Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Guest Post by Chris D'Lacey (A Dark Inheritance blog tour)


A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey was published by Chicken House earlier this month. The first book in the brand new The Unicorne Files series, A Dark Inheritance is thrilling story with X-Files/paranormal themes and a definite whiff of conspiracy. Today I am really happy to be hosting a guest piece from Chris as he embarks on his UK blog tour:


Remembering Rafferty Nolan

When I was at university, studying biology, there was a particular lecturer I really enjoyed hearing.  His name escapes me now (it’s been a long time since I was a student) but his field of interest was genetics.  Over a period of weeks he taught us, among other things, about the discovery of the genetic code and the structure of DNA.  He told it like a real story, chapter by chapter – the four bases, the alpha helix etc. – and I remember being so gripped that I would get to the lecture theatre early to be sure of getting a good place.  That was the closest I came to being a science nerd.  Not too long after university my life began to move down a literary path and science became something I relied on simply to pay the bills.  But I’m certain that lecturer had a huge influence on my writing.  I still love a good scientific mystery now, and occasionally it shows in my books.

This is partly what fuelled the central theme of A Dark Inheritance, the first in my new series The UNICORNE Files.  I love anything that might be said to lie on the extreme edges of science, particularly those subjects that have no robust scientific credibility yet can’t quite be dismissed as hokum.  The one that pops up in A Dark Inheritance is the fascinating phenomenon of cellular memory.  To explain: people who’ve had organ transplants sometimes make the extraordinary claim that they have some memory of their donor or that they’ve inherited some of their donor’s personality traits.  Imagine a forty-year-old man who has never been interested in gardening receives a new kidney and suddenly begins to know the Latin names for plants or has a strong urge to visit garden centres.  He then finds out that his donor was a keen gardener.  That would be cellular memory.

There have been many theories put up to explain it and I don’t have room to go into them here.  Some people believe that every cell in the human body has full ‘consciousness’.  And to hark back to my genetics teacher, in one lecture he dealt with the captivating subject of totipotent cells, which have the ability to differentiate into a complete organism from a single cell state.  Wow.  So where does this lead us?

Well, in an early review of A Dark Inheritance, the reviewer said they didn’t ‘get’ cellular memory.  Fine.  Hand on heart, I don’t ‘get’ telekinesis or past-life regression or out-of-body experiences – or my beloved dragons, for that matter – but I don’t have to believe in a thing to want to explore it in a work of fiction.  Subjects like these are toys in a writer’s attic, there to be picked up, played with and re-imagined.  With cellular memory, I did what all writers do, I lodged the idea into my subconscious and let it bubble away for a while.  It eventually came back with an interesting question, “What if the donor had died in an accident, but the person receiving the organ remembered something that would suggest the death wasn’t an accident?” And away I went.

A Dark Inheritance is a kind of ghost story with a twist.  The notion of cellular memory is used to unravel the truth behind the untimely death of a girl called Rafferty Nolan.  To say any more than that would be to say too much.  Writing the story hasn’t made me believe in the subject any more now than it did before I started.  But my mind is open and the truth is out there.  A fantasy writer wouldn’t have it any other way.


A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey, out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House) 




Monday, 18 August 2014

Review: Our Lady of the Streets by Tom Pollock


Ever since Beth Bradley found her way into a hidden London, the presence of its ruthless goddess, Mater Viae, has lurked in the background. Now Mater Viae has returned with deadly consequences.

Streets are wracked by convulsions as muscles of wire and pipe go into spasm, bunching the city into a crippled new geography; pavements flare to thousand-degree fevers, incinerating pedestrians; and towers fall, their foundations decayed.

As the city sickens, so does Beth - her essence now part of this secret London. But when it is revealed that Mater Viae's plans for dominion stretch far beyond the borders of the city, Beth must make a choice: flee, or sacrifice her city in order to save it.






Warning: this book could seriously damage your holiday. At least, it very nearly did that to mine. My wife and I recently spent a week in Scotland. Obviously, therefore, it wasn't a beach holiday with plenty of time to lounge around and do nothing but read. We were going to do stuff. And then I made the mistake of starting to read Our Lady of the Streets, one of my most anticipated books of 2014. And instead of travelling from Fort William to Mallaig on the Jacobite steam train (over the Harry Potter viaduct!), I found myself wanting to stay inside and read. Instead of driving up to Loch Ness, I desperately needed to stay in our apartment to continue reading. The small amount of time at night and in the morning before doing stuff just wasn't enough for this book. It demanded more. It demanded uninterrupted, quality time. And so I did something I rarely ever do - I put it aside and read something else. And then when I got back home from Scotland I picked it up and started reading it from the beginning.

I've waxed lyrical about how great the previous two books in this trilogy are in previous reviews, and I had incredibly high hopes for this one. However, in recent months there have been mutterings amongst some of the UK bloggers about how they are becoming fed up with trilogies because so often the all important third book turns out to be a huge disappointment. This is most definitely not the case with Our Lady of the Streets: it is everything I wanted and hoped for from the final book in The Skyscraper Throne trilogy. In short, it is bloody brilliant!

Please do not read on if you haven't read the previous two books as there are likely to be a few spoilers. Pen and Beth have been reunited following Pen's adventures in London-Under-Glass. However, Pen isn't the only 'person' to have come back to our world from the other side of a mirror: Mater Viae's reflected version has also crossed over and she is bitter and out for vengeance. The story picks ups some time after the close of The Glass Republic and London is already cut off from the rest of the country. Fever streets, Blank Streets, claylings, Sewermanders have all combined under the control of Mater Viae to kill and destroy. And Beth feels almost powerless to help as she herself is sick and possibly dying, along with the city that gives her life and power. 

Fortunately Beth has Pen at her aside, a girl who is almost as unrecognisable as Beth, in comparison to the two friends we were introduced to at the beginning of The City's Son. Yet where the changes in Beth are obvious, for Pen, apart from her scars, it is the inside that has changed the most. Although desperately missing Espel, who is still fighting battles in London-Under-Glass, Pen is stronger and braver than ever before, and she almost edges Beth aside to become the main character of this final piece. Over the course of this book and it's predecessor, Pen has very quickly become one of my all-time favourite heroines from literature.

Our Lady of the Streets is at times a pretty brutal read. Tom Pollock, as he has shown previously, is not afraid to make his characters suffer, and sometimes pay the ultimate price, and so when things seem particularly bleak for Beth and her rapidly diminishing band of survivors, we really do not know who will make it through to the end of the book. Our Lady of the Streets is therefore bound to be an emotional rollercoaster of a read for some, and I am sure that there will be more than a few tears shed by readers at times.

This trilogy is a remarkable achievement for Tom Pollock, especially given that The City's Son was his debut. He writes like someone who has mastered the craft over many, many years and although I am deeply saddened that Beth and Pen's story has now come to an end I can't but helkp feeling a little excited about whatever Tom Pollock may deliver next. He is certainly in my personal top 5 favourite YA writers of the moment, and probably of all time.

Our Lady of the Streets was published in hardback on August 7th, and my thanks go to the fab people at Jo Fletcher Books for sending me a copy.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review: Replica by Jack Heath


'Whose body is that on the table?' I ask.

She stares at me, as though the answer is obvious. 'It's yours,' she says.

Before I have time to scream, she types a command on the keyboard. My consciousness whirls away like storm water down a drain
.

Chloe wakes up to find all her memories have been wiped. And the only person who knows what happened is a teenage girl who looks and sounds exactly like her.

Who is she? And what does she want?

Chloe is running out of time to discover the truth. But she's in even more danger than she realizes, and nothing is as it seems . . .







I loved Jack Heath's Money Run and Hit List and I have been waiting impatiently in the hope that there will be more adventures for Ash and Ben. Sadly it looks like this wait has been in vain as Jack Heath seems to have moved on, with his new book, Replica, due to be published in the UK on 7th August. However, my disappointment is more than slightly alleviated by this new book, which possesses all of the Jack Heath trademark twists and turns, within a scintillating science fiction thriller premise.

Replica is one of those books that is very difficult to review as every phrase has to be carefully thought through for fear of creating spoilers. Yes, it is that twisty and turny, and I must warn you to avoid one particular review on Amazon which actually lays out the ending of the book in detail! Seriously, some people are so inconsiderate.

What I can tell you is that Replica has one of the most gripping opening chapters that I have read in a YA novel. In my proof copy, there is a moment at that bottom of page four that literally had my jaw dropping, and then me flicking back to re-read the opening pages to make sure I hadn't missed anything. Naturally, by this point I was totally pulled into the story and struggled to put the book down, so it certainly passes the 'grab the reader in the opening pages' test. As for an unspoilery explanation of the rest of story? The main character is a replica, a pretty much prefect android version of a real teenage girl, even down to memories and consciousness. Why 'she' has been made is something you will have to find out by reading the book yourself. 

Aside from the pace and twists of this book, I also loved the fact that it poses so many moral questions, without them ever seeming to be 'in your face'. There is certainly something of a homage to Blade Runner going on here, and readers will find themselves asking what constitutes life, is it moral to give machines feelings/emotions and what is it that makes us human? Some of these themes gain particular focus as replica Chloe builds a relationship with one of her schoolmates, Becky. It is sad that same sex relationships in YA books are still such a rarity that whenever we come across one we feel the need to give it special mention, but in this case, even if they were a common occurrence, I would still want to highlight it as Jack Heath writes these scenes with incredible subtlety and sensitivity. This is not the use of an LGBT theme for the sake of adding diversity; it genuinely feels 'right', as if replica Chloe having a relationship with a male character just would not have fitted the tone of story quite so well.

Before I go I feel I should mention the story's ending. I am aware of some readers who have found it frustrating, whilst others, like myself, feel that it works by leaving things open, not necessarily for a sequel but for the reader to formulate their own opinion of what happens next. I think it is one of those 'love it or hate it' kind of endings. Go back to Blade Runner again, and think of that ending, whether it be the voice-over original release or the more ambiguous Director's Cut ending. Both leave the viewer with questions about Deckard's and Rachael's futures, and do not ruin everything that came before by doing so. That's my opinion anyway.

Replica by Jack Heath was published on 7th August and my thanks go to the lovely people at OUP for sending me a copy.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Countdown to 7th August: Author Interview with Jeff Norton (Author of Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie)

It's great to be featuring an interview with Jeff Norton today, as part of the Countdown to 7th August blog tour. However, to kick things off I have an extra special treat for you - a short video of Jeff reading the prologue of his hilarious new book, Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie. The video was taken when Jeff took part in the Wonder of Words Young People's Literary Festival last month.



And now on to the interview:

Firstly, how would you describe your book Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie to a potential reader?

It’s the funny, sometimes awkward, true story of a twelve-year-old boy called Adam Meltzer who has early-onset OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) who dies and comes back as a zombie. It’s a coming of age story about learning how to be comfortable in your own skin…even if it’s decomposing.

What was the original inspiration behind the story?

The original inspiration was literally feeling like a (sleepless) zombie when my first son was born.  It made me wonder what it’d be like to actually be a zombie. I explored the idea in a short film I made about a grown-up zombie trying to get his old life back (you can see it here: https://vimeo.com/32102311) and then I kept thinking about the unfair life of a zombie, and then started to imagine how bad it’d be if you were undead in middle school. Life’s hard at twelve with friends, parents, puberty, and teachers…imagine being among the walking dead too!


I loved your main characters in Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie.  Can you tell us a little more about Adam, Ernesto and Corina?

Thank you! What I love about them is that they are all better people/monsters with their friendship.  Adam is a neurotic worrywart, fearful of germs and obsessed with safety and hygiene.  But he’s got an inner confidence, and over the course of the book, he learns how to accept what he’s become.

Corina is a vegan vampire who’s not got a very supportive home life. She’s cold and prickly on the outside, but that’s mostly because nobody has taught her how to be kind….until she meets Adam and Ernesto.

Ernesto, who goes by Nesto, is a very messy Chupacabra who’d rather be a werewolf. He lives with a big family in the house behind Adam’s house and since he’s always the runt of every group he’s in, had never really had a group of friends.  

Exactly what is a Chupacabra?

No one really knows, but it’s a new legend that began in Puerto Rico in the mid nineties. People began reporting sightings of a lizard-like creature, the size of a large dog, destroying goats and the myth spread to Mexico where the creature is blamed for eating cattle.  In the book, Ernesto’s family (who are Mexican) moved from the countryside because the farmers were arming themselves against Ernesto’s midnight feasts.

How did you find the writing process compared with when you were writing the MetaWars books?

Mostly it was a relief. MetaWars, as you know, is utterly relentless in its intensity so I needed to so something funny.  I wrote most of this book in various coffee shops (including in my childhood hometown) and would often break into unstoppable laughter while writing it. I’m pretty sure people around me thought I was crazy…which I suppose you have to be to write about an OCD zombie. So maybe they’re right?

What do you like most about writing for young people?

It’s a real honour and a total privilege to write for people who are still discovering the world.  I was such a reluctant reader as a boy that I love creating stories that I hope will turn young people into life long readers. 

Do you have a favourite zombie movie?

That’s a hard one!  While not technically zombies, I think Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is a master class in reinventing the genre.  I also have a real soft spot for Zombieland because of its deadpan comedy.

Do you have a survival plan for when the zombie apocalypse arrives? 

I don’t reckon my chances are very good, but I do have a stash of zombie makeup so I think I’ll first make up myself and my family and zombies and try to blend in. The key will be not to leave the house in case zombie hunters mistake us for the real thing. That’d be awkward.

When said zombie apocalypse arrives you can have one person, real or fictional, as your survival partner. Who would you choose?

Doc Brown, obvs. I’d get into the DeLorean with him and zip back to before the outbreak and stop it.

If you could pose one question to any writer, living or deceased, who would the writer be and what question would you ask?

You mean beyond asking JK Rowling to reveal that she’s the actual author of Memoirs Of A Neurotic Zombie using Jeff Norton as a pen name, I’d love to sit down with F. Scott Fitzgerald and ask about his opinion on the world today and how much it’s the same or different as the 1920s.

If you were to host a dinner party for any three people (alive or from the past), who would those three people be? 

These people from the past, would they be in decrepit corpse mode or ghost mode? If the former, I’d only go with alive folks because I think I’d lose my appetite with living corpses around the dinner table. I think they’d leak all over the floor too, and I have a really nice hardwood floor that I’d like to keep bile free.  

Anyway, assuming ghost mode: FDR, Benjamin Franklin, and my granny.

Assuming corpse mode, and thus going for living dinner guests: J.J.Abrams, Joss Whedon, and my wife, Sidonie.

And if you were allowed to invite a few fictional characters as well?

Gatsby, Yoda, Katniss (but she’d have to leave her weapons at the door). Brian Flanagan on bar (Tom Cruise’s character in Cocktail).  I’d ask Robocop to do security. 

Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of The Book Zone?

I hope you’re losing yourself in a good book this summer!  Happy reading!

Oh, and there’s a brand new Adam Meltzer website launching called www.adammeltzer.com.  Check it out.

~~~

Huge thanks to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.

Jeff Norton’s Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie publishes 7th of August from Faber.  Jeff is on the web at www.jeffnorton.com and tweeting as @thejeffnorton.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Review: Compton Valance: The Most Powerful Boy in the Universe by Matt Brown


When Compton Valance and his best friend Bryan Nylon discover the world's first TIME MACHINE (aka a mouldy, thirteen-week-old-cheese-and-pickled-egg sandwich), they become the most powerful boys in the universe. But how will Compton and Bryan decide to use their incredible new time-travelling powers? Will they use them for good? Will they use them for evil? Or will they just focus their efforts on perfecting a formula for the world's first pair of custard trousers? Things are about to get totally scrambled for Compton Valance.






This is how Compton Valance: The Most Powerful Boy in the Universe opens:



Do you need to read any further to know that a child is just so going to love this book? Okay, so maybe we shouldn't judge a book from its first page (even though so many kids do exactly this), so how about a page from a little further into the book:



Yep, from beginning to end Matt Brown's debut book for kids is laugh-out-loud funny, and chock full of toilet humour, crazy adventure and ridiculous characters with even more ridiculous names (Bryan Nylon, Bernard 'Strictly' Strickland and Samuel Nathaniel Daniels, to name but three). 

Time travel does lend itself perfectly to comedy adventures, but Compton's adventures through time are almost secondary to everything else in this book. The sheer overwhelming (in a good way) force that is the humour hits you squarely between the eyes on page on, and leaves you in a giggling mess with snot dribbling down your chin come the final page. But that's not to say the plot suffers, although younger readers may struggle at times with the way their travelling through time repeatedly messes with timelines. More confident readers, who are able to focus on the plot whilst rolling on the floor laughing at the jokes, should have little problem following the story, especially as Matt Brown very kindly includes occasional footnotes as an aid (and, of course, to add even more comedy).

Matt Brown's comedy words are aided and abetted by the wonderful and madcap cartoon-style illustrations of Lizzie Finlay, who I am sure also had a hand in the way the text is presented, with varying typeface styles and sizes, adding emphasis and impact to the humour in the same way a live stand-up comedian would use timing. 

Compton Valance: The Most Powerful Boy in the Universe is the first in what I hope will be a lengthy series. In my opinion, it is much funnier than the Wimpy kid and Captain Underpants stories, and Matt Brown is another author to add to the growing list of homegrown talent that are now beginning to rival the likes of Jeff Kinney and Dave Pilkey. If you want to find out more about Matt Brown and his book then I urge you to head on over to the Compton valance micro-site at www.comptonvalance.com. The book is also featuring as part of Pizza Hut's The Hut Book Club until September so if you're heading out for pizza look out for samplers.

Compton Valance: The Most Powerful Boy in the Universe was published at the beginning of June, and its sequel, Compton Valance: The Time Travelling Sandwich Bites Back is due to be published in October. My thanks go the the fab people at Usborne for sending me a copy of the book.






Thursday, 31 July 2014

Review: Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie by Jeff Norton


'My name is Adam Meltzer and the last thing I remember was being stung by a bee while swinging at a robot-shaped piƱata on my twelfth birthday. I was dead before the candy hit the ground.'

Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie is narrated by the hilarious Adam Meltzer - pre-teen, worrywart, and now zombie. Adam's family gets the fright of their lives when he turns up at their door . . . three months after his funeral.

Soon Adam's back at school trying to fit in and not draw extra attention to himself, but when he sees his neighbour Ernesto transform into a chupacubra, and the beautiful Corina (Adam's number one mega-crush) turns out to be a (vegan) vampire, undead life is never going to be the same again.

A hilarious adventure caper - if Ferris Bueller met Shaun of the Dead - all about friendship and being yourself . . . even if you're undead.






I love Jeff Norton's MetaWars series. The story is the perfect blade of action, adventure and science fiction, all set in a brilliantly imagined dystopian future. I was therefore really excited to see Jeff at a blogger event held by Faber as this could only mean that he had a new book coming out. And then, I was even more than a little surprised when we were told about his new book, Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie, as on the face of it it could not have been more different from his previous work (of which I would happily have read more and more). My slight disappointment evaporated as soon as Jeff started reading the prologue to Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie. He had the room in tears of laughter, a feat that he repeated a couple of months later when he appeared at the Wonder of Words festival that I organised.

In his main character and narrator, Adam Meltzer, Jeff Norton has created a protagonist that will have readers in stitches. And if you thought zombies had been done to death (pun intended) then think again: a teen zombie with OCD? It is such a great concept as Adam's neurosis open things up for all kinds of puerile jokes (in the very best kind of way), and in particular to loads of great references to poo, germs and other toilet humour that kids will find hilarious.

Adam isn't the only great character in this book, as fortunately for him he is aided and abetted by two other kids who can only be described as unsual (ok, maybe weird is a better word, however unkind it may seem). First there is Ernesto, Adam's diminutive neighbour who just happens to turn into a Chupacabra during a full moon (it's a sort of mythological lizard ape hybrid thing) and then there is Corina, the object of Adam's (secret) affections who also happens to be a vegan vampire. Together they make a great team, and take it upon themselves to find out just how on earth a mere bee sting could kill Adam and then have him come back as a zombie.

Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie is one hell of a funny read, and with this new book Jeff Norton proves to the world that he is certainly no one trick pony. I hope this is just the first in a long series as I think there are so many more adventures this oddball trio could have in the future. It is also the kind of book that I think will benefit from word-of-mouth 'promotion'. Like the Wimpy Kid books, once one child as read it they are bound to tell all of their friends who will then also want to read it. If you're looking for something to make your 9+ child laugh out loud this summer then this should certainly be on your radar.

Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie is published on 7th August and my thanks go to the lovely people at Faber for sending me a copy.