’re heading off to start a church in Africa. The guys she has a crush on treats her like a little sister. And then there’s the matter of JoJo Grayson, a rich girl who inconveniently visited the drive through where willow was working – and then went and died, making Willow the last person to see her alive. This means that Willow is the one that JoJo is haunting, and JoJo isn’t any nicer dead than she was alive. She’s going to make Willow’s life very difficult until Willow can figure out what happened in the lead-up to JoJo’s death.

In the meantime, Willow is suddenly popular. All of JoJo’s friends, the ‘in’ crowd, want to spend time with Willow, ostensibly to learn more about their dear departed friend. But Willow soon realises there are ulterior motives ta play. these people think Willow knows something – and they’re pretty keen to find out what it is.

Dead, Actually is a tragi-comic story of life, death, and life after death – and of friendship and family, too. There’s a lot happening in Willow’s life apart from the haunting, with her woefully inadequate parents having invited a shyster evangelist into their home and her feelings for her best friend’s brother, Seth. This could be a lot to deal with in one story, but Delaney does it well with the story unfolding over just a few days and the characters delightfully drawn. Willow is an endearing first person narrator, outwardly strong but with her vulnerability helping to make her believable, and JoJo is the girl you love to hate (even after she’s dead) but who you come to understand just a bit better.

Suitable for teen readers, Dead, Actually is a delightful blend of mystery, romance and the supernatural all wrapped up with comedy fiction.

Dead, Actually

Dead, Actually, by Kaz Delaney
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742378183

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.