FICTION IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
Pictures in the Dark by Gillian Cross, Puffin pounds 4.99. A boy called Charlie takes a photo of an animal he does not recognise. He tries to find out what it is, and all sorts of weird things happen to him. It is really exciting and quite sad. Lots of parts are scary - especially near the end when Charlie's horrible cousins throw his friend, Peter, into a river. Charlie tries to save him and gets bitten by an otter. You think Peter is dead because he has been in the water a long time and an ambulance comes. This is definintely the best book I've ever read. Daisy Blackhurst (aged 9)

Wicked! by Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman, Puffin pounds 1 per book. This is an excellent series of six books, all very scary. I started with Book One: The Slobberers. I wanted to read Book Two straightaway. If you don't read them in order, you won't get the story - which might be a problem if your bookshop doesn't have the right one. These were better than Goosebumps, which everyone says are scary. They really are what they say, wicked! Harry Blackhurst (aged 10)

Aquila by Andrew Norriss, Hamish Hamilton pounds 10.99 In this TV tie-in, after falling into a quarry 11-year-old Geoff and his classmate Tom discover first the remains of a Roman centurion and then a time machine called Aquila. The scene is set for thrilling century-spanning adventures. Or it would be with the aid of TV special effects. On the page, however, the pair's escapades are paper-thin. The writing offers no sense of location or suspense and the two protagonists are far too Colgate-perfect to be likeable.

My Life As a Movie Hero, Eric Johns, Walker Books pounds 8.99 In Owen Royston Barren, Johns has created a Billy Liar for boys on the brink of adolescence. Owen's life is a series of dramas; his mother leaves his father, on his own mistaken advice, for the slobbish, brutal Frank only to leave him when the abuse begins. To cope with these traumas along with his impending puberty, Owen withdraws into a series of celluloid fantasies. Johns has a keen eye for the more embarrassing details of early teenage life and mixes a hearty sense of sarcasm with the recognition that with the onset of girls and spots every boy needs the odd reel of escapism. If I had to have one criticism of this book it would be that it wasn't available when I was 13.

The Story Collector by Susan Price, Hodder pounds 3.99 In an unspecified half medieval, half contemporary land Mr Grimsby searches for material for his new book. Price's ruse of collecting stories off a myriad of confessors provides a platform on which to parade her love of quirky, humorous and sometimes dark fables. Some are inconsequential, a few - such as the one about the pretty but dim boy who gets brains through marriage - are inspirational. With an eclectic language encompassing American slang and wizardry they are never short of enthralling.

The Empty Frame by Ann Pilling, Collins pounds 9.99 Teenagers Floss, Sam and Magnus take off to a mysterious abbey for the summer. There is something comforting in the assorted peculiar relatives, towers, dorms and haunted paintings which keep the youngsters clutching at the sheets at night. Floss and Sam are believable siblings, one moment jibing each other to distraction, the next stubbornly protective. This rather old-fashioned ghost story combines Hammer Horror with the khaki shorts and holiday scrapes of Arthur Ransom, and should please both sexes.

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