Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Guest Post by Cliff McNish (Author of The Hunting Ground)

Back in January Cliff McNish wrote a short piece for The Book Zone about his then forthcoming book The Hunting Ground. Cliff has written some stunning YA books, and certainly deserves to be a household name by now. The Hunting Ground is no exception, and if you love really spooky, scare-your-pants-off ghost stories then this one is for you. Due to work pressures I have dropped behind a little with my reviews, so please watch this space as I will be posting my review for The Hunting Ground in the near future. In the meantime, over to Cliff.....



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When I wrote THE HUNTING ZONE I was really aware of a few things.

First, almost no one is writing what I would call genuinely frightening ghost stories of novel length for teenagers. Don’t get me wrong – ghost novels are being written, but the best of them tend to be fairly wistful mood-pieces like MY BROTHER’S GHOST by Allan Ahlberg – which is a wonderful piece about two brothers, one of whom dies (you’ll love it), but it’s a quiet contemplative piece. Nor do I have any objection to lighter ghost stories. There are loads of those – you know the type, where the ghost is more likely to go boo! from behind the fridge than scare anybody.

And there’s another point I’d like you to consider here – people THINK there are lots of ghost novels out there because they often appear as a secondary character in stories that are primarily not ghost stories. An example would be the minor characters Nearly Headless Nick/Moaning Myrtle (note they are funny ghosts again) in Harry Potter or, say, the creepy Victorian ghosts in the wardrobe in Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

But novels with a genuinely scary ghost at the heart of the story THAT ARE ANY GOOD are rarer than football books about kids secretly wanting to become ballerinas. The reason (having done two ghost novels now) is that ghost stories traditionally depend on suspense and tension, and it’s hard to sustain this over a novel. To combat that I turned both of mine into supernatural thrillers, with everyone being threatened with death.

Or worse than death, actually. One of the great things about a ghost novel, of course, is that as soon as you write something that supposes GHOSTS EXIST then automatically there must be an afterlife, a place where the dead, well, hang out. The really fascinating question for a writer or reader then is what is this place like? Is it like a traditional Heaven or Hell? Or something else?

In my last ghost novel BREATHE I wanted to create an absolutely terrifying afterlife place where you might end up – a region where you just get blown forever across a great plain by the wind, bits of your body slowly being destroyed. I called it the Nightmare Passage, and I’m pleased to say that many people remember that place more than anything else about the novel.

In my latest, THE HUNTING GROUND, I wanted to create another terrifying place, but this time one where the ghosts might trap the living. I came up with the East Wing – a huge part of a mansion house that is a labyrinth of similar rooms and corridors. You keep getting sucked in but you can’t get out – and it’s so dark you can’t see either. If you’re trapped in there all you can do is hold your nerve and try not to go crazy. I knew I needed a really strong boy to cope with that – so I created Elliott. But he’s not superhuman, he’s only a 16-year old boy who grits his teeth and gets on with doing what he has to do to survive and help his trapped brother.

It was obvious almost at once to me as well what sort of ghosts I was going to pit against Elliott and his younger brother, Ben. First, a male ghost of awesome power who exists only to terrify and hunt. He’s a classic bad guy, and I wanted him to be absolutely ice cold terrifying. But then what? As a contrast to him I knew what I needed – and I saw her right away in my mind. A little girl. A corrupted little ghost girl, bristling with terrifying power. Somehow it’s even more scary to wonder what a little girl might do if she can do almost anything to you, because she’s not going to think like an adult. She’s going to be more unpredictable, isn’t she? One minute she might want to play with you, the next she’s bored and dragging you to your death, and you can’t predict when that might happen. You end up talking to her very nicely, because you still think there’s a little girl in there you can appeal to – but is there? Or is she as bad as the male ghost who’s been developing her as his little protégé, his killer in waiting?

I very much enjoyed racking up the tension in THE HUNTING GROUND about as far as could. I hope you enjoy it.

~~~

Huge thanks to Cliff for taking the time to write this great guest post for The Book Zone. I for one would love to see more chilling ghost stories published for young people, especially those who think horror is all about blood and gore. Yes, these elements might make you go yuck, and cringe a little, but that isn't real horror that chills you to the bone and has you jumping at every little bump and creak during the night. The Hunting Ground will definitely have this effect on you. Please come back tomorrow when I will be giving you details about how you can win a copy of The Hunting Ground.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Guest Post by Don Calame (Author of Swim The Fly)

Last Monday I posted my review of the hilarious Swim The Fly. Now the book's author Don Calame has kindly taken time out of his busy UK tour schedule to write this great guest post.

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Ideas and Inspiration

It’s the question you’re asked all the time at book readings: Where do you get your ideas from? Some writers will make a joke out of it and say they get their ideas from the Idea Depot on the corner near the grocery story. Other authors will say their ideas just come to them out of the ether. And yet others will try to avoid the question all together and change the subject.

The truth is, ideas for stories can come from anywhere. They can come from a news article that sparks your imagination in some way. They can come from an overheard conversation at the mall. Or from a song lyric that sticks in your head. From a funny story your friend tells you. Or a picture you see in a magazine.

In the case of my book, Swim the Fly, the idea came from something that actually happened to me.

For those of you who don’t know, Swim the Fly is the story of three fifteen year old boys who set a summertime goal of attempting to see a real-live naked girl for the very first time. Movies don’t count, magazines don’t count, the internet doesn’t count.

The goal proves quite difficult to achieve, especially considering none of the boys have ever had a girlfriend, and the three of them are the least athletic kids on the swim team.
But believe it or not, the naked girl aspect of the novel was not the original germ of the story.

The swim team was.

When I was a teenager my mom would sign my sister and me up for the swimming team every summer. I was not a particularly strong swimmer (in fact, I have quite a few green fifth place ribbons to prove it) and I always chose to participate in the breaststroke events because I found the stroke the easiest.

One summer—when I was fifteen, coincidentally—my swim coach approached me and told me that, since our team’s butterflier had gone on to bigger and better things, I was to swim in the 100 yard butterfly event at our championship meet.

This absolutely terrified me. Partly because my swim coach was an imposing woman who you did not say no to. But mostly because I could not even complete a single lap of butterfly. Why she chose me to swim this event still baffles me to this day.

Anyway, I practiced and practiced the butterfly for the entire summer. As the championship meet approached, I was just barely able to complete four laps of butterfly without drowning.

On the day of the swim meet I stepped up onto the starter’s block and looked over at my competition. The only person I could see was this giant of a kid. He was the best swimmer in the entire league and he was enormous. Arnold Schwarzenegger enormous. With tree trunk legs, massive arms, and stone-cut muscles absolutely everywhere. I swear, this kid’s feet were ripped.

And here I am, this stick-skinny kid, a broomstick in a bathing suit, having to swim head-to-head with a gorilla.

Needless to say, I was terrified. And when the starter raised his pistol to signal the beginning of the race, I was hoping he would just lower the gun, point it at me, and put me out of my misery.

I’d written a very short piece about this incident at a writing workshop some time ago and promptly tucked it into a drawer. There it sat for several years until I’d decided (with some strong persuading by my wife) to write a humorous YA novel for boys.

I’d read over this two-page scribble and the seed for the book was planted.

And so, you see, ideas for stories can come from absolutely anywhere.

Even harrowing and embarrassing incidents from your teenagehood.

Maybe even ESPECIALLY from those times.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Book Cover Designs By My A Level Students

Most readers of The Book Zone and my followers on Twitter know that I am a teacher (or Assistant Headteacher if I’m showing off, but teacher is still the most important word in my job title). Many have assumed that because of my love of books I must therefore be an English teacher. Wrong. I teach Design Technology, which is a reply that tends to have me on the receiving end of blank, bored looks and can kill most conversations when I am asked what I teach. At GCSE Level and A Level I tend to specialise in delivering a course referred to as Graphic Products, which is possibly even harder to explain than Design Technology. The students I teach do a lot of work with Photoshop, and most of their practical work output is based around the design of things like perfume/aftershave bottles, gadgets, promotional material such as point of purchase displays and so on.

A couple of years ago, in their infinite wisdom, the exam boards changed their expectations for the A2 coursework, an extended project worth 60% of a Graphics student’s final year of studying the course. Whereas previously they had been ‘happy’ to accept projects that looked at all kinds of hypothetical design situations, they had become fed up with thousands of A Level students claiming they knew the head of design at Apple UK (or similar) and had been tasked by this person to redesign the ipod (or some other gadget). Instead, the exam board wanted students to work on more realistic projects with a real ‘client’. The first word that sprang to mind for my colleagues and me was “HELP!”, shortly followed by “Where on earth are our students going to find these clients?”.

And then I came up with my bright idea. I approached several aspiring authors that I had met through Twitter and asked if they would be interested in having a book cover and promotional material designed for their work-in-progress. To my greatest relief every one of them replied with a resounding “Yes please”. All they had to commit to was sending back feedback on the various stages of the project as it progressed, their thoughts on: research material; initial design ideas; developments and so on. Nothing particularly onerous, but their input was invaluable to helping these students complete the following projects (back covers have been cropped to protect the details of the authors’ works):

Ben for Liz de Jager
Ben designed and made a book cover and promotional point of purchase display for Liz’s Grimm Tales. Ben is a very talented artist, and his work reflects his skills in this area.



Alex for Sarah Bryars

Alex designed and made a book cover and promotional point of purchase display for Sarah’s Tattered. The photos do not do the display justice, with its sparkling LED lights.




Claudia for Lara Williamson

Claudia designed and made a book cover, slip case and promotional point of purchase display for Lara’s Haunting Grace, the display including a handmade tree and robin.




My huge thanks go to Liz, Sarah and Lara for the time they put in to writing this invaluable feedback for my students, all of whom have achieved good marks for their coursework.

In June we will have another cohort of students starting their A2 coursework, and following the success of this year I would be really keen to hear from any other aspiring authors who might be interested in helping us out. The project runs from June 2011 through to April 2012. All we would need from you is a commitment to giving feedback by email, and providing some details about your book such as themes, imagery and characters. I cannot guarantee that the students will produce work of this quality every time. Neither can I make any promises as to the quality of communication that they will engage in with you. They are after all teenagers, and much as I enjoy teaching them teenagers are not always the most reliable of young people. However, I am sure Lara will not mind me quoting her from an email she wrote to me about working with Claudia at the end of the project: “…. it has been a complete and utter pleasure. She was totally professional, hard working and carried out everything to a high standard. She is a credit to both herself and your school. I loved what she did and it was impressive considering she hasn't read the book.”

If you are interested in helping us out then please contact me at bookzone4boys (at) gmail (dot) com. Unfortunately if I have a lot of replies we will not be able to use everyone as we only have sixteen students in the group, some of whom will have their own ‘clients’ and ideas as to the project they choose to do.


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Review: Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy by Andy Briggs


What lies in the depths of the jungle? Escaping a dark secret, Robbie Canler joins an illegal logging team in the Congo jungle. Now they're under siege from a sinister force. When the daughter of the camp's boss, Jane Porter, goes missing they assume bloodthirsty rebel soldiers have kidnapped her. Robbie sets out on a rescue mission - unaware he is being watched... Are the rumours of a feral man raised by wild apes true? If so, can the mysterious untamed savage be trusted to help them?

Unless you are a die-hard fan of the original books by Edgar Rice-Burroughs, if you are of a similar age to me then the name Tarzan will most likely conjure up one of two images: Johnny Weissmuller in black and white or Ron Ely in colour. For many years this is what I thought Tarzan was all about, until that is, well into adulthood, I read ERB's Tarzan of the Apes. Where was the cultured, well-educated do-gooder I knew so well from the repeats of the NBC TV series that I used to watch every Saturday (?) in the 70s? Or if not that, where was the strong, silent character portrayed by Johnny Weissmuller in the films that seemed to be repeated ad infinitum every school summer holiday? More to the point, where the hell was Cheeta? It was only on my first read of Tarzan of the Apes that I realised just how much my understanding of a classic character from literature had been affected by Hollywood and the US TV network. And let's not even get started on the Disney adaptation (damn you Phil Collins!!). These screen portrayals have very little in common with ERB's original - a savage, man who at times is closer to being an animal than a human, in a bloody, brutal story.

Fast forward to last September, and an email conversation I had with author Andy Briggs, who had contacted me asking if I would be interested in reading his Hero.com/Villain.net books. In that first email he mentioned that he was rebooting the Tarzan franchise as part of the Tarzan centenary in 2012, but more than that he was not permitted to say. Come the new year, Andy was able to give us a little more information in his "Coming Up In 2011" post that he wrote for The Book Zone, and by this time I was almost salivating in anticipation of what was to come. There have been a number of classic characters who have been successfully 'rebooted' for the younger market over the past few years, Young Bond and Young Sherlock Holmes being the most obvious examples, and I have loved all of these books so far. Having really enjoyed Andy's previous books I was therefore pretty confident that this classic character was in a safe pair of hands as well, and I was not wrong - Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy is in my opinion nothing short of brilliant, a genuine single-sitter book that you just will not want to put down.

Andy used the word 'reboot' to describe his new Tarzan books, and that is exactly what it is. Whereas Young Bond and Young Sherlock are set in time periods that would make them adults when the original characters' stories were set (making Young the operative word in their titles), this book is set in the modern day. Andy Briggs's books are not being billed as 'Young Tarzan'; instead he has crafted a new, modern tale using the classic character, and in this book the character is closer in style to the ERB's original that any of those screen outings I mentioned earlier. I am not going to give too much away as to how Tarzan grew up in the jungle, surrounded my gorillas he calls family. Neither am I going to explain how he learned to speak English. All that will quickly become apparent when you read this book. Andy has obviously taken care to ensure that the story is realistic to a point, without leaving any gaping plot holes that will have Tarzan enthusiasts screaming in anger.

Hmm... whilst on the subject of fanboys, I know there will be some Tarzan purists who will not have a great deal of love for this book, for no other reason than that they refuse to remove the blinkers that can occasionally affect their objectivity so much. Back when I published Andy's piece about Tarzan back in January, it received the following comment from a reader: "So do these books tie in with Burroughs' originals, or are the making the mistake of trying to do some kind of "reboot" version of the character? I sure wish people would quit trying to remake things that were just fine to begin with." Sorry mate - yes it is a reboot. But here is a question for you - why shouldn't people remake things, however good they are? It has been happening for years in the film and TV industry, occasionally producing a work that is superior to the original. In this case, a classic character will be introduced to a brand new audience, a number of whom will some day search out the originals, this meaning the legend will live on. Believe me when I say I would much rather read an excellent "reboot" of a classic book character, than watch a sanitised Disney version of the original book.

Andy Briggs's Tarzan: The Legacy of Greystoke has everything that an adventure hungry 9+ year old could ask for in a book. Right from the very first chapter the action scenes are superbly written, and the fight scenes will leave you breathless, whether they be man vs beast or man vs man; this is no cultured, westernised Tarzan like we saw in the Ron Ely series, this is a man who has grown up surrounded by the fight-to-survive savagery of the African jungle, and as such his actions towards the men he sees as destroyers of his home are similarly brutal. There is also a great cast of characters in the book: there may not be a Cheeta but there is a Jane Porter, a thoroughly modern girl dragged away from her friends and high street stores, and whisked off to the jungle whilst her father tries to make a quick fortune through illegal logging. There are also some pretty nasty villains, in this case Rwandan guerrillas who don't think twice about killing or kidnapping foreigners if it will further their cause or make them a bit of extra cash to spend on weapons.

Add to all this the tight plotting, the ecological theme of the plot, and a hero that will have boys desperate to run off to the jungle, don a faded pair of shorts, and climb high up into a huge tree to emit a "victory bellow radiating power and dominance of all living things", and I believe that this will fast become one of this summer's most talked about books. I will certainly be recommending it to anyone and everyone who will listen.

Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy is scheduled to be released as a paperback on 2nd June, although I have spotted it that it is already available to buy from a certain online retailer. My thanks go to the generous people at Faber for sending me a copy to review.  

Monday, 23 May 2011

News: Vampirates: Immortal War Blog Tour


June 9th sees the release of Immortal War, the sixth book in Justin Somper's hugely enjoyable Vampirates series. To commemorate this launch Justin is going to be embarking on an eleven stop blog tour, and I am flattered to have been asked if he can visit The Book Zone. The tour starts at Chicklish on the 6th May and Justin will be taking part in a Q and A here on the 15th June. The complete list of participating blogs is as follows:

Monday 6th June -- Chicklish - Extract #1

Tuesday 7th June -- My Favourite Books - An interview with Justin Somper

Wednesday 8th June -- The Crooked Shelf - Guest Post: on Lady Lola Lockwood & The Women of Vampirates

Thursday 9th June -- Feeling Fictional - Animal Antics

Friday 10th June -- The Bookette --Extract #2

Saturday 11th June - Girls Without A Bookshelf - Playlists & The Music of Vampirates

Sunday 12th June - Wondrous Reads - 10 Ways to Know You're Obsessed with Vampirates

Monday 13th June -- Daisy Chain Books - Guest Post: Ending An Era -- Killing Off Vampirates

Tuesday 14th June -- Empire of Books -- Top ten Vampirates characters ever

Wednesday 15th June -- Book Zone For Boys -- Q&A with Justin

Thursday 16th June - I Want To Read That - WIN! Vampirates swag

Review: Swim The Fly by Don Calame


Fifteen-year-old Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Coop and Sean, always set themselves a summertime goal. This year's? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time — quite a challenge, given that none of the guys has the nerve to even ask a girl out on a date. But catching a girl in the buff starts to look easy compared to Matt's other summertime aspiration: to swim the 100-yard butterfly (the hardest stroke known to God or man) as a way to impress Kelly West, the sizzling new star of the swim team.

The 1980s brought us Porky's, the '90s saw American Pie unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and at the tail end of the Noughties UK TV audiences were given the chance to follow the hilarious antics of Will, Jay, Neil and Simon in The Inbetweeners. All screen comedies that had great appeal to the teen male audience, which begs the question: why have there been so few books published during this time that deal with the problems teenage boys start to experience once their hormones begin to rage? I don't answer the answer to this question, but screenwriter (and now YA novelist) Don Calame didn't bother to ponder this question, instead he wrote the brilliant Swim The Fly, one of the must-read books for teen boys (and many girls) this summer.

Matt and his two friend, Sean and Coop, are not exactly the coolest kids at school, and as such every single male who find/found themselves in the grey area between uber-geek and cool will be able to identify with their characters and escapades. Even if you aren't/weren't one of these boys at school then I still guarantee that you know exactly what I am talking about, as let's face it, even the coolest boys in school have cringeworthy moments from time to time. I keep on wanting to say that this is The Inbetweeners in novel format, as pretty much every British teen boy will know exactly what I am trying to say, and this is also some of the greatest praise I can give to Swim The Fly. Just like that TV programme it had me laughing out loud, sometimes so much that I had to stop reading in order to get my breath back and wipe the tears from my eyes. The similarities between the two are lengthy: the filthy humour; fixation on sex and girls (with little chance of success); constant attempts to out-insult each other; and even the mix of personalities within the group of friends. And like The Inbetweeners, and American Pie before it, these boys in their quest to see a naked girl, at no point come across as seedy or perverted - theirs is a tale that is pants-wettingly funny, with a heart-warming poignancy to it.

For me there are two key elements to Don Calame's writing that set this book head and shoulders above many comedy books for teens. The first of these is the characters: Don Calame earned his writing spurs as a screenwriter, and he has used all of his skills in character creation in Swim The Fly. This never reads as a book where the author had thought up a series of hilarious set-pieces and wrote the characters to fit, instead everything that happens to these boys will have you thinking: "OMG, that could so happen", or "Ha! That happened to just last week", or if you are really unlucky "OMG, I am still trying to forget that incident from my teenage years". The secondary characters are also just as memorable, with my favourite being Matt's horny old grandfather, who has his sights set on a local widow, and whose behaviour is just as cringeworthy and immature as the boys' at times. The other standout element is the dialogue. Every single words these boys utter adds soomething to their characters and the relationship between them as a groups of friends, and the people they interact with.

I really can't praise this book enough in terms of its potential for getting a reluctant male teen reader to start and complete a book. It is also the kind of book that dads should read and laugh over with their sons. Mums and sisters, you also will find this an incredibly funny insight into the mind of a teenage boy, although you sons/brothers will not thank you for reading it as it will only giving you more ammunition when it comes to laughing at their antics. I cannot think of a more perfect read for boys this summer. My thanks go to the generous people at Templar for sending me a copy to review. Come back to The Book Zone on the 29th May for more Swim The Fly fun when Don Calame will be appearing here as part of the book's blog tour.


Sunday, 22 May 2011

Guest Post by Pete Johnson (Author of The Vampire Hunters)

You know how there’s one person in your class who is always making jokes and thinks he’s really funny.

Well that was me.

I was the class clown, who’d try and make people laugh, especially when they really shouldn’t. For instance, during assembly when the headmaster is telling everyone off, I’d have my mates helpless with hysterical laughter and terrified the headmaster would notice them. Brilliant!

I’m still trying to make people laugh today with my books like: ‘How to Train Your Parents,’ and ‘Help! I’m a Classroom Gambler.’ I’m known for my horror stories too, like: ‘The Ghost Dog,’ and ‘Eyes of the Alien.’ But a few funny moments even creep into those books.

But I’ve never tried writing a full-scale horror-comedy until now. So I decided to take a vampire story – and yeah, I know there are tons of them around now – but give it a very special twist.

So in my vampire stories ’The Vampire Blog’ and the newly launched sequel ‘The Vampire Hunters,’ the central character, Marcus, is the most reluctant half-vampire you’ve ever met. In fact, up to the night of his thirteenth birthday he thought he was as normal as you. But then his parents tell him, they’re half-vampires and he’s about to start changing into one too.

At first he thinks his parents have gone mad. Then he’s totally horrified. He doesn’t want to join the ‘We love Blood Gang.’ But soon he finds a white fang dangling inside his mouth. (The sign the changeover has begun) Shortly afterwards he has a blood craving at school and he ends up licking all the blood off his best mate’s hankie. Later he gets poisoned by a pizza, (it contained garlic sausage) and a vampire attacks him.

Oh yes, they exist too. But in real life its animal blood vampires like, not human (far too sour) There’s just one exception – the blood of half-vampires before they change over. This vampire has been tracking Marcus for some time and will certainly attack again. Even worse, it’s someone who he knows. And when he discovers who it is, Marcus gets the shock of his life...

Yet, through all this Marcus keeps making stupid jokes and acting silly, just as I did in all the lessons I really hated. It was my way of getting through the heavy stuff. And its Marcus’s way too.

But in ‘The Vampire Hunters’ the tension – and laughs – really build up. For now Marcus is in phase two of the changeover. This starts with his Dad handing him a bottle of blood. He says. ‘Now we’d like you to take this to school with you. I expect you’re wondering why.’

‘Is it to pour over my chips?’ asks Marcus

But Marcus’s dad doesn’t smile. Tragically, neither of his parents ever laugh at his jokes. Instead they tell him to carry the bottle of blood with him everywhere, as soon Marcus will have the first of two blood fever attacks. And when this happens a deep craving for blood will totally overwhelm him.

Marcus is hating the whole idea. But he can’t tell his parents that, so he just goes on saying silly jokes and, of course, getting his parents more and more annoyed.

Now what I’m going to tell you next may alarm you: there’s probably more of me in ‘The Vampire Hunters’ than anything else I’ve ever written. This isn’t to say, I hastily add, that I’m a secret half-vampire (not that I’d ever admit it, if I were) but some of the scenes have actually happened to me.

So a disastrous date at the cinema which still makes me shudder, is right there in ‘The Vampire Hunters’ – only with a vampire twist, of course. And my worst ever nightmare, that’s in the book too. Just wait until you see what it is …

So will ‘The Vampire Hunters’ scare you, as well as make you laugh? I think – I hope – the comedy strengthens and deepens the book’s horrifying moments.

Also, and most importantly, you have to care about the characters. Otherwise it’s just vampire bats swooping out of the air at people. So, before I even started writing ‘The Vampire Hunters’ I spent days and days thinking about Marcus and Tallulah – the other main character. And after a while – well just as I expect you can imagine your best mate’s voice in your head, and know the kind of things he’ll say – so I could hear Marcus and Tallulah’s voices.

They have a lot of arguments in this book (I love writing about rows) and sometimes they were chattering away so quickly in my head I could hardly keep up with them. And it felt as if I wasn’t writing the story at all. That’s a great moment for a writer.

Another is when you see the first-ever copies of your story. Of course you are mad keen to know what readers think of it. In fact, here’s a little tip if ever you want to gain a writer’s attention instantly – just start chatting to them about their latest book. Then watch their eyes fix on you and see how they listen intently to every word you say.
And that’s what I’m doing right now – eagerly awaiting your verdict on ‘The Vampire Hunters.’

Friday, 20 May 2011

Review: The Vampire Hunters by Pete Johnson


On my thirteenth birthday, my life changed for ever. That’s when I learned the shocking truth: I’m a half-vampire.

Think that sounds cool? Think again! I’ve been attacked by an evil vampire bat, had huge cravings for my best friend’s blood, and nearly died from eating a pizza (half-vampires aren’t great with garlic). Writing my secret blog is the only thing that’s kept me from going completely crazy.

As if life couldn’t get any more complicated, there have been some vicious attacks in the local woods. Vampire-mad Tallulah (definitely not my girlfriend) thinks a super-vampire is behind them – and she’s desperate to prove it, with a mysterious chain that’s supposed to glow red-hot when a vampire is close by.

And I have a horrible feeling that the chain’s going to turn red-hot any day now . . .

Having only the other day had a little moan about the relative (when compared to YA) lack of really fun titles for the 9+ age range I can now tell you about another one that is well worth a look at, albeit one that will be more suited to confident readers of this age, and those in their early teens. And if my To Be Read pile is anything to go by there will be more reviews for books for this age group coming soon. The Vampire Hunters by Pete Johnson is the sequel to The Vampire Blog and it is perfect for reluctant boy (and girl) readers. Like its predecessor it is written in the form of a blog, and as such there a few lengthy blocks of text as the entries are split by the times they were posted. When I was younger we called them diaries, and Adrian Mole reigned supreme. Kids these days don't keep diaries, but blogs are where it's at, and the format works really well in this case. The structure also allows for both rapid page turning to find out what happens next, as well as making it very easy to put down and come back to later - again, perfect for those who only pick up a book when pressured to do so by parent or teacher.

As with many of Pete's other books, the stand out element of his writing is the humour. The voice of main character Marcus is one that the majority of kids will be able to relate to, and the problems he faces as a half-vampire are just a slight twist on those experienced by most kids who feel as if they are different from the majority as they approach and enter their teens. he has girlfriend problems (his first date at the cinema is a disaster, but kids will be laughing out loud at the excuse he finally gives to his best friend's girlfriend); and his parents are very excited about the arrival of his half-vampirism, but all he feels is pressure to please. There is also a thinly disguised online safety element to the plot taht will be welcomed by parents and teachers, who worry that their children are not as safety conscious as they should be, and could be easily tempted into meeting someone they have been chatting to online who they know nothing about.

I have not read The Vampire Blog but this did not affect my enjoyment of this book. I seem to remember reading an interview that Pete did for another website some time ago where he said that The Vampire Blog was the first of a trilogy - I would be more than happy if the series was extended further than three books. My thanks go to the generous people at Random House for sending me a copy to review. Please watch this space for a very special Pete Johnson guest post, coming very soon to The Book Zone.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Review: Casper Candlewacks in Death By Pigeon by Ivan Brett



Casper Candlewacks is the only boy with any sense in a village full of idiots. 
Most villages have an idiot but Casper's village is full of them. So being bright makes poor Casper something of an outsider. When famous magician the Great Tiramisu curses the village, Casper's father is blamed and sentenced to death by pigeon. It's up to Casper and his best friend to find the magician, reverse the curse and save the day.


A riotous tale that proves all you really need in life is a buggy that runs on washing-up liquid and a couple of boys to crash it.

I do not tend to read so-called comedy books for adults, as they invariably leave me cold. I remember reading a couple of Ben Elton's early books way back when I was younger, and simply did not find them funny. This is no reflection on Mr Elton; I have tried other 'funny' books since and most of them barely manage to prise a mediocre chuckle from my lips, let alone a belly splitting guffaw. I guess this is why I don't tend to read that many 'billed as comedy' books for kids either, despite my life long love of Roald Dahl, and the laughs his work continues to give me. However, I am not averse to giving books like this a try, and the early buzz about this book certainly caught my attention on Twitter, and I am so glad the generous people at HarperCollins sent me a copy. There have been some pretty fantastic books released so far in 2011, and this hilarious debut by Ivan Brett ranks right up there as one of my personal favourites. In fact, it should come with a health warning: if read at bedtime make sure plastic bed sheets are fitted as your child will laugh so much a little bit of wee may come out.

As the blurb says, our hero, Casper Candlewacks (just the first in a plethora of clever plays on words in this book), is the only boy with any sense living in a village full of idiots, that village being the wonderfully named Corne-on-the-Kobb. Such an obvious premise I am surprised it hasn't been used more often, and it is made all the better by the fact that none of the other inhabitants of said village realise just how stupid they are - the closest they get to this is their dislike for Casper, because he is different. And by different we mean he can do things like joined-up writing and knows his times tables. In Chapter One we see first hand some of the persecution young Casper faces on a daily basis, this time from his teacher, Mrs Snagg - a distinctly unpleasant lady that no child of average intelligence or above would enjoy having for lessons. In fact, she is so stupid that she can't even read - she sets Ivan a punishment essay about the soon-to-be-visiting magician, the Great Tiramisu, and he manages to submit a previously completed essay on Brazil in its place without her having the slightest clue. And Corne-on-the-Kobb is full of people like this.

You would be right in thinking that Casper's life is pretty miserable. He is bullied by both teachers and pupils at school, his mother suffers from some form of post-natal depression that has manifested itself in the form of an addiction to watching TV, his younger sibling Cuddles (Casper still hasn't worked out if it is a boy or a girl) has razor-sharp teeth and will gnaw on just about anything, and his father is left to do all of the household tasks, as well as the head chef at the village's only restaurant, The Boiled Sprout. Casper's only friend is a boy called Lamp, although he is possibly the most idiotic boy in the village full of idiots. Lamp is obsessed with inventing things, many of which are unmitigated disasters, although to tell you about some of them would ruin the laughs in store for you. For this same reason I am not going to reveal any more about the plot - suffice to say this is one of 2011s must read books for the 9+ age group. Girls will find it funny as well, although I have a feeling that the humour will have the greatest appeal to boys. 

To compare Ivan Brett with the great Roald Dahl would be incredibly premature, this being only his first book, although I am sure there will be a number of readers already drawing these parallels, especially in the way that both authors have littered their work with nasty secondary characters, whom readers just can't wait to see come to some kind of sticky end. However, on the basis of this story his future could be so bright a pair of shades just might be required pretty soon. Publishers please take note - we want more books like this. We've had many years of great books aimed at the teen market, surely it is now time for the Middle Grade audience to be spoiled as well?! 




Monday, 16 May 2011

“Bloouuurrgghhhhahh!” (That’s Zombie for “I want to eat your eyes!”) - Steve Feasey's Zombie Dawn Guest Post


One of the things that strikes me when I do school events and talk about classic horror creatures is just how popular zombies are. It surprises me because on face value there isn’t much about them to suggest what’s so appealing. They don’t have the charm and allure of their undead brethren, the vampires, but nevertheless, every student seems to have an opinion on them, and all have a favourite film, book or game featuring them. It’s a good job too because with the final book in the series, Changeling: Zombie Dawn, featuring the shuffling undead in a big way, I knew I would have to explore what the appeal was, and what I was going to do about my own particular take on them.


Zombies are problematical for a writer if you’re not embarking on a ‘world domination and mankind’s last stand against the undead’ type of book. And the reason that they’re a problem is that they proliferate so damn fast! It takes very few zombies very little time to multiply into a vast army of rotting, shuffling, brain-eating creeps. As Caliban says in the book: “They infect others around them and spread like a virus.” And that’s the problem. Once a zombie outbreak occurs, it quickly becomes a pandemic.

One of my favourite zombie books is Max Brooks’s World War Z. It’s a great take on the tried and tested zombie apocalypse theme, and is in my opinion one of the best books written on the topic. Max very quickly has the zombie outbreak infesting numerous countries, and within the blink of an eye the human population is on the verge of annihilation. It’s gory and funny and brilliantly imagined, and if you haven’t read it yet I recommend you do so. But I didn’t want a zombie plague that would quickly turn into a worldwide disaster; I wanted a suppressed outbreak that would be devastating, but manageable. So I came up with the idea for the containment dome that traps both humans and zombies alike, and the more I thought about it, the more I knew how terrifying that would be for those stuck inside. 


The other great thing about zombies is the ‘method of dispatch’ which has to be employed by anyone facing them down. And it would seem that the more gruesome the act of ruination, the better. Classic zombie theory (if there isn’t such a thing, there should be) would suggest that removing the head or destroying the brain are de rigueur when it comes to seeing off these pesky revenants, and that lends itself to some great (and often very funny) action sequences involving a wide variety of weapons. 


Before writing ZD I really got into The Walking Dead graphic novels by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, and I was really excited to find out that it was going to be made into a TV series. The books are amazing and, like World War Z, are ‘must reads’ for zombiephiles. Graphic novels can be an expensive hobby, so if you can’t afford the 80+ issues that the series is currently running to, ask your library for them. 


So there you have it: my take on zombies and the walking dead. Long may they shuffle and moan and groan because most of us can’t seem to get enough of them.

~~~

Huge thanks to Steve Feasey for taking the time to write this great zombie post for The Book Zone. The Changeling books have been one of my favourite series of the past few years and a review of Zombie Dawn will appear on The Book Zone in the near future.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

*** Interview with Stephen Davies (author of Outlaw)

Yesterday I posted my review of Outlaw, the latest book from author Stephen Davies, and today I am really chuffed to be hosting a Q and A session with Stephen on The Book Zone for the second time (click here to read the first one he did back in 2009).

What gave you the idea for Outlaw?

Kidnapping and terrorism have always been good thriller material, with lots of potential for character development and plot twists. I knew I wanted to write a kidnapping story and the Sahara Desert provided a great setting – it is a raw, hostile environment, very much the Wild West of Africa.

There are two main characters in this book – one African, the other English. Can you tell us any more about them?

The Chameleon is an eighteen year-old Fulani cattle herder. He is a very low-tech hero who relies on cunning, quick-thinking, clever disguises and local knowledge. Jake on the other hand is an English teenager, obsessed with Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. He is totally out of his depth in the Sahara desert but even there he does find uses for his smart phone.

And he has one interesting physical skill, doesn't he?

Oh yes, he can run up walls! Wall-running is a parkour (freerunning) skill. This was a nod to my last book HACKING TIMBUKTU, which had lots of parkour action.

Tell me about Jake's sister.

Kas is a thirteen year-old emo and she was a beautiful character to write. Her emoness is more than just a fashion statement – it's a heartfelt response to the suffering she sees all around her. Kas is the one with the social conscience, the one who questions the gap between rich and poor – it's she who sees the beggar by the side of the road when the rest of her family walk on by. At one point Jake accuses her of being attention-seeking and melodramatic, but he couldn't be more wrong. If either of them is self-obsessed, it's him.

Why did you make Jake and Kas the children of a British ambassador?

There are a limited number of reasons someone might be living in a place like Burkina Faso. Aid-worker or missionary felt a bit too close to home. Archaelogist has been done to death. Ambassador felt right. The diplomatic setting meant that I could structure Outlaw as a 'voyage and return' story, with the embassy as the safe haven. I wanted to create that feeling of being in a hostile environment and trying desperately to get back to the safe place. This choice also provided some interesting plot devices. Embassy premises are a little slice of home in a foreign country, and there are strict international rules to protect them. But what if a wanted terrorist were to enter an embassy compound and be granted diplomatic refuge? What kind of tensions would that produce with the local police? What kind of showdown might it lead to?

You've described Outlaw as 'a thriller with a social conscience'.

Yes. Both Kas and the Chameleon are deeply aware of the injustice and corruption all around them. Kas's tendency is to respond with helpless anger and withering sarcasm, but the Chameleon demonstrates a different response – he and his gang go about righting wrongs, outing villains and fighting injustice. The Chameleon loves nothing more than to rob from the rich and give to the poor. He is swashbuckling, optimistic and endearingly naïve, and all the authorities despise him!

He sounds like an African Robin Hood.

Exactly. The comparison is never explicit, but it was definitely in my mind. Outlaw has a very distinct Robin Hood flavour: the feasting and friendship, the simple camp well-hidden in the bush, the low-tech weapons training, the use of disguise to infiltrate the enemy, the hosting of 'villains' at the camp (with a view to teaching them a lesson), the humour, and of course the anti-rich pro-poor politics. There is a Sheriff of Nottingham character, too, as it happens – a powerful individual hellbent on the Chameleon's destruction.

Apart from the Robin Hood legend, what else influenced you during the writing of Outlaw?

I wonder if any of your readers are old enough to remember the American TV series MacGyver? Angus MacGyver was a secret agent who regularly found himself in life-or-death situations – he usually got out of them by using his knowledge of physics, chemistry, technology and outdoorsmanship. There's quite a lot of this sort of 'modern survivalism' in Outlaw, including a scene where Jake charges his phone using AA batteries and butter! Incidentally, something else I liked about MacGyver was that he hated guns and didn't use one himself. In Outlaw, too, it's the bad guys who carry guns. The good guys ride horses and carry slingshots (catapults)!

Were you in Africa when you wrote Outlaw?

As it happens, no, I was back in England. We took a year out of Africa in 2009/10 because my wife was expecting our first child. I wrote the book in Chichester public library – sitting at a desk on the second floor by a huge window overlooking the cathedral. I wrote from 9 to 5 every day with a half-hour sandwich break. It felt nice to have a normal life for a year and to be so completely inconspicuous. The kidnapping plotline felt very close to the bone, though, because I knew that my family and I would shortly be heading back to our home in the Sahel, an area of Africa where kidnapping for ransom is increasingly rife. Some scenes were deeply discomforting to write, especially the 'hostage video' chapter. No one wants to be that person in the orange jumpsuit.

What are you writing at the moment? Anything in the pipeline?

I'm in the process of writing a big action trilogy. The first book will be called Tracker. I can't say much more about it at this stage!


~~~

Huge thanks to Stephen for taking the time to answer these questions. Outlaw was released last week and is well worth giving to adventure loving boys of 10/11+.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Review: Outlaw by Stephen Davies



Fifteen-year-old Jake Knight is an explorer and adventurer at heart but this often gets him into trouble. When a stuffy English boarding school suspends him for rule-breaking, Jake flies out to Burkina Faso where his parents are living. He is expecting a long, adventure-filled vacation under a smiling African sun. But what awaits him there is kidnapping, terrorism and Yakuuba Sor – the most wanted outlaw in the Sahara desert.


Back in the early days of The Book Zone I reviewed a book called Hacking Timbuktu by Stephen Davies. This was a time when only a couple of publishers had noticed me and I was still doing as I had originally planned to do with the blog - reviewing books from my own collection or from the school library. Hacking Timbuktu was one of the latter, and with so many to choose from I am not sure what made me pick it up. Perhaps it was its Africa setting (before we had a glut of Africa-set books)? Perhaps it was the mention of parkour/freerunning in the blurb? Whatever the reason, I really, really enjoyed it, and I have been looking forward to reading whatever Stephen wrote next ever since.

Outlaw is that next book. It is not a sequel to Hacking Timbuktu - both are standalone novels, although they do have a lot in common: breathtaking action, tight plotting, realistic use of modern technology, a degree of social comment without being in-your-face moralistic, likeable protagonists and the fantastic African setting, in this case Burkina Faso. For me it is this final aspect that is the icing on the cake for this book, as well as the other books by Stephen Davies that I have read. Stephen lhas lived in Burkina Faso for the past ten years, and so you know that pretty much all his descriptions of the people, their culture and the environment in which they live are spot on. This is not the work of an author who has taken a jolly little jaunt to Africa in order to research the location for their novel - this is the work of a man who lives, breathes and loves the country he has written about, and the setting in this book feels all the more real because of this.

The hero of Outlaw is Jake Knight, son of the British Ambassador to Burkina Faso, wannabe adventurer but currently stuck in a boarding school in England. As any parent or teacher will know, when active kids are bored this often leads to mischief, and for Jake a late night challenge by his fellow boarders as part of an ongoing game ends with him being suspended by his Headmaster, and sent to stay with his family for the rest of term, although Jake sees this as a release from his boredom more than a punishment. Once in Africa though it isn't long before he and his sister are kidnapped by someone they believe to be Yakuuba Sor - a bandit whose name is at the top of the country's most-wanted list. But is all as it first appears?

This is one of those books that 11+ boys who love action and adventure will love. The plot twists and turns, with Jake and his sister, and us as readers, never knowing who we should trust, and just who really are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Stephen Davies certainly deserves to become more widely known than he currently is, and I will definitely be pushing Outlaw in the school library this term. My thanks go to Andersen Press for sending me a copy of Outlaw to review. Please come back later this week when I will be posting a Q&A session that Stephen very kkndly did for The Book Zone.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Review: Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch


I was my dad's vinyl-wallah: I changed his records while he lounged around drinking tea, and that's how I know my Argo from my Tempo. And it's why, when Dr Walid called me to the morgue to listen to a corpse, I recognised the tune it was playing. Something violently supernatural had happened to the victim, strong enough to leave its imprint like a wax cylinder recording. Cyrus Wilkinson, part-time jazz saxophonist and full-time accountant, had apparently dropped dead of a heart attack just after finishing a gig in a Soho jazz club. He wasn't the first. No one was going to let me exhume corpses to see if they were playing my tune, so it was back to old-fashioned legwork, starting in Soho, the heart of the scene. I didn't trust the lovely Simone, Cyrus' ex-lover, professional jazz kitten and as inviting as a Rubens' portrait, but I needed her help: there were monsters stalking Soho, creatures feeding off that special gift that separates the great musician from someone who can raise a decent tune. What they take is beauty. What they leave behind is sickness, failure and broken lives. And as I hunted them, my investigation got tangled up in another story: a brilliant trumpet player, Richard 'Lord' Grant - my father - who managed to destroy his own career, twice. That's the thing about policing: most of the time you're doing it to maintain public order. Occasionally you're doing it for justice. And maybe once in a career, you're doing it for revenge.

My To Be Read pile is so tall at the moment that it is not often I make time to read a book written for adults these days, although this is a state of affairs that I am working hard to remedy. However, when Moon Over Soho arrived, sent by the ever generous Jon Weir at Gollancz, it was as if that TBR pile no longer existed, and I dropped everything to read it. I loved Rivers of London, the first book in Ben Aaronovitch's urban fantasy trilogy (please, please let this become a series of more than three books), when I read it back in January and I have been waiting eagerly for this sequel ever since, just as I am now piing to read book three, Whispers Under Ground, due to be published in November. Ben Aaronovitch and Gollancz really know how to spoil their readers!

With three books scheduled for publishing in the same year, a small part of me was concerned as to whether the author would be able to maintain the quality he had so skilfully delivered in Rivers of London. I had absolutely nothing to fear at all - Moon Over Soho is easily as good as its predecessor, but with added jazz. I can't claim to be any kind of jazz officiando, but my love of music is second only to my love of books, and I find jazz to be one of the most magical of genres. For me it therefore made the perfect accompaniment to the magic that permeates through London in this story.

The plot of Rivers of London picks up not long after the close of the first book in the series. Peter Grant magical abilities are slowly improving, thanks to the hours of practice he his forced to do by his superior, Inspector Nightingale, whist the latter is forced to take things easy following the injuries he sustained in their previous case. PC Lesley May is also currently on long-term leave, living with her parents in Brightlingsea, as she begins to recover and come to terms with the disfigurement she suffered in that same book. Without his mentor and his closest colleague around to keep an eye on him it was only going to be a matter of time before Peter found himself in some kind of trouble, and before too long he finds himself up to his neck in it.... racing a stolen ambulance through London at night; getting romantically involved with a potential witness; to name but a couple of incidents that would so many young officers booted off the force.

Rivers of London was quite heavy on the details of police procedure, an element that I know some readers felt got in the way of the story, although I found it a really interesting aspect of the story. Moon Over Soho is far more story driven, with the nitty gritty of police work taking more of a back seat, although the author does instead treat us to a plethora of facts about jazz music (no bad thing in my mind) as Peter is drawn into a case where he deduces that someone is killing off the city's jazz musicians by draining the life out of them, a killer he christens the "jazz vampire".

Moon Over Soho is a truly fun read, although it is somewhat darker than its predecessor, and it is also very much an adult book. There are are number of sexual scenes in the story that make it unsuitable for younger teens, and there is also a handful of particularly gory moments. However, older teens who love fantasy and are already moving onto adult books will love it.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Steve Feasey Zombie Dawn (Changeling) Blog Tour

The more observant amongst you may already have noticed the banner on the right hand side of this page giving details about the forthcoming blog tour that Changeling author Steve Feasey is embarking on. Just in case you haven't spotted it, the tour kicks off tomorrow at Empire of Books blog, and Steve will visit three other blogs before finishing his journey here at The Book Zone. I won't spoil any surprises by telling you what Steve will be writing about on each blog, but I know he has loads of really interesting things to tell us.


Tomorrow is also the release date for Zombie Dawn, the fifth and final chapter in Steve's brilliant Changeling series, and I know there are many readers who can't wait to find out what happens to Trey and his friends.



Wednesday, 4 May 2011

** Scorpia Rising Contest Result

The lucky winner of the signed Scorpia Rising poster is:

Diane Whale

Well done and thank you to all of you who entered. I will now endeavour to contact the winner through by email. Please reply within 48 hours or I will draw another name out of the hat. Many thanks to Just So and Walker Books for providing the prizes.

(Note: all names were drawn randomly using a nifty little freeware programme called The Hat)



Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Review: The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (Kane Chronicles)


Ever since the gods of Ancient Egypt were unleashed on the modern world, Carter Kane and his sister, Sadie, have been in big trouble.

As descendants of the magical House of Life, they command certain powers. But now a terrifying enemy – Apophis, the giant snake of chaos – is rising.

If Carter and Sadie don’t destroy him, the world will end in five days’ time. And in order to battle the forces of chaos, they must revive the sun god Ra – a feat no magician has ever achieved. Because first they must search the world for the three sections of the Book of Ra, then they have to learn how to chant its spells . . .

Can the Kanes destroy Apophis before he swallows the sun and plunges the earth into darkness . . . forever?

In the eighteen months that I have been running The Book Zone I have not written many negative reviews. This isn't because I feel I have to keep publishers and authors happy, it just so happens that I have not read many books in this time that I have felt were not very good. Interestingly, some of my more negative reviews have not been for debut or less-known authors, but for books by writers whose previous work I have loved. One such review was for The Red Pyramid, the first book in Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles series. I loved the Percy Jackson series, and they still rank amongst my favourite series of books for young people, and I also thought The Lost Hero was also very good, yet for some reason I just did not gel with The Red Pyramid, and now having read the sequel, The Throne of Fire, I wish I had the time to go back and read The Red Pyramid all over again to see if my opinion changes, especially as that one review resulted in quite a few comments and emails from young readers vehemently disagreeing with me.

At the time I personally found it difficult to get in to, and the principle reason for this was the use of the first person for telling the story, with chapters alternating between the two Kane siblings. I found this a little confusing and irritating, although I have never really been a huge fan of first person storytelling anyway. Not so for The Throne of Fire. Perhaps I was not in the right mood when I read the first book (I do occasionally suffer from kids/YA book burnout), but this time I gelled with the narration immediately, and not once did it grate on me. In fact, this time I found the alternating between characters narrating worked much better, although the story does lend itself to this much more in The Throne of Fire as Carter and Sadie spend lengthy scenes apart in the story, engaged on different tasks.

Another moan I had regarding The Red Pyramid was that due to the alternating narration sometimes the same event would be mentioned twice, but from different points of view. Now that book was 500+ pages in length and really would have gained from being trimmed back by 100 or so pages, and I think the removal of this occasional repetition would have helped greatly in this respect. The Throne of Fire is still a hefty tome, weighing in at 446 pages, and quite a big ask for many kids in the targeted age group of 9+, and yes, it could still do with being trimmed of 80 or so pages, but I did not get that sense of repetition much at all in this case. 

Another reason for The Red Pyramid's length was the need to set up the story, and this was one area where I felt that Mr Riordan did a very good job. With the main characters and situation already established it is straight into the action for the Kanes in the sequel, as they attempt a late night raid on the Brooklyn Museum, in an attempt to get their hands on the first part of The Book of Ra. We are also introduced to a couple more teenage descendants of Pharaohs, Walt and Jaz, who are now living and working with the Kanes as a result of the worldwide plea for help they sent out at the end of The Red Pyramid (as with that book, this sequel is also narrated in the form of an audio recording to be sent out to gain followers to the cause). And from then on the action comes in peaks and troughs, so although the book is a little over-long the pace is enough to keep most readers interested and excited for the duration.

Egyptian mythology is so complex compared to the Greek mythology that Mr Riordan thrilled us with in the Percy Jackson series. There seem to be far more gods, and of course many of them are not household names in the same way that their Greek counterparts are, and you really have to admire the author for the research that he has carried out, and the knowledge he has built on this subject. My knowledge of the Egyptian gods is still fairly minimal, but I do know that their stories sometimes read like an ancient soap opera, filled with petty jealousies, betrayal, and so on. Mr Riordan weaves their ancient histories into his story very well, and as readers we are sometimes as wary as the Kane siblings when it comes to which god we should place our trust in. The Throne of Fire introduces us to a further handful of these ancient Egyptian deities, and one in particular really stood out for me - the dwarf god Bes. This wonderful character had me laughing out loud at times and his first big scene on Waterloo Bridge will probably have you doing the same.

My final verdict: I feel it is a great improvement on The Red Pyramid, although if I had the time I would definitely re-read that first book to see if I feel any differently about it now. Sometimes when I am writing a review I have to make a great effort to remind myself that I am reviewing books written for younger readers, and in this case the 9+ age group, and therefore do the occasional gripes I have as an adult reader really matter to younger readers. I know for a fact that The Red Pyramid has been very popular in the school library, and rarely gets to sit on the shelf for more than a day before it is taken out again, and the comments and emails I got following my review of it were testament to how much many other children had enjoyed it. 

My thanks go the the generous people at Just So for Puffin Books for sending me a copy of The Throne of Fire to review. It is released in hardback today, and paperback edition of The Red Pyramid is due out on 5th May.