Tuesday, 31 August 2010

My Book of the Month - August

Where has the summer gone? It seems like only yesterday that we were breaking up for the school summer holidays and now I find myself frantically trying to do all the work things I has planned to spread out over the last five (and a half) weeks. Do I hear parents around the country giving a huge cheer and a sigh of relief that the holidays are over?

Anyway, it is the last day of the month and therefore time for me to announce the Book Zone Book of the Month for August 2010. This was one of the tougest choices so far - first off there was Dark Life, the fantastic debut from Katt Falls. This is a superb re-imagining of the classic westerns where pioneers worked hard to settle on land and fought off the likes of outlaws, but in this case it is set in a future and the settlers are establishing their homes under the waves as climate change has caused the seas to rise and dry land is at a premium. The second choice was Day of the Predator, Alex Scarrow's fab sequel to his first TimeRiders novel. For me this has none of the (albeit few) weaknesses of the first and I loved every page. However, after a lot of agonising I decided that really there could be only one choice this month - I enjoyed it so much I have already read it for a second time and I have been scanning the tables at car boots sales ever since looking for a battered china doll that I can 'adapt'. Yes... you've guessed it - the Book Zone Book of the Month for August is the fantastically scary Raggy Maggie by Barry Hutchison, the second book in his Invisible Fiends series.

This is the perfect horror book for kids. It will have them absolutely scared out of their wits, but without a huge amount of gore. As I said in my original review of the book, I think Caddie is one of the greatest ever creations in children's horror literature, and following a second reading I stand by this statement. If you haven't read this yet then make it a priority for September (but make sure you have read Mr Mumbles first).

And HarperCollins, if you are reading this, I am still waiting for those Invisible Fiends action figures to be released. Come on - you know you want to!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Review: Skulduggery Pleasant - Mortal Coil by Derek Landy



Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain are back – just in time to see their whole world get turned upside down…

While they struggle to protect a known killer from an unstoppable assassin, Valkyrie is on a secret mission of her own. This quest, to prevent her dark and murderous destiny, threatens to take her to the brink of death and beyond. And then the body-snatching Remnants get loose, thousands of twisted souls who possess the living like puppets, and they begin their search for a being powerful enough to lead them. Facing such insurmountable odds, Skulduggery, Valkyrie, Ghastly and Tanith can trust no one. Not even each other.

In preparation for writing this review I have just looked back at what I wrote about Dark Days, the previous book in this hugely entertaining series. At the time I really struggled to write a detailed review that did not contain any spoilers, and I'm now having that Groundhog Day feeling. Please do not feel let down if this review is not as detailed as some of my others but given the recent backlash on blogs and Twitter about certain nasty reviewers peppering their Mockingjay reviews with spoilers I want to be extra careful with this.

This is the thickest Skulduggery Pleasant book so far, weighing in at a hefty 572 pages; Derek Landy has obviously been on something of a writing roll given that Dark Days was released a mere five months ago. I enjoyed Dark Days but I had some reservations about how certain villains could have been developed more and a couple of the scenes seemed slightly superfluous. You will be glad to hear that I have no such criticisms about this book at all - I loved it and I think it has possibly become one of my favourite of the series so far.

Dark Days ended with less of a cliffhanger than its predecessor The Faceless Ones, although the final revelation about Darquesse was more than enough to get Skulduggery fans speculating wildly on fan forums and Facebook. Mortal Coil will not answer all of the questions that have been asked over the last five months, but the plot does have a number of deeply pleasing revelations. However, at the same time it also creates even more questions regarding Valkyrie, Darquesse et al so expect those forums to be buzzing noisily over the next few months as well.

The plot of Dark Days relied partly on the villains' use of a Remnant - a body-snatching wraith-like entity that can take over and use a human body without others realising. In Mortal Coil the Remnants play much more than a cameo role - the plot very much focuses on these creatures as they are released from their prison in the Midnight Hotel with devastating consequences for our team of heroes and the local 'normal' population. Yes.... people die in this book (and not just nameless mortals either), and sometimes pretty nastily, although Derek Landy rarely resorts to giving us graphic descriptions of this as he much prefers his readers to use their imaginations to fill in all the gory details. However, there is one wonderful scene where Valkyrie takes herself off to be 'treated' (any other word would give too much away) and the description of her experience is certainly not for the faint hearted!

Much of this book focuses on how Valkyrie is coming to terms with the revelations at the end of Dark Days, especially with regards to issues of trust. In her mind, despite being very close to Skulduggery, Tanith, Fletcher and the others, she is really not sure she trusts any of them enough to help her in this case. This leads to her putting her life in mortal peril, without any of them aware, and then, just as she feels she is able to confide a little more in her friends along come the Remnants and suddenly no-one knows who can they trust. Once the Remnants appear en masse the reader is kept guessing for the rest of the book as to just who has, or hasn't, been taken over and Derek Landy treats us to more nail biting scene after nail biting scene, some of which had me completely stumped as to how our heroes would escape death, or something worse, and as for the final climactic scene....... you will just have to read it for yourself, but I have a very strong feeling it will shock you.

My thanks go to the generous people at HarperCollins who sent me a copy of Mortal Coil to review. The book's official release date is 2nd September, but a number of sneaky book stores already have copies on their shelves if you go hunting.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Review: Losing It (edited by Keith Gray)


Melvin Burgess, Keith Gray, Patrick Ness, Sophie McKenzie, Bali Rai, Jenny Valentine and Mary Hooper. Some of today's leading writers for teens are gathered here in a wonderful collection of original stories: some funny, some moving, some haunting but all revolving around the same subject - having sex for the first time.


I may be mistaken but I think this is the first time I have reviewed an anthology of short stories on this blog, and what a book to be the first (pun intended). This is the kind of book that will have old fashioned, Daily Mail reading members of the British public up in arms, demanding that it be banned from schools and the Young Adult section in libraries across the country. And yet, if they bothered to stop and actually read this book they would discover that it could play a small part in helping our society to improve its shameful record of teen pregnancies and underage sex. Strong words, I hear you say, but I stand by them - books like this are very important, yet also seen far too infrequently on library and school bookshelves.


The above blurb from Amazon says it all - this book is a compilation of stories about teens losing (or trying to lose) their virginity. It is something that at some point will monopolise the thoughts of every teenager in the country, whether it be because they are desperate to have sex for the first time, whatever the consequences, or whether they want to save themselves until the time and other person are right for them. And just look at the list of authors who have contributed a story to this anthology - readers are certainly in good hands here.


As with all short story anthologies some of the stories are stronger than others, but as a collective effort it is brilliant. The stories are in turn poignant, funny and cringeworthy and I think most teenagers would run the gamut of emotions as they read through the whole volume. The book also covers a variety of different scenarios, including a boy who questions his football coaches maxim that sex before a big match will affect his performance; a girl living in India and the cultural attitudes of her society concerning relationships and sex; and a boy who is coming to terms with being gay and whether he should feel ashamed of this. This latter story is written by the hugely talented Patrick Ness, author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, and it is probably my favourite story in the anthology. Patrick uses a very crafty device in his writing by having all the 'rude' bits blacked out, as if censored. And I'm not just talking about the occasional word - in places there are whole paragraphs blacked out. I am sure there is many a teenager out there who will find it hilariously funny to create their own idea of what is going on in these blacked out areas.


I think there is something for every teenager in this anthology, and I know that many could gain enormously from reading it. I also feel that many adults will find it hugely entertaining, possibly in a cringing way, as they think back to how it felt being a teenager worried about losing their virginity too soon or too late. Losing It should be on the shelf in every school library, and the copy that Andersen Press kindly sent me will be added to our collection when the new term starts. There is also a fantastic Losing It blog that has been launched to tie in with the book. There are already a number of comments on there from the various authors and Keith Gray (the book's editor), as well as comments from readers who have expressed their own thoughts about losing their virginity.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Review: Dead Man's Cove by Lauren St John


When orphaned Laura Marlin moves from a children's home to live with her uncle in Cornwall, she longs for a life of excitement just like the characters in her favourite detective novels. A real life adventure is on hand as she is deposited at her uncle's spooky house . . . Why does her uncle, Calvin Redfern, forbid her to go to Dead Man's Cove? What's the truth about Tariq, the silent Indian boy who lives with the flamboyant Mukthars? Who is J? Who has left the message in a bottle for Laura to discover? Mysteries abound and who better to solve them than Laura Marlin, ace detective? Accompanied by her trusty companion, Skye, a three-legged husky, the dog she's always wanted, Laura's adventures begin.


Not long ago I was bemoaning the lack of good mystery stories available for children these days. When I was a kid there seemed to be little else - Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Five Find-Outers were incredibly popular, and once these had been read many children progressed on to the likes of The Three Investigators, Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Nowadays mystery stories seem to be a little unfashionable as it is certainly a genre that seems to be overlooked by many publishers, and I guess they know the market a lot better than I do. It was with some excitement therefore that recently I noticed a number of glowing reviews and Twitter comments appearing for Dead Man's Cove by Lauren St John, the first book in an planned series that will follow the mystery solving adventures of main character Laura Marlin. A quick email conversation with the ever-generous Nina Douglas at Orion Books soon led to a copy coming through my letterbox, and it really did live up to all of those glowing comments.

This is an old school mystery story for children. In fact, if it didn't feel so modern and fresh I would swear that it had been written by Blyton herself. Laura Marlin is certainly just the sort of adventurous and resourceful character that Enid Blyton would have loved, and I hope that boys aren't put off by her being a girl. She is very much a tom boy, and you definitely won't see any hint of the sort of character traits and activities that would appear in a book aimed specifically at girls. This is an exciting mystery story for every child up to the age of 10, boy or girl, and I reckon there are many adults out there who who would also derive a lot of delight from reading it either as a bedtime story to a child, or even as a personal guilty pleasure. It definitely made me feel very nostalgic for the mystery stories I read as a young boy, and I was so hooked by the quality of the writing that I greedily finished this in a single session.

The story itself is finely plotted, and will keep children guessing about the outcome all the way through. Even as an adult reader there were plot developments that surprised me as I progressed through the story. Lauren St John delivers a quality of prose that is rarely seen in books for children of this age. Where other authors rely on action scene after action scene to keep their readers from losing their focus, Ms St John manages to do this by keeping her story rolling along steadily, and using moments of tension and plot revelations instead of fight scenes and car chases to keep her readers hooked.

The characters in the story are also a delight (I'm sorry if this is beginning to sound a little sycophantic but I honestly cannot think of a negative word to say about this book). They are all believable, and I'm not just talking about Laura, but also her mysterious uncle, their grumpy housekeeper, Tariq and his shopkeeper parents, and local gossip and busy-body Mrs Crabtree next door. Even though some of the characters have less words devoted to them than others they all come across as realistic and well-formed, so even if the concept of a young girl being involved in a dangerous mystery story seems a little Blyton-esque and old fashioned it certainly doesn't feel that way when you read the story.

The mystery within the story is also very relevant to our modern society and it tests Laura to her limits. Having lived in a children's home all of her life, occasionally being sent out to (unsuitable in her mind) a variety of foster parents, she now finds herself suddenly shipped off to St Ives in Cornwall to live with an uncle she never knew she had. Very quickly her enquiring mind starts to spot suspicious activities, both by her uncle and some of the people she meets around the town. But are her suspicions part of an overactive imagination, fuelled by her love of detective novels? Or is there something a little more sinister going on in the small seaside town? Who can she trust with her concerns, especially when her uncle himself seems so secretive and reluctant to talk about his past?

Of course, what better location is there for a mystery story than a town like St Ives? This was the destination for many of our family summer holidays when I was a child, and it would appear that little has changed since then if the author's descriptions of the town are anything to go by. I could picture many of the key locations vividly in my mind, thanks to the quality of the author's writing, and yet these descriptions are never wordy nor do they detract from the story; instead they add to the developing plot and somehow make it even more interesting.

If this book had been written in the 80s then the makers of Jackanory would have snapped it up in seconds, and so should you. Laura Marlin is a young heroine that will appeal to all mystery loving children and it is crying out to be read out loud at bedtime. Dead Man's Cove is published in hardback and is available to buy in stores right now.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Review: Haywired by Alex Keller


In the quiet village of Little Wainesford, Ludwig Von Guggenstein is about to have his unusual existence turned inside out. When he and his father are blamed for a fatal accident during the harvest, a monstrous family secret is revealed. Soon Ludwig will begin to uncover diabolical plans that span countries and generations while ghoulish machines hunt him down. He must fight for survival, in a world gone haywire.


There has been something of a back lash against steampunk in recent months, with some critics stating that it has already 'last year's thing'. Even the legend that is Philip Reeve has joined in by writing on his blog that steampunk is dead. It is certainly a bandwagon that many an aspiring author has attempted to jump on over the last few years, and I would imagine that for every excellent steampunk story published there have also been several poorer books released into the world. I personally love a good steampunk story, and I am currently waiting excitedly for the release of Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth, the sequel to his excellent Leviathan, and also The Society of Dread, Glenn Dakin's follow-up to the first book in his Candle Man series, both of which had many elements that the book-reading public now associate with the steampunk genre. I therefore did not hesitate to say yes when Mogzilla contacted me asking if I would like a copy of Alex Keller's debut Haywired. In fact, the cover itself was enough to garner a positive reaction to their proposal - illustrator Rachel de Ste. Croix has done a fantastic job on it (and for those of you for whom book cover design is important you can read more about the design process here at Rachel's blog).

Haywired is very different to the steampunk books I have read so far. The publishers are calling it a steampunk fairytale, and I cannot come up with a better phrase to describe it, as that is exactly how it reads. The fairytale feel to the story is there from the very first page and at times it is as if the Brothers Grimm were alive and well and writing for a steampunk loving audience. Like many fairytales it is also relatively short, weighing in at a slim 170 pages, but even so it still manages to pack quite a punch. Of course, most adults know that the Grimm fairy tales were exactly that - grim. In their original form they were often full of pretty nasty stuff, involving nasty and bloody endings for characters both good and bad, and they were certainly not the sweet and sanitised stories that we came to supposedly know well thanks to the Disney machine. Haywired is like this as well - the story is deliciously dark in places, people die and often in particularly nasty ways, and the main villain of the story would fit better in an adult horror fantasy story than in a Disney animated film, so much so that Mogzilla are marketing this book at the 11+ age group, despite it being significantly shorter than many of the books that are released for this age group.

The main character of the story is Ludwig von Guggenstein, son of Mandrake von Guggenstein, a kind of mad professor style inventor to most, but not in the eyes of his trusting son. Ludwig loves nothing more than working with his father on his various inventions, all of which seem to him to have great value in improving the lives of the local community in which they live. However, a series of unfortunate events lead to Ludwig making a discovery about his family that first of all makes him confused, then totally overjoyed, before suddenly turning his world upside down, at which point he finds himself running away from home, not sure whether he should be fearing for his life. Unlike many steampunk stories Haywired is not set in alternate London, New York or any other recognisable Earth country; instead, Alex Keller has opted to create his own world, although being a relatively short book the world itself takes something of a back seat.

The ensuing adventures of Ludwig and his companion (about whom I will say no more for fear of creating a spoiler) see them encountering a variety of colourful characters, both good and evil, and at times Ludwig is unsure about who to trust as the motivations of these characters are generally difficult for him to work out. However, he finds himself swept along by the now life-threatening events that become unavoidable for him, especially when he finds himself the hunted prey of his father's most sinister creations, the HELOTs (Heuristic Engine with Learning and Obedience Tailoring). Again, it is difficult to describe these without giving away too much of the story; suffice to say there is more than a little of the Baron von Frankenstein in Mandrake von Guggenstein.

As I said, Haywired is relatively short, and as such it faces the same criticism as I levied at David Gatward's debut The Dead. It really could do with an extra thirty or so pages as the climactic scene where Ludwig must finally confront his father was far too short (a mere four pages) and the book ended too suddenly for my liking, and I felt that his father's actions at the end were unrealistic given the preceding events. If this was a movie I think viewers at an early test screening would express displeasure, and the ending would be reshot to improve it. It is a shame that I was left feeling a little cheated after what had been a thoroughly enjoyable read up to that point.

This criticism aside this is still a hugely enjoyable addition to the ever growing list of steampunk type stories for young readers (and despite his misgivings about the steampunk genre I have even seen Philip Reeve mention on Twitter that he was enjoying reading it). A sequel, entitled Rewired, is planned to be released in the spring of 2011 and am looking forward to seeing what happens to Ludwig and his companions in the next instalment. Haywired is due to be published on 1st September.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore


In the beginning we were nine. We left when we were very young, almost too young to remember. Almost. And now . . . Three are gone. We are here to keep our race alive, which was almost entirely obliterated. We’re just trying to survive. Six are left. But we are hunted, and the hunters won’t stop until they’ve killed us all. They caught Number One in Malaysia. Number Two in England. And Number Three in Kenya. I am Number Four. I know that I am next.

Heard about this book yet? No? Well that is all about to change as I would not be surprised if I Am Number Four overtakes the Twilight books and becomes the most talked about book in schools across the country over the next few months. Some very big names in the movie industry feel the same (heard of Stephen Spielberg?), so much so that the film adaptation is scheduled to be in cinemas as soon as February 2011. And this is just the first book in a series so expect to be hearing about the Lorien Legacies books for some years to come.

Does the product live up to its hype though? Maybe. This book is being marketed at both adults and young teens in two differently packaged editions. Adults may find the story contrived and less than original but young teens and younger confident readers are going to lap this one up. First off is the premise - nine young people brought to earth to escape the invasion of their home planet of Lorien by the ruthless and merciless Mogadorians. These young 'aliens' are bonded by a magical charm that means that they can only be killed in a certain numbered order, and when this happens all of the others are made aware of this by a circular scar appearing on their right ankle. As the book's title suggests, this story focuses on the fourth of these youngsters, and the book starts with the appearance of the third circular scar, meaning that he is next in line for assassination by the Mogadorian hunters.

Number Four, as a hunted person, has moved from small town to small town, constantly changing identities, ever since he arrived on earth with his cepan Henri, an adult guardian whose job it is to protect him and ensure that he is educated in all the important Lorien knowledge he will require in the future. In this book he and Henri move to small town Ohio, and he takes on the stunningly original name of John Smith - after all, in his situation anonymity is everything. This small town of Paradise, Ohio then becomes the setting for the rest of this first book in the series.

Any of this sounding familiar to you yet? Yes, it does sound a little like stories we have read or watched many times before. Initially, TV series like Roswell and Smallville spring to mind, but then we discover that the Lorien youngsters will also start to develop special powers, and then parallels with series such as Heroes can be drawn. I got the feeling that the authors had borrowed elements from a plethora of science fiction films, TV series and books, mixed them up and given them a slight twist to create a brand new story. As an adult I can spot some of these a mile off, but a younger reader wouldn't, and if they did they probably wouldn't care as the plot has everything they have come to expect from a blockbuster teen title: action, reluctant heroes, ordinary kids stepping up to the plate to help save the day, and a seemingly unstoppable and ruthless group of villains.

This book is all about the plot. The characters are not always well drawn and can come across as rather bland, the dialogue is occasionally a little stilted and not necessarily how we would expect teens in such a story to talk with each other, and adult readers will find themselves building a list of questions as long as your arm as certain plot elements come across as silly and contrived. For overall quality of all of the elements of a good teen book this one certainly doesn't match up to the excellence of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.

And yet I do not think any of these weaknesses will affect the reading enjoyment of the majority of the thousands of young readers who will read this book in the next year or so. The constant levels of action will draw them in, as will the agonising choices that John has to make during the story. On the one hand he needs to stay anonymous, not make friends and be ready to move to another small town many miles away should the need arise. However, he is also a teenager and as such the complete lack of lasting social contact he can build is starting to have an huge affect on his morale. So much so that when he arrives at his new school in Paradise, instead of trying to blend in with the background he finds himself falling head over heels for the prettiest girl in the school, and thus falling foul of her bully ex-boyfriend. The tensions caused by this scenario play an important part in the story, although some boy readers may find the romantic element gets a little too sickly in places for their liking.

The book is written in the first person, with John as the narrator. It is also written in the present tense, a prose style that I usually hate, but it seems to work in this book. However, I am a little confused by the name given as the author of the book, and I am sure I will not be the only one in this position. The book is supposedly written by PittacusLorien. I have nothing against the use of a character name as the author at all, but surely the book should then have been written with a third person narrative? At the moment this just doesn't make sense, nor does the fact that a boy who supposedly needs to remain anonymous and keep his alien nature and powers hidden from the human world should then feel that he can write down his story. Again, this is the adult in me speaking, I am sure that many younger readers will not care about this, and anyway, we may be given the answers to these queries in later books in the series.

Supposedly there are going to be six books in total in the Lorien Legacies series. Whilst I am really looking forward to seeing how the authors develop the story arc I am a little concerned about how they will manage to keep the story feeling fresh and without repetition through a further five episodes, especially given that there are already many similarities between this and stories that have come before. However, now is not the time to make judgements on future books; as it stands I Am Number Four is a book that the majority of young teens will devour in a couple of sittings and despite its weaknesses I feel it deserves much of the hype that already surrounds it.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore is published by Puffin (who kindly sent me a copy to review) and is available to buy in stores from 26th August.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Review: Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton


The ancient city of Villjamur is threatened by a long-expected ice age, and thousands of refugees from the coming freeze are camped outside its gates, causing alarm and the threat of disease for the existing population. When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to inherit the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself.


Meanwhile an officer in the Inquisition, in pursuit of a mysterious killer, also uncovers a conspiracy within the Council to solve the refugee crisis by wholesale slaughter, and a cultist magician is causing a trail of havoc in his search for immortality and his obsessive quest to gain access into another world. To the far fringes of the Empire is despatched military commander to investigate a mysterious new race of undead that seems intent on genocide of the most gruesome nature.


Gradually the separate strands of romance, jealousy, political intrigue and dark violence converge in a superb new action series of enthralling fantasy.

Regular visitors to The Book Zone will know that I am not a huge fan of fantasy. Of all the boy-friendly genres it is probably the one I read the least, and when it comes to adult fantasy fiction it is a rare thing for me to devote time to what invariably seems to me a pretty heavy, wordy tome. I have been trying to address that recently, and loved China Mieville's Kraken, although this did not match with the definition of fantasy that I have in my mind. Then, out of the blue, the kind people at Tor sent me a copy of Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur, and it being the school summer holidays, and me having a little more time to devote to reading (and I have also read a lot of good comments about this book on Twitter and various other sites) I thought I would give it a try. The verdict? I think I am now totally hooked on the incredible world that the author has created.

The majority of boys don't seem to 'do' the YA thing. I have noticed that boys at school who come to us as avid readers at the age of 11 will happily read the likes of the Harry Potter books and Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy, but as soon as they hit the age of 13 or 14 they prefer to move away from books written specifically for Young Adults and progress straight on to books written for adults. In fact I have noticed this even more since the Twilight phenomenon - it's almost as if they are concerned that YA fantasy will be laced with romance and is therefore 'for girls'. Adult books on the other hand, have action, violence and intrigue, and the romance, whilst often there, is only a small part of the overall plot. So action/adventure loving boys progress onto the likes of Matthew Reilly, James Rollins and Clive Cussler; and for fantasy lovers there is a wealth of books for them to enjoy, and I will certainly be recommending Nights of Villjamur when we return in September.

There is a lot going on in this book, but whilst in the past I have struggled with some fantasy due to the lengthy descriptive passages about the world in which the story is set, I got along very well with Mark Charan Newton's writing style; he doesn't use four hundred words when forty will do to describe a scene or an element in his world. This being a genre I am not used to reading, there were of course moments though when I did start to lose concentration as I have done in the past, but somehow he managed to bring my focus back with a small twist in the plot, or a devious action by one of his characters, or a scene involving action or blood and guts. However, once I got into the final third of the book there was certainly no loss of focus - as the various plot strands started to come together I found myself reading into the early hours and had to force myslef to put the book down in order to sleep. As I said, there is a lot going on, but at no point does it ever feel that there is too much going on, and although the story's point of view jumps back and forth every now and again to focus on different characters, it was always easy to follow and at no point did I feel that the plot was becoming confusing.

There are some great characters in this book, some developed more fully than others, however the 'star of the show' is most definitely the city of Villjamur itself. Mark Charan Newton describes this city as if he has lived there all of his life, and I suspect that in his creative mind it has been with him for years. It is the kind of city that as a reader I both wanted to visit for myself, yet at the same time I knew that given the chance I would probably spend every minute of the journey worrying about what could happen to me when I got there. And despite it being a fantasy novel, the city is also very relevant to teenage boys in our modern world - there is the rich minority, including corrupt politicians, who have the majority of the city's resources whilst 'down below' there is poverty, misery and a thriving criminal underclass. It could almost be London. Add to this a steadily growing mass of refugees gathering outside the city gates in hope of aid and shelter from the worsening ice age that has the region in its grip, and you have the added humanitarian issues add to the plot, again something that is very real in our own world. Fantasy books like this are therefore really important for teenage boys, as they are reading about and gaining an understading of real-world issues, but in the fantasy setting that holds their attention more than a newspaper would.

As well as Villjamur, the author has created a fascinating world, with a history, numerous religions, magicians (known as cultists, who have mastered ancient technologies within a multitude of artefacts to create their magic), and even the undead have a part to play. This author has one hell of an imagination - I would be intrigued to see what he could produce if he ever decided to write for a younger audience.

I have one small moan however, and although I will be recommending this book to the teenage fantasy lovers at school, it will be accompanied with a few words of caution due to the occasional use of swear words. I gather from a few Twitter conversations that swearing in fantasy books is the 'in thing' at the moment, but to me it didn't seem necessary. I'm no prude, after all the kids at school use and/or hear similar language on a daily basis in the playground at break, but for me it grated a little. There is also a degree of sexual content in the book, although it is not at all graphic, but should we buy a copy for the library the book would be shelved with the adult fiction for the older readers because of this.

Nights of Villjamur is available to buy in both hardback and paperback, and City of Ruin, the second book in the Legends of the Red Sun series, is also available in hardback.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Review: Return To The Lost World by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore


Someone is trying to kill Luke Challenger. His mother has discovered dinosaurs surviving deep in the Brazilian jungle, and now she and Luke are in mortal danger from a mysterious cult called the Sons of Destiny. Why is the cult hell-bent on destroying them?

When I was a child I watched a fair amount of TV. I have never felt that I watched too much (we did only have three channels after all - I remember the excitement I felt when the fourth was launched), as I also read a great deal and did all the other things that active young boys enjoyed in the days before PS3s, X-Boxes and so on. Looking back, I think BBC2 must have been the channel I watched the most, for it was this channel that introduced me to the old black and white Republic serials and many, many films that I still hold dear today. Films such as Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes series, the Ealing comedies, and a string of classic monster movies including It Came From Beneath The Sea, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and The Valley of Gwangi. From these cinematic classics was born in me a love of adventure stories, both written and on the big screen, and this love remains today.

The classic adventure stories that I read then, and still reread occasionally when time permits, were books such as Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Centre of the Earth; H. Rider Haggard's She and King Solomon's Mines; Stevenson's Treasure Island; and Sir Arthus Conan Doyle's The Lost World. Of all of these two still make an appearance in my list of all time favourites: the first is Treasure Island (although I acknowledge that the style of prose makes it a challenge for many young readers today) and the second is Conan Doyle's adventure masterpiece, and all of all of these I think that this is the book that is still most accessible to young readers today. Verne's underwater epic is a fantastic story, but unless you read the abridged version there is far too much padding and tedious descriptions of underwater flora and fauna for it to have huge appeal these days. The Lost World, on the other hand, has none of this padding. Simply put, it contains everything a young reader wanting to try a classic story could ask for: action, adventure, danger, and dinosaurs!

It was then with a confused mix of excitement and worry that I recently contacted Usborne and asked them if I could have a review copy of a book I had seen mentioned online. This book was called Return To The Lost World, and the scant details I could find mentioned that it was about a boy called Luke Challenger, grandson of hero of Conan Doyle's original story and set 23 years later, in 1933. My first thought was "Fantastic! An action adventure story set in that exciting pre-war period, based on an original work that I loved", but a fraction of a moment later I thought "What if it is rubbish? Will it taint my feelings for the original?". I was encouraged a little by the fact that the authors are well known names to me - Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore have been writing together for this age group for many years.

With hindsight I am now wondering what on earth I was worrying about - I really enjoyed this book; it is a superb reworking of Conan Doyle's original story, combined with the non-stop action that modern readers adore. The two Steves have taken the premise set up by the original story and used it to create a fast-paced adventure story, which feels both retro and modern at the same time. It feels retro in that it is (unfashionably?) set in an era that is not often used in kids adventure stories these days (and yet proved so apt for my all time favourite film, Raiders of the Lost Ark); it is all also a good old-fashioned adventure story, without gadgets, mobile phones, the internet, etc. Yet it feels modern as it is written to appeal to children of today, and therefore has a very fast pace, and many a set-piece action scene. It this respect is almost cinematic and I would loveto see this on the big screen.

Return to the Lost World introduces us to Luke Challenger and his friend Nick Malone. As I have already mentioned, Luke's grandfather was the George Challenger of the original story but the links do not end there. Luke's godfather is Lord John Roxton and Nick Malone's father is Edward Malone, both of whom were also part of the original team that ventured to that amazing place deep within the Brazilian jungle. Luke has inherited his grandfather's adventurous streak, and both boys feel stifled in the posh boarding school they have to attend.

Model pupils they are not, and at the start of the book we find them having managed to bluff their way across Europe and into an international glider competition in Austria, a competition they hope to win with a glider of their own design. Luke's father heads up Challenger Industries, and the family live within the grounds of the company's research divisiion, so Luke and Nick managed to build their glider by 'salvaging' materials and forging requisition slips. Of course, as a result of an incident that I will not spoil for you the boys are found out and soon find themselves been lectured to by Luke's father. However, the actions of the boys are not his only concern, for Luke's mother (who is one of the world's foremost palaeontologists) has gone missing and it would appear that she has taken herself off to Brazil in order to see the Lost World for herself. Thanks to his grandfather Luke is now one of the few people alive who knows the location of the infamous plateau and after a great deal of pressure on their father the boys soon find themselves embarking on their own journey to South America. And this is when the action really begins for there seems to be another intrested party, a mysterious group whose members all seem to carry a distinctive tattoo - a snake entwined around a spear.

So, in the melting pot we have: a mysterious secret society hell bent on taking over the world; a 'lost world' inhabited by dinosuars, on a plateau set deep within the Brazilian jungle; transatlantic travel the old fashioned way in flying boats that have to stop to refuel several times during their journey; two boys who have an almost unquenchable thirst for adventure; and the ultimate quest - to rescue mum from the bad giys. What more could an adventure loving boy want from a modern adventure story?

The characters in Return to the Lost World are great. Some critics may question their lack of realism but this is the sort of book where characters are supposed to be larger than life and suspension of disbelief a pre-requisite, and in many ways this is far more believeable a premise than that set up in Muchamore's CHERUB series or the Alex Rider books. Teenage boys working for the Secret Service? You're having a laugh! This book is a very good introduction to the characters of Luke Challenger and Nick Malone, but as the first book in what I have been reliably informed is intended to be a series there are obviously a few shortcomings as far as character development are concerned. Do I care? Not one little bit as the story more than makes up for this, with its fast pace and the many twists and turns that leave us wondering just who the boys can and cannot trust.

I do have one small moan though. Much as I loved the action-packed incidents that Luke and Nick experience during their journey to the plateau, I personally would have liked them to have spent more time in the 'lost world' itself. The proof copy I was sent has 312 pages, and it is just as we are entering the final third of the book that the boys finally make it to the plateau. This is such an exciting place that I feel that it would have benefitted from a few more chapters to give it justice and the climatic fight scene in the 'lost world' seemed a little too rushed for my liking.

I mentioned just now that this is supposed to be the first in a series, yet we are not left with a huge cliffhanger ending. Everything is brought to a satisfying end, although we are left with that lingering appetite for more. What will the Sons of Destiny try next in their quest for ultimate power? Will they seek revenge on Luke and Nick for their part in foiling their plans? I for one cannot wait to read more, especially as I have 'heard' that the two Steves intend to bring elements of other classic stories into the Luke Challenger series, including both Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and King Solomon's Mines. With any luck not only will these new books entertain boy readers of today, but will also encourage them to hunt out and read the original stories on which they are based.

Return to the Lost World is due to be published on 27th August but a quick look at Amazon shows that they already have copies on sale so expect to see it in stores fairly soon.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Review: Raggy Maggie (Invisible Fiends) by Barry Hutchison


Billy is a horrible bully. So Kyle could almost find it funny that Billy's childhood invisible friend was a little dolly named Raggy Maggie.

Almost, but not quite.

Because now Raggy Maggie is back, and she wants Kyle to play a game: find where she's hidden Billy – or Billy dies…

Barry Hutchison is back with Raggy Maggie, the second book in his Invisible Fiends series, and let me start with a warning - you better have a spare pair of underwear to hand when reading this book as it is poo-your-pants scary!

In the first book in this series Mr Hutchison terrified us with the eponymous Mr Mumbles, a hulking brute of a character that at the time I likened to the monsters from such classic slasher movies as Halloween and Friday 13th. In his new book the scares come from a very different kind of character. I'm thinking the minds of Hannibal Lecter and every serial killer that James Patterson and Jeffery Deaver have ever written about all packaged into the mind of a little girl in a dirty white dress and poorly applied make-up. For Caddie, the owner of the titular doll Raggy Maggie, is evil personified; the way she tortures and hurts her victims is part of a huge game to her, a game that if they lose they pay the ultimate price - wth their lives. And never have the words 'Peek-a-boo, I see you' sounded so chilling!

I LOVED Mr Mumbles (the book, not the monster I hasten to add) and I wondered just how Barry was going to be able to follow such a fantastic series opener. However, in a conversation with Tommy Donbavand, author of the Scream Street series and good friend of Barry Hutchison, I was reliably informed that Raggy Maggie was both better and more terrifying and so ever since I have been avidly waiting to get my hands on a copy. So much so that when it arrived from the kind people at HarperCollins I dropped everything to read it, although sixty pages in I did put it down...... and then finished it late at night, all alone in the house, in order to get the most from the horrors within it. For your own sanity please do not try this at home!

In my opinion Caddie is one of the greatest ever creations in children's horror literature. She is so totally deranged the reader just does not know what to expect from her next. Whereas with Mr Mumbles we always knew he was going to be very much relying on brute strength and his apparent invincibilty, just as we have seen in the past from the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees, Caddie, however, is just a child. She is small and frail, as little girls are, so surely she should be a relatively minor test for Kyle, the boy who defeated Mr M in such style? Definitely not - underestimate Caddie and it will probably be the last thing you ever do. First of all, Caddie is super-fast; one moment she is there, the next she is gone. Secondly she has powers; boy does this girl have powers. She can take over the minds of adults to use their greater physical size to aid her, turn every day toys like teddy bears and dolls into mankillers with needle-like teeth, and she can turn innocent playground activities like skipping into a game of death where you could literally lose your head. And just when you think you may have had a lucky break and got the better of her...... enter Raggy Maggie herself!

Barry Hutchison also carries on where he left off by slowly revealing hints and snippets of back story that leave the reader completely tantalized. There are already so many questions that need answering, and he is an expert at giving us just enough information to have us trying to guess what will happen next, and why. Why is Kyle's father so bitter and intent on changing the world, or 'making it better' in his words? What is the story with Ameena, who disappeared out of Kyle's life shortly after the Mr Mumbles episode, but then suddenly reappears just as Kyle needs her help the most? And just how is it that Kyle can 'leap' between his world and the Darkest Corners? I am sure that all of these answers will come eventually, but that Mr Hutchison will not make the wait easy for us in the process.

Raggy Maggie hits the reader on a psychological level in ways that the gore-ridden output of the likes of Darren Shan just cannot manage. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of gore just as much as the next boy, but these chills are oh so much better. I once taught a pupil who had a phobia of clowns - she was terrified of them; I have a feeling that in a few years time I could be teaching whole classes who suffer from pediophobia, the fear of dolls, if this series becomes as popular as Shan's work as it certainly deserves to.

I have one message for HarperCollins that I want to add to this review - please, please, please can we have some Invisible Fiends action figures?! I can't think of many characters in children's horror fiction that deserve them more.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Review: DC Comics - The 75th Anniversary Poster Book


Featuring a collection of the most memorable DC comic covers from their history, this collects an amazing variety and wealth of comic art in one book. From the first appearance of Superman – much copied, and the most expensive comic ever sold at auction – in Action Comics # 1, 1938, to Batman’s first swooping appearance in Detective Comics, and further ‘tights and capes’ character introductions, to the relative innocence of Falling In Love, the creepy House of Mystery, Mr District Attourney, up to 100 Bullets, Ronin, and the Vertigo titles, this covers the evolution of artwork, characters, development of themes, introduction of ‘social comment', the taboo-breaking Swamp-Thing and Abby falling in love, and much more, for 500 comic covers.

Wow! As books go this has to be the most stunning looking book I have received since I started this blog, and at 36cm by 28 cm it is certainly the biggest. Whether you are a DC fan, a Marvel fan, or just a fan of comics in general then this is a book that you could spend many hours looking through, admiring the quality of the various comic covers within.

I came quite late to US comics. As I mentioned back in March when I had a graphic novel themed month on the blog, I grew up reading The Beano, then moved on to Marvel's Star Wars Weekly and then the re-launched Eagle. Comics from the DC and Marvel stables were only read whilst waiting to have my hair cut at the barber and the occasional Spiderman or Batman annual received as Christmas presents. I was always aware of the rivalry between the two companies, and also enjoyed the various cartoons and TV series such as Wonder Woman, Batman and Spiderman (which as they were made in the 1970s were all very high camp). I honestly couldn't tell you who my favourite superhero was back then, although I do remember that I always favoured Batman over Superman.

And then....... in 1989 Tim Burton released his movie version of Batman and not long after I discovered Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and then many years later the incredibly awesome Hush (still my favourite Batman story to date) and from that moment on I knew exactly who my favourite 'superhero' was. However, this did not bring with it a sudden conversion to DC devotion and even today I do not takes sides in the seemingly neverending DC vs Marcel debate, but I do tend to read a lot more of DC's output than that of Marvel, either in comic or graphic novel form. I think my main concern is that when I pick up a Marvel publication I always feel that I am jumping into the middle of a story, and that I am disadvantaged by not having been buying the comics for years; a little like discovering Lost on TV part of the way into season two I guess.

Since this defining Batman moment I have definitely read far more publications from DC than from Marvel. I love the Hellblazer series and the cynical John Constantine, and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman stories have become a firm favourite since I discovered them. Add Watchmen to the list and Marvel doesn't really get a look in. I know this may cause no small amount of upset for all the Marvel devotees out there, but c'est la vie. I may as well also upset DC fabs whilst I am at it though, just to retain impartiality - I am still not a Superman fan at all.

This book contains the covers of all of these and many, many more. There are covers of the first issues of The Sandman, Hellblazer, Watchmen and V for Vendetta. There is the cover of Swamp Thing #34 (showing Swamp Thing embracing Abigail Arcane), The Dark Knight #1, and the very different Batman: Year 100 #1 cover. With 100 larged sized poster pages there are far too many to mention them all individually and so far I have just focused on some of my favourite stories, but with 75 years of output there are obviously far more. The images are arranged in chronological order, so start with the likes of the now legendary Action Comics #1 and then progress through the decades, including less well known publications such as The House of Mystery, Strange Adventures and Weird Western Tales. On a personal note, as a teacher of graphic design it is also fascinating to see how the styles have changed over the years as fashions changed or new and innovative artists joined the DC role of honour.

If you were so inclined you could also remove each of these poster sized pages as they all have perforations to aid this, but I just couldn't bring myself to do such a thing to this stunning book. It would also rob me of the brief commentary on the rear of each of these 'posters', where comic expert Robert Schnakenberg discusses the historical importance of the cover in question or the story it packaged. Many of these brief commentaries are also accompanied by anecdotal comments from the artists themselves, as well as smaller images of related comic covers.

This book will have huge appeal to fans of comics old and young, and I know it will go down well in the school library (despite all my efforts the boys seem to prefer looking at pictures during their break times). Even die hard Marvel fans may find this an attractive addition to their collection, if only for its stunning portrayal of the art form, rather than the characters that are depicted within it. My huge thanks go to the publisher, Quirk Books, who very generously sent me a copy for review - I almost feel like buying a second copy so I can frame some of the posters. The book is due to be released on 18th August.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

*** Interview with Alex Scarrow (author of the TimeRiders series)

For me, TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow is one of the best new series of boy-friendly books out there at the moment. I really enjoyed the first book in the series and the second one blew me away. I was therefore really chuffed when Alex Scarrow said he would take part in an interview for The Book Zone, and even more flattered by the kind comments he made about this blog at the end of our little Q&A session.

How would you describe the TimeRiders series to a potential reader?

Terminator meets Torchwood! It's one big hi-octane time travel thriller that spans nine books.

What inspired you to write the series?

Blimey....that's not an easy one to answer! It's a combination of all the really cool books I've read, films I've seen, games I've played....it's the culmination of too many classroom hours I spent as a kid imagining how excellent it would be if I could really mash-up history.

How much time do you spend carrying out research for your books?

Several months before hand just reading factual and fictional stuff set in the era to get the feel of it. It's too tempting to over research though. You do that and you're in danger of writing a textbook instead of a thriller.

Do you have a favourite period in history? Will the TimeRiders heroes be visiting this period at some point?

I have several favourite eras in history; WWII, the Roman Empire, Victorian times, the American Civil War....and yes, those and many more are going to get a visit from me.

Did you have fun creating the new species of dinosaur in Day of the Predator?
Sheeesh! Did I? Does a bear.....uh, anyway...yes! I loved writing from the point of view of these hominid creatures. I loved creating this frightening thing, then trying to put it's case across to the reader.

There are some fairly violent scenes in Day of the Predator. How do you gauge the right level of violence in your writing?

I don't think I consciously determine what is acceptable to the audience and what is unacceptable. I think it's a gut instinct thing. Certainly, when it comes to the really grisly stuff, I'm a firm believer in keeping it 'just out of shot'....a reader's imagination can produce a far more gory picture than I would ever be allowed to write!

Of your three main characters Sal has played the smallest part so far. Will we see her character develop more in the future?

Yes. Sal has a VERY important part to play in the story. I can't say much more about her for fear of dropping a spoiler in here.

Where did the inspiration for the Bob/Becks character come from?

Well, the obvious first point of reference is the T1000 model Terminator from the movies. But also there's something of Frankenstein's big, dumb, childlike monster in there too. I love the fact that they're both lethal killing machines, yet, also naive children, in a way.

Writing about time travel can be a pretty complicated task. Do you put a lot of thought into how you deal with issues such as the time travel paradox?

Plotting for time travel tales can be a potential nightmare! In actual fact, there really aren't any time travel stories out there that you can't identify a plot hole in. It's just the nature of the paradox thing. And if you try and get too close to the actual 'science' of time travel you'll end up twisting yourself up in knots trying to make it all work. Which is why TimeRiders is perhaps more about the characters than it is the tech.

How will you keep track of all of the little plot threads you are creating in each book to ensure that they are all eventually tied off?

I have a series bible. And it's getting thicker and thicker every day!

Are you a fan of science fiction yourself? Do you have any favourites?

Yes. I loved a series of books called Riverworld, which featured this world on which one day, every human who has ever lived suddenly wakes up after they've died on earth. It's not heaven, that's for sure. And it's a compelling thriller, mystery that features a cast of famous historical characters.

What made you start writing for young adults? How different is it from writing for adults?

Way...way....more fun to write.

Do you read many books for this age group yourself?

I read some. I prefer the 'cross over' YA books out there that tend to appeal to adults as well as teens. And this is what I intended Timeriders to be, a series of thrillers that, say, a forty-five year old bloke wouldn't be embarrassed about pulling out to read on the train.

Which books/authors did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare to the childrens/YA novels available today?

I used to read adventure books by Willard Price when I was eight. And lots of Asterix and Tintin! I think today's YA fiction is more self conscious of the fact that many, many adults enjoy the genre too, so it has a decidedly more mature and less naive tone to it than the books that were around when I was a kid.

Do you have any ideas as to how we can get boys reading for enjoyment?

I suppose books that feed into, or feed from interest areas for boys, such as computer games and football are a good way to try and coax them into the book habit. For example, TimeRiders has deliberately drawn some imagery from big blockbuster movies in order to tap reluctant readers this way.

I know that Day of the Predator has only just been released but can you give us any hints as to what we can expect from the next book in the series? Robin Hood is mentioned as a teaser at the end of the book....

Yes...I can add a little more to that. Crusades. Holy Grail. Conspiracy theories. There you go! Make some sense of that!

A while ago it was announced that there would be nine books in the TimeRiders series. Have you plotted out the storylines for these already?

Pretty loosely, yes. I know which nine periods of history we will be visiting, and I know the major story arc....and I can tell you this, so long as you keep it to yourself...it's going to involve.....aaaaghh, nearly let slip!

If you could time travel when/where would you go to and why?

65 million years ago. I want to see the KT event that wiped out the dinosaurs. Super volcano or mega asteroid, either way, it must have been horrifyingly spectacular.

If there is one question you would love an interviewer to ask you about your work, what is it? And what would the answer be?

Do you like writing? And my answer would be....sometimes I LOVE it, sometimes I HATE it. I get days when I know I've written a brilliant chapter and I feel on top of the world, and days when I write such awful sludge, I wonder how the he'll I ever managed to get published.

Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of this blog?

Readers....I think this is quite possibly the best blog for young male readers out there! Seriously. It's laid out nicely and the reviews are original (as opposed to copy and paste jobs). And here's something else...if you've got a mate who's a reluctant reader, suggest TimeRiders to him! Those are the fellas I really want to reach out to! I want them to put down the playstation controller, stop messing around with Facebook, turn the TV off...and just give TimeRiders a chapter of their time. I guarantee they'll be hooked...and maybe one day thank you for getting them into the book habit!

~~~

Huge thanks to Alex for answering my questions, and for his kind words at the end there. If you are looking for some summer reading which is non-stop action in two very different eras then you really should give the two TimeRiders books a try.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer


ARTEMIS FOWL’S CRIMINAL WAYS HAVE FINALLY GOT THE BETTER OF HIM...

Criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl has summoned an elite group of fairies to Iceland. But when he presents his invention to save the world from global warming, he seems different. Something terrible has happened to him... Artemis Fowl has become nice.

The fairies diagnose Atlantis Complex (that’s multiple-personality disorder to you and me) – dabbling in magic has damaged his mind. And now the subterranean city of Atlantis is under attack from vicious robots and nice Artemis cannot fight them. Can fairy ally Captain Holly Short get the real Artemis back - ­­­before the mysterious robots destroy the city and every fairy in it?

It was with some sadness that I recently read that Eoin Colfer has announced that he intends to bid farewell to Artemis Fowl, with the latest outing for the his popular anti-hero, Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex, being the penultimate book in the series. However, having since read this latest episode I am now of the mind that Mr Colfer is right to be doing this. The Atlantis Complex, in comparison with others of the genre, is still a good read and will be thoroughly enjoyed by the myriad young fans of the series, but in comparison with the rest of the series it is a relatively poor relation. I am left with the feeling that the series has perhaps run its course and now that Artemis is fifteen there are not many more places that the author can take his leading boy/man.

That opening paragraph may seem a little negative, but that is only because I have come to expect the very best from Eion Colfer, eagerly awaiting every new Aretmis Fowl adventure, and until now never feeling disappointed. I am still trying to figure out the reason why I am not so enamoured with The Atlantis Complex. I think it may be that this book feels a lot more grown up, and therefore some of the magic has been lost. We also do not see as much of the Artemis we have come to know and love as he is suffering from what we would term a mental illness, and what the fairies call Atlantis Complex. As such, Artemis has become paranoid (even to the point of distrusting the ever-loyal Butler), he is suffering from OCD (manifesting itself in a phobia-like avoidance of anything related to the number 4) and then his personality changes completely and he becomes the sickly nice Orion. Mental illness in a book like this is a rare thing, and even rarer to be treated with the sensitivity that the author affors this issue. Lesser authors would have had their character acting the fool and being ridiculed, but Eoin Colfer has us instead feeling like we are watching the decline and suffering of a close family member.

Things get pretty dark in this book if you read it at an adult level and maybe that is my problem - I was not reading it as a child. However, although I feel some of the magic has gone, this is certainly not the case for the Colfer trademark humour - there are just as many laugh out loud moments in this book as there were in its predecessors. The author knows exactly when to inject humour into a scene, whether it be to lighten a dark moment or to create rapport between characters, and the book is chock full of oneliners that will have your children giggling away.

The plot of The Atlantis Complex is also not quite as strong as in previous episodes. For me it just doesn't seem to flow as naturally as in these earlier books and there are elements that seem a little forced or over-contrived. Again, this is not something a young fan would notice or care about, but I personally expect more from this author.

Many of the characters that we have come to know so well are present in The Atlantis Complex, and they are just as colourful and funny as usual. There is a scene set in Mexico towards the beginning of the book where Butler has rushed to what he thinks is the aid of his sister Juliet which is amongst the funniest I have ever read from Eoin Colfer, and the banter between these two is a joy to read. We are also treated to more of Foaly than we have become used to in the past, with him now finding himself out in the field, and in his disdain at the Orion/Artemis personality issue he delivers many more classic oneliners.

As I have already mentioned, Eoin Colfer intends to write only one more Artemis Fowl novel, about which he has said "There's not going to be any huge battle, and going up the stairs to heaven, it's not going to be that kind of finish. There will be the big adventure, but the end will be in a little epilogue. End of story." Fortunately it doesn't therefore look like Mr Colfer intends to kill off his main characters; I do not know when this book will be published but I hope that it will end the series in a way that is satisfying to the thousands of Artemis Fowl fans out there. The full article from which that quote was taken can be found at The Guardian website.

Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex is a book that will be enjoyed by thousands of young readers and despite my criticisms it is a must-read for any young fan of the series but adult fans my find themselves feeling slightly disappointed. The book is published by Puffin and is available in stores right now. Thanks go to the generous people at Puffin for sending me a copy to review.